Mormon Monday: General Conference April 2014 – Martin Harris and Ordain Women

During this last General Conference two different talks (here and here) mentioned the story of Martin Harris and losing the 116 manuscript pages.   Each made the point that because Martin and Joseph kept asking the Lord after he told them ‘No’, there were consequences, including the fact that Joseph lost his spiritual gifts for a time.

While neither of these talks directly referenced the Ordain Women movement, it seems they are making a reference to this group, who have already been told, and were told once again by an Apostle, Elder Oaks, during this conference about the rights and responsibilities of the Priesthood and the order the Lord has established for His Church.   It will be very interesting to see what this group does when the next General Conference rolls around in October.   They have been given their answer, by an Apostle of the Lord, a leader in this church they say they are a part of and believe in.   Will they again petition the Lord with the same question, as Martin Harris and Joseph Smith did, until they get the answer they want to hear?  And what will be the consequences of their repeated petitions of the Lord and the Lord’s Church?

Does it seem coincidental that at exactly this moment the story of Martin Harris and Joseph Smith was again emphasized with the consequences of repeatedly asking the Lord the same question hoping for a different answer, waiting for the Lord to give the answer one wants?  Or do we believe that the Church is directing its messages to those who associate themselves with this Ordain Women group?   An Apostle of the Lord spoke and clarified many things pertaining to how the Priesthood is used in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including the fact that many women in the Church are given Priesthood authority to act and serve in their respective callings.   Elder Oaks said,

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.

He taught that women do have access to Priesthood authority to fulfill their callings and responsibilities in the church, even if they are not ordained to Priesthood offices.   At this time only men are ordained to Priesthood offices, as Elder Oaks taught: “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. ”

He was very clear, answering the main concern of the Ordain Women group, which states on their website that they are “Mormon women seeking equality and ordination to the Priesthood”. Elder Oaks clearly addressed the fact that the Lord has determined that women are not ordained to offices in the Priesthood.   I believe Elder Oaks also addressed the first point as well when he said, “In the eyes of God, whether in the Church or in the family, women and men are equal, with different responsibilities.”  And he quoted another Apostle, Elder Ballard, in saying ,”Our Church doctrine places women equal to and yet different from men. God does not regard either gender as better or more important than the other.” But, it seems that many may not have caught that, or have wished for a better, fuller answer.

I was browsing the #ldsconf hashtag on Twitter today and came across this tweet:

Honest question: how can we claim equality of gender while we say one gender presides over the other? #ldsconf

My response was:  @brianspittler Ephesians 5:21-33 Men preside over the family in love and righteousness as Christ presides over church. Should emulate Him.

I am a big fan of these verses in Ephesians, though I know they are often misinterpreted or misunderstood.   I was asked by my brother-in-law to read a Biblical passage at his wedding, and these are the verses I choose, and when we told the Pastor conducting the service, he seemed surprised that I was “bringing out the big guns”, as he put it.   Even he recognized that these verses can be controversial, but do contain heavy doctrine pertaining to marriage and how husband and wife should treat each other.

Most people start quoting at verse 22, which says “Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands, as unto the Lord” and they do not like that women are told to be submissive to their husbands.   But I like to start in verse 21 where Paul is still talking to the congregation as a whole and says, “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of the Lord”.  Marriage is not just about wives submitting to their husbands in everything, but husbands submit to their wives as well.   Anyone who says differently has never been married, or is sorely mistaken about the true relationship in his marriage.

True, Paul starts out by talking to the wives, telling them to submit unto their husbands as unto the Lord, “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church” and “Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. ”  But Paul does not stop there, he goes on to preach, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”.  That does not sound like a husband who domineers over his submissive wife, demanding that she obey him whatever he says.   No, the relationship between a husband and a wife needs to emulate Jesus Christ and the way he dealt with the Church.   He presided over the Church and gave direction and counsel and taught good principles, but he never used force or sarcasm or demanded subservience from the Church.   He said, “I am among you as he that serveth.”

Men preside over the family in the same way, always looking to Jesus Christ as an example for how to act, just as He said he only did those things which He had seen the Father do.   Presiding in the Priesthood is fundamentally different from presiding in any other aspect of our mortal, secular lives.  As Elder Oaks taught, “There is no “up or down” in the service of the Lord. There is only “forward or backward”.  This does not make sense to a corporate world which teaches that if one is above another then that one is more important.   The positions one holds in the Church, even that of Husband and Wife or Father and Mother do not make one important, it is only in how one acts in those positions.   And just because a husband is set to preside over his family does not place him above his wife or children, instead he has simply been given more responsibility for ensuring their needs are met and they are taught the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Again Elder Oaks mentioned this important principle: “Whoever exercises priesthood authority should forget about their rights and concentrate on their responsibilities.  Latter-day Saints surely recognize that qualifying for exaltation is not a matter of asserting rights but a matter of fulfilling responsibilities.”  Presiding in the home and in the family is not about having the ‘right’ to do so, but having the ‘responsibility’, and husbands have been given the primary responsibility, though any husband who does not engage his wife and utilize her as an equal partner is a fool.

As you can see, I thoroughly enjoyed Elder Oaks’ talk and I do not see that women in the Church need to advocate for equality.   When it works properly, women are equal, though with different God-given responsibilities and talents and characteristics and roles.   I think the real problem is that the Church, as an organization, does not always function as well as the Church, as the Kingdom of God on earth, should.   I had a mission companion who said, “Jesus founded a perfect Church — and then he let hosers like us in.”  Well we could say, with Mormon, “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God”

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