Friday, January 20, 2006

Ordinances and Covenants

I study numerous religions, most notably Mormon splinter groups. The different factions truly fascinate me. One of the major criticisms they fire upon the LDS Church is the changing of ordinances, most specifically those having to do with the temple. I wish to clarify the significance of ordinances, and justify any changes that have been made. I will start by using a quote by Brigham Young:

“Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the House of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell” (Journal of Discourses, 2:31).

This quote has been used a great deal by others defending said changes, indicating that the endowment is not the presentation itself. There are certain key components that must be kept, but the things that have been changed are not included in that category. I don’t need to mention my penalties for revealing what I’ve learned when I am before the guardians of Heaven, for instance. It is not part of the a necessary part of the endowment, according to Brigham's quote. I think the key words will suffice.

But what could justify a change in an ordinance? If the delivery vehicle of the ordinance (i.e. the drama of the endowment), was given by revelation, then even if some things are not absolutely “necessary for salvation,” shouldn’t it still remain the way it was revealed? Well, I will show a little history of changes made in revealed ordinances. The sacramental prayer has to be repeated if even one word is misread. But how should we say the prayer? Compare closely the two versions of the prayer over the bread in scripture, namely Moroni 4:3, and D&C 20:77. Both using sacred scriptural language, but one uses “hath” where the other uses “has.” “Not significant,” you might say, but if no changes are allowed and no word should be said wrong, for the pure perfectionist this is actually a big deal. Even worse, compare the other prayer in the Church that must be given an exact way, i.e. baptism: 3 Nephi 11:25 vs. D&C 20:73. The phrasing between those two is even more discrepant.

I contend that the only reason any ordinance should be stated any exact way is because that is simply what God asks of us. If he were to ask the sacramental prayer to be changed, it should be no big deal. If the prayer for baptism be changed, we should accept. After all, the prayers for baptism were offered differently before Christ (see Mosiah 18:13). What’s more, not all baptismal prayers were offered the same (3 Nephi 11:28). Christ standardized the prayer to prevent contention, but those that were offered before in their diverse manners weren’t invalid, were they?

God is flexible and understanding. He doesn’t ask us to perform these rituals because he gets a kick out of watching us perform them. He uses them to teach us a lesson. In the early days of the Restoration, wine was used for the sacrament, and many just felt that the crust of the bread should be removed. The Lord revealed that such wasn’t necessary in D&C 27:2. We now use simple tap water, and our bread is usually cheap, store-bought, crust-covered, preservative-saturated bread. Does this make the ordinance less sacred? No! It simply teaches that the sacredness of it lies not in its exact usage, but in the spirit in which it is done.

The House of Israel was the covenant people of the Lord. The Law of Moses which directed their lives was taken upon them all in covenant. Part of that was keeping the Sabbath Day holy. They had their strict rules on what was within the Law and what was outside. When the Lord Jesus Christ broke what they saw to be the fixed rules of the Sabbath, he taught them that, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). In other words, that day was set up by God to improve and bless man. And we know that the sabbath was later changed to honor the resurrection of Christ. This flexibility can apply to all ordinances and covenants we enter into. They are for our benefit, not merely for the sake of the ritual involved.

Showing this history, I have tried to teach that making alterations in ordinances is not a new thing, nor is it a bad thing. It can be done at any time under the direction of the Lord. The temple ordinances are no exception, and despite the many changes that have taken place, they are still true and teach us what we need to know to return to God. But some may ask, “If the ordinance can be so flexible, wherein lies its sacred nature? I thought that a revelation on how to covenant with God would have to be unchanging, else we change the covenant itself.” I will dispel that thought by posing a few questions myself: Do we believe in transubstantiation (the literal change of bread and wine to body and blood)? Do the sacramental emblems become magical after the prayer? Must we pray over every plate of food we serve, lest it not “nourish and strengthen our bodies?” Are our sins floating around in the baptismal water after we’ve been dunked, until washed down the drain? The answer is obviously no. None of these is true.

An ordinance is a symbolic means of God making a covenant with us. It is absolutley sacred, with something to be learned in each case; likely more than can be learned in a lifetime. Yet, it is not the ritual itself that is eternal and unchanging, but the two-way promises we make with God. He asks us to covenant with him, and he sets up the way to do it. But what if my baptism wasn’t performed properly and nobody caught it? Am I doomed to hell? No, because God knew that I made the covenant, and that we all did our best to do it properly. I made my promises to God, and I will not be held back simply because the physical representation of my spiritual promise wasn’t performed properly. I think, as members of the Church, we sometimes may get distracted by the very tool that is meant to teach us. The endowment is not the drama, the sacrament is not bread and water, and baptism is not a quick rinse. It is something far deeper.

Always remember that the symbolic nature of our ordinances is to represent what we promise to God. Every time you take part in an ordinance, think a bit more on what you are truly doing, and be not held back by worldly distraction.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Are women really more spiritual than men?

Attending the Marriage and Family Sunday school class, a couple weeks ago, the question was posed by the teacher, “Why are women more spiritual than men?”

The answers were varied in content, but in agreement that women indeed are more spiritual than men.

“Because they have to rely more on the Lord to get through a day (help their kids, etc.).”
“Because they were closer to Heavenly Father in the pre-existence.”
“Because they are more in tune with their emotions.”

No men in the classroom responded.

The teacher then changed the question: “Are women more spiritual than men?” Again, the women were quick to respond.

“Yes, they are, because women are more nurturing than men.”
“Yes, they are, because women can create life, a process that brings them closer to Heavenly Father.”
“If my husband didn’t spend all his time at home watching TV and helped me instead, he would be more spiritual, too.

Like the other men present, I, too, stayed silent. But inside, I wanted to shout: One does not automatically become spiritual by the happenstance of chromosomal composition at birth! I know it can be hard living up to the church ideals of womanhood and motherhood, butthis was pretty offensive and removed any sympathy I might have had for these women.

The lesson was not intended to focus on that topic, and was instead meant to become more balanced, but the class members turned it into a reversed-sexism, anti-male bash session. It later eased off of men, as the teacher turned toward some of the positive things, including eventually talking about what men do and the roles the Lord wants them to play in the family. It was actually meant to be a nice lesson. Instead, I felt uncomfortable, and by the looks on some of the other men in the room, I wasn’t the only one.

I know some of the women in that group, and suspect that most of them would be horrified if they realized how self-righteous they sounded. Kari was not in the room at the time (our 14-month-old daughter was grumpy), or she might have actually stood up for the male half of the class. As it was, she sounded unimpressed when I told her the details of the lesson.

It is too easy to state that such-and-such group is not as spiritual as another group. The early leaders of the LDS church did that, calling those of African descent “less faithful” in the pre-existence. This unfortunate attitude led to a labeling and exclusion of blacks from the full blessings of the church for many years. While men have their problems as a collective, debasing any group based on sex, race, religion (or nonreligion), political party, sexual orientation or anything else is not fair, not right, and I would submit to you that it is an abhorrent act to our father in heaven. See 2nd Nephi 26:33.

In this country, men are not actively encouraged to share their spiritual feelings the same way women are. Because of this training to hid what they feel, some women suspect that they do not have any. Obviously this is not true. It is a grave disservice to state men do not have spiritual feelings, and helps perpetuate the stereotype (and yes, I'm aware that as a white male, this could be considered an ironic statement).

It sometimes (often) feels that in an effort to uplift the less-represented groups in this country, it becomes expedient to denigrate the white male. I was once told that prejudice is like a pendulum. For many years, it swung in favor of that white male. Now, it is swinging away, favoring the minority groups. I know injustices have been done in the past, but does putting down any group of people solve the problem? No. It only creates more resentment, anger, bitterness, hurt and a larger divide. Such behavior does not ever heal.

And on a related note, it is ridiculous to say women are so spiritual, they don’t need the priesthood.

Gender roles have been a difficult topic, and a somewhat controversial one in the church. Women have never been offered the full priesthood, except briefly in the temple in days gone by. Now, it is only be proxy, through their husbands or fathers, that a women can enjoy the blessings of the priesthood. I do not claim to understand why this is. The Lord works in His own ways, not ours.

It appears to me that, for whatever reason, Heavenly Father chose to give one gift to his daughters (the gift of creating life), and another gift for his sons (priesthood authority). Which is better? Feminists would say that the priesthood is, because that is where leadership and control come from. I’m not sure that’s entirely true. Speaking as a man, I cannot truly view things from a woman’s point of view, and some may say I have no place to speak. However, I do not believe that God gave anyone the short stick. Any injustices done in this life are to be made equal in the next life. The beauty of the gospel is that He can make us whole and heal our wounds, spiritual and physical.

If a man abuses any authority he thinks he has, he is not in the right. See D&C 121:36-46. He will be held accountable. Of that, I have no doubt. The priesthood, regardless of what rights it may give, does not allow any man to control any woman. I have seen and been told of inequalities, even abuses in the church. It sickens me to think of these things. For instance, two individuals may make a sexual mistake. The woman will be given a difficult time, made to feel even more guilt than she already did, lose rights in the church, etc. The man, on the other hand, gets a light tap on the wrist and is told not to do it again. Is this fair? Of course, not.

Sometimes, spiritual feelings are very emotional. Tears can be near the surface. This is uncomfortable to most men. Some choose to avoid situations that would bring this up. Others might strive to suppress the outward expression. This does not change the fact that everyone has the light of Christ given to them, provided they do not reject it (see D&C 84:44-46). While individual capacities may differ, overall, men and women are given access to most of the same fruits of the spirit.

This essay makes no attempt at being comprehensive in its dealings with the subjects of male spirituality or gender/racial equalities, either inside the church or out of it. All I'm trying to do is express my feelings and frustrations.

So, have I written a touchy-feely, politically correct essay about being nice to everyone? In a way, yes. However, it is also meant to be a heartfelt plea for understanding. I have no intention of comparing in gruesome detail the differences between how men and women express their spiritual feelings. You can check out lame, over-generalized books like “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” if you want such differences discussed.

My final point is, gross generalizations are dangerous and harmful. We as Latter-day Saints, we as Christians, should avoid the urge to judge, to minimize, to put down, to over-simplify, to diminish by categorization, any other person or group. Without a doubt, our Savior saw all people the same. Should we do any less?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Ladder

I have my own personal blog starting up. I might be more active in it, since the posts will generally be shorter. The idea is this: I pose an idea or question, and I get help and responses from my readers. But I need more readers. Please visit my new blog, The Ladder.