LDS Women [don’t really] Have Priesthood Authority

As an active LDS woman of a mature age, I’ve participated in many lessons on the LDS concept of priesthood, even taught them. Several weeks ago, I participated in two lessons about priesthood, the first having been taught by my wonderful Relief Society president and the second by a male Sunday School teacher who I consider a friend. The lessons were excellent and the content similar. Yet, each was also vastly different from lessons taught ten, twenty, even forty years ago. In the past, priesthood lessons presented to women centered on ways women can support men in their priesthood calling. These days, the focus (at least regarding women) is the apostolic message taught by Dallin H. Oaks at Priesthood Session of the April 2014 General Conference which reasons that the power and authority women use in the exercise of our callings is priesthood derived through the priesthood key holder who presides over us. In both of the recent lessons, the teachers emphasized an identical question: “Sisters,” they asked, “do you understand that you have priesthood power and authority in the exercise of your callings?”

“Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.” Dallin H. Oaks, April 2014 Priesthood Session, General Conference. Emphasis added

LDS women swiftly embraced then-Elder Oaks’ new and improved view of women and priesthood. Most LDS women rejoiced because it empowered women and broadened our view of ourselves. But when my male Sunday School teacher asked the women in the room if we understood, it struck me with force that the question was being posed to the wrong gender. Women get it. But do men? I raised my hand and asked the men if they understand and, if so, how has that new knowledge changed their approach and attitude toward the women. I’ve been thinking about how attitudes and approaches have changed ever since. Frankly, I see no change.

I’m plugged into social media circles in which women speak openly about their church experiences. I still encounter the same comments from women about priesthood leaders who step on and over the sisters as we perform their church duties, who don’t let us run our own organizations, who ignore and dismiss our ideas, and/or who take action pertinent to Relief Society, Young Women, or Primary organizations without so much as informing the female presidents. I still hear about men showing up at activities for females so the priesthood is present. Why?

Gentlemen, if you believe the Relief Society and Young Women president have the same priesthood power and authority you have as they perform their callings, then you must recognize that you aren’t needed at all female activities. You must see them as inspired leaders and let them do their jobs. Collaborate, yes. Interfere, no. 

I know there are gems among our local priesthood keyholding men and that they honor the autonomy of the women they call, men who see our wisdom, gifts, and abilities as blessings to be enjoyed rather than errors in the making. But when Dallin Oaks made the revolutionary claim that the obvious authority and power women harness in the performance of our callings is specifically priesthood power, every local leader with priesthood keys should have become one of these gems.

In spite of what President Oaks taught in 2014, LDS women still experience church as people without power and authority. It stings to sit in a church class and be asked by a man if we sisters understand we have the same priesthood power and authority as they do. I’m left wondering if LDS men grasp the degree to which the Church experience would change for all members if we practiced the tenet that was taught in that Priesthood Session.  

The reality is, if a new teaching changes nothing, then there is nothing new about it. Admittedly, then-Elder Oaks followed his revolutionary ideas with several paragraphs that reminded priesthood holders that women are equals without being equal. We are the wombs of God and are, therefore, barred from holding priesthood offices (Aaronic priesthood deacons, teachers, priests, Melchizedek priesthood elders or high priests). Fine. I see the drawn line. 

But callings are not offices in the priesthood. Motherhood does not stop women from being called to positions in the church that take immense amounts of time. If the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acted upon the stated belief that women use priesthood power and authority, the following callings, currently limited to Melchizedek priesthood holders per the General Handbook, would be opened to women: 

  • Counselor in the Stake Presidency
  • Stake Executive Secretary 
  • Assistant Stake Secretary
  • Stake Clerk
  • Assistant Stake Clerk
  • High councilor
  • Counselor in the Bishopric or Branch Presidency
  • Ward or Branch Executive Secretary
  • Assistant Ward or Branch Executive Secretary
  • Ward or Branch Clerk
  • Assistant Ward or Branch Clerk
  • Ward Mission Leader
  • Sunday School President
  • Counselor in the Sunday School Presidency

But they aren’t open to women. Women can’t be called to these positions even though the current First Counselor in the First Presidency has taught that a woman serving in a calling has the same power and authority as any Melchizedek priesthood holder. I’m left to conclude that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve don’t believe what they’ve asked us to believe. Patriarchy is as patriarchy does.

Lest anyone forget, the evening Dallin Oaks delivered his unusual talk about priesthood to the men of the Church, Kate Kelly and others involved with the Ordain Women movement were at Temple Square, petitioning for and being refused entry into the Priesthood Session. Two months later, Kelly would be excommunicated. Elder Oaks may have addressed the men of the Church that evening, but he targeted women. He handed rhetoric with the appearance of power to disempowered women, clearly expecting his rhetoric to end discussion of women and priesthood ordination by making female ordination unnecessary. The logical follow-up has been sorely missing. Sometimes patriarchy puts a little lipstick on its pig and we don’t notice. 

For the record, I’ve never accepted the argument that women need priesthood to serve in church callings currently reserved for men. Nor have I put my eggs in the basket labeled “Also Has Priesthood Authority,” though I’m willing to both believe and act on that belief. To my mind, the gift of the Holy Spirit is the great equalizer. It is by and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit that men and women serve in our callings in meaningful ways. While I do expect female ordination will rightfully happen in the Church someday, I don’t think bestowing priesthood on women at this moment would change a thing. After all, Dallin Oaks did the next best thing by creating a doctrine that lets women essentially borrow priesthood as we serve, but it has changed absolutely nothing except the rhetoric in lessons on priesthood. 

Patriarchy holds onto its power until it cannot. And women will push against suppressive and oppressive systems of patriarchal power until they give. Keep pushing, sisters, in whatever ways you feel you can, no matter how small. We deserve more respect than we get. When the rhetoric is hollow, our voices should echo from within.

~~~

Unlike priesthood keys and priesthood ordinations, the blessings of the priesthood are available to women and to men on the same terms. The gift of the Holy Ghost and the blessings of the temple are familiar illustrations of this truth. Dallin H. Oaks, Priesthood Session April 2014

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7 thoughts on “LDS Women [don’t really] Have Priesthood Authority

  1. larryco_

    I applaud your list of callings that can be fulfilled by women and would immediately support 11 of your list of 14 if presented for sustaining vote at church this Sunday. But in the case of High Councilors and counselors in stakes, wards, and branches, I really think priesthood ordination is needed because they do things like setting apart members in their callings and occasionally preside at sacrament meetings, baptisms, etc. when the bishop is not there . Now, if sisters were ordained this would be a moot point (which would work for me also); but as things stand now, I don’t see it for those three positions.
    Just my thoughts.

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    1. I’m happy to hear you can support 11 out of 14. However, what I’m hearing you say is that you don’t actually think that LDS women exercise the same priesthood power and authority as men. If you believed that, you’d see that an LDS woman serving as a counselor to the bishop (obviously the the man with keys who called her), then you’d see she could lay her hands on the head of Brother So-and-So and set him apart as the Primary chorister. No problem. Mechizedek priesthood in action, sans ordination!

      If women don’t need ordination to perform in their callings with *priesthood authority/power, then those positions don’t need to be held by ordained men.

      Of course, Elder Oaks only meant to hush up the uppity women. In this talk, he moved on to emphasizing women are limited at Church because God says. I guess I just can’t understand these things because of my divine womb. 😉

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  2. larryco_

    I just realized that by supporting you I’ve kind of dug my own grave. Obviously, sisters would do an amazing job in church positions that currently are not available. Possibly tooo amazing. I’m an old dude who lives with my wife in a really great over-55 community in Utah. Our ward is super active, with about 50/50 old folks to young folks. The younger people get the vast majority of the callings in the ward and I’m semi-cool with that. I love that they get wonderful experience, and I really mean that. But since the Church has done away with High Priest groups and shifted YM responsibilities, there is less for men to get called to do. We’re lucky to get a Sacrament meeting greeter or Family History committee calling, and have to grease the bishop’s palm several thousand dollars just to get that! (just a little joke). Many of our wives have callings in RS and YW where we have none. So, of course, we just sit around in big ole shorts, drinking beer and watching football all day Sunday. (JALJ, pt. deux). With the loss of 11 to 14 more callings, who knows what will become of us?
    (he said, tongue firmly in cheek)

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    1. You made me chuckle. Thanks for that. And I love your honesty. We’d probably be great friends.

      Let’s just say, I could live in your community too! And I’ve been put out to pasture regarding callings for, gosh, probably so long it’d stun you. I’m evidence that an outspoken woman is devalued in our patriarchal system even if she’s loved by her ward. It just is. So I understand the problem of not feeling…what? Valued? Or the social difficulty of not being involved in the work of the ward. (If they’d only realized they could’ve kept me too busy to write! lol) But I’m very happy to show up and participate in classes. In fact, I love it. There’s no hassle of preparation. So enjoy not being needed. Develop your own foyer ministry.

      I think the youngsters do, in fact, need the growth of some of these callings, the same way the golden oldies need the humility of *not having them. But if men need the responsibility of genuine leadership, why wouldn’t women? I realize men in the Church need to bow to the desires of their key-holding leaders just as women do. But it’s not the same. There’s something psychologically crushing to capable women when their entire spiritual life is, by decree, secondary to men. There are centuries and centuries of patriarchal weight on us. We console ourselves by telling ourselves stories about how we don’t want priesthood callings or how it’s okay that all women, regardless of personality and individual strengths, are put in a one-size box. We are herded into a life of dependency on our husbands (who hopefully turn out to be as good as we thought them to be when we married them) and then are never allowed callings that teach us of our strength, or what it feels like to really have the power and authority men at Church experience.

      Watch out, or I just might make a respectable Mormon feminist out of you, but you gotta exchange that beer for homemade ginger root beer!

      Thanks for reading. Come back. I enjoy you.

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  3. Melinda

    That’s really well-stated. Good post and solidly reasoned conclusions.

    Elder Oaks’ statement that women already have all the priesthood they need, while Kate Kelly was leading Ordain Women, seemed to me to be an attempt to gaslight women. “Gee, you sweet little sister, this is all just a big misunderstanding! You already have that thing you’re pretending you don’t have! There isn’t a problem here.” It was very disingenuous, and you’re right about it not having any real-world impact.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jack

    We may yet see women serve in some of those positions. Even so, the world has to change (IMO) in order to make room for a matriarchal priesthood. And though we may see some vestiges of that priesthood unveiled as we continue to cross the broad threshold of the Millennium–we’ve got a ways to go (IMO) before we’ll be ready to receive it in its fulness.

    That said, my sense is that the fulness of the priesthood will be made manifest in process of time during the Millennium. But in order for the matriarchal priesthood to thrive in the world the patriarchal priesthood must take its place first as the order by which the Kingdom is governed. Without the order of the priesthood we would not have the power to prepare a space sacred enough to invite that which is most holy.

    And so what we’re talking about here is a matter of sequence. One must come before the other–and when the world is ready to receive it we will see the divine matriarchy descending from heaven fully adorned as that which is most sacred and holy above all.

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    1. Thanks for your well-stated input, Jack. I’d like to hear how you conceptualize a matriarchal priesthood and more about why exactly that can’t co-exist with the current patriarchal priesthood.

      Here are my unwashed thoughts:

      What you’ve written sounds…hollow to me because its design is densely male. You describe priesthood as neatly ordered to place women as less then men at its every turn. It’s more: men must lead out, men are more important *right now* than women (patriarchy is more important than matriarchy), coupled with a little “Ladies, your time will come by and by. We’ll let you know when.” But you cap it off with the idea women can’t have this matriarchal priesthood you envision because its most holy. Well, no. I’m not letting you get away with exalting women in order to maintain male power and dominance. If women are so sacred, if we are more spiritually in tune then men, why in heaven’s name aren’t we in the places decisions are made in the church? The answer isn’t “God said.”

      Nowhere in your comment do you explain why the organizing value of male priesthood must come before whatever it is you envision a matriarchal priesthood to be. Women excel at organizing. We could run a ward, a stake, a mission, the entire Church but for our genitalia. It’s illogical to expect that a male priesthood would be better equipped to prepare that sacred space for Heavenly Mother than her daughters would be. Egad. We make sacred spaces everywhere we go. I can’t help but think you’re justifying the status quo and making yourself comfortable with the uncomfortable reality that in the work-a-day church, women are used up but not trusted to lead. We are still treated like children, like humans to be governed by men. You expect things will change. We agree on that. If things don’t change, the church will die. Young women will continue to leave. That’s the state of the patriarchal priesthood governance today.

      But again, I don’t think women need a priesthood to fulfill callings, not the ones we’re eligible for nor the ones we’re not. Still, I’d welcome it.

      Like

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