Deciphering Ballard

M. Russell Ballard begins a talk (given at BYU August 20, 2013) reprinted in the September 2014 Ensign and titled ‘Men and Women in Priesthood Power” with this

In what I say, please keep in mind and think straight about the basic doctrines of Christ…. Let me suggest five key points to ponder and think straight about this important topic.

The phrase “think straight” and the way he’s using it implies that if you don’t view things the same way then you are incorrect/mistaken/bent.  So let’s consider his “key points” one at a time.

Point 1

Our Heavenly Father created both women and men, who are His spirit daughters and sons.

Fascinating that he phrases it this way in his very first point after writing,

Many have asked questions implying that women are second-class citizens in the Church. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Why isn’t Heavenly Mother mentioned in this? Was she not involved at all? What about the whole eternal mothering thing and the amazing contribution women make to “creating” and “nurturing” children? What about God’s co-partner who is equal? Where exactly is the role model for women in the church to follow when it comes to being a woman? Women are told they will be equal in partnership with their husbands–and then they are given examples like this? Is this what eternal and celestial equality looks like: the woman is not mentioned/prayed to/referred to/written about or more than just hinted/alluded to in discussions regarding theology/doctrine? What role exactly do women play in the next life according to LDS theology?

This means gender is eternal. His plan is designed to help all who choose to follow Him and His Son, Jesus Christ, to achieve their destiny as heirs of eternal life.

Notice it’s HIS plan and the implication is that since he created both men/women (gender) and, contrary to all evidence we have in the matter, they have the same potential (heirs of eternal life if not eternal power and glory)….of course this means they are equal. Were Heavenly Mother and their daughters not involved in designing/implementing the plan?

Heavenly Father and His Son are perfect. They are omniscient and understand all things.

Again where is Heavenly Mother or their daughters (sisters of the Son)? Do they not understand all things too? Are they not omniscient? Why are they completely left out of the picture?

Surely we must agree that our Heavenly Father and His Son know which opportunities the sons and daughters of God need to best prepare the human family for eternal life.

Love the start of this sentence with “surely” as if to imply there is obviously no other perspective than the one he is suggesting. Then again he’s just stated that Heavenly Father and his Son know best what the sons and daughters need. Perhaps Heavenly Mother’s views/perspectives/input on what her son/daughters need is not that relevant or needed? Are their daughter’s experiences/input not needed/wanted either when determining opportunities for men/women?

Each of us has the privilege of choosing whether we will believe that God is our Father, that Jesus is the Christ, and that They have a plan designed to help us return home to Them. This, of course, requires faith.

The implication being here if you don’t view Ballard’s definition of the plan….you aren’t choosing correctly (or exercising faith). Is this really a choice?

Point 2

In our Heavenly Father’s great priesthood-endowed plan, men have the unique responsibility to administer the priesthood, but they are not the priesthood. Men and women have different but equally valued roles. Just as a woman cannot conceive a child without a man, so a man cannot fully exercise the power of the priesthood to establish an eternal family without a woman. … In the eternal perspective, both the procreative power and the priesthood power are shared by husband and wife.

So men are telling us that only men can hold priesthood keys (yes it’s the confusing concept of keys). They know this because it’s always been men that have held the priesthood keys and descriptions in the scriptures (which are written by men, in ancient patriarchal societies) only mention men holding priesthood keys. That makes perfect sense….but don’t you worry, women, because you have a different but equally valued role – You can conceive children! And don’t forget men can’t establish a family (um…you mean they can’t bear children) without a woman? Don’t you get it…. procreative power and priesthood are shared by both!

Question for you, Elder Ballard: How does birthing babies equate to “have[ing] the right to preside over and direct the Church within a jurisdiction”?   And when did the concept of equating men with the priesthood change?. I grew up hearing things like “The priesthood will be in charge of setting up the gym for the ward party, and the Relief Society will provide the food.” Now they’re trying to take that back.

Why is it that whenever roles are discussed women’s are ALWAYS tied to birthing/mothering/nurturing? Does Ballard believe this is the only true purpose for a woman? This is her gift and responsibility from God? What does that mean for all the women who don’t experience this (either by choice or circumstance)? Is men’s gift from God the priesthood (and therefore the right to govern and preside over the church)? Is their gift to inseminate (become a father) just a side thing, but not their main gift (unlike women)? The church has been unable to answer these questions when posed by feminists.

President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) explained that “it was the Lord,” not man, “who designated that men in His Church should hold the priesthood” and who endowed women with “capabilities to round out this great and marvelous organization, which is the Church and kingdom of God.” The Lord has not revealed why He has organized His Church as He has.

Where exactly did the Lord stipulate that only men would do this? Where does it say that the Lord wouldn’t EVER change this as society and women’s rights/roles/freedoms expanded? So the Lord has not revealed why he’s organized the church this way. Ballard (and brethren) just know it’s organized this way and won’t change.

This matter, like many others, comes down to our faith. Do we believe that this is the Lord’s Church? Do we believe that He has organized it according to His purposes and wisdom? Do we believe that His wisdom far exceeds ours? Do we believe that He has organized His Church in a manner that would be the greatest possible blessing to all of His children, both His sons and His daughters?

Here is the pressure again to align yourself with his (and the current church’s) perspective. Don’t you have enough faith? Don’t you believe God knows what he’s doing? The implication being if you are truly a woman of faith, and love God, you will accept this as the way he wants things done.

Ballard tries to make women feel better by saying, essentially, Hey, there are a lot of you teaching and serving in the church.

The participation of women in ward and stake councils and in general councils at Church headquarters provides needed insight, wisdom, and balance.

Is Ballard saying since women are able to “participate” in some councils and provide some input (even though they don’t get to make final decisions about that input) they should feel equal? Since they are able to also teach, give talks and serve in some callings this means they are fully equal? Is he completely ignoring the MANY areas in which women are not allowed to serve? Has he noticed the gender of the people being shown in the church structural chart inserted in the General Conference Ensign each year?

Which is followed by this.

Now, sisters, while your input is significant and welcome in effective councils, you need to be careful not to assume a role that is not yours. The most successful ward and stake councils are those in which priesthood leaders trust their sister leaders and encourage them to contribute to the discussions and in which sister leaders fully respect and sustain the decisions of the council made under the direction of priesthood leaders who hold keys.

What?? He just finished saying we value you in these councils (your insight/wisdom/balance) BUT be sure to remember your place. Is this how the church defines an equal relationship? Does the ideal equal church structure consist of women giving input and then carefully avoiding stepping on men’s toes by never assuming a role that’s not “theirs”? Where they recognize they can participate in the discussion, but the decisions making power is left to priesthood leaders (men) who hold keys? It sure sounds like Ballard is describing that type of scenario and encouraging it! I wonder if his views extend to marriage? Are women encouraged to contribute (share their input), but then supposed to sustain the decision of their husbands (the priesthood holder)? Does this appropriate role extend to other relationships with men?

Point 3

Remember though after this crushing last part….

Men and women are equal in God’s eyes and in the eyes of the Church, but equal does not mean the same.

Equal – Same. Why does this repeatedly come up? Who is trying to say that women should be the SAME as men? Who is saying that equality means sameness (in all aspects) for men/women?

The responsibilities and divine gifts of men and women differ in their nature but not in their importance or influence.

What exactly does this mean when it comes to equality? I believe he’s trying to say we do different things (women give birth, rear children, serve/teach – men fertilize eggs, work, hold keys which allow them to preside/make decisions and run/operate the church at the highest levels). This means we aren’t the same. Yep. I agree that all of those things are important and some of them are different. What does that have to do with equality and opportunity for women? Is Ballard suggesting that since men can’t give birth they need a divine gift that makes them feel important and have influence (and that is why they get priesthood keys)?

Women come to earth with unique spiritual gifts and propensities. This is particularly true when it comes to children and families and the well-being and nurturing of others. Men and women have different gifts, different strengths, and different points of view and inclinations. That is one of the fundamental reasons we need each other. It takes a man and a woman to create a family, and it takes men and women to carry out the work of the Lord. A husband and wife righteously working together complete each other. Let us be careful that we do not attempt to tamper with our Heavenly Father’s plan and purposes in our lives.

Ballard again suggests that child birthing/rearing/nurturing are women’s unique spiritual gifts/propensities (the implication being that men aren’t as gifted in nurturing/rearing children) and this is what makes women special (and why we don’t have priesthood keys). Ballard then warns us not to tamper with Heavenly Father’s plan. Interesting, since over time LOTS of things have changed regarding his plan and how it’s defined/implemented/understood. Things like marriage, women’s rights (in voting/work-place/society), priesthood given to all worthy black men, ages in missionary service, temple ceremonies/wording, etc. Ballard would like us to believe things will not change in this area though. That somehow this particular area is off-limits for future revelation/change.

Point 4

When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which by definition is priesthood power. While the authority of the priesthood is directed through priesthood keys, and priesthood keys are held only by worthy men, access to the power and blessings of the priesthood is available to all of God’s children.

Ballard misrepresents temple theology. You know where men/women are endowed with priesthood, but women don’t have the keys so they can’t actually use the priesthood directly. They need to ask a worthy man for that, but of course once he opens the drapes they all get to see the sunlight.

Point 5

We need more of the distinctive, influential voices and faith of women. We need them to learn the doctrine and to understand what we believe so that they can bear their testimonies about the truth of all things—whether those testimonies be given around a campfire at a Young Women camp, in a testimony meeting, in a blog, or on Facebook. Only faithful Latter-day Saint women can show the world what women of God who have made covenants look like and believe. None of us can afford to stand by and watch the purposes of God be diminished and pushed aside. We must all defend our Father in Heaven and His plan. We must all defend our Savior and testify that He is the Christ, that His Church has been restored to the earth, and that there is such a thing as right and wrong.

Ballard and the church he represents call for more women who will accept this view regarding the roles of men/women. Women who will not question it. Women who will understand that this is just the way it is (and what God wants) and will not be embarrassed to say they are OK with this structure. The call has been issued for women to post/blog/comment, to testify and let the world know what obedient, covenant keeping, women look/act and believe. The call for women to tell other people why they are mistaken (if they disagree). Do we seriously wonder why so many women are writing/expressing such negative things toward their fellow feminist members?  Why so many women in the church say they don’t want/need/understand why women are asking for the priesthood? Why they feel perfectly equal and don’t understand (or agree) with the issues being raised? They have just been told how to act, what to say and how to feel by a spokesperson for God if they want to be counted as faithful women in the church.

Do not spend time trying to overhaul or adjust God’s plan. We do not have time for that. It is a pointless exercise to try to determine how to organize the Lord’s Church differently. The Lord is at the head of this Church, and we all follow His direction.

What about women’s input/influence/perspectives that Ballard said were so valued? What about all the efforts the church spends on surveys getting members reactions? What about the discussions that we’ve been told are happening with women regarding needed changes/improvements (that the church is anxiously engaged in)? What’s the point….there is no time…..why are all these people trying to change the organization?

 My concluding thoughts: The thought that this message was given at BYU (to college age men/women) and then reprinted in the Ensign (for the entire church) makes me frustrated. It’s 2014 and this is the message being sent to women/girls/men/boys. This will be read/accepted/believed/taught/discussed/quoted from and viewed with an air of respect as inspiration. It may used to rationalize/justify/defend the ongoing inequality that pervades the church structure. It may result in shame/guilt/depression/anxiety for many women/girls. It may result in relationship difficulties as members attempt to conform and feel comfortable with this theology/perspective. It will certainly impact my active believing children and their spouses as they accept/adhere to these views as coming from God. It will impact my relationship with them. The messages of retrenchment coming from SLC boggle my mind, hurt my heart and distress my spirit.

6 thoughts on “Deciphering Ballard

  1. Great piece!

    The responsibilities and divine gifts of men and women differ in their nature but not in their importance or influence.

    bullshit. It’s clear that the influence of men is greater than the influence of women—after all, Ballard just got done saying that men make decisions and women have to know their place. Is he too stupid to recognize the contradiction what he’s saying, too unused to being challenged to feel any need to actually construct a logically coherent argument, or lying on purpose?

    Do not spend time trying to overhaul or adjust God’s plan. We do not have time for that.

    On the contrary, Rusty: we have all eternity to try to get this shit right.

  2. “This matter, like many others, comes down to our faith. Do we believe that this is the Lord’s Church? Do we believe that He has organized it according to His purposes and wisdom? Do we believe that His wisdom far exceeds ours? Do we believe that He has organized His Church in a manner that would be the greatest possible blessing to all of His children, both His sons and His daughters?”

    I see so many things in which I can “believe,” and I hear so many appeals to “believe” this or that, that I see no need to “believe” anything without some evidence to substantiate it (and that doesn’t include your interpretation of your personal emotionally experience). It is particularly aversive to me when you use a set of beliefs as a trump card that supersedes logic, or even “reason it out,” or “come now, let us reason together.” No, don’t ask me to believe anything, and certainly don’t tell me what I must believe, otherwise Jesus won’t love me.

  3. It is particularly aversion to me when you use a set of beliefs as a trump card that supersedes logic

    Yes. And their standard MO is to play that trump card along with a self-serving tautology: “You have to believe this illogical thing, because this illogical thing is what we believe.”

    No thanks.

  4. Now, sisters, while your input is significant and welcome in effective councils, you need to be careful not to assume a role that is not yours. The most successful ward and stake councils are those in which priesthood leaders trust their sister leaders and encourage them to contribute to the discussions and in which sister leaders fully respect and sustain the decisions of the council made under the direction of priesthood leaders who hold keys.

    What?? He just finished saying we value you in these councils (your insight/wisdom/balance) BUT be sure to remember your place. Is this how the church defines an equal relationship? Does the ideal equal church structure consist of women giving input and then carefully avoiding stepping on men’s toes by never assuming a role that’s not “theirs”?

    This is truly unbelievable!!! Thanks for taking the time to read this horrible thing so the rest of us don’t have to….

  5. “Women come to earth with unique spiritual gifts and propensities. This is particularly true when it comes to children and families and the well-being and nurturing of others. Men and women have different gifts, different strengths, and different points of view and inclinations.”

    There is more diversity within the gender than between genders. Just saying……

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