In sum: I agree that we are not bound to the image of priesthood as we currently circulate it. But, I think we are bound to figure out what priesthood actually is, and doing that in full fidelity is going take work and time.
I feel so bewildered as I look at both sides of the women’s ordination question. I disagree and agree with both sides, and not because I’m too wishy-washy. I think that those pushing for female ordination are right, perfectly right, to say that revelation is real and that the rules concerning who holds the priesthood *could* change. There is no question in my mind that that is a possibility. But, I also agree with those more conservative members who say that you can’t demand (or I would say, you can’t forsee) what the Lord is going to reveal. But I have other strong feelings that don’t seem to align with either position. For one, I take as primary two senses of equality: 1) access to salvation and exaltation, and 2) equality of intelligence (a la Ranciere). And those aren’t what we’re usually talking about, no matter which angle we’re coming from. For two, I believe that women already perform priesthood ordinances in the temple, and also participate in priesthood work, without having the Melchizedek priesthood. They preside in the home when there isn’t a priesthood-holding, worthy male there. But she does it without the Melchizedek priesthood. Also, women serve missions, but without having to be ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood, but men must first be ordained in order to preach. (Note: not just to baptize, but even to preach.) I think that deserves a lot more theological reflection before we can even start to ask the questions we are asking. It all seems too premature. It’s as if the more liberal side is proclaiming: “We have mixed the philosophies of men about gender with our scripture and now is the time to overthrow that!” I agree that we mix philosophies (read: ideologies) into our doctrine constantly, but the trick is: “Who can we trust to separate those?” Who can separate the two without introducing different philosophies? Only one who has the Spirit in much more abundance than I! So I agree with the claim that we have mixed philosophy (ideologies, traditions, etc.) into our discourse. But I don’t agree that we have a clear sense of how to fix that. It’s as complicated as the “wheat and tares” situation, in my mind. Which plants are wheat, and which are tares? Do we risk pulling up too many wheat plants at this point? I think a forward march toward female ordination is going to pull up too many wheat plants, myself. Again, it seems premature. What is priesthood, anyway? Who’s seriously asking that question? Who’s figuring out where we’ve conflated administrative authority with priesthood when we shouldn’t have? Who’s figuring out what traditions we have about priesthood that aren’t actually founded on anything but tradition? Who (and I’m especially interested in this one) is figuring out what the relationship between spiritual gifts and the priesthood is? The priesthood is too often defined as God’s power on earth. Isn’t that what spiritual gifts are, too? Gifts given to men and women? Can’t women call down the blessings of the heavens on their work too? Joseph Smith in the RS minutes said that they were patterned after the priesthood order in that they could receive revelation for their own organization, and was clear that this was without needing Joseph Smith to receive it for them. Now that’s equality — in that, we all have equal access to the heavens. In this case, men and women each have equal capacity to receive revelation. We have equal rights to the heavens! God loves us equally, in that He opens up communication to anyone who will come. (This sounds similar to Ranciere’s argument that we have equal capacity to be rational, thinking people.) It must be noted of course that one’s temporary or permanent callings will allow for revelation about different sorts of things, but each person’s ability or right to talk to God is equal, as far as I can tell (similar again to Ranciere’s point that we may gain more or less amounts of knowledge than someone else, but we are no less equal in intelligence because of it). And certainly, the main point to be taken on this topic from the RS minutes in my mind is that men or women are no less capable — based on their sex — to receive revelation. Is all of this taught clearly enough? I doubt it. But there, we have not a case of institutional inequality, but a case of institutional — or membership, for that matter — thoughtlessness. And I think we’re all equally (if I can say it that way) guilty of this. I think we’re all guilty of not studying the priesthood enough, to even know what it is. D&C 128 seems to pin it mostly to a question of sealing things up, so that what’s on earth is the same as what’s in heaven. What does that have to do with 80% of what we assign to the priesthood? And then there’s a host of questions that follow that question. Have we really changed the sense of priesthood? And is that okay? Have more responsibilities been added to those who hold the priesthood, but those additional ones could be taken away? Why have we so rigidly decided who gets the priesthood and when? And what does all of this have to do with priesthood in the temple? Is that priesthood something beyond the Melchizedek? Is there any priesthood beyond the Melchizedek? I am not talking about a “Patriarchal order,” I am talking about any women or man who has been endowed. Since the wording is so careful in the temple, I suspect we could learn a lot about priesthood from thinking those words.
Anyway, so many questions. I think we should agree that God can do something new. But, I think we can’t assume we can forsee what it is that God might ordain (using that word properly, yet letting it sound out of place). I feel confident saying that I think we are not bound to the image of priesthood as we currently circulate it. But, as with every other image of doctrine — should I say idol? — I think there is plenty of work ahead of us, with what we already have, that would radically change that image already. I want to see what work we as a Church could do with that first, in hopefully a humble state of mind aided by the Spirit, before I myself want to see any woman or man approach a prophet to ask God to alter our practices about something so fundamental as the priesthood. So while I agree that we are not necessarily bound forever to the image of the priesthood we’ve circulated, I think we are bound to figure out what priesthood actually is, and doing that in full fidelity is going take work and time.
I’ll add this as a footnote: The Book of Moses presents three things as being in the world from the beginning to the end, three things that won’t change: 1) The Gospel message, presented there as repent and be saved; 2) Adam’s children will never be wiped out until the end of the world, with one specific chosen line promised to be preserved and responsible for proclaiming the gospel; 3) the Priesthood (in whatever organization gets attached to it) will be here from the beginning (Adam himself) until the end. Whatever forms or policies or practices or duties and so on get attached to it (by revelation, or by tradition), what I do believe is that it has something to do with God’s purposes of uniting the whole family of Adam from himself down to the last living people on this earth. So I hope to see many of us dive into this doctrine, with faith and study, with work on what’s been given already, and with confidence enough to allow new dews from heaven to descend ever so gracefully upon our souls, both female and male.