Women and the Priesthood - Part II
The Ordain Women group took the time to write a response to my original post on Women and the Priesthood. I was impressed by the civility and questions asked, and am providing a response to the questions they raised, especially since I highly value a civil and appropriate exchange of competing ideas. If you haven’t read the original or the response, I recommend doing so before reading this. The questions raised by Ordain Women are listed first, followed by a response.
Q: Do you believe that women, as a group, lack some capacity or ability to hold the Priesthood?
A: In the way of physical capacity, no, I do not. To be honest though, I don’t know what may or may not prevent someone from holding the Priesthood, although I sense it is not related to our physical body. The Gentiles were unable to hold the Priesthood for many centuries, but it probably wasn’t due to their physical body.
The original article never stated that women were physically unable to do so. The example of the boy not being able to play football was simply a physical example of a principle many people often miss – we are all different, and we don’t get everything we want. As a society, we like to pretend that we can all be anything we want to be, but it simply isn’t true. I was not given the talents to be a football player, basketball player, great artist, or charismatic guy.
We often miss that God gives us our talents. Sure, we are expected to work and improve them, develop them, and increase them, but the foundation for what we have (and the opportunities for what we have) come from God. No matter how hard I try, I will never be a professional athlete, and that is the same for the majority of America. I can improve my physical abilities, yes, but I do not have what the professionals do. Most in America will simply never be President either, no matter how good, talented or deserving they are.
Spiritually and Priesthood speaking, the majority of Priesthood holders will never be a Bishop, they will never be a Seventy, and only a small handful will ever be the Prophet. Many Priesthood holders will lack many spiritual gifts, may not teach as well as another in the quorum, and may struggle because they don’t get the same spiritual experiences or opportunities as another in the quorum. My question to you is – Is God unfair and unequal for denying me every opportunity in the Priesthood that other men get?
Many men struggle feeling accepted and okay when they are passed over for callings. No one in this church gets to choose what their own calling or opportunity is. So, if women had the Priesthood, would that be sufficient, or would we start feeling slighted when passed over for a particular calling time and time again?
So, the little boy highlighted a principle – we are all given different opportunities, be it physical or spiritual. Our opportunities give us a chance to do something and accomplish something. If I don’t have the opportunity to serve as a Patriarch, I do have the opportunity to use my time and abilities for something else. Similarly, for those who don’t have the Priesthood (be it men in China, women in the church, or children), they now have the opportunity to show others the most powerful type of love, God’s love, and to act entirely of their own choosing and to be “anxiously engaged” in a good cause of their own “free will”.
Q: Are we better off with more than half of our people not fully participating? And as a follow-up, I would also ask: Are members better off in branches because there aren’t enough Priesthood holding men in a ward area? Are men better off carrying the burden and responsibilities of Priesthood to bring about the kingdom of God without the equal yoking of women to help them?
A: I would ask a similar question, just on a larger scale. Is the world better off with more than 99% of its people not fully participating? Is God so unjust as to deny full and equal access to the Gospel to most of His children on this earth?
As mentioned in the original article, our view of things is skewed. From within the church we often fail to see how the same principles are affecting our brothers and sisters – God’s children – the world over. This world is a fallen world, one where things aren’t perfect, one where we are born missing very important pieces of things we need for eternity. In this world, we will all miss out on significant opportunities that could have helped us, including the Gospel itself for so many of God’s children that traversed this earth. While it is important for us to work to correct our fallen nature to the extent possible, it is more important for us to take the opportunities given, even in light of everything we don’t have, as we will never be given every opportunity in this life that would make us all ‘better off’. (This is discussing far more than the Priesthood here, and is not saying that our fallen condition prevents women from holding the Priesthood.)
We aren’t here on this earth to have every opportunity possible. The stark reality of that stares us in the face as we look at our own lives and the lives of countless people before us. We aren’t here to enjoy optimal conditions. We’re here to be ‘tested’, to be tried by imperfections, things that don’t work well, things that break, opportunities that simply never exist to us.
So, is God’s church and kingdom benefited by women? Absolutely. Are members better off today with more members and more Priesthood? Yes. Is that God’s will for every member of the church to live in a large ward with plentiful Priesthood? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe some of us need the growth that comes from a small branch, from struggles, and from the exercise of faith. Maybe some of us don’t. Maybe some of us need the Gospel spelled out to us to find God, maybe some of us don’t. Maybe what benefits us today will rob us of what we need tomorrow, or in eternity.
We are all different, we all have different opportunities. I fully believe that while we don’t have everything we want or see as beneficial to us, God gives us everything we need to fully contribute to His kingdom. Rather than being upset with what we don’t have though, we can only fully contribute by embracing what we do have.
So, I don’t agree with your assertion that over half of the church is not “fully participating”. Countless people are actively participating to the fullest extent given them, whether or not they have the Priesthood. Just as I don’t have to be a Bishop to fully contribute, so too women can still fully contribute in the church, as they are given opportunities and talents that men simply don’t have. God intends for us to work together, and has never intended for one person to perform all of the roles assigned to His children on this earth.
Q: Wouldn’t expansion of Priesthood authority for women be the next logical step?
This is a very logical step, yes. Nearly all men I know would welcome serious reinforcement to the Priesthood duties they carry. The lesser the chance of being called as a Bishop, for example, the better for many of them.
I have never known an instance where human logic dictated would God would or wouldn’t do though. Wouldn’t it be logical that an apostasy for over a thousand years didn’t happen? That all of the Tribes of Israel had the Priesthood? That God would simply prevent the mass shootings that occur? Yes, all of those things are logical too, but they simply aren’t the way things are. I’m certainly not saying that women will never have the Priesthood, but I’m also not saying they will. I just don’t know the future there.
I do know though that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and He is working to refine each one of us. He has a plan for each of us, and no opportunity that we truly need will be forever withheld from us. We may not get it in this life (like the billions of people who never learned of the Gospel in this life), but we will receive what we need at some point.
Logic alone doesn’t work here because it cannot properly figure and take into account things pre-mortally and post-mortally. We can only understand the “why’s” of this life by turning to God for the big picture, including seeking to understand that our calling here is to exercise the talents and opportunities we have been given, rather than continually seeking to be given something we simply do not need at this moment for what we’ve been asked to do that impacts eternity. Peace will only come as we understand and embrace our purpose on this earth, and will not come to us through logic produced by a mortal mind that can’t see the beginning from the end.
Q: Do you believe that fatherhood is important?
Absolutely. The article was not written about fatherhood though. As might be imagined based on my overlength blog posts, I could write books on these subjects. There are so many factors playing into things that it is impossible to address them all in any sense of internet limited fashion.
To be clear, I do not believe that Priesthood = Motherhood. I do believe though that Priesthood complements Fatherhood, and that the lack of priesthood complements Motherhood. While Priesthood and Motherhood aren’t directly equivalent, the relationship they carry can help us learn important things about each role as a father and mother.
On this point, my question to you is: Is God unjust, unfair, or unequal to assign eternal roles to us? We’re taught that gender is part of our eternal identity. Is there any difference anywhere between genders? If so, what are they? If not, how is gender part of our eternal identity if it means nothing to differentiate us?
We’re taught that there is opposition in all things. I’ve always taken this to mean that we have opposites. Most people look at opposition as a destructive thing, or something that is at odds with something else. However, I believe that God’s way is to create eternal things as complements. Fathers and Mothers are examples of complementary opposites. We each have beautiful, sacred roles to fulfill, roles that will continue for eternity. Fatherhood and Motherhood are the highest and noblest callings in eternity.
The Priesthood and all other opportunities existing in this life are meant to complement, not destroy, our roles as Fathers and Mothers. Priesthood supports both roles, but so does the opportunities afforded by having no Priesthood. Fathers and Mothers are critical parts of our identity and life, and so too are the complementary roles played by those who act as a Bishop and those who do not. In other words, Priesthood, the Church, and everything else in life exist to complement Fatherhood and Motherhood, and by viewing what opportunities God gives us currently, we can further understand our sacred roles in each of these great responsibilities.
Q: Do you truly not know the many ways this line of thinking has lead to the subjugation of countless groups throughout history?
I’m sorry if something in the article made you think this. However, I do not see where I made the claim you assert. Since it is a point of confusion though, I will clarify it here.
I raised our physical differences to highlight a question deeper than women and the Priesthood – the question of women and their Creator. Just as Priesthood helps us understand Fatherhood, so too does the man’s physical characteristics help us understand Fatherhood. We aren’t given these things by chance, but as part of a great plan.
Women, however, often claim they are denied equal treatment by virtue of not having the Priesthood. If that is true, then it raises a much more troubling issue of them being denied equal treatment by virtue of the way they were created. No matter how much we campaign against it, we aren’t able to change the stark reality of how men’s physical bodies allow them to overpower a woman. There is simply not equality, in a logical mortal sense, in our physical bodies.
This doesn’t mean that anyone is justified in hurting, harming, or subjugating another. However, if we are to continue pursuing a cause on the basis of equality alone, we have to consider, at some point, how that equality claim squares with the realities of our existence. My only point was that since the actual reality of our existence is so far removed from our current understanding of equality, either our understanding is wrong, or God is wrong in the way He created us all so unequally. I personally believe in God, and the simple reality of our extreme physical differences show me that our modern version of equality has never compelled or constrained God in how He acts and treats us here in this life.
In other words, our modern understanding of equality is not the highest principle driving God’s works, and until we seek to understand the highest principles, we cannot understand where or how equality fits into the picture, and we will end up dissatisfied or empty as we continue projecting an assumption onto our view of the world that is simply not the way God acts.
This doesn’t mean women will never have the Priesthood, and it doesn’t mean they will. Answering this question though requires us to look deeper and explore other principles, and that is all that was meant by the reference to our physical differences, as they serve to illustrate that more is at play than modern equality alone.
Q: Do you think so little of men that you believe they require coercion to love and serve? and Do you think so little of women’s contributions to “authoritative direction” that we can be easily cast aside to demonstrate a nearly invisible distinction between love and duty?
Great questions here. I think these are valid concerns based on what is written. To answer honestly, no, I do not think so little of men, or women. I do think so little though of our fallen, mortal condition, that I believe we are all in the same boat with these matters.
I’ll give examples. These aren’t meant to demean men or women, but are meant to highlight the realities of our fallen nature as humans on this earth.
I served as Elder’s Quorum President for four years. I was responsible for helping to coordinate service opportunities, such as yard clean ups, moving, blessings, etc. If I stood up in Elder’s Quorum and asked for a volunteer, I would rarely get anyone to respond. If I talked to someone directly about their duty to help, I would get more of a response. I would often spend hours calling and texting people just trying to find help to give someone a blessing. Most men appreciated an opportunity to give a blessing, but most were simply too busy with their other duties in life to be able to break away, felt overworked or stressed, or simply thought that someone else should help that day.
I’ve attended countless Priesthood leadership meetings over the years. I have yet to meet more than one or two people excited to go and be trained on everything they aren’t doing right and on all of the duties they aren’t fulfilling. Attendance at those meetings is mostly out of sheer duty, and no, I do not fault anyone or think any less of them to say that. If we were to ask, in church, for people to volunteer and wake up early on Sunday morning to go to an extra meeting to be told other things they need to add into their life and schedule, there would be few, if any, volunteering to go.
So yes, I have watched duty motivate someone, men and women alike, time and time again. Both respond to duty. I think that is the problem though. Duty makes things easier, in a sense. I can justify not visiting my neighbor because I was fulfilling my duty of attending Priesthood training. I can justify not visiting the older, lonely, neighbor because I have hometeaching families to visit instead. I can pretend that I’ve done what God wants, simply because I did the minimum required by duty, and again, this is the same for men or women.
So, do fallen mortals require duty to help them be motivated to look outside themselves? Absolutely. Hometeaching has always been a struggle. It is a duty based concept. Without the duty, who would go around and visit the home of every member? What would motivate us to get up and go see people who don’t like us? True love would, if we possessed it, but again, the realities of our mortal condition mean that we need additional help, albeit it in limited quantities, as duty is not the reason we came to this earth.
You mentioned a “nearly invisible distinction between love and duty.” I agree that there are times it is a fine line, but there are other times where the distinction is miles thick. I’ll give a real life example that highlights both extremes.
A woman moved into a ward I lived in once who was not active in attending church. I stopped by, pursuant to my duties at the time, to see if we could request her records and assign visiting and home teachers. She thanked me for stopping by, but said it would not be necessary to assign her any visiting teachers because she already had some assigned from her old ward that was a few miles away (as an aside, since this ward was in Utah, that also meant her old ward was a few stakes away).
She went on to tell me how her visiting teacher had visited consistently every month for 10 years, and how they were the best of friends. She was certain the visits would continue, especially since she still lived so close. I explained that those visits usually change with a change in ward boundaries, but she was certain they would not due to the friendship she felt existed with her visiting teacher.
To my knowledge, there were no further visits from her visiting teacher. She went from feeling truly loved to feeling the harsh reality of the limits of duty, and things hurt, a lot. I still feel sad as I reflect on the pain I saw in her. While duty can help someone feel loved for a time, it is entirely insufficient to maintain a true and lasting love, the type that truly changes hearts. Heavenly Father didn't assign Jesus to atone for us. There was no duty to Christ's atonement. It was an act of pure love, which means it has no bounds, and which means it carries the power to change.
To be clear, I don’t fault that visiting teacher at all. I have had dozens of people I was assigned to hometeach, and I simply don’t have the time or ability to keep in touch with every one of them. I have had callings stop, and guess what? I didn’t continue to visit people as I had before. I received new callings, and simply didn’t have time. All of those people experienced a taste of something approaching love, but then also experienced the miles still to go before they had someone who was visiting simply because they truly loved and cared. In other words, no lasting change or work occurred when I acted solely out of duty, as it came to an end.
So no, I do not think poorly of men or women. I also do not believe that men or women or inherently more evil or righteous than the other. I am not blind to the reality of our existence though, to the reality of what motivates many of us to act. If we don’t have the duty to go visit a neighbor, we rarely do, especially when it is someone that offers us nothing in return. It’s easy to visit a friend because of what they do for us, but it isn’t easy to visit and show concern to someone that doesn’t want us there.
I have worked with countless men and women in the church. Great people, trying their best. The ones that have really impacted me though were the ones that took interest in me, that reached out when they didn’t have to. It’s been nice to have hometeachers to call when a blessing is needed or I need help moving a heavy piece of furniture, but those people haven’t changed my life or heart.
The most powerful influence I’ve ever personally experienced is that of true love, the love that comes from a person who is not required to visit me, not asked to visit me, and who is not asked to say anything specific to me. I have experienced the harsh realities of the limits of duty (and have had others experience the pain associated with my duties ending or changing), but have also experienced the amazing goodness that comes from a never-ending love.
So, is the church better off placing every member under duty to act and using up what little time we have running about chasing duties that are necessary to exist in this life, but are not what really make up eternity, or are its members “fully functioning” and better off when we all take the amazing opportunities that are ours in the absence of duty to develop, create, and spread true eternal love, love that has no bounds or end?
While I don’t know whether women will ever have the Priesthood in this life, I personally think the church as a whole, every member in a small branch, and every person in the world is better off when we follow the admonition in Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-27.
“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”
Being ordained to the Priesthood is not necessary to do great and wonderful things, or to be "anxiously engaged in a good cause." There is more to this world than church, and we need people who can keep the church going, yes, but also those who can use the limited time we have to do so much more in the world itself. We are all better off without the stark reality of the end and limits of duty. Duty does help push us towards love, but it does not get us there. Again, the Celestial Kingdom will not be filled with individuals acting out of duty, it will be filled with those acting out of love.
Please ask me whatever questions this article raised. I've tried to honestly and thoroughly answer your questions, but may have missed something. As it’s impossible to cover everything in a blog post, I’m guessing there are pieces missing. Also, to respond to a comment left by another on the original post, yes, this is not doctrine, and I do not profess it to be. It is simply thoughts that may help us see things from a different angle. I do appreciate your response though, and sincerely respect the deep questions that exist, the contributions of women to my life, and the contributions they make to the church.
My last question is: Would the church and world be better off if we simply all acted because we loved? Maybe, just maybe, what the world needs is more love, more actions by those not constrained to act, and not more Priesthood opportunities (which includes duties, programs, and trainings) to try and motivate us to do the basics each day. Maybe love means more to God than Priesthood alone, and maybe that’s why the sheer majority of those who have come to this earth never held the Priesthood while on this earth. In other words, maybe, just maybe, there is more than equality to consider in understanding God, women, and the Priesthood.