My beliefs on the priesthood 2/12/22

It Starts with a Problem

I’ve been searching for more clarity on the doctrine of the priesthood for about four years. Here’s where I am as of today, February 12, 2022.

“This doctrine of the priesthood—unknown in the world and but little known even in the Church—cannot be learned out of the scriptures alone. The doctrine of the priesthood is known only by personal revelation. It comes, line upon line and precept upon precept, by the power of the Holy Ghost to those who love and serve God with all their heart, might, mind and strength." (source)

In the church, women cannot make any decisions without getting the sign-off from a male leader. We're told we have access to all of the blessings of the priesthood, but in practice, women have no administrative power in the church. The final say is always given by a man. I really struggle with this, especially when men (and women) perpetuate the myth that women are superior to men and so the priesthood is God's way of evening things out. 

In my home, my husband and I are perfectly equal co-presidents, completely identical in authority and leadership in our home. Why are we equal in here but not out there? I have been dying to figure this out.


BYU scholar Barbara Morgan Gardner explained that there are two definitions of the priesthood, and we need to understand the difference between the hierarchical priesthood and the familial priesthood: 

"We often talk about what I would say is the [standard] definition of the priesthood, which is the power and authority of God given to men on the earth. That is the one that we hear a lot. But we’re missing the greater and perhaps the more holistic definition or priesthood, which is: the power of God. God’s power."

1. The Hierarchical Priesthood

This definition of priesthood refers to the "keys," or administrative power, associated today with authority given to men to lead.

In the time of Jesus, a select few, including as His apostles and His mother, had closer contact with Christ, lending them more legitimacy when sharing His teachings with the wider public. Through their close connection to Him, they were able to share His message with the masses as primary resources. Today, through the restoration of the gospel, we have that same connection to Christ through priesthood offices.

There are many benefits to the organizational purposes and righteous usage of priesthood keys, and I am not opposed to the current practices of priesthood keys. 

2. The Familial Priesthood

The highest and most holistic definition is the familial priesthood, as found in the temple (often referred to as the patriarchal priesthood, where the word patriarchal means "family centric" rather than "male centric.") It’s given to us in the temple and through our relationship with our Heavenly Parents and relationships with each other. 

The familial priesthood is God's power, the power that saves us. 
It's the power that binds families and brings miracles. 
It's the power that was used to create this planet and our souls. 
Its limitlessness and divine origin are our own roots, and it connects us to Jesus Christ and His atonement in a very real way, because the priesthood is the very essence of Jesus Christ. 

I believe it to be cosmic and infinite, and I believe I have it within myself.

Where I Am Grappling

I was never taught that there is a difference between administrative authority and the priesthood power of God until I was in my thirties. If you don't go hunting for it, it's all too easy to miss. 

Modern practice requires that all decisions and ordinances come through males who have been granted priesthood keys. Many people believe priesthood stops there. But it absolutely doesn't.

Where my view on priesthood tends to differ from the culture is: we have placed an incorrect amount of importance on male priesthood holders’ authority, power, and offices, while simultaneously dismissing the familial priesthood and women's equality in priesthood power. 

We've mistakenly come to believe two things: 
1. Only men hold the priesthood and 
2. Women can access the priesthood equally. 

Neither of those statements are true. 

Women do hold the priesthood, and we aren't accessing its fullness equally. Here is perhaps why.

As a church, we generally don't admit that women hold the priesthood, and even when we do, we often don't consider it "real" priesthood. Women aren't at the highest levels of church decision making, so women don't "look like" priesthood holders. Many church members, both men and women, believe that male priesthood officers default to a place of higher authority, because they are in a priesthood office, even if they don't hold any keys. Here's an example from Professor Gardner:

"When teaching this concept to my students, I often ask, “If a stake is having a joint Young Men and Young Women presidency meeting, who presides?” Because both the stake Young Women president and the stake Young Men president were called and set apart by one holding priesthood keys (the stake president), with their callings, both have the same priesthood authority and therefore neither presides over the other. It would make sense for them to take turns in conducting meetings." (source)

Another example is Brad Wilcox, who currently serves as the second counselor in the Young Men's general presidency and is widely regarded as an authoritative voice in the church community, and, though male, holds no priesthood keys. (source)

Fixing the Visual Aids

Our culture has incorrectly come to associate spiritual authority with one's priesthood office. Zero women are ordained to priesthood offices, but it feels uncomfortable (ahem, because it's false) to say that women don't have any spiritual authority. So we try to make it make sense, by coming up with reasons why women's lack of priesthood offices doesn't matter ("women can access the priesthood"), while also insisting that men's rankings do matter, such as only a high priest being called to serve in a bishopric.

But those mental gymnastics can all be avoided if we recall that the priesthood is not complicated: it is God's power, it is the power of Christ's atonement, which we know is intended for every single person who has ever lived.

So, this hierarchy:

is wrong. 

When we truly internalize that women hold the priesthood – the familial priesthood bestowed upon us in the endowment – there is no chart, because we are all working side by side, bringing the power of Christ to everything we do. 

Some Questions Don't Have Answers Yet – But We're Pretending They Do

The Lord has not yet given us a reason why women aren't called upon to officiate in some ordinances, such as baptizing new members, blessing the sacrament, or performing sealing ordinances. 

We do know, however, that women who bear the familial priesthood can officiate in some priesthood ordinances already, as we learn through temple attendance.

M. Russell Ballard warned us not to give authoritative answers to questions the Lord has not answered; he said we must “not pass along faith-promoting or unsubstantiated rumors or outdated understandings and explanations of our doctrine and practices from the past; consult the works of recognized, thoughtful, and faithful Latter-day Saint scholars to ensure you do not teach things that are untrue." 

We don't know why women are employed in the work of some ordinances and not others. Instead of claiming to know why, or incorrectly pointing to women's biological ability to bear children as the counterbalance to the priesthood, let's ask God, and ask our leaders to ask God, to bring in a generation of equality in the priesthood.

What Women's Priesthood Power Looks LIke

Women have the priesthood, and we're using it. 

We use it in our relationships and our houses and our bodies. We use it at church and at work and in our communities and callings and careers. 

We're using it in the sometimes backbreaking and fundamentally Christlike work of loving others at maximum capacity.

But we don't talk about of this every day work of salvation as priesthood power, do we? At least, men don't.

In fairness, many women consider ourselves to hold offices of priesthood authority in our own homes – I certainly do. So do my kids. So does my husband. But publicly, we don't treat women's salvation work, our priesthood power, as authority. Why?

Because women don't hold priesthood offices, and aren't assigned to positions of leadership. 

We collectively – and wrongly – assume that the only people with authority are men ordained to priesthood offices. 

Why? I don't think there's a good reason. The one that's given is: women don't have keys, so women don't have authority. But very, very few male priesthood holders have keys – the equality already exists, but we aren't publicly recognizing it! I don't see anything stopping the Church from formally acknowledging a woman's familial priesthood and placing her in a position to lead on a council or a board, or to co-lead a ward or a stake alongside a male counterpart, as a couple would in a home.

* I believe that as soon as we can stop emphasizing the importance of a priesthood office as a prerequisite to leadership qualification, we will start to see men's and women's priesthood power working symbiotically to bless the church. *

How I Could See It Happen

Here are a few ways I could see the holistic application of priesthood power truly becoming a reality in our culture in accordance with the teachings of our theology. 

1. People who hold priesthood keys (men) could phase out the public emphasis on what office a person holds. For example, instead of the bishop announcing and ward members physically sustaining each person (boy/man) who moves into offices of the priesthood, we could show our support in other ways, as we do around the time of a person's temple endowment, which is a personal matter kept out of the public meetings but shared with those close to the endowed individual and supported with temple prep classes and groups.

2. A person who holds priesthood keys, such as a male priesthood elder, could be assigned to a leadership role in connection with a person who bears the familial priesthood, such as his wife or another woman, to be co-leaders of a space, bringing their unique talents, experiences, and perspectives to the calling. This could be applied in spaces like bishoprics of wards. One example of where this currently works very well is in families with a mother and a father.

3. People who hold priesthood keys can begin reducing the number of spaces where the familial priesthood is viewed as insufficient for leadership, such as in ward Sunday School presidencies, stake high councils, and temple recorder positions. 


As we stop putting men on pedestals – and on the stand, literally – we will see more equality in the priesthood. 

As we start to recognizing that women hold the priesthood, we will see more equality in the priesthood. 

As we stop publicly emphasizing and publicizing men's priesthood offices, we will see more equality in the priesthood. 

As we start considering positions that may have inherited a traditional but perhaps arbitrary requirement for a person to hold a priesthood office in order to be a leader, we will see the church flourish in new and amazing ways.

As we start putting women in high positions of actual authority (not just "auxiliary") and stop ranking female leaders below male leaders, we will see women churchwide believe in their own priesthood power and see men start to respect that power.

As soon as we see more examples of men and women serving side by side, with full equality (mission presidencies and temple presidencies have started to take this step), we will see a fuller realization of our Heavenly Parents' nature of equal partnership, from the top down.

Undoubtedly there is great potential for expansion within our communities and our church culture. We have many examples of this: the restoration of the priesthood to Joseph Smith after its centuries-long absence; the division of the Aaronic priesthood followed by the Melchizedek priesthood; the progression of priesthood preparations through the ordinance of the endowment. These expansions, as well as other modern developments within the church and secular knowledge, are exciting indicators that God sees great potential in us! Some examples listed here have taken place only after having been earnestly asked for, most notably the restoration of the fullness of Christ's gospel to a faithful young Joseph. 

I believe in my own potential for expansion and my own fundamental equality with each of God's precious children. I have felt the power of the priesthood within myself as I connect to God and give my best to my sacred covenants.