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“But Don’t You Want the Priesthood?”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 23, 2014

Some version of this question, or a declarative answer – affirmative or negative – comes up in the comment thread of just about every discussion of OW. No question could be more irrelevant to the issue of Latter-day Saint women and the priesthood.

One of the first scripture verses I memorized, as long ago as when I was an eight-year-old Gaynote in Primary, earning a jewel for my bandlo, was Hebrews 5:4: “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” This concept is foundational to my understanding of the gospel. Then, and now, it had nothing to do with any distinction between male and female, and everything to do with the distinction between the Restored Gospel and every other manifestation of Christianity: God had called Joseph Smith; Joseph Smith had received his authority under the direct ordination of priesthood bearers who held that authority in ancient days; he could not have summoned that ordination through his own desires or demands or his convictions or his own reading of the Bible, but only because God decreed it and sent his messengers.

If the Lord were to decree that women were to be ordained to his priesthood to act as men so called now act, I suppose that many, perhaps most, Latter-day Saint women would receive the call gladly as we now do other divine assignments. Until and unless that were to happen, “wanting” it (or not) is irrelevant – more akin to covetousness than preparation or willingness to serve. Announcing that you’ve fasted and prayed and received Answer X, and are now praying that the Brethren will now receive the same answer, is more akin to the disorder and willy-nilly claims to have received revelation in the days of Kirtland than the order that has always marked God’s direction of his Church.

I acknowledge that there is a problem with the expression of women’s roles in the Church today. I long to be of more formal service, more complete involvement and commitment than teaching Sunday School for 40 minutes every other week, service that is true service and not the fallback of “bake cookies for neighborhood children” that seems to be the creative limit for advice given to women without families, or the trite “you should move to our small ward – we’d keep you busy!” that is as annoying as it is impractical.

But demanding priesthood ordination – and I can’t construe the imperative “ordain women” as anything but a demand – when the Lord has not offered it is not the answer.



39 Comments »

  1. So by extension priesthood for blacks should not have been sought?

    Comment by Howard — March 23, 2014 @ 9:15 am

  2. Howard, you are a fool, and utterly unwelcome at Keepa. Go peddle your stupidity elsewhere.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 23, 2014 @ 9:24 am

  3. Um, I’m new and not privy to the personal dynamics of Mormon blogging, but I hope my question will be viewed as sincere. Does this picture change when women want the priesthood for other women? I do not view myself as spiritual enough or possessed of enough faith to hold any kind of priesthood. But when I have read diary accounts of Mormon women who blessed others (this may or may not actually have required the priesthood), my heart has been filled with a longing to live in the kind of community where strong, spiritual women could gather around and bless me in times of struggle. I wish I could have felt my mom’s hands on my head with my dad’s. I also think about the potential spiritual power of future women raised up to it. I think this vision could probably be accomplished by more fully developing women’s autonomous spiritual power outside the formal structure of the male priesthood, but I don’t blame other women for seeking it within that structure.

    Comment by Flounder — March 23, 2014 @ 9:52 am

  4. Flounder, I don’t see any difference between demanding the priesthood for myself and demanding the priesthood for my sister — certainly the one sounds more altruistic and therefore presumably more godlike, but both demands are still dictating to God and his authorized mortal representatives how he must delegate his authority.

    That said, there was really nothing to prevent your mother from lawfully joining in priesthood blessings given by your father to her children. My mother did, as recently as the 70s. Dad had to convince her the first time by showing her an entry in Widtsoe’s priesthood and government book that had been recently taught in their elders quorum (Dad was a convert who did not inherit any family memory of earlier women’s participation), but after that she did not hesitate. That did not extend, however, to any insistence in participating in the administrative and financial decisions that seem to be a major part of today’s demands for parity.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 23, 2014 @ 10:16 am

  5. This post was almost physically moving. There was incredible power in your words. I think you’ll receive much heat from it but thank you for sharing. I’ve been pondering this topic for weeks. This post puts all my pondering into a new light. Thank you.

    Comment by The Brother of Jared — March 23, 2014 @ 11:20 am

  6. Ardis, not to muddy the waters, but I’m interested (as I suspect Jonanthan S. may be too) in your comment about your mother joining in priesthood blessings with your father. Have you addressed this in a previous post? If not, would you consider doing so? I ask because I don’t recall my mother or even her mother ever participating in such. I remember the subject coming up in my local ward meetings in the early 1970s, but the response always seemed to be discouragement.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — March 23, 2014 @ 11:45 am

  7. Amen Ardis.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — March 23, 2014 @ 11:46 am

  8. Thanks for this, Ardis. This is the kind of substantive response that is so lacking in the current debate. Too often everyone retreats to simple name-calling or lazy (and often self-righteous) rhetoric. I’m tired of it. And so this is as refreshing as it is informative.

    Comment by David Y. — March 23, 2014 @ 11:52 am

  9. Have you ever posted a Primary primer for those of us who weren’t raised in the church to understand about the gaynots and bandlos?

    Thanks so much

    Comment by Naismith — March 23, 2014 @ 12:14 pm

  10. Gosh, I still can sing the gaynote song. I have mixed feelings about female ordination, but wonder if The Lord will give answers if no one is asking the questions.

    Comment by Sally — March 23, 2014 @ 2:03 pm

  11. B of J — I’m glad to have given you a new angle to think about. As much, though, as I knew this might draw heat, I’m also wary of its being seized on as a club by another faction. This is the deal breaker for me, but it’s only one point for anyone coming from any side to consider.

    Gary, I’ve talked to J. about this and sent him as many details as I can remember. I’m going to limit my comments to the historical facts as I recall them, and leave explication of the doctrinal implications to J.!

    Thanks, Eric,

    David, I’m glad you consider it substantive. As you can see, I’m hardly above name calling and disgust myself (and please, no one should mistake my response to Howard as being based on this single comment), but yeah, it would be nice to have something more solid to consider than ideological position.

    Naismith, I’ve posted about several aspects of the old Primary program, but a primer that gives an overall view, especially of the more recent decades that are most apt to come up in bloggernacle memories, would be fun for me and perhaps useful to readers. I’ll email you when I do it to be sure you see it.

    Sally, a great deal of the online rhetoric is framed as merely “asking questions,” because surely nothing could be wrong with that, right? But who is really asking questions, when the movement comes with the imperative to “ordain women”? If that is the only acceptable ultimate outcome, where is the question? I think casting the movement in terms of “asking questions” is an attempt to mask their intent and along the way sweep in supporters who fall for the rhetoric. Beware.

    I’ve been working for the Church now for a couple of years, and while conditions of the agreement allowing me to continue blogging preclude me from revealing details confidential to my employment, I think I can say, without triggering confidentiality concerns, that the Church as an organization and the General Authorities in particular, are amazingly in touch with current concerns and public debate. The very last thing I would accuse anyone of being is an out-of-touch old man unconcerned with the issues that any part if the Church agonizes over. They don’t need protests and petitions and a media circus to make them aware of questions that need answers. If they don’t take the public into their confidence while they are considering problems, asking questions, and working on solutions, can you blame them? No one speaking for the Church in any capacity is spared from having their every sentence picked apart and faulted and twisted out of recognition.

    I know whose voice I’m listening to in all the cacophony, and which voices I need to filter out. I could wish that were true of us all.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 23, 2014 @ 3:07 pm

  12. Ardis, I’m probably not always in perfect harmony with what you say, but this is definitely one of those times. Thank you for everything you’ve said here, beginning to end.

    It is nice to hear someone else remark on the ground that is often trampled in the battles between one side and the other.

    I also appreciate your personal remarks on the savvy of our leadership. I sense it, but it is still good to hear current confirmation from someone with more direct knowledge.

    Comment by SilverRain — March 23, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

  13. Well said, Ardis.

    Comment by Ben S — March 23, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

  14. Excellent post. This really nails the crux of the matter.

    One little thing: “I long to be of more formal service, more complete involvement and commitment than teaching Sunday School for 40 minutes every other week….”

    Let me suggest there’s no greater way to so serve than teaching the gospel (word) to God’s children. Alma and several of our current Apostles have said it’s the most effective way to change hearts and lives and help people come to Christ. Thus what better way can there be to serve?

    Comment by Tevya — March 23, 2014 @ 4:05 pm

  15. Thanks, SR, Ben.

    Tevya, teaching is great. But 40 minutes every other week, even with the 5-6 hours of class prep, doesn’t begin to exhaust the time, talent, and service I would like to offer. I do love teaching, though, and recognize its potential importance.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 23, 2014 @ 4:21 pm

  16. Ah, yeah. I guess I misunderstood what you were saying.

    Comment by Tevya — March 23, 2014 @ 4:58 pm

  17. Wouldn’t it be an absolute blast to have Ardis as a seminary teacher?

    Comment by LauraN — March 23, 2014 @ 9:24 pm

  18. “I long to be of more formal service, more complete involvement and commitment…”

    This feeling is held by many men, too. I hope we don’t think that only second-class men feel this way, because if they were first class they would have already been called to substantive positions. No, it seems to me, joy in the Lord’s service has to be disconnected from present calling. In our church today, we seem to highly regard office and position, and that is unfortunate. But anyway, holding the priesthood will not assuage this longing to be of more complete service.

    “I know whose voice I’m listening to in all the cacophony, and which voices I need to filter out.”

    Amen.

    Rather than looking at God as selfish and hateful, I prefer to look at God’s goodness and generosity. In the old days, priesthood, so to speak, was only in one family — and then it was in one tribe within a nation — and now, in this dispensation of the fulness of times, the priesthood is available to all men. How wondrous and great! Every man can be a priest to his family.

    Comment by ji — March 24, 2014 @ 4:31 am

  19. Ardis, once again your insight and knowledge astound. I’m staying out of this particular frsy, but as a sideline observer I’ll say I’m grateful to hear your voice in the discussion.

    Comment by Chad Too — March 24, 2014 @ 7:21 am

  20. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing Ardis.

    Comment by Stan — March 24, 2014 @ 7:29 am

  21. Ha, Laura! I could get even with the teens of the 1970s by teaching the teens of the 20teens!

    ji, it takes a special skill to turn a post about women into a celebration of men!

    Chad, this is one of those issues where, if you wade in at all, even a toe’s dip, you risk being drowned by a tsunami of misunderstanding and accusation …

    Thanks, Stan.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 24, 2014 @ 7:43 am

  22. Ardis, do you really believe that a person’s desires are “irrelevant” to the revelatory process? I can agree that a person’s desires do not alone govern the process, but “irrelevant”? That seems to be at odds with the entire restoration, in which scripture, doctrine, and (yes) even priesthood came because Joseph and his associates desired more blessings. The AP was restored only after Joseph and Oliver expressed a desire for the ordinance of baptism to be restored. In doing so, they followed the pattern of Abraham, who “sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same …” (Abr. 1:2).

    Considering that God gives line upon line, as his children are prepared to receive, why in the world would a sister’s desire be irrelevant to His decision as to when to provide additional blessings? The RS and Primary organizations were not created until after faithful sisters expressed a desire to do more. Sister missionaries are not called sua sponte, but only if they meet with their bishop to express a desire to serve. Why would the pattern be any different with respect to priesthood?

    Comment by Dave K — March 24, 2014 @ 8:00 am

  23. Dave K, if you honestly cannot see a qualitative difference between a foundational concept like priesthood, the eternal power which organizes worlds, by which heaven operates, and which marks an absolute boundary between the Church of God and all other organizations, on the one hand, and a temporary, transitory, functional expression of policy like the Primary on the other hand, then I can’t help you.

    But that’s all really beside the point of my post, and I’m going to draw you back to that: If the priesthood were extended to women through proper channels, in righteousness, through revelation, I suppose most women would willingly embrace it. If it were somehow extracted by force or pressure, unrighteously, by demand or attempted power grab, then what Latter-day Saint of either gender would want it?

    In that sense, whether a woman does or does not want the priesthood is irrelevant.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 24, 2014 @ 8:55 am

  24. Ardis, you are failing to see the middle option, which is that priesthood authority, like all blessings, is contigent upon a meeting of the minds (and wills) of both deity and the membership. It is not enough for God to desire female ordination. Church members must desire it as well. In that view, a woman expressing that she desires priesthood and that she is ready to receive the blessings of priesthood service, is a necessary predicate to a church-wide revelation. It is the same approach as with Joseph and Abraham, only on a collective level rather than individual level.

    I fully agree with you that a man or woman who “demands” ordination has crossed a line. But I disagree that a public statement of one’s desires is necessarily a “demand,” much less an irrelevant one.

    Comment by Dave K — March 24, 2014 @ 9:03 am

  25. Ardis, I’m also intrigued by your comment that Primary is a “transitory, functional expression of policy.” Do you feel the same about the Relief Society?

    Comment by Dave K — March 24, 2014 @ 9:27 am

  26. Dave K, you argue bloggernacle theology, which is quite different from anything I recognize through my own Church experience or study. That speculation, or the adoption of speculative theology as though it were established doctrine, is not the purpose of Keepa. I suggest that there are other places than Keepa to express those opinions. Thank you.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 24, 2014 @ 9:31 am

  27. I have been wondering if you would write something addressing this issue.
    Thank you for your well expressed thoughts.

    Comment by Karen — March 24, 2014 @ 9:54 am

  28. Howard, you are a fool, and utterly unwelcome at Keepa. Go peddle your stupidity elsewhere.

    Ardis, you made my day. :-)

    Comment by Brian D. — March 24, 2014 @ 10:13 am

  29. I appreciate this perspective. I don’t like when people are maligned and attacked for speaking up. That’s my main difficulty with all of this which ever side you find yourself. I acknowledge that in some ways blessings and powers and privileges like priesthood, perhaps shouldn’t be sought, but bestowed on who God sees fit to bestow. On the other hand I can see precedent in my own life and in the larger church and history having blessings and privileges and powers granted because they are earnestly sought, either collectively or individually. Often in the church I feel like the woman who sought Jesus for a blessing “And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” I find myself in this place not because of priesthood or the lack thereof but because often I don’t feel fully enfranchised, but I belong in His house and no creatures therein ultimately go hungry, but sometimes I’ve got make desires known and find creative ways to sate needs.

    Comment by Dovie — March 24, 2014 @ 10:18 am

  30. Ardis, nice to hear a sound voice in the bloggernacle. I would not be bothered if God chose to allow women’s ordination. As it is, my stake president and I eagerly await the day when Church tradition changes enough for us to have female sunday school presidents, and financial clerks. But until that day happens, I am grateful that the church is seeking ways to include women more and more.

    And Ardis, why not ask if you can also teach an adult education class a couple times a week in your ward? Your bishop can approve it, and there’s always tons of people that need to learn the gospel from a well-read scholar, like you.

    Comment by rameumptom — March 24, 2014 @ 2:03 pm

  31. Ditto what Brian D. said.

    Comment by David R — March 24, 2014 @ 2:07 pm

  32. Well said. Thank you.
    I believe that women should be prepared to officiate in priesthood ordinances. I believe that too few of us are. Whether it happens in my lifetime or in the hereafter, I believe I should prepare for that.
    Our unpreparedness makes some of us demand priesthood ordination and some of us back away from it. And that unpreparedness is likely at the root of much of the fear expressed on both sides.
    Priesthood, fully and righteously expressed is pure love in action. And love casts out fear.
    I believe we women, on both sides of the disagreement, need to take our individual preparation and our search for greater understanding of what priesthood is and how it works more seriously and more open-heartedly than we are currently doing.

    Comment by Mary B — March 24, 2014 @ 3:24 pm

  33. Lovely, Ardis; thanks.

    Comment by JimD — March 24, 2014 @ 4:04 pm

  34. I appreciate your posting this. It is very concise and to the point.

    Comment by Maurine — March 24, 2014 @ 9:46 pm

  35. I’m sorry. My intent was to speak of the goodness and generosity of God in the great plan, and to share that there is not a causal connection between priesthood and happiness. I didn’t intend to cause offense, and I regret the outcome.

    Comment by ji — March 25, 2014 @ 4:33 am

  36. Amen, Ardis. You’re amazing.

    Comment by lindberg — March 25, 2014 @ 1:07 pm

  37. No offense, ji! I’ve sent a note to the address you leave with your comments.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 25, 2014 @ 1:48 pm

  38. Ardis once again you prove why you are one of my most favorite Mormons. LONG LIVE KEEPA!!!

    Comment by andrew h — March 25, 2014 @ 9:47 pm

  39. That was one of the most reasonable discussions on this topic I have read. As clear and direct as it was, I found it quite moving. Thank you.

    Comment by Braden — July 2, 2014 @ 7:39 pm

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