Remember that in the end, surely God will be looking only for clean hands, not full ones. ~Jeffery R. Holland
Question #91322 posted on 06/11/2018 11:30 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board and alumni,

Do you think women should have the priesthood? Why or why not?

-a writer who does

A:

Dear writer,

Yes. And of those two reasons I would definitely answer, "Why not?"

- Rating Pending (who just today was asked about the appropriateness of performing a certain diagnostic test request, something we normally don't perform from this particular sample type, and at some point the conversation about "Should we do this?" got simplified down to, "Can any of us confidently list enough reasons why we would say no to this, given that it could help this patient?" And we couldn't. So that was informative.) 

A:

Dear you,

Yes, but I won't openly support it unless I know I'm talking to other supporters. I've had a few experiences where I've shared my true opinions with members who didn't feel the same, who then automatically brand me as a crazy liberal feminist and refuse to listen to any more of my ideas. It's really sad we've gotten to this point, because, as Hugh B. Brown said, 

I admire men and women who have developed the questing spirit, who are unafraid of new ideas as stepping stones to progress. We should, of course, respect the opinions of others, but we should also be unafraid to dissent–if we are informed. Thoughts and expressions compete in the marketplace of thought, and in that competition truth emerges triumphant. Only error fears freedom of expression… This free exchange of ideas is not to be deplored as long as men and women remain humble and teachable. Neither fear of consequence or any kind of coercion should ever be used to secure uniformity of thought in the church. People should express their problems and opinions and be unafraid to think without fear of ill consequences. … We must preserve freedom of the mind in the church and resist all efforts to suppress it.

Why should women get the priesthood? Because the equivalent to men having the priesthood is women having the priesthood, just as the equivalent to women having the possibility of being mothers is men having the possibility of being fathers. (To spell that out a bit more clearly: motherhood does NOT equal priesthood.) Women will never fully be represented in the Church until they have the priesthood. Chieko N. Okazaki, former counselor of the Relief Society presidency, talked of her experiences in the highest ranking presidency for the women. When her presidency went to the First Presidency to get permission to make new manuals for Relief Society, they were told manuals were already being made for them. “So I asked, 'Who is writing this manual?' It turned out to be five men, and the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Society would have the same lessons. I asked, 'Why aren’t the women included in this?'" Another time, “We asked one time if we could be on the building committee and the temple committee, because sometimes we think, 'Why did they build it this way?'—because it doesn’t work very well for the women’s needs. And we wanted to be on the temple committee, because there are many things that affect women in the temple. But we were never allowed to be a part of those committees.” And when it came to the Family Proclamation, the Relief Society Presidency wasn't even informed about it until it was about to be presented. When the interviewer asked, "You didn’t even know it was in the works?" Okazaki responded,

No. They just asked us which meeting to present it in, and we said, “Whatever President Hinckley decides is fine with us.” He decided to do it at the Relief Society meeting. The apostle who was our liaison said, “Isn’t it wonderful that he made the choice to present it at the Relief Society meeting?” Well, that was fine, but as I read it I thought that we could have made a few changes in it. Sometimes I think they get so busy that they forget that we are there.

"...they forget that we are there." Okazaki is not the only woman to feel that way. 

God works with people at their own rate. He will not give answers unless we ask questions—we have the entire book of Doctrine and Covenants to prove that. I think it's well past time our leaders asked why women are not fully represented in the Church.

-anonymous 

A:

Dear secret writer,

Yes, because I think churches exist to serve people and therefore need to keep up with certain changes in society such as the ever increasing equality of men and women in these types of roles.

-Mico

A:

Dear you,

I have not yet heard a convincing doctrinal explanation for why women don’t have the priesthood, so I see no reason to privilege "women can never hold the priesthood" over "women are capable of holding the priesthood and either tradition or the Mysterious Timeline of God™ is the holdup."

I think that in general, women’s perspectives and needs are not heard adequately in the church.

So, yes.

-Zedability 

A:

Dear some sort of free-thinking anarchist,

Yes, because there are a bunch of doctrinal reasons why they should possess it (women perform priesthood ordinances in the temple, etc).

Yes, because women deserve full representation and participation in the faith community.

Yes, because withholding the gospel blessings associated with the priesthood on the basis of sex disproportionately affects single mothers, children, and widows.

Yes, because it would be a huge blessing in the lives of millions of women.

Yes, because this article broke my heart.

-Cognoscente

A:

Dear a ~

I think that if God wants women to have the priesthood, He'll give it to us. I am not opposed to the idea of it happening. My testimony won't be shattered, or even rocked.

I don't think the priesthood power raises women above men, nor that it raises men up to the level of women. I think it's just a thing that is different. Just like men have gobs of testosterone and women don't. It makes them different, and makes them naturally able to do different things better than women. That doesn't make them better. It makes them different.

When I married Yellow, we were similar in many ways, but we were (and still are) different in many ways. When the scriptures say we become one flesh, I don't interpret that to mean that we're now the same, or should view things the same way, or that I should succumb to my husband's will. I interpret that as the idea that there are now two people with different abilities and talents that are bound together and work together to make things happen. Together we can do far more than either of us can do individually. Our combined "one flesh" is far more capable of keeping our household running or raising children. I could do many of the things he does. He could do many of the things I do. But instead of both of us trying to do the same things, we divide and conquer and get far MORE done. One of those things is using the priesthood power. Maybe I am capable of holding the priesthood. Maybe someday I will. I don't know. But the fact is, God's power is in my household. And my husband being that conduit means that that is one thing I can take off of my emotional to do list. Just like I can take off dishes and bedtime most of the time, because he does it. 

"But Dragon Lady, sometimes he's not there! Don't you resent it then?" Not a bit. Because I feel fully capable of praying with my children and asking the Lord for his power and blessings for whatever is needed. And if I feel like I need more of God's power, I have neighbors who would be here in a second. Just like if I needed to move a heavy piano and Yellow wasn't here, I would call my neighbors and ask for help. 

I think women have far more access to God's power than we give ourselves credit for. We get caught up in names and titles, and we lose sight of what the priesthood really is. I think we need to do a better job teaching our kids that men are not the priesthood. Stop saying things like, "We'll ask the priesthood to set up the chairs for this activity." THEY ARE NOT THE PRIESTHOOD. They are simply conduits for priesthood power. Holding priesthood keys is not the only conduit. When I was the young women president, through the priesthood, I had access to God's power where I needed it for the young women organization. When I was given the gift of the Holy Ghost, that opened up my own personal channel to God's power.

Until I fully understand God's power through the priesthood as it stands now—and I feel like I'm a far way from understanding that—I'm not going to start begging for it for myself.

~ Dragon Lady

A:

Dear you,

I think that the Church should be run exactly as God wants it to be, because He knows a lot more about what's best for humanity than I do. That does not at this point in time include any revelation to prophets regarding giving the Priesthood to women. I'm aware that some revelation doesn't come until it is sought. I think that the desire some people have for women to have the priesthood has certainly made it to the ears of Church leadership, and I decline to assume that either a) the leadership doesn't love these people or care about the things that matter to them or, b) the leadership doesn't know how to receive revelation on this issue. Rather, I'd prefer to assume that the prophet and apostles continue to pray for revelation about the appropriate ways to guide the Church, and as far as they've told us, God hasn't revealed a desire to change this. So, I'm going to stand with the doctrine of the Church as it's been revealed to us and say that no, I don't believe women should have the priesthood.

For more extensive thoughts, see here.

~Anne, Certainly

A:

Dear Writer,

Yes, I think they should, and because I believe in continuing revelation, I have hope and faith that someday they will. I don’t believe men and women are really that different, and I don’t think we understand well what it means for gender to be eternal, so I’d prefer to see them get something like the priesthood in its current form. On my more faithful days I'm open to the idea that the differences are larger than I think and so women will have a distinct form of priesthood. Either way, I’ve never heard an argument for the current setup that’s persuaded me it could really be the end plan of a just and loving God.

- Petra

A:

Dear everyone,

I don't know. I appreciate the sentiment on both sides of this debate, and I think many women do feel inferior without the priesthood. However, I'm not sure that ordaining women to the priesthood will fix whatever inequality people are experiencing. I don't think it is as cut and dry as it appears to be.

-Sunday Night Banter

A:

Dear writer,

No. I agree with Anne (above & linked), and with Ardis Parshall (female writer of easily the best single-author Mormon history blog), who has a good post on this here.

~Professor Kirke

A:

Dear writer,

This is a hard issue because it was when I became unsatisfied with assuming that the leaders were aware of issues and actively asking the Lord about them. I do not believe they are asking, "Can women have the priesthood?" and I've never heard a general authority ever even express empathy let alone understanding about this huge power imbalance in the Church. I've never heard them say, "We hear you. We've asked. Not at this time." 

I read about the personal struggle that Spencer W. Kimball had just to begin to ask The Lord about black people receiving the priesthood - he didn't want to, couldn't imagining doing it. The current leaders knew and were called by that same group of men who are only a few decades younger. Do I think they are praying about this in a way that would invite a revelation, one reversing all of the things they've said about women never being ordained to the priesthood? No. 

After this last conference, with so many sweeping policy changes happening by revelation, it only highlights how easily things could change. And they changed because people saw a way they could be better and prayed about it and got direction and approval. I don't think even step one is happening - seeing that things could be better for women in the church. Let alone taking it to the Lord in a meaningful way. It kills me that the "divinely established pattern" of only ordaining men is indistinguishable from "things the way we've always done them," which is always the reason for NOT doing something right up until the moment we started doing that thing. 

- An angry anonymous writer

A:

Dear friend,

I tussled with this question for a few years because I see the logic of responses like Anne's: if we believe in a church led by prophets who really are guided by God, who are we to pick and choose which policies we agree with? Surely we can't sustain the Quorum of the Twelve with our right arm while seeking to undermine or contradict them with our left?

But most of my own spiritual development recently has hinged on a conviction I've come to hold about the nature of revelation and spiritual autonomy. While I believe (most of the time - the trajectory of my faith might be best described as "sinusoidal") that Church leaders are inspired by God, I also believe that they get things wrong. I think they got polygamy wrong (which, I feel, guppy demonstrates convincingly in Board Question #91105). I think they got the ban on blacks holding the priesthood wrong. I think they've got the anti-homosexuality crusade wrong. The scriptures teach us that apostles and prophets get things wrong all the time, that personal failings, lack of faith, or the sheer weight of blinding cultural traditions often lead them to do things that aren't in line with the will of God. Take Jonah, for instance, whose self-righteousness got in the way of him going humbly to preach to the people of Ninevah; or Peter, whose not-unjustified fear of the frenzied political climate drove him to deny Christ three times; or, perhaps most applicably, Paul, who was pretty convinced that women were second-class citizens in the Church (see 1 Corinthians 11:5-9 and 14:34-35) and who affirmed the institution of slavery (see Philemon).

So what seems to me a given—that leaders are fallible, that they make mistakes, that the things they say or the policies they implement are not always inspired by God—can only mean one thing: we must supplement top-down revelation with personal revelation. That's why we have personal revelation. It's crucial to both our own eternal development and the trajectory of the restored Church that we exercise spiritual autonomy in seeking answers for ourselves. We must ask for personal spiritual advice on which parts of our leaders' teachings are true.

And we must do so not just in the false, constrained way we often do by preemptively assuming what the right answer is. My experience has been that the Church often encourages us to ask for spiritual confirmation of prophetic counsel but also insists that if we don't receive it, we're the ones in the wrong. That's like holding an election but only putting one candidate on the ballot; it's fundamentally coercive, and at its heart, it's little more than a sham. We are not truly seeking revelation if we don't at least entertain the possibility of error, if we aren't at least prepared for God to whisper, as He may occasionally do, "No, actually, they've got that wrong, and you have to help me change their minds." Is it so inconceivable that there might be a third line of communication, that a God who is patient with the failings of those he calls and who abhors coercion might start the rumblings of change in the hearts of the humble, in the hope that their leaders will listen? 

I suspect that the Church as an organization is at least as much human as it is divine. The New Testament is extraordinarily instructive in this regard: Jesus bursts onto the scene and spends three short years teaching a radical, sublime new religious philosophy and then, poof, He's gone. The apostles are left with their minds gloriously opened and their hearts forever changed, but with no idea what to do next. They're tasked with turning a ragtag bunch of followers into an organized religion with a unified structure and set of canonized doctrines, because although the Savior introduced all of the core tenets of the faith while He was with them, He's left them to sort out a lot of the details on their own. So what happens? The new church claws its way forward through clashes and missteps and disagreements and feedback. For example: a lot of ink has been spilled over how to reconcile James 2 ("faith without works is dead") with Ephesians 2 ("for by faith ye are saved...not by works"). I'm no theologian, and I certainly don't want to dismiss a complex and meaningful doctrinal discussion with too easy a wave of the hand, but the most obvious explanation to me is that James simply disagreed with Paul about how to interpret Jesus' teachings on salvation, and both wrote essays about it that have been enshrined in scripture. In another example, this one from Galatians, Paul recounts a literal, heated confrontation between himself and Peter over the issue of circumcision after Christ. The New Testament after the Gospel of John is basically a record of Peter and Paul and others bumbling around trying to develop a cohesive idea of what "Christianity" meant—sometimes based on clear, direct revelation, but mostly, it seems, just going with their guts.

Is the Church today really so different? Like the organization the ancient apostles were trying to build, the modern restored Church is directed by God but mediated by humans who are, well, all too human. 

All of this is to say that I think the Church should be much more tolerant of dissenting viewpoints from its rank-and-file members. Other organizations improve and grow by the clash of ideas; forms of human reasoning like critique, philosophy, and dialectics can help us tackle difficult problems and keep improving the solutions. One of the severest deficiencies in Mormon education, in my opinion, is the lack of a thorough schooling in Christian philosophical history, in great thinkers like Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Erasmus, More, and Kierkegaard. If we were to study them thoroughly, we might have a better understanding of just how huge a debt our theology owes to theirs—which might in turn give us a sense of the extent to which our Church was shaped by centuries of reasoned, human debate even before it tumbled into being in the spring of 1830. The Church resists any method of change that relies on dissent in an egalitarian forum because, as an organization that claims to be led by God, it (rightly) doesn't want to be subject to the caprice of contemporary politics or led astray by false prophets. But in trying to insulate itself from criticism, it has forgotten just how human many of its key elements are, and so has insulated itself from significant forms of human improvement.

There's an interesting strain of Mormon thought that doesn't get enough emphasis in standard Church lessons about choice and accountability. It has to do with consent, with the notion that part of being free agents entails being able to bestow or withhold permission for certain things to happen. Its most emblematic form is baked into the structure of the Church, and it happens every time someone gets a new calling: we raise our right hands to give them our sustaining vote. The word "vote" here is no accident, as it marks a formal expression of our will in the matter of ecclesiastical governance, and it's a crucial part of exercising our agency. And as we know from studying the plan of salvation, learning to righteously exercise our agency is fundamental to becoming what God intends us to become. This blurb from the website By Common Consent expresses it beautifully:

Since its inception, Mormonism has embraced the principle of having each member of the church exercise free will. Members are invited to individually study things out in their minds and verify whether the teachings of the church are the will of God. When the leadership of the church present decisions, the appropriate body of members is asked to sustain or oppose the action, discerning God’s will through personal revelation. Thus the revelation given to Joseph Smith in July 1830: “…all things shall be done by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith” (D&C 26:2). Our site celebrates this holy interplay of personal agency and revealed will.

But in the contemporary Church, the act of sustaining has become merely a form, an empty signifier. Raising your hand when the second counselor, just to preserve the ritual, not in a million years expecting anyone to respond, asks "Any opposed?"—that is, actually, sincerely dissenting—doesn't really seem like an option. And in such a world, we're back to the ballot that lists only one candidate and the phony election that represents a triumph of coercion over consent. When honest disagreement becomes impossible, that's the end of spiritual autonomy, the sacred independence that is the whole point of this life and the next. Our development as spiritual beings depends on aligning our will not with the Church but with God, and how will we ever reach the sort of maturity of judgment required to be gods ourselves if we can't exercise enough spiritual autonomy to distinguish between the two?

That was an overlong preface for my answer to your real question, which is yes, I think God intends women to have the priesthood. Why? Because I've prayed, with as open a heart as I can muster, to ask whether it is His will that the priesthood be restricted to men. And the answer I've felt is, "No, actually, they've got that wrong, and you have to help me change their minds."

Yours, &c.

Heidi Book

P.S. Above, Professor Kirke linked to a blog post that I completely disagree with (It's short; go read it so that you know what I'm reacting to). I want to respond to a couple of points. First, desiring something is not the same thing as coveting it. We all have righteous desires that we hope God will fulfill in this lifetime, but we wouldn't call it "coveting" to hope that God will bless us with the strength to tackle single motherhood or the intellectual skill to pursue a graduate degree or the opportunity to move to a place where a temple is within an hour's drive. Why is it righteous for a young man to sincerely desire to be ordained to the Aaronic priesthood but unrighteous for a young woman to desire it? Second, if the possession of the priesthood has nothing to do with the distinction between male and female but rather with whom God calls and whom he doesn't, do we think it's likely that he's "called" literally every righteous man over the age of twelve and literally no women? I suspect that more often than not, calling is linked with desire—that is, God calls those who desire to serve him and qualifies them by giving them the tools they need to do so. I have a lot more to say about this but there goes the end of Alumni Week, and with it all my writing privileges.

A:

Dear you,

In my opinion, no, we shouldn't push for change in policy/doctrine to give women priesthood offices, but yes, women should definitely have priesthood blessings, priesthood authority, and priesthood power.

I trust that things are set up as God wants them to be. And anyway, heaven will be organized with families and parents, not with churches and officers. What does matter eternally is priesthood blessings, authority, and power. Women should and do have access to the priesthood in that way. Any time a woman acts in any of her callings in the Church, she is using the power and authority of God to do it, thus acting with priesthood authority and power. I thought Elder Oaks gave a fantastic talk on this subject in April 2014. However, that was in the priesthood session so a lot of women never saw it, unfortunately.

-Kirito

A:

Writer,

I think we already do have it. 

Don't get me wrong. I've heard some incredibly annoying responses to why women don't have the priesthood from both men and women:

Them:

"Women are so spiritual they don't need the Priesthood."

"What would the men do?"

"I don't even want the Priesthood. It's so much responsibility!"

Me, a grown adult:

Mocking-Spongebob.jpg

Bad bad bad. That's a doofy husband trope, and a "I didn't want to give this talk so I swerved the bishop" joke disguised as an argument to an actually important and sacred question. No gender is more spiritual. We are all equally responsible to serve God's children. I also just really hate when LDS men put women on a false pedestal. 

The idea that women already have the priesthood might fall under the "annoying response" category for some of you. But I have many very real experiences in which I have exercised priesthood authority and other women have accessed it to bless me. I keep them very private because, as other writers have explored, church culture doesn't foster these conversations very well and I'd like to keep them sacred. I also would hate to understate how completely I felt I was I acting by the Spirit and how carefully I spoke, ensuring I was worthy to say what I did. I have no ordination (except in my callings as a member, missionary, or temple worker) but I have an intense relationship with my Savior. In that relationship I have the same power that any man has. I exercise it when prompted by the Holy Ghost. If you want to know more about it please email me. I can be more specific about these experiences in a more private setting when I know it will bless someone's understanding. I fully equate my own power as a disciple of Jesus Christ to the power of an ordained priesthood holder.  

Does it bother me that only men can hold certain positions in the Church? Yes. That is the administrative arm of the Priesthood and I recognize entirely that I don't have an equal part in it. How the Lord chooses to organize His church temporally is up to Him. If the leaders He selects are flawed in their resolve not to ordain women, I still believe He has selected them to lead the Church. I refuse to let the temporal organization of the Church interfere with my actual relationship with Jesus Christ. I would love to be a ward mission leader someday but my disappointment is well overshadowed by how much I enjoy being close to my Savior--a condition which the Church, in its current organizational structure, has helped and continues to help me achieve. 

I'm still working on it. But I believe a key to my understanding the patriarchal structure of the Church is somewhere in understanding fatherhood and motherhood. These concepts are equally flexible and discrete in my understanding. Meaning those terms don't always have to refer to an actual mother or father. But having a mother and father unit is important. I have had a mother all my life. I haven't always had a father. I have experienced motherhood and fatherhood in many different ways. No matter how much fatherhood I have experienced, being without a single father unit has felt like an absence. There is something in the spirituality of a family, and by extension the Church, that begs for a patriarchal unit.

I'm grateful that the lines are flexible. Men who are not my father have been like a father. My mother has filled patriarchal roles all my life. Sometimes I feel like parts of me are a brother to my brothers, and other parts are a sister. I carry that flexibility into my activity in the church and my understanding of the Priesthood. 

I'm also grateful that such roles are simultaneously defined. Brotherhood means something so different than sisterhood. When we think of such terms separately, they evoke very different emotions. Fatherhood... motherhood... sisterhood... brotherhood. The organization of the church (i.e Priest's quorum, Relief Society, Bishopric) are designed to help us understand those concepts individually. I think those words are each eternal concepts which we need to understand. They are defined and taught separately so we can apply them flexibly but still recognize them for what they are. Maybe the organization of the family and the church is just light being directed through a prism. I imagine someday being able to see individual colors without separating the light. 

What do I think should be done? I think we should be able to talk about it. I think we need to foster a culture in which women understand their rights and access to the Priesthood. I think we need to talk about Heavenly Mother. I mean, these are things we can do whether we are ordained priesthood holders or not. I hate that we have to be smart about it. I hate that there are people losing callings over it. But I believe the Spirit is as real as any position of authority. I am prepared to say anything in any setting when the Holy Ghost prompts me to do it. I believe God will protect me if I do that, whether my leaders do or not.

While we're at it--I also believe we should talk more openly about the temple. I believe the leaders of the church should be more vocal about the environment. I believe we should apologize for systemic racism both past and present. These beliefs are constantly flowing into my personal conversations and the lessons I teach. I never shy away from them but I avoid forcing them on others. I think that is the extent of my calling in those beliefs. If God tells me to turn up the heat I'll sure do it.

Babalugats