I am honored to be here with you today and excited to have a chance to talk about this topic that is near and dear to my heart. The book [Live Up to Our Privileges] that came out in April or May from Deseret book had its birth conception here, three years ago, and I hope that I can add to the discussion that we began three years ago. I don’t expect any of you to remember that so I will just maybe repeat everything I said then and you won’t know the difference. That’s ok too.
I’d like you to get out a piece of paper and a pencil, if you’ve got one, because I’m going to ask you to do something every once in a while. My husband is a great speaker and really good in a group this size at getting people to talk to each other and interact as a group and I’m lousy at those things, mostly because I hate when people make me talk to people. I don’t like it. I’m not going to make you talk to anybody, but you may want to talk to yourself a little bit. I am a psychologist and I will not diagnose you with anything if you do that, I promise.
I’d like to begin with three simple questions. On a scale of one to ten, how well do you think you are living up to your privileges relative to the priesthood and priesthood power? Number two: how well do you understand what your privileges are relative to the priesthood and priesthood power? And three: how important is it to you to understand and live up to those privileges?
After speaking about this topic three years ago, I came away wondering if I was really living up to my privileges and I am still asking myself those questions. But I hope today we can continue that conversation and look a little bit at some of the ways that we can start valuing, understanding, and living up a little better to the privileges I believe everyone in this room has been offered, relative to the priesthood.
Let me just see by a show of hands, what did you write for number one? Sevens, eights, fives, fives, fives, sevens . . . And I don’t see any big difference based on gender. Both men and women are in the five to seven range, as near as I can tell, which is interesting. How well do you understand those privileges? eight, six, five, four, seven, eight, nine. We got a range on that one as well. And I hope that if you don’t feel that it’s important, you will find someplace else to go to church.
I think one of the things that has been really helpful for me in this discussion has been to simply try to understand better what are we even talking about. We get criticism internally and externally, because women, quote, ‘don’t hold the priesthood in the Mormon Church’, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But I think sometimes we misunderstand a little bit internally as well as externally, certainly, there is some misunderstanding about what we really mean about priesthood. Because we have a different view of what priesthood is. And when we think we are talking about the same thing that other people are talking about, it can create confusion on both sides.
So, let’s look for a minute what priesthood is, as it’s commonly understood. If you look it up on Wikipedia or something, it will tell you [that] “…priesthood is the office or position of being a priest.” That’s not very helpful. So, then you have to go to what’s a priest. “A priest is a religious leader authorized to perform the sacred rituals of a cult, of a religion.”
Sometimes priests are also authorized to interpret sacred texts, usually because they have been schooled for many years in training in what those texts mean; and to intercede with the divine on behalf of other people, which is why they perform those rituals in the first place, I suppose.
We can see elements of our understanding of what priesthood is to us, as well. But we can also see, perhaps, some differences. For example, you may notice that religions that don’t have a lot of religious ritual in the first place don’t have priests. They call them something else. That’s sort of the nature of what a priest is. It’s somebody who does the rituals of a faith.
If we were to look at just who does the rituals of our faith, particularly our most exalting and important rituals, we would see kind of a 50/50 mix, men and women. And yet sometimes, we don’t think of that as being the work of priests or the work of priesthood because we think of priests as being the people who bless and pass the sacrament and baptize people. Those are the rituals they are in charge of or have authority to perform, rituals that are pretty basic and pretty simple, and pretty fundamental to what we believe, but would probably be rituals we would see as rituals having to do with salvation, maybe, more than exaltation. Maybe [these are] the fundamentals, but not even the most empowering rituals of our faith, which is kind of interesting.
Priests are not referenced in the New Testament church. Paul talks about priests in Hebrews and they are referenced in other places, but they are always referring to priests in the temple in Judaism. They are not referring to the priests in the New Testament church. There is no mention that they had priests, probably because when they thought of the word “priests”, they thought of the people running the temple sacrifices over in Jerusalem, and that would be the main reference they had for priest. In the early church they are just finding their own rituals and their own place for priesthood. And a lot of these words that we borrow and use for offices in the priesthood, really start out as common everyday words with common everyday interpretations that are sort of different from our own.
It’s interesting to me, then, that we are making some progress at least internally, in demonstrating that women in the Church do priestly things, even though we don’t say they have the priesthood. We maybe don’t have as much of an understanding of what priesthood is and how women participate in it. So, let’s look at that.
This is a definition drawn from a number of talks that I read from current general authorities about what priesthood is. We see priesthood as the power by which God creates, governs, and redeems His children and the universe. That’s a little different from priesthood being the authority in your religion to perform the rituals of your religion, isn’t it? So, we have a very different idea about what we mean by priesthood. We see it very differently.
And as portrayed in the beautiful picture by Walter Rane (Jehovah Creates the Earth by Walter Rane), this priesthood power to create and govern the universe, can sort of feel like super power. You have Jesus up there casting a spell on the elements, looking like Superman as He creates the world, it looks like with lightning bolts and high drama. And it may be true, I don’t know how all those things happen, that memory’s been blocked. But perhaps, even the way that God creates and governs and redeems, would look to an observer, if we had such a thing, much more like a kind of mundane, time-intensive maybe even evolutionary process, than maybe casting lightning bolts to create the earth in a matter of minutes or hours or days. And so, we can get the idea even if we see this as being what priesthood really is, it makes priesthood feel even more distant, more unlike anything I do, something that is completely unfamiliar and unrelated to my normal life. I think that that can be its own kind of problem for us.
So, in any case, it’s not just authority from a church to do these rights, but the power of God over matter and life. So, then we can add to that definition, from Joseph F. Smith, priesthood is the power of God, delegated to man (as in mankind, humanity), to act in the earth for the salvation of the human family. That sounds a little more like something I could aspire to participate in. He does the saving, but we get to participate, either literally by temporally saving people, or symbolically through ordinances, helping people access God’s salvation. So women in the Church, we can see ourselves as women, we can see women in that role a little more as they perform rituals, and they teach, and they interpret doctrine, and they pray for others, expecting their intersessions to be efficacious at the throne of God.
We can certainly argue, then, that women as well as men perform these priestly roles in the Church. In fact, I can’t really find anything that I’ve seen as a definition of what it means to hold the priesthood, that women don’t do in some way. Women certainly participate in performing the sacred rituals of our faith, they teach, they interpret scriptures, they stand in leadership roles, they intercede through prayers public and private, on behalf of others. What is it, then, that women don’t have that men do? I think there is something that men have when they are ordained to the priesthood and given priesthood offices or keys. But I’m having a really hard time articulately exactly what that is.
And so then we add a slightly different definition to President Smith and say that it’s the power of God delegated to men and women (which would be to mankind which would be included there anyway), to help create, govern, redeem, and empower the human family. We are not just trying to save people, God is not just trying to save people from their sins, but to empower them with all that He is and has. That is a unique, even blasphemous doctrinal claim that we make. To most of Christianity and the world, that is seen as a blasphemous statement. The idea that God can make us in His own image in every sense of the word, is impossible.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who joined the Church from Catholicism as a teenager. She was back visiting with family members from Catholicism back East. These people had all gone to parochial schools. They saw themselves as staunch Catholics. But when she began talking to them about how they experienced religion in their life, what their relationship was like with God, she said, “…they looked at me like I had three horns and said things like ‘you don’t have a relationship with God. God is something so far distant, so far out there, so far away from anything I am, that it would be blasphemous to assume I could have a relationship with Him. I am His creation. I’m not in relationship to Him. My job is to praise and honor Him. But I don’t have a relationship with Him’.” I don’t think that’s necessarily a common feeling in Christianity, but it was hers.
So, I’d like to look today at some of the details under what priesthood might entail for women and men in the church. And we have our wonderful Relief Society president and our newest apostle seated together here, in what I thought was a reasonably good picture, to describe what we are going to be talking about.
We believe (I’m going to assert some of these things, and talk about some of them in more detail, and just leave some of them as just assertions) that both women and men in the Church may receive priesthood authority from those holding priesthood keys; develop and exercise priesthood power; participate in God’s work in the world as embodied in priesthood offices (which we will spend a little more time at); be organized according to priesthood patterns in Quorums, Relief Society, and Young Women; enter the Order of the Son of God associated with the Melchizedek Priesthood, from a beautiful talk by President Benson that we won’t go into today; and receive the transcendent blessings associated with obtaining the priesthood.
So, we will look at some of these in more detail than others.
The first one, women and men receive priesthood authority, is just sort of a new idea in the last five years, really. Articulated by Elder Oaks in conference in 2014. “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? . . .
“When a women, young or old, is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or a teacher in a church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys, exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.” (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood, April 2014 General Conference)
I think one of the ways we receive authority is by a specific calling or office. There are others. If I am given a temple recommend, I am being authorized to go to the temple and do work there in a priestly role, on behalf of the dead. If I am given a ministering assignment by my Relief Society president, who doesn’t specifically hold priesthood keys, I am nevertheless acting under her authority, given to her by someone who does hold those keys, in doing that work of the priesthood which is involved in meeting with the house of each member and supporting and instructing and helping them.
There are different ways that we can be given that authority. Elder Ballard, in 2015, says, “Like faithful sisters in the past, you need to learn how to use the priesthood authority with which you have been endowed.” He doesn’t explain exactly what he means by that. How are women and men endowed with priesthood authority? I don’t know exactly, but It’s a provocative statement. And he says, “We need to do that to obtain every eternal blessing that will be yours. We need to learn how to use the priesthood authority with which we have been endowed in order to obtain every eternal blessing that will be ours.” [That] is his quote here.
So I hope that’s enough to sort of make the claim women have priesthood authority that they can receive. Next we are going to talk a little bit about priesthood power. We are very quickly trying to lay some framework here. Women and men develop and exercise priesthood power. Again from Elder Ballard, “When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which is, by definition, priesthood power . . .
“While the authority of the priesthood is directed through priesthood keys held only by worthy men, access to the power and blessings of the priesthood is available to all God’s children.”
I put this picture in because when I was out walking the other day in the mountains near where I live, I came across this creek. I thought, “It’s a little like the authority of the priesthood is like the banks of the river.” The rocks are very visible here. They channel, or direct, the flow of the water. The water itself, however, is the power of the priesthood. And that power is what gives life to that which is on either side of the bank of the river. If you have ever been at a dry creek bed, you can see where the river was supposed to go, but things don’t continue to grow there if the water has stopped flowing in that direction. And that was a helpful analogy for me in understanding, a little bit, the difference perhaps between priesthood authority and priesthood power.
Now if we are going to talk, however, about power, we need to understand something, because I read recently in a talk from President Nelson, a talk to the priesthood, on how to obtain power. We are going to look at it in a minute. He talked about the importance of letting the Savior know that your desire, above all else, is to have His power in your life. And I thought, that sounds a little scary to admit to, you know. It sounds like “I want power!” But there’s a difference between how we understand power in the world and how we understand power in the Church.
In the world, power is about massing resources, command and control, intimidating by threat and punishment, getting others to do what you want, symbols that make you look strong and important. In godly power (and there’s a range in between. I’m sort of looking at the anchors on either side), godly power is about distributing the resources from an attitude of abundance, not deficit; inviting and persuading, not command and control; inspiring confidence through love and support not intimidating by threat and punishment; and empowering others to do what they want, not trying to get them to do what you want.
That is a little bit of an unusual idea, perhaps. We think of God as wanting us to do what He wants. But I noticed, I remember reading a scripture and I couldn’t find it quickly right now, but He was talking about the sons of perdition not getting the celestial kingdom because they were not willing to receive it. And so they are going to get what they are willing to receive. It’s even with those people that we would think of as God condemning, but He says, “No, I’m just giving them what they want.” This is what they want. They want other things with it, that you can’t have in eternal law, but they are getting what they want. And He’s trying to help us all, too.
I had to include the picture on the left here because we just got back from Russia, last night late at night. We spent a day in Russia this week. We heard a great joke that I thought was relevant. I’m not good at jokes, so this is it. Listen carefully. The Russian person we were talking to said, “There are four things that you don’t get to choose in life. You don’t get to choose your parents. You don’t get to choose your nationality, where you are born. You don’t get to choose your religion. And you don’t get to choose the president of Russia.
And I thought, well we kind of believe you do get to choose, maybe at least participate in choosing your parents and your nationality and you definitely get to choose your religion, but we will give you the fourth one. But a healthy power that is somewhere in between these two extremes is also possible. And even God sometimes seems to use something that looks like worldly power. But that’s not his modus operandi most of the time.
There are some vehicles that God uses to help us develop healthy power, that have been really interesting for me to contemplate. This is the question that I would encourage you to think about more over the next little while. You can go home and talk to each other about this and tell me you answers, because I think it is really an interesting question. What does God use to help us develop His kind of power? And as near as I can tell what He uses weakness and vulnerability in order to teach us power. The kind of power he has comes through those processes.
It seems to involve stripping us of knowledge we once had, of access to God more directly that we once had, leaving us weak , dependent, and vulnerable as we come into this mortal experience, because there is something about that process that helps us develop godly power. I could ponder that a long time, but it seems to suggest that godly power has something to do with lessons about humility and compassion and empathy that can only be learned through suffering and submission and sacrifice.
So how do we participate in this power in the Church? Let me ask you another question. Just write down a word or two. If you were living up to your privileges of exercising priesthood power, where would you be? Imagine yourself, think about a time when you saw or would imagine yourself exercising priesthood power, where would you be? What would you be doing? How would it feel? How would it feel to the people around you?
I asked these questions of a group of women I was meeting with recently, and they had some interesting insights. I asked them specifically “If you were living up to your privileges of exercising priesthood power as a woman, what would you be experiencing?” But I first asked them, “If you were to imagine a man exercising his priesthood power, where would he be and what would he be doing?” And they said, “He’d be at Church, running a meeting, setting someone apart, or giving a blessing.” That’s what they thought of. How many of you thought of those kinds of things?
Nobody! Well, they were weird then. But I thought, “Yeah, that’s probably what I would think of, too.” And one of the reasons, maybe, women don’t think of themselves as having priesthood power sometimes, is because we limit ourselves to those kinds of images.
They said things like, “I would be at my friends house, I’d be at work, I’d be in the community, I’d be ministering, I’d be in my Primary class, I’d be at home in my bedroom, I’d be in the kitchen, I’d be in the temple, I’d be in the garden.” The only one that was remotely suggestive of being in the Church, was in my Primary class. It was nothing to do with running a meeting, and nothing to do with ordaining somebody or giving someone a blessing.
In fact what they would be doing was teaching, speaking, counseling, ministering, writing, Church callings, praying, leading, temple service, healing, serving. Lots and lots of things. So I think one of the things that may be valuable for all of us is when women have to expand how we see ourselves looking at priesthood power, perhaps it helps all of us to expand where we might see ourselves exercising priesthood power.
I asked them how they would feel if they were exercising this priesthood power and they sort of implied things like, “I would feel like men look to me when they are doing this.” Which is confident, powerful, strong, joyful, in charge, in tune with the Spirit. That’s how I [would] feel if I really felt like I could exercise priesthood power. And I wrote all those things down. And then I paused and I waited and I said, “Anything else?” And there was a pause. And then a woman said, “I’d feel nervous.” They added, “I’d feel overwhelmed. I might feel worried that I wasn’t doing it right. Hesitant. Inadequate.”
And I could tell there was kind of a feeling “Because I don’t [have]this power in the legitimate way he has it, so he wouldn’t feel those things that I’m feeling.” Let me ask you brethren, have any of you in a church calling where you’ve been asked to exercise priesthood power, when you’ve been asked to give a blessing or run a meeting, or make a decision, have you ever felt overwhelmed, worried, hesitant, nervous or inadequate? The men I’ve talked to have!
And I think sometimes women need to understand as well, this is part and parcel of spiritual growth. Because we feel nervous or hesitant doesn’t mean we are doing something wrong, It means we are trying to grow. And that comes with the territory of increasing our spiritual power.
I also asked them, “How would others feel if you were doing this?” And they said pretty quickly, “Disapproving perhaps, curious maybe. But critical. Distrustful.” Finally one of them said, “Well maybe they would feel inspired if I was doing something that looked like I was powerful in some way. “ And finally someone said, “I hope they would feel empowered. “
And that’s a really important thing here. Because that’s the difference between godly power and worldly power. Worldly power is something you amass to yourselves. Godly power is about empowering others and giving away everything. He gives away the store. And if we are going to be empowered in the way that He wants us to be, I think that’s what we are going to be trying to learn, too. Not just to be powerful, but to be empowering.
So this is the talk I referenced from President Nelson [that] we won’t go into a lot of detail on. I highly recommend it. It’s in the priesthood session of the April 2017 conference. But it’s very applicable to all of us as we are trying to exercise and learn to develop priesthood power. We need to have the desire. “When the Savior can feel that the greatest desire of your heart is to draw His power into your life, you will be led by the Holy Ghost to know exactly what you should do.” That is an astounding promise.
I don’t know that there are many times in my life when I felt like I knew exactly from the Holy Ghost everything I should do. But I am interested in that. He is basically saying, “It is good to want power, spiritual power, priesthood power, because it’s not going to be about you. It’s going to be about how you can serve, how you can bless, how you can help others.”
Are you willing to pray to know how to pray for more power. That’s one I’m writing down. Am I praying to know how to pray for power? Am I studying, am I praying to know how to study so I can be empowered? Am I avoiding worldly distractions? Am I praying to know how to do that so that the power of the Lord can come into my life?
He adds these others as well. Are you going to the temple looking for how to draw His power into your life? Are you keeping your covenants in a way that empowers you with His power?
I left this one without changing it as I might have, as I was quickly tempted to do. He is talking to the priesthood brethren. But he says, “Cherish you wife. And embrace both her and her counsel.” Women have heard a lot that we are to listen to the counsel of our spouses, and he is here asking the men to listen to the counsel of their spouses, which I thought was very lovely.
Quoting, “By union of feeling, we obtain power with God.” And then to act on the things that we are trying to do. What was kind of disappointing to me, as I read this talk, which is about how to get priesthood power, was that it is not rocket science. There is nothing unusual here. There’s nothing new, there’s nothing magical, there’s not thunderbolts, there’s no drama. If we want priesthood power in our lives, this is what our prophet has told us will bring it. The simple things that we know to do, but that can feel kind of mundane, that can feel kind of unexciting in some ways.
So I want to go now to “How do we participate in God’s work through the offices of the priesthood?” As I tried to understand, what is the work of God in the world, it occurred to me that those priesthood offices seem to embody that work. And that one way of understanding what a priesthood office is, is it’s a stewardship over a particular element of God’s work in the world. But that stewardship isn’t restricted to men. And the work that is embodied in those offices is not restricted to those who hold those offices either. As women, we are also involved in the work of God in the world in all of the ways that these are implicating.
So I went to the scriptures to try to see what those offices include. All of the offices of the priesthood are told words like: “You are to preach, teach, exhort, expound, warn, and invite.” All of them have that. Those are not restricted to teachers. In matter of fact, teachers are given different responsibilities that are separate from those. But all of them are invited to do that.
Let me just ask you, on any given Sunday, I think one of the apostles made this comment one time, what percent of the teaching, expounding, exhorting, warning, inviting and preaching is being done by women in the wards and branches of the Church? And his comment was “at least 50% or more” is being done by women.
Deacons, really the only thing they are required to do scripturally is assist other priesthood holders. That’s it. There’s nothing said about passing the sacrament. There’s nothing said about any of that. It’s just you are just supposed to assist other people. That’s in part because deacons, in the early days of the Church when these scriptures were given, were adult men. It was only in the late 1800’s in Utah when they were losing the rising generation, the kids were out shoplifting and being hooligans, that they said, “We’ve got to get them involved in the Church. We are going to give the priesthood to these young men, see if we can rein them in and get them involved in the work of salvation for the human family.”
So they started giving these offices to young men. And then [the work] had to change. What are we going to have them do? So they thought of something for the deacons to do. And they thought of stuff for the teachers to do. Because before that, especially the teachers, the teachers quorum, were the home teachers of the Church. They were block teachers, they were assigned a block of families, adult men who would go two by two, and they would counsel with them like a bishop would. They were even, to some extent, involved with forgiving their sins and doing marriage counseling and things like that. Helping people. You don’t ask 14 year olds to do that, do you?
So, you might send them out with another adult man to sort of begin to learn how that looks a little bit. But you are not just going to turn that over to them. So that’s what they were asked to do, to just go along with the other guys and maybe set up the sacrament table. But their real calling is to visit the members and watch over and strengthen them. Does that sound like anything you do sisters? Gentlemen? Brothers?
This is the ministering program of the church basically, in its current iteration of this kind of assignment. The work embodied in the office of a teacher is building community. How do we help unite people as a community in smaller groups than you can find in just a ward or a branch.
Priests officiate in holy saving ordinances. That’s what priests do. We’ve learned that from the definition we already read.
Then we get into the Melchizedek priesthood. The definition starts “An apostle is an Elder” and this is what elders do. So, an elder sort of embodies the totality of the Melchizedek priesthood in many ways. And the rest of the offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood are kind of hit and miss. There are probably people in this room who are elders and have never been a high priest, bishop, patriarch, sealer, seventy, apostle, or prophet. And you don’t need to be. These are specific responsibilities that go with a particular calling, and you are given that office for a particular part of your life, but you only operate within that office under the keys of somebody who has told you “Yes. You should do that now, you should be a bishop now for this group of people in this place.” So an elder is kind of a foundational thing that everybody needs to be, including the women of the church in some ways.
High priests govern, they sit in council. Sisters, are you using the opportunities to sit in council that we have been given? At a ward and stake level, one of the primary challenges we face is, are we working in councils effectively? As women, are we giving counsel, are we listening well to counsel in council settings, are we seconding the ideas of other people? Do we feel like if our particular opinion is not what is put into place that we haven’t been heard, or do we recognize that it is by unity of feeling which we have to get to by listening and sharing both, that we get to that unity of feeling?
From the top council of the First Presidency to the ward council at the simplest level, governance in the Church happens by councils, which women participate in. And we need to do it effectively. As men and women, we need to do it effectively.
We’ve got other callings here. Sealer is not really an office in the priesthood, but it functions pretty much the same as an office in the priesthood. Do women participate in the sealing function? Can it be done if there isn’t a woman in the room? No. Because an ordinance is not just words. There is no ordinance that is just words. There is always a physical component to every ordinance. That’s why they have to be done, apparently, in the flesh. And unless you are there kneeling at that alter in that priesthood forum, as a woman, that sealing cannot take place.
In addition to the minor reality that when women give birth within the new and everlasting covenant, they are in essence performing for themselves for their child that sealing function that cannot otherwise be done except by a sealer in the temple.
So women participate in all of these things, including the opportunity to bear a personal witness of Christ’s divinity and resurrection with certain knowledge.
Let’s look for a minute at the priesthood office of a deacon. The priesthood office of a deacon is kind of interesting. As I say, it really doesn’t have an office responsibility, other than just helping other priesthood holders. But it’s kind of interesting to think about what that might look like. The duties of a deacon today are by assignment. But the word deacon comes from the word diakonos, I don’t know exactly how to pronounce it, it’s just all Greek to me. It’s from the story in Acts where they are trying to live communally, and they eat together, the new members of the church. And we’ve got Jews and Gentiles kind of working this out. And they are trying to figure this out. And someone starts complaining that the widows in the Greek community are being neglected in the daily ministration of the food.
I don’t know exactly what that meant. I don’t know if the widows were in mourning in their houses and weren’t allowed to go out, so they weren’t getting fed. Or whether they liked olives more than the Jews liked olives and they weren’t getting . . . I don’t know what was going on.
But the apostles, who are the sent ones, the messengers of this message of the way of Christ, they say, “Well, it wouldn’t make sense for us to stop being apostles to wait tables.”
And that’s what the word diakonos means, to wait tables. It means to serve the food. Think about the waiter at Chili’s last night. That’s a diakonos. In Thomas Wayment’s beautiful translation of the New Testament for Latter-day Saints recently published by Deseret Book, he points this out a lot. Every time the word servant comes up, he points out, this is not a male/female word. And it just means to wait tables. It just means to distribute the food. It just means to pass out the food at the table. That’s what “servant” means.
So, it makes sense, in some ways, that the deacons would be given the role of passing out the sacrament because that’s where this word comes from. They chose seven men, called the Seven, to wait tables, to make sure that this was done. And they were adult men, of mature spiritual understanding. In fact, Stephen, the first martyr of the church, was one of these men. And their names were all Greek. Does that tell you something about the sensitivity with which this was handled? The Greek women were the ones being neglected. They said let’s get the strong Greek men. You oversee this. You make sure this works. We are not going to micromanage it. You just take care of it.
But it got me thinking about God’s foundational role in feeding his children. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t really care whether I have the privilege of standing up and passing out the sacrament trays. As far as I’m concerned, I pass the sacrament every single week. There’s nothing–it’s not that I’m not allowed to touch it. The role of the deacon is to make sure no one is neglected in the daily ministration.
It’s interesting to think about how Christ and apostles would have performed the work of a deacon. Can you think of times when that would have been the case? It’s interesting for me to think about that, because it’s interesting for me to think about everything Christ did in those terms. Because Christ did not have the priesthood in His day, did He? He was not born into the correct lineage of the tribe of Levi to be seen as a priest in his day. He did not serve in the temple. We see him as having a different priesthood. Paul makes that argument skillfully. But He wasn’t a priest in His day. He found other ways to do the work of these offices just like I’m trying to do.
So, I love these beautiful pictures from Jorge Cocco. Do we see the apostles acting as deacons when Christ is feeding the five thousand? Do we see the Savior Himself acting as a deacon, preparing the food as a resurrected being on the shores of Galilee, telling the apostles where to fish so that they can be assured there will always be enough and to spare? So now “go feed my sheep”.
I don’t think the deacon role is the bottom rung of the ladder and then you climb up to apostle and prophet. Deacon is the foundation stone of making sure everyone is fed and no one is neglected in that daily ministration. In fact, were these your first deacons? They were mine.
The deacon’s role is first played in our lives by women. And continues to be played by women through our Church experience, with compassionate service, with ministering, with bringing the food to the ward dinner, with whatever it may be. This is a godly role and it changes how I see it when I think of the ways that God plays this role by feeding Adam and Eve, by feeding his children. In fact, in the last days, this mighty river that will flow out of the temple with priesthood power and heal the Dead Sea and heal the world, will be flanked by trees of life whose fruit will feed the world and whose leaves will heal the nations. Because I believe we are those trees that God is trying to teach us how to become, to take the seed of the gospel into our own lives, to become that tree that produces that fruit, that others will eat and plant the seed for themselves. That’s who God is. Someone who keeps giving away the seeds so that we can produce our own trees and give the seeds away to others.
So if we get into the role of an elder, elders have some specific ordinances to do that women don’t necessarily directly participate in, but I thought it was fascinating that in addition to confirming the newly baptized with the Holy Ghost, there is a specific reiteration of that that talks about confirming the Church by the laying on of hands and the Holy Ghost.
What does it take to confirm someone a member of the Church, I wonder? Not just in that symbolic sense but literally. How do we participate in confirming one another in the Church through the Holy Ghost? We talk about healing the sick and conducting meetings as led by the Holy Ghost and missionary service as being under the realm of elders. There’s some fascinating examples, of course, from the early days of the Church with people like Eliza R. Snow and Zina Young coming to the ward that I now live in, fairly recently, in Alpine, Utah. My grandmother was a 13-year-old little girl when the first Young Women’s organization was organized in Alpine, Utah, by her Relief Society president who called the Young Women’s president and her counselors.
And then a year later, Eliza and Zina show up to kind of instruct them more. That organization is reordered, and some new people are called and I don’t know by exactly whom. But Zina and Eliza give every one of those young women a blessing by the laying on of hands. Eliza does it in tongues and then Zina interprets by the laying on of hands to bless them.
The commentary that I saw was that this was the first time that these young women had experienced the interpretation and giving of tongues and they were a little taken back, I would imagine. We saw more of women stepping into those kinds of things in the early days of the Church than we do now. Some of those have been reined in with correlation efforts. But some of them have been expanded. For example this is a woman by the name of Elizabeth Claridge McCune. She was a wealthy woman in Utah in 1887, I think it was, who went with her family on an extended trip to Europe. Her husband was very wealthy. And there was a book that had been published at the time, that FAIR [FairMormon] people would have loved, that was very critical of the Church and especially of the Church’s treatment of women in Utah.
And on short notice at the London annual conference, Sister McCune was called to the pulpit. In the morning session it was announced from the pulpit she would be speaking that afternoon, which was a surprise to her and which terrified her. And she said she was nearly scared to death. But she got up and she gave this talk and she talked about her own experience. They did this because the male elders were having a really hard time refuting the claims of this book. But she said from the pulpit that she had traveled extensively in the US and Europe and never found women held in such high esteem as among Mormons of Utah. She said, “Our husbands are proud of their wives and daughters. They do not consider that they were created solely to wash dishes and tend babies, but they give them every opportunity to attend meetings and lectures. And to take up everything which will educate and develop them. Our religion teaches us that the wife stands shoulder to shoulder with the husband.”
She was so effective, that they started asking her to speak in more settings. And after a while, within a few months, the mission president in the Europe mission, sent a letter to the President of the Church saying, “ We really could use some good sister missionaries. Any chance you would be willing to call some?”
And the next year, the first sister missionaries, single sister missionaries, were called in part because of the work of Sister Elizabeth McCune in stepping up to an opportunity given to her under the auspices of the priesthood of someone who held the keys. She wrote, “I told my daughter one day that I believed the time was not far distant when women would be called on missions. I often felt if I were commissioned of God, as the young men were, I could have gone into every house and entered into a quiet religious chat with the people, leaving each one with my earnest testimony.” Isn’t that exactly what we would love to see our missionaries able to do today. To simply befriend people and go into their homes and have that quiet, religious chat?
So, those are some of the things that elders do. It’s interesting for us to think, as women, of how we might participate in that work.
One of the ways, of course, and I’ve skipped over priests a little bit, but I think elders is really in some ways more relevant here, is we participate in priesthood ordinances.
This is a picture I found in the temple institute in Jerusalem in Israel and Palestine. I don’t know if you can tell exactly what is going on, but the temple institute there isn’t run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it’s run by the Jewish faith. And they are trying to reorganize things so that they can rebuild the Jewish temple. They are creating all the clothing. They are creating the menorahs. They are creating the lavers and all the different things that would go in a Jewish temple.
This picture was on the wall. What do you see here? This is again the Jewish priestly class of the tribe of Levi. You had the right to be a priest if you were born into that class or that family as a descendant of Aaron. But then you had to be vested. When you reached a certain age you went to the temple to be vested with the priesthood which you had by birthright. But you didn’t get to function as a priest, you weren’t really considered as having the priesthood, till you did this. You went to the temple, you were washed, you were anointed, you were dressed in white clothing, and you were given authority by some kind of laying on of hands, apparently, that made you a priest. Sisters, does any of that sound the slightest bit familiar?
So these are the men coming on the left side into the temple in their normal dress and these are the stacks of white clothing up at the top of the stairs there and the guy’s carrying down the packet of white clothing for the dressing of these priests. Because it’s when they were dressed in this clothing that they were considered to be priests. And only when they were wearing this clothing were they really considered to be priests. If that doesn’t look familiar, then maybe you ought to get your temple recommend renewed.
Joseph Smith spoke of establishing among the Relief Society sisters, a ‘kingdom of priests’. This ‘kingdom of priests’ would be comprised of men and women who made temple covenants. That from the gospel topic Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women at lds.org.
Elder Ballard, “The endowment is literally a gift of power. All who enter the house of the Lord officiate in the ordinances of the priesthood (M. Russell Ballard, Men and women and priesthood power, Ensign, September 2014). “We go to the temple for the first time to be clothed and vested with that authority. And we go back to act in that priestly role on behalf of everyone else we are there for, vicariously or as a worker. In all of those roles we are acting with priesthood authority.”
The priesthood authority, (this is also from that same article) exercised by Latter-day Saint women in the temple and elsewhere, remains largely unrecognized by people outside the Church and is sometimes misunderstood or overlooked by those within.
Latter-day Saints and others often mistakenly equate priesthood with religious office and the men who hold it, which obscures the broader Latter-day Saint concept of priesthood. I hope these images also are familiar to the sisters in the room, to all of you, as you think about women in these roles.
So, we have the opportunity to receive all the blessings associated with the priesthood. The power and authority of the Aaronic Priesthood is to hold the keys of the ministering of angels. The power of the Melchizedek Priesthood is to receive the mysteries of the kingdom, to have the heavens opened to them. to commune and come into the presence of God. What are these blessings? This is it. This is from Elder Ballard again on Men and Women and Priesthood Power: “All who have made sacred covenants with the Lord and who honor those covenants, are eligible to receive…the ministering of angels and to commune with God (the specific blessings associated with the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood) and…to become heirs alongside [Jesus] Christ of all [our Father] has.”
Reiterating that same comment, ”If you live up to your privileges,” Joseph Smith said to the Relief Society, “angels cannot be restrained from being your associates. Females, if they are pure and innocent, can come into the presence of God.”
I love this, another beautiful image of women’s power in the priesthood. I think it’s fascinating when you think about angels and ministering in the presence of God, that temple officiators, a male and female, represent angels and apostles in their symbolic role of bringing us to the presence of God. It’s not just men standing up there filling that role. It’s women. It’s not just men who in the bishop’s office, tell you you are forgiven of your sins. If you go to the temple as a woman, it’s a woman who will tell you that.
I’ve noticed that women as well as men participate in these roles of representing angels and God. For a long time, when I went to the temple, I was looking at what Adam and Eve could teach me about what I needed to do to get priesthood power. I’ve begun, in recent years, to look at what other people in the temple drama can teach me about priesthood power, about how to empower others, not just how to bring salvation and power to myself. But what do I do then, once I have that? My job in the kingdom of God, in the power of God, is to empower others. That’s what He does. To empower the rising generation and the next, and the next, and the next.
Christ promises that it will be better for the apostles, I read recently, if they have the Holy Ghost. That it’s better for them if He leaves, because then they will have the Holy Ghost. That’s a provocative statement. What could possibly be better than having the living Christ in your midst? And yet He says, “No it’s better if you have the Holy Ghost and not me.” There’s something about that that will help you more to gain the power you came here to gain.
He says we will be better off if we come here to the earth where we will be weak and vulnerable. Christ also represents these lesser gifts. He held no priesthood authority or office in his day, as it was defined. He had no position or office of religious governance of any kind. His Messianic role did not involve ousting the Romans, which is what they were expecting. In fact, the Romans killed Him. Instead He was trying to help people find inner peace that did not involve changing their circumstances. His only influence was through His own wisdom, character, and relationships.
So what might be the best way for an individual today to be like Jesus? Maybe to be a woman in the Church. Now I’m not saying that men also do not gain their greatest victories through sacrifice, through suffering, through submission, and also get ample opportunities to be trained in those important character virtues. But we need not think that we are being left out as women because we learn these things differently.
On a scale of 1-10, you might ask yourself, has anything changed as you’ve thought about these things a little bit? The priesthood isn’t glamorous work, but it is how we understand what God’s work is in the world of saving and empowering the human family.
I repeat this from Elizabeth McCune, and I would add to it: “I believe the time is not far distant when additional opportunities will be opened for women and for men, to participate in the salvation and the empowering of the human family.” But I hope I am stepping up right now, with the humility and the courage and the eagerness and the love, to do what I have been commissioned to do today, in the work of the Lord, acting within the priesthood authority I already have with all the priesthood power I can currently qualify for.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
[Lightly edited for readability and clarity.]