Guest Post: The Power of the Priesthood as a Male/Female Composite
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the way that the priesthood is administered in the Church and some of the issues that have arisen lately that challenge the policies and procedures that have become the norm in the way things are administered. It seems to me that moving forward it would be helpful to acknowledge that the Priesthood as defined by the LDS faith is not a power that belongs to men, but it is the power of Deity that belongs to a male/female pairing.
Elder Erastus Snow (Quorum of the Twelve, February 12, 1849–May 27, 1888) said:
“What,” says one, “do you mean we should understand that Deity consists of man and woman?” Most certainly I do. If I believe anything that God has ever said about himself . . . I must believe that deity consists of man and woman. . . . There can be no God except he is composed of the man and woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, or ever will be a God in any other way. We may never hope to attain unto the eternal power and the Godhead upon any other principle . . . this Godhead composing two parts, male and female.”
Further support for this outlook is found in the Temple, wherein the highest sacrament of the priesthood is ordained upon a male/female pair. Additionally, to serve in high offices in the Church, one must be a married high priest. This implies that when a bishop, for example, is called, it is not the man that is being called, but a husband and wife pairing to serve the ward. Clarification of this policy might help with many strained situations we find ourselves in. If we acknowledge that the Bishop’s wife also hold the authority of the Bishop, she could be present for interviews and meetings and help shoulder the burden of the responsibility. This would not even require a doctrinal change on the part of the Church as the policy and doctrine is already in place. Only a clarification and expansion of what already exists.
Expanding on this idea, there is also evidence to support that a male/female Priesthood pairing does not necessarily have to be a husband/wife pair. Moses’s female counterpart, for example, was his sister. And in another Old Testament example (that never gets it’s just discussion in our Sunday School classes) the pair is the prophetess Deborah and the war leader Barak. One of my favorite parts of this example is that Deborah specifically tells Barak that by working in conjunction with her, he will not receive the honor of the impending victory. And Barak, in true feminist fashion, says, “If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.”
It seems evident to me that women in the Church are already a part of what we call “the priesthood”. As Sheri Dew put it (and I paraphrase here) “The question isn’t why don’t women have the priesthood. The question is why do men have to be ordained to the priesthood and women don’t?” Or as Dallin Oaks put it “We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.” 2014 Or as Joseph Fielding Smith said: “While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, it has not been conferred upon them, that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. … A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord. They have authority given unto them to do some great and wonderful things, sacred unto the Lord, and binding just as thoroughly as are the blessings that are given by the men who hold the Priesthood.”
I want to explore the point that while men are ordained to the Priesthood, women hold the Priesthood without ordination for a moment without much doctrine to back my next few ideas. Bear with me. There is a term “mental load” which describes the undo stress of managing a relationship that women take on (for a great comedic explanation of this see here. I have felt this in my own relationship at times. What if we shifted our focus on the male ordination to the Priesthood as, not a specific duty to lead (as we know that this takes both a man and a woman) but a specific request to step it up. The Doctrine and Covenants has specific warnings about men being susceptible to unrighteous dominion, and states that, “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness, and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile…” Doctrine and Covenants 121: 41-42. What if our view of what male priesthood ordination meant from being “in charge” to being called to be more present in one’s relationships?
In my view it would do a great deal of good to emphasize that the Priesthood is a power that men AND women have access to in the Church, and are at their most effective when in a male/female pairing. Emphasizing this wouldn’t even require any doctrinal or policy changes, and would fit in beautifully with what we’ve been told about the male/female relationship of Deity. As Susa Young Gates put it, ““the divine Mother, side by side with the divine Father, [has] the equal sharing of equal rights, privileges and responsibilities.”
Another of my favorite Old Testament stories (that also doesn’t get it’s due in Sunday School) is the story of Isaac and Rebekah. Rebekah was given a prophetic revelation while pregnant with her twin sons that the younger son would be the one who should receive the birthright. As both sons grew, it became obvious why this revelation had been given and yet when the time came, Isaac still stubbornly insisted that he was going to give the birthright to Esau. So Rebekah intervened. She deceived her husband into giving the birthright to her righteous son Jacob. And she was in the right. Isaac was the priesthood leader, but he was dead wrong in his judgments, and if he hadn’t had a righteous and tenacious woman equal in her ability to receive Heavenly guidance and carry out righteous judgments, the line of the Priesthood would have been lost.
It’s a good thing she was there.
Mathy is an early childhood educator, Mom, and lover of the Doctrine of the LDS faith. She is blown away by the idea that a Supreme Being would even make an attempt to communicate with short sighted and fallible mortal beings.