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:

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