Saturday, June 21, 2014

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Our New Framing of the Priesthood - Elder Oaks: Part 3

This lesson covered the next seven paragraphs in Elder Oaks' talk.  (To read the summaries of the first two lessons about his talk, read here and here.)

We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.

We talked about this as being a rephrasing of what we had discussed in the first week's lesson - that everyone who acts under the direction of the presiding Priesthood keys does so with the authority and power of God - the classic definition of the Priesthood. We talked about how traditionally young men serving missions has been considered a Priesthood duty but young women have been told they can serve missions or not, whatever they want, without any pressure to do so - since "preaching the Gospel" has been considered a Priesthood duty. We talked about how the lowering of the minimum age for young women goes hand-in-hand with seeing women as working with Priesthood authority and power, as well. Therefore, serving a mission is a good example for Elder Oaks to use when talking about how we need to start seeing Priesthood authority and power differently than in the past.

Whoever exercises priesthood authority should forget about their rights and concentrate on their responsibilities. That is a principle needed in society at large. The famous Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is quoted as saying, “It is time … to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.” Latter-day Saints surely recognize that qualifying for exaltation is not a matter of asserting rights but a matter of fulfilling responsibilities

This could have been tricky, but I focused on the concept that Elder Oaks already had said that everyone can exercise Priesthood authority and power, so, with that foundation (not talking about Priesthood offices and the performance of ordinances but only exercising Priesthood authority), it really is more important to talk about what is done with that authority (one's responsibilities) than focusing on a right we all have anyway. I mentioned explicitly that this paragraph has nothing whatsoever to do with civil rights. We also talked about how different Mormon theology is with regard to responsibilities relative to exaltation than Protestant theology relative to the right to salvation merely by confessing the name of Jesus.

The Lord has directed that only men will be ordained to offices in the priesthood. But, as various Church leaders have emphasized, men are not “the priesthood.” Men hold the priesthood, with a sacred duty to use it for the blessing of all of the children of God.

I repeated from last week's lesson that the leadership sees a historical pattern of a male-only Priesthood office structure, but, as we discussed in a previous lesson about the sacrament, "the priesthood" is not the men who hold offices and preform ordinances outside the temple. We then talked again about how easy it is to slip into the vocabulary of our formative years, like even Elder Oaks did when he said "men hold the priesthood" - after he had made it clear throughout the talk that what he had to mean is that men are ordained to offices in the priesthood and administer ordinances outside the temple. I emphasized that most people will continue to use the term "hold the priesthood" when what they mean, usually without realizing it, is "be ordained to offices in the priesthood and administer ordinances outside the temple".

Prior to reading the next few paragraphs, I emphasized that Elder Oaks now was starting to talk about a new topic - and that he was NOT repeating the oft-stated idea that priesthood is the male counterpart to motherhood. That is easy to misunderstand with a quick reading only, but that former comparison makes no sense in light of the entire talk. I also told them explicitly that the next paragraphs contain good examples of cultural assumptions that are hard to release, even in a talk as paradigm-altering as this one.

The greatest power God has given to His sons cannot be exercised without the companionship of one of His daughters, because only to His daughters has God given the power “to be a creator of bodies … so that God’s design and the Great Plan might meet fruition.” Those are the words of President J. Reuben Clark.

It makes no sense to read "the greatest power God has given to His sons" as being the Priesthood, since men can exercise the Priesthood without the companionship of women - and, according to Elder Oaks in this talk, women can exercise the Priesthood, as well. The ONLY logical meaning of that "greatest power" is the ability to have kids - or "procreation" in Mormon-speak. I simply added that this is kind of a "Duh!" statement and that Pres. Clark, whom I really respected and admired, was wrong in a way - since a woman is NOT "a creator of bodies" all by herself. I grinned and said that a man has to be involved, as well - that they both are creators of bodies.

He continued: “This is the place of our wives and of our mothers in the Eternal Plan. They are not bearers of the Priesthood; they are not charged with carrying out the duties and functions of the Priesthood; nor are they laden with its responsibilities; they are builders and organizers under its power, and partakers of its blessings, possessing the complement of the Priesthood powers and possessing a function as divinely called, as eternally important in its place as the Priesthood itself.”

I pointed out that, all by themselves, these sentences make little sense when compared with the rest of Elder Oaks' talk - that the rest of this talk up to this point actually changes many of the assumptions in Pres. Clark's words. Either Elder Oaks was using the quote because it was quoted often over the years or he is talking about something else. The next sentence shows he is talking about something else.

In those inspired words, President Clark was speaking of the family.

Thus, Elder Oaks used Pres. Clark's quote not to discuss Priesthood authority and power but to discuss family and marriage structure and responsibility.

As stated in the family proclamation, the father presides in the family and he and the mother have separate responsibilities, but they are “obligated to help one another as equal partners.”

I simply mentioned how frustrating it is for me to hear members cite the Proclamation to insist that men and women have to adhere to the traditional roles described as "primary responsibilities" in the Proclamation - since the part about helping each other as equal partners says it applies to "these responsibilities" inclusively and then goes on to talk about how each couple needs to make adaptations that work for them. Given this wording, just like the distinction between rights and responsibilities in exercising the authority and power of the Priesthood, it's not about who does what (rights) but simply that everything that is supposed to happen actually happens (responsibilities). Thus, I know stay-at-home dads who are married to full-time working moms - which now is said to be completely fine if decided mutually by those spouses.

I also mentioned that "preside" now means something very different than it did when I was their age, as emphasized in the next thing Elder Oaks quoted.

Some years before the family proclamation, President Spencer W. Kimball gave this inspired explanation: “When we speak of marriage as a partnership, let us speak of marriage as a full partnership. We do not want our LDS women to be silent partners or limited partners in that eternal assignment! Please be a contributing and full partner.”

I pointed out that this quote was a pre-cursor to the Proclamation and that it fundamentally changes the way we ought to talk about marriage. We talked about "full partnerships" by discussing joint checking accounts - that my wife and I each don't have access to half of our money but that each of us has access to all of it. It's not 50/50; it's 100/100. Likewise, a full marriage partnership means each spouse has equal access to everything done in the marriage - that there isn't one who is the final decision maker or ultimately the boss. Too many older members, especially, still see it that way, but it's not consistent with Pres. Kimball's quote or this talk.

In the eyes of God, whether in the Church or in the family, women and men are equal, with different responsibilities.

We ended the lesson by talking more about what it means to be equal but have different responsibilities - and that how the determination of how those responsibilities are divided among men and women is up to spouses in the family and "key holders" in the Church - and that changes to how responsibilities in the Church currently are allocated is up to the leadership, subject to revelation that may change the current division of responsibilities and the composition of the leadership.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your reading of this is really quite complex and nuanced, and quite beyond the general membership of the church. To most of us, this talk was not so much paradigm shifting but more of the same. I think there are those who would have e very different reading of this text and see in it justification for a continuation of the status quo, whatever they see that as being.This is not to call your interpretation into question, it's great, I love it. I just don't think that conservative thinkers would see it that way. Nice that you are teaching it this way to our kids, though I imagine it might bring their conceptions into conflict with their own family organisation. Wish my daughters had heard such clarifications.