Monday, June 30, 2008

The Priesthood Responsibility of Missionary Work: Is it For Men Only

I have repeated come across citations that tells us that missionary work is a priesthood responsibility. One of the responsibilities of the priesthood according to Theodore M. Burton is "to bring back into the presence of God the Eternal Father every soul who desired that blessing."  In D&C 86:11 we read: “Therefore, blessed are ye if ye continue in my goodness, a light unto the Gentiles, and through this priesthood, a savior unto my people Israel. The Lord hath said it. Amen.”

James E. Faust taught that "As priesthood holders we are agents of the Lord. The Lord spoke of this sacred agency to the elders of the Church in Kirtland in 1831: “Wherefore, as ye are agents, ye are on the Lord’s errand; and whatever ye do according to the will of the Lord is the Lord’s business."

President Hinckley has often reminded us that missionary work is essentially a priesthood responsibility. It is a great honor and responsibility to be called to serve the Lord in missionary work. This service brings lasting joy, even though it also can be challenging and discouraging at times." (James E. Faust, “Message to My Grandsons,” Liahona, May 2007, 54).

Gordon B. Hinckley said as a member of the First Presidency about young men's responsibility: "I am one who believes that missionary work is primarily a priesthood responsibility. While many young women perform a tremendous service in the field, some more effectively than the elders, the basic responsibility lies with our young men. We must point our young men toward missionary service earlier, and we must prepare them better." (Gordon B. Hinckley, “‘The Field Is White Already to Harvest’,” Ensign, Dec 1986, 3).

In 2002 President Hinckley also said: "I wish to say that the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve are united in saying to our young sisters that they are not under obligation to go on missions. I hope I can say what I have to say in a way that will not be offensive to anyone. Young women should not feel that they have a duty comparable to that of young men. Some of them will very much wish to go. If so, they should counsel with their bishops as well as their parents. If the idea persists, the bishop will know what to do.

I say what has been said before, that missionary work is essentially a priesthood responsibility. As such, our young men must carry the major burden. This is their responsibility and their obligation.

We do not ask the young women to consider a mission as an essential part of their life’s program. Again to the sisters I say that you will be as highly respected, you will be considered as being as much in the line of duty, your efforts will be as acceptable to the Lord and to the Church whether you go on a mission or do not go on a mission.

I certainly do not wish to say or imply that your services are not wanted. I simply say that a mission is not necessary as a part of your lives (from Ensign, Nov. 1997, 52)." (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Words of the Prophet: Forget Yourself and Go,” New Era, Oct 2002, 5).

In 2005 David A. Bednar said:

"All of us who have received the holy priesthood bear the sacred obligation to bless the nations and families of the earth by proclaiming the gospel and inviting all to receive by proper authority the ordinances of salvation. Many of us have served as full-time missionaries, some of us presently are serving as full-time missionaries, and all of us now are serving and will continue to serve as lifelong missionaries. We are missionaries every day in our families, in our schools, in our places of employment, and in our communities. Regardless of our age, experience, or station in life, we are all missionaries.

Proclaiming the gospel is not an activity in which we periodically and temporarily engage. And our labors as missionaries certainly are not confined to the short period of time devoted to full-time missionary service in our youth or in our mature years. Rather, the obligation to proclaim the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is inherent in the oath and covenant of the priesthood into which we enter. Missionary work essentially is a priesthood responsibility, and all of us who hold the priesthood are the Lord’s authorized servants on the earth and are missionaries at all times and in all places—and we always will be. Our very identity as holders of the priesthood and the seed of Abraham is in large measure defined by the responsibility to proclaim the gospel." (David A. Bednar, “Becoming a Missionary,” Ensign, Nov 2005, 44).

In my Sunday School class in my new ward the teacher  stressed to us that young nineteen year old missionaries are performing their priesthood obligation by preaching the gospel.  I wanted to raise my hand and tell him that none of us are exampt who hold the priesthood.  The culture and climate of my ward didn't allow me to contradict him since he is a former bishop and stresses  continually that when we are nineteen we have a responsibility to serve as missionaries.  I wanted to bring out that even as older seasoned priesthood holders we can serve as senior couples missionaries and that there are many member missionary opportunities.  As a father of seven daughters I wanted to tell him that my daughters were also serving.  He made fun of a bishop who had called his daughter to serve saying she said no since it wasn't her responsibility to serve.  He felt that even though sisters were successful that they just didn't need to go.

The intent of the fifth Sunday meeting was to discuss ways we could improve our Sunday attendance which seems to be declining. It is obvious when less than two hundred members are attending a ward that there seems to be some trouble with people feeling comfortable attending with us.  There can be a wide variety of reasons.  I have done some research in to the activity and retention rate of members and converts that number has remained consistently between eighteen and thirty percent for the last fifty years.  It doesn't matter if you have been born in the church or joined as a convert.

We discussed in this meeting the idea that missionaries have a priesthood responsibility to find and teach new members and members in the ward have a responsibility to fellowship and complete teaching new converts.  Bishops have been given a convert action checklist to make sure they are given enough information to function in the church.  In addition new male members are given the Aaronic priesthood to assimilate and are usually assigned a new calling many times as home teachers.  Priesthood leaders and the bishop are responsible for the transition of a new member in to the ward.  This can be done within our qourums for male members and through correlation for our female members.

I agree that missionary work is a priesthood responsibility and should be done by those holding the priesthood.  I wonder with a more feminist perspective if young women serving on missions  is related to the priesthood responsibility in some way.  The brother teaching the class joked that he was the zone leader over a zone of sister missionaries many years ago. He learned about sewing buttons and other things that were more than he wanted to know.  In recent years the church as been more enlightened as my own daughter served as a coordinating sister over her colleagues.  I wonder what the general members viewpoint is on sisters serving and whether their contributions are related to priesthood responsibility in some way.


S.Faux said...

Dr. B:

I like the idea of a feminist perspective. Too often in the Church the term "feminism" has a pejorative meaning, but that needs to change. The term should NOT have a narrow negative meaning.

Men can bless babies, but women give birth to them. Yes, there is an imbalance -- in favor of the women.

It seems to me that the faithful power of women is unstoppable. Maybe I am over generalizing, but the spiritual sight of women on average seems to be far more acute than that of men. The difference becomes obvious when one visits a Relief Society lesson versus a Priesthood one. For better or worse, right now women are dominating in colleges across the country. If there is a sex difference in intelligence, then I give the advantage to women. (I speak from many years of college experience).

I am glad the Relief Society Presidents are beginning to be seen as important counselors to Bishops. Correct me, but is it not extremely rare for a Mission President to serve without a wife at his side? It probably does not happen at all now days. (Someday I would like to read an essay by you on the role of the Mission President wife. Do we call her a "Matron" or is that term reserved for the Temple President wife? What is her official title by which she is set apart?)

Well into the 20th century LDS women performed blessings of healing (See: James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, Vol.4, p.314-315, October 3rd, 1914). I am unclear why that practice was brought to a halt, but it was.

I love this quote:

Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.3, p.178
"WOMEN AND THE PRIESTHOOD. There is nothing in the teachings of the gospel which declares that men are superior to women. The Lord has given unto men the power of priesthood and sent them forth to labor in his service. A woman's calling is in a different direction. The most noble, exalting calling of all is that which has been given to women as the mothers of men. Women do not hold the priesthood, but if they are faithful and true, they will become priestesses and queens in the kingdom of God, and that implies that they will be given authority."

Yes, the "responsibility" of missionary work falls rightly under the priesthood, but the ability to make use of priesthood is not a male or female thing. Females as missionaries have great power in shaping others lives.

In the 1930s my aunt (my mother's sister) served as the first missionary in Aurora, Colorado. She is still alive. Seventy-plus years later the city is flooded with Wards. She is rightly proud to have played a part. By the way, she became a powerful business woman after her mission (as well as a mother of 3). Also, her sisters (the biological kind) ran their own businesses, became teachers, wrote books, and were generally dynamos.

It is a REAL mistake to underestimate the faithful powers of women. They are spiritual beings that have much to teach men, and that is why they are mothers. Those same powers generalize to female missionaries, as well as other aspects of life.

Women who go on missions benefit from them. When they go, they are EVERY bit as much "called by God" as the men.

Sorry, I did not mean to write an essay on your blog, but you nicely provoked me.

Dr. B said...

This is an excellent response to my post. Women have a great power to transform missionary work. I have seen many successful sister missionaries as a missionary myself. My two daughters have contributed greatly to the work in both Deajeon Korea and Rome Italy. I anticipated my next daughter going in January will be a great force in bringing many people on to Christ. I really appreciate seeing women's roles expanded as missionary leaders. Mission presidents wives also make great contributions. If it weren't for their calming influence many missionaries might not have completed their missions. Thanks for your insights.