34 Comments

Women and the Melchizedek Priesthood

I was first introduced to the idea of women holding the Melchizedek Priesthood in the book called Sidney Rigdon: Portrait of Religious Excess by Richard Van Wagoner.  Sidney claimed that Emma Smith was the first woman to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood (as I blogged about in Part 5).  The current book I’m reading, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power by Michael Quinn, seems to support this idea, and goes into greater detail.  Apparently, Brigham Young also supports this idea.  I’ve changed some of the formatting, and modernized the spelling below, but according to Quinn on page 36,

The last major development in LDS priesthood is even less recognized today.  In 1843 Smith extended the Melchizedek priesthood to LDS women through an “endowment ceremony” rather than through ordination to church office.

  • For example, in 1843 Presiding Patriarch Hyrum Smith blessed Leonora Cannon Taylor:
  • “You shall be bless[ed] with your portion of the Priesthood which belongeth to you, that you may be set apart for your Anointing and your induement [endowment].”
  • Thirtyfive years later, Joseph Young (a patriarch and senior president of the Council of Seventy) blessed Brigham Young’s daughter:
  • “These blessings are yours, the blessings and power according to the Holy Melchi[z]edek Priesthood you received in your Endowments, and you shall have them.”

The decline in women’s awareness that the endowment ceremony gives them Melchizedek priesthood corresponds to the decline in women’s status in the LDS church during those same years.  In the process, twentieth-century Mormons–both male and female, conservative and liberal–have identified priesthood with male privilege and hierarchical administrative power.  Therefore, some recent writers regard as insignificant the concept that endowed Mormon women had (and continue to have) the Melchizedek priesthood without ordained office and hierarchical status.

I must say that I agree that  modern Mormons always associate priesthood with administration.  On the other hand, I can remember as a deacon, teacher, and priest, being told the priesthood is “the power to act in the name of God.”  So, even though women may not hold an administrative office, it is fascinating to me that Quinn uses a different definition to discuss women’s priesthood power “to act in the name of God.”  Isn’t this a more important use of priesthood power?

Quinn continues this line of thought on page 37,

By contrast, early Mormons understood that priesthood meant divine power (separate from individual faith) that was conferred on mortals and was centered on a relationship with the powers of deity.  For example, Brigham Young (using the word “share” that was often used to explain women’s relationship to priesthood) defined the priesthood’s power without reference to ecclesiastical office or church administration:

An individual who holds a share in the Priesthood, and continues faithful to his calling, who delights himself continually in doing the things God requires at his hands, and continues through life in the performance of every duty, will secure to himself not only the privilege of receiving, but the knowledge how to receive the things of God, that he may know the mind of God continually; and he will be enabled to discern between right and wrong, between the things of God and things that are not of God.  And the Priesthood–the Spirit that is within him, will continue to increase until it becomes like a fountain of living water; until it is like the tree of life; until it is one continued source of intelligence and instruction to that individual.

Then Young continue his remarks to a gender-inclusive audience: “Upon who[m]ever are bestowed the keys of the eternal Priesthood, by a faithful life, [they] will secure to themselves power to see the things of God, and will understand them as plainly as they ever understood anything by gazing upon it with their natural eyes…”  It is in this theological context of priesthood that Young later declared: “Now, brethren, the man that honors his Priesthood, the woman that honors her Priesthood, will receive an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of God.”

To early Mormons “priesthood” signified something greater than ecclesiastical status, hierarchy, administrative power, decision-making, or prestige in an earthly church.  My analysis of the Mormon hierarchy emphasizes those external manifestations of power, but there were other significant dimensions of priesthood in early Mormon thought.

For an extensive history of LDS women and the priesthood, check out this article from Sunstone, which goes into great detail, called “A Gift Given: a Gift Taken” by Lavina Anderson.  So, do any of you endowed LDS women realize that you hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, and have authority to act in the name of God?

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34 comments on “Women and the Melchizedek Priesthood

  1. wow. that’s all. wow.

  2. My fiance recently wrote a paper on 19th century Mormon mid-wives with their ordinations as healers and use of the priesthood to bless others. I’m gonna see if I can get her permission to post it on my blog.

  3. Narrator, I would LOVE to see that. Please let me know if you post it.

  4. This was really interesting, MH. Especially that gender-inclusive quote by Brigham Young. Where did Quinn find that quote? Do you know? Are these quotes that have been scratched from the official LDS history books, so to say?

    “So, even though women may not hold an administrative office, it is fascinating to me that Quinn uses a different definition to discuss women’s priesthood power “to act in the name of God.” Isn’t this a more important use of priesthood power?”

    This signifies to me that theoretically, visiting teachers could go around and bless the sick sisters of their route, I could bless my husband if needed, and single sisters could bless their friends family members. None of this, I assume, is “administrative office,” but rather “acting in the name of God.”

    I’m thinking of my own branch, which has only 3 or 4 Melchizedek priesthood holders (plus the missionaries), and consists of mostly widowed or divorced sisters. Everyone lives scattered about a 2.5 hour radius. If the women could perform blessings, it would relieve the burden of the men. Especially if a blessing requires someone to assist. That can be a bit problematic when everyone lives so far from each other.

  5. Very interesting post, and I like the new look, by the way, MH.

    In response to TFD’s comment, though not directed specifically to her, I can buy that endowed women hold the Melchizedek priesthood, but I’m not sure there is sufficient understanding of what that really means. Specific offices hold specific duties, but does administering to the sick require a specific office or ordination? Narrator’s comment seems to indicate that Mormon midwives were ordained as healers rather than it being an automatic result of holding the priesthood by way of temple endowments.

  6. FD,

    I had a really hard time finding the Quinn book, and the library only let me keep it for 2 weeks, so I had to read it as quickly as possible. I’ll have to see if I can check it out again so I can find out the source for you. Quinn is notorious for his footnoting. I believe this book was 263 pages, but there were about 300 additional pages of footnotes.

    You really should download the Sunstone article–it has some amazing quotes, is well-footnoted, and goes into much greater detail than Quinn did. I think the Sunstone article deserves its own blog post. I wanted to highlight a few quotes from the article.

    “At the same time, strong official encouragement for women to develop and use their spiritual powers is evident. Brigham Young, speaking in the Tabernacle on 14 November 1869, scolded both men and women for not improving themselves. The example he cited was of a sick child. Why do you not live so as to rebuke disease?” he demanded. “It is your privilege to do so without sending for the Elders.” He laid down some practical advice; if the child is ill of a fever or of an upset stomach, treat those symptoms by all means, beware of too much medicine, and remember that prevention is better than cure. He ended by addressing himself specifically to mothers: “It is the privilege of a mother to have faith and to administer to her child; this she can do herself, as well as sending for the Elders to have the benefit of their faith.”8 Having enough faith to heal was clearly, for Brother Brigham, “practical religion” like having enough food on hand.

    [8. Journal of Discourses Delivered by President Brigham Young, his Two
    Counselors, The Twelve and others. Reported by G. D. Watt, J. V. Long and others, Liverpool and London, 1856, Vol. 13 (November 14, 1869), p.
    155.]

    The article also talks about the demise of women anointing and blessing the sick, which happened as recently as 1946.

    The next year brought the official death knell of this particular spiritual gift. On 29 July 1946 Elder Joseph Fielding Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve wrote to Belle S. Spafford, the Relief Society General President, and her counselors, Marianne C. Sharp and Gertrude R.
    Garff.

    “While the authorities of the Church have ruled that it is permissible, under certain conditions and with the approval of the priesthood, for sisters to wash and anoint other sisters, yet they feel that it is far better for us to follow the plan the Lord has given us and send for the
    Elders of the Church to come and administer to the sick and afflicted.”41

    [41. Quoted in Messages of the First Presidency, 4:314.]

    So, I think that for cases where “the ox is in the mire”, it would be ok for endowed women to bless and anoint the sick. In reading Pres JFS quote in 1946, I am sure there is more hesitancy for women to bless than in Brigham Young’s day, and we probably should try to call for the Elders as JFS said, but that sure seems to contradict Brigham’s feelings on the subject.

    Maybe someone should do a post on this at Feminist Mormon Housewives?

  7. Funny. The CofChrist was founded by people outside of Nauvoo, and had become pretty suspicious of doctrinal elaborations coming from there well before 1843.

    So, when feminism forced us to reconsider the issue of priesthood for women as an issue of theological principle rather than cultural tradition 30-40 years ago (easier to do since we have no doctrine that focuses on family roles in the hereafter), the church decided it was God’s will that women should be ordained the regular way, and that we’d simply been blind to it all along.

    I don’t have general statistics on women in the priesthood, but 1/3 of the Apostles and First Presidency already.

  8. I can’t speak for Narrator, but I think Quinn and Anderson seem to feel that ordained office was not necessary to heal.

    In response to your question, “Specific offices hold specific duties, but does administering to the sick require a specific office or ordination?

    I think Quinn answers this best.

    “twentieth-century Mormons–both male and female, conservative and liberal–have identified priesthood with male privilege and hierarchical administrative power….

    By contrast, early Mormons understood that priesthood meant divine power (separate from individual faith) that was conferred on mortals and was centered on a relationship with the powers of deity.”

    So, Tara, I think you’re thinking like a 20th century Mormon, rather than a 19th century Mormon.

    Tara, I would encourage you to read my previous post on the evolution of priesthood, and the difficulty dating the restoration of the priesthood. There is another quote from Quinn showing that in the early days (pre-1831) there was no emphasis on priesthood offices, and that priesthood power just meant a relationship with God, or in my terminology, the power to act in the name of God.

  9. Firetag, thanks for weighing in, because I always love to hear the CoC perspective. I was curious if the leaders had researched this info, and used it as an emphasis to ordain women to the priesthood. Correct me if I’m wrong, but since the CoC doesn’t believe in an endowment ceremony, then appealing to the endowment wouldn’t have been helpful unless the CoC introduced that back into their church. Is this correct?

  10. CofChrist believes in the concept of endowment, but does not associate the concept with a particular ceremony. Indeed, the flow of the Spirit through the ordinances of the church is more “organic” than it seems to be in LDS. That’s, for example, why we see no need to baptize the dead, but do serve open communion and extend opportunities for Evangelist’s Blessings — we found it awkward to refer to women “Patriarchs” or “Matriarchs” — or baby blessings outside the church whenever possible. We regard the sacraments as present helps along the path to follow the Lord, not things to be checked off in this life as requirements for the next.

    The debate at the time was traumatic (and even schismatic) for the church, but I don’t recall the arguments specifically debated. It was finally settled by the church’s acceptance of our Section 156 of the D&C which encompassed direction for the ordination of women in a larger document related to initiation of building our Temple and the purposes it was to have. There was a strongly organized attempt to rescind Conference approval of the revelation at the next world conference, but that was beaten down by about a 4:1 margin on a procedual vote.

    Interestingly, 25 years later, those who stayed all pretty much take it for granted; we see the same power of priesthood in men and women, if the gift and talent mix has different emphases.

  11. Thanks Firetag, that’s interesting. So, upon learning the history of women and the priesthood, do you think it strengthens your D&C 156 revelation? (I assume it’s not much of an issue now, but I did run across a blog of someone who is part of the new RLDS church. I assume he still has a problem with women and the priesthood.)

  12. Second point first. We have proportionally as many splinter RLDS groups as you have splinter LDS groups. (I know — from where you stand, we’re the largest surviving splinter!) Those who splinter to the cultural right do so over many issues — some of them going back to the original 1844 successor to Joseph Smith, others over Scriptural literalism, others over allowance of polygamous converts on the Indian sub-continent in the 1970’s, others over open communion, the movement to select a prophet who was not a lineal descendent of Joseph Smith, etc.
    We have at least a few more equally traumatic issues coming down the road over the next year or two, so we’ll continue to replace cultural conservatives with cultural progressives among our membership within North America.

    When I can stop making HTML mistakes and get my own blog correctly operational, I’ll link you to some more representative CofChrist blog sites.

    As to your first point, I have called women to priesthood office as a pastor, and I am enough of a conservative to take such a responsibility for a call extremely seriously. God’s been known to have to tell me twice.

  13. Hey MH, I’m always interested in a discussion of this topic. You should check out a post that was on FMH called Women’s Priest(ess)hood. The following comes from that post and suggests that women WERE actually ordained and didn’t just receive the Priestesshood by virtue of their endowment:

    A “King” or “Queen” is one who disseminates temporal blessings to others; while a “Priest” or “Priestess” is one who disseminates spiritual blessings.

    The kind of Priestesshood we’re talking about refers specifically to this Third Order of Priesthood.

    Joseph Smith recorded a promise which he gave to the Relief Society regarding the priesthood in his instructions to the Relief Society on 28 Apr 1842:
    “gave a lecture on the priesthood shewing how the Sisters would come in possession of the privileges & blessings & gifts of the priesthood & that these signs should follow them, such as healing the sick, casting out devils &c. & that they might attain unto these blessings….”
    (Book of the Law of the Lord, (Joseph Smith’s journal) 28 April 1842; also in Dean Jesse, ed “The Papers of Joseph Smith, Vol 2, 378-79.)

    The conferral of priesthood on individual women ocurred through the Temple Endowments and other advanced Temple rituals; and the exercise thereof, through what Joseph Smith called the Holy Order or “Anointed Quorum” (men and women who had received the priesthood endowment and were members of the elite Quorum).

    Joseph and Emma became the first couple to receive the Second Anointing (by which they made their Calling and Election Sure and thus received the Second Comforter) or “fullness of the priesthood.” By this ceremony they were each “anointed & ordained to the highest & holiest order of the priesthood.”

    PLEASE NOTE: “They were each anointed and ordained”, not just Joseph.
    (“Meetings of the Anointed Quorum- Journalizings,” 28 Sept 1843, also slightly different entry in Joseph Smith diary, 28 Sept 1843, in Faulring, “An American Prophet’s Record” p 412.)

    Sidney Rigdon, First Counselor in the First Presidency, testified years later that “Emma Smith was the one to whom the female priesthood was first given,”
    (Sidney Rigdon to Stephen Post, June 1868, LDS archives (Rigdon had left the church more than 20 years earlier), quoted in Ehat, “Joseph Smith’s Introduction of Temple Ordinances,” 103; Buerger, “The Fullness of the Priesthood,” 23; HC 6:363, 392. Also Ian G Barber, “the Ecclesiastical Position of Women in Two Mormon Trajectories,” _Journal of Mormon History_ 14 (1988): 63-97; Meetings of Anointed Quorum-Journalizings, 28 Sept 1843, Joseph Smith papers, microfilm at Special Collections, Harold B Lee Library, BYU).

    The ordinance by which Hyrum and Mary Fielding Smith received their Second Anointing is recorded as “My brother Hyrum and his wife were blessed, ordained and anointed.”

    PLEASE NOTE: “and his wife were blessed, ordained and anointed.”
    (Wilford Woodruff, “Historian’s Private Journal,” 26 Feb 1867, LDS archives; LDS MIllennial Star 22 (7 April 1860): 214; HC 6:46.)

    I just wrote a post up at my blog you might want to look at, too.
    Emma Smith’s Blessing to Herself.

  14. Firetag, it sounds like you’re working way too hard on HTML. I don’t know if you’re using WordPress or Blogspot, but there are plenty of standard templates. Of course, if you want to be different, you have to program it yourself, and give yourself headaches….

    So are you the equivalent of a stake president for the CoC?

  15. BiV,

    Thanks for the links and the pingback! As I recall, Quinn talked about 5 orders of priesthood: Aaronic, Melch, Patriarchal, and I can’t remember the others–I’ll have to check out that book again.

  16. Not even close. I have been, but no longer am, the presiding officer of what you would consider a small congregation — in fact so small that I often had to preside over the service, preach the sermon, and teach the Sunday school class on the same morning.

    We’ve gone back and forth over the years between the terms “pastor” and “presiding elder”. We’re currently in a “pastor” phase, and in fact often have to share the role among two or three priesthood.

    We no longer had the personnel concentrations anywhere but in Independence, and consequently changed the administrative structure to “fields” administered by 1 of the Twelve assisted by a President of a Quorum of Seventy. The equivalent of a Stake President would be a Mission Center President, a High Priest who has administrative control over as large as a several state area in the US and sometimes half a continent overseas.

    You will notice Bishops are not in the administrative line. They are Financial Officers, and pretty well stay in that role.

  17. Hmmm. It sounds like the CoC structure is much more different than I imagined.

  18. Re my promise in 13: The CofChrist has recently become involved in creating the beginnings of a “Blogatorium” in imitation of the “Bloggernacle”. The columnists there are to the center-to left-of-center in the CofChrist at this point. We’ll see how it develops.

    Here are (hopefully) links to three blogs

    SaintsHerald.com

    MattFrizzelOnline.com

    Matt is a “Stake President” equivalent.

    Sustainable Good

    This is the blog of Outreach International, the CofChrist’s major affiliated humanitarian charity.

  19. Sorry. I told you I was HTML illiterate. Just because I’m a physicist doesn’t mean I can change a light bulb.

  20. Firetag, I fixed the links. When you type in the www address, you also need to include the http part. Also, you need a /a at the end of the line in between tags. Hope that helps your HTML literacy. 🙂

    If you do start a blog, just remember that you don’t need to know very much HTML. When you create posts, there is a WYSIWYG interface, and buttons to bold, italicize, bullet, etc.

    I really liked the first 2 links–I’ll add them to my sidebar. The other one is a little too “earthy” for my tastes, though I know I should be more concerned with world peace. I plan on getting rid of the RLDS link on my sidebar now, but you may want to check it out before I remove it. It’s a guy from the South who is in the new RLDS movement. I mistakenly called him CoC, and he sharply rebuked me. Anyway, he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, and his blog states that Joseph Smith never practiced polygamy. I tried to talk some sense to him, but I think he banned me because he is not publishing my comments or responding to me anymore. Oh well. (He dusted off his feet at me too.)

    One last piece of advice. Read my post Get a Gravatar, so you can put a picture with your comments.

  21. The gravitar is on my to do list, although my pictures are older than your avatar’s.

    I did know your RLDS site was a dinosaur comparable to some of your splinter groups, but thought you were putting up a full spectrum. The opinions expressed there were standard RLDS positions 50-60 years ago, but it is almost like an LDS site that never went beyond Brigham Young.

  22. MH:

    I at least understand the visual editor well enough to get posts up now, so I’ll get that post on differences between the two largest Mormon denominations to you very soon.

  23. I’m looking forward to it, and will be happy to add you to my sidebar.

  24. Interesting, but I thought Melchizedek Priesthood was reserved exclusively for Jesus the Savior according to the Bible.

    http://www.noothergospel.com/Gospel%20&%20Priesthood.html

    http://www.noothergospel.com/index.html

  25. I enjoyed this post as well as the comments. I would like to share with you, while doing research in 1988 at the University of California Davis library I ran across a bit of information that pertains to this topic. In the “typeset” copy of President John Taylor’s journals, Vol 2, you find an entry that refers to the “ordination” of Emma’s councilors in the Relief Society. He states, paraphrasing, that he could not ordain her councilors to a higher office of priesthood than that to which Emma had previously been ordained, since Emma was the president of the society.
    At the time I was doing this study I had already been excommunicated for being a lesbian, so I had nothing to lose by studying Women and Priesthood. I was ordained on July 27, 1986, in the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ, which is a church founded in 1985 with a specific outreach to LGBT Mormons and others who felt disenfranchised from the LDS Church.
    I was blessed during my many years with RCJC, to exercise the priesthood authority I had been given. I was ordained an elder originally based on my previous experiences as a missionary and the offices I had held in my former ward and stake. I then had the greatest privileged to serve as the Presiding Bishop for six years, what amazing things deacons and teachers are ordained to perform. I served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve for five years.
    Yes, I believe that women are given the priesthood when they receive the initiatory ordinances in the temple. While working in the LA temple back in the early ’80’s, my former partner asked the temple president how she could anoint women and pronounce such blessings without having been ordained and being single. She was told she had been given all the authority she needed. They did not discuss the issue at any other time. She was the youngest women to ever serve as an ordinance worker in the LA temple up to that time.
    I believe beyond a shadow of doubt that women who have received their initiatory ordinances hold priesthood authority, Melchizedek Priesthood. They have held it since the original endowments were given in the Kirtland Temple. LAH

  26. Do you have a link or reference to these journals?

  27. Fascinating organization, Reverend, that I’d never heard a word about. The wiki article indicates a very eclectic mix of Restoration traditions, which definitely arouses my curiosity.

  28. Several LDS Members today are unaware that women once held the Priesthood.

  29. Women can hold the priesthood any time they want.

    Just hug and Elder.

  30. […] to priesthood, but apparently Quinn disagrees.  I posted this quote from Quinn when I discussed Women and the Melchizedek Priesthood, and I would like to quote it again (formatting […]

  31. You have brought out the truth that women held the priesthood equal to men in the early “pure” years of the church prior to the fallibility (ego and “carnal desires” aka D&C 3:1-11) of men messed things up. Luckily, we are now in the midst of the prophesied cleansing!

    This was prior to the mess and “abomination” of polygamy (Jacob 2:23-35 and Jacob 3) no matter who practices it even the Biblical “men of old” like Abraham who gave us the consequence of his sins (“whoremongering”) and lack of faith in God with the hatred of Hagar and Sarah and the Christian-hating Muslims.

    In actuality as revealed during a profound NDE preceded by a mother’s three prophetic dreams and recorded in journals, women (and men) receive the power (priesthood) of God upon Baptism…It is just that simple without the elitism of ranks.

    Excitingly for this time of prophetic fulfillment (Isaiah’s “shouting from the rooftops” aka the inspired internet), the truth is coming forth and the Prophetic Cleansing of the church (D&C 64, 112) continues with each blindly-obedient Mormon wakes up.

    I pride myself on being a true Mormon who is aware of the warnings of the Book of Mormon applies directly to the church.

    We can see the problems with King Joseph Smith who failed to become an apostle due to his ego and desire for control which correlates today with King Hinckley and now King Monson.

    We can also see how Joseph Smith fell as warned by God due to JS’s “carnal desires” (D&C 3:1-11). Although we have been taught that all our leaders are perfect and next to God, Joseph Smith’s uncontrolled “carnal desires” is a type and shadow of King David.

    However, you’ll note in Quinn’s “Origins of Power” pg 645-646 Joseph Smith repented of polygamy and Masonry which stems from Satan’s requirement of Cain by taking a Satanic blood oath which continues in all LDS Temples as we (prior to 1990) slit our throats, cut out our hearts and intestines as ways to “suffer our lives to be taken” as we consecrate (blood oath) all of our time, talents and all that we do possess” with a Blood Atonement penalty if we told any of the SECRETS of the Temples.

    Secrets are not of God, nor are blood oaths required in all temples as “they come of evil” as Christ taught.

    D&C 124 states the condemnation of the church due to our “follies and abominations” (polygamy, Masonry, taking the priesthood away from women, Kingship, secrets, elitism/Zoramites/Rameumptum Tower snobbishness of LDS leaders and members.

    Exciting events are in store for those truthseekers and Mormon Heretics who care to know the truth! Thanks for your inspired Blog.

  32. MH,

    Just came across this article. It’s very interesting and I like your references.

    I have also heard, but can not site references, that women used to have the priesthood power to give blessings as well. Have you heard of that and if so, do you have any references?

  33. Women and the LDS priesthood contains a significant quote by Elder James E. Talmage on this subject.

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