When the Church asks the ladies to study (male-only) priesthood before General Conference

Just before last General Conference, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) sent out an email instructing “the sisters” (not the men) to study three sections from Doctrine and Covenants prior to Conference. Each section had a common theme: the priesthood (which in our church, is a male-only privilege). Some women were annoyed by the gendered assignment. Why only women? But others were hopeful. Could church leaders be preparing us for an announcement that they would ordain women? Or at least, stop excluding women from some priesthood duties that were currently for men only? (Spoiler alert: Nope.)

The Spring 2020 General Conference seemed like an ideal time to remove restrictions on women in priesthood. The COVID-19 pandemic had just begun and doubling access to the healing power of the priesthood seemed like an apt response. Quarantines were making it impossible for faithful Latter-day Saint women to partake of the Sacrament unless they happened to have a worthy male priesthood holder living in their own home.

But while many people discussed women and priesthood in their talks, the focus was more of the same (sigh): the status quo is just fine; men and women are equal in the church even though it’s hard to see it if you don’t squint just right; and if a woman doesn’t understand how she can have priesthood power without being allowed to exercise the priesthood, her own personal failings are the issue, not the female priesthood ban. President Oaks even went out of his way to declare that women are not authorized to give healing blessings, a strange choice of a hill to die on when people were literally dying in a pandemic and unable to call for the elders due to quarantine.

As we get close to another General Conference, I am pulling out my notes from my own study of those three sections of Doctrine and Covenants, which I live-tweeted as I read. Apparently, I didn’t squint just right, because I didn’t find a message about the status quo being perfect in those pages. Here is what I saw:

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

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8 Responses

  1. Emily says:

    Yeah…I remember thinking something big was going to be announced for women. Why else ask them in particular to study the priesthood?? I dutifully read the verses. And didn’t see anything at conference that would have justified the extra study. I’m still sick about how hopeful I felt before. How silly of me. I’m trying not to have any expectations of change for this upcoming conference.

  2. Laura says:

    Love your tweets and analysis! I was super hopeful too only to be saddened for months. I’m not going into this conference with any expectations other than just the usual spew of patriarchy.

  3. spunky says:

    I haven’t been active in church in quite some time, but loved reading how diligently and faithfully you followed the admonishment of the church to study those scriptures. The dual speak in the church is exhausting for me– why doesn’t God love women as much as men? Why is my service only acceptable to God if it involves cleaning feces, baking bread and pretending I’m ok with any male in the church being my boss?

    But your analysis gave me hope. I’ve been on a spiritual journey and I find that I do love the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. In fact. I love much about the church. You post give me hope that one day, I might feel that love, and welcoming in return.

    Thank you so much.

  4. Elisa says:

    Agree 100%. I am SO SICK of the double speak and especially the victim blaming (“you sisters don’t understand your power because you haven’t studied hard enough! Do better!”).

    Church leaders can talk till they’re blue in the face about how equal this system is etc etc etc but what they never manage to do (with any credibility or real scriptural or Jesus foundation) is simply answer the question, why not just ordain women too? Or how about: why are so many church responsibilities and leadership roles tethered to priesthood ordination if we all “have” the priesthood? You know like, is there something special about ordination that means only 3 women can ever speak in general conference? Etc etc.

    I know a lot of pretty mainstream Mormons who hoped that all of the teasing about conference in April meant a big change for women. They were really disappointed when nothing happened. I was mostly just appalled at how out of touch the leaders were.

    I’m a bit cynical at this point but I mostly see church teachings about priesthood as a means of control, not a means of blessing people and not a valid exercise of God’s power. As if a bunch of men are in charge of deciding who gets some of God’s power and how – the hubris!

  5. sfinns says:

    The assignment was given before the great Corona outbreak. Who know’s? Maybe there would have been a big announcement had it not been for the pandemic shutting everything down. If there were changes to be made, this turned out not to be an ideal time.

    • Elisa says:

      On the other hand, the pandemic means that many women have not had access to the sacrament because they did not have a “priesthood holder” in the home. Never in my life has the inequality between men and women with respect to ordinances been so keenly felt. So it was actually a pretty great time to extend that access to women.

      Also, Pres Oaks’ comments doubling down on why women don’t have the priesthood suggest that there was never an intent to make a change. Only to continue gaslighting women into believing they are equal despite the fact that they are, well, totally not.

  6. Tammy Heaton says:

    I’ve been thinking about the male-only administrative priesthood concept. And the male priesthood saying sorry sisters not your turf…at least according to God. Contrast that to idea that God ordain and grants gifts and gives blessings to all. Can “man” take away that which God Grants?

  7. EmilyCC says:

    You truly have a gift for analyzing text and highlighting in accessible language the inconsistencies throughout the message so many brethren tell us. Thank you for sharing your gift and giving us all hope that one day, things will be different.

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