Book Review: Live Up to Our Privileges
I was very excited to read this book! Author Wendy Ulrich says in the preface: “I have also felt frustration at times over gender inequities I’ve perceived in my Church experience, and I have sometimes prayed with a pained heart about shortages of female voice in the scriptures, Church governance, and representations of Deity” (xiii).
I’ve had questions about the priesthood ever since I was a teenager and have been longing for some answers. So when I heard about this book, I had to read it! This divine power of women is something that we’ve been hearing more and more about in General Conference, but there’s a lot of dense fog that still remains. I believe this book is the author’s way of trying to make sense of how women use priesthood power despite not having priesthood offices. This is a tough topic with endless questions and no answers in sight, so I am impressed that the author worked hard to write this book and attempt to clear up some of the confusion that we have in the Church.
One thing I particularly liked was when Ulrich wrote about the differences in how power works in the world and how power works in the kingdom of God. The quotes used in the book are very empowering and encompass everyone. I like that it shows that anyone can get revelation or have spiritual power. I would have liked to see more women’s quotes throughout this book, but I understand that there’s a shortage of quotes (by women) about the priesthood.
Ulrich goes through each priesthood office and explains what the responsibilities are and compares them to the ways in which women fulfill these responsibilities. I felt that at times the comparison was a bit of a stretch, but I appreciated that Ulrich tried to find ways in which women also accomplish these same responsibilities. Seeing this caused me to feel a bit sad, though, because it often seems that men get a title or priesthood office (which allows them to officially do those things) while women accomplish these things unofficially. While I know that whether or not someone gets recognition for something doesn’t affect a person’s value, it does seem strange to me that at church men seem to receive recognition much more than women do.
Ulrich talks about how the priesthood pertains to women and suggests a clearer definition of priesthood that includes women in it. She defines priesthood as “the power and authority given in different ways to men and women in God’s church…” (23). I appreciate this definition because talking about the priesthood as if it means men has a lot of negative implications. I even hear people say “priesthood leaders” as if only men are supposed to be leaders. I’ve never heard anyone refer to female church leaders as priesthood leaders. I also often hear people talk about priesthood authority when they talk about male leaders, but this is misleading because men who aren’t leaders have the priesthood too. Ulrich also makes a great point that I hadn’t known, that only a few men actually have priesthood keys. Most of them do not (22).
I found the book very enlightening and it opened up to me new ways to view things. For example, Ulrich explains how young men passing the sacrament is similar to what women do in preparing food and providing it to others, such as making meals for the family or for other people. I had never made this connection before, but it’s true that in a lot of families, the men are dependent on the women for the meals. Now, I didn’t find this analogy completely satisfying, but that’s just me. Since the sacrament is the highlight of sacrament meeting where people remember Christ and renew their covenants, it doesn’t seem at all similar to making a meal. These things are so very different, and that’s why this analogy did not satisfy me.
I was hoping to find some answers in this book about why only men have the priesthood, but there are no quick answers or any answers, for that matter. Really the only answer right now is that we don’t know. We have no clue why one gender gets the priesthood and the other doesn’t. Perhaps the answers will not come quickly and fully as I’ve been hoping, but are coming gradually line upon line. I felt very disappointed when I realized this, but I believe Ulrich’s book does help members get closer to discovering why only men have the priesthood.
I appreciated this quote by Ulrich, which says, “I was reminded that a man does not automatically have authority to preside, conduct, or make decisions by virtue of his priesthood office alone, but only by virtue of his specific callings and keys” (114). She mentions an experience of being in a church leadership meeting of both men and women, and a woman conducted the meeting and called on someone to pray. I was surprised when I read that, because I’ve rarely seen that happen. There were several empowering stories about women getting together and using their spiritual gifts.
One thing that really stood out to me is that diversity is essential in coming up with solutions and having effective council meetings. Ulrich mentions a study that showed that diversity improves things immensely. Having diverse people in a group “stimulated the team to think more outside the box and not jump to conclusions” (139). She also talked about the differences in the ways men and women communicate with the same gender. Because of these differences, it can cause misunderstandings to occur in communication.
The chapter also talked about confidence and the difference in risk-taking between the genders. “Women tend to underestimate their ability or talent, while men tend to overestimate how well they are doing, even when their actual performance is nearly identical” (142). I was very shocked when I read this. This part of the book truly distressed me and made it seem like men have an advantage. Then, Ulrich talked about how to cultivate confidence, and I wondered why women have to work so hard to achieve more confidence. I find this a bit hard to believe, because women in the past and present have had to work hard to fight against the system, and because of this, these women became strong and confident. So I’m not exactly sure what to believe in this area.
Those are just a few of the things that stood out to me. There are many worthwhile and enlightening things in this book, but also some things that made me feel perplexed. I think that each person who reads this book will get something different out of it and different things will stand out to them based on their thoughts and experiences. This post is just my opinion of what stood out to me and what I struggled with. I definitely recommend this book to anyone that has questions about the priesthood and how it applies to women. While it doesn’t answer the questions of why women don’t have the priesthood, it does give a wider perspective on the issue and helps us see that women are not barred from any divine power to help another person. I hope we continue to get books like this in the future and hopefully the priesthood will be increasingly viewed as something that applies more fully to women.