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The vast majority of LDS women and men would support ordaining females to the faith's all-male priesthood if and it's a big if such a mandate came from a Mormon prophet.
That's one of the key findings from a newly released Mormon Gender Issues Survey, put together by a group of LDS-affiliated academics across various disciplines and amassing responses from about 50,000 members of the Utah-based faith.
It's not a scientific, random poll, but rather a self-selected sample, organizer Nancy Ross explained Tuesday.
Still, said Ross, who teaches art history at Dixie State University in St. George, it is likely one of "the largest surveys of Mormons ever."
And the new survey's approach to the question of female ordination in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she said, more closely reflects the experience of churchgoing Mormons.
In the past, various pollsters, including Pew Research Center, found that only about 10 percent of Mormons nationwide favored female ordination in their church.
But these scholars argue that question didn't address uniquely Mormon views about the authority of the faith's leaders when it comes to gender issues.
"The Lord has directed that only men will be ordained to offices in the priesthood," LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks has said, and the Mormon faithful believe only God, speaking through his prophets, can change that.
So this recent poll asked an alternate version of the question: "If the [governing] First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were to receive a revelation allowing women to hold the priesthood, I would be ..." Response options then ranged from strongly supportive to strongly opposed.
Using that tack, more than 77 percent of Mormon women and men said they would support or strongly support female ordination, 14 percent were neutral and just 8.7 percent of participants said they would oppose it.
Men were even more enthusiastic, with nearly 86 percent in favor of female ordination, compared with 73 percent of women.
What's especially remarkable, Ross said, is that the responses come from both sides of the liberal/conservative spectrum.
To reach such a large respondent pool, the art professor said, she posted a link to the survey on many Facebook pages for feminist and liberal Latter-day Saints but also reached out to the 30,000 followers of Mormon Women Stand, a group that steadfastly backs the current LDS position on gender.
That latter group wanted to ensure their voices and perspectives were heard, Ross said, and so passed it along to other conservative Mormon groups.
"This gave us a more nuanced understanding of how people felt about the issue," she said. "It's more complicated than not ordaining women."
Such findings coincide with what Ordain Women's Debra Jenson said her movement has been preaching for three years.
"It's not that Mormons believe women could not be ordained; it's clearly that we are uncomfortable asking for women to be ordained," Jenson said. "When you ask the question correctly, Mormons are more than open to the idea of women being ordained and that's really exciting."
Kathryn Skaggs, leader of Mormon Women Stand, was not pleased with the results.
The way the issue was posed was "an abuse of a closely held tenet of the Mormon faithful a belief in modern prophets who receive revelation from God," Skaggs wrote in an email. "Those who crafted the question knew exactly the response they would get based on that premise, because a 'no' answer would initially be considered, by many participants, unfaithful and/or taking a position at odds with sustaining their leaders very cunning."
Skaggs added: "I would imagine that if most of the women who unwittingly provided the desired response to this poll understood how the results would be abused, they would never have participated."
When asked straight out whether women should be ordained, more than 72 percent said no a similar finding to those previous surveys with 8 percent in favor.
LDS Church spokeswoman Kristen Howey hadn't seen the survey data, so she couldn't comment, she said, on whether it was "agenda-driven or even accurate."
Howey did affirm that LDS "leaders and the vast majority of members believe this question is a matter of doctrine."
In fact, the survey asked participants if they thought the church's approach to gender issues was "doctrine" or "cultural" and if the division by sex was beneficial.
Many offered 100-plus word responses and almost half said the gender divisions were doctrinal, Ross said, but mentioned ways in which that approach was not always beneficial.
The St. George scholar's takeaway is that "there is much more room for change in the church than our leaders are willing to engage in."
The emerging picture was, she said, "not what I expected."
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