In General Conference, Dallin Oaks spoke of two-lines of communication, the personal line and the priesthood line, that find primary expression, respectively, in the home and the church. For Oaks, the personal line is of “paramount importance in personal decisions and in the governance of the family.” The priesthood line controls “those cooperative activities that are essential to accomplishing the Lord’s work,” or, in other words, the tasks essential to running of the Church.
To be sure, Oaks’ talk focuses on the need for both lines. But what interests me most is his association of the personal with the home and the priesthood with the church. At the same time that this association de-emphasizes the role of priesthood leadership in the home, it reaffirms the church as a space to be run by priesthood leaders. While there is a certain logic to this formulation, the drawing of these different spheres also, I will suggest, points to why women need more education about the priesthood to fully participate in the church sphere.
In my experience, women are taught to relate to the priesthood in ways that are primarily personal. In RS lessons on the priesthood, they are encouraged to support priesthood holders and to ask for and receiving blessings. Although I have had powerful experiences with the priesthood, each has taken the form of a blessing pertaining to my personal needs and life. Not surprisingly, my testimony of the spirit’s operation in our personal life comes easily to me. It is in that realm where I have felt the priesthood and my own, unmediated inspiration. There, I am “at home” with the priesthood.
But my testimony of the priesthood as a force to run and organize the church is decidedly lacking. To the extent that we believe testimonies must be based on studying things in our minds, this is probably not surprising since women are usually comparatively uneducated and unexperienced with the basics of priesthood operation.
In the past year, I have discovered just how little I know about the priesthood. Despite having grown up in the church, no one explained to me what the oil in healing blessings was for. I am still unsure about the rituals involved in giving blessings, and even what kinds of blessing are available. I do not know how priesthood meetings work. I have never attended a council where decisions were made. I was until recently unaware of the Church Handbook of Instructions. My participation in the organizing function of the priesthood has been limited to priesthood leaders giving me directions that make various degrees of sense.
To return to Oaks’ talk, if we are going to have a paradigm in which the personal line operates in the home and the priesthood at church, then I feel there is a very real risk of my spirituality only operating in the personal realm unless I can find a meaningful way to have a relationship with the priesthood that goes beyond receiving blessings. Educating women about the basics might be a good place to start. Including them more would likely be a good next step.