Elder Oaks on Women, Priesthood, and the Temple

There is a lot that could be said about Elder Oaks’ conference talk about the relationship of women to the priesthood. In this post, I’m going to look at just one issue: the relationship of women, priesthood, and the temple.

 Oakland_Temple_fountain (1)So here is what Elder Oaks had to say on the subject:

With the exception of the sacred work that sisters do in the temple under the keys held by the temple president, which I will describe hereafter, only one who holds a priesthood office can officiate in a priesthood ordinance.

The syntax of that sentence is a little complex, but I am pretty sure that what he is saying here is this: in the temple, women officiate in priesthood ordinances.

This is a very important idea. It is not frequently discussed in the church, especially in official outlets. I’m hard-pressed to think of a recent, official statement that states this idea so precisely.  I think a lot of discussions of women and priesthood suffer from the fact that many people (myself included) are often hesitant to talk about what women do in the temple and how that work should impact our thinking about the relationship of women and the priesthood. If we are going to follow Elder Oaks and feel comfortable saying publicly that women officiate in priesthood ordinances in the temple, then we’ve really changed the terms of the debate. “Why don’t Mormon women have the priesthood?” is no longer the question. The questions are:

* Why do Mormon women officiate in priesthood ordinances inside of the temple but not outside of the temple?

* Given that the temple is our most sacred space, what should we conclude from the fact that women officiate in priesthood ordinances in the temple?

More important than reframing the conversation, however, is the impact that public recognition of women’s temple-based ordinance officiation should have on our apologetics for our male-only non-temple priesthood. All of those theories about women being more spiritual than men, women having motherhood instead of the priesthood, men having some lack that the priesthood compensates for, men’s and women’s different essential attributes, appeals to the eternal order, appeals to scripture, etc., should be re-examined in light of the realization that they do not apply within the walls of the temple.

There’s one loose end here: while Elder Oaks seems to me to be saying that women officiate in priesthood ordinances in the temple, he later quotes Joseph Fielding Smith (then President of the Quorum of the Twelve):

While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, it has not been conferred upon them, that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. … A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord. They have authority given unto them to do some great and wonderful things, sacred unto the Lord, and binding just as thoroughly as are the blessings that are given by the men who hold the Priesthood.

I think President Smith is here saying that women have a certain kind of authority that is other-than priesthood authority and this is what they use to officiate in the temple. In fact, the material that was in the quote that Elder Oaks has replaced with ellipses is “Authority and Priesthood are two different things.” I think Elder Oaks sees all authority as priesthood authority:

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?

Elder Oaks and President Smith seem to disagree here. (And maybe on a semantic matter as well: compare footnote 7 and footnote 11.) I’m cool with that; I don’t expect complete univocality from church leaders. I think it might indicate that we have a lot of work left to do on separating and thinking about the strands of priesthood, authority, keys, power, and blessings. I’m glad that Elder Oaks advanced the conversation in this talk. We’ve heard a lot in the past the line that “women have access to all of the blessings of the priesthood,” which, to me, is a terrible response to the issue, for reasons that I won’t go into here. Elder Oaks has done one better by showing how women have access to (some of) the authority and power of the priesthood, if not the keys. There’s a lot more that could be said about that aspect of his analysis, but that’s a topic for another post.

Note: I’m not willing to go any farther than Elder Oaks did in discussing the temple, and so I’ll delete comments that, in my opinion, say too much about the temple just as soon as I see them.


44 comments for “Elder Oaks on Women, Priesthood, and the Temple

  1. Can I love how much I see this as a bridge talk? One that isn’t quite sure where they are going, but one that bridges (in some problematic ways, I admit) mid-20th century priesthood rhetoric with today’s rhetoric.

  2. I’m curious why he changed he handbook definition of the priesthood: “Priesthood keys are the authority God has given to priesthood [holders] to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood on earth.” versus the handbook: “Priesthood keys are the authority God has given to priesthood leaders to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood on earth.”

  3. As you note, there’s a lot of interesting things to discuss about Elder Oak’s talk. Sticking to the issue you highlight here, I’ll add to your long list of folk theories for why things are the way they are that do not fit comfortably with Elder Oaks’ comments. A very common sentiment I hear expressed is that there is some absolute metaphysical barrier to women’s operating with the priesthood. God can’t square a circle, and neither can God give women priesthood. This idea is hard to maintain in light of the temple anyway, though one can try and make a JSFian distinction to salvage it. One cannot, however, take on board an Oaksian view and maintain this theory. If women now have the authority to officiate priesthood ordinances in the temple, and formerly had the authority to officiate priesthood ordinances outside of the temple, then there is no inherent metaphysical barrier – just as there is no scriptural barrier – to their doing so in our day.

    May we live to be worthy of that something more that Pres. Kimball – and more recently Sister Burton – have alluded to.

  4. On one occasion when Elder Bednar taught in our ward, he stressed that women have authority, when called to lead the Relief Society, but they don’t have keys. His focus on ‘keys’ struck me at the time and has caused me to ponder on that. In a discussion with a counselor in our Stake Presidency, he explained that he doesn’t hold any keys either as a counselor — everything he does is under the direction/authorization of the Stake President who holds ‘the keys’ of administering for the the stake. So, when a sister in the temple says, ‘having been authorized’ she is clarifying that while she doesn’t hold the keys necessary for the ordinance to be administered, the temple president does and he has both set her apart and authorized her work.

  5. I have been pondering this quote as well Julie. What I keep coming back to is, “why can’t the ‘exception’ be expanded to other ordinances?” If women perform some temple ordinances (initiatories) under the keys of the temple president, then why can’t they perform others (proxy baptism, confirmation, etc) as well? Seems like the authority would be the same. Moreover, why not authorize sister missionaries to baptize their coverts under the mission president’s keys, or authorize laurels to administer the sacrament under the bishop’s keys? The same principle should be in effect for these ‘lower’ ordinances as for the ‘higher’ ordinances of the temple that sisters are already authorized to perform.

  6. I had a hard time making sense of this talk. When he says women have authority of the ph in our callings, does authority mean that we have power of ph to act or does authority just mean we have permission. It just seemed to go around in circles. I don’t have much more clarity than I had before the talk. Very frustrating.

  7. Julie, I appreciate your insights into this. While I heard all sorts of strutting and ground stomping about how Oaks gave the “final word” on the priesthood matter, I simply can’t make heads nor tails of it.

    My questions are the same as those already addressed above. It was kind of a “you don’t need it because you already use it, but you don’t have it” moment.

    I’m glad he was direct about women performing ordinance. I think that’s incredibly important. If that was supposed to be a secret (was it?) I broke it about six years ago. Why? Because I began to realize how many other women went to the temple thinking only men perform ordinances and had a frightening experience because of it. Had I known ahead of time, it would have been much better.

    We’ve heard a lot in the past the line that “women have access to all of the blessings of the priesthood,” which, to me, is a terrible response to the issue, for reasons that I won’t go into here.

    I will. :) That’s always bothered me, too. For me it’s a terrible response because it conveniently removes the fact that some of the blessings of the priesthood come from administering and if you don’t administer priesthood ordinances, you simply don’t have “access” to those blessings.

    Thanks for another thoughtful post.

  8. Let’s face it no amount of platitudes or discussion will placate Ordain Women. This will only be settled when the LDS church has women apostles.
    @ Sally: All who act with priesthood authority, men and women do so with permission from those higher in the bureaucracy.

  9. I have been wanting to blog on this since last conference, when someone else referred to this point. I have long attached to all my conversations about women and the priesthood the caveat that everything we may say outside the temple is deeply incomplete, because things work so differently in the temple.

    In the first session of conference last October, Sister Carole M. Stevens quoted one of the same statements Elder Oaks did from Elder M. Russell Ballard: “When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which by definition is priesthood power.” At the time I didn’t process that it was a quotation, but both she and Elder Oaks refer to Elder Ballard’s Education Week talk from this past August. So I just took a look at it and found this interesting quotation as well:
    “The endowment is literally a gift of power. All who enter the house of the Lord officiate in the ordinances of the priesthood. This applies to men and women alike. ”

    I think it is fair to say, based on these quotations, that Elder Ballard is saying two things: both men and women are endowed with priesthood power in the temple, and both men and women officiate in priesthood ordinances in the temple. Elder Oaks quotes one of these points and implicitly refers to the other. And both of these things should be pretty obvious to those who have spent time in the temple and participated in the higher ordinances, particularly the endowment. But having seen it and even done it doesn’t mean we are able to put words to it, particularly when the vocabulary we have from outside the temple is so different, or that we feel it’s appropriate to talk about it, even if we have put words to it in our mind or vocally in the temple. The fact that Elder Ballard feels comfortable saying this much at Education Week, and has been quoted in General Conference, clears the way for us to at least say again as much as he has said, though as you said, Julie, we have to be rather sparing in saying anything else.

    I think we probably still have some sorting out to do in our vocabulary as to what is authority versus power versus keys versus various more specific roles or callings we may be set apart for, etc. As you note, Julie, Elder Oaks is drawing the categories a bit differently from the way JFS drew them, even though he quotes JFS. For that matter, I am not sure if Elder Ballard himself is totally consistent in his talk, because despite these quotations, at other points he seems to be talking about women as primarily receivers of the blessings of the priesthood. But I was reading quickly. At any rate, I think these two points he makes are tremendously important, and any conversation about women and the priesthood that does not take account of them is not going to make much real contact with its subject.

    So, what should we make of the fact that women officiate in priesthood ordinances in the temple and not outside? Here we enter the uncertain realm of interpretation, but it seems to me we can reasonably infer a few things. As I see it, the temple teaches us about a higher order of life than what we have access to outside it. If so, then there is a higher order of sociality than we have (at least clearly or explicitly) represented in the Sunday church, and in that higher order of sociality, gender roles are different in some significant ways. In particular, some of the differentiation of roles is reduced in that higher order. The Genesis narrative invites us to associate some aspects of gender role differences with a fallen state (think of the different curses given to Adam and Eve). Presumably the spiritual processes outlined/represented/undertaken in the temple are among other things designed to help us recover from the fall and achieve a higher spiritual state, closer to God. At the same time, this higher form of life is not one that we can fully live out in public, before the world, for various reasons including the fact that lots of those around us are living in a different spiritual state. Still, certainly temple knowledge and temple covenants and aspirations should have an impact on how we live and act in the world and in the Sunday church.

    Actually, the temple may represent a series of higher orders of life, so there may be more than one higher version of gender roles represented there. Personally, I am inclined to associate the highest order of life with temple marriage, which is the culmination of the progression of ordinances within the temple. But I’ve said enough for one comment.

  10. Clarification on the nature of priesthood and the temple (and the ultimate divine potential of women which is of concern to me based on how the endowment differs by sex) are the issues I want clarified as an LDS woman. I don’t really care about the priesthood for women one way or the other because I haven’t really been able to figure out exactly what it is. I know the Sunday School answers, but there are more questions than answers about it, and for every answer, there are contradictory opinions.

  11. “Why do Mormon women officiate in priesthood ordinances inside of the temple but not outside of the temple?”

    Great question. I look forward to hearing more on this in future General Conferences. Wonderful post, Julie. Thanks.

  12. We should acknowledge that one reason for the gap between JFS and Elder Oaks is that JFS recognized the LDS tradition of female ritual healing–in part because his own parents and grandmother routinely engaged in the practice. Conservative as JFS may have been in other respects, his Answers to Gospel Questions still leaves room for this practice. See the JMH article by Stapley and Wright. Maybe Oaks knows about this tradition too–I’d bet that he does–but I’d be very surprised to hear him mention it in GC. It’s a clear but relatively unknown example of women exercising authority, but not priesthood.

  13. we’ve really changed the terms of the debate. “Why don’t Mormon women have the priesthood?” is no longer the question.

    It’s still the question if the “strand” of priesthood being referred to is the offices of the priesthood, i.e., “Why don’t Mormon women have priesthood [offices]?” which, I would venture to say, is probably what is meant the vast majority of the time the question is asked.

  14. I also felt the talk by Elder Oaks actually opened more doors than closed them. Adding to Ben H’s comment: Power, Keys, Authority. It appears that after going through the temple, women have the power of the priesthood, but they, like men, need to be authorized to use it by someone who has keys.

    Great. So, why can’t someone with keys simply authorize women to perform ordinances outside the temple. Elder Oaks seems to suggest that “with the exception of the sacred work that sisters do in the temple . . . only one who holds a priesthood office can officiate in a priesthood ordinance. And all authorized priesthood ordinances are recorded on the records of the church.”

    So, if we called and ordained women to priesthood offices, then they could officiate. But what does this mean for say: healings? are they not “ordinances” because they are not recorded? Could I (male priesthood holder) with keys(?) over my family, authorize my wife, who already holds the priesthood apparently, to assist or even officiate a priesthood blessing?

  15. I agree with both Julie and Bryan H that Elder Oaks has subtly shifted the issue from holding the priesthood to holding an office in the priesthood. I found it very interesting that there were at least two points in his talk where he had a perfect opportunity to say “women do not hold the priesthood,” but chose not to, and instead used the more careful construction: women are not ordained to *offices* in the priesthood. And maybe it was just me, but I thought that when he said that, he verbally emphasized the word offices. In fact, the only time he said something like “women do not hold the priesthood” he was quoting President Smith, who was making a distinction between priesthood authority and the God-given non-priesthood authority exercised by women, and, as Julie has pointed out, Elder Oaks went on to explicitly disagree with that distinction: “what other authority could it be?”

    I found the distinction that Elder Oaks is making between holding the priesthood and holding an office in the priesthood to be interesting because it parallels a similar distinction in our practice for ordaining men and boys to the priesthood, where it is a two step process of first conferring the Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthood, and only then ordaining to an office within that priesthood. (See Handbook 2, 20.7).

    If this distinction between conferral of the priesthood and ordaining to an office in the priesthood is the same distinction that Elder Oaks is subtly making between the idea of women holding the priesthood (which he is silent on) and the idea of women holding an office in the priesthood (which he says they can’t), then under Elder Oaks’ view as expressed in this talk, it is plausible that women could have the priesthood conferred upon them, but not ordained to an office in the priesthood. I’m not saying that is likely to happen anytime soon. But it is interesting that that is the logical end of the distinction that Elder Oaks appears to be very careful to make.

  16. Invoking the temple does not evict the elephant from the room, people. Since the early 80’s, I’ve been hearing “Think about what women do in the temple.” My reply then, as now, is “Think of what women don’t do in the temple.” For starters, they don’t lead endowment sessions, and they don’t perform (or even serve as witnesses to) sealings. Whatever their merits, all of the apologetic theories Julie wants to banish come right back into play when you ask why women can’t do those things.

    For the record, I’m not arguing that they should or shouldn’t be able to do those things. I’m just pointing out that the fundamental asymmetry remains.

  17. Thank you for the thoughtful post Julie.

    Just one thought:

    The talk illustrates that Mormonism has built-in wiggle room. Our practices and policies evolve. It seems there are some bottle necks in the evolution process. In this silly comment I won’t speculate as to what those bottle-necks might be.

    Again, thank you for the post. It has me thinking.

  18. I’m with Angela C – care so little about holding offices of the priesthood. But young men are taught from a young age their relationship and purpose and duties of the priesthood and how vital it is to know heavenly father’s nature to become like Him.

    As a woman on a parallel path I get no instruction or learning about my relationship with my own priestesshood (seriously, what does that mean??) and I think it would be vital for me to know about my divine feminine potential in the eternities.

    Theologically we just have a blank page there.

    I appreciate Elder Oaks talk so much, but it raised so many questions! More questions than answers, for sure.

  19. “Think of what women don’t do in the temple” …the fundamental asymmetry remains

    Priesthood ordinances and duties are divided up asymmetrically even within the priesthood. A patriarch and a temple sealer each perform ordinances the other cannot do.

  20. A patriarch and a temple sealer each perform ordinances the other cannot do.

    You’re missing the point. For every female exercise of priesthood authority in the temple, there is a male counterpart. The reverse, however, is not true.

  21. I appreciate the distinction between Priesthood Offices and Priesthood. In the Church, the offices of the Priesthood are set by the President and Quorum of the 12, based on revelation. However, I think that WAY to often we simply say Priesthood when what we mean is Priesthood Offices collectively. Think dictionary definition of priesthood: “The office, dignity, or character of being a priest (one authorized to [act] as a mediatory agent between man and God.” It seems like anyone acting on promptings of the Spirit would be acting as authorized by God, and therefore acting as a priest (not the same as the office of a Priest). Wouldn’t this be the dignity or character of being a priest?

    Perhaps JFS also meant Priesthood office, and used the commonly accepted shorthand?

  22. Although I lean toward OW, I have never seen the temple aspect as a very strong argument. It can easily be explained as something like “God is pragmatic at the margins.” Baptisms for the dead in the Mississippi River until the temple is complete; men without hands can give blessings even though it’s really the “laying on of stumps”; the baptismal prayer can be given in sign language even though that means you must break the right-arm-to-the-square stance. One could explain women’s roles in the temple the same way, especially in light of how the initiatory was performed in the early days. Maybe not the correct explanation, but it might be the simplest.

  23. Last Lemming,

    Why would we expect there to be parity between male/female temple ordinances and duties when there isn’t even such a parity within the priesthood itself. You could say the same thing about patriarchs and high priests. Everything high priests do, patriarchs also do. The reverse, however, is not true.

  24. I can accept that Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith was using the word priesthood in a narrow sense but Elder Oaks used the same word with a broader meaning.

  25. Jake Cox (#22): Nothing wrong with a pragmatic God, right? I like flexible. I like compromise.

    I think it’s significant that it is Elder Oaks who gave this talk about authority. Oaks has a legal mind.

    In the U.S. much of our legal structure is based on something called the common law. The common law is basically a system where judges try and treat like cases similarly. Common law allows enough stability that people can gauge how it would apply in new situations. Common law also allows for adaptation, and within limits the common law can evolve.

    Common law requires precedent. Precedent is basically the cases that have come before and the rationale behind those cases. Without precedent, there’s nothing to ground the common law.

    This is just speculation on my part, but could it be that Elder Oaks is laying a bit of precedent for the future? A change in how priesthood authority is talked about and thought about?

  26. Jake Cox,

    Pragmatism could explain why some aspects of the temple ordinances are best done by women but there are other aspects that could easily be outsourced to men, but aren’t.

  27. I thought the exact same thing Josh did.

    Suppose that, 3 months ago, the Church announced that women would now be authorized to bless their children. That would have seemed to have come out of nowhere, and it also wouldn’t have seemed to have had much apostolic foundation behind it (well, at least modern apostolic foundation).

    But if the Church makes the same announcement 4 months from now (conveniently long enough so it doesn’t look like they’re caving in to OW), then the letter that would be read over the pulpits announcing this would be able to quote Elder Oaks’ talk as doctrinal support. Suddenly, the change would seem like a continuation, rather than a departure.

    Perhaps this is wishful projection from a fellow lawyer, but I’d like to think that Elder Oaks–largely raised by a single mother himself and thus likely attuned to such things in a personal way– was *very* aware of the things that his talk could be used to support in the future.

  28. Many positive and respectful comments. Thank you, I like that.

    I really liked how Elder Oaks’ talk seemed to be in touch with many priesthood concepts of the past. While I don’t see female ordination per se in the church’s future, I do see the possibility of a greater discussion and delineation of God’s authority. I suspect that such authority will always exhibit the pattern or symbolism found in Adam and Eve’s fall. There will be gender differences or elements of patriarchy during mortality.

  29. Why do women officiate in some of the temple ordinances but not others? The answer is simple. Because of the nature of the initiatory ordinances it would not appropriate for men to administer them to women. Other priesthood ordinances are not as intimate, therefore, women alone do not need to be the ones to administer them. Women administering initiatory ordinances truly is the exception to the rule. The rule being that men are to be the ones administering priesthood ordinances. It is the Lord’s established pattern from the beginning. Unless He changes this, which is unlikely, then it stays as it is. Temple initiatory ordinances administered by women is an example of women giving priesthood power to other women without actually holding their own priesthood authority. Unusual yes, but it makes sense in the name of practicality.

  30. With respect, Sean, I think you’re kind of missing the point that you’re inadvertently making.

    A lot of people have long argued that women *can’t* exercise the priesthood–not in the sense that they are not authorized to do it, but rather in the sense that, as women, they are not even capable of it b/c of inherent, eternity-based gender differences. But the fact that women are exercising the priesthood in the temple rites debunks this–i.e. it means that they can.

    I agree with you as to why this is the case in the temple–i.e., that one of the reasons is likely the practical one you’ve mentioned. But from a purely pragmatic perspective, that’s enormously significant. Because if that reason is good enough to create an exception to the male-only priesthood regime, then that means that if some other reason is also good enough, another exception could be created, right?

    And I don’t think it’s that farfetched. Suppose that a lot of church members became aligned with OW’s perspective–so much so that the church faced a cognizable membership crisis in some areas or wards. If the ability of women to exercise the priesthood is truly subject to pragmatic concerns like the one you identified, wouldn’t this also be a good enough reason to justify an expansion? (As I understand it, this exact phenomenon is one of the very things that OW is banking on).

    To be clear: I’m not saying that’s a good enough reason. But I am saying that the very existence of one exception at least means others are possible. And the fact that Elder Oaks explicitly recognized that is enormously significant in this discussion.

  31. #15 JKC: It has been apparent for a long time that women could have the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood conferred on them without being ordained. This would allow all of the D&C discussions of priesthood offices to continue without change and women would have priesthood power in a non-Priest, non-Elder and non-High Priest sense, but still have the power to bless, baptize, bless and pass the sacrament, preside in meetings absent HP and Elders. To do so, simply make a women’s quorum which would be pretty much like the Relief Society, with women holding the keys to that organization.

    If a woman were to be made bishop or stake president, she would need to be ordained a HP and then attend quorum meetings, if she so chose, but she would not need the priesthood conferred.

    The upshot is, Ordain Women is probably on the wrong theological track. It should be the Confer Women movement. It would allow women priesthood without upsetting the present order of church governance but allow for that to happen in the future.

  32. RW:

    In order to do what you suggest, we would have to dump what many of us believe concerning the scriptural (and temple) teachings of the fall of Adam (and Eve). While I take the account of the fall as a sacred metaphor for an extremely complicated process, it seems apparent that there are some specific gender roles and responsibilities implied therein. I see priesthood ordination, quorum and missionary service as part of the responsibility placed upon the sons of Adam in mortality, so much so that the salvation and exaltation of men is at stake if they fail to fulfill these duties. And it seems apparent that over the centuries, those specific obligations have not been placed upon women. Women have complimented men’s efforts and are absolutely essential in priesthood service (missions, in the temple). And it makes sense that there were duties, responsibilities, authority and power placed upon the daughters of Eve that differ from those of men.

    I believe that the duties and responsibilities of each gender are complimentary to each other. I see them as overlapping at moments. We know that there is no exaltation without our spouses, that together two become something that one could not. The daughters of Eve can do what the sons of Adam can’t do, and vice versa. Are both women and men limited? Yes. Are they limited at all when unified through temple sealing and covenant? No.

    What I hope for is a greater appreciation on our part for the duties and responsibilities, the power and authority that has been placed upon faithful women throughout the history of the LDS Church.

  33. “The daughters of Eve can do what the sons of Adam can’t do, and vice versa.”

    Assuming you mean “can’t” as in “is unable to”, rather than as “is not authorized to,” I don’t get this at all.

    What is it about being a woman that would make it so she “can’t” receive inspiration to give someone a blessing? That’s largely a function of spiritual receptivity. But some of the most spiritual people I know are women. The church now trusts their spiritual abilities enough to let them address the members of the church in general conference. So, if properly authorized, why wouldn’t a woman be capable of giving someone a blessing?

    Or, on the administrative side of the priesthood equation, what is it about being a woman that makes it so she “can’t” preside over a ward or stake? Some of the best managers I know are women. Some of the best world leaders are women too. Women are successful CEO’s, government leaders, heads of NGO’s. So, if ecclesiastically, authorized, why wouldn’t a woman be capable of leading a ward or stake too?

    (On that front, I find it more than a little bizarre that a lot of the same people in Utah who routinely insist that, because of inherent differences btwn men and women, a woman just isn’t suited to running a ward council meeting, are, at the same time, gearing up to send Mia Love to Congress. If the gender-roles in the church are truly a function of gender-based abilities or disabilities, then that makes no sense at all.).

  34. Old Man (#32): I think you’ve stated your position as well as anyone could. And I think it’s completely consistent with LDS teaching on gender roles for the last 50 or 60 years. I don’t fault you at all.

    Just a couple thoughts:

    If there were a blog poster from 100-150 years ago, let’s say Very Old Man, then I think we’d see a marked contrast between your opinion and Very Old Man’s opinion. That is, I think attitudes about gender roles have changed from 1850 to 1900 to 1950 to 2000. Gender roles evolve.

    I’m not sure if it’s possible to distill doctrine out of “gender roles.” It seems to me that much of what we believe about gender and race is almost entirely a function of our traditions and culture. I’m very skeptical of any effort to discern the mind of God when it comes to gender roles.

    Last thought, in my own profession, in 2014, many women are called “Your Honor.” They are decision makers. They are advocates. They are leaders. Then on Sunday they shed their robes and attend an organization completely governed by men.

    It just seems clear to me that the LDS Church is not at a stable place on gender roles. We could be better as a people if our leadership and decision-making were open to the other 50% of our members.

  35. @ Josh Smith(#34)

    FWIW, Old Man’s understanding and feelings on the issue represent my understanding and feelings as well, and I am Gen Y (whatever that means).

    Still, I agree 100% with your words: “I’m very skeptical of any effort to discern the mind of God when it comes to gender roles.”

    For suppositions’ sake, if we were to look to someone to discern the mind of God on this issue, would it be a small, highly-educated, well-intentioned group of church members, or the people we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators?

    Its too bad that the Brethren do not have your clarity on how to improve this people.

  36. Thor,

    I forgot my standard disclaimer: I’m a guy who wears flannel shirts as often as possible and is never consulted by anyone about my views on Mormon doctrine, or gender roles, or pretty much anything. Hopefully that clears up any potential hubris on my part.

    If you’re interested, I’d like to hear you address the merits of my comment.

  37. Great Post and Comments:

    This discussion is extremely important. It shows how much we don’t know. Elder Oaks’ talk shows how much we don’t know. And while he said that the brethren can’t ask a particular question regarding priesthood… it just begs the question.

    I agree with comments that this is a small shift from saying that women can’t hold the priesthood or exercise priesthood authority to say “women can’t hold priesthood office” and most importantly “women can’t hold priesthood keys.”

    We need a good discussion on the evolution of the concept of priesthood keys. From my studies Joseph Smith frequently referred to the keys of the priesthood as the “keys to ask and obtain” revelation or further light and knowledge. He taught the members of the Church in Nauvoo that they would all receive the keys of the priesthood in the temple to pray and have their prayers answered, or to ask and obtain. Hey taught the members of the relief society that they would receive the keys of the priesthood together with their husbands in the priesthood.

    The point is that Joseph did not view the keys of the priesthood as keys of authority or permission giving. The Keys of the Priesthood were for all the members of the church and a way for them all to be connected personally to God and united in their marriages (the highest order of the priesthood). Priesthood evolved immensely in Joseph’s time and I think that evolution stopped with his death and retrograded subsequently and has currently adopted a corporate model and false traditions of gender roles.

    Joseph also viewed the priesthood differently then we do. My understanding from reading his teachings (referring to primary sources) is that he viewed the priesthood as the “channel through which all knowledge and blessings are communicated.” In other words it is the channel of revelation and the the way the blessings of the atonement are manifest.

    We certainly believe men and women participate in the channel of revelation and that women have as much right to revelation over their stewardships as men do. The blessings of the atonement are not fully realized in priesthood ordinances… they are only symbolized. Atonement happens when people love one another and bless one another and are kind one to another. That is atonement and women have that power.

    Why are we so obsessed with the authority to make the atonement actualized in our community? I believe atonement needs no special authority to happen. It simply needs the pure love of Christ. Charity never faileth. Relief Society is capable of this no?

    Prophecy, Prophets, Apostles, Bishops will all be gone in the true order of the priesthood foreshadowed in the temple. The only official organization will be family. The only priesthood will be family priesthood. The only real family organization is Husband and Wife.

    Priesthood offices and Keys of authority (as we understand them today) will melt away. The only keys will be those held by a husband and wife in their quest for further light and knowledge and their desires to bless their children and have claim on them in life everlasting.

    Such blessings do not need to be pronounced by one having authority. Such a pronouncement is only symbolic. Such blessings are lived by those who suck the marrow out of life. :-)

    The challenge I am having with Elder Oaks’ talk is that men still hold the keys of authority in a way Joseph never conceived of in my understanding. Men still preside and hold decision making power. Women are still directed and subordinate. This is not a picture of complimentary roles to me. But I do believe church leaders are striving to use the language of absolute equality between men and women… Women counseling and blessing and causing the blessings of the atonement to be made manifest among all people.

    When we speak of the priesthood and the the blessings of the atonement all this talk of authority becomes silly to me. Atonement happens when we no longer worry about all of this and instead we love one another and allow one another to *fill the full measure of our creation* Women participate as much as men in this work an it is the only priesthood work that matters.

    I would love feedback on my thinking.

  38. I meant to say in my last paragraph, “When we speak of the priesthood *as* the blessings of the atonement…”

  39. Hi Josh (#34),

    “… and attend an organization completely governed by men.” That is not the church I attend, nor the religion of the Latter-day Saints. I am aware of historical variations in church doctrine and practice concerning women. These are minor.

    Is there another Christian denomination which seriously teaches of a literal, personal “Mother in Heaven?” How many Christian denominations had women giving healing blessings in the 19th century? How many taught that a man cannot be truly saved (exalted) without his wife? How many churches adhere to doctrinal statement that Eve’s actions in the garden were necessary for humankind’s salvation?

    Let’s compare my ward to any other Christian congregation. RS Leaders deliver lists of charitable labors needed to a ward council. Our RS President attends PEC. Men are assigned to help carry out those tasks. Women organize and carry out the most sensitive work in the ward. They teach in almost all auxiliaries. When priesthood leaders, including a GA, go to bless the home or sick child of a single or widowed mother, they ask that sister to direct them on who should perform that blessing, for she presides. She directs those leaders by virtue of her motherhood, which is far more than biologically producing a child.

    My, no OUR female ancestors were the most strong and remarkable people. They were wives who ran ranches and businesses alone because their men were on 3-4 year missions. They bore children, they midwifed, served as RS presidents, buried some children early and faithfully served in temples. Then they went home and cooked dinner on a coal stove. No, they didn’t hold priesthood offices. But they were priestesses and prophetesses. They ran far more of the church and did God’s bidding more than we usually give them credit for. I have little doubt that when I one day see them, they will be standing amidst the best of company. They were able to do what they, not because they held priesthood offices, but because they kept their covenants as women.

  40. (39) I’m curious how “priestess” and “profetess” fit into our discussion of authority and keys. Are they “offices”? Do they hold keys? I’m completely ignorant about what these titles mean. Are these just promises for the next life, or do these titles have meaning in the here and now?

    DP, thank you for your thoughtful post. I wonder if some of the difference between understanding of the priesthood in the early years of the church and present day could be explained by structure. That is, a small church led by a charismatic leader may have less need of hierarchy among its members–so long as it was clear who the leader was. A large church with millions of members, billions of dollars in assets, a lay ministry, and decision-making by unanimity in quorums may need more structure among the membership?

    (I’ll keep thinking about this.)

  41. Agreed on “priestess” and “prophetess”

    I also agree that the Church’s view of the priesthood currently is the result of a corporate perspective. My point is that is a very limited, earthbound, “fallen” view of the priesthood as an eternal power and source of atonement or the filling of our creation.

    Atonement and Filling the measure of our creation and creative potential is not gender specific.

    I think it is an easy thing in our doctrine to simply say yes, women and men exercise priesthood power fully and equally. This does not take away from anyone’s roles. Rather it fills the measure of our creation.

    Priesthood keys are not about position and office. They are about atonement and creative potential. Men and women equally have access to this power and also have equal ability and privilege to exercise it.

    Priesthood keys and office are not eternal and are and have been created to suite the needs of each generation or “dispensation.” We do have the ability to change the structure and it is within the ability and stewardship of the leaders to so seek for and create the changes necessary for each generation. That is the whole point of continuing revelation. What was sufficient in times past is not sufficient for our time. That is a point Joseph made repeatedly to his critics.

  42. Also, I think it is worth studying about what Brigham Young and the 12 meant when they argued that it was their “right” to lead the church after Joseph’s death because they had the “keys.” The “Keys” they were referring to were the ordinances of the temple and the “fullness” of the priesthood. Which, in my view, had nothing to do with offices or the type of authority that comes with structure… Rather the keys had to do with knowledge and the power of the atonement to fill the measure of creation. The Keys had to do with the “Keys to ask and obtain” as Joseph taught the “quorum of the anointed” and the “fullness” of the priesthood had to do with Men and Women in marriage. To illustrate, Joseph and Emma obtained the fullness in the priesthood in late September 1943. This was something that had to occur to a man and a woman together. In my understanding there was no other priesthood or priesthood keys that really mattered to Joseph. Furthermore, this was not to be for only a select or elect group of people in the Church. It was meant to be for all the Latter-day Saints. The priesthood and priesthood keys were to be for all, men and women… and this was to be a fullness. That is my understanding and it is so different than what is taught and understood in today’s discussion by the leaders of priesthood and priesthood keys.

    Unfortunately, in my view, this was the basis for polygamy and the context for women obeying the law of their husbands and being “subordinate” to their husbands because there would be one husband and many wives in the greatest of glories.

    I like to just remove polygamy from the picture and think of Priesthood and Priesthood keys as fully realized between a man and a woman–exercised fully by both to bring the blessings of atonement and full creative potential to all of their children from all eternity to all eternity.

  43. We love to have discussions about who holds priesthood keys in a ward and stake. We wink and we look at each other as we list all the Priesthood leaders with keys, Stake president, Bishop, Branch presidents, EQPres, TQPres, DQPres. Then the knowledgeable teacher asks the same questions to show he read the handbook. “Do counselors in a bishopric hold keys?” No. “Does the first counselor in the stk presidency hold keys?” No. The handbook says at 2.1.1, “Auxiliary presidents and their counselors do not receive keys. They receive delegated authority to function in their callings.” So what is the name of this authority? Is there historical precedence for auxiliaries holding keys? The obvious answer is yes, as you read basic church history the answers are clear. Joseph Smith bestowed keys upon relief society in 4 different places in the Nauvoo RS Minutes book he speaks of these keys. Keys of Discernment, Keys to the ministering of angels, etc. Women anointed with oil, and blessed the sick by the laying of hands as Priestesses in zion. Everyone knows this already. So the questions have been kicking around for decades. Why aren’t keys bestowed on RS Presidents anymore? Where did they go? Where did the authority for women to anoint with oil and bless children go? Where did the ordinance preparing women for childbirth go? By 1881 the letters were sent out under John Taylor stating, “It is the privilege of all faithful women and lay members of the
    Church, who believe in Christ, to administer to all the sick or afflicted
    in their respective families, either by the laying on of hands, or by the
    anointing with oil in the name of the Lord: but they should administer
    in these sacred ordinances, not by virtue and authority of the priesthood,
    but by virtue of their faith in Christ, and the promises made to
    believers: and thus they should do in all their ministrations.” So Sisters in 2014 just remember, when you anoint with oil, and bless your sick child to say the following words as you have been trained in RSociety, “_________ (call your child by their full name), I anoint your head with this oil which has been consecrated for the blessing of the sick and afflicted and I do it in the name of Jesus Christ”. Then your VT companion can seal the anointing, by saying, “__________ (call the child by their full name), I seal this anointing of oil prepared by a sister of faith in Zion, and give you a blessing of healing by the authority vested in me through faith in Christ,” (follow as the spirit directs).

  44. Well said Scott:

    We love to talk to one another about who holds keys. But we don’t expound on what that really means except to point out that so and so is really in charge of everything and gets the final say.

    This is not what Joseph Smith or the D&C means by “keys” in my view.

    Reminds me of the Professional Boy Scouts or Universities where adults gather round and give one another awards and feel important. :-)

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