The Quorum of the Anointed was a special quorum founded by Joseph Smith just prior to his death in 1844. It was unusual in the fact that both men and women were members of the quorum. Dr. Margaret Toscano discusses how this quorum should inform our understanding of women and priesthood.
Margaret: There’s a book by Gary Bergera, and Devery Anderson called Joseph Smith’s Quorum of Anointed, which I think is really critical source material. In that, and there are some other sources [too], so it’s pretty well documented that on September 28, 1843, in the minutes of the Quorum of the Anointed, and there are several versions of it, that are given in that book by Anderson and Bergera. This is the quote: “Barak Ale” which, of course, was Joseph Smith “was by common consent & unanimous voice [vote] chosen president of the Quorum & anointed & ordained to the highest & holiest order of the priesthood (& Companion) ditto.” I love that little phrase “and companion ditto.” Of course, all scholars say the companion was Emma Smith. We know that she had received her endowment sometime in 1842. In 1843, though, she received this ordinance along with Joseph to be ordained. So that “ditto” is really important because the ditto means that she had the same thing, which means Emma Smith was by common consent and unanimous voice chosen president of the quorum and anointed and ordained [to] the highest and holiest order of the priesthood “and companion.” So was she just ordained to the highest order [of] the priesthood, or were they [Joseph and Emma] joint presidents? Because the man and woman had to have this together.
GT: This is joint presidents of the Quorum of the Anointed. Is that what you’re saying?
Margaret: I know. This is a radical interpretation. But even if you don’t say she was joint president, she was at least anointed and ordained to the highest and holiest order of the priesthood. But it was part of a quorum. This is kind of like my sixth thing [the Quorum of the Anointed]. I think that the Quorum of the Anointed in Nauvoo shows that Joseph Smith intended to have women function in Church priesthood. It was a quorum. It was the highest Quorum of the Church. It was organized in 1843. So, it only functioned for about a year. I argued way back in 1984 that it was a real priesthood quorum. Later, Mike Quinn, he also agreed, and he said they conducted all kinds of business there. But the women were present. Then as soon as Joseph Smith died, Brigham Young and the boys stopped holding the meetings of the Quorum of the Anointed. Certainly, [they] were not going to have Emma [as] a part of this. No, this is a really important thing. That was my sixth thing; this Quorum of the Anointed is a really important precedent for Joseph Smith’s different view.
Given the mixed-gender makeup of the Quorum of the Anointed, if LDS women were granted priesthood office, would they be priests or priestesses? Should they continue to be segregated by gender or combined into a single quorum? Dr. Margaret Toscano sees advantages and disadvantages to both structures.
GT: We talked about priest and priestess, king and queen. I know the Bible even mentions deaconesses and deacons. There’s also the kind of the idea of, the Supreme Court has gotten rid of the idea of “separate but equal.” We don’t, we don’t refer to actresses anymore. They’re just actors. We try to give them the same name. So, this idea and I know last time you mentioned, you thought it was good to keep the men and the women separate. But is that “separate but equal” if we call them a priestess? Or an elderess or a high priestess? Or should we call them high priests, and elders and deacons? And whatever–
Margaret: I always like things that are nuanced, so I try to have both. On the one hand, I think that the separate but equal has never led to equal. I mean, that’s just the truth of it, whether we’re talking race or gender. It ends up often, “Oh, we have [the] same schools, but they’re not really equal.” Right? We had [this problem] with race issues. So it’s interesting that Joseph Smith, his actual first statement was that he was going to make the Relief Society, a kingdom of priests. Then later the women connected the language of the temple and talked about a kingdom of priestesses. But I think maybe we have to have similar language in order to have an equality. On the other hand, and I think this is what you’re referring to of what I said before. So I believe, from my perspective, and this is Margaret’s interpretation, I think that the Church, that all of the councils of the Church should have both men and women. I think there should be female apostles, as well as male apostles. I won’t get into [it again]–I mean, it’s interesting, maybe Joseph and Emma were joint presidents of the Quorum of the Anointed. But we get into the problem of single people [in the Church]. I think we should be able to have single Apostles, so that you don’t have to be married to be an Apostle. So I believe that you should have [that]–the Quorum of the Apostles should be both men and women. The High Council should be men and women. So I kind of want both, Rick, but I also think that there’s some power in brotherhood and sisterhood. As I was thinking about this question of the Relief Society being a priesthood quorum, it’s almost like I want to have three different kinds of structures [a central power governed by both men and women, a women’s organization, and a men’s organization]. I want to have the central quorums of the Church to be both men and women, so they all have a vote. But there’s power in a women’s organization where the women maybe are not intimidated by the men, and they can have their own vote [as well]. So if you have the Relief Society, where they had a vote equal to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, now, and then they don’t have to vote where their husbands can see them.
Do you agree?