Elisabeth’s recent post, posing the question of whether women are precluded from holding the priesthood by policy or doctrine, particularly interested me. Last month I finished a personal essay on women in the church today for the upcoming summer issue of Dialogue and in tribute to the 3 so-called “pink issues” Dialogue has published. It’s in the can and after it is published, I will welcome your comments. Now I would like to follow Elisabeth’s lead and invite a discussion corollary to her great question and relating to some of my essay.
Regardless of the source of Mormon patriarchy, we, male and female, must find a way to love and serve all of our brothers and sisters, both to aid them and to purify our souls. Our understanding of priesthood is key to reaching the mark. To the extent the male priesthood results in any feelings of superiority in men and inferiority in women or disregard for the righteous needs and desires of women, it is less than it can and should be. I would suggest a pressing question is “Are we collectively capable of surmounting male pride and abuse of power, as well as female pride, jealousy and pain as a result of that abuse, under the current system?” You might enjoy Tania Rand Lyon’s essay “How My Mission Saved My Membership” in Dialogue V36, No. 3, Fall 2003, for one woman’s thoughtful experience with this issue.
Many of my friends have left the church because they did not believe they or their wives and daughters were either considered appropriately in church decision making or given opportunities to use their talents within their religious community. The Relief Society manual, the podium and the Ensign are just some of the predominately male aspects of our culture; women sometimes find it hard to identify at church. Even the most painful women’s issues seem ignored. For example, here in Seattle, the recent sex abuse verdict against the church was big news. Though, as an attorney, I realized the church would have to craft a statement to members very carefully, I did expect a statement of reassurance from the pulpit. Something along the lines of “We cannot discuss an ongoing appeal but we want you all to be assured bishops and stake presidents have been trained to take accusations of sex abuse very seriously and to obey the law which calls for the protection of victims.” Nope, silence. Corporate fears seem to have trumped the fears of the abused debating whether to seek church help. In the process, some may see the continuation of old and discredited practices which protected priesthood holders at the expense of their victims. Marginalized by men in instances as important as this, as small as what size refrigerators will be available in ward kitchens (a surprisingly hot button issue in large geographical wards), or as common as the absence of female voices in meetings and teaching materials, we pray sisters do not feel less important to God. Too often simply telling women they are loved and valued rings empty and they struggle for a personal spiritual confirmation of their value to the ultimate patriarch, Heavenly Father.
So I ask you: are we capable of creating a truly inclusive and loving community within a patriarchal structure and, if so, what would that community look like? Can we make women more visible, learn their concerns and better use their talents short of extending the priesthood to them? What presently priesthood functions might be shared to the benefit of all?