Friday, March 21, 2014

Are we listening?

(OR: What are our TWO* ears for?)

Over the years, I have read several times of women who have felt or who feel oppressed and distressed by priesthood authority and by the first temple endowment covenant. I’ve read and know of women who have endured years of abuse after temple marriage (similar to a recent Ensign article, March 2014: “Hope and Healing after Divorce”); and I wonder: Would it make a difference IF we really listened to the first endowment covenant?

At some early point in my temple attendance, I came to have a sense of empowerment and responsibility in hearing the words of that covenant. They are not words of absolutism. There is no promise of blind obedience. No call to abandon one’s integrity, equality, or right to consult the Spirit or the word of the Lord when concerns, questions, or conflicts arise. No. The clear call to women is to exercise righteous judgment when one ear conflicts with the other. We are to KNOW and HEAR the word of the Lord and to measure all other counsel against it. (That goes for men too, within the hierarchy of the Church.) We are to stand for truth and righteousness, at all times and in all places (even and especially in our homes and marriage relationships). God does not ask us to suffer the exercise of unrighteous authority in marriage relationships in silence. We have a responsibility. The principles of Doctrine and Covenants 121:34-46 are as true in application to the marriage relationship (to both men AND women) as to priesthood and church governance:
... when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many are called, but few are chosen. No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; (Doctrine and Covenants Section 121:37-43, bold emphasis added).
Here are some relevant quotes I have used before:
George Q. Cannon: Do not brethren [and sisters], put your trust in man though he be a bishop, an apostle, or a president. If you do, they will fail you at some time or place; they will do wrong or seem to, and your support is gone; but if we lean on God, He never will fail us. When men and women depend on God alone, and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside. Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places in order that His Saints may learn to trust in Him, and not in any man or men. (George Q. Cannon, Millennial Star, 53:674)

{This blogger’s comment: If these words apply to the highest authorities, then how much more to husbands? Cannot the vagaries of marriage relationships tutor both men and women in attending to the voice of the Spirit more quickly than any other way (if we will only listen)? What better way could God have devised to bring two beings from differing family cultures closer to perfection (or not!), than to ask them, in a marriage relationship, to let go of their conflicting traditions and perspectives in order to see eye-to-eye** via His word?]

Samuel Richards: "We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark, that they would do anything that they were told to do by those who preside over them, if they knew it was wrong: but such obedience is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God...would despise the idea. Others in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without asking any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their minds to do wrong themselves." (Apostle Samuel Richards on Nov. 13, 1852, recorded in the Millennial Star, 14:393-395, bold emphasis added.)

(More comment: Read this in terms of women and the marriage relationship. When we remember the function of both* our ears, we know this counsel applies equally to women.]

George Teasdale: I understand that all men and women are their own agents; and I do not know a worse degree of slavery than to be afraid to think for yourself and speak what you believe. (Apostle George Teasdale, Conference Report, April 1901, Second Day—Morning Session 34-35.)
On the other hand, this is not a call for women to become the authorities or authoritarians. Rather, it is a reminder that in every appointment (or exercise) of power, there needs to be a check and balance. Thus, when things are going awry in a marriage, the check and balance is faith, hope, charity, and righteous judgment via the personal voice of the Spirit and the Word of the Lord (particularly D&C 121:34-46). Our traditions and culture may sometimes seem to dictate otherwise, but the covenant words are clear—hearkening is conditional. Do not suffer in silence, when your obligation is to be an honorable check and balance.

* If you have forgotten, take time to do some temple initiatory.
** Doctrine and Covenants Section 84:98 ~ Until all shall know me, who remain, even from the least unto the greatest, and shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and shall see eye to eye, and shall lift up their voice, and with the voice together sing this new song, ... (bold emphasis added).