This week is the General Relief Society meeting, and next weekend is the General Priesthood meeting. It’s not the first time someone’s asked the question of why the women don’t have the Priesthood, but it’s the first time a group of women are making a consistent campaign for it. A group of women asked to have tickets to go to Priesthood session. They were told no, but, the Church also decided to make the Priesthood session available live on the internet for the first time. (I hesitate to use the word “Church” here. I can mean so many things by that word. Church-as-in-the-gospel, Church-as-in-those-responsible-for-policies, Church-as-in-those-receiving-revelation, Church-as-in-the-body-of-Saints, Church-as-in-the-mainstream-group-whose-views-are-often-tradition-more-than-doctrine, etc. Here, I mean the Church-as-in-those-responsible-for-policies. Church-as-institution, would be one way others have put that use of the word.)
So, it’s an important time (as it always is) to be seeking an understanding of what exactly we’ve got going on here in the Church (Church-as-in-body-of-Saints, and Church-as-in-the-gospel). I chose my post title carefully. It wasn’t “women and the Priesthood,” but rather “Priesthood and women.” First, I think we as a Church (body of Saints) have no idea what the Priesthood really, really is. And until we do a lot more thinking, researching scripture, researching history, praying, rethinking, rejoicing, thinking, studying, etc., we’re working with a pretty shallow definition of “Priesthood.” We’ve got the shell, or maybe even just the shadow, or maybe not even those. Those words seem to say we’ve got to outer picture but not the details; I don’t think we’ve even got the outer shape clear myself. Perhaps that’s a bit bold of me, but I think it’s true.
Then, second, we can ask where women fit into that. Right now the question these women are asking is why they don’t fit into Priesthood-as-it’s-now-implemented. Well, frankly, I don’t know the answer to that. If Priesthood is mostly a question of administration of offices, then I can see their point. The only “reason” would be “God picked men to do that.” And, if that’s the actual real answer, then that’s great, whatever God wants is of course okay with me! But I can see their concern that it’s just an answer we give because we haven’t really asked the question yet. It’s an answer not to the question, but so we don’t have to deal with the question. I can see their concern. Now, maybe it is a real answer anyway, that’s fine. For myself, I have so many questions about Priesthood (just click on the Priesthood tags on my blog!) that I can’t even see why to ask that question yet.
WHAT is Priesthood?? That needs to be asked first! Then I think, as we study that out, we will either come to great insights about how women already fit into the picture naturally (without campaigning) or, if there is a problem with our policies, it will become obvious exactly and clearly where and how there is a problem and then we can begin to pray about how to change things.
I think we have several steps until we could dare do something like what the Ordain Women site is doing. Their presence is frustrating and a bit embarrassing to me. I am a thoughtful Latter-day Saint that is fully involved in my ward and in doing serious scripture study. There are many hundreds if not thousands of women who are seriously engaged in the work of the Church. We are already serving with great effectiveness and respect and watching the work of the Kingdom go forward through and around us. There is a large group of productive, intelligent women in the Church who are not interested in campaigning for equal-ordination. I don’t know how this group can be represented more strongly. So in that sense, I am frustrated that their group is so public, while others who think differently aren’t (or perhaps can’t be; their group is public because of the nature of their group). It just isn’t representative of women who would be quite thrilled to serve in new ways, but not because of gender equality.
In addition, I don’t agree with the way they are thinking about Priesthood. On their website, they say,
Since leadership and positional authority in Mormonism is inextricably tied to priesthood ordination, it is clear that Mormon women must be ordained in order to be full and equal participants in their Church.
If I’m understanding correctly, they see Priesthood, or lack of it, as a point in between membership and leadership. This defines Priesthood as the right to govern, administer, lead, decide, etc.
I see how that definition is used often in the Church-as-in-the-mainstream-group-whose-views-are-often-tradition-more-than-doctrine. That isn’t to say that I think we should automatically throw it out, but I think it needs to be thought. Priesthood is not that, as I understand it. The D&C organizes an institution where offices of leadership and Priesthood power overlap, but that isn’t what the Priesthood is, if that makes sense. It’s something perhaps like the Nephites’ tradition of asking someone who had the gift of prophecy to be their war captains. The purpose of prophecy is certainly not to win wars; but, on the other hand, what a smart idea of the Nephites to ask someone with that gift to lead them into war!
I don’t know if that’s a great comparison, but it’s a start. There are offices, and there are Priesthood, and they overlap in some way, but they are not equivalent. There is a lot to figure out about Priesthood.
I just read through the entire “FAQ” part of the Ordain Women site. I’m glad I did. I can see better now how I can position myself with regard to their project. I won’t have time this morning, but I would like to respond section-by-section to their FAQ. I agree with them that trite complaints and responses to their mission don’t hold up. Yes! Let’s get beyond unthoughtfullness! But, I think many of their own responses don’t hold up either. And that’s what I want to address, but unfortunately that will have to come another time.