Baby Steps to Zion
Last month brought a string of Priesthood-related lessons in Relief Society. Perhaps you noticed!
During one particular lesson, the conversation on “honoring the priesthood” wandered into comments about honoring the men in our lives and working behind the scenes to help them — “the priesthood” — become more spiritual. “Priesthood” and “men” were used interchangeably, and I began to feel a little angsty about it.
So I typed a few words into my iPad and located one of my favorite General Conference quotes. In October 2005, Elder Dallin Oaks delivered an address called “Priesthood Authority in the Family and the Church” that contains this gem, which I shared:
The priesthood is the power of God used to bless all of His children, male and female. Some of our abbreviated expressions, like “the women and the priesthood,” convey an erroneous idea. Men are not “the priesthood.” Priesthood meeting is a meeting of those who hold and exercise the priesthood. The blessings of the priesthood, such as baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, the temple endowment, and eternal marriage, are available to men and women alike.
“Men are not the priesthood,” and using those words synonymously is misleading and damaging, for men and women (and young women and young men). Such conflation, when believed and acted upon, is the root of many priesthood abuses. Language matters. (I didn’t say all that quite so bluntly — I know what it’s like to be the teacher in front of the room!)
In any case, the wife of the bishop approached me after class and asked me to send her the quote. She had noticed that such language was often used in the ward — simple things like saying “We invite the priesthood to go sit with their families” after the sacrament. She wanted to share the quote with her husband.
Fast forward one month. I was away last weekend at the Exponent Retreat (heaven). Today, this same wonderful woman approached me and said, “I wish you could have been here last week. My husband dismissed the ‘deacons’ not the ‘priesthood.'” Turns out he had been thinking about this issue as well and the Oaks talk gave him the push he needed. She also noted that this is something he was going to bring this up at the stake level.
I was surprised by how much this delighted me. Because though it may seem like a minuscule moment, I believe language matters. It’s why I talked about the natural man and woman during my Sunday School lesson today. And why, in bringing up the Christ-father imagery in Isaiah, I also brought up the Christ-mother imagery in 3 Nephi. And why I was so delighted to hear President Monson quote Mother Teresa last night in the General Relief Society meeting. Language includes and excludes. Language makes room for people to find their place in our approaching-Zion communities or tells them, subtly, that they don’t belong.
Some of our abbreviated expressions, like “the women and the priesthood,” convey an erroneous idea. Men are not “the priesthood.”
Thanks to this woman and her husband, our ward is a little closer to Zion than it was.
What baby-steps have you seen in your ward or stake?