Friday, August 31, 2012

Further thoughts on women and the Church

You guys are super awesome and have shared a lot of interesting, thoughtful ideas about women and the Church, and I'm really glad. Also, I'm in a much better place mentally than I was at 2:00 a.m., so it's easier to look at a broader perspective and whatnot.

I want to mention some of the ideas that I found interesting, for the benefit of anyone who cares or has questions like I do. Maybe something will click for you!

First, I really enjoyed this article a Facebook friend referred me to. I felt validated to hear that many others feel the way I do, and I liked seeing some of the author's suggestions on how to make the Church more inclusive. It's a long article, so... yeah. TL;DR: many women feel hurt and confused about seeming inequality in the Church, and there are ways we can make it much better.

A few of you pointed out that in your experiences, women in your wards have been referred to as "President Person" instead of "Sister Person," and that your ward councils are very supportive of the female leadership and the ideas and concerns they bring up. That makes me really happy! I guess my experiences have just been a little more negative than yours, unfortunately.

An idea that my mother-in-law and husband have previously mentioned is the "women=physical responsibilities, men=spiritual responsibilities" idea. What they mean by that is this: women are in charge of bringing children into the world and nurturing them (especially physically), and men are in charge of bringing children back into the presence of God (so, Priesthood duties). I find this idea very interesting. My husband suggests that perhaps either a) women were given some sort of Priesthood authority before coming to earth, so they could "officiate" in their womanly duties, or b) women gain some sort of Priesthood authority from covenants and ordinances to officiate in womanly duties. Or maybe the "power" is something different altogether. But still: this resonates with me and feels pretty okay. (Also, this makes me wonder: is childbirth an "ordinance" that women "officiate" in? 'Cuz you can't get any of the other ordinances if you're never born, so... )

A thought that goes along with this is the "women have certain innate qualities that help them return to God, but since men don't have them, they need to learn them" theory. So, men need to serve in Priesthood offices in order to gain traits that women typically have naturally: nurturing, self-sacrifice, etc. (and, men have to receive the Priesthood for exaltation, whereas women do not). I've heard this before in Church and several of you brought it up to me. I think the idea has merit, and could at least partly explain the division. One thing I do recognize is that Priesthood holders are not directly benefited by holding the Priesthood; it is all about serving others. This does bring me great comfort.

Also: well, I've obviously never been a mother. Duh. So I haven't had any of the cool experiences related to that calling and gift and until I have fat little babies, I won't understand. Maybe I'll finally feel more valid and appreciated when that time comes. My frustration with motherhood and the Church is that people in the Church only seem to praise women when it comes to this calling, and try to make it sound like it's totally perfect and awesome all the time. Maybe it is, but it looks like a lot of poop and crying to me. Maybe that's more awesome than I've been lead to believe. Poop, after all, is one of the best words ever invented, and it's fun to use. But my point is, until I'm a mother, it's hard to understand who else and what else I can be, in the eyes of Church members. I want to do and be a lot of things, but with my current situation, I can't do a lot of that, and I often feel like I slip between the cracks and am viewed as broken or something. I want to be recognized as a full human being even though I'm not a mother right now. I want to be valued and appreciated for who I am right now.

What I really want to know is this: what is the REAL REASON that women do not (appear to) use the Priesthood on the earth (outside of the temple)? Is the reason doctrinal? Policy-based? Knowing this would help me feel so much better. It just feels confusing to me that it seems that men=Priesthood=Church leadership, when something in my heart tells me that isn't quite the truth. It's hard to perform the mental gymnastics to explain how, exactly, women are equal to men in the Church, and why, exactly, we apparently don't need to hold the Priesthood. I would love a straight answer.

I know that God loves everyone the same, and that in His eyes, we really are equal. But I feel that a lot of societal attitudes and cultural values obscure that equality for me. The Church is good and wonderful, but it is also subject to racism, sexism, and all the other -isms. I'm tired of the rhetoric that implies men are terrible people and that women are perfect angels. It hurts everyone, because I know many amazing men AND women, and many not so amazing men AND women. I'm tired of being labeled in certain ways that constrict me from fully experiencing being a human. Just because I'm a woman doesn't mean I shouldn't be assertive, shouldn't ask questions, shouldn't get angry or depressed. Because I do all of those things, and I know for a fact you guys do, too. How can I learn to be happy if I'm never sad? How can I find truth if I don't look for it? How can I get anywhere in life if I don't stand up for what I believe in? And I hate that men are made fun of for being gentle or kind or tender-hearted, when apparently they're supposed to be tough and grow some balls and always take charge and not act like women or else they're sissies (or much more insulting terms). Jesus Christ is the most gentle, kind, tender-hearted, nurturing person I can think of. Isn't the point of the gospel to become more like Him?

I'll quit here before I get too rambly, because I could say lots of other stuff but it might get boring and plus I've said the most important stuff. So: share your opinions, please! Tell me what you think about the position of women in the Church. If we ask the tough questions, we can find the answers that will bring us light and peace. So... ready set go!


Celeste said...

It's an interesting question. Let me share a couple quick thoughts.

First off - I don't see anything odd at all about discussing this. We talk about it all the time in the humanities and in our singles ward.

I think part of it comes down to culture, honestly. The wards back east were very different than the wards out west here, and the wards internationally are different. The position/power of women seems more of a cultural reflection of the other society than of the church. Western culture has treated women that way - not the gospel. Women in the scriptures were fairly empowered (have you observed how Sariah gets away with complaining against her husband in 600 BC? And her husband is gentle and reassuring?). Gordon B. Hinckley, Joseph Smith, and so many prophets talk about the worth of the soul, not the worth of one gender over another.

In my work, we give gas cards to people who drive a lot of places and need reimbursement. I am not unspecial because I don't have a gas card with the work reimbursing me, I simply don't need it. If my responsibilities were to shift, I would be given one.

I see the priesthood similarly. In the majority of my callings, I don't need the priesthood. We have seen many instances in the church where that is shifted when a woman's role goes that direction. For example, temple ordinances, where women are given priesthood authority to do ordinances. In past history of the church, where men were scarce, women gave blessings and conducted family church services.

Similarly, women are given very nurturing instincts that make the poop factor rewarding. I have also observed the same thing happen for single fathers, who are able to care beautifully and very lovingly to their children in ways that other fathers who have a mother to share that role with I don't think do.

We each get gas cards depending on what we need. With that gas card comes blessings and responsibilities. I anticipate that a man given the priesthood has both the blessing of being able to serve, but also the responsibility of remaining worthy to hold it. Because just "having" it doesn't mean anything, anymore than having a child makes one a good mother.

I also anticipate that a women with the gift of nurturing has both the blessing of extra love and joy and affection for that child, and the responsibility to care for the child.

Also, it doesn't seem odd to me that the church focuses so much on family. The entire purpose of God's work and glory, if you think about it, is raising children---us. If that is what gives God the greatest joy, I can anticipate that he wants us to have the same joy. Yes, you are a woman and an individual. God is also a man and an individual. But what we value God for most is that He is our Father. It makes sense that he would honor similar qualities in us and we in others.

Anyways - I have lots more thoughts on this subject and think you have a lot of intriguing thoughts up. And no - I don't think you are a weird, radical feminist. I think you are Dria. I think you are important. I think you are intelligent. And I think you're pretty darn awesome. Period.

Andria said...

Celeste, thank you for your comments! I liked your comparison of the Priesthood to gas cards; I hadn't really thought of it that way, but it makes perfect sense to me. And everything else you said: spot on, thoughtful, intelligent. Just like you. :)

Kathy B said...

Hi Andria,

You gave me a lot to think about. It's way better to talk about something than to just be silent and feel bad! I agree with Celeste that a lot of stuff is our culture spilling into the Church. When I feel like a man at church is being kind of a jerk I know it's him and not the Church. Still, the Church is made up of humans with lots of faults so sometimes it's hard to separate the two. For the most part I have felt listened to in council meetings and appreciated for my work. When we first moved into our ward here in Orem I was a cubscout den leader. Not too glamourous of a job. At every pack meeting there was one dad that always told us what a great job we were doing and helped us clean up. I found out he was the previous Bishop and ended up being out next Stake President, but at the time I just knew him as a really nice guy. I think that's how it's supposed to be, but obviously isn't all the time.

Two things popped into my head as I was reading your posts. I heard an amazing woman speak about women and one thing she said is that a God is not a righteous man or woman in the Celestial Kingdom. A God is a righteous man and woman together as a unit. The more I thought about that and things the scriptures say, the more I think in God's eyes a man and a woman are half of one amazing unit. To borrow Paul's analogy, we wouldn't think it was annoying that our ears can only hear and not see. We see our ears and eyes as part of ourselves and we are glad to have them both. I think the qualities and responsibilities of men and woman are meant to be part of one whole. Does that make sense?

The other thought is that I think the more Christlike we get, the more we actually become like each other. Not that we don't still have our own uniqueness, but that we don't feel like there are two sides and we're on one of them. Christ mostly focused on individuals. Even if other people don't notice, Heavenly Father notices every little effort we make to serve his children. The older I get the more I see visiting teaching and home teaching as some of the most important callings in the Church.

I hope something here helped. I know you'll figure it all out! You're a smart girl!


Mama Bobo

Andria said...

Mama Bobo, thanks for commenting. :) You're a smart lady and I always love hearing what you have to say. I really liked what you said about God being a unit consisting of a man and a woman, that we are two parts of a whole. It reminds me of that scriptures that says neither the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man. We need each others' gifts and talents to be whole!

Jordan Bobo said...

These are all really awesome insights! I'm glad other amazing women are sharing their thoughts with my amazing wife. :)

I think one big problem we all face is the fact that our culture is so different from the gospel, and sometimes we try to understand or live the gospel from a cultural perspective instead of an eternal one. I think the church was organized to help us support each other as we strive for heaven, and that organization leaves the church both different from any worldly organization and susceptible to the errors of individuals who lead the organization under the direction of the Lord. Sometimes, it just takes us a while to get it right. Other times, we have it right, but just understand it wrong. That's just how this life goes, I guess. :)