Sunday, October 29, 2006

Women and the priesthood

I just got back from visiting teaching. This month the message was on the priesthood. As usual, I didn’t feel that the quotes they had in the message were very helpful. I still can’t figure out what the point is with those messages. I read them each month with so much hope that “they” (whoever THEY are) have put some really interesting things in there. But no dice this time.

There was, however, a question that got my thoughts moving a little—something about how we can avail ourselves of the blessings of the priesthood. I wondered: are there blessings I could be getting from the priesthood that I am not currently receiving or recognizing? In what ways could it be blessing my life that it is not?

I already feel greatly blessed by the power of the priesthood. Most obviously to me is the great comfort I get from blessings from Roger. He has a spiritual gift, I think, of speaking the words of God. I have been directly and clearly blessed by often by things he has said in blessings.

There are other ways I have been blessed. Everything about the temple, for example, is connected with the priesthood. And I am blessed with new knowledge, greater peace in my life, increased spirituality every time I attend.

Also, when I am at the temple, I see and feel more clearly what I believe is God’s view of the connection between women and the priesthood.

I am not one of the people (and there are many) who believes, secretly or publicly, that women will be ordained to the priesthood on earth eventually, and that we are just patiently (or impatiently) waiting until the church catches up culturally enough to accept it (the way it needed to get to a certain point before we could receive the revelation on blacks and the priesthood).

Why not? Why am I not one of those people?

This question has stumped me. I’m going to try to explore why.

First, I have never felt any less blessed by the priesthood than I perceive anyone else to be. It’s very obvious to me that I am receiving every possible blessing that I am worthy of and that I am not missing out on anything by not being ordained. What possible blessings to priesthood-bearers receive that I don’t?

Let’s see. What do priesthood leaders do that I don’t? Preside? Hmmm. Well, I’ll grant that one. But whether it constitutes a blessing, I’m not so sure of. But I don’t want to head down the path of, “It’s all O.K. because who would want to do that anyway?” The fact that it doesn’t sound fun to me does not prove that there are no blessings involved. But the question is, is life unfair because there might be a blessing attached to presiding that I will never get? Is it unfair that gender alone entitles one person to eventually have access to that particular blessing and another not to?

Well, the logical answer to that is that there are some blessings that I am entitled to, by virtue of gender alone, that my husband will never be able to access. One of them is the blessing of being presided over.

“Aha!” you answer. “But who wants to be presided over? The very fact that someone is OVER you implies a position of less worth; it implies inferiority.”

I’m not sure I agree with that. Because I’m not sure, and have never been sure, what “presiding over” really means. In my family, we are co-leaders. Roger might give the kids fathers’ blessings. Is there any doubt that I am giving my kids mothers’ blessings, constantly? (Sure, I don’t lay my hands on their heads. But I am giving them all the same.)

So if we didn’t have any kids, what would his “presiding” look like? I don’t know what it is SUPPOSED to look like—but what it DOES look like is that he is the interface between our family and the world, between our family and the greater church. It’s as if he is facing outwards, negotiating all of the business between our family unit and the outside world, and within his protection I am facing inwards, negotiating all of the business within our family. Works well for us. I think it’s the way it should work.

So then because that is the way things are, is he receiving blessings that I am not, and for which I am not being equally compensated somehow?

I don’t think so. At least, I don’t think he is being blessed MORE than I am. Just differently. And I don’t mind that the difference is based on gender.

Much as I hate it, it gets back, in part, to the priesthood/motherhood thing. I hate to say that “men officiate in the Priesthood and women get to be mothers,” as if the two are equal and opposite. But, because of gender differences, they ARE equal and opposite in many ways.

Another part of the visiting teaching message that caught my interest was a point about all of us participating in God’s work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. What could better describe what a mother does than that description of God’s work? I am constantly engaged in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of myself and my children. No priesthood-bearer can claim that he is doing more in this goal than I am. Because he is gone from home most of the day, my husband can’t claim that he is doing anywhere near as much of this for our children as I am. So who am I to deny him the blessings of participating in God’s work? Let him officiate in the priesthood, and take upon himself certain tasks so that I can be freed to concentrate on mine.

The biggest reason I am uncomfortable in admitting to this “priesthood/motherhood” belief is that I have suffered from infertility in my life. I have looked down the long dark tunnel of a possible future of childlessness. How can we say to a childless woman that her motherhood is the only way she can have access to the blessings that are comparative (I am avoiding the word compensatory) to those a man might receive by holding the priesthood? We can’t. We see our church leaders, and those of us who are anxiously engaged in raising children, sort of apologetically turn to the women who cannot conceive and say, “But you are still mothering—to your nieces and nephews, to the children in your ward, to your coworkers, etc.” It’s not the same. We all know it’s not.

And yet—And yet—does it matter? We are all engaged in God’s work—that of bringing souls unto him. The childless woman can be as engaged as she would like to be in this work and can thus qualify for as many blessings as she would like. Just because I have been giftwrapped four specific souls and assigned to work primarily on THEM for most of my waking hours does not, I believe, mean that I will be blessed any more than my childless friend. More obviously, maybe. Of course, I will be held accountable in different ways than she will. But of both of us, God will ask for an accounting of how we helped others to reach him. As he will of our husbands.

If the general authorities announced tomorrow that women would from now on be ordained to the priesthood, I would feel very surprised and confused. Because I think it would be redundant and unnecessary. I think it would interfere with what a marriage can and should be (a synergy of different gifts and responsibilities that functions as a greater and more powerful unit). There are many things about the restored gospel that I don’t understand and that are confusing to me, and which I expect to be cleared up in surprising ways in the next life. As for the priesthood, I think we will find that in many ways women have already been part of the priesthood, and that, without being actually ordained to specific offices within it, we will be participating within it in more outward ways (for example, more the way women did in the early church, or even as recently as 50 or so years ago when couple missionaries participated in blessings together). But I don’t believe that there is any big pronouncement coming “as soon as the church is ready for it.” The revelation on women and the priesthood comes to each woman—and each couple--individually, I believe, as they more and more fully commit to consecrating their lives to the bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of souls.


Ilove2travel said...

As the mother of three IVF boys, the part of your post that most caught my eye was the infertility. Would you care to share more on that?

Darlene said...

Good question. It's worth a whole new blog post. I'll do that. (BTW, I didn't know that about your boys!)

Justine said...

I share your feelings about the priesthood/motherhood issue. But motherhood doesn't just come from birthing children.

I am in awe that my husband holds the priesthood, something he can in no way use to benefit himself personally. I am also in awe that I hold the ability to mother. Both may not be exacting in their equality by certain standards, but who decides what those standards are?

I personally believe Satan has done a tremendous job to craft a message that diminishes my unique and "womanly" abilities. I believe he is currently doing something similar to mens roles (Doesn't it seem like all the male tv/movie characters everywhere now are bumbling idiots?).

I, too, know several women who are on the warpath over this issue. I am strangely at peace with it. I don't want to be my husband; I don't want to have to excuse myself for raising children; I want to be blessed and enriched in the fabric woven by my husband and I -- together.