Monday, May 21, 2012

Women and the Priesthood

There seems to be a big conflict about women and the priesthood. A lot of women (and men) seem to think it is the same as the ban on blacks having the priesthood. They are waiting for a revelation that will extend the priesthood to all women, as well as men.

I don’t think this will ever happen. Not because I don’t think women won’t or shouldn’t have the priesthood. I don’t think it will ever happen because women already possess every power of the priesthood, and are not excluded from priesthood service. And because the women are already organized after the pattern of the priesthood, and all we need to do is wake up and fulfill our potential that has already been given us.

Women have Priesthood Power

In a post at By Common Consent a few months ago, the post author pointed out that ordination to a priesthood office does not necessarily mean the priesthood “holder” has any kind of priesthood power.

So if ordination to priesthood office does not give someone priesthood power, then what does?

When a man (or a woman) enters the waters of baptism and receives the gift of the Holy Ghost, they are entitled to priesthood power from those gifts (repentance and revelation) based on their worthiness. In the temple, women are endowed with all the same gifts and powers as a man. There is not separate ceremony for men, there is no separate blessing. Both men and women have the same blessings given to them in the temple. These powers and blessings are also contingent on their worthiness.

So how do we get priesthood power? By our worthiness.

In a Mormon Channel episode, Sister Julie B. Beck said,

I think that there is a great confusion about this, and some of it came about through the sifting of the scriptures and when plain and precious things were removed from the scriptures, but there is confusion about priesthood and how we talk about it…sometimes [we imply] that the men who hold the priesthood are the priesthood… [but] the priesthood is the power of God… it is His power… and in His plan He has give certain responsibilities to men and to women to utilize that power he’s made available to bless His children. Some of that power comes to us through the gifts and blessings of the priesthood…some of that power comes to us through ordinances. For instance, when we are baptized and given the gift of the Holy Ghost. Everybody gets that power if they’re worthy… that is God’s power speaking to us through the power of revelation... There are authorizations to perform ordinances.

Sometimes we say “Well, the men have it and the women don’t.” I hear that argument a lot. That isn’t even the right question. The question we should be having in our lives is “How can I access every ordinance that’s available to me to walk back to my Heavenly Father. How can I access the gifts and the blessings he’s made available to every one of His children.” And those blessings and ordinances are not gender specific, those saving ordnances that will exalt us. Now, men have been given the assignment to hold in trust the priesthood. To really understand this you would have to do a study of the family of Abraham and go all the way back to Adam and “Why did the the Lord give Adam to give the Priesthood to hold in trust?” It was so that every child of Adam’s family would have access to the ordinances that would save them. That was Adam’s assignment. To hold in trust that authority to perform those ordinances to bless his family. Now Eve was his sealed wife. That was a priesthood ordinance that sealed them. So the power of that ordinance was effective in her life. She also had assignments in her family. To teach her children, to nurture her children, to create the life of that child. And by whose power does that happen? That is God’s power. Women don’t need to be ordained to an office to perform that… The Lord can bless us in many many ways through the gifts of the priesthood…

This is Satan's way of confusing all of us, so that the men don’t understand what they have and value it, and the women don’t understand what they have and value it, and that neither values what the other has. If we can get into a polarizing, combative frame of mind then neither of us values really what the Lord has blessed us with in His priesthood.

This polarizing, combative frame of mind is what I see all around in the discussion about women and the priesthood. Why? Because Satan wants to confuse us so that none of us can enjoy the blessings of the power of God. I wish that we could get beyond this frame of mind and open up a real dialogue about how women can use the power of the priesthood in their lives and to bless the lives of others (which, really, when we get right down to it is the purpose of the priesthood – to bless the lives of others).

Priesthood Organization and Authority

Women will (and do and have) absolutely perform(ed) priesthood ordinances. In the post at By Common Consent a commenter suggested that women perform ordinances in the temple for “practical” reasons. I do not think that is so.

In the most recent (April 2012) General Conference, Sister Julie B. Beck echoed President Spencer W. Kimball’s call for the sisters of the Church to “catch the vision of Relief Society.” In a BYU Devotional address earlier in 2012, Sister Beck said that the Relief Society is like a priesthood quorum. “A priesthood quorum is a group of men with the same office of priesthood who are to perform a special labor.” The prophet Joseph Smith
“organiz[ed] the women under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood.” The Relief Society, then, is a priesthood quorum for women. Sister Beck quoted a talk given by President Boyd K. Packer about quorums, stating that the words “quorum vos unum” mean “of whom we will that you be one”. She then said, “The word society has a meaning nearly identical to that of quorum. It connotes “an enduring and cooperating … group” distinguished by its commons aims and beliefs.”

Sister Beck went on to point out all the patterns of the priesthood that include women as well, such as the calling of Relief Society presidencies, sustaining our Relief Society leaders and teachers, receiving personal revelation over our stewardships, among other patterns.

When will we, as sisters of the Church, realize that our Relief Society is part of the priesthood? The Church was not fully organized until the Relief Society was formed in the pattern of the priesthood.

Equal Partners with Different Responsibilities

By divine design, men and women have different roles – both in the family and in the Church. This does not mean that we are not equal (different =/= unequal). It does not mean that men are somehow “over” women. “By divine design, [the brethren] are to preside over [the Church] in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for [the Church]. [The sisters of the Church] are primarily responsible for the nurture of [the members of the Church]. In these sacred responsibilities, [brethren and sisters] are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World – edited to apply to the Church broadly) If the purpose of the Church is to strengthen home and family then it makes sense that the Church is patterned after the family. The basic unit of the Church is not actually the ward, it is the family. So here we have it – men have different roles in the Church than women do. But, they “are obligated to help one another as equal partners.” So just as fathers are to preside in their families in love and righteousness, men are supposed to preside in the Church in love and righteousness.

Some questions to think about that may help this be more clear: Should men have wombs and carry children just as women do? Should Adam and Eve both simultaneously partaken of the fruit of the tree, rather than Even partaking first, then offering to Adam? Should there have been a male and a female Christ?

Could mortality be possible with out Eve (female)? Could immortality be possible without Christ (male)? Is one more significant than the other? Was Eve’s act any less noble, any less vital to our eternal salvation?

A Woman’s Right

It is a woman’s right to posses and exercise every power of the priesthood (based on her worthiness). The roles in exercising that power are different from men and women, but the power is the same. I do not feel any less significant in God’s plan for being a woman, nor do I feel that the doctrines (or policies) for the Church demean me as a woman. In fact, I feel that they empower me.

I feel like this is what Sister Beck has been trying to drill into our stubborn woman brains the past several years – that women have so much more potential than we even recognize. That women spend so much time worrying about why women aren’t ordained to priesthood offices they are wasting precious time they could be using to perform the priesthood duties they have already been given. Why are we sitting around arguing and complaining about why women “don’t have the priesthood” when we know and can be taught by the gospel of Jesus Christ and by His Holy Spirit that we indeed do have every blessing and power of the priesthood, that we, as women, are organized after the pattern of the priesthood? Why don’t we get up and go to work, exercising the priesthood power that is ours to exercise, doing good in God’s kingdom in the way we are called to?

Let us rise up and catch the vision of Relief Society and be the women God wants us to be.


  1. I never really knew that this was an issue in the church, but I guess I could see how it could come up. I guess it doesn't matter to me WHO holds the priesthood because both men and women have access to it and receive the same blessings and priesthood ordinances. A man can't really give himself a priesthood blessing. A man can't really use the priesthood for himself so it's not like he has something better just because he holds the priesthood. And he can't really use it without authorization anyway. A man can't just go around baptizing people or holding sacrament meetings in his home just because he's been ordained to the priesthood. He must use the priesthood to bless OTHERS. He must use the priesthood to SERVE. When a man is exercising the priesthood properly, it is an act of service, not some display that shows how great and wonderful and better than women he is. When we, both men and women, are doing those things we have been designed to do, we are all serving and helping each other. God decided that men would hold the priesthood. I, for one, am glad because I already have enough on my plate!

  2. So well said, Becca. Men are part of a priesthood quorum, women are part of the Relief Society--equal opportunities to serve and bless and build the kingdom. Men are fathers, women are mothers--equal responsibilities to build a family. When we listen to the prophet of God and the authorized leaders in the church we can know the truth and it will set us free. Free from the philosophies of men and free from the confusion of Satan's kingdom. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and testimony. Keep up the good work.

  3. I'm old enough (and grew up in the right place) that I remember tales of Sonia Johnson demonstrating about ERA and priesthood for women at General Conference. She released live turkeys on the front lawn of our Stake President when she was excommunicated for apostasy. And she was not alone. I was a kid at the time, so her hullabaloo didn't make sense to me then. Some people are still confused as you described. I think the people that get stuck in this issue are people for whom priesthood offices have been bandied about with unrighteous dominion. The important distinction is that no one can use priesthood power with unrighteous dominion. To understand that is to truly understand God's work and His organization here on earth.

    I love Sis. Beck and her willingness to remind us of the things that matter and tell us the questions that should be asked instead of the storm that Satan would have us brew. I teach a 6yo primary class and we have been talking about healing and the priesthood. Even my class knows it's silly to imagine someone laying their hands on their own head for a blessing. My husband is the bishop and he spent several weeks very sick, culminating in a ICU stay at the hospital. All these children prayed for him in their families. It was so tender to talk about the blessings he received--that not even the bishop can use the priesthood for himself.

    There are times and places in our lives and in the world where it is hard to be a woman without the keys to use the priesthood--the authority to bless the sacrament in far flung areas is such a time and place. But I don't see this as a flaw in the system or something that the Lord will change. I see it as yet another way the Lord cultivates our patience, cultivates our desires (if we will guide them) to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to be prepared for when opportunities for ordinances are available. I am grateful for the organization of the priesthood, for the tremendous blessing of priesthood power in my life, on the earth and especially in the church.

  4. I love this and agree with it whole heartedly. Have you come across Rocket Cordray's blog?

    You would like it.

    1. THANK YOU! I looked around on there a bit today, and I am kind of anxious to buy his book! It looks fabulous. What an amazing man, to understand and honor women so profoundly!!

      Thanks again for sharing!

    2. PS- that's still me, I just have a different sign-in for complicated, boring reasons. :)

  5. It is so funny that you posted this. I was driving in my car and I was thinking about your blog from yesterday and how bothered I was by something someone said. I was thinking about Sister Beck and even considered calling her and asking her about this. We were talking about gender roles on this blog yesterday. What is so funny to me is Ramon, Sister Beck's husband for the past several years has been introducing himself to people as "Hi Nice to meet you I'm Brother Julie Beck"...He is very funny but the fact that he says that and they both laugh about it must say something about gender roles. What you said here Becca about the priesthood is so accurate. It follows the lines of what I was thinking the other day but couldn't put into words. I think I shared about my own experience that it took me years to fully comprehend "priesthood" and that it isn't a priviliage to men over women, the way my husband explains it is the it is more about responsibility and the division of responsibilities. Somehow I was sent off on a tangent and shared a blog from BYU, I still hope that the blog I shared will help someone. I am completely rambling. Thanks for sharing this, it really helps explain things and put them into proper perspective. The thing that drove me crazy about the discussion on this blog yesterday was this idea that there are specific gender roles that men and women have to play. My argument was that it is between the married couple. In my mind I kept thinking about Sister Beck, for the past several years she has worked tirelessly in her church callings and her husband has been more of a support role. If your talking about traditional "gender roles" she would be in the support position and he would be the one working tirelessly. That isn't how the Lord wanted it and called her to those specific positions, knowing full well that her husband would be there to be a supporting role. I am privileged to know them personally and I know that she has had a full schedule traveling all over the world representing the church for the past several years. He accompanies her when he can but not always. Things in their home that may be traditionally considered "female" roles or responsibilities he takes care of. The point being that as long as you are living righteously then the way the gender roles shake out is between you and your spouse. This has been on my mind for a few days now, since I first read about it on this blog and Sister Beck kept coming to my mind, maybe this is why. I will be quiet now...

    1. As the Relief Society President, Sister Beck has spent her years in service nurturing the sisters of the Relief Society around the world. And I am sure that during that time, her husband continued to provide, protect, and preside over their family. Sister Beck may have presided over the worldwide Relief Society, but she will probably confirm that she was not presiding over their home and family. I am quite certain that she supported her husband in his role of presiding and providing and protecting their family. And I am sure that he worked just as tirelessly as she did.

      "The point being that as long as you are living righteously then the way the gender roles shake out is between you and your spouse."

      I agree, as long as the "gender roles" you are referring to here are the non-doctrinal ones (like who cleans the kitchen, who takes out the trash, who changes poopy diapers, who cooks dinner, who does the laundry, who mows the lawn, etc).

      If you are talking about the "nurture" and "provide, protect, and preside" roles - I don't like to be so casual about the revelations our prophets have shared with us concerning the eternal nature of our gender identity and the importance of living that identity in this life (even if it goes against our "natural man"). The prophets (and Sister Beck) have counseled, pleaded with, warned, and urged mothers to stay home. This is not because they want to have submissive women. It is because the home is our temple, and we are the guardians of it and we are the queens of our temples. That is where we are counseled, urged, and directed by God to be. Even if it's hard (and I know first hand - it's HARD sometimes to stay home - the pull of the world can be so enticing!).

      I also highly recommend the blog Raisins linked to in her comment above. Some excellent thoughts on what it really means to be a woman.

      Thanks again for your comments :)

    2. Hi Becca,
      You commented over at our blog today and it led me to come peruse over here. I'm grateful to read your insights and while I'm not sure we're on the same page with everything, I think we definitely have more in common than not when it comes to these subjects :). Thank you for sharing your light. I did want to comment on your statement "The prophets (and Sister Beck) have counseled, pleaded with, warned, and urged mothers to stay home." I have actually noticed in recent years that our leaders and Sister Beck specifically no longer give the counsel for mothers to stay at home exclusively. I have not heard any counseling, pleading, warning or urging to be stay-at-home moms in GC for years, in fact. I think we are starting to see a more open-minded approach to the definition of "nurturing." The church doesn't tell men how to protect and provide, and they're beginning to be more flexible about what it means to nurture as well. For example, consider this recent statement from Sister Beck:

      "One of the questions that I get frequently is, 'Is it okay if I work outside of my home or I don’t work outside of my home?' You have to know that as an international, global, Relief Society president, that question isn’t always appropriate in all of the world’s countries. There are many, many places where if our women don’t work, they don’t eat. So of course they have to work. The question of whether or not to work is the wrong question. The question is, 'Am I aligned with the Lord’s vision of me and what He needs me to become, and the roles and responsibilities He gave me in heaven that are not negotiable? Am I aligned with that, or am I trying to escape my duties?' Those are the kinds of things we need to understand. Our Heavenly Father loves His daughters, and because He loves us and the reward at the end is so glorious, we do not get a pass from the responsibilities we were given. We cannot give them away. They are our sacred duties and we fulfill them under covenant." (Women's Conference 2011)

      Notice that she no longer specifically says how to fulfill those responsibilities, simply that we are under covenant to do so and should prayerfully consider how to approach them. I think of this shift as a reflection of many other shifts we've seen of late-- for example, the transition to the flexible, inspiration-based teaching style of "Preach My Gospel" as opposed to the rote lesson plans of the past. I believe the Lord is giving us more trust and as a church, the diversity of our situations are necessitating the greater implementation of personal revelation, and the doing away with cookie cutter descriptions of how to be an effective mormon mother.

    3. *more comment here, due to word limits on the first one*

      Also, consider these other recent quotes from our Elder Cook:
      "I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents."

      "We should all be careful not to be judgmental or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home. We rarely understand or fully appreciate people’s circumstances. Husbands and wives should prayerfully counsel together, understanding they are accountable to God for their decisions."
      ("LDS Women Are Incredible" April General Conference 2011)

      I believe if the counsel was still a blanket statement that at all costs, women should be stay-at-home moms, Elder Cook would have said that. This talk marked a true shift in the church's counsel on this subject.

      I think my friend Stephanie struck an important insight in this article ( that highlights the descriptions in the Proclamation as stewardships, rather than strict roles. Remember, the Proclamation says that a mother's primary responsibility is the nurture of her children. Not the only one. Our leaders are shifting in the way that they frame our stewardship as women, and are recognizing that our situations are diverse, and our promptings and family situations are unique. They no longer counsel us at large to only be stay-at-home moms. Does that mean that it's not the right choice for many families? Certainly not. It well may be. Instead, I believe it means that we should each carefully consider our stewardship, counsel with our spouses and the Lord, make the decisions that are right for our families, and then respect each others' choices and remember that there is not one right way to carry out our stewardships as mothers and fathers.

  6. It was interesting you posted about this since I had just had a discussion with someone about it on Friday. I think you wrote a nice post but I don't think it would be enough for her. She feels she should be able to give priesthood blessings to her kids when her husband isn't there and is waiting for the priesthood to come to women so she can do that. My point that she could do basically the same thing with prayer anyway was dismissed by her as different. Anyway I enjoyed your thoughts.

  7. Interesting post, Becca. I find myself sitting here, kind of analyzing my own knee-jerk reaction to the topic. And I realize it's a bit complicated. So please--bear with me. Do I want the priesthood? No. Not really. I am happy to let the men have it. But. Do I find it reaaaaaally hard sometimes to accept that men are given these amazing opportunities to serve in leadership positions that I will never be given? Yes. I do. Because you know what? Part of my "divine nature" means that I am driven and ambitious and leadership oriented, and it just seems like a complete waste. So, it's hard, and I mean hard in a way that I just try not to think about it, because it really hits a nerve. And as much as I may ponder about it or try to make peace with it, I think it will be a source of frustration for me throughout my life. So that just has to be okay for some of us, don't you think?

    The other point I wanted to make was this idea that Sister Beck really brought out about us rising up and embracing our potential. I'm amazed, as I serve in the church, how few of us sisters have a *testimony* of Relief Society. At 25, I was called to be the 1st counselor in the stake relief society presidency. As we went around training and teaching and meeting with sisters, most of them thought of Relief Society as the organization for women who were "retired" from real church service,, i.e. primary and young women. The women who were either between callings or had already "done their time" were in Relief Society. And I found this to be profoundly sad, because we are SO underestimating the power of this organization and our roles in it, don't you think??? And while the feminist in me (wink and smile) may chafe sometimes and chomp at the bit, I really do desire to help this Society (quorum--love it!) to be what God envisions for it to be. Thanks for helping me to feel that desire again this evening. :) -Becca2


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