Don’t Tell Me I Don’t Understand the Priesthood
Last week’s lesson in Relief Society was on the Priesthood — always a real favorite for an all-women organization. I was already struggling because Phred had gotten a head start on what is turning into a multi-day “I won’t nap but I WILL fuss and scream” binge. So by the third hour of church I was feeling pretty done. But I wanted to give it a fair shake, and interact with adults.
The teacher opened the lesson by sharing that she had had many friends in the “Ordain Women” movement and that she had struggled with many questions and difficulties relating to the priesthood — I appreciated this vulnerability. She said that her answer was that in time when she went to the temple those questions would be resolved, and they were. I’m afraid that if I say “I’m happy for her” it’ll sound petulant and insincere. But I’ve also had a total of 15 minutes this entire day not engaged in child care of a fairly draining nature so crossness is where I am, with no reflection on the poor teacher. She then invited the class to share experiences or feelings relating to the priesthood, and many did so. Again, I appreciate this approach to teaching that allows for many people to offer their own opinions.
The thing is, there seems to be only one approved opinion. This is no surprise to me of course, I’ve been LDS my whole life and I’m nothing if not aware of the party line. I thought about sharing my point of view. I even raised my hand. But after hearing comment after comment that slowly wore me down when I’m already exhausted and frail I just didn’t have it in me to be the only one saying what I have to say. I looked around the room and thought, “I don’t think anyone in this room wants to hear this, and I don’t feel strong enough to say it.” So I took the excuse of my fussy cross baby and quietly walked out. Perhaps I missed a lesson that really would have met my needs. But sitting on the lawn with my baby felt like the safer choice. However, I keep stewing and unless I write I won’t be able to siphon off the feelings of anger.
Here is what I perceived to be the gist of the comments and the perspective of my sisters: The priesthood is wonderful (many examples of blessings etc.). Women (“educated” women singled out) who want the priesthood or have a problem with male-only ordination don’t understand. The truth is that men and women both hold the priesthood. Or maybe it’s that both men and women have to ask another man if they want a blessing, men don’t bless themselves, so really it’s the same for men and women. Having a man who holds the priesthood in the home, even if he is a 12-year-old boy, is wonderful and important.
Here’s my deal. I’m educated, and male-only ordination causes me pain, and I’m not ignorant or unable to understand or unfamiliar with the Temple. The Temple brings peace on this issue to a lot of women. It makes things worse for me. My feelings and experience with this are valid and are not a product of my inability to understand truth.
I have been through hell bringing my children to earth. I have paid a terribly high price in physical hardship and suffering. My mental and emotional health are in tatters and it’s getting worse, not better. I walked this horrible road largely alone because nobody could carry any of this burden for me. And I am not allowed to give my child a name and a blessing. I’m not even allowed to stand in the circle, to hold my baby while my husband blesses him in front of our congregation. When Pip was blessed, the Bishop, though not invited to join the circle as a particular friend, just did so as a matter of course. He could casually get up and elbow in, but I sat back on our pew. The only way I was able to cope with this awful exclusion with Pip was to tell myself that I simply do not care about baby blessings. Indifference became the defense mechanism I needed in order to face the fact that the church sees priesthood and motherhood as equivalent. I tearfully told Chris on the way home from church that I’d be very glad to swap — he can vomit and vomit and vomit and then be up all night while a child gnaws on his nipples. I’ll do the snuggling and naming and blessing part if they’re so interchangeable and equivalent.
I will do the lion’s share of rearing my sons in the Gospel. I say the most prayers with them. I am the one reading scripture stories and explaining about Jesus. I’m the one singing primary songs and teaching them to our sons. This is not an aspersion on my husband, nor is it an avowal of my “role” — I am home. This ends up being something I’m doing more. But I will not be allowed to baptize my sons. I won’t be allowed to give the Gift of the Holy Ghost. But it goes further — I’m not allowed to be a witness. I’m not allowed to stand in the circle. I’m not even allowed to conduct the meeting.
And so it will go on and on and on. At no point in my son’s lives will I have any relevant role in any ordinance. If I had daughters I could possibly help them in the Temple. But as a mother of sons I will not be allowed to sit by them, or talk to them, or instruct them in any way. I will not sit at my husband’s side, co-witness of the wedding.
To me it seems of a piece with pregnancy — I’m good enough to do all the endless heartbreaking soul-crushing work of preparing the way, but at every crowning moment and milestone I am to sit invisible and silent on the sidelines.
It feels really fantastic.
So don’t tell me that I don’t understand, or that men and women share the same access to the privileges of the priesthood, or if I just thought about ordinances I’d feel a lot better. I understand all too well. My access is not equal. And thinking about ordinances makes me feel really, really, really sad.