I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I realized that I was not going to be passing the sacrament when I turned 12. I was less than eight years old. Before then I had, for many sacrament meetings acted out in my mind how I would be so reverent and so organised in the way the trays would be passed. Then one Sunday I suddenly, quietly realised that girls didn’t do this and I was stuck by a feeling of deep regret and rejection.
Growing up in a strong LDS household I often had Personal Priesthood Interviews on Sundays with my father. During these interviews I would voice a lot of my apprehension, dislike and sense of injustice regarding women’s roles in the church and the world. My Dad was very wise, he admitted to now knowing all the reasons and led me to realise that the giving of the priesthood to men was God’s design, not mans.
I knew that the design of His church was in accordance with the design of God’s Eternal Plan of Happiness. If I had a bone to pick about only men holding the priesthood I needed to take my argument up with HIM.
My questions led to very frank, perhaps even abusive prayers to God. I really didn’t trust him, or even like him sometimes. I made these feelings very clear to him. I discovered that he was not offended and instead became very well acquainted with feelings of reassurance, comfort and love.
Such a kind reaction from my Father in Heaven was not necessarily appreciated. Sometimes his very kindness felt like a form of manipulation to coerce me into submitting to being a slave to his ‘plan’. I felt trapped. I knew God existed which meant the Devil existed and that one offered happiness and the other misery. Out of the two, I preferred to side with God. But I wasn’t convinced that a God, who was a man, would know what was best for me, a woman.
In the end I decided to follow Gods plan and be obedient until I understood it completely. If I discovered that it stunk, at least then I would know and I could change my mind. I knew that I experienced happiness in my present so figured, well, I can always return to this point, wiser and more satisfied with what I have, for having seen the view from the top of the mountain.
That was me in my youth. Fast forward about 10 years.
I returned from a successful mission and was happy working in the MTC. I had forgotten my rebellious teenage thoughts. Then, one day, all these feelings, fears, questions of my youth suddenly returned, out of the blue. I sat there, fuming at God once more. Then suddenly the thought came to my mind…
‘Helen, I thought you had found the answer to these concerns.’
I stopped mid thought and realised, yes, I had. But what then, had been the answer?
It was then that I realised I had learnt it on my mission and it centred in my new understanding of the Atonement. The answer, for me, was this…
‘There is no way Christ would have gone through what he did if it were not going to make you happy.’
There are things that I have now learnt and am still learning about why God ordains men and not women to hold the priesthood. But what I have learnt is that every answer has to begin with this one, unshakeable, never to be questioned truth.
God loves us.
It is not the full answer to the question of why God ordains men and not women but to find those answers you have to begin from that point.
All of God’s acts are ones of love. That women should not hold the priesthood is an act of love. It is for us to figure out how it is a loving act. In the process we will come to know and understand God and ourselves better, and the nature of love.
When I read and learnt about the Ordain Women movement I smiled to myself because I could see myself standing with them and among them. The points that they make on their website are familiar and I can empathise with them. I do believe that they are good women. I can see in them the same strong desire to love, serve and be close to God that I have. I love and admire them for it. Yet in that same goodness lies the trap.
It is so incredibly easy to want the wrong thing for all the right reasons!
I want to offer my own personal AMEN! to everything that Elder Christofferson spoke of in last conference talk. I felt his love and Heavenly Fathers love in it. I know the truth of what he spoke.
Equality happens when men and women learn to listen to one another, to cherish and respect one another and to work effectively together. Ordaining women to the priesthood will not be a quick fix to gaining that kind of equality. It can only be gained by hard work and serious introspection.
I have sat in some ward councils and if there has been any inequality, I realise now it was because I did not fully engage with the task at hand. I allowed myself to sit back and wish I was somewhere else. I had the opportunity to be a part of the decision making in my ward, but too frequently I do not fully realise my responsibility and the priesthood in my ward was weaker as a result.
In contrast I can think of other Relief Society Presidents who I have felt completely shaping and guiding my ward with incredible authority. They would be no more powerful and influential and heard if they HAD been ordained to the priesthood. These sisters certainly had a say in how the ward budget was spent on activities, welfare and other things.
I have felt the power of ordinances bestowed upon me. I have exercised my faith in prayer when blessings were needed and felt no less blessed for being the receiver than the giver. Faith is the universal key to the effectiveness of any blessing.
I have seen men and women working together in the Priesthood in a beautiful and wonderfully equal way. The example that comes to mind most forcefully is that of my mission President and his wife.
They served their Mission in complete unity and power. At Zone conferences we would be addressed by both of them and she was a powerful speaker! In fact, if I wanted to I would call her a Priestess, but that could be confusing. It might lead people to think that she HAS been ordained when she hasn’t. That would be misleading!
Whenever interviews came around we would take turns in being interviewed by the President and his wife. They said that they knew that some missionaries in the mission felt a closer tie to the President, and others to his wife. There was no jealousy between them, you just knew that between the two of them they could touch more lives, reach out to more people. They were a great team.
I saw a woman holding the priesthood right there. She held it in her arms as she magnified his priesthood just as he did when he would put his arm around her and tell us all how amazing she was.
Perhaps there does need to be some change in the church to teach us more about the equality of men and women. I have wondered if more could be learnt by the membership of the church if we were able to know better the wives of the Apostles, the husbands of the Auxillary Presidents. I think of how much I learnt from Sister Hinckley who was such an influential presence when President Hinckley was alive. I wonder if we could all learn more about successful marriages and partnerships and equality by the examples of the Brethren, the Sisters and their wives and husbands. I have certainly been inspired by Elder Scotts stories of his late wife, Janine.
But as for being Ordained to the Priesthood. I, a one time sympathiser for such a cause, am no more. I know that God’s love is in complete evidence in the design of His church if we simply have the eyes to see and the hearts to understand.