Courtney Wilson: Mormon Women and Priesthood: Part 1

mormon women and priesthoodThis is part one of a two-part series on Mormon Women and priesthood.

Several years ago as a Relief Society teacher, when you saw “the chastity lesson” on the upcoming lesson schedule you would pray that it didn’t land on your day to teach. Teaching your own children about chastity is uncomfortable enough, teaching chastity to a room full of women of all ages and situations brought with it a new level of awkwardness. That was a decade ago. Times have changed and now “the Priesthood” is the subject that makes us all stare at our shifting feet on the floor.

In the last few years what had been a fairly straightforward subject is now filled with contention. As with most things in life, contention is often born out of an innocent misunderstanding: Misunderstandings of both the motivations of the people involved and/or of the subject itself. In this case, the subject being the nature, keys, and authority of the priesthood. I am not a spokeswoman for the Church, just a simple woman with a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, but I would like to address the nature, keys and authority of the priesthood in an attempt to put things in a different perspective and perhaps allow us to unite in ways that have been difficult in the recent past. In his talk during the Priesthood session of April’s general conference, Elder Oaks says:

While addressing a women’s conference, Relief Society general president Linda K. Burton said, “We hope to instill within each of us a greater desire to better understand the priesthood.” That need applies to all of us, and I will pursue it by speaking of the keys and authority of the priesthood…. Priesthood power blesses all of us.

Priesthood Keys

In the simplest of terms, the Priesthood is God’s power on earth. The “keys” of the priesthood and the “authority” of the priesthood are two separate things. Elder Oaks goes on to say:

Priesthood keys are the authority God has given to priesthood [holders] to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood on earth… In the controlling of the exercise of priesthood authority, the function of priesthood keys both enlarges and limits. It enlarges by making it possible for priesthood authority and blessings to be available for all of God’s children. It limits by directing who will be given the authority of the priesthood, who will hold its offices, and how its rights and powers will be conferred. For example, a person who holds the priesthood is not able to confer his office or authority on another unless authorized by one who holds the keys. Without that authorization, the ordination would be invalid.

If a priest, pastor, or even a bishop were to perform a marriage, that marriage is only for the couple’s time here on earth. Even if the person officiating in the ceremony were to say the words, “for time and all eternity” it would not be a marriage for time and all eternity because it was not done by one who holds the sealing keys. But what about those who are priesthood holders and DO have that specific priesthood authority? Elder Oaks explains:

This explains why a priesthood holder—regardless of office—cannot ordain a member of his family or administer the sacrament in his own home without authorization from the one who holds the appropriate keys.

Mormon women and priesthoodLast Christmas we had several house guests, including one who was recovering from serious complications following major surgery. At one point we had no less than four worthy Elders under our roof, yet they could not administer the sacrament to their father without permission from our local bishop, which we quickly received. Similarly temple workers, with the authority to perform eternal marriages do not have universal keys to perform them at any time or place. Their keys extend only to their specific temple and they must receive permission to perform those ordinances in other temples. These rules have nothing to do with the worthiness or ability of the person in question and everything to do with the organization and order in which the ordinances must be performed. Doctrine and Covenants 132:8 says:

Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with it’s 15 million+ members, must be a well organized church. We are just too big and too diverse to allow for inconsistencies in the running of this worldwide organization.


Priesthood Authority in the Church

On the subject of Priesthood Authority, Elder Oaks continues:

I begin with the three principles just discussed: (1) priesthood is the power of God delegated to man to act for the salvation of the human family, (2) priesthood authority is governed by priesthood holders who hold priesthood keys, and (3) since the scriptures state that “all other authorities [and] offices in the church are appendages to this [Melchizedek] priesthood”), all that is done under the direction of those priesthood keys is done with priesthood authority.

How does this apply to us? How do women participate in this great organization?

President [Joseph Fielding] Smith said again and again that women have been given authority. To the women he said, “You can speak with authority, because the Lord has placed authority upon you.” He also said that the Relief Society “[has] been given power and authority to do a great many things. The work which they do is done by divine authority.”

As Elder Oaks continues that thought by saying:

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—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, 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 under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.

Any number of us who have strived to magnify our callings can testify of the priesthood authority that we have felt as we go about the Lord’s work within the organization of the Church. In my ward, I am in charge of the monthly Sister Spotlight presentation. It’s a calling that to many may be considered unnecessary or insignificant, but I have felt, through the priesthood authority I have been given, which sisters to focus on. More than once we have heard those who serve in their respective callings testify of an increase of love for those under their stewardship. Visiting teachers love their sisters in ways they never could before their call to serve them. Time and time again, no matter who is involved, a Christ-like love grows out of nothingness. What other power and authority could that be other than priesthood power and authority? Whether or not we are ordained to priesthood offices does not affect our ability to exercise His authority when He deems it necessary. Elder Oaks continues by saying:

The Lord has directed that only men will be ordained to offices in the priesthood. But, as various Church leaders have emphasized, men are not “the priesthood”.

We’ve all heard the joke, “Sure, I hold the priesthood, I hold the priesthood every night when he comes home from work.” And most of us roll our eyes but in all honesty, we do ourselves, and the church organization as a whole, a disservice when we allow ourselves to become casual in our speech, especially of these sacred things. Men aren’t the priesthood. Men are ordained to priesthood offices and hold the keys to administering the sacred ordinances necessary for this earthly life. I know that can seem like a silly distinction, but in this last Conference we were reminded yet again how important it is for us to refer to our church by it’s proper name. Deliberate speech is essential if we are to avoid misunderstandings and confusion.

Another seemingly insignificant example is when I quote scriptures I try to remember and use the entire name of “Doctrine and Covenants” rather than the oft-used abbreviation, because to the world at large “D&C” is commonly known as a medical procedure. You can imagine the kind of confusion this might have when speaking to a non-member or new convert (especially one in the medical field). Referring to the men as “the priesthood” and using similar expressions create confusion and as the scriptures have told us, “Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.

Read part two, here.


mormon women and priesthoodHi, I’m Courtney. I’m a “dangerously self-confident” Air Force wife, a mother of 5 (6th on the way), teacher, patriot, a runner, an aspiring scholar, and daughter of God.  I love being a traditional mom, homeschooling my children, refinishing and building furniture, trying new things, writing, reading and politics. I didn’t always love my job as a mother, but with a lot of help from the Lord I have been able to discover how I can fulfill all of childhood dreams and more within the walls of my own home and with my little family. I want nothing more than to raise my children in righteousness and help other women and mothers find joy in their femininity and motherhood as I have.   Visit Courtney at her personal blog: Ordinary, Happily Ever After

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