Guest Post: Will Women Be Ordained to the Priesthood?

Posted by on April 23, 2014 in priesthood, women | 11 comments

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.

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11 Comments

  1. Thanks for this, Tom. I share your optimism about women’s eventual ordination, and your gratitude for words like that of Uchtdorf’s.

    Not only are there scriptural precedents for women acting as priests, but we also have historical precedents in the earliest days of Mormonism. While they were never ordained to offices, women of the early church widely believed that they themselves held priesthood in some sense through the ceremonies in the temple. That kind of rhetoric among women and men about women’s priesthood was common. I hope that someday we can revisit those beliefs/practices of the early church which gave women so much more latitude to act as priests and find inspiration in them for pathways moving forward.

  2. Thanks for this post, Tom, I found it very hopeful. I think the doctrinal basis for female priesthood is clearly there, which is hopeful, but I also don’t expect change to happen soon. For me being a Mormon feminist is a lifelong exercise in patience, waiting for changes I will probably never see.

    Can you say more about what you mean about having this become a legalized debate? That would mean both “sides” talking to each other, right? I just can’t imagine who those sides would actually be, given that the prophet and apostles seem to so rarely engage with the rank and file members. Members will continue to argue among themselves about it, to be sure.

    FWIW, I didn’t really mind Oak’s talk. I saw it as him articulating things as they currently are, and he stopped short of saying “this will never happen.” I like Uchtdorf’s talk much, much more, of course.

    • I hope I can answer your question. Having spent 25+ years in the legal profession, I find that parties rarely talk to each other. Each stakes out a position and musters every argument they can find in favor of their position while dismissing the arguments of the other party as either off point or non-persuasive. Often a healthy dialogue could resolve the matter much quicker but there is rarely any interest in such an approach.

      It was not lost on me that Elder Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court judge, spoke to this issue and appeared to be laying out the argument for the status quo. Perhaps this was motivated in part because one of the leaders of the Ordain Women movement is a civil rights attorney. I’m not sure that two legal minds dueling out an issue of this nature is the best approach, which is really the basis of my statement about a legalized debate.

      From my perspective this issues needs to be an matter of prayerful consideration to obtain a fuller understanding of the promises made in the temples. I can’t see that happening if this issue becomes a bitter debate between two sides who have dug in for a fight.

      So I am all in favor of healthy dialogue as the way forward. Given some of the developments we’re seeing in the church it appears that someone is listening, at least unofficially, to the concerns of women in the church being expressed here and elsewhere. On that basis, it appears that the answer is to stick to your lifelong commitment to feminist issues and continue to share your thoughts and ideas of how things could be different.

      • Interesting insights. For a moment I had forgotten that Kate is also an attorney.

  3. These words give me both hope and despair. I love your confidence that women will someday have the priesthood (and am intrigued by your suggestion that the priesthood promised in the temple is different than what we have today) but it bothers me that the church would wait to change a theologically flawed policy just because it is firmly entrenched. It seems to me that doing what is right should take precedence over following tradition.

  4. I also like your point that priesthood is different for both men AND women hereafter. To me that is very hopeful. I like the idea of a new paradigm which men and women enter together as novices, rather than the idea of women becoming the plus-one to male priesthood. I hope in that day that the words are less gendered, priesthood being inherently male in that a priest is male. Something powerful and open, like “Holders of the power of God” or something like that. I do like the idea that something different and great lies in store for both women AND men, and that our earth life is not representative of the future or the hereafter.

    • Me too, which is to say, “Amen.”

  5. I enjoyed your post, Tom, and am with you on thoughts for change. I particularly love your scriptural reference. I think sometimes I forget that we see a clear line of priesthood expansion from only members of the tribe of Levi in the Old Testament to all men today. Just as during King David’s reign, it felt blasphemous to say that a non-Levite Jew would hold the priesthood and today, when it feels racially-motivated to not give blacks the priesthood until 1978, I hope my grandchildren will see the sexism in arguments denying women the priesthood.

  6. Tom,
    Thank you for your concise and direct words on this issue. What you said truly resonates with me. Would you be willing to allow me to quote this in a talk I am to give? Credit will most indubitably be given to you.

    • No problem, good luck with your talk.

  7. Well said Tom. I agree with you. I think that ordination will come. It won’t be this year, or the next. But it will come.

    Wayne

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