Sunday, March 18, 2012

Taking the patriarchy out of the blessing

If there's one word that can nearly universally make a feminist's hair stand on edge, it's "patriarchy" or any word derived from it.

One important LDS ritual is the giving of what is called a "patriarchal blessing", which is a personal blessing of guidance given to each member who desires one. The blessing is given by someone who has been called and set apart to the priesthood office of "patriarch". The blessing is recorded and transcribed so that the member can refer to it throughout his/her life. It is modeled after the blessings that Jacob gave to his twelve sons, as recorded in the book of Genesis.

I received my blessing about 15 years ago, and it has been meaningful in my life. But it's distracting to have the patriarchy thrown in my face every time I read it. So I've embarked on a search for a new term to refer to the blessing.

When I broached the subject to a few people, one individual suggested that it was a futile pursuit because the priesthood itself is so bound up in patriarchy that it's impossible to separate the blessing from the baggage. I disagree. While I do have faith that someday the priesthood will be extended to every worthy member of the church, I'm not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater until that day. So the fact that the person who gave me this blessing is male isn't the problem. The problem is the word "patriarchal" and everything that implies.

In my search for a new word, I checked the lesson manuals on to see what word was used in other languages to refer to the blessing. I looked at French, Italian, Spanish, Portugese, German, and Tagalog. All of them used a word that was derived from and similar to "patriarchal", so no luck there. I didn't look at the other languages listed because the characters weren't the same as in English, so I couldn't even guess at what was being said. I suppose at some point I could run them through Google translate, but given what I saw already, I doubt I would come up with anything different.

I considered using the term "priestly", but I decided that sounded too much like a standard priesthood blessing, and I wanted something that more clearly set it apart from the others. Then I remembered the song we've been singing in primary every week for several months. (Why must all the article of faith songs have such annoying tunes? I guess it worked because I remembered it...)
We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.
Article of Faith 6
Then I started to wonder who our evangelists are. I remembered in seminary being taught that an evangelist is another term for patriarch. (I'm sure it's bad linguistics, but if it's good theology, then I'm cool with it.) A quick check in the Bible Dictionary confirmed that this is an accepted LDS use of the term.

So, I have an accepted synonym that avoids the troubling connotations of the word "patriarch". Then I figured I could call it my "evangelical blessing". But I decided that "evangelical" has its own baggage. It has come to be solely associated with a specific form of Protestantism in the U.S. I then decided that "evangelistic" would work. I figured it wasn't a real word, but that hasn't stopped us before (I'm looking at you, "telestial"). I checked in the dictionary, and it turns out that "evangelistic" is a real word. It means "pertaining to evangelists".

So I am now thrilled to continue to read and study the wisdom that I can gain from my own personal "evangelistic blessing".

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