There is a small but vocal group of LDS women who have requested tickets to the priesthood session of General Conference next week. They wanted to attend priesthood training because they are hoping to receive the priesthood themselves.
I’ve never heard of this happening before. It made me ponder the different ways people choose to handle something in the church that they don’t fully understand. As a teenager I didn’t understand why LDS men held the priesthood and women didn’t. But I’m at peace with it now.
Here are a few ways I've noticed people reacting to something in the church they don’t understand:
1) Let doubt overshadow faith.
Some people pick up that little pebble of “I don’t understand this part of the church” and hold it so close to their eyes that it fills most of their vision, covering the things they know are true. If they hold it there long enough it’s only natural to start forgetting and questioning what they once knew as true.
2) Work hard to receive the truth from the source.
Some people pick up that little pebble of “I don’t understand,” hold it out and away from their eyes to keep things in eternal perspective, and ask God what the truth is in that matter. They pray, study the scriptures and words of the prophets, fast, and attend the temple until they get a witness from the Spirit of the truth.
3) Set it on a shelf for now.
What if you have a pebble, an “I don’t understand” question, and don’t receive an answer yet? My advice is to pick up that pebble and set it on a shelf. Don’t pretend it’s not a question, because questions are good. That’s how we got most of the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph Smith asked many inspired questions and got revelatory answers from God.
The key is not to hold the pebble so close to your eyes that it covers the big boulders of what you already know, like that Jesus is my personal Savior, that the Book of Mormon is true and has changed my life, that the Holy Ghost guides and comforts and helps me find lost items, that God is my father and loves me, that President Monson is a true prophet called of God. These are boulders of truth that I cannot deny. The Spirit has witnessed them to me.
For my shelf, I have a metaphoric list, a list of things I don’t quite understand that I plan on asking God one day. Like why are women rarely mentioned in the scriptures. I don’t give my list much energy really, until one of those subjects comes up again, and I remember that it’s tucked safely away on my list. I know I’ll understand these things later, when my mortal brain isn’t getting in the way of understanding the things of God.
After all, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). In that context it’s understandable that we don’t fully understand every detail.
Why do LDS men hold the priesthood and not LDS women?
I don’t know why, but I do know that Heavenly Father is in charge and that is how He has set things up.
I do know that Heavenly Father is our God and He is all-knowing and all-powerful, and He is in charge. His Son Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer, and He is the head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. God has called prophets again to the earth, just like in Bible times.
Today that prophet is President Thomas S. Monson, and He follows the will of Heavenly Father and Jesus for the rest of us. I know that the Book of Mormon is another testament of Christ, and backs up the Holy Bible. I know that Christ’s priesthood power is restored, which is the power and authority that seals families together forever in holy temples.
I also know that God has given mothers and fathers equal value with different roles.
"By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners." ("The Family: A Proclamation to the World")
"Preside" doesn't mean to boss, control, or manipulate. It means to be a spiritual leader in the home, to show the family how important God is to Dad by calling them together for family prayer and scripture study and family home evening.
To nurture doesn't mean just being nice, although that's important. I dare you to take out a notebook and brainstorm as many ways you can think of that mothers nurture. It may take you hours. Nurturing includes nourishing hungry teen boys' bellies with filling dinners, teaching your children the topics you're passionate about, kissing toddler's sore elbows, hugging crying children or a worn-out husband. I really believe the luckiest children in the world are those who have the blessing of both roles actively engaged in their home, mothers and fathers, with their unique and divine roles. I don't want my children to have two mothers or two fathers. I want them to have one of each, magnifying their God-given roles, the ideal.
And did I mention that I know God is in charge, and wiser than the rest of us?
As Neal A. Maxwell said, “What we already know about God teaches us to trust him for what we do not know fully.”
And Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have. ... Don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.”
Please understand. I am not writing to criticize these women. From what I’ve seen they are doing what they believe is right, and I’m grateful they’re choosing peaceful means to get their points across. I am impressed that they keep coming to church even if they disagree with on this issue of priesthood. Watching their deep discontentment with how things are fills me with gratitude that God has helped me find peace with this issue and anything else I don’t fully understand. I pray that these women will find a peace through the Holy Spirit that things are as Heavenly Father has set up, even if they don’t fully understand why.
Update from Elder Oaks.
Since writing this post, Elder Dallin H. Oaks clarified that when women are set apart in a calling by a priesthood leader, we are given priesthood authority to perform that calling. I love this clarity.
“We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.” (“The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood,” Ensign, May, 2014)
I recommend a fabulous talk on this subject: "Let Us Think Straight" by LDS Apostle Elder M. Russell Ballard.