A few months ago, I was asked to speak on the topic “How do I support the Priesthood in my home?” I am posting the talk now because the Young Women’s lessons in June are about the Priesthood and Priesthood Keys. Please note that the talk is shorter than usual to allow time for concurrent translation, so it is more of an overview than the carefully structured piece that I prefer. But this is one of the topics that caused me so much uneasiness that I all but stopped blogging for a long period of time. I’ve spent a long time thinking about it, and I am happy to expand on different points in the comments.
It is interesting to me that I was asked to speak about the priesthood.
The exclusion of women from priesthood office, and thus from many of the important decision-making and leadership positions and bodies within the church has long been a concern for me. I find no peace in the current position of the church, and I struggle for personal understanding and to exercise faith in our leaders in this matter.
In this talk, I will not burden you with my discontent. Instead I shall attempt to share truth as I am coming to understand it in the hope of the edification–the upbuilding–of faith for all of us.
So what is the priesthood? And how do I support the priesthood in my home? Which seems to me to be a way of saying, “How do I support my husband, who has been ordained to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods?”
I’ll start in Doctrine and Covenants 84:17, 19-20.
“…Priesthood continueth in the church of God in all generations, and is without beginning of days or end of years…this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.”
The priesthood is the power of God and authority from God. It is used to heal, bless, comfort and guide. It is used for patriarchal blessings. (My grandfather was a patriarch. The blessing he gave me, my grandmother transcribed and typed.) The priesthood is used to witness baptisms and sealings. And it is used to ordain and to anoint, which may be for the purpose of setting apart a person for an office, such as king (Think of Samuel and David, or Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with oil), for an endowment, or to make a calling and election sure. Anointing is also used in healing. Many, but not all, of these priesthood functions are applicable within the home.
My first question is, “What direct access do I have to this power and authority?”
Through the temple endowment, I am told that I priestess, or that I may become so. And in the temple, women minister to other women, anointing them during the initiatory and guiding them through the rites. This speaks to my priesthood potential and a limited actualization of it.
In church callings, I am given authority over that sphere of influence when I am set apart. Those with priesthood authority over the ward give me a smaller mantle of authority to do that calling. Then I may receive revelation and support as I fulfill that calling.
I also believe that I exercise a similar kind of priesthood authority as I minister to the sisters that I am assigned to visit through the visiting teaching program. Praying with them and for them is an important aspect of that. Then I, acting with authority, may call down the blessings of heaven for the sisters under my care.
And finally, I believe I have some claim to priesthood authority as a mother in the care of my children, especially as I pray for them. I gave each of my babies a private, mother’s blessing, calling on whatever power and authority my faith grants, in the quiet mornings before my husband gave them the public father’s blessing in front of the congregation.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World says, “Fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness…fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners…Circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” Since this was given in 1995, we have seen councils in the Church become more inclusive of women’s voices, including some at the highest levels. Sisters who serve as auxiliary presidents are encouraged to speak up in ward council meetings, although no one can argue that the Relief Society President is the equal of the bishop in a ward. Fortunately, this principle is easier to implement in the home than it is in the institutional church.
President Russell M. Nelson stated this explicitly in his October 2015 address “A Plea to My Sisters.”
My dear sisters, whatever your calling, whatever your circumstances, we need your impressions, your insights, and your inspiration. We need you to speak up and speak out in ward and stake councils. We need each married sister to speak as “a contributing and full partner”10 as you unite with your husband in governing your family. Married or single, you sisters possess distinctive capabilities and special intuition you have received as gifts from God. We brethren cannot duplicate your unique influence.
In my family, I need to act as an equal partner. To defer to my husband in all things is NOT to act as an equal. In fact, that would create a situation that encourages unrighteous dominion, to the spiritual, emotional, and physical detriment of everyone within our family.
It is unclear how one person can preside and still be an equal partner–there is a paradox, a tension within that description. But such paradoxes are common within the world of Christian faith. They call us to wrestle with the ideas, to work out our own understanding of what God expects of of us. The Proclamation points out the need for individual adaptation. As we come to understand how to apply these principles in our own lives, we must remember that our personal application is not a universal standard, so we should not compare our family to other families, and especially not condemn any family that is struggling to follow Christ in love and righteousness.
In the end, I should strive to live to be worthy to receive and exercise the priesthood, just as my husband does. I should use great respect as I fulfill the obligations laid on my by those with priesthood authority, including my callings and visiting teaching. I pray, study, and seek revelation for myself and on behalf of my family, especially for my children. As I do this, I am supporting the priesthood in my home, by recognizing how I have access to it and working to be an equal partner with my husband.