mormonad-power-fill-1118257-galleryWhen my faith transition came out at a family reunion a few years ago, I had some family members comment that I was the last person they would ever want to teach their YW about the priesthood. I have to admit I feel a little vindicated by the abrupt change of course brought about by Elder Oaks’ talk about women having and exercising priesthood authority last year [1]:

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?
I would have been kicked out of YW if I’d said the words “the ways women exercise their [8] priesthood authority” just two years ago. The month of June is reserved for the topic of “Priesthood” for our youth. There are many teachers who are searching for ways to teach their YW that their participation in the priesthood is more than just helping the boys be good.  My friend teaching YW said that last week was very unsatisfactory for everyone involved – she said either the YW were completely demoralized by the regular answers we were all raised with or the rest of them saw all the inequalities and have decided not to care about it. Which, if you think about what Elder Oaks taught last year, is completely inappropriate. Our young women need to know they exercise priesthood authority and power even if they don’t hold offices and keys. How can we uncover this for them so they see themselves as active participant in building the kingdom of God with priesthood authority? My first thought was to provide them with the history of women and the priesthood by using source documents and historical accounts [2], [3], and [4], but I think that is a bit overkill for the amount of time you get in YW. Here are a few things I would make sure to cover if I were teaching YW:
  • I think it’s important to communicate we do not know why things are organized the way things are right now (men have the priesthood) and it is unwise to teach false justifications for the practice. I would avoid saying that motherhood is the equivalent of the priesthood. There are many who believe that — but what does that say to the portion of your YW who will grow up and never have children or get married? They are active participants in the priesthood, you just have to uncover it. When Elder Anderson spoke in general conference in October 2013 here is how he answered the question:
FYI if you search for "YW President" on lds.org's image gallery you will only get images of men
These women are exercising their priesthood authority in fulfilling their callings in the General YW Presidency. FYI if you search for “YW President” on lds.org’s image gallery you will only get images of men.

Some may sincerely ask the question, “If the power and blessings of the priesthood are available to all, why are the ordinances of the priesthood administered by men?”

When an angel asked Nephi, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” Nephi answered honestly, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”6

Why women don’t have it isn’t an answer we have right now, he doesn’t know; but he did go on to share what he did know about the priesthood. One of those things is that this is just how things have always been done. As Ally Isom from Church PR said in an NPR interview, there is nothing in our doctrine where it says women can’t hold the priesthood. There is no ban on it . . . but it’s not a way we’ve ever organized ourselves.

Fabrizio: …..The question is where does it say in Mormon doctrine that women cannot hold the priesthood? There was an interchange…
Isom: It doesn’t. It doesn’t. [5]

Young women exercise priesthood power and authority when they fulfill the priesthood duty of preaching the Gospel to all the world
Young women exercise priesthood power and authority when they fulfill the priesthood duty of preaching the Gospel to all the world
  • It’s important to focus on the ways we do exercise priesthood authority. Other than women performing priesthood ordinances in the temple with priesthood authority given to them by the one who holds the keys (temple president), women are also given priesthood authority when they were called to serve missions. Before women went on missions it was explicitly a priesthood duty, just like administering the sacrament. Policy and procedure changed and now women routinely are set apart and given priesthood authority in their calling as a missionary to preach and expound the gospel to the world. Every calling a woman does is set apart and given priesthood authority to perform her stewardship. Right now women do not hold offices or keys of the priesthood – but they do exercise priesthood authority and power.
  • I would also be careful to not say that women are “equal” in the church – the definition we see of equality in the workplace/school is not what Mormons practice. Mormons practice a patriarchal structure where men govern and make decisions. Women are valued very highly and they are cherished for the work they do – but that does not meet the definition of equality that YW have been raised with that they practice in the world every day.
    Women exercise priesthood authority to perform ordinances in our temples
    Women exercise priesthood authority to perform priesthood ordinances in our temples. FYI the choices of pictures of women by the temple that don’t have to do with being married are . . . sparse.

    Neylan McBaine, who worked for the church (VP behind the I’m a Mormon campaign at Bonneville Communications) gave a great talk at the FAIR conference about the growing disconnect of gendered participation in the church – it’s worth reading to understand better ways to talk about our “gendered participation” [6].

  • If one did want to look into the Nauvoo Relief Society minutes I would also recommend reading the first chapter of The Beginning of Better Days by Virginia Pearce. The Chapter is titled “Angels and Epiphanies” and it is about her prayerful study of the Nauvoo RS Minutes and the personal revelation she received about her place as a woman of God in the eternities and as a full participant in the priesthood. It’s incredibly orthodox (and a bit apologetic for my taste re: polygamy) but the perfect intro to the minutes for the uninitiated.
  • I have a friend who blogs over at Juvenile Instructor, and she had the most brilliant insight: in 2010 Elaine Dalton gave the talk “Remember who you are!”[7] and said:
You are young women of great faith. You brought your faith with you when you came to the earth. Alma teaches us that in the premortal realms you exhibited “exceeding faith and good works.” 8

The scripture she cites for this is Alma 13:3. Alma 13 is about priests who were foreordained before the world was — what Sis. Dalton  does is replace the references to “priests” with young women. That would be a fascinating activity to do in a YW setting. Of course we as women were foreordained to accomplish certain missions in this life – perhaps it is our priesthood duty to prayerfully seek out what the Lord would have us individually do to build the Kingdom of God on the earth. For many Young Women I’m sure it is to become a stay-at-home mother. For all of us whether mothers, childless, and/or single; I like to think it is our priesthood duty to find and fulfill the missions God has sent them here to accomplish. Being a woman of God has no limitations – it can be done in a home, office, classroom, boardroom, and laboratory.

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When I was working for Elder Bednar he would say that the church we have 10-20 years from now will not be recognizable to what we have today because of the growth of the church and the integration of the worldwide membership. If that means changes to our programs, he said we would find people leaving the church because they had testimonies in how the programs were run and not in the Gospel – if your testimony is based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ . . . you can weather the fact that (1) we have an imperfect church run by imperfect men called by God doing the very best that they can (2) any changes that come our way won’t shake our foundation when our foundation is the Savior and (3) we can be patient as we wait and if there slowly are changes that we hope to see come to fruition in our lifetimes – all the better. I’m sure he would be appalled if he knew I was using his words in support for possible female ordination, but I see a parallel: we shouldn’t be so close minded that we can’t even imagine God wanting things done a different way. If women ever do get the priesthood, great. If women end up getting their own “female” version of the priesthood, great.  If we never see any changes in this life – we’ll be more than happy and surprised at the structure of things as they are in heaven, great. Practice your faith with patience and understanding and empathy – for those who have questions, for those who don’t, and for those who are navigating the choppy waters trying to lead us.
[1] Keys and Authority of the Priesthood, Elder Dallin H. Oaks
[2] Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes, Joseph Smith Papers
[3] Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism by J. Stapely and K. Wright
[4] The Historical Relationship of Mormon Women and the Priesthood, Linda K. Newell
[5] Transcript of Ally Isom interview on KUER Radio West with Doug Fabrizio 6/15/14
[6] 2012 FAIR Conference, To Do The Business of the Church: The Cooperative Paradigm, Neylan McBaine
[7] Remember Who You Are!, Sis. Elaine Dalton
[8] Thanks to IDIAT for correcting this error in comment #2