Aaron being ordained by moses

Women and the Priesthood

The Problem

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons.  In the church, God has given us the authority to act in His name and administer in the church in certain ways.  This authority has a name: the Priesthood.  Currently, all males in good standing with the church and who are trying to follow Heavenly Father can hold the priesthood when they are 12 years old or older.

Relatively recently, some groups have started lobbying for women to be able to receive the priesthood as well.  As with any topic that needs lobbying, the debates on the topic have frequently been contentious; feelings on both sides are strong, and both parties feel like they will be greatly personally affected with whatever the outcome.

Imagine both of the perspectives: many women feel oppressed or devalued because they can’t hold the priesthood.  They feel like this might mean that they’re less important and that the church (and presumably, God) think that men should rule over and control women.  They feel that women are just as capable to lead and minister and as a result should have the opportunity.  Many men understand and share these sentiments too.

On the other hand, many men and women feel that whatever God says, goes.  For whatever reason, God has thus far said that worthy males can receive the priesthood, and women can’t (or rather, women can do other things, but we’ll keep our focus on the priesthood).  Even if this were to devalue women, who are we to question God?  Also, because we know of God’s love and compassion for His children, most feel that not having the priesthood in no way devalues or diminishes the importance of women (some even go so far to say that the men need the priesthood to balance out the women being awesome/caring/etc.  I’m not sure I buy that, though I can buy ideas that men and women have different roles.  Difference does not require that we put one thing above another, though it is our natural response).

Most of my friends understand the second argument pretty well, so for the sake of trying to increase compassion and empathy through understanding, I thought I would attempt to outline my thoughts as to some of the more logical reasons as to why God may, at some point, grant women the priesthood.

Eternal Principles

Early Example

We know that God has underlying, eternal principles behind every commandment He gives.  Sometimes, times and circumstance require the practices to change, though the eternal principles never change.  For instance, the book of Leviticus gives some pretty specific counsel of things we should and shouldn’t eat that we really don’t follow anymore.  It’s not that we’ve decided that the taste of pork is better than the suffering of sin; it’s that whatever underlying principle is at work no longer requires us to avoid pigs.

It can be hard to figure out what the eternal principle is for the commandments in Leviticus.  I’ve heard that the Israelite’s inability to properly clean and cook pork qualified it as problematic food when God gave them their eating regulations, so it would make sense that now that we can prepare it properly, there’s no reason for God to mandate its avoidance.  I also wonder if the principles came from pure symbolism.  I’m not very savvy on Biblical symbols, but I would not be surprised if the pig symbolized other things that they needed to avoid.  Or maybe the pig already symbolized the gentiles, which allowed God to powerfully and memorably give His people significant commandments and reminders.  It probably also served to teach new things to the people ready to receive what God had to offer, just like Christ’s parables.

In this situation, the eternal principle might be “keep your bodies healthy,” or “avoid things that contaminate your faith,” while the practice then was “don’t eat pigs because you’ll get sick.”

The point here is that although underlying principles and eternal doctrines don’t change, sometimes the application changes depending on the need.


The Priesthood

So what about the deal with the priesthood?  Many argue that God wants men to have the priesthood, and women not to have the priesthood, with the implication that the eternal, forever unchanging principle is that “all men should have the priesthood.”  Well, I’m not sure that is necessarily the eternal model.

When the 12 tribes of Israel were getting their allotments of land, the Levites ended up with the priesthood instead (sorry, that was an oversimplification, but you’re all capable of reading the Bible or Wikipedia article yourselves.)  At that time, I’m sure it would have been considered heretical, even blasphemous to consider that members of other tribes could be given the priesthood.  Yet, when God restored His church and His priesthood, it wasn’t given to descendants of Levi, but descendants of all the tribes.

I’m going to make the assumption that God doesn’t go against eternal principles, nor break eternal laws.  With that assumption, we can probably safely assume that the eternal principle is not “Levites and only Levites get the priesthood.”  But we still don’t have evidence against the idea that the eternal principle is that “men and only men get the priesthood.”

Another example might get us closer.  From early in the modern dispensation until 1979, church members of African American descent could not hold the priesthood.  Now, the practice is that they can.  Why did the practice change, and how does it interact with the eternal principle at work?  That’s a whole other (ginormous) topic on its own, but it further demonstrates that the underlying principle is probably more nuanced than simply being “all worthy men and only worthy men get the priesthood.”


“All He Seeth Fit That They Should Have”

Let’s look at one more example to set up the argument: the existence of the fullness of the Gospel of Christ on the earth (including the priesthood.)

Any member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can tell you that the Church has not always been on the earth.  The world has gone through periods of general “apostasies,” where people have turned away from God and as a result lost the fullness of Christ’s gospel as well as authority to act in His name.  God always ended those periods of apostasy by calling another prophet when the time was right to restore His gospel on the earth.  People like Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jesus Christ himself, and Joseph Smith all were called by God to end a period of “apostasy” and open a “dispensation,” which is a period of time when the fullness of God’s gospel, as well as His authority, exist on the earth.

So what about the people living during apostasies?  Does god just not love them?  Does He not send them any help or communication?

In Alma 29:8, Alma taught that “For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word, yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have; therefore we see that the Lord doth counsel in wisdom, according to that which is just and true.”

I love that verse.  Put simply, God gives us all that we should have.  Almost always, this comes down to how much we’re willing to receive.  It’s up to us to turn to Him.  He’s already turned to us, constantly there with open arms, but it’s like the picture of Christ knocking at the door without a handle.  We need to open up.

I think that at least gets really close to the eternal principle behind His gospel: to give as much of it as people will receive.

What This Might Mean For Women And The Priesthood

The Prior Examples

I have to wonder if the eternal principle behind the priesthood is “give it to as many as the world will accept.”  This might be better stated as “give the priesthood to whatever group of people that will ensure that the most people come unto Him.”  For a while, the world had serious problems with race division.  Perhaps granting the priesthood to people of African descent any earlier would have caused more people to fall from Christ’s gospel than would have been brought in.  It sounds strange, even miserable, but that’s the situation we end up with when we all sin like there’s no tomorrow.  God does not treat us like we’re perfect, He does a lot to meet us where we are (like sending His Son, Jesus Christ, for instance.)

I wonder if this principle was at work with the Levites and the priesthood.  Perhaps the reason that only one tribe was given the priesthood was because the duties of the priesthood were so demanding and it would have been impossible for tribes that lived far from the temple to live-up to their priesthood duties.  Speculatively, the Levites might have been given exclusive rights to the priesthood at least in part to physical limitations.


Women And The Priesthood

So, by a decent bit of speculation and extrapolation, we might conclude that women have not been granted the priesthood due to the general stubbornness of God’s children on earth.  It could be that granting women the priesthood would confuse and push away too many of His children, or at least that fewer of His children would be open to His gospel if such a change were to occur.  It seems hard to believe when the rising western generation is so accustomed to their own version of perceived “equality,” but keep in mind that the vast majority of the world is not part of the rising western generation, and gender equality lags way behind the “western world” around most of the globe.  Even during my time in Peru, I interacted and lived among a much more patriarchal society than even what I have in Utah.So perhaps women would be permitted to hold the priesthood if we were open to God making the change.  Or, that God would grant women the priesthood if that would bring the most people to Him.

Why To Give-A-Care

All this speculation would be worthless if not for the action that I hope to induce.  When these debates come up, I hope people can show some more compassion and be open, on both sides, to whatever God says.  If God says that “women should now get the priesthood,” yippee!  If God says “no,” yippee!  If there’s anything we can trust, it’s that God always does what’s best for His children, so if we just try to follow His gospel, we can make it.

And what is His gospel?  I like 3 Nephi 27:13, where Christ Himself tells us His Gospel:

“Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you–that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.”

There it is, plain and simple.  Do the will of the Father.  Your Father sent you too.  Although your work will not be as spectacular and difficult as was Jesus Christ’s, it will be just as important for you, and probably of significant importance for others, that you fulfill it.  It might include living in a time where women never receive the priesthood.  It might include living in a time of transition when women do get the priesthood.

Either way, be open to and seek out the will of God.  Don’t seek to impose your will on God or His church.  There are certainly spaces for communication of the needs and desires of church members, but protest and contention has never been the answer when it comes to God’s kingdom.  The one thing we know for sure is that the current practices are what God has prescribed for our current time, and is the most correct of any option available.

Getting Long Winded

This part is almost an appendix to the rest.  I just wanted to comment on what my mission president told all of us once: “Be perfectly obedient with yourself, and be perfectly charitable toward others.”  Yes, other people are doing things that you might find troubling (on both sides,) but that does not absolve you of the responsibility to show love, compassion, and understanding to each other.We saw problems like this during the whole Proposition 8 deal as well.  Church leaders officially came out and called the legislation a moral issue, giving specific counsel on how to vote.  We very quickly saw some serious failures (and successes) in obedience and charity.  We saw many members of the church vocalize opposition to the church’s authority and stance on the issue–a failure to be obedient.  Many church members then failed to show proper love and compassion toward those people, choosing instead to harbor ill-feelings and pride against them–a failure to be charitable.

Life isn’t going to get easier, and we need to make sure that we, as  followers of Christ, stay unified.  Will we end up like the Nephites in the wars instigated by Amalickiah during the King-Men days?  Are we going to need to go wipe out the rebels to get Pahoran back in the judgment seat because we let stupid political difference divide us from following our God?  Political decisions have far reaching effects, but if they split us from God, the effects of such separation will reach much farther, deeper, and more painfully than any political decision on this earth.  (See Alma 46-62 for the story referenced in this paragraph).

So anyway, be obedient, be charitable.  We’re going to need both Christlike attributes to make it through.  With those principles in mind, I’m open to comments on this subject to really hash out the truth.  I don’t claim to have been able to cover all ground and angles, so corrective or additional information from others is more than welcome.

Keep seeking truth.

You may also be interested in:
In Defense of Modesty
How to be Sensitive to Spiritual Promptings
Self-Interested Does Not Mean Selfish

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