Questions I’m excited to be asking, though I have no idea if my answers are even close! :) (More on Women & the Priesthood)


Last week I read a great post by Ardis Parshall and it got me thinking all over again about Priesthood, chosen line, Abrahamic Covenant, etc., and I wrote my own post here. After the post, I realized some of the things I had written could possibly pertain to women, too. I added these thoughts in the comments, but I have decided I want to make them their own post so I can find them better. What follows is just speculation – just curious and fun thinking, and shouldn’t be considered something I hold to strongly. But I do find it fun and interesting:

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I just noticed something in my post that could be thought about further: “As that section points out, and as Ardis points out in her comment, just because one does not have the lineage does not mean one can’t be ordained to that priesthood or officiate in those offices. Others take the place when the one with the “right” isn’t worthy or known.” Could we take this as a starting point for thinking about women and the priesthood in the Church? We know that women are given priesthood of some sort in the temple, but also, that whatever it is they have isn’t currently active outside of the temple. Could we think about situations where there isn’t a male available, and so a women could then officiate?

I am thinking that this statement by Elder Oaks from “Two Lines of Communication” has a similar idea in it: “But the authority that presides in the family—whether father or single-parent mother—functions in family matters without the need to get authorization from anyone holding priesthood keys.” The Father has the right and duty to preside, but when the rightful heir isn’t found, the mother can also perform those duties? What do we think of that? Or other possible circumstances?

That might at first sound offensive to some, to say that a woman could only officiate if a man wasn’t there to do it first. But, if we were (and this is a huge speculative “if” here), to see the reason this was possible is because women (and men!) have a higher priesthood in temple, then it would be something like a Melchizedek priesthood holder being Bishop when there is no rightful heir of Aaron to take that calling. The reason another man can do that is because his priesthood is actually higher and contains the ability to do all that is in the Aaronic priesthood. Could (and this is a leap I know) the same be said someday of the temple and the church? That those with the priesthood of the temple could officiate in the work at the Church level when the people normally called to those positions can’t be found?

I think this is a fascinating pattern. I wish we paid more attention to the purpose and history of the priesthood. I think the purpose is to seal up people to heaven; to bring people to that veil and then through it to God. Men were given the job to hold the right to those ordinances and to pass them on to a child who would then pass it on to his child, etc. I get the idea, and I like it; I have no problem with it. But already today, even with those ordinances in the temple, there are situations where a man’s presence isn’t appropriate and so there are women performing sacred, saving/redeeming ordinances essential to passing back to God. Already, we see this right in the temple! The same pattern! When those normally asked to hold the right to something aren’t or can’t be there, another can be authorized to take that place.

This is a pattern all the way through the priesthood: sealers in the temple take their authority from Pres. Monson, who is the only one with the actual right to seal anything. So I see now that women are already fitting into that pattern in some ordinances in the temple. I am far from the crowd protesting for the priesthood to be given to women. I think it certainly could; I think the way we handle priesthood now is already different than the original plan (see D&C 107) and other adjustments could be made. What I don’t like is seeing members of the church not studying what the priesthood is for and why it’s here and what’s gone on with it throughout history. It isn’t just a mark of authority within an institution. And it isn’t just a guarantee of the ability to heal someone. There’s a lot more going on, and until we as members are looking at it more carefully, I don’t think we should pass it on to any more people. Not because that careful study would reveal that we shouldn’t pass it on to more people, but because we would be passing along also a half-thought understanding of what it is we are passing on! In other words, I think this time of pushing for discussion of ordaining women ought to push us to ask, “What exactly is this priesthood and what is it for?”

At least, I feel like there is a lot to understand still and it’s part of what I try to study about half the time I’m studying scripture! So there are some thoughts on women & the priesthood. Perhaps someday we’ll talk about the situation like this: the Chosen father-son line has a right to hold the priesthood so that they can bless all the families of the earth, but when they aren’t found or more needs to be done than what they can do others are ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood help out in that work. Also, the Aaronic priesthood has certain men who have a right to it, but when they can’t be found or need more help, those ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood (already helping the Chosen line) can be asked to help in the Aaronic priesthood responsibilities. In the Church structure, the Melchizedek priesthood has been asked to preside and govern. There are plenty of men already ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood (all helping out the Chosen line and the Aaronic priesthood line), such that it doesn’t seem that women need to be ordained in order to help out as well. But, in missionary work, we are setting apart women to help out the men who have been asked to preach the gospel. They are not ordained to any priesthoods or offices, but they are preforming an assignment given to the Melchizedek priesthood holders. Where the one with rights isn’t available, or there aren’t enough to perform the work, more workers are gathered to help. That seems to be the pattern.

Also, we should think about the fact that all those missionaries have been to the temple and received their endowment, regardless of gender or Melchizedek priesthood. I can’t help but think of the words of the temple in all of this. I think that men and women have both been prepared, through the temple, to take over any responsibility now given to the men of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. They aren’t authorized, but they are prepared. Maybe something like the Quorum of the 12 having the Keys before Joseph died. They were already ready to take over, but weren’t authorized until he passed away. Something like that is what I have in mind with the temple blessings. So many have been blessed with the rights and abilities to do what those priesthoods do, but they aren’t authorized to do it now.

That also makes me think more about the idea that Melchizedek priesthood is actually and may always be a male priesthood, (which may be the priesthood which organizes cities and sanctifies them and takes them to Heaven – like Enoch & Melchizedek – and what Joseph and Moses tried to do). It may indeed be a “fatherly” priesthood – to be a prince of peace, etc. (Think Abraham 1, too.) What exactly then is the women’s role in that based on temple blessings? Doesn’t the temple imply some part in that Priesthood? Not sure…. The missionary situation might be a good one to think about more here. The women who serve don’t need to be ordained to do what the men who are ordained are doing. What does that imply???

Does that imply that they are performing that duty based on the rights from the blessings from the temple? That they can participate in the duties of preaching, “having a knowledge of them by the Spirit of truth” like D&C 107:70-71 explains how high priests can preform the duties of a Bishop? I have no idea, but all these are good questions I’m excited to be asking! 🙂

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3 responses to “Questions I’m excited to be asking, though I have no idea if my answers are even close! :) (More on Women & the Priesthood)

  • Kim Berkey

    Karen,

    Really interesting idea! I especially liked Ardis’ original comment about the “right of the priesthood” being something separate from “bearing the priesthood.” I’m glad I read some of those background links. Thanks!

    Reflecting on lineage and how it relates to the priesthood is interesting, too, because of Joseph Smith’s very obvious interest in lineage. Sealing was arguably understood as a way of gathering everyone into a particular lineage. He recognized the rights and blessings given to the House of Israel, but wanted to make them universal. What fascinates me, though, is that he doesn’t do this *democratically*; rather than dispensing with lineage altogether and just giving away its rights/blessings to everyone, he keeps the lineage structure in place and brings people to *it!* Not democratic, but still universal.

    Wasn’t Joseph was trying to do something similar with priesthood? He wants God’s covenant people–the priesthood order (and I do think priesthood is primarily an order, a community)–to be universal.

    And this is why I’m wary about the idea of female priesthood being little more than a stop-gap wherever men aren’t available. It doesn’t seem to fit well with the universality of Joseph Smith’s vision. It robs female priesthood of any real robustness. It doesn’t explain why Joseph wanted to make women “queens and priestesses,” etc. The language isn’t of being a queen/priestess *to others* when a king/priest is unavailable.

    Of course, I only want to push back where the temple is concerned. If we were merely talking about, say, why women’s priesthood isn’t active outside of the temple, I think this idea starts getting really interesting! Women’s priesthood isn’t active outside of the temple because it doesn’t need to be! Men have got it covered so far. And it has the perhaps-intended effect of separating gender roles and structuring the relationship between the sexes in a way that might have some benefits for the Kingdom. So that’s worth thinking about further.

    So, to respond to some of your points in detail…

    1.) You write: “I can’t help but think of the words of the temple in all of this. I think that men and women have both been prepared, through the temple, to take over any responsibility now given to the men of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods.”

    I totally agree with this. As I said above, I think your model works nicely as an explanation for why female priesthood isn’t authorized outside of the temple. It’s when you take that logic *into* the temple that I get worried.

    2.) “The missionary situation might be a good one to think about more here. The women who serve don’t need to be ordained to do what the men who are ordained are doing. What does that imply???”

    Yeah, I’m not at all sure what to do with ordination. But of course one isn’t ordained to be a missionary, only set apart. Ordination is only for the offices of the priesthood, so I guess I’m not understanding how there would *be* any implications for ordained-elders and non-ordained-sisters. Could you explain your question further?

    3.) “What I don’t like is seeing members of the church not studying what the priesthood is for and why it’s here and what’s gone on with it throughout history. It isn’t just a mark of authority within an institution. And it isn’t just a guarantee of the ability to heal someone.”

    No freaking kidding! Oh my goodness, this is one of my biggest pet peeves. There is SO much talk right now about Ordain Women and female ordination, and ZERO theological talk about the priesthood itself. What is it about Mormons that we can think this makes sense? I’m with you–we have *way* more thinking to do before we start picketing to ordain women.

    Sheesh.. Maybe you and I need to do some scripture study together on the priesthood sections of the D&C, or something. It’s clearly something you’ve thought a lot about, and I think it’s a desperately-needed project. Not to mention I’m *really* fascinated by it.

    Anyway. There are my thoughts. 🙂

  • Karen

    Thanks so much Kim!! Very very helpful. If you’re serious about doing some group project on studying Priesthood in scripture, I am so in! So the question is, how serious are you? 😉 And is there anyone else too, that might want to do this? I’ve thought about trying to get a group together and set up a blog where we could go through passages together. Something like the set up of a Mormon Theology Seminar, but without time constraints, papers, etc. I just mean the blog format itself. It would make things easier to archive etc. Thoughts?

  • Karen

    A few responses to Kim’s notes this morning –

    1) I think you are right to push back about where the temple is concerned. I was thinking 99% about Priesthood in the Church. I think I just used the temple as proof it was possible to have women performing ordinances. But I see that I implied more than just that with my post. I’ll have do to more thinking about the temple. (Thanks!)

    2) I love, love, loved the way you put this: “What fascinates me, though, is that he doesn’t do this *democratically*; rather than dispensing with lineage altogether and just giving away its rights/blessings to everyone, he keeps the lineage structure in place and brings people to *it!* Not democratic, but still universal.”

    I think you are right on. And, I think that is actually similar to what I am trying to do with women and the priesthood. Rather than dispensing with all that we already have which talk about males holding the Priesthood (scripture, Joseph Smith, temple, etc.) I am seeing where women might be brought into what is already there, or rather, where they are already within it but we’re just not seeing it clearly. That’s my little project anyway, we’ll see if it holds any water or not! 🙂

    3) That’s true that men and women aren’t ordained to preach the gospel, but when I was trying to decide whether to serve a mission or not I came across lots of talks describing missions as a “Priesthood duty” and it was “wonderful for women to help but not their duty.” I’ll have to go see what they said versus what I remember those talks saying. 🙂 Also, I wonder what the history of sister missionaries would teach us? When did it become a possibility for women to serve missions?? How was it thought of then?

    4) I wonder too about the language of D&C 25, where Emma will be ordained under Joseph’s hand to expound scripture, etc. …

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