Mormon women are regularly asked why they don’t demand to hold the priesthood, which is given only to worthy boys and men. This is sometimes seen as proof that Mormon women are not considered equal in the church.
The truth is that faithful Mormon women devote very little time to contemplating this subject, and don’t consider themselves mistreated in any way over it. There are several things an outside observer must understand in order to see why this is so.
Let’s begin with an explanation of what the priesthood is. The priesthood is the power and authority of God. It is the tool God used to create the earth and administer the work of the gospel. He delegates keys to worthy men to assist in this work.
The priesthood is given to young men beginning at age twelve and they receive increasing levels of responsibility as they advance through the offices. The first priesthood they receive is the Aaronic Priesthood. In the Old Testament, we see the Aaronic Priesthood was given only to men, under direction from God. The first office of this priesthood is the office of a deacon. Deacons are twelve or thirteen years old, or older if they’ve joined the church later. At fourteen, they become Teachers, and at sixteen, Priests. Priests are not the equivalent of a Catholic priest.
When they are adults, they can receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. Priesthood holders are specifically called to watch over the church and to serve. They bless and pass the Sacrament (similar to the communion), heal the sick, visit members in their homes to check on their well-being, and perform many other acts of service for the church.
Some church positions of leadership can only be held by priesthood holders, and this is where the controversy arises by those who don’t understand the priesthood or the culture.
It should first be noted that those who hold the priesthood cannot use it on themselves. If a priesthood holder is ill, he cannot give a special blessing of healing to himself. Just as a woman must do, he must find two other priesthood holders to come and administer that blessing. Everyone in the church can receive all the blessings and gifts of the priesthood, whether or not they hold the priesthood themselves, and all must receive those blessings from others.
They receive no extra rewards in Heaven, no special privileges, and no financial paycheck.They have a greater responsibility, but no additional rewards. The Mormons operate a lay church, and everyone volunteers. This is one reason women aren’t demanding to hold it. Most women consider themselves far too busy already, with more opportunities to lead and serve than they have time for. They see no special benefit in taking on the work of the priesthood as well as their own.
One question often asked of Mormon women is whether or not they object to not being allowed to become a bishop, which is the ecclesiastical equivalent of a pastor or minister. The general wisdom among Mormons is that no one who is worthy to do the job and who understands what it entails wants that job. Women are quite happy to know they can’t be given it. As mentioned earlier, it is not a paid position. The bishop holds a full-time job, and has a family. In between all the various aspects of his personal life, he does nearly everything a full-time pastor must do. He serves for about five years, and during this time, bishops generally have no time to themselves and spend a great many hours away from home.
Mormon women consider their first responsibility to be to their families. They are given the sacred gift of bearing and raising children, and of maintaining a pleasant and spiritual home. While not all women are able to marry or to have children, these women find other ways to serve, often spending time caring for extended family, or serving in demanding church leadership roles. They carry out the commandment to care for their own homes well, even if they live alone. Mormon women do not see this role as demeaning, but as an honor. What could be a greater privilege than to care for God’s children? Mormon women don’t feel the need for a paycheck to prove their worth. Their paycheck comes from the pleasures of being able to raise their own children or care for their families. They reach beyond cleaning and cooking and work to create a home at the highest levels. Parents don’t just bathe and feed children. They teach them and lead them.
Although their priorities are in the home, Mormon women do have many opportunities to be leaders and to serve. They can head up the Primary, which is the children’s auxiliary, the Young Women’s Organization, which is for teenagers, and the Relief Society, which is for the women of the church. There are other church jobs that do not require the priesthood and are open to either gender. Mormon women serve in their own congregations and all the way up the church structure to lead in the international church for these same organizations. The General Relief Society president, for instance, has a responsibility for all the women in the church, and oversees a worldwide organization larger than most corporations. Ample opportunities to lead are available to women in the church, and the priesthood is not necessary to give them the opportunities they need.
The bishop does not deliver the weekly sermon. In the Sunday services, known as Sacrament Meeting, men and women can give the prayers and the sermons. Each meeting has an opening and a closing prayer, and two to three speakers chosen from the congregation. This gives women many opportunities to preach and to pray. This service is followed by classes which are often taught by women. During the week, other meetings are held, also often run by women.
The Mormon women are not concerned about holding the priesthood, largely because they’re simply too busy with home, community and church service, and leadership, as well as a career for some, to give it much thought. They find complete satisfaction in the roles already available to them and do not in any way feel limited. Although the priesthood does provide opportunities to serve others-the entire function of the priesthood-women have many other, often more important ways, to serve.
The most important reason Mormon women don’t demand the priesthood, however, is that God has chosen that role for the men and another role for the women. With the great faith Mormon women are known for, they trust God and focus on the roles given them.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.