I would like to share a new perspective on priesthood: that of a Mormon Feminist Transhumanist. Although some may criticize me and my minority position in our vulnerability, I feel it is important to offer this perspective with authenticity and honesty.
As context, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the largest Mormon denomination), priesthood is the power and authority of God given to man, including the authority to perform ordinances and to lead the Church. Presently, ordination and full access to priesthood is reserved for men only. Although women may participate in limited ways, men preside over all women’s positions and auxiliaries, and women are excluded from presiding in Church governance.
In this post, I will first illustrate the harmful effects of excluding women from full participation in the priesthood through a personal narrative. I will then comment on desires, benefits, and risks that would accompany the ordination of women.
A Father’s Blessing
It’s a Mormon tradition for the father of the household to give each child a priesthood blessing before the beginning of each school year. They are often referred to as “father’s blessings”. It’s a lovely tradition. I remember, as a young girl, taking turns with each of my sisters, sitting in a chair, while my father laid his hands on our heads and blessed each of us. They are happy memories.
However, when I was 14 my father was excommunicated from the Church on Easter Sunday. He was cut off from the Mormon community as a form of discipline and was deemed unworthy to exercise the priesthood. My father was the only male in our home. This left my mother, two sisters, and me to fend for ourselves in matters of the priesthood.
The following school year I would not have a father’s blessing. Of course, the typical response to this particular predicament is to call the home teachers or bishop to come provide access to a priesthood blessing.
If only it were so simple.
The reality is if I were to ask my home teachers to come to our home to give me a priesthood blessing, my father would have the humiliating experience of sitting by and watching another man preside in his home and bless his daughter. My mother would have the humiliating experience of watching another man come into her home and bless her daughter because she was deemed an unfit candidate for the priesthood due to the fact she was female. As for me, I was a teenage girl going through puberty, starting my period, experiencing other bodily changes, and what I really needed was a priesthood blessing from my parent, not from a couple of well-meaning men from my ward whom I had hardly spoken a word to.
No priesthood blessing was worth the humiliation it would cause my family, so I concluded it was better to go without.
I cried in bed the night before school started. I fervently prayed to Heavenly Father with genuine intent asking Him to bless me with His Priesthood. I waited quietly and patiently for a response but felt nothing. I was alone.
After I finished crying, I fell asleep that night feeling like a silly girl with shattered dreams in a fraudulent illusion. I suppose we all have to grow up someday.
A New Perspective
My freshmen year of college, I was engaged with a wonderfully devout Mormon who wore the priesthood so lightly it didn’t even seem to matter that I didn’t have it. We were married in the Portland temple, and my fragile faith was crushed by an overwhelming sense of sexism.
A few years later, I delivered a healthy baby boy. After the birth of our first child, the tradition of a father’s blessing shortly followed.
I watched my husband hold our tiny baby in his strong but gentle arms. During the blessing he spoke words that deeply resonated with me. I still had no intention of believing that the priesthood was anything more than a bunch of made-up nonsense, and I had no interest in receiving a priesthood blessing for myself, but nonetheless hearing his blessing changed me.
I became grateful to have a husband who held the priesthood, not because I valued any unilateral male dependency. No, certainly not. I changed because I was able to see the priesthood from a new perspective — a completely natural, yet less cynical perspective.
I could see the priesthood as a spiritual conduit for bonding that provoked a collective mood of love and devotion. That day I realized what I missed most about not having the priesthood directly in my life was the opportunities to express and share love through ritualistic blessings and ordinances.
When my father blessed me before each school year, he spoke kind and thoughtful words that he probably would have never said had the opportunity of an annual priesthood blessing not presented itself. We formed positive memories and experiences that further formed our worldview. But the influence of those experiences was stunted once the priesthood was removed from my family. I wonder what experiences my mother, sisters, and I could have shared if the priesthood were freely available to us.
When my husband blessed our child with several other men, including my father, there were tangible expressions of love, devotion, and power that changed my husband as a man and father. How would those experiences shape him as a human being? How would those rituals affect our family dynamics? If my husband were removed from the equation, what spiritual technology could I use to recreate those meaningful memories and experiences for my children, if not the priesthood?
A Spiritual Technology
Priesthood is a spiritual technology and holds transformative power that is worth experiencing and exploring. The power lies in opportunities and access, just like any other technology. Priesthood technology has the potential to strengthen interpersonal relationships, forge bonds of spirituality, shape meaningful worldviews, and present opportunities for growth, leadership, and development.
Priesthood power lies not in any supernatural or mystical forces. Priesthood power lies in our willingness to let it transform us. But without access, the power is diminished.
When we limit equal opportunity and deny access to those positive experiences, we are weakening ourselves from within. When we thwart the righteous desires of women who wish to use that technology for good, we diminish the collective influence the priesthood has to offer.
The Desires of Abraham
My desire for female ordination is neither an unreasonable demand nor a groveling plea. Rather, it is a respectful and mutually beneficial desire that, I feel and think, merits our most serious consideration. It would further alleviate unnecessary suffering while providing more intimate opportunities for spiritual growth and development. And it would establish equal opportunity for us all in our desires to become Christ.
Abraham, that great priesthood patriarch himself, establishes precedent for desiring and seeking ordination:
“And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.”
Abraham, it says, was “desiring” and “sought … the right [to be] ordained” to possess greater knowledge and righteousness. And as a follower of righteousness, he “became a rightful heir, a High Priest”.
Women who seek ordination for further knowledge and righteousness are not so different from Abraham, who was rewarded for his righteous desires and became a High Priest.
Desires of the Minority
I recognize that women who desire ordination are the minority, but being in a minority does not equate with being wrong. People who desired and advocated for racial equality concerning blacks and the priesthood were once the minority until they weren’t. Mormons are a minority among Christian denominations, but does that make Mormonism wrong or unworthy of consideration? Minorities bring valuable insights that are often overlooked.
Some argue that most women “don’t even want the priesthood”. I would generally agree. However, I would urge women who speak out against ordination to consider: does your lack of desire denote that another’s genuine desire is unholy or unrighteous? Not necessarily. As for Abraham, seeking ordination may be for her a manifestation of faithful and righteous desires.
I would ask Mormon women who do not desire the priesthood to empathize with those who have perhaps had less favorable circumstances, and to contemplate how women could benefit from ordination in ways they have perhaps not yet considered.
I would also ask Mormon women to consider that not all men desire priesthood ordination either, yet we encourage young males to develop a strong and earnest desire to serve with priesthood authority, as exemplified in the Aaronic Priesthood manual: “Each young man will understand the duties of a deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood and will desire to magnify his calling as an Aaronic Priesthood holder.”
I trust that if the opportunity presented itself, faithful young women would be more than capable of developing a similar desire and would embrace the responsibility and duty just as our faithful young men have.
The Morality of Female Ordination
It is also worth considering if denying women priesthood ordination is actually immoral. In Parallels and Convergences, compiled by A. Scott Howe and Richard L. Bushman, we learn about quantifying morality through a “potentiality test”:
“A better way to intuitively explore morality issues is to use the ‘potentiality test’. The potentiality test helps expand the number of choices and opportunities available and eliminates all boundaries. Actions and consequences are placed on a scale by degree rather than being black and white, motivation is built into the test because it attempts to increase the number of choices available in the future. The participant becomes less and less a victim of circumstances and gains more and truer freedom. An outcome that results in a greater number of potentialities has greater value.” (p 95)
As I see it, the ordination of women would greatly increase the number of choices in the future, and each participant would become “less a victim of circumstance”. This is not to say that female ordination should proceed haphazardly, without deliberation, or carelessly in relation to traditional order. Quite to the contrary, caution and tradition can also expand opportunities to the extent that they do not become oppressive. Carefully combined, tradition and inclusion would increase future potentialities for priesthood influence, thus making ordination a moral action by the standard of the potentiality test.
This is My Voice
Each day we wait, we lose one more woman, one more woman is marginalized, one more child goes without a priesthood blessing, and one more woman realizes her desires to be like Christ are not supported by her religion. One by one, more hearts become jaded by the ignorance of those who won’t share her pain. When she becomes disenchanted with the priesthood and its potential influence for good, she may leave her religion altogether, believing that the priesthood is nothing more than a superstitious tool used by an elitist power structure to manipulate and subjugate women.
Surely, God is waiting on us to exercise our agency, love, and compassion to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort“. In a time when it seems more people are leaving their religions than ever before, there are women who are still willing to contribute. Let’s not let another moment go by where a woman goes unsupported in her desires to be Christ. Let’s greet her with enthusiasm and excitement. I trust in a benevolent God that would encourage those righteous desires.
Imagine the opportunities of love and compassion we could create for families and communities if women were granted equitable authorization to the priesthood technology. Now should be a time of celebration!
Joseph Smith once said, “Who are better qualified to administer than our faithful and zealous sisters whose hearts are full of faith, tenderness, sympathy, and compassion? No one.” (Relief Society Minutes, April 28 1842)
More recently, the encouraging words of Elder Nelson called to women in October 2015 General Conference, “We need you to speak out … We need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom and your voices … My dear sisters, whatever your calling, whatever your circumstance, we need your impressions, your insights, and your inspiration … We need women who have the courage and vision of our Mother Eve … So today I plead with my sisters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to step forward! Take your rightful and needful place … in the kingdom of God.”
I feel obliged by the request of Elder Nelson to step forward. This is my courage. This is my strength. This is my conviction. This is my insight. This is my inspiration. This is my vision.
I am one such “zealous sister” and this is my voice.
Blaire Ostler graduated from the Academy of Design and Technology, Seattle, with a BFA in Design. She and husband Drew have three children. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Mormon Transhumanist Association.
For the full article “The Priesthood is a Spiritual Technology for Women Too” visit the Transfigurist.