I heard a lot of members who were happy about Elder Oaks talk addressing the concerns raised by the Ordain Women movement. However, I was rather disappointed Here is a paragraph from his talk, (emphasis mine)
The divine nature of the limitations put upon the exercise of priesthood keys explains an essential contrast between decisions on matters of Church administration and decisions affecting the priesthood. The First Presidency and the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, who preside over the Church, are empowered to make many decisions affecting Church policies and procedures—matters such as the location of Church buildings and the ages for missionary service. But even though these presiding authorities hold and exercise all of the keys delegated to men in this dispensation, they are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood.
First, I want to say that he misses the point entirely in his response. As he is a former Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court, I’m reluctant to think this was unintentional. He most certainly is at least remotely aware of their petition, that the Presiding Authorities take the question to the Lord for an answer as to whether women might be ordained. Yet, instead of answering that relevant question, he issues a “ruling” on a totally separate matter. He instead chooses to answer the question, “Oh, come on… Can’t you just ordain me right now!?” This reminds me of times when the Supreme Court decides to pass on really ruling on merits of a case, and rather rejects a case due to some minor technicality without addressing the more useful point of law.
I’m disappointed, in that by giving this talk, he has reassured those in the church who think OrdainWomen is full of apostates that need to just get back in line. He has made them feel that he has responded to their outrages demands. So now, if anyone continues to ask, they are most certainly apostate. Yet all the while, the petition remains unanswered. This has and will continue to cause pain among the members, and for that I am sad.
Second, this same paragraph does perhaps shed some light on other not-so-recent events which have been a cause of great concern among Mormons: the City Creek Mall. For those rare individuals not acquainted with the project, it involves a for-profit real estate development corporation owned by the Church spending vast sums of money ($1.5Billion+) to build a luxury shopping center in downtown Salt Lake City. The church has reassured everyone that no Tithing money was spent on the project.
Based on my understanding, the Church invests all tithing/offering money for a couple years, takes the earned interest (which is tax-free since they’re a non-profit religious institution) and gives it to its for-profit arms like the real estate one mentioned above. They are then free to do whatever (build malls) with the money they have. The church then uses the original tithing money (a couple or so years later) to do the things the members usually think tithing is used for (Building temples, supporting missions, etc).
A lot of members, myself included, think that it’s silly to say that that money is not actually tithing money. Of course it is. The reason we’re upset about it, is that we feel that money should have been used as intended. To say that the best use for that interest money is to give it to a for-profit organization for building a mall, rather than feeding starving children (or insert your favorite world problem/charitable need here_______) To say that it’s ok for the Church to invest for later implies, to me, that it feels there is nothing more worthwhile (than earning interest to later spend on malls) that they could be using that money for now.
But I digress. There are much more articulate discussions of this problem elsewhere, as its not new. However, what jumped out at me from Elder Oaks message, was a potential explanation of how the Presiding Authorities view this type of issue. From the same quote:
The First Presidency and the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, who preside over the Church, are empowered to make many decisions affecting Church policies and procedures—matters such as the location of Church buildings and the ages for missionary service.
Now, in the context of the question asked of the leaders, “Can you please pray and ask for revelation about _______,” his response was essentially, ‘Oh, Us? We can do all kinds of things on our own without revelation, given the keys we have received. We have lots of leeway to make decisions there. But a change like you’re asking about…. that’s above our pay-grade. I’d have to check with my supervisor (ask for revelation on how to proceed).
Could it be, then, that they just feel like administration of tithing is just one of the things that falls under their jurisdiction, to be done as they see fit. I think the average Mormon believes decisions on tithing use are made with much prayer and revelation from above. But what if it goes more like this?
“We already paid all the bills. What should we do with all this extra tithing money we got this year. We could try and feed some of the thousands of Mormon children who go hungry every day, or even offer it to some of the hungry gentile children… Or, we could just invest it, take the interest and give it to a friend to see if he can make some money with it. Hmm, that sounds good. Lets do that. Oh, should I pray and see if that’s what God wants done? Well, I guess he did give me authority to collect and disperse the tithes, so He must trust my judgment.
Now, let me apologize for how cynical that comes across. I don’t actually think anyone at church headquarters had that discussion with themselves. But, I think Elder Oaks may be revealing how the authorities view matters of administration differently from matters of doctrine. And it seems the distinction,the “essential contrast,” is that the authority to act administratively comes simply with the giving of keys, whereas the authority to speak and change doctrine must come via revelation.