Even though Kate Kelly, the leader of Ordain Women, is facing possible excommunication, I keep seeing that we're supposed to keep the conversation about women in the church going (here, here, and here).*
But I have no idea how to do that, especially as an expat. Most of the times I've lived in other countries, my priesthood leader has either lived thousands of miles away and been inaccessible, or I haven't spoken the same language he does. I cannot speak to my Relief Society President right now, and I certainly didn't have anything like a Relief Society President when I was in Central Asia. There has been no one I can talk to about my concerns.**
I share many of the concerns others bring up about women in the church, but my biggest ones are a little different because of my personal experiences in places with few or no priesthood holders. So, in the spirit of bringing up my questions and concerns, here they are, even though I'm just talking to myself.
My biggest concern is that women cannot participate in the sacrament if there is not a priesthood holder there to give it to her. We always hear that the priesthood is used to bless others, and that is true, but a man can bless the sacrament for himself and therefore never has to go without it unless he chooses to do so. The sacrament isn't a saving ordinance, of course, but after the saving ordinances of the temple, it is the ordinance that is most highly emphasized in our church and it is important. Worthy women need access to it no matter their circumstances.
I am also concerned about the effects of having so many callings that can only be filled by men in wards and branches with limited priesthood leaders. There are many people talking about this, but it has been a problem in a different way in our current ward. Active priesthood holders are needed to fill a certain set of callings. Because of that, they are not available to fill callings that are open to both men and women. I'd love for my Primary-age son to see both women and men teaching children as much as I'd like my teens to see a woman as ward mission leader.
In our area where there are many wards and branches with few active priesthood holders, the area has, logically, directed that some callings not be filled unless there are a certain number of people in the unit who need that type of leadership. So, for example, our ward will not call a Young Men's President unless there are at least 10 young men in the ward. Since we only have about 5 or 6, there is no young men's program in our ward which has been a disappointment to our boys. There is, however, not the same restriction on calling a Young Women's president and even though there are fewer than 10 young women in our ward, they have a young women's program because there are plenty of capable women in our ward. If more callings were open to both men and women, I truly think that more could be done as a church.
Even more personally, my older children are having a hard time at church because they don't speak much Spanish. There are men in the ward who speak Spanish well and would be happy to translate for them, but they are busy with their Sunday callings and unavailable.
It also hurts me so much every time I hear that missionaries are encouraged to focus on finding men to baptize. I know some people think that this is a solution to the problem of units with "too many" women, but I think there are other, better solutions. And there are never, ever too many women in any unit. EVER.
I also have a hard time hearing that we're doing so much better because women are participating much more on a local level and have a greater role in the leadership of wards and branches. While this is true in many ways, it did nothing for me when we lived in Central Asia and had no organized church unit. There were no women in leadership positions in the church unit we were assigned to and having ward councils in other places with women participating (and able to advocate for women in the ward) did nothing for me.
Again, these are just a few concerns I have. I'm not looking for women to be ordained; I don't think that's the only (or the best way) to solve the problems I've listed above. But there is a vast chasm between what women's role is defined as now and ordaining women. Let's explore what's in there and find what works.
*I'd just like to be clear here that even though I have questions and concerns, that doesn't mean that I am not an active and believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I'm not going anywhere. Please don't assume that having concerns means that I want to leave, or that I should leave, or that I should just keep my mouth shut. I'd like to think the conversation is important, even if I'm just having it with myself right now.
**I am fully aware that even if I were in the US right now and went to my bishop about these things, that there is absolutely nothing he could do about them.