Women and the Priesthood, Fifteen Years Later

Maxine Hanks’s 1992 anthology Women and Authority includes a chapter by D. Michael Quinn, provocatively entitled “Mormon Women Have Had the Priesthood Since 1843.” Quinn makes it clear that he’s not arguing simply for what I’ll here call “soft” claims about women’s priesthood status, for example, that women hold the priesthood only “through temple marriage or through the second anointing” (368). On the contrary, he’s arguing a “harder” claim, that women actually held–and therefore, by the successive conferral of authority that authenticates Mormon ordinances, continue to hold–the Melchizedek priesthood completely independent of marriage, on the basis of temple endowment alone.

We might outline possible positions on this issue as follows:

(1) Women don’t hold the priesthood in any sense at all.

(2) Women hold the priesthood only through their husbands by virtue of temple marriage and/or the second anointing (“soft” claims for women’s priesthood).

(3) Women hold the priesthood independent of their husbands by virtue of the temple endowment (“hard” claims for women’s priesthood).

There are undoubtedly variations on these three positions (my own position turns out to be such a variation), but these are the major views of which I’m aware.

I’m not a historian by training, and thus I’m ill-equipped to assess Quinn’s use of historical documents and evidence. But it seems to me that women today clearly don’t hold or exercise the Melchizedek priesthood–at least, not in any sense in which we generally use the term. Women aren’t ordained to priesthood office and don’t perform priesthood ordinances, and that is, in general, what we mean by “priesthood.” I suspect much of the ambiguity about the issue stems from complexities in our use of the term itself, which seems to mean one thing in church government, while it has other meanings in relation to the temple. Whether we consider Mormon women to hold the priesthood depends, so to speak, on whether by the term we mean the church-government priesthood or the temple priesthood.

I think I can claim without controversy that women simply don’t hold the church-government priesthood, however we might interpret the temple priesthood (and I think it’s very far from clear how we should). Here for me, though, is the wrinkle: we routinely define the priesthood as the power to act in the name of God. If the women who officiate in temple ordinances aren’t acting in the name of God, in whose name are they acting? In their case I don’t think there’s any way around the fact that they must hold the priesthood, in some limited sense. I think the only reason we don’t term it such is that claims that women hold the priesthood, however routine they may have been in the early nineteenth century, are disharmonious with current church discourse and gendered understanding of the priesthood, and, like public discussion of Heavenly Mother, have become intensely politicized.

(Inevitable tangent: one of my favorite pieces of folk doctrine–the claim that women cannot be cast into outer darkness, that there are no Daughters of Perdition, a claim to which I once witnessed an entire gospel doctrine lesson devoted–indirectly ratifies this; the teacher and claimant made his only exception for female temple workers, who alone among women could be cast down to outer darkness, because their greater authority granted them greater responsibility.)

But to get back to informal demographic analysis: my very limited observations suggest that most Mormons adhere to position (1) above, with a much smaller group–probably a few quiet or not-so-quiet advocates in any given ward–adhering to (2) or (3). In general, the advocates of (2) and (3) I’ve encountered have tended to be liberal in their views of gender and of religion more generally and aware of such nineteenth-century practices as women anointing each other before childbirth. Adherents of (2) and (3) often, implicitly or explicitly, make their understanding of the temple and and/or historical practices the basis of a hope for women’s increased participation in administering priesthood ordinances and governing the church.

However, I’ve recently witnessed a Bloggernacle phenomenon, a small demographic shift in the advocates of position (2) and (3). While most such advocates undoubtedly continue to adhere the patterns described above, I’ve started to see women claim online that precisely because women already do hold the priesthood, no further conferral is necessary, and that genuine equality between men and women therefore obtains. In other words, what was once the basis of claims criticizing the status quo has now–perhaps–begun to be the basis of claims upholding it.

Michael Quinn was, of course, excommunicated in 1993, in part, some believe, for making precisely these sort of claims. I’m fascinated that a mere fifteen years later, his arguments and others like them have entered Mormon awareness to such an extent that they’re now beginning to be used to support traditional, conservative views of gender as well as more liberal ones. Will such claims ultimately become routine as the term “priesthood” is expanded to encompass uniquely women’s activities in order to preserve claims that men and women are equal–just as the term “new and everlasting covenant” underwent a dramatic redefinition post-Manifesto?

(I welcome all civil participation on this thread, asking only that commentators refrain from inappropriately specific discussions of temple ordinances. Violators will be subject to the verbal caprices of the Bouncer. Thanks in advance for your cooperation.)

34 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I once witnessed an entire gospel doctrine lesson devoted–indirectly ratifies this; the teacher and claimant made his only exception for female temple workers, who alone among women could be cast down to outer darkness, because their greater authority granted them greater responsibility.)

    And yet we complain over the increased standardization of GD lessons…

  2. I know some folks who are widely perceived as conservative who hold to position 3. (i.e., that women hold priesthood by virtue of the temple ordinances, but not office). But I haven’t noticed anyone making this a foundation of an argument that equality already exists.

  3. is one inclusive of the idea that women have all the authority and power inherently without needing the office. I see this a lot.

  4. I find Mike’s arguments in his Women and Authority article quite historically strained. I think most modern interpretations behind (3) are further strained due to shifts in temple practice.

    The definition I typically use for priesthood is: 1) The rights to govern the Church and 2) the rights to administer the salvific rituals of the Church. I think most conservative members would agree with those claims. Now the Church, over time, has laid claim to other activities for priesthood holders and in the case of the temple, they have extended, according to their rhetoric, non-priesthood authority to women to administer certain salvific rituals in the temple. From a historical perspective, that position is defensible (again due to shifts in temple practice).

  5. J, I’ve seen you refer to your general thoughts on Mike’s article before, though I don’t think you’ve spell out specific objections. Have I missed it? I’d be interested in your critique.

  6. Women aren’t ordained to priesthood office and don’t perform priesthood ordinances…

    Actually I think both of these claims are debatable, in the context of temple priesthood. Women are anointed in the temple to offices that sound quite like priesthood offices, and they perform priesthood ordinances in that context, as well.

    J., I don’t really think your definition of priesthood captures all the essential definitional traits. For most conservative members, the central defining trait of priesthood — more important than the two you list — is access to the power of God. I also think that the church governance claim is separate and distinct from the salvific rituals claim; most priesthood holders have the second but not the first. So if women have access to God’s power, as they manifestly do, and if they carry out God’s ordinances, as they equally manifestly do in the temple, it seems fair to say that they have priesthood.

    Eve, I wonder if your point is just: priesthood is no substitute for equality. Given Mormon social institutions, publicly recognized and practiced priesthood is perhaps a prerequisite for equality, but it is not the thing and the whole of the thing. Just as giving African-American men access to the priesthood hasn’t, in practice, made all African-Americans feel fully accepted in the church, so giving women priesthood (especially in some attenuated version) wouldn’t somehow end women’s issues in the church.

  7. Randy, I haven’t posted my critical review of the article. As it relates to his healing evidence, we have a paper under review right now and are writing a second that deal directly with it. A paper or book chapter on the temple stuff is forthcoming though.

    RT, I think it captures the exclusive definitional traits. Sure people link priesthood with God’s power (increasingly so over time), but that isn’t to say that all manifestations of God’s power are priesthood. It is my perspective that the most conservative members would agree to that. Now, in modern Mormonism we talk about “ordaining” priests, but in the Jewish Bible, they “consecrated” priests. The Mormon temple, however, is essentially an extended consecration, with some ordination character mixed it. Especially made clear in recent changes, men and women are brought to the temple to experience the consecration rituals. Becoming a priest doesn’t happen the day you walk into the Temple for the first time, via this consecration, most notably because the rituals aren’t done yet. In Joseph’s day this was more obvious as there might have been months between someone receiving the initial rituals and the endowment and yet further rituals.

    Now, I do agree that while the Church’s argument about priesthood that I outlined in #4 is historically defensible, it isn’t particularly systematically coherent from a perspective based solely on the present.

  8. J., it’s always struck me that you’re picking and choosing between historical and presentist perspectives on this. You take modern definitions of priesthood more or less for granted, yet you also draw on historical aspects of temple ritual. Of course, this is a theological question, and history simply doesn’t answer it; neither what is done nor what has been done provides us ironclad information about what should be done, or what God desires. So inconsistency in use of history isn’t fatal, because the history is only inspiration in any case.

    So thinking theologically. When modern Mormons say that women don’t have the priesthood, they typically also mean that they don’t have access to the divine power that men have access to. Part of it is about bureaucratic prerogatives, as in your definition — but that’s a minor part, I think, since everybody has a clear concept of priesthood without those prerogatives (which is indeed what most Mormon men have). What’s more important is the presumption that women lack the power to bless, heal, command devils, and so forth. I think the most common intersubjective belief today restricts these powers almost entirely to priesthood-holding men; these powers constitute priesthood in most people’s belief, since they are what distinguish priesthood holders who don’t have special callings from non-priesthood holders.

  9. In their case I don’t think there’s any way around the fact that they must hold the priesthood, in some limited sense.

    I think there is a difference between holding priesthood and having authority.

    When modern Mormons say that women don’t have the priesthood, they typically also mean that they don’t have access to the divine power that men have access to.

    I think it’s really, really easy to conflate power, authority, ordination and holding priesthood in discussions like this. Personally, I think we tend to simplify priesthood and define it as only the administrative element. The power that is available for all within the blessings of receiving priesthood ordinances is, in my mind, a totally different ballgame. And if you want to talk equality, that to me is where the rubber hits the road. The dividing line there, then, is not gender, but personal righteousness and reception of the ordinances of salvation. The whole end of all that we do in family and church, where both men and women have assignments and different measures of authority (we all have authority in callings to which we are set apart, for example, and parents have authority within their homes, etc.). We choose whether to have eternal equality available to us by whether we receive and are true to ordinances and covenants. The only way for men and women to truly be equal is in reception of all the ordinances and being raised up to exaltation. Anything short of that will be less than the full equality we hope for, both in terms of the blessings of priesthood and the full definition of equality as God has defined it. We were never meant to compete for power and authority here but to fulfill all that we are given here to then receive the fulness of power, authority, and equality as a married, sealed unit in the eternal realms.

    As such, I don’t ever anticipate having priesthood being used loosely enough to include what women do in the temple (and I don’t think we should), because most of the time when we talk about it, we are addressing administrative authority for management of the Church and of ordinances. As a woman, even as a temple worker, I was never ordained to an office of the priesthood nor given priesthood power through the laying on of hands. I was set apart. Having authority is not the same as holding the priesthood. To me, there is something different going on than just priesthood as we usually talk about it.

    And to talk about what happens in the temple in terms of the present I think is misguided. The temple ordinances point us to what CAN happen, what we CAN receive, as both men and women (and particularly a man and woman together), if we are true and faithful to our covenants. It’s not a given that we have already received all that is available through the priesthood ordinances. Making the covenants themselves does not mean we have automatically received exaltation or the promises of the priesthood ordinances (such as being priests and priestesses). The realization of the blessings depends on whether or not we are faithful, and the full determination and fulfillment of that faithfulness often, if not usually, won’t happen until the next life.

    So in my mind, people who say women already have the priesthood are getting way ahead of themselves. 🙂

  10. m&m, I think you’ve clearly and concisely articulated a very common position in Mormonism. And yet, there is more to say. Can women be assigned authority to baptize? If not, why can they be assigned authority to carry out some of our most sacred ordinances? The theory here is that priesthood arises in more than one way; by ordination, certainly, but perhaps not only by ordination.

  11. Again, RT, I think you are possibly conflating priesthood and authority, and they aren’t exactly the same thing. And if priesthood does arise in different ways, we should talk about it in different ways. We simply can’t say women hold the priesthood as men do because they don’t — they don’t receive it by the laying on of hands, they aren’t ordained to an office, they aren’t presented to the congregation in recognition of reception of priesthood and ordination to an office, they don’t hold administrative offices that men do and do not hold any keys. If women can’t do those things, they clearly don’t ‘hold the priesthood’ as men do. Whatever we can do in the temple, it’s not ‘holding priesthood’ in this sense, and so I don’t think we should conflate the two things.

    That doesn’t mean that I don’t think women have any part in receiving power, authority, and blessings within the umbrella of the blessings of priesthood ordinances (which is no small thing, imo), but I see no logic behind the position that women ‘hold’ priesthood as men do. If they did, they’d have the opportunities to hold offices, keys, presiding authority to lead church units, ability to preside over the entirety of ordinances, etc.

  12. The theory here is that priesthood arises in more than one way

    I should add that we should say that authority can come to various people in various ways. But authority should not always be equated to holding priesthood, imo.

    I think some of what happens with all of this is a problem with semantics. I think we don’t fully understand enough to really be able to talk about it in a way that reflects the order of things. Using the term priesthood for what men hold and do and equating that with what women do in the temple, though, to me seems illogical. I think it’s inaccurate to call it all the same thing. And again, I think there are layers of what authority and priesthood and power mean, and we ought to be really careful about not conflating them all, because then it all will mean all the less. Holding priesthood is different from receiving delegated authority or blessings from the priesthood. Receiving priesthood ordinances is not the same as holding priesthood. Having power from and within the ordinances and order of the priesthood (the umbrella that blesses us all) ais not the same as holding priesthood.

    To Eve’s original question, I think that if we call it all the same thing, we will lose critically important nuance that I think must be kept for us to sort through all that priesthood and its power, authority, and blessings really means.

  13. One other thing…I don’t think it is insignificant that women perform ordinances in the temple. I just think it’s important to sort through what that means in its specificity and within its context, rather than making some blanket statement that because of that women hold priesthood like the men, because that is simply not accurate in my mind, and minimizes what men have, and creates confusion about these principles.

  14. “When modern Mormons say that women don’t have the priesthood, they typically also mean that they don’t have access to the divine power that men have access to.”
    This is a confusing point for me. Women have access to divine power through faith – healings, moving mountains, great miracles all through faith. So men can perform ordinances and govern, but do they have any greater access to the power of God? Is priesthood even necessary outside of ordinances and government?

  15. I was taught this in my religion classes at BYU

    Women do have the priesthood by virtue of their endowement in the temple. They are not given the same office in the priesthood as men. Women are called as mothers in Zion while men are given responsibilities to preside outside the home. Women are not given these same responsibilities because their calling is sufficient to supply them with a rich set of challenges requiring their reliance on God. If men didn’t have the priesthood, we would miss out on our own set of sanctifying adversity.

    Regardless of office, endowed Women have the same rights to the powers of heaven that endowed men do in thier callings. However, women are asked to respect the organization of the church and honor the men in magnifying their callings and the proper use of the priesthood.

    Joel 2: 28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:

  16. The Gospel Doctrine Sunday school manual that covers the D&C contains a lesson entitled Priesthood, the Power of Godliness, which covers section 84.

    I think the view of priesthood that have been advanced by Daisy and BRoz is very common and often has official support, such as through the correlated cirriculum. So in addition to the idea of priesthood through ordination or assignment of authority, we also often think of it in terms of closeness to God, or ability to get inspiration. And when we speak of it in this way, it is thought of as the thing that is given to men to put them on an equal footing with women. It is the crutch that men need in order to keep up.

  17. Most of these ideas are speculation – meaning they have not been recorded as official, canonized scripture. It’s really only dangerous if someone starts assuming a certain speculation is the “real truth” – or if one gets so obsessed with trying to figure it out that it leads to neglecting other practical efforts at discipleship – if the trying to understand gets in the way of the trying to become.

    Just something to keep in mind.

  18. I think the idea of women holding the priesthood may derive in part form the somewhat nebulous concept of the patriarchal order of the priesthood. Lynn A. McKinlay, the author of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article on that subject writes:

    The highest order of the Melchizedek priesthood is patriarchal authority. The order was divinely established with father Adam and mother Eve.They are the fount and progenitors of al living, and they will appear at the culmination of earth’s history at the head of the whole sealed family of the redeemed. The promises given to Abraham and Sarah pertain to this same order…

    The patriarchal order is, in the words of Elder James E. Talmage, a condition where “woman shares with man the blessings of the Priesthood,” where husband and wife minister, “seeing and understanding alike, and cooperating to the full in the government of their family kingdom” …A man cannot hold this priesthood without a wife, and a woman cannot share the blessings of this priesthood without a husband, sealed in the temple…

    This priesthood and its associated powers were introduced in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1843. It was first conferred upon the First Presidency, the apostles, and their wives.

    Today, dedicated husbands and wives enter this order in the temple in a covenant with God…

    The passage quite clearly speaks of women entering into the patriarchal order of the priesthood and of having it conferred upon them. It mentions women presiding, ministering, and governing by virtue of the patriarchal order. The article seems to see women holding the priesthood in sense #2, but it is notable that men also hold the patriarchal priesthood in sense #2–only in association with their wives, not by virtue of any ordination of their own.

  19. I also was surprised by what #1 remarked on. I think “the Big C” or correlation is wonderful. What about the story of Mary Fielding Smith blessing her ox? How come that story isn’t really hushed up and no one has a problem with it?

  20. The passage quite clearly speaks of women entering into the patriarchal order of the priesthood and of having it conferred upon them.

    I don’t see anything about it being conferred to a woman. She shares in the blessings of the priesthood, according to this article. There is a difference, and it’s an important one.

    Ray’s point is important, too. If prophets aren’t teaching that women ‘hold’ the priesthood, neither should anyone else. They do teach that all of us enjoy the blessings of the priesthood, that we can have authority in our callings, that we are all able to have power in our lives through faith and the Spirit, and that we are equal before God.

  21. m&m, there are texts in which past presidents of the church have said that women who receive the highest temple ordinance are “priestesses.” Whether being a priestess entails “holding priesthood” is a matter of mere semantics, isn’t it?

  22. FWIW, while preparing for my lesson for Young Men tomorrow, I ran into this quote from Dallin Oaks:

    President [Joseph Fielding] Smith explained: “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” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1959, p. 4).
    President Smith’s teaching on authority explains what the Prophet Joseph Smith meant when he said that he organized the Relief Society “under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood.” The authority to be exercised by the officers and teachers of the Relief Society, as with the other auxiliary organizations, was the authority that would flow to them through their organizational connection with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and through their individual setting apart under the hands of the priesthood leaders by whom they were called (“The Relief Society and the Church,” Ensign, May 1992, 34).

  23. Thanks, Matt. That was one of the quotes that has been in my brain.

    RT, no, I think there is a more to this than just a matter of semantics.

  24. And RT, part of what I mean by that is that we can’t just go around saying ‘women hold the priesthood’ when there are such clear statements as the one above from Pres. Smith and Elder Oaks.

    I also think that if we take such a simplistic approach, we miss the opportunity to really seek and learn and understand, because I think there are layers and layers of meaning in this amazing gospel principle.

  25. m&m, I think it depends on what we mean by priesthood. It is all somewhat confusing to me. Gospel Principles defines priesthood as “is the eternal power and authority of God”, but Joseph Fielding Smith says “Authority and Priesthood are two different things” and goes on to note the obvious fact that women have authoirty given them. Meanwhile, the best direct scriptural definition we have of priesthood (at the M level) is that

    It “holds the right of presidency, and has power and authority over all the offices in the church” (D&C 107:8). It also holds “the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church” (D&C 107:18)

    We generally associate these things merely with the president of the church, however, and as Bruce R. McConkie noted, these things are “dormant” in the rest of us. (Another might argue that they are not dormant but rather limited in scope). In any case, the priesthood is not the power or authority it would seem as God ultimately is the one with the power and authority, but priesthood is rather the call to administration and government, or in other words, presiding in affairs in the church, be they ordinances, or otherwise.

    So if priesthood is authority and power, women wield it as much as men do. If it is office, men hold it.

  26. I guess for me, there is no reason to think a Mother’s prayer for her child is lest efficacious than a father’s blessing, and so I wonder if a father’s blessing is any more efficacious than a father’s prayer…

    I think it is the faith made manifest by the blessing or prayer that has the real effect, and that the ordinance is simply meant to bring that faith to the front and bring those involved into a synergistic relationship with God.

  27. I don’t see anything about it being conferred to a woman. She shares in the blessings of the priesthood, according to this article. There is a difference, and it’s an important one.

    m&m, the passage I refer to is “It was first conferred upon the First Presidency, the apostles, and their wives.” The only singular antecedent for it is “this priesthood.” I don’t see any way to read that statement that to say that the patriarchal order of the priesthood was conferred on the wives of the First Presidency and the twelve.

  28. m&m, if you look at Mormon usage over time, it’s clear that there is a great deal of inconsistency in definitions of “priesthood.” A good book to look at here is Greg Prince’s “Power from on High.” Depending which kinds of definitions one chooses to use, the spiritual power and authority that women practice in the church, and especially that which they have practiced at some historical moments, certainly is “priesthood.” However, perhaps the more important conclusion to draw is that there is no uniform, Platonic-ideal concept of “priesthood” informing all or most Mormon usage of the term. Rather, there is a warren of ambiguous and divergent usages, suggesting a long process of historical and social development of the concept, above and beyond the initial revelations that left a lot of questions unanswered. This is why I’m a bit resistant to your position on this. Which church leaders have the right definitions? Deciding issues by definition is usually unhelpful, and often obscurantist. This is why discussions like the current one might perhaps be best conducted with the word “priesthood” ruled out. What is it that men have that women don’t have? Can that question be answered without the word “priesthood,” in a way that doesn’t boil down to “bureaucratic power in the church”? I’m not sure it can, although I’m very open to persuasion.

  29. Good idea to rule out the word “priesthood.”
    My question is slightly off topic: Is there any record of a woman raising anyone from the dead? (using priesthood or some other means?)

  30. President Hinckley said in the general women’s meeting in 1995 that women had the gifts of prophecy and the power to heal by faith as much as any man.

    Another thought–While I have almost always found the equating of Priesthood-Motherhood entirely too slick and patronizing, I have also thought about the following. The “saving” priesthood ordinances performed by men are blessings that last “forever” (beyond just this life.) Outside of women performing “by authority” in the temples, I wonder if “birth” is not the most important “ordinance of salvation” which women confer upon us all.

    Maybe birth is an “ordinance” rightly belonging to the covenant of sealing. (Although birth admittedly has most often occurred outside of that covenant.)

  31. Thanks, as always, to call contributors to the discussion. I’m so late getting back to this I don’t have much to add to what’s already been said, but I’ll try to address at least a few of your remarks.

    Kevin, I’d never noticed anyone making (2) or (3) the basis of an argument for equality until I started reading the Bloggernacle–hardly a representative sample of Mormonism, but I’ve started to see it pop up occasionally among more conservative women, which is enough to make me wonder, a la The New York Times, if I’ve spotted a trend.

    Matt W., that’s the argument I see much more frequently, although I find it quite unpersuasive. The problem there is that the reasoning goes backward: women and men must perforce be equal, so we balance the equation by invoking enormous and dubious gobs of raw female power rather than empirically examining women’s actual social status and situations.

    RT, yeah, I didn’t really get into it here, but I’m somewhat skeptical that priesthood is the avenue to equality for women. I think that women’s ordination is probably all too compatible with continuing patriarchy, and personally I’m more eager to see patriarchy replaced with equality than I am to see women ordained. I also think steps could be taken in that direction–for example, ending women’s ritual subordination in the temple–far more easily than in the direction of ordaining women to priesthood office.

    As Matt W. and RT said so well just above, clearly much depends on how we define the term “priesthood,” and the briefest historical survey suggests that’s no easy matter. It’s such a broad term that I wonder if greater clarity couldn’t be introduced by some segmentation (temple priesthood, church governance priesthood, etc.). Or perhaps, as RT suggests, it’s better to try considering these issues without invoking the term to get a clearer sense of what’s actually going on. Left Field’s citation actually illustrates the tortuous ambiguities involved quite nicely–the Talmage quote suggests that the man only holds the priesthood, that the woman merely “shares in” the blessings, much as their children might. But as Left Field correctly points out, the next paragraphs says that the priesthood was conferred upon women as well as upon men.

    All that said, I’m skeptical about m&m’s distinction between priesthood and authority (also made by Spencer W. Kimball and Joseph Fielding Smith, among others, I’m sure) because it seems to have only purpose: defining the priesthood so that women don’t hold it. Essentially in the twentieth century we’ve made up a category entitled “authority” to designate those powers that women can exercise to avoid any suggestion that women might hold the priesthood–a suggestion that was evidently much less controversial and perhaps downright routine in the early days of the church.

    Daisy, Broz, Mark IV, and Matt W. point to a related recent trend in our discourse–in our ongoing struggle to integrate gender equality into patriarchy, we’ve ended up attenuating the power of priesthood blessings relative to the prayer of faith. As Kiskilili pointed out to me once, when black men couldn’t have the priesthood, it was clear that this was a denial of blessings, that the priesthood was something deeply worth having, and as we know to our sorrow, nefarious ideas about blacks’ premortal sins proliferated.
    Now, when it comes to women, the discourse polarities are utterly reversed: women don’t hold the priesthood because we’re actually more worthy and wonderful than men, women shouldn’t want the priesthood because it’s just an endless burden, and women’s prayers of faith are just as efficacious as priesthood blessings.

    The term “priesthood” has already undergone such historical mutations it’s rash to speculate, but I can’t help wondering if the ongoing pressures of equality rhetoric won’t end up attenuating the unique power we ascribe to the priesthood (or at least to the priesthood blessing) further and further.

    Jessawhy, good question! Not that I know of, but as I said before, I’m no historian.

    Marjorie, yeah, that’s another line of reasoning attempting to find some equality of situation between men and women. Personally I’m uncomfortable with the all-too-familiar alignment of men with divine power and women the biological and natural. And as you note, the vast majority of births take place outside the sealing covenant.

  32. Excellent post, Eve!

    I have to disagree with m*m’s comment that we must be careful to not say that women hold the priesthood, because this would diminish the importance of the priesthood. So when women become involved on equal footing with the men, the woman’s involvement drives down the value of the activity?? (I also heard this from my 11th grade history teacher who complained that all the female teachers in our Utah school district were depressing his salary. He was probably right.)

    Likewise, another justification for male-only priesthood that I’ve heard bandied about the blogs is that the men won’t show up unless they are in charge. These commenters point to the declining membership of churches who ordain women, and claim that when women are in charge at Church, men (and women, presumably) stay home. So, the rationale goes, because men are less suited for supporting roles – especially when women are in charge – women are excluded from leadership positions.

    (This sounds a bit like the political commentators who wondered with alarm what Bill Clinton would do in the White House if Hillary Clinton became president. Surely he wouldn’t be content merely working hard to support the policies of his President-spouse and making small talk with minor dignitaries – like a supernumerary First Lady).

    These attitudes about the value of women’s work are distasteful, not only because it devalues the efforts made by women, but also because these attitudes reinforce the myth that men are natural leaders and women are natural followers. I do agree that we need to find a better definition of “priesthood”, though. The current configuration/definition is misleading.

  33. Thank you m&m for articulating so well the essence of the issue here. Eliza R. Snow and other women did lay hands and pray a prayer of faith for healing in the early days of the church. They did not however hold any priesthood. Operating under the direction of the priesthood is not the same thing even though the blessing are certainly available.

    With regard to Mary Fielding. “What about the story of Mary Fielding Smith blessing her ox? How come that story isn’t really hushed up and no one has a problem with it?” She did not bless her ox. She had her brother Joseph Fielding bless the ox using consecrated oil. But had she blessed it, it would have been by the power of her faith and not the power of the priesthood.

    Women have access to all the spiritual gifts the same as men do. They have access to personal revelation for their stewardships the same as men do. This is not the same thing as the priesthood. I don’t read the statement from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism to say that they do.


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