God may be no respecter of persons, but everyone else is.
Our society is obsessed with equality. It’s unfortunate, because it’s just not possible for us to be equal. Our church has responded to the equality rallying cry. After all we should try treat each other equally, right? We should attempt to emulate the example Jesus set for us. But then again, God is God, and as such, is capable of more than any man. Not even women can rise to the level where they regard all people as equal.
We have just finished a month of lessons and sacrament meeting talks on the priesthood in our ward.
The volume of repeated information, quoting Elders Ballard and Oaks (and even one talk that bravely quoted President Kimball), indicates that the leadership recognizes that there is a problem that needs to be addressed. But they’re not addressing it; they’re jsut throwing hte same answers at it that don’t engage the real concerns that generated the problem. Saying that women and men are equal in the church is not enough to make it so. Saying that the priesthood is analogous to motherhood, while it may be comforting and seems right to some women, does not satisfy all (and on analysis, the analogy is not great).
Over the course of the month, I heard many different justifications for the male only priesthood. One is that despite only men holding the priesthood, and thus being filling most of the leadership roles in the ward, there is equality. But it is misguided for well-meaning leaders to tell us that women and men play equal roles in the church, when we clearly do not. Yes, the Relief Society president is a calling roughly equivalent to Elder’s Quorum president, and Young Women president to Young Men’s president. But there is no calling a woman holds that matches that of the bishop. It could be argued that RS is more analogous to bishop than to EQ. That means there are still more leadership callings for men than there are for women. And it even though both are concerned with teaching members of the church, there is a world of difference between Sunday School and Primary. In any case, there is not equality or balance. We’re not equal, and the roles we fulfill in the church are not equal, so stop saying they are.
Another was that there is equality in mens and women’s roles, we just can’t see it in mortality. That was one of the best justifications: it implicitly recognized the inequality, and extended hope that when we are more like God, the inequality will no longer exist. It doesn’t change the circumstances we find ourselves in now, but it does temper the pain of injustice in this life by giving us hope for a utopia in the next.
Another tack was to dismiss women who seek ordination (or who feel slighted or devalued by the exclusion even if they don’t actually seek the priesthood themselves) as not understanding the gospel of Christ. I particularly disliked this approach. It may be that I don’t understand this aspect of the gospel. It’s a hard concept and I may be trying to reconcile myself to it. Just because it is easy or even intuitive for some people to accept, doesn’t make it so for all of us. Have some patience with those of us who may be struggling instead of dismissing us as hard hearted, stubborn, or ignorant.
Related to the previous approach was to say “Some women think they want equality, but…” or “Some people think women should have the priesthood, but…” The “some people” phrasing is alienating and it assumes that everyone in the room agrees with the statement being made. Any sisters in the Relief Society room at the time of those comments who were struggling with these issues would be likely to feel that their concerns are not valid and not welcome. Unfortunately, that often leads to the women assuming that they themselves are not welcome, and they self-select away from activity.
One of my favorite statements (made by a woman I genuinely adore) was this: “Think about how much time is required to be a bishop and make a living. How could a woman do that and still have time to be a mother and take care of her home and family?” It’s an excellent point. But I tend to think that if we are taking fathers away from their families that much, they don’t have an opportunity to be equal partners in the home, and that is a huge disservice to everyone. Perhaps if we can allow men to be equal partners in the home, we will also allow women to be equal partners in church. Or not.
There were several other ideas presented over the course of the month. The priesthood is incomplete without women because of the requirement for celestial marriage (I didn’t really understand this justification or how it avoided the polygamy of D&C 132). The men are not the priesthood. We should be better knowing that without the priesthood there would be darkness upon the earth. And so on.
Mostly, I’m glad the month is over. I don’t want to be ordained to the priesthood. I honestly think it would be a little silly if every adult in the church were ordained. It’s almost silly that pretty much every man is. This is a far cry from a dedicated tribe carrying the burden of the priesthood for the rest of the people. Inequality bothers me, but I think it is inevitable. I think the solution would be to embrace more complementary roles. I think motherhood is a good compliment to fatherhood. I’m not sure what duties or keys women would hold that would be complimentary to the priesthood. I like the idea of women being able to administer blessing, with authority, to each other, as they did in our pioneer day. But I am a Berkean conservative, and I wouldn’t want to institute sweeping changes. I am too afraid of the law of unintended consequences.
Did you have the same emphasis on the priesthood in your ward last month? What good insights about the priesthood did you glean? How do you reconcile our practice and doctrine to our cultural elevation of the ideal of equality?