Friday, April 5, 2013

It Isn't Just Priesthood

Ordination of women seems to be a hot topic right now in some of the articles I read.  Equality in general is definitely a big topic.  But the more recent launch of the Ordain Women organization has reignited the debate.

No offense to my feminist friends, but I just don't get worked up about the ordination of women to the priesthood.  I really don't care right now, and I don't know if I ever will care.  It's not like I'm against it.  If the Church decided to ordain women, I'd embrace that change with open arms.  But it doesn't ignite in me the kind of passion that I care to do anything about it.  I hope you'll forgive me for that.

But please don't take my indifference on ordination to be indifference toward equality in general.  I think we have a lot we can accomplish in that regard.  I've already written about the lack of quality training for young women and their leaders.  There are other places in the Church that I see glaring inequalities as well, and they bother me.

There's just a couple I will point out today.

I was an ordinance worker in the Boston temple for a few years.  Every now and again, I would assist with sealings1.  One of the first things that really jumped out to me was that, in the description of the covenant, the woman is asked if she will giver herself to her husband and receive him as her husband.  The man is asked, however, only if he will receive her as his wife. I've never been comfortable with the language.  The woman has to give herself to her husband, but the man isn't giving himself to his wife?  It didn't take long before I had decided that I was going to expect of myself that I would give myself to my wife if I eventually got married.  Personally, I think the text of the ordinance should be changed so that both spouses are giving themselves to each other.

After discovering this incongruity, I began to notice another incongruity in another one of the temple ordinances.  During the endowment, we are instructed about the purpose of life and the role of the Atonement in helping us live a life worthy of eternal reward.  The forum for this instruction is the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  The endowment presents a dramatization (commonly a video recording) of the events in the Garden and we are asked to consider Adam and Eve as figures representing ourselves.

In this dramatization, after Adam and Eve have eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, God is explaining the consequences of their choice.  He gives them their first religious covenants which are to help them begin repentance and guide them back to God's presence.  In these covenants, he asks Eve to promise to listen to the advice of her husband as he listens to the advice of the Lord.  But when he turns to Adam, he asks him to promise to hear the counsel of the Lord.

If you ask me2, this is the very heart of the inequality of men and women in the Church.  Whether it is intended or not, the implication exists--women are subject to the rule of their husbands, and their access to God is through him.  And it's just plain wrong.  If we want equality in the Church, we need to change that language.  I wouldn't change the charge that is given to Eve.  Instead, I would change the charge that is given to Adam. He should be asked to "hearken to the counsel of your wife and she hearkens to the counsel of the Father."

As long as our most sacred ordinances reflect unequal roles of men and women, not even ordaining women to the priesthood will create equality.  Changing organizational practice will have very little effect if we don't brand onto our hearts the idea that we are equal partners in interpreting God's will for ourselves and our families.  I think we'd have a much greater impact on equality by starting with the wording in temple ordinances than we will by ordaining women to the priesthood.

1 For the not-so-Mormon readers, the Sealing ordinance is an analog to marriage, but it doesn't really have civil terms. It is the religious portion and covenant of what Mormons consider marriage. In the US, this is recognized by the government as sufficient for civil marriage. Whereas we have this idea that all ordinances have to be done by valid priesthood authority (and that said priesthood authority exists only in the modern LDS Church at this time), we have taken it upon ourselves to scour the genealogical records and are systematically trying to perform a sealing for every civil marriage ever performed in the history of mankind. Yes, we are an ambitious group. Anyway, by performing these sealings using living people as stand-ins for those who have passed, we believe that each of those individuals will have the option of accepting or rejecting the ordinance done on their behalf. As an ordinance worker, I was doing a lot of these kinds of ordinances.

2 And you're welcome to disagree. Disagreement, after all, makes the world a beautiful place.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting Ben.

    "I think we'd have a much greater impact on equality by starting with the wording in temple ordinances than we will by ordaining women to the priesthood."

    Perhaps, although let's be honest. How many people truly realize/pay close attention to the language used in temple ordinances?

    There is a LOT to be done to reach true equality in the Church and I am afraid that giving women the Priesthood unfortunately won't change that.