Tired of talking about gay marriage? How about women and the Priesthood? 🙂
In all seriousness, let me share with you a recent experience that has had a profound impact on the way I view the concept of Priesthood, and that has convinced me, once and for all, that I am not the sole Priesthood bearer in my family. I believe it’s high time we recognized the service rendered by faithful LDS women as more than simply the fulfillment of a Relief Society assignment, or being a good visiting teacher. Such efforts constitute the righteous exercise of Priesthood power.
Over the past year or so, some of our closest friends — Lori (not her real name) and her husband — have been struggling with marital difficulties. Since we live close (and are in the same ward), Lori and my wife talk often. My wife, the daughter of a school psychiatrist, has listened to Lori and, where appropriate, offered advice. The situation, however, continued to deteriorate.
One Sunday afternoon as my family was sitting down to dinner, the phone rang. I just happened to be the one who picked it up and said, “hello.” All I heard in response was a woman’s heavy sobbing, through which I could barely discern fumbling attempts to speak. The caller was hyperventilating, so it took her a few tries to get out my name. “Sh-Shawn, can you come over here now?” It was Lori, and it was obvious she was in distress. So, I did what anyone else would do — I told my wife I would be home soon, then immediately got in the car and drove over. When I arrived, I found Lori and her children huddled together on the living room couch, all in hysterics. I soon discovered that only minutes before I got there (and only seconds before the phone call), Lori and her husband had had a particularly nasty fight that resulted in his packing up, walking out, and saying he was gone for good.
Once inside the house, it was clear that I was I out of my depth. I’m an employment lawyer, not a family counselor. Faced with a room full of crying women and girls, all of whom were suffering real emotional trauma, I had absolutely no idea what to do but give hugs and offer some mewling words of encouragement. Then my instincts kicked in — I called my wife and told her get over there on the double. Of course, she agreed to be there as soon as she could get someone to stay with our daughters.
Immediately after I hung up the phone with her, I called our Bishop. He was there in a matter of minutes (just enough time to put on a tie and drive over, I’ll bet). He’s a great Bishop and had been working with Lori, in particular, for some time on trying to keep her family together through a very rough patch. To my great surprise, however, his reaction to the situation was not much different than mine. He, too, had that “deer in the headlights” look on this face and, while his words of comfort were a bit more eloquent than mine, they didn’ t seem to be having much more impact.
Then my wife walked in and took over. Within seconds, the Bishop and I were relegated to (our rightful place at) the other end of the couch. She gave the kids a squeeze, wrapped Lori in her arms, and proceeded to offer some very wise words based on her ongoing involvement with the situation. I’m not exaggerating when I say that, over the course of the next hour, the mood noticeably changed from despair to hope. My wife identified potential lights at the end of the family’s very dark tunnel, and helped them to find the physical, spiritual and emotional strength to press forward. Before we left, Lori asked that the Bishop and I give her children blessings. We did, while my wife sat silent with her arms neatly folded. We were stuck.
As I have pondered this experience over the past several months, it has become clear to me that my wife did much more that afternoon than simply offer sisterly counsel to a friend. She was exercising her Preisthood to serve someone desperately in need. Using that power and her accompanying gift of discernment, she was able to able help a family in ways that I and our ecclesiastical leader simply could not.
Before going any further, let me say that I don’t have the stomach for yet another long-winded (and assuredly acrimonious) debate about whether, and to what extent, LDS women hold the Priesthood, and whether they should be included in ecclesiastical leadership positions. Such posts are legion on the Bloggernacle, and I have nothing new to add on the subject here. My opinion, for better or worse, is that by virtue of their temple endowment, women receive at least some modicum of the power we refer to as Priesthood. It is that Priesthood that my wife and other faithful LDS women exercise on a daily basis through their service.
When we talk about Priesthood, we often place far too much emphasis on the administration of ordinances, such as the blessing of babies, the laying on of hands, etc. Clearly in today’s Church, women do not “exercise Priesthood” by participating such rituals. However, I believe the Priesthood to be a much broader, and at the same time a much simpler, concept. If Priesthood is the power to act in God’s name here on this Earth, as we teach, it cannot be limited to ordinances — God certainly has much more in store for us than going around laying hands on one another. Instead, as our leaders have instructed, Priesthood power truly manifests itself in the rendering of what Spencer W. Kimball referred to as “selfless service.” If this is the case, then endowed women have equal claim to Priesthood as their ordained male counterparts. Godly service is godly service, no matter the sex of the provider.
We often speak of the “compassionate service” offered by women in the Church as something other than the Priesthood, i.e., as an auxiliary of, or support to, the Priesthood held by men. This distinction does not make sense to me. Why does an afternoon spent by Deacons digging up Old Lady Smith’s weeds qualify as “Priesthood service,” while delivering meals to new mothers does not? Similarly, for many men, and most certainly for up-and-coming Aaronic Priesthood holders, the very ideal of Priesthood service is honorably serving a full-time mission. Adding up all of the baptisms, confirmations, blessings and grave dedications I performed, only a fraction of my two years in Guatemala were spent actually administering Priesthood ordinances. By contrast, the vast majority of my time was spent serving others in all manner of ways, including formal service projects (i.e., hours spent at the hospital), informal service to those in need (i.e., visiting a sick member or investigator), and simply trying to share the Gospel with others, which arguably is the highest act of service possible. But for the infrequent ordinances, women missionaries render these exact same types of service in exactly the same way; there is no gender differentiation. If that is the case, why should my mission be deemed “Priesthood service” status, if the work of valiant female missionaries is relegated to some lesser status?
All of this has opened me up to a new understanding of what it means to hold and use the Priesthood. To believe that women can be Priesthood bearers, I need not accept the notion that women should be Bishops (that’s a different can of worms). Rather, I recognize the efforts my wife makes as something more than mere acts of thoughtfulness. I see them for what they are: the proper exercise of her Priesthood power. Put another way, the fact that my wife did not actually lay hands on Lori’s children does not mean that she is without Priesthood. Rather, working together on an equal plane –with me administering a blessing and her comforting the family — we made a great team (a quorum of two?), using our individual abilities to achieve a common goal. And isn’t that the ideal for an eternal family (think back to the words used in the Endowment and sealing ceremonies)?
So, with that in mind, let me proudly echo the sentiment I hear expressed in testimony meeting exclusively by wives and mothers: I am very thankful to be married to a worthy Priesthood holder.