Each General Conference, I sincerely try to think of messages that are uplifting to share in visiting teaching. In most speeches and every session, there are a few that resonate, including in from the April 2013 Conference. Once in a while, one talk really grabs me. Like from this conference. But this time, the talk that struck me seemed to also strike those around me. In the last few weeks following conference, nearly every person I have spoken to about conference, prompted or not, has mentioned Elder Holland’s speech.
This speech resonated with me as well. Following the miracle of the first recorded woman to pray aloud at a general conference, I had hope—more hope that I have in a long time. To be clear, I do not believe that prayer chains or letter writing campaigns can move God or change God’s will. But I do believe that as we seek, individually or in a group, for revelation to be revealed, it can be shown. I als believe that when we ask, then seek and knock for the miracles that God has already in store for us, that we will be blessed in the manner appropriate for this time as determined by God. I confess, I did not hope for a woman to be invited to pray at General Conference, even with the letter-writing campaign. Nonetheless, I sent in a letter with the campaign. I wrote my letter to support the friends who did believe. My letter was in testimony of something I felt was right, yet I did not have faith could happen. I had faith in my friends. And then, it happened. The prayer happened.
In conversations about gender inequality in the LDS church, the biggest point I’ve seen made from those who are comfortable with the status quo and against the LDS feminist movement is that the status quo is the way God wants things. I’ve seen and heard this point claimed both in online forums and in person, concerning everything from the figurative burqa surrounding Heavenly Mother to male-only Priesthood.
My question is this: Why do you assume that a male-only priesthood (insert other gender unequal policy here) is a principle that comes from God and not from mankind’s limited understanding?
Priesthood was first given to men in a time period when women were basically seen as the possessions of men. Considering the cultural norms of Bible times, it’s not surprising that throughout the Bible women are almost invisible as spiritual leaders, and all our scriptural texts are written by men (as far as I know).
This lesson addresses our spiritual goal of joining our own will (agency) willingly to the will of our Father. The questions we address to the class and to ourselves are deeply introspective and complex. For example: how do I maintain individuality and join my will to the Father’s? How do I hear and understand the spirit? How do I know when I’m being guided?
Because of the thoughtful nature of this lesson, the “Teaching Help” at the end of the lesson is particularly applicable: “Do not be afraid of silence. People often need time to think about and reply to questions or to express what they are feeling.”
The use of words/ideas like “success” and “failure” are common in this lesson and that can be tricky because success and failure can have negative connotations (and are highly personal). Suggesting failure to individuals in the room because of your own ideas of failure could be offensive and/or unproductive.
The opening story about Lorenzo Snow’s Birthday celebration at BYU seems an awkward fit for this less, but I do like the quote at the end of the story and think it could be a good lead-in to the lesson: “ It is the lord that you honor when you honor me and my counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve. We have discovered that a long time since everyone of us, that o ourselves we could do nothing. Only as far as we followed that principle which Jesus followed when He was in he world has success followed our efforts; and it will be so with you.”
Section 1: When we seek God’s will, we follow a course in which there will be no failure.
I would recommend talking about some definitions of failure, so you don’t discourage the class. Many sisters may have life experiences that they view as failures – such as miscarriages, broken relationships, failed marriages, lost jobs, etc. It would set a difficult tone if the sisters felt that their set backs and disappoints were related to their inability to connect with God and follow His guidance. It’s important to separate life’s set back from failure. Giving an eternal perspective would be a good approach here.
The scriptures in this section are great – and I feel they help emphasize that God is ever with us, wants to be near us, and help us.
Section 2: As we obey God’s will, He gives us power to succeed in His work.
As this section points out, it is important to believe and realize that God can do great things in our lives. And we can do great things with His help. I think personal stories of guidance and miracles could be valuable here, but take a broad view.
For example: a single sister might share how God has guided her and blessed her career so she can financially sustain herself, even if her desire to be married is not fulfilled. Or a mother could share how she has been guided to know what do for her children even though her children have special needs.
Remind the sisters that God’s love is unconditional. Encourage sisters to find the work God has for them personally. Share testimony that God will strengthen and give power.
Section 3: Act in God’s name and acknowledge His hand.
This is the part of the lesson where we really talk about “being with God”. In a large circle: we submit our will, are guided, act in ways He would want, and acknowledge Him.
The final paragraph in the lesson is a fairly good summary statement – and wrap up.
First, read this quote from James Talmage’s Jesus is the Christ, which is quoted (among other places) in the Doctrines of the Gospel manual (published in 2000):
“For over seventeen hundred years on the eastern hemisphere, and for more than fourteen centuries on the western, there appears to have been silence between the heavens and the earth. Of direct revelation from God to man during this long interval, we have no authentic record.”
Sexual separation is often a characteristic of dominant societies. The military, administrative and travelling imperatives of imperialism dictated it and, no less than Sparta or among the Zulu, the training and socialization of the young became increasingly directed towards this end. Public schools, youth organisations, juvenile literature, the club and the army mess were all expressions of it, as were strictly segregated working men’s clubs and school staff rooms. In the extending and building of country houses and public buildings of this period, the provision of the male sanctum became an architectural necessity.
-John M. Mackenzie, Manliness and Morality, Middle-class Masculinity in Britain and America 1800-1940, Manchester University Press, 1987, p 180-181.
Men and women are segregated in the church organizations, and are so from a young age. The Young Men and Young Women’s programs are evidence of this, but historically, even 10 and 11 year olds were segregated until the advent of the (sometimes) co-mingled Valiant class (I was a Merrie Miss.) Youth organizations, literature, church meetings and MIA activities all segregate young females from males as the males developed authority levels within priesthood ranks. As such, the above statement, whilst written in regard to the social Darwinist aspects of Victorian and Edwardian exclusion of women from big game (authoritative and elite-class) hunting , I think can easily be applied to the segregation still present within Mormon Society.
After much thought and prayer and many discussions with friends and family, I posted my profile on Ordain Women.org. I believe that now is the time to be thoughtful and prayerful about Priesthood and ask God what He desires for His daughters in our modern-day church. I think we should seek understanding about a dual Priesthood: just as men and women are both involved with procreation – they are both involved with priesthood.
When others learn that I have posted this profile, many questions and comments follow. The majority of these comments seem to fall in three areas, which I will address below in my own little “frequently asked questions” blog post and poll today.
1. Women’s ordination leading to LDS men’s inactivity.
My simple response to this concern is “I don’t think we will lose our men” – at least not the good men I know. Some of the best men I know are Mormon men – and I don’t envision my brother-in-laws or my current ward brothers walking away from the church. I think they will attend their children’s baptisms even if their wives are preforming the ordinance. Ordaining women does not mean un-ordaining men. We are adding sisterhood to the strong brotherhood that already exists.
My second, somewhat more complex response is: “Maybe we’ll lose some of our men. And maybe we’ll lose our women too.” We are currently losing both men and women to inactivity. Many of those individuals will continue to struggle if women are ordained, but I’m not convinced the numbers will be higher than what we face currently. Concern over men’s activity rates, while important, is not a reason to withhold ordination to all worthy members of the church. I see dual ordination as a way to work together for the benefit of all. And when we no longer have to use all our “talk about Priesthood time” splitting roles and justifying women’s peripheral involvement, then we can really explore Priesthood and learn more fully about its immense power.
2. Women’s ordination leading to more work for LDS women.
Many LDS women (that I talk to) feel overworked in the church already – and worry that ordination will only add to the load. And for some women – maybe it will, but I think for most – probably not. Ordination brings more hands to the table, not fewer. There is lot of work to be done in the Kingdom of God – some of it is logistical, some of it is administrative, some of it involves spiritual revelation, and some of it is around blessings and ordinations. Work rotates within these areas and among people. Callings rotate. It seems to me that families will spend more time together if the work is spread among more people – including single women. Perhaps in some homes a mother will spend extra time at church meetings for a few years while the father watches over children on Sunday morning. And perhaps in other homes, the dinner hour will be less interrupted because Brother Smith can call me (a single sister) to give a blessing rather than the father of a family.
3. Am I questioning church leadership by supporting women’s ordination?
For me, this answer is a firm “no”. I love the church; I trust and sustain its leaders. I am not questioning either, I am simply giving voice to something I also believe: women’s ordination. My friend, Carri, who is an inspiration to me on the subject of LDS women writes, “for many years I tried to make the status of women in the Church make sense. I tried to find ways to justify it – which is where I believe the vast majority of the Church is now, believing it’s right because it is … but it isn’t necessary right, it just is.”
Nephi also has some interesting thoughts on the matter: 1 Nephi Chapter 25. I quote from Carri again, “One of the things I find most intriguing about Nephi is how often he feels constrained by the smallness of his world. He is so aware of how much power and knowledge there is to be had, but in his day-to-day life, he is pestered constantly by simple-mindedness and weakness. I imagine him feeling tethered to earth when his vision is so much greater.
“And notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled. For this end was the law given; wherefore, the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.”
They keep the “dead law” because that is the commandment they have. They speak of the higher law as they live the lesser one. Nephi was ready to be Christian 600 years before Christ came. He knew the law of Moses was not complete and that he and generations of his posterity would be subject to living it. But he spoke of the higher law, which he knew someday would come. And he rejoiced in it.”
I feel like Nephi: I am living the law and commandments we have. I am serving in ways that are given me. And I’m waiting for what I believe is the birthright of all the worthy sons and daughters of God – to act in His name with Priesthood power. I claim that birthright, even as I wait for the actual ordination … in the Lord’s time. “I believe all that God has revealed, all the He does now reveal, and … that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” (Ninth Article of Faith)
There are several schools of thought on the issue of woman’s ordination – or Goalposts as John-Charles Duffy calls them. Where do you fall?