A Single Mormon Woman Reflects on Women Holding the Priesthood
Yesterday you asked about women in the Mormon Church holding the priesthood. I fired off some fast and too easy “internet responses.” I want you to know that your questions and comments were not ignored. In fact, I’ve thought about them quite a bit. I hope you'll forgive me my thoughtless responses yesterday, and accept my much more in-depth and thought out response below.
You raised important issues- why can’t women hold the priesthood? Why do men run the meetings? Why can’t women?
I’ve given this topic (and others I am about to address) a lot of thought over the years. My response today is not just the culmination of 24 hours of ruminating on current politics, but my cherished, deep-rooted beliefs, and understanding of the Gospel of Christ.
One of the key details that sets Mormons apart from other religions is found in a small verse in the Book of Mormon. As you know, we believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God, another testament of Jesus Christ. Many other religions scorn us because of this book. But anyone who has actually read it will know that there is nothing in there that conflicts or contests the Bible. Many of the commandments and scriptures are nearly identical to what is found in the Bible.
But there is one small verse or scripture that truly sets us apart. Mosiah 3:19 reads, “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”
In my eyes, nearly every commandment given in scripture is a directive, suggestion, or instruction on how to overcome the natural man or our natural instincts. For instance, the Ten Commandments include no coveting, no stealing, no murder, obey your parents, put God first. We are taught from infancy not to murder or steal (hopefully). Why are we taught these things? Because it is natural to do them.
Disagree? Look at the animal kingdom. Animals kill and steal. This is their natural way of life. We, as humans, have the power to reason, and can be taught to overcome natural instincts. We don’t have to be taught how to covet – it’s natural. Instead we are taught to overcome that natural instinct, and not to covet. Not honoring the Sabbath Day? Who doesn’t want to have fun on Sundays and not devote it to the Lord? What about sex outside of marriage? It’s another one found in the Ten Commandments. Again, look to the animal kingdom where it is rare to find a species that honors and stays with one’s mate for life. It is natural to wander and find new mates. But we are commanded otherwise. We are commanded to put off the natural man.
Commandments don’t become obsolete. Man just begins to rationalize and justify away from God’s teachings. Our entire mortal existence, according to Mormon doctrine, is to overcome the natural man, so that we can become like God, and return to live with Him.
What does this have to do with women and the priesthood? I promise I am getting there.
Since the dawn of time man has ruled over woman. Women have not been treated as equals throughout history. Women only began to be educated on the same level as men in the last fifty years. American women (arguably some of the most educated and enlightened women in world history) have only had the right to vote for 94 years. Women have come a very long way in a very short period of time to become equal with men intellectually. And it is still found around the world today that the countries that do not treat their women with respect or educate their women, are also some of the poorest, most un-industrialized, diseased countries. In fact, if you look at the evolution of discovery, technological advancements, medicine, etc., and how much more has happened in the last 50 years than ever before, it is interesting to note that those discoveries and advancements occurred in countries where women are educated and equal. An educated woman is an incredibly powerful force.
This all begs the question, and almost defends the question, if women are so educated and equal now, why can’t they, or why shouldn’t they hold the priesthood?
When Christ set up His church, he chose men. He ordained men. His apostles were men. I do not know of a scripture that explains why women were not chosen. But historically we know that women were not educated or thought of as equals. Men barely conversed with women, and vice versa. This is how the world has always been- until these last 100 years.
The priesthood was handed down over time between men. In the Mormon faith we believe that the true order of the gospel and the true order of the priesthood became corrupted, and lost over time. (Specifically, during the Dark Ages.) What had been acts of convenience or tradition were handed down from generation to generation, their meaning forgotten, and yet adopted and accepted as gospel rituals, when really, they were just means of convenience. Other religions were created to better suit personal needs and wants. (The Anglican Church?!) But in the 1800s, Mormons believe that Joseph Smith was visited by God and the true gospel was restored to the earth.
The Restored Gospel, as we know it, is modeled after the gospel the way Christ left it on the earth 2000 years ago. And 2000 years ago, he did not give the priesthood to women. When the gospel was restored to the earth, He did not say, “but feel free to make a few changes to accommodate modern times or personal preferences or desires.”
There are a few instances over the past 100 years where major changes in the Mormon Church have occurred. One chief example is blacks and the priesthood. While this is a complicated issue for some, it is actually faith building for me. It reaffirms my understanding of the need to check myself and overcome the natural man.
There is no record, no commandment, no directive, stating that blacks could not hold the priesthood. In fact, in the days of Joseph Smith, some did. However, MAN changed that practice. Personal prejudices and choices changed things. (And probably the lack of black people around as the saints trekked west.) And eventually, it was taken to be a common practice to not give blacks the priesthood. This was handed down over a few generations, and eventually came to be believed. But there was (to my knowledge) never a commandment that said not to give blacks the priesthood. There is no record of God saying that he doesn’t love all of his children equally. In fact, it makes no sense that one race would be discriminated against! Christ himself was not Caucasian!
But this man-made practice was believed to be the gospel. Once the prejudices across the country (and around the world) started to dissipate, and man’s heart was opened to hearing the truth from the Lord, the issue clarified.
God didn’t change. Man had changed. The natural man had allowed his prejudices to change the practices of the Church. And when the natural man was finally willing to overcome and put off his prejudices, truth was restored.
Now you might think that this is all an argument for why women should be allowed to have the priesthood. Is it the natural man that forces women to submit? Or maybe you see the argument that we have now overcome that natural man instinct to put women down?
That’s not what I see.
Women are educated and have rights now. They are, as a whole, much smarter today than ever before in history. So naturally, they want more. They have a natural capacity to handle more. They want everything men have.
It is my personally held belief that this is the trial, the challenge, the burden, given to today’s modern women- that the “natural man” they must put off, is the desire to be the same as men. Because, yes, we naturally want more and demand better.
But women have been commanded from the beginning to submit. It is not natural to us to submit. And that is why we must learn to do it- to put off the natural man, in order to become more like God.
Is there an argument for the fact that blacks were given the priesthood eventually, and so, maybe, women can be too someday? Not really. There are too many commandments throughout all of scripture, too many examples, of women not being given the priesthood. But there are no examples of racial discrimination by the righteous. (There are plenty of examples of discrimination by the unrighteous.) Not giving women the priesthood is not a practice handed down without thought or meaning between the generations. It was that way during the time of Christ, and therefore, it must be that way now under the Restored Gospel.
If I am wrong, and it is merely a practice of men to exclude women from the priesthood, and there is a commandment from God that women should receive the priesthood, I will be glad to hear it. And it won’t shake my faith that something so significant changed. I am okay with being told that man corrupted the gospel. There are no examples of God changing to accommodate human desires. But He has had no problems letting us know when we are wrong.
And forgive me one more example, because it is the same principle I apply to this issue. Gay marriage and homosexuality are hot topics right now (and have been for a while). One of the chief arguments in favor of gay marriage is that gay attraction is natural. Their love is real and it is natural. I do not disagree. I absolutely agree. (And shame on those who disagree.) However, it all still comes down to the natural man and the commandments. I find no scriptures or commandments that say “homosexuality is a sin.” (There are scriptures condemning sodomy- which was not homosexuality. It was gang rape.) In fact, just to be sure, I just searched the LDS.org site. I find nowhere on there does it say that same-sex attraction is a sin.
But the Church position, and divinely guided position, is that marriage is between a man and a woman. If 2 persons of the same sex cannot marry, they are stuck in the same position as I am- keeping that darn adultery commandment. And that is their burden (and mine) to carry- that they must put off the natural man and the desire to commit adultery, (because they are not married), to become more like God.
I hope this answers your questions. I realize this was a much longer response than you ever anticipated. These are my views, and mine alone. I believe that everything I have said here is correct according to the gospel I have been taught. I do not believe I have said anything contrary to actual gospel principles. I strive hard to separate actual doctrine from popular ideas and beliefs. Some may disagree with me, and that is fine with me. I have prayed a great deal about these issues. Putting off the natural man, and overcoming our natural instincts, is not easy. But then, I don’t believe that God intended for it to be!