Much has been said and written recently about if, how, and why God could choose to ordain LDS women to the priesthood. If you've listened much to Kate Kelly's interviews you will know that she often quotes the ninth Article of Faith: "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." This essential tenet of our faith, namely an open cannon through continuing revelation to a living prophet, leaves the door open for God to change, amend, or add to the interpretation of doctrine, teachings or policies. What these pending "great and important" things are and whether female ordination could be one of those things is the subject of much debate.
Some thoughtful minds (my husband included) additionally ask: if there is more information why doesn't God reveal it now? When Joseph Smith chose the word important he taught us that this yet to be revealed information is of great significance or value and that it is likely to have a profound effect on the success, survival or well-being of the Kingdom. If women could be ordained to the offices of the priesthood, I believe that would qualify as "important" information, not only to the potentially millions of women who would then qualify for ordination, but to the entire Kingdom of God. I also maintain that if women should not and will never be ordained then the reasons why are of equal importance.
Speaking on the subject of gender and the priesthood, Elder M. Russell Ballard, in a 2013 speech at BYU Campus Education Week, admitted, "When all is said and done, the Lord has not revealed why He has organized His Church as He has." Why is God seemingly withholding information that he has told us, through a prophet, is "important" for the Kingdom of God? This is a question I wrestle with. I seek for personal revelation to help me understand the absence of prophetic revelation on this topic. In the meantime, there are lessons I can learn from scripture about how and why God limits the information available to his children.
The principles surrounding if, how, and when revelation comes are constant. They are the same whether I am a mother praying over her wayward children or the prophet of the global church seeking to shepherd a vast and diverse flock.
You Have to Knock
The "Revelation" topic page on LDS.org lists several items of counsel to those seeking inspiration from the Holy Spirit. The first is to ask. "Pray for guidance. The Lord said, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened" (Matthew 7:7-8) In order to find and receive, we must seek and ask." (emphasis added)
The topic page also contains valuable teachings about revelatory stewardship.
"Revelation is communication from God to His children. This guidance comes through various channels according to the needs and circumstances of individuals, families, and the Church as a whole. When the Lord reveals His will to the Church, He speaks through His prophet. Prophets are the only people who can receive revelation for the Church, but they are not the only people who can receive revelation. According to our faithfulness, we can receive revelation to help us with our specific personal needs, responsibilities, and questions and to help us strengthen our testimony."
This means that I cannot receive a revelation for someone outside my stewardship. I could receive personal revelation or revelation for my family or church calling. I can only receive revelation that pertains to what I can do in my circle of influence. Neither I nor Kate Kelly can receive revelation regarding extending the priesthood to women, which is why her organization's mission statement concludes with this sentiment, "We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer." Only the prophet and president of the church, along with the agreement and support of his counselors and the twelve apostles, can receive revelation of this magnitude.
One possible reason we have not received a revelation, only reiterations of current doctrinal interpretation is that the question has not been asked. I pray that the brethren are aware of the "weeping of the daughters of Zion" occurring right now in the church. I pray that someone is bringing to their attention the poignant and soul stirring stories like this one, posted on Feminist Mormon Housewives today. I pray that they will find this matter important enough to seek for continuing revelation. (Of course, we do not know if they have prayed about this matter or not, only that they have not shared with us if they have.)
I Perceive That Ye Are Weak
This next possible explanation requires all of us, dear readers, to take a nice big slice of humble pie. God works in increments. He gives us what we can handle, slowly building up.
Jesus Christ has a perfect understanding of our capacity and has compassion on our weakness. When Christ appeared to the Nephites he taught them for several hours (3 Nephi 11-16). Then he "looked round about again on the multitude, and he said unto them: Behold my time is at hand. I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again." (3 Nephi 17:1-3) When he then perceived that the people desired him to stay, he did, withholding the further light and knowledge he had, but providing them with his presence, his prayers and blessings. Likewise, when I have been weak but willing I have felt his presence and blessings.
I am convinced that we as the body of Christ, his church, need to do a better job of understanding, loving and using the priesthood appropriately before we can be blessed with further knowledge. In what I consider one of the great addresses on women and the priesthood, General Relief Society President, Linda Burton expressed her joy at living in an age when women are asking questions about the priesthood. Then she added, "We hope to instill within each of us a greater desire to better understand the priesthood. I testify that the Lord is hastening His work, and it is imperative for us to understand how the Lord accomplishes His work so that we may receive the power that comes from being aligned with His plan and purposes."
What a call to action! What a call to study, to ponder and to ask questions. I wish her words could sound in the ears and souls of every man, woman and child in the church! "The Lord is hastening His work, and it is imperative for us to understand (the priesthood)!" While there are many unanswered questions regarding the priesthood, there is also much information. A quick search of LDS.org will yield enough talks, articles and informational pages to keep the earnest seeker of truth busy for many long hours. This kind of intense personal study coupled with prayer can provide a base for further revelation to build on.
I love this statement by Elder Joseph B. Worthlin regarding studying the doctrines of the gospel: "We are constantly reminded through the scriptures that we should give the things of God much more than usual superficial consideration. We must ponder them and reach into the very essence of what we are and what we may become." ("Pondering Strengthens Spiritual Life" April 1982 General Conference)
Ye Are Not One
There is power in unity of purpose and unity of heart. We often talk in the church about the ideal of Zion. For most of my life I imagined this ideal as a group of people in perfect lockstep, so committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, that there was no disagreement or discord of any kind. As I grow older, my vision of Zion has changed. The ideal I see now includes a diverse group of people who, while committed to the gospel, have different ideas and different ways of manifesting that commitment. Zion isn't a place where every one always agrees. Zion is a place where we love each other enough to focus on the things that really matter, where we can get along and rejoice in our differences.
Differences of background, race, heritage, political affiliation, family size, employment status, or opinions do not prevent Zion from being established. Zion is thwarted when we divide ourselves. Paul was deeply troubled when he heard of divisions among the saints in Corinth. In his epistle to them, Paul asked the members to reconsider what they were doing and remember their baptismal covenants.
"For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized int he name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:11-13)
Are we making the same mistake as the Corinthians did by dividing ourselves in to factions or calling ourselves by some other name than Christ's name?
Paul later explained to the Corinthians exactly which of their attitudes and behaviors were contrary to the spirit of Zion and tells them these attitudes were the reason they did not receive the "meat" of the gospel: "I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for where as there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (1 Corinthians 3: 2-3)
How can God reveal the mysteries of the kingdom to his children if we are bickering and fighting, if we are resentful and proud?
With prophetic insight, Elder Uchtdorf echoed Paul's sentiments in his now famous April 2012 General Conference talk, "The Merciful Obtain Mercy."
"This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:
It's that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for GOd and His children. God is our Father. WE are his children. We are all brothers and sisters. I don't know exactly how to articulate this point of not judging others with sufficient eloquence, passion and persuasion to make it stick ...
We must recognize that we are all imperfect - that we are beggars before God. Haven't we all, at one time or another, meekly approached the mercy seat and pleaded for grace? Haven't we wished with all the energy of our souls for mercy - to be forgiven for the mistakes we have made and the sins we have committed?"
God Resisteth The Proud
One of the ways we manifest pride is by prizing our intellect above learning through the spirit. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:12-16) Elder Paul Johnson, Commissioner of Church Education explained, "This pattern is crucial for our students to understand if they have questions about spiritual things. We can make the mistake of trying to resolve doubts about spiritual things by leaning exclusively on intellectual answers. Answers to spiritual questions are given to individuals who don't harden their hearts; who ask in faith, believing they will receive; and who diligently keep the commandments." ("A Pattern For Learning Spiritual Things")
Other ways we show pride include loosing patience with the timing of the Lord or preferring our social or cultural views over what the Lord has already revealed. The children of Israel fell victim to both these prideful patterns when Moses left them to converse with the Lord. While Moses was having what may well be one of the most intense encounters with the divine in recorded scripture, the Israelites grew restless. They convinced Aaron, a priest and leader to conform to their flawed expectations of religion and create a golden calf to worship.
The Old Testament Student Study guide offers this succinct explanation of the account in Exodus: "At Mount Sinai Moses received laws, commandments, ordinances, and covenants from the Lord that were written on stone tablets. When Moses came down from Sinai and saw the children of Israel worshiping the golden calf, he threw the tablets on the ground and broke them. The Israelites had not proved worthy to receive all that was written on them. We may also lose great blessings ..."
When faced with the possibility of change, pride often gets in the way. Pride assumes there is no need for change. Refusing to seek the Lord's will is a sign of pride and prohibits God from giving more light and knowledge. Nephi warned of this attitude when he said, " ... many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible ... Wherefore murmur ye, because ye shall recieve more of my word?" (2 Nephi 29:3,8) The flip side of this is also a form of pride. Insisting that an individual's brand of change is the only right way places the individual in opposition of God.
There are innumerable other ways to manifest pride. It is a universal sin, but one that can be overcome. Peter taught, "... for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time." (1 Peter 5:5-6) Humility opens the floodgate of revelation. It allows room for God in our lives, allows us to hear him, to worship him and to have a real relationship with him. Humility allows both leaders and followers to admit, "So, maybe I was wrong about such and such. Here's what the Lord is teaching me now." It allows us to accept others when they make mistakes and move on with the Lord's work.
Waiting On The Lord
In the end, we can do all we can to receive revelation about certain topics, but it is up to the Lord to decide when and how he reveals his will to us. This is where the humility and trust come in. When our relationship with the Lord is one of love and trust we find the patience to wait for our leaders to receive answers to hard questions. In the meantime we can receive peace and comfort. We can also receive revelation to guide us in our daily walk here on earth.