Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Women and Priesthood - Where does this leave our boys?

A movement has rippled through the waters of the LDS church as a group of women advocates recently petitioned church leaders for The Priesthood of God. This demand came at great personal sacrifice as their determined request cost them membership in a church they claim to believe in and love.  It has taken me a few weeks to wrap my head around what bothers me most about this request and resulting consequences.  Do I have a problem with women as ministers, in general?  No.  Am I partial to the advice and leadership abilities of men and think they are better equipped to lead?  No.  Do I think that men are more highly favored by God?  No.   

Let me be clear.  I am an advocate for women.  My beliefs are strongly rooted in equality and fairness in how women are treated, compensated, respected and honored.  Feminism has a place in our society and over the years has afforded women a voice and rights that were not previously available in a male dominated society.  During the past few decades Feminists took notice that girls were not keeping up with boys in the educational process and diligently and collectively worked to change that trend.  Feminists have fought to level the playing field for jobs, pay, rights and privileges.  As a woman, I appreciate the opportunities that have been afforded me by courageous women who speak up, challenge oppression, and ask for change.  

The Feminists theory is an outgrowth of the general movement to empower women worldwide.  Feminism can be defined as a recognition and critique of male supremacy combined with efforts to change it.  The goals of feminism are: To demonstrate the importance of women.  www.soc.iastate,edu/sapp/Feminist.ppt   

Most likely, there are few women who would disagree with this theory.  From my estimation there are two kinds of feminists; one who desires equality and desires women to be held in equal regard to men.   The other is to have whatever men have to prove equality - at whatever price (personal or societal).  Some of the women of the Ordain Women organization were willing to give up their church membership for this particular cause.  They claim to be faithful followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  This consequence, will affect their lives and possibly the lives of several generations because they could not personally reconcile this difference.                                                                                  

Although this group of women was well intentioned, there is a fundamental difference between equality and need for “sameness.”  The definition of sameness is lack of variety; uniformity or monotony.  There are vital things that men and women each, undeniably, bring to the collective table.  In the desire for equality, we do not need to rob either group of their unique and wonderful contribution for the sake of self-aggrandizement.  To hope for or to seek absolute sameness is to deny the beauty of synergy and to deny our divine gifts.

By definition, The Priesthood is the authority and power that God gives to man to act in all things for the salvation of man and womankind.  “Nothing about the priesthood is self-centered. The priesthood always is used to serve, to bless, and to strengthen other people…. Ordinary men are given the authority of the priesthood.  Worthiness and willingness—not experience, expertise, or education—are the qualifications for priesthood ordination.”  The Powers of Heaven by David A. Bednar  

Women certainly demonstrate enough competence, intelligence and ability to qualify them for such an ordination.  However, being ordained to the Priesthood is not a coveted prize to prove equality.  It is a role, in humility, to strive for in obedience and worthiness.  Let me repeat, the Priesthood does not personally benefit the beholder.  It is for the benefit and service and salvation of others.  A priesthood holder cannot bless himself.  He is just as dependent on the blessing from another priesthood holder as anyone else.  

Recently, I ran across a few books that I read several years ago as a young mother raising a son.  The books, Real Boys, by William Pollack, Ph.D and The War Against Boys, by Christina Hoff Sommers crystalized in my mind what has been most troubling to me about this recent series of events in the LDS church.  I have for many years worried about the emasculation of boys and men in our society.  Whatever I was worried about 10-20 years ago, when these books were written, has multiplied ten fold.  Boys are falling behind girls in almost every aspect of education, scholarship, opportunity, etc.  The statistics are and should be troubling to us as mothers.  Men in movies, TV sitcoms and commercials are depicted as buffoons with nothing of real contribution.  There are fewer and fewer strong male role models in our school systems.  More and more boys are raised in single parent homes where fathers or strong male role models are absent.  Men are not stepping up as a whole to fill this gap.

CBS News did a story about why boys are lagging behind girls and the statistics are chilling.  Girls are outpacing boys in almost every area from grade school to professional schools.  Honor societies are made up largely of women, school leadership roles are female dominant and the notion is that boys can only succeed athletically.  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-gender-gap-boys-lagging/ 

Countless articles exist about the current emasculation of men in our society.  There is a relentless current of frustration due to lack of clarity of expectations for men and boys that is worthy of our consideration as we strive to be equal. “Men no longer have clearly defined roles in marriage.  Our testosterone laden brains function differently than estrogen created brains, and we actually crave clarity of roles to help us flourish.  Women thrive on collaboration.  Men thrive on solving.  Finally, we know women are super competent, and don’t ‘need’ us in the traditional sense but feeling wanted is pretty darn awesome for us too.  Not that we were taught to tell you that.  The men in my caseload over the past six years have consistently echoed the desire to feel needed and important.”   http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/01/12/does-your-husband-feel-emasculated/

I have only scratched the proverbial surface about this subject with regards to the disparity of support, encouragement and direction for boys.  If we ignore the trend and wait until every board room, every courtroom, every operating room is filled with only women, it will take  generations to reverse.  

There is a story that told about two friends walking home together on a rugged and winding Himalayan path in the dead of winter.  As they pushed forward through blowing and blinding snow, they noticed a man lying on the ground covered lightly with snow.  At first they thought him to be frozen but realized he was still alive, although unconscious.  One of the men leaned down to help the man, but his friend, while sympathetic, suggested they must reach their home before dark or they too, would die.

At this point, they parted ways, one man pushing forward for the warmth and safety of home.  The other man hoisted the nearly frozen man on his back and trudged toward his village at a significantly slower pace.  Through the extreme chill of the afternoon and evening, the man carrying the nearly dead stranger noticed a dark object ahead on the path.  As they approached the object, it became clear that it was the frozen deceased body of his friend who had pushed forward alone.

The man was puzzled as to why his friend who walked at a much faster pace through the blizzard had met such a demise when he himself had been exposed to the elements far longer.  It was then that he realized it was the warmth of the unconscious man and the heat generated from carrying him that had kept them both alive.  By stopping to save a man, he had in turn saved himself.

Synergy is what happens when one plus one equals ten or a hundred or even a thousand?   It’s the profound result when two or more respectful human beings determine to go beyond their preconceived ideas to meet a great challenge. - Stephen Covey

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley taught, “There is no other arrangement that meets the diving purposes of the Almighty.  Man and woman are His creations.  Their duality is His design.  Their complementary relationships and functions are fundamental to His purposes.  One is incomplete without the other.”  Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith explained, “The blessing of the priesthood are not confined to men alone.  These blessings are also poured out upon…all the faithful women of the Church…The Lord offers to his daughters every spiritual gift and blessing that can be obtained by his sons.”

Throughout my life I have been privileged enough to travel to many countries around the world.  My observations have included societies dominated by men where women have absolutely no rights and cannot leave their homes without the permission of men.  In stark contrast, I have also witnessed societies where women do everything while the men spend their days “limin’ away” or gambling.  The most productive and successful societies seem to be  the ones where there is an “interdependency” as men and women honor, support and need one another in harmony.

To borrow a Chinese philosophy that describes perfect unity is one of Yin and Yang.  One cannot exist without the other.  One cannot dominate or be diminished in size.  They must coexist in opposite, yet perfect harmony.  We likewise have roles that are equally important.  When we appreciate and honor one another for our unique contributions, we can employ a synergy that is far greater than us acting in our own self interest.

John Donne said that. “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;…and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” I, for one, am grateful that the LDS church has a place for women to lead organizations, fill stewardships, and serve others.  I am also grateful there is something important and worthy for all our young men to aspire to.  We need them, they bless our lives in countless ways.  We honor them and support them so that they can support and help us.  It is a beautiful, synergistic system. 

My heart is saddened by women in my church who have felt oppressed by men who, for whatever reason, have felt the need to use their Priesthood unrighteously to dominate and/or oppress.  On the flip side, I think it would be just as unrighteous for women to “want it all” at the expense of dismissing the value of the contribution of men and especially young boys who are already confused about their roles as men.  

If the Priesthood ordination is what women truly seek, there are plenty of churches that offer such to both men and women.  I am grateful that the LDS church has programs for boys that are nurtured under the care and tutelage of men; fathers, scout leaders and instructors.  Men, who can be strong role models as boys navigate the treacherous and uncertain path of boyhood regardless of the composition of their particular family.   My wish is that we could all seek to obtain that delicate and beautiful balance where we honor, respect, and value one another.   

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Aubrey said...

I've been waiting for this post. It's perfect. I don't think many people have considered this side of the whole story.

Megan said...

Love this so much!! Perhaps the best blog post I've read on the subject!! Thank you for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

I've thought a lot about this as I've considered woman's further participation in the decision-making aspects of the church and how it could effect boys. I believe boys are not served by the "be a man" rhetoric that defines what it means to be masculine (aggressive, not emotional, dominant etc). Christ invited all to be compassionate, loving, merciful, kind (stereotypicaly female attributes). It seems like the the priesthood is also about learning to be Christlike. I've tried to think through and pray about all sides, but I don't concede that women being more involved in priesthood would harm men or leave them with nothing to do--parents blessings their children together, wives and husbands blessing each other, women and men continuing to learn how to better work together in all levels of decision making, having both female and male spiritual leaders--wouldn't that be beautiful for all of us?

I've heard this argument often, about men being left behind, and I think it's a very important one to consider carefully and I appreciate you doing that. But when I think about my own husband, father, and sons, I don't see them retreating or floundering when I imagine women's further involvement in the church. I imagine them learning to value even more the distinct perspectives of women as equal partners and vice versa. My own marriage is stronger and better for both of us when we work together and when neither of us feel like there is a hierarchy between us--it frees both of us and yet also requires us to come together and each be more responsible. I'm sure there are a few women who "covet" priesthood for power as you have suggested, but that hasn't been the main impetus that I have picked up on. It seems to be more a desire to share together--not bring down men, but maybe lift everyone a little higher.

Perhaps you're right, and as of now of course it is how it is and we lift where we stand, but I wonder about this idea that including women (with their distinct perspective) will exclude men. When I think of our Heavenly Mother and Father I imagine two priesthood holders where a hierarchy is irrelevant--where they both create and love and bless. We live in a mortal world and perhaps patriarchy is a necessary aspect now, but I believe that men are more than we sometimes give them credit for. It's an important discussion for sure. Thanks for your insight.