My eleven-year-old son and ordination to the LDS male-only priesthood
Shortly after my son’s eleventh birthday, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) announced changes to the procedure for ordaining LDS boys to the priesthood. Instead of inviting male children to be ordained individually after their twelfth birthdays, they will ordain eleven-year-old boys en masse each January, starting this month.
I had always intended to be supportive of my son’s option to be ordained to the male-only LDS priesthood. I don’t want boys to miss out on opportunities for spiritual growth. I want this for my son. Wanting the same opportunities for girls and women has never made me wish for men and boys not to have access to these opportunities, but I thought I had another year to prepare my son to take on priesthood responsibilities and prepare myself for my child to exceed my rank in the church.
As a priesthood holder, my child will be ranked above me, his mother, in the official church hierarchy. That said, ever since 1908, when the LDS church started ordaining male children at age 12, the church has deviated from the scriptural priesthood assignments that were written at a time when priesthood holders were generally adults and instead given ordained boys more age-appropriate responsibilities. Since children and teenagers cannot reasonably be expected to “see that there is no iniquity in the church” or “see that all the members do their duty” (D&C 20:53-56), boys have been assigned distantly related activities such as preparing and passing the sacrament, although these activities are not listed as priesthood responsibilities in the scriptures. Meanwhile, adult women have been delegated many of the duties described as priesthood roles in scripture without being honored with priesthood titles.
This creates an unhealthy situation in which women have low status but much responsibility, while male children are given the impression that they are more special and important than the women who raised them. Women and girls have been banned from tasks that were originally gender neutral like passing the sacrament, reinforcing status for young boys while denying women and girls opportunities for spiritually enriching participation in ordinances. When boys reach adulthood, not only their titles but also their power in the church exceeds that of their mothers.
I want my son to appreciate the privilege of ordination, while also understanding the pain the inequity causes others who are not granted the same opportunity because of gendered rules. This is what I am saying to him:
I want this for you, but it’s your choice. The priesthood is a wonderful way to grow closer to God and serve others. I think you would be a good priesthood holder but the priesthood is a commitment and only you can decide if you should take on this responsibility. We were expecting you to have another year to prepare before ordination became an option for you. Although they have changed the rules so you can already be ordained at age eleven, you can still wait another year, or longer, if you are not ready.
The inequality matters. As a priesthood holder, you will have sacred opportunities that your sister and I are not allowed to have. At church, people will tell you that it doesn’t matter that girls are excluded. It’s not true. The ban on women in the priesthood in our church is unfair and makes many girls and women like me sad. I hope girls will have the priesthood someday, too. Please have empathy for those who don’t have the same privileges you do.
Don’t make it worse. When I was twelve, the deacons in my ward were bullies. At church they made fun of me and the other girls, threw spit wads at us and knocked over our chairs. In the neighborhood, they threw dirt clods at my house and teased my little brother. Their behavior made it even harder for me to watch them pass the sacrament while even the most Christ-like girls could not. In our family, we don’t believe in the excuse, “boys will be boys.” Regardless of whether you hold the priesthood, we will expect you to treat everyone with kindness and respect.