In What Sense Do Women Hold Priesthood?: Possibilities and Distinctions
When the stake president interviewed me for my first temple recommend a few months before my marriage, he asked me a number of questions. The one I remember the most is this:
“In the temple, women will be administering sacred ordinances to you. Do you believe that women hold the priesthood?”
My response was a surprised “No,” along with the speculation that these officiating women were probably using the priesthood of their husbands or the temple president or something.
He seemed quite satisfied with my response.
That was over 10 years ago. And I don’t know how I would respond to that question now. As I’ve thought more and more about issues regarding Mormon women and the priesthood, I find arguments that women do have priesthood – at least of some sort – more and more persuasive.
Here’s a brief glimpse of a few things that have made me think twice about this: 1) Endowed women wear the garments of the holy priesthood. 2) Endowed Mormon women a century ago would often say that they hold the priesthood in conjunction with their husbands. 3) D&C 121 talks about the priesthood being inseparably connected to the powers of heaven. It’s pretty obvious to me that any time a woman does something righteous, she’s forging a connection with the powers of heaven. And how can we even envision a church in which over half its membership doesn’t have a connection to the powers of heaven?
Some Mormons I know draw a distinction between priesthood power and priesthood authority. They say that both men and women in the church have priesthood power – that access to the powers of heaven – but that only men have priesthood authority – the power to administrate in the Church and officiate in certain ordinances. They think of both women and men having priesthood, but just that women have not been given the offices of it, at least for the time being.
Other speculations I’ve heard involve the idea that women have a priesthood of life, and men have a priesthood of administration. Certainly this idea is connected to the idea that wives should ultimately decide when and how many children they will bear. That it is their province, their stewardship, their responsibility to seek out answers related to childbearing. This idea might appeal to women who embrace the idea of essential gender differences.
Other women I know claim both priesthood power and authority. They are not able to officiate in any church capacity, but they do bless their friends and families in the name of the priesthood.
Personally, to be frank, I’m not sure about how I even feel about the concept of priesthood in the first place. I’m wary of ideas that promote hierarchy or human mediators between God and people. A part of me is attracted to the Protestant idea of the ‘priesthood of all believers’, a doctrine that downplays hierarchy within the church body. Perhaps that’s why, out of the ideas I laid out, I am most attracted to the idea that all righteous people have access to priesthood power. I’d like to think that priesthood isn’t so exclusive, that it’s something close to me, something within my grasp, a connection to the divine that can directly inspire me for good. I feel alienated when I hear lessons in Relief Society that characterize priesthood as something totally apart from me, a power that men have and that my role is just to support them as they use it.
However, the question that remains for me is what Mormon women using priesthood power looks like. Is it women blessing and praying for others in faith? Is it women accessing revelation from the divine? I imagine it’s that, and possibly a whole lot more.
- Do you think that women have priesthood in some sense? Why or why not?
- Does the distinctions between priesthood power and authority, or priesthood of life and of administration resonate with you?
- What does women using priesthood power actually look like, in yout mind?