Thinkable priesthoods, usable pasts

What can we gather from last week’s decision from Salt Lake? The content of the Priesthood session will be made accessible in real time to anybody who wants to view it online, but the live venue will be available to men only — even, presumably, non-Priesthood-holding or -worthy men. Priesthood session, in its primary form, will remain a male-only social space. It appears that the purpose of the formerly-restricted Priesthood session was not chiefly to withhold information from women, although that was the effect, but rather to preserve a single-sex social and spiritual space.

Does this suggest anything about the nature of priesthood as an institution, beyond the logistical specifics of the conference? What happens if we map the logic of this particular decision onto the larger question of women’s ordination, which is, after all, the real meaning of the Priesthood session controversy?

Based on nothing more than amateur extrapolation, I think it unlikely that a uni-sex priesthood is in our future, with boys and girls ordained to the Aaronic priesthood as coed deacons at age twelve and men and women serving together in the Melchizedek priesthood. Gender partition and single-sex spaces are deeply entrenched in LDS history and practice. If the logic of the Priesthood session decision serves — a proposition which is nothing more than inference, I freely acknowledge — the purpose of a male-only priesthood is not chiefly to exclude women from authority, though that is of course its effect, but rather to preserve the fraternal dynamic of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods.

This doesn’t disturb me. I see value in single-sex spaces, for women and girls as well as for men and boys. Indeed, I am affirmatively grateful that the Church provides such a space for my kids: since my older daughter quit Girl Scouts last year, she doesn’t have any other girl-only activities, in or out of school. I believe that there is important learning and relating that happens best in a single-sex environment — provided, of course, that the curriculum, teachers and peers are good. I also see enormous value in gender-integrated activities, but those are plentiful for my public-schooled kids.

Yet I hate that my daughter may feel irrelevant to the church for the next decade of her life, until she becomes a missionary or a mother and identifies with the net-positive church discourse on motherhood. (Net positive in my view only, obviously, and contingent on her being fortunate to become a mother, which is not guaranteed.) For a twelve-year-old girl, there are very few ways in which she makes a necessary contribution to the church. She relates to the ward primarily as a “consumer” of instruction — not as a provider of service, teaching, or sacred ordinances. I recognize that the new youth curriculum integrates more peer teaching in an attempt to redress this problem, but in our experience that change has mostly resulted in lower quality discussions and not much more real investment.

So is there a way to preserve the fraternal character of existing priesthood quorums, and their motivating centrality to the workings of the church, while also involving women and girls in church governance, both to reinforce their connection to the institution and to raise the effectiveness of that governance at the ward level?

That question is not mine to answer, I fully recognize, and I believe that it is being prayerfully discussed by the highest leadership. What follows is a thought experiment only, an imagined alternative future, not a proposal or a demand. Take it for any inherent interest it might stimulate, but nothing more.

So here goes. What if we organized a fourth, all-female priesthood order. We currently have three orders of priesthood, Aaronic, Melchizedek and temple or patriarchal priesthoods, with different pools of ordinants and distinct functions. Each order was revealed and organized at a different stage of church history. An additional order for women and teenage girls, revealed and organized in the present day for the present needs of the church, is conceivably within the realm of possibility.

It could be called, say, the Deboric priesthood, after the Old Testament judge Deborah, just as the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods take their names from OT originators. Sure, it sounds silly and forced now, but over time the name would become naturalized into our discourse just like Aaronic and Melchizedek, which are no more inherently strange.

Logistically, this fourth priesthood order would share the duties currently performed by the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. One can imagine a number of ways to divide the duties, but one possibility would be distinct-but-interrelated roles for each quorum: that is, there would still be identifiable realms of “women’s work” and “men’s work” in church governance, with particular callings belonging exclusively to particular quorums, but male and female leadership would collaborate to coordinate the efforts of the quorums. This sort of division would provide continuity between past and present, as well as preserve the value of single-sex spaces and roles in the church — while simultaneously fully engaging women’s abilities in the work of running a ward.

For example, we could provisionally divide church governance into two kinds of service: pastoral/sacerdotal and administrative. Pastoral and sacerdotal duties, including performing ordinances, counseling, church discipline, would be performed by Aaronic and Melchizedek quorums; administrative duties, including issuing callings, overseeing curriculum, programming meetings, and budget and tithing accounting, by the Deboric order. (I’m partial to putting teenage girls entirely in charge of sacrament meeting music — something that could be done even without any kind of female priesthood, and even has doctrinal support in D&C 25. It works as a lovely complement to the boys doing the sacrament.) There are some callings that don’t obviously fall into one category, and those could be assigned arbitrarily to a particular quorum, or could form a uni-sex zone of church service, where either men or women are eligible, much as missionary service, Sunday School and Primary teaching currently function.

While I have been emphasizing continuity with the past, it is true that this particular division of duties represents a bit of a departure from history, since early LDS women are known to have performed blessings, falling firmly into the pastoral/sacerdotal category. It would make sense to revive that tradition for a female LDS order.

But I can imagine both pragmatic and spiritual rationales for assigning administrative rather than sacerdotal duties to female quorums. Conceptually, the family and the church become complementary institutions, rather than macro-microcosmic twins that they currently (and problematically!) represent. In the home, we practice one set of gender roles: women taking the lead on nurturing, men taking the lead on providing. But on the basis that Christ manifested both typically male and typically female qualities, we also need to develop other abilities as we stretch and grow to be more Christlike. Thus in the church, the male priesthood gives men opportunities to develop nurturing and cooperative skills, while the female priesthood gives women opportunities to develop administrative and leadership skills.

In one sense, of course, this sort of thought experiment makes no sense at all under typical Mormon assumptions. Priesthoods are restored and conferred by heavenly messengers, not organized by church bureaucracy. The origin narrative of a Deboric priesthood would probably be quite different from the Aaronic and Melchizedek narratives. It’s also not at all clear whether and how this could scale up to the highest quorums of leadership. Would the current Relief Society infrastructure work, if it were elevated with real administrative authority?  I’m not sure. The Presiding Bishopric is the presiding authority of the Aaronic priesthood, but it doesn’t exercise much moral leadership in the church — certainly not equal to the Quorum of the Twelve. Without integrating the Twelve, can women be brought into genuine collaboration at the highest levels? I’m not sure.

Certainly this imagined future will not satisfy some feminist critics, who believe that “separate but equal” is a pernicious fantasy. Still others will object to the particulars of the division of duties between male and female quorums I propose above — and there is indeed a risk that under any particular partition, “women’s work” would be devalued over time if it is kept separate. I think there is value in these criticisms. Nevertheless, I think single-sex priesthood orders are an intriguing way of imagining a path forward that is both true to our heritage and also capable of bringing women into church governance.


66 comments for “Thinkable priesthoods, usable pasts

  1. Very thoughtful and thought provoking, Rosalynde. Your thought experiment here is treading similar territory to an experiment I proposed in a post several months ago, although you imagine the details differently.

    Having conversations like this can help us better come to terms with how to accommodate values we’ve recently embraced (like gender equality and a gender complementarity that is compatible with equality) with longstanding practices and traditions (not just, for example, single-sex spaces, which long predate the uptake of gender equality or even complementarity in our discourse, but continuing revelation and the impulse that our acceptance of CR engenders to believe at any given point in time that what we are doing, what we’ve been doing for some time, is what we’re supposed to be doing, what we’ve been commanded to do). It is very difficult to uproot longstanding tradition, and paradoxically that can be especially true in a religious institution where the mechanism (new revelation) is so obviously present: because new revelation is always possible, we’re disinclined to consider dramatic change at this point because, if such change were really God’s will, why didn’t He change it already? But it is also very difficult to not have our values, even very deep values, shift and evolve with time. The fact is, we do understand the nature of and relationship between men and women very, very differently now than we did when LDS priesthood quorums were first organized under Joseph Smith, when D&C 132 was written, or when the patterns of priesthood and Church governance of the Old and New Testaments took shape. We understand gender differently now than we did just a couple decades ago, and those differences are not trivial. And yet we must reckon with the deep structure of our doctrine and, yes, even our culture as we contemplate change.

  2. RW: The oddity of your proposal is that in the interests of a conservative position it advances something quite a bit more radical than that which is being proposed by the folks. I wonder, however, if we couldn’t create something a bit simpler. Suppose that women were ordained to the Melch. and Aaronic Priesthoods and we simply jettisoned the Sunday School. The Sunday School meeting would now be a priesthood meeting. The RS, YM, and YW organizations would all be maintained. The YM organization would cease to be organized around the idea of priesthood. The RS organization would remain untouched. We would create a new men’s organization modeled on the RS, as an auxiliary. This actually strikes me as a preferable scenario because it places less ideological weight on some newly created structure — a Deboric priesthood — that will necessarily lack the weight and tradition of the Aaronic and Melch. priesthoods. Incidentally, those names are not as arbitrary as you suggest. It seems to me that the Restoration’s priesthood structure is in large part an expansive reading of Hebrews, which is a creative reading of Genesis and Deuteronomy. Hence, the Aaronic and Melch. are actually embedded in three levels of scriptural narrative. A new Deboric priesthood is going to feel a bit flimsy in comparison.

  3. Nate, it’s not a proposal!! :)

    You’re absolutely right that it would be simpler logistically just to ordain women to the Melchizedek priesthood, uni-sex priesthood just like the Episcopalian, male and female bishops, the works. But I think it would be more difficult to justify theologically and culturally.

  4. “Suppose that women were ordained to the Melch. and Aaronic Priesthoods and we simply jettisoned the Sunday School. The Sunday School meeting would now be a priesthood meeting. The RS, YM, and YW organizations would all be maintained. The YM organization would cease to be organized around the idea of priesthood. The RS organization would remain untouched. We would create a new men’s organization modeled on the RS, as an auxiliary.”

    That’s also a very intriguing proposal, although I’m not sure it’s less radical. My thinking here is that although the current ordination structure is universal, it is still male only, and part of not just the socialization element of priesthood service but of how we actually experience, understand, and socially construct priesthood authority is connected to its exclusivity. I’m suggesting this descriptively, not prescriptively, but the association between exclusive access (however construed in the details) and sacred power runs deep, deep in Mormonism. So while there is a kind of superficial ideological radicalism in proposing a new (female) priesthood with a new name, I’m not sure that Rosalynde’s proposal isn’t more firmly grounded in Mormonism’s existing deep structure (not so much of gender per se as of priesthood itself) than mixed gender ordination.

    (I want to make clear that this comment is intended to contribute to constructive discussion and is not meant to be dismissive or confrontational).

  5. It’s not just that it would be simpler logistically. It’s that it would actually be less theologically and rhetorically disruptive. In that sense it would be more conservative because it would involve less theological innovation. Ironically, the real innovation would occur on the male side of things. Notice that in my alternative imagined world, adult men are the only one’s who actually need a new set of institutions and practices. The next biggest changes would be seen by YM. YW and RS would remain largely untouched. I am not sure why what strikes me as a rather more conservative solution would not be easier to justify theologically and culturally. I suppose that your claim must be something like, “It would be very difficult to decouple gender identity from priesthood or ask women who have invested effort in reconciling themselves not to having the Aaronic and Melch. priesthoods to jettison those efforts as mistaken.” Perhaps. If I was simply making a prudential judgement (and I am not suggesting that this is necessarily how these sorts of changes are or should be made) it seems to me that Deboric priesthoods with shallow roots in scripture and priesthood as well as a further complicating of the way in which gender gets inscribed on the institutional structure of the church strikes me me as rather more risky.

  6. Wonderful, thoughtful post, Rosalynde. I love it, except that you had to qualify the ideas in so many ways before you said them.

    That question is not mine to answer, I fully recognize, and I believe that it is being prayerfully discussed by the highest leadership. What follows is a thought experiment only, an imagined alternative future, not a proposal or a demand. Take it for any inherent interest it might stimulate, but nothing more.

    I get the deal — Sam and I were just talking about it yesterday — but good heavens, I wish women could just talk about things without having to first prove they are utterly submissive, lest they risk being branded trouble-makers. :(

    In any case, both your idea and Nate’s are very interesting. I particularly appreciate that you note the position of girls from 12-motherhood. It can be very painful.

  7. Brad: I don’t see how exclusivity of access is diminished in the world that I imagine. Priesthood would still not be construed as a universal right. It would be limited by the laying on of hands by those in authority, lines of authority, and priesthood keys. For example, I am not sure that any Deboric priesthood gets off the ground theologically, rhetorically, or culturally without angelic visitors. A feminist reading of Judges seems kinda thin gruel compared to John the Baptist appearing on the banks of the Susquehanna.

  8. Nate, fair points. As I suggest in the piece, there are a number of different ways one could divide governance duties. I was interested in thinking through this configuration because I think it relates in interesting way to family structure and because it provides a route to women exercising real administrative authority without the dreaded “mixed gender bishopric.” But it is admittedly a baroque solution to the question. Isn’t that the Mormon way, though?

    Incidentally, I think that if Paul (or whoever wrote Hebrews) and JS were able to imaginatively re-read the Aaron and Melchizedek narratives, then an Elder Holland will do just fine imaginatively re-reading the Deborah narrative.

  9. Yeah, Nate, as I acknowledge, the origin narrative would be a potential problem. But Mormonism has always had the genius to thicken up the thinnest of ideas. Could we do it without Joseph’s mind? Don’t know.

  10. Rosalynde,

    What a remarkable, perhaps even visionary thought experiment. I’m not sure whether you intend this, but your post makes me hope for female ordination even more, for how else in the current structure could female voices such as yours have the normative power we so need them to have?

  11. “I get the deal — Sam and I were just talking about it yesterday — but good heavens, I wish women could just talk about things without having to first prove they are utterly submissive, lest they risk being branded trouble-makers. :(”

    Amen, Alison.

  12. Fair enough, but I want it canonized. I also want angelic visitors. Giving up on the laying on of hands in favor of a hermeneutically structured priesthood (priestesshood?) of believers strikes me as a rather radical break, one that would involve jettisoning much of how the authority claims of the Restoration have been structured.

  13. FWIW, I read RW’s qualifications less as a beaten woman bowing to the patriarchy than as someone who is honestly not sure if her proposal ultimately makes good sense. That kind of intellectual distances from one’s ideas strikes me as evidence of depth rather than defensiveness. Her approach seems rather similar to that taken by Adam Miller in Rube Goldberg Machines. If anything, Allison’s response strikes me as a bit patronizing.

  14. I think this conversation demonstrates that no matter how it happens, female ordination will be significantly disruptive to *some* deep theological structure of Mormonism, whether it be the nature of gender or the nature of priesthood. And that’s not even to mention the logistical changes. However, if we made it through the end of polygamy, we can probably survive the transition. I remain unsure about the long term demographics, though.

    Ronan, what kind words. I’m overwhelmed. Thank you.

  15. (And thank you, Nate, for that last comment. I was indeed aiming not for cowed submission but modest experimentation.)

  16. “That kind of intellectual distances from one’s ideas strikes me as evidence of depth rather than defensiveness.”

    In Rosalynde’s specific case, I’m definitely inclined to agree. But the fact remains that it strongly resembles a well worn cultural script for a woman to code her thoughts on such matters as “faithful.”

  17. Wait a second… this gives the women all the fun jobs (issuing callings, scheduling talks, and allocating budget) while leaving the boring jobs to men (repeating Sacrament and baptismal prayers, signing temple recommends).

  18. Brad: In such situations I’d give a speaker like RW the benefit of the doubt, rather than immediately encoding her words according to a pre-fab ideological script.

  19. Brad: Also, I don’t think that one needs to encode every nod of respect toward authority and hierarchy in gendered terms. Such nods may stem from a genuine and thoughtfully considered beliefs favoring deference toward hierarchy and authority. I have used very similar language to RW’s in discussing female ordination, and I think that I was expressing genuine beliefs rather than trying to cozy up to The Man:

    “More importantly, however, I don’t think that I have been called either by the spirit or the laying on of hands to such preaching [on female ordination], and to me that matters. To preach is to claim a kind of authority, and I do not have authority on this matter. Finally, I respect the authorities of the church and try to interpret their actions with as much charity as possible. I do not regard their current stance as doctrinally mistaken, malicious, or even, in the cosmic scheme of things, misguided.” (

    The absence of such disclaimers may simply be evidence that the speaker is mistaken about the value of deference, respect, and hierarchy, rather than evidence that one has at last entered the enlightened sunlit uplands of egalitarian self-confidence.

  20. “I think this conversation demonstrates that no matter how it happens, female ordination will be significantly disruptive to *some* deep theological structure of Mormonism, whether it be the nature of gender or the nature of priesthood. And that’s not even to mention the logistical changes.”


  21. That may all be true, but the script, particularly when it comes to gender-related topics (and especially female ordination) implicated male and female speakers differently. It’s not an argument about cozying up to the Man; it’s about differing, and unquestionably gendered, standards for what counts as “faithful.” When it comes to saying things like “it’s not my place to say this” or “I am definitely not agitating or demanding anything” the stakes, in terms of credibility and perceived faithfulness (or faithlessness) are very different for men and women.

  22. Just thought folks would want to know that the name “Deborah” is the Hebrew word for “bee” (to which “Melissa” is the Greek equivalent). It *might* be etymologically related to BoM “deseret* (as I suggest in a BCC Paper).

    Carry on…

  23. Brad: Fair enough. I suppose that I think that as we are ramping down the rhetorical pressure placed on the faithfulness of liberal women we should ramp up or maintain the rhetorical pressure placed on liberal men, at least in so far as we are talking about deference and respect for hierarchy and authority. The odd acknowledgment of such healthy respect and deference strikes me as to the good.

  24. “I suppose that I think that as we are ramping down the rhetorical pressure placed on the faithfulness of liberal women we should ramp up or maintain the rhetorical pressure placed on liberal men, at least in so far as we are talking about deference and respect for hierarchy and authority.”


  25. Nice post, and discussion.

    In the end, I’m partial to Nate’s point: unless we expand our canon to include more women prophets and narratives, I’d think it more contiguous with our past to expand the current, (male-named) priesthoods across gender lines, like it was expanded across racial lines.

  26. Great post, RW. I had been chewing on similar ideas but hadn’t posted yet (you scooped me!), so I’ll cut-and-paste what I have here:

    I thought it would be interesting to think about these scenarios:

    (1) President Monson announces that gender will no longer be a relevant category in Mormon thought. All worthy women will be ordained, all callings will be equally open to men and women, etc. No more RS or EQ or HP–just adult third hour meetings.


    (2) President Monson announces that time has come to restore the female half of the priesthood. Young women will be ordained to the Miriamic Priesthood, which will have three offices, Deaconesses, Teacheresses, and Priestesses. They will have various duties, largely based on responsibility for music and ushering. Adult women can be ordained to the Zipphoraic Priesthood, which will perform blessings for women before childbirth, preside over the Relief Society, etc. All offices and callings currently held by men will have a female counterpart, including calling the General RS President the Prophetess.


    (3) President Monson announces that the male-only priesthood will continue, but all limitations on women not directly related to it will be done away with. So, for example, women can be Sunday School Presidents, Ward Clerks, etc. They will be able to give blessings, etc.


    (4) President Monson announces that women will be ordained to the priesthood in 30 years and that we are living in a preparatory time to that event.

    What I was interested in but hadn’t had time to flesh out yet was how these various scenarios would impact our rhetoric about gender–(1) gets rid of all of it, (2) would majorly reify it, etc.

    In terms of what is easiest to accommodate theologically, it should be super-easy to have women give blessings–huge 19C precedents for that.

    There is great scriptural precedent for women to take the lead in music and, especially, theological innovation via music–at the risk of tooting my own horn:

    It would be really fun to prohibit men from doing anything musical . . then men could complain about how they aren’t allowed to ever have their own meetings without a woman there to play and conduct the music ;)

  27. Love your thoughts here. This is one of the first posts of all that I’ve read over the past few weeks that effectively articulates thought of a priestesshood as distinct from priesthood, a thought that has been severely under-explored in my opinion in all the hullabaloo of the Ordain Women movement and the conversation they’ve started.

  28. I love this – I love that the question of ordaining women is opening up this space where really interesting theology happens. To me this is the paradox of the church espousing “continuing revelation” while seeming so static. But what you are talking about is a new thing under the sun, cradled in a young religion that claims restoration of lost and ancient truths. I am solidly for the Ordain Women movement and will always find separate but equal spheres too problematic to endorse but you opened up a whole new vision of what that could look like and it does give me pause. So thank you.

  29. Just one comment. Can someone review section 84 regarding seeing the face of God and living only if one has the priesthood, and tell me whether or not women have seen God’s face?

  30. @Mark: Joseph Smith saw God without the priesthood and lived. It seems that the priesthood required was exercised by God himself.

    I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the patriarchal order of the priesthood (aka the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God, aka the fulness of the Melchizedek priesthood). Two orders operate in the Church (the Aaronic and, as I call it, the administrative Melchizedek). The patriarchal order of the priesthood operates in families and in the eternities, and is promised to the endowed in the temple and, I think it safe to say, is also formally ordained upon its recipients there).

  31. Nooooooooooooooooo! I have serious issues with the whole separate but equal thing. This feels like a step backwards, where women will be forever imprisoned.
    I’m a whole lot more comfortable with Nate’s suggestion.

  32. From the OP “I’m partial to putting teenage girls entirely in charge of sacrament meeting music”
    Hollow laugh, given how I’ve seen that play out recently… a lot of tussles with the presiding officer…

    Also #26, can we leave the music to those who actually know something about it… regardless of gender… who often aren’t presiding…

  33. Julie, really great comment. I love all the interesting scenarios you put out there — especially the thought about a delayed-start. Is there any precedent in church history for a revelation of that nature, where the revealed commandment is to be fulfilled at the end of some prescribed time? (There’s the end of polygamy, of course, which took many decades, but it wasn’t really intended to drag on so long…)

    crazywomancreek, thanks for the kind comment. There’s room for all kinds.

  34. Rosalynde, would you count the awareness of the BoM prophets that they are keeping the law of Moses until Christ comes?

  35. Irenaeus:

    Forgive me if I misunderstood your comment… But the endowment and temple marriage are steps. Neither is the final step. Even combined, they are NOT the fulness of the priesthood ordinance.

    Relax. There never will be separate but equal in the church. But we will always have “different and valued roles.” How can limited mortal minds really evaluate “equality” in life or eternity? It seems that so many are so focused on “equality” that anything that smacks of separate or different causes consternation. Men and women are inherently different. We should focus on what God wants.

    Julie (#23): The most likely scenario is #3. And that isn’t very likely.

  36. I enjoyed reading this post and comments because I look forward to the day when women will hold the Priesthood, and I welcome any exploration on the topic. However, I would resist any effort to make the Priesthood for women substantially different than that for men. I think that women simply ought to be able to participate in an truly equal manner in church settings. For me, there are (at least) four lines of support for this:

    1. Women have participated in Priesthood ordinances in the Temple for some time now.

    2. The preface to “Official Declaration 2” starts with this: “The Book of Mormon teaches that ‘all are alike unto God,’ including ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female’ (2 Nephi 26:33).” So there it is, staring us in the face on an official declaration regarding the Priesthood that just as black and white, or bond and free are alike before God, so are men and women. It is almost as if our church leaders are daring us to make the jump.

    3. President Hinkley said in conference, only a few years ago that “Missionary Work is a Priesthood Responsibility.” Now that young women are answering the call in droves, then it follows that they are earning their right to be equals in church government, control, doctrine, leadership; in short, in every aspect.

    3. My own personal experience that women are in general equal to men, and that “innate” differences between genders are more due to individual differences and socialization than real, deep, un-created, differences. Just my opinion.

  37. “I think this conversation demonstrates that no matter how it happens, female ordination will be significantly disruptive to *some* deep theological structure of Mormonism, whether it be the nature of gender or the nature of priesthood. And that’s not even to mention the logistical changes.”

    I may not be as well-versed in our history as I should be, but given my temple-going experience and my surface familiarity with Nauvoo-era priesthood theology, I don’t know that I necessarily agree with this statement. I think a shift to something like what Nate Oman proposes above is very much conceivable within the realms of our current theology (though perhaps not our culture…). In fact, I think that is already our current theology, in a sense, though it’s not elaborated.

    I also like Rosalynde’s proposal, though, as well as Julie Smith’s #2, as each preserves and even expands upon the role of gender in our theology, which I admit to appreciating.

  38. I also want to query re: a reference in the original post. Rosalynde, you refer to a third order of the priesthood as the temple or patriarchal priesthood. As I understand it, the separateness of that priesthood as a distinct order is somewhat controversial. In other words, isn’t this “patriarchal” priesthood actually the same thing as the Melchizedek Priesthood, i.e. the Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God? (Scare quotes because I view “patriarchal” as a misnomer by omission… it is filial, yes, but both patriarchal and matriarchal.) I see it that way, and understand the implication of that to be that women are in fact ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood in the temple ceremony. However, for whatever reasons (among others, perhaps the untimely death of the Prophet Joseph Smith), that fact has little effective ritualistic or administrative significance outside of the temple at present.

    In any event, this seems to lend further support to Nate Oman’s suggestion that “ordaining” women to the Melchizedek Priesthood would not in fact be that theologically disruptive. All that would be necessary would be to authorize women to perform the functions of a priesthood to which they are already ordained. Of course, there would still be points of incoherence (again, arguably due to the artifice of a priesthood theology whose ongoing evolution was interrupted by the Prophet’s death): e.g. arguably men should not be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood outside of a temple context…

  39. I like Julie Smith’s additional “scenarios” and thought I’d throw out another.
    (5) President Monson announces that gender will no longer be a relevant category in Mormon thought. All worthy women will be ordained, all callings will be equally open to men and women, etc. YW and RS quorums (deaconesses, teachers, priestesses, elders, high priestesses) will continue to run parallel to current YM and EQ/HP quorums. Members of Bishoprics, Stake Presidencies, High Councils, Apostles and First Presidency will be called from both HP quorums (or Elders to be made High Priests) and from among the High Priestesses of the Relief Society (or Elders to be made High Priestesses).


    (5a) as above, but rather than opening bishoprics and stake presidencies to priesthoodholders from both male and female quorums, setting Elders Quorum and Relief Society Presidencies (at ward) and Stake High Priest Quorum and Stake Relief Society Presidencies as co-equal presidencies with stewardship of the men and women respectively in the wards and stakes.

    In this scenario, the current spiritual role of bishops would be done by the Elders Quorum Presidency and Ward Relief Society Presidency (such as interviews, callings, counselling, worthiness), while the actual calling of bishop (two bishops; one president of priests and priestess quorums respectively) will be to oversee the ward welfare committee, in line with its role over the temporal well being of the church.

  40. Lots of great ideas. But not one is based in doctrine or scripture. So basically this has been a fun exercise in creative fantasy writing, creating a religion or church that doesn’t exist now, nor will it ever exist.

  41. Interesting ideas Rosalynde. But I don’t really foresee any change in the near future. What faithful agitation there is in favor of women having the priesthood appears small. Furthermore many of the faithful agitators are often borderlanders and often tend to leave the church after a period of time. Most of the LDS rank and file seem satisfied with the status quo. The leadership fears that allowing women to be ordained to the priesthood would rupture the status quo and would be more costly to the core membership than beneficial.

    The circumstances were much different with blacks and the priesthood, largely because of 1) the civil rights movement in the US and 2) missionaries in Brazil who were constantly confronted with the inconvenient issue of having to ask about people’s racial backgrounds and discouraged to teach people with African ancestry, often even if they were willing to listen to them.

  42. Rosalynde, I’m very sorry if my statement offended you. I loved the post and the ideas.

    In the church generally I think women always have to qualify what we say. I’m glad to hear that you did not feel the NEED to qualify your ideas so much in order to maintain your standing. But I think if you hadn’t, I suspect you would have received much more pushback.

    You said yourself the question isn’t even yours to answer. There are a whole heck of a lot of Mormons who don’t even think it’s yours to ask.

    We can’t ask questions, propose changes, proclaim much of anything. As I listened to the general RS meeting I was struck, again, by how much of the womens’ talks were quoting men — and women are almost never quoted — because it’s what the men say that carries weight. It’s what men say that is authoritative. Women, on the other hand, can (and are) accused of seeking position and trying to elevate themselves if they speak FOR themselves. (I dare say even CS Lewis is probably quoted more than any given women in the church.)

    While I sincerely believe a great deal of church leadership inspired, I’ve also been in enough ward councils to be disabused of the idea that God personally poofs every position into existence. In other words, callings almost always have a very practical basis. Who is a true believer? Who will show up? Who will follow through? Etc.

    Part of the equation — as far as women go — is generally, “Who will toe the line?” or “Who will defend the status quo?” You don’t have very many openly radical feminists on the general Relief Society board.

  43. Do woman have the ability, talent, capacity, time, education, experience, and heart to serve leadership positions in the church that have been assigned to men? OF COURSE they do! Are women lessor because they are not asked to serve in certain leadership positions? OF COURSE NOT! Can a man influence a child in the same way as his/her mother? NO! Can he still love, provide, protect, teach, influence his children? OF COURSE, but not the same way as a mother can! No matter how hard men work to change the natural capacities as a woman, they won’t be able to change what God created. Why is it then that men are called to serve in capacities that women are not asked to serve? ASK the PERFECT ONE, it is His church. If more people would follow the pattern of prayer and communication with God they would not be asking mortal men to answer a question only a Perfect God knows the answer. In an attempt to demonstrate love, respect, and care, mortal men attempt to explain what God has put in place, and they fall short. Bottom line, stop the contention…spend time asking God, your heart will be filled with what you need.

  44. Suleiman – Let me introduce you to this great thing called the Doctrine and Covenants. Because guess what – everything we’ve talked about (deacons, teachers, high priests, quorums, first presidencies, etc.) all were once not doctrinal and not scriptural. Until we added to the doctrine and added to the scriptures.

    Indeed, given that there is no explicit scripture that limits priesthood to men, it would technically only be a change in practice to start ordaining women tomorrow, directly into the exist quorums. The only choice would be whether to continue the merger of YM with Aaronic quorums and whether to change when Relief Society meets, so that women elders and high priests wouldn’t have to choose between two overlapping meetings.

    Which is why the Ordain Women movement is actually the simplest answer, as Nate Oman said earlier. We only really need to change how we organize our Sunday services.

  45. It gives me great comfort to know that God is so dependent on the rise social causes celebres that swirl around this earth to inform Him as to just what He should do to assist in the direction of His Son’s Church. Evidently, all of these conundrums of alleged inequalities never occurred to Him throughout all eternity. Fortunately, His mortal children are on that and eager to help Him rectify His egregious oversight. Isaiah 55:8-9

  46. It is wonderful to see women here faithfully, creatively, openly exploring theological possibilities. And I’ve personally enjoyed thinking through those you’ve raised.

  47. @Old Man (#35):

    Forgive me if I misunderstood your comment… But the endowment and temple marriage are steps. Neither is the final step. Even combined, they are NOT the fulness of the priesthood ordinance.

    At the least, I believe you misunderstood my point (or we might have a substantive disagreement, not sure). I never claimed that the endowment and temple marriage (in and of themselves) are the fulness of the Melchizedek priesthood. I stated that the fulness of the Melchizedek priesthood is promised to those faithful temple-goers who eventually become recipients of the fulness of the priesthood there (both men and women). It may not happen in this life for most people, but that it can happen is clear (to me, at least). I’d suggest it’s closely related to being brought back into the presence of God (such as the Brother of Jared and many others).

    A great summary was given by Ezra Taft Benson at the Logan Temple Centennial in 1984. The Ensign published the talk as

    “What I Hope You Will Teach Your Children about the Temple”

    When our Heavenly Father placed Adam and Eve on this earth, He did so with the purpose in mind of teaching them how to regain His presence. Our Father promised a Savior to redeem them from their fallen condition. He gave to them the plan of salvation and told them to teach their children faith in Jesus Christ and repentance. Further, Adam and his posterity were commanded by God to be baptized, to receive the Holy Ghost, and to enter into the order of the Son of God [or “the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God” — I think we mistake “the order of God” (it is often shortened in various ways when discussed in scripture and gives a whole new light when read in that light; e.g., Alma 13) with being ordained to what I have called the administrative Melchizedek priesthood which operates in the Church, not in the family, and is not the fulness of the priesthood].

    To enter into the order of the Son of God is the equivalent today of entering into the fullness of the Melchizedek Priesthood, which is only received in the house of the Lord.

    Because Adam and Eve had complied with these requirements, God said to them, “Thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity.” (Moses 6:67.)


    How did Adam bring his descendants into the presence of the Lord?

    The answer: Adam and his descendants entered into the priesthood order of God. Today we would say they went to the House of the Lord and received their blessings.

    The order of priesthood spoken of in the scriptures is sometimes referred to as the patriarchal order because it came down from father to son.

    But this order is otherwise described in modern revelation as an order of family government where a man and woman enter into a covenant with God—just as did Adam and Eve—to be sealed for eternity, to have posterity, and to do the will and work of God throughout their mortality.

    I think those who look for “equality” in the priesthood in the administrative Melchizedek are looking way beyond the mark. It’s not going to be found there.

  48. Ireneaus, I agree with you that the fullness of the Melchizedek priesthood is not gender segregated, and is received through the endowment, and is really a different animal from what you’re calling the administrative Melchizedek priesthood. For this reason, I think that arguments for women’s ordination to the administrative priesthood based on historical statements about sisters enjoying the fullness of the priesthood are largely missing the point. But accepting all that, I’m a bit puzzled by your last statement that gender equality is not going to be found in the administrative priesthood. What doctrinal reason does that provide for a gender segregated administrative priesthood? Put differently, the way I see it, the fact that the order of the priesthood (or the fullness of the priesthood) is not gender segregated does not prove that the administrative priesthood should be gender segregated any more than it proves that the administrative priesthood should not be gender segregated.

  49. There is something about men gushing about how wonderful it is to finally see women talking about theology that makes me uncomfortable. It seems to me that the most positive and respectful response is to simply engage the ideas and discuss them on the merits without lachrymose male-friends-of-feminism rhetoric. I understand that the folks who talk this way intend to be supportive and positive, and I respect their thinking and their motivations. Still, it makes me uncomfortable, like prefacing ones response to an Black thinker by noting that they are a credit to their race and remarking on how wonderful it is to finally see Black people thinking before one engages the ideas.

  50. I am truly ecstatic about the change in the broadcasting rules. Let all women listen and see live the priesthood session. Before they had to wait hours to have it in recorded form … but no longer! Surely this means that priesthood ordination is right around the corner

  51. So happy that they are finally broadcasting priesthood to the world. Now everyone can see that what they really talk about isn’t necessarily what they post on the internet and in the Ensign. And we get it two hours quicker! We will overwhelm them with the number of sisters wanting to get a seat in the conference center, thus disrupting the whole program, that will show ’em not to mess with us. We will make certain that they know if they don’t give us the priesthood the way we want it we will make their lives miserable. So glad the media will be there so we can voice our criticism of those we say we sustain. In fact, forget the dress, I am showing up in pants and a bright purple tie, that is certain to get someones attention. That way if I don’t have a ticket I can volunteer to seat modestly in the aisle. They can’t say no to that. One more thing, make certain you get a MALE babysitter, this will create more seats for us and enable the young women of the church to join us. Don’t you think they ought to provide a nursery for this session? With all of this, we will prove to the world that we should be trusted to run on of the fastest growing religions in the world. We know how to get results. These are the best tactics known by all who want change. Follow our lead. And yes I know that God lives, I believe that our Savior is Jesus Christ and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. (Just ignore my contentious behavior).

  52. Having a hard time getting passed this, “was not chiefly to withhold information from women, although that was the effect”.

    When you wilfully misrepresent a Priesthood meeting, why should we consider your ideas on how to reform the thing you misrepresent at the outset. The effect is and was not to withold information… It has been online for a few years now. Probably within minutes of the meeting as I recall coming home one year saying to my wife “you gotta listen to this talk…” and we did. Not to mention it was in the Ensign, a magazine mostly read by women, if my demographic hunches are right (rarely hear a man quote an ensign article).

    I try to square the otherwise fine, innovative content of this post, with the direct and personal warning recently given to me (and others generally) at a Priesthood leadership meeting by an Apostle that there are a lot of innovations people are seeking to add to the church to change it into their own church rather than the Lord’s church.

    I wouldn’t invite you to repent because it would be seen as terrible to suggest you’re off the beaten path and need to come back in these parts. And more importantly it seems like this is really just a thought experiment imprudently published (what purpose does it serve to increase yours or others discipleship). Still impudence is probably the fault of most comments (this) and articles online.

    I think it’s fair to counter to this thought – what do you want to become, what’s the purpose of this life, have you reached a ceiling where further light is necessary as progress is stunted, how will this bless or enable you to progress eternally in ways you can’t now. We have the gift of the Holy Ghost, the gifts of the Spirit available to us. That alone is a miracle, taken for granted, but even more we have the blessings of the Endowment, the assurance of temple Covenants and eternal progress.

    All that being said, part of me would like God to just give all the progressives what they want so we can get on with the work of salvation that seems to be left in perpetual idle while we are questioning and positing instead of acting on what we have. If it (change) doesn’t come, unfortunately the assumption seems to be not that God does not see the changes as necessary or beneficial for our growth, but just that more patience or innovations is needed as we seek to change the structures around us to enable progress. In this we can risk (if we don’t tread lightly) a subtle denial of the Atonement, as it’s the Atonement that changes and enables us, not the structures. The only thing holding our eternal progress back is us.

  53. Hold on: you “hate that my daughter may feel irrelevant to the church for the next decade of her life” . . . You need to move to my ward! The Young Women in my ward are as active in Service and Charity as the boys – if not more so. Our young women are not idle in good works. The only girls who are irrelevant are … well, none of them are, and they don’t need the priesthood to serve. Unenbumbered by the bureaucracy aspect of the priesthood, they spend their time helping people. Yes, you really need to move to my ward if you think your daughter is somehow inferior without some sort of ordination.

  54. A few days ago, my husband gave our 5-year-old a blessing since he was sick. When I said family prayer the next day, he asked “is this a blessing?” He wanted to know if a blessing was “better” than a prayer, and why I couldn’t give him a blessing. Curious how the rest of you would answer.

  55. If my child asked me this, I would say, no, it’s not better than a prayer. Both work by faith, and love. A blessing is just one additional way to show our love for him and our faith that God can heal him.

    Further, I would explain that his father and I share the priesthood power that his dad used to bless him (since we have been sealed in the temple). It’s dad’s “job” to lay his hands on his head and say the blessing, but the blessing comes from both of us, through the power God has given us as we lead our family as a dad (patriarch) and a mom (matriarch).

    If he’s a particularly inquisitive and sagacious youngster, I would share this quote from Elder Ballard’s talk in the April 2013 General Conference as support for my explanation:

    In our Heavenly Father’s great priesthood-endowed plan, men have the unique responsibility to administer the priesthood, but they are not the priesthood. Men and women have different but equally valued roles. Just as a woman cannot conceive a child without a man, so a man cannot fully exercise the power of the priesthood to establish an eternal family without a woman. In other words, in the eternal perspective, both the procreative power and the priesthood power are shared by husband and wife. (emphasis added)

    If he asks why it’s dad’s “job” and not mine, then I’d say, I don’t really know. That’s just the way we’re taught to do it for now. In the past, moms sometime gave blessings, and in the future, they might do so again.

    I might even say that I could also give him a blessing, if his father and I agreed that I should do so, or if his father couldn’t be there to give him a blessing for whatever reason.

    If I were in a particularly frank or contrarian mood, I might even say that the only reason I “can’t” give him a blessing is because I’m too chicken to go against the unwritten order of things. (Does Handbook 1 or any other official church policy actually prohibit women from giving/participating in healing blessings, particularly for their own children? Wait, wait, don’t tell me… someday I may get the guts up to give my own child a blessing, and better to ask forgiveness than permission. ;)

  56. Rosalynde, love your thought experiment. After several years with teenage sons, I’m now a young women’s leader. It’s been rough to observe the huge disparity between the sense of leadership, accountability, importance, and relevance the young men feel through their priesthood service and, as you say, the irrelevance of young women in existing church structures. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future brings.

  57. I strongly believe my prayers on behalf of my children are as full of God’s power as my husband’s formally annointed blessings for the healing of the sick. Unfortunately, instruction about formal blessings in church has (in my experience) taken the form of “If prayers of faith have not been sufficient, call on the brethren for a priesthood blessing..” which definitely implies a greater power resides in the formal blessing of the sick. So the next conundrum is if a father’s (or, in substitute, “Elder’s” blessing isn’t “better” than a mother’s prayer, why assign anyone to give blessings by the laying of hands/ through formal “priesthood power”? And what of efficacious prayers of faith of good people not of our religion? It almost make the “explanation” about men “needing” more formal assignments to turn their focus outward (against natural, human instinct) seem the only possibility!

  58. What I would like to see is a similar level of creative and careful thought exerted on what we actually have been given. As Sister Stephens pointed out a few minutes ago in General Conference (Saturday morning session), when men and women go to the temple to receive their endowments, “they are endowed with the same power. This is by definition priesthood power.” Of course, the details of this process and its significance are not appropriate to discuss in any depth on a weblog like this. She is basically referring more briefly to the same general point Irenaeus has been making (#35, 48). What she says should be no surprise to temple-going church members, though it is nice to have her mention it in conference, for us to refer to here.

    So, it seems to me we have been given a pattern for the priesthood that involves both men and women. Exactly how we should understand what we have been given, and what more might be implicit in the message that we have yet to draw out into practice, is an area that deserves further study. It also probably calls for a much more developed temple culture, with more formal and informal discussions and gatherings to study and assimilate the messages of the temple.

  59. It takes a long time for what has been given to be heard, made sense of, and replace incomplete and downright wrong ideas we’ve had and promulgated in our noble but feeble attempts to understand. I love hearing changes in how church leaders talk about priesthood and even (by extension) the nature of our Heavenly Parents and what eternal life entails (of which we really know so very little). But I still get reactions (usually of surprise and a little bit of trepidation?) when I make linguistic changes (in church classes) that reflect these new understandings, even when we merely include examples of women in the scriptures and church history and the teaching of female church leaders in our talks, lessons, and discussion. As just one example, I’ve seen very little use of the new RS manual, which was presented not just to the women, but to the entire church as a resource to encourage greater understanding of women’s roles and contributions. I’d venture a guess that my experience here is not an outlier.

  60. what a beautiful vision you have, Rosalynde. thanks for sharing it.

    btw, i don’t think “Deboric priesthood” sounds funny at all. also, in my experience women are typically the chief nurturer *and* the chief administrator in modern Mormon households.

  61. @ Ben H #61

    It also probably calls for a much more developed temple culture, with more formal and informal discussions and gatherings to study and assimilate the messages of the temple.

    i don’t think it’s your place to propose such a policy change with doctrinal implications. what i’d like to see is a similar level of creative and careful thought exerted on what you actually *have* been given.

  62. Another possible scenario in this thought experiment: Following a pattern of checks and balances *vaguely* similar to the structure of the government of the U.S.,and as a result of revelation directly from The Lord, the Melchizedek Priesthood could be divided into (male) administrative and (female) judicial branches. Representatives of the ancient Priestesshood (Deborah? Eve? Sarah?) might return to confer the Priestesshood upon mortals. At the general level, there would then be two quorums of apostles, each with its own presidency. Perhaps each quorum would be responsible for receiving revelation on the appointment of new members to the other quorum, similar to presidential appointment of Supreme Court justices in the U.S., but bi-directional. Both branches would occupy the same hierarchical level, and each would have power of veto over the other, though its use would be extremely rare. Both would preside (yes, a man and a woman can both preside at the same time… see any truly great marriage) providing a powerful, righteous model for married couples. The presidents of both quorums would preside at general conference combined sessions.

    At the local level, each ward would have a Judge and a Bishop. Both would preside. The bishop would take care of most administrative tasks and individual pastoral care for male members, while the Judge would cover temple recommend interviews, church discipline, and individual pastoral care for female members. The Priesthood would retain responsibility for salvific ordinances, though Priestesshood could step in where no Priesthood is available, while the Priestesshood would attend to most individual blessing and anointing needs, though the Priesthood could fill in if desired. Ward finances would be worked out jointly. With reguard to blessings within families, married couples would be encouraged to bless each other, and to bless their children jointly… the hands of both mother and father being placed upon the heads of their children to call down the blessings of heaven.

    I could go on and on… this hypothetical scenario is so lovely to me. Sister missionaries going throughout the world, using their Priestesshood to pronounce blessings upon the heads of all who stand in need of a blessing, and who desire to receive one. Brother missionaries continuing to use their Priesthood to baptize and confirm. Temple weddings performed by not just one elderly man, but by elderly couples, called as sealers together. Working out the logistics of such a vast scenario would be a delight, whether formed mostly by The Lord Himself, or by others who would then bring the plan before The Lord for His approval. Such a scenario would not diminish the male Priesthood, because it would remain a critical part of the whole, reinforcing the idea that, “neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in The Lord.” Each could function on its own in a pinch, but wouldn’t operate with its full possible strength.

  63. I do like the idea of a separate name for the female Priesthood, so we needn’t refer to a Priestesshood, which, to many ears, would sound too non-Christian, and it’s important not to have an argument where there doesn’t need to be one. So we have the Deboric Priesthood, and let’s have them meet separately from their brothers, except perhaps in an opening exercise, to not only allow for the ever-present announcements, but allow the young (and older) brethren to get accustomed to their sisters in priesthood service. Their classes and discussions will remain separate, and the opening service can be planned in three-month blocks, making a yearly schedule for that. The Sacrament can be done either by both groups together or again, by three-month blocks, but this really has to depend on how many young members are in the younger Deboric and Aaronic PH groups to do it, and it may be best for the leaders of each group to do assignments with equal numbers from each quorum and two alternates to account for absentees. Serving together is the best way to allow both to understand that their Heavenly Parents value all their children equally, and see their contributions equally. And my personal opinion is, if this were begun now, it would go a long way towards being a bright beacon in a world where young men and young women would see one another as people first. (Off soapbox now with last sentence.) I do think, as far as who gets to be Bishop, etc., if there are interviews, and there is a choice in gender in the bishopric, it should be the same gender as the interviewed person. If there is no choice, the same question should be asked as is asked at the MD’s office–would you like someone with you? Ditto SP’s office. IMO, of course.

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