#hearLDSwomen: The Priesthood and My Teenage Life

My oldest son turns 12 in exactly two weeks. The day he was born, my commitment and faith in my church was second to nothing else in my life, but over the years it has dwindled down to absolutely nothing. I stopped attending church at all about two months ago.

My husband attends and takes our three kids with him. My son would rather stay home with me, but he goes anyway for now. His upcoming birthday and the priesthood ordination that would usually accompany it has us all thinking deeply. My son would prefer not to be ordained. He says he doesn’t believe in the church or the priesthood, and he’s not interested in passing the sacrament with his friends or doing baptisms for the dead. My husband really hopes he does get it. Even if my son doesn’t believe in the priesthood, my husband points out how many service and learning opportunities he’ll miss out on by not getting it. For example, he won’t be able to help collect fast offerings, something that is a meaningful service young boys in the church can participate in.

I have told my son that I support him no matter what he decides. The downside of choosing not to be ordained is all social in his mind. For example, it will be an awkward conversation with his grandparents, who are already excited about what they assume is his upcoming deaconhood. His friends all have the priesthood. I understand if he chooses to go ahead with it for now, even if it’s not what’s in his heart.

This imminent decision making event has left me thinking deeply about my life and my interaction with the priesthood. My husband and I have clearly had very different relationships with it.

For example, during high school, my stake once created a male youth priesthood presidency and female youth presidency, all out Laurels and Priests. I was the first counselor in the female version, and we’d come to meetings (for planning firesides, dances, that kind of stuff), but the priesthood presidency would make the final decisions. I remember never once thinking “That isn’t fair,” but rather, “Why do they even bother having a female youth presidency? They don’t need one. I think they’re just trying to make us feel needed.” It felt cool to have been called, but also kind of a waste of time.

I also remember one day as a teenager when my friends and I snuck onto the podium of the chapel during a combined mutual activity. We peeked back into the tiny room where they prepare the sacrament and couldn’t believe there was an actual sink inside the chapel to fill the water cups up with. We were surprised to see a laminated card with the prayers written on it for the priests to read from where they would kneel to bless the sacrament. We’d always assumed it had to be memorized, and it felt a tiny bit less magical to learn they didn’t know it by heart. It was such a cool experience though, and we felt so excited to be seeing all of these hidden secret things we’d never even known about. I remember thinking, “I can’t believe the boys know all of this stuff!” as if it was some forbidden and exotic thing.

It wasn’t until I was an adult and my husband was the Young Men’s president in our ward that I learned the bishop meets with the priests quorum every single week during the third hour. I had no idea! I have a vivid recollection of the bishop visiting Young Women’s once in our meeting and how it felt special and like a really big deal to have the leader of the entire ward take his time to come to our meeting. We were all on our best behavior and listened and wanted to impress him with our answers, I think. I look back at that and it feels so silly, knowing now that my male counterparts had that experience every week. They were being prepared to be leaders by spending time with the highest priesthood authority in our ward on a weekly basis. I can’t even imagine what that felt like.

One final memory is sitting in a youth Sunday School class one day when my favorite teacher in the ward substituted. He said, “You know, a future prophet could be sitting in right here in this class.” We’d separated ourselves in our seating arrangements, with the girls on one side of the room, and the boys on the other. Our teacher turned directly to face the male half of the room. “There’s no reason at all that one of you couldn’t grow up and be the prophet. Every prophet once sat in a class as a kid, just like you guys are now.” Then he turned back to the girls and said, “Isn’t that incredible? You could be looking at a future prophet right now.” I was an observer of the great spiritual leaders that might come to be, but not planning to become one myself.

I realize that from my husband’s perspective, the priesthood was this great thing in his life. It taught him service, responsibility, and how to lead people. It also taught him how the church worked and was organized. He understandably wants our son to have that.

From my perspective though, it was this great thing that *other* people had. It never entered my mind to question the unfairness of them getting it and me not, because hey, I was not a boy. I was annoyed at times by my male peers for acting dumb or immature in their leadership roles, but it never occurred to me to be annoyed at the system itself instead of the boys. I didn’t even see a system. I saw an order of the universe that was as factual as the law of gravity. Boys and men led girls and women. It was just the way things were in my mind.

This great priesthood experience my husband had came somewhat at the expense of girls like me, I’m starting to realize.

So my son doesn’t want the priesthood. I know that gives him less opportunities within the very specific setting of the Mormon church to serve, but there are billions of boys and men who aren’t Mormon who still find meaningful ways to serve and become kind, thoughtful, loving adults and fathers, right?  And all the things he’d miss out on – I missed out on all of those things too, simply because I was a girl. I don’t think I turned out badly. And if he chooses to follow in my female footsteps, I think he’ll do just fine, too.

– Elizabeth Shoemaker

 

Pro tip #1: Don’t make up meaningless callings for girls to make them feel needed. Give them actual power and authority and decision making roles. They will surprise you.

Pro tip #2: When praising the young men for practicing the priesthood, keep in mind not only what that sounds like to an unordained boy in the group, but also to all of the young women in the ward. Find service and leadership opportunities for the young women and unordained young men that match the experiences of the Aaronic priesthood duties.

Pro tip #3: As the bishop of the ward, consider spending more time mentoring the Laurels and teaching them how the church is run, rather than spending such a lopsided amount of time with the priests.


Click here to read all of the stories in our #hearLDSwomen series. Has anything like this happened to you? Please share in the comments or submit your experience(s) to participate in the series.

“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:23)

You may also like...

9 Responses

  1. Beatrice says:

    I was once visiting teaching a woman in my ward and we were talking about the local university where i was a graduate student. We were talking about the hospital administration program there, and she mentioned that they liked to admit Mormons in their program because of the leadership opportunities they had had on their missions. I, a post-missionary, thought about how it was too bad that women didn’t have the chance for these opportunities as well. All through Young Women’s I hoped to be called to one of the class presidencies. I finally was as a Laurel, and loved mentoring the younger girls. I also really enjoyed mentoring younger girls at girl’s camp. Unfortunately, leadership opportities are few and far between for women at church. Now, I use my mentoring abilities at my job to mentor both men and women in a way I never could in the LDS church.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Your experiences resonate with me, because they echo my own. It’s interesting how we come to accept things, to see things as normal/acceptable, when they simply are not.

  3. Jon Miranda says:

    The patriarchy woe is me woe is me

  4. SC says:

    Good for your son. I don’t agree with a church that elevates 12 year old lads, telling them they have more power than their own mothers. Everything you wrote here is so painfully relatable. I don’t want my daughters to be brainwashed into thinking this is normal, either!

  5. Windewaan says:

    I am the mother of 13 year old twins. At age 12 one decided to recieve the AP, the other one decided not to. The AP-bearer gets to pass the sacrament almost every sunday ( we have just a few active young men); his brother sits and watches him. The AP bearer can go to the temple and do baptisms for the dead, his brother can’t but sometimes tags along and waits in the waiting room. >I am very proud of both of them. ONe gets more atention and validation in the church but no one, no one at all has ever made his brother feel that he is less or doing the wrong thing by making a different choice. well, once this one person was starting to get into that, and I immediately ripped him to pieces. 🙂 But in YM or sunday school, no one has ever said anything to his disadvantage or tried to push him to change his mind. They both have their qualities and I am proud of both of them and love them to pieces. But the one who does not hold the AP and sticks to his guns….. he is strong.- so strong. and so much at peace with himself. I deeply admire that. …..

  6. Tricia H says:

    For Pro tip #3 I would prefer having the RS president spend that time with the laurels and teach about being leaders in the community. Wanting the equal attention from the bishop just feeds the patriarchal system in my opinion.

  7. Ziff says:

    Great post, Elizabeth. I agree with you that plenty of men and boys learn to serve just fine without holding the LDS priesthood. It’s unfortunate that although the priesthood comes with a message of service, it also comes with an extremely unsubtle side message about how its bearers are more important than everyone else (women, non-Mormons). That’s a bad metamessage to send, as your experiences illustrate so well.

  8. Risa says:

    I don’t think most women don’t realize that once their sons are 12 and are ordained they will have more spiritual authority in the church than they do as grown women.

    It’s interesting that in the LDS church all you have to do to acquire the priesthood is turn 12 and be a boy.

  9. It is surprising how we can compartmentalize and decide this kind of discrimination, which we would not tolerate in other settings, is okay only at church. What if boy student body officers were given the final say? What if we told kids at school that the boys could grow up to be leaders, and not the girls? Parents would call the school in an uproar.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.