What is priesthood? What is the relationship of gender to priesthood?

It is daunting to look at the faith that you love and witness the accumulation of 183 years of non-systematic doctrinal accumulation.  By which I mean that one of the downsides of not having a professional clergy is that Mormonism does not recognize a systematic, coherent theology.  Yes, people.  In this, I envy Catholics and Jews and other faiths who make space for professional theologians and scholars of theology trained in the discipline.  I want a Mormon Jaroslav Pelikan.  I want Mormon Jesuits.  I really do.

What we have instead is an accretion of scriptures, historical events, personal experiences, and interpretive impulses–a chaotic body of data that is typically managed in order to tell the story the speaker wants it to tell.   Every faith tradition has a theological history rich in chaos, and Mormonism is no exception.  What we can see at best as we begin to piece together the history of thought on questions like “What is priesthood?” and “What is the relationship of gender to priesthood?” is the human outlines of our hunger for the truth and the way in which the terms of our search for the truth have evolved over time.  Mormons call this process continuing revelation.  The more we learn about change in Mormon history and doctrine and the more prepared we are to be candid, we must acknowledge that human dispositions and error play a vital role in shaping Mormon doctrinal history–especially on questions of power and its administration.

The problems come when we mistake human impulses and dispositions for Godly intentions and assume that what seems familiar and right to us is in fact essentially reflective of reality.

For example, we now hear a great deal of talk in connection with priesthood about gender complementarity–the idea that the spiritual work of mothering is the intended complement to priesthood offices. This idea is spoken as if it is gospel truth–self-evident.

But is there one scrap of evidence in A) canonized scripture B) canonized revelation C) the words of Jesus Christ or D) the words of Joseph Smith that supports the notion that motherhood is a spiritual office that is the complement of priesthood?

Because unless someone can find me this kind of evidence, candidly, I believe we have to set this whole notion aside as well-intentioned (and by some, deeply felt, but for others, deeply counter-experiential and nonsensical) folk doctrine.  I am mindful that Valerie Hudson and other well-regarded scholars have put forward various accounts imagining the spiritual value of motherhood.  But these have no foundation in doctrine and bear virtually no resemblance to the actual practices and values (aside from rhetorical) of the contemporary LDS Church. They are as fanciful and speculative as Orson Pratt’s 19th century ponderings that spirit children are conceived in a manner that mirrors earthly procreation.  Fact is, we simply do not have a body of doctrine that establishes the role of gender in the plan of salvation.  Pretty much everything we can say about Heavenly Mother–that she exists–is the product of post-1843 speculation confirmed only in retrospect by later prophets like Gordon B. Hinckley.  We do not have evidence for Heavenly Mother in canonized scripture, canonized revelation, the words of Jesus Christ, or the words of Joseph Smith.  Sad fact, but there it is.  What we do have is the projection of familiar 19th century European-American assumptions about motherhood and gender (which are not universally held) onto the nature of God and eternity.  We have speculation, not doctrine.  We also have the use of the idea of complementarity as a rationale for excluding women from authority over the institutional, financial, political, and socio-cultural life of our community.  Again, this is a strange permutation of the use of the term “complementarity,” as we note if we compare our experience in a Church where 19th century Euro-American gender norms rule to the way complementarity is understood and practiced in non-Euro-American societies.  An indigenous Mormon reader of the column wrote in with this note:

[Lakota anthropologist] Bea Medicine and others define gender complementarity not only as recognizing gender differences, but, and this is important, sharing power and decision making.  She observes, “The cultural mandates from symbolic and mythic structures did actually reflect duality and complementarity in economic and social roles” (Medicine 141).  

We do not have duality and complementarity in Mormonism, except in our imaginations.

We must know what something is not in order to be able to understand what is.

This problem extends not only to the folk doctrine that has accumulated over the years to legitimate late 20th century gendered power segregation within LDS institutional life but to the way priesthood has been redefined in this time period to conflate administrative, ecclesiastical, ritual, spiritual, familial, and social offices.  Another reader wrote this week with the same concern:

With all the commotion around priesthood ordination, I determined to start studying what priesthood really means and how it has been described since the restoration. I’m finding that definitions are very inconsistent! Sometimes it’s God’s authority in general, sometimes it’s his power broadly, sometimes it’s specific keys, etc. The church’s most recent “worldwide leadership training” on priesthood authority only confused me more, with quotes like “I use my priesthood keys to perceive and meet the needs of my quorum” (what? Isn’t that just the spirit? so bizarre). I’m finding that keys and authority are even ill-defined; what are keys, specifically? They’re talked about generally all the time, but what specific keys come with ordination to the Aaronic priesthood, and how are they supposed to be used? Anyway, I have determined to try and study it out more, because it’s hard to know where women fall in all this when it’s unclear what priesthood even means, how it relates to spiritual gifts, etc. 

Exactly.  What really counts as priesthood?  Is healing the sick a priesthood office? Is managing the Church’s stock portfolios a priesthood office? Is presiding over a Church-owned university a priesthood office? Is saying a benediction a priesthood office? (It was classified as such during my lifetime.) Is serving on the High Council a priesthood office?

We must know what something is not in order to know what it is.

Okay, readers, next week we’ll start in on some readings.  But for now, I leave you with a couple of questions:

1.  Can anyone find evidence in A) canonized scripture B) canonized revelation C) the words of Jesus Christ or D) the words of Joseph Smith that indicates the value of gender roles in the plan of salvation? (And yes, we all know that temple marriage is required for exaltation–but marriage does not necessarily mean gender roles.)

2.  How can we know what really counts as priesthood?  Which of the functions we group under the broad umbrella term “priesthood” now are really priesthood-limited responsibilities?

Send your thoughts to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow @askmormongirl on Twitter.


Filed under priesthood

61 responses to “What is priesthood? What is the relationship of gender to priesthood?

  1. I am going to unsubscribe. Many of these discussions are not relevant, in my eyes, at least, to the core of our beliefs. I can’t relate. I am not interested in being a Mormon feminist…I am a woman who happens to be LDS. I don’t like labels. There are many chapters in my “book.” I am more concerned about showing love, compassion, etc. than so-called “academic” discussions about things that I wonder really matter…

    Some of the questions posted here can only be answered by meditating on Gospel truths, praying, reading…not by asking other fallible human beings.

    • “Many of these discussions are not relevant, in my eyes, at least, to the core of our beliefs.”

      I disagree. I think that coming up with a workable, tested, consistent definition of “Priesthood” is essential to my core beliefs and how we practice the gospel in our lives. These academic discussions have a lot of value for me.

    • Is there really an issue with asking others about their interpretations of Mormon thought and doctrine? It seems to me that we do just that every fast sunday. Other people’s experiences and thoughts are relevant and important. They can help lead others to gain a more complete understanding of Mormonism.

      These discussions may not “matter” to you, but it seems like you’re dismissing others who do find the historical context of Mormonism, it’s actual recorded doctrines vs. cultural expressions, and other “academic” topics relevant. That dismissal in and of itself doesn’t seem to be showing love or compassion to Mormons who struggle with these topics.

    • It’s true that this particular matter is not important to our personal exaltation. Men and women who have lived under the current paradigm will not suffer eternally for this.

      But it IS relevant, because some women have felt a great deal of pain over it, and some have lost their testimonies over it. Of doctrine and principles I think it’s not central (In the dispensation of Moses, not even all worthy men even could hold it. But that didn’t make them any less saved), so it’s sad that someone would lose a testimony over it. But they do.

      And others that don’t leave, people such as myself, sometimes feel very uncomfortable in classes about the priesthood. It’s an issue worth discussing in safe and non-bitter, pro-Mormon places. And worth praying about, always keeping our eye single to the glory of God – asking “am I being biased here, Lord? What is truth here? Why am I uncomfortable, and what should I do about it?”

      What is it that we need to do to be more in line with the Truth and with God?

  2. In talking about this and other related issues I find a very strange bias towards the writings and actions of Joseph Smith in comparison to other prophets and leaders who have followed him?
    Why is him/his words/his actions on the same level as the words of Christ and other canonical works?

    I don’t have any problem with this per se, but neither have a heard a satisfactory explanation for it either. The idea that his calling as a restorer gave/gives him more importance is interesting, but also not particularly well documented past some very commonly repeated phrases (he’s done more than any person save Jesus Christ himself, etc).

    If we want to arbitrarily trust him more than practically anyone in the existence of humanity I’m ok with that, but I’d like us to be more explicit about it or to give more explanation.

    OK to answer the actual questions posed:
    1)What about the new testament scriptures that address this rather indirectly in terms of women covering they faces, not speaking, and submitting to their husbands? This is rather tenuous, but some people use these things as a basis for their justification for gender roles and participation in some activities. This though doesn’t directly address the value of gender roles in the plan of salvation.
    What about the covenants we make in the temple? Same disclaimer as the one above.

    2) How are we to know any truth? It’s the same answer.

  3. MHenderson

    Sadly, we’re not really taught to be critical thinkers and choosy consumers of the gospel. We’re taught that we should take it all in faith. A bit like being told, because I said so, that’s why. So, your question, what really counts as priesthood? Isn’t the answer, whatever we’re told it is?

    What if we take the standard canned answer, that it is the power to act in god’s name? Can only men and boys act in god’s name. Can not women and homosexuals? Can we never act in god’s name? What about before you knew I was gay? Did I act in god’s name then and did I lose that ability when I came out?

    I was frustrated yesterday at stake conference when the General President of the RS spoke via satellite from SLC, along with one of the Seventies and Robert Hales. Two things she implied rubbed me wrong and I turned to my daughters and told them that what she had just said was wrong. First, referring to the men she said something about how lucky we were that THEY would instruct us. I wanted to ask, if they are the only ones here to provide instruction, what are you doing up there?! Next, she referred to them as disciples of Jesus Christ. Again, implying that she was just there as some place-holder. Is it only men who instruct and only men who are disciples? And when the general RS president of the church abdicates her power like this, what kind of example is that to my teenage daughters?!

    • Justin

      Why would you assume that she was abdicating her power? Weren’t you lucky that general officers of the church were instructing you in your stake conference? I don’t think that excluding herself from those statements is at all an abdication of her role as a teacher or a disciple. If it were you speaking, would you tend to say “you are all very lucky to hear from US” or more of the phrasing Sister Burton used?

    • mofembot

      Rather discouraging that a (nominal) leader of the Relief Society would be use such unthinking and dismissive language when referring to herself and the very women that she has been called to, um… lead (sort of).

  4. In this post, AMG starts with a scholarly approach to the question of gender and priesthood as she considers the phenomenon of data managed to tell the speaker’s story. How does one get past mistaking “impulses and dispositions” for truth? That is the right question to ask and it makes sense to push past the “self-evident,” which is really just “what seems familiar and right to us.”

    The scientific method is to consider what the evidence tells us, even when it is in contradiction to cherished preconceptions. AMG ends this post by asking two questions and the first is about “evidence.” However, the sources she names don’t meet the scientific standard of evidence; they are really just sources of “hearsay.” Joseph Smith said and wrote some things that he claimed came from God. Subsequent First Presidents also claimed to have revelation direct from God. The writers of the New Testament wrote some things that they claimed were an accurate reporting of the words of Jesus, spoken much earlier. We don’t observe “Godly intentions” in the wild, just comments from secondary sources.

    Of course, anyone can choose to take these unsubstantiated sources as a feel-good starting point. Religion is all about a choice to hold beliefs based on facts that are not in evidence, or at least not verifiable by “peer review” standards. Such a choice is everyone’s right, but it is not academic or scientific. Any discussion of “evidence” for priesthood is an attempt to build a logical structure that rests on a non-logical foundation and can never make any sense in either world.

    So what counts as priesthood? Well, the priesthood is acts by priests. Who are priests? The people who say they are priests. It is a circular, self-serving construct, but anybody can jump in. Maybe LDS will continue to resist any effort to let women jump into LDS priesthood, but anybody can create their own religion based on what they want to believe.

    In fact, you don’t need evidence. Just say that it is so and people who want to believe the same thing will follow you. After all, it worked for Joseph Smith, didn’t it? His supposed hieroglyphics have been found to be gibberish by Egyptologists, yet nobody cares. Religion does not stand up to critical thinking, but it doesn’t have to. Can it stand up to determined feminists demanding revelation about a Heavenly Mother and female priesthood? Well, any “evidence” won’t matter, just persistence.

    • This is perfectly stated, thanks kilimanjournal.

    • Brit

      Yes and no… you’re right that her ‘sources’ don’t meet the scientific standard of observable evidence, but your conclusion that any logical structure built on them is nonsensical is wrong.

      Any logical structure starts out with assumptions. As long as the logical structures are not fallacious, the structures are valid and the resulting conclusion will be true so far as the premises (assumptions) that it is built on are.

      Like you mentioned, religion is based on premises that are not observable and must be taken ‘on faith’ (i.e. without evidence or that cannot be replicated). It is entirely appropriate to start by assuming that what is found in Joseph Smith’s revelations as truth along with other scriptural/biblical accounts and then then build logical structures on that foundation. In fact, it’s what anyone who believes in the divinity of these writings *should* do. Provided that no logical errors are made, then whatever is discovered with inquiry of this kind will contain truth, if the premises/assumptions (truthfulness of scripture) are also true.

      Now, if you don’t buy into her conclusions because you disagree with her assumptions, then simply say that. But it’s unfair to say that her conclusions lie on a illogical foundation or are useless simply because you buy into a different set of assumptions – she assumes that one can receive knowledge/truth directly from God about the truth of certain things (in this case scripture) in addition to observation. You seem to assume that knowledge can only be obtained through observation. Both are fine sets of assumptions and yours is definitely the more conservative, safer approach.

      However, I suspect that Ms. Brooks is very aware that she is accepting canonized scripture true as a premise. I also suspect that she realizes that any conclusions she draws will have their soundness (ultimate truth value) dependent on whether or not the scriptures are actually true.

      • Brit, why don’t you “Ask” Mormon Girl what she is thinking rather than filling in the holes with your assumptions? In any case, I am pointing out a methodological inconsistency in her epistemological system. She is proposing that readers join her in a scholarly approach to acquiring knowledge, but that everybody should start with the agreement that anything Joseph Smith ever said can be mined for “evidence” of “Godly intentions.”

        If someone wants to say “I know the church is true” and always choose to go with whatever the church is telling them currently, that is at least internally consistent (if they can swallow the idea that God’s truth changes). However, those who want to use a scholarly, evidence-based approach to shift the church away from a long history of sexist abuse are swinging a double-edged sword.

        I won’t go into all the scholarly evidence (archaeology, genetics, etc.) showing that the Book of Mormon is wrong and that Smith’s Egyptology was a laughable fraud and that Smith was a serial abuser of women and teenage girls, but most readers here have been exposed to these problems. From a scholarly perspective, Smith isn’t just unsubstantiated as a starting point, he has been thoroughly discredited. If you want to look at evidence, then you have to look at the evidence which shows that Smith was a manipulative, self-serving con artist.

        Would a god with even minimal vision into the future have chosen such a deeply flawed man for a spokesperson of his “Godly intentions?” Science had advanced, objections to abuse of women have increased; from a scholarly perspective, Mormonism is not founded on truth and appears doomed to collapse under the increasing weight of objections to Smith.

        So no, I don’t agree that it is “entirely appropriate to start by assuming that what is found in Joseph Smith’s revelations as truth.” Science and ethics have blasted huge holes in Mormonism. AMG has shown awareness of these holes, but has made no scholarly effort to fill them in. Instead, her epistemology starts with an anti-science, anti-academic approach, and then switches to invoking academic methodology. I think it is hypocritical of AMG to ask others to go down an evidentiary road that she is only willing to travel part of herself.

      • Brit

        Again, there is no inconsistency… she’s saying “starting from these documents, what conclusions can we draw”. Her assumptions, her starting documents, don’t have to be proven – they’re assumptions, premises.

        I think we’re arguing a little past each other here… there exist some (many) legitimate claims that discount Mormonism & JS when viewed from what you call a scholarly perspective. I agree with you on that and I’d love to get to the bottom of it one way or another. But like you alluded to in your initial post, conclusions that aren’t reachable from observable evidence are hallmarks of religion in general. That’s what I think you’re misunderstanding in Ms. Brooks’ approach.

        She’s taking some assumptions on faith. Religious people, Mormon or whatever, are going accept some premises that others with a purely scholarly perspective would not. This is because a person that buys into the idea of religion will also accept that knowledge/truth can be gained through means other than observed evidence, generally as feelings. Feelings make for shoddy scientific evidence and I wouldn’t trust someone else’s feelings for a fortune. But if you’re assuming that you can have knowledge/truth confirmed through a feeling, then it’s entirely consistent to logically reason based on things you feel/believe to be true.

        I’m not blindly filling in gaps for Ms. Brooks. She’s a person with religious beliefs. She’s taking some premises on faith and setting the boundaries for her inquiry. She’s wanting to see what conclusions can be drawn from the boundaries she set. There is no inconsistency in this. Secular scientists and scholars do it all the time when they ask ‘what if…’. Sometimes it leads to nothing since the assumptions are flawed, other times it leads to beauty and additional truth. I’m looking hard to understand your criticism, but I don’t see hypocrisy in this approach.

        And regarding Mormonism’s holes, if you really look at it, I think this approach is much better than the typical apologetics that already exist (and are mostly worthless in my opinion). There’s plenty of what you called for already and it’s not mostly worthless because the holes are not ‘fillable’ based on what we know – i.e. from a purely scholarly perspective, Mormonism (along with any other religion I’ve studied) doesn’t hold up.

        If you don’t like the boundaries she set for her inquiry, don’t participate, but don’t go calling a rooster a hen because you don’t like the way it crows. If you subscribe to a observable evidence-based approach to understanding life, then like I said before, that’s really commendable and safe, and I mean it. But you probably won’t find a lot of useful helps on a blog that is okay with faith.

      • Thanks for your answer, Brit. The problem is still one of consistency. Why accept starting assumptions from the religious authorities, and then not accept the rest of the story they offer you? Everything about Mormonism has always been unmistakably, and apologetically anti-feminist. Why explore minutiae for evidence of some heretofore hidden exceptions? Is Mormonism some crime scene that has been swept clean of feminist DNA that only a team of crime scene investigators can find the last remaining traces of? If so, who has been doing the cover-up? Aren’t they also the trusted source of starting assumptions?

        LDS authorities from JS forward have been very clear about the inferior role of women. Only men can be priests. Only men can receive revelation. Only men can be bishops, apostles, and prophets. Only men can practice polygamy…and all the many other ways noted on this blog that women have been treated as less than equal. If the authorities have been wrong or lying or covering up God’s intentions for women’s equality, then how can those authorities be trusted about anything, including canonized scripture?

        Let’s say JS was inspired by God to write D&C 132:54 directly to Emma, and JS was not just using his scripture to bully his wife with the threat of destruction when she started complaining about his new “wives.” If you agree to accept that, then you might as well accept everything else that LDS authorities tell you. However if the consistent and unified picture of God-approved male dominance may have been false, the authorities may not be trustworthy, so why declare some areas of investigation to be off limits? Why stop with looking for swept-under traces of female priesthood? That limit creates a firewall, but it is arbitrary and inconsistent with an investigation seeking the whole truth.

      • Brit

        You’re welcome, and thank you for the intriguing discussion – this has really helped me understand my own stance better with your probing questions.

        You ask “why accept… the religious authorities and the not… the rest of the story”? Could I paraphrase your question as ‘why accept some things the leadership has produced but not others (i.e. scriptures but not, say, conference talks or other words)’? Because although many Mormons hate to admit it, these guys have been wrong! Just look at priesthood with regards to race. You can find quote after quote of statements modern prophets and apostles have said regarding reasons why blacks were not given the priesthood. I’m not aware of anything in the ‘canon’ (published standard works) that justified the church’s stance on this. The church has even come out and said (even less clear terms than I’d wish) that they were ‘wrong’, at the very least in the sense that everyone who was giving reasons why certain races were barred from the priesthood was wrong.

        So with regards to priesthood and race restrictions, by limiting oneself to the ‘canon’ one could have come to the conclusion that maybe limiting priesthood responsibilities to those with lighter skin wasn’t really justified and hence not an eternal truth. In my own (admittedly non-exhaustive) research, I’ve not seen much scriptural basis for priesthood and gender restrictions either. It’s possible that such a limited inquiry can provide enlightenment and additional truth. Logically, this is consistent, both in methodology and structure.

        But let’s address your other point of consternation, which is what I think is really what you’re getting at with your claims of inconsistency – why limit ourselves by accepting certain aspects (such as the LDS scriptural canon) as true and not be willing to look at everything afresh? Well, first, just because a man has done or said things which aren’t true, that doesn’t mean that somethings that have been said aren’t true. In other words, you can’t say that because JS or Brigham Young did or said some clearly wrong things, then no trust can be put into any of their deeds or words. It is possible that JS could have been one of the vilest sinners on the planet and he still could have produced a valuable book of scripture containing eternal truth.

        But if that’s possible, if there is a superior being who can use flawed humans to reveal truth to mankind (an assumption when taking this stance), then how can one accurately judge what of a person’s words and deeds come from that superior being? Using an scholarly approach based on observable, confirmable evidence, you can’t!

        And this is where what I mentioned in my previous response regarding ‘faith’ comes into play – it’s the linchpin that Ms. Brooks uses that you reject. And it appears that she’s saying, at least for this experiment, that she’s going to assume that the canon is pure and that other words/deeds from church leadership may or may not be, or at least are subject to investigation.

        It’s very possible that she’s already assessed the validity of the canon and has come to the personal conclusion that it’s true. Furthermore, there’s nothing arbitrary about starting with canonical scripture and going from there, it is in Mormon doctrine the best repository of truth that we have. In addition, *if* the canon is true, then any investigation seeking the whole truth can take it as an assumption without any problems at all.

        In sum, she’s starting from the canon. You find the idea dangerously limiting. Ms. Brooks seems to be fine with it. Both stances are fine, both can produce logically consistent results. Both have their additional benefits and limitations. She’s not arguing that the canon is true, and as I can tell, it would be impossible to prove that anyways. She’s taking it on faith or personal belief, one that many other believing Mormons share. Maybe she’s already investigated this assumption, maybe she hasn’t. Regardless, I still don’t see the inconsistency in either approach.

  5. Brit

    Well said (well, written). I think probing questions like these are very important to ask, as these concepts are not well defined and what constitutes what most people view as the ‘doctrine’ on the matter do not have canonical basis.

    I consider myself a Mormon feminist but the one place I really feel differently than others in the same category goes towards the concept of ‘Heavenly Mother.’ There is no reference that she exists aside from Sis. Eliza Snow’s “well, it stands to reason that if spiritual procreation is like mortal procreation then we’ve got to have a heavenly mother” statement in the hymn Oh My Father. Like you point out, there’s a pretty huge unconfirmed assumption in there. For all we know, spiritual procreation has nothing to do with mortal procreation and we have two Heavenly Fathers. Going even further, I find more scriptural evidence that Jesus and John (referred to frequently as the disciple Jesus loved) were an eternal couple than any assumptions about Him and Mary. The new and everlasting covenant of eternal marriage (as discussed in the D&C) doesn’t say anything about gender, either.

    Women are no less important or no more important than men, in my opinion, and don’t really constitute any more of a viable ‘group’ than ‘all persons who like cold cereal for breakfast’ do, for instance. One need not appeal to, worship, or pray to a heavenly role model in a specific gender to value womanhood or femininity, and I dislike that many in the movement feel that they have to do that. God and Christ are male, and from my understanding, we are all commanded to be like Them. Since we’re not all male, obviously their and our gender cannot be an important component of being perfect, and probably shouldn’t really be an issue at all.

    In the gospel (by which I mean truths found in our scriptural canon), gender doesn’t seem that important, but our church has made it a huge factor and issue. Now it’s having to be addressed, and in my opinion that’s fantastic.

    We simply don’t know a lot about what gender really means outside of how our bodies function and our cultural standards dictate, and we project our cultural understanding onto these unknowns to fill in the gaps and make sense, but we often don’t realize we’re doing that.

    In addition to asking the question how culturally-defined gender roles fit into the eternal truths we call the gospel, another critical question is what is the relationship between physical gender and spiritual gender, and what do borderline cases (such as intersex persons or gender dysphoric individuals) reveal about holes/conflicts in our current understanding of eternal truth?

  6. As a Primary kid, I was taught that Priesthood is the power of God. And while I do believe that Priesthood includes elements of the power of God, I do not believe that it is the whole of the power of God. I believe that anyone can invoke the power of God by exercising faith. For example, I have a hard time believing that a mother praying for the health of her child is any less effective than a priesthood blessing.

    Priesthood is also sometimes described as the authority of God. Certainly, men have authority in the church and women do not, by virtue of holding the priesthood. But women still hold significant callings, and while they are accountable to priesthood holders, they are entitled to act within the bounds of their calling. Being set apart could be termed the authority to act in a particular calling, and women can have that too.

    Priesthood is often described as the power to perform ordinances. And while most of our ordinances are performed by men, women gave blessings of healing in the past and in the present they do perform a limited number of ordinances in the temple.

    When I read through the Doctrine and Covenants for the first time, I felt that Priesthood was the power to organize the church, but I am sure that there is evidence from church history, such as the organization of the Relief Society and Primary, that would discount that too.

    So really, I don’t know what Priesthood is, but I do know that I’m not allowed to have it or use it, but I am told that I am allowed to be blessed by it, whatever it is.

  7. Rebecca

    I don’t know if you coined the term “folk doctrine”, but it is the perfect description for much of what we have circulating in the church. Recognizing this critical delineation is a good first step to sorting out true doctrine from traditions/folk doctrine. Also, I would be very cautious in referring to administrative decisions as “continuing revelation”. Unless an issue has been canonized as a Revelation, it is a man-made decision, however well intentioned and perhaps prayerfully inquired. Including, “The Family: A Proclamation”, which is not canonized scripture.
    Thank you, once again, for framing another good discussion!

  8. Jeff

    It appears to me that you’ve surmised (quite correctly in my opinion) that priesthood (like most “doctrine” in Mormonism) is whatever we collectively decide it is at any given moment. That’s important because it leaves open the possibility of future evolution. I am also of the opinion that no one since Joseph Smith has had an experience quite as profound as his, and we as a church have spent the last 180 years trying to process his vision and ideas with varying degrees of success. This discussion is important and hopefully at the end Joan Didion won’t write a new essay entitled The Mormon Women’s Movement for The White Album.

  9. jr

    I was raised believing the PH was some special power that could literally cure incurable cancer, raise the dead and move mountains.
    Now it appears the PH is simply the authority to make decisions, on certain levels, in the church. It certainly has no special power.

  10. As a Catholic resident of Utah who has been following the conversation with some interest, I think if you want to answer the question “What is the Priesthood?” you also have to answer the question “What was the Restoration?” in a more substantial way than your church has ostensibly thus far. I don’t think I’ve heard a satisfactory answer since I began trying to understand the LDS faith when I first moved here. The Book of Mormon does not appear to contain any considerable revision of pre-Restoration Protestant beliefs, except to magnify certain elements, and the modern LDS points of distinction seem superficial to me. The LDS view of the afterlife (eternal increase, exaltation) in my opinion amounts to a mere detail tacked onto pre-Restoration ideas of what it means to be “saved.” Only, why would literal, earthly temple marriage be the highest criteria for worthiness in the afterlife? What was so abominable about the “abominable whore who sat upon waters”? What “plain and precious” things did she hide away? What is truly essential in life to an LDS person that non-LDS Christians don’t have? Is it really just the rituals and marriage thing? Is it no tattoos and no coffee? Is it the clearly-fallible (see Brigham Young on race, Adam-God) new line of authorities, who seem to confuse, more than answer, these most important questions? A better answer than any of these, in my opinion, might be found in the institution of Priesthood, if it could only be well-understood.

    The LDS Church lately has been trying to focus on things they have in common with the rest of Christianity, but for the sake of their own legitimacy I think they need to focus on where they differ.

    • I think our view of a God which is has plurality and is finite is a substantial difference. It is one of the doctrines which define us as different than pre-Restoration Christianity. I think the idea of the Trinity and other concepts of god weren’t the result of revelation, but the result of a debate in Nicea and had strong influences from Greek philosophies which consider bodily existence to be low and inferior.

      This same kind of idea has pervaded Christianity since then, and created an impossible God, where paradox is said to be a sign of truth.

      Mormons don’t believe in ex nihilo creationism and they don’t believe that “God can create a rock that God can’t move, and then God can move it.” The actions and existence of LDS diety, while perhaps too large for us to intuitively comprehend, does not defy logic. God has a physical existence, and is part of this universe, and bound by the laws of this universe (clearly, we don’t understand them all)

      The second very important thing that I think was restored is in fact, The Priesthood. Which is one reason why this discussion is so important.

      • I think in the history of both churches, you’ll find debates resulting in the adoption of some doctrines and the dismissal of others, and in both churches you’ll find paradox. Looking back on my comment, I might’ve sounded more dismissive than I should have, but where I’m going is essentially this: Doctrine aside for the moment, in terms of inspired authority, why trust the LDS Church over the Catholic Church? Both claim St. Peter as their first head. Both claim to have the lineage of authority that Christ wanted to leave on earth. Both (this is hard to deny) have a dark history of contradiction, imperfection, schism, and the evolution of doctrine alongside change in society, despite claims of divine guidance. If you can say, “But God will never let the LDS Church go completely astray,” why couldn’t you have said the same of the Catholic Church?

        There’s another similarity between the two churches. No one will ever be on top (Pope or Prophet) who does not have “priesthood.” But here’s where we don’t know what “priesthood” is supposed to be. A Catholic priest is a priest by profession, and usually needs the equivalent of a master’s degree to do it. He has no other job, and is not allowed to have a wife or kids. A Mormon priest is any male above a certain age, and he is expected to have a family sooner than later. To rise in the ranks and become a bishop (correct me if I’m wrong), he must be married. The Mormon institution of priesthood for all believers, had an awesome sort of populist potential, and I could have believed that God wanted to tear down power structures that were built up in his name. But it gave way to another system of hierarchy, and now a wife has become a token of access to power, while the woman herself still has no role in it, except to do her biological thing (same as always). What kind of role does Frances Monson play in the office of Prophet?

        In any case, if you understand what it means to be The Prophet, or The Leader of God’s Church, you can understand how he (or she?) can go wrong, and when he (or she?) must be right. Then you can understand if and why women lost the priesthood abilities they appear to have had when Joseph Smith was alive, or if and why they were never granted. I do not think the LDS Church has clearly established the parameters of its own authority. I don’t blame them. It took the Catholic Church a very long time.

        Sorry, I’m rambling.

    • MT

      I think you make a really good point here. Because if we make the argument that women are born with the Priesthood, or that the Priesthood is a matter of faith or just for administrative purposes, etc. where is the need of the restoration?

      Miracles of God’s power is definitely not limited to Mormons. Take a look at Immaculee Ilibagiza’s recorded experiences in her book on the genocide in Rawanda as an example. She’s Catholic.

      Scriptural example here is in Luke 9:49-50
      49. “And John answered and said, Master we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us.
      50. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.”

      This scripture could be used for women exercising the Priesthood too, whether they have been ordained or not, but then what does that say for those who are not Mormon? Faith knows no gender or religion. As long as we believe Christ can do it, He will. Right?

      Therefore, if we Mormons believe in some validity of the restoration of the Priesthood, it must be different that just exercising faith.

  11. Are you suggesting that there’s a difference between: A) canonized scripture B) canonized revelation C) the words of Jesus Christ or D) the words of Joseph Smith…and speculation and folk doctrine?

    Keep digging (you’ve begun the hole) and you’ll find there’s no difference between them.

  12. I’m so glad you’re leading this conversation. It needs to happen, and it needs to happen badly. If nothing else comes of the current movements like Ordain Women and others, I hope that it opens up more thoughtful examination and clarification on our doctrines, and discussion of our principles that is more mindful than assumptive.

  13. Ok, I’d just like to say amen to “We do not have duality and complementarity in Mormonism, except in our imaginations.” Amen.

  14. KathyJ

    When you ask for references of priestood roles and gender the first one that comes to mind is in 2 Kings 22 where the ruler sends his servants to “inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book.” “So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college;) and they communed with her.” Huldah is a known about the region, so immersed with study that she lives at the university and respected with her title as prophetess. Is that what you are looking for?

  15. KathyJ

    When you ask for references in cannonized scripture that equate gender roles and priesthood one that comes to mind is in the Old Testament, 2 Kings 22 where king Josiah commanded Hilkiah the priest, and four others to, “Go ye, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book [of law] that is found… 14 So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, … (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college;) and they communed with her.”
    My take: King Josiah wishes to know more about a book of law and who does he trust to give him prophetic answers? The male priest? No. Hilkiah is trusted to lead the truth seeking mission to commune with Huldah, the well educated female prophetess, who studies so much she lives at the University. This is apparently widely known among this people and they trust her.

    In the Book of Mormon 3 Nephi 14:15 we are counseled to “Beware of false prophets, 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 20 Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.”
    One may falsely think, “Surely she must be a bad apple.” If one to quickly jumps to that conclusion they have not studied the rest of King Josiah’s story.

    This tid bit of cannonized truth about a prophetess bends a few of our cultural norms a bit. Huldah has recognition and respect with the title “prophetess.” The fruits of her prophetic counsel reveal that King Josiah “stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant.” He also followed her prophetic righteous counsel by burning the false idols of Baal, he putting down idolatrous priests.

    Huldah was a female prophet whose words inspired a King to make covenants with God and cleanse his kingdom of the wicked practices of Baal worship. He desired the best for his people.

    Is this what you were looking for?

  16. Michael S

    This topic really intrigued me, so I did a little studying. It didn’t take long to find a portion of the Joseph Smith papers that includes the meeting minutes of the original organization of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, found here: http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/nauvoo-relief-society-minute-book?dm=image-and-text&zm=zoom-inner&tm=expanded&p=19&s=undefined&sm=none

    The link I’ve included goes directly to page 19, where the minutes of the third meeting of the society capture some of Joseph Smith’s direction to the ladies of the Society. Of particular note, here’s an interesting quote from the meeting minutes: “[Prest. J. Smith said] that the Society should move according to the ancient Priesthood, hence there should be a select Society separate from all the evils of the world, choice, virtuous and holy— Said he was going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day— as in Pauls day”.

    I’m not exactly sure what to make of that, but it’s interesting, to say the least. The rest of the these minutes of the Society may be of interest. The comments of the same indicate that this is “the only record of teachings JS directed specifically to women”.

    As a side note, I’d like to respond to the brief comment AMG made in question #1 about the role of marriage as a requirement for exaltation. In priesthood meeting *yesterday*, lesson #9 of the Teachings of Lorenzo Snow manual (https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-of-presidents-of-the-church-lorenzo-snow/chapter-9-sacred-family-relationships?lang=eng) included a statement from Lorenzo Snow: “There is no Latter-day Saint who dies after having lived a faithful life who will lose anything because of having failed to do certain things when opportunities were not furnished him or her. In other words, if a young man or a young woman has no opportunity of getting married, and they live faithful lives up to the time of their death, they will have all the blessings, exaltation and glory that any man or woman will have who had this opportunity and improved it. That is sure and positive.”. I thought it was totally awesome to hear this taught in a Sunday class, since so often I’ve heard the exact opposite taught as doctrine.

    To address question #2, I think there’s too much taboo and ambiguity around many of the applications of the priesthood for me to reasonably accept a single answer. This much I can say for sure: The Priesthood (capital P) is received through ordination. However, offices of the organization of the church may change from being Priesthood offices or not.

    And finally, a note about Priesthood keys (mentioned in an earlier comment): Priesthood keys are different from promptings of the spirit because the keys are the authority to receive revelation on behalf of those for whom one has stewardship. A bishop has the keys to direct his congregation. A quorum president has the keys to direct his quorum. The prophet and president of the church holds all the keys of the Priesthood, to direct the entire body of the church. The keys are what limit a bishop from having any direct authority over members of a neighboring ward. The church administration handbook (https://www.lds.org/handbook/handbook-2-administering-the-church/priesthood-principles?lang=eng) has some clear instruction about the official use of the Priesthood keys. I suppose I feel good about saying that if a position in the church requires Priesthood keys, then it needs to be a Priesthood calling. Any other position or office that doesn’t require keys doesn’t necessarily require the Priesthood, but instead operates under delegated authority and direction from the Spirit. In practice, however, there seems to be a bit of a trend of having Priesthood holders take certain positions that perhaps don’t *really* require any Priesthood authority.

    Thank you AMG for another thought-provoking topic.

    • But what about the priesthood keys exercised by women who run the initiatory? By the definition used in the handbook, it sounds like they must have keys too.

    • Heathyr

      So if Priesthood keys are “the authority to receive revelation on behalf of those for whom one has stewardship,” then how does that apply to women who hold callings? Sister missionaries? Mothers? As a missionary assigned to an area, I am certain that I had the authority to teach the gospel and receive revelation just as much as my Elder peers. As a mother, I have stewardship over my children and can receive revelation with regards to them. So either I am given keys or we have to rethink our definition of Priesthood.

      • Michael

        Thanks for pointing this out, Heathyr. I didn’t mean to sound so absolute in my description. I don’t know the answers to all of these questions. I can only point to the Church handbook (linked above) where it gives a similar definition of Priesthood Keys. And it describes that auxiliary offices and callings operate with authority, but not with Keys. Priesthood Keys are only conferred for a temporary amount of time, and only through the a setting-apart blessing when being set apart for a specific calling. Male missionaries do not receive any keys. The handbook for “Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood” (https://www.lds.org/manual/duties-and-blessings-of-the-priesthood-basic-manual-for-priesthood-holders-part-b/priesthood-and-church-government/lesson-2-the-keys-of-the-priesthood?lang=eng) also is a good reference for reading about the Church’s official position on how Priesthood Keys are received and used.

        I don’t mean to belittle any authority you had as a missionary or the authority of any mother or other women. I too hope that someday we’ll see equality in the Priesthood with ordained women. But right now I can objectively say that Priesthood Keys are not conferred to any women, and they won’t be until we see women called to serve as Bishops, Stake Presidents, and other Priesthood presiding callings.

    • Amy

      “Priesthood keys are different from promptings of the spirit because the keys are the authority to receive revelation on behalf of those for whom one has stewardship.”

      How is this different than being called to be a Relief Society President, or Primary President? They also have the authority to receive revelation on behalf of those they have stewardship over. And all the other distinctions that you named that pertain to keys of the Priesthood.

      • Michael

        Yes, Amy, I agree with you. Women who serve in these office *should* receive Keys as part of their authority, but currently they *do not*. You can know this because a setting-apart blessing to these callings will not include the conferring of keys. This is one of the big inequalities in the offices of the church. And one might infer that Joseph Smith’s teachings to the Relief Society (quoted earlier) indicated that he might have had a plan to form a formal structure of priesthood within the Relief Society.

  17. Nolan

    Joanna, here’s my criticism: Your list of evidences is completely arbitrary. I think you have a viewpoint (that Priesthood does not equal motherhood) and you’re searching for evidence to support this. This is backwards. One should find evidence first, and let that inform the viewpoint.

    I mean I could be wrong, but I don’t think you would give credence to those four “evidences” in this circumstance if they didn’t support you preexisting viewpoint. Would you accept words of Jesus from an apocryphal gospel if they contradicted you? I’m almost positive there are 1) apocryphal words of Jesus you disagree with, 2) words of Joseph Smith you disagree with (polyandry for example) 3) canonized scripture you disagree with (any number of horrors in the old testament) and 4) canonized revelation you disagree with (and I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure what canonized revelation is if it isn’t canonized scripture. Perhaps temple ordinances that are unpublished? Well you probably disagree with certain covenants women make that are subservient to men.)

    Now, if you feel that Priesthood doesn’t equal motherhood, just own it! Who needs the list of evidences? Doctrines have changed and evolved dramatically. There’s no reason that women couldn’t have the priesthood one day, just as polygamy was once taught as being ESSENTIAL to exaltation and is now grounds for excommunication.

    I would like to add, too, that there are all sorts of things that are not in those four sources, but are also not “folk doctrines.” Like doing endowments for the dead. It’s not in the scriptures or words of Christ, and Joseph Smith never taught it. He taught baptism for the dead. The first endowments for the dead weren’t until 1877. But I doubt anyone would define endowments for the dead as folk doctrine.

  18. 1. Can anyone find evidence in A) canonized scripture B) canonized revelation C) the words of Jesus Christ or D) the words of Joseph Smith that indicates the value of gender roles in the plan of salvation? (And yes, we all know that temple marriage is required for exaltation–but marriage does not necessarily mean gender roles.)

    Do we need a revelation regarding the fact that women can bear and nurse children, and men can’t? For 9 months, women are the sole stewards of a child’s body. And until the last century or so, babies died in their early months without a woman to nurse them. My grandma remembers babies who died a couple of weeks after their mothers did, because no woman around was nursing at the time. If it had been the baby’s father who’d died rather than the mother, the child would have survived.

    This is an unequal sharing of procreative power that is built into our gender roles. No one thought to question it until recently.

    Wouldn’t we consider the temple ceremony to be canonized? And was it not Joseph Smith who put it together? We are given some gender specific roles there, and they speak somewhat to our relationship to Priesthood while in mortality. We also have Priesthood responsibilities there, unlike outside the temple.

    I don’t think we should conflate motherhood – the processing of raising a child – with bearing children. It’s true, that some women can’t bear children, this doesn’t make them less worthy women, just like many worthy men have not held the Priesthood throughout history. But motherhood and fatherhood are both parenthood, but we still have average, native tendencies which tend to lead to more women being primary caregivers than men. I don’t think we should be angry at this and want to de-genderize everyone. On the other hand, I think people who experience typical tendencies should accept the differences when other parents don’t fall into average categories, or when people find themselves gay, or simply not married, or childless, or whatever. There is a plan for all of us, and sometimes that means we need to be kicked out of the norm to further God’s Kingdom.

    I’m of the currently held opinion that the Aaronic Priesthood, not the whole Priesthood, is the counterpoint role to bearing children. Women bring the spirit into mortality, into this world of agency, and men bring the soul into the saving ordinances, baptism and the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and renewing those covenants through the Sacrament. I’m still studying this.

    Why do we have celestial marriage? Why is two the minimum, why not just one? When you combine this with the King Follett discourse by Joseph Smith, it’s pretty consistent logic to then understand that God is really two Beings, bonded eternally as we must be. If these two beings are basically the same, what is to be gained? I think that they have certain aspects which are opposite, and it is only in combination that everything works. It is still unclear what those aspects are, but I think gender IS eternal at some level. I speculate sometimes that Eve didn’t acquire the traits to bear children until after she made her choice in the Garden of Eden (whenever that occurred, and whatever actual event it was). Perhaps, it was the great reward, understood at that time to be the great power of the two – the story only changing when worldly power hierarchies came into being, and the role of women was envied. No matter that, I am a daughter of Eve and her choice. I would not be here without her choice. I celebrate her choice.

    There is also lots of second hand evidence of Joseph Smith contemporaries saying that he made statements about a Heavenly Mother. I don’t pray to a Heavenly Mother because I think, in praying to Heavenly Father we are already praying to both.

    2. How can we know what really counts as priesthood? Which of the functions we group under the broad umbrella term “priesthood” now are really priesthood-limited responsibilities?

    My opinion right now is that The Priesthood keys which can only be held by men are those things which pertain to the saving ordinances of the Gospel. Baptism, Gift of the Holy Ghost, Ordination to the Priesthood, The Endowment, and Celestial Marriage, etc.

    I don’t think that spiritual gifts fall under Priesthood.

    I think we might do a better job of separating administrative duties from Priesthood duties, and a serious exploration of what has actually been revealed to all the prophets needs to occur.

    Thanks for talking about it, I look forward to the readings.

  19. Joe Bloggs

    What is priesthood? is not the only problematic question among believers. Faith is the first principle of the gospel and yet do we understand what faith is? Who has seen faith. Can you measure faith? Is it different from hope? What is hope, love, testimony, priesthood, conversion, or humility. These are all difficult concepts to nail down.

    So priesthood is not the only abstract concept in the gospel. It is, however, a doctrine that distinguished between gender. I think we have to accept that no one knows why priesthood has been entirely a male domain. Life is full of unfairness. Some are poor, some are lame, some are blind, some are less intelligent so its hard to argue for full equality amongst people because it doesn’t exist. And yet it seem like God should be fair. That is hard to know without all the facts.

    Is male leadership symbolic of the masculinity of God? Is it possible we focus too much on things that don’t matter? Is the priesthood necessary for salvation? Does not having the priesthood limit our ability to do good? It doesn’t seem so to me. In fact, it is ironic that the Relief Society often seems to do more good than priesthood quorums despite lacking the priesthood. If God is so masculine why does Jesus describe himself with feminine terms such as a hen gathering chicks under his wings?

    Are men to lead because they inherently are better leaders or make better decisions? My experience leads me to believe that neither gender has a monopoly on common sense. The best decisions seem to be made through the process of collaboration and inclusiveness. Something which, I hear happens in the highest councils of the church, but it is not widely know what happens in these councils.

    Is it about priesthood itself or is it about getting to run the show? For the vast majority of men who hold no position in the church of much influence they have very little say in how things run either. The only thing a prospective elder has that a sister doesn’t is the potential to get the higher priesthood, and potentially run the show some day. Is it about pride? Is it begrudging the opportunities of others? Do men envy women in childbearing? (Never met one). Do women envy or covet the priesthood. If so it is a sin. But maybe covet isn’t what most do?

    Is gender completely random? or is there some choice or pattern to our gender?

    Is it better to be a man? Is it possible that even without the priesthood one may have a more fulfilling life as a woman despite the lack of priesthood. Is it better to be a woman? Are women more happy, more righteous or more fulfilled? If you simple measure the gender and numbers of active temple recommend holding members it would seem women are the more righteous gender. Is this the right measure?

    Is the hand that rocks the cradle indeed more influential than the guy who provides the bread, even if he doesn’t bake it?

    Probably one of many questions I will take to my grave. But I am content not knowing everything. I am looking forward to being wonderfully surprised one day… by the grace and mercy of God.

  20. adm Davis

    Great topic, needful discussion. I’m afraid I haven’t read enough to offer much in the way of substantive evidence, but in my own familiarity with the scriptures and from what I’ve read on the subject it seems clear that distinguishing historical views on gender roles from administrative, doctrinal, and even canonized pronouncements and assumptions on the subject is a crucial element in understanding gender in its relation to the priesthood (if one often difficult to achieve).

    The (relative) openness toward priesthood ordination that appears in Joseph Smith’s attitudes regarding women and blacks seems almost progressive vis-a-vis the harder line drawn by Brigham Young and later presidents, and I can’t help but wonder how much of the doctrine’s evolution was a product of its time. What if, hypothetically, the first vision had come in 1920, or 1972, or 2013? We regularly make ancient connections in the church, imagining an unswerving heritage from the beginning to the present, but there seems ample evidence for variation and contingency. Undoubtedly this impulse is in part to ward off progressive movements like Ordain Women, but I personally find adaptability a much more interesting platform for Church growth. I feel that we too often fill in for the Lord where there seem to be gaps or ambiguities, and into these lacunae creep historically gendered and raced ideologies. But perhaps those gaps are intentional, rather than oversights. For me, understanding the Church as more of a collaboration between God and humans demonstrates a greater investment in human agency — mistakes and all. Would God allow inequity, injustice, and even harm to be a part of his Church? It sounds egregious, but I see the Church as part of the much larger project of the Earth, where inequity, injustice, and harm are status quo. I think it’s very possible (and for an ultimate good).

    The implication here is that God also allows for change — allows us to be part of the Church project. I find this a thrilling opportunity, and one much more engrossing than the opportunity for sustained conformity. It’s of course notable that the current social climate is not dissimilar from that surrounding the decision to grant the priesthood to men with African descent. As can be read in Edward Kimball’s excellent article (https://byustudies.byu.edu/showTitle.aspx?title=7885), President Kimball took an active role in moving the issue forward:

    “It was not enough just to wait until the Lord saw fit to take the initiative: the scripture admonished him to ask and to knock if he wanted to know for himself. He prayed, trying not to prejudge the answer: Should we maintain the long-standing policy, or has the time come for the change?” (p.45).

    I find his approach inspiring. I can’t say for certain whether women’s status in the Church will or can change, but President Kimball’s actions during a time of great agitation for equality demonstrate that, at the very least, it doesn’t hurt to ask. What would happen, I wonder, if President Monson, deeply concerned for the women of the Church, sincerely pondered and prayed about the issue, with an open mind, as President Kimball had? What if he asked?

    Equally important is the fact that the decision to grant the priesthood to black members didn’t come out of the blue, nor all of a sudden. In fact, it required quite a lot of determination on President Kimball’s part, as he for years bore the issue on his mind, responding the social movements and member concerns, and queried many of the Brethren about it. He “felt that many of his predecessors had sought the Lord’s will concerning the priesthood policy. . . . But Spencer had to ask anew” (p.45). In reading Edward Kimball’s account, it seems that while there was some indication that a change was afoot (patriarchal blessings given to some black members implied that they would someday hold the priesthood), it was President Kimball’s sustained contemplation and dogged pursuit of the issue that really brought the decision about. It came not as a trumpeted pronouncement from the heavens, but through a gradual change in his thoughts and feelings, over months and years of thought and prayer, culminating in the period in 1978 that produced the change:

    “Over time, through many days in the temple and through the sleepless hours of the night, praying and turning over in his mind all the consequences, perplexities, and criticisms that a decision to extend the priesthood would involve, Spencer gradually found ‘all those complications and concerns dwindling in significance’. They did not disappear but seemed to decline in importance. In spite of his preconceptions and his allegiance to the past, a swelling certainly grew that a change in policy was what the Lord wanted. ‘There grew slowly a deep, abiding impression to go forward with the change'” (pp.49-50).

    I can’t ignore the human endeavor involved in this decision. I see President Kimball’s efforts as instrumental to it coming about, and I understand this not as a denial of God’s place at the head of the Church, but as a beautiful and fascinating trust that God places in us, even in all of our imperfection. Does he not entrust us to one another? Any parent or child knows this intuitively — and knows that many things go wrong in this collaboration. But it is one of the foundations of humanity. To me, the Church operates under similar principles, and we are faced with, and perhaps even blessed with, a great opportunity to exercise our agency and plead our case to the Lord.

    Individually, collectively, and in a way that motivates our prophet to do the same . . . what if we ask?

  21. The Second

    This post slightly reveals Johanna Brooks apostasy — her faintly hidden failure to sustain (or perhaps even contempt for) the current prophets and apostles.

    • Matt

      Apostasy? Really?

      I agree that Joanna’s failure to include the words of modern prophets in her list of authorities is a rather glaring omission. But I don’t see how accusing people with honest questions/differences of opinion of apostasy could possibly be spiritually constructive. In fact I can only think of one group who ever did that in the scriptures, and Jesus didn’t think very highly of them.

    • Jamie

      This post slightly reveals The Second’s ignorance; particularly, concerning members/non-members of the LDS faith who (have enough courage to) publicly discuss their concerns and unorthodox beliefs with others.

      Why even read the entry? Better yet, why even visit the website?

      Get off your high horse, Richie.

      • This brings us to the fascinating question of what is apostasy…or where is the line? We have an American value of the right to think for yourself, and to question and criticize, and to vote and to change the rules, but all that comes from our founding fathers who were deists and actually fairly anti-religious (especially Thomas Jefferson). But how do original America values apply to religions? LDS is not a democracy, nor is it presented as an a la carte buffet of suggestions for your consideration. You are either with the program, or you are making up your own program. Technically, isn’t “The Second” correct? Hasn’t AMG crossed the line into a failure to “sustain”? Isn’t she guilty of “some” apostasy? If not how much further would she have to go?

      • I think we call this confirmation bias, kilimanjournal. In your months commenting here, you have always sought to construct Mormonism as inadequate to serious thought and innately hostile to it. You seek to define Mormonism as “not a buffet,” and yet historical evidence shows that it is a living, changing religious tradition. Now, you want to confirm your own bias that the Church inevitably excommunicates people who ask hard questions. My experience is that it is possible to ask hard questions in a respectful way as an expression of one’s faith. Please consider that in virtually calling for someone’s excommunication, you are as rhetorically hostile as the most conservative members of the faith you criticize–you are what you criticize.

  22. JR

    The Lord called apostles, they were men.

    All prophets have been men.

    All people in scripture who baptize are men.

    Angles that administer are men.

    High Priests in the bible were men.

    All writers of scripture were men.

    There’s a definite pattern.

    How can we get around this? To ordain women, we would need to get around scripture. And, I would say this is the largest obstacle.

    Respond, If any dare address this.

    • Female prophets in the Bible:
      Luke 2:36-38.
      Acts 21:9
      Exodus 15:20
      Judges 4:4
      2 Kings 22:14
      Isaiah 8:3

      Female deacons:
      Romans 16:1

      Female apostle?
      Romans 16:7

      “Apostle” has its own meaning in the LDS Church. Maybe we best not count on its biblical meaning being exactly the same? In the Bible it appears to have been more synonymous with “missionary” than “leader.”

      For example, in Romans 16:7, a woman named Junia is called “prominent among the apostles.” Meaning she was a missionary, i.e. an apostle? Some editors have changed it to the masculine Junias, but the original text contains the feminine.

      Maybe other women have been similarly edited out of the scriptures, and restraints upon them edited in. Joseph Smith himself expressed concern that the Bible had translation errors and corruption, did he not?

      Yet if men truly do play every role and serve as every voice/writer in the Bible, I see that as a point against religion, not a point against women. I’m not about to take anyone’s or any Church’s word for it that God expects nothing from me except procreation.

      James 1:5

    • Matt

      JR, might I suggest that your point might be better received if were not thrown down like a gauntlet.

      That said, let me take a crack. First, not all of your statements seem to me to be self-evidently true. There are various references to prophetesses in the Bible. The vast majority of the angels referenced in the scriptures are not identified by name or gender. We don’t believe our cannon is complete and the scriptures tell us we have only a small fraction of the writings the Lord wishes for us to someday have–we don’t know who the authors of those writings might have been.

      The, there is the question of causation: do men played more visible roles in the scriptures because God intended only men to have public positions in His church, or is it because the scriptures have all been written by men in male dominated, gender segregated societies?

      I personally think that Joanna too readily dismisses the notion of complementarity. (Is it not equally plausible that the complementarity explanation is not found in the scriptures because gender roles were not remotely controversial in the societies in which the scriptures were written, for example?) But the historical and theological underpinnings of her question are thought provoking. I see no reason to be threatened by them or to respond in such a condescending and contentious manner.

    • Amy

      There were prophets, apostle(s?), disciples in the scriptures that were women. The scriptures were written, rewritten, and translated by men. With the way that society has suppressed women through the generations, is it no surprise that stories of women in the scriptures were few and far between? After all they were written, rewritten and translated by men.

  23. emily

    Please forgive me if I am wrong (I’m just repeating what my dad taught me in fhe), my understanding is that the priesthood keys are knowledge and understanding and as a person learns line upon line, they receive keys- it’s not a physical thing passed down, but something achieved through increased prayer, learning, and understanding of God. Understanding of God is achieved by a thoughtful and sincere understanding of Jesus Christ and patterning your life after his. Both men and women can do this, as demonstrated in the temple. The keys (light and knowledge through Jesus Christ) come from God. The authority to use those keys in administering the church comes from us! It is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We are the saints, we vote to sustain leaders and their policies. It is what sets our church apart from others, it’s not just God, or the leaders, but God and the people. I believe if the Saints felt that women should administer those keys, they could and should push for that to happen.

    It is clear to me that the keys of the priesthood were given to both men and women as we are given several accounts in the New Testiment of Christ teaching both. I also have found this recent focus on gender roles very distracting to what our focus should be (Jesus Christ). Remember that we are taught, “there is neither male or female: for ye are all one in Jesus Christ”.

  24. Law Tyro

    There seems to be quite the confusion about what entails Priesthood Keys. Joesph F. Smith said, “But it is necessary that every act performed under this authority shall be done at the proper time and place, in the proper way, and after the proper order. The power of directing these labors constitutes the keys of the Priesthood.” Hence, priesthood keys are only held by those who have the priesthood.

    You asked for evidence of gender roles in terms of salvation and I don’t believe there are any to be honest. Saying that, if you look at the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, Doctrine and Covenants section 84:33-44. it references multiple times that they shall be the Sons of Aaron and uses the more specific he pronoun as compared to they or them. There are also other similar references that are available on demand.


  25. William Clayton

    I really think this conference address by Dallin H. Oaks in October 2005 General Conference answers most of the concerns at the root of Janna’s questions.


  26. reb

    I am fascinated by this post because I have been studying, pondering, exploring, and teaching on the topic. I have a few thoughts to share, starting with a side point. I really appreciate the love, care and thoughtfulness you exhibit, Joanna, so I hope my words make sense and reach you on some level because I think I have found some great bits of wisdom in my study.

    I don’t think I can understand your desire for doctrinal chaos; it doesn’t make sense to me based on my own study and experience. The correlated, centralized source of doctrine we have in the church is the path to a consistent and coherent doctrine. Note that the entire New Testament and huge swathes of the Old Testament were an exercise in correlation. The chaos in other faiths leads to inconsistent, incoherent and sometimes violently differentiated beliefs (e.g, sunni vs. Shia). I have spent lots of time on Bible.cc and studying the writings of Calvin, Barnes, Keil and Delitszch, Matthew Henry and Dietrich Bonhoeffer and I have come to greatly appreciate the centrality of Mormon Doctrine. We learn more coherent, true doctrine in the first ten minutes of the temple endowment than is found in all of their writings and arguments against each other.

    This next is a silly thought, but I would suggest that we already have the equivalent of “Jesuits” in Seminary, Institute, and BYU religion teachers. However, I think that we properly generally ignore them much like most Catholics ignore the Jesuits.

    I really like that the term “complementarity” is used in this discussion because I’m a math geek. Mathematically speaking, in a set that is divided into two complementary subsets, the two subsets are different but both are equally required to make up the whole set. That is, one is not more important than the other but you can not have the set without both of them. Mormons *do* have gender equality in the home at least from a doctrinal position, if not the practical; reference the several recent emphases on husband and wife working as “equals” in the home, despite gender role differences. While it is not true within the leadership of the church, it is moving closer than it ever has with the emphasis on Ward Councils and the “true” role of the Relief Society. Case in point, what would have been our stake conference’s “Stake Priesthood Leadership” meeting yesterday was simply “Stake Leadership Meeting” with all presidencies that are part of a Ward Council. I loved that change!

    It would take thousands of words to really answer your post but I really want to share what I’ve learned because I think it is a good answer to much of your question and I hope it makes sense to you, but I’ll just have to hit some more highlights. I’m surprised that no one so far has mentioned Genesis 3:16-19 (Moses 4:22 – 25 ). This is the earliest treatment of gender roles that I can find. It also suggests that at least some aspects of those roles are due to the fall and so will be removed outside of this fallen world. The temple ceremony content relating to the fall also supports this idea, although with major (and frankly, better) differences (I love how the temple treats this part, actually).

    I agree that we are not sufficiently careful in differentiating the organization of the priesthood, the power of the priesthood and the idea of keys. However, it is clear to me that women wield the *power* of the priesthood if not the organizational offices of the priesthood. This is based on a reading of D&C 84:33-37 (The Oath of Covenant of the Priesthood) and quotes from Elder Bednar, Julie B. Beck and Sheri Dew (from Conference talks and the new Relief Society Manual). The priesthood is God’s power given to us to move his work of salvation forward. The Oath and Covenant of the priesthood is the path back to God’s presence. What, then, is the Oath and Covenant of Sisterhood? It is the same promise and path. “Receiving” the priesthood doesn’t mean “being ordained” any more than “receiving the Holy Ghost” means “being confirmed.” When Sisters Beck and Dew describe leaving the temple endowed with “power,” substitute “power of the priesthood” since all power to save flows from God and His priesthood. The wording of the temple ordinances support this idea. This is a spare summary, I have more details, but not the space or time to put them all here. (side note: the earlier commenter’s father is incorrect about “keys.” They are not just the gaining of knowledge and understanding over time, but actual authority to perform specific functions within God’s organization; e.g., no matter how much you learn and grow and work in righteousness, you can not be a Bishop unless called and given the keys. I’m not completely clear on keys, but that much seems clear). In the end, there is not “doctrine” that “Motherhood” is an office within the priesthood, but it certainly shares so many characteristics of the same (authority, inspiration, responsibility, etc…) that it’s easy to believe.

    You’re right, I have not restricted myself to the “canon” you mentioned in your post. To me, that restriction represents a metaphysical problem: Mormon doctrine is not ossified into ancient canon or restricted to the founding prophet. To insist on that seems to deny a fundamental difference between Mormonism and other Christian religions (Take note, our Catholic commenter friend. In addition, in answer to your point, I suggest you look at mormon doctrines on the doctrine of the trinity, existence before birth, man’s potential to become like god, baptism for the dead, Satan, and how god’s authority is obtained to see fundamental differences). The fundamental difference is this: doctrine resides in the living Prophet and Apostles as they are directed by Christ through revelation. Of course we rely on scripture, past prophets and conferences, but it is the job of the current Prophets, seers and revelators to guide us in what is correct for us in these days. This explains why we know that women don’t have to wear long hair or sit quietly in church meetings (despite Paul’s insistence to the contrary in the Bible “canon”) or that we don’t all need to be gathering into Salt Lake City (thank heavens!), why coffee in all its forms is prohibited (rather than just something “hot”), etc, etc, etc… As our Catholic friend said, prophets are not infallible (not even considering the Adam-God canard) but they are authorized to speak the mind of The Lord to us today.

    One last thought, there are many false doctrines taught in Sunday school and the home, and in seminary, and in BYU religion classes, … If someone’s knowledge and testimony is based on what they heard in Sunday school or what their parents taught them, I think that they are, or will inevitably be, faced with a crisis of testimony. It is up to each of us to explore, learn, and come to understand doctrine and God’s will for ourselves. This is what angers me about the Book of Mormon musical – we are *not* told to “just believe.” Faith is huge, but we are told over and over to study and learn for ourselves. See Dallin H. Oaks’ conference talk on the “Two Lines of Communication” and Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk “Lord, I believe.” Those two talks have really struck me, stuck with me, and influenced my approach to study, prayer, and learning.

    • Emily

      I feel that I need to articulate, I don’t mean just general learning over time, I mean specific information regarding a priesthood ordinance is referred to as keys. Interestingly, I couldn’t find many references to keys in the New Testament aside from a JST in Luke. Most of the scriptural references are in D&C. I also found an interesting blog post about the keys and ordinances and their relationship to freemasonry here: http://zomarah.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/understanding-priesthood-keys/ While the author obviously disagrees with leaders current explanation of keys, I found his research to the historical context educational and his list of different keys fascinating!

  27. JR


    New International version:
    I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a DEACON of the church in Cenchreae.

    King James Version:
    I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a SERVANT of the church which is at Cenchrea:

    If the King James Version would have said Deacon, that would have been a direct link between women and priesthood.

    I don’t think any other references had any direct relations between women and the priesthood.

    According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints a prophet isn’t the same as a prophetess. The definition of Prophetess according to the Church:

    See also Prophecy, Prophesy
    A woman who has received a testimony of Jesus and enjoys the spirit of revelation. A prophetess does not hold the priesthood or its keys. Though only a few women in the scriptures are called prophetesses, many prophesied, such as Rebekah, Hannah, Elisabeth, and Mary.

    Miriam was called a prophetess:Ex. 15:20;
    Deborah was called a prophetess:Judg. 4:4;
    Huldah was called a prophetess:2 Kgs. 22:14; ( 2 Chr. 34:22; )
    Anna was called a prophetess:Luke 2:36;

    • I am using the NAB, not the NIV, but that is neither here nor there. What matters is the word from which “deacon” was translated: Diakonos. It is the same word Paul uses to describe himself, and many other men. In the KJV, and numerous other translations, the word is almost always translated as “minister,” when used in connection to a male. In the one instance it describes a female, it becomes “servant.”

      I agree that it is odd that other translations take the one female diakonos and make her the Bible’s only “deacon.” From the perspective of my Catholic background, ironically enough, I can see this as an attempt to demote her, because in the Catholic tradition, deacons have a lay vocation and rank below priests.

      What difference would it make to you if we could agree that there was a female “minister,” and no “deacons” mentioned of any gender at all?

      As for the prophetesses, I can only say that that’s what your Church says, not what the Bible says. By all means, believe what you want. As for Deborah, she was clearly in a position of authority.

      • Brit

        This find in connection to Mormon doctrines seems fairly significant. The word used in the Greek to describe Phoebe in this verse (Rom. 16:1) is ‘diakonon’, the accusative form of the masculine noun ‘diakonos’. Now, masculine in this sense is a grammatical term and doesn’t mean anything about the gender of the referent. While we do have a feminine version of the word in English (deaconess), it’s not clear (and unlikely) that a similar variant existed in the Greek of that era. Regardless, this same word is used by Paul to describe himself and his work in other scriptures (1 Cor. 3:5, 2 Cor. 3:6, 6:4, Col. 1:23, etc).

        In these other references, the KJV translates ‘diakonos’ as minister. According to LDS.org, a deacon is “an office of the Aaronic Priesthood.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the English word deacon comes to us from the Greek word ‘diakonon’ via Latin.

        If the same priesthood organization that existed in the primitive church was restored in our day (Article of Faith 6), and deacon is a priesthood office, and Phoebe was a deacon in good standing, what does that mean to us today?

      • Moss

        Who was the bible dictionary written by? And was it canonized as part of the scriptures? I was under the impression that it was not. In fact, it says this in the introduction:

        ” It is not intended as an official or revealed endorsement by the Church of the doctrinal, historical, cultural, and other matters set forth. “

  28. Pingback: Volume 2.17 (April 22-28) « The Nightstand @ Weightier Matters of the Law

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