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I read recently in the Deseret News about a Latter-day Saint woman named Kate Kelly (lifelong member of the Church, BYU graduate, and returned missionary), who, along with her followers, are pressing for entrance into the priesthood session of the LDS Church’s General Conference. She said, “This is an important step toward a future where Mormon women will participate side by side with our brothers in all areas of church leadership and life.”1
Sister Kelly, who is an international human rights attorney and co-founder of an effort called “Ordain Women,” explains: “This is about the ordination of women to the priesthood.” She says that she represents “Mormon women seeking equality and ordination to the priesthood.”
“We consider ourselves to be prospective priesthood holders, and we . . . are ready for both the benefits and responsibilities of the priesthood.”
“To me,” she continued, “agitating on the issue is a question of self-respect. I respect and value the church and myself too much to be silent on this question. I truly believe that God wants us all to equally share the burdens and blessings of the priesthood. The ordination of women would put us all on equal spiritual footing with our brethren, and nothing less will suffice.”2
While pondering about the statements and efforts of this sister, and other like-minded persons, some impressions came pouring into my head and my heart, and I feel a need to respond. First an important caveat: I do not speak for the Church, or anyone else, of course, but I do have some feelings about the matter and we members of the Church have been encouraged by our leaders to get involved in the media with issues we personally sense need clarifying. In addition, I recognize that we are dealing with a complex set of issues, and logically, I cannot attempt to address them all here.
I have been teaching about the life and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ for more than forty years, and I am convinced of a number of essential truths about Him:
1.I believe Jesus was the greatest champion of women who has ever lived. (For example: Jesus broke social norms when His first recorded open declaration that He was the Messiah was to a woman, and a Samaritan woman even. He repeatedly showed in His ministry that all women are valued daughters of our Heavenly Father. And His first appearances after His resurrection were to women.)
2.I also believe that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church, and that He is in charge of how it is organized and how the doctrines of His gospel are revealed and taught in the Church.
3.I believe He now has, just as when He organized His Church two thousand years ago, specially ordained servants on the earth-called prophets and apostles-who speak for Him, and that the Lord asks for our loyalty to Him and to His appointed leaders.
4.I believe Him when He says, regarding His revealed instructions, “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38).
5.I believe that each presiding prophet, who holds all priesthood keys, may speak for God on any subject, and, as for each member of the Church, the Lord says: “thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments . . . for his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (D&C 21:4-5). In other words, we are expected to live by the Lord’s rules-which He calls commandments-and not seek to stir up contention over those rules (“Satan doth stir up the hearts of the people to contention concerning the points of my doctrine” – D&C 10:63).
The Lord’s prophets and apostles in recent years have issued “A Proclamation to the World” that teaches some pointed truths about men and women. Some of those truths, in the language of the Proclamation, are:
“All human beings-male and female-are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
“In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters . . . accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize his or her divine destiny as an heir of eternal life.
“By divine design [and maybe that suggests that the arrangement comes through eons of experience], fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” (There’s so much more in the Proclamation, but these lines will do for now.)
One of God’s chosen representatives, Elder M. Russell Ballard, expounded on some of those teachings in the Brigham Young University Devotional on August 20, 2013, during Education Week. The following three paragraphs report some of Elder Ballard’s counsel in the words of Church News writer, Marianne Holman,3 along with some exact quotations of Elder Ballard’s words in quote marks:
Men and women have different but equally valued roles. Just as a woman cannot conceive a child without a man, so a man cannot fully exercise the power of the priesthood to establish an eternal family without a woman. In the eternal perspective, both the procreative power and the priesthood power are shared by a husband and wife. . . . “Why are men ordained to the priesthood offices and not women? . . . When all is said and done, the Lord has not revealed why He has organized His Church as He has.” Women are integral to the governance and work of the Church. “Let us not forget that approximately one-half of all of the teaching that takes place in the Church is done by sisters. . . . Much of the leadership provided is from our sisters.”
Men and women are equal in God’s eyes and in the eyes of the Church, but equal does not mean that they are the same. Although responsibilities and divine gifts of men and women differ in their nature, they do not differ in their importance or influence. “It takes a man and a woman to create a family, and it takes men and women to carry out the work of the Lord in the Church.”
When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which is by definition priesthood power. “All who enter the house of the Lord officiate in the ordinances of the priesthood. This applies to men and women alike.
” (End of excerpts from Elder Ballard.)
Along with that final comment by Elder Ballard, I would surmise that if any persons in the Church have an issue with women not receiving the priesthood by ordination, then they are not attending the temple.
And if they are attending the temple, they do not really understand what they are hearing and experiencing there. All faithful women, learning and understanding the true, eternal nature of womanhood and the power of God available to them, receive a clear vision of heavenly powers magnified in them beyond their fondest hopes or dreams. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “It is within the privilege of the sisters of this Church to receive exaltation in the kingdom of God and receive authority and power as queens and priestesses.”4
Sister Sheri Dew, former counselor in the general Relief Society presidency, declared: “Sisters, some will try to persuade you that because you are not ordained to the priesthood, you have been shortchanged. They are simply wrong, and they do not understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. The blessings of the priesthood are available to every righteous man and woman. We may all receive the Holy Ghost, obtain personal revelation, and be endowed in the temple, from which we emerge armed’ with power. The power of the priesthood heals, protects, and inoculates all of the righteous against the powers of darkness. Most significantly, the fullness of the priesthood contained in the highest ordinances of the house of the Lord can be received only by a man and woman together.”5
The Lord, in the wisdom of His eternal plan, has designated different tasks and responsibilities for males and females. Some sisters feel that they are ready for the benefits and responsibilities of the priesthood now. My wife said to me, “As a woman I don’t need a man’s responsibilities, too. It would water down my efforts in my own sphere. I also suspect that some women just might do a better job than some men as priesthood leaders. Then where would that leave those men? The priesthood expects a lot from a man. Let’s not deprive him of that service (which helps him acquire the Christ-like qualities that many women already possess).” Working together in their varied roles, men and women can strengthen each other and accomplish the noble ambition of exaltation. Without the two working together, it cannot happen.
It is interesting that Sister Kelly would use the word “agitating”-that she is “agitating on the issue” of women being ordained to the priesthood. So, she chooses to be an agitator. By definition, an agitator sows discord and does not seek peace or unity, which is the foundational law of the celestial kingdom (D&C 105:3-5). Others might call a person who objects to a religious practice or doctrine a protestor, or using Book of Mormon language, a dissenter. Despite any disclaimers, anyone who agitates, protests, or dissents from important doctrine or practice is making demands of Church authorities (and the Lord) and is not being respectful of their plainly stated pronouncements.
President Harold B. Lee warned: “There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. . . . It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you’ (D&C 21:6).”6
“Follow the prophet” is the watch-word. The voice of the Lord or His servants, it is the same. This great cause of Zion will roll forth and fill the whole earth. This cause will triumph in the end. Those who are standing with the Lord and His prophets are on the winning team. So whatever you do, don’t quit the team! Be true and faithful-firm and steadfast.
But here’s the question: Is it okay to disagree with the leadership and the doctrine of the Church? That question was answered over a century ago by one of the First Presidency of the Church: “A friend . . . wished to know whether we . . . considered an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the Authorities of the Church was apostasy. . . . We replied that we had not stated that an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the Authorities constituted apostasy, for we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the Authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but we could not conceive of a man publishing those differences of opinion and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife and to place the acts and counsels of the Authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term.”7
To enter the house of the Lord, we must be interviewed and recommended, responding positively to a series of questions about our faithfulness in the gospel, our worthiness to enter the holiest place on earth. Included in the interview is a question about whether or not we sustain the president of the Church as the only person on earth who holds all priesthood keys, and whether or not we sustain the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators-accepting their role to lead us, and to reveal the mind and will of the Lord to us in all matters.
If we want to feel safe in these troubled times, follow the prophet. Stay with the Brethren, the leaders of the Church. President Spencer W. Kimball declared: “No one in this Church will ever go far astray who ties himself securely to the Church Authorities whom the Lord has placed in his Church. This Church will never go astray; the Quorum of the Twelve will never lead you [astray]; it never has and never will.”8 In the Lord’s ordained leaders, there is safety.
Don’t ever get ahead of the Brethren. When the word of the Lord is to come to us on any issue-social, political, doctrinal-it will come through His constituted Authorities. God’s house is a house of order. If something needs to be revealed, it will come through the priesthood channels He has set in place. Again, this is the Church of Jesus Christ, and He is in charge.
Our two-volume commentary on the Old Testament was recently sent off to press. I’ve had my head in the life and teachings of the ancient prophets for decades, but intensively the past two years while involved in the writing of our thousand pages of commentary. I believe that the Old Testament is one of the greatest books on earth that give us valuable stories that teach essential lessons.
While pondering the above-mentioned “agitations,” I thought of several stories in rapid succession, especially Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Remember them? They convinced two hundred and fifty princes of Israel to join them in criticizing the prophet, Moses.
Their failure to appreciate their callings and their lust for power-seeking “the priesthood also” (Numbers 16:10)-was the result of pride. The argument the rebels used against the Lord’s anointed sounds rather disturbing: “You try to exercise too much power.
You’re not our boss. The whole congregation is holy; you are the one with the problem!” (see 16:3). The Joseph Smith Translation of verse 10 indicates that Korah and his followers coveted the “high priesthood.” Korah gathered his forces for a showdown. Justice demanded that the rebellious be punished, but Moses pleaded for mercy for all except those immediately involved. Then the punishment fell, and in order that the people might know that it was a punishment from God, a “new thing” happened-the earth opened and swallowed them (verse 30). Then followed fire from the Lord and a plague that destroyed others who had a mind to criticize and condemn their priesthood leader. That is one of many crucial lessons from the Old Testament.
We believe God will “yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Articles of Faith 1:9). Meanwhile, we should be patient and have faith in what He has already revealed. In fact, it is urgent in these spiritually challenging times to remember one of my favorite, life-changing ideas: Never lose faith in the things you know, because of the things you don’t know.
There are many questions that have yet to be answered, but we do know some things for sure: Heavenly Father lives and loves us. Jesus Christ is His Son and our Savior. This is the Church of Jesus Christ, and He is still very much in charge of what is taught in it. He knows when anything more needs to be revealed.
One more piece of wisdom from the Old Testament: Proverbs 3:5-6 encourages us to “trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
I conclude this response to anyone in the family of God who has questions about the role of women-with one of the most beautiful expressions about the glorious future of faithful women that I have ever heard from one of our leaders:
“Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high and you look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny.”9
1Kate Kelly, as quoted in the Deseret News article, “LDS Church responds to priesthood meeting request by activists,” by Joseph Walker, September 24, 2013.
3Marianne Holman, “Elder Ballard: Women’s Unique Roles Are Equal, Valued, Needed,” Church News, August 22, 2013.
4President Joseph Fielding Smith, “Relief Society-an Aid to the Priesthood,” Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1959, 5-6, as cited in Daughters in My Kingdom-The History and Work of Relief Society, published by the Church in 2011. On a woman’s potential eternal role as a queen and a priestess, based on faithfulness in this life, see also Donald Q. Cannon, Larry E. Dahl, and John W. Welch, “The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: Priesthood, the Word of God, and the Temple,” Ensign, Feb. 1989, 11; President Ezra Taft Benson, First Presidency Message, Ensign, April, 1993, 6; and Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual (2002), 178-181.
5Sister Sheri Dew, Ensign, Nov. 2001, 13, referring to D&C 109:22.
6President Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 152.
7President George Q. Cannon, Deseret News, November 3, 1869, as cited by then-Elder Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, April 1969, 10-12.
8President Spencer W. Kimball, Conference Report, April 1951, 104.
9Elder Glenn L. Pace (First Quorum of the Seventy, 1992-2010) in a Brigham Young University Devotional, March 9, 2010.
Professor of Ancient Scripture