In a previous interview with Dr. Jonathan Stapley, he stated that when early Mormon women healed, it wasn’t through Priesthood. Dr. Margaret Toscano disagrees with Jonathan’s position.
Margaret: I think that there’s quite a bit of evidence to show that. Again, I think that the big difference [between Jonathan and me is how we connect God’s power with priesthood power]. And it’s funny. I said this in my 1984 essay [that Joseph’s view of priesthood is different than how the Church views it today]. I think today in the Church, when we talk about [that] it’s the power of God, we think about the organization. It’s the power of God, where you can have an office in the Church or have a calling in the Church or whatever. But we don’t see it as–and even though, obviously, we acknowledge that you have to have spiritual power– I don’t think we see it as this necessary power that is part of the process of sanctification. The more I studied Joseph Smith’s statements about priesthood, I became convinced that for him, priesthood was kind of this series of ordinances, and that the ordinances are both a conduit to connecting to spiritual power, but they’re also an outward expression of what should be happening in the interior for us. So, I mean, even if you think about the whole idea of the power of godliness, it’s the power to make you godly. I think that’s partly what it means. So, we kind of focus on the church ecclesiastical function.
Margaret: I think Joseph Smith was more concerned with the spiritual cosmological aspect of it. So even though Joseph Smith didn’t use the term cosmological, he used, again, the fullness of the Melchizedek [priesthood], the priesthood of Elijah, the Messianic priesthood. Those were terms that Joseph Smith used, and he connects that. He used the term the fullness of the priesthood. You have this full power of the priesthood to bring you into the presence of God, which, of course, the temple does symbolically. It represents that journey of the soul from the pre-mortal world to go back to God. I see the endowment of priesthood as being part of that.
Margaret: I want to say one more thing about this, I think for Joseph Smith, he saw the fullness of the priesthood as residing in individuals, that when you are given priesthood, God plants his power in you. Whereas, I think in the Church, we think of priesthood as the power residing in the institution. Then the institution can grant you power to act within the Church structure. But I think Joseph Smith saw priesthood, it was an endowment of power. It’s called an endowment. You’re endowed with power, and it’s internal. Now, obviously, you cannot act. You can’t ordain yourself to be an elder or you can’t say, “No, I’m really called to be the bishop.” But again, that’s an ecclesiastical thing. But I think from Joseph Smith’s perspective, that that spiritual power was the center, and that was the most important part of it.
GT: Well, that’s interesting, because I think the issue, especially when I was talking with Jonathan, but I think with the essay as well is, in modern times, we have kind of conflated priesthood with priesthood office. I know Jonathan’s point, and I think the essay’s point, too, as well is, women were not ordained teachers, priests, deacons, elders, high priests, etc. I think everybody can get on board with that. The problem is, this definition of priesthood–today we equate priesthood with priesthood office. But that’s not necessarily how Joseph viewed priesthood.
Margaret: No, I don’t think he did.
GT: When we say that women have priesthood, or even Joseph Smith, when women have priesthood via the endowment, or even you said earlier, baptism, which kind of surprised me when you said that. That use of the word is completely separate from priesthood office. So, is that the issue? Is [the issue] that modern people equate priesthood with priesthood office rather than spiritual power? I mean, is that a way to view this issue?
Margaret: Well, I think that that’s part of the problem. But I think it’s more complicated than that in the sense that, again, if you go back to these women, Eliza Snow, Bathsheba Smith, Sarah Kimball–people called Eliza Snow, a High Priestess–I think that those women really did think that the Relief Society, which was a Church organization, it’s not as though they saw it as a separate organization, or it wasn’t part of the Church. But I think that they saw their roles in the Relief Society as a kind of church function. Now, again, that didn’t make them Elders in the Church, right? So that’s one issue. I do think that in those 19th century women, [they] saw more of an overlap than we ever would.
The Gospel Topics essay on women and priesthood references a 2014 talk by Elder Dallin Oaks. Dr. Jonathan Stapley said this talk was groundbreaking by saying that women in the LDS Church exercise priesthood power as they perform their callings. Does Dr. Margaret Toscano agree with that interpretation?
Margaret: First of all, the idea that Dallin Oaks emphasizes that– and I’ll quote my own essay here–he emphasizes that “the authority women have is only delegated authority deriving from the priesthood authority of male leaders, and that such delegated priesthood authority has a limited scope, only relating to women’s church callings while they serve in them.” Now, in a way, you could say that same thing holds true for men. But the idea is that [the power] it’s not in you. I think the endowment and Joseph Smith [contradict that]; he was interested in that priesthood power being internal. Now again, yes, you have to have delegated authority in order to serve in an office. You can’t call yourself. I’ve never argued that you should, or that you should ordain yourself or call yourself or anything else, because there has to be a structure of the Church. But I think it’s important that he [Oaks] says, “It’s only delegated authority.” So it comes from male leaders, whereas I think the power of priesthood comes from God, Himself, that the ordinance symbolizes that. So that’s one thing where I don’t see it as groundbreaking. But again, I think it’s really important.
Margaret: The other thing is that that the Church–they still want to make this really strong distinction between only men have keys, only men have offices. Only men have these outward signs. Women can have authority and power, but they cannot have keys, they cannot have anything else. I think it’s really interesting. The term “keys” is one of the things that the Church essay discusses. So, Joseph Smith said to the women in Nauvoo. He said, “I turn the key to you. I turn the key to you.” I don’t have the full quote with me right now. I could dig it up. But I won’t take the time. “I turn [it],” he said, “to you.” “I turn the key to you.” And “better times are ahead for you women, that you’re now going to enjoy blessings you haven’t before because I turn the key to you.” Interestingly, in 1908, when B. H. Roberts was editing the History of the Church, he changed that phrase, “I turn the key to you.” He changed it to, “I turn the key on your behalf.”
Margaret: It’s just one little preposition, right? Who cares? But it’s really important. Because I think when Joseph Smith said, and I think I mentioned this before in our other interview, and I actually could dig up the picture here. There was a 1936 Relief Society picture where you have Joseph Smith giving the key. He’s giving the key [to women]. It’s right over there. I could dig this up. He’s giving the key to women. Why did B. H. Roberts change that? Actually, they had been arguing about this before. We think George A. Smith, in the 1850s may have started that, because it says, one is, again, delegated. Okay, I turn the key in your behalf. That’s kind of like Dallin Oaks’ statement, “I turn it in your behalf. But I’m the one that has it.” Because the keys are only in males. Whereas Joseph Smith is saying, “I give you the key. You women can open the doors for yourself now.” I think that’s very significant. It’s interesting that B. H. Roberts also changed another phrase.
Did Joseph give the Relief Society keys? What are your thoughts?