Gospel Doctrine lesson #8

A couple of years ago, I was at a meeting where we were discussing some ward and stake events. When we got to the topic of an upcoming father-son event to commemorate the restoration of the Priesthood, one of the women leaders raised her hand and said, “Why should only men and boys commemorate the restoration of the Priesthood? I love the Priesthood too and it was restored for me also.”

I was taken off guard. As a ward leader, I had pushed for more opportunities for women in many avenues, yet I never had any desire to be included in this event. The question formed in my head: did I love the Priesthood? Did I see it as being restored for me?

The answer has come slowly. First, while I had been taught that the purpose of the Priesthood is to bless all people, deep down I saw it as belonging in the realm of men. Talks on the Priesthood are most often given in the priesthood session of General Conference or taught to men or boys in meetings without women. Even when the topic is addressed in a broader setting, a separation is enforced. The purpose of this lesson, for example, is to “encourage brethren to magnify their offices and callings in the Priesthood.” Second, while I recognized the Priesthood as something that had blessed my life, it was also a topic tangled up in my mind with gender roles and unequal treatment of women at church—a topic that hurts. Because of that, even when information was available, I often avoided it.

The topic of women and the Priesthood tends to be either ignored as uncomfortable or irrelevant or the discussion becomes so charged as to be unproductive. I wonder if the result is a general ignorance among church members about the relationship between women and the Priesthood. Here are a few things I’ve learned since that meeting:

1) Women’s roles in the Priesthood are greater than we usually acknowledge. While women don’t hold priesthood office, they are given priesthood authority. In the April 2014 General Conference, Dallin H. Oaks said, “We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the Priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman…is set apart to preach the gospel…she is given priesthood authority to perform a Priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization…” Shouldn’t then the Sunday School lesson encourage men and women to magnify their callings with the Priesthood authority he or she has been given?

2) Women have the power to call upon God directly for healing, answers or blessings in their lives and aren’t dependent on an intermediary priesthood holder to reach Him. Prayer grants all of us equal access to God. The Church essay “Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple and Women” teaches that in the early days of the Church, women even gave blessings of healing by “laying on of hands” which Joseph Smith said was “no sin for any body to do it that has faith.” Not until 1926, did Heber J. Grant formally discourage this. Eliza R. Snow explained in 1883, “Women can administer in the name of JESUS, but not by virtue of the Priesthood.” Given that the priesthood is the power and authority of God, or men administering in the name of God, and that women have power to “administer in the name of Jesus” and to call on the power and authority of God in prayer, I wonder if we sometimes create a gulf that doesn’t exist. Or in other words: is a mother’s petition to God for the healing of a child and then listening for inspiration less potent than a father’s priesthood blessing?

3) Men hold the Priesthood—that does not mean they ARE the priesthood. Dallin H. Oaks taught: “While we sometimes refer to priesthood holders as ‘the priesthood,’ we must never forget that the Priesthood is not owned by or embodied in those who hold it.” The priesthood belongs to all of us.

4) The Priesthood bestows power on women and men alike. Priesthood ordinances in the temple endow both men and women with “power from on high.” Similarly, women and men can both be exalted.

5) Perhaps the great divide that exists in church governance because of priesthood shouldn’t be quite as large as it is. Women are excluded from many meetings and trainings based on not having the Priesthood. Women are not invited to stake “priesthood leadership meetings” or often to ward “priesthood executive councils.” Yet, if women operate in their leadership callings by the authority of the Priesthood, and if they call upon God to help them administer to those in their stewardship just as men do, could it be that there is a place for them there after all?

What I often come back to though isn’t something I learned; instead it’s something I have always known: God “suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam” (2 Nephi 9:21) and “none are forbidden” (2 Nephi 26: 28). God loves and values me, a woman who does not “hold the priesthood,” as much as he does any man who does. I have as much access to his love, power, atonement, forgiveness, inspiration, guidance and gift of eternal life — the greatest of all gifts of God (D&C 14:7) as anyone else.

Related Mormon Women Project Interviews

Women and the Priesthood, Sheri Dew

“Eliza R. Snow said that Latter-day Saint women have greater and higher privileges than any female on the face of the earth. I absolutely know that is true. We could talk about the issues of trying to work with priesthood leaders. I’m like everyone else: I’ve had glorious experiences working with priesthood leaders, and I’ve had terrible experiences working with priesthood leaders. I get that whole picture.

But I also believe that when you look at the spiritual privileges we have, it’s just astonishing. The saddest imaginable thing is if we don’t realize what God has given us. And if we don’t realize it, we are in no position to learn how to draw upon the power of God and how to draw that power into our lives to bless us. Imagine how sad to get to the end of your life and find out that you had it all along, but didn’t access that power.”

The Shining Light of Oakland, Betty Stevenson

“When I started attending church, I became very militant. I wanted to know, “Where are the black people?” I knew they had to have some. So I went looking in Church history for black Saints, and I found them. Elijah Abel was the first black man that Joseph Smith ordained to the priesthood. His posterity held offices in the Church.”

Other Related Women’s Voices

Rise Up in Strength, Sisters in Zion, Bonnie L. Oscarson

“All women need to see themselves as essential participants in the work of the priesthood. Women in this Church are presidents, counselors, teachers, members of councils, sisters, and mothers, and the kingdom of God cannot function unless we rise up and fulfill our duties with faith. Sometimes we just need to have a greater vision of what is possible.”