So last night my fifteen-year-old daughter had a very inconveniently timed existential crisis, prompted by the fact that in June the Sunday School and Young Women lessons are all going to be about the priesthood. That’s two hours straight of priesthood priesthood priesthood for four Sundays in a row. My daughter is a rather volatile young lady who is fixated on gender issues in the church. As she said to me last night, “I don’t necessarily want the priesthood, but I just want to understand why [it’s only given to men].” I don’t think it’s an unreasonable question, why. I just don’t expect her to get any satisfaction on that count. At least not any more than I’ve gotten in my forty-two years of being Mormon.
It is one thing to be 42 and decide that you can live without knowing why (not only when it comes to the priesthood, but when it comes to anything). But that sort of reconciliation comes only after years of disappointment. To get to this point, I had to endure many years of confusion and frustration. At some point I decided, “Well, I’m a Mormon, for better or worse, so [shrug].” It worked for me. In case you were wondering, this strategy has not translated well to explaining things to my fifteen-year-old, who is still in the process of figuring out what she believes. She expects some answers, dammit! (Only she doesn’t say “dammit,” because that would be rude.)
My daughter confided in me that her fear is that she will pray and ask God why and get an answer that she won’t like–that women really are less important and less valued than men in the grand scheme of things. I told her that God was unlikely to give her an answer like that. Between you and me and the internet, the main reason I think that is because my personal experience has been that God likes us to develop a tolerance for unanswered questions. (God has never told me where my keys were, either.) But I didn’t tell her that. What I did do is bear my testimony that God is not a jerk. I don’t testify of much to my children, so I hope she understood the significance of that statement. I have a very simplistic view of the universe. I think that goodness is ultimately rewarded with goodness, so if she asks sincerely and God does condescend to give her an answer, I don’t think He’s going to say, “Because I’m kind of a misogynist.” I don’t know what He (or She!) would say–if I did, she wouldn’t need to pray because I could just tell her–but I don’t think it’s an answer she needs to be afraid of.
I think we headed off that existential crisis for last night, but we are still on the hook for the month of June, when her teachers will be telling her about how important the priesthood is and how it blesses everyone, male and female, but not explaining the “why” that troubles her so deeply. I’ll be honest with you: I’m kind of a coward. Last year when we taught the Book of Mormon in Primary and I had to do the lesson on Nephi getting the sealing power, I pretty much skipped any commentary on the priesthood and went straight to the parking lot to pick blackberries. I do not know how to teach lessons on the priesthood without offending myself. (I’m sure the kids would have been just fine. They’re resilient and they don’t listen to me anyway.) I don’t know how I’m going to survive a month of my daughter reacting (and overreacting) to lessons that remind her that she belongs to a patriarchal church. Yeah, I know she has to suck it up and deal if she wants to stay Mormon, but she hasn’t decided yet if she’s going to stay Mormon, and I really need to get through the next four weeks without writing her letter of resignation for her.
If you had an angry young feminist in your Sunday School or Young Women class, what would you tell her about the priesthood? Bear in mind that a) my daughter is sincere in her beliefs and she’s only angry because she’s afraid to show her vulnerable side, and b) she doesn’t want to have children. Go!