Mormon Women and the Priesthood
At five minutes in, however, I learned that our teacher had other things in mind. She took a deep breath and then, with hands visibly shaking, dove head first into a conversation I never thought I'd see instigated--the very current topic of the "ordain women" movement that is happening within the Church. Since this movement (I believe) began in Seattle, it's no surprise that we're all familiar. To have have such a controversial topic brought up so directly was a breath of fresh air.
Well, sort of.
I certainly did a lot of breathing. Mostly of the calming variety.
Nearly immediately a woman visiting from out of state (no, not Utah) raised her hand and uttered the oft repeated justification that "women have the gift of Motherhood, and men have been given the gift of the Priesthood." The implication here is twofold: (1) all righteous women are mothers; and (2) shut up and accept your role--you're not getting the priesthood, so here's a consolation prize, but we'll tell you it's the other way around so you can pretend to feel good about it. In case you can't tell, I hate that saying. I hate it so much, in fact, that I audibly coughed/choked when she said it. Not surprisingly, I didn't feel comfortable countering her point. The Mormon Church, is, after all, a Conservative religion and a much safer haven for conservatives to voice their opinions than it is for liberals.
I took comfort in the fact that I was sitting next to a good friend who is similarly liberated, childless, and disinterested in children as I. We muttered things to each other under our breaths as I resisted the urge to get up and walk out of the class. Thankfully, the winds soon turned to how to talk to "our" children (both daughters and sons) about why women don't hold the priesthood. It was uplifting to hear that many women struggle with how to address it (thus, implicitly, struggle with the concept itself).
However, my friend, not known for her tact, couldn't let the comment just slide, so she raised her hand and, with impressive decorum, said unsatisfactory words which attempted to address the earlier comment. I honestly don't remember what she said, but it wasn't, I felt, enough.
Ultimately, I couldn't stay silent any longer. I raised my hand and, when called upon, offered two separate comments. But not before my companion exhaled, "finally" under her breath.
The first: If we look in the scriptures in the Old Testament we find six distinct references to "prophetesses". Six. The New Testament gives us two. The Book of Mormon also offers two (though, one is in reference to Isiah's wife, so not quite distinct). These are women who weren't just cool chicks. They were women who were given the title of "Prophetess." We also have stories in our own recent history of pioneer women exercising the priesthood worthily and without rebuke. So, why, now, do we not ordain women. Is it doctrine? Or is it tradition? I have my own opinion on the matter, and was quick to point out that this discussion was, perhaps, not the place to address it, but rather something we should ponder ourselves. Also, let's think about how much of a big deal these women must have been to make it through all the editing and washing that has taken place over the millennia. Clearly they were a big enough deal that after all the cutting and removing being done the editors (possibly begrudgingly) felt they had to leave in at least one line mentioning the status of these women.
The second, and this was the one I was most nervous about, went roughly like this (trust me, it was less eloquent and there was a surprising amount of blubbering and many more words): "Equating motherhood to the priesthood is a common comparison made in the church. Possibly because it's easy. It's easy to say "men have this and women have this." However (as far as I know), it is not doctrine. As a woman who is not a mother, and will never be, it hurts my soul to hear this comparison. What you're saying is that because, for whatever reason, I cannot be a mother, I cannot receive all the blessings that others can and that I am, somehow, less worthy in the eyes of the Lord. That is not doctrine. It is hurtful. And it is wrong." (It's important to note here that during all my blubberings I accidentally implied that I am incapable of having children, while what I meant to say was that some women are incapable and others make the choice, but either way the Truth remains the same. Now I'm a little worried that the entire ward thinks I'm barren. It should make for some interesting "motherhood" lessons if nothing else.)
My friend later pointed out that to hold the priesthood in the Mormon church one must be two things: (1) a member; and (2) worthy (and the current third: male). However, to be a mother it is not necessary to be either of those things. Thus, the whole argument is really invalid from the start. I pointed this out after class when the woman who made the comment came up to me to "clarify" her statement.
Also after class I was looped into a number of discussions regarding this subject. The most interesting thing of all was that the first discussion was with a woman who has teenage daughters but for whom I assumed this was not an issue. I learned it is. How little we know and how quick we are to judge. The second discussion was with my friend, our teacher, her mother, and our Relief Society President (who is a very liberated woman). The instructor's mother stood outside our circle and just listened for the majority of our conversation before finally saying words that were music to my ears. She told me that she had frequently heard the comparison and hadn't thought much of it, but now, she's going to go back to her ward and clarify the matter. How wonderful!
The last discussion I had on the subject was with a member of the Bishopric who wasn't in our class but was aware of the topic since they had a similar lesson in their class. He was interested to know if we had broached the subject of ordination and how that had all gone down. I can't remember if his wife was in our class, but I'm sure they had an interesting discussion this evening.
I've also received an email thanking me for addressing the matter. I loved that the woman who sent it, a mother of three, told me that the comparison had never sat well with her and thanked me for clarifying why.
So, there you have it folks, my thoughts on Mormon Women and the Priesthood, and the comparison to motherhood and priesthood, shared with many tears in my heart. I know I'm not alone in my feelings, and I'm hopefully that my thoughts help change some of the dialog that is so unthinkingly thrown around.