Guest Post: Polygamy or Priesthood for Women?

Posted on January 21, 2010. Filed under: women | Tags: , , |

by Course Correction

Course Correction introduces herself in this way. “I’m a happily retired mother and teacher who lives in Bountiful, UT with my husband and a big, yellow dog. I read, write, garden and carry petitions for initiatives to improve state government.”

Which would have a more devastating effect on LDS Church membership—restoring polygamy or admitting women to the priesthood?  The Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, lost nearly 50% of their members when they extended the priesthood to women. Would half of devout Mormons find it impossible to obey the prophet if he had a revelation that the priesthood was for all worthy members regardless of gender? Extending the priesthood to males of African descent produced little fallout from the church, but it affected relatively few members. Most US wards at the time had no African/Americans.

Extending priesthood to women would affect every ward.  Every family. My elderly father’s reaction to the notion of giving women the priesthood was a horrified, “But then you’d have women telling men what to do!” I’m not at all sure that a majority of younger men don’t feel the same way. Not all women would favor the change, either. Women comfortable with the status quo might be unwilling to give up their place on the pedestal.

To return to the comparison of extending the priesthood to African/Americans, we were always told that their ban from the priesthood would be rescinded at some point. Although early church records show women participating in blessings and anointing and healing other sisters, no tradition of someday receiving priesthood power themselves exists. Indeed, women have always been told they share the priesthood with their husbands.

Restoring polygamy would be an entirely different matter. It would return to a principle officially taught in earlier days and abandoned due to outside pressure. Eternal polygamy is commonly acknowledged today as second wives are sealed to widowers for time and eternity. And some Mormon men include polygamy on their wish list for the restoration of all things in this dispensation. Yale professor Harold Bloom predicted in his 1992 The American Religion that by the early 21st century Mormons would have enough political and financial clout to resurrect the early pillar of their faith. Mitt Romney’s 2008 bid for the presidential nomination has revealed widespread American distrust, even dislike, of Mormons which makes that scenario unlikely in the near future.

But how many Mormons would leave the church if President Monson announced a revelation of the return to plural marriage—assuming it was legal in the US? Would polygamy be sold to women as a means of learning to be more selfless and Christ-like—similar to the rhetoric spouted by the wives on Big Love? Would mostly forgotten pronouncements of pre-Manifesto prophets be quoted and President Hinckley’s statement of never returning to polygamy quietly expunged from church sources?

Although neither scenario is likely, I kind of think more Mormons would go along with the return of polygamy. In my opinion, it’s easier to convince women to accept changes that disadvantage them than to get men to relinquish power and privilege.

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Guest Post: I’m Not One of Those Women. I’m Just Thinking, Don’t Worry

Posted on January 17, 2010. Filed under: Gender roles, women | Tags: , , |

by mValient

mValiant is a reformed-Exponent-lurker who lives with her husband in one of the bluest states in the union.  She knows all the words to Saturday’s Warrior, served a mission, and loves visiting teaching.

When I was growing up, I often heard a cautionary tale from my mother about what happens to women who want the priesthood. According to the story, a group in her old stake in the northeast had sat around and talked so much about how much they wanted the priesthood that they all became lesbians and left their husbands and their six children (each).  This was back when I had no idea what a lesbian was, but it sounded scary.  Ye olde LDS slippery slope was alive and well:  IF you want the priesthood THEN you are going to become a lesbian and abandon your children.

Nowadays, having met plenty of perfectly wonderful lesbians (with children, mind you), the “THEN” part of that warning doesn’t sound so bad at all, but I am still very frightened by the IF part.  IF you want the priesthood, and – BAM-  I immediately start to disclaim, “Of course I don’t want the priesthood, I’m just thinking about gender roles in the church, but I don’t actually want anything to change, I’m not one of those women, I’m not trying to upheave everything that makes your life feel safe and secure and comfortable.  I’m just thinking, don’t worry.”

However my “just thinking” on the matter has recently been galvanized by an article in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof that calls for an end to discriminatory practices against women in religion including the exclusion of women from the religious hierarchy.  He reports on a group called The Elders (which includes women… and very hopefully lesbians, right?) led by Nelson Mandela that issued a call to all world religions that says (among other things, I suggest you read the whole piece here) that “the justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a higher authority is unacceptable” and further “we believe that women and girls share equal rights with men and boys in all aspects of life.”

LIGHTENING BOLTS!  THUNDER!  MY HEART LEAPS INTO MY THROAT!  That is what I believe! I have been saying that for years (to people I trust not to throw me to the priesthood-lesbian conversion squad for saying so).  It was the most exciting thing I had read in years.

So I started talking to my LDS friends of all political persuasions.  What do you think this means for us?  What are the implications of such a statement for LDS women?  And I have been surprised to find that very few seem to think that this applies to the exclusion of women from the LDS religious hierarchy.

There are lots of reasons given for why it doesn’t apply to LDS women, and as I listened to them, it occurred to me:  you could have said any of these things about black men pre-1978.  They can still “fully” participate in their own way, they can make their own meaning, they have informal power in the church, maybe they are in it for the community rather than for the power, etc.  But even with all of those reasons to make it OK for excluding black men, we are still horrified that it ever happened.  Our church was racist, gasp, we discriminated against black men by excluding them from the religious hierarchy: a dark era in our church’s history.

And yet, it seems perfectly acceptable to us to choose another characteristic and say, “Ah, but this one is different.  This isn’t just skin color, these are genitals!” as a reason for excluding another group from the religious hierarchy.  I don’t get it.  Like Kristof said, I think there are negative consequences to a fully male hierarchy that is supposed to be ordered and ordained by God.  I want to be in a church where women interview men to determine their worthiness to enter the temple (and vice versa), women receive inspiration from God about men’s callings (and vice versa), women approve men’s expenditures using the church’s assets (and vice versa), women count the tithing, women can be bishops.  I don’t care how we get there, but that’s what I want.

Do you think that The Elder’s call applies to the exclusion of LDS women from the religious hierarchy?  Why or why not?  Do you think there are substantive differences between excluding a group from the religious hierarchy because of their race versus because of theirgender?  Why or why not?  And do you want my six children?  I seem to have started down the slippery slope by saying all of this out loud…

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Baby Blessing Dreams, Not Nightmares

Posted on October 8, 2009. Filed under: authority, Family, feminism, Gender roles, Mormon Life | Tags: , , , , |

by Alisa

I had my first dream about the baby boy I’m expecting last night. I dreamt that family was gathered in my large hospital room to celebrate the arrival of our baby. They were in their Sunday clothes, and I realized that the men were there to give my son his baby blessing and name. I sat holding our son as my husband and a few other men gathered around to give him his name. But I noticed that my dad and a few others in my immediate family didn’t come up to the circle, as if my husband had forgot to expressly invite them. As the circle closed in, I quickly looked up at my husband and told him that we hadn’t settled on a first name for the baby. He assured me that the Lord would reveal the name to him when he gave our son the blessing.
 
The blessing was over in a flash, and afterwards, I had to ask what my husband what he had said his name was. The first name was some gibberish thing, but I distinctly heard the middle name was “Benjamin,” and not my terminally-ill father’s name as we had agreed on. I became furious that my husband didn’t stick to any of the names on our list and, clutching our son to my chest, began to shout at my husband, insisting that I was going to write on the birth certificate one of the names from the list, hoping this government document would override any crazy revelatory name pronounced in the blessing.
 
I woke up still a little bit taken back by the emotion and intensity of the dream. For one thing, my husband’s actions were completely uncharacteristic of him, leaving me to think about this as a projection of my own insecurities about entering motherhood and the tensions I see between femininity and masculinity within the Church. The hopes I have for raising my son in balance are placed opposite the fears I have that external forces will take over the process of raising our son to hold more egalitarian views.

I admit that the baby blessing is something I’ve not been looking forward to. I’ve always felt it was silly for the men to exclude women from this mutual work of creation and hailing their babies. Even more than the blessing itself, I resent that the recently-labored mothers are left to clean and tidy the house while putting together a luncheon for the Priesthood holders and their families (just our two immediate families – grandparents, parents, siblings, spouses, and their children – living within 60 miles of our home will mean over 35 people crowded into my little living room and kitchen). When I’m thinking about it in cynical terms, this day seems to uphold the father as Patriarch and lord over his posterity and downgrades the mother to maid and caterer. I am sure I’ll have lots of help, most of all from my DH, who does most of the cooking in our home, but I still feel stress of having all these people over and packed in during cold and flu season.

I think in my dream I was trying to find some way to regain equal standing to the powerful men in the room: they clean-shaven in their suits, and me, sweat drenched and in a hospital gown. My hope in the dream was that I had a legal right to be involved in the naming of my child. Whatever it was to offer me some power back, I wanted to take it, but instead I saw my son being immediately swallowed up by an institution that not only excluded me and other women, but also some key male members of my family, following the strict patriarchal line uninterrupted by women.
 
In reality, when the baby comes, I am going to go along with and support the baby blessing. I think there is something beautiful in the elders of a tribe welcoming someone new in and claiming him or her as one of their own. That archetype resonates with me. While I wish it were more gender neutral who is considered an elder of the tribe, I can’t do much about that. So I will appreciate the symbolism from afar in my distant pew. And also, I want to consider the expectations of my family, which is a traditional baby blessing. I’m much more likely to have diverse thoughts (like these) that I don’t put into practice.

But I don’t think it can hurt to try to make this the best event I can for my husband, my child, and me. I am interested to know about your baby blessing experiences. Have you done something to be more involved? Is there something that you would be sure to leave out if you did it again? Any advice for those of us private, introverted types who are less-than-enthusiastic hostesses for parties in general to survive the post-baby blessing luncheon expectation? What beautities have you observed in the process of seeing your child blessed in our LDS tradition?

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Good Mormon Feminists vs. Bad Mormon Feminists: The Dividing Line

Posted on June 18, 2009. Filed under: feminism | Tags: , , , , |

by Caroline

In a couple of different conversations I’ve had with her, Mormon feminist Lorie Winder Stromberg has proposed that many Mormons commonly perceive two types of feminists within the Church.

The first are the good Mormon feminists. These are feminists, often professional women, who may question gender roles and women’s lack of visibility in texts and leadership, but are on the whole seen as faithful and dedicated to the Church. *

The second are the bad Mormon feminists.  These are the feminists that are regarded as dangerous, apostate, and disloyal to the Church.

According to Stromberg’s theory, the dividing line between these two groups of feminists – the thing that makes the one group good and the one group bad – is the issue of women’s ordination to the priesthood.

If a woman calls herself a feminist, but doesn’t focus on or talk about the issue of women’s ordination, then other Mormons are often willing to regard these women as benign and good, despite their strange feminist leanings. However, if a feminist does reveal her convictions that women should have the priesthood, she is automatically regarded as a threat to Mormon leadership and Mormonism in general.

I think this is a valid theory. Sure, we’re making broad sweeps here and obviously generalizing, but I think there might be something to these ideas. What do you think? Would you agree generally that women’s ordination is a trigger point?  Are there other dividing line issues that function similarly (i.e. connecting to the feminine divine)?

If one accepts this theory, my  follow up questions are these: Why does women’s ordination function as this dividing line? What is it about a woman thinking that priesthood should be available to all humans that makes her such a threat, whereas a woman questioning prescribed  Mormon gender roles or a woman who wants to see an expanded space for women’s action and participation in Church is not such a threat?

I don’t know that I have a great answer to this huge question I just posed, but here’s an initial attempt. I suspect that people aren’t as threatened by women questioning gender roles or women’s lack of visibility in leadership because there appears to be wiggle room on these issues. The Proclamation, which has some of our heaviest prescriptions on men’s roles vs. women’s, does have that line about how individual circumstances may vary. Also, women who want expanded roles for women’s leadership have only to go back to our own Mormon past to see women who were really running their own programs, controlling their own funds, and highly visible in their callings. (How times have changed.)

However, on the topic of women getting the priesthood…. well there’s not so much precedent for that. (Though one can certainly find inspiration and hope from the way Mormon women used to talk about holding the priesthood in conjunction with their husbands, or the way people commonly perceived the endowment ceremony giving women priesthood in some sense.) Women’s ordination is a forward thinking leap into the unknown. Perhaps that’s just scary to a lot of Mormons. And perhaps it also signals heresy because, unlike the questioning of gender roles, it’s a place where so few Mormon women and men are willing to go.

*I originally named a few examples of femininsts who might be considered either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but it was rightly pointed out to me that doing so might reinforce these labels in unfair ways.

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Laying on of Hands

Posted on May 29, 2009. Filed under: authority, Belief, female divine, Gender roles, Mormon women, temple | Tags: , , , , , |

by G

The first time that I went through the temple, I knew that I would come back and become a worker there. I knew this the moment that a woman parted a white veil to usher me into a room and laid her hands upon my head.

Backing up a few years, I was one of those beehives who was fairly ticked off at the system that promoted boys to the priesthood and me to lessons on getting married in the temple. There was all this hype about having the power to act in God’s name, lots of talk about “privilege” and “power” and “being God’s agent” etc… and my 12 year old heart really wished I could be more a part of it then just getting one of those chosen ones to marry me when I came of age.

So when I went to the temple and experienced this space where women laid their hands upon other women to bless them, where they ceremoniously washed and anointed and blessed… I knew I would have to do that too. So I did. After my mission. And it was amazing. Memorizing the blessings and rituals came easy for me and I had some very powerful experiences with the patrons and the other women I worked with. I loved using my hands to do this spiritual work.

Then life got busy and I got married and eventually had to let my time as a temple worker go, but the real question this raised for me was “Why?” “Why can’t women perform this work outside of the temple?” Especially when I found that early in the church women were instructed in the blessing and healing of others, I felt it as a painful slight.

So years have past and my view of the church as the exclusive receptacle of the true priesthood power has changed. As have my views on faith healings, miracles and even God. What hasn’t changed is that desire to use my hands for spiritual work. I’ve lost my connection to the memorized blessings and the carefully laid out instructions, even to the notion of channeling some higher power through this act… but I do still have this sense of there being powerful value in these actions we make; human touch, hope, love… I really don’t know even exactly how to explain it. I liked the post fmhLisa wrote a while back about blessing sick children because that is a lot like what I feel and experience. With intention I lay my hands on my child when he is sick or hurt or troubled. And I hope it helps.

Do you have experiences where you have felt moved to perform some sort of spiritual act? (I use that term loosely, and for lack of a better one.) If you wouldn’t mind sharing, I’d love to hear others thoughts and experiences with this.

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Relief Society Lesson 26: Elijah and the Restoration of the Sealing Keys

Posted on January 14, 2009. Filed under: Relief Society Lessons | Tags: , , , |

by Bartholomeus Breenbergh, c 1630

by Bartholomeus Breenbergh, c 1630

by EmilyCC

I tried to resist making this into a Gospel Doctrine lesson, but it still has a lot of Gospel Doctrine type topics.  As usual, my comments/questions are in italics, the lesson is in regular font, and comments and suggestions are always welcomed.

 

I’m not usually one for reading directly from the manual, but the description in the section, “From the Life of Joseph Smith,” might be good for setting the mood for discussion about the significance of the restoration of keys, but I would get an excellent reader to read this.  Also, I’ve taken out the citations; those don’t need to be read and added some links to remind people who key figures are—should members of your class need refreshers about people we don’t hear about weekly.  I would also recommend singing for opening or closing songs the ones that are listed below.

(more…)

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Emma’s Blessing

Posted on September 25, 2008. Filed under: Mormon Life, Mormon women | Tags: , , , , , |

by Zenaida

In the days leading up to the prophet’s martyrdom, Emma was undoubtedly feeling the strain of so much persecution, and sought a blessing from her husband. Because he was unavailable to fulfill her request, he instructed her to write her own blessing, which he offered to sign when he returned. He never got the opportunity, but the blessing she wrote remained. The original is said to be housed in the Church Archives. (Although it could be missing. If anyone knows the fate of this document, I’d be interested to know.) I found a copy of the text here: (more…)

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Relief Society Lesson 8: The Everlasting Priesthood

Posted on April 17, 2008. Filed under: Relief Society Lessons | Tags: , , |

by Caroline

Just like most of these lessons, there’s too much to cover. I’m highlighting what I think will serve for the best discussion and be the most inspiring. The second part of the lesson is particularly centered on women’s relationships to the concept of priesthood.

First section:  The priesthood is everlasting and has been held by prophets in every dispensation.

“There has been a chain of authority and power from Adam down to the present time “ is JS’s first line in this section.

Can we use that first line to help develop a common definition of the term priesthood?

I think it’s important to start out trying to define the word, which is used in many complicated ways in our LDS rhetoric. Encourage the class to throw out terms, ideas, words, phrases that they associate with “priesthood” and put those ideas into three columns/categories on the board. (see my 3 definitions below)  Ex: if they throw out “officiate ordinances, I’d put that in column 2. If they throw out power of heaven, I’d put that in column 3. When they are all done, they you can summarize and formulate these three different ways the term “priesthood” is used.

Lead the class to come up with 3 definitions.
1.) It means priesthood holders ( i.e. men). “We’d like to thank the priesthood for passing the sacrament.” “We’d like the priesthood to set up the chairs.”
2.) It means the authority of God to officiate in ordinances and to govern the Church.
3.) It means the power of God in a very broad sense. A universal principle that transcends organization or person. (“Rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven.” D&C 121:36) (more…)

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Relief Society Lesson: Women and the Priesthood

Posted on June 16, 2006. Filed under: feminism, Relief Society Lessons | Tags: , , |

After thoroughly enjoying Caroline’s post and the comments about the ideal Relief Society , I decided as the Teaching for Our Times teacher I was going to do my part to make RS more of the ideal we’d discussed in that thread. Little did I know how soon I’d have to do that…

The lesson the next week was titled, “An Outpouring of Blessings.” I think, no problem, gratitude. I can do a lesson on gratitude with my eyes closed! So, I didn’t read the lesson until Friday.

This wasn’t a talk on gratitude. It was on equality in the priesthood. (Btw, I thought this was a very well-done talk. It focused on what we share in the priesthood rather than who has what, a welcome change from the usual priesthood talks.) Now, there’s only one other lesson I could give that would make me feel more vulnerable, and well, I don’t think anyone is going to ask me to give a Heavenly Mother lesson anytime soon.

So, here’s my attempt at being vulnerable in Relief Society and trying to bring out more of the discussions I would like to see. (Note: the intro is written out, but the rest is in outline form with the more obvious points taken out since it’s pretty long already. Lines in italics are direct quotes from Sister Beck’s talk.)

An Outpouring of Blessings: Priesthood

I don’t think it’s possible for me to teach a topic that is more personal to me than this one. Those of you who heard Julie Beck’s talk “An Outpouring of Blessing,” may not even have heard what I did. I feel very vulnerable giving this because the topic of the priesthood is an issue that I struggled with. It’s taken me a while to be at peace with the fact that women don’t hold offices in the priesthood.

I don’t know if any of you have struggled with this, but I think it’s an issue facing a significant number of women in the Church. I’ve had a few friends and family members leave the church because of this.

That said, I know this isn’t an issue a lot of women struggle with. But, I suspect that those who do struggle with this don’t feel comfortable to jump up and say so (heaven knows, I wouldn’t be telling you this about myself if I could have figured out another way to teach this lesson).

I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to discuss equality through priesthood ordinances. I think we can draw strength and understanding from each other through open discussion. And, I’d like to have a discussion here about how we all experience the priesthood in our lives. I think we all experience it differently, and I hope we can all feel free to talk about those.

Let’s define PH
What

I think sometimes the traditional Mormon definition of PH is too tied up with offices of the PH or it is used to mean men.

“Will the PH please stay behind to put up the chairs?”: Men doesn’t = PH

Priesthood authority functions in both the family and the Church. The priesthood is the power of God used to bless all of His children, male and female. Some of our abbreviated expressions, like “the women and the priesthood,” convey an erroneous idea. Men are not “the priesthood.”
Dallin H Oaks

The priesthood is intricately woven into who we are and have ever been
What does she mean by this?
D&C 88:36-45: all these things were created, organized by the power of God

Who has the PH?
Abraham 2:9-11 we all have access to it as the literal seed of Abraham

Moses 6:66-67 “thou are after the order of him”
Adam’s conversion and baptism
Here we see Adam becomes a follower of the order, ie priesthood through being baptized/redeemed. He doesn’t yet hold an office in the order of the PH

Do we all have access to the powers of heaven? I think we all do in different ways—answers to prayers: feelings, words, etc.

Roles
What are men’s roles? men hold offices of PH (OT and NT tend to limit defining PH to this), so I see most of our info in PoGP and D&C about what the PH actually is


What are women’s roles? women have access to PH but do not hold an office (D&C 121:35-36)

What are our responsibilities as women in terms of the priesthood? Are they different from men’s? Note: we are not just third-party observers

We all have the same responsibilities (ie being worthy to have the PH work in our lives, wearing our garments, participating in the ordinances of the temple)

Ultimately, no one holds the priesthood; the priesthood holds us—it blesses us, it works for our eternal lives. This applies to men as well as women. I think sometimes we think that priesthood holders control the priesthood. They don’t. My husband often talks about having to give blessings where he had not control over the words he was saying.

Blessings
What are our gifts/blessings through the priesthood?
One I often don’t think of: repentance through the Atonement as an ordinance

Spiritual Gifts
I think spiritual gifts are another manifestation of the power of God working in our lives.

Because the priesthood has been restored, we also share equally in the blessings of spiritual gifts. The Lord gives us these gifts for our own benefit and to help each other.

Moroni 10:8-11 “there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them.

When I was a little girl, I often experienced serious illness. My father was always willing and worthy to use the priesthood power he held to bless me. But I have also felt that my mother’s special gifts contributed to my healing. She was truly gifted in her ability to minister to my needs and help me get well. Her great faith that the Lord would lead her to answers about medical treatment was a comfort to me. How blessed I was to have two parents who lovingly used their spiritual gifts.

I love how Sister Beck describes her parents using their spiritual gifts to compliment each other to heal their daughter. It reminded me of one of my favorite section in the scriptures: 1 Corinthians 12: 11-12, 17-18, 25

Temple
Every man and woman who is willing to serve the Lord and can qualify for a temple recommend makes covenants of obedience and sacrifice. Each is endowed “with power from on high.”

D&C 95:8 Being chosen

When I first went to the temple, I was struck by the ordinances, the way we all dressed, where we sat all worked to convey equality.

Does anyone have anything they’d like to share that they’ve learned at the temple about the priesthood?

A man and a woman who enter into the full partnership of a covenant temple marriage share equally in the blessings of that covenant if they are faithful. The Lord has said that their covenant will be in force after this life, and together they are promised power and exaltation.

D&C 131:1-2 We’re talking about “man” as in man and woman here…
D&C 132:19-20 Ok, so man and woman, husband and wife are equal participants in this, the highest order of the priesthood, this covenant

Equality
Ok, so this makes us feel pretty good—ta, dah—equality, if you’re married.
As someone who’s married, I don’t feel like I should delve into this; I’m sure I haven’t come up with anything as insightful as someone who’s dealt with this because I think this feels like, to me, a hard piece of doctrine.

My sister and mom are single, and I have a lot of friends in the Church who are single, and I watch them struggle. I see them unintentionally marginalized.

Could this doctrine contribute to this?
Would anyone like to share their thoughts about this?

Through the blessings of the priesthood, the Lord shows us that He is “no respecter of persons.” In my travels, I usually have the chance to visit members in their homes. Some of those homes are very basic dwellings. At first I would say to myself: “Why am I blessed with a house that has electricity and plumbing when this family does not even have water near their home? Does the Lord love them less than He loves me?”

Have any of you ever wondered that?
Is there equality here?

Responsibilities
I talked about earlier that women didn’t have offices in the PH. We have different responsibilities. I think we are given a bit more freedom here than men to explore what those responsibilities are.

What is your office? What is your function as someone blessed by the PH?
How can you be like Adam in Moses 6:67 and “be after the order of the Son?”

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