This post is a response to a response I’ve heard too often about women who wish to be ordained: They haven’t been/don’t understand the temple. Let me just state upfront that I support women’s ordination, and I have been to the temple—at least a couple hundred times. Seriously. And not just as a patron either. I was a temple ordinance worker before serving a mission. I can still recite nearly every ordinance I performed from memory. The only reason I bring this up is to be clear that I’m quite sure there’s nothing I’ve somehow missed in the temple dialogue. And although it’s a little more interpretive, I’m pretty sure I’m well versed in the symbolism too. Since I have yet to see this criticism elaborated upon, I can only guess as to what they refer, but I think it has something to do with our eventual ascent to “queens and priestesses.” Removed from its context, this seems like an equalizing—albeit not immediate—promise. But examined more carefully, it’s anything but.
I’m sure someone on this blog has pointed out (perhaps repeatedly) that while a man is slated to become a “king and priest unto God,” a woman is only a “queen and priestess to her husband.” “So what?” a member of the temple presidency once asked me, “Are you going to be married in eternity to God or your husband?” My husband—I think. But that doesn’t solve the problem. Priesthood holders often explain that they are only servants of God, and have no power themselves. So if a man is a priest unto God, he is His servant. Doesn’t it follow then that if a woman is a priestess unto her husband, she is his servant—and has no power herself. Consider the fact that women covenant to obey their husbands, while men covenant to obey God. In the sealing ceremony, a woman “gives” herself to her husband, while he “receives” her unto himself. In the early church, it was openly taught that a woman’s husband was her lord or god. While the church has updated its public teachings, its private teachings remain the same. These teachings are so private that, like most members, by the time I figured it out I was dressed head-to-toe in white, surrounded approvingly by my family and friends, covenanting to be a second-class citizen for time and all eternity.
The problem is these teachings don’t just stay in the temple—they permeate every aspect of our culture. Everyone knows the temple is the be-all end-all of Mormon worship, so regardless of the conciliatory lip-service paid to equality in our public meetings, many Mormons just don’t believe it. They don’t live by it either. Women are consistently expected by the Mormon faithful to sacrifice their hopes, dreams and ambitions to be a mother, and/or help their husband achieve his instead. In Relief Society, we’re always being told that we need to sustain and support “the priesthood,” which has become synonymous with men in general. So when critics of women who wish to be ordained say “They haven’t been/don’t understand the temple, they can mean only one of two things. The first is “the temple teaches our eventual equality by promising we’ll one day become priestesses”—in which case THEY haven’t listened carefully/don’t understand. Or “the temple teaches that we’re to serve our husbands for all eternity, therefore it is true and right before the Lord, and I will defend it.”
If it’s the first, please open your ears—and remember the temple ceremony has been changed, and can be changed again to reflect more updated attitudes (or continuing revelation, if you choose to see it that way). If church leadership will not reconsider its private teachings, it is because they still believe they are correct. If you fall into the second category, and also believe they’re correct, please update your method of criticism. May I recommend, “Women who wish to be ordained understand the temple, but desire to serve God directly, fully, and faithfully for eternity, with their husbands as equal and mutually supportive partners.” Thank you.