In 2012, I attended a fairly small devotional (a few hundred people) in Asia in which E. Oaks was the keynote speaker. I enjoyed Jake’s Q&A with E. Bednar a while ago, and I thought I’d share some of the insights from my devotional with an apostle. This is the second time I’ve heard E. Oaks speak in person, but the other time was at the Tabernacle in a multi-stake conference in Utah with thousands of people in attendance. The only other apostles I’ve heard speak are E. Benson (before he became prophet) in Hershey, Pennsylvania (also with thousands of members across the state in attendance), and E. Nelson (in the MTC). I also happened to sit behind E. Oaks at a very funny production at the Shakespearean Festival a few years ago. Apparently, E. Oaks is a magnet and I am steel.
When E. Oaks first came in, everyone stood, and he quickly and in a very friendly, self-deprecating way motioned for us to sit down. He also greeted a visiting dignitary (I wasn’t sure who it was but it seemed like a prominent figure from another religion because he had on some sort of ceremonial looking hat) very enthusiastically and with some awkward bowing.
When E. Oaks spoke he explained that when they go out to these kinds of meetings, they don’t prepare their remarks in advance. They speak on topics as prompted, often not knowing why. I’ll share some of my own thoughts I had on the topics he chose for this meeting. Since all of his topics were bloggernacle staples, I thought they would be of interest for further discussion here. I want to be clear that these notes are my personal recollections of what he said, mingled with what I heard. Recording of these sessions is not allowed, and if someone else were to share their impressions, they would doubtless recall things that didn’t make an impression on me. That’s the nature of the beast.
Our respect for authority
E. Oaks talked about the respect people showed when he entered the room, and he said that our respect should be for the office and never for the man. To illustrate his point, he brought a young boy up front and placed his own jacket on him. The boy looked silly with the too big sleeves hanging off the ends of his arms. E. Oaks said that the jacket represented the mantle of the callings we hold in the church (or our job titles at work) and that the mantle is always bigger than the man or woman. He repeated this a couple of times for emphasis. He said that no matter what calling we hold, for as long as we hold it, we are always striving to grow into it. And he said that in the case of some callings, like apostle, you will strive the rest of your life to do so because that’s how long the calling lasts, but you will never fully fit it. The mantle will always be bigger than the person.
I liked that he focused on the humility all of us should feel in filling callings, and also the image of our imperfect leaders (and selves) as a child trying on their dad’s clothing was a great metaphor that would give us some patience with leaders and ourselves.
Women and the priesthood
He tackled this topic without much transition from the prior topic. He said that many people wonder why women haven’t been given the priesthood. He made a joke that the wise ones don’t want it (I could hear the “Grrr” of my FMH friends in the back of my mind). He quickly said we don’t know why God hasn’t chosen to give women the priesthood, and that because we don’t know, it would be speculating to try to guess why (not that it stopped him!).
He talked about the importance of equality in our current society, and that equality has been a blessing to us. He spoke with passion about women receiving equal pay for equal work when they are equally qualified and perform equally to men in the same jobs. He said this was one of the important outcomes of the focus on equality in society. He added that he has lived through 3 generations, and this generation has placed a premium on equality compared to prior generations. He cautioned that equality is important, especially not discriminating against people or treating them unfairly, but that at the same time God doesn’t always give every gift to every group of people or every individual person.
He then spent a bit of time wandering down the alley of equating motherhood as a gift given to women with priesthood as a gift given to men. He talked about the creative powers of women to create and sustain life during pregnancy and that even outside of that in his own personal experience women are more creative generally than men are (is he talking about scrapbooking? telling lies? being better dancers?). (Equating motherhood with priesthood is not an argument feminists appreciate for many reasons, and I am no exception. To name a few: not all women give birth – including E. Oaks’ current wife who married in her mid 50s for the first time, childbearing is not something that occurs during the majority of a woman’s life, and reducing womanhood to fertility feels like appreciating women for their value to men, not their intrinsic value as people). E. Oaks seemed tentative in these remarks, and he seemed to be aware he was speculating (from my perspective anyway). He talked about roles differing by sex and there being some inherent differences in the sexes that it is not in vogue to admit today because anything that appears to be in any way unequal is not acceptable to people in our current society. He said that the brethren are very aware of that, and that they do discuss it.
While I wasn’t a huge fan of what I perceive as sexual stereotypes, I also think it’s important to give credit where it is due. Both the opening and closing prayers were given by women, and of 5 speakers, 3 were men and 2 were women. E. Oaks quoted from Sis. Hallstrom’s talk repeatedly during his remarks and also referred to Eliza Roxcy Snow as his favorite voice in Mormonism several times, also quoting his favorite line of poetry from the the Eliza Snow hymn “How Great the Wisdom and the Love” (verse 6):
How great, how glorious, how complete
Redemption’s grand design,
Where justice, love, and mercy meet
In harmony divine!
I have to agree – it’s a great hymn, and a very elegant description of the atonement. Go, ‘Liza!
While we’re speculating on priesthood, I think a sociological argument can be made that priesthood service ties men to families and makes them feel needed in ways that they otherwise might not. In Spain, most men would spend their evenings in the bar with other men leaving the women at home to raise the kids, but when they joined the church, they became more family-centric and spent time serving others and supporting their families because it was their priesthood duty. Women already had a family-centric existence in that culture. If women also had the priesthood, it would reduce their reliance on men for those things. A role separation model may be more effective at creating family bonds (creating mutual reliance and respect for each other), improving the way men treat their families and others, and provide more support to children on the whole across large groups of people. Obviously, that’s more of an 80/20 principle – suitable to 80% of society, but not others.
In this sociological model, both motherhood and priesthood are duties and service provided to others, not gifts God gives to an individual. But E. Oaks didn’t say that. It’s my own slightly more palatable spin on what he said.
The nature of revelation
For his last topic, E. Oaks wanted to correct the “overstatement” or assumption that he had heard (he shared a specific example) that prophets speak to God face to face every day. He listed different ways that revelation happens: impressions, a feeling in the heart, answers to prayer, visions in the night or the day, and lastly, face to face discussions with heavenly beings. He also made it clear that all of these, including directly visiting with heavenly beings do happen in modern times, but that those encounters are much less frequent than simply following the spirit through impressions and so on, and certainly not daily. He was listing them more or less in order of frequency from most common to rarest. He said that well me!ning individuals make “overstatements” like that, not for evil intentions, but because they take something that is infrequent and portray it as common.
E. Oaks also looked up a scripture to share on his iPad, and he mentioned that Pres. Packer had made them all get iPads which has been a much more convenient and light way to carry his scriptures with him, although he confessed it was the only app he had on it still. I thought it was great that they are getting up on technology, and surprising that Pres. Packer was leading the pack!
So, was any of this surprising to you or just same old%rC same old? Some thoughts for discussion:
- How do you feel about the “mantle” analogy? Do you think this would help to reduce the awe people have for authority (including their own)?
- What do you think of the views shared on women and the priesthood? Is this explanation cold comfort? Do you feel there is a valid reason women don’t have the priesthood?
- Do you like that E. Oaks was correcting overstatements about the role of prophets? (personally, I thought this was a great clarification for a place like Asia with a lot of deference for authority plus a lot of converts).
- How did this devotional compare with other devotionals you’ve seen with apostles?
- Do outlying areas like Asia get more direct access to apostles than more Mormon-dense areas in the US (that are outside of Utah)?
- How does this compare to more recent messages by E. Oaks and others?
**This post is nearly 5 years old, but I was talking with someone about it, and noticed that it was lost in our site refresh a few months ago. Here it is again, with some topics that still feel relevant.