Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Woman's Perspective on the Priesthood

On June 2nd, the bishop of our congregation asked my husband and I to speak in church. Our topics were assigned by the bishop and both were related to the priesthood. As one who was not unaware of the amazing amount of media attention on the subject, I was excited to be given another chance to speak about it. It was delivered on June 22nd.

At the request of many, I have posted our talks/sermons. This is my talk. A link to my husband's talk is here. Please note that it is geared for practicing members of the Church, as it was delivered in our main worship service. Thus, there may be things that are referred to that are not expounded further because we expect a majority of the congregation to understand many of these basics and regularly used vocabulary. Regardless of your experience with the Church, if you have any questions about what we have referenced in these posts or anything related to it, please feel free to ask in the comment section and I will be happy to clarify as I am able.



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The priesthood is the power of God. Be it on Earth below or Heaven above, the power is the same. As I’m sure we have all seen lately, there are many people who are misinformed regarding its purpose. At one point in his life, Elder Dallin H. Oaks was one of these people. He tells us the following: 

My father died when I was seven. I was the oldest of three small children our widowed mother struggled to raise. When I was ordained a deacon, she said how pleased she was to have a priesthood holder in the home. But mother continued to direct the family, including calling on which one of us would pray when we knelt together each morning. I was puzzled. I had been taught that the priesthood presided in the family. There must be something I didn't know about how that principle worked. (Source)

Elder Oaks had been misinformed as many of us have been. At that time, he believed that the priesthood could accurately be defined as “the men of the church” or “the man’s responsibility.” While he now understands much more about the priesthood than he did as a child, society hasn't quite caught up. In the name of worldly equality, an attack has been launched against the Lord’s Church, claiming that it uses its “patriarchal priesthood” to keep their women from realizing their true potential. Had this problem stemmed only from outside the church, it would have lost traction very quickly. However, there are millions of members who also do not understand how the priesthood truly functions. We find in the scriptures that when the doctrine is correctly taught, disputations either do not happen or are stopped very quickly. For so many people to be misinformed, many things have either been taught incorrectly or in a manner in which the hearer could not understand. If there is no one to explain the truth, society will always have the upper hand.

The bishop has asked me to speak on “A Woman’s Perspective on the Priesthood.” My perspective on this doctrinal topic has changed many times since I was a child. Through a series of events, it changed from “Priesthood…okay, whatever” to “Why did that priest just randomly feel the need to inform me that he holds the priesthood and I don’t?” to “Yes, sister missionaries are real missionaries even though we don’t hold the priesthood.” As an ordinance worker in the Provo temple for 2.5 years, officiating for 5 hours a week as a returned missionary, and then a newlywed, and then pregnant with my first child--a girl--left me wondering even more. Things I heard members say in church only deepened my doubts. My perspective on the priesthood as a woman in the Church wasn't looking so good.


At first, I had no desire to either search or pray for answers. It wasn't that I didn't think I would receive one. On the contrary, I knew I would. I just didn't want the answer to be something I didn't want to hear. But that couldn't last forever. I knew that I was either going to stew in doubt for the rest of my life or I had to figure this out. After much prayer, fasting, and searching, I found not only the answers to my questions, but a great deal more than I had originally asked for. 


In Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord stated that “The glory of God is intelligence” (93:36) and in Luke, he taught, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren" (22:32). I was definitely converted to the Church in general by this time in my life, but after everything I had just learned about the priesthood, I discovered that I previously did not have enough intelligence regarding that subject to allow the Spirit to fully convert me to that aspect of the Lord’s gospel. Through this conversion, I learned that a gender-specific perspective on the priesthood is exactly what the world wants; but His thoughts are not their thoughts, neither are His ways their ways. Those who prefer the ways of the world will always find something “wrong” with what the Lord does in His Church. It is our responsibility to stand above the world, not with it. When the priesthood is correctly understood, there should be only one perspective: the Lord’s, whose power it is. 


Many in the church have never had questions or concerns about the priesthood. Sheri Dew is one of those people. Although she never had questions, she quickly learned that many of those with whom she served and conversed with in her various church responsibilities did...and she didn't know how to help them. She says "I realized that a testimony of the divinity of priesthood was not enough. I needed to understand the doctrine of the priesthood" (Women and the Priesthood, pp.120-121).


Elder Oaks has spoken extensively on many principles that relate to the doctrine of the priesthood. In many of the talks he has given, he has spoken of things that are misunderstood because they are either rarely explained or because we are not accustomed to talking or thinking about certain things in terms of the priesthood. My goal for today is to talk about some of those rarely explained and “unaccustomed” things so that our perspectives can be better aligned with the Lord's perspective.


In the Church, most of our lessons that focus on the priesthood primarily reference priesthood keys and how they function. So, when we are asked about it in reference to gender, what do most of us usually say? “Well, men have priesthood and women have motherhood.” This answer is true, but it does not paint a complete picture of what the power of God is capable of.


In the temple recommend interview, there is a question regarding Sunday church attendance. What many women do not know is that church attendance is only half of this question. The complete question asks members if they attend meetings and fulfill all priesthood responsibilities. Until recently, many Bishoprics and Stake Presidencies omitted that part of the question when interviewing a woman. I can vouch for that, as I don’t ever remember being asked about how I fulfill my priesthood responsibilities. However, Bishoprics and Stake Presidencies have been informed that they are to ask the entire question to both men and women because it pertains to both genders. This may confuse people; as far as many of us are concerned, women do not have priesthood responsibilities. That’s the man’s job. Like Elder Oaks as a child, there must be something we don’t know about how the principles associated with the priesthood work.


There is a "divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood” (emphasis added, Source). Contrary to popular opinion, this does not mean that only men will have the priesthood. While I’m not a big fan of getting stuck on semantics, they are of crucial importance when it comes to understanding Church doctrine. The smallest word can completely change the meaning of something. Priesthood offices are only a small part of what the power of God is capable of. 


To expound on this, Elder Oaks spoke regarding the priesthood authority that both men and women are given when they are set apart for a calling: 
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? When a woman--young or old--is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a church organization. . . . Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds [the appropriate] priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties. (Source)
Regardless of gender, all priesthood authority to fulfill all callings in any ward is given by authorization of the one who holds the appropriate keys. That authority is then taken from them when they are released. Thus, all members of the ward who currently have a calling are exercising priesthood authority as they fulfill it. This clarifies what Joseph Smith meant when he said that the women of the Church would be organized “under the priesthood and after the pattern of the priesthood,” he did not mean “under the men and after the pattern of the men.” He meant that they would be organized “under the power of God and after the pattern of the power of God.” Thus, regardless of gender, when we are asked if we fulfill our priesthood responsibilities in a temple recommend interview, we are, in part, being asked if we fulfill our callings. This includes the call given to us by our leaders to be home and visiting teachers, as we are given stewardship over those whom we are assigned to visit. 

Another aspect of the priesthood pertains to the saving ordinances that we participate in at various points in our lives. From baptism to receiving your endowment in the temple, you are participating in priesthood ordinances and making priesthood covenants. On that note, men do not make “priesthood covenants” while women just make “covenants.” The priesthood—the power of God—applies to everyone who becomes a covenant maker and keeper. In addition, President Joseph F. Smith reminded us that “The Lord has given unto us the garments of the Holy Priesthood” (Source). The Lord has given this sacred thing to all worthy members without respect to gender or marital status. As we continually honor and keep the covenants that we have made, we continually have access to God's power. 


The priesthood is the power of God, not the men.


While many of the world’s attacks focus on the Church itself, even more attack the homes of faithful Latter-day Saints with accusations of unrighteous dominion and female subjugation, with priesthood being the culprit. Again, if this had only stemmed from outside the Church, it would have died down without a problem. But again, there are many members throughout the world who do not properly understand the roles of men and women in the home. Elder Oaks has clarified, saying, 
[The priesthood functions differently in the family and in the church.] This principle is understood and applied by the great Church and family leaders I have known, but it is rarely explained. Even the scriptures, which record various exercises priesthood authority, seldom state expressly which principles only apply to the exercise of priesthood authority in the family or in the church or which apply in both of them. (Source)
In one of his books, well-known LDS author Carlfred Broderick explained that "[If you are the president of an organization in the Church and] a decision is to be made, you will seek the opinion of your counselors and other concerned individuals. Then you will prayerfully reach a decision on the matter, and they [should] all rally around and support you because you are the president and you have the mantle of authority.” (One Heart, One Flesh, pp. 31–32). President Boyd K. Packer echoed this, saying “In the Church there is a distinct line of authority. We serve where called by those who preside over us” (Source). 

Because we are taught to take home what we learn in Church, many people, and especially converts--whose only example of priesthood authority is how it functions in the Church--use this hierarchical method at home as well. However, this is not how the priesthood is to function in the family.


We have been taught that the husband in a family is to preside. Many have concluded this to mean that the husband--the priesthood holder--is ultimately in charge. After all, that's what we see at church. But presiding in the Church and presiding in the home do not work the same way. An article in the April 2013 Ensign stated that "Contrary to scripture and the teachings of the latter-day prophets, some men and women have interpreted presiding to mean that after equal counsel, equal consent is not necessary because the presider (or husband) has the right of final say” (Source). 


Why do the Presidents--the presiders--of Church organizations have the right of final say in their presidencies, but the presider at home does not? It is because, although priesthood keys enable a man and a woman to be sealed for time and all eternity, priesthood keys do not preside in the home. Priesthood power does.  


The April 2013 article continues, 
Genesis 3:16 states that Adam is to 'rule over' Eve, but this doesn't make Adam a dictator. . . . Over in 'rule over' uses the Hebrew [word] bet, which means ruling 'with,' not ruling 'over.' . . . The concept of interdependent, equal partners is well-grounded in the doctrine of the restored gospel. Eve was Adam's 'help meet' (Genesis 2:18). The original Hebrew for meet means. . . 'equal'. [Eve] wasn't his servant or his subordinate. (Source)
As the husband in the family, a man is given the unique stewardship to "provide for, protect, strengthen, and shield [his] wife" (Source). Nowhere in that quote is it even implied that his word is law. His is a stewardship of love. That same stewardship applies to both father and mother toward their children. As Elder L. Tom Perry stated "There is not a president or a vice president in a family. . . .[The husband and wife] are on equal footing" (Source).

Lastly, I address a point of concern for many sisters who do not currently have a priesthood holder in their homes. Sheri Dew has this to say regarding the priesthood and its application to her and others in her situation:

I wince when I hear a priesthood leader say, usually in a Relief Society meeting or women's conference of some kind, "I want to leave a blessing with you, particularly for those who don't have the priesthood in their homes." . . . I do not have a priesthood bearer living in my home, but I do have access to priesthood power in my home. . . . [Not having a man in my home] does not leave me (or any other endowed woman) as defenseless and powerless as some apparently believe." (Women and the Priesthood, pp. 121)
When Elder Oaks turned 12 and received a priesthood office, why did his mother continue to preside instead? It is because, as one of the children in the family, Elder Oaks’ newly received priesthood office gave him no authority whatsoever to preside over his mother. His parents’ temple sealing for time and all eternity gave them equal stewardship and priesthood authority to preside over their children. The absence of Elder Oaks’ father did not diminish the authority and stewardship that his mother always had because she honored the covenants that she made in the House of the Lord. 

In the eternal scheme of things, the priesthood is "without father, without mother, . . . having neither beginning of days, nor end of life (Heb 7:30), nor maleness nor femaleness. It is head to them both. Male and female alike come under it and must understand their true relationship to it. . . . Men here are given the priesthood [keys], but both men and women must bring themselves into submission unto it, rather than she to him as a person. The man must assume the same relationship of honor and obedience to priesthood truths and doctrines that the woman does. That is, [the priesthood] precedes them both." (Source)

I testify that the priesthood is the power of God. Whether on Earth below or Heaven above, the power is the same. It is the power by which all things come to pass on Earth, and the eternities function under that same power. I also testify to the beautifully stated truth that “God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ are not students. They aren’t making things up as they go. They want us to become like they are. [They] are Gods. The Gap between Deity and mortal man is . . . incomprehensible to our puny, finite minds” (Sheri Dew, Women and the Priesthood, pp.78-79). I know that we are everlasting beings passing through a mortal experience and that our goal is to become like our Heavenly Parents and our Savior. Thus, it is imperative that we understand His doctrine, including the doctrine of the priesthood, and we need to understand it on His terms. I know that if we seek, we will find. If we ask, we shall receive. In doing so, pure light and knowledge will flow through us, our perspectives come into closer alignment with the Lord's, and we will be able to continue living in the world without being carefully led down the path to be of it.


5 comments:

  1. Thank you, Sarah. Wonderful talk. Very clear, well researched. I hope it can find some open ears and open hearts out there.

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    1. Thanks, Kevin. I'm happy to report that there were many people in my ward who asked for copies because it helped to clarify things for them. I hope it can help more people as well.

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  2. A great talk! I stumbled on this via a friend's link on Facebook. The only thing I still can't "square up" in my mind is that while I fully agree that priesthood in the Church and in the home are different and that in the home, as you state, both spouses are on equal footing before God, but that concept does not (at least on the surface for me) coincide with a specific covenant that women make in the Temple endowment ceremony (won't go into the details, but think about it). Why does the woman have to go through her husband to God and not directly to God himself just as her husband and as her husbands equal? Sorry if that sounds too cryptic, I don't want to divulge specifics of the temple ceremony. Any other perspectives on that would be greatly appreciated.

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    1. Hi!

      Thanks for your comment. I definitely know exactly what you're talking about. While I worked in the temple, I spent months listening to session after session and always getting hung up on that exact thing. Even from the first time I went through, that part stuck out to me. It took a few years, but have resolved it for myself and would love to share what I have learned with you, but I feel that on a public comment feed would be a little too...public for something of a sacred nature. If you would like, you can find me and send me a private message on Facebook and I can give you my thoughts there.

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    2. Just sent you a message on FB. Check your "other" folder. Look forward to hearing your perspectives. Thanks so much!

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