Saturday, April 14, 2012

"Women and Priesthood Bearers" (YW Lesson 16, Manual 1)

There was one quotation from this lesson that I wanted to think about, line by line. It was by Leah Widtsoe, who, I just found out (thanks to wikipedia), was a granddaughter of Brigham Young, spent a term at Harvard, ran all the women's auxiliaries in  Europe for six years, and was one of the founders of the Salt Lake City League of Women voters!

Here's her quotation, in pieces:
“Never in history have women enjoyed the freedom of thought and action accorded the women of this Church."
That's a very interesting statement. I'm not the expert on church history, so I don't know what all she may be referring to, but I do know that women in Utah had the right to vote from 1870, but the US government didn't grant that right to its citizens until 1920. I'm not sure that's what she had in mind, but it's an interesting detail!

Also, since she spent six years running RS, Primary, and YW in Europe, she probably has a very different view of what women have been accorded generally in the world than I do!

I do also know that creating the Relief Society was quite the move, historically. One of my personal favorite quotations is this one from Joseph when he set up the RS: “This society is to get instruction through the order which God has established—through the medium of those appointed to lead—and I now turn the key to you in the name of God, and this society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time—this is the beginning of better days to this society.” As I read this experience, Joseph gave the RS the "key" to open the heavens when they needed help for their own purposes, that "knowledge and intelligence" would flow to them as needed for their work. That is quite the "freedom of thought and action," in all the best and most important ways! The RS was set as an independent organization doing a work parallel to the Priesthood quorums. It was "ordered" the same, in that it had leaders who could receive revelation for their particular needs, just as each Priesthood organization had its leaders who could receive revelation for their particular needs. That is trust in women's ability - by God, and by man!

Now that I know she's the granddaughter of Brigham Young (and the daughter of Susa Young Gates), she may also have had the Young Women organization in mind as well. The YLMIA was an organization which accorded women, teenaged and young-adult, great "freedom of thought and action." It wasn't, of course, so systemized as our program (perhaps of logistical necessity) is today. The girls came up with their own mission statements, their own values, their own goals for the program. And they taught teach other lessons on scripture, culture, etc. What we have today, though correlated and systemized, is the product of their thought and action; it is based on the freedom that was accorded to them. And I think that's crucial to recognize. Our YW program wasn't formulated by experts someplace, it's come down to us from women and teenage-women over many, many years.

"From the day of its restoration women have been accorded their full religious franchise,"
I wonder what "full religious franchise" means in this quotation? It could refer to the fact that women receive all the blessings of the gospel, that we participate in every ordinance necessary for salvation. I'm not sure that's what she means, though. What else might it mean? Obviously not everyone in the church can do every thing; not just anyone can set up a new stake somewhere and run their own area (like a McDonald's franchise :) ).

Checking the dictionary, I was reminded that franchise can also refer specifically to voting. And knowing now that she helped found a women's voter league, this could be what she had in mind. Maybe then she is referring to being able to participate in decisions? In women choosing for themselves how to run the RS, how to mother their families, how to take on their callings? In other words, to receive revelation, through their own, direct relationship to God?

In that sense, "franchise" as we commonly use it today, might actually fit (in some sense) afterall. We each have our own, direct, independent relationship with God. I just noticed too that the way she words this is that women have been "accorded" "their" full religious franchise. This full-franchise was already women's, already belonged to them. God granted it, not humans. Her quotation does not claim that this Church granted it, but that it recognized it. Interesting subtle point there.

"and in the temples of the restored Gospel a man may not partake of the highest ordinances without his wife by his side."
Wherever our paths may diverge as women and men in our work in the Church or in the home, at this moment of blessing and Priesthood our paths inevitably converge. I really like that image actually. We began together in the Garden, and neither left that place without the other! Here on earth, we have different roles. Our work is often together, but often a part. That's okay, it's part of things. But in this moment of the highest ordinance, in this decision pertaining to and changing eternity, our work inevitably re-converges. Whatever else may happen before, or even after, before this step is taken we have to stand side-by-side again, back together again in, as it were, God's presence.

"In all life pursuits she is given her entire independence."
This seems a wide, grand claim... yes, we can make our decisions and have agency, but I don't see how this relates to the church, exactly. Do you? Again, maybe this is from her perspective of seeing women in other countries and how they were treated versus the women within the church in those same countries? I think I'd have to know more about history in Europe before I could appreciate her statement.

“This gives to woman a mighty responsibility which, if she honors and uses, will be increased in power upon her; but if she ignores it or treats it lightly or fails to magnify it, she may lose that which she now possesses and thereby forfeit her birthright."
Quite the language to use! "Mighty" "power" "birthright." The "mighty responsibility," if my previous readings were worthwhile, could be the right to revelation to govern whatever is in our hands - our lives, our callings, our families, our learning, whatever is our responsibility. (We could say "stewardship," to use the language of the Doctrine and Covenants.) And I suppose governing by revelation probably amounts to being able to "consecrate" whatever we have and whatever we do. And once we recognize that potential, that is a mighty responsibility!

To follow her reasoning out, (and again, assuming I'm right that this has to do with governing by revelation) then the more we seek revelation and connection with God in what we do, the more we will have the power to receive and act under that revelation. The more power we can use, the more we will be given. Not power in an earthly sense; not control of individuals. But power to make something happen in whatever we are given. The power to consecrate whatever comes our way, whether we sought it or it came (or happened!) to us. The power to do good; the power to work in tandem with God!

This reminds me of a quotation from Eliza Snow (pg 45 in Daughters in My Kingdom): "Let [us] seek for wisdom instead of power and [we] will have all the power [we] have wisdom to exercise.”

Also, let us think carefully about the word "power" here too. D&C 121 is directed to men holding the priesthood, but the whole point is that men cannot receive any power or influence by virtue of that priesthood: power comes rather from another source, seemingly open to men and women alike:
the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness."
The powers of heaven are not controlled by the priesthood, they are controlled by principles of righteousness. Again, the section says:
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
So power and influence comes from love, pure knowledge, persuasion, etc. But if power and influence comes from elsewhere, what is the Priesthood for? Well, that is another topic entirely, one I'm trying to get a good grasp on right now myself.

For now, we'll end with the rest of Leah Widtsoe's quotation:
"For this great privilege women of this Church should be eternally grateful and willing to use and cherish this precious and priceless relationship. Where much is given, much is expected.” 
"Relationship"? I wonder what she meant by that word. Perhaps our relationship to God. Perhaps our relationship to the work we do. Perhaps to the Church itself; we can be grateful for the freedom accorded us to get to work? That here we learn (through scriptures etc) of our ability, granted by God, to communicate with God directly, to receive revelation, and to have power and influence for good?

Though a lesson mostly on supporting Priesthood bearers, perhaps the lesson from her quotation is that the best way to support other members, including Priesthood leaders, is to recognize the ability and work we have and get going! :) And yes, by all means, let's support whatever specific work Priesthood bearers do! As King Benjamin puts it, to serve others (including supporting Priesthood bearers) doesn't amount to just serving a person, but serving God in His work. And when we're supported by leaders, family members, friends, etc., it's also pushing forward God's work. We're all a part of God's work.

With that as our focus, let's exercise power and influence, by our faith, love, and knowledge, and as women and men and children and adults and rich and poor work together for that purpose, to bring to pass God's work!

(Photos downloaded from one of's multimedia resources archives.)


  1. Also, as Sister Beck put it, “Don’t confuse the power of the priesthood with the keys and offices of the priesthood ... The power is limitless and is shared with those who make and keep covenants. Too much is said and misunderstood about what brothers have and sister’s don’t. This is Satan’s way of confusing men and women so that neither understands what they really have.”

  2. "It wasn't, of course, so systemized as our program (perhaps of logistical necessity) is today."

    This is possibly misleading--they did actually have a (mindblowingly ambitious) curriculum designed by the presidency. Here's Susa Young Gates' description of one year's work:

    "THE SECOND YEAR'S GUIDE was published in pamphlet form in may 1896 and contained the same general instruction as did the first Guide. The theological lessons were twelve in number and considered the genuineness of the New Testament from internal and external evidences, with an inquiry into the topography of the country and the ethnology of the Jews and their neighbors at the time of the Savior's advent, with other external features of such a study preparatory to the historical sacred narratives which were to follow in due course.

    The studies in the second part of the guide carried on the historical story of the settlement of Utah, reaching up to the death of President Brigham Young, with Whitney's History of Utah as the basis of study.

    Part third of the guide was devoted to a series of home lessons. These were neither strictly ethical nor did they follow domestic science lines, although both of these fields were entered, as may be seen by the following titles: System in the home, Cleanliness, Clothing the family, Flowers in the home, Amusements in the home, Social duties, Sickness in the home, Nursing, Food for invalids, Emergencies.

    There was a Part Four in the guide which contained twelve excellent lessons in physical exercises, prepared and specially illustrated by Prof. Maud May Babcock who had at that time come to the West to take charge of physical education in the State University.

    The studies in ethics covered such subjects as pertain
    to the social and domestic life of girls, for instance, the following: Rights of family members, Honesty in small things, Truthtelling, Self control, Loving and serving,Visitors in the home, Social observances, Street deportment, Conduct in places of Worship, Selfishness, Happiness,
    Modesty, Wickedness."

  3. Thanks Kristine. That sounds like it's from the 1911 history - is that where you found that? What I meant was that they came up with it themselves, not that it wasn't intense. It was quite intense!

  4. Thanks for the line-by-line close reading! Sometimes even I (professional historian notwithstanding) have a tendency to skim over church quotes yadda-yadda, so this was a helpful reminder to slow down and read closely and consider language in its context.

  5. ks--yes, that's the source--meant to note it. I guess I'm confused about what you mean by "systemized". (but it's a complete tangent, so don't worry about it).

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  7. Kristine - I suppose what I meant was that it wasn't systemized for them. They had more freedom at the level of the program creation than we do, because I was talking specifically about those who created it. Brigham Young didn't create it for them, the young women created their own program. I was just following out Sis. Widtsoe's comment that women have great freedom of thought and action.

    I think we still have great freedom of thought and action on however we want to implement the program within our wards. What I was trying to point out was just that they were free to create their own program, whereas we have inherited one we work within. Then my further point was to say that even though I can't change what the YW values are, etc., what we have been given is the product of independent thought on behalf of women and young women from an earlier time.

    Hopefully my point makes some sense now, despite the word I used? When I write I have a hard time finding words that will jump through the right hoops for me. I assume a lot of what I write isn't well written, and I've always appreciated that it can get read and thought about here despite that. :) So, in other words, thanks for taking the time to ask!

  8. Is it possible that we way underestimate what it meant to them to be full and equal participants in anything? I think it is hard for women of modern sensibility to even get a handle on what second-class citizens women were (and still are in many places) just 100 years ago in a "free" country based on the premise that all men are equal in the sight of God. Voting was only the tip of a very large iceberg.

    But in the Church, men and women might be equal. They could stand together before God at the altars in the temples and make covenants. They were encouraged to be educated, refined and to work beside their men. And as those men went on missions (or into hiding!) they worked alone to hold their families and farms together. Surely those women in the early Utah period are some of the strongest ever sent to earth.

    Not long ago I was doing some research on the website and learned that the first woman elected ANYwhere in the country was an LDS woman in Utah. She was a Democrat. The person she ran against was her husband. What a remarkable legacy our girls are heirs too! Some time ago I felt impressed that just as the Aaronic Priesthood is preparatory, so too is Young Women preparatory for girls to participate fully and with all diligence in Relief Society. What better way to prepare them for that time than to give them so many examples of righteous women in our day?

    Wonderful post.

  9. Here are some ideas I used to teach two lessons on the Priesthood. Understand, however, that I live in the heart of Utah Valley, and all my Laurels (six of them) come from two-parent households with a father who holds the Priesthood and at least appears to be active in the Church. Instead of trying to adapt the lessons to girls who live in other circumstances, I have to find ways to make the discussion of basic Gospel principles relevant to girls who have had these lessons since they were in Primary. I've also noticed that, at least in my YW group, the question of why women don't hold the Priesthood is never asked by anyone. I asked the Laurels a few years ago how they would respond to someone who asked them about women and the Priesthood, and they looked at me a little blankly, and one of them said, "That's just how things are."

    So coming from that background, here are the lessons I've given so far.

    1. We spent the first Sunday taking about the basic structure of the Melchizedek Priesthood as it is given in D&C 107. This may sound dull, but how many women have really read that section and studied it? I think that, too often, we think that we don't hold the Priesthood and so assume that we don't have to know the details of the Priesthood. We played the guessing game in the manual where the girls have to guess what office of the Priesthood is being described, and then we went to the verses in Section 107 that discuss those specific offices. Did you know that Section 107 prescribes a First Presidency in the Church? That it wasn't something that Joseph Smith came up with as a way to organize the Church? From these ideas, we discussed that the Priesthood is also an organizing principle, a system to order the Church. The bishop sat in on our lesson--I didn't ask him to attend, and I like it when he cares enough just to show up--and he answered questions (though he didn't know why there are 96 Elders to a quorum). And we talked about "restoring" the Priesthood vs. just starting it.

    2. The next week, I invited the Priest's Quorum to teach a lesson on the Aaronic Priesthood. The girls love to have the Priests come to our lessons, and I was curious what the boys would say about the Priesthood that they hold. (I always assign seats, by the way, when the Priests visit. This keeps the boys from sitting in a clump and allows me to separate the most chatty Priests. We have about 12 Priests.) The boys were not afraid to bring up the uncomfortable subjects. They asked the girls why women don't hold the Priesthood and how the Priesthood functions in a home with a Melchizedek Priesthood holder. And I pointed out that President Hinckley said that we don't know why women don't hold the Priesthood, and I told them that any other reasons are just supposition.

  10. This lesson, which I'm teaching tomorrow, wasn't as awful as I thought it would be from having read lessons 13 and 14 recently, which, due to some scheduling issues, the YW Pres had us skip -- one of the weeks she taught an Easter lesson, and one of the weeks the girls watched President Monson's talk from the YW Broadcast which they had mostly missed due to some technical problems with the broadcast.

    Thanks for the quote from Sister Beck in your first comment, ks; I've added that talk to my materials for this lesson:

    I'll also be taking a stack of books for display purposes:

    * Daughters in My Kingdom
    * Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (Derr, Cannon, Beecher)
    * Women's Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-day Saints (Godfrey, Godfrey, Derr)
    * Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Vol. 1 (Turley, Chapman)

    They're all church or Deseret Book publications, so no one should find them too subversive. : )

    1. Thanks for posting that link to Sister Beck's talk. It was just what I was looking for.

  11. I am so disappointed I don't get to teach this lesson this week! Our YW President stole the honor from me :) I guess I don't mind too much, since I know she will do a bang-up job, but like some women above we only ended up having two lessons on the Priesthood total - one that for all the teachers ended up essentially being an "introductory survey" of the Priesthood, and then this one on women. After teaching my introductory lesson, I realized why there are four lessons on the Priesthood in the manual - my Beehives were almost literally overflowing with questions, misunderstood doctrines, stupid stuff their Sunday School teacher had taught them, and a whole boatload of gender biases. (We do not suffer from women feeling put down in our area, quite the opposite. Many of our women are rude and superior towards the men, which has caught on with the YW and makes my heart hurt.) The girls even hanged around for ten minutes after the lesson, asking questions and discussing among themselves. What a great topic. My focus was on Priesthood as the power of God (from Sis. Beck) and communication through the Priesthood (from Eld. Oaks.) That's enough to chew on for a month in itself, even without gender thrown in! I learned so much studying and preparing for this lesson. I don't know that the girls fully "got" it all, but it sure got them thinking and discussing, which is something. Thanks for all the great ideas.

  12. Thanks for sharing that NessaAnn. That was interesting to hear about your local area's situation and how it changed how you taught. Thanks for sharing another perspective.

    Also, I wanted to mention that I really liked how you had one woman (Sis Beck) and one man (Elder Oaks) as your sources. Not so much so that it's "fair" but because I think it's a great message to send, that both women and men are thinking about and invested in this topic.

    Glad your lesson went well!

  13. I love the quote from Sister Beck in the first comment - thank you so much for pointing it out - and I think I will use a larger chunk of it (and some other quotes from that talk) in my lesson on Patriarchal leadership in the home:

    “The priesthood is God’s power... it is His power to create, to bless, to lead, to serve as He does. The priesthood duty of every righteous man is to qualify to hold the priesthood so he can bless his family, while the priesthood duty of sisters is to create life, nurture God’s children, and prepare them to make covenants with the Lord.... Don’t confuse the power of the priesthood with the keys and offices of the priesthood. The power is limitless and is shared with those who make and keep covenants. Too much is said and misunderstood about what brothers have and sisters don’t. This is Satan’s way of confusing men and women so that neither understands what they really have."

    I wish I had understood this when I was a teenager/college student struggling to make sense of women's "lack" of priesthood power. I think this quote perfectly illustrates that women do not lack priesthood "power". Women do not have the same keys and offices in the priesthood as men do, but we are all endowed with priesthood power as we participate in priesthood ordinances and are faithful to our covenants (baptismal and temple). So I plan to discuss this with my girls.

    The two other important points I plan to discuss are:

    (1) It's important to think about the differences between order and hierarchy. In the political, social, economic, etc. world, it is virtually impossible to recognize any difference without assigning some sort of inequality. And any sort of order generally ends up as a hierarchy with some haves and have-nots. But for God, that is not impossible. For God, difference does not equal inequality, and order does not have to be about one person being better/more powerful than another - it's just about some people having different responsibilities than others. Visually, I think of this as sort of a venn diagram or something else that's flat, not hierarchical, in organization. (By the way, I do think it is hard to argue that the LDS church as an institution isn't hierarchical. It is. Probably for some practical reasons. But here, I am focusing on the family unit - which is the most important anyway ...)

    (2) Whenever I am in a lesson that talks about what women do verses what men do, I try to emphasize that men and women have responsibilities, not roles. I don't like the term roles because it seems static and limiting. Responsibilities is broader. We can share responsibilities; we can arrange and delegate them how we see fit in our individual family circumstances. So I avoid the term "roles" where possible.

  14. Interesting to stumble across this blog, which makes me marginally more hopeful for my daughter as she begins YW.:)
    My problem with this quote though, which I raised with my sister recently, is how appropriate is it to support this lesson with a quote that has to be at least 60(?) years old? Functionally at least, I think the position of women in the church has changed quite a lot over that time. Also I'd love to know about the context in which the statement was first made. When did she say it? And in what circumstances? I too found information on Wikipedia, but not much elsewhere...

  15. Kai - yep, that's one of the problems with these old manuals! I totally agree that it's much more effective (in many ways) to use more recent quotations. Thankfully, things are moving in that direction. The online manuals have recent quotations, Mormon Messages, and updated discussion questions that make a world of difference. And Sis. Dalton says they are testing out some new materials which turn the classroom into more of a joint-learning situation (from scripture!) rather than lecture-style from old, less-scripture-focused manuals. So, stay tuned! There may be more reasons to be hopeful on their way! :)


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