Sunday, April 26, 2009

Why Don't Women Hold the Priesthood?

When I was younger I really struggled with why women couldn't hold the priesthood. In fact, for a little while my testimony was really shaken because I thought God was being unfair and demeaning to women. Yet throughout the last few years, as I've really prayed and searched for understanding, God has given me little "tender mercies"-- pieces of understanding-- that bring peace to my soul and answers to my doubts. One of these tender mercies happened to me about a year ago when I was walking through my kitchen. On the wall next to the door we have a key shaped key holder on which we put all our household keys. The purpose of this holder is to keep our keys organized and in a safe spot, so that we always know where they are when we need them. When keys don't get put on this holder things get a big chaotic at our house-- resulting in frantic searches through the house for car keys, house keys, and shed keys which actually sometimes get lost for good.

As I looked at this key holder and reflected on its purpose I realized that priesthood authority is much like a key holder. In fact, we call men in the church who are authorized to administer and use priesthood keys-- priesthood holders. Men aren't the priesthood, the priesthood is the power of God, but men are the vessels that God has authorized to "hold" and watch over the keys of His priesthood so that they aren't misused or lost. God has said that His house is a house of order and He has designated men responsible for keeping the keys of the priesthood organized and safe so that when they are needed they will be available to all who seek them, both men and women.

Just because men have been given responsibility to hold the keys doesn't mean that they have more privileges, blessings, or power than women in the church or in spiritual things. The priesthood is the power of God and both men and women have equal access to the blessings and privileges associated with it. In fact, priesthood keys can be "turned" by those who have authority in the behalf of women. Joseph Smith first did this in March of 1842 when he organized the Relief Society, which as one sister recalled his saying, “I will organize the women under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood.” (Sarah M. Kimball, “Auto-Biography,” Woman’s Exponent, 1 Sept. 1883, p. 51.) Just like the priesthood quorums, the Relief Society is self-governing but receives instruction and direction from priesthood leaders who hold responsibility for the priesthood keys. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, … that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. Authority and Priesthood are two different things. A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord.” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1959, p. 4.)

Women don't lose anything because they don't "hold" the keys or administer the priesthood because they are still given the authority to participate in the same priesthood ordinances and receive the exact same blessings as the men who administer the ordinances. The truth is that it just isn't women's responsibility to be key holders. God has given women other responsibilities that are in every way just as important for the eternal salvation of God's children as holding and administering priesthood keys. True, these responsibilities aren't always as clearly defined or as acknowledged as ordinations to the priesthood or the administering of ordinances are, but just because the world (or even church members) don't recognize their value and power doesn't mean that God doesn't. God is VERY aware of the important jobs women do on this earth and accepts their offerings and sacrifices.

The world tells women that if they don't have the exact same responsibilities or opportunities as men then they are being cheated and controlled. This is just another of Satan's lies. Men and women are different and God has given each different talents, gifts and responsibilities that enrich the lives of all human beings. Joseph Smith taught the early women of the Relief Society that "...Being organized under priesthood authority, they were to reject worldly concepts of power and seek the power that flows down from heaven for those functions and to those individuals who are using their time and talents in the Lord’s way." (Dallin H. Oaks, "The Relief Society and the Church", 1992) Men and women aren't here on earth to compete against each other, but rather are here to help one another return to the presence of God. When men and women learn to respect and sustain one another in their sacred responsibilities then the work of God goes forth at a brilliant pace, blessing the lives of all the human family.

I am so grateful for this tender mercy of insight that God gave me at a time when I really needed it; because now whenever I hang my keys on my key holder I am reminded that even though it is not my responsibility to be a holder of priesthood keys, doesn't mean that I have less power, privileges or blessings then men who do. It just means that God has a different purpose and mission for me, that only I can accomplish. I am grateful for that knowledge.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Women at the Empty Tomb

I've often wondered why Christ chose to appear to women first after His resurrection. Was there something special about the women? Was there something symbolic about it? This Easter I really poured over the scriptures in the gospels talking about the resurrection and as I was reading I realized something I hadn't thought of before-- that the reason these women were privileged to be the first witnesses on this earth of Christ's resurrection was because they were some of the few disciples who didn't leave Christ during His great trial, they were with Him at the cross when some of his other disciples had betrayed or deserted Him. They never left Him, even after Christ's dead body was brought down from the cross and laid in the tomb, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sat guard in front of the tomb for as long as they could without breaking the sabbath (Matt 27: 60-61). It was only later that the Pharisees asked to set a watch outside the tomb and seal the stone so that Christ's disciples wouldn't try to steal His body (Matt. 27: 62-66).

Not only did these women never desert their Savior but they never stopped serving Him, even in death. The scriptures tell us that on the morning after the Sabbath, as early as they could possibly come with out breaking the sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the lesser and Joses (also called "the other Mary"), Joanna, Salome the wife of Zebedee and the mother of the apostles James and John, and "other women" who followed Jesus out of Galilee, came with spices to anoint and prepare Christ's body for burial. This task of anointing the body was just another of the "woman's tasks", like cooking, cleaning, washing, and sewing, that these women were accustomed to doing, and which I imagine they had done for Jesus many times during His ministry. I think it is significant that because these women were doing a "woman's task", taking care of Jesus' s physical needs, that they got one of the greatest privileges and blessings of all of Christ's disciples-- to be the first witnesses of His resurrection. I think that this shows that Christ acknowledged the faithful and loving service that these women had given him throughout His mortal life, and realized that what women do to sustain and provide physical life is important and valued in the eyes of God. He knew that their willingness to take care of his His physical body, even after He was dead, was a sign of their great love and devotion and so he blessed and rewarded them for it.

Another significant thing about these women was that they
were the first to touch the nail prints in Christ's feet and to physically know that He was indeed resurrected. In Mark 16:6-7 we read that when these women got to the tomb they found the stone rolled away and a young man, an angel sitting inside, who told them "Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him as he said unto you." (Mark 16:6-7). On hearing these words they immediately ran from the tomb to tell the disciples, and as they were going they were stopped on their way by the resurrected Jesus. They fell at His feet, and worshiped Him, knowing that He was indeed their Lord. He bade them to "Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me." (Matt. 28:9-10). From that moment on, even when others (like some of the apostles) questioned their testimonies, they never doubted what they had seen and felt but bore continuous witness that they had seen the empty tomb, that they had seen an angel and they had touched and seen the Resurrected Savior. I believe this is why these women were among the most privileged of all Christ's disciples, because they never deserted the Savior, their testimonies of Him never faltered, and they never stopped bearing witness of His divinity.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Shunamite Woman

"What is to Be Done for Thee" By Elspeth Young

2 Kings 4: 8-37; 8:1-6

Background: 9th Century BC

Elijah passes the mantle of prophet on to Elisha, who then works mighty miracles among the children of Israel such as dividing the water of Jordan and healing the waters of Jericho (2 Kings 2). Also at this time Israel and Judah combine forces to battle the Moabites. Elisha promises them that they will have water and prophecies of their victory (2 Kings 3). Just previous to the story of the Shunamite woman is the story of Elisha multiplying the widow's oil so she would have enough money to pay her debtors (2 Kings 4:1-5).

Facts about Her:
  • She lives in Shunem, which is very close to where the city of Nazareth would be built in New Testament times;
  • She is called a "great woman";
  • When Elisha passes through Shunem she constrains him to eat bread with her and her house;
  • Elisha eats bread with her and from that time on every time he passes through Shunem he stops to eat bread at her house;
  • She tells her husband that she perceives Elisha to be a holy man of God;
  • She builds a chamber in her house especially for Elisha to use when he travels. The "chamber" she prepares is known as the upper room (or in Hebrew "aliyah") and was the very best room in the house. It was reserved for important guests and the master of the house;
  • On the first day that Elisha stays in the new chamber he asks Gehazi, his servant, to call her in so that he can thank her for the room. As a gift he offers to speak to the King or the Captain of the host on her behalf;
  • She refuses his offer and replies that she dwells "among her own people";
  • After she leaves Elisha asks Gehazi what he could do for her. Gehazi tells Elisha that she has no child and that her husband is old;
  • Elisha calls her back and tells her that "About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son";
  • She tells him "Nay, my Lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto think handmaid";
  • She conceives and bares a son around the time that Elisha told her she would;
  • One day when the child is older he goes with his father to reap but keeps complaining about his head hurting. He is carried back to his mother where he "sat on her knees till noon, and then died";
  • When her son is dead she lays him on Elisha's bed in her house and shuts the door. She then tells her husband that she is going to see Elisha. He is confused because it isn't the sabbath or the new moon, but she tells him "It shall be well";
  • She travels to Carmel to see Elisha. When Elisha sees her coming he sends Gehazi out to meet her and ask how her family is. She tells him that "It is well";
  • When she meets Elisha she falls at his feet and says "Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me?"
  • Elisha sends Gehazi with his staff which he is to lay upon the face of the child. The Shunamite woman follows him. Gehazi lays the staff upon the face of the child but he doesn't awake.
  • Elisha goes to the house and locks himself in the room with the child until he returns him to life;
  • He calls to the Shunamite woman to "take up thy son". She falls at Elisha's feet and takes her living son with her out of the room.
  • Several years later Elisha comes to her to warn her of a famine that will be upon the land for seven years and that she and her household should leave;
  • She and her household obey Elisha and sojourn in the land of the Philistines for seven years;
  • At the end of seven years she returns and goes before the king to ask for her land and her house back;
  • It just so happened that while she is appealing the king for her land, Gehazi is telling the King about all the miracles that Elisha has done. Gehazi sees the Shunamite woman and tells the king that Elisha had restored her son to life.
  • The King asks her if it was true and she told him it is. The King then restores to her all that was hers plus "all the fruits of the field since the day she left the land, even until now."
Speculations About Her:
  • The reference to her being a "great woman" probably means that she was wealthy and had great influence in the community in which she lived;
  • From the story it is obvious that she had command of a great household that depended upon her and her husband for physical protection and spiritual direction;
  • When asked what she wants she doesn't tell Elisha that she wants a child, nor does she believe that she will be able to have one when he tells her that she will. Perhaps this is because she had been so long without a child that she had given up all hope. She may have long ago given up pleading to the Lord for a child, and had learned to accept His will and her place in life.
  • When she tells her husband that she is going to see Elisha he is confused because it isn't the sabbath or the new moon. This indicates that she probably attended spiritual meetings regularly.
  • She tells Elisha that she "dwells among her own people" and it is unclear as to what this means. It could mean that she dwells with her family, which would be very unusual because women usually went to live with their husbands families. Or it could mean that she has some to see her husband's family as "her own people."
  • In the second story, the one about the famine, we are probably safe to guess that her husband had died seeing as he isn't mentioned and that he was mentioned as being old in the first story. What is remarkable is that from the tone of the story it sounds like she inherited all the property and that she was in sole command of her great household. Which is unusual because the property should have been passed on to her husband's brothers. Perhaps there were no brothers?

My Thoughts:

I think what I am impressed most with in this story is this woman's amazing faith. Not only does she have the spiritual sensitivity to recognize Elisha as a prophet of God, but she welcomes him into her home and gives him a permanent, honorable place. When she is offered more prestige and wealth by being introduced to the king, she turns it down because she is content with what she has. She doesn't even ask Elisha for a child, which she probably wanted desperately, but is content with her place in life and what God has given her. I can only marvel to think how long it must have taken her, and how many prayers she must have offered, to have finally gotten to that point in her life. I truly admire that.

Then when she finally is blessed with a child, the child dies. I think that any other woman's faith would have been rocked to the core. First a prophet blesses you with a child and then it is taken away-- what justice is there in that! But she doesn't let her son's death diminish her faith, in fact everything she does from that moment on is an act of amazing faith. She puts her son on the bed in which she has housed the prophet for so many months and locks the door on him. Then she tells her husband to saddle up her ass so that she can go see the prophet. Did she even tell her husband that the boy was dead? I don't know-- you think that if she had then her husband wouldn't have been so confused about why she was going to see Elisha. And as she is leaving she tells her husband " It shall be well." What an amazing thing for her to be able to say! This from a woman who just had her little boy die in her arms, and yet she has the faith to say that everything will be okay. She also says it again to Gehazi when he comes to greet her and asks how her family is. She doesn't even tell him that her son has died but says "It is well." She knew that no matter what happened, whether her son lived again or not, that everything would be alright. When she kneels before Elisha she doesn't ask him to heal her son, she just asks for understanding and for help to understand what has happened to her.

I can't help but think that, "It shall be well", must have been the theme phrase of this woman's life. Who knows how many times during her years and years of praying for a child that "It shall be well" was her only answer. I think that this woman had learned one of the hardest of life lessons-- to accept the will of God. She knew that there are things in life that we can not control and that we can not always understand God's ways. Yet she knew, as demonstrated by her ability to say "It is well" in the face of extreme trials, that God loved her, that He was aware of her, and that no matter what happened that He would take care of her. And God did take care of her, not only did He heal her son but He later saves the lives of all her family by sending them to safety during the famine. True, she had to leave everything behind but she gained it all back plus much more than she ever had before. This is the great lesson to be learned from the Shunamite, that when we accept God's will and have faith in his prophets and teachings, he blesses us and protects us.

What We Can Learn From Her:
  • While we may not have the opportunity to physically house a prophet of God under our roof, each of us should make room for him in our hearts and our lives and it should be the very best room we have;
  • She was a woman of industry and action. She had the idea (perhaps prompting) to make a room for Elisha and so she did it and because of her actions she and all her family were blessed;
  • In all the decisions she makes she first consults with her husband. Yes, she is very independent, but before she takes any action she communicates respectfully with her husband first;
  • When we learn to accept the will of God with faith, he can work mighty miracles for us;
  • Miracles can and do happen-- according to our faith and the will of God;
  • When we makes sacrifices, sometimes all we have, God compensates us and returns to us what we had plus much more.
Questions to Think About: