Women and the Priesthood 2: Reading by the Light of the Times

Close to the turn of the century, three or four years after arriving in Taiwan, I sat down with a bishop's counselor for a temple recommend interview. When the counselor asked if I had any sympathies for or affiliations with individuals or groups whose principles or actions were not in harmony with the teachings of the Church, I said, "I believe in evolution." I said this because I had read numerous instances of nineteenth and twentieth century apostles condemning the notion that random mutation and natural selection factor in all life, including humankind--and that humanity descended from other forms of life. The counselor was unsure what to do about my admission, so he called Salt Lake. He was told by a gatekeeper that having accepted false doctrine, I could not hold a temple recommend. He took the matter to an area seventy in Hong Kong and was told that if temple recommends were denied to every believer in evolution, half the leadership of the church, including the area seventy and his father, would be locked out of the temple. He signed my temple recommend. When a stake president's counselor asked the sympathy and affiliation question, I said, "No."

If the bishop's counselor had been Taiwanese, I suspect he would have greeted my admission with "So what?" Whatever hory superstitions still flourish here, Asia has never branded science a tool of the Devil. That duty fell to Europe and its windblown spore, white Americans, of whom my interviewer was one. Luckily, the American watchman didn't stop in his inquiries at the desk of someone who didn't understand the importance of truth.

If you ask me where my spiritual allegiances lie, I will have to say, "First, with truth. Second, with God. Third, with the Gospel. Fourth, with the Church." This may shock and dismay some of you, but I think God would agree with my choice of priorities.

The Church is the vessel of the Gospel. It exists in part to preach and protect the word of God. Someday those functions will be unnecessary and the Church will cease to exist, replaced by a society founded on the fully enlightened righteousness of its citizens. The Gospel is the word of God, given to guide us in becoming gods ourselves. God is himself the offspring of a god. Gods, by their nature, are knowers of truth. Truth, to be known, must exist of itself.

The Gospel is a subset of truth concerned not with the physics of existence but with the laws and ordinances of salvation and exaltation. It teaches that the worlds were formed and by whose will and power, but not how or when. The ancients read their visions by the light of their times and bequeathed to us a murky seer stone through which to ponder them. Joseph Smith obtained a clearer view than possible through the scriptures by applying directly to God and being told or shown much for himself. For him, the scriptures were a stepping stone, not a seer stone.

But Joseph Smith and his successors have all been men of their times and have read their visions by the candles, kerosene lamps, incandescent bulbs and fluorescent tubes of their day. And no one since Joseph has bent so much time and effort on peering through the veil. Most have been content with the scriptures and occasional whisperings. We have a Bible, a Book of Mormon, a Book of Commandments, a Pearl of Great Price, and a Handbook of Instructions. What do we need more?

We need more revelations--not as signs to consume on our lusts, but as answers to questions our generations would ask. Nowhere do the scriptures forbid seeking further light or the knowelge that light can reveal if we peer far enough ahead.

Today we feel, more than any generation before us, that women and men are equal. We know, perhaps better than any generation before us, that women and men are not the same, that we differ in significant ways, but we also know how few areas those differences count in--and that differences in a particular area do not preclude either sex from succeeding in it. Men may nurture differently from women, but they can nurture. Women may lead differently from men, but they can lead. It is natural to ask, therefore, why women cannot lead the Church--not lead in the Church, as they already do in our women's, young women's and children's auxiliaries, and as teachers in all but our Priesthood quorums, but lead the Church as deacons, teachers, priests, elders, high priests, seventies, apostles and prophets--or some equivalent. Why can they not be Sunday School presidents (or counselors), bishops or branch presidents, stake or district presidents, area seventies, or members of the Quorum of the Twelve or of the First Presidency? Why is the overarching leadership of the Church reserved for men?

In the Biblical account of Jehovah's commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on a mountain in Moriah, Abraham does not exclaim, as we would, "You want me to kill my child?!" He makes no objection all, but simply gets up the next morning, cuts wood for the fire, and heads off with Isaac for the hills, where he builds an altar, lays out the wood, ties up Isaac, lays him on the wood, and prepares to stab him. No objections to slaying a human being. No protests about slaying a child--his own child, whom he loves. Not a murmur or a why. Just obedience. The unprotesting, unquestioning obedience is telling. Human sacrifice--child sacrifice, the sacrifice of one's own child--was part of life in Abraham's day. According to the Book of Abraham, he himself just escaped being a victim. He may even have come along quietly, as, apparenlty, did Isaac--and as did the retainers buried with their monarchs in Ur and Egypt in that period.

If Abraham, in what we would now call the benightedness of his time, could think nothing of sticking a knife through his beloved heir and scion because that was the order of the day, is it not possible that succeeding generations of God's people also thought nothing of various practices because such were the orders of their days? We cannot imagine being commanded to sacrifice our pets, let alone our children, or to stone adulterers, or to make circumcision a condition of membership in the covenant. These were practices of darker days, inherited from the cultures in which the Patriarchs and Prophets emerged. Who among us longs to restore these practices as marks of the true faith? Might it not then be possible that an exclusively male Priesthood is also a legacy of a darker time, as the eighteenth century clearly was? Yes, much darkness is accepted in our day, but there is also much more light than there was two centuries ago, when women had no vote and even most men were lucky to get a pale semblance of today's basic education.

The Chosen People does not change simply because times have changed. But as times have changed, so have the Chosen Peoples. Moses dropped human sacrifice but kept animal sacrifice and circumcision. Christ dropped animal sacrifice and his Apostles dropped circumcision. Joseph Smith created a women's auxiliary and recent directions from Salt Lake have formally increased the role of women in our councils at all levels but those restricted to the Priesthood. Might it not be be time to ask the Lord whether a greater, perhaps equal, leadership role can be given to women? Why would we not want this for them?

The Priesthood and its ordinances are matters of doctrine, not policy. We cannot change them to suit ourselves or the host cultures in which we live. They are the Lord's to shape and bestow. That is why, if we feel the time has come for a possible change, we must ask him, through our Prophet, if such a change is his will. If it is, hallelujah, we have found more light. If it isn't, hallelujah, we have found more light.

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