Thursday, September 26, 2013

Women and the Priesthood: past, present, and future

  “I want women to know that they are valuable, but not from someone telling them. I want them to feel and see it. Images are very important to me, and when I look on the stand, I want to see women. When I hear people talk, I want to hear women. Functionally, there is no person that can tell me I am equal. I know I am equal, I know I am a daughter of God, I know he loves me … I feel that when I pray and when I go to the temple—I just think that needs to be reflected in the institution, in the everyday practice of the gospel I love.” –Kate Kelly

      Feminism in Mormonism is a really beautiful thing that doesn't wish to strip anything from men. It does point out that some women feel stripped of their divine rights and talents or ability to serve, but this in no way wishes to diminish what men are already contributing or entrusted to do. Sure there are some whack-job men haters out there but that is not me nor is it the majority of mormon feminists. Honestly though, the fact that the term “Mormon Feminist” sounds like a complete oxymormon is, to me, a very real example of why we are so needed.
     I would like to point out that the “wear pants to church” movement was misunderstood by most outsiders. There are many, many women who would prefer to wear dress pants to church and yet were formally or informally asked not to, either by Relief Society leaders or Priesthood leaders, in many different instances when the attempt was made. There are other women who would never dream of wearing dress pants to church because being different is just intimidating in our culture and often labeled as unacceptable. The purpose of the pants movement was to ensure that all women and men everywhere should feel comfortable coming to church in whatever Sunday wear they deem to be appropriate without fear of public notice or rebuke. Also, missionary women should be allowed to wear dress pants if they feel it will help them be more warm in winter or when riding bikes or doing service projects. This is not asking that all women should wear pants to church or as a missionary. If you love wearing a dress, then yay! Dress or skirt it up! It was solely an effort to point out that women feel ostracized when they do want to wear dress pants. Some woman may have had other motives than that, but that was the general reasoning from all that I have understood in the forums I follow. It was also an effort to point out just how many things in our religion are cultural norms vs doctrine.
     Speaking of doctrine vs. cultural norms, when Joseph Smith adopted the already existing and autonomous Relief Society into the official organization of the church; it remained autonomous and he spoke and wrote of a future of “priests and priestesses” on a number of occasions. Relief Society lost its autonomy and control of its own programs and finances over the next hundred years. Did God want this? Or were cultural norms and preconceptions of the era part of the driving force? I think that is a worthy debate and that both sides would have plenty of backed up evidence to support their claims. That in and of itself is another post entirely but I wanted to briefly touch upon it here because it relates to the overall theme of what I want to cover.
     Although I respect and support the Ordain Women movement, it is not my personal crusade at this time. I will advocate for their cause because I think it is amazing and would add SO much to the church, but for personal reasons I have yet to add my own profile to I have met with them, wiped their tears, listened to their heartfelt testimonies, and I have concluded that they are among the most amazing, strong, brave, and spiritual leaders in the church. I am so grateful for my association with them; I have learned so much. For anyone to imply in any way that they don't understand the gospel or are apostates is really abhorrent to me.
     As I detailed in my previous post, there are many ways in which equality can be improved in the church with men continuing to be the sole holders of the Priesthood. I would not find it unprecedented if God did choose to extend it to women though; the exclusive nature and earthly sanctions of the Priesthood have changed considerably over time. We're robed in the priesthood in the temple and it is our mantle in the afterlife; it is part of our divine potential. Women were prophets, apostles, and leaders in the bible (There are at least 6 prophetesses mentioned in the OT and Junia the apostle/leader is female as mentioned in Romans 16:7, this is empirically proven in the greek writing and historical references surrounding it) and  Mormon women used to wash, anoint with oil, and lay hands on the sick in the restored church until 1946. When questioned about the propriety of women laying hands on the sick to heal, what do you think Joseph Smith’s response was?
“someone apparently reported to Joseph that the women were laying their hands on the sick and blessing them. His reply to the question of the propriety of such acts was simple. He told the women in the next meeting “there could be no evil in it, if God gave his sanction by healing.., there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on the sick than in wetting the face with water.” He also indicated that there were sisters who were ordained to heal the sick and it was their privilege to do so. “If the sisters should have faith to heal,” he said, “let all hold their tongues.”
Additionally, Brigham Young said to mothers,
“It is the privilege of a mother to have faith and to administer to her child; this she can do herself, as well as sending for the Elders to have the benefit of their faith.”
See more on this here.
     This right was only removed from them because it became inconvenient and confusing when teaching the responsibilities of the priesthood so they decided that men would take over that responsibility as well. There was no "thus saith the lord" speak or official revelation involved in the ending of the practice.
     Also, the Priesthood has been confined and extended repeatedly in history. In the Old Testament, the Priesthood was only held by the Levites exclusively. Additionally, for the first 150 years of the restored church it was withheld from people with dark skin. The church claims there was no official revelation that removed the gift of the Priesthood from African Americans, but they do claim that it was through deep prayer and supplication to the Lord that this ban was removed. Many saints petitioned and plead for the change to be made. I personally think that such demonstrations and requests for change are appreciated by the Lord. How could it not be? Was it ever God in the first place that didn’t want a certain race to hold the priesthood? I personally would submit that that was never the case, I virtually see no evidence that would support that it was. Also, I think it would make sense that the Lord would wait until his daughters were asking and proving they are ready for the gift before he would extend it. That is what many mormon feminists and members of OW are doing. Even here in Matthew, a gentile woman asks Jesus for a blessing for her child, but he tells her she is not deserving of it and even calls her a dog, because she is a gentile. When she asks repeatedly, he congratulates her for her faith and grants her plea:

 22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
 23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
 24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
 25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
 26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.
 27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
 28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.
     The first time a woman was allowed to give the opening or closing prayer in General Conference was just last year in 2012. This was the result of an online petition to the brethren to review this aspect of our practices with the Lord. When the church leaders brought it before the Lord, they were informed that this should change and so it did. These examples lead me to conclude that perhaps there are things that happen in the church that continue on simply because no one stopped to ask the Lord if this is truly 100% what He continues to wish for the temporal church. The fact that we CAN receive direct answers from the Lord and implement needed changes in the affairs of the church through a living prophet is one of the things that makes our church so wonderful in the first place.
      I think it would benefit the general church, men and women individually, and families overall immensely if the priesthood was extended further. Women would be able to not only advise councils of priesthood-holding brethren, but instead would be active and equal parts of them. Women, if they held the priesthood, would be the bottom line deciders in what happens in their organizations. Does this mean all women HAVE to have the Priesthood if God extended it to women? No. It simply means that those who feel God is calling them to it would be extended the privilege and responsibility.
     It is not a sin to ask God for things or to ask "the brethren" to petition the lord, especially when the spirit is speaking loudly to so many women that this is exactly what they should respectfully do. Again, bringing things to the Lord and asking for approval for change is how MANY things came to be in our religion and much of what has made it great. I do not think it is heresy or an sign or a showing of a lack of respect for our current leaders to ask the Lord for this blessing; to repeatedly show him we are willing and ready should he choose to make this change. The women of OW are feeling prompted to lay this path.
     The majority of women feel totally equal at church and do not see a need for change. Awesome! I’m glad that they feel that way. I’m glad that they are finding fulfillment in their callings and that their portrayal in the church architecture suits their perception of themselves in God’s kingdom. There are many women (granted this is a minority) who do not though; they feel hurt, limited, belittled, stifled, and eternally not as important. There is a juxtaposition between how they feel God’s love and purpose for them internally vs how the church teaches and models their role to them. They also feel they are treated in a condescending manner routinely by their leaders and feel spiritually burdened by the scarcity of assignments in which women are allowed to lead without males approving all of their decisions on a higher level. Many of these amazing women feel that there is no place in the church for them and are made to feel unworthy or unfaithful for even thinking or feeling that they are not equal. Many of them feel that to even admit that they feel this way would be a sin. I plead with you to look at the Doves and Serpants blog's series of "Equality isn't a feeling" when consider what equality means in regards to women in the church. 

    “Perhaps there was a time when the dominant patterns of economic and family life and the infrastructural demands of growing a worldwide church made it very pragmatic to map the entire administration of the church onto a gendered division of labor. But surely that time is past. Gendered divisions of labor make less and less sense in the context of emerging twenty-first century patterns of economic and family life. All around me I see working Mormon women—wage stagnation (and increased corporate profit-taking) since the 1970s makes the two income family basic reality for all but more affluent LDS people. And all around me I see Mormon men profoundly involved in the parenting and nurture of their children.  Some men are outstanding nurturers, in fact, and some women are not; some women are incredible analysts and administrators and some men are not.  Why should these capacities not all be honored as sacred and useful, regardless of gender? Put-your-shoulder-to-the-wheel egalitarianism in Church administration and leadership seems more in keeping with the pragmatic spirit of Mormonism than a biological essentialism-driven folk doctrine that would prioritize the performance of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Euro-American gender roles over the work of salvation.”
    -Joanna Brooks

Here are additional helpful links on the topic of feminism and mormonism:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Heartfelt suggestions from a Mormon Feminist


     In the church, there are things that are doctrinal and things that are temporal. I freely admit that doctrine shouldn’t be up for debate or suggestions from the masses. I do, however, feel that temporal things only stand to benefit by being adaptable and open to review. Here are many things that could be changed without altering current doctrine to help make things more equal and I truly believe the church would benefit from:
  •     Encourage truly equal partnership in marriage and redefine the concept that husbands preside over their wives. Men and women should always be held as equal partners, without one presiding over the other.
  •      Give women in leadership more autonomy over their callings and/or require men in leadership positions to seek counsel and approval from women in all affairs of the church. For instance, the Relief Society president must request permission and approval to change many aspects of Relief Society; yet there is not any auxiliary in the church in which men need to get permission from the women to implement a lasting change.
  • Allow women in leadership to read and have access to all of the books of administration and official handbooks.
  •     Allow women to manage and audit financial resources in the church. Women in the RS handled the majority of the church's finances historically, but over time this aspect of governance was given exclusively to men. (see here)
  •     Allow an executive board of women to write and develop the manuals and lesson content that will be taught in the women auxiliaries of the church. Additionally, women should be invited to participate equally with men in the creation of manuals for combined classes. Currently, manuals for the women’s auxiliaries are created and developed by the brethren without any female input at all quite often. Honestly, listen to this podcast here and you will see what a huge issue this is. Also, read page 134-135 here. It is an interview with Chieko Okazaki, 1st counselor of the RS from 1990-1997. She points out that the RS presidency had already started on a new manual that would speak to the current needs of the women and address the things they are facing in their day to day lives. When they brought their outline to the brethren, they were informed a new manual had already been made without their input or consent and it was already on its way to the printing press. She was shocked and saddened that the women were not even asked or notified about it.
  •    Create true equality in the Young Women and Young Men organizations through equivalent budgets, educational programs (leadership, career, and spiritual training), and activities (sports, service, and outdoor events). There is no reason why the integration of scouting in the men’s programs should enable the boys to have more resources and funding/fundraising than the women do. It is up to the organization of the church to create a similarly funded and resourced program for young women.
  •     Balance the stories and images of boys and men in church publications, talks, and other media with stories and images of girls and women.
  •     Reduce the focus of stories and lessons based off of Priesthood holders in our history, manuals, and cultural stories and make an effort to include and highlight the amazing stories and contributions women have made to further the gospel. These stories should not be taught solely in women’s auxiliaries but in the general organizations of the church as a whole.
  •     Invite women in Church leadership positions to speak and pray during General Conference in numbers equal to the participation of men. Also, it would mean TONS if women were more encouraged to speak on gospel topics that cover the breadth of our religion and doctrine rather than those that solely pertain to the role of home-making and women's roles when speaking in conference.
  •     Encourage leaders to use gender-inclusive language whenever possible.
  •     Recognize that girls and boys, women and men are equally responsible for appropriate sexual behavior and taming of thoughts. We should teach our boys and girls equally that it is up to them as individuals to dress themselves responsibly and also to master their thoughts when faced with tempting images or manners of dress. This is not something that should be more heavily discussed or guilted to one gender more than the other. For example, I know many youth who have been taught that it is the responsibility of young women to garner the chastity of the young men and make sure they are worthy to serve missions and take them to the temple. This logic causes unnecessary shame on women when chastity boundaries are crossed. Every individual should be taught that it is up to themselves to muster and reign their temptations. Yes we should help others by leading by example, but in no way are girls to be made to feel liable for the thoughts or actions of boys and visa versa. Boys and girls both should be taught to see past what a person is wearing or doing and control their thoughts rather than to blame someone else for tempting them. Personal accountability for both sexes should be the bottom line and never weighted more heavily to one gender than the other.
  •     Enforce equal rules for both sexes at boys and girls exclusive camps. If girls at girls camp are supposed to wear shirts or shorts over their suits while swimming (which is a growing trend mandated in many stakes nationwide), so should the boys at their respective scout camps. If boys are allowed to hike shirtless or in tank tops on their scouting activities, the girls should be allowed to hike in sports bras or tank tops and weather/activity appropriate shorts as well. Do not pretend that only boys are attracted to partially clothed women. Girls have eyes too and a guy with his shirt off is “a threat to pure thoughts” for some girls as much as a girl in a tank top would be for some guys. The more important thing here is that we should just teach people to manage their thoughts rather than forcing clothing quotas. If clothing standards are placed, they should not be more restrictive for women or be enforced in any way that could cause a sense of innate body shame.
  •     Instruct bishops to refrain from asking church members probing questions about sexual practices and experiences. Allow parents the right to be the first to introduce or talk about certain aspects of sexuality, rather than any child ever learning about things from a bishop during an interview due to the questions they are being asked. More freedom should be given to people to choose to confess sins rather than being asked probing questions that may or may not apply to them in any way, shape, or form. This is uncomfortable, inappropriate, and demeaning in many instances. If you don't know what I'm talking about or agree that this is needed, I suggest you read this.
  •     The choice to speak to either a man or a women when seeking pastoral counsel should become the norm. This is particularly important and needed for women and girls who have been sexually abused; right now they have no choice but to discuss their trials with a male and this can be very limiting and demeaning. If women aren't extended the priesthood, a calling could be made where a woman acts as a mediator between a confessor/victim and the bishop.
  •      Change the official handbooks to include women implicitly in equal numbers to the men in all councils, with equal say and leadership roles.
  •     Create more administrative and council callings in general for the women so that their input and numbers match that of the men in all councils in all levels of the church.
  •     Increase visibility of women as a whole on the stand of congregations and General Conference. Invite more women in leadership to sit up front or allow more men to sit with their families.
  •     Delegate more expansive supervisory authority to the Stake and Ward Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary presidencies, including approval of personnel, programs, funds, and activities.
  •     Include women among stake and ward leaders who hear evidence and offer judgment in church disciplinary councils.
  •     Include the local Relief Society president (and any newly-created women's counsel roles) in all bishopric meetings and rotate the planning of Sacrament services among the Relief Society president and members of the bishopric.
  •     Examine all Church positions to determine whether they can be filled without regard to gender. Why are only men Sunday School presidents and only women Primary presidents? We both have SO much to offer in these areas and it would not diminish our divine roles to branch out.
  •     Appoint qualified women as presidents of Church universities and heads of administrative departments. Teach girls from a young age that being qualified for these positions and holding them is a worthy, encouraged pursuit.
  •     Expand hiring practices in the Seminaries and Institutes of Religion and within the religion departments at church universities. Woman should be given the same placement, advancement, and tenure opportunities as men.
  •     Remove from the handbook that women should only work outside of the home in circumstances of emergency.
  •     Call young women as well as young men to serve missions at the same age and for the same length of time. Afford women the same opportunity as men to function as district leaders, zone leaders, and assistants to the president.
  •     Lift the prohibition on women's participation in the blessing of their children. Allow women to hold their infants while their children are receiving baby blessings in sacrament meeting. Allow them to be witnesses and to be part of the prayer circle. Stop making women feel like their mere presence is an ungodly request or would ruin the sanctity or efficacy of blessings and settings apart. Just because they cannot perform the ordinance does not mean they cannot be an integral, visible, important part.
  •     Consider changing temple marriage policies so that men and women have equal opportunity to be sealed to their second spouses after they are widowed or divorced.
  •     Recognize women as witnesses for baptisms and marriage sealings.
  •     Restore the former institutionally-accepted practice of women giving blessings of healing and comfort.
  •     Create a true parallel in meetings intended for men and women. Why is Priesthood session considered a session of conference (it is one of the five official sessions of every conference) and held bi-yearly whereas the YW session and RS sessions rotate every conference and are not deemed "conference sessions" by definition? Why are so many of the keynote speakers at the women’s sessions men? And yet women are not only never invited to speak at men’s sessions; they are not permitted in the conference center when they take place. Men are always allowed to attend women’s sessions, but not vice versa.
  •     Allow parallel structure between boy and girl programs. For instance, scouts are advised to meet weekly while activity day girls are directed to meet NO MORE than twice a month.
  •     Create parallel advancement within achievement programs in youth and primary auxiliaries for girls and boys. Hold the awards merited in these programs with equal emphasis and regard. The activities and certifications do not have to be the same, but the overall structure and stages of merit should be. Give more opportunities to girls to learn autonomy, self-reliance, and real-world practices like the scouting program currently emphasizes for boys. Additionally, it wouldn’t hurt to add in more about parental responsibility and nurturing children into the young men’s program.

     As for an aspect of doctrine that is very troubling, I feel the need to ask for further clarification or revelation. Many women are hurt to their core upon finishing their temple marriage and realizing that they covenanted to give themselves to their husbands (but not husbands to wives), to hearken their husband's counsel as he hearkens to the Lord, and then see that their husband then goes on to covenant to the Lord on both of their behalf. *I* wanted to covenant to the Lord on my own behalf, and I anticipated my husband giving himself to me equally as I gave myself to him. If this is an unchanging aspect of our doctrine, I would hope that further explanation can be given on the place of women in exaltation. Upon study and reflection, I cannot find where we are equal in the current wording.
     Additionally if we could all urge the prophet to beseech the Lord for further knowledge on heavenly mother. So many of us are dying to know more about her; please expound more on this amazing woman after whose likeness and purpose we are created.
     One of the most important things to realize is that SO MANY of the things I mentioned above were originally part of the roles of Relief Society and women in the administration of the church (again, see here). This isn't asking to do something new and crazy with the roles of women in the church, but more so to have back what was originally ours.
     I want to point out that I really do not feel that taking on these additional responsibilities and creating a parallel structure for males and females of all ages in the church would diminish our current divine roles. These are not to be new mandates that REQUIRE anything more of women, but solely gives them the opportunity for more if that is what they feel God wants for them. For instance, women who have young children at home would be spared from being asked to fill time-consuming callings. Their priority will remain in the rearing of children. Women starting to fulfill callings previously solely occupied by men will allow more men to be able to devote more time to their family. Being a father is a divine calling and role every bit as much as being a mother is; these are ways to help men fulfill that calling even better. Sharing the responsibilities within the church will allow men the free time to share more in the responsibilities of the home. Each family would never be asked to have both parents in time-intensive roles at the same time to ensure that all families are still able to act as whole units and that one parent is always available to sit with the children during meetings. Also, for women who chose to not pursue careers or go to college so they could be full-time stay at home moms, being administrators and counselors in the breadth of the church could be a wonderful way for women to fill their years after their children leave home.

    In closing, there are just so many ways that we can help men have an opportunity to be more involved nurturers at home and for women to get a chance to have more of a voice, influence, presence, and visible role in the church. It is not a sin to ask for these changes and it is not a show of a lack of faith in our current leadership. It is simply a plea to consider change; to bring these items to the Lord and ask if such changes would improve his kingdom on earth.

Here are additional helpful links on the topic of feminism and mormonism: