In Pride and Prejudice, Caroline Bingley says to her brother, ‘I should like Balls infinitely better if they were carried on in a different manner…. It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day.’ ‘Much more rational, I dare say,’ replies Charles, ‘but not near so much like a Ball.’
Some seem to think it’s an indignity that women don’t hold the priesthood, or positions where that authority is necessary, such as bishop, prophet, etc. Other churches have even gone this way, ‘ordaining’ women as pastors and priests, and having female chaplains. This is looked at as only right and fair, and that not to have had them in such positions for so long has been an injustice to women, a form of misogyny, and an unfair patriarchal rule of oppression.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t ordain women in the priesthood, and some find this wrong and backward; only a matter of time before it’s changed (to square with the enlightened path of the world at large); a symbol of inequality between men and women. Obviously, with men at the helm, it must be an oppressive and power-seeking institution, and the men must want to keep it that way, no? Or the quieter and sincere view that it sounds logical, so it’s probably right.
Well, as Charles Bingley might say, “Much more rational, but not near so much like the truth”.
Here are some of my thoughts about the matter:
1. Why, in fact, does it matter? The idea that women must be allowed, or shown able, to do everything that men do, is moot and boring, to me. The competition here isn’t really whether they can – of course they can do many of the same things; some, they can or could do better. But some things they cannot do, and some they do worse. Why must the idea that men and women are, in fact, different be so abhorrent? Why this push, moving through so many things, to make us all the same – ‘inclusivity’ (ironically, at the same time as the equally-strong push to celebrate differences – ‘diversity’ – but only some, sanctioned, differences)?
Why not be proud of what women can do that men can’t – actually can’t, like bearing children – and what they do better? Just like men can be proud of doing what women can’t – certain physical things, for example – and what they do better. It’s nice to have those differences, and there’s good in them. For one thing, it makes us feel like we need each other. We realise that we need to work together to create wholeness, in relationships and society, and it creates interest. It pushes men and women together through attraction, so that they marry and have children. It makes life a little funnier and better and gentler.
There are differences that are inherent (and in talking of ‘differences’, my aim is not to show that men and women are so different they can’t get along; we are also very similar, of course), and all the posturing, bravado and outrage over perceived inequalities won’t change that. Much better, more ennobling, and less time-wasting to embrace the differences and go about doing the things we each do well, understanding that we depend upon each other to make ourselves and things whole, and to do real good in the world.
The point is that unless “equal” means “interchangeable”, equality makes nothing for the priesthood of women [(i.e. it doesn’t support it as an argument)]. And the kind of equality which implies that the equals are interchangeable (like counters or identical machines) is a legal fiction [(i.e. a device used to allow for certain arguments or judgements in court)]. It may be a useful legal fiction. But in church we turn our back on fictions….
One of the functions of human marriage is to express the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. We have no right to take the living… figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures.
~ C. S. Lewis, ‘Priestesses in the Church?’ in God in the Dock, p. 260
2. Women have been entrusted with other things – not consolation prizes, but endowments and responsibilities with as much antiquity as the priesthood – besides ruling in the Church. Motherhood – different to fatherhood; encouragement, teaching, nurturing, keeping men on a righteous and noble path by example and expectations…. This last is not a little thing; the priesthood being given to certain men as a means of bringing salvation to the world, it is the responsibility of men and women to guard its purity and right use. Our role as women is as important in this as the men’s – and, perhaps, even more, given that we will see what they don’t, at times, and have been given an influence over men’s hearts and souls that is ours to use for good, such as this.
Men have been entrusted with holding the priesthood and ruling in the Church. These are equal responsibilities. Why must one try to have what the other does, as well as what they already have? Or are they giving up one for the other? And if they are, who will take their places, then? What will happen to the minds and hearts of children and youth if the women are too concerned with getting what the men have – or what they think they have; position and power – to nurture and properly teach them? To show them consistent love?
To be blunt, I think it’s greedy, selfish, and blind – blind to what their true gifts are, dissatisfaction with what they already have, and, often, seeking for something because it’s ‘deserved’, not because it’s actually better. It’s also a misunderstanding of what it is that men ‘have’. And it demeans those who are content with what they know women already do have; who see their true power and appreciate it, and try to fill it nobly and the best they can. This is undermined by women, and the cause of ‘feminism’, who cry that it’s unfair and oppressive not to have all the opportunities men (apparently) do; more for the sake of the appearance of fairness than for any great desire for the actual thing. Which means women can’t do their own jobs as well as they could if they were appreciated and valued.
3. The Church is The Church of Jesus Christ – not the church of men, or post-modernism, or ‘enlightened’ people. God makes the rules (funnily enough). Sometimes, or often, you’re (speaking generally, to people/me/us) just not going to like them. Like you’re not going to like a lot of the things that happen in life. Tough bikkies. God knows a whole lot better than you how to run the universe (surprise, again!). It’s really not your place to advise Him or modify His decrees. If you can’t see the reasons for all of them, that’s absolutely okay. (Do you really think you could, anyway, given you’re a mortal with extremely limited perception and a veil over your mind so you can’t see total reality or remember everything you maybe used to know?)
And if you don’t like what you see, or how you’ve interpreted a decree or principle, then it’s your job to figure it out – not to change the decree so it fits better with your perception of the world. I’m pretty certain God’s righteousness is greater than yours. And His goodness, His plan(s) and truth aren’t affected by your acceptance or not of His decrees. He wants you to accept them, because He loves us and wants our good; but if you don’t, He doesn’t need to do the adjusting here. He doesn’t need to answer to your sense of justice. You need to adjust yourself to His. Because, to belabour the point, His is right and yours is wrong (if you’re thinking this set-up between men and women is unfair, in how He’s made things).
* Point that might need to be made: there are injustices, and oppression, and so on, exacted against women in certain parts of the world. Anyone interested in good and justice recognises these problems and wants to improve them. Here, I’m focusing on priesthood, and by extension, the Western feminist movement.
4. Don’t mistake culture for principle. The way you see men using the power or responsibility they’re given is an indication of them, and their spiritual progression (or otherwise). Just like the way you see women using the power and responsibility they have. Some women are terrible mothers, tyrants in the home, or use their influence for wrong. Ideas and traditions aren’t Gospel, and people in God’s church need to be regularly re-set onto the right path. We see that in the scriptures. It didn’t only happen in the past, to those people – it happens today; we still need it. But it’s not your place to change the rules. It is your place, and mine, to reflect, study, pray, discuss, wonder, ask, and seek understanding. Where change is needed, it will come – because this is God’s church, and He will lead it.
I am crushingly aware how inadequate most of us [men] are, in our actual and historical individualities, to fill the place prepared for us. But it is an old saying in the army that you salute the uniform, not the wearer. Only one wearing the masculine form can (provisionally, and till the Parousia [the future return of Christ and the Judgement]) represent the Lord to the Church: for we are all, corporately [(as a body)], and individually, feminine to Him. We men may often make very bad priests. That is because we are insufficiently masculine. It is no cure to call in those who are not masculine at all [(because that is not the purpose of the type – men standing in for Christ)]. A given man may make a very bad husband; you cannot mend matters by trying to reverse the roles. He may make a bad male partner in a dance. The cure for that is that men should more diligently attend dancing classes; not that the ballroom should henceforward ignore distinctions of sex and treat all dancers as neuter. That would, of course, be eminently sensible, civilized, and enlightened, but, once more, ‘not near so much like a Ball’.
~ C. S. Lewis, ‘Priestesses in the Church?’, in God in the Dock, p. 261
5. Beyond the fact that there is specific and sacred reason for men on earth being selected to bear the priesthood of God, it doesn’t really matter who holds it. It matters what it does – which is to make men and women perfect. Joseph Smith taught that the Melchizedek Priesthood is the power by which men and women become like our heavenly parents, heirs of our Heavenly Father’s kingdom and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ, possessing every power and every blessing the Father and the Son possess. (See Teachings, p. 308-9 & 322).
When people focus on who holds it, instead of this, it must be exactly what the Adversary wants – a spiritual myopia thinking it’s engaged in the great cause of our times, and yet caught up in something truly minor; while the great truth of the matter – the power of that Priesthood, and the reason for which it is given – is lost to them, and prevented from blessing others, because of their short-sighted focus. This is why the Gospel – God’s word, not human theory and intelligence – is the mark by which to judge all things. It’s the only way to actually see what is right and wrong, because other marks can be misleading; appearing to be something they’re not.