Guest Post: Female Priesthood in the Church
Emma is not a member of Ordain Women but has been an interested observer over the last several months. This is part of a longer paper Emma wrote addressing several arguments she has heard against women’s ordination.
1. There is no precedence for ordaining women.
Ours is a very male-dominated faith: our scriptures tell the stories of predominantly male prophets, we pray to a Father in Heaven, our General Authorities are exclusively men. In such a visibly male institution it is difficult (but not impossible) to find examples of female authority.
I’d heard before—mostly in quiet voices and vague descriptions—about women laying hands on and blessing one another in the early church, but it was not a phenomenon I had much investigated until recently. As I studied, I was surprised to learn the extent of women’s authority to bless and heal in the early church.
In 1842, at the fifth meeting of the Relief Society, Emma Smith and her counselors “with Joseph’s approval…laid hands on sick sisters and blessed them that they might be healed.”
Relief Society records from the 1840s to the early 1900s document women routinely healing one another. Brigham Young encouraged women healers during the initial days of Relief Society, counseling women, “Why do you not live so as to rebuke disease? It is your privilege to do so without sending for the Elders…It is the privilege of a mother to have faith and to administer to her child; this she can do herself, as well as sending for the Elders to have the benefit of their faith.”  At times, women even acted as healers in the temple.
We find something of a scriptural precedent for women’s priesthood when, in 1853, Patriarch John Smith (uncle to Joseph) sealed upon Caroline Cottam “the blessings and Priesthood which Abraham sealed upon his daughters, with power to heal the sick in your house.” In a patriarchal blessing to Elizabeth Bean, he further said that her priesthood gave her “the power to heal the sick and to understand all the principles of the priesthood, and mysteries that have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world.” 
From these stories we see the extent of the authority women had in the early days of the church. Understanding the precedent for ordaining women to this type of power, we can reframe Ordain Women not as a radical movement, but in language more familiar to any member of the Church—as something akin to restoration.
2. Women don’t need the Priesthood because men and women are not the same.
This is a line being thrown around a lot in blogosphere lately (even the infamous Frozen blogger has something to say about OW), and while I think it’s a fair point—men and women aren’t exactly the same—I believe it is incorrect to use this reasoning to argue against ordaining women.
I think particularly of statements like the one in recent Deseret News article by Linda and Rich Eyre: “The Eyres reject the notion that equality means sameness when it comes to members of the LDS Church and the priesthood.” Good news, Eyres—I think the majority of church members, supportive of ordination of women to the priesthood or not, can get behind this statement. It surprises and saddens me to see our sisters in OW discredited by accusations that “They just want to be men.” If anything, OW is a movement particularly sensitive to the unique differences between women and men. It is a forum that recognizes women striving to not to take over men’s vocations, but to magnify their own callings as female leaders, caretakers, and disciples of Jesus Christ.
The Eyres affirm “true equality comes only when we realize that two very different things can be precisely equal in importance, in beauty and in ultimate potential,” as if it were an argument against giving women access to priesthood authority; I for one see it as an argument for that very cause. What better way to recognize women as precisely “equal in importance and ultimate potential” than to recognize their importance and potential as ordained enactors of priesthood power?
Furthermore, studying the unique role women played in the early church as members ordained to heal and bless, it seems me that there can absolutely be a difference between male priesthood (as we see it in the church now) and general female authority (as we have seen it in the church in the past). The balance between male and female responsibilities as outlined by the Eyres doesn’t have to be upset by ordaining women; in fact, it can be enhanced, as women take on roles of equal weight and authority to their male partners. There is room for both priests and priestesses in this Church.
 Linda King Newell. “A Gift Given, A Gift Taken: Washing, Anointing, and Blessing the Sick Among Mormon Women. http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=773
 Linda Newell, “The Historical Relationship of Mormon Women and Priesthood.” http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=1262
 Jonathan A. Stapley and Kristine Wright. “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism.” http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1754069
 D. Michael Quinn, “Mormon Women Have Had the Priesthood Since 1843.” http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=1171
 Deseret News. “Women and the priesthood in Mormon theology.” http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865599450/Women-and-the-priesthood-in-Mormon-theology.html?pg=al
Emma is a Utah native who transplanted herself to New York City for college, public transportation, and Thai food deliverable until 2am. She studies English and Economics at Columbia University, and loves her people and her dogs.