Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Father's Day, Fatherhood, and Why Women Should Have the Priesthood

I might not be the only one, but ever since this last Sunday, I have been thinking a lot about fathers.

I have been incredibly lucky to have a really great father. I know a lot of you are under the impression that your dad is the greatest but -- and there is no easy way to say this -- well, you are wrong. My dad is.

I remember many late nights where my dad would stay up playing Pretty Little Princess with us. If any of you don't know what Pretty Little Princess is, you need to get your hands on a time machine, go back to 1992 and get in on this action. It was basically monopoly but instead of buying boring things like properties and houses, you earned fabulous sterling-plastic clip-on earrings, luxurious cubic zirconium beaded necklaces, and of course the petrochemical golden crown inlaid with sticker gems.

My dad also was such a good dad that he once bought me what I'm pretty sure was lingerie from a yard sale because I wanted it for dress up. And don't even get me started on how awesome his bed time stories were about when he was a little girl with long golden curls and a white pony.

In case it wasn't obvious, my dad raised all girls. So even though braiding and Barbie-playing didn't come natural to him, he still indulged us because he knew it would make us happy. Because he knows his daughters.

I can't imagine our Heavenly Father is any different. While none of us remember exactly what our Heavenly Father is like, it is safe to say that He possesses all the qualities that we know and love in our earthly fathers.  And since I know how great my own dad is, I love talking about fathers and their eternal roles in the family.

Which is why I love Father's Day.

On Father's Day we get to focus on the abiding gifts that men are able to develop and use as they progress to become Heavenly Fathers themselves. And since men and women are equal partners in the eternal scheme of things, I think men are often pushed out of the spotlight when we speak of raising children.

Don't get me wrong, mothers are absolutely fantastic. I miss my mom everyday and am so grateful for all the mothering I got. She instilled in me a great love of people, learning, and--most of all--good food. But I wouldn't have become the person I am today without both the love from my father and my mother. This is because being a father is more than just being a provider and a priesthood holder. The fact that my father holds the priesthood only enhances his roles as a spiritual patriarch of our family. But  this does not mean that priesthood is a complementary binary to motherhood.

Any toddler who has taken a bath with siblings, cousins, neighbors (gasp! yes. The level of required familiarity for bathing was on the lower side for toddlers in the Thomas household) knows that boys and girls are made differently. And, without going into too much detail about the birds and the bees, it is safe to say that women's role in bringing children into this world is a bit more intense. Because of that, it is often implied that women are inherently the more intense parents.

But I think this is a seriously flawed way of looking at our roles as parents, and ultimately the roles of our Heavenly Parents. And since the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves" (TPJS, p. 343) this kind of pondering is well worth the mental exertion. So just because the woman cooks the baby, it does not mean that she holds a more emphatic role as a parent. In fact, if that were true, Heavenly Mother must be a more significant parent than Heavenly Father. This is a point I don't think many would be willing to concede.

Comparing motherhood to the priesthood is a bit like comparing apples and doorknobs. Or doughnuts and taxes. One does not replace the other, or even act as the other's counterpart. defines the priesthood as "The authority and power that God gives to man to act in all things for the salvation of man."

Some of you might point out the first "man" in that sentence as clearly something that is meant strictly for men. But if we use "man" as referring to specifically the group of people who possess both an X and a Y chromosome, then priesthood only allows for the salvation of that same specific group. Now if we use "man" as referring to all people regardless of gender -- as, alas, we so often do -- then it means that priesthood is not only nonspecific to the masculine gender, but isn't even specific to fatherhood.  

Now imagine a family where both mother and father can be examples of worthy priesthood holders. Or where a stay at home mom is able to give her child a priesthood blessing if a medical emergency comes up. Priesthood wouldn't supplant the roles of motherhood, just like it doesn't take away from the roles of fatherhood.

I know that women having the priesthood would be different. And some of you are probably even thinking of stronger words than "different," but isn't that good?! We believe that God will prepare us "line upon line, precept upon precept," so why should anyone expect that we have already received every revelation we need? Should we call up President Monson and tell him that he can retire? Because if we don't believe in ongoing revelation then we have no need for God's mouthpiece on earth. And while you're at it, let's rescind every change that God has ever mandated for this earth.

But you can't do that. Because everything God has created for us has been about progression and building upon things that are already good and true, starting with the separation of the light from the dark. So not only should we expect things to change, but we should be open and excited for the changes! After all, who knows how long Adam was out and about naming things before God made Eve. I'm sure Adam didn't complain about that change improvement.

So instead of seeing women's ordination as changing the church, think of it as adding to the truths that we already have.

Receiving the sacred ordination of the priesthood would only enhance the unique gifts each mother brings to her family, but it would do more than that. If both women and men were to hold the priesthood then we wouldn't have to pretend like women should hold a higher parenting role than men do.

If you believe in a Heavenly Father and Mother who love, nurture, and guide equally, then it only makes sense that our earthly roles should prepare us for that. I love both my heavenly and my earthly fathers and am so grateful for the roles they play in my life.


holli h. said...

In a recent talk I was listening to (I can’t remember which one) a general authority said that fatherhood is leadership, and that it has nothing to do with which spouse is the more qualified or the more worthy. It’s just the way that Heavenly Father organized it. This is how I like to think about motherhood as well. Sometimes people in the church make it seem like women have some “special powers” or qualities (beyond their anatomy) that qualify them to be more awesome parents than their husbands. I don’t think that is true, and am bothered when it is suggested. However, I do think that Heavenly Fathers asks women to take their parenting responsibility very seriously--particularly when their husbands are required to be out of the home to fulfill their “providing responsibility.” Still, I think there is way more overlap in these responsibilities than we ever talk about. Mothers can protect and provide (my mom was always the primary breadwinner in my home). Fathers can be excellent nurturers, and I believe most are. Most of these responsibilities are shared. I think giving men and women “primary responsibilities” is His way of making sure everyone is taken care of and that families will thrive. This is just the simplest model.

As far as the priesthood goes, I don’t think motherhood is the “female equivalent” (though, like the priesthood, I think the physical aspect of motherhood is incredibly important to the plan of salvation. And as I have found out recently—it’s a heck-of-a-lot of work). I think it is often construed that way because we are so often addressed in a binary fashion. The way I have come to see it is that we are all part of one big “priesthood family,” if you will. Some of us “hold the priesthood” and have the responsibility of performing priesthood ordinances, but all of us have the responsibility to do the “work of the priesthood”—which includes missionary work, temple work, visiting teaching, performing your calling, raising children, etc. Basically anything that falls under bringing to pass “the immortality and eternal life of man.” I think a man’s special responsibilities in the priesthood are there to magnify his role as a leader, most importantly in the home. But the priesthood is not “man.”

With all of that said, I do think it is possible that things could change—that women could be “priesthood holders.” There is a big difference between “doctrines” and “practices,” which are often confused in the church. Is it possible that men solely holding the priesthood is not doctrine, but just a “practice?” Sure. Or perhaps it is doctrine, but women could be given the priesthood as a practice if it was needed? (Think about the huge increase of sister missionaries out in the field!) Maybe? I mean, just think about polygamy (although most of us probably want to forget it ever happened, ha)—definitely a practice, and not necessarily doctrine. Even in the Book of Mormon (Jacob 2: 27, 30) it is clearly described as a practice. Anyway, I think this is why in some interview Gordon B. Hinckley said he thought it was possible that women could be given the priesthood in the future... which is cool.

Okay. I’ve written a novel. I’ll just end this by saying I KNOW NOTHING. These are just some things I think about… and I my opinion probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Anonymous said...

Lovely thoughts, Alex, and beautifully expressed. I am "waiting for further light and knowledge...". Until then, I go by faith.
One time in the temple, when I said the words, "Power in the Priesthood be upon me and ...." I knew that women already have just as much priesthood power as any male, maybe we just aren't ready for all the information at this time. Hold on and keep the faith. You are amazing.

Anonymous said...

“It is a precept of the Church that women of the Church share the authority of the Priesthood with their husbands, actual or prospective; and therefore women, whether taking the endowment for themselves or for the dead, are not ordained to specific rank in the Priesthood. Nevertheless, there is no [376] grade, rank, or phase of the temple endowment to which women are not eligible on an equality with men.”
64. Talmage, House of the Lord (1912 ed.), 94 (emphasis added); also James E. Talmage, “The Eternity of Sex,” Young Woman’s Journal 25 (Oct. 1914): 602-603. This 1912 quote restates the view expressed by Apostle Franklin D. Richards in Woman’s Exponent 17 (1 Sept. 1888): 54.

As far the mothering and fathering roles, I believe that mothers are simply by nature, by God-given nature, more soft and nurturing. This does not mean that fathers can't be that way. It doesn't mean mothers are more important.

As for the priesthood, I think you're asking for too much. It is a righteous desire of yours, I can tell. But I have family history where a pioneer mother placed her hands on her child and blest him by the power of the priesthood power which her worthy husband held. He was healed. Let us not forget the additional power promised to a mother and her simple prayer. I believe that anything my husband could do with the priesthood in my home with my children, I could do by asking my Heavenly Father in prayer. Mothers have additional power and guidance from God for their families. We do not need to feel like we are less privileged because we don't specifically have it conferred upon us.

Mare said...

You are not asking too much--
you are requesting what you have already merited.
We all should remember that antiquated practices are not the equivalent of prophecy.