We’ve all been buzzing about the Ordain Women plan to wear purple and attempt to attend the Priesthood Session of the April 2014 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ordain Woman (OW) is a movement created by DC-based human rights lawer, Kate Kelly, to request that LDS women be formally ordained to the priesthood in the LDS Church. OW builds on a history of several decades where individuals, predominantly women, have petitioned the LDS Church for priesthood ordination for women. Past protests involved tactics such as groups of individuals showing up to General Conferences of the Church and prominently voting to oppose the standing leaders of the Church, praying to Mother in Heaven, presenting bouquets of white roses at Church headquarters, taking out full-page ads in the local papers, and participating in candle-light vigils.
I recently had a chance to read I am Malala, the story of the courageous girl from Swat, Pakistan, who became an outspoken witness against the Taliban practice of denying girls education. In response, the Taliban shot her. Malala survived and has become the face of those demanding all girls be granted the right to education. Currently there are 31 million girls in the world who do not have access to education. Children of women who are illiterate are nearly twice as likely to die before age 5.
It seems OW would like to paint themselves with the glamour of Malala, as individuals who are merely working to end oppression. However they seem to have forgotten that members in the LDS Church do not gain position by seeking it. One is called to serve. In my experience Stake Presidents and Bishops and Mission Presidents are as likely as not to have a subsequent calling as primary teacher for the 4 year olds or nursery assistant.
In September 1830, Oliver Cowdery tried to tell Joseph what to do. The result was D&C 28, particularly verses D&C 28:6–7. The revelation basically tells Joseph (and Oliver via Joseph) that the individual in charge is the individual in charge. Others are welcome to advise, but no one is to presume to command the individual who leads the Church, for “no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant [the prophet], for he receiveth them even as Moses.”
OW supporters may benefit from looking at the outcome when various men in Church history have used strident tactics. One such case was Apostle Moses Thatcher 1 in the late 1890s. Moses vehemently disagreed with fellow apostles about a mining business they ran together. This antipathy spread to other issues, including the Church’s decision to withdraw from the political arena, which Moses did not support. Eventually, the rest of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles voted to relieve Moses of membership in the Quorum.
Those involved in OW have “trained” themselves to be thorns in the side of the organization, which is not the way the Church runs. The ideal is Zion, where we are one in heart and mind (c.f. Moses 7: 18). So were The Lord to decide to give priesthood to women, those who had agitated for this would be very unlikely to be the women called to serve in previously male-dominated roles, so long as they maintained a pattern of attempting to effect change through uncompromising confrontation.
If priesthood is not a unique power associated with the only authorized church and is merely a pre-requisite used to gate who can do what in one church of many, then it doesn’t matter if those who disagree with the leader(s) of the church proceed to badger, lobby, and shame those leaders into making that priesthood universal to eliminate gender differentiation that in some instances is presumed to lead to negative outcomes for one gender relative to another gender. This is analogous to a club and processes associated with joining the club.
If, on the other hand, the Mormon church is the only fully-authorized organ to effect the salvation of mankind through all generations of time and all peoples (e.g., “true”), then it’s not appropriate for those who disagree to claim to be supporters while vigorously working to badger, lobby, and shame the leaders to change. Such an organization is not a club, but something more controlled. Military analogies spring to mind, or other organizations with critical pre-requisites that have and maintain clear lines of authority.
This business about whether the Church is true comes into play with regards to the transparency issue. People can’t be transparent about stuff they don’t know. For example, it would not be possible for leaders of the Mormon church to publish a roadmap to female ordination to the priesthood. To paraphrase David O. McKay, an expection for such presumes that the leaders are in charge (rather than leading “as Moses”).
It never hurts to request that individuals consider alternatives. However the answer may not be what the petitioner expected or wanted.
I’ve mentioned the time when my son was in the hospital with heart trouble, and he was suffering from Junction Ectopic Tachycardia after heart surgery. My husband had given my son a blessing, and didn’t say anything about my son surviving to return home. I took my husband to task for that lack. My husband looked at me a bit blankly, and said he hadn’t felt prompted to bless our son in that manner. Since I have been trained that it is acceptable to give blessings by the power of my faith in Christ, I took the opportunity later that evening to give my son a blessing. I felt confirmed in blessing him that his heart rate would come down and that he would come home. The next morning my son’s heart rate did slow–to zero. And he returned home to that God who had lent him to me for a week.
Having the divine power we call priesthood or the companion of that divine power, faith, does not mean we can bend God to our will. Sometimes the answer is “No.”
I think it would be instructive if we had many members of the Church who were Levites, with a right to preside as Bishops without being ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood. I can imagine they might object, claiming that they wanted to be ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood, to the office of High Priest, rather than be allowed to perform those callings as a mere Priest or Elder. They could argue that being excluded from the High Priest’s quorum in their Stake puts them at a disadvantage, cuts them off from opportunities, and limits their exposure to role models.
Women have long poured their lives into Godly service. Like the hypothetical Levite, they are able to serve and administer and lead without the need for having an additional priesthood conferred on them. Like the hypothetical Levite, some women feel this cuts them off from opportunities and limits their exposure to role models.
From my standpoint, allowing ordination to positions (being set apart) while maintaining a gender differentiation with respect to priesthood helps deconflict the ways in which men and women serve. In this manner, members of the Church are able to serve God’s children in an orthogonal manner, reducing confliction when two faithful individuals at the head of a family are anxiously engaged. The loving couples engaged in Church service tend to naturally respect each other, and will tend to avoid scheduling activities in a manner that would cause the need for both men and women to be away from their home base simultaneously.
Men and women are similar, and yet there are differences. It’s like the trigonometry functions, sine and cosine. 2 Cosine could wish to be sine, and point out that in almost every important way cosine and sine are similar. They oscillate with the same frequency, they have the same heights and depths. Why, then, cosine might ask, is sine allowed to rise as the ordinal increases from zero, while cosine is consigned to fall? Let us all be equal, cosine might agitate.
But if cosine were sine, there would be no way to explain circles or waves. The whole would collapse to a simple line, with limited capacity relative to the circular whole that was possible when cosine and sine existed in separate spheres.
One might argue that in so many families where there isn’t gender differentiation at the head (e.g., divorced or widowed parents or those who have never been married), there is no “circle,” just limits on the purview of those single gender heads of household to engage in the work of The Lord.
Rather than speaking of sine and cosine, we can talk in mystical eastern terms, saying man is like the light or sun or Yang and woman like the dark or moon or Yin.
This is completely rooted in nature. Chinese folks would measure the angle of the sun when the sun was closest to directly overhead. When the angle of the sun or change in length of the shadow at astronomical noon is plotted in a polar format, one gets the following graph:
Once one inserts a black dot on the day of the longest day (shortest shadow) and a white dot on the day of the shortest day (longest shadow), you get the traditional Yin Yang symbol.
Right now, as I look out my window at yet another snowy day after so many unexpected snowy days this winter, I can imagine it would be great to live in a place where the days are always the same length. The world would always be pretty warm.
Ironically, in a world where every day is the same length, there are downsides. Viruses and pests never go away the way they do for those of us who live in temperate climates. While there would be no cold, there would also be no snow (and skiing, etc.). The days melt into one constant sameness, where the only season becomes whether it is raining or parched.
Relating this back to the priesthood, Mormon women have strong organizations focused on the unique needs of women, such as Relief Society. As we all know, men and women learn from the same manuals, but in that third hour, when we separate into gender-exclusive gatherings, we are able to tend to the unique experiences of our respective genders. In the second hour, we have typically sat together as men and women and learned together. This is fabulous, but I rarely hear individuals wax rapsodic about Sunday School. It is their bonds with their sisters in Relief Society or brothers in the priesthood quorum meetings that they tend to cherish.
If women had the priesthood, what would happen in this third hour? It appears the third hour would become like Sunday School, a meeting with both genders together, learning side by side. Perhaps Sunday School would become the history/doctrine lesson. The third hour, Priesthood, perhaps, would be the service/ministry hour.
While there are some who might welcome elimination of the gender differentiated time at Church, one can imagine that for many, the flattening of ministerial treatment between men and women would eliminate a safe haven. 3 It is ironic that Kate Kelly mentions how much she treasures Relief Society, because were the Church to open priesthood and all callings to both genders, Relief Society as an organization would be the most likely fatality of a hypothetical OW coup d’état.
I happen to live in a part of the world where women are treasured members of society. They are allowed, encouraged to be all they wish to be. I am the breadwinner for my family, my husband is the stay-at-home parent. I am content to follow the lead of my Church leaders, male and female, and am similarly content to lead when called upon.
I don’t mind if women become recipients of priesthood power in the LDS Church, nor to I feel I need to advocate for being granted this power.
I would close with this quote from Bruce Lee 4:
We are always in a process of becoming and NOTHING is fixed. Have no rigid system in you, and you’ll be flexible to change with the ever changing. OPEN yourself and flow, my friend. Flow in the TOTAL OPENNESS OF THE LIVING MOMENT. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo.
- Edward Leo Lyman, The Alienation of an Apostle from His Quorum: The Moses Thatcher Case, available online at https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V18N02_69.pdf, retrieved 25 Mar 2014. ↩
- If you’re rusty on sine and cosine, Business Insider has an article showing several nice animated gis, available online at http://www.businessinsider.com/7-gifs-trigonometry-sine-cosine-2013-5, retrieved 25 Mar 2014. ↩
- Same gender education has been implemented in some areas, in an attempt to increase achievement. While there is still controversy, the same gender environment does appear to reduce distraction and harrassment that is present in co-educational settings. 5See Lea Hubbard and Amanda Datnow, Do Single Sex Schools Improve the Education of Low-Income and Minority Students, Anthropology and Education Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 2, p. 121-122, available online at http://www.csub.edu/~cgavin/mycourses/anthro2.pdf retrieved on 25 March 2014. ↩
- John Little, ed., Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living (2000) p. 13, available online at http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Bruce_Lee, retrieved 25 March 2014. ↩