Thoughts on women and the priesthood – just some thoughts

Two things have brought my attention to this issue lately. I am teaching the YW about the Oath and Covenant of the priesthood on Sunday (I’m so excited!). But also, Joe is working on some related women’s issues in some of his online projects, so we’ve had lots of discussions lately about women in the church (feminist interpretations of the Book of Mormon, why some women have such a hard time with the priesthood situation, etc).

So, my own thoughts, – or, at least, let me get some of my mixed up ideas and insights out of my head and see if it amounts to anything.


It seems to me unfortunate that so many women (and I mean many!) have such a problem with the church hierarchy of men and what that means for the use of priesthood in the church. Okay, I can grant that yes, men do “run the church.” But what can we say of that? I think first of all, we need to detangle “men” and “priesthood.”

Men don’t run the church because they are men, but because they have the priesthood keys. And yes, women don’t have those particular keys so we don’t hold those same offices. But here is where it gets sticky. I am well aware that there have been and are many, many men in a variety of cultures who have a cultural bias against women being leaders. I agree that there are many, many cases where women are treated unfairly and without the respect that God would want those men to give them. Very much agreed. (Note all the emphasis in the worldwide broadcasts on changing that cultural influence.)

So, I can see that when a women knows that there are problems with the societies these men grow up in, they notice ways in which those problems affect their ministry in the church. I know that is a problem, and I know it is something that ought to be fixed. Somehow, slowly or not, that does need to be fixed.

However, I don’t fully understand the next jump: “because I can see men aren’t treating women right, I think women ought to have the priesthood too.” I think I see the basic idea: “Perhaps the very fact that women don’t hold the priesthood is one result of these problems in our societies.” So, could we say that in this view, it would be, then, a symptom of a larger problem? Or are we saying that women not holding the priesthood is the larger problem, the greatest problem to fix that would fix all the other ones?

Likely the “symptom” analysis is closer to what most would argue. I feel like I should address this post to such women and use “you” instead. “Is this a good analysis of what you feel? Tell me where I’m off here so I can better understand you.”

If this is a symptom of the larger problem of gender relations, then I do want to interrupt here and ask a question: Can we detangle the “men of the church” from “the priesthood”? Once we can do that, if we can, then I want to know everything about the priesthood I can find – not whether or not historically women were ordained etc., – but what is this thing? What does it mean? Why do we have it? Where did it come from? What do we know about its purposes long term? What do we know about how it should be administered? What are its real powers? Where can it be used? What does it have to do with the church vs. the temple? What will be used eternally?

After these questions are studied thoroughly, wouldn’t the next question be: Are men, who currently hold the priesthood outside of the temple, understanding how to use their priesthood authority in the right way? I would argue often NO – and it is that problem that, I think, leads to so many women struggling with why women don’t have the priesthood. They don’t see the men treating women right, and so they want to say – “Give it to us, let us do it better.” And perhaps that might not be a bad idea to suggest. But, it seems to me that another route would be to say “Here are books we have written on the priesthood – what it is, what it means, what the scriptures say. Now, change.” 🙂 That would be a very different approach!

I am afraid that if we solved the problem by giving women the same priesthood roles that men have now, we would end up with twice as many people trying to claim power without understanding what the priesthood is or what it is for. I think we would double the problem of men-women relations, rather than solving it.

But, if women like you and me and every person ever concerned about how women were treated in their ward or stake took up a call to study, write, work, and try to understand what the priesthood is and how it relates to women, and teach that in books or articles or to their families, then that really would change things! And we would all benefit from that research. If women ever do have a change in their relation to priesthood responsibilities (notice I didn’t say “If women ever get the priesthood” – because they do, in a temple setting), then I myself would want to know exactly what that priesthood was, why I had it, and what I was expected by God to do with it. And, as some of suggested, perhaps it wouldn’t even look like what the men do now! Perhaps a church-oriented priesthood for women would actually have different assignments anyway. We are different, in many ways, and that is something I trust God to take advantage of. He knows his wife and her capabilities, and I assume she has specific roles and assignments in their work together too.

And anyway, there are a few of my current thoughts, all mixed together there.

See also


3 responses to “Thoughts on women and the priesthood – just some thoughts

  • Roberta

    Exactly! I don’t consider myself one of “those” feminists who believes that I could do a better job using the Priesthood than men do, and I don’t pretend that I know better than God (haha) but I DO think that some men confuse their Priesthood responsibilities with over-lording women, rather than serving them. I also wonder if this isn’t exactly *why* God gave the men the responsibility of the Priesthood administration so that they could experience this conflict and learn to solve it. My experiences with men disrespecting the female gender have been far and few fortunately. But in those far and few encounters it has shocked me. As you say, I walked away realizing that that Brother was uneducated, insecure and ego-driven, not Spirit driven. But then again, I don’t live in a culture that practices this bias regularly (I hope). I think there needs to be more education and more writing from women about the Priesthood, and more direction from the Church Bretheren about what equality really means….and that would solve the issue (again, I hope). Good points, Karen.

  • Gary

    Certainly an interesting issue. Stephen Robinson addressed it one day when I was taking his class at BYU, and part of his take on it was that by giving the priesthood to men and not women it emphasized the difference in gender roles, something becoming more of an issue all the time.

    • Karen

      I like that, Gary. I thought of something similar: maybe if we all had the exact same priesthood & roles, then it would be so commonplace and “generic” that we wouldn’t take the time to think about the priesthood. (Which already happens all the time anyway.) But I like that thought your teacher had: let’s affirm a real difference in the genders.

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