Spoiler Alert: Women already have priesthood power. What are we doing with it?
This week Wendy Ulrich came to teach the class. Wendy, a psychologist, educator and frequent presenter at events such as Time Out for Women, has just completed a book titled "Living Up to Our Privileges." From the overview she shared with us, it promises to be a very substantive treatment of this controversial issue. Rather than simply encouraging women to "be happy with our lot," she contends that we are, in fact, in possession of priesthood power, and don't really appreciate it.
Ulrich begins by taking us on an etymological journey through the uses of the word priesthood, and then offers an in-depth examination of the ways "priests" have operated in religious cultures throughout history. The upshot is that nearly every function, or "priesthood duty" that is attached to any office, is something that women are already called upon to do in the church. Of course the two most obvious functions, the administration of ordinances and the governance of the church, are reserved to men. Or are they? Women administer the higher ordinances of the temple, and govern large bodies within the church, so even those two areas are shared. Sr. Ulrich reminded us that blessing, feeding, healing, ministering and teaching are the central duties of the Priesthood, and we have all the power we need to function in those roles.
What if You Still Don't Feel Satisfied?
Wendy's lecture inspired our class to pay attention to our duties in our various roles. However, for some, the disparity is still a concern. Not only is the administration of the church ultimately in the hands of men, there are other priesthood activities from which women are restricted. For example, in the early days of the church women gave healing blessings and functioned in other ways that are currently not "acceptable" in our church culture. Have women been relegated to second tier status, or is there something fundamental about their natures that precludes them from administrating? Is the 'order of the priesthood' set in stone, or will women someday 'receive the priesthood?' In regard to the priesthood, what power do women actually have, and what power do they lack?
President Dallin Oaks makes a distinction between priesthood keys and priesthood authority:
“We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.”
- Dallin H. Oaks (“The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood,” Ensign, May 2014)
From Joseph Smith to Russell M. Nelson, the Prophets have encouraged women to step up and function at their highest capacities. The LDS.org website explains: “Joseph Smith spoke of establishing among the Relief Society sisters a ‘kingdom of priests’ . . . . This ‘kingdom of priests’ would be comprised of men and women who made temple covenants. . . The priesthood authority exercised by Latter-day Saint women in the temple and elsewhere remains largely unrecognized by people outside the Church and is sometimes misunderstood or overlooked by those within. Latter-day Saints and others often mistakenly equate priesthood with religious office and the men who hold it, which obscures the broader Latter-day Saint concept of priesthood.” – Gospel Topics,“Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women, lds.org)
Endowed With Power from On High
Here is something that I find interesting: When women are called upon to give blessings and administer ordinances, as they do in the temple, no one "gives" them the priesthood. Why not? Could it be that they already have it in some form? Of course they do. And you do too, if you have gone to the Temple and received your endowment. Just listen next time. If you have been sealed to a companion, the two of you function at the head of a family, which is the foundation unit of the patriarchal priesthood. If you are not sealed to a partner, you still have received, through the endowment, everything you need to function in the priesthood wherever you are called to function. Right now that does not include 'running the church," but that is a matter of keys, not authority and not power.
When I served as a missionary in tiny branches in Japan, filled with 80-90% women, I often thought that no matter what gender they were, we just needed more workers in the kingdom. And it may be that as the coming of Jesus nears, everyone is going to have to do more to get the handcart to the top of the hill. Functioning in the priesthood not about rights, or being fair, or equal. Heavenly Father, says the scripture, loves everyone equally, and in turn He commands his children to treat everyone equally, and fairly. But that doesn't mean He treats them all the same. He doesn't care if my ego gets satisfied or another gets to be the boss. He cares about bringing His kingdom back to the earth, and saving each individual soul. As we move toward this goal, equality and fairness will flourish, because they are characteristics of our divine Master. But if either men or women feel that somehow the priesthood belongs to them, or is dueto them, they may find that they can't keep up with the Lord's vision.
The Doctrine and Covenants reminds us that:
"...the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man." (D&C 121:
We could add, "or woman" to that last sentence. When our efforts tend to be more about pride, or ambition, or control, we will simply be unsuccessful. You can't demand power from God, but you can have unlimited access to it if your heart is pure. There are so many ways that we can be living up to our "privileges" and helping bring God's love to his children. As we do so, we can also pray what Jesus taught us to pray, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven." President Nelson has told us that the restoration of God's kingdom on earth is not finished, but is in progress. What that kingdom will eventually look like will surprise all of us. I want to be there to see it, don't you?
The painting above is titled "A Willing Woman," by Caitlin Connelly, is the cover illustration of Wendy Ulrich's book, and is used here with permission of the author and the artist. Caitlin's work can be found at http://caitlinconnolly.com/