I had several favorite speakers and authors growing up as a teenager in the nineties. One of them was John Bytheway, and another was Brad Wilcox. I would save my money and go to Deseret Book to buy their talks (recorded on cassette tapes) and play them endlessly on repeat. I could probably recite whole sections of them from memory if I sat down and tried. I can hear every voice inflection, every pause for laughter, and every emotional testimony that they bore on these recordings. I thought they were brilliant men.
I went to each John Bytheway fireside I could possibly drive to, and in college I was thrilled to sign up for his Book of Mormon class at BYU. One day I went up to him after class and tearfully told him how much he’d meant to me during my teenage years. He was kind but brushed it off with a self-effacing joke about how disappointing it must be to take his class now, since his teaching style was so different from the more entertaining way he tries to speak at firesides. I was mildly let down by the interaction because I actually loved his class, and just wanted him to say, “Aw, thanks. That’s such a kind thing for you to say.” Instead he looked uncomfortable and like he wanted to bolt, but it was okay. I thought he was just very humble and still loved his class and took copious notes on every word he said.
I didn’t meet Brad Wilcox in person until I was a married adult, living in Lehi, Utah. I saw he was the keynote speaker at the kickoff to Lehi Family Week years ago, and I was excited to attend. Afterwards I went up to meet my other idol, and tell him about how he was the soundtrack to my life for years. He was very friendly and told me that he didn’t think anyone even remembered those old talks, and told me a secret that I could now download all of them for free on his website. It was a little better interaction than talking to John Bytheway, because he seemed genuinely happy to hear he’d been helpful to me, but he also made me feel a little out of date still referencing ancient talks that no one had mentioned to him in years.
Overall my experience with both men was highly positive until around the year I turned thirty, at which point I stopped seeing them as heroes (just like John Bytheway had tried to encourage me to do as his student) and instead saw them more as ordinary men with a knack for public speaking.
This year I turned forty, and both of these men are still speaking and writing for youth. During my thirties I changed my mind about the acceptability of women and girls holding no positions of authority in the hierarchy of a church that impacts their lives so intensely, and it’s been very interesting to me to see what these heroes of my youth have to say about women and the priesthood.
I recently stopped into my local Deseret Book and picked up a new book by John Bytheway from a display stand. I flipped through it and found some pages where he addressed the issue (a topic that I never heard mentioned by him or Brad in my teens or twenties). Right now a lot of people are viewing Brad Wilcox’s viral video from an Alpine, Utah fireside this past weekend and are shocked at his explicitly racist explanation of the priesthood ban – but I think it’s important to acknowledge that this isn’t the first time it’s been said by a popular youth speaker. Below is the link to what Brad Wilcox said about the priesthood, and I highly recommend you watch the whole segment (both about why Black men didn’t have the priesthood and why women still don’t). His voice inflections and occasional mocking tone makes it sound very different than just reading it on a page.
At 10:55 he ends by asking, “…Girls, how many of you have ever entered the temple to perform ordinances? Okay, raise your hands. Raise your hands high. Do you realize that you’ve done something that no man on this earth can do? There’s not a male on this planet who can enter a temple to perform ordinances without being ordained. And yet, you just waltz right in! You walk right in. So what is it that sisters are bringing with them from the premortal life that men are trying to learn through ordination? Maybe that’s the question that ought to be keeping us up at night.”
In conjunction with this talk, here is what John Bytheway has already published about the priesthood in his current book for sale at Deseret Book, on page 49:
To those of you who have now watched Brad’s fireside in Alpine, John’s choice of words will sound extremely familiar. Who came up with this idea first? Was it John in his book, Brad in an earlier talk that wasn’t recorded, or was it a high ranking general authority (or even apostle or first presidency member) who gave this message to them and asked them to disseminate it to the public? It seems unlikely that they both spontaneously came up with the exact same response, with almost identical wording, independent of each other. The racism has been discussed widely online, and I will defer to others for that conversation. It’s worth mentioning that Brad Wilcox has already come out and apologized to Black members of the church for the racist remarks, but has yet said nothing in reference to the sexist comments that he made immediately after.
I’m a woman who was raised in the LDS church, and I have two daughters, one attending Young Women’s, and the other in primary. We’re being told that as females, we’re somehow luckier and more special than our male peers because we can just “waltz right in” to the temple whenever we feel like it. Except we can’t. (What is Brad even talking about?) We have to do everything else that a man does to go to the temple. I don’t get a free pass on paying tithing, drinking tea, or skipping my church meetings. I still have to answer temple recommend questions every two years and be interviewed by my male priesthood leaders where I tell them what kind of underwear I wear each day. I have to cross every single hurdle that men have to cross – except for the one that lets me bless my sick children in the middle of the night, preside in a meeting, or see women with authority, independence and final decision making ability. For most of the history of the temple, women (including myself) didn’t make covenants directly with God like the men did, and our entire destiny and eternal potential is a complete mystery because Heavenly Mother is a hidden secret – but because we don’t have to have priesthood ordination to go into the temple, somehow that’s supposed to make it all okay? Are men picked on and persecuted because they get to possess the actual power of the God of the entire universe while girls and women just have to do everything else exactly the same, only minus the power and authority? Oh, my. It must be so hard to be a man.
It was just over a hundred years ago that girls and women were told they were very lucky not to have to deal with politics and voting like the men did. Choosing who to vote for was described as a burden that men took on reluctantly, but heroically. Many women believed that was the case for a very long time, until they realized that it wasn’t true at all. Having power and being involved in decision making (not by just influencing the men in their lives, but by actually having a vote themselves) wasn’t a burden – it was a blessing! Priesthood ordination and true equality for women in the church will likewise not be a burden. It will be the greatest blessing they have ever experienced. If our only consolation prize for not being ordained is that we don’t have to be ordained to go to the temple – that’s a meaningless reward. The current status quo will not be good enough for the next generation of young women. The world has changed since the 1990s. I have changed since the 1990s. Brad Wilcox, John Bytheway, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints *has* to change if they want to stay relevant in the lives of girls and women like myself and my daughters. It’s simply not an option anymore.