Thursday, 1 March 2007

Pet Peeve: "Auxiliary"

So, I really don't care for the term "Auxiliary" as it is used in the Church to describe Relief Society, YM, YW, and Primary. Alexandra's already heard my thoughts (rant?) on this, but I'd like to see what everyone else thinks. In the grand scheme of things, sure, it's pretty low on a scale of 1 to things that will impact our salvation. However, I still think that it comes across as somewhat misleading in terms of the role of the priesthood and women in the church; and at a time when confusion about gender roles, etc. is pretty rampant in and outside the Church, I think it's worthwhile to be as clear as possible. Also, I really believe that language and its usage are extremely powerful, and that thinking about terms like this isn't necessarily a pointless semantic exercise.

As I see it, there are two concepts that people use the word "priesthood" to refer to, and they've become conflated. The first is the Priesthood (capital p) organization, which includes the Aaronic and Melchizedik, teachers, deacons, priests, etc. etc. The term priesthood (lowercase p) is also used to refer to the power to act in God's place on earth. While the Priesthood does represent the priesthood power, in terms of very necessary ordinances, it is definitely not the only way in which humanity has the power to act as an instrument of the Lord.

Without diminishing the Priesthood's critical importance, I think it would be safe to say that the lack of any other godly power would make the Priesthood somewhat empty. As much as everyone needs priesthood power in order to achieve salvation, they also need other powers which are not necessarily confined in the Priesthood role - the role of mothering and the role of nurturing families, service, spiritual gifts, teaching, missionary work, etc. etc. In terms of the Priesthood as a counterpart to women's role in the church and eternal life, General Authorities usually make it pretty clear that these two powers are coequal, and both are necessary to attain salvation, hence the stress on the eternal nature of gender and the importance of eternal marriage.

"Auxiliary" is defined as something which aids, increases, and augments. Obviously, the role of the Relief Society and all of the Auxiliaries is to aid, increase, and augment the Priesthood. However, I would argue that it is just as important for the Priesthood to do the same for everyone else in Zion. I don't think it diminishes the cruciality (ok, not a word) of the Priesthood to acknowledge that other means of utilizing the Lord's power exist, and indeed MUST exist in tandem with Priesthood power and ordinances. To refer to the rest of the church as "auxiliary" to the Priesthood, without any real sense of congruency, somewhat distorts that relationship, I think. The Relief Society is auxiliary to the Priesthood, sure, but the Priesthood is also auxiliary to the Relief Society.

Plus, and maybe this is just my "liberal education" making me think that I'm wise, but something about calling men by a name which connotes power and referring to women and children (together) as "assisting" that power rubs me the wrong way. Not that I'm feeling particularly oppressed by the patriarchy or anything, but it just seems like a bad PR move. Obviously, that that kind of thinking doesn't determine the way the Church functions, and the Lord doesn't about PC-ness, and his ways are higher than our ways, but I feel like a little cosmetic change could make a lot of difference. (You know, the power of language thing.)

So, my questions are:
1. Does this bug anyone else too, or do I just have too much time on my hands?
2. Is this something that could/should be changed?
3. Does anyone know why RS/YW/YM/Primary got lumped into an Auxiliary category in the first place?


Courtney said...

While I have thought about most of the topics you addressed, I really had never thought about the specific term "auxiliary" before. But I totally agree with you.
I have my own theories on how this may have evolved, but that may get me into a feminist rant and I am trying to avoid those these days. (Not that they are inherently wrong, I just tend to get carried away.) But I think it would do the church well to change this term (just as I think the church would do well to change the term "preside"). But I don't know how they would accomplish this. I agree that the church isn't (and shouldn't?) be concerned with political correctness, but I do think it needs to be aware of half its members-- women. (And an even larger percentage-- those who don't hold the priesthood.) Because what you said is right-- the Priesthood organization should support and sustain the "auxiliary," but also what message does it send to the "auxiliary," especially women, when we call them as such? This isn't so much PR to me as it is caring for the flock.

Alexandra said...

I wonder if the term "auxiliarly" is actually a calling rather than marginalization: if "auxiliarly" means to aid, increase, or augment, and is used in relation to the priesthood, then, keeping in mind that men are not the only ones to benefit from the priesthood OR the only ones to use it as a power, it is in everyone's best interest for everyone's energy be used to strengthen God's power on earth.

I really do not see the priesthood as having any equivalence to a particular gender, "priesthood power" does not equal "male power." If that's what the church were advocating, yeah, I would have a difficult time understanding that. But that's not what is being said, both men and women officiate in and are blessed by the power of the priesthood.

So why differentiate between "Priesthood" and "Auxiliary"? (a) I don't know, but it definitely is not a statement about the role of women in the church. (b) Maybe everything IS tangential to the priesthood (keeping in mind this isn't a statement about gender) -- what good IS the Relief Society without the power of the priesthood? What good IS YM/YW without the power of the priesthood? Without the power of the priesthood we can't perform any saving ordinances or have a functioning church or teach the gospel in an official way or receive revelation for more than one person - so, yeah, maybe everything IS tangential to the priesthood.

Emma said...

Al, I agree that the priesthood (aka, the power to act for God) does not necessarily relate to gender, and that all of the organizations of the church ARE auxiliary to that power - ie, the Relief Society is a channeling mechanism which allows us to act in an organized way to build Zion. So is the Priestood organization - all of the offices of the priesthood have different responsibilities, with the goal of effectively administering priesthood power to the members. RS, Quorums, YM, YW, and Primary are all means of utilizing priesthood.

However, I think the problem lies in that people associate the Priesthood organization with priesthood power, without making a similar association for the rest of the organizations. I mean, how often do we hear "Priesthood" used as a metonymy for "the men of the Church"? Of course that's inaccurate and incorrect usage, but I think it still has an effect on our perceptions. Semantically, it DOES seem as though priesthood is equivalent/strongly correlated to gender.

Um.. my point is, if I can still find it in all the rambling, is that yes, I agree with you that all of these organizations are tangential to the priesthood. (Auxiliary to it, if you will.) I don't think there's anything that needs to be changed about the substance of how priesthood is administered or how the Church is organized; but I do think that in this case, labels can be misleading.