Yes, yet another article about how the priesthood applies to women. Have you heard enough yet? Yes, you have—well, I hope you really do have all the answers. No, you haven’t—great!
In recent years, it seems like Church leaders have discussed this topic a lot. How the priesthood applies to women has been spoken about in General Conference, Face to Face discussions, Church magazines, books, podcasts, and more. Maybe it’s seemed like a hot topic because my personal interest in how the priesthood applies to women has been piqued in recent years. Maybe our Church, like other societies, is realizing the suppressing effect patriarchy has had on women, and it’s doing its part to correct false ideas, teachings, and traditions. Maybe the Spirit has been guiding Church leaders to emphasize this topic more (that one’s a yes, not just a maybe!). Maybe it’s all the above and some more.
I am grateful the priesthood is now being taught in a way that includes women, beyond the old “Well, men can’t give themselves a priesthood blessing; therefore, the priesthood applies to women, too.” While that is true, it barely scratches the surface of the priesthood power and privilege of women. I think that is why the priesthood is being taught better—to empower women with truth so they can fulfill their potential. Women are teaching and being taught what our privilege and full divine potential is, and how to live up to it now.
The last few years, President Nelson has been pleading with the women of the Church to live up to their priesthood privilege:
“As a righteous, endowed Latter-day Saint woman, you speak and teach with power and authority from God. Whether by exhortation or conversation, we need your voice teaching the doctrine of Christ. We need your input in family, ward, and stake councils. Your participation is essential and never ornamental!”
This article is a piece of what I have learned from studying about the priesthood. I will not describe everything about the priesthood and women. I simply do not know it all, and it would be a book instead of an article. I will discuss a few truths I learned that have helped me understand my priesthood potential. I hope it will help other women too.
As I’ve studied the scriptures, speeches from General Authorities and Officers, and the temple ceremonies and ordinances, I have noticed that the priesthood works differently in a family versus in the Church.
Familial and Hierarchical Priesthood Structures
A woman lives up to her priesthood privilege in the family, temple, and Church
We are most familiar discussing how priesthood power, authority, keys, and offices function in the Church. For example, a bishop is the presiding priesthood leader in a ward and holds some priesthood keys, and ward members work with priesthood authority in the ward by virtue of their calling or priesthood office. The Church is structured in a hierarchical way, with Jesus Christ as the head, then the First Presidency and Apostles, all the way down to you and me.
However, the priesthood is administered differently in the family and the temple. There is no single “head” of a family. A wife and husband are equal leaders in their family, and they have equal priesthood authority. In the temple, women and men officiate in priesthood ordinances. The familial (also called the “patriarchal”) order of the priesthood functions in the family and the temple.
“A most important difference in the functioning of priesthood authority in the family and in the Church results from the fact that the government of the family is patriarchal, whereas the government of the Church is hierarchical.”
Before Christ’s mortal ministry when He established His Church, the priesthood was administered primarily through the familial structure.
Why does this information matter? It means that we cannot always look to the structure of the Church to know how the priesthood functions in a family and the temple. It means that a wife is equal with her husband in their marriage and family decisions—not “the man is the head and the woman is the neck.”
My parents are divorced, and yet I have never felt a lack of priesthood power and authority in my mom’s home. I never understood why this was until I learned about the familial structure of the priesthood. Even though my mom is not ordained to a priesthood office, she has priesthood power and authority because she is a mother who keeps her covenants.
“When you are set apart to serve in a calling under the direction of one who holds priesthood keys—such as your bishop or stake president—you are given priesthood authority to function in that calling.”
President Nelson is describing how the hierarchical priesthood structure applies to women. He goes on to describe how the familial priesthood structure empowers women:
“Similarly, in the holy temple you are authorized to perform and officiate in priesthood ordinances every time you attend. Your temple endowment prepares you to do so.”
Priesthood Power, Keys, Office, and Authority
A woman lives up to her priesthood privilege by acting with priesthood power and authority
In their book, The Melchizedek Priesthood: Understanding the Doctrine, Living the Principles, Elder and Sister Renlund compared the word priesthood to how we use the word “earth.” Earth can refer to the planet or a pile of dirt. Similarly, the priesthood includes the power of God, and the specific functions of priesthood power, authority, keys, and offices.
For example, a man can be ordained to the priesthood office of elder and be given authority to perform some priesthood ordinances. However, when this man is in the temple, he does not automatically have priesthood authority to officiate in the initiatory ordinance.
Similarly, an endowed woman who is a temple worker has authority to officiate in some temple ordinances. She is not ordained to a priesthood office the same way a man is (deacon, teacher, priest, and so on). Her authority to officiate in those ordinances is only in the temple. This is also because of the familial and hierarchical ways the priesthood is administered.
Anyone can feel the power of God (the priesthood) working in his or her life. In her book The Priesthood Power of Women, Sister Barbara Morgan Gardner says that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon through the power of God (the priesthood) even before he was ordained to a priesthood office. Covenant-keeping members have been blessed with priesthood power as they remain worthy. (Handbook 3.5)
When I was in college, I lived with faithful female friends. I never felt a lack of priesthood power in our apartment. I did not fully understand why until I understood the distinctions between priesthood power, authority, and office. We each had priesthood power because we kept our covenants.
Those with priesthood keys of presidency unlock the authority of the priesthood for those they are stewards over. Relatively few people hold priesthood keys of presidency. (Handbook 220.127.116.11)
People have priesthood authority in the hierarchical structure because of their priesthood office, or a church calling they have been set-apart in. “Priesthood authority is the authorization to represent God and act in His name. In the Church, all priesthood authority is exercised under the direction of those who hold priesthood keys,” according to the Church’s Handbook 3.4.
A woman can feel priesthood power, and this is enhanced as she makes and keeps covenants. A woman who has been set apart in her calling has priesthood authority. She also has priesthood authority in her home, including within her marriage and family. She has priesthood authority by virtue of her worship in the temple.
While serving in various Church callings, especially as a missionary and as a teacher, I have felt priesthood authority in fulfilling those callings.
Presiding in the Family
A woman lives up to her priesthood privilege in the family by being an equal partner with her husband — a single woman always presides in her home
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” states, “Fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness.” Unfortunately, some have misinterpreted “preside” in an unequal way.
Knowing the priesthood works differently in the family and in the Church is crucial to understanding more about fathers presiding in a family. In the hierarchical structure of the priesthood within the Church, the person who presides is the ultimate authority in that setting. However, this is not how a husband or father presides in the family.
When I was younger, my family was on vacation with my grandparents. My grandma got everyone’s attention because she wanted to have a family spiritual devotional. As she began to lead the discussion, she stopped and apologized to my grandpa, her husband, and said that he should lead the discussion because he presides.
I remember feeling bothered by my grandparents’ exchange, because I felt it was completely appropriate for my grandma to lead a spiritual discussion.
Referring back to Sister Gardner’s book (it is an incredible book you all should read!), she says that she points out to her students what the Brethren do not teach about presiding:
“President Nelson, for example, does not mention making the final decision, bossing, or even being in charge, but rather talks of love, service, help, and ensuring sacred family time. It is clear that presiding requires being like and treating others as Christ would” (104).
The Church Handbook supports that presiding is Christlike:
“Presiding in the family is the responsibility to help lead family members back to dwell in God’s presence. This is done by serving and teaching with gentleness, meekness, and pure love, following the example of Jesus Christ” (Handbook 2.1.3).
President M. Russell Ballard said about fathers presiding in their family:
“Fathers perform priesthood ordinances and give priesthood blessings, including father’s blessings to their children.”
Women, including wives and mothers, preside in their home too. It is inappropriate for a priesthood-ordained son to choose someone to pray instead of his mother. It is demeaning for priesthood-holding brethren to direct a meeting within the home of the single sister they are visiting (such as a ministering).
Women are crucial in teaching the gospel to their family. (I will discuss this more in a future post.)
Sister Julie B. Beck, former Relief Society General President, said:
“The priesthood role of fathers is to preside and pass priesthood ordinances to the next generation. The priesthood role of mothers is to influence. These are essential, complementary, and interdependent responsibilities” (Gardner, 108).
I am grateful for the women and men in my life who have been excellent examples of working together in unity to help God’s children on the gospel path. I have seen family members, friends, and church leaders do this well. I am confident the youth today have a better understanding of the priesthood than I did as a kid. Overall, I believe and hope most men in the Church are presiding righteously. However, learning more about what presiding in the family means was important to me as I studied more about the priesthood.
When I learned more about the familial structure of the priesthood in the family and the temple, it showed me that God really has empowered men and women to work together as equals. I am blessed to be married to the most Christlike person I have ever met, and he and I have always felt equal and complementary. I am grateful to now have the information and language to be able to teach our child and others about what presiding and priesthood authority means in the family.
Increasing Priesthood Power
I am truly grateful for the renewed emphasis on teaching truth about women and the priesthood. I have learned so much, and there is still so much to learn! Learning correct doctrine is crucial because, as President Nelson said, “[G]ood inspiration is based upon good information.” How can God teach you how to live up to your divine potential if you don’t know what it is?
While studying the priesthood, I have felt frustrated because a lot of what I learned was personal revelation. (Over time, the truths I received personally were confirmed by Church leaders, which has been exciting.) Receiving personal revelation is a lot of work. While rewarding and invigorating, it would be nice to have everything about the priesthood spelled out easily. Llearning how to increase the power of the priesthood in your life is done primarily through personal revelation.
When inviting women to draw the Savior’s priesthood power more fully into their lives, President Nelson said, “The Holy Ghost will be your personal tutor as you seek to understand what the Lord would have you know and do.”
He also taught that service, sincere prayers, fasting, scripture study, temple worship, family history work, and increased personal purity will increase priesthood power.
“Sisters, you have the right to draw liberally upon the Savior’s power to help your family and others you love.”
How encouraging is that? Our prophet is reminding us women that we can pull down the powers of heaven. It is our right and privilege. What a blessing and comfort! The trials you and I have faced on a personal and societal level have been difficult. I’m sure that you, like me, have seen others you love suffer. I’m sure you want to protect those you love from pain and sorrow as much as you can. Our society and personal trials are not over. It is empowering to know that we as women can work with the men in our lives to invoke priesthood power into our lives. Imagine the spiritual protection and resilience of a family whose mother and father know their priesthood privilege and use it to bless and protect their marriage and children! God wants to bless us, and He wants us all to have His help. Living up to priesthood privilege is all about inviting God’s infinite power into our lives.