God’s Economy Is Different

The argument goes like this: if women get the priesthood—I mean, they won’t, because God doesn’t want them to, but just imagine if they did—then what would men do? They wouldn’t have anything special anymore, and if they can’t have anything special, why would they participate? Or sometimes it’s like this: if women have the priesthood (or, toning it down, if women can be Sunday School presidents, or pray in sacrament meeting, or what-have-you), fewer men will get to do it, and we wouldn’t want to limit their opportunities.

Setting aside the petulance of this attitude—we discourage this kind of take-the-ball-and-go-home behavior in children on the playground, but apparently not in the men that bear the priesthood—I think this perspective ultimately comes from fear, the kind of fear that comes from change, and comparison to others. Increased equality across society brings major changes, and change of any kind is scary, especially when we don’t know how it will play out. (And in the case of feminism, we really don’t: there is no perfectly egalitarian “control group” society for us to compare against.) For many women, especially those who have played by the rules of the system, feminist arguments can instill fear that traditional women’s roles will be undervalued (as if they’re not already!), or that their sacrifices will have been in vain. For many men, feminist arguments can instill fear that in a world in which women get more, they’ll get less: women in traditional priesthood roles can mean fewer opportunities for men to serve in those roles, and women giving priesthood blessings to their children could mean fewer chances for men to do so. The current system isn’t fair, to be sure, but it’s in our human natures to fear change, and loss, and for those on top, it’s equally in our human natures to assume that someone else getting more will mean us getting less: after all, many economies work this way, and, most of the time, our competitions are zero-sum, and enshrining a winner means enshrining multiple losers.

We need to do better, though: God’s kingdom is not a zero-sum game, and His economy is an abundance economy. God doesn’t have to rob Peter to pay Pauline, and the expansion of His power and blessings to more people means more power, and more blessings, not fewer opportunities for those already experiencing the power and blessings.

In fact, I think of this like the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, in Matthew 20. This is one of my favorite parables, but also one of the most difficult for me, stuck as I am, like many of us, in my scarcity-economy zero-sum human ways. The lord of the vineyard hires laborers at the beginning of the day, and again at the 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 11th hours. Each of the laborers gets the same pay—fair wages they agreed to—regardless of the hours worked, but when the early laborers naturally grumble about the unfairness of this, the lord of the vineyard points out that they got what they agreed to, and what other people get doesn’t affect them. (Besides, can’t he decide what to do with his own money?)

We usually tell this as a parable about forgiveness and grace, which it is, but I also see it as a parable about how the differences between God’s economy and a human economy: as Elder Holland says in the linked talk, “We are not diminished when someone else is added upon.”  In a Zion society, women giving priesthood blessings don’t make priesthood blessings from men any less meaningful, and could double the number of blessings. (Why not give children for a start-of-school-year blessing from the mother and the father, for example?) Women in leadership positions don’t diminish the men in those positions, but instead double the range of leaders we can look to as role models for guidance. More women serving missions doesn’t have to mean fewer men serving missions, but could mean more opportunities for service, teaching, and conversion, in places and with people men couldn’t access in the same ways. In other words: if women were hired into the vineyard of priesthood at the 11th hour, in God’s economy that doesn’t have to change anything for the men hired first thing in the morning. They got the fair wages they agreed to, and someone else getting the same opportunity doesn’t take that away from them.

God doesn’t give us the spirit of fear, but of power, and I don’t believe He wants spiritual power and authority to be restricted to only a subset of His children. I don’t know for sure whether God wants women to have the Mormon priesthood as currently constituted–He hasn’t told me personally, and I can’t read His mind–but I do believe that He’s saddened to see His children restrict opportunities for others based on scarcity, or the need to feel special, or the envy of others’ accomplishments, or some human anxiety around unfairness or the loss of dominance. In resisting broader roles and spiritual power for women, whether priesthood or something else, we’re the equivalent of the Gentiles in 2 Nephi 29:3, saying “A Priesthood! A Priesthood! We have got a Priesthood, and there cannot be any more Priesthood.” God wants to pour out His Spirit on all people, and to see His sons and His daughters prophesy, and, as the mere laborers in His vineyard, I say we let him.

6 comments / Add your comment below

  1. This is excellent, Petra! I really like how you’ve laid out this difference between zero-sum situations and others. I think one situation that’s discussed at least occasionally in church is the idea that if parents have another child, it doesn’t (might not?) reduce the love available in the family for the child(ren) they already have.

    Also, your line about not needing to rob Peter to pay Pauline is *brilliant*!

  2. I don’t know how it evens out but I just can’t bring myself to consider the current distribution of the priesthood unfair any more than I can consider this life a time of justice on so many other fronts. As with so many other things about this life, our mortal perspective is not the whole picture and I honestly believe the time will come when we’ll be able to say, “Yeah, I guess that wasn’t so unfair after all.”

  3. I love this Petra! I have heard so many people use these arguments to defend women not having the priesthood and it always makes me so sad. It’s not a zero sum game. Women holding the priesthood does not take away anything from the men – they still have the priesthood and all the same opportunities to exercise it.

  4. This comment comes from the perspective an active male member who supports women’s ordination.

    I fully agree with the article’s take that fear drives much of the opposition to women’s ordination, in particular fear that men will not continue to engage. IMO, I think the fear is misplaced, but it is understandable and real. The best approach I’ve found to change minds on this point is to simply point out that women’s roles have consistently expanded in our culture and church culture without men leaving. Consider expansions in education and employment opportunities for women, sister missionaries, ward councils overtaking PEC, women praying in conference and so forth. If women were ordained, there certainly would be some (many) men who declined to be ordained or declined to live up to the oath/covenant of the priesthood, but those men already exist. I know of no young men who decline to serve missions simply because the young women can serve too. Likewise, I’m doubtful that any men will cease to take priesthood responsibilities simply because women are allowed the same opportunities.

    On a further note, I would also point to another significant fear that many women sincerely hold. They fear that if called to a position of leadership over men, that many men would not follow their lead. I’ve held significant leadership positions myself and know some of that fear. But it would be even greater if I were a woman in a culture where women’s leadership is not supported. There is some of that culture in the US and quite a lot of it in other countries.

  5. It’s interesting, we commonly hear that ‘people will leave the church’ if women are ordained, yet the same people insist that we will ‘never welcome LGBTQ people into full fellowship no matter how many people leave over it’. I wish we could figure out if we want people to stay or not.


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