I was listening to Dennis Prager yesterday and he was talking about the criticism of Pope John Paul II with regards his refusal to ordain women priests, and it got me thinking about the role of the priesthood in the LDS church. Numerous times, people have told me that LDS women are OPPRESSED by the male hierarchy of our church. But I’m sure they aren’t aware that women were given the right to vote in the territory of Utah in 1870 before it became a state and that many early LDS women were heavily involved in the women’s suffrage movement, such as Emmeline B. Wells.
So I guess by OPPRESSED these people mean that women in the LDS church are not given the priesthood, nor allowed to hold the highest offices in the church. There are plenty of leadership roles for women in the LDS church such as serving in one’s local or the general presidency of the Relief Society (one of the oldest and largest women’s organization in the world), the Primary (a Sunday school program for children), or the Young Women’s organization (a program for teenage girls that includes weekly activities and Sunday school classes). I served in the local presidency of both the Relief society and Young Women’s, and often attended meetings with the male leaders of our church. Not once have I ever felt discriminated against or been sexually harassed because of my gender. I wish I could same the same about my experience in academia, but that's another story.
Only males that hold the priesthood can hold the highest offices in the LDS Church, such as president, apostle, seventies, high priest, priest, and bishop (these offices are based on those found in Christ’s church as described in the New Testament). The LDS church, unlike most churches, has a lay clergy, meaning the officials are just regular Joes and are not required to hold theological degrees.
Gordon B.Hinckley , the President of the LDS church, received a bachelor’s degree in English and had planned to attend the Columbia school of journalism when he was asked to serve in the church. One of the 12 apostles was a heart surgeon, another a Utah state Supreme Court judge, and the rest were lawyers, businessmen or educators before being appointed apostles. Men from all walks of life are called by top officials of the church to serve in various positions and as in the Catholic Church, it is believed that God directs these officials to choose the right men for the job.
There’s a simple reason why women in both the LDS and Catholic churches are not ordained in the priesthood (and this may sound weird to atheists or agnostics)—God has not willed it to be so. The definition of priesthood is the authority to act in God’s name, and thus both churches believe that the priesthood is given by God to man and passed down according to His direction. The Catholic Church believes that the priesthood was given to Peter directly from Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and then passed down from Peter to every pope until now.
The LDS church, on the other hand, believes that the priesthood was lost from the earth after the death of the Apostles because of apostasy or falling away from the true church of Christ. It was then restored to the Earth to Joseph Smith and others through administration by John the Baptist (for the lesser priesthood known as the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood) and by Peter, James, and John (for the greater or Melchizedek priesthood). (Melchizedek was the king of Salem in Canaan during the time of Abraham in the Old Testament and was also a high priest of God). The doctrine of the LDS church states that the priesthood was given to Adam in the beginning and has since been passed down through the generations to males only. The priesthood line has been broken only once—after the death of the Apostles.
Now the question is why does God allow only men to hold the priesthood? Well, at one time only males of the tribe of Levi were allowed to hold the Levitical priesthood and administer in the temple (see the Old Testament and the story of John the Baptist’s father Zachariah in the New Testament). LDS theology holds that after the fall of Adam and Eve, men were given the priesthood while women were given the gift of bearing children. Now believe me, giving birth doesn’t seem like such a gift when you’re in the middle of labor pains, but it is something special that men will never be able to do (except in a Schwarzenegger/Devito comedy). Plus, I’d rather not be the bishop of my church and have to a kazillion meetings and appointments on Sundays and during the week in addition to my duties at home and/or work.
In LDS theology, men and women have different roles in God’s plan—men are primarily expected to provide for and protect the family while women are expected to bear and be the primary caregivers of children. However, allowances are made when women and men are forced to switch roles due to hardships such as divorce, death, or chronic illness. The priesthood is to be used by men to bless and serve others-- his fellow man but primarily his family. Men holding the priesthood give blessings for the sick, dedicate grave sites, and administer church ordinances such as baptism and the sacrament. It is not something to be used to dominate others, especially not one’s wife and children. This is clearly spelled out in LDS scripture (Doctrine and Covenants Section 121:34-46 and in the New Testament, Ephesians 5:22-33).
I believe the feminist movement and liberalism in general has taken religion and the priesthood, and turned it into a political tool. Feminists demand that women be ordained in the Catholic and LDS churches because they want women to be EQUAL i.e. the same as men. Dennis Prager, when discussing this topic said, “Egalitarianism is their religion rather than the religion is their religion.” I think it is arrogance to demand something from God without knowing if it is His will that they receive it. Either they believe that the leaders of these churches have been ignoring God’s will all these years in not giving women the priesthood (and they know better), or they don’t really believe that the priesthood is from God.
Really what feminists want is for the pope to do the P.C. thing, and one day declare that any woman that wants to be a Catholic priest may be ordained to the priesthood. What they don’t think about is what happens later on that night when the pope is praying. “Dear God, I gave women the priesthood today. Er, I hope that’s ok with you.” The priesthood is not the pope’s to give to whomever he chooses. In contrast, Protestant churches (except for the Anglican Church), believe that all members are universally endowed with the priesthood rather than receive it through succession, and therefore have no reason NOT to ordain women as priests.
The LDS Church got a lot of heat in the 60’s and 70’s for not giving the priesthood to those of black African descent. It wasn’t until 1978 that that was changed. The primary reason for this was that it was believed that God had withheld the priesthood from the lineage of Ham, who was cursed as to the priesthood because of wickedness (see Genesis 9:22-28). Now this did not mean that people of Hamitic descent (i.e. black Africans) were bad people, but that they were restricted as to the offices they could hold in the Church until God saw fit to give them the priesthood. Elijah Abel, a contemporary of Joseph Smith, was an exception to this ban because of his faithfulness.
In 1978, the President of the Church Spencer W. Kimball, after much fasting and prayer throughout the Church, received a revelation that ALL worthy males were to receive the priesthood. Skeptics might say well he was only giving into societal pressures at last so that the church could expand. But believers would say that God, through the faith and prayers of those that desired the priesthood for themselves or for their brothers, relented and lifted the ban. See this link to an article by the Elijah Abel Society for more info on blacks and the priesthood in the LDS Church.
Anyway, it may be that someday God will permit women to hold the priesthood, but it will be on His own timescale, not because of the whining of a bunch of feminists. As for Pope John Paul II, I believe he was a decent man with a true love of God and his fellow man. I hope the next pope is as inspirational as he was and as strong in his convictions. May God bless his soul.