And They Knew It Not

My mind was wandering recently and caught on the phrase “and they knew it not.” As this phrase reverberated around inside my skull, I started thinking about the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, which the Lamanites received “and they knew it not.” I started thinking “why didn’t they know? how could they not have known?”

From what I understand, we mis-portray what the baptism of fire actually is. I think we mis-portray it because we’re afraid to admit to ourselves that almost no one receives it anymore, and when they do, they just chalk it up as a “great spiritual experience”.

In lessons at Church, we often hear how the wording of the confirmation ordinance is a commandment to “receive the Holy Ghost”. We nod our heads sagaciously and say “oh yes, because we all still have our agency and God will not force the Holy Ghost upon us.” But do we stop and ask ourselves if we have truly received the Holy Ghost? Have we had the pentecostal experience of literally feeling like we are being baptized by fire? Why else would it be called the “baptism of fire”, if that’s not what it actually feels like? Have we ever experienced what it’s like to have “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually“?

Parley P. Pratt, in his book Key to the Science of Theology, wrote that the Holy Ghost

… quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections; and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.

Have you experienced that?

All of this raced through my mind as I thought about the phrase “and they knew it not”, because I realized I don’t remember if I’ve experienced this. I’ve had some powerful experiences, but have I been baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost? Have I truly received it? I know it not.

Maybe this is what Christ meant when He said that the Lamanites had been baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not. Maybe they had forgotten.

Or maybe they remembered the experience, but didn’t know what it was. I can look back and point to concrete instances in my past to which I can point and say “There. There I experienced something that came from beyond myself.” But if you were to ask me if that was my baptism by fire, well, I know it not.

And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?

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Of Priests and Priestesses

So, a website has popped up recently called Ordain Women. Its stated goal is:

… to create a space for Mormon women to articulate issues of gender inequality they may be hesitant to raise alone. As a group we intend to put ourselves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood.

I have really mixed feelings about this, and I feel like I need to get this off my chest. I’m not sure where to begin, so I’m just going to start writing, and hopefully it’ll all make sense. If it doesn’t, I’m sorry. I often don’t make sense, even to myself.

I think there is a problem of gender inequality in the Church, and I think it needs to change. I don’t like seeing ridiculous disparities in things as simple as youth group budgets. Duh, why wouldn’t the Young Men and the Young Women get the same amount in their budget each year? But it’s much more than just budget issues. Why are women limited to positions of authority over other women or children, but never men? Women can be Relief Society presidents (over women), Young Women’s presidents (over women), Primary presidents (over children), but never Sunday School presidents. That doesn’t seem right to me.

I hate how our message to Young Women is “don’t have sex, be a blushing bride, and when you’re 20, a stalwart Son of Helaman will return home from his mission, sweep you off your feet, marry you in the Temple, and you will live Happily Ever After. Oh, and if your kneecaps are showing, YOU ARE PORNOGRAPHY.” (to say nothing of shoulders! Those sexy, sexy… shoulders… … Huh?) I hate this message because it’s not true.

I hate how women are constantly pedestalized in the Church. We say things like “Men need the Priesthood to be as righteous as the women.” NO NO NO NO NO. We are all sinners before God.

I hate how our idea of a “perfect” family seeks to emulate a lifestyle that has only been possible for about 70 years of the Earth’s entire history. Eve was not a stay-at-home mom.

What I hate most about all of this is that if a woman were to totally buy in to this mentality, she’d end up thinking that “being Christlike” means being subservient, deferential, and entirely submissive to her husband’s opinion.

Boy, that smacks of unrighteous dominion to me.

So yes, there are serious gender inequalities in the Church, and think we poison ourselves by not acknowledging them and letting them fester in our society.

But… Is the answer to this “give women the Priesthood”? This is where my reservations start.

I have reservations, because I honestly have no clue what the Priesthood is or what it’s for. I used to think that Priesthood was God’s Authority, and that if one had the Priesthood, then he could act in the name of God and it would be Valid™.

But then I thought about it some more, and came to the conclusion that the Priesthood was solely that portion of God’s authority that He gave to man so that men could perform the ordinances of salvation for their brothers and sisters.

OK, that’s better, but then you start reading some of Joseph Smith’s stuff (who you figure ought to have had a better idea of what the Priesthood is than anyone), and you read that he talks about how the Priesthood is the authority to administer God’s laws. OK, so now it’s political?

In the Church, the Priesthood is the organization of the Church. The President of the High Priesthood is the President of the Church.

But… is that how it’s supposed to be? I sure hope not, because in my mind, the Church is given to us as a telestial organization. We live in a telestial world, thus we get a telestial church.

So what would a terrestrial organization look like? Or a celestial one, for that matter? Surely they must be different.

I write all of this to emphasize that I don’t think that hardly anyone really gets what the Priesthood is. The definitions of “Priesthood” that we learn about in Church only reinforce the status quo, and those are the definitions to which most members subscribe.

The Temple ceremony offers a little glimmer of light, however. There is a phrase in the ceremony where it says that the sisters have been anointed “queens and priestesses”. The use of the term “priestess” (which stands in direct contrast to men being called “priests”) implies the existence of a Priestesshood.

So if there’s a Priestesshood, should women be ordained to the Priesthood? Personally, I don’t think so, but given that I honestly have no clue what the Priesthood really is, I can’t say for sure. But if there is a Priestesshood, why don’t we have it? Or do we have it? I sure haven’t heard of it outside the context of the Temple ceremony.

Let’s assume the Priestesshood exists, but that it has not been restored to us. If this is the case (which I think it is), then I suspect that the reason we don’t have it is because we’re not even sure what to do with what we’ve already been given. If you’re teaching a child, would you say “well, I can see you’re not understanding Geometry, so let’s teach you about Trigonometry too”? Of course not; you don’t overwhelm people with more than they can comprehend. The scriptures clearly teach that God gives us only as much as we can handle. Why would He give us the Sealed Portion of the Book of Mormon, if we don’t even do what the Book of Mormon says to do?

So if we don’t even know what the Priesthood is for and what to do with it, why would we be given the Priestesshood?

Should women be ordained to the Priesthood? Maybe. But perhaps we should really be asking “What is the Priesthood? Why do we have it, and what are we supposed to do with it?”.