I have been actively participating in the conversation about gender in the LDS Church for quite sometime now. I have listened carefully to a range of ideas about why LDS women are not now ordained to the priesthood, what that tells us about gender and about the priesthood, and whether the current policies will change in the future. I have often been surprised, sometimes intrigued, and not uncommonly disappointed. Particularly upsetting to me have been explanations that demean LDS men or belittle the power of the priesthood.
I was born a male and have reach adulthood, thus making me a man. According to the family proclamation, being a male is part of my eternal identity, not merely a mortal characteristic. Nothing in this life will change that, including my priesthood status or the priesthood status of others.
Can being ordained to the priesthood make me a better man? Yes, I believe holding the priesthood helps make me a better person (and thus a better man) in at least three ways: (1) By encouraging me to live righteously so I can exercise God’s power, (2) By giving me meaningful opportunities to serve, and (3) By allowing me to participate frequently in performing holy ordinances. Allow me to elaborate.
1) Since before I turned 12 and was ordained to the office of deacon, I have continually learned in Church and in my home that the priesthood is a sacred trust, a great power bestowed with an expectation that I will live in a certain manner. In order for the ordination to have any real effect I must meet certain standards (law of chastity, word of wisdom, etc.) and engage in a lifelong effort for purity in deed and in thought. I learned early on that I wouldn’t always know when opportunities to use my priesthood would arise, so I had to strive for continual worthiness. Though we talk a great deal about worthiness in connection with eternal goals, that’s a remote concept for a teenager. Priesthood ordination made worthiness into something much more immediate.
In my teenage years and young adulthood this emphasis on worthiness helped me steer clear of potentially dangerous activities by giving providing a personal counterbalance to peer pressure. It also helped me develop essential spiritual habits in my youth. Now these commitments and habits have become personal to me, part of how I live my life each day.
2) From the time I was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood, I had an ongoing responsibility each week when I arrived at Church, a role to play in a sacred ordinance for all members of the congregation. As a deacon I learned the routes and worked to develop the correct bearing while passing the sacrament. As a teacher I took pride in my order and cleanliness in preparing and cleaning up after the sacrament. As a priest I studied and memorized the sacrament prayers and also trained and supervised other priesthood holders. My responsibilities extended beyond my own congregation; it was not uncommon for me to help with the sacrament while on vacation in other wards.
Though the sacrament was the earliest and most public set of responsibilities I received as a priesthood holder, it was certainly not the end. As a deacon I was sent to members’ homes to collect fast offerings. (They had to be asked not to donate at Church, making clear that this less-efficient method was solely for the young men’s benefit.) Eventually additional assignments came: service in quorum presidencies (including receiving priesthood keys), home teaching, missionary work, administering to the sick, counseling with members, and interviewing converts and members for baptism and other sacred ordinances. These experiences deepened my testimony, broadened my experience in the gospel, encouraged me to develop new talents and skills, and drew me closer to my Savior.
3) It is difficult to put into words, let alone to overestimate, the experience of performing a sacred ordinance. The Doctrine and Covenants states that in priesthood ordinances “the power of godliness is manifest” (D&C 84:30). That is particularly true for those receiving and performing the ordinances. The closest I have come to describing what it is like to lay hands on someone’s head and speak words inspired by the Spirit while invoking the priesthood is to reflect that I feel as though I never stand taller than in that moment. I often feel an almost physical connection to heaven, one that lifts me up while simultaneously distilling inspired direction.
So far, it has been my opportunity to baptize, give the Gift of the Holy Ghost, bless, heal, provide inspired counsel, ordain, and set apart. Whenever I have performed these ordinances I have grown closer to the Savior – in whose name and by whose authority I perform them – and to the recipient of the ordinance. This has especially been the case when members have asked me personally to perform the ordinance and with members of my own family. Sharing in – rather than simply witnessing – these sacred events has been a tremendous blessing unlike any other.
None of these three ways in which the priesthood has blessed my life and made me a better man are exclusionary. They don’t depend on others being kept from the same blessings. I grew up in a home in which my father and later three brothers were all ordained to the priesthood. At no time did I feel that my priesthood was diminished by their ordination. In fact, helping ordain my brothers was one of those opportunities to perform a holy ordinance that reaffirmed my testimony and commitment to live righteously. Serving together in the priesthood with family members was another blessing that came with the priesthood.
Might there be some men (especially young men) who value their priesthood more because they have been given something that women have not? Certainly. But this is the worst kind of chauvinism and should be discouraged in all instances. It is the opposite of Christlike love, that charity which envieth not, seeketh not her own, and invites all to come and receive the full blessings of the gospel. Like Moses, we should hope that all might be prophets in Israel (see Numbers 11:25-30).
When I was ordained to the office of High Priest I searched the scriptures for examples of great High Priests whom I might emulate. One verse that serves as my guiding light is this account by Abraham of the circumstances surrounding his ordination:
“Finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers” (Abraham 1:2).
Abraham sought the priesthood for many reasons: increased happiness, peace, rest, righteousness, knowledge, revelation, and leadership. These were all righteous desires which led to him not only being ordained but becoming one of the greatest priesthood holders in recorded scripture. But I think the key lesson here is that he sought the priesthood, and he sought it in part because it would bring a greater measure of “happiness and peace and [the Savior’s] rest” for himself as well as for others.
Like Abraham, I have enjoyed great blessings as a result of my ordination to the priesthood. Also like him, I expect many of those hoping and praying and asking for a revelation on women’s ordination are also seeking this for righteous reasons.
As we seek to understand what the Lord has in mind for men, women, and His priesthood, we need to cast aside some false notions: (a) that men need a gender-exclusive priesthood, (b) that all the blessings of the priesthood are equally available to men and women, and (c) that seeking the priesthood is unrighteous. In order to understand what God wants of us and what he has in store for us in the future, we must put aside such falsehoods, seek honestly to understand what God has revealed, and prepare ourselves for what He has yet to reveal.
I really liked your point that seeking the priesthood is a righteous endeavor. Too many people instantly dismiss woman seeking the priesthood with the argument that somehow the seeking itself is heretical. It is a GOOD thing to do. Also, I have always disliked the argument (that I have heard from both men and woman in the church) that men need the priesthood and woman don't, because men are inherently less spiritual than woman and need the 'spiritual power-up' the priesthood bestows. (a lovely example of this was a stake choir I was in, where the choir conductor (a sister), told the men in the choir that our singing wasn't as good as the sisters because we were inherently less spiritual) In actuality, we were all just really bad singers, haha. Great post!
also… women instead of woman, all the times I misspelled it… :/
The argument about relative “spirituality” frustrates me, too. I don’t appreciate the assumption that we (who are not to judge) can somehow weigh the collective spiritual capacity of entire genders and find one wanting in comparison. It’s also problematic to feminize “spirituality,” when the feminine is so often treated as lesser in our policies and language.
This feminization of spirituality can be traced back to the scientific revolution. Previously (in Western civilization), men had been associated with spirituality, faith, and emotion while women were tied to the physical and carnal sides of human nature. However, as science became more highly valued socially, these gender perceptions were reversed–tying men (the preferred gender) to the physical, since this was now considered the superior way of thinking about the world.
Absolutely. And one the things I value about the Restoration are all the ways it seemed to sidestep old historical debates/developments. Sadly, especially lately, this has not been one of them.
What a beautiful article. I appreciated your comment about your priesthood not being diminished when your brothers were ordained. I seek ordination because I want to bless my family when they are sick and in sacred/rights of passage ordinances such as baptism and child blessings. My husband is not a member of the church, and I think it is very disrespectful to him to ask a neighbor or other church member to bless our family when they look down on us or feel sorry for us (that was a Sunday school lesson about the temple when the teacher bore his testimony and teared up because he said he felt so sorry for me and my situation. Our ward and many mormons in general don’t understand that non-mormons are just as good at being spouses and parents and that they lead spiritually uplifted lives. My husband is the best man I have ever met, and the most spiritual person I know.) Female ordination would allow me to raise my family in the church on an equal playing field and not as a second class member hoping that someone will care enough to put more than 5 minutes into a baby blessing when I am here, my child’s mother, with my heart full, but I am not allowed to share.
Thank you, Kelly. I appreciated hearing your reasons for seeking the priesthood. I’m always a bit surprised that so many male priesthood holders – who, as young men, looked forward to the very same experiences with their future families – don’t see immediately why women would (righteously) desire the priesthood. And I share your disappointment that we don’t do a good job recognizing the strengths of non-members, including many of the qualities we claim to hold in the highest esteem. Thanks for sharing.
I can’t clap hard enough for this post.
Jason, I agree with everything you say but how can it become reality?
Having just watched the womens conference and noticed that the women were at least a generation and perhaps 2 or 3 generations younger than our Apostles. Presuming that they are chosen by inspiration, and on merit, why does the Lord choose women in their 40s and 50s ? Because they have the vitality to perform their callings?
I believe one of the requirements before OW, will be a change in the male Leadership. Which will create the cultural change required.
The present tradition of the last man standing has produced leaders with dementia for almost half of the last 40 years. http://www.wheatandtares.org/14846/does-pres-monson-have-dementia/
Who would the Lord choose if he were given the choice?
Can we start a discussion, and an expectation from the membership that the next Prophet is chosen by the Lord on merit, as are the female leaders. The most popular/meritorious Apostle would appear to be Elder Uchtdorf http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2014/08/06/which-gas-do-readers-of-different-blogs-like/ Assuming he is liked because he has merit.
When did the tradition of the last man standing start, can it be questioned, can it be replaced?
The older Apostles could then retire gracefully (no longer having expectation of the top job) and be replaced by more capable, representative, and even female Apostles. The Apostles are not going to change the succession system as long as they are in the queue, so the expectation will have to come from the members.
I believe this is the quickest way to achieve a vigorous church, and a leader with an interest in asking for revelation on ordaining women and accepting gay marriage so we can move forward.
You raise plenty of excellent questions, which I’m going to demure from answering for anyone but myself.
I do think your questions touch on a tricky conundrum though: If one accepts that the current leadership structure impedes the ability of God to lead the Church, why believe that God would begin leading it if that structure was changed? And if a subsequent change in the structure leads to the outcomes we want, how will we know those are “of God” and not just “of structure”?
I disagree with the post but won't go into elaborate detail here. One small thing I want to correct is your definition of an ordinance. Blessings of comfort, healing and setting apart are not ordinances. Ordinances are rites or rituals where covenants are made, such as baptism, marriage and sacrament. That's all for now.
I understand that you disagree. I hope it was helpful in some way anyway.
As for the correction, it’s been my experience that we use “ordinance” to refer to any of the ritualistic performances that require priesthood authority. Some of these (distinguished by Handbook 2 as “saving ordinances”) involve covenants. But in the context of my post, I felt that highlighting the distinction was unnecessary.
Thanks for your reply and clarification. I wrote that somewhat in haste and there is a lot more for me to learn.
Kyle, you said, “Blessings of comfort, healing and setting apart are not ordinances.”
That’s not accurate according to lds.org
What you are talking about are the “saving” or “essential” ordinances, but not all ordinances are part of this category.
“Other ordinances, such as naming and blessing children, consecrating oil, and administering to the sick and afflicted, are also performed by priesthood authority.”
Jason, I cannot thank you enough for this. You have outlined so exquisitely how I feel about ordination. As an active, temple recommend-holding woman, I have been scared to join OW. But in my heart I long to connect with God in Priesthood service. When I first heard of the notion of women’s ordination in our church (from OW), I thought it sounded strange. But the more I’ve thought and prayed about it, the more my heart cries out, “YES!” I feel the spirit in this righteous desire, and I desire it more and more, to bless my husband, my children, my friends and neighbors, the sisters I visit teach… I serve in every way I am called and know how to serve. I am grateful for the every opportunity to serve. And when the church announces women’s ordination I will weep for joy, praise my God, and get in line at the bishop’s office for my interview.
Thank you for sharing your thanks. I haven’t joined OW either and don’t know what the Lord has in store for us. But I’m glad my thoughts have been a help for you, as yours have been for me.
How can it become a reality?
Women… Go get the priesthood the same way Abraham and joseph smith got it. Which woman will be like Joan of arc (figuratively) and lead out in faith and call to the priesthood from our Heavenly Mother? Can thomas monson even give a woman the priesthood? Have you prayed to know if women have a completely different line of authority? What if women’s ordinances are different and cannot be given by males? There is historical evidence for this very idea if you begin digging into Mary Magdalene and women’s courts in the temple etc.
Perhaps the problem is the women keep looking to men here on earth. Go plead with God until God opens the heavens and blesses you with the priesthood. This is the only way it can happen. Otherwise you will keep asking “authorities” who don’t care to even pray about it and see no reason for it. God bless
Outstanding post, Jason! I particularly like this point you made:
“Might there be some men (especially young men) who value their priesthood more because they have been given something that women have not? Certainly. But this is the worst kind of chauvinism and should be discouraged in all instances.”
This was beautiful. You almost make me want to return to church. Almost. More priesthood holders with your attitude would be something to behold.
Thank you. I hope some day you will.
Thanks for this post, Jason. Very nicely constructed.
Jason, It just depends on how you see communication between God and the Apostles. Before the last recorded revelation in 1978 the prophet prays for months in the temple. He is not praying to find out the will of the Lord, but to overcome his prejudices so he can implement the Lords will.
You’d think if a Prophet knew the will of the Lord was not being done it would be an instant transformation, but apparently not.
So I believe, that ordination of women is the will of the Lord now but, until some of the brethren can overcome their sexism it can not be implemented. Last time it was racism and now it is sexism. The Lord is doing the best he can with what he has to work with.
That is why I advocate a retirement system for Apostles, so the Lord can have some more current prejudices to work with/through.
Kyle, you said, "Blessings of comfort, healing and setting apart are not ordinances."
That's not accurate according to lds.org
What you are talking about are the "saving" or "essential" ordinances, but not all ordinances are part of this category.
"Other ordinances, such as naming and blessing children, consecrating oil, and administering to the sick and afflicted, are also performed by priesthood authority."