Monday, June 30, 2014

The evolution of modern Aaronic Priesthood duties, such as passing the sacrament

Seven or eight years ago or more my husband and I had an interesting discussion with our bishop on the priesthood (he's a personal friend, so it was easy just talking about this stuff). Apparently our bishop had studied a lot about the priesthood and how the structure had changed over the years. He ended up giving me about an inch high stack of papers to read. I got through maybe half of the documents, then life got busy, and my priesthood study pile got stuck in the file drawer until the excitement as of late.

The other night I was reading a page from the Encyclopedia of Latter-Day Saint History on the Aaronic Priesthood. I don't know why, but knowing the history of how things came to be just helps my understanding usually, and I wanted to share. It's like when the ward leadership makes a decision and you think, what a weird decision, but then you learn later why what was done was done, and it all makes sense. Then, the next time your church leaders make a "weird" decision, you just think, aw, ok, there's probably some story behind that. 

Anyway, the encyclopedia first summarizes the offices of the Aaronic priesthood and the duties of each from D&C 20, 84, & 107:

Deacon: assist Teachers 

Teacher: watch over church members, prevent iniquity, lying, backbiting, evil speaking, see that members attend meetings and do their duties, conduct meetings, expound, exhort, teach, invite people to come to Christ.

Priest: preach, teach, expound, exhort, baptize, administer the sacrament, visit, teach member to pray and fulfill family duties, conduct meetings, ordain priests, teachers, and deacons.

Bishop: President of the Aaronic Priesthood

It's important to note that, "Through most of the nineteenth century, male adults filled the Aaronic Priesthood offices, assisted by a few youths."  I remember learning about the priesthood in seminary and thinking that Deacons, Teachers, and Priests did the things mentioned above; however, as an adult, those responsibilities just seem a little, well, too much to handle for such young kids.

The article then points out that there were actually four distinct periods of Aaronic Priesthood history, which really makes a lot of sense getting us from priesthood duties in the 1800s to priesthood duties now.

1. 1829-1845, pre-endowment: "Aaronic Priesthood bearers were adults (except for a few outstanding youths). Their primary duty was to visit members in their homes...."

2. 1846-1877, post-endowment leads to "acting" Aaronic Priesthood bearers: Since men who went on missions or got married received their endowment after the introduction of it in 1845, and a prerequisite to the endowment for men was the Melchizedek Priesthood, few adult men were left to fulfill Aaronic Priesthood duties, so they were called to serve as "acting priests, teachers, and deacons. Some boys received priesthood ordinations...."

3. 1877-1908, ordinations broaden to worthy young men from ages 11-18: "most became deacons and stayed such until becoming elders. Few boys blessed or passed the sacrament or did what is now called home teaching."

4. 1908-Present, Aaronic Priesthood restructured "to be a priesthood for boys. They approved that worthy boys be ordained at set ages and advance through each office: deacons at age 12, teachers at 15, priests at 18, and elders at 21. Church headquarters produced lesson manuals and assigned duties geared to these age levels. For ward teaching, ordained teachers and priests served as junior companion-apprentices to Melchizedek Priesthood holders. . ." (emphasis added to show that the boys were given age-appropriate duties; i.e., the duties have changed a bit from the early days of the Church).

"In 1928 the ages of 12, 15, and 18 were changed to 12, 15, and 17 . . . with the elders' age set at 20. That age was reduced to 18 in October 1934, but by December it was raised to 19. In 1954 the teachers' age became 14, and the priests' age was changed to 16, . . . and elders were ordained at age 20 (now 18)."

It seems to me that the Church wanted to maintain someone in the Aaronic priesthood, and boys would fit the bill, plus, it was the perfect training ground for their future Melchizedek Priesthood service.

I think changes happen so infrequently these days, that it seems nearly utterly shocking when things do change, such as the relatively recent changes to missionary age. Also, duties themselves can change, as they have over the years as mentioned above. One interesting example of duties changing actually involved girls in 1945! The Church News from April 21, 1945 reports that in the SLC 24th ward that there was a shortage of men/boys to collect fast offerings, so the Beehives were assigned to do it for two years. This tells me there's nothing inherently tied to boys collecting fast offerings, it's merely an age-appropriate assignment that helps prepare them for future responsibilities.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Thoughts on Holland's "Exclusion or God's Plan"

I quite enjoyed David Holland's thoughts on "Exclusion or God's Plan."

Specifically I liked this contrast, "The idea is that just as men become fathers through a woman’s divinely endowed maternal capacity, so women become endowed with priesthood power through that same divine marriage. Through such a marriage, men and women can both be parents and they can both be priests—and thus through that relationship they both progress toward godliness—even as each retains certain complementary functional distinctions, such as the fact that men are responsible to hold priesthood office.  Mormons that make this case recognize that not all humans will have such a marriage in this life, but LDS theology provides for the fulfillment of such a union in the next. Latter-day Saints of this persuasion are inclined to quote St. Paul: "Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord." 

There was one little sentence that rubbed me just a little wrong, and I wonder if it's because the thought was not completely developed? "Mormon priesthood isn’t just the right to lead a congregation or officiate over sacramental ceremonies. It's a deeply sacerdotal endowment that empowers its holders to speak, act, and heal in the name of God. It alters one’s relationship to the divine."

I felt a bit like he was saying that priesthood holders get to speak, act, and heal, and it makes them closer to God, and if you don't have it, you can't have those things. I don't know if that's really what he was saying, but that's how I interpreted it as I read.  As I mentioned in my recent post on the RS lesson I taught on the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, we DO speak and act for God (under priesthood authority) when we serve in our callings or when we serve missions. Additionally, some of us DO have the ability to heal if it is one of our spiritual gifts. I agree that we don't lead congregations in the same way as priesthood holders, nor do we officiate in sacramental ceremonies, and I'm perfectly okay with that. I also don't feel that by not holding the priesthood am I held back from my relationship with God.  Perhaps all Holland was saying, though, was that by having the priesthood, men are more able to do those things mentioned above? I suppose we could look at the flip side  of the last sentence and say child bearing and birth alters one's relationship to the divine, which it does, and I don't think men would be jealous. Anyway, I just wanted to put out there, that I don't feel held back by not holding the priesthood, whether that's what he was saying or not.

Update 6/30: You'll never believe who I got an e-mail from this morning, Brother Holland! It just goes to say, someone might actually read what you write! Ha! He expressed concern for the impression I took away and clarified that he meant that men and women share these duties because of the temple endowment, which if you read the first paragraph I posted, it says just that (which said paragraph actually did come AFTER the paragraph I posted second). So, I think my problem was taking the sentence out of context (as it was not yet completely developed yet), and not tying it into the overall message in the particular section of Holland's interview, which is what I did enjoy. So thank you, Brother Holland!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Spiritual Gifts, the Priesthood, and Faith like Potatoes

On Sunday I had the opportunity to teach the Joseph Fielding Smith Chapter 12 lesson on the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood. Of women I've talked to, I don't think many were excited to teach such a lesson, but I was excited for the challenge as the priesthood is something I'm always trying to better understand. This lesson gave me the opportunity to really begin studying again some things I started studying a while ago.

As I began studying, I first needed to remember what the offices of the priesthood were. Then, I needed to figure out do all offices/officers hold keys? Are all offices part of a quorum?  What exactly are priesthood keys?  I wanted everyone to be on the same page with our basic understanding of priesthood organization.  After a lot of research, and coming up with more questions, and even more completely realizing the overlap and layers of the priesthood organization, I came up with the following chart/handout. I believe the information on it is accurate; however, I cannot confirm that it is complete.

Teaching the class was a SUPER experience. I received at least three answers to questions I had while teaching the lesson. I also realized that probably most people are just as confused as I am about the priesthood, which is why so many people are so intimidated when it comes to teaching a lesson about it.

Probably the most significant thing I learned, or at least I need to look into more, is concerning spiritual gifts. We read a quote in the lesson regarding what priesthood holders are to do; it mentioned 5 things:

1.  Preach the gospel
2.  Perform ordinances
3.  Bless mankind
4.  Heal the sick
5.  Perform miracles

I pointed out that we, as women also do these things, and we talked about examples. I wanted to be sure that women were comfortable with particularly the "heal the sick" point as it's not something we see a lot of in our day.  I mentioned how in Moroni (10:11) healing is a spiritual gift and if it is your gift you can use it. We clarified it is not a priesthood blessing with the laying on of hands, but an act and prayer of faith. One gal raised her hand (who told me later that she feels she has the spiritual gift of healing) and mentioned that the priesthood gives men the right to call upon whatever spiritual gift they need when they need it, thus, giving people more access to God's power more of the time (I added that last part).

That is when the lightbulb went on in my head. A few years ago we watched Faith like Potatoes. In the film, the main character raises someone from the dead. I experienced some cognitive dissonance because how could a non-priesthood holder heal or raise someone from the dead?  However, now I realized that if that is his personal spiritual gift from God, and all people have spiritual gifts, then of course it's possible. But, the priesthood allows more access to those spiritual gifts that may not be bestowed upon an individual. Now, I've never read anything that confirms this, it just made a lot of sense and I want to look into it further.

Because of the lesson, I want to study more about the different dispensations and what keys were present during those dispensations. There were more questions, but I'm too tired to remember.

The main points I wanted to leave with the sisters were that the priesthood is the power of God on the earth for the salvation of mankind. It's not just His power, it's His specific method to get his sons and daughters back. After doing initiatories the night before at the SL Temple, I also felt impressed to emphasize that we women act with authority in our callings and in the ordinances we perform.  Also, our goals and purposes are the same as priesthood holders: we are in the business of saving souls. I didn't say it, but I don't know why women don't need to be ordained because we already do, for the most part, the same things as men.*

Like I said, the lesson went really well, better than expected. It was one of those times when I felt guided in what I said; it all came out more smoothly than I would have thought. I hope it inspires more women to go out and learn more about the priesthood, too, and I hope I'll continue to learn.

*My speculations are that according to some, as men thrive in hierarchies like the priesthood, it's a good way to get men to do what they're supposed to. Additionally, I've toyed around with the idea that women are loosely "called" to organize home and family on the earth and men are loosely "called" to organize churches on the earth, with a lot of overlap between the two. One time I looked up how many women organized churches throughout recorded history and of all the religions, I think two had been started by women, although I can't find the source right now.  I read Mormonism, Feminsm, and Being Snarky today, and that's pretty much how I feel about it all, too.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Little Gems in the Original Woman's Exponent

Oh you guys, I have so much to write about and too little time. I'd like to expound on this, but for now will just leave some primary sources for later use.

When Joseph Smith originally organized the Relief Society, he said "that he would ordain them to preside over the Society..." (note: not to a priesthood office) but there's strong evidence that he used that word for lack of a better term. If you go to the Women's Exponent from September 1, 1880 vol. 9 no. 7 (I think page 53-54; it's in the Relief Society Reports section, just search for "reports"), it states:

"President Taylor having arrived and being invited to address the sisters … I understand that one of the objects of this meeting is the ordination of officers of the Relief Society who Were elected at our Conference held on Saturday June 19, 1880 at the Salt Lake Assembly Hall.

"On the occasion of the organization of the Relief Society by the Prophet Joseph Smith at Nauvoo, I was present. Sister Emma Smith was elected president and sisters Elizabeth Ann Whitney and Sarah M. Cleveland her Counselors. The Prophet Joseph then said that Sister Emma was named in the revelation recorded in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants concerning the Elect Lady and furthermore that she had been ordained to expound the Scriptures. By my request my Secretary Elder L. John Nuttall read to you relative to this meeting from the “Book of the Law of the Lord” at your Conference held June 19th, ult., which explained what was then done.

"The ordination then given did not mean the conferring of the Priesthood upon those sisters yet the sisters hold a portion of thq Priesthood in connection with their husbands. (Sisters Eliza R. Snow and Bathsheba W. Smith, stated that they so understood it in Nauvoo and have looked upon it always in that light.)

"As I stated, at that meeting, that I was called upon by the Prophet Joseph and I did then ordain Sisters Whitney and Cleveland, and blessed Sister Emma and set her apart. I could not ordain these sisters to anything more or to greater powers than had been conferred upon Sister Emma who had previously been ordained to expound the Scriptures, and that Joseph said at that time, that being an elect lady had its significance, and that the revelation was then fulfilled in Sister Emma being thus elected to preside of the Relief Society."

After reading that interesting part, I learned about how Emma actually felt about polygamy and later why the RS was discontinued for a time. These are always things I've wondered, but didn't have a primary source! Well, here they are! Right in The Woman's Exponent.  Perhaps in a few years I can go read all the old issues. Maybe.

"However after this organization at Nauvoo, much disturbance arose among the sisters. I do not wish to be personal especially as Sister Emma is now dead, but think that some of those circumstances should be known. Sister Emma got severely tried in her mind about the doctrine of Plural Marriage and she made use of the position she held to try to pervert the minds of the sisters in relation to that doctrine. She tried to influence my first wife and to make her believe that the revelation was not correct. Sister Taylor was very much troubled thereat and asked me what it meant. Soon after, the prophet Joseph was in my house and I spoke to him in my wife's presence, in relation to what sister Emma had said, and Joseph replied, "Sister Emma would dethrone Jehovah to accomplish her purpose if she could." Some of you sisters are acquainted with what I refer to and of the prejudice that then existed.

"After the death of the Prophet Joseph, in consequence of the confusion then introduced, President B. Young thought it best to defer the operations of this organization---and the labors of the Society ceased, until he organized the sisters again here in this City.

"Those influences then introduced and then operating were not right, for the sisters in the various organization since have accomplished much good and should not be deprived of their rights and privileges because others have done wrong."


For more on the organization of the RS check out this Des News article by Eliza R. Snow.