Several weeks ago in Relief Society, we had an extremely candid discussion about the priesthood. This was good timing. I had been reflecting about my upcoming series of blog posts about Women and the Priesthood, and the viewpoints from our varied sisterhood served as a good backdrop. One counselor in the Presidency, a very bright woman with a PhD and a brain like a steel-trap, took notes that included verbatim class comments. Here are some of the things the ladies said about the priesthood:
It’s God’s power, not man’s power, and we’re all blessed by it.
I know we partake in the blessings of the priesthood. Nice, but I don’t think my eternal capabilities are just to be blessed. I should be able to do some blessing, especially if I’m really to become like Heavenly Father.
But women have motherhood.
What is my purpose here, as a childless woman?
For those who are concerned about the children part, we mustn’t forget that this world is not the end. There will be children in the next world.
Fatherhood is the equivalent of motherhood. It’s not priesthood. Priesthood must have some other equivalent for women, and I’m just not sure what that is.
Be careful for what you wish for. I think men were given the priesthood because they need to be told this is what they need to do.
I’d like to know more about what woman’s purpose is in the Church.
It’s certainly within the power of our womanhood to bring a temple spirit into our home. We could start with that.
Faith is a real power. Elder Packer said something like, “There are few things more powerful than the faithful prayers of a righteous mother.” That is a real power that women have, the kind of faith to work miracles.
Men may have the priesthood authority, but women can have just as much priesthood power as men. It can be in your home, or it can even be just within yourself.
But the fact remains that men are the ones with priesthood authority. Why is that?
Just as there is a vast variety of women in the LDS church, there is also a variety of women’s experiences with the priesthood. Some women feel demeaned by their denial of priesthood ordination; others would never want it in the first place; perhaps another, married to a priesthood holder, feels completely fulfilled by priesthood power; and still others, perhaps single or married to non-members, feel like the topic just doesn’t apply to them at all.
This series of blog posts will seek to illustrate some of the ways women think about and experience the priesthood, flavored in large part by the way I think about the priesthood, of course. Here are some of the more specific topics I want to discuss throughout the next few months:
1. What the priesthood IS. And what it ISN’T. It is the power of God—the same power by which he created Heaven and Earth—that men, in reality, use sporadically. It is NOT something that fills a man’s being and makes him become more than what he is—just a man. I think this is a common misconception in the church that causes inflation of men’s ego and discouragement among women, not to mention a lot of strange practices that further the divide between genders.
2. What equivalent to priesthood authority do women have? Spoiler alert: I don’t think we do—that is, there is no precise equivalent within women to the actual power and authority of God articulated out through a person’s fingertips. I think it’s confusing and depressing as a woman to continually try to find her version of the priesthood (motherhood? faith?). Better to accept the fact that women don’t have it and then decide, “So what?” The answer to that is different for everyone. I’ll talk about some options.
3. Sexism in our country, historically and presently. Premise #1: Many men in our country do not see women as equals. Premise #2: The leadership of the Church is made up of men. Conclusion: It’s at least possible, if not probable, that some leaders don’t see women as equals. Is this something taught by the Church or handed down from God? I don’t believe so. I think it’s cultural. Does that make it ok? Absolutely not. But I think it does give some perspective.
To provide context to my posts, I want to leave you with some info about me: While I do espouse many feminist ideas (about equality and respect, among others), I am no expert on Mormon feminism and do not pretend to be. I do, however, have great empathy for individuals, especially women, who suffer. I love people and feel compassion for those who are hurting. It was horrible, for example, listening to one of my favorite women in my ward practically break down over her lack of understanding about her purpose in this Church. Then, the emotional arguments, flowery words and rhetoric that others used to try to comfort her were even more frustrating. I hope we can come up with something better than that.
I love God, and I have faith that as the Heavenly Father of us all, He sympathizes with his daughters (and sons) who suffer, too. I believe He wants us to talk about this stuff and find strength in doing so. Thanks for being a part of the discussion.