In a recent FAIR conference, Neylan McBaine presented ways to include women in a Church which offers the priesthood and administration of the Church only to men. While I agree with some things she wrote, and with some I do not, there is one particular point I would like to examine.
There is a false dichotomy, perpetuated when Sister McBaine misquoted a post by Kathryn Skaggs.
In this dichotomy, there are two groups of women in the Church: those who see a problem with the way women are utilized and heard in the Church, have likely been adversely affected by it, and who therefore choose to “agitate for change;” and those who have never felt the pain a male-only Priesthood can bring to women, who don’t question the authority, and who therefore urge women to, essentially, “sit down and shut up” about it.
But there is another group, of women who have likely been mistreated or misunderstood by a member of the male-only priesthood in the past, or of women who have never been hurt but have still pondered these issues deeply, who would like to see hearts change, but who believe that the male-only Priesthood structure is in place at the will of the Lord, and who support the Lord’s authority structure and the Lord’s established methods for any change that will come.
In her presentation, Sister McBaine quoted Sister Skaggs, “It’s been my experience in speaking to and reading the thoughts of many progressive Mormon women, that they do not have a strong, LDS doctrinal understanding of priesthood and womanhood…. Faithful, active Mormon women do not oppose the counsel and inspired direction of living prophets….” But there is a whole lot in those craftily placed ellipses.
After the first part of that quote, Sister Skaggs goes on to explain that it is this experience, the impression of fighting against those who are called of God, that makes it so difficult for women who sustain the leadership to feel comfortable with the calls of the more vocal members for change.
Sister McBaine is wrong when she calls Sister Skaggs’ “insensitive,” as is clear when you read the rest of the quote.
It’s been my experience in speaking to and reading the thoughts of many progressive Mormon women, that they do not have a strong, LDS doctrinal understanding of priesthood and womanhood, in general — or, that they are openly choosing to be in opposition to the direction and revelation received by those called of God to direct these affairs — and whom are sustained regularly by the body of the Church as prophets, seers, and revelators. Thus the discomfort that I, and many other LDS members share, when their liberal ideas, philosophies and advocacies are broadcast as false representations of how the majority of active Mormon women think and feel.
Faithful, active Mormon women do not oppose the counsel and inspired direction of living prophets, called specifically to address our day and whom members of the Church, by covenant, sustain.
I greatly appreciate section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The Lord straight up exposes the tendency of every man, when given authority, to use unrighteous dominion in its administration. He also warned that to do so would be the end of a man’s priesthood power. Sadly the natural man, in so many, choose to ignore this admonition, and the tender hearts of the Lord’s daughters are the frequent recipients of such ignorance. However, this is not the way the Lord intended it to be, but rather, knowing full well this was going to be a problem, called it out. As a Mormon women this is comforting revelation, which enables me to trust in the Lord, and His decisions, on how His Church would be administered here upon the earth — and confident that ultimately, regardless of human frailty, His power will only be manifest upon the principle of righteousness.” (emphasis mine)
Sister Skaggs is obviously sensitive to the pain that many of those who have suffered unrighteous dominion have felt. But she emphasizes that the way to resolving these problems is not by forcing change in the priesthood structure, but in understanding it in the first place.
It is not that women who support the leadership have never felt or pondered these issues, but that they are unwilling to approach the issue in an adversarial way against men they have sustained by covenant, men who are genuinely trying to serve the Lord with the best understanding they have. Even if their service is imperfect, women who understand and sustain the priesthood love these men for their service to God in His Kingdom, even when misapplication or human frailty causes them personal pain. They prefer to rely upon their faith in Jesus Christ, over any predetermined change in the structure or hierarchy.
They may not understand the effects of some of their actions, but the men of the Church would likely be more willing to hear and gain understanding, were they not feeling threatened or bullied. Whether or not it is true, women who approach these problems by “agitating for change” often seem to be reacting from a place of fear, pain, and anger, rather than from a position of humility, long-suffering, compassion or meekness. That does more damage than good to the prospect of realizing the change they desire.
Let’s take the best-case scenario for these agitators. Even if the “agitating for change” approach were able to someday force the changes they require (which I doubt,) what would be the cost? Why is it necessary to wield the power of stridency and numbers to try to force the hands of these servants of God? Why can we not use the “still small voice” of reason, of supplication, of the Spirit? That is the voice that, when persistent, will be heard and not dismissed as overreaction and anger. That is the voice that can effect true change in the Lord’s way, and after His example.
After the second part of the heavily edited quote by Sister McBaine, Sister Skaggs examines more deeply the reason women who are faithful and active in the Church do not approach the leaders of the Church in opposition.
It is not because these women feel that the men who are called of God are perfect, nor that they are perfectly executing the will of God, nor because they are afraid to combat the authority of the Priesthood and be labeled unfaithful. It is because through their own experience, they have tasted what it is like to diligently try to follow the Spirit, but still cause pain to God’s children. They are coming from a position of compassion, rather than judgment, preferring to assume the best of these men, rather than the worst.
I can take an example from my own life to illustrate the way I have learned this painful and humbling lesson. When I chose to marry my husband, I prayed before the Lord to feel what decision would be best. I received the answer to marry him. At the time, I thought I understood the Spirit I felt. Which is why, years later, after successfully escaping from that abusive marriage, it was so difficult to me to accept that the single decision I made then would impact the lives of my innocent daughters forever. They would be the ones to pay the heaviest price on the debt I incurred by marrying a man who resorted to manipulation and violence to get his way.
In realizing that my mistakes would directly hurt my children, I came to understand the need for repentance and for the Atonement. When I chose to divorce my husband, I knew I would cause pain. There was no choice between better and best, only bad and worse. But I made the best decision I knew how to make, with a heart malleable to the will and power of the Lord.
The Atonement covers not only my pain, but also the pain that I cause through my ignorance, inaction, or poor choices.
That is what reliance on the Savior truly means. It is not only about MY salvation, but also about the salvation of those who harm me, and those who are hurt in the process.
Change through the structure of the Church will never bring complete peace to the hearts of those in pain. Men are no worse than women. Women also are insensitive, uneducated in certain aspects of mortality. And while many faithful women in the church who do not choose to vociferously “agitate” would like to see the commandment fulfilled from the Apostles and First Presidency (e.g. Handbook 2) that women’s voices be more heard, more integrated in the running of the ward, they are willing to exercise patience and long-suffering as the men “in power”—men who are authorized to exercise priesthood keys in the church—come to understand that principle for themselves.
We women should not deceive ourselves that speaking in an attempt to control or force an outcome will gain us the ability to better utilize our spiritual gifts in the Church, or will gain us the power of God. The power of God is open to women now, not only to men through ordination to the Priesthood. It is available to us in our temple covenants, in our relationship with the Spirit. And it is those very covenants and relationship with the Spirit that we MUST rely upon to teach us when to speak and when to keep silent, when to instruct in patience and love those who do not understand the pain they are causing, and when to step back and let them work it out for themselves.
Women have a choice. We can choose to follow the recommendations of people like Sister McBaine on trying to make women more visible, on plastering over the wounds. Or, if we really want change in this Church that is led by God, we must first allow the Atonement work to heal our pain, and then open the windows of our souls for the Spirit to soften our hearts, and teach us peace, charity, and patience in trials. Then, when we speak, it will be with power and authority of the Spirit. And the men who lead the Church will not fail to feel their hearts soften as well, their minds will open, and we will all be edified and rejoice together as we—together—more closely approach the Zion of our God.
I have seen this change happen in priesthood leaders that I thought would never understand the damage that was being done. But it wasn’t because I was loud; it was because I was still and patient enough to let the Spirit work His power in their hearts—and in mine.