Guest Post: The Priesthood and Me
I’ve not often had much better than an uneasy truce with local Church leadership. Young Women’s and I were not friends, probably because I had the Laurel marriage/dating/chastity lessons for all six years. A tomboy who blossomed into a rather unattractive (and somewhat androphobic) young lady, I didn’t have much use for learning how to bake scripture cookies or sew temple packets for my hope chest. I was wildly jealous of the boys who got to tie knots and play with fire, and the highlight of my Young Women years was camp, wherein I got to play pranks and shoot arrows.
Due to some unfortunate experiences and personality clashes growing up, I developed contempt for The Way Things Are Done in the Church, and the People Who Do Them. I am, however, a rather stubborn person and realized that not all Mormons had to be the way I knew them. I figured my best chance to get over my prejudice was to go to BYU. I’ve been more or less stuck in Utah and its culture since then.
But despite this, and despite the fact that I am often unhappy with the way things happen at Church, I’ve come to realize several things. First, total immersion in Utah culture after growing up in the military has taught me that people are pretty much people, wherever you find them, and that cultural practices that are not comfortable or agreeable should usually still be respected. I have found that when you respect someone’s background, you both benefit.
This is a lot of preamble for what I promised to discuss, but I thought I needed to give a little bit of background. Despite my various personal issues with operations in the Church, I do support the Priesthood. I believe that it is of God, and while individuals may not wield the Priesthood righteously, I feel that the Priesthood is for men. I have faith that women are heirs to all that the Father has alongside men, but that the Priesthood as we consider it in the day-to-day operations of the Church is not part of that. Perhaps I will be proven wrong in time, but that is how I feel now.
I don’t have hugely dramatic horror stories involving the Priesthood, though what I have lived through has been plenty hard for me. One of my most difficult examples was on my mission. A new mission president was brought into the mission four months before I was to go home. For some reason, he and his wife liked me, but many missionaries expressed strong discontent with the changes he was making in our mission. When I tried to tell him this, he brought me on a three-hour train ride to mission headquarters to tell me that he was sending me home honorably, but early. For many reasons that I will not elaborate on, this was utterly devastating to me. I spent several hours convincing him otherwise, and I was sent back to my area on probation. It was the first time that conflict with a Priesthood leader put my life and plans into jeopardy. I served the rest of my mission, but I was broken somewhere deep inside, feeling utterly powerless and inconsequential in my life and in the Church. That affected me for years afterwards, and had its part in contributing to my marriage to a man who was emotionally abusive and my subsequent divorce from him.
Now, for the first time, I live in a home alone with two small children. The daily influence of the priesthood is not present, and has not really been there for the duration of my marriage. (My husband would not give blessings or utilize the priesthood righteously in our home.) I feel it like an empty ache where that influence ought to be. Perhaps that is why I have begun to truly understand the priesthood for the first time in my life.
I used to think that the Priesthood was about power, about making decisions that others had to follow. But I have come to see that the priesthood power is not found in decision-making, but that it is the same kind of power that the Atonement created. I have realized that power in the world is about making others do what you want them to do. In heaven, power is about being the kind of person that causes others to want to do what you want them to do because you love them, and want glory for them. There is no coercion, only encouragement. In order for the Priesthood to exist, it has to be wielded in an environment of sacrifice and service. If a man does not make decisions by putting others before himself, he is performing priestcraft, not wielding the priesthood.
Painting with a broad brushstroke, I think that culturally and physiologically speaking, women are encouraged already to sacrifice themselves for the good of others. In our culture, and in most cultures of the world, men are taught to do for themselves. There are not many male social structures in the world that cause men to sacrifice themselves to serve the whole. That is why Christ is so amazing. Here is a man who, with access to traditional worldly power, voluntarily gave up that power and allowed Himself to be ridiculed, humiliated, and painfully murdered, all so that a few of His brothers and sisters could understand what true, eternal Power means.
The Priesthood of the Son of God accesses this true Power. It is the authority to act in His name, the same type of authority that He gained by putting Himself below all of us. It uplifts men by encouraging them to lay down their lives in service for their families and friends. Without that understanding, the Priesthood cannot exist.
This is why I believe in the Priesthood. This is why, despite my bad experiences with the ways in which that priesthood is sometimes wielded, I still uphold and sustain the admittedly imperfect men who have been granted it. This is why I do not envy it, nor feel that I “deserve” the power of the Priesthood. The Priesthood of my Savior lifts and enlightens men. The entire Gospel is about lifting others up, and if the men around me are lifted and exalted and encouraged in righteousness by the Priesthood, I can only be lifted and exalted as I choose to sustain them, just as they are lifted and exalted as they honor the women in their lives. And I have had my share of examples of men who humbly and selflessly serve because they have been taught to do so by wielding the Priesthood. I really have no argument against that.