My five-year-old daughter Alanna started kindergarten a few weeks ago. She’s loving it, and I love getting to talk with her about her day when I get home from work. She shares experiences, sings songs that she learned, shows me her artwork, and tells me about her friends. And she’s started asking questions. That’s great for me, because I can usually answer a five year old’s questions.
So it was a big surprise to me last night when, while I was lying in bed getting ready to fall asleep, my wife mentioned, “Alanna asked me today, ‘Why don’t girls get the priesthood?'” Gender issues in the church are a tender spot for me. I strongly believe that the church’s current restrictions on women holding the priesthood or on gay marriage are analogous to the early church’s restrictions on blacks holding the priesthood or on interracial marriage — that both are cultural artifacts representing the prejudices of well-meaning individuals. There is no doubt in my mind that God is neither racist nor sexist.
What surprised me most is that, at five years old, my daughter has already keyed into this role distinction. It’s not a point that I’ve ever raised in my home. I want my daughters to feel as entitled, capable, and privileged as the boys for as long as they can. It’s not an issue I expect to be leaving the church over — I appreciate the many wonderful traits that the church cultivates in its children’s and youth programs. However, like most parents in the church, there are doctrines to which I’m sensitive, the influence of which I hope to counteract in my family.
For what it’s worth, gender issues aren’t such a big deal for my wife. She is generally satisfied with the order of things in the church. So I asked my wife how she responded to Alanna’s question. She said, “I wasn’t sure what to say. I told her that boys and girls have different roles. That seemed to be good enough for her.” And I’m sure it was. I’m sure that Alanna’s query on the priesthood, which seems so critical to me, is on par in her mind with questions about what she’s going to name her next Barbie doll or which of the Twelve Dancing Princesses is her favorite. She is fun, wonderful, inquisitive, playful, and confident. I hope, as her dad, I can help her keep those blessed traits.