Dear 100 Hour Board,
How do I respond when my 2-year-old daughter asks why "ladies don't have the Priesthood"? Seriously. Not a question I expected to have to deal with for a few more years...
I think the best answer is probably "I don't know.” However, I think it is important to teach that the priesthood doesn't make individuals better than others. Women are not less than men just because men can hold the priesthood and women can't. I can't even pretend to know why God has allowed men to hold the priesthood and not women, but I really believe that it doesn't have to do with superiority and inferiority. It's hard for me to describe, but I think it is crucial to understand that the priesthood doesn't make anyone superior to anyone else.
I also think Anne's answer below is great!
-Sunday Night Banter
I agree with SNB that the correct answer is likely to be "I don't know," but I think that there are important additional points to hit while conveying that that's the center of it. (It may be that SNB is going to address some of these as well; as I write this answer he has only a brief placeholder completed.)
Essentially, I think that there are multiple things about the Gospel where the answer is currently 'I don't know." (For a much less important example: Why is coffee against the word of wisdom, but not hot chocolate or Postum or diet coke or orange juice? For an important example: Why did God permit African Americans to be denied the Priesthood for a period of time after the early Restoration?)
I think in having these conversations it's important to emphasize a few things:
1) We don't always know why Heavenly Father does things a certain way or asks us to do things a certain way.
2) That's why it's important for us to learn about Heavenly Father and the Gospel,
3) Because if we have a testimony of and a relationship with God, we can ask Him if this is His Church, and if this is the way He wants the thing done, or wants us to do it, even though we don't understand it.
4) And eventually, we know we will understand it because Heavenly Father wants us to have everything He has eventually, and that includes the things He knows.
5) So we can decide to follow Heavenly Father because we know Him and trust Him, even though He hasn't told us everything yet or finished revealing everything important to the Church.
Some people might think that answer still summarizes down to "I don't know," and that's a part of it, but to me it's important that "I don't know" is only a part of the sentence, with the whole idea being something like 'I don't know yet, but I know Heavenly Father loves me, so I'll follow Him while I keep learning."
Obviously that's a relatively complicated idea for a two-year-old. For a child that age I might say something like, "We don't know exactly why. Just like mommy [and daddy] know some things you don't know because we're older, Heavenly Father knows some things that we don't know because He is older than mommy [and daddy]! But some day we will learn more. And we know that God loves ladies just as much as men even though He doesn't have ladies and men do all the same things."
An additional thought on this: I spoke to a friend about this question, and he pointed to a recent quote from President Oaks stating that "...Some our troubled by some of our Church's positions on marriage and children. Our knowledge of God's revealed plan of salvation requires us to oppose current social and legal pressures to retreat from traditional marriage and to make changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women. We know that the relationships, identities, and functions of men and women are essential to accomplish God’s great plan." So, he believes the answer is relatively simple - i.e. because that is how God has planned it. He acknowledged, though, that "because that's how God has planned it" is the simplest answer to many questions and may not always be satisfying.
I agree that I'm a person who doesn't always find "because" to be entirely satisfying, and I wish we had more information about why God has planned it this way. Accordingly, I am grateful that 1) I can receive personal revelation on these issues, that 2) we have prophets to receive continuing revelation for the Church on them, and that 3) LDS theology teaches a perfectly loving God in whom I can safely trust even before I have more information.
I think what's important about my friend's point is that it's important to have these conversations coming from a point of faith that God is directing the Church and that the leaders of the Church are doing their best to follow that direction and we should sustain them as they do so. That certainly doesn't mean we can't wonder why God has planned things they way He has or if there's anything that He will do differently in the future, but it does mean that we should continue to live the Gospel and trust God in the meantime.
Note: although my personal views are that priesthood ordination of women is an unlikely future change, the set of "things Heavenly Father hasn't taught us yet" could theoretically include changes the Church needs to make in this or other areas. Essentially, the principle of "We don't know but because we trust God we know we will understand eventually" includes areas where what we will later understand is why something happened a particular way at a particular time and why it changed at another time.
Good for you for wanting to answer and teach your child. I think that learning about Church doctrine and history from a young age allows us to form a more educated, more centered testimony that's stronger, better able to integrate new information, and less likely to be shaken by things we don't understand in the future - because there will probably be some then as well as now. Instead, we can intelligently seek answers through our own personal revelation as well as the words of the scriptures and modern prophets, and we can hold to what we do know about a loving God and his Gospel in the meantime.