Question: Why do women not hold priesthood offices in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

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Question: Why do women not hold priesthood offices in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

During the early years of the LDS Church, no provision was made in the revelations describing the priesthood along with its offices for the ordination of women

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints positions in the leadership hierarchy are generally connected directly to offices in the priesthood. During the early years of the LDS Church, no provision was made in the revelations describing the priesthood along with its offices for the ordination of women.[1] Consequently, when the Church received revelation describing the authority structure of the Church in terms of priesthood offices and roles, women were not included. This situation changed to some extent between 1842 and 1844. During the last two years of his life, Joseph Smith both organized the Relief Society and began introducing the temple ordinances (in particular the endowment) to the larger membership of the Church. Both of these developments had consequences for the view of women’s roles in the Church and in discussions over the relationship between women and the priesthood. Joseph addressed the Relief Society six times—the only sermons which he delivered exclusively to women in the Church—and these sermons (found in the Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book) continue to frame the discussion of the role of women in the Church and their relationship to the priesthood.[2]

Are women unequal because they don't hold priesthood office?

Some have questioned the recognition of women in the Restored tradition because women cannot hold priesthood office. The Restored Gospel may actually be argued to have a more equal view of women than a lot of other traditions. A few data to keep in mind:

  1. As part of the Restored Gospel, men and women cannot be exalted without the other. The culminating ordinance of the Gospel is the sealing of men and women to each other for time and all eternity.
  2. The Restored Gospel teaches us that God has a Heavenly Consort. This is in contrast to much of the rest of Christendom.
  3. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has one of the largest women's organizations in the world in the Relief Society.
  4. Women exercise priesthood authority in the effectuation of temple ordinances.
  5. An argument may be made for equality by asking candidly about differing efficacies between different mechanisms for expressing faith. As a sobering example, we might consider if God is going to withhold blessings more from the sincere prayer of a mother praying on behalf of a sick child than he would if a priesthood holder were to give a blessing. We would of course shutter at the idea of saying that he does. But then the question arises of what the purpose of the priesthood is in blessing others. It might be more properly conceived as another means to show our faith in God. By believing in the power of the priesthood enough to ask for a blessing is a demonstration of our inner faith in its power. As we learn in the scriptures, God works by power, according to the faith of the children of men (1 Nephi 10:17 (17-19); Moroni 7:37; Moroni 10:7). We should be open to the promptings of the Spirit in such instances to know if that is what God would have us do. But we should not conceive of the priesthood bestowing a higher level of power that makes the conferral of blessings more efficacious or superior to other, very sincerely effectuated mechanisms of expressing faith. Thus, perhaps the fallacy is in thinking too structurally and in relation to the earthly organization of the Church instead of cosmically/theologically when determining the equality of women in the Church and before God. The amount of power is all the same; the faith we demonstrate towards God to receive that power is different. This may demonstrate that priesthood office is a mere division of labor instead of a sign of additional favor towards men from God.
  6. Some might still say that having the priesthood is still a bestowal of greater power on men. An additional argument may be made for a sense of equality in that the priesthood would not function without the voices of women if men conceived of the priesthood elevating them above women. In Doctrine and Covenants 121:36-42 we read:

36 That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.

37 That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.

38 Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.

39 We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

40 Hence many are called, but few are chosen.

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile

The priesthood was never meant to place men above anyone. If anyone conceives of the priesthood as elevating them to higher planes i.e. "gratify [] pride, [or] vain ambition" then the priesthood is "withdrawn" and "Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man". Thus women's voices are needed. Through "persuasion" and "long-suffering" we are to counsel with one another. This principle is emphasized in The Family: A Proclamation to the World:

Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children.

[. . .]

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

It is still very possible that women will hold priesthood office one day. One also hopes that women will be given access to callings that don't require priesthood authority. Such is also very possible. We can also continue to highlight the contributions of female Latter-day Saints to the Church--both ancient and modern. The Church is doing this as well.[3]But the reception of authority and office will not signify a change in status or respect before God. All are alike unto God; male and female — as Nephi and Paul tell us (Romans 2:11; 1 Corinthians 11:11; 2 Nephi 26:33). The theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints expresses that.

Notes

  1. The most significant revelations relating to the structure and function of the priesthood are found in D&C Sections 20:, 84:, and 107:. The language is almost entirely gendered. For example, 20:60 reads “Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is in the one who ordains him.”
  2. It is difficult to overemphasize the value of this record. A copy has been placed on-line at the Joseph Smith Papers website of the Church here.
  3. Take for example the publication of "At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women" or the introduction of a new class to Institute students "Women in the Scriptures"