Beliefs Columns Faith Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

New Mormon policy gives teen boys power to baptize in the temple, and teen girls get t …

The baptistry in the LDS temple in Phoenix, AZ. Used with permission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

 

A guest post by Emily Jensen

Mormon teens to have greater opportunities for temple service in 2018” reads the Deseret News title to the article introducing changes to the way Young Men and Young Women participate in baptisms for the dead in the temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

And while technically true, the changes outlined highlight the huge discrepancy between what the young men of 16 and older can do as ordained priests, and what the young women can do. To put it simply, or as a Salt Lake Tribune article described, I am “especially incensed” about it.

Now Young Men who have the rank of “priest” in the Aaronic priesthood can serve by baptizing their peers 12 and older on behalf of those who are dead. They can also serve as witnesses, officially deeming whether the ordinance was done correctly.

This is a remarkable change, considering that for years, we have understood that these temple ordinances were to be performed only by those ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood. The change now matches what can be done outside of temples, where priests are able to baptize their peers and siblings, often to great spiritual uplift for everyone involved.

What do the Young Women get? They will be able to help with towels or to check in patrons. This is really no change as I would guess many young women had opportunities to do this before.

Besides the change highlighting how little women, young and old, are allowed to do in our most holy of spaces — spaces that many in the church believe are designed for complete equality in priesthood empowerment in both men and women — this brings up the question of if they decided to make a change this important for the men, was the idea of allowing women to witness again even considered?

I say “again” here because there’s important historical and scriptural precedent. Women have served as official witnesses in both recent Mormon history and early Mormon history. Historian Benjamin Park describes how in 1840, “Vienna Jaques was mounted on a horse when she witnessed Mormonism’s first vicarious baptism,” and how women in early church history helped shape the ordinances we hold dear today.

In the above Salt Lake Tribune article, historian Ardis Parshall describes how women used to serve as official ordinance witnesses in the temple until the 1950s, when Joseph Fielding Smith, later to become church prophet, said it was no longer “proper” to do so. No other explanation was given. (See here for Parshall’s response to yesterday’s announcement.)

In a column from last year, Jana Riess both describes a more recent example of women witnessing — that of Camilla Kimball, wife of church president Spencer W. Kimball, officially witnessing a baptism in India in 1961 — as well as describes the scriptural references to women witnessing. She explains:

“The Savior, despite having many other options, chose women to be the first witnesses to the most important priesthood ordinance of all: his resurrection. Not the Twelve disciples, but the women. Women are present in all four of the Gospels, standing at the cross and then, on Sunday morning, venturing out in the dark to anoint his body for burial.”

This reminds me of another New Testament story, one where Jesus is teaching in the home of Mary and Martha. As told in Luke 10, Martha is doing the menial work and complains to Christ that her sister is not helping. Jesus gently rebukes her, saying “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

If church leaders could consider the “needfulness” of allowing women to restore the good part of being able to witness in ordinances, young women could be spiritually empowered right alongside the young men.

I would hope that church leaders understand how ironic it is to be a woman in this church: We made a covenant at baptism to stand as a witness, and then repeated this mantra “To stand as a witness at all times, in all things, and in all places” every week as young women. And then we are not actually given space to do so.

There is not any reason why women are forbidden to officially witness besides some interpretation of the masculine pronouns found in various Doctrine and Covenants sections (see D&C 128) and the current church handbook requiring that witnesses be Melchizedek Priesthood holders (see Handbook 2: 20.3.7).

But policies have been changed before, like when the rule that missionaries had to be elders was changed to allow for sister missionaries to preach early in our history. That happened even though there was distinct scriptural evidence throughout the Doctrine and Covenants for preaching and missionary work to be done by priesthood holders. Can you imagine the preaching power we would be missing if women were not allowed to be missionaries?

One final point. With this non-change for young women, we are continuing to teach our young women that their voices are not as credible as their young men counterparts. In a day and age where society is learning to not discount the witnesses of women, I wish Mormons could do so in our most spiritual of settings, the temple.


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About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

37 Comments

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  • Joseph smith was a womanizer, liar and made up shit to create something that he could be in charge of. He falsified the truth of the bible that has archaelogical, linguistic, architectural and many more university certified evidence. Mormonism has what??? Moroni gave some make believe tablets to Smith who no one else (except a few other liars) saw….then proceeded to add in that multiple wives were ok……
    Get back to the truth and forget this damning lies…you are better off converting to Judaism than this….

  • By virtue of their priesthood office, Aaronic Priests, these boys already are considered to hold the authority (power) to baptize, what the 1st Presidency has done is to give them permission to exercise that authority for baptisms for the dead.

    As a Mormon, Jana would understand that, so hopefully she didn’t write the headline.

  • And the tithe-supported glitz of the business cult of Mormonism is again on display with this theologically-worthless baptismal font.

  • And to cover all the theologically worthless beliefs:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • When you consider that ALL of Mormonism is just man made goofiness, the easier it is to ignore this latest example. Much like the children of gay parents being banned from Baptism until age 18, this policy will do more to open these children’s eyes to the “cult-like” Masonic rituals that will dominate the rest of their adult lives. The reason the church needs the children is because they cannot find enough adult “volunteers” to perform the mundane tasks required. If they think children would rather be in the Temple, rather than with their alive friends, it shows just how uninspired the leadership really is. Members are leaving the church in droves due to it’s archaic policies, this will speed up that process. That anyone, especially females, finds this church appealing is beyond me. Look around, there is a reason that 80% of all new converts go inactive in their 1st year. There is a reason why so many lifelong “pioneer families” are leaving in droves. There is a reason why membership rates aren’t even keeping up with birthrates. To think that a “dead person” will find Mormonism any more appealing in the afterlife is the height of delusional thinking.

  • I actually agree with the ultimate conclusion of this essay, but it could use a lot more nuance. Women have the god-given ability to create human life. Men and women clearly have distinct roles. Examining the nuance of those differences is laudable, but let’s recognize that it is complex.

  • “the bible that has archaelogical, linguistic, architectural and many more university certified evidence” – a little, not much – and all of that about some matters irrelevant to the existence of a deity or the validity of belief in Jesus of Nazareth as any more than a man.

    You are knocking not-your-religion whilst apparently unaware that your criticisms are as valid for what you you mischaracterise as “truth” as for the beliefs you excoriate here. Matt 7:3

  • What did the Son of Almighty God get to do? Wash everyone’s dirty feet and then get nailed to a cross the next day.

    That is the measure of greatness.

  • There is a seismological difference between, on the one hand, unsupported and unverifiable claims, intended to boost one person’s reputation, by those who had no first-hand knowledge and, on the other hand, known practice which comfortably belittles half of humanity.

  • Reiteration is an important part of the learning process. If you have learned the lesson, simply move to the next one.

  • You know, this doesn’t actually work if you’re childless. I’ve never created human life and I’m now past the age to do so. I RESENT the idea that my sole purpose in life was to create human life. I respect women who raise children, but that’s not their only purpose in life. And stop trying to make discrimination sound good by saying “Oh, women can create life.”

  • Did I imply it was their only purpose in life? Most men will never hold the priesthood in this life either, through no fault of their own. We each face different challenges and opportunities. We do the best with what opportunities we have and Christ makes up for the rest.

  • Your personal doubts about the reliability of scripture are best saved for another thread. This was an article which supposedly operates within the framework of their authenticity and authority.

  • It is about the institutionalised debasement of women. It may well be that that debasement is founded on a particular scripture – but to treat that scripture as valid excludes the reasonable responses of those who don’t share that scripture’s sentiment.

    In short, demonstrate the validity of the scripture or be prepared for reasonable people to question ideas based upon it; and if that is not tolerable it speaks to the debatees’ confidence in the scripture’s authenticity doesn’t it?

  • You can question any scriptural sentiment you like from your starting point of unbelief. But it can not be relevant in dialogue between those who work from the premise of scriptural authority.

  • And there’s one of the great problems of belief. It limits the options to those which are acceptable within the belief and prevents the advance of human progress.

  • Since we’re on the subject of scripture. And you’re the expert, I’m wondering you want to weigh in on the divorce controversy. I’m sure you have been following it.

  • Added information supporting said conclusions:

    Some added references to “tink-erbells”.

    newadvent.org/cathen/07049c.htm

    “The belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., “Praep. Evang.”, xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the belief of the Babylonians and Assyrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an As-syrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: “He (Marduk) sent a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my work to succeed.”
    Catholic monks and Dark Age theologians also did their share of hallu-cinating:

    “TUBUAS-A member of the group of angels who were removed from the ranks of officially recognized celestial hierarchy in 745 by a council in Rome under Pope Zachary. He was joined by Uriel, Adimus, Sabaoth, Simiel, and Raguel.”

    And tinker- bells go way, way back:

    “In Zoroastrianism there are different angel like creatures. For example each person has a guardian angel called Fravashi. They patronize human being and other creatures and also manifest god’s energy. Also, the Amesha Spentas have often been regarded as angels, but they don’t convey messages, but are rather emanations of Ahura Mazda (“Wise Lord”, God); they appear in an abstract fashion in the religious thought of Zarathustra and then later (during the Achaemenid period of Zoroastrianism) became personalized, associated with an aspect of the divine creation (fire, plants, water…).”

    “The beginnings of the biblical belief in angels must be sought in very early folklore. The gods of the Hitti-tes and Canaanites had their supernatural messengers, and parallels to the Old Testament stories of angels are found in Near Eastern literature. ”

    “The ‘Magic Papyri’ contain many spells to secure just such help and protection of angels. From magic traditions arose the concept of the guardian angel. ”

    For added information see the review at:

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angel
    “The prophet Ezekiel described an incredible vision of cherubim angels in Ezekiel chapter 10 of the Torah and the Bible, mentioning that the angels’ wings were “completely full of eyes” (verse 12) and “under their wings was what looked like human hands” (verse 21). The angels each used their wings and something “like a wheel intersecting a wheel” (verse 10) that “sparkled like topaz” (verse 9) to move around.”

    For a rather extensive review of angel wings, see http://angels.about.com/od/AngelBasics/a/Angels-Wings-And-Things.htm

  • LOL! If the Dems’ acceptable options within their belief system had been a bit less limited we would certainly have a different president right now. But I digress…

  • Is there a vampire infestation in Utah which requires the production of a lot more holy water than usual?

  • Mormonism in Transition also documents various activities and practices that women lost between 1890 and 1930. It’s never a revelation, just a statement that it’s not appropriate.

  • Just a fleeting observation and appreciation of irony. Never mind – wouldn’t want to spoil anyone’s self-congratulation on their “progress.”

  • PLEASE do not be too quick to insist on more equality between genders in religion. Here is a fact of life.
    Women have always been more righteous, holy, and pleasing to God than men. The wife of God is so valuable and precious that we unholy mortals are not even permitted a glimpse of her. The purpose of the priesthood is to bless women and children. It provide a way for men, who honor their priesthood, to eventually become worthy of standing next to their already worthy and holy wives in the presence of God.
    In holy places, women have always stood taller than men. Women do not not need to hold the priesthood,
    they already partner with Heavenly parents to bring spirits into mortality. There is no greater calling.

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