The following is a guest post from Hyrum Grissom.
Recently the concept of women and the priesthood has seemed to get much attention and spur much conversation and frankly contention. Most recently I saw an article that humorously attempted to address the concept, and was met with a massive response. It seemed to generate quite a bit of heat, from those proposing the idea, as well as those who are frustrated by it. Finally several sisters of the Ordain Women organization have again stated a plan to attempt to enter the Priesthood Session of General Conference in Utah if they were not given tickets, which resulted in a response from the Churches Public Relations Department written by a Sister Jessica Moody. A basic summary of which is that, “Ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of doctrine that is contrary to the Lord’s revealed organization for His Church.”
While Sister Moody responds firmly and clearly on behalf of the church, her platform is not one of responding to specific questions and observations raised by this group. As I have listened to those who support this idea, several key points occurred to me that no one has readily taken time to respond to. As such my response is intended to be one of love but to directly address these questions. As is my nature I don’t write or speak in soft terms to ease the reader and have been told that I’m direct to the point of jarring. For that I apologize. I hope you hear the spirit of my intent. I’ve tried to address each of the main elements I’ve seen suggested by proponents of this change, as they would happen within the Lord’s church, and specifically His Priesthood.
The most basic distillation of the argument about women not having the priesthood that I have seen, is that its inequality within the church. Something that modern feminists feel is a form of evil. The second part of this is the concept that women have so much to offer and as such the church is losing out by not having women priesthood holders.
Trust me as I say that sitting within ward councils I agree with that completely. Sisters do have so much to offer and they bring a lot to discussions within the council focusing on peace, and the love of the individuals, and the ward as a unit. But the argument that I’ve heard then, is that serving in Relief Society, Young Womens, and Primary Presidencies is not ENOUGH service to offer, or not the right place for them to serve.
Let me address then, the key issues that I have seen with the concept of women needing the priesthood, as a means of offering meaningful service.
1. Within the Priesthood, both Aaronic and Melchizedek, priesthood service is by assignment. We do not select our roles of service. We may volunteer ourselves in service, or assistance, but ultimately every part of service within the priesthood—from who is praying after the lesson, to home teaching—is ultimately done by assignment from leadership. That leadership may take the form of the Quorum President, the Bishop or the Stake Presidency. The nature of accepting assignments is part of holding and honoring our priesthood. It imbues in men, from a young age, that it is necessary to accept those assignments in order to magnify our priesthood, something that failure to do, carries with it its own set of consequences.
This may be part of why generally the brethren (obviously there are exceptions) do not turn down callings. Telling ourselves “I’d serve faithfully in that position,” while ignoring the callings we do have, or that would be available to us, only further separates us from the Lord and His will. Even in the scriptures we are directed to humble ourselves like unto a child before the Father. When we have this attitude I do not believe we are seeking to serve with the correct spirit. This is further exemplified in that within the church, we are to follow the promptings of the Spirit including how we serve, and not lean unto our own understanding. When we feel we know better where we might serve, we are “leaning” unto ourselves, and not the Father, through his leaders he has placed in authority. I feel that this is something those sisters who call for the priesthood have missed.
2. Within the church in general, and the priesthood specifically we do not ASPIRE to callings or assignments. This idea of selecting or identifying our roles, fosters an attitude of “I can do this better than ______” which leads us away from a sustaining spirit, for those leaders we are supposed to sustain and support. This leads to a different kind of temptation, one of backbiting and murmuring, and this absolutely drives the spirit away. Looking to callings we’d like to have, is not how assigned service works. Asking, “why can’t I be a ______ office of the priesthood?” is aspiring, in spite of what we might tell ourselves. It is aspiring to church office. That is serving oneself and one’s ego, not serving the Lord.
3. The idea put forth that women cannot hold the priesthood further reflects poorly upon those who make such claims and their understanding of both the gospel at large, and specifically the blessings of the temple. It specifically calls into question those who have begun these rumblings and their ultimate goals as well. Sisters play a very involved role within the temple. Including in priesthood (or priestesshood?) functions. This further reinforces the concept of these women (who support this movement) desire a specific priesthood office, rather than in what way it is available for them to serve (see point 2). We do not covet, including thy brothers calling & office.
4. The idea that mixed sex or mixed gender leadership—as an acceptable means of leading the church—is, to my belief, a disaster in the making. It is dangerous. Especially when added to the idea of mixed sex priesthood. Callings and service occur at all hours of the day and night. I’m not suggesting mere late office hours, but truly ‘round-the-clock needs occur. I’ve personally been called away from home & work all around the clock. In my own experience, 2-4 am seem to be especially popular amongst sick children. From the very early days of Christ’s Church, we have been counseled to avoid even the very appearance of evil.
Suggesting that mixed sex companionships could be used in late night hours, without even approaching the appearance of illicit acts, is a tall order. Even Presidency meetings which are rarely at church buildings, become another matter if part of the presidency fails to attend and opposite gender members of the presidency are alone together for extended periods, in quiet moments of solemn contemplation.
Even this does not speak to the spouses left behind, while husbands and wives leave to meet with other men & women. This opens the hearts to jealousy from those spouses left behind. It opens opportunity for temptation between those who are spending time together. And remember, that the Lord even counts lusts in the heart, even if said lust is never acted upon. It introduces risk into marriages and relationships that we believe are set apart for eternity. Why would anyone risk an eternal companion for something such as this?
Many would say they work outside the home and have not been tempted, as some means of justification. That is wonderful and honorable that they have not been tempted. But applying that same standard amongst the church, as the adversary ever increases his means and efforts to break and fracture the family unit, would be spiritually disastrous. The hurt hearts of wives and husbands and children who experience the pain of quarreling parents, to say nothing of their examples, would only hasten His judgement. In the Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:31–32 the Lord chastises those who have caused the hurt of the innocent families, calling it an abomination. While it may be possible that it COULD be done, would it be feasible in any way that does not impose such great risk, such great cost, as to be worth it? Simply no.
5. The church sets no greater price or glory than upon family. President David O. McKay, said, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” This is an absolutely integral to this question of women holding the priesthood. This is a bitter pill for many single sisters, and those who are unable to conceive. And yet it is true. Further that church has strong counsel for leadership of all auxiliaries to ensure that parents, but especially mothers, are not needlessly out of the home, and not out of the home longer than is necessary.
Speaking to the experiences of priesthood leaders, many are out of the home on Sundays, early, even before church, as many as 3 & 4 Sundays a month. The Bishopric, Executive Secretary, and Clerk are often gone much more. And that is just for regularly scheduled meetings, to say nothing about home teaching (often 2-3 Sunday afternoons/evenings depending upon the route) and calls for priesthood blessings, which come at all hours. There are times where leadership is called into a home, only to find some danger upon arrival, that would only be heightened should a Sister or Sisters have arrived instead.
6. At no point have I ever heard it suggested that service in callings without a priesthood capacity or necessity, was somehow detrimental to church members. In fact the opposite is true. I recall several talks and themes common in the church. “Lift where you stand,” is a recent popular direction. A little further back, again to David O’McKay, “what e’er thou art, act well thy part.” These are rallying cries for service in all callings & capacities. In our ward, at the release of a previous bishopric, two mighty priesthood holders were called into Junior Primary where they serve with enthusiasm. Again in my own ward, we have more priesthood holders than sisters serving in callings many would have you believe are unglamorous, or tertiary, like Nursery, Junior & Senior Primary, and youth Sunday School. We have so many brethren serving in primary currently, that for the last several months we’ve questioned every Sunday, about the need for a lesson because we have just a handful of brethren without Primary or Young Men callings. While we have a handful of brethren in Elders Quorum, Relief Society is nearly standing room only. We have more brethren serving in those capacity than Sisters.
While pondering this argument as it has currently been formed, I considered, wrote and ultimately I removed portions I wrote regarding both Christ as he formed his church leadership in both the old world during his life, as well as in the New World after his death; Moses forming the leadership of the Hebrews; and Joseph Smith at the opening of this dispensation. While each of these great leaders formed the church in their dispensations with direct inspiration from the Father, I removed it because I was afraid it would detract from the rest of the more, what I viewed as pressing, dare I say “modern” issues? Women have always had a part in the Lord’s kingdom in every dispensation. Women have always been considered integral to the Lord’s plan and his kingdom. The sisters are cherished and loved and serve with the fire of the spirit as missionaries, and in many callings that are spiritual, vital, and wonderful. But the extremely small percentage which are making noise regarding ordination to the priesthood, I fear, are a risk to future generations by leading them astray. As a father this concerns me greatly.
Everyone in the church approaches faith and religion from different places, we all have differing testimonies and experiences. And thats exactly true. Our father loves all of his children, regardless of biology. What he asks for is a willingness to serve where he needs us. Not where we wish to serve. Sometimes that means we have to humble ourselves. Sometimes it means serving in callings we dislike or that intimidate us beyond ability to reason. We are each entitled to personal spiritual revelation as we seek to develop and foster an intimate relationship with our father and elder brother. But we are not entitled to receive inspiration for or on behalf of the Lord’s church.
He does love us and He does want our service. Sometimes we just have to take a step and wait for his direction to see that. We must trust him, that when opportunities to serve are extended, that they are where we ought to serve. We ought not to discount service in callings or assignments in callings, we might otherwise struggle with. Within the church we have often heard about those who are called into positions, not because they are able, or ideal, but because they are willing to humbly serve. The same is also true when we may have the knowledge and skills of men, but the Lord cares instead for our willingness.
Then let us be willing to serve where we are called, regardless of our gender or where we are called to. Let us all serve the Lord our God.