Women and the Priesthood, a Mormon woman’s perspective

This post is going to be long. But hey, my novels are even longer, and people pay money to read those. So just consider this post to be an awesome bargain.

A lot of people have been discussing the role of women in the Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) right now, and as it’s a subject I’ve talked extensively about with my three daughters–whether they wanted to hear my opinions or not–I decided to go public with my thoughts.

Disclaimer: I know that certain societies oppress women. And even in societies that don’t, there are still going to be oppressive, overbearing jerks in every society, religion, class, and walk of life. It can’t be helped. Some people are just jerks. Also, I’m pretty certain that in societies that oppress women, there are still plenty of great guys who love their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters and treat them well. I’m not debating those issues. If you’ve been treated badly by someone, I’m sorry. I’m sure God is too.

Let’s talk about Mormonism.

When I was growing up, it bothered me that women couldn’t hold the priesthood. Different meant unequal, and giving men the privilege of holding the priesthood smacked of favoritism. Several passages in the Bible also bothered me, as they seemed to favor men over women. (I won’t go into those or the ancient society traditions because that would indeed be a book.)

My mother told me that women had the power of creation, so God had to give the men some sort of power to make things fair. Her answer struck me as patronizing because at the time motherhood didn’t seem all that great. It involved morning sickness, stretch marks, labor, and changing lots of diapers. I thought women totally got the short end of the bargain in life.

When I went to college, I was also bothered by the idea that the church taught that motherhood was the greatest calling and job there was. Motherhood was more important than a career. This didn’t seem fair to me. It seemed like I was being told that men could be fathers and have careers, while women were just supposed to mothers.

And the idea that the husband presides in the home? That worried me too. Sure, the church taught that husbands and wives were supposed to council together–marriage wasn’t a dictatorship–but I didn’t like the idea that my future, yet-unknown husband might pull the I-preside-card every time we had a disagreement.

I remember talking about the subject to a religion teacher once. He kept stressing that marriage was about discussion and deciding matters jointly.

I asked, “What if there’s something my husband and I just can’t agree on? What if I want a dog and he doesn’t? How do we decide?”

My religion teacher (who may have thought I actually had a husband in mind and this was already an issue with us) looked at me and said, “If that’s the argument, I wouldn’t get a dog.”

I was not happy with that answer. It seemed to me that my religion teacher was saying the husband got 51% of the vote.

Now, with the wisdom of years, I look back on that question and realize that neither husband nor wife should get a pet without the other one’s agreement. Because you are basically asking your spouse to put up with a little furry child who never grows up.

The funny thing is, I actually got our first dog while my husband was out of town on a month long business trip. Our neighbors found a puppy in an industrial trashcan (Don’t even get me started about people who throw puppies in the trash) and the puppy was a darling mop of a dog. I had to keep him. I called my husband and cheerfully told him we now had a dog, and if he wanted to be a part of those sorts of decisions, he shouldn’t go out of town for an entire month. (He still does by the way, and I collect stray cats.)

Clearly, I have missed whatever point that long ago religion teacher was making. But my husband loved the dog. (He’s not so crazy about the cats.) And that puppy was the best dog ever, so it ended up being the right decision. But I digress.

Back to women and the priesthood. In twenty-eight years of marriage, my husband has never acted like he had 51% of the vote. Only once that I can remember did we ever have an issue where we firmly, immovably wanted different things. And it was an important issue. What did we do about that? We prayed to see what we should do. It turns out that really the Lord has 100% of the vote, and in that instance he let my husband know that we should follow the path that I wanted. (And in case my children are listening this time, that is the key to a happy marriage–having both husband and wife try to do the right thing.)

Age and wisdom teach many things. Remember how in college I silently steamed that men got to be fathers and have careers while women were supposed to just stay home with the kids?

I changed my mind about the fairness of that situation the moment my first daughter was born. I didn’t want a career anymore. I wanted to sleep in, take care of my baby, and spend all day playing with her. I think it would have caused me physical pain and emotional distress to have to leave her.

While my husband staggered out of bed early each morning, I waved goodbye and said, “Have fun slaving away at your job, dear! I’ll be home nurturing our offspring.”

If he looked at me enviously, I reminded him that it was my God-ordained role.

God clearly loves women best. Motherhood is the best and most important career.

Now lets talk about the priesthood. The priesthood is the power given to man to act in God’s name. Sounds important, and it is. Priesthood leaders give blessings–to other people, to women. A man can’t bless himself. All priesthood work is service. (And as just pointed out out in General Conference, women also give priesthood service in every calling they have.) Men are called to leadership positions in the church–things like Bishops and Stake Presidents. Women have similar callings as Relief Society Presidents and Stake Relief society presidents. Anyone who knows anything about the church knows that women are an integral, if not the driving force, behind the church’s activities.

Women in our church, far from being oppressed, are treated with more love and respect than anywhere else in the world I’ve seen. This is because men are taught that women are daughters of God, that we have divine destinies. Boys and men are taught that objectifying women is an evil with serious consequences. There are no double standards in our church. Boys and men are taught to keep themselves morally clean in act and thought. They are taught that family is the most important thing in life, and they should do all that they can to support their wives both financially and emotionally.  They are taught to be good, Christ-like people who will treat everyone with love and consideration.

Where else in the world are men taught to act that way? Certainly not by society in general.

I frequently get email from girls stating that the guys in real life are never as good as the guys in my books. They ask where they can meet guys like that.

I always want to tell them to try looking at church. That’s where the good guys are.

But I digress again.

Here’s what I think about women not having the priesthood. Allow me to be an author for a few moments and tell you a story–fiction, of course, because that’s what I do. (I am not preaching doctrine. Do not write me angry letters telling me I’m being blasphemous. I’m only illustrating a principal through story-telling which is something Christ did himself. Also, see the book of Job.)

Imagine that we’ve just finished participating in that great council in heaven that took place before we came to earth. We have learned about earth life and how it would work. We were excited, of course (Chocolate! Nutella!) but also concerned about several things.  Now picture that after the meeting while everyone is departing to go off to time management classes or whatever (I clearly skipped out on those classes) a group of women approaches God to have a word with Him.

“Pardon us, but we were looking over our responsibilities,” one of the women tells God, “and we’ve noticed that we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re supposed to raise children, make sure the family doesn’t starve or go naked, be active in the community, do service work, do church work, develop our talents, and see to it that our children develop theirs as well. Plus there’s all this stuff about temple work, gardening, journaling, family history, missionary work,  baking bread, and something called scrapbooking . . .”

“Right,” God says, “You’ll be busy. That’s why I’ve implemented a day of rest every Sunday. Well, you’ll sort of be resting. This might be a good time to mention that you’ll be in charge of Primary and will need to come up with entertaining ways to teach the gospel to antsy four-year-olds. And antsy five-year-olds. And–well, you get the picture.”

“Listen,” one of the women says, “we don’t want to complain or anything, but we’re going to need lots of help with all of this.”

“No problem,” God says, “The men will help you. Just ask them.”

The women give each other knowing looks. “Um, a lot of the men are already talking about sitting around all day watching something called football. They seem to think it’s really important.”

“But if you ask them for help, they’ll help you,” God says. “They’ll step up to the plate. Oh, sorry,” he adds seeing the women’s confusion, “that’s a baseball term. It’s another game that men will spend a lot of time watching.”

“Okay,” one of the women says. “We know men, and they’re not going to help unless you make them.”

Another woman nods. “Assign them service that they have to do in the church. Tell them it’s stuff only they can do.”

God considers this for a moment. “You want me to give men jobs and tell them that women aren’t allowed to do it? Don’t you think they’ll be resentful and angry about that?”

The women shake their heads. “Nah, give it an important sounding name.”

“Tell them that they’re bishops and Stake Presidents,” Another woman says. “General Authorities and Seventies. It sounds cool.”

God rubs his chin in thought. “And you think if I do that, men won’t notice that they’re stuck in extra meetings every week?”

“Probably not,” the women chime optimistically. “It’s worth a try.”

A woman raises her hand to get God’s attention. “And make them dress up in suits and ties while they do it. Because they’ll never dress up on their own.”

Another woman adds, “And make sure they give us the soft seats in Relief Society, and have the Deacons set up and take down the chairs every week.”

God walks off before the women can make any more suggestions.

And here we are on earth, and for some reason a few women want to change what is clearly a very good deal for us.  Ladies, having the priesthood means you do unpaid service work for others. Personally, I’m happy with the amount of unpaid service work I currently do. If you want to do more, go ahead. In fact, I could put you to work at my house, and if you like, I can give you the title Stake President of errands, yard-work, and dishes. Really.

We have every blessing given to men, and some extra to boot. I wouldn’t change my role for anything.

 


Comments

Women and the Priesthood, a Mormon woman’s perspective — 35 Comments

  1. Great thoughts. Thanks for sharing your perspective. I was wondering just yesterday if those women who wanted the priesthood had their visiting teaching completed each month (and not just the official visits, but the service and supporting of each sister that is part of doing it correctly) and all the other to-do items that you listed in your blog. Why on earth would I need more responsibility and accountability than I already have? 🙂

  2. Funny how men never picket women’s conference.
    My brothers have to show up early to church to set up chairs and walk around in the freezing cold to deliver fast offerings. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in a Personal Progress meeting planning lessons for the next month. It’s just a different way of serving. Priesthood is for service, not servitude.

  3. Perhaps women don’t need the trappings of a formal priesthood to do the work of their Father. “Charity Never Faileth” seems cooler than trying to find speakers for church next Sunday. Sometimes I lose sleep worrying about that “First will be last” bit I read about in the scriptures. Especially after my gender pretty much made a hash of this world.

  4. Thank you! My heart has been so troubled by the division and unrest. I look at the Savior and how pivotal women were in his ministry and life. He treated them as equals in the gospel, but never ordained any of them to the priesthood. As a perfect example of love and equality, I trust Him.

    • Good point! It’s clear that the Savior deeply loved and respected women. He understood our roles and what was important. The story of Martha and Mary still is one of the most important things women need to learn today.

  5. I absolutely love how you put this all together. And I love your points about perspective and how it changes over time. My Sunday school class talks about that a lot as we share experiences and explore different topics together. I’m totally sharing this at my next family night with my munchkins. =)

  6. I love your writing style! And I feel the same way about the Church and my role as a woman in this life. I am grateful, though, women are now asked to give prayers in General Conference, that sister missionaries have the opportunity to be in leadership positions, and that other opportunities are being extended to give more very talented women input in the RS general board. Although we as women have a lot to do, I have a feeling God will need us more and more in upcoming years. We do not need priesthood to rise to the call.

    That said, we need to be careful comparing motherhood to priesthood. Some women do not have the blessing of being mothers in this life. This comparison leaves some of them feeling as though they were left out of the game entirely (inaccurate as that feeling may be).

    Thank you for being willing to share your opinion on this matter!

    • Good point, Rebecca. And if I hadn’t already made this post really long, I would have said what you said. I suffered from infertility for years and felt exactly that way. All worthy men could have the priesthood, yet many worthy women are denied (at least for this earth life) the role of mother. Many righteous women in the scriptures struggled with infertility. I think it’s one of the hardest trials a woman can have–which is why I really don’t understand why our society is so dismissive about motherhood. In my mind, having a baby = winning the lotto.

      • I have to chime in here… I think women don’t understand the importance of motherhood or what it really is. I have gone through infertility, too… and I’ve had my heart broken when we had to give away a foster baby that we thought we were going to be able to adopt. (I could go on and on about how personal this subject is to me, but that really isn’t the point I’m trying to make) The talk that helped me the most when I was going through infertility myself was by Sheri Dew (of course) who has never married or had children of her own – here is the link: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2001/11/are-we-not-all-mothers?lang=eng

  7. Love your post Janette!

    I was just talking to my daughter about this today. I have learned that my gift to nurture–my own children or someone else’s, young or old–draws me closer to Heavenly Father. I consider the priesthood a gift that brings men closer to Heavenly Father. And I also love the point that priesthood is about service.

  8. I don’t envy the brethren and their responsibilities. My hubby has often commented on how lovely we sisters are treated in our ward (budget-wise) and comfort-wise compared to the men and it’s quite TRUE!

    However, EVERYONE KNOWS, just like in our families, we are the life-blood of ALL wards; without us TOTAL CHAOS would rule!

    I came here from Facebook and will browse around, I liked your style. I sure enjoyed your FUN STORY, it was a kick!

  9. Thank you for putting words to my exact thoughts! I guess that is why you are the writer! 🙂 Loved this and appreciate you posting it!

  10. When you said I could share I’m assuming you meant anywhere, anytime. 🙂 I’m reading it as part (the BEST part!) of a talk I’m giving tonight. Thanks for always coming through with inspiration in the most inspired of ways!

  11. I do believe if I had been in a woman living in the early 1900’s I would have felt it entirely unnecessary to be given the right to vote. I imagine I would have thought political involvement and public speaking were not proper roles for women. As a child, my father had my best interest in mind, and as a married woman my husband would be able to represent both of us. After all, making laws, changing policies, and electing leaders (or being one) is better suited to his gender than mine.

    When I initially heard about Ordain Women, it seemed rather silly and unnecessary to me. Now I wonder…

    Perhaps women should have more input in sacrament meeting programs, instruction manuals, disciplinary action, budgets, church and temple design, and Proclamations to the World? What’s so wrong with women being able to participate in blessings or for sister missionaries to be zone leaders?

    Also, it is demeaning to the wonderful men in our church to say that they need extra service and special titles as an incentive to fully contribute. The men in my life are fully engaged- willing and capable of participating in their church and community.

    I am a stay-at-home mom (and I love it), but my husband does not preside over me, even righteously. We have complimentary strengths and weaknesses. We are a team, co-captains, both in charge of our family. We value each other’s opinions and make decisions together. It would be a good idea to consider why someone else might have an opposing viewpoint. We probably won’t change our minds, but I hope it can create understanding and compassion.

    • Even back in the 1900’s, I would have wanted to vote. I know too many men to think they’re the best ones to decide on our political leaders. (Which is not to say I don’t know some awesome, wonderful men too. Most of the men in the church I think are wonderful. But I also know lots of other types of men.)

      I do understand other people’s point of view–although, I must say I cringed when you listed all of the extra work you’d like to give women. Zone leaders? If I’ve heard right, that’s pretty much babysitting. I mean really, don’t women have enough important things to do without giving them the men’s jobs to do too? But you’re wrong about the instruction manuals. My grandmother helped with those back in her day. I’m sure women do have input on many of the other things you mentioned and will continue to have more input. (And if I get called to do any of these things, so help me, I will come back and haunt you from the grave because I have other things I want to be doing besides sitting in on somebody’s disciplinary court.)

      I too feel like my husband and I work as a team. I think that’s the way successful marriages (at least in our culture) work. But there is only going to be one prophet, and he’s presides over the church, and until God tells him to ordain women, it’s not going to happen. I feel if women are unhappy about that,they should take it up with God, because complaining to the leadership of the church is pointless and counterproductive. It feels like when my kids complain to me about the weather. They’re talking to the wrong person.

      And by the way, there are quite a few things I disagree with God about. For example, I think certain people should be struck down with lightning. Repeat child abusers come to mind. As far as I know, God hasn’t listened to me about this issue, but there comes a point where we have to trust in him and the way he runs the universe–even if there are things we would do differently. That’s just how life is.

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