Why I, a Feminist who Wants the Priesthood, Won’t be at the Ordain Women Demonstration
March 19, 2014 § 27 Comments
A few months ago, I fell in love with Abraham. You know, the prophet who almost killed his own kid and risked giving up his wife to another man? A friend of mine asked me why. She said, “How!!?!??!?? Are we even reading the same Genesis!?!?!??!?!”
We started talking about all the crazy things Abraham did as a father, husband, “not to mention a prophet.” But I fell in love with Abraham for those reasons. He did a lot of weird stuff that doesn’t make sense to 21st century me and I’m sure didn’t make much sense to him, but he did it anyway out of loyalty to and I believe an understanding and genuine love of God. At least when I asked God about it, that’s what I felt.
My friend disagreed. She disliked Abraham because his actions seemed to contradict the loving, respecter-of-persons qualities of God. In a way, Abraham’s actions offended her because they offended her understanding of a good and loving God.
I remember thinking Isn’t it interesting that your beef is with Abraham? For all those crazy reasons, my beef is with God. In a way, you could say my friend’s feelings were almost more loyal to God because she believed the God she knew and loved wouldn’t require such—what’s the word?— cruelty? Horror? Total weirdness? (At least from our current paradigm.)
LDS members who believe in past and present prophets are told, “whether it is by my own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). And yet, this concept has grown increasingly confusing for members since (1) We’re told our leaders make mistakes, that some of what they say is personal opinion, but that their revelation is from God, and (2) We’re told that our leaders will never lead us astray and yet a few months ago, the church told us that all that black men and their not-holding-the-priesthood stuff wasn’t actually from God. It was from prejudiced men who also happened to be our leaders? As grateful as I am for that recent statement released by the church, it has raised questions for a lot of us like, “So is all this discrimination against women, like, the same thing?” Where’s the line between personal perceptions of our leaders (which I believe most of us are more than willing to forgive) and actual revelation from God (which I believe many of us will accept)?
The issues of women and the priesthood and women’s leadership roles in the church come back to the question my friend and I had: Who is “responsible”—Abraham or God? Were Abraham’s actions toward Sarah, Isaac, and that other wife Hagar (who he sent away) a result of his cultural upbringing or mortal mind? Or was he actually doing what God asked him to do? (The scriptures do claim that God commanded Abraham to do each of these things.) Similarly we can ask: Is the church’s exclusion of women in priesthood and church-wide leadership roles a result of our church leaders’ cultural backgrounds and mortal minds? Or is all of this actually what God wants? (After all: our leaders specifically state that God has organized the church as it is—men who hold the priesthood and run the organization of the church.)
I am sympathetic to the Ordain Women Movement after having read and thought more about this Abraham/God: Who’s to “blame?” concept. I am now sympathetic because underlying the movement is a devotion to a belief in a God who loves His children equally and wants them all to receive the same blessings. To them, God would never make them feel inferior even in the way He organizes His church. In their minds, God is a God of compassion and love and concern for the one. He is a feminist. He knows and values women for their distinct perspectives. Women, to God, are not only procreators, but also creators and rulers with promised blessings of exaltation and worlds without number. Sounds like the God all of us women worship and love, right?
So then. If God would never allow this, there must be some kind of misunderstanding in our leaders, the Abrahams, right?
And so, for the OW movement, this calls for action. And it makes sense. Think about it: Just as we hope we would have advocated for blacks holding the priesthood back then, I believe the OW movement believes they are doing something noble by advocating for other women, their sisters, their mothers, their daughters, their daughters’ daughters. As a mother with a daughter, I have felt again and again that all I want is for my daughter to have a better life. That I want her to feel free and limitless, respected and valued.
But I won’t be at the demonstration supporting their movement.
Not because I don’t believe in disagreement or contention. I studied and taught rhetoric and argumentation for two years, a discipline that exists only because of differences in opinions. Deep down in me I love controversy because I believe opposing ideas make better way for truth. We chip at each other’s ideas, back and forth, back and forth, and through each other, we find out more truth, intelligence, light. Though I don’t believe this applies to all doctrinal truths (sometimes God just declares His truth and there is no “negotiating” it), I always love the Sunday School class members who raise their hands and ask contradictory questions because I believe when we address those questions, it prompts us all to better discover what we believe and don’t believe.
Not because I don’t necessarily want the priesthood either. Though this isn’t something I feel particularly pained over (as opposed to other issues, like knowledge of my Heavenly Mother), I do believe the priesthood is a gift and blessing and gives those who possess it more opportunities to serve and become better disciples. And I actually like to serve. There are times when I’ve seen my husband suffer emotionally or mentally or physically and I’ve sincerely wanted to help him in the way he has helped me so many times. I’ve wanted to help him hear what God wanted him to hear through me. Is that prideful? I don’t think so. I believe my love for my husband and for God would give my husband a unique perspective just as his blessings give me one. The same holds true for distributing blessings to all my family members, friends, neighbors, congregations, etc.
Not because I’m fine with church culture as it is. Of course I would love to see a woman help write The Proclamation on the Family and actually sign her name ;) Of course I would love to see a woman sitting on the stand and to watch my husband, brothers, father, and sons admire her leadership decisions. Of course I would love to see more male role models in primary. Of course I want my children to have men more involved in their lives and to see women more involved in decision-making. Yes, I would love the church organization to be an example of the doctrine that women are children of God and that their destinies as goddesses are similar to man’s. Yes, I would love church culture to be a sanctuary from some of the messages and views about women out there in the world. Frankly, it sucks that our church culture is in some ways worse.
But I won’t be at the demonstration because of what it symbolizes to God and my leaders and my fellow church members about my faith, devotion, and loyalty. Simply put: Our church leaders asked the OW Movement not to demonstrate. And whether or not our leaders do everything perfectly (including how they frame their PR statements) or if everything they say is directly from God, I believe God has created this church and stands by it even in all of its limitations and weaknesses. He stands by it in all of its goodness too. By demonstrating respect to my church leaders, I demonstrate devotion to Him. This doesn’t mean the OW movement is disloyal to the church or the gospel it teaches. They’re not asking to lead members away from the church that currently exists. They want to heal. But since our church leaders have asked the movement to reconsider its demonstration, the movement has evolved into a symbol of contention and strife within the church, an us vs. them—and that in itself isn’t a good thing. Even though this may be unfair because the church made this into an us vs. them by their PR statement, if the church leaders view it as such, then I won’t participate. I choose to pledge my loyalty to anything that represents God, including his prophets and apostles and the demonstration of my loyalty to them is more important to me than the demonstration of my loyalty to the questions and doubt I sometimes feel.
I won’t be there because I don’t believe our church leaders’ prayers are more meaningful to God than our own. In an article published about Kate Kelly, the leader of the OW movement, it reads, “Kelly would argue that she is not asking to make the decision — merely for church leaders to pray about it.” We have the divine power to access God on our own and in groups. We can pray and fast alone, together, even organize prayer and fasting together. Yes, the prophet receives revelation for the entire church. But we can still pray that God will work through our prophet and leaders to make things best for women and all of the members of the church, whatever that may be.
Also, these leaders have prayed about it and have told us the following very recently:
Neil L. Anderson: “Some may sincerely ask the question, ‘If the power and blessings of the priesthood are available to all, why are the ordinances of the priesthood administered by men?’ When an angel asked Nephi, ‘Knowest thou the condescension of God?’ Nephi answered honestly, ‘I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.’” (“Power in the Priesthood,” Ensign, November 2013). Here Elder Anderson implies that our leaders don’t know, just as Nephi did not know because it was not yet revealed.
Russell M. Ballard: “When all is said and done, the Lord has not revealed why He has organized His Church as He has.” (“Let Us Think Straight,” BYU Speech, August 2013.)
Perhaps, yes, they could better articulate the process in which they received this revelation. But I believe there is sincere prayer, fasting, and preparation before addressing these sensitive topics. I have felt that as I listen to their words.
And yeah, it may be a bummer that not a lot has changed since this statement from Gordon B. Hinckley:
“It was the Lord who designated that men in His Church should hold the priesthood. It was He who has given you [women] your capabilities to round out this great and marvelous organization, which is the Church and kingdom of God” (“Women of the Church,” Ensign, November 1996).
We can argue that this answer is temporary, but this is our current answer and I choose to accept it with an understanding that God’s ways, including God’s timing, are not my ways. I don’t believe it’s fair to put the responsibility or blame on our current leaders who have simply not received guidance. Kudos to those who refrain from filling in the gaps and questions with their own explanations as we have seen in the past.
I won’t be there because of what the movement symbolizes to God about my relationship to Him. In the Bible Dictionary, we learn the following:
“Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.”
Blessings do require work, but that work is not protestation, either public or private, especially when answers have been given and repeatedly. Yes, we read and see many examples of saints who pray and ask for desired blessings, but adjacent to those requests is the inward wrestle to configure their hearts to accept whatever God’s will is. That configuration is the kind of work necessary for blessings. President Eyring has even talked about this concept as a spiritual gift we can ask for—the gift to want what God wants. Like Joseph Smith, it’s not good for us or others to keep requesting God to change His answer—to let Martin Harris take the manuscript to his wife because “it would mean so much.” Faith is to ask, but it is also to accept whether God says yes or no or even, “I’m not telling and I’m not even going to tell you why I’m not telling.” Even if the result of that answer encourages pain, strife, or disassociation.
And lastly and most importantly, I won’t be there because I haven’t felt inspired or prompted to do so. Though I would love for women to hold the priesthood, I haven’t felt that women will receive the priesthood or that I must be an advocate, slowly preparing other members for this new revelation. I did recently, however, meet with a group of women who will be attending the OW Demonstration and some of them felt strong spiritual experiences pushing them to go. I can’t say that their experiences aren’t real. And I can’t explain our different answers except for maybe we have different roles in this process. Though I am not a relativist (I do believe it is possible to be wrong), I honestly don’t know that my answer is everyone’s answer.
Some may say that it is cowardly or even ineffective—that my attitude and actions won’t bring about the change that the church “needs.” Yes, I’ve even thought about how some day, if women do get the priesthood, my children might ask me, “But where were you? Why weren’t you there?” It’s a hard decision for me too. But I have carefully and critically made my decision to demonstrate my loyalty to God by demonstrating my loyalty to church leaders who have asked OW followers to refrain. I don’t believe we cannot privately work these things out with God or even discuss these things with our leaders in a respectful manner, as long as we do it with a proper understanding of God, our relationship to Him, and even our leaders’ relationship with Him. We ask and we listen to real answers and we pray to accept all the different answers we may receive along the way with patience, hope, and loyalty to Him and His cause.