Someday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will have to recognize how eager many of its women are to access all the spiritual gifts delineated in scripture and, thereby, realize their full spiritual potential. We saw this hunger most clearly during the apex of the Ordain Women movement, which was often unfairly labeled a misguided group of sisters who without the humility to understand their role as servants to and under the priesthood. What the Church does recognize, however, is its ability to deny women access to any spiritual gift it likes. All it takes is a few lines inserted into the Church Handbook of Instructions. This time, the power of official disdain is aimed at a much less vocal, seemingly less organized, set of LDS women–our energy healers.
Find the relevant Handbook update in the last paragraph of 37.7.8. It instructs that members should be “discouraged from seeking miraculous or supernatural healing …[by] methods for accessing healing power outside of prayer and properly performed priesthood blessings.” It specifically targets “energy healing,” even suggesting, to my mind, that energy healers who charge are grifters at best, practitioners of priestcraft at worst. The line is drawn, not in the sand as Jesus drew, but in the semi-permanent ink of a patriarchy that thrives on plausible deniability. Crossing the Church’s line has costs.
To be clear, energy work isn’t my thing. I’m neither advocating for nor against it, but I am advocating that LDS energy workers be respected. Wendi Wilcock Jensen, who describes herself as a coach “in human potential, religious trauma recovery & spiritual development,” defines energy work as “modalities that help to balance the energy throughout the body to alleviate stress, ailments, and disease, including psychological imbalances.”
Jenn Nielson, also an energy healer with LDS ties, adds: “As we move through life, trauma is carried within our cells and nervous system… [U]ntil we are able to release what is held at the deepest, cellular level in our bodies, we continue to carry the trauma. Energy healing is a gentle way to help release this.”
Not long ago, I’d have scoffed at the idea that trauma embeds in our cells or DNA, then I set out to learn about generational trauma. With a little reading, my understanding grew. The concepts in energy work are, indeed, science-based and gaining traction in mainstream medicine. In fact, respected research hospitals are incorporating energy healing into their treatments.
Call it the placebo effect, but if you do, you best nod kindly when others assert that priesthood healing is propped up by the same placebo effect and often backlit with Mormon folklore.
The point isn’t that energy healing and priesthood blessings are equally weak-kneed but that each is powerful when it taps into the potential of the human spirit, or the power of the divine, or the mysteries of the mind and body, to stimulate healing. And that’s what we should want–people healed. The how of it shouldn’t be as important as the end result. But apparently it is to the Church.
The question is, why are the Brethren targeting energy healers? The issue can’t be that energy healers bypass priesthood; many healing efforts bypass priesthood and don’t warrant Church condemnation. Nor can it be that energy healers charge for their services, even if healing isn’t achieved. Many people have spent money on unsuccessful treatments as we sought healing.
No. The problem is that LDS women are bypassing priesthood and tapping into spiritual gifts without patriarchal clearance. Make no mistake, it is LDS women who participate in energy work, not LDS men, not priesthood holders. It is LDS women who are motivated by scriptural promises surrounding faith and the gift of healing and who are inspired by early Mormon women who healed; it is they who are inspired to study and receive legitimate certifications in energy work modalities.
And it’s these faithful women who find their standing in the Church suddenly threatened. There will be local leaders who leave an energy healer to govern her own life without any threat of Church discipline. And there will be local leaders who perceive this handbook “discouragement” as a command from the top that all LDS energy healers cease their work, men who won’t bother learning about energy healing or how to differentiate between legitimate practice and quackery. Our educated, certified energy healers are now made vulnerable for Church discipline.
The combination of uncertainty and fear is the Church’s preferred weapon. This is the nature of vague Handbook policies that pivot on legalistic plausible deniability. Let’s be clear: uncertainty and fear are tactics of terrorism. In Mormonism, we call it “leadership roulette.”
It’s befuddling to LDS energy healers that the church which encouraged them to seek, develop, and use their spiritual gifts with faith now wants to rid itself of their faithful use of their healing gift. No one should be surprised when resentment rises between the male authoritarians of the Church and the women who are its spiritual backbone.
Nielsen speaks of her frustration with the LDS Church in emphatic terms. “I am an energy healer,” she declares. “This is something innate within me that has always been there and that I dismissed and avoided for most of my life because I was taught by the Mormon patriarchy that I, as a woman, was not able to access or utilize it. I did not ever need a man … or the power of the priesthood to use this ability. I did not need them! And that [need] is exactly what this [Handbook update] is perpetrating. All I hear is fear!”
Clearly, when LDS women are denied the same path of spiritual development that men walk, we will create our own way. When we are told that our spiritual gifts are dependent on male priesthood, we prove it wrong. LDS energy healing isn’t rebellion. It’s recognition that women don’t need a priesthood permission slip to amplify our spiritual gifts.
This update won’t kill the LDS energy healing movement any more than the excommunication of Kate Kelly killed Ordain Women, but it will push believing female practitioners and participants further underground than they already are. Or out of the Church. Any policy that chips away at the use of spiritual gifts by women also chips away at the Church’s relationship with God, who both gave these women the healing gift and the desire to use it. The more LDS priesthood holders denigrate the holy work women manage to do in spite of their restrictions, the more these LDS women must exclude them.
Energy work may be a relatively small thing in the whole of Mormon spiritual practice, but it is a large symbol of what our Church deeply dreads. It dreads that LDS women will burst wide the tiny enclosure they’ve been keeping us in and prove that their certainty about the patriarchal order is more hubris than humility.
The Church completely missed the message of Ordain Women, and it’s doing it again with our sister energy workers. Our women yearn for autonomy, not priesthood permission slips. The desire to do more, to use our gifts as men use theirs, is not wanton disregard for the sacred. It is the sacred.
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. Isaiah 41:10