There is a common belief amongst mainstream LDS that the reason the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) started ordaining women with the priesthood is because they ran out of male descendants from Joseph Smith to lead the church.

What's the real reason that the RLDS started ordaining women?

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    I'm not sure that you are correct about it being a common belief among the LDS that ordination of women was introduced because of a lack of Smith decendants. I'm not aware of anyone who holds that belief. W. G. McMurray was the first President of the RLDS who wasn't a direct decendant of Joseph Smith and he took office in 1996. Women had been ordained in the RLDS since 1984. Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 23:36
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    @StephenGoodman While "common" may be exagerated, the claim seems to be common enough to have found its way into my ears, and I live in Germany, not Utah. Also, the claim as I heard it was that in running out of male descendants, they chose to have a female descendant lead the RLDS church. If it's not true, I'd prefer being corrected. Also, the actual question here is: "Why did the RLDS start ordaining women?" - this might or might not be related to the claim, but the question is valid either way.
    – kutschkem
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 8:48

2 Answers 2


Whatever the RLDS Church's actual motivations, the 1984 decision to ordain women didn't exactly come out of nowhere, according to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism's entry on the RLDS Church:

Section 156:9-10 meant that the church would now move ahead with women's ordinations, a breakthrough foreshadowed by events dating back to 1970. Local pastors had been initiating priesthood calls for women since 1974, but no clear precedent permitted actual ordination. Now, the conference's approval of section 156 created the context for the ordination of women, the first ones being ordained November 17, 1985.

Despite this, the decision was still quite controversial, and precipitated many churches breaking away from the RLDS Church.

William D. Russell, a historian and an RLDS member, makes a case in his article "Grant McMurray and the Succession Crisis in the Community of Christ" that the decision had nothing to do with running out of male descendants of Joseph Smith:

President [Wallace] Smith introduced the document that became Section 156 of the Doctrine and Covenants, approving the ordination of women and also announcing plans to build the temple. After a long debate, delegates approved it by a vote of approximately 80-20 percent. Some thought Wallace B. Smith—having three daughters and no sons—had introduced women's ordination to allow one of his daughters to succeed him. But since Wallace ultimately recommended a male successor outside the family [W. Grant McMurray], it appears that Section 156 was not based on this motivation. Although Wallace has never, to my knowledge, publicly discussed the background to this revelation, he clearly believed the male-only priesthood was based on culture and tradition, not divine will.

Here is the relevant portion of D&C 156:

The following is also presented as the voice of the Spirit:


I have heard the prayers of many, including my servant the prophet, as they have sought to know my will in regard to the question of who shall be called to share the burdens and responsibilities of priesthood in my church. I say to you now, as I have said in the past, that all are called according to the gifts which have been given them. This applies to priesthood as well as to any other aspects of the work. Therefore, do not wonder that some women of the church are being called to priesthood responsibilities. This is in harmony with my will and where these calls are made known to my servants, they may be processed according to administrative procedures and provisions of the law.


Respectfully every Utah Church member I have met has significant misconceptions about the Community of Christ (RLDS).

Throughout Reörganized Church history there has been some level of expectation that women would share in Priesthood ministry. Joseph Smith Jr. gave some indications of his wife Emma being called to PH. Emma was instrumental in the Reörganization of the Church along with her son Joseph III. The membership had been seeking an answer from the Prophet/President for many years before the revelation was promulgated. The end of dynastic Presidency, women's PH, the name change, the building of the Temple, the end of binding credal positions, and other changes were part of a maturing of the Church at the end of the last century. The Church moved from a position of emphasizing they aren't the "Utah Mormons" to one as a distinct Tradition within the whole of Christianity.

  • Welcome! Thanks for contributing. If you'd like to strengthen your answer, I'd recommend adding sources to show that this back up this analysis. I hope you'll take a minute to review how this site is different from others, and better understand how your answer can be supported. Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 14:17
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    Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. As @Nathaniel has said, your answer may very well be a good one, but without some references to church documents supporting your views, we really don't know whether your answer is correct, so we have no basis on which to give it an upvote as a good answer. If you edit it add such references, this could become a very good answer. Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 14:59

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