Friday, October 23, 2015

The Priesthood is a Spiritual Technology


After several conversations concerning the ordination of women within Mormonism, I feel compelled to share an overlooked perspective of the priesthood—the perspective of a Mormon Feminist Transhumanist.

At the risk of being criticized for my minority position and vulnerability, I still believe it is important to offer this underrepresented perspective of the priesthood with complete authenticity and honesty.

The priesthood is defined as the power and authority of God given to man, including the authority to perform ordinances and to act as a leader in the Church. The full capacity to access the priesthood power and authority is reserved for men only. Presently, all women’s callings and auxiliaries are presided over by men.  Due to the conflation of priesthood power and governance authority, several problems exist when women are excluded. Not to mention the many opportunities for spiritual development women are excluded from by not being ordained.

First, I will touch on the harmful effects of the exclusionary practices of the priesthood though a personal narrative, followed by commentary concerning desires, benefits, and risks that would accompany women’s ordination.


A Father’s Blessing

It’s a Mormon tradition for the father of the household to give each child a priesthood blessing before the beginning of each school year. They are often referred to as father’s blessings. It’s a lovely tradition. As a young girl, I remember taking turns with each of my sisters, sitting in a chair, while my father laid his hands on our heads and blessed each of us. They were happy memories.

However, when I was 14 my father was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Easter Sunday. He was cut off from the Mormon community as a form of discipline and was deemed unworthy to exercise the priesthood. My father was the only male in our home. This left my mother, two sisters and me to fend for ourselves in matters of the priesthood.

The following school year I would not have a father’s blessing. Of course, the typical response to this particular predicament is to call the home teachers or bishop to come provide access to a priesthood blessing.

If only it were so simple.

The reality is if I were to ask my home teachers to come to our home to give me a priesthood blessing, my father would have the humiliating experience of sitting by and watch another man preside in his home and bless his daughter, and my mother would have the humiliating experience of watching a another man come into her home and bless her daughter because she was deemed as an unfit candidate for the priesthood due to the fact she was female. As for me, I was a teenage girl going through puberty, starting my period, experiencing other bodily changes and what I really needed was a priesthood blessing from my parent, not from a couple of well-meaning men from my ward whom I had hardly spoken a word to.

No priesthood blessing was worth the humiliation it would cause my family, so I concluded it was better to go without.

I cried in bed the night before school started. I fervently prayed to Heavenly Father with genuine intent asking Him to bless me with His Priesthood. I waited quietly and patiently for a response, but felt nothing. I was alone.

After I finished crying, I fell asleep that night feeling like a silly girl with shattered dreams in a fraudulent illusion. I suppose we all have to grow up someday.


Struggling to Find My Place


A year or so later, some other negative experiences with the priesthood and priesthood holders caused me to question the priesthood more deeply. Where did it come from? Why would God exclude women? Why would God alienate women who weren’t connected to a righteous male priesthood holder? Why did Peter, James, and John confer the priesthood upon Joseph and not Mary, Martha, and Eve confer the priestesshood to Emma? Is the former so much more believable than the later?

I had a seminary teacher, Sister Simpson, who saw me struggling to find my place in my religion. The two male priesthood-holding seminary teachers from prior classes had asked me to leave their lessons on more than one occasion for questions and conduct that were “uninviting of the spirit”. Apparently, it was inappropriate for a 15-year-old girl to question her place in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and religion with the persistence that I did. However, Sister Simpson was different. She never asked me to leave her class. Not once. Instead she offered me an opportunity. She invited me to read the priesthood sessions of conference to get answers to my questions.

I remember feeling confused by her suggestion and responded, “…but I don’t have the priesthood.” She smiled and calmly replied, “Neither do I, but I still read them.”

I made a habit of reading watching, hearing, and studying recordings of Priesthood Sessions of General Conference—meetings women are generally denied access to.

It’s been a bittersweet journey. Some of the most faith affirming concepts and impressions I received were seeded in those meetings. A small, fragile testimony was forming. I longed for the priesthood to bless the lives of those I loved. I didn’t vie for any authority or power to climb the hierarchal ladder. I simply wanted to be self-reliant in the Church, just as my religion counseled me to be. Perhaps that council only applied to men.

However, the beauty of priesthood came with a sting. I was clearly rejected from the group as a 16 year old girl. I was nothing more than an imposter with her nose pressed up against the glass with a clear view of what was being taught to women and what was being taught to men. I desired to be like Jesus Christ, but my desires were met with hostility. Had I not been female, my desires would have been celebrated and congratulated and deemed worthy of praise.

Over time I grew sorrowful and eventually, angry. Is the priesthood even associated with God, or is the priesthood simply one more tool men use to further subjugate women? Why are men given more tools to be self-reliant, while women are excluded? Is God sexist or is it just my religion?


Disillusionment

My freshmen year of college, I was engaged with a wonderfully devout Mormon who wore the priesthood so lightly it didn’t even seem to matter that I didn’t have it. It was difficult to reject the priesthood when he used it so honestly, but it did highlight that if I wanted a fuller relationship with the priesthood, he was my conduit. Even with a righteous priesthood holder in my life, I was still not self-reliant.

We were sealed in the Portland temple together where my fragile testimony was crushed by a sexist aesthetic of immortality that clearly undervalued my gender and my sincerest desires to be like Jesus Christ. The experience genuinely broke my heart.

By the time I left the temple I had, what I felt at the time, a very clear image of the priesthood, its origins, its purpose, and my intended trajectory. I concluded that I didn’t need the priesthood in my life. I had no desire for it. Any superstitions associated with the priesthood vanished and I was disillusioned entirely.


A New Perspective

A few years later, I delivered a healthy baby boy. After the birth of our first child, the tradition of a father’s blessing shortly followed. There were many conflicting emotions in my heart that day. Happy memories flooded my mind from my early childhood, followed with the grief of knowing I would be excluded from equitably engaging in priesthood blessings and ordinances with my children.

I watched my husband hold our tiny baby in his strong, but gentle arms. During the blessing he spoke words that deeply resonated with me. I still had no intention of believing that the priesthood was anything more than a bunch of made-up nonsense, and I had no interest in receiving a priesthood blessing for myself, but nonetheless hearing his blessing changed me.

I was grateful to have a husband who held the priesthood, not because I subscribed to any superstitious ridiculousness or valued unilateral male dependency. No, certainly not. I was changed, because I was able to see the priesthood from a new perspective—a completely natural, yet less cynical perspective.

I saw the priesthood as a spiritual conduit for bonding that provoked a collective mood of love and devotion. Had this been the majority of my experiences with the priesthood I could see how some women would be indifferent or resistant to female ordination.

The young teenage girl inside me was still sad to be excluded from the experience of blessing my own baby. I contemplated what it would be like to have my newborn son, whom I created inside my body, be ordained to the priesthood while I would not. What would it be like to have him bless, ordain, and baptize his future siblings, yet I would not be able to do the same for my own children? What would it be like for him to be congratulated and praised for his righteous desires for ordination at age 12, when my teenage desires for ordination were met with hostility and rejection?

I was conflicted, but ultimately grateful for the opportunity for my husband and son. I couldn’t be angry when it brought them so much happiness. I genuinely loved them, so their happiness became my happiness and I pushed my own pain into the corners of my mind.

That day I realized what I missed most about not having the priesthood directly in my life was the opportunities to express and share love through ritualistic blessings, and ordinances.

When my father blessed me before each school year he spoke kind and thoughtful words that he probably would have never said had the opportunity of an annual priesthood blessing not presented itself. We formed positive memories and experiences that further formed our worldview and the influence of those experiences were stunted once the priesthood was removed from my family. I wonder what experiences my mother, sisters, and I could have shared if the priesthood were freely available to us.

When my husband blessed our child there were tangible expressions of love, devotion, and power that changed him as a man and father. How would those experiences shape him as human being? How would those rituals affect our family dynamics? If my husband were removed from the equation, what spiritual technology could I use to recreate those meaningful memories and experiences for my children, if not the priesthood?


A Spiritual Technology

The priesthood is a spiritual technology and holds transformative power that is worth experiencing and exploring. The power lies in opportunities and access, just like any other technology. Priesthood technology has the potential to strengthen interpersonal relationships, forge bonds of spirituality, shape meaningful worldviews, and present opportunities for growth, leadership, and development.

The priesthood power lies not in any supernatural or mystical interpretations. Priesthood power lies in our willingness to let is transform us, without access the power is diminished.

When we limit equal opportunity and deny people access to those positive experiences we are weakening ourselves from within. When we thwart the righteous desires of women who wish to use that technology for good, we diminish the collective influence the priesthood has to offer.

If the priesthood truly is the power and authority of God then we have access to a creative and unique technology with a limitless bandwidth that we have yet to comprehend.


Righteous Desires of Abraham

My suggestion of female ordination in not an unreasonable demand nor a groveling plea.  My suggestion is a mutually respectful and beneficial request that mandates thoughtful consideration. My suggestion is proposed to alleviating unnecessary suffering of others while providing more intimate opportunities for integrated spiritual growth and development. My objective is equal opportunity in our desires to become Christ. My desires are reflected in the Book of Abraham.

In Abraham 1:2 we read, “And there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereinto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed greater knowledge, and righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.”

Summarized, Abraham “desired to be ordained” to “possess greater knowledge and righteousness”. As a “follower of righteousness” he “became a rightful heir, a High Priest”.

Women who seek ordination for further knowledge and righteousness are not so different from Abraham, who was rewarded for his righteous desires and became a High Priest.


Desires of the Minority

I recognize that women who desire ordination are the minority, but being in a minority does not equate with being wrong. People who desired and advocated for racial equality concerning blacks and the priesthood were once the minority until they weren’t. Mormons are a minority among Christian denominations, but does that make Mormonism wrong or unworthy of consideration? Minorities bring valuable insights that are often overlooked.

Some argue that most women “don’t even want the priesthood”. I would generally, agree. However, I would urge women who speak out against ordination to consider, does your lack of desire denote that another’s genuine desire is unholy or unrighteous?  No, seeking ordination is a product of her faithful and righteous desires.

I would ask them to empathize with those who have perhaps had less favorable circumstances, and contemplate how women could benefit from ordination in ways that have not yet been considered.

I would also ask them to consider, not all men desire priesthood ordination either, yet we indoctrinate young males to develop a strong and earnest desire to serve with the priesthood authority. Written in the Aaronic Priesthood Manual 1, Lesson Objective: “Each young man will understand the duties of a deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood and will desire to magnify his calling as an Aaronic Priesthood holder.”


I trust that if the opportunity presented itself, faithful young women would be more than capable of developing a similar desire and would embrace the responsibility and duty just as our faithful young men have.


Seeking Ordination, Not Vying for Authority

Some mistakenly believe that “asking for the priesthood” is counterproductive and actually undermines the authority God and women in an attempt to receive authority from men. This is a gross oversimplification. As a reminder, the priesthood is not men’s authority to give. Men are simply the current conduit for the priesthood.

Desires of ordination should not be conflated with vying for or undermining authority.


‘This Society a Kingdom of Priests’


Could the ordination of women be an essential step in the restoration of the Gospel?

There is nowhere written in Mormon doctrine that women cannot be ordained to the priesthood. In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest that the ordination of women is potentially a part of Restoration.

A unique relationship between women and the priesthood is found during the early formation of the Church. Women were once granted priesthood responsibilities that seem long since lost.

In Latter-day Saint Women and the Priesthood of God, written by my fellow MTA (Mormon Transhumanist Association) member Mark Koltko-Rivera, it is suggested that Joseph Smith intended the Relief Society to be ‘A Kingdom of Priests’. On March 31, 1842, Joseph Smith spoke to the sisters of the Relief Society. The minutes read, “…that the Society should move according to the ancient Priesthood, hence there should be a select Society separate from all the evils of the world, choice and virtuous and holy—said he was going to make of this Society a Kingdom of Priests as in Enoch’s day—as in Paul’s day…” (pg.14)

Also written in Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book (1842-1844), “…that the keys of the kingdom are about to be given to them, that they may be able to detect every false—as well as to the Elders. This Society is to get instruction thro’ the order which God established—thro’ the medium of those appointed to lead—and I now turn the Key to you in the name of God and this Society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time.” (pg. 37-38)

These recordings of the Prophet strongly suggest ordination of the Relief “Society” well as “the Elders”. Was Joseph acting on behalf of God? Could an all-female Relief Society be ordained to be priests? Why would Joseph call them ‘Priests’? Surely he knew they were female and also created in the image of God and fully capable of acting on behalf of that God.

The priesthood is commonly assumed as a male aesthetic, but this is another sore oversimplification. In genesis we read God is both male and female as “both male and female” are created in the “image of God”. Heavenly Mother’s presence in Mormonism also suggests and equitable duality of God’s gender. The priesthood is no more male than female, no more masculine then feminine. The priesthood is expressed in infinite diversity through each individual whom is authorized to exercise it. One can hypothesize the Relief Society’s expression of the priesthood would be different than the Elders, yet both would come from the same source of unified power and authority of Godly Parents.

Sidney Rigdon said, “Emma was the one to whom the first female priesthood was given.” June 1868, communication to Stephen Post, LDS Archives.

On September 17, 1843 Patriarch Hyrum Smith blessed Olive G. Frost, one of Joseph’s plural wives, that “you shall be blessed with the knowledge of the mysteries of God as well as the fullness of the Priesthood.

Equal opportunity does not need to be conflated with congruency. Our genders are different, but the priesthood itself does not have a gender, nor is it limited to a male aesthetic.


New Revelation

If revelation came once could it come again?

The Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book continues, “Prest. S. then offered instruction respecting the propriety of females administering to the sick by the laying on of hands said it was according to revelation.” (pg. 37-38)

As referenced in the ninth article of faith, we believe god will reveal “many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”

But how would that revelation manifest itself? The symbiotic relationship between God, prophets, and ourselves allows varied opportunities for revelation to manifest, especially when not all revelation is received by a personified vision of God.

Yes, the brethren are in a position to embrace the potential revelation concerning the ordination of women, but it is our responsibility to assist in the presentation and creation of the opportunity according to our faith and desires. God cannot reveal what we would not accept.

In a 1997 ABC Compass interview, President Gordon B Hinckley was asked, “Is it possible that the rule could change in the future as the rules are on Blacks?”

He responded, “He could change them yes. If He were to change them that’s the only way it would happen.”

The interviewer continued, “So you’d have to get a revelation?”

President Hinckley replied, “Yes. But there’s no agitation for that. We don’t find it. Our women are happy. They’re satisfied.”

Perhaps some agitation is required before revelation, and since this prophetic statement was made in 1997 there has certainly been agitation.


Ordination of Black Men


I would consider the revelation of ordaining black men to the priesthood in 1978 as an act of collective revelation—inspired by the people and sanctioned by the prophet and apostles.

Were black men’s desires for ordination any less righteous before their ordination actually occurred? Did manifestation denote righteousness? Or was manifestation a product of those righteous desires? I trust God celebrated the desires and advocacies of these men who desired the priesthood before their actual ordination.

Yes, there were other members during that transition that deemed black’s desires for priesthood ordination as unrighteous or unnecessary, but nonetheless, black men’s desires to serve with the priesthood were eventually embraced. I trust God was pleased with the progress and desires of love, acceptance and inclusion among the saints.

I don’t neglect the risks and logistical issues with the ordination of women, just as there was with the ordination of black men. Of course we should mitigate for risks, but should we wait stagnantly in fear of the unknown? No. We should carefully embrace the possibilities of glorious vistas we have yet to behold. How else would God reveal such a divine image if we would not willingly accept the revelation before actually being revealed?

Those who would accept the revelation of female ordination should not be fearful of expressing encouragement and support of such a revelation, just as Abraham and black men sought, expressed and desired their ordination before it occurred.


The Morality of Female Ordination

It is also worth considering if denying women priesthood ordination is actually immoral. In Parallels and Convergences, written by A. Scott Howe and Richard L. Bushman, we can explore the quantitative nature of morality through a ‘potentiality test’:

“A better way to intuitively explore morality issues is to use the ‘potentiality test’. The potentiality test helps expand the number of choices and opportunities available and eliminates all boundaries. Actions and consequences are placed on a scale by degree rather than being black and white, motivation is built into the test because it attempts to increase the number of choices available in the future. The participant becomes less and less a victim of circumstances and gains more and truer freedom. An outcome that results in a greater number of potentialities has greater value.” (pg.95)

According to the potentiality test, the ordination of women would greatly increase the number of choices in the future, and participants would become “less a victim of circumstance”. Thus, more opportunity for human flourishing is moral and less opportunity is immoral.

This is not to say there should be no order or deliberacy in female ordination, quite the contrary. Order also allows us expanded potential opportunities and the order of the priesthood should be kept to the extent that the exclusion of participants does not become oppressive. Order and inclusion would maximize future potentialities and possibilities for the priesthood’s influence, thus making order, equal opportunity, and inclusion extremely moral actions.


This is My Voice

Every day we wait we lose one more woman, one more woman is marginalized, one more child goes without a priesthood blessing, and one more woman realizes her desires to be like Christ are not supported by religion. One by one their hearts are jaded by the ignorance of those who won’t share her pain. As more women become disenchanted with the priesthood and its potential influences for good, they often leave their religions believing that the priesthood is nothing more than a superstitious manipulative tool to subjugate women in an elitist power and authority structure.

Surely, God is waiting on us to exercise our agency, love and compassion to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort”.

In a time when people are leaving their religions, there are women who are still willing to contribute. Let’s not let another moment go by where a woman goes unsupported in her desires to be Christ. Let’s greet her with enthusiasm and excitement. I trust in a benevolent God that would encourage those righteous desires. Now is a time of celebration!


Joseph Smith once said, “Who are better qualified to administer than our faithful and zealous sisters whose hearts are full of faith, tenderness, sympathy and compassion? No one.” Relief Society Minutes, April 28 1842.

More recently the encouraging words of Elder Nelson called to women in October 2015 General Conference, “ We need you to speak out…” he continues, “We need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom and your voices […] my dear sisters, whatever your calling, whatever your circumstance, we need your impression, your insights and your inspiration […] we need women who have the courage and vision of our Mother Eve […] so today I plead with my sisters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to step forward! Take your rightful and needful place […] in the kingdom of God.”

I have obliged to the request of Elder Nelson to step forward. This is my courage. This is my strength. This is my conviction. This is my insight. This is my inspiration. This is my vision.

I am one such “zealous sister” and this is my voice.