Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Priesthood, Part 1

This is a two-part segment on one of the most "sensitive" issues for discussion in the church: the priesthood. Little is understood by the vast majority of non-members as well as many members when it comes to this topic. There are many that do understand it, but when asked, do not know how to adequately explain it. I researched it for quite some time before coming to an explainable understanding.

From what I've seen, there are four main concerns that frequently arise in conversation which will be addressed here:

  1. Part 1 will cover
    1. Priesthood being defined as "Men"
    2. The idea that the blessings of the priesthood can only be accessed through men
  2. Part 2 will go over
    1. Women wanting priesthood ordination, thinking that it is the equalizing factor between the sexes in the church
    2. The idea that "patriarch" (or presider in the home) means "the one who's ultimately in charge"

      Conflict #1: Priesthood being defined as “Men” or “What the men do”
It makes sense that many people (members and non-members alike) think that men are indeed the priesthood: The general session of conference for the men is called priesthood session; after the sacrament is passed in church on Sundays, the conducting member of the bishopric usually says something like "we would like to thank the priesthood for the reverent manner in which they served us this day"; male leaders in the church are called priesthood leaders. In recent years, Elder Dallin H. Oaks (an apostle in the church) has put forth great effort to help us understand this concept.
"The priesthood is [defined as] the power of God...to bless all of His children, male and female. . . . Some of our abbreviated expressions, like 'the women and the priesthood,' convey an erroneous idea. Men are not 'the priesthood.' Priesthood meeting is a meeting of those who hold and exercise the priesthood. . . . While we sometimes refer to the priesthood holders as 'the priesthood,' we must never forget that the priesthood is not owned or embodied in those who hold it. . . . The blessings of the priesthood, such as baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, the temple endowment, and eternal marriage, are available to men and women alike." (Priesthood Authority in the Family and the Church, General Conference, Oct 2005) 
As Elder Oaks stated, saying this is just simply referring to those who are ordained to priesthood offices. However, because it is so commonly used, it is easy to forget the truth. It is vital to understand what the priesthood actually is, as opposed to what many have believed for generations. 
In primary (the church's classes for the children), I recently taught the lesson about the priesthood. Every lesson has a suggested activity to get the children's attention focused on the topic for that day. The suggested activity that Sunday involved having all of the children perform various tasks with their hands. Afterward, I was to inform them that, in comparison, men and young men who hold the priesthood do things with their hands as well (prepare/pass the sacrament, give blessings of comfort or healing, etc.). I know that the point of the activity was to help the children recognize when priesthood authority was being used. However, to me, the only thing this task would have ultimately accomplished would have been to teach that the priesthood was something that males do with their hands. 

I elected not to do that particular suggested activity. Instead, I reminded them of when they were baptized and received the Holy Ghost. I asked them if they knew people who had been married in the temple. I explained that these are some blessings that everyone can have access to because of the priesthood.

                                       Conflict #2: The blessings of the priesthood can only be accessed though men
In the most recent Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting of the church, Elder Oaks again explained that many members (male and female) get confused with priesthood definitions, specifically those of (1) priesthood authority and (2) priesthood power. Priesthood authority is defined as the offices that worthy males in the church are ordained to (deacon, priest, elder, etc.). Priesthood power, however, is a different thing altogether.
"My father died when I was seven. I was the oldest of three small children our widowed mother struggled to raise. When I was ordained a deacon, she said how pleased she was to have a priesthood holder in the home. But mother continued to direct the family, including calling on which one of us would pray when we knelt together each morning. I was puzzled. I had been taught that the priesthood presided in the family. There must be something I didn't know about how that principle worked." (Dallin H. Oaks, Priesthood  Authority in the Family and in the Church, Oct 2005 General Conference)

Elder Oaks had been taught correctly, but was confused in the same way that many members today are. It is the priesthood [defined as the power of God, not the men] which ultimately presides in the home. Elder Oaks’ mother, like her husband, had been sealed (married in the temple) by the priesthood authority of the sealer. It was not her “husband’s priesthood” that gave her the mantle/authorization to preside; it was the power from the priesthood sealing that they both participated in as equals.
The idea of the priesthood only being accessed through men is also evident in wives referring to their husbands as “the priesthood.” I have heard many a recently-married woman, referring to her husband, say “I love having the priesthood in my home!” I have also heard others say, “I miss having the priesthood in my home” when their husbands are gone for a period of time. I personally feel that because many of these women are so used to the husband = priesthood idea, they mistake the heartache of missing their loved one for a lack of the spiritual blessings of the priesthood in their lives. I now relate a story told by a boy whose father had abandoned their family and left the mother to raise her children alone.
"She needed and appreciated the special attention she received from men who held the priesthood—her father and brothers, her home teachers, other men in the ward. However, her greatest strength came from the Lord Himself. She did not have to wait for a visit in order to have the blessings of the priesthood in her home, and when visitors left, those blessings did not leave with them. Because she was faithful to the covenants she had made in the waters of baptism and in the temple, she always had the blessings of the priesthood in her life.” (Daughters In My Kingdom, p.138) 
On April 28, 1842, Joseph Smith spoke at a Relief Society meeting in Nauvoo, Illinois. Part of his discourse was based on the Apostle Paul’s teachings in 1 Corinthians 12–13 about the gifts of the Spirit. President Smith emphasized that “these signs, such as healing the sick, casting out devils etc. should follow all that believe” (emphasis added). "Because Latter-day Saint women have received the gift of the Holy Ghost, they can seek and be blessed by spiritual gifts such as 'the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.'” (Daughters In My Kingdom, p.130)

Now, this doesn't mean that a woman who has received the Holy Ghost can lay her hands on someone’s head and give him/her a blessing of health. However, she may be blessed with the ability to know what to do to help someone begin to be healed, either emotionally or spiritually. She also may call upon the Lord, asking that he may use the priesthood (His power) in her behalf to heal another that cannot ask for him/herself. 
"The blessings of the priesthood are available to every righteous man and woman. We may all receive the Holy Ghost, obtain personal revelation, and be endowed in the temple, from which we emerge ‘armed’ with power. The power of the priesthood heals, protects, and inoculates all of the righteous against the powers of darkness. Most significantly, the fullness of the priesthood contained in the highest ordinances of the house of the Lord (marriage being among these) can be received only by a man and woman together.” (Sheri L. Dew, as quoted in Daughters In My Kingdom, p.128)

Thus concludes part one of the two-part Religiosity: Priesthood segment.

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