Monday, December 1, 2008

Man and Woman

Okay, last question from the other week to answer. It was about why only men hold the priesthood.  Here I will quote the question:

"I still don't understand why only men can receive the priesthood & higher levels of... whatever-ness? I don't know the right word for it. Certainly not spirituality... maybe "ranks"? With elder and all that... deacon, teacher, priest, elder... 

Well, anyways, whatever the right word is, I still don't understand why only men can get it. How do women get to feel people's spirits in a way that men don't? I am not trying to be rude, I just really don't understand... I grew up with both men and women pastors so it is unusual to me to see different roles for men & women in a church."

I am not sure my answer will "satisfy" this asker. Like I said previously, it is only the Lord's answer that ever really satisfies us and helps us know things fully. But I will explain a few things more fully.

First, the "whatever-ness" referred to are offices in the priesthood. They are like levels. Worthy young men get the Aaronic Priesthood and are ordained to the office of a deacon at 12. They can do certain things with this level or priesthood like pass the sacrament at church. At 14 they can receive the office of teacher. They can still do all the things a deacon can do and also do the things a teacher can do. At 16, they can be ordained a priest and can serve in more ways like blessing the sacrament at church. Adult men can in time and through worthiness be ordained with greater and higher offices of the priesthood. 

Without going into a full lesson on the offices of the priesthood, I will move on to give my thoughts on the real question here. Why do only men get it? I am going to ask you to ponder a question and see if it can help give you an answer. Why can only women play such a uniquely intimate and integral role in the bringing forth of life? Only women can grow life within them and feel the emotions and physical sensations that accompany that role. Only women are given of God the ability to sustain the life of the newborn through nursing. 

The world greatly underestimates the power and importance of the office and calling women have been divinely given as mothers. This is a power afforded to women alone. No man can ever fully be a mother. Many are loving and kind but there is a unique feeling of love that a mother has with her child. It is through motherhood that women are able to feel of another spirit in a way a man cannot.

I do not say this to demean the role of fatherhood. It is also vital to a child and holds it own unique feelings. Still fathers miss out on the bond inherit in being part of the creating process for such an extended period of time and in such a life altering way.

The Lord says in the scriptures through Paul that "neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord." The Lord wants man and woman to be united together and these two together make each other whole. He has made us dependent upon each other by giving each of us different keys that are both necessary and equally powerful. 

If a woman could also hold the priesthood, how unequal would that be? God has given men the priesthood to help equalize their opportunities for service with that of women particularly in their roles as mother.

I think if we had even the slightest glimpse of how our Father in Heaven really feels about motherhood we would feel that men are by far getting the shorter end of the stick in this division of blessings. 

I can see how this can seem unequal or foreign growing up in a church where church pastors were both male and female. But this is another example of that parable I referred to where we are raised in a culture that is different from others and definitely all of our cultures are different from God's. 

That is why only God can help us satisfy our need for understanding because only He can help us know His culture and His understanding of things. But I hope my answer at least gave some food for thought on the issue.


Gina said...

What a beautiful way to answer that question.

Christina said...

That is an awesome perspective. I had never given the topic too much thought, because growing up in the church, that is just how it always has been...but I love your explanation. It makes total sense. So you answered a question I never knew I had, LOL!

Amanda said...

I loved the parable you shared about the women sitting on the floor and eating after the men. I too was kinda offended when I was first reading it until I found out the importance and reasons behind it.

I sometimes think the whole feminist movement has made us, as women, jump to the conclusion that we are being slighted if we're not afforded the same considerations or whatever as men are.

I feel that people have lost sight of the importance of motherhood. That if you're just a mother than you're somehow less than a woman with a career. I was raised by a single mother who worked 2 jobs to support my sister and I and she wasn't around anywhere near as much as I would have liked her to be. I always swore that I would always be there for my children if it was at all possible.

I'm so very grateful that I'm able to stay at home with my children and be the one to guide them.

Sharron said...

I share your feelings about womanhood. I shocked several male friends at BYU years ago (mid 70's) when I told them that they had nothing over me. I could enjoy all the priesthood blessings without the responsibility (I wasn't married yet and didn't have a clue how much my support would mean to my husband some day!) And they could never feel the life within their being like I would some day.

Though my husband is a convert, he still had to teach my role as the wife of a worthy priesthood holder. It has been a wonderful trip!

Katie Price said...

I personally am grateful that I don't hold the responsibility of the priesthood - but rather the blessing of motherhood. My husband and I very much balance each other out through these roles. In no way do I feel like less of a person, in fact I feel that he values me more when he honors his priesthood.

Marleen said...

Great food for thought for sure.

If I may add, the beauty of these differing roles as men and women are equal in one major principle. That each role is used to benefit the lives of others. Mothers to their children and Priesthood holders to whom they administer.

I find that it is essential to know that the Priesthood is not a personal power. It is used only in service to others. Women can benefit just as much as men can from the Priesthood. Meaning, it is not used to benefit the one holding the Priesthood only to those they are administering to. Although, I'm sure in the process the Priesthood holder is truly uplifted by doing such a service.

I feel when we get caught up in the "why not me" we forget what wonderful things the Lord alloted us personally in life, whatever role we may be in.

This subject is one of my personal favs. Thanks for sharing such great thoughts on the topic.

ls said...

I am fairly new here, but I wanted to comment on this because it is something that has recently been on my mind.

I have been LDS all my life and have truly had a burning testimony of the Gospel ever since I can remember. I have never doubted. But I have had questions and I have had to search for answers. This area was one that, as a teenager, caused me some grief. I wanted to be "equal." I felt like it wasn't fair that I couldn't be a bishop one day. I assumed there was a reason for this, but it bothered me that I didn't know it. I struggled with feeling like I might be "less than" for a few years, all the while knowing deep down that I wouldn't be, but questioning.

Fast forward a few years. I was sealed in the temple to the man of my dreams. Some of those feelings resurfaced periodically because of the nature of having my husband as the "patriarch" (maybe that doesn't make sense, but stick with me...). I talked with my husband about the feelings at length as I continued to try and understand what my role, as a woman, would be. I could see what the man's role in the whole picture was (meaning according to the gospel)-- why couldn't I understand mine?

Then 17 months ago I had a baby. I cannot even begin to describe my joy in motherhood. I have always been grateful to be a woman (my questions were never about wishing away my role, just wondering what my role was), but never moreso than when I had the honor of being a vessel to carry, deliver, and sustain a perfect little life. I began to realize that, on some levels, women have been made to think that different roles means unequal roles and I knew that God granted ME the sacred privilege of carrying life-- I did not feel any inequality in that.

And then, about a month ago, I was in the temple with my husband. As I sat through the session the answer that I have been searching for for years came. I realized that perhaps my role is not depicted or discussed as much, but that is not because it is not there and important. It is because there has to be order to things-- the man's role is to be the patriarch: to preside, to take care of the business. That part is often mistaken for the "important" part because it is the role that is seen. But the woman's role, MY role, is to nurture, to take care of people, to love. Is that any less important? Absolutely not! And the real clincher for me was when I realized that that is actually what I WANT to be doing for the rest of my days. I will gladly leave the presiding and all its "glory" to my husband if it means I will get to do what naturally I want to do-- be a mother, be compassionate, offer service and love.

Reading that all makes it sound like I am just repeating the Proclamation on the Family. And maybe I am, but for me, it was important that I come to that conclusion on my own. Anyway, sorry for the LONG comment, but I wanted to share.

I love the way you are taking time to answer peoples' questions. Thank you for sharing your beautiful faith and perspective.

The Morris Fam said...

wow are the woman! two days in a row, i got a great gospel doctrine lesson, right here in blogland! you have a wonderful understanding of the gospel of jesus christ and explain yourself soooo well! i just have to say that I LOVE my role as a woman and mother! thanks again. :)

Randi said...

What a beautiful answer. As a little girl, this topic always bugged me. My mom always told me something like you said and it never totally satisfied me. I haven't thought about for years. But now, as a mother... I understand, I'm happy and satisfied with the answers.

Camille said...

I read your blog often and just wanted to say a heartfelt thank you for your gospel discussions. I have been a member of the LDS church my entire life, but I have never taken the time to be knowledgable in the doctrine. I have been in primary for the majority of my adult life, and have never really listened to a lot of gospel doctrine classes. I love reading your discussions and getting some "adult" lessons.
My knowledge is increasing, thanks to you and your husband. My awareness of the need to study myself has also increased.
Thank you, thank you.

Ruthie said...

Hi everyone

The above link is for an 'I have a question' article from the Ensign which I read years ago and always remembered and relates to the equality of men and women and the phrase 'helpmeet'which is sometimes used to describe a women's role.

I've put in a quote from it:

The Lord, after creating Adam, saw that he was alone in the garden, and declared, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” (Gen. 2:18.) As indicated in a footnote to Genesis 2:18 in the LDS edition of the Bible (note 18b), the Hebrew term for the phrase “help meet for him” (‘ezer kenegdo) literally means “a helper suited to, worthy of, or corresponding to him.” The King James translators rendered this phrase “help meet”—the word meet in sixteenth-century English meaning “fitting” or “proper.” It might be clearer if there were a comma after “help”—“I will make him an help, meet for him.”

I thought the article was really inspiring.

The great thing I love about church is the opportunity we all have, men and women, to serve and to lead and to teach one another. We don't all have the same opportunities for motherhood in this life, though we will in the next. Sister Barbara Thompson of the Relief Society General Presidency is a fantastic example of a Sister who has not had that opportunity but has still used her divine qualities to serve Heavenly Father's children.

We all minister to each other, men and women, as home and visiting teachers. We give talks on gospel topics in our sacrament meeting and many of us teach or have taught from children to adults in Primary, Sunday School and Relief Society. It's also interesting to note that only a Sister can be a Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society President.

I think anyone who's served as a Relief Society President is grateful for the opportunities and the inspiration received to serve others; and is also grateful she will never be a bishop! It's important to remember that the Priesthood is about service. A Priesthood holder can never bless himself. We are each given ways in which we can learn to be, as Jesus Christ is, 'the servant of all'.

Hooray for the gospel! I'm so glad of it and the confidence it gives me to be who I am.

Kelly said...

Thank you for explaining things in a way that makes sense to your non-LDS readers.

But I was just wondering: What if a woman isn't able to have children?

Kathryn_m said...

What an awesome post and comments!

I just wanted to echo the sentiments of some others: namely, that "equal" doesn't necessarily mean "same" and that God intends that man/woman & father/mother have specific roles in family/community/church life.

I feel truly blessed to have a husband who dutifully fulfills his role as a Christiam husband/father and thereby allows me to flourish in mine. What seems clear to me is that "with rights comes responsibilities" and I am happy and content in being a woman/wife/mother in the way God intended.

I personally feel that the woman's movement is actually disempowering to women. Further, it is my opinion that when traditional roles are either usurped or neglected an imbalance is created that has far-reaching consequences. I think that even a cursory look at the impact these changes have had on "today's family" bears out my thoughts on this matter.

Again, great post & comments!

Stephanie said...

Please refer to Ruthie's comment. Those unable to have children in this live due either to never marrying or other reasons will have that opportunity in the next life if they live worthy of that highest kingdom.

Additionally, even if we are not mothers who bear children, women "mother" many people in their lives. It is part of our nature to mother others. I have an aunt who has never been able to have children. She taught school for 35 years and has mothered more children than I can count. Now in her 60s and retired, she grandmothers my children often. I love her for this. In my mind she is every bit as much a mother as I am.

Even those women who don't surround interact much with children, often end up mother others in their lives. Women mother each other. We care for each other and try to be there for each other when we have need. This blog is just one example of how so many have mothered me through this trial and how I have been blessed to be able to mother some others who are also suffering as they have emailed me personally. Women need other women. And our natures as women lend themselves to service.


A Daily Double said...

I realize this blog is about men and women roles, but I want to respond to Kelly's question about women who do not have children.

I am a single woman who has no children. While I appreciate the thought that all women are "mothers" and "nurturers", it really doesn't mean a whole lot to a woman who has no children. There is a bond between a mother and her child that cannot be experienced any other way -- not by teaching Primary, not by babysitting other people's children, and not by being an awesome aunt (which I am, by the way).

Certainly, single or childless women can and should contribute -- some times that is through actual associations with children and some times it's through friendships with mothers. Everyone's role is valuable in God's plan and we often can provide help or relief to another's burden -- even if we have never experienced the other person's burden.

But the one thing I have learned and come to understand by being single and childless is that we often forget that earth life isn't all-or-nothing. Being childless may be an earthly issue, but it's certainly not an eternal issue. God has made many promises to the righteous; He just didn't give a timeline for those promises, nor did He say that they would all be fulfilled in earth life.

Satan would like for me to believe that I am somehow flawed or not whole because I don't have children on earth. He encourages us to concentrate on the things missing in our lives and tempts us to believe that we aren't important in the Father's plan because we aren't mothers. By doing so, he diverts us from the earthly mission to which the Lord has called us.

People who are experiencing a different earthly experience than they would have chosen need to ask themselves one question: what is my earthly mission/role? Because everyone has one -- it just may be different than you originally thought or planned.

So our job on earth is (1) to live worthy of all blessings the Lord has promised and then allow Him to choose the timeline for administering those blessings, and (2) find the mission He wants you to fulfill and then fulfill it.

When my time on earth is done, I just want to be able to echo Timothy's statement in the Bible when he said: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith..."

Stephanie said...

Thank you for your input Daily Double. Amen to that.

Stephanie said...

Just to add a thought...

a pastor or minister in another church is a "teacher" of the gospel to the congregation. In the LDS church, women teach just as much as men do as we are all called upon to speak in meeting as well as to teach the children and other adults.

Alisha said...

I loved your explanation of this issue, I couldn't have said it better myself.

a.k.a. Jack said...

As for the women who can't have children issue, I just wanted to point out that Eve was called the "Mother of all living" before she ever had any children of her own. I think that's something to ponder when considering what a "mother" is.

Now to the topic at hand--men and women and the priesthood. My mom is a convert and a bit of a feminist. She has also raised 7 daughters (we have no sons in our family). So, as you can imagine, this issue has been one discussed in our home. One of my sisters was particularly concerned about the role of men and women at one point in time. That, combined with the fact that I was always a bit of a tom-boy and always wanted to keep up with guys got me to thinking more on the subject myself.

I have come to a similar conclusion as "ls" did. I think it has alot to do with order. The church is an organization that must function efficiently and effectively. In order for that to happen, there must be an efficient, effective organization. Just as there are different orders of the priesthood, so there are different roles for men and women, with regard to the priesthood. The priesthood body includes deacons, priests, elders, high priests, bishops, apostles, etc. They are all equally important in the organization and order of the church. The church could not function properly and orderly without any one of the orders of the priesthood--whether it be deacons or prophets. If men look at these different aspects of the priesthood as status symbols, then deacons and priest may be jealous of say elders or bishops--just as a woman who views the priesthood as a status symbol may become jealous of the responsibilities of men. But, the truth is, that the roles (both within the priesthood and otherwise in the church and in life) are all equally important, but simply perform different functions within the church. It's a way of dividing up responsibility. So it is with men holding the priesthood and women not. Any man who holds the priesthood will likely tell you how demanding it is on his time. There are many in need of his services and there are many organizational and administrative duties that pull at his time. Just like women have many demands on their time. That is why most women in the church are happy to leave the priesthood responsibilities up to men. We already have enough on our plate.

One important point that has not been mentioned yet is one that made a big difference in my personal understanding of this issue. That is, that the LDS faith also teaches that worthy righteous women will be granted the power and authority of being "queens" and "priestesses" in the eternities, just as worthy righteous men are granted the power and authority of being "kings" and "priests" in the eternities. The married man and woman work together in these sacred callings as eternal beings. This is part of the sealing ordinance in which we participate when we are married in the temple. When I received my own temple ordinances, this point really clarified the issue of men holding the priesthood for me.

If I consider the fact that both men and women will hold the highest order of the priesthood (that being godhood) in the eternities, then, I must conclude that the division of responsibilities in regard to the priesthood and other responsibilities here on earth are very much due to the need for order in the church--efficiency and effectiveness of an organization. There's a good article written by a woman convert to the LDS faith that addresses this discussion. You can read it here:

The following is an excerpt from the above mentioned article that some of you may find interesting, but the whole article is an interesting read:

[We live in a time when there is much talk of equal rights, but this is not a new notion in the gospel. The scriptures and the prophets have clearly taught that “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). President Kimball [one of our former latter-day prophets] reaffirmed this when he spoke to the women of the Church last fall. He said, “We had full equality as [God’s] spirit children. We have equality as recipients of God’s perfected love for each of us” (Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 102).

Equality, however, does not imply sameness. Although men and women are equal in the sight of the Lord, their eternal roles and assignments differ. Men’s primary duties are associated with fatherhood and the priesthood; women have responsibilities relating to motherhood and sisterhood. By virtue of these assignments, men are directly responsible for Church governance and thus have organizational and administrative duties. Women, on the other hand, have specific responsibility to create and nurture.

Because men hold the priesthood and are therefore often more visible in the operations of the Church, some people assume men are more important and more competent than women. But Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve [the organization of Apostles in our church] made it clear that the priesthood is not a reward for competency or excellence:

“Women of a congregation … may be wiser, far greater in mental powers, even greater in actual power of leadership than the men who preside over them. That signifies nothing. The Priesthood is not bestowed on the basis of mental power but is given to good men and they exercise it by right of divine gift, called upon by the leaders of the Church. Woman has her gift of equal magnitude” (Priesthood and Church Government, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, p. 90).

On another occasion he said, “No man who understands the gospel believes that he is greater than his wife, or more beloved of the Lord, because he holds the priesthood” (Evidences and Reconciliations, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960, p. 308).

Although women do not hold the priesthood, they are partakers of every blessing necessary for salvation. The temple endowment makes this clear. The general ordinances of the temple are all performed by authority of the priesthood, and women have access to all of them. And the instructions, ordinances, and covenants of the temple endowment are basically the same for men and women. In the temple men are prepared for their roles as kings and priests, and women are prepared to become queens and priestesses. Woman stands beside the man, “a joint-inheritor with him in the fullness of all things. Exaltation and eternal increase is her lot as well as his. Godhood is not for men only; it is for men and women together” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 844). ]

Finally, I like the comment by "adorn-jewelry" (who happens to be my sister) that points out the fact that some of the issue here is really just semantics. Those not of the LDS faith have a different understanding of what a "priest" actually does or what the word "priest" means. Like she said, in many religions, priests are teachers--people who teach the congregation about gospel principles. In the LDS faith, all are given the opportunity to teach, men and women alike. Even children are given the opportunity, as we can often learn truths from children in such a plain and precious way that is sometimes overlooked when presented by adults. So, if the concept of "priest" is "teacher", then you could say that men and women in the LDS faith are all "priests".

I would add to that, that those not of the LDS faith may view "priests" as leaders of organizations within the church. In the LDS church, women hold leadership positions as well, as they preside over church organizations such as the Relief Society (a women's organization) and the Primary and Young Women's organizations (for children and teens). There are numerous other "callings" (as we call them) in the church that can be held by women, which require leadership or teaching responsibilities of those women.

Anyway, sorry for the long post again. Hope this helps people better understand the roles of men and women in the LDS church.

Leslie said...

Great answer, aka Jack, in addition to all the others. When a previous poster mentioned, "But the one thing I have learned and come to understand by being single and childless is that we often forget that earth life isn't all-or-nothing. Being childless may be an earthly issue, but it's certainly not an eternal issue" ... I wanted to mention exactly what you did -- the eternal perspective of a man's and woman's role and the fact that women can and do hold the priesthood, when looking at an eternal perspective. Reading through our doctrine makes me appreciate all over again having the knowledge of the purpose of our life and of the eternities, not as a complete mystery as I understood them growing up (not LDS), but with may things that we do know that also give purpose to this life.

Great discussion.

Mel said...

Thanks for responding. Sorry for not commenting earlier - my computer was on the fritz. Your answer was very well worded and I can see that a lot of people were very moved by your explanation. Maybe it is something that, like another reader said, I would have to become a mom to fully understand...

Thanks for taking the time to respond with such a well-thought out, eloquent answer. I appreciate it!

Michelle said...

I think that is the wisest answer to that question that I think I've ever read. It was a little hard for me to grasp as a new convert years ago, but now I see how essential it is for me to rely on my husband for that priesthood-- otherwise, I really would just do EVERYTHING myself.