The Gospel Doctrine lesson #24 manual objective is “to help class members recognize the importance of honoring their foreordained roles, callings, and priesthood responsibilities and to help them understand that following the counsel of prophets helps us enter into the rest of the Lord.”
To understand Alma’s invitation to peace and priesthood, as it applies to both women and men.
Alma delivers a discourse of deep doctrine in the reading for this lesson, one that culminates in the violent persecution of those who accept his message. The topic: priesthood after the order of Melchizedek. The audience: a crowd of probably men, some beginning to soften to his words, but most antagonistic to his message. The ultimate victims in this story: the believing wives and children, executed by the rulers of Ammonihah. Their husbands and fathers are cast out from the city and forced to rebuild their lives elsewhere. The women don’t get that chance. Instead they are martyred for their beliefs.
This brutality inflicted against women and children is utterly horrifying, not just the event itself, but the reminder that women in the Book of Mormon so often bear the brunt of the evil choices of others. These women are long dead, but like the Nephites, who “shed many tears of sorrow” (Mosiah 25:9) when they listened to the scriptural records of the Limhites and Abinadi’s mission among them, I mourn for these long-ago martyrs who died for their testimony.
And I’m not sure what to make of this reading from a woman’s perspective. Although Alma later mourns the deaths of the martyred women, any specific mention of women is absent from Alma’s doctrinal sermons. He speaks to the men, calling them brethren as he describes the priesthood order of Melchizedek, while their wives and children wait and listen unseen. When Alma talks about the mysteries of God being available to those who harden not their hearts, when he describes the rest of the Lord and the peace of Melchizedek’s city, his language is not gender inclusive.
So I’ve been struggling to find a way to insert a positive feminine presence into the theological discussion of priesthood that Alma sets forth. Linguistically or historically, it may be impossible to do. Yet, somehow, his discourse nonetheless urged these women toward a deeper belief in God. And as I reflect on its influence in my own life and think about the vision of priesthood that is depicted here, I can’t deny an underlying feeling that this priesthood is something that I have experienced, that this holy order is my priesthood as well.
So what is that vision? And how have I participated in an inclusive priesthood? In contrast to other Book of Mormon passages on the priesthood such as Moroni 2-4, which records the procedural aspects of priesthood ordination, Alma 13 describes the disposition of the individual soul in relation to the priesthood. Verse 3 speaks of the necessity of exercising great faith. Verse 4 points out the role of the Spirit of God. It is this Spirit who seeks out and calls receptive individuals– those who have not hardened their hearts to a holy calling. This idea that the holy calling arises out of a spiritually softened heart and a visionary enlightenment resonates with my experience. And the “privilege” (v. 4) that is the result of this process of faith and repentance recalls to my mind the distinct language of the organization of the Relief Society in 1842.
Joseph Smith said this to these first member of the Relief Society of Nauvoo: “You are now placed in a situation where you can act according to those sympathies which God has planted in your bosoms. If you live up to these principles how great and glorious!—if you live up to your privilege, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates.”
Alma 13 continues to speak of both spiritual requirements and privileged blessings of the priesthood and its eternal nature, “without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity” (v. 7). Although it refers to ordinances and ordination, this chapter’s focus is not the detailed ritual aspects of the priesthood. Rather than a handbook of administrative practices, Alma 13 is a guide for our spiritual orientation. Faith, repentence, the works of righteousness– these are the qualifications to enter into the holy order of God (v. 10). Only then can the Holy Ghost sanctify those who enter into this rest of the Lord (v. 12). And it is this spiritual blessing which establishes peace (v. 18) in our sometimes harrowing lives. Alma’s vision of entering into the priesthood describes the path toward becoming a follower of Christ.
I am not remotely in the same social and cultural circumstances as the women of Ammonihah, and it is hard for me to put myself in their position. But somehow, hearing the message of Alma’s sermon and searching the scriptures diligently to verify his doctrine (Alma 14:1), these women found hope in his promises of peace and privilege. Reading this sermon across the distance of time, I also have hope in the peace and enlightenment of God’s holy calling.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
Women and the Priesthood, Sheri Dew
“Eliza R. Snow said that Latter-day Saint women have greater and higher privileges than any female on the face of the earth. I absolutely know that is true. We could talk about the issues of trying to work with priesthood leaders. I’m like everyone else: I’ve had glorious experiences working with priesthood leaders, and I’ve had terrible experiences working with priesthood leaders. I get that whole picture.
But I also believe that when you look at the spiritual privileges we have, it’s just astonishing. The saddest imaginable thing is if we don’t realize what God has given us. And if we don’t realize it, we are in no position to learn how to draw upon the power of God and how to draw that power into our lives to bless us. Imagine how sad to get to the end of your life and find out that you had it all along, but didn’t access that power.”
Reflections on the Divine, Fiona Givens
“Whenever we become too comfortable in our paradigms, that is the time for a shift. The Lord wants us to look for Him in the chaos and disorder that is often our life experience. It is then the revelation comes and we experience that we are loved by Someone whose vulnerable beauty draws us to Him with an infinite and loving power. It is then we see God’s gentle face all around us.”
Other Related Women’s Voices
An Outpouring of Blessings, Julie B. Beck
“I am grateful for the outpouring of blessings that has come to each of us through the priesthood of God. By the power of the priesthood, this world and everything in it, including each of us, were created. The priesthood is intricately woven into who we are and have ever been. As sons and daughters of God, we each have unique responsibilities and roles, and through the blessings of the priesthood, we are all given equal partnership, gifts, and blessings.”