Shouldn’t it be obvious? How Mormon Women Hold and Exercise the Priesthood Today

Posted by on May 18, 2014 in Gospel | 15 comments

This post has been removed at the request of the author’s stake president.


  1. Well done, as always, April. Thank you for this.

  2. Thank you for articulating what felt so contradictory and convenient in my gut when I listened to Elder Oaks recent conference address about the priesthood. It felt like a pat on the head (“See? You’re included and important!”) that denied the structural reality of how priesthood works. I’m not a part of Ordain Women, but I would appreciate it if leaders didn’t try to tell me I have something when clearly, in every meaningful sense, I don’t.

    • I would welcome structural changes that actually allow women to exercise the authority Oaks says we have.

  3. Thanks for writing these posts. The statements our leaders have made leave more questions than answers.

    It seems women can exercise the power and authority of the priesthood, but can’t hold priesthood keys. In the average ward, 4 people hold priesthood keys–Bishop, Elder’s Quorum President, Teachers Quorum President, and Deacons’ Quorum President. The latter two are generally boys in their early teens.

    Many, many other callings and functions are reserved for only men to carry out, but it’s not clear why. With the exception of the 4 males holding priesthood keys, what explains the gender divide in priesthood function in the church?

    Males are ordained while females are not, and ordination qualifies males to be receive priesthood keys if they are called to the specific callings that confer keys, but since priesthood keys are only held by a handful of males in a congregation at any time, what do the remaining males have that females do not?

    It seems to me that with the exception of the handful of male holding priesthood keys, men and women in the church are all working with the same priesthood power and authority. If this is true, all callings and functions not requiring the person performing that duty to hold priesthood keys should be open to women.

    • That is an interesting theory. I think priesthood “office” is the one thing most men have but women don’t (if theories about women receiving priesthood without ordination are correct, but that appears to be unresolved doctrine). However, the Brethren seem to have a lot of flexibility to choose to delegate (or not) the responsibilities associated with offices to women, as long as they receive spiritual confirmation of these decisions.

    • That’s a good point and one that I’ve recently had some experience with. I’m a ward missionary and my father is the ward mission leader. About 9 months ago he and my mother left for a month to visit my brother and their first grandchild. While they were away someone had to take care of all of the mission activity in the ward. While discussing the need, I dropped the suggestion that if there were no priesthood keys inherently involved in being the ward mission leader then I could fill in for him while he was gone. He ran with the idea and told the Bishop I was in charge of the program for the month.

      I really enjoyed working in that way, and even oversaw two giant baptisms, both on the same day, and got to conduct a baptism service from the pulpit in the chapel. It was a really neat experience. However, a week after my father returned they called a new male move-in as the assistant ward mission leader, a position that had never before existed during my time in the ward. Not only did it feel like a giant slap in the face, even though I knew it wasn’t intended that way, but it was a clear message to little ol’ female me, a woman may be able to serve with men but she can never be in a position to tell them what to do.

      Frankly, it still kind of hurts. And leads me to believe that even though logically a woman should be able to hold any calling that doesn’t require the active utilization of priesthood keys, the actual practice is much more restrictive. A woman can teach, a woman can serve, but a woman cannot be in a position of authority over a man. And sometimes that restriction just breaks my heart.

  4. Masterful discussion, April. I really love your ending questions, “If women may be delegated priesthood authority, why are they not entrusted to make decisions or preside over mixed gender groups? If women may exercise the priesthood to perform ordinances in the temple, why may they not do so in public? If women may hold the priesthood without ordination, shouldn’t they be taught how to receive and use it?”

    These are gaping holes in current discussions of priesthood by our church leaders.

  5. But Ballard’s statement seems to contradict a statement made by fellow apostle Boyd K. Packer 20 years earlier

    “Seems” is a good word to use there, since the text you have taken out with ellipses provides the context for Elder Packer’s 1993 remarks as referring to performing priesthood ordinances, or the authority that we usually associate with priesthood offices. Whereas Elder Oaks’ and Elder Ballard’s remarks are about a more general definition of priesthood “the authority to act in the name of God.”

    Also, the “question” at the end there regarding female exaltation is one that I only hear from certain corners of Mormon feminism. It would seem the answer is obvious to everyone else.

    I think that there are probably enough examples of institutional inequality in the church without having to invent more out of whole cloth for polemical purposes.

    • Thank you for sharing your opinion, Bryan, I have reread the talk, taking your theory into consideration, and after doing so, I maintain my original opinion.

      I think you misunderstood my final question. I asked, “Does [the oath and covenant of the priesthood] apply to me?

  6. Great post, April. I love your thoroughness. I realize this is a bit snarky, but I think you’ve probably thought harder in trying to reconcile these talks than the speakers did in preparing them, at least about the issue of women and the priesthood. What they’ve said generally strikes me as just throwing semi-random ideas out to try to placate women without having to make any actual change.

    Also, I love love LOVE that you’ve referred to the ban on women holding the priesthood as a ban. Maybe calling a spade a spade will make clearer what women are being denied.

  7. Actually, there are instances of women presiding over mixed gender groups, such as a Primary president with male Primary workers or a stake public affairs director with men serving on the public affairs committee. I recognize, of course, that these are exceptions to the norm, but the fact that they exist argues that the ban on women’s ordination is not obligatorily a prohibition against women presiding over mixed gender groups.

    When a man receives the priesthood, the official formula is in two steps – the priesthood is conferred upon him and then he is ordained to some particular office (teacher, elder, etc.) Would it be consistent with this formula, and the other hints of female connection to priesthood such as the temple, to ask if priesthood can exist apart from office? Clearly office is a fluid thing. Offices described in the Bible and Book of Mormon are not set forth in the detail found in the D&C and, as the post pointed out, the function of offices has shifted even in the modern Church. Could we speak of endowed women having priesthood, but not priesthood office?

    If we moved in that direction, I could see some arguing that that was a sop, rhetoric without real power. However, I would suggest that in fact ideas move practice. If we started talking of endowed women having priesthood, even without offices or keys, this could put us on an evolutionary path to ever greater responsibilities for women in the Church.

    A foundation for such an approach already exists in Joseph Smith’s statements to the Nauvoo Relief Society, the temple endowment and even this new rhetorical tack of saying that women fulfilling callings are using priesthood power, rhetoric which I believe is new to the Church.

    Finally, you might be interested in a new short study of this subject, Latter-day Saint Women and the Priesthood of God,

  8. Thank you April. I know it’s a lot of work to pull these kind of thoughts together. You do it so well. Priesthood is confusing and it’s unclear how it really operates, so thanks for these insights …. into the clarity and the non-clarity.

    I think one of the greatest things about all the Priesthood discussion about women is that it’s forcing us to really examine Priesthood – what it is and how it works. This post is helpful in starting to pull apart some of the things that work and some of the things that are still not working.

    Nicely done,

  9. Thank you, April! There is so much good meat in here for thought and discussion.

  10. Excellent post! I’d love to share it with a few family and friends. Your research give your points a lot of weight. I wish I didn’t feel so frustrated when I think about these issues. Great work!

  11. While reading this, it seemed obvious to me that the questions asked were contained in the quotes used in the article, or are repeatedly taught in Church.

    The answers ARE there, and they ARE obvious.


  1. How do women currently exercise the priesthood? | The Exponent - […] My analysis of this research is available here:… […]
  2. Shouldn’t it be obvious? How Mormon Women Hold and Exercise the Priesthood Today | Well-Behaved Mormon Woman - […] Shouldn’t it be obvious? How Mormon Women Hold and Exercise the Priesthood Today […]

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