There has been a lot of buzz in the bloggernacle lately. A Facebook group was created in February called Let Women Pray in General Conference. To the surprise of many, Salt Lake Tribune’s Peggy Fletcher Stack is reporting that women are scheduled to pray in General Conference for the first time next month. Is this a coincidence, or evidence of activism working?
There is another group that has put together a blog called Ordain Women, with the catch phrase “MORMON WOMEN SEEKING EQUALITY AND ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD.” There are photos of men and women publicly affirming their advocacy of women being ordained. Will such activism work?
I thought it would be interesting to continue my series on the book Mormon Doctrine. (I’ve previously discussed what Elder McConkie said about Blacks and Catholicism), but this post will be a little different. While Bruce made changes to both of those previous entries between 1958 and 1979, apparently no changes were necessary regarding his entry on Priestesses. Here’s what both the 1958 and 1979 versions say:
Priestesses. See CALLING AND ELECTION SURE, CELESTIAL MARRIAGE, ENDOWMENTS, EXALTATION, KINGS, MELCHIZEDEK PRIESTHOOD, PRIESTHOOD, PRIESTS, QUEENS. Women do not have the priesthood conferred upon them and are not ordained to offices therein, but they are entitled to all priesthood blessings. Those women who go on to their exaltation, ruling and reigning with husbands who are kings and priests, will themselves be queens and priestesses. They will hold positions of power, authority, and preferment in eternity.
Let’s look closer at this. “Women do not have the priesthood conferred upon them…” I’ve stated previously that Michael Quinn says that women receive the priesthood as part of the endowment ceremony, while Jonathan Stapley disagrees. My mission president (back in the 1980s) said that women have held the priesthood for years as part of their work in the temple. As I listened to the initiatory ordinance closely this week, I noticed an interesting bit of wording.
When priesthood ordinances are typically performed outside the temple (blessing the sick, confirmation, ordination, etc), men pronounce that the blessing/ordination is performed “by the power of the Melchizedek Priesthood.” However, in the temple, the ordination is performed by one “having authority.” The phrase “Melchizedek priesthood” is specifically absent. Furthermore, the proper name of the temple garments that both men and women wear are called “the garment of the holy priesthood” and during the endowment, men and women are clothed in the robes of the holy priesthood, and given the right to officiate in the ordinances of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. It is clear that men hold the priesthood in the temple, but if women don’t hold the priesthood, why are they wearing the garment of the holy priesthood? Why are women wearing the robes of the holy priesthood? Why are women told in the temple that they are prepared to officiate in the ordinances of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood? (Go listen for these phrases if you are not familiar with them.) It would seem my mission president disagrees with Elder McConkie that “Women do not have the priesthood conferred upon them…” I’m pretty sure that female temple workers perform the same initiatory ordinance (substituting female pronouns as necessary) using the same wording and “having authority” to perform the ordinance. If they do not hold the priesthood, under what authority are they performing the ordinance?
As young men, we are drilled into us the definition that “priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God.” I don’t see how female ordinance workers can be working under any other authority than the priesthood. Under the heading PRIESTHOOD, Mormon Doctrine states (identical in 1958 and 1979 versions)
As there is only one God and one power of God, it follows that there is only one priesthood, the eternal priesthood. Thus the Prophet taught: All priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it.” (Teachings, p. 180) Also “Its institution was prior to the foundation of this earth, or the morning stars sang together, or sons of God shouted for joy,”‘ and is the highest and holiest priesthood, and is after the order of the Son of God, and all other priesthoods are only parts, ramifications, powers and blessings belonging to the same are are held, controlled, and directed by it.” (Teachings, p. 167)
It is, however, proper and common to speak of the two great orders of priesthood as priesthoods; hence, the revealed statement, “There are, in the church, two priesthoods, namely, the Melchizedek and Aaronic, including the Levitical Priesthood.” (D&C 107:1; Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 3, pp. 80-183)
[emphasis in original]
McConkie says there is only one priesthood. Do women only hold the priesthood in the temple? (I’ve talked to a few female temple workers and they disagree as to whether they really hold the priesthood, or are merely acting under the authority of the priesthood.) Concerning PRIESTHOOD OFFICES Elder McConkie writes,
Each office is an ordained calling or assignment to serve, on a basis of primary responsibility, in a specified field of priestly responsibility.
The priesthood is greater than any of its offices. No office adds any power, dignity, or authority to the priesthood. All offices derive their rights prerogatives, graces, and powers from the priesthood. Anyone who serves in a segment of the circle must possess the power of the whole circle. No one can hold an office in the priesthood without first holding the priesthood.
Thus it is that priesthood is conferred upon worthy individuals, and they are then ordained to offices in the priesthood; and thus it is that all offices in the priesthood and in the Church are specifically designated as appendages to the priesthood; that is, they grow out of the priesthood, they are supplemental to it, they are less than the priesthood in importance. (D&C 84:29-30; 107:5.) It follows that it is greater and more important to hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, for instance, than it is to hold any office in that priesthood. It is greater, accordingly, to hold the Melchizedek Priesthood than to hold the office of elder or of an apostle, though, of course, no one could be either an elder or an apostle without first possessing the higher priesthood.
Further, there is no advancement from one office to another within the Melchizedek Priesthood. Every elder holds as much priesthood as an apostle or as the President of the Church, though these latter officers hold greater administrative assignments in the kingdom.
[emphasis in original]
I can see this be argued both ways: women hold the priesthood by virtue of the endowment (else how can they administer the initiatory, signs and tokens?) though McConkie specifically denies that women hold the priesthood in his definition of PRIESTESSES. However it could also be argued that women have the priesthood without holding an office, so there is no need to give them an office because they already hold the most important part: the temple priesthood. “It follows that it is greater and more important to hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, for instance, than it is to hold any office in that priesthood.“
If women hold a private priesthood in the temple, it seems that really doesn’t matter to the people at Ordain Women. They want a more public role of equality. Concerning the entry for PRIESTHOOD OFFICES (also unchanged between 1958 and 1979 editions),Why can’t girls become deaconesses and pass the sacrament like their brothers? Why can’t women become bishops, or bless the sick? I’ve stated previously that women held the priesthood in ancient Christianity, baptizing and administering the sacrament, and even within the LDS church, women could bless the sick by the laying on of hands until 1946. Is this another incorrect policy (like the new heading in the new Official Declaration 2) that needs to be removed by revelation? Curiously the wording in OD 2 seems to indicate that ‘“all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33).’ McConkie clearly notes that “officers hold greater administrative assignments in the kingdom.” How does this follow from 2 Nephi 26:33?
What are your thoughts?