One issue that people seem to raise against extending priesthood to women is its effect on men. Men, the argument goes, will be less engaged in the Church if priesthood is not a male-only domain.
Because this is a practical, rather than a normative, claim, it doesn’t call for a revelatory solution. Moreover, to the extent male engagement is a real problem, the problem continues even if and after the prophet receives a revelation making priesthood available to men and women. And if it’s a real problem, we need to deal with it. Keeping men engaged at the expense of women is not a justifiable goal, but keeping men engaged is. As Julie points out on another thread, we “need to consider how to keep a generation raised on ‘yours is a sacred duty . . .’ rhetoric active after they aren’t unique any more.”
The good new is, I don’t think it would be that hard to continue male engagement even in a world where all members could hold the priesthood. I assume, of course, that it isn’t exclusivity in holding the priesthood that encourages male engagement; rather, it is the ability to exercise that priesthood by, among other things, serving in callings that demand the use of priesthood.[fn1]
If I’m right in my assumption, the easy solution is this: smaller wards. In my Chicago ward, we’ve been blessed with very active, engaged members. But not a whole lot of them. When the ward was formed, we had about 70 people in Sacrament Meeting. Today, a little over two years later, we’re up to just over 100 (partly from baptisms, and largely from people moving in).[fn2] We function, and we function relatively well, but we have no fat—there are no made-up callings—and we’re understaffed in every auxiliary. And basically every member, as best as I can tell, feels ownership, responsibility, and belonging.
Assume that suddenly all of the women in the ward were to receive the priesthood, and were eligible for the administrative positions in the Church that require priesthood. Assume, further, that all of the callings that require priesthood today were to go to women. In my ward, that would not diminish the need for men to serve, or their ability to do so, at all, and I suspect that our engagement with the Church would not be diminished either.[fn3]
[fn1] This is just my gut feeling, of course—I certainly don’t have any empirical evidence on the effects of holding v. exercising priesthood. But I think it’s a fair assumption; being ordained a deacon at 12 doesn’t seem to ensure that a boy will stay in the Church (at least, based on ward rosters I’ve seen), but boys who actively pass and bless the sacrament, eventually hold callings, and otherwise engage with the Church seem much more likely to stay. I realize, of course, that there’s a causation/correlation issue here, but then, this is just a blog post.
[fn2] Note that both the 70 and the 100+ numbers include kids.
[fn3] I haven’t discussed my opinion on the ordination of women in the post because it’s irrelevant to my larger point, which is that there are simple, practical ways to continue to engage men in the Church, even if they were to lose their exclusive hold on priesthood. That the Church is run, at the local level, by lay volunteers means that there can always be ways to serve.
That said, it would be disingenuous of me to hide my views. Basically, like Nate, Kaimi, and Alison, I think that women should have the chance to hold the priesthood. And, like Nate, I’m not entirely sure what to do about that belief. I don’t think there is a scriptural or revelatory basis to a male-only priesthood. That said, on a practical level, I don’t know whether
agitating lobbying is more beneficial or more harmful. That said, I believe that revelation follows questions, and, in order to receive revelation, the Lord’s annointed have to ask Him; it seems pretty clear that the pleading that led to the 1978 revelation on priesthood was at least partly based on the prophet’s knowing that the restriction imposed real harm on children of God. So I’m in a bind, and I default to arguing that, at least on a practical level, priesthood isn’t a zero-sum game.