by Tom P
Will women be ordained to the priesthood? Although historically the Church has resisted change for a considerable period of time when pressured from the outside or even the inside (e.g. polygamy, ordination of individuals of African descent to the priesthood), I believe that women will eventually be ordained. The form this ordination will take, however, is unclear.
Why will women be ordained? Because part of our doctrine is that men and women can become priests and priestesses hereafter, although initially they are only anointed to become such. This suggests that the priesthood we now are familiar with will give way to a different form of priesthood (i.e. the men who currently hold the priesthood are anointed to become priests at some later point in time indicating that the priesthood they hold is not the final form they will hold in the eternities). This eternal priesthood includes both men (priests) and women (priestesses) and is consistent with our theology that neither is the man without the woman nor the woman without the man in the Lord.
As Pres. Uchtdorf mentioned in his talk during the priesthood session, the restoration is an ongoing process. One of our Articles of Faith speaks to this very issue. This male and female priesthood in the eternities that forms part of our doctrine, and is seen in a very limited form in our temples, is unfamiliar to us now. The New Testament does speak of the deaconess Phoebe and the apostle Junia, but we don’t know how they exercised their priesthood (or if they even had priesthood). Yet our doctrine speaks plainly of Queens and Priestesses. This all suggests that at some point, whether in this life or the next, this issue will be made plain to us and we will understand the priesthood held by our Heavenly Parents and how that permits them to carry on the work that they do.
In President McKay’s biography there is a very interesting chapter on extending the priesthood to black men of African descent. President McKay recognized that this restriction was not based on doctrine, but as it had become such an entrenched practice he was reluctant to change the practice without direct revelation on this issue from the Lord. While waiting on that revelation he made the changes he thought he could. These changes ended up extending the priesthood to black men in Australia, Fiji, and other areas of the world that did not trace their ancestry to Africa. He also loosened the rule that a man in Africa had to trace his entire genealogy out of black Africa to qualify for the priesthood, as this was becoming a difficult task.
It seems that a similar thing might be happening with respect to the role of women in the church. Incremental changes are being made. Lowering the age for missionary service has exploded the ranks of sister missionaries throughout the world. Sisters are speaking and praying in General Conference. The General Auxiliary Presidencies were seated in the middle of the stand during the most recent conference rather than in the wings. There is continued emphasis on use of the Ward Council to lead the redemptive work of the Ward. As with President McKay, the established practice has not been altered but it is being slowly scraped away to its barest essentials.
For some reason this earthly priesthood has always had limits placed on it. Faithful men and women of the house of Israel were denied the priesthood as it went to only their Levite brothers. Yet we read of prophets and prophetesses, as well as male and female apostles and deacons in the ancient records, without any real explanation of their priesthood, if any. Eventually the local congregations were led by the Pharisees, who were scholars but not priests. We talk in the church as though the Melchizedek priesthood was common in Old Testament times but Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews suggests otherwise:
7:11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was therethat another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
It is clear that in our day the priesthood is more widely distributed than ever before in the earth’s history. Perhaps as part of the restoration of all things we will someday learn what priesthood is reserved for the faithful women of the church.
I realize that this may not be enough for some, and that to wait upon the Lord can be a difficult answer, but with the promise already in our doctrine perhaps that hope can make the wait bearable. It would be truly unfortunate if this issue became a legalized debate as I fear that it might. While the words of Elder Oaks might be stinging to some, the words of President Uchtdorf offer hope as he recognizes that we do not have all the answers and that there remains many great and wonderful truths to be revealed.
Tom P is a husband, dad, home teacher, hockey player, senior MTC language tutor (French), and, most of the time, anxiously engaged in the work.