Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Should Women Hold the Priesthood?

This post has been sitting and waiting to be edited for a long time. The first draft was written before Elder Oaks talk. Since there has been a lot of discussion about Kate Kelly's excommunication from the church, I decided it was a good time to quickly edit and post my thoughts...

Well, should we?

Here's a quick Background:

A lot of members inside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been discussing this topic (see here and in other links provided below). For those of you who aren't members of our church (aka Mormons), we believe that there are vital ordinances, like baptism, that we need in order to return to live with Heavenly Father. We believe that these ordinances can only be performed by a person holding the priesthood. At this time, only men can hold the priesthood (the authority to act in God's name for the salvation of all people [read more about what it is here]). As far as we know, men are the only people who have ever held the priesthood. However, everyone is able to receive all the blessings that come from the priesthood (i.e. baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, marriage for eternity etc.) If you're curious and want to learn more about the priesthood feel free to look here.

Before I give my opinion (about whether women should hold the priesthood), I'd like to take a quick detour and say I don't think we should look down on anyone who asks this question. It's not a bad thing to ask questions. The church reiterated this in a response to the publicity Kate Kelly received concerning her disciplinary counsel (see here). Asking questions can build your faith as you study to find your answer. That being said, I think the leader of Ordain Women, Kate Kelly,  has crossed the line since she's publicly fighting with Church leaders while refusing to meet with her local clergy. Just the same, I don't believe Kelly is a bad person. Actually, I think she is trying her best to do (what she sees as) good. And whether or not you agree with her, I think that we can learn a lot from the concerns she and other members of Ordain Women have brought up. I think many women wonder why they don't have the priesthood, and whether or not it makes them any less valuable. I can understand why not having the priesthood may frighten some women.

The World Women Come From:
Let's look at the context of the culture women live in. One in five college aged women are victims of rape or attempted rape. One in three women are victims of domestic violence. Many have been victims of physical, emotional, and or sexual abuse from their fathers, or other trusted adults. Many of these crimes are often committed by men who see women as beneath them.

Most people outside of the church define the word "patriarch" differently then we do in our church. They see a patriarch as a man who not only leads, but as one who believes he is above women and children. They see him as a man who believes his opinion is more valuable than a  woman's. Now days patriarch is seen as a man who believes he should dominate and control. Those outside the church also associate the word patriarch with the over the top macho man. Many people in our society attribute the word masculinity with words like strong, powerful, and emotionless; while femininity is associated with words like weak, emotional, and (because we're emotional) illogical.

I think most women have had experiences where they felt powerless, voiceless, and weak due to men attempting to control them. It doesn't help that many women have been victims of violence. Most of that violence is carried out by men who fit the characteristics above. Men who see themselves as a "real man." If a woman has had these experiences, or wants to protect other women from such experiences, it's easy to see why she might find receiving the priesthood important. I'd assume that for many of these women, receiving the priesthood would prove to them that church leaders see women as equal to men. These women may believe that holding the priesthood would prove their voice really is as valuable as a man's. It also might help them feel that our Heavenly Father isn't one who sees them as inferior to men. I can tell you now that most women who have lived in a masculine world, and who have been victims of violence, are scared that God might be just like their abuser(s).

I too have felt a bit of fear that Heavenly Father didn't see me as valuable, or as worthy as a man. Most of that fear came from my own experiences in a world that isn't always kind to women. I've also had many experiences that have led me to believe that God is loving, and that I am just as valuable to him as the next woman, or man. There's is a lot of evidence for this in Christ's life. To me, it's evident that Christ showed He valued women just as much as He did men. If I hadn't come to this conclusion in my own life, I may have been one of those women wanting to hold the priesthood. In fact, there are still times when I question my worth in God's eyes and have to turn to Him again and ask for that reassurance. Women want to feel safe, in control of their destiny, and of equal worth.

Let me share some worries I had as I struggled for a long time (and still struggle) to understand my role as a woman. Did being a woman really mean that I had to set aside personal goals and give up personal development. Would I be barefoot and pregnant for eternity? Was I inferior to my future husband? 

These questions really freaked me out as a young woman. Don't get me wrong, I still wanted to have kids, but I was scared that my growth as a person didn't matter. Before I got married, I worried that I was expected to lose myself in my role as a mother; so much so that I would cease to exist as an individual. Did being a woman mean I was a second class citizen in God's kingdom too? People have treated me that way at times, or like I'd been brain washed to act as a submissive wife (as seen in my experience while visiting this Dr).

Four kids later, I'm glad to say that my fears were unfounded. I love my role as a mother, a wife, and as an individual. My spouse has helped me feel safe. I know he respects my opinion and sees me as a person of equal value. Other women may not have had that experience with their spouse. Even I, who have had a very positive experience with marriage, still worry sometimes about my ability to control my own destiny in the next life. Given the context of our culture and its treatment of women, I can understand why some women would have major concerns about having "unequal opportunities" for status and responsibility. I feel like we need to address their concerns and questions and not just brush them aside. After all, there are still a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be a woman (or a man) in our society. 

Ordain Women expressed concerns that not holding the priesthood limited their potential (see here), and kept them from participating equally in church service compared to men.
Based on the response of church leaders that: "Ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of doctrine that is contrary to the Lord's revealed organization for His Church," it is apparent that women will not be holding the priesthood anytime soon. Elder Oaks reconfirmed this in a talk given during priesthood session (see here). If this answer from an apostle is upsetting, I'd hope you'll remember that it's okay to ask questions. As I stated above, asking questions through prayer and study can allow us to grow (read a great talk on "doubt your doubt before you doubt your faith" here). Just make sure you ask questions while you continue to pray and study the gospel. I believe that women crave to understand where they stand in the church. So, it's essential that women in the church understand what their role is in God's plan. Is our role somehow less than a man's? I don't think so. Here are a couple of points I think will help us explore the divine role of women. A lot of the points overlap one another, but they are all important to think about and discuss:


This point is tied in to the rest and has already somewhat been said, but it's worth saying again. We all want life to be fair. We know that through the priesthood all men and all women are able to have all the blessings that come from receiving the ordinances of the gospel. Every worthy man or woman can be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, go to the temple, and receive promised priesthood blessings. Both sexes have to ask to get a blessing when they are sick or in need of help, and both sexes can be sealed to a spouse for eternity, etc. So, as members of the church we all have equal access to these blessings.

Yet, some women feel that not holding the priesthood is a blessing that is being withheld from them. They may feel they are not equal to men because they aren't given the "right" to hold the priesthood. What they're missing is that holding the priesthood isn't necessarily a blessing or a right, it is a responsibility. I believe that women's roles and responsibilities are just as important as a man's role.

The issue at hand here is not holding the priesthood, it is receiving equal respect and value as a man or a woman. I think these women believe holding the priesthood is a way of reassuring their value. I feel that a women can have different responsibilities and still be equally valuable as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In other words, receiving the priesthood doesn't really add any extra measure of worth to a person, at least not in God's eyes.

I've heard somebody say 2+2=4 and 3+1=4. Both equations end up with the same value even though they get the value in different ways. We don't have to be exactly the same as men to be of equal value.


A woman is just different than a man. We are not the same, and if your not happy that you're a woman...well, you should be (see here)! I am! I believe we have a different role as a woman. Have you ever thought about how through the priesthood we are able to return to live with Heavenly Father? In a way, all women depend on men to give us the ordinances required to return and live with God.

Women are needed on the front end. We women are needed to house the bodies of God's spirit children. Spirit children are able to leave their home in heaven to be brought to this life so that they can receive their precious body and to continue to grow and progress and move forward. Without women, God's spirit children wouldn't be able to leave their pre-mortal life to come to earth. Without worthy men, we wouldn't be able to return back to God. Let's also not forget that priesthood holders can't make it to the highest level of glory without being married to a woman. Both men and women are fundamental components of Heavenly Father's plan! Sure, being a mom with all it's dirty work does sound less glorious when compared to having authority from God. Yet, I think we forget just how awesome and powerful it is to be able to house one of Heavenly Father's spirit children in our womb. The role of a woman isn't any less than a man's. One side of a coin isn't any more or less important than the other side. I love this idea (read more here) and it has become one of my own beliefs.


Women were made to be a "helpmeet" for their husband. In the past, if I'd heard the word helpmeet, I would likely have cringed and had disturbing images of an oppressed wife with a swollen belly being told, "Woman! Get in the kitchen!" Then I learned the definition for helpmeet while attending a conference at Ricks College (now BYU Idaho). The professor explained that the Hebrew word for meet in helpmeet (k'enegdo) was difficult to translate into English, but could be thought of as an opposite. Yet, not quite how we tend to think of opposites. Instead, the concept is more like our hands are opposites. While our two hands are the same in many ways, they are also different and complimentary. If our hands weren't different, they would both face the same direction. Because they are mirror opposites, we are able to pick things up and use our hands much more efficiently and effectively.

Our spouse is our other half. Together we are whole, or "one flesh (see Genesis 2:24)." I've noticed in my marriage that my weaknesses are often my husbands strengths and vice versa, which makes us better when we work as a team, than when we work alone. Blogger Heather discusses this, as well as more about the Hebrew meaning of helpmeet in this post. I highly recommend you read it.

Men and women need one another. If a man isn't sealed to his spouse in this life or the next (or married for all time and all eternity), then he can't progress. He can't return and live with Heavenly Father. So again, men cannot progress without a wife, and women can't without a husband. AND we better make sure our spouse will want to live with us forever. Which means we better treat one another with love and respect. Which leads me to...


A myth that many seem to believe inside and outside the church is that holding the priesthood somehow gives the man power to rule over, or even dominate and control his wife and children. However, the leaders in our church have taught us this isn't the case. For example, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Boyd K. Packer said, “In the Church there is a distinct line of authority (I believe that is so things are organized and run smoothly). We serve where called by those who preside over us. In the home it is a partnership with husband and wife equally yoked together, sharing in decisions, always working together (italics added).”  This link has a great article with several other quotes from our modern day apostles and leaders on this topic. Elder Dalllin H. Oaks also spoke about priesthood authority in the family and you can watch, or read his talk here.

#5. Not holding the priesthood does exclude women from certain church responsibilities and positions. In a world culture where a woman's value and respect is granted instead of claimed, I can understand why some women don't feel comfortable with this arrangement and don't trust that men in the church recognize their value. Some honestly may not.

Priesthood callings have all the power and glory right? Hmmm. I'd have to say as far as church callings go the answer would be "Yes...and no." Sure we look up to our priesthood leaders, and come to admire and respect them, but really their calling isn't as glorified or powerful as many outside the church would think. In fact, the way we see church positions and power in the church is different then those outside the church think of it. A man who has a leadership position (e.g. being a Bishop) doesn't look at his position as one where he can continue to climb the ranks, or where he can rule over and direct those serving under him. Elder Oaks again touched base on this in the same talk I previously mentioned.

No. Instead, a good bishop serves. Bishops are asked to sacrifice a lot, just as Christ did during His ministry. A bishop is not paid, and frankly most smart men don't really want this calling or job. A bishop could easily be released one week and then be given a calling working as a janitor, or in some other capacity. I suppose priesthood leaders get more recognition and respect for their service than their wife does (some members even seem to forget priesthood leaders are humans whose counsel isn't always doctrine), but the reality is that their wives are serving just as much in their own way. Paul taught this concept with a great analogy in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. Every member is needed.

I mention this last point because many in the group Ordain Women mentioned feeling frustrated that they couldn't hold church callings, or positions because they can't hold the priesthood which stifles their contribution and personal growth. I can see their point, but there are plenty of other ways women can contribute, serve, and grow personally in and outside of the church. If this is their biggest concern, perhaps they need to be told how much their service is appreciated and/or should be given more responsibilities. We certainly could use more member missionaries right? We should also start talking about whether women can serve where they haven't previously. Perhaps this will open up the discussion so women will be invited to serve in some capacities previously held only by priesthood holders like the Sunday School president.

Some other things that Latter-day Saints need to discuss is whether or not the Primary age girls and Young Women feel left out. I think many leaders are starting to see that there are subtle messages that make many girls feel they are less than males. Traditions like having men be the last speaker and giving them the most time may send an unintentional message that what women have to say isn't as important. Many Bishops and leaders already recognize this and make sure that both males and females close meetings and are given more equal amounts of time. What about the amount of budget and activities that go towards Scouts and Activity Day girls, or Young Men versus Young Women. When more emphasis is put on the programs for boys and all of their Scouting events and camp-outs, many girls feel excluded.

On the other hand, when leaders emphasize both the Scouting programs and the Young Women and Activity Day Girl programs, the girls won't feel like a lesser priority. I've been in many wards who really worked hard to make sure that all the youth and children knew they were equally important. One particular ward excelled at this. When the Young Men went on a biking trip, the Young Women followed shortly thereafter and biked hundreds of miles. There was a daddy daughter activity planned as well as a father-and-son outing. While the types of activities may have differed, the amount of activities both the girls and boys had were similar. You can imagine the impact this had on all the youth. 

So...after discussing the role of women, the question still remains:

Will women ever hold the priesthood? I think the answer came after the church first responded to Ordain Women in this letter, and again in Elder Oaks talk. There response has led me to believe that in this life women likely won't hold the preisthood. In the life to come? I don't know. I don't think it's impossible. In fact, from what I've gathered from attending the temple I believe it's possible that women might hold the priesthood in the next life. If we don't, I'm sure we'll at least be able to get good answers as to why not. Until then, we should continue to turn to our Father in Heaven so He can give us guidance and show us our divine worth. It would be beneficial to remember and to remind other women this concept often: We women are of equal worth whether we hold the priesthood or not.

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