Response to Ordain Women

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently published a letter they sent to the leaders of a  group calling themselves Ordain Women.

I’ll reprint the text of the letter here since it has been released to the public. Copyright belongs to the LDS Church. Here is the link to the press release: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-asks-activist-group-to-reconsider-general-conference-protest-plans

Dear Sisters,
Thank you for your letter and email.

Some wonderful conversations have been held over recent years, and are continuing to be held, relative to women in the Church and the invaluable contributions we make. The recent changes you have seen, most notably the lowering of the missionary age for sisters, serve as examples and were facilitated by the input of many extraordinary LDS women around the world.

Women in the Church, by a very large majority, do not share your advocacy for priesthood ordination for women and consider that position to be extreme. Declaring such an objective to be non-negotiable, as you have done, actually detracts from the helpful discussions that Church leaders have held as they seek to listen to the thoughts, concerns, and hopes of women inside and outside of Church leadership. Ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of doctrine that is contrary to the Lord’s revealed organization for His Church.

The priesthood session of General Conference is designed to strengthen men and boys as they receive specific instruction about their roles and responsibilities; therefore we are unable to fulfill your request for tickets. You are certainly welcome to view the live broadcast of the priesthood session on lds.org, the Mormon Channel or BYUtv. We invite you, as our sisters, to participate with women everywhere in the parallel meeting for women and girls on March 29, and hope you will join us in a spirit of love and harmony. The women’s meeting is a remarkable gathering of worldwide sisterhood, and was proposed and planned by the presidencies and boards of the Primary, Young Women and Relief Society as a time to focus on ennobling and eternal doctrines relating to women.

Your organization has again publicized its intention to demonstrate on Temple Square during the April 5 priesthood session. Activist events like this detract from the sacred environment of Temple Square and the spirit of harmony sought at General Conference. Please reconsider.

If you feel you must come and demonstrate, we ask that you do so in free speech zones adjacent to Temple Square, which have long been established for those wishing to voice differing viewpoints. They can be found on the attached map.

As fellow Latter-day Saints and friends of the Church, we invite you to help us maintain the peaceful environment of Temple Square and ask that you please follow these details in your continued planning. In addition, consistent with long-standing policy, news media cameras will not be allowed on Temple Square during General Conference.

Again, we hope you will join us for the General Women’s Meeting on March 29 and contribute to the strength of sisterhood in our communities.

Kindest regards,

Jessica Moody
Public Affairs,
On behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

There does not seem like there is more to say after that kind letter from Jessica Moody (a woman releasing an official statement from the Church) but as there is still some discussion concerning the matter I will add a few of my opinions. My discussion is by no means complete but I hope it is respectful. I will likely update this post over time but will make any changes clear.

Ordain Women

Ordain Women is making clear their motives regarding the issue of women and the Priesthood. I do not like to make assumptions about people’s motives. Most of the time we do not know why people do what they do (I’m saying this as a psychologist by training) unless they explicitly tell us. Even then, what is told as a motive is not necessarily true because people do not always understand their own motives for doing things. Looking at actions, even repeated actions, does not always elucidate motives because motivation is psychologically complex and changeable. So let’s look at what the group Ordain Women says about their motives:

The fundamental tenets of Mormonism support gender equality: God is male and female, father and mother, and all of us can progress to be like them someday. Priesthood, we are taught, is essential to this process.  Ordain Women believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.

Last year the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed its commitment to equality: “The Book of Mormon states, ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God’ (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.” Ordain Women embraces this statement. We are committed to work for equality and the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood.

Based on the principle of thoughtful, faith-affirming strategic action, Ordain Women aspires to create a space for Mormon women to articulate issues of gender inequality they may be hesitant to raise alone. As a group we intend to put ourselves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood. We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.

Equality

Two thirds of this statement are about “gender equality.” One of the major problems in pressing for equality is that equality is an opinion – it’s relative. What some people view as equal will be shocking to others as grossly unequal. This is clear in politics and in much of life. One of the few places where equality is clear is in mathematics (even then, there might be room for discussion on the matter). The word equal comes from words meaning anything from uniform, identical, level, even, to just. Is Ordain Women wanting identical equality, level equality, or equality that is just?

Equality outside mathematics is complex and relative. As one example, let’s turn to statistics. There is an area within statistics called equivalence testing. Part of the use of equivalence testing is determine if groups/drugs/treatments/etc. showing no statistical difference are equivalent. In other words, just because there are no differences does not mean the things being compared are equivalent. There is considerable discussion on this matter by researchers and statisticians. So in statistics the concept of equivalence is neither clear nor straightforward. In life it is a much more nebulous concept. Does this make discussions of equality pointless? No, but without complete, ‘equal’ agreement to the definition and expression/implementation of equality there will never be satisfactory answers for the parties in discussion.

Now, add in the layers of hierarchy and authority (not just priesthood) and equality becomes even more complex. Hierarchy itself can be viewed as inherently unequal, so do we need to abolish all hierarchy (that’s essentially anarchy)? If not, then it stands to reason that someone at the top of a hierarchy gets to make a final decision. Turning back to the issue of women and the priesthood – who gets to decide what is equal? Who has the final word? Ordain Women? Is the matter closed only when they say it is? These are all difficulties with basing a platform on equality. We can’t decide what equal is so how are we going to decide what constitutes gender equality? I’m all for civil discussion but dialogue is different from policy and doctrine.

Motivation

The final paragraph of the Ordain Women statement starts to get at the motives of the group: “As a group we intend to put ourselves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood. We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.”

The motivation is to “put [themselves] in the public eye [to] call attention”. That means that unless the LDS Church tells Ordain Women that the full authority of the priesthood (meaning ordination to priesthood offices) will be extended to women just as it is to men, the group will continue to seek public attention. Hence, even though Church leaders have answered their questions respectfully and definitively, Ordain Women continues their call for protests (they might be respectful and peaceful protests but that’s what they are) at the priesthood session of General Conference because they are not satisfied with the answers given. Now I’m not saying that individuals who are part of Ordain Women protest and petition as a means of receiving personal attention, they say it is about the issue of women and the priesthood and until evidence points otherwise we should take Ordain Women at their word, but they at least do it for public attention; thus, public attention is a motivation nonetheless. Public attention is not inherently good or bad but what can be good or bad is the motivation behind the seeking of public attention and the reasons for the advocacy.

Priesthood

From the LDS Church Handbook:

“The priesthood is the power and authority of God. It has always existed and will continue to exist without end (see Alma 13:7–8D&C 84:17–18). Through the priesthood, God created and governs the heavens and the earth. Through this power, He exalts His obedient children, bringing to pass “the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39; see also D&C 84:35–38).

In mortality, the priesthood is the power and authority that God gives to man to act in all things necessary for the salvation of God’s children. The blessings of the priesthood are available to all who receive the gospel.”

As is clear from this quote, there are two components of the priesthood – 1) power and authority of God and 2) power and authority of God given to man here on earth to act in His name.

I’ll address the second part first.

There is priesthood power and priesthood authority. On earth boys and men are given priesthood offices and act under direction of someone holding priesthood keys (ultimately the President of the Church, who is the presiding authority). Priesthood power [and authority] comes from faithfulness to covenants and righteous living. Priesthood power is available to all who are worthy. What does that mean? Does that mean that women can have the power of the priesthood? Yes, it means exactly that. Priesthood is not men (that’s why it’s not accurate to say something like, “I’d like to thank the Priesthood for their service…”); priesthood is God’s power and authority. On earth God has given men the authority of the priesthood through priesthood offices and both men and women access to the power of the priesthood [and the authority to act in priesthood callings and appendages]. Both men and women partake in the blessings of the priesthood. Men who are given the priesthood can never bless themselves. Priesthood authority is a call to service, a call with responsibility. Women on this earth have been given alternate but complementary responsibilities, responsibilities that might just be weightier than what men have been given. A man needs a wife in order to have access to the full blessings of the priesthood. A woman needs a husband for the same reason. That blessing of a spouse might not occur in this life but it will occur in order for full priesthood blessings to be granted. What this tells us is that full blessings of the priesthood are not realized in this life, they are only realized in the life to come as we remain worthy of what we have received from the Lord.

There is much that we do not know about the organization of authority in the life to come (other than it’s largely around families) but priesthood authority here on earth is given to worthy males as they are ordained to priesthood offices. Women and girls have complementary and certainly no less important roles. To argue that such an arrangement represents inequality is opinion and frankly, short-sighted. If people search for inequalities they will find them or create them.

Now for the first part – priesthood as the power and authority of God. God’s power comes in part from His priesthood and His faith. He uses the Priesthood to create and administer. His Priesthood is power and authority much greater than priesthood delegated to those in this life. [There are keys to priesthood ordinances not yet given to men here on earth.] This complete power and authority only comes to those who are like God and then only as He grants this power unto them. Little has been revealed about this so any further discussion would be speculation. What we do know is that this full power and authority is not given [and I’d argue cannot be given] to individuals on earth for it requires someone to have overcome the world through the efficacy of the Savior’s Atonement.

What has been revealed about the priesthood is not complete but seeking to change doctrine by protest is not the method God endorses.

Questions

There is a parable told by Christ of an unjust judge (and a very persistent widow).

“And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8).

We should weary the Lord in prayer. But that does not mean we will be granted what we ask. It also does not mean that what we ask for is right. Wisdom is knowing what we should not ask for. However, sometimes persistence pays off, although not always in a positive manner.

Martin Harris was spending a lot of time and money supporting Joseph Smith through the translation of the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris’s wife complained and Martin felt that he should be able to show her the fruits of his labors and money. He asked Joseph if he could take the manuscript and show his wife – after all, wasn’t that the purpose of the Book of Mormon – to share it with the world? Joseph said he would ask God. The answer was “No.” Again Martin begged and again the answer was “No.” Finally, after much wearying of Joseph, Joseph agreed to ask the Lord again. This time the answer was “Yes, but if anything happens to the manuscript, both of you will be under condemnation until you repent.” On those conditions, the manuscript pages left the possession of Joseph Smith and traveled home with Martin Harris. He showed his wife. Then, unscrupulous hands acquired the manuscript, stealing it away from Joseph Smith. Work on the Book of Mormon halted until Joseph had repented sufficiently. The lost pages of the Book of Mormon were not re-translated and are lost to us for now.

In this case, persistence paid off for Martin but the consequence was not what expected. Things might have turned out well with no pages lost but because of the wickedness of men, precious pages of the Book of Mormon were lost to us. The take home message is that yes, we can be persistent in asking the Lord, but we should be ready to accept the consequences should things not turn out as we desire. The Lord allowed Martin to take the manuscript pages but it would have been better for him, Joseph Smith, and for us had the first and second “No” answers been heeded.

Ordain Women asks “We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.” Our leaders have done so and will continue to do so. There is no significant or insignificant issue facing the Church that our leaders do not pray about.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a liberal religion. I do not mean liberal in the modern political usage in the United States. There is room for and encouragement of differing viewpoints and beliefs. The tent of our church is blessed to have members from all over the world with different backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses. What keeps the Church strong though is not our diversity but the centrality of the Savior. He guides and directs us through His chosen prophets and apostles, who encourage us to remain rooted when we extend ourselves by thinking our knowledge is greater than that of the Lord.

Questions are encouraged. After all, it is through the questions of a 14 year old boy that we received this great restoration of the gospel. Keep questioning but hold on to the truth you know. Questions are great but if they diminish our faith or if they diminish the faith of others, the questions need to be set aside until the firm foundation is restored. This does not mean do not question, it just means that our questioning should be in the context of faith. [It also means that questioning should be kept within the bounds of the sustaining of church leaders].

That comes down to my final point. What is the result of Ordain Women’s protesting? Does it strengthen the faith of others? I don’t believe it does so if not, maybe the actions need to be reconsidered. We are not responsible for the actions of others but whatever we do should be edifying and helping us remain firmly clasped to the Iron Rod and in the arms of Jesus.

The Necessity of Priesthood Authority

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As Paul – a tentmaker turned persecutor of Christians turned disciple of Christ – traveled and taught on his way from Greece to Jerusalem, he stopped in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was part of Greece at the time and was located near present-day Selçuk, Turkey. He spent two years in this area teaching the people about Jesus and performing miracles.

During this time there was a chief priest among the Jews in Ephesus named Sceva. Seven sons of his worked as exorcists, trying to cast out evil spirits in the name of Jesus Christ. I’m sure they tried casting out spirits in whatever way they could think of but they knew the success Paul and other believers had so they thought they would try to cast out spirits in the name of Christ. It’s also possible that they were charging for their priestcrafts. With that context, here’s the short story of the sons of Sceva.

“Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.” (Acts 19:13-17; emphasis added).

Not that priestcraft or violence are humorous but the story is almost funny. One man injures seven who were trying to cure him and they end up fleeing from him naked and hurt. Ignoring the possible motives of the sons of Sceva (they were likely “curing” people through trickery to try and make money and now had a new, popular, and actually effective method to try – doing so in the name of Christ), what this story shows is the importance of authority.

Many of the evil spirits that were cast out of individuals in the scriptures were not necessarily spirits; they were, rather, unknown medical conditions at the time. However, there are clearly instances when individuals were possessed by evil spirits and had the spirits cast out through the power of God. Some of these are relevant here because the evil spirits or those possessed by them testified of Christ and His power (see Matthew 8:28-33; Mark 1:34; Mark 3:11-12). Jesus always commanded those possessed to remain silent because what good comes from the testimony of an evil spirit?

The sons of Sceva were faced by a similar testimony but one that ridiculed their ineffectiveness. The spirit said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” These men did not perform the act with real faith in Christ; they also lacked authority (i.e., priesthood). Now if they had been acting in good faith (but still without authority) and honest faith in Christ, they might have been successful or at least commended for their efforts by Paul as another was under similar circumstances by the Savior (see Luke 9:49-50). However, the sons of Sceva were not only ineffectual without faith and priesthood authority, they were humiliated. Much good did come from their actions though. Many saw the power and authority Paul had in contrast with these sons of Sceva and believed his teachings: “And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.” (Acts 19:18).

Thus, authority is important. This authority to cast out devils in the name of Christ is called the priesthood. It is conferred by the laying on of hands by those in authority, those who have been given authority to do so by Christ. Jesus had this authority, He gave it to His apostles. They gave it to certain other men, Paul included (Paul was called as one of the apostles). This authority was no longer found on the earth after the death of the apostles due to general apostasy throughout the church. This authority and power was restored to the earth to the Prophet Joseph Smith (see for example, Joseph Smith – History 1:66-75) and is directed today by the Prophet, Thomas S. Monson.

The Christianity of Mormons

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With two Mormons currently vying for a nomination as candidate for president of the United States of America and with a large public relations campaign by the LDS Church, there has been considerable focus on the church. Much of it has been informative (and largely neutral), some has been positive, but some has been negative. One particular charge made against Mormons by some (usually of a particular Protestant vein) is that Mormons are not Christian. We find this charge odd considering the name of the church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – as well as of our belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. That is not enough for some people but I’ll not get into a discussion of why some people do not believe Mormons are Christian.

Regardless of what others claim about our Christianity (which in the end, is really a personal thing), we Mormons make a claim to historical Christianity that other Christians do not. Catholics make a claim of continuity from Peter. However, Mormons go beyond that. Our claim is one that others do not even think to make because it’s based on LDS theology that is unique. We do not just claim Christianity back to Christ but to a time long before then. We claim our religion, our Christianity, is a continuation from our life before we came to earth. Some of the specific practices in the LDS Church might not be a continuation of pre-mortal life but the priesthood authority is. Further, the doctrines are continuations of what was taught before we came to earth. In essence, much of our current Church organization and our doctrines are mirrors of what was and is done and taught in Heaven.

The fact that we lived with Heavenly Father before we came to earth might seem strange to many people but it is central to the gospel of Christ and LDS theology (which really are the same). Many do not think it strange to think that they will live forever more after this life but to think that we lived before this life is foreign to most people. Why is this? It stems in part from the creation story as found in the Bible. Over the years the understanding of the process of the creation was lost as was the understanding of our relationship to God. People started viewing humankind as creations of God rather than as sons and daughters. This means that many view people as no more than clay in God’s hands, rather than as His progeny. While it is true that we are God’s creations, our physical bodies are imbued with the bodies of our spirits. Together – body and spirit – we are in the likeness and image of God. We are more than just creations, we are His children with the potential to grow to become like Him. What a beautiful promise – the son, the daughter, can grow up to be like the father and mother!

I digressed in order to provide a foundation for the LDS claim to historical Christianity. We claim that our Christianity is pre-creedal. It pre-dates Christ’s mortal ministry. In the pre-earth life Heavenly Father presented a plan to all His children. It provided an opportunity for us to gain physical bodies and learn and grow to become more like Him. However, knowing that we would all fall short, God provided a means for us to return – through His Son Jesus Christ. This sacrifice was to be eternal and infinite so that it would help us overcome death and sin. All the prophets from the beginning of time taught this – the centrality of Christ. Even the Mosaic law pointed toward Christ but over time, the understanding of the role of Christ was lost. Jewish leaders changed the law. The Mosaic Law became an end to itself, rather than a means to Christ.

Christ came to earth to restore that which was lost – authority and organization and ordinances. However, following His death it did not take long for His authority and the truths of His gospel to be lost and changed. In the darkness of apostasy, committee replaced prophecy and revelation. Creeds and consensus counterfeited canon and calling. The scriptural canon was declared closed instead of continually expanding; it was closed for a time because God’s authority was lost but scripture was never meant to be God’s final word. God has always used prophets to declare His word. There have been times without prophets because of apostasy but we are no longer without living prophets. With the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, the canon burst open with radiant rays of truth. Once again there was authority on the earth. The truths of the gospel that had been lost or taken away were once again on the earth. The organization of the church was restored to what existed in the primitive church. The gospel was restored in fulness, including the ordinances and blessings of the temple:

“And verily I say unto you, let this house [the temple] be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people; for I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times” (Doctrine & Covenants 124: 40-41).

We are living in a time when things that have been hidden (not generally available to the world) from before the creation of the earth are now on earth. We Mormons claim a heritage that extends back an eternity and will continue for an eternity. Our Christianity dates from that established by our Heavenly Father in a life before this one. We have a heritage directly from God. This heritage is tied to the priesthood authority that God restored to Joseph Smith.

Anyone For Tennis?

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Image from and available for use under the CC license: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tennis_Racket_and_Balls.jpg

One time I went with a friend to play tennis. While we were playing the tennis balls we brought with us all either went flat or broke or were lost. So we were stuck with a conundrum, do we stick around and try to find another ball or do we just go home, or do we stay there and try to play tennis without a ball? Being the creative people we were, we decided to try and play tennis without a ball. My friend and I grabbed out racquets and started playing the game. We just imagined we had a ball. It was great fun and we’ve never played better tennis since – aces every serve. It did get boring after a while though.

Anyone think that that our game of “tennis” probably was not very effective? Maybe we could have been more creative and made up a new game that didn’t need a ball. The problem is that that wouldn’t quite be tennis any more. Maybe we could have tried to make a ball out of something else; but again, it wouldn’t quite be correct. Or, maybe we could do like we did and just pretend that we had a ball. There are a number of possibilities. Maybe we could have borrowed a ball or gone and purchased some new balls. Well, since I’m being hypothetical, what if all tennis balls (and anything like a tennis ball, such as a racquetball ball) in the world and all ways of manufacturing them were destroyed? There would be no way to play the game of tennis (other than virtually, but that’s not the same). None of these scenarios for playing tennis make a lot of sense and none of them are quite tennis anymore.

OK, I admit that my story was made up, it didn’t happen (but it could have). It is an allegory for something that happened a long time ago.

Following the death of Christ’s original Apostles, there was a loss of God’s authority on the earth (at least to those in Israel and that part of the world; His authority lasted for a few hundred years in the Americas). This was like losing the ball in a game of tennis. So what happened then? What did members of the church and church leaders do? Well, the “players” started improvising. Some of them made up a new but similar game. Others tried to make their own ball. It wasn’t the original, only a copy of it. Still others just carried on and pretended they had a ball. What else could they do?

The trouble is that this loss of the proverbial tennis balls happened a long time ago. Now most people have forgotten how tennis is supposed to be played. Most don’t realize that there should even be a ball. Others know that there should be a ball but believe that they can make it themselves – that it really doesn’t matter where the ball comes from. A crumpled up paper one is just fine. Others deny there ever was a ball. Still others state that the balls were only necessary a long time ago and that they are unnecessary now.

But the fact still remains that tennis ceased being tennis a long time ago (again, referring to the allegorical tennis here). Then one day a young man was visited by someone really old who had been around when tennis was still tennis. This young man received a new tennis ball and was told how tennis really was supposed to be played because by then a lot of the rules had changed. He was ridiculed because everyone knew that tennis really didn’t need to be played with a ball, or you could make your own ball if you really wanted one. You certainly didn’t need a fuzzy green ball to play. A lot of people told him and those who accepted that version of tennis that their tennis was not the real tennis.

This does not mean that the other games that were created once all the tennis balls were lost were bad games, they just were not quite right and thus not tennis. Just as it is pretty ridiculous to try and play tennis without a ball, so is it to try and maintain Christ’s church without the priesthood authority to do so. Thankfully, God has restored His priesthood to the earth so we can once again play “tennis”.