The church just released two essays that touch on the area of female equality issues.
The essay on Mother in Heaven was informative but not terribly groundbreaking. Joseph Smith referenced the existence of a Mother in Heaven, and modern church leaders affirm that doctrine, but outside of that nothing has been revealed. We don’t pray to her because we follow the example of praying to the Father that Jesus Christ gave us.
As with many other truths of the gospel, our present knowledge about a Mother in Heaven is limited. Nevertheless, we have been given sufficient knowledge to appreciate the sacredness of this doctrine and to comprehend the divine pattern established for us as children of heavenly parents. Latter-day Saints believe that this pattern is reflected in Paul’s statement that “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” Men and women cannot be exalted without each other. Just as we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said, “Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.”
Solid. Basically, yes we still believe in Mother in Heaven. We don’t talk about her a lot. It’s not because we disrespect women; it’s simply because we don’t know a lot about the subject.
The essay on priesthood and women. Boom! Holy Smokes. I am taking this as a loud and clear message that we will see change in the future.
First they set a precedent that that our understanding of a male priesthood might not be doctrinal but it might be grounded in the cultural understanding of 1830’s Christian America.
Even so, many Latter-day Saints initially understood the concept of priesthood largely in terms common for the day. In 1830s America, the word priesthood was defined as “the office or character of a priest” and “the order of men set apart for sacred offices,” identifying priesthood with religious office and the men who held it. Early Latter-day Saints likewise thought of priesthood primarily in terms of ordination to ecclesiastical office and authority to preach and perform religious rites. As in most other Christian denominations during this era, Latter-day Saint men alone held priesthood offices, served formal proselytizing missions, and performed ordinances like baptism and blessing the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
The essay acknowledges the Joseph Smith encouraged women to give healing blessings by laying on of hands.
“Respecting the female laying on hands,” the Nauvoo Relief Society minutes record, Joseph said that “it is no sin for any body to do it that has faith,” and admonished, “if the sisters should have faith to heal the sick, let all hold their tongues, and let every thing roll on.” Some women had performed such blessings since the early days of the Church.
Then later, the essay opens the door to future change by referencing the current practice of women not giving blessings as an administrative practice. The source for why women don’t currently give blessings in the church? The Bible? The Doctrine and Covenants? Revelation from God to a prophet? Nope. It’s simply the current Handbook of Instructions.
Women’s participation in healing blessings gradually declined in the early 20th century as Church leaders taught that it was preferable to follow the New Testament directive to “call for the elders.” By 1926, Church President Heber J. Grant affirmed that the First Presidency “do not encourage calling in the sisters to administer to the sick, as the scriptures tell us to call in the Elders, who hold the priesthood of God and have the power and authority to administer to the sick in the name of Jesus Christ.” The current Handbook of Instructions directs that “only Melchizedek Priesthood holders may administer to the sick or afflicted.”
When you’re opening the door for future change, you do exactly what the church did.
- Plant a seed that male priesthood might have cultural and not doctrinal foundations, following the lead of other Christian churches in America.
- Set doctrinal precedent for the change. Joseph encouraged females to give blessings.
- State the current position is due to practice not doctrine.
Fasten your seat belts. I think this is just a start.
Edit: (update from author after some heated discussion on Facebook) A lot of people are getting the wrong idea from this post. I’m not modifying anything from the original post but adding some clarifying info.
- I’m not demanding change from the church. I support the brethren. I don’t support any groups that are against the church demanding female ordination. I’m not criticizing the brethren.
- I do find the language in the essay very interesting and think it provides clues for setting the foundation for future change. Other people don’t see it that way. Everyone reads it through their own perspective. I don’t see this as a reason to fight. I’m not interested in fighting to defend my position. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong.
- I do hope for future change on female equality issues, but I do this in a similar way as black saints in the 1970’s who voiced their opinions respectfully and were content to wait and did not aggressively criticize or oppose the church.
- My emphasis on this site is to publicize and ask for acceptance within Mormonism of a non-literal view of scripture and church historical origins. Part of that perspective includes a view of the leadership of the church as humble servants of God that are constantly working to bring the church in line with what we as a collective body of Christ feel is God’s will. I see the brethren in an optimistic and positive light and acknowledge their difficult task in understanding and implementing God’s will. I sustain them.