Saturday, October 24, 2015

What do LDS men get?

I refuse to parse words—LDS culture is sexist because of our lack of understanding of the priesthood. But our understanding is getting better. In his April 2014 General Conference address on priesthood keys and authority, Elder Oaks quoted Relief Society general president, Linda K. Burton. “We hope to instill within each of us a greater desire to better understand the priesthood.” He followed this quote by affirming: “That need applies to all of us.”

I was raised in a home where weekly my father put his foot down about something and told my mother and me that he was “the priesthood.” End of discussion. The atmosphere was nothing less than oppressive. At age eleven I recall sitting in a Sunday School class on the priesthood. I rolled my eyes, probably because by then in relation to my upbringing I understood that priesthood meant I was powerless, and in response, Craig White, the boy next to me announced to the rest of the class that I wasn’t interested due to my gender, “Because she never gets to hold the priesthood.” Since that time I have repeatedly been subjected to counsel to submit myself to the will of men because of their ordination and because of their office.

I get why Ordain Women pushes as hard as it has. While I’m not in anyway affiliated with the organization and while I do not personally seek ordination, I support their effort to get to the bottom of doctrinal explanation for the continued subjugation and exploitation of women by mortal men in the name of God, and to refute that tyranny.

In the meantime, in order to maintain a relationship with deity I’ve had to find answers for myself. Elder Oaks talk, Doctrine and Covenants 121, and 2 Nephi 26 are perhaps the greatest source of comfort and insight I’ve found, and have helped me arrive at a better understanding of the priesthood as well.

Priesthood is the power and ability given to humankind by God to perform good in the name of Jesus Christ and to bring salvation to his people. That’s it. It is received by covenant at baptism by every member of the Church. Each endowed member of the Church is clothed in the priesthood garment as a representation of our covenant commitment to further the baptismal promises we made. We are promised by God in return power to accomplish that aim. Our use of priesthood is exercised every day as we seek to fulfill the baptismal covenant to act as Christ would act to serve and succor humankind both in and out of the ranks of Church membership. 

The authority to perform saving ordinances (baptism, confirmation, blessing the sacrament, washing and anointing, bestowing the signs and tokens of the priesthood in the temple, and sealings, which are extended to the human population of the whole earth vicariously in the temple) is what is given by God to boys and men ordained to the priesthood. We speak of keys. The keys to all power and authority are possessed by Jesus Christ, whose priesthood we are given the opportunity to exercise as we become his covenant children. The authority to perform saving ordinances does not give men power over anyone, simply the right to perform the ordinances on behalf of humankind to bless and edify them, and to create the connecting familial links necessary for the human family to be brought back to the presence of our Heavenly Parents. The sense some men feel that ordination gives them authority over others, especially women, directly contrasts both the purpose of the priesthood which is to serve, and the right to the gift of the holy ghost which is forfeited through unwieldy dominion. 

Presiding is to be in charge. To have something in one’s charge is not necessarily to have power over it, but to accept responsibility for its care. Again, service. Within the Church we’ve tied organizations directly to the gender-specific ability to perform ordinance and assumed that the tiered framework of the Church means that some organizations are below or under the direction of others. This vision of top to bottom effectively causes a rift in our understanding of the priesthood, which I don’t believe was ever intended by Joseph Smith. All members of the Church engaged in service to one another are participating in priesthood activity and exercising power of God to do so. Because of the structure of leadership meant to care for the children of God, there is a boundary of responsibility given to those in office rather than a place in some pyramid of power and authority. 

Rather than thinking of the structure of the Church as vertical, I would like to examine its creation from a linear standpoint. Each of us is equal to one another in the eyes of our Heavenly Parents. We all stand on the same road and it is level. The Atonement does this for us. And Jesus Christ, who facilitates equality and redemption is the first and the last. He stands a the head of the line, and at the rear. He leads us to the door as one family, and simultaneously stands behind with a safety net for those lost and wandering. Similarly, leadership within the Church means that those presiding stand behind their flock, arms outstretched, staff extended when needed, to guide those in their stead toward the Savior. That's about the extent of leadership authority, and any efforts to force the will of God toward obedience immediately forfeits the stamp of approval from the holy ghost and renders authority moot. The role of a leader is to protect, to serve, to comfort, to encourage, to lift, and to place all other’s concerns before oneself. It has nothing to do with power.

When I speak of priesthood power, I am referring to the added strength given to men and women to perform leadership tasks. And each in his or her way is a leader to some degree. What this means in relation to the Church as it exists and operates is that unfortunately we are surrounded by examples of unrighteous dominion and use of power that is not priesthood. I believe attempts are being made to address this problem by the prophet and the Quorum of the Twelve, and that women are being empowered to reject subjugation, coercion, abuse, and derision by those who assert authority where, through their actions, they have none.

What Joseph Smith intended in his ordaining of women and bestowal of keys is hard to say, because we haven't access to more than anecdotal evidence. He was a prophet, not a technical writer, and prophetic definition, because it is godly definition, seems to be multidimensional rather than straightforward. What I am certain of is that no man has power from God to force his way to do anything, or to override the agency and personal spiritual revelation given to women, or other men for that matter. If anything is done in the name of office that is not in accordance with a person’s responsibility to help others build relationship with Heavenly Parents, Jesus Christ, and the holy ghost, the authority they claim is their own and not God’s. And the exercise of force or coercion is never priesthood.

In the end, what LDS men get is responsibility equal to the responsibility given to women, and we are all given a charge to do as the Savior would do. We claim the right to exercise the priesthood, not because we are better or more important, but because we need power from God to help others become happier and closer to Jesus Christ. Because, within the body of Christ as is stated in 1 Corinthians 12:12-28, everyone is important.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. It was edifying for me.