General conference is time when families gather together and a time to listen to the prophets. Afterwards begins discussions about the talks, about the new temples to be built, and so forth. After general conference this last weekend, however, the talk of the Mormon community hasn’t been about President Uchdorf’s latest address, Elder Holland’s sermon, or even President Monson’s announcement that the church is not going to be announcing new temples for a little while. The main talk since conference seems to center on the issue of women in the priesthood.
This is the second general conference in a row that the Ordain Women group gathered and entered Temple Square prior to the priesthood session. They requested tickets to enter the session and were turned away. Shortly thereafter, inside the priesthood session, Elder Oaks gave a talk at focused on the subject of women and the priesthood. In this address, he outlined what seems to be the Church’s position on the issue at this time. In essence he stated that all members of the church are equal regardless of callings, that the priesthood belongs to Jesus Christ and only He is able to make changes in who is able to receive the priesthood—not the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency, and indicated that it is contrary to the doctrine of the Church to ordain women.
This issue is becoming increasingly more prevalent in the church. My purpose today however, is not to outline what I think is right or wrong on this matter. My purpose is to emphasize that when we discuss this issue—or any issue—we need to do so civilly. I will state, candidly, that I believe in gender equality and that “God is no respecter of persons,” (Acts 10:34) and “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). While recognizing that there are differences between genders, I have no intellectual problems with women holding the priesthood—in my view, they are just as capable and willing to deal with the responsibility, and able to grow from the service required of priesthood holders. I also believe, however, in sustaining the prophets, seers, and revelators. Since they have stated that women are not allowed to hold the priesthood, I am willing to stand up for and support that position as long as the leaders of the Church do so, which is why I do not support the Ordain Women movement. Again, however, that is not my purpose in writing today.
One talk that impressed me during this latest General Conference delivered by Elder W. Craig Zwick of the 1st Quorum of the 70. In his address he stated the following:
Paul warned: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” [Ephesians 4:29.] His words resonate a certain purity.…
A recent letter from the First Presidency states clearly, “The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to love and treat all people with kindness and civility—even when we disagree.” What a masterful reminder that we can and should participate in continuing civil dialogue, especially when we view the world differing perspectives….
There exists a great need for men and women to cultivate respect for each other across wide distances of belief and behavior and across deep canyons of conflicting agendas. It is impossible to know all that informs our minds and hearts or even to fully understand the context for the trails and choice we each face.
Nevertheless, what would happen to the “corrupt communication” Paul spoke about if our own position included empathy for another’s experience first? Fully owning the limits of my own imperfections and rough edges, I plead you to practice asking this question: “What are you thinking?
Shockingly it [doesn’t] matter who [is] more right. What mattered was listening to each other and understanding the other’s perspective.
The willingness to see through each other’s eyes will transform “corrupt communication” into “minister[ing] grace.” The Apostle Paul understood this, and on some level each of us can experience it too. It may not change or solve the problem, but the more important possibility may be whether or not ministering grace could change us.
I bear humble witness that we can “minister grace” through compassionate language when the cultivated gift of the Holy Ghost pierces our hearts with empathy for the feelings and context of others. It enables us to transform hazardous situations into holy places.
I believe these remarks are timely, not only for discussions with people outside of the Church, but also for dialogue within the Church. There is a greater diversity of thought and opinion that there has ever been before in Mormonism. The women and the priesthood issue is one important example of this, however there are many things that are being discussed at this time. In discussing these things, we need to remember to put into practice what other Zwick has taught—to try and see things through each other’s eyes and minister grace.
Recently, I was visiting my in-laws in eastern Idaho and attended Church with them. While in their elders’ quorum, the teacher stated that he was willing to talk about hard issues and brought up women and the priesthood. One class member—a man who was probably in his 40s—immediately and consistently began mocking and ridiculing the women involved in Ordain Women and other similar Mormon feminist movements. This continued for several minutes until a different member spoke up and told the men that they needed to be better at ministering to women, then stated that in discussions with women interested in receiving the priesthood, he had come to feel that many of them wanted to be ordained because the men around them had failed to honor their priesthood and provided blessings when the women were in need of them. While this is not the only reason that drives people to push for female ordinations, it helped humanize them for the man who spent so much time and effort ridiculing them. After the meeting, he came up to the second man who had spoken and thanked him, telling him that while he still didn’t agree with feminists, he did have a higher opinion of them.
Elder Zwick’s thoughts apply to unorthodox, less active, or disaffected members of the LDS fold in general. In a recent conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf extended an olive leaf to this particular group by stating:
To those who have separated themselves from the Church, I say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here.
Come and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result.… Regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!
While this thought is beautiful, it will not be true that there is a place for or room for such members in the Church unless the general membership of the Church works to make it so. The key is what Elder Zwick suggested—listening and trying to see things from the viewpoints of people with different perspective rather than attacking them for thinking, speaking, or being different. Often times “liberal,” “unorthodox,” “feminist,” or struggling members do love the Church, which is why they’re still involved rather than leaving outright. They love Mormonism and want what’s best for the Church, but feel that there is room for improvement and that they must fight to bring the changes that will be for the best. Hence one of the Ordain Women member’s statement that, “I have no right to remain silent because I love this church.” While humans can be irrational, emotional beings, generally we do have good reasons in our minds for doing anything we do. I am not in a position to speak for members of the Ordain Woman movement, but I do know they believe they are doing a good thing, and we need to keep that in mind before we ever speak ill of them.
Further, what is there, truly, to be threatened about by these people’s actions? If the Church is truly led by Jesus Christ, it will change because He wants it to. If it doesn’t change, it’s because He wants it that way. A vocal minority pushing for a certain agenda will not change things, especially since these people do not make decisions of policy in the Church. They can, however, help start discussions and inquiry into issues that matter and will lead Church leaders to make sure that they know how the Lord wants things to be run. For example, in recent years, Church leaders have made changes in how they discuss the priesthood and women’s position in the Church, putting more emphasis on having women involved in Church councils and putting them in more prominent roles in general conference. The feminist movements are probably not solely responsible for these changes, but they do certainly keep the subject in the minds of the Church leaders. Thus, they may help the ongoing discussion on how we can achieve greater gender equality even without giving women the priesthood to continue—a process that has been doing the Church good.
It may be frustrating that the Ordain Women chooses to oppose what current Church leaders are teaching, but that is their problem. More importantly, it is our responsibility as disciples of Christ to treat everyone with respect and love. Considering the following statement from Elder Quentin L. Cook:
Many in this world are afraid and angry with one another. While we understand these feelings, we need to be civil in our discourse and respectful in our interactions. This is especially true when we disagree…. Yet there are some who feel that venting their personal anger or deeply held opinions is more important than conducting themselves as Jesus Christ lived and taught. I invite each one of us individually to recognize that how we disagree is a real measure of who we are and whether we truly follow the Savior. It is appropriate to disagree, but it is not appropriate to be disagreeable. Violence and vandalism are not the answer to our disagreements. If we show love and respect even in adverse circumstances, we become more like Christ.
St. James taught that:
Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For whereenvying andstrife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace (James 3:10-18).
Let us as Mormons and as disciples of Christ show ourselves to be wise men and woman by making peace and ministering grace with our works and words rather than showing bitter envying and strife. As Elder Cook observed, “It is appropriate to disagree, but it is not appropriate to be disagreeable,” even within the Church.