There has been much ado about a women's group within my faith that is lobbying for the priesthood.
I have paid little heed to this group or the previous "pant-wearing" movement until I was asked whether I was a feminist by a member of our congregation and then a friend of another faith recently asked for my opinion on the matter.
I have several thoughts. One poignant memory from the mission comes to mind:
In my second area (though still in my first six week rotation) of my mission, a small beach town, my companion and I were teaching two girls, age 11 and 13. We were teaching (then) lesson 3 about the priesthood. The perennial question was, of course, asked: "why do only boys have the priesthood?"
I then explained what my mom taught me while growing up. Men and women are like forks and spoons. You cannot eat a salad with a spoon, nor soup with a fork, but you need both to have a complete meal. Men and women play different but equal roles, each with a special function. Women give life through childbirth - an experience men will never be able to have. Men give of their lives through service in the priesthood - holding the keys of which is an experience women will never be able to have.
"Oh, I get it," said the 11-year-old, "We have them, and they baptize them!"
Yes, she had gotten it.
But the relationship is actually a bit more complex than that. In essential facts, it is true - women exclusively give birth, and men exclusively hold the keys of the priesthood. But as far as the roles of nurturing children and exercising the powers of the priesthood, men and women share, not necessarily equally, but share nonetheless in these roles.
Our Family Proclamation outlines the doctrinal position for the distinct roles of men within a family unit (provide, protect, and preside) and women (nurturing children). But then it says, "in these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners."
In sacred temples, when a couple is married, or sealed, for
time and all eternity, they are given (together) the patriarchal
priesthood, which lasts beyond this life. The husband presides in this
priesthood, but he exercises it in partnership with his wife in raising a
family in righteousness. Husbands and wives are to counsel with one another in the care of their children and in the progress of their family.
The principle of helping one another in each others' roles extends to other spheres of the Church. One obvious example mentioned in last week's General Conference by apostle Dallin H. Oaks is in our temples. In areas where men cannot go, women officiate in performing ordinances. They do not hold the priesthood, but they act under its authority. There are other instances where women have given blessings under the authority of their husband.
In fact, said Elder Oaks, women exercise the authority of the priesthood whenever they serve within a calling, or inspired responsibility, in the church. Interesting - never thought of it that way before. But, said Elder Oaks, what other authority would it be?
In that regard, as I pointed out to my friend concerned with what she thought was a complete dearth in women's leadership roles within the church was that women married or single lead exclusively in several church auxiliaries.
Additionally, men cannot serve above a certain point unless they are married. For instance, my husband serves as bishop of our congregation. That we are married is essential to his role. This is true for the equivalent of a diocese leader on up. Mission and temple presidents are called as a couple.
This means that, while single women can lead a general auxiliary of the Church, single men cannot. Men in leadership positions often (in non-confidential matters, of course) seek counsel from their wives. That means that for the highest leadership positions, women are in one sense a large majority - when considering women-lead auxiliaries and couples as a team.
I have more than enough to do in raising our son and working to contribute some meager bit to our household income (although I am lucky enough to be able to do what I love because I love it, not because it is required of me - Lance is a wonderful provider). In the instances when I "exercise the authority" of the priesthood, either under my husband or a more vertical line within the church, I feel an enormous amount of respect for those who exercise it continually and that I am lucky to be able to help. I felt that way all throughout my mission.
I wonder if men ever feel that way when taking care of children?