One by one, more than 200 women and their male supporters approached the Tabernacle in Temple Square in an attempt to attend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 183rd Semiannual General Priesthood Session on Saturday night. Ordain Women, an LDS feminist group, tried unsuccessfully to attend the male-only meeting.
Group leader Kate Kelly was the first in line and was denied. Then, another group of women, some arm-in-arm with their husbands, approached and were also denied.
“We want to tell them that we are ready for that responsibility,” Kelly told the crowd before they headed to Temple Square. “We are ready to be ordained.”
Aaron Bowman, a resident of Salt Lake City, attempted to bring his wife inside. The usher told him that Bowman could come in but not his wife.
“I told him that Mormons believe in eternal families, and I want to go to this with my wife,” Bowman said. He added that the usher said he agreed with him on eternal families, but his wife still couldn’t come in.
The usher told some of the women that the meeting was for men only. Others were told that it was full and there were no more tickets to give out. Melissa Martinez from Ogden said she saw a man get a ticket after she was told it was full.
For the first time this year, however, the session was broadcast on the Internet. Hannah Wheelwright, a Brigham Young University student, said she was disappointed in the decision.
“It seems like a very simple thing to allow us to attend, considering it’s being broadcast live and women all over the country are able to listen it to live,” she said. “So the only problem seems to be our presence in the same room as men, which doesn’t make any sense, since husbands and wives can listen to it together all across the country and the world.”
The event to get into the session is part of a larger movement to give women the priesthood. Kelly said she started thinking about the issue of women’s ordination while serving as a missionary for the LDS church in Barcelona, Spain.
“I was in some very small branches that had two or three Melchizedek Priesthood holders in an entire congregation and many, many women,” she said. “Those smaller branches are very strapped for leadership.”
The Melchizedek Priesthood is a level of priesthood that male members of the LDS church may receive upon fulfilling certain requirements.
Julia Murphy came from her home country of Germany to be part of the event.
“I am committed to (the) concept and the idea of women being ordained in the LDS church, because we have so much to give,” Murphy said.
Kelly Sheppard, director of the Ogden LDS Institute of Religion next to WSU, said that even though women don’t hold the priesthood in the church, they have great influence. Sheppard said that during his time in the LDS Church Office Building in downtown Salt Lake City, two of the strongest voices on the LDS Church Board of Education meetings were Julie Beck and Elaine Dalton. Beck and Dalton served as church-wide presidents for the women-only organizations of Relief Society and Young Women. Sheppard said they had as much influence over church policy as any of the male leaders.
“When those women spoke, people listened,” he said. “You don’t have to (have the) priesthood to have influence. You need the priesthood to perform an ordinance.”
Heather Reese, a member of the LDS church, said she doesn’t feel not having the priesthood makes her any less important.
“The priesthood doesn’t mean that we are equal or unequal,” Reese said. “It’s just a job that they have. My husband can’t do my job at work. Why would I want to do his job?”
Ruth Todd, LDS church spokesperson, met the women at Temple Square to inform them they would not receive tickets to the session.
In a prepared statement to the press, Todd said, “Millions of women in this church do not agree with this small group that organized today’s protest, and some of the members feel that is very divisive as well, but even so, these are our sisters, and we want them in our church, and we hope that they will find the peace and joy we all find in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”