A WORD ABOUT EQUALITY
Recently, I was enlightened by a friend not of my faith. He shared with me his reasons for believing that women should hold the priesthood. 1) He hated the thought that, if his little girl grew up and felt the call to lead, teach and testify of Christ, that she would be denied a position in the clergy based on her sex. 2) He felt that the position of priest/bishop/pastor/spiritual leader was one of reverence and influence. He said that in a way, the spiritual leader was meant to be an example to the congregation of how to live, and in that, they were held to a higher standard. I could imagine how he would feel if his daughter were deemed unworthy of that privilege due to her gender.
After hearing his experiences, I felt like a lightbulb went off in my brain!
Oh! THIS is why I have never really understood the passion behind the issues of women and the priesthood! Because for me, as a woman in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, these restrictions do not apply.
Let me explain: In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is NO PAID CLERGY. Everyone in the church community is asked to contribute on a volunteer basis. Being a Bishop is not a career path. It is an assignment given for a distinct period of time (usually 3-7 years), after which the former Bishop might be asked to teach the 5-year-old Sunday school class. Both callings would be considered equally respectable. Being part of the church leadership, though respected and valued, is not esteemed any higher than being the primary children’s song leader or the scout master in the congregation. We are each expected to give our contribution and each contribution is valued by the Lord and the church community.
Gordon B. Hinckley, President of the Church said: Your obligation is as serious in your sphere of responsibility as is my obligation in my sphere. No calling in this church is small or of little consequence. All of us in the pursuit of our duty touch the lives of others. To each of us in our respective responsibilities the Lord has said: “Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5).
As a woman in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints I speak and give sermons at the pulpit, I teach lessons and classes for Sunday school, I oversee meetings and activities for the Relief Society. I hold the same temple recommend as the Apostles and Prophet of the church. LDS Women serve full-time missions, preside in presidencies of church auxiliaries, and are valued members of church leadership worldwide.
What’s more, in the LDS Church, I receive the highest praise, respect and support for my calling as a mother—which is considered more important than the calling of Bishop or even Apostle, parenthood comes before any other office. President David O. McKay said:
“The noblest calling in the world is motherhood. True motherhood is the most beautiful of all arts, the greatest of all professions. She who can paint a masterpiece, or who can write a book that will influence millions, deserves the admiration and plaudits of mankind; but she who rears successfully a family of healthy, beautiful sons and daughters, whose immortal souls will exert an influence throughout the ages long after paintings shall have faded, and books and statues shall have decayed or have been destroyed, deserves the highest honor that man can give, and the choicest blessings of God.”
Another President of the Church, Ezra T. Benson said:
“God bless our wonderful mothers. We pray for you. We sustain you. We honor you as you bear, nourish, train, teach, and love for eternity. I promise you the blessings of heaven and “all that the Father hath” as you magnify the noblest calling of all—a mother in Zion.“
One of the things I most cherish about my experience as a Mormon is that my decision to be a mother is honored and respected, supported and reverenced in every way. I feel that my greatest opportunity for influence as a believer and follower of Jesus Christ is that of teaching my children to honor and love the Lord. There is no greater, more fulfilling call to teach and testify of Christ.
Explanation part 2: The priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not only refer to the offices of the clergy or leadership for the congregation. Worthy men in the LDS Church are offered priesthood authority or priesthood “keys” depending on what office or calling they hold in the church. When a person holds the priesthood, they hold the authority to administer ordinances of salvation. For example, a bishop is given the priesthood authority to administer to the needs of the congregation. Apostles hold the priesthood keys necessary to administering to the needs of the general church, and the Prophet holds all the keys, receiving revelation from God and authority to guide His church.
So, usually, when I hear of women clamoring for the right to hold the priesthood in the LDS church, I understand it as their desire to hold these authoritative keys interchangeably with men.
On the surface, this seems like a question of equality and women’s rights. However, the question really comes down to this: Is the priesthood an office of service or is it a status symbol? Because if the priesthood is an office of service, then what sense does it make to demand the so-called right to exercise it?
Any person possessed of this attitude would immediately loose whatever authority they thought they had gained for, as stated clearly in the Doctrine and Covenants:
“The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.”
In other words, anyone demanding authority has no business holding it. Moreover, the priesthood is not a right one can claim, it is a gift. The gifts of the priesthood are given freely and equally to all who believe and desire to receive them.
Picture this with me: You’re going on a family vacation. You’re parents have generously provided a beach house in Laguna Beach, CA (insert your own ideal here) and you are ecstatic! You’re looking forward to some relaxation, soaking in the beauty of nature, family time—it sounds like pure bliss! Your parents send you and your brother ahead to open up the house, shop for vacation groceries and prepare for the family fun. Together you drive to the beach house, you’re a little giddy with the anticipation of getting the first peek inside. You arrive on the threshold, you’re about to unlock the door.
Now, are you going to stand there and argue with your brother about who gets to hold the key? Does it matter who unlocks the door?
No way! You wouldn’t even think about it. Holding the key is just a logistical detail. All the benefits of the the beach vacation are shared equally and given generously. It would be silly, maybe even a bit petty, to worry over who got to unlock the door, wouldn’t it?
This is how I have come to feel about the issue of women holding the priesthood.
A PRINCIPLE OF ECONOMICS
Another way I have often thought of the debate over Women holding the Priesthood is that in some ways it is a question of economy. Thinking waaay back to my college Econ 101 class, I will reference the principles of specialization and division of labor. You remember… Adam Smith, the pin factory…Bottom line is that we all benefit when we each specialize in different tasks and then share the fruits of our labors. If I want to personally produce everything I consume, I would only receive the benefit of consuming a few things, and/or the quality of each thing would be lessened. It might take me 2 years of trial and error to perfect my homemade lavender soap recipe, for example. By entering the market and trading for the things I need, I can benefit from the expertise of others, getting that lovely lavender lather more efficiently as I benefit from my neighbor’s secret family recipe and mass-production prices.
That was a silly simplification but it is always surprising to me that so many women are clamoring for the “right” to do it all, when WE ALL LOSE with that strategy. It just makes sense to specialize in our tasks so that we can each receive more of the richness of life. I am confident that women are capable and worthy of performing all the same duties as men who hold the priesthood. I don’t know why God chose to organize His church such that men hold the priesthood and not women. Perhaps because women are given the office of motherhood and we ALL know that that job is consuming!
The Lord is a great economist. He has designed a division of labor for us. Do we as women need to prove that we can do it all at the expense of the richness and balance of our lives?
FAITH AND HUMILITY
As for the rest of the questions and complaints I hear regarding women and the priesthood, my thoughts are thus: Does God answer to us, or are we here to show our devotion to Him? Every thoughtful disciple has questions. I hope we each intentionally consider our beliefs. But, there are many magnificent mysteries in life. I do not fully understand the workings of time and space, or the intricacies of the human brain. I choose to accept that the mysteries of God are sometimes dazzling and sometimes challenging but they are always designed for our benefit.
A big thank you to my sister-in-law Kelsie Peterson for an insightful, everyday discussion which inspired this post. I’m grateful to be surrounded by strong women who know the value of womanhood.