Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Women and the Priesthood - Summary, Notes, and Discussion

Obviously this issue has to do with Mormon feminism, and I find that many people in the church do not understand the perspective, concerns, and motivations of many Mormon Feminists.  I wanted to see how much I would be in agreement, how much I have to learn, and if there are some misconceptions that might be there that I can clarify in this post.  This post will be long, as I am actually summarizing her points from the notes I took, and incorporating my thoughts in line with it.  This post will also be morphing and changing as I further refine what I want to say.  If you are looking for a quick, short summary - please see my book review on GoodReads

"Despite frequent doctrinal declarations by the Church leaders about the worth, influence, contribution, and value of women, flawed perceptions about LDS women are as old as the Church itself."  She goes on to say that two causes deserve mention: polygamy and priesthood ordination.  (What about those of us who don't doubt one iota in the worth, influence, contribution, and value of women and the doctrine of the Gospel, but don't believe our practices always match up with what the doctrine actually is?  Leaving priesthood ordination out of it??)

 She's hesitant to publish because:
1) she's still learning, it is a work in progress
2) there is much she does not understand and this is NOT doctrine, but her interpretation
3) she knows it will be judged
4) a fair number of women feel marginalized by the practices of the church (not necessarily the doctrine), and that women feel there is no "safe place to share concerns or ask questions. And questions are good, and they lead to answers. But we need to be careful how to couch our questions. Are they framed in doubt or faith? Are they "I don't understand this, I wonder what the Lord will teach me about this question?" Questions asked in faith unlock the power of God to answer them. She has not felt marginalized herself, but believes there seem to be ways to change the involvement of women without altering doctrine, covenants, or ordinances. Changes in policy and administration are ongoing because the Restoration is ongoing. Although she sees ways participation of women could be improved, if it never happens in this life, it will not affect her testimony (exactly, I feel the same way!).
5) to provide a different framework for the conversation

LDS Women are Incredible   (as are faithful Muslim women, and faithful Baptists, and faithful Evangelicals)  She doesn't fault anyone for expressing different views about women and priesthood, motherhood, or any other doctrine re: women. Because we all speak from our own individual knowledge, experience, and concerns. So this is not a "end all" of the discussion, but her adding her voice to the many views that exist.  (I am glad I have added my voice to the conversation and look forward to how this can add to the further knowledge I seek on the matter.  It is an very interesting topic to study, and not always black and white.)

The Question of Perception
Story of meeting with a NYC reporter interviewing her who is SHOCKED that women have the opportunity to serve in administrative and teaching roles (I think she loves this story, heard it a lot :-)  Three recent examples of what she calls misinterpretations of LDS women

1) USA Today essay that accused our church of being "hostile to the idea of female equality, let alone leadership."  She then is flabbergasted how anyone can say that when our doctrine clearly teaches we have equal access to spiritual privileges.  (I believe 100% females have equal access to spiritual privileges, but we don't have equal access to decision-making in the Church.  Decision making is about stewardship not priesthood, and the stewardship of positions in the administration of the Church could easily be adjusted without changing any doctrine of the church.  For example, I'd like to see more women sitting on the Church Board of Education, the Welfare Committee,  General Missionary Board, etc.  There are one or two women there, but we could easily add a few more RS General Board members whose stewardship relates solely to service on those committees.  Because if we have equal access to revelation and inspiration as our doctrine teaches, it would only strengthen the boards to have a wider and broader group of life experiences to draw from when making decisions for an organization that affects 50% women.)

2) The authors of "American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites US" stated "male lay leaders fill all posts in the congregational and church hierarchy." and then she said they were confused when they implied the only way to have influence is through priesthood ordination.  (It is true that women have an incredible influence in this church that cannot be understated.  But what about influence to make changes and decisions in the church? I believe that's probably what he was referring to.  Women make decisions only in their stewardships and have comparatively little input in general church matters (ratio wise), otherwise the influence we have is limited to being asked for our input which is then considered but the ultimate decision is made by a group of male leaders.  So the logical step is to work towards women having an equal vote at the table - exactly like they are in the new Missionary Committees.  They look similar to King Arthur's Knights of the Roundtable.  Part of the reason Ordain Women exists is because they don't believe incremental changes like the ones Sis. Dew says could be made, will be made in a timely matter when those making the decisions don't understand the feelings or reasons why a policy change may be in order.)

3) A female blogger for the NYT with an obvious axe to grind against the church asserted we have "male authoritarianism" and "patriarchal gerontocracy" where women are relegated to supporting roles.  She is SHOCKED!  Sis. Dew wonders if the writer ever met a devout LDS woman?  Her definition = temple recommend holding, tithe-paying, temple-going, actively participating woman who understands Church Government and Doctrine.  (Oh hey, that's me!  So I'll butt in a share that, well, it is true our church governing structure and authority is marked by patriarchy (and they are old :-)  ).  And every time I have served as President of an organization I have felt marginalized and put into a supporting role that doesn't match the doctrine that is taught by Jesus Christ.  I'd love to share my experiences sometime, but not in this post.  So we're right back to making policy changes that can be made without changing doctrine.)

"Women in the Lord's Church"
From the beginning Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society to be "after the pattern of the priesthood" (which if you study church history, is true!  The RS was not under the direction of the Priesthood back then.  They were autonomous and separate making their own decisions without having to receive approval from male leaders.  Women were authorized to bless and heal by the laying on of hands.)  Since then church leaders have consistently taught about the honored station of women in the Church(My favorite explanation of this traditional teaching of how we honor women in our church is "The Pedestal."  Best described by Andrea Radke-Moss, a history professor at BYU-Idaho in a comment as follows:  
While I appreciate that you feel valued and equal in the Church, the reality is that many women do not. There are two ways of valuing women– one is on what’s called a “pedestal,” or a set-apart role that accepts the inherent differences between men and women, and also accepts the notion that somehow women’s equality comes from being more righteous, worshiped or revered within a male-led organization. You appear to be comfortable with that, as many Mormon women are, and that’s great. But some women are uncomfortable with the pedestal, especially as it has the tendency to emphasize gender stereotypes rather than recognizing each person as an individual with unique qualities; for some, there is discomfort with much of the cultural and traditional restrictions on women’s participation in the Church– and praying in General Conference is only one small part of that. The other approach to valuing women is through what is equality– not that men and women are the same, but that they are seen as individuals, and not as stereotypical gender roles to be filled. Those who prefer equality over the pedestal just hope for more shared decision-making, counseling within counsels, shared parenting roles, etc. This might mean that some women seek priesthood ordination, but it might mean that other women just want an expended role for women in the Church, without priesthood ordination. Some of these limitations might have to do with tradition and policy, but are not rooted in the restored gospel. The importance is to understand the difference. For instance, women have not always served missions, and since they have, the age and length for missionary service has changed based upon historical need, wars, and yes, even some outdated notions about women’s rightful place. The recent lowering of the missionary age for women is progress in the right direction.
I must say that I have experienced being valued in both ways - in the Church and out of it, especially in the full-time workplace.  For me it is far preferable to be seen as an equal as an individual, for my thoughts, ideas, contributions, abilities, and input - and not because I'm seen as innately "more gosh-darn special."  I've studied the words in the temple and the spiritual differences between males and females and they are real, but they are not where my equality lies. 

 In the last year I've studied more about Heavenly Mother and read prophet's quotes about females being creators in the hereafter (and not just of babies/spirits).  I love-love-love this quote Sis. Dew shared by Elder McConkie and wish it were taught and shared more often.  I think it is instructive about the power of the Priesthood available to women.  We need to hear more of these teaching from the pulpit.  Not just of how wonderful women are, but the true power (separate of procreative powers) we hold.)
"Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, and a host of mighty men and equally glorious women compromised that group of the 'noble and great ones' to whom the Lord Jesus said: 'We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell' (Abr. 3:22-25)  This we know: Christ, under the Father, is the Creator:  Michael, his companion and associate, presided over much of the creative work; and with them, as Abraham saw, were many of the noble and great ones.  Can we do other than to conclude that Mary and Eve and Sarah and myriads of our faithful sisters were numbered among them?  Certainly these sisters labored as diligently then, and fought as valiantly in the War in Heaven as did the brethren, even as they in like manner stand firm today, in mortality in the cause of truth and righteousness."
 Women are not the same - did not intend for them to be alike.  (I agree)

A Legacy of Leadership
Many of the anecdotes she shares are stories that Mormon feminists point to as a fact that RS and women are actually in a lesser position than they were in the early days of the church.  Everything from Eliza R Snow exhorting, LDS suffragettes, Brigham Young sending women to vocation and professional schools and asking them to become writers, accountants, poets, and physicians. 

This all makes sense because the restored gospel of Jesus Christ at it's core is feminist, just as I believe Jesus Christ was the Gospel's first feminist.  The thing about the history of women in our Church is that so much of the powers and responsibilities we once had are no longer there.  Some Moderate Mormon Feminists do not call themselves "progressive" in their hopes for future positive changes for women in the chruch, but "regressive" because there is a hope for a return to the structure of the past.  That when Eliza R. Snow recorded the words at Nauvoo Relief Society as “I now turn the key to you in the name of God” it meant the women had all their own power to do the work and run their organization.  Women set their own budgets, ran their own store selling RS produced goods, ran the welfare organization in administering relief to the poor, ran a hospital, nursing school, started a newspaper, made silk, agitated for women's rights, blessed and healed by anointing and laying on of hands.  The Relief Society was not an Auxiliary under the priesthood, it was an equal organization to the side.  The General RS president's office was right next door to the prophet's office in the earlier days in SLC.  Feminists hoping for a return to earlier structure is NOT a belief that men and women are the same, as is a descriptor so often painted upon us. 

"Women and the Church Today"
 A story of women in ChristChurch, NZ, responding to earthquakes there and the service and preparation the showed.   Much of the autonomy and structure of the Relief Society has changed over the years.  It is true LDS women all over the world go about doing good and changing lives.  But other than Sunday lessons, enrichment, and visiting teaching, there is very little engagement.  What if the RS rebuilt some of the structure that helped enable others to serve that it had before?  I know modern women are already stretched to their limits, but at times hear sisters say they wish there were more opportunities for more service projects outside of local ward sisters. Back in the early years not every woman was expected to commit to every activity that Relief Society was engaged in.  So adding "influence groups" (ie women who would get together to combat homelessness, or female education, or fight against human trafficking or sex slavery, or bringing clean drinking water to developing nations, or starting a new "Exponent", etc.)  would be available to those willing and able and who felt called to that sort of work.

Women Have a Divine Errand
 We lived before we came here and we were all sent here with a divine errand.  Our errands are all different.  Your life's mission is not mine, and mine is not yours.  They are all the same in their origin.  They came from God.  and  This requires earnest effort to uncover and fulfill our divine errand.  It is easier to motivate someone to do something difficult than something easy.  The desire to progress is hardwired into our DNA.   Don't feel inferior, look up and be believing.  (My favorite scripture:  Mosiah 2:41 may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness.)  Understanding our divine nature is essential in understanding our errand.  Understanding who we are we must understand our premortal life.  From William Wordsworth:
Our Birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.
As we come to understand that we are noble and great, we will feel greater purpose and more confidence living as women of God in a world that doesn't celebrate women of God.  We will cheer each other on rather than compete with each other, because we will be looking for validation from the Lord rather than validation from the world.  

Satan's main goal is to attack females - confuse them.  "Confusion about our identity can wreak havoc.  But clarity about who we are is empowering."  So this is not the time to seek first the things of the world but to "build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness."  Truth is not relative.  The first step in understanding how God sees his daughters it to understand who we are, were, and may be. 

God Expects Women to Receive Revelation
A story of a very experienced priesthood leader who didn't know that women could receive revelation.  Unfortunately he is not alone is mistaken that the heavy lifting to be done spiritually is not for them.
It is More Blessed to Receive
The only limitations on our communication with Heavenly Father are those we impose on ourselves.  We impose those limitations by not seeking, not asking, and not learning how to receive answers, gifts, and information.  What are we willing to receive?  Receiving requires action on our part.
 The Gift and Power of the Holy Ghost
Joseph worried the people would not live up to their privileges.
The Language of Revelation
Scriptures, Purity
The Blessings of Revelation
To receive revelation we haven't yet received, we will likely need to seek in ways we haven't sought before and do things we haven't done.  Read the scriptures now.  Attend temple regularly and ask to understand more about the endowment and sealing.  Read about how to qualify for additional spiritual gifts.  If you are not sure the direction of your life what spiritual gifts will help you?  gifts only given to those who seek them.  Unplug your life technologically so you can have more time to be spiritual.
The Spirit Speaks of Things as they really Are
Are we rooted in the gospel?  The only reason the plants came out so easily is they weren't rooted in the gospel.  (That's why when people leave the church, whether it's because of women discovering 'feminism' or 'googling something about polygamy' or whatever -- I can't blame feminism or whatever they found.  If our roots really are deep -- if we really have a testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we won't leave.  because we understand that any imperfections we find along the way are not of God, but of man.  Feminism or church history isn't the problem in people leaving the church, it's that their roots aren't deep enough to withstand questions, and they haven't been taught how to approach questions with faith instead of doubt.)

God is Perfect and So Is His Son

Teaching the Plan of Salvation, that men and women can only enter the highest degree of glory together.  We need to access heavenly power in mortality:  (1) through Gift of Holy Ghost and (2) via full access to priesthood power, but men and women access it in different ways.  (Alright friends, here is where I find some of her teachings to be strictly traditional and at times not helpful to the dialog.  Here is where she implies feminists don't understand the Plan of Salvation - because apparently it's all about gender roles?   I missed that in the missionary discussions. 

Also she thinks if you think changes need to be made you are Counseling the Lord and need to repent.  She says we are not a test case in a cosmic lab (which doesn't jive with what Pres. Bednar taught while I was working in his office in Rexburg:  the Church Organization is a Laboratory of Learning.  That there will be some people in this church who are so converted to the programs of the church instead of the true Gospel, that when change comes to those programs - and it will come, that they will not be able to make the transition because they were converted to the program.)   

Basically this chapter is summarized:  God is perfect, the Plan is perfect, and He's at the head of the Church so don't you ever question it.  (This really is not helpful at all to not even have a modicum of discussion about the fallibility and human understanding of leaders of our church.  How about even the McConkie quote from right after the 1978 revelation that he gave at BYU?  “It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year.” “Anybody,” and “ever” are unequivocal. He also asked his audience to “[f]orget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or . . . whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.”  I'm not saying that a revelation will come to give women priesthood.  But we are not even going to have a discussion about the fact that it is POSSIBLE in the future?)

Women Are Vital to the Success of the Lord’s Church
Sis Dew has a traditional definition of what it means to “contribute and participate in the church’.  In what other church can you see women praying, speaking in sacrament, leading organizations, teach, and organize activities.  Women are integral and have influence!

(I’m a little baffled by the fact that she thinks other churches don’t have women organizing and teaching and leading in children’s and youth programs and women’s organizations in other churches.  In Virginia I had friends who were Pentecosts, Baptists, and Evangelicals:  all of their churches had children's programs, youth programs, and women’s organizations that were led, taught, and organized by women (and sadly sometimes better than our own, AWANA sounds awesome, is all I’m saying).
Also I don’t think Ordain Women has ever said anything about women not having enough to do, as she implies.  I don't think the argument has ever been that we aren't participating or leading our own organizations.  So, moot point?) 

The Founding of the Relief Society
Back when the RS was founded, women in society were being repressed while women in the church were being elevated (this is true, Joseph Smith was a feminist)  It is wonderful the Church was much farther along than the world and we understood the importance of women and even ushered in the equality of women around the world.  (so how come in this section there is nothing about Emma, Eliza, and other women being ordained, not to the priesthood though - that they were authorized to anoint and bless by the laying on of hands?  That midwives performed annointings and blessings before child deliveries?  That George A. Smith asked for Eliza R. Snow to join the men as they laid hands on his head and gave him a blessing?)

A Legacy of Service

Eve was the one who made it possible for us to progress into mortality.  Faithful women through the ages have left a priceless legacy.  Talmage: the world’s greatest champion of woman and womanhood is Jesus the Christ.  (yes, the savior’s treatment of women was radical in his day - he was a Feminist and He is the reason I am, too!)

“It is a wise priesthood leader who recognizes the value of sister leaders and expects and invites their full participation in ward or stake council.  And it is a wise auxiliary leader who learns how to speak up and be heard in a council without becoming domineering or inflexible and while always paying to those who hold priesthood keys the respect that those keys deserve.”

Not only do LDS women participate in the Church, they are integral to its vitality and governance.  (I agree.  We participate and are important.  The reason why so many men treat women as less in the church is because I think our policies don't reflect our doctrine.  Programs should be equal in structure and funding, more women should be put on councils not as someone to give input - but someone who has an equal vote.  And if it's over a mixed gender organization (welfare, education, sunday school, etc.) and equal number of men and women should sit on that board.  I am not equal because of my special-femaleness, I am equal because my ideas and experiences as a daughter of God deserve equal weight and treatment.)
Both Men and Women Have Access to God's Highest Spiritual Blessings
The thing that makes the Church unique is that we have “divine authority of the priesthood.”  (I agree.)  McConkie “where spiritual things are concerned, as pertaining to all the gifts of the Spirit, with reference to the receipt of revelation, the gaining of testimonies, and the seeing of visions, in all matters that pertain to godliness and holiness and which are brought to pass as a result of person righteousness--in all these things men and women stand in a position of absolute equality before the Lord.”

The Challenge of Understanding and Discussing Priesthood

-People call men priesthood when they shouldn't
-The word “priesthood” is used to mean different things in different applications
    -keys, authority, power, blessing, holders or leaders
-Understanding priesthood is not simple; known only by personal revelation

The Father’s plan and the Savior’s church are designed to qualify all of us - both men and women - for exaltation.  Priesthood keys are the manner through which the Lord authorizes and disperses His power and authority throughout the Church for both men and women.  In the temple, both men and women are “endowed with the same power, which is by definition priesthood power.”  Neither a man nor a women may receive the highest ordinances of he priesthood or be exalted alone.  Women are to conceive children and men are to exercise the priesthood - but we share these things with each other (motherhood = priesthood, hmm)  She doesn't know why these are the roles and why we don't have clear answers regarding women's issues, but God is perfect and we walk in faith.  

She finally addresses Joseph's teaching about women healing by laying on of hands:
 “Respecting females administering for the healing of the sick… there could be no evil in it, if God gave His sanction by healing; that there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on and praying for the sick, than in wetting the face with water; it is no sin for anybody to administer that has faith, or if the sick have faith to be healed by their administrations.” (History of the Church, volume 4, pg. 604)
“Were the statements recorded accurately?  Was the Prophet’s reference to “administering to the sick” referring to only prayers of faith and comfort?  Had issues regarding women and priesthood not yet been fully revealed?  Was he anticipating women officiating in priesthood ordinances in the temple?  Were they allowed to because women often found themselves caring for their families alone?"

(I just don't even have words to respond to her perception of the historical facts of women having the authority (not priesthood authority) to anoint, heal, and bless by the laying on of hands through faith.  We all know the the Spiritual Gift of Healing is available to all?  It doesn't say in the scriptures only men can receive this gift, right?  Can Sis. Dew attempt to understand why some women are concerned that the level of power given to women in the past has been diminished through policy changes?) 

President Kimball reminded men “Our sisters do not wish to be indulged or to be treated condescendingly; they desire to be respected and revered as our sisters and our equals.  I mention this, my brethren, not because the doctrines or the teachings of the Church regarding women are in any doubt, but because in some situations, our behavior is of doubtful quality.”  Human weakness has been evident in how women are treated in the Church sometimes.  One of the most defining tests of this life may be about how we feel about the priesthood and treat those who hold it. 

Understanding The Keys, Authority, and Power of the Priesthood
Only certain priesthood holders hold certain keys in the Church. 
Keys authorize the ordinances, authority required to perform the ordinances, those who receive ordinances have priesthood power available to them.Those men with keys can give some women authority, in the temple women have priesthood authority.  After going to the temple, women have direct access to priesthood power.  Women don’t have keys but preside over organizations.  Sister missionaries and women in the temple have been given authority to perform works by those with keys.  Elders have power to baptize, but can’t unless given authority by someone using keys.  Ordinances and covenants are our credentials for admission into his presence.  With the exception of female temple workers, only men have authority to officiate in ordinances of priesthood.  Authority and priesthood are two different things, women have been given divine authority  (so if the priesthood means the Power of god, the Authority of God, and the Keys of God; and women receive divine authority (which is from God) what makes divine authority different?  It's a sincere question)

Understanding Priesthood and Women

How does a woman, not ordained, draw on that power?  As an unmarried woman, she does have access to priesthood power in her home.  Women who are concerned about the priesthood, it has to to with who has priesthood keys, and we don’t know why only men get them but we walk in faith.
“While it is true that the mortals who hold keys are not perfect and do not always handle things flawlessly, our Father and His Son oversee all.  In their infinite wisdom and perfect knowledge and understanding, they have devised a plan and organized a Church designed to help us achieve our highest potential”

In the temple both men and women are endowed with the same power, which is priesthood power.
what does it mean to have access to priesthood power?  It means we receive revelation, can be blessed and aided by the ministering of angels, learn to part the veil that separates us from our HF, be strengthened to resist temptation, be protected, and be enlightened and made smarter than we are - all without any mortal intermediary.”  We access the power through our covenants. 

Learning the doctrine of the priesthood
She does not fully understand, but perhaps women receive blessings in DC 84 by believing and sustaining the priesthood.  When sealed we become one unit and what he has will be shared.

President Lee: “Pure womanhood plus priesthood means exaltation”

Hafen “Spouses need not perform same functions to be equal.  The woman’s innate spiritual instincts are like a moral magnet, pointing toward spiritual north.  The man’s presiding gift is the priesthood.  If the husband & wife are wise, their counseling will be reciprocal:  he will listen to the promptings of her inner spiritual compass just as she will listen to his righteous counsel”

Faith in God and His power
The things I don’t understand don’t negate what I do know.  (yikes, She implies that women who are annoyed with mortal perspectives of the priesthood may be consigned to lesser kingdoms because they didn’t not receive the gift of the priesthood)  What to women get?  everything.

God Reserved the High Privilege of Motherhood for Women
The world doesn’t recognize that the effectiveness of the Plan relies on the character, work, and faith of mothers.  

"Motherhood" is different than the "doctrine of motherhood".  Doctrine of motherhood = eternal privileges, responsibilities & endowments, and can only be exercised upon principles of righteousness.  Mortality requires women bearing children.  Motherhood is the divine, eternal and core nature of every woman.  Eve was the mother of all living before she had a child.  Mothers are saviors of men, men need the priesthood to become saviors of men.

Mother In Heaven
Sister Dew believes we don't talk about her because we are "protecting" her.  (That myth has been debunked by a BYU study that uncovered almost every recorded quote about her in the history of the Church.  The only written teaching about not talking about her to protect her is from a seminary teacher.  Which is at odds with what the prophets actually did, was continually talk about her.  I don't know why prophets don't talk about her now, but they certainly had hundreds and hundreds of things to say about her in the past.  And none of those things were about how she needs mortal silence for her protection.)
Loving and Leading 

“For every woman, the challenge is one of discerning the Lord’s will for her and then following the promptings of the Spirit.  None of our divine errands are exactly the same.”

Elder cook, “First, no woman should ever feel the need to apologize or feel that her contribution is less significant because she is devoting her primary efforts to raising and nurturing children.  nothing could be more significant in our Father in Heaven’s plan.  Second, we should all be careful not to be judgmental or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home.  We rarely understand or fully appreciate people’s circumstances.”

Converted Women Can Change the World
The only things that matter are the things that matter to the Lord.  May we spend whatever time and make whatever effort is required to understand what our Father has given us. 


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