While I have my own disconnects from the LDS faith, I find it difficult not to want to stand in and attempt to defend the recent actions of the church in the excommunication of Kate Kelly, the leader of the Ordain Women movement that has recently engulfed the church in a haze of controversy.
Some of the comments on my Facebook feed and others from the comment section of various news sources are lamenting this decision and, as comment sections often are, are also hotbeds of vitriolic hate pouring from many who are already predisposed to animosity toward the LDS church. Accusations of misogyny and patriarchy abound. Others say that this is proof positive that there is no room for questions and/or dissent within the church.
My response to the Ordain Women movement since I first heard about it is that those who are clamoring for priesthood ordination are those who do not understand their temple endowment, nor do they understand the priesthood itself. In a large part, they are asking for something they already have access to. This authority is bestowed the moment any individual (male or female) is baptized and has hands laid upon them to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Before I elaborate, let us look at one of the prime scriptural foundations of the teaching of the priesthood in the LDS church found in Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants:
36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
Then continuing a few passages later:
41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
It is easy to get lost in the mire and confusion surrounding the Ordain Women controversy and forget that it is the assertion of the LDS faith that it is God’s church, restored personally by God and his son, Jesus Christ, in order to provide the means necessary to provide the salvation of all of God’s children upon this earth.
It is easy to forget that even Christ, during his mortal ministry, only ordained certain men to lead the proselyting efforts of his church following his crucifixion and that the LDS Church today is simply a model of that ancient establishment. However, never did Christ diminish the roles or responsibilities of women in the church.
Some of the key teaching of Christ found in the New Testament are centered on women. It was a woman that Christ met at the well and taught that he is the living water (John 4). It was a woman who demonstrated such h remarkable faith that she was healed simply by virtue of touching the hem of Christ’s garment (Luke 8). It was Mary Magdalene to whom Christ first appeared following his crucifixion (John 20). The third of Christ’s final statements upon the cross concerned his mother, Mary (John 19).
Make no mistake in thinking that those who understand Christ and his teachings would ever disparage a woman, nor would they ever think a woman possesses any lesser value or importance in the sight of God simply by virtue of her sex.
Now, coming back to my assertion that a woman asking for ordination into the priesthood is a woman that does not understand the priesthood or its ordinances. First, one should understand God’s ultimate work: To bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39). Considering this mission, what greater calling or office can any person receive than being an assistant in bringing to pass God’s work – Bringing souls back to Him?
All those who have entered into the waters of baptism receive this calling (Mosiah 18:9-10). Every individual who has conferred upon them the Gift of the Holy Ghost has direct access to the Godhead. The Holy Spirit is the facilitator of all righteousness and is the conduit through which the will of God is made known to the hearts of men. Without the Holy Ghost, there is no priesthood authority. Without the Holy Ghost, an individual may perform ordinances, may espouse the teachings of the gospel, but it will have no efficacy in bringing down the powers of heaven. And the power of heaven, the power of the priesthood can only be handled upon principles of righteousness.
While I am unaware of the complete circumstances surrounding the excommunications of Kate Kelly from the LDS church, from what I have observed from her methods I have seen little that indicates that she was acting upon principles of righteousness. She expressed her concern about women not having access to the performance of priesthood ordinances and not having access to being placed in positions of power within the church. There is no problem with expressing such concerns. I think her problem came when she began to foment dissension amongst the membership of the church. Her concern turned to pride in thinking that she was right and the church, and ultimately God, was wrong in their current decision that women shall not perform priesthood ordinances or hold certain church offices.
In the temple, women are endowed and conferred the right to become queens and priestesses. They receive the garment of the holy priesthood and are conferred the privilege of wearing it at all times. They are endowed with the ability to act, in the priesthood, as proxy for others who have passed beyond mortality in the effort to bestow the saving ordinances necessary for exaltation. A woman can just as effectively, if not more so, convey the message of the restored gospel to those around her in hopes that the Holy Ghost will touch their heart.
When a woman prays, is her prayer muted because she is unable to perform priesthood ordinances? When a woman exercises her ability to be an influence for good in the lives of those around her, are her efforts less counted than a man doing the same? If a woman dies without hearing the message of the gospel, is she lost and denied the opportunity of exaltation? Obviously, the answer to all these questions is a resounding ‘NO!’.
Considering all this, why aren’t women granted the ability to facilitate in the performance of ordinances or holding certain offices in the Church? What if the answer is nothing more than the fact that women are a power in the priesthood that men simply can’t be without them? What if this ability is simply because men need a calling to raise themselves from their base natures and make something more of themselves through the offices of the priesthood?
Please note my intentional distinction between the power of the priesthood and the offices of the priesthood. I can’t see how any woman has any diminished power in the priesthood than a man. A woman’s natural inclination to compassion and service is one that most men can only aspire to emulate. There are numerous prayers I have heard from women more genuine and heart-felt that made me feel as if God was actually right there in the room. I can only say the same of perhaps one or two such prayers that were spoken by a man.
It is only together that man and woman are ultimately exalted, if any stock is put in the teachings of the LDS faith at all. The highest degree of eternal glory is reserved only for those who have received the saving ordinances and entered into the covenant of eternal marriage. Neither man nor woman can receive the fullness of God’s glory alone.
The offices of the church are only for this world. In the eternities to come, there will be no need for a church for all will have come into a common faith. Women and men will work side-by-side doing whatever it is that we shall do following mortality. Everyone will be saved from the bondage of death through the grace of Christ, and will receive a degree of glory according to their participation in the atonement of Christ.
There may be a time when both sexes will participate fully together in the performance of the ordinances and the administration of the affairs of the church through its offices during mortality, the answer from God through the leadership of the church has simply been, “Not now.” There may well come a time when that will change and the simple decision at this point is simply between choosing to continue on in righteousness and a hope of things to come, or to rebel and kick against the pricks.
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A thorough review of Elder Oak’s address in the April 2014 General Conference would provide additional light on this issue.