One of perhaps the most misunderstood principles of the Gospel (both outside and inside the LDS Church) is that of the priesthood and patriarchal leadership. I have to admit, until I attended a class at BYU Campus Education Week back in August, I didn’t really completely understand it either.
We believe that the father (hopefully a Melchizedek Priesthood holder) “presides in righteousness and love, serving as the family’s spiritual leader. He leads the family in regular prayer, scripture study, and family home evening.” We call this the “patriarchal order” and some people have a hard time with it.
First, let me talk about the priesthood. When a young man turns 12, he is ordained to the Aaronic (or “preparatory”) priesthood. Basically this priesthood is teaching young men how to be worthy Melchizedek priesthood holders. As a young man grows up, and as his knowledge increases, and as he remains worthy, he is ordained to each additional office of the Aaronic priesthood – a teacher, at fourteen; and a priest, at sixteen. When he turns eighteen, with plans of serving a full time mission, his ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood in the office of an Elder – now ready to preach the gospel to the world, and to ordain others to the priesthood (as authorized by Church leaders).
One of the biggest hang ups that some people have about men holding the Priesthood is just that – it’s men who hold the Priesthood. Many people (inside and outside the Church) assume that means that the LDS Church is a chauvinistic, man-run organization. That men get to tell the women what’s up, and that women are somehow inferior to men.
First let me quote from The Family: A Proclamation to the World: “In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” (emphasis added) So, if men and woman are “equal partners” then why don’t women have the priesthood? The short answer is that they do have the priesthood (or at least all the power of the priesthood). By the Holy Ghost, which is received at baptism, women have all the power of the priesthood within them that men have. (see D&C 84: 64-68)
Many gospel principles come in pairs, and if you take them out of their pairs, they get all messed up. Take faith and works – by faith we are saved through the grace of Jesus Christ, but faith without works is dead. We need both. Again, justice and mercy – we don’t need mercy if there wasn’t justice that needed to be satisfied, and we couldn’t satisfy justice without mercy (and still return to Heavenly Father) because we are all so imperfect. When we look at gospel principles as a whole, things make so much more sense.
So, we have the doctrine of patriarchal order in the Church – the Priesthood holder (a man) is the spiritual leader (notice I said spiritual – and it pretty well stops there). But we also have a very important doctrine that men and women are complete equals as well. President Howard W. Hunter said, “A man who holds the priesthood accepts his wife as a partner in the leadership of the home and family with full knowledge of and full participation in all decisions relating thereto.” Women have full participation in all the decisions a man could make when it comes to the leadership of the home. The way our instructor at Education Week described it was the husband and wife are co-presidents, rather than the man “president” of the home and the wife “vice-president” – they are co-presidents, each holding equal veto power for all decisions, and making all decisions together. Being a little more stern, President Hunter continued, “For a man to operate independent of or without regard to the feelings and counsel of his wife in governing the family is to exercise unrighteous dominion.” So this principle of equality between man and woman is actually very significant and important. A husband is not the “head” of the family – he presides over the family – and it is a spiritual presiding.
What does that mean? What does it mean to preside spiritually over something?
Let’s look to the life of the Savior. The Savior is the spiritual leader of everything. He’s basically the end-all, be-all of spiritual leadership – and rightly so, since it is His Church. But how did the Savior lead? He blessed children, He healed people, He washed His disciples feet. “
He led by serving.
And so it is with the priesthood. There is something significant about the priesthood, and that is the priesthood can never be used for personal benefit. A man who holds priesthood cannot give himself a blessing – he has to ask another priesthood holder for that blessing. And another significant principle of the priesthood is that every woman on the earth has available to her every blessing of the priesthood. What’s that you say? Every blessing. There is nothing a man can receive that a woman cannot receive – including blessings of the priesthood. In the same talk, President Howard W. Hunter said, “Of necessity there must be in the Church and in the home a presiding officer.” That presiding officer comes from the priesthood – but remember, the presiding officer is really the serving officer. Basically, then, a man is given the priesthood of God so that he will serve. Serve his family, serve the Church, serve God, serve others.
So the priesthood calling and authority is really just a calling to serve – and women have that same calling and authority, just no formal ordination to the priesthood – however, we are entitled to the power and blessings of the priesthood. There is nothing keeping us from anything the priesthood has to offer. President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. Authority and Priesthood are two different things. A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord.”
To better understand this concept – that no blessing or power of the priesthood is withheld from women – I recommend an article written by Heather at Women in the Scriptures about the history of Relief Society sisters blessing each other. It is a really interesting article, and very enlightening. I want to share part of a scripture that she quoted.
"Therefore, as I said unto my apostles I say unto you again, that every soul who beleiveth on your words, and is baptized by water for the remission of sins, shall receive the Holy Ghost. And these signs shall follow them that believe. In my name they shall do many wonderful works; In my name they shall cast out devils; In my name they shall heal the sick...." (D&C 84: 64-68)
From Heather’s post, she said “The gift to heal is a gift given to all the followers of Christ, male and female. Women in the early days of the church often participated in healing as demonstrations of faith… Women who gave blessings never claimed priesthood power but always closed their blessings in the name of Jesus Christ.” And that “Joseph Smith clarified that women had the gift to heal and administer because of their faith and not because of their priesthood authority.” Women are eligible for every single blessing of the priesthood, because those blessings only come through the Holy Ghost, which is bestowed by the priesthood. Women can and do receive all the blessings of the priesthood.
In the Church Handbook of Instructions, the section I am reading today has a heading “Use of Priesthood Authority.” In this section, there is instruction given on delegating priesthood authority. If you still aren’t convinced that women can have ever blessing of the priesthood, let me tell you that they are also organized under priesthood authority and are given authority to preside in the Church. When the prophet Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society, he told them “This organization is divinely made, divinely authorized, divinely instituted, divinely ordained of God to minister for the salvation of the souls of women and of men.” (Daughters in My Kingdom, p.7) The Handbook of Instruction says that “Priesthood leaders can delegate authority by assigning others to assist them in fulfilling a calling.” By delegating responsibilities to Relief Society presidencies, Young Women presidencies, and Primary presidencies, and other callings, women have, by delegation, authority over their callings, under the direction of their priesthood leaders.
The ultimate illustration of the participation of women in the priesthood is that the priesthood needs woman for exaltation (to live with God and receive all that He has), and woman needs the priesthood for exaltation. A man holding the priesthood cannot be exalted without a woman, and a woman cannot be exalted without a man holding the priesthood. The full blessings of the priesthood can only be obtained with a man and a woman enter into the new and everlasting covenant of the priesthood – that of eternal marriage.
Do you feel that men and women are equal? Do you understand your priesthood privileges? How do you experience the blessings of the priesthood in your life? How do you bless others because of the priesthood?