Daughters in My Kingdom: Blessings of the Priesthood for All: An Inseparable Connection with the Priesthood

Posted by on March 15, 2013 in Gender, history, Policy, Relief Society Lessons, Sacred Texts | 9 comments

Differentiating between Priesthood and Priesthood Holders

While we sometimes refer to priesthood holders as ‘the priesthood,’ we must never forget that the priesthood is not owned by or embodied in those who hold it. It is held in a sacred trust to be used for the benefit of men, women, and children alike. 2 -Dallin H. Oaks

How is the priesthood different from priesthood holders? Why would it be important to differentiate between the priesthood and priesthood holders?

Many Latter-day Saints have never been married. Others are single because of the death of a spouse, abandonment, or divorce…They can enjoy the blessings, strength, and influence of the priesthood in their lives and homes through the ordinances they have received and the covenants they keep. (From the DIMK narrative)

Just as I was preparing to serve a full-time mission, my father left our family and the Church. Under these circumstances, it was difficult for me to leave home for two years, but I went. And while I served the Lord in a faraway land, I learned of my mother’s strength at home. She needed and appreciated the special attention she received from men who held the priesthood—her father and brothers, her home teachers, other men in the ward. However, her greatest strength came from the Lord Himself. She did not have to wait for a visit in order to have the blessings of the priesthood in her home, and when visitors left, those blessings did not leave with them. Because she was faithful to the covenants she had made in the waters of baptism and in the temple, she always had the blessings of the priesthood in her life. The Lord gave her inspiration and strength beyond her own capacity, and she raised children who now keep the same covenants that have sustained her. 28 -Author’s Name Withheld

How can we have the priesthood in our lives if we do not have a priesthood holder in our lives?

The priesthood is “without father, without mother, … having neither beginning of days, nor end of life” (Heb. 7:30), nor maleness nor femaleness. It is head to them both. Male and female alike come under it and must understand their true relationship to it, one to serve as priest within it, the other eventually as a priestess. Men here are given the priesthood power, but both man and woman must bring themselves into submission unto it, rather than she unto him as a person. The man must assume the same relationship of honor and obedience to priesthood truths and doctrines that the woman does. That is, it precedes them both. For the man to assume that because he “holds” the priesthood that it is his or that he is somehow exalted in importance is a serious distortion. – Gib Kocherhans Reference A

What are some of the risks of failing to distinguish between priesthood and priesthood holders?

Blessings of the Priesthood

I have a firm testimony of the power of the priesthood in the lives of all Church members. In the Doctrine and Covenants we are told that the Melchizedek Priesthood holds ‘the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church’ (D&C 107:18). I know it is God’s power and authority on earth to bless our lives and help us bridge our earthly experiences to the eternities. When we receive the blessings of the priesthood, we are drawing on the power and grace of God. 4  - Elaine L. Jack

Blessings for Men

Because only men are currently authorized to hold priesthood offices outside the temple, the blessings of holding the priesthood are currently available only to men:

Holding the priesthood gives us abundant opportunities to feel the joy that Ammon expressed: “Have we not great reason to rejoice? … We have been instruments in [the Lord’s] hands of doing this great and marvelous work. Therefore, let us glory … in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice.”17 -Dieter F. Uchtdorf  Reference B

What a wonderful gift we have been given—to hold the priesthood, which is “inseparably connected with the powers of heaven.” -Thomas S. Monson Reference C

Now to you who hold the Aaronic Priesthood, may I say that I sincerely hope each of you is aware of the significance of your priesthood ordination. Yours is a vital role in the life of every member of your ward as you participate in administration and passing of the sacrament each Sunday. –Thomas S. Monson Reference D

You have received the Aaronic Priesthood. It is a sacred gift, and many do not fully appreciate it…When God entrusts you with His sacred priesthood, He shows great confidence in you…I am grateful to a young man who shared with me the following experience. He and another Aaronic Priesthood holder were assigned to administer the sacrament to a man who was homebound and very sick…You will have sacred experiences, just as this young man did. –David L. Beck Reference E 

We had one adult member in the branch who was a deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood but who didn’t attend or participate enough to be advanced in the priesthood. I felt inspired to call him as the branch president…It was the beginning of a new day for that man…Sometimes letting our brethren know they are needed and valued can help them take that step into commitment and full activity. This can be true of priesthood holders regardless of age. –Thomas S. Monson Reference F

Faithful Melchizedek Priesthood holders can “become … the elect of God.” 4 They are “sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies”5 and can ultimately receive “all that [the] Father hath.”6 This may be hard to comprehend, but it is beautiful, and I testify that it is true. The fact that our Heavenly Father would entrust this power and responsibility to man is evidence of His great love for us and a foreshadowing of our potential as sons of God in the hereafter.-Dieter F. Uchtdorf Reference G

Since women are not offered the opportunity to hold priesthood offices outside the temple, many women may not experience such blessings as:

  • “Abundant opportunities” to experience joyful “sacred experiences” through church service
  •  “Vital roles” to perform at church that make them feel “needed and valued”
  • Feeling “connected with the powers of heaven”
  • Awareness that God has “confidence” in them, or
  • Evidence of their “potential” in “the hereafter.”

The lack of these blessings can be difficult for many women. What are some strategies to help us cope with the absence of such blessings?  How can we develop our spirituality in the absence of holding priesthood offices? How can we empathize with other women who may feel pain because of the lack of priesthood opportunities for women?

Blessings for All

The text focuses on priesthood blessings that are available to all, male and female.  Ask the class to list blessings of the priesthood that are available to both men and women. Some of the blessings of the priesthood listed in the chapter include:

  • Baptism for the remission of sins
  • The gift of the Holy Ghost
  • Personal revelation
  • Partaking of the sacrament
  • Gifts of the Spirit
  • Patriarchal blessings
  • Temple sealing
  • Priesthood blessings of comfort or healing

Consider the following statements that are quoted in the text.  Are there any blessings from the priesthood that you did not think of?  Have you experienced any of these blessings in your life?

The blessings of the priesthood are available to every righteous man and woman. We may all receive the Holy Ghost, obtain personal revelation, and be endowed in the temple, from which we emerge ‘armed’ with power. The power of the priesthood heals, protects, and inoculates all of the righteous against the powers of darkness. Most significantly, the fulness of the priesthood contained in the highest ordinances of the house of the Lord can be received only by a man and woman together.”5 -Sheri L. Dew

As soon as I heard the Gospel as the Elders preached it I knew it to be the voice of the Good Shepherd… [I] was baptized immediately…If there are any principles which have given me strength, and by which I have learned to live more truly a life of usefulness, it seems to me I could wish to impart this joy and strength to others; to tell them what the Gospel has been and is to me, ever since I embraced it and learned to live by its laws. A fresh revelation of the Spirit day by day, an unveiling of mysteries which before were dark, deep, unexplained and incomprehensible; a most implicit faith in a divine power, in infinite truth emanating from God the Father.7 –Elizabeth Ann Whitney

When you attend the temple and perform the ordinances that pertain to the House of the Lord, certain blessings will come to you. … You will receive the key of the knowledge of God. (See D&C 84:19.) You will learn how you can be like Him. Even the power of godliness will be manifest to you. (See D&C 84:20.) -Ezra Taft Benson (DIMK sidebar)

Gifts of the Spirit

At first glance, this section of DIMK seemed out of place in a chapter about priesthood, as there is no mention of priesthood in the section.  It begins as follows:

On April 28, 1842, Joseph Smith spoke at a meeting of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. Part of his discourse was based on the Apostle Paul’s teachings in 1 Corinthians 12–13 about the gifts of the Spirit. Joseph Smith emphasized that “these signs, such as healing the sick, casting out devils etc. should follow all that believe.”8 Because Latter-day Saint women have received the gift of the Holy Ghost, they can seek and be blessed by spiritual gifts such as “the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.”9 Throughout the history of the Church, Latter-day Saint women have received gifts of the Spirit and used them to bless their families and others. (From the DIMK narrative)

However, when I checked the original source material for this narrative, the minutes of the Nauvoo Relief Society on April 28, 1842, I found a discussion of priesthood topics: healing by laying on of hands and ordination.

[Joseph Smith] said the reason of these remarks being made, was, that some little thing was circulating in the Society, that some persons were not going right in laying hands on the sick &c. Reference H

Joseph Smith went on to respond to this concern:

Respecting the female laying on hands, [Joseph Smith] further remark’d, there could be no devils in it if God gave  his sanction by healing— that there could be no more sin in any  female laying hands on the sick than in wetting the face with  water— that it is no sin for any body to do it that has faith, or  if the sick has faith to be heal’d by the administration. Reference I 

Joseph Smith explained some of the reasons it was acceptable for women to bless the sick by laying on of hands as well as employ other gifts of the Spirit:

Prest. Smith continued the subject by adverting to the commission given to the ancient apostles “Go ye into all the world” &c.— no matter who believeth; these  signs, such as healing the sick, casting out devils &c. should  follow all that believe whether male or female. He ask’d  the Society if they could not see by this sweeping stroke, that  wherein they are ordained, it is the privilege of those set apart to  administer in that authority which is confer’d on them— and if  the sisters should have faith to heal the sick, let all hold  their tongues, and let every thing roll on. Reference J 

It is interesting that Joseph Smith mentions that women of the Nauvoo Relief Society had been ordained. The modern church does not currently ordain women outside of the temple. Looking back to the minutes of the first Nauvoo Relief Society meeting, the ordinations of two women, Sarah M. Cleveland and Elizabeth Ann Whitney, are recorded, as well as a blessing given to Emma Smith that is similar to the practice of “setting apart” still employed by the modern church.  Reference K  Joseph Smith explained that Emma Smith did not need to be ordained at that meeting as she had already been ordained previously, just like men who have already been ordained in the modern church do not need to be ordained again to take on new callings, just set apart. Reference L 

Women of the Relief Society performed blessings on the sick until 1946, when the Quorum of the Twelve decided to limit this authority to male elders. Reference M  Eliza R. Snow was one of the women who administered such blessings and instructed other women how to do so:

I became fatigued and dizzy. I got into a carriage and returned to the hotel. On arriving at the hotel I found myself so unwell that I requested  Bros. [Lorenzo] Snow  and  {Feramorz] Little  and  Sister  Eliza [R. Snow]  to  lay  hands  on  me. –George A. Smith Reference N 

Sister Eliza R. Snow Smith, from the Prophet Joseph Smith, her husband, taught the sisters in her day, that a very important part of the sacred ordinance of administrating to the sick was the sealing of the anointing and blessings, and should never be omitted. And we follow the pattern she gave us continually. -Louisa “Lula” Greene Richards Reference O

DIMK offers an example of a woman with the gift of revelation. Amanda Barnes Smith reported how a revelation had taught her how to provide medical attention to her son, Alma, who had lost his hip due to a bullet wound at the Haun’s Mill massacre in 1838:

I [was] there, all that long, dreadful night, with my dead and my wounded, and none but God as our physician and help.

“Oh my Heavenly Father, I cried, what shall I do? Thou seest my poor wounded boy and knowest my inexperience. Oh Heavenly Father direct me what to do!”

And then I was directed as by a voice speaking to me. 10 _-Amanda Barnes Smith

Amanda was directed to make a lye, or washing solution, from the ashes of their fire to clean the wound. Then she was directed to make a poultice out of cloth and slippery elm to fill the wound. The next day she found some balsam and poured it into the wound to soothe Alma’s pain. (Summarized by the DIMK narrative)

“Alma, my child,’ I said, “you believe that the Lord made your hip?”

“Yes, mother.”

“Well, the Lord can make something there in the place of your hip, don’t you believe he can, Alma?”

“Do you think that the Lord can, mother?” inquired the child, in his simplicity.

“Yes, my son,’ I replied, “he has shown it all to me in a vision.”

Then I laid him comfortably on his face, and said: “Now you lay like that, and don’t move, and the Lord will make you another hip.”

So Alma laid on his face for five weeks, until he was entirely recovered—a flexible gristle having grown in place of the missing joint and socket, … a marvel to physicians.

On the day that he walked again I was out of the house fetching a bucket of water, when I heard screams from the children. Running back, in affright, I entered, and there was Alma on the floor, dancing around, and the children screaming in astonishment and joy.10 -Amanda Barnes Smith

Would anyone be willing to share an experience you have had receiving and using a gift of the spirit?

Temple Blessings

In Nauvoo, the Lord again commanded the Saints to build a temple, saying that He would restore the “fulness of the priesthood” and “reveal [His] ordinances” there.16 Relief Society sisters helped each other prepare for these ordinances and their attendant covenants…As the temple neared completion, 36 women were called to serve as temple ordinance workers. (From the DIMK narrative)

Temple Ordinance Workers 1917

Temple Ordinance Workers 1917

I gave myself, my time and attention to that mission. I worked in the Temple every day without cessation until it was closed. 17 -Elizabeth Ann Whitney

Today, women continue to serve as temple ordinance workers. Inside temples, women administer priesthood ordinances.

I love being able to spend so much time in the house of the Lord serving others. There are things that you can learn from the perspective of a temple worker that are different from what you learn as a patron. Getting both perspectives opens up a lot of revelation and understanding for me. – Karen Lillywhite Reference P

As temples were built and temple ordinances restored, our understanding of the male/female relationship has increased: Both men and women are conditionally sealed to become kings and queens, priests and priestesses. –Ida Smith Reference Q

It is within the privilege of the sisters of this Church to receive exaltation in the kingdom of God and receive authority and power as queens and priestesses. 19 -Joseph Fielding Smith

How has temple participation expanded your perspective about your potential as a priestess? What does wearing the garment of the holy priesthood mean to you? Are there any women here who have been ordinance workers who could talk about how the opportunity to administer priesthood ordinances has affected your life?

Under the Priesthood, After the Pattern of the Priesthood

I will organize the women under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood. 2 –Joseph Smith

It is significant to me that the women were organized under the authority of the priesthood. We sustain the priesthood and are sustained by its power. 4 – Elaine L. Jack

When we say that the Relief Society is under the priesthood, are we referring to priesthood holders or the priesthood itself?

DIMK offers several quotes about the relationship between the sisters of the Relief Society and the brethren of the priesthood, some of which seem to suggest equality and others which demonstrate a definite hierarchy, with Relief Society sisters under priesthood holders:

We are partners with the priesthood brethren. We are companions in the work. 35 –Barbara W. Winder

There is strength and great capacity in the women of this Church. There is leadership and direction, a certain spirit of independence, and yet great satisfaction in being a part of this, the Lord’s kingdom, and of working hand in hand with the priesthood to move it forward. 41 –Gordon B. Hinckley

The Relief Society works under the direction of the Melchizedek Priesthood, for ‘all other authorities or offices in the church are appendages to this priesthood.’ 29 -Boyd K. Packer

The Lord through his wisdom has called upon our sisters to be aids to the Priesthood. 40 –Joseph Fielding Smith

However, the organizational structure of the church clearly places the Relief Society under priesthood holders:

Ward Relief Society presidents work with bishops, stake Relief Society presidents, with stake presidents, and the general Relief Society presidency, with designated General Authorities…Final decision-making responsibility rests with priesthood leaders.  Reference R

In Nauvoo Relief Society meetings, Joseph Smith elaborated on his vision for the Relief Society to function under the priesthood and after the pattern of the priesthood.

The [Relief] 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— [I am] going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day— as in Paul’s day –Joseph Smith Reference S

Do you think the Relief Society has fulfilled this vision?  Why or why not?

1n 1962, Harold B. Lee discussed his intentions “to place the priesthood of God where the Lord said it was to be—as the center and core of the church and kingdom of God.” Reference T By “priesthood” Lee probably meant “priesthood holders,” given the results of this program:

Under the comprehensive Church correlation program, the reporting and financing systems, magazine and lesson materials, and Social Services once managed by the Relief Society became the responsibility of priesthood leaders and professional departments, such as the new LDS Social Services Department. After September 1971, Relief Society membership automatically included all LDS women. Reference U

In contrast, men continue to join the priesthood through ordination and male priesthood holders continue to administer a variety of church programs. Given these circumstances, it is not surprising that Boyd K. Packer observed:

The Brethren know they belong to a quorum of the priesthood. Too many sisters, however, think that Relief Society is merely a class to attend. The same sense of belonging to the Relief Society rather than just attending a class must be fostered in the heart of every woman. 29 -Boyd K. Packer

Julie B. Beck saw Relief Society as more like a quorum than a class:

The word society has a meaning nearly identical to that of quorum. It connotes “an enduring and cooperating . . . group” distinguished by its common aims and beliefs…Some may argue that we can accomplish this as individuals without the benefit of a supporting group. But President David O. McKay said that if priesthood men only needed “personal distinction or individual elevation, there would be no need of groups or quorums. The very existence of such groups, established by divine authorization, proclaims our dependence upon one another, the indispensable need of mutual help and assistance.” –Julie B. Beck Reference V

How can we make the Relief Society more than just a class to attend? How can we foster “belonging” instead of “attending”? How can we function as a Society, not just as individuals?

One way that the modern Relief Society is like priesthood quorums is that its officers are selected and supervised by the same individuals: bishops at the ward level, stake presidents at the stake level, and the first presidency at the General Authority level.  However, this is also a key difference, since priesthood officers are supervised by other priesthood holders who were chosen from among their ranks, while the Relief Society at all levels is supervised by priesthood holders who were never Relief Society members.

Relief Society is unique because it was organized after the “pattern of the priesthood” and we operate on a general and local level under the direction of priesthood leaders. We work in partnership with priesthood leaders, who hold keys which give them authority to preside in the name of the Lord. We operate in the manner of the priesthood—which means that we seek, receive, and act on revelation; make decisions in councils; and concern ourselves with caring for individuals one by one. Ours is the priesthood purpose to prepare ourselves for the blessings of eternal life by making and keeping covenants. Therefore, like our brethren who hold the priesthood, ours is a work of salvation, service, and becoming a holy people. -Julie B. Beck Reference W

Serving in the Church

ward councilWhile acknowledging the low level of female representation on church councils, Barbara B. Smith pointed out that the contributions of these few women are important:

Although a relatively few Relief Society officers are involved in councils, their influence is far-reaching throughout the Church. Barbara B. Smith Reference X 

At the ward level, for example, there are three councils.  Bishoprics include five men and no women. Priesthood Executive Committee (PEC) includes nine men and no women, but the Relief Society President may be invited to PEC at the bishop’s discretion.  The Ward Council includes 10 men and three women.  The bishop,  a male, is the presiding officer in all of these councils.  Reference Y

I have observed—particularly in international areas, although it often occurs domestically—that sisters do not participate openly in ward council meetings. This is most unfortunate, because they have perspectives and experiences that are of immense value. When they can be encouraged to take part freely in ward council meetings, their ideas are always helpful and inspirational. -Richard G. Scott Reference Z

Elder Quentin L. Cook described a stake in Tonga that had great success at reactivating young people. He asked the stake president how they had achieved this:

He told me that in a stake council meeting reactivation was being discussed. His stake Relief Society president, Sister Leinata Va’enuku, asked if it would be appropriate for her to say something. As she spoke, the Spirit confirmed to the president that what she was suggesting was true. She explained that there were large numbers of wonderful young men in their late 20s and 30s in their stake who had not served missions. She said many of them knew they had disappointed bishops and priesthood leaders who had strongly encouraged them to serve a mission, and they now felt like second-class members of the Church. She pointed out that these young men were beyond missionary age. She expressed her love and concern for them. She explained that all of the saving ordinances were still available to them and the focus should be on priesthood ordinations and the ordinances of the temple. She noted that while some of these young men were still single, the majority of them had married wonderful women—some active, some inactive, and some not members. After thorough discussion in the stake council, it was decided that the men of the priesthood and the women of the Relief Society would reach out to rescue these men and their wives, while the bishops spent more of their time with the young men and young women in the wards. –Quentin L. Cook Reference AA

What are some of the barriers preventing women from participating fully in the councils of the church?  How can women more effectively participate in church councils in spite of these barriers?

I learned that when you are invited to a meeting you are not invited to come and complain about all your problems, but you are invited to come with solutions. Then together you can talk about ideas to see what will work. The priesthood brethren expect and need the perspective of the women of the Church. We need to be prepared and assist them.”36 –Barbara W. Winder

Would anyone be willing to share your experiences working in councils of the church?

DIMK provides this example of successful Priesthood and Relief Society cooperation:

On August 24, [1992,] Hurricane Andrew slammed into the Florida coast south of Miami. Wind gusts exceeded two hundred miles per hour…Eighty-seven thousand homes were destroyed, leaving 150,000 homeless…Local priesthood and Relief Society leaders organized rapidly to assess injuries and damage and to assist in the cleanup effort. Three large waves of member volunteers, numbering over five thousand, labored shoulder to shoulder with disaster-stricken residents, helping to repair three thousand homes, a Jewish synagogue, a Pentecostal church, and two schools. 38 -Thomas S. Monson

There is a power in this organization [of Relief Society] that has not yet been fully exercised to strengthen the homes of Zion and build the Kingdom of God—nor will it until both the sisters and the priesthood catch the vision of Relief Society. 39 –Spencer W. Kimball

What can we do to help both women and men to catch the vision of Relief Society?

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9 Comments

  1. Wow, April. Thank you so much for this very comprehensive treatment of the priesthood. I love how clearly you say things, getting to the heart of a point in just a few words.

    There is a lot to think about here, but the two points that are standing out to me right now are the lack of women in leadership councils (references X and Y – ha! what a funny coincidence) and the idea that women eventually will be priestesses. I have to ask, why not now?

  2. Brilliant post, April. I will be using this as a reference for more than just DIMK lesson plans. Thank you so much for your detailed contribution- this is fabulous!

  3. April, this is great. And it occurs to me that “under the priesthood, after the pattern of the priesthood” may have meant something very different in Joseph Smith’s mind. What if we literally look at the priesthood as the authority to act in God’s name?

    Now I want to go find out if there are any records of Joseph’s words when he established priesthood quorums — what if they were identical?

  4. This was simply an awesome post. Thank you.

  5. April, this is amazing! A treasure trove of important and timely quotes from our leaders on a difficult and nuanced topic.

    I’m with Spunky, I’ll be coming back to this post again and again for other lesson preparations beyond DIMK.

  6. This is a valuable resource for me as I prepare to teach my class of YW about their role in the priesthood. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  7. I just received some revelation that will help me to achieve a goal to become a temple worker. I even stopped reading to express my gratitude for what I read and how it will be a guide for me.
    I am grateful for your directness in the material you covered and the questions that cause one to reflect and ponder on her experiences and knowledge and feelings for new insights.

  8. Very well researched and very informative, however, I have a different view of your section “Blessings for Men”. Unless I am mistaken all the quotes referenced in this section were from Priesthood Sessions of Conference. The leaders are speaking directly to the men and therefore helping them understand blessings and responsibilities of priesthood holders. But these blessings are not specific to priesthood holders. They are available to all faithful members of God’s church. All women can experience the blessings you indicated….

    “Abundant opportunities” to experience joyful “sacred experiences” through church service
    “Vital roles” to perform at church that make them feel “needed and valued”
    Feeling “connected with the powers of heaven”
    Awareness that God has “confidence” in them, or
    Evidence of their “potential” in “the hereafter.”

    God is no respecter of persons, men are not entitled to blessings that women of the church are denied simply because they are women. Think of the role of Mother Eve. See your reference A.

    If you were to research the comments of the Brethren to young women and women in our general meetings you would find these same blessings enumerated, perhaps worded slightly different. Having served a mission, accepted callings in the auxiliaries of the church, and as a mother I have had personal experience with these specific blessings. I know they are not gender specific or available only to holders of the priesthood.

    Men and women are different and do have different responsibilities,but we have the same purpose, as stated in Handbook 2, p3, “The nature of male and female spirits is such that they complete each other. Men and women are intended to progress together toward exaltation.” p5, “Every member of the Church is as precious as every other. God’s eternal plan provides for all of His faithful children to receive every blessing of eternal life, exalted in families forever.”

    I sincerely hope that the women of the church understand that they are entitled to all that the Father hath, in this life and the next as they enter into and keep the covenants they make with Him.

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