Imagine for a moment a Northeastern urban ward. The average age is 32, a large number of RMs/temple married, both men and women college educated and the most common political affiliation you would find is “moderate”.
If there are those who identify as Democrats or Republicans, I would at least call it an even balance. When it comes to family, the vast majority of couples started having children after both husband and wife had finished their higher education and in many cases, the woman has had a number of successful years as a professional. When it comes to homosexuality, let’s take for granted that its a very inviting, loving and non judgmental place – when it comes to members of the ward who would identify as gay but also concerning the broader gay community (the proof of this assertion could be another post entirely).
As for basic testimony and teaching, this ward is full of very committed and even passionate believers in the Atonement of Jesus, the Restoration and in today’s Church structure and leadership. I would also add though, that its not uncommon to hear the less-talked-about aspects of Church history or doctrine in this ward, particularly in relation to peep stones, polyandry or anything else you might find in Rough Stone Rolling (for example). In fact, Bushman might be the most quoted individual in GD after Church leaders and C.S. Lewis.
Now take this ward and insert a Gospel Doctrine Lesson on the Priesthood. The whole of the lesson goes as you might think – “power to act in the name of…” etc, etc. With about 5 minutes remaining, the teacher throws out the question, “What is the role of women in the priesthood?” Chirp, chirp, no one says a word for at least a solid minute. “I would love to get a woman’s perspective on how you operate in the priesthood and what is your role.”, the teacher encourages.
Finally, a man in the class raises his hand and says a few words about revelation and the changes that have taken place in Church doctrine and policy. “There’s no reason to think that women won’t one day hold the same authority as men”, is the gist of what the man says. Suddenly, a number of hands shoot up – all women. One by one, they give articulate responses to the question, none of which talk of something missing. None that speak of a future day. In fact, without exception, they each describe the joy in their present “partnership” and role. Each answer is unique and not entirely predictable or rehashed. Each answer is, in the end, in support of the current status of women in relation to the priesthood. Now, imagine the lesson ends and the women in the room swarm around those who spoke and thank them for what they said and express solidarity and support.
Yes, this happened in my ward and, I have to admit, it left me feeling a little humbled. To put it plain, I have a fairly radical view of women and the priesthood. In short, I think they should hold it, the same as men. And I think the best reason is that it might benefit us all. That is, female voices in leadership at all levels of the Church would better accomplish the goals and missions of the Church and in carrying out the teachings of Jesus. Women being able to lay hands on their children, bless their infants, baptize and confirm their converts and bestow God’s power, when no man is in sight would work for the greater good.
Sure, it would turn the whole Church structure upside down. But, I see no doctrinal justification for a male only priesthood. I mainly view it as a tradition that may have been useful at one time, but less so now and in the perceivable future.
As a man, does my opinion count in the face of so many women in support of the existing state of affairs? I’m finding that the answer is – not so much.
Sure, this was a very small sample of the opinions of women of the Church. I know that there are many women who do, in fact, agree with me and my views (to some degree or another). But, the world in which we operate is our local, face to face world. I know the internet has great power but, at the end of the day, the world that we live in and influence most is among the people we see and associate with in real time. And when I look at the women in my sphere who smash to pieces the common stereotypes of the oppressed, submissive or blind Mormon woman, I find their words extremely compelling – if only because they are women and I am not.
In fact, I happen to know one of these women quite well. A woman that I have so much respect for – not just for her abilities and work as a mom, but for her intellect, integrity and broad range of talents. A woman who’s views in so many other aspects of life I would describe as “feminist”. And after giving her my best argument for why women should hold the priesthood, the response was essentially this: “I think you undervalue the current contribution of women in the Church. I think you don’t realize how vital the role is that we currently play.”
What is a man supposed to say to that? My rebuttal was received respectfully, but in the end my gender seems to put me at a disadvantage.
I essentially said this: I don’t undervalue women’s role in the Church regarding the priesthood, I correctly value the role of an ordained priesthood holder in the Church. Because that is exactly what I’ve been taught my whole life – to hold the priesthood is HUGE. In fact, we are semi-annually chided for not exalting it enough!
The conversation was long and detailed. Suffice it to say, I still hold to my views and still worry about the future of the Church in regards to the lack of female influence. But, I’ve been forced again to rethink things a bit and maybe even consider that I’m wrong. At the end of the day, maybe advocating for a genderless priesthood is unrealistic. Especially if the chorus of voices against such a policy change are women. As it currently stands, I find a long held theory of mine continually validated: If the majority of Mormon women wanted the priesthood, they would have it.