“I Want to Do It.” Reflections on a Little Girl and the Priesthood

Wednesday Aug. 24 was the first day of school here in Casper. That means that on Tuesday night we had “back-to-school” father’s blessings. This has been a tradition in our house, as it is with many families. However, this year felt a little different. Todd, my oldest , was starting middle school. Geneva, my youngest, was starting full-day Kindergarten. It is a year of transition.

Shem, the new 4th grader, went first. I will not go into the details of the blessings themselves, but I love the intimacy of such blessings. I love the feel of their hair as I place my hands up their head. My hands on their head often reminds me of how little they really still are.

Geneva was next. A year before we were very nervous about her education. However, her speech has improved greatly and we now feel that she is ready to conquer Kindergarten…and the world.

After I said “amen,” Geneva jumped up. Beaming, she said, “I want to do it.”

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She was standing by the chair…ready to assist in the blessing of her brother Todd.

And she was pumped and ready to go. She had seen people at church during the setting apart of presidencies. Once a president or counselor is set apart, they join in with the circle for the next blessing. Geneva was ready to do the same.

Or maybe she has been reading Stapley and Wright and she know that girls have done this before.

My first reaction was one of pride. Pride in my bold little girl. She was ready to jump into the good work.

Now, Geneva is a feminist in training. That is for sure. She already thinks that Kristine Haglund and Tracy McKay are awesome. She is also a strong willed and determine little one.

However, this was not the result of a feminist impulse.

Geneva loves the limelight and the blessings were taking center stage. She does love praying. The opportunity to say our morning family prayers is what wakes her up in the morning. While my boys might groan when asked to pray, my Geneva is always disappointed when she is not picked (as a result…she gets picked a lot),

I briefly thought about letting her join in the circle. However, I did not want Todd’s blessing to be about Geneva. I explained to her that Daddy would give Todd the blessing. Not because she is a girl, but because everyone was getting a special blessing from Dad and now was Todd’s turn.

I did not tell her that girls don’t give blessings. They don’t much anymore, but that was not the message I wanted to send. I do not let my young boys join in blessings, yet they someday will. My oldest, Todd (lounging this morning in the picture above), will turn 12 this April and he will be able to pass the sacrament. Shem, almost 10 (see his picture in my post on Tim Tebow) will soon follow.

Buy what about Geneva? She will be keenly aware of being left out. I will also be aware of her exclusion. It already pains me to think of it. It may pain me more than it does her. Also, I know as a social scientist that the symbolic messages sent by such exclusions are real. Even if my wife and I teach her an egalitarian approach to religion, the messages of inequality will be stuck in her head.

I have been thinking about these issues in the abstract for a long time. Susan Moller Okin argues that feminism is about the full recognition of the human dignity of women. As a feminist father, and more importantly as Geneva’s father, these issues are now very real.

I am at a crossroads that I had never thought I would come to. I am not sure what to do. However, I do know that Geneva, Shem, and Todd will come first. My first and foremost obligation is to them.

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About Chris Henrichsen

Chris Henrichsen has moved Approaching Justice off of Patheos. Find his latest posts and the new Approaching Justice. Thanks!

  • Mark Brown

    I love Geneva.

    You’re a good man, Chris H.

  • Chris H.

    Thanks, Mark. :)

  • http://trevorprice.net Trevor

    Cool post, Chris. I don’t have kids yet, but if I have a girl, I’m hoping guys like you blaze the trail for other fathers following in your path.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    Thanks for this, Chris. My daughter is only 5 months old, but these questions are already weighing on me, and I appreciate the way you’ve addressed them here.

  • Andrea R-M

    Thanks, Chris. Poignant, touching, and even a little painful.

  • Karen

    Thanks so much for this post. I am a 40 something female and life long member of the Church. I am just beginning my “feminist journey”. I long to be able to have full participation in my faith. Sadly, I doubt that will happen in my life time. But, families like yours give me hope that someday there will be real change.

  • Matthew Whiting

    Chris, I believe that your intentions are sincere, but I think that there are several things that you don’t understand about the priesthood.

    In Docterine and Covenants, the priesthood is described as being the power of God. This isn’t a metaphor, it is literal. God is male. I believe this is the reason why only males may hold the priesthood. Just like boys inherit traits from their father, we inherit the priesthood from our father.

    This does not mean that women are left out, far from it. God loves his daughters just as much he loves his sons. Women inherit traits from their Heavenly Mother. They literally inherit the power of our Heavenly Mother. They are blessed with a natural bond with the spirit, and are able to feel the holy ghost stronger than any man. If you think about it, most of the people who stand up during testimony meeting are women, this is because they are able to feel the spirit easier and are more in tune to it.

    It is my belief that it is easier for a woman to enter the Celestial Kingdom than it is for a man. Women are born with a stronger sense to do good and be kind and they are the ones who bare the child, something that no man will ever be able to say.

    It is my opinion that God gave us the priesthood so that we guys can try to catch up to the girls spiritually. It helps us avoid temptation such as porn that is so prevalent in today’s world.

    I hope that all made sense. If you have any questions, please just ask.

  • Cindy

    Sorry Matthew, but I have to disagree with you. Just because someone is born a woman does not mean that they have a natural bond with the Spirit or that they can enter the Celestial Kingdom any easier. That is a stereotypical misconception, just like saying that being a born a man entities him to access the power of God. Men and women both are given the Gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism and have equal access to that gift if they obey the commandments. Not every one experiences that gift in the same way, man or woman. Some men are very spiritual, some woman aren’t . Sex has nothing to so with it. Men were not given the Priesthood to “catch up to women”. We don’t know why or even if God intended it that way. But justifications like that do more harm than good.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Chris H.

    Matthew,

    It is not so much that I do not understand, but you and I have a different interpretation than you do. I hope that is okay. It is okay with me.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Chris H.

    Did this post get linked somewhere recently? This is busy all the sudden.

    Andrea, Karen, and Cindy,

    Thanks!

  • Jason

    Reminds me of when I gave our first daughter (she is two now) her official “baby blessing” in sacrament meeting, I said nothing about temple marriage or motherhood and a lot about intellectual development and being an example to other women. Talk about awkward stares from other ward members.

  • http://lifebylist.blogspot.com EmmaNadine

    Chris, I got here from the weekly twitter round-up at Exponent II.

    As much as it pains me to not have a daughter, posts like this make me a little grateful that I have one less fight in my life.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Chris H.

    EmmaNadine,

    The key, I think, is to teach them that their worth comes from within and not from institutions…though institutions are a powerful force to reckon with. In this sense I am more Kantian than Christian. It is our human personhood that gives us value, it is not the church, the state, or even diety.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Chris H.

    Oh, and thanks for commenting!

  • http://www.secondgospelofmatthew.wordpress.com Matthew Crowley

    Good thoughts Chris. Having a little girl in my home turned me into a feminist. When I began to contemplate the limitations she was going to be taught explicitly and implicitly were part of Gods plan for her I began to think “I would never accept those things for myself.” That crystallized for me that I would not choose it for her either.

    These ideas are damaging and so is the patronizing (and patently false) idea that men are less sensitive and less naturally inclined to do good. That gives men and women the wrong idea about what men can and should do. This idea that priesthood is somehow the opposite of femininity/motherhood is a post hoc rationalization which is attempting to explain why patriarchy, which has been rejected in every other part of society for obvious reasons (including by faithful members), is what God wants. I’m sorry, but it’s nonsense. The opposite of motherhood is fatherhood and both biological sexes are capable of compassion, sensitivity and nurture and are moreover responsible for being so.

    Why would any person who would never let their daughter be told that she should not be a politician, a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist, business woman, scholar, artist allow her to be raised to be taught the very most important roles in the world can only be filled by men? And if the rearing of children really is the very most important role that can be filled, why should men not have equal responsibility for participating in it?

  • mac

    Thank you, Chris H, for this wonderful post. I would also like to “amen” the responses from Cindy and Matthew Crowley. I’ve had many similar discusses with my husband and friends. Strict gender roles limit everyone, men and women. It denies individual talents, preferences, and circumstances. My husband gets very upset with the suggestion/implication that he can’t raise and nurture children as well as I could just because he has a penis. Which is absurd. I truly believe he’d make a better parent then I’ve ever would.

    I also believe that many of the generalizations about the natures of men and women often made in the Church are destructive (i.e., women are more spiritual or more nurturing, men are less spiritual, men are less nurturing). Again, they deny individual capacities and they deny our full potential.

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