40 Comments

Mormon Women Blessing the Sick

As a follow up to my previous article discussing female priesthood holders in Ancient Christianity, I thought it would be interesting to discuss a now discontinued practice of Mormon women anointing and blessing the sick.  Did you know that Mormon women used to wash, anoint with oil, and lay hands on the sick until 1946?  Linda King Newell outlines the history of this practice in a Sunstone article called “A Gift Given: a Gift Taken“.  When questioned the propriety of women laying hands on the sick to heal, what do you think Joseph Smith’s response was?

“someone apparently reported to Joseph that the women were laying their hands on the sick and blessing them. His reply to the question of the propriety of such acts was simple. He told the women in the next meeting “there could be no evil in it, if God gave his sanction by healing.., there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on the sick than in wetting the face with water.” He also indicated that there were sisters who were ordained to heal the sick and it was their privilege to do so. “If the sisters should have faith to heal,” he said, “let all hold their tongues.”6

But that’s not all.  Let’s look at subsequent prophets discussing the practice.  Brigham Young said 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

So, do Mormon women hold the priesthood?

On 8 August 1880, John Taylor’s address on “The Order and Duties of the Priesthood” reaffirmed that women “hold the Priesthood, only in connection with their husbands, they being one with their husbands.”12

In October of that year, Taylor sent a letter reaffirming a woman’s right to lay hands on the sick.

It is the privilege of all faithful women and lay members of the Church, who believe in Christ, to administer to all the sick or afflicted in their respective families, either by the laying on of hands, or by the anointing with oil in the name of the Lord: but they should administer in these sacred ordinances, not by virtue and authority of the priesthood, but by virtue of their faith in Christ, and the promises made to believers: and thus they should do in all their ministrations.13

President Wilford Woodruff said,

There is no impropriety in sisters washing and anointing their sisters in this way, under the circumstances you describe [washing and anointing women prior to labor and delivery]; but it should be understood that they do this, not as members of the priesthood, but as members of the Church, exercising faith for, and asking the blessings of the Lord upon, their sisters, just asking the blessings of the Lord upon their sisters, just as they and every member of the Church, might do in behalf of the members of their families.16

President Joseph signed a letter on 17 December 1909 with the rest of the First Presidency, saying that non-endowed sisters could also participate in blessing the sick:

sisters need not necessarily be only those who had received their endowments, for it was not always possible for women to have that privilege and women of faith might do so [give blessings].27

In 1914, Joseph F. Smith reaffirmed that women could bless.  However, in 1921, Elder Charles Penrose indicated in General Conference that only elders could seal blessings.

Occasions when perhaps it would be wise for a woman to lay her hands upon a child, or upon one another sometimes, and there have been appointments made for our sisters, some good women, to anoint and bless others of their sex who expect to go through times of great personal trial, travail and ‘labor;’ so that is all right, so far as it goes. But ‘when women go around and declare that they have been set apart to administer to the sick and take the place that is given to the elders of the Church by revelation as declared through James of old, and through the Prophet Joseph in modern times, that is an assumption of authority and contrary to scripture, which is that when people are sick they shall call for the elders of the Church and they shall pray over them and officially lay hands on them.34″

King goes on to say that Penrose was wrong on one point.

Even though he cited the authority of Joseph Smith and even though Joseph Smith certainly taught the propriety and authority of elders to heal the sick, Elder Penrose also contradicted the extension of healing privileges to women by Joseph Smith. In fact, Joseph Smith had cited that same scripture in the 12 April 1842 Relief Society meeting but, ironically, had made a far different commentary: “These signs.., should follow all that believe whether male or female.”35

Further restrictions appeared under President Heber J. Grant.  He

defended the priesthood against “complaint… about the domination of the people by those who preside over them.” He quoted the description of the ideal way in which priesthood authority is to function, found in Doctrine and Covenants 121, then asked, somewhat rhetorically, “Is it a terrible thing to exercise the priesthood of the living God in the way that the Lord prescribes: ‘By kindness and gentleness’ “?37 The pattern had now been established, clarified, and validated.

King cites further discomfort with female blessings.

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

I encourage you to read the full PDF version of the article that I linked about.  I am certainly leaving out plenty of items.  Why do you think there is so much discomfort with women blessing and anointing the sick?  Do you see this practice ever returning?  Would you like to see it return?

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40 comments on “Mormon Women Blessing the Sick

  1. Equating early Mormon female healing with evidence of female priesthood is folly. Kris’ and my paper on female ritual healing is finally coming out in January (JMH). We treat most of your questions and clean up the historiography a bit.

    In the interim here is our paper on the development of Mormon healing to 1847, including the role of women.

  2. J. Stapley, thank you so much for stopping by. I think we may have met at a previous conference and I admire your scholarship. Thank you so much for the link. Would it be ok for me to review your paper and blog about it? If so, would you like me to wait until January?

    I don’t think I equated Mormon female healing with evidence of female priesthood. Bridget Jack Jeffries discussed baptism, sacrament, and ecclesiastical duties, while this post discussed healings.

    The Sunstone article did discuss the similarities between the temple ceremony of washing and anointing with the female practice of washing and anointing. Females were specifically cautioned to avoid the wording in the temple, and were specifically told that they were not doing this by the power of the priesthood, but rather by the virtue of faith. I guess I’m not seeing “equating” here, though there are obvious similarities.

  3. Then is it possible to be a prophet without holding the priesthood? A few female OT prophets come to mind.

  4. Yes, I agree Bishop Rick. Jack mentioned that the LDS seem to gloss over women like Deborah, calling her “a friend” and ignoring her prophetic abilities.

  5. I’ve never heard of Deborah referred to by LDS as merely “a friend”. The OT Student Manual refers to her as a prophetess who directed Israel in a non-official capacity.

  6. Her direction seems pretty official to me.

  7. Jack posted a Gospel Doctrine manual calling Deborah a “friend”. I looked for this manual, and it is Lesson 19: The Reign of the Judges . There are 11 references to Deborah, and here is what it says:

    1 & 2: “Judges 4:1-16. Barak is commanded to free Israel from Jabin, king of Canaan (4:1-7). He agrees to go if Deborah will go with him (4:8-9). Deborah and Barak deliver Israel from the Canaanites (4:10-16).”

    3-4: “Offsetting the tragic parts of this history are stories of people who remained true, setting powerful examples of how to exercise faith and courage in an apostate world. Deborah and Gideon were both righteous judges whom the Lord raised up to deliver Israel. Deborah’s faith was largely responsible for delivering Israel from a Canaanite army. Gideon’s reliance on the Lord allowed his 300-man army to miraculously defeat the Midianites.”

    5-11: ” Deborah— the strength of a righteous friend

    Briefly review the story of Deborah and Barak from Judges 4:1–16, or have an assigned class member do so.

    *What did the Lord command Barak to do? (See Judges 4:6-7.) How did Barak feel about this assignment? On what condition was Barak willing to go to battle against Sisera and his 900 chariots? (See Judges 4:8.) Why do you think Barak was willing to face Sisera if Deborah would go with him?

    *What impresses you about Deborah? What qualities did she have that Barak may not have had? (See Judges 4:4-9, 14.)

    *What can we learn from Deborah about being a true friend? (One thing we can learn is that true friends inspire us to obey the Lord and give us the strength to do what is right.) How have your friends helped you face difficult challenges or obey the Lord’s commandments? How can we be better friends to others?

    Suggest that class members write down the names of their friends and ask themselves (1) if they are like Deborah to these friends and (2) if these friends are like Deborah.

    Of course, 5-11 is what Jack quoted on slide 4 of her presentation.

    However, Tara, I decided to look for the OT Student Manual and did discover this:

    ” Deborah did not direct Israel in any official sense; she was a prophetess who possessed the spirit of prophecy, one of the gifts of the Spirit (see Revelation 19:10 ; Moroni 10:13 ; D&C 47:22 ). She was blessed with spiritual insight and leadership qualities that were not being put to use by any man. Barak would not lead an army against Jabin until Deborah promised to be present (see Judges 4:8-9 ).

    “No special ordination in the Priesthood is essential to man’s receiving the gift of prophecy; bearers of the Melchizedek Priesthood, Adam, Noah, Moses, and a multitude of others were prophets, but not more truly so than others who were specifically called to the Aaronic order, as exemplified in the instance of John the Baptist. The ministrations of Miriam and Deborah show that this gift may be possessed by women also.” (Talmage, Articles of Faith, pp. 228-29; see also Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 3:66.)

    I’m wishing this was emphasized in Gospel Doctrine. I wonder why it is not?

  8. I think what is meant by non-official is that she didn’t hold any priesthood office. Yes, the Lord was directing her apparently because there was a lack of priesthood leadership, but she still did not hold the priesthood even though she had the gift of prophecy.

    I’m not sure why it isn’t emphasized in Gospel Doctrine. Perhaps because that wasn’t the emphasis that the lesson was designed to focus on. The point seemed to be about the qualities of true friends that we should look for and that we should try to possess. Perhaps if the lessons was focusing on prophets/prophetesses and the qualities they possess and that we should look for, it might emphasize it. It does rightly refer to her as a Judge of Israel though. That’s pretty significant, I think.

    I don’t think the lessons are meant to be comprehensive. They generally have a very narrow focus and you could probably take any lesson and find a lot of things that are not emphasized that don’t necessarily contribute to the substance of the lesson, but are nonetheless true and important.

  9. I have to say that I am impressed that they haven’t moved the Talmage quote out of the OT manual. That manual is 30 years old. But I just wish the church would up the ante a bit regarding spirituality. I decided to re-post my correlation post that I originally posted on Mormon Matters, but I would like to quote myself.

    I think one of the reasons why the church has decided to focus on “the basics” is because it is the “safe” thing to do. Correlation doesn’t want to deal with controversial theology. It seems to me that Correlation is all about “dumbing down” the curriculum, because it is easier to deal with. It is much harder to deal with controversial comments from previous leaders. So, in order to be safe, correlation removes such hard to explain topics. (I mean, who can really argue about the need to pray more, read the scriptures, do service, etc?) Hence, spiritual growth isn’t nearly as vibrant as it used to be. Only milk is served, without meat, causing spiritual malnutrition.

    I think it would be nice for women to use Deborah as a great example of what they could become like. I just don’t think women are aware of these sort of role models, because Deborah doesn’t fit the “woman’s place in the home” mold that the church is trying to espouse. I think women could provide some great spiritual leadership, just as Deborah did.

  10. I think referring to Deborah as a “great friend” dumbs down her role. It comes off as condescending to me.

  11. So if female healing rituals are not such a big deal after all, why were they taken away?

  12. MH,

    Your being impressed that the church hasn’t removed Talmage’s quote sounds almost as though you would expect them to do something like that. It seems you take a very negative view of very many things that the church does, and you act surprised when they do something that you consider to be good, and they only get partial credit for it from you. The way you have this thing framed, they have to refer to Deborah as a prophetess in every instance that she is mentioned, or else they are trying to marginalize her. Never mind that they called her a judge in Israel in the lesson. It seems you don’t think she is able to play any other role or set any other example for her story to be of worth to women in the church. Being a good friend apparently isn’t a good or noble enough thing for you.

    Who says women don’t use Deborah as a great example of what they could become like? Do they not read or have access to the same scriptures that everyone else does? Why is it the church’s responsibility to spoon feed us everything we may need to know to be successful? I mean, where’s the personal responsibility factor here? You act as though we women are capable of so much if only we weren’t being held down by power-hungry men, but act as though we are too stupid to study and learn independently.

    You know, women have a lot of opportunities in the church for leadership. Just because we don’t control everything doesn’t mean that the leadership positions we are given are meaningless, obligatory, or for feel-good purposes only. Trust me on that one, because I’ve held a number of leadership positions during my years, and I hold one currently. Those positions have given me wonderful opportunities to learn and grow as a leader. Not every man in the church will be Bishop, or Stake president, or Mission president, or Seventy, or Apostle, or Prophet. Some may not ever have a leadership position of any kind in their life. Does that mean they’ve somehow been robbed? And just as every man won’t have a leadership position in the church, not every woman will either. So if leadership is the only way we can all reach our full potential, then it seems it would be obligatory for everyone in the church to have that opportunity.

    And I, as a stay-at-home-mom, resent the “woman’s place in the home” reference. But please explain to me how Deborah doesn’t or can’t possibly represent the “woman’s place in the home” mold. How do we know Deborah wasn’t a stay-at-home mom? You know, I have to leave my kids with the hubby when I go off to fulfill my presidential duties at church, but I’m still a stay-at-home mom.

    Now, I hope you noticed that the reason, and perhaps the only reason, that Deborah was a spiritual leader of Israel was because of the lack of male leadership in Israel. We don’t have that problem in the church today. If we did, I suppose it might be necessary for women to take on more of a leadership role. Then we might need more lessons on Deborah and her role as prophetess. But guess what. Prophecy is not a leadership role. It is a spiritual gift and doesn’t need a priesthood office to manifest in a person.

  13. @Bishop Rick
    What about the fact that she was called a righteous judge in Israel in that same lesson?

  14. @TheFaithfulDissident
    Perhaps because at the time, the church was small and there may not have been enough priesthood on hand when needed for such things. Remember, fathers and husbands in the church then would get called to go serve missions and leave their families behind. For the priesthood that remained, it may have been burdensome for them to carry all the load alone. I’m just saying, I think there may be a case that can be made for it being a matter of expediency and was only meant as a temporary solution as opposed to standard operating procedure.

  15. fd, great question. the article didn’t fully answer it, but let me give my speculation. I think they were discontinued due to the similarities with the temple ceremony, and the similarity to the priesthood ordinance. additionally, in the days of polygamy, a husband was spread too thin and women (especially sister wives) had to depend on each other more, making these blessings more practical. as the church embraced monogamy, the need for women to bless each other wasn’t there, and I think the GA’s were uncomfortable with the temple and priesthood similarities.

    tara, your last few responses seem very frustrated with me. I am not trying to make you irritated. I do more personal study than the average person, and I like to share my personal study on my blog. sometimes I say things critical of church culture, history, and practice. I do this in a wish to highlight things in a way that I hope the church would embrace. I am not trying to make you mad or frustrated. I may not communicate as tactfully as you would like, and I am sorry. perhaps you could help me communicate my issues in a more productive way. it seems to me that any criticism of the church rubs you the wrong way.

    I know you have said you don’t agree with everything the church does, but you seem to mute your criticism. that doesn’t work for me. I need an outlet. this is my outlet. I hope you can respect that without getting too frustrated with me. I also hope you can share how to deal with things that frustrate you without resorting to silence. silence only increases my frustration. I have had people tell me that writing frustrations down can be therapeutic. this is my therapy. please don’t get too frustrated with me.

  16. Tara,

    There are a couple of quotes listed by MH above which are either false or misleading. This is what I’m talking about:

    1 & 2: “Judges 4:1-16. Barak is commanded to free Israel from Jabin, king of Canaan (4:1-7). He agrees to go if Deborah will go with him (4:8-9). Deborah and Barak deliver Israel from the Canaanites (4:10-16).”

    This quote leaves out the crucial part of how Barak was commanded to free Israel. The Lord commanded Barak thru his mouthpiece, Deborah. She was more than just someone that had the gift of prophecy. She was the Lord’s Prophet. This requires the priesthood.

    Deborah did not direct Israel in any official sense; she was a prophetess who possessed the spirit of prophecy, one of the gifts of the Spirit…

    This is false. She was a Judge in Israel. This is glossed over in the lesson, but in reality, this was an office that would have been official. Remember the Judges were in charge at this time because there were no kings.

    “No special ordination in the Priesthood is essential to man’s receiving the gift of prophecy…

    This is misleading trying to state that Deborah did not need the priesthood hold the gift of prophecy. The truth is that Deborah was the Prophet over the entire church. This is much different than having a prophecy that affects your family as an example. To be the Prophet over the entire church requires the priesthood.

    So sure it is mentioned that Deborah is a Judge in Israel, but that is glossed over and the true nature of what Deborah was and did was dumbed down. She did not go with Barak out of friendship.

  17. @mh
    Only my last comment was one of frustration. That frustration is due to what I see as you more and more coming off to me as a malcontent. Why is it that church leaders are only inspired in the things you agree with and uninspired in the things you don’t agree with? Why does it always come down to bias or prejudice or fear?

    I’ve taken issue with you over some pretty big things like what you consider to be racism in the church, as well as plural marriage. It’s understandable that such big issues will naturally produce differences of opinion. But when you start nitpicking every little thing, like the fact that in one lesson, Deborah doesn’t get what you consider to be her due recognition, it just reeks of someone looking to find fault.

    As far as needing an outlet, I’m not sure that is a valid therapeutic tactic. Does venting your frustrations help you get over them, or does it just give you a reason to focus more on them? When this discussion is over, will you feel better and find no more reason to complain about women’s role in the church. Perhaps all you really need is a more optimistic attitude and greater faith and trust in the leadership of the church.

    When you put a pot on to boil, there needs to be an avenue for the steam to escape, or a vent. You describe this blog as your vent. But the vent only solves the problem of the build-up of steam. It doesn’t address the issue at the source causing the steam in the first place, which is the heat. The heat is your frustration. Your frustration continues to feed your need to vent. Unless you address your own frustrations and learn how to control them, there will always be a need for a vent and the cycle will be continuous throughout your life. If you like living that way, being discontent with many things and letting off steam as it builds, then that’s fine. Whatever makes you happy. I call that being a malcontent. But if you were to start looking at things more positively, you would find that you have much greater peace in your life.

    And no, I don’t mute my criticism. I adjust my point of view so that I don’t feel a need to criticize openly on most things. I try to give the benefit of the doubt, knowing that the leaders of the church are not perfect and that they are doing their best. I look at it from the standpoint of if the Lord intended this church to be run perfectly, he wouldn’t call humans to lead it. I look at it from the view that even if things aren’t perfect, it will all work out in the end, and the Lord will bless us with every needful thing either now or later. I’m here to contribute my small part to help whenever I can, and I try not to make the job of others more difficult with my complaints. And I try not to drag others down with me in the process.

    I think it’s great to talk about things. You know, a discussion based on the merits of women holding the priesthood is a good one. You don’t have to necessarily take a contrary position to the church to engage in a speculative discussion, but that kind of discussion is most effective when you can recognize the good points on all sides. But I don’t see that happening here. It’s all just debate, and that’s all it ever is it seems. You don’t endorse the church’s position and then discuss the merits of other positions. You just disagree and judge the leaders of the church as misguided. In this particular discussion, I am defending the church’s position because I am practically the only one who ever defends the church’s position. But I am not opposed to the idea of women holding the priesthood, and I could certainly discuss the merits of that. But when it comes to judging whether or not the church is wrong in the position it is taking, accusing the church of trying to marginalize the role of women in the church, I’m not going to side against the church. I would take a neutral position before I would do that, and I’m good with neutrality because it allows for more tolerance and open mindedness.

    Now, back to the subject at hand, did you have any response to anything I said?

  18. @Bishop Rick
    But where is there evidence that Deborah was THE prophet instead of just A prophet? There are other women referred to as prophetesses, but they were prophetesses at a time when there was someone leading the church, for example Miriam, when Moses was the prophet. Now, Gideon was a judge in Israel just as Deborah was. Was he ever referred to in the lesson as a prophet? Was there ever any indication anywhere that he was ever THE prophet? The Bible dictionary doesn’t even refer to him as a prophet.

    And yes, there is a difference in the revelation that is received on behalf of one’s family and the revelation received for the church. But we don’t refer to everyone as a prophet who receives revelation for their family, nor do I recall that kind of revelation being termed as prophecy. I don’t think that prophecy and revelation are perfectly synonymous. Prophecy is a type of revelation. The 7th article of faith lists them separately as though they aren’t exactly the same. The gift of prophecy is a gift of the Spirit and not everyone is blessed with that gift. Everyone is entitled to that gift, but not everyone will seek to obtain it.

  19. tara, i’m not fond of being labeled as a malcontent. discontented, yes, but malcontent seems a bit harsh, and not accurate. I don’t think you would like being referred to as a pollyanna.

    i’ll get to your points tonight, but I would like to hear what you think of controversial theology. doesn’t the church seem to avoid it, like calling deborah a prophetess in the gd manual? I mean only the bookworms read the institute manual, not the general members.

  20. @mh
    I’m sorry if I’ve exaggerated you lack of contentment with the church. I can certainly downgrade my characterization of you as discontented. Malcontent was just what came to my mind, and while I only know you through your blog and the things you write, I don’t know you in real life, so you may not be as discontented on an everyday basis as you come across to me on your blog posts.

    I’m not sure where I stand on being referred to as a Pollyanna. I don’t know if that is necessarily a bad thing.

    I think controversial theology is called controversial for a reason. It does not tend to foster unity when discussed. How is calling Deborah a priestess controversial and who’s to say that the church intentionally didn’t mention that point simply to avoid controversy?

  21. Tara:

    How would you classify Samuel the Lamanite? He was clearly commissioned to speak to the Nephite society as a whole — not to the church or merely to his own immediate family — and was never THE prophet in the sense you are using the term.

    Is there an expectation in your theology for prophets called by God to speak to society OUTSIDE the church hierarchy? Not to replace the hierarchy, but given an entirely separate mission?

  22. BR: Re: #17. Same question to you. In a society where the church is NOT identical to the civil authority, is there the possibility of a non-church prophetic authority for the governing of society as a whole?

  23. Tara, when you ask questions, it seems like you want me to answer every single one. I can’t tell the rhetorical ones from the ones you really want me to answer. I did find your comment #18 a bit combative. I’ll try not to be combative back, and I hope I don’t miss any questions. I want you to know that I find your question and answer dialogue a bit tedious at times, but I will do my best not to skip any of your questions.

    Who says women don’t use Deborah as a great example of what they could become like? I do. Nephi, Jonah, Noah, Abraham, Adam (and I could list about 100 men here) are surely more quoted and more referenced than Deborah. Women as leaders are greatly under-represented in scriptures, don’t you agree? Moses didn’t even bother to count women when he numbered the people that left Egypt.

    I don’t know very much about Deborah. I know more about Ruth, Esther, Abish, Eve, Mary, Sarah, and Elizabeth than I do about Deborah. I dare you to ask women in Relief Society what they know about Deborah? I’d be surprised if anyone said she was a prophetess and judge. And if you did get lucky and find someone who knew about Deborah, I’ll bet that 90% don’t know squat about her.

    “Do they not read or have access to the same scriptures that everyone else does?

    How often does a teacher get up and say “Who read the lesson?” and only a handful of people have read it? Sure everyone has access, but who actually reads? The great majority don’t read.

    Why is it the church’s responsibility to spoon feed us everything we may need to know to be successful?”

    This seems like a really combative question. As Bishop Rick said, the Gospel Doctrine lesson really downplays Deborah’s role here. I’d like the lessons to be a bit more accurate, and help women realize that Deborah is more than a friend here. Deborah is a leader. I don’t get the leadership emphasis from the Gospel Doctrine manual, and I don’t see people carrying the Institute Manual to church unless they’re the teacher.

    I mean, where’s the personal responsibility factor here? You act as though we women are capable of so much if only we weren’t being held down by power-hungry men, but act as though we are too stupid to study and learn independently.

    You’re putting a lot of words in my mouth that I never said. But the fact of the matter is that most members don’t learn independently and don’t study the scriptures. Most members don’t know squat about Deborah. I don’t know much about her, and I think I study scriptures more than most. She’s an inspiration, and we should know more about her than the fact that she was a “righteous friend.” Heck, my neighbor is a righteous friend, but I wouldn’t put her in the same category as Deborah.

    I, as a stay-at-home-mom, resent the “woman’s place in the home” reference. But please explain to me how Deborah doesn’t or can’t possibly represent the “woman’s place in the home” mold. How do we know Deborah wasn’t a stay-at-home mom?

    Did you ever read/hear President Julie Beck’s talk? She discusses mothers that “bring daughters in clean and ironed dresses with hair brushed to perfection; their sons wear white shirts and ties and have missionary haircuts.” She goes on to say “Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping an orderly home. Home is where women have the most power and influence; therefore, Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world. Working beside children in homemaking tasks creates opportunities to teach and model qualities children should emulate. Nurturing mothers are knowledgeable, but all the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make a home that creates a climate for spiritual growth.”

    Does that describe Deborah? Deborah is off making peace treaties with the king of Canaan. But Julie Beck says that Deborah should have more power an influence ensuring her sons have a missionary haircut and ensuring her daughters have good homemaking skills. How many women in the scriptures are lauded for their homemaking skills? Mary and Martha??? Jesus got mad at the homemaker there, didn’t he. I’m not seeing Deborah lauded for her homemaking skills, even in the Gospel Doctrine lesson.

    You might want to check out what fmhLisa at Feminist Mormon Housewives wrote about Sister Beck’s talk. I don’t read the blog often (because I care about things besides gender), but I have met fmhLisa, and I think they run a good blog.

  24. I had to look up Bishop Rick’s reference that Deborah had the priesthood. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, Deborah was of the tribe of Issachar, not Levi, so I’m not seeing a claim to priesthood authority here (Barak was from Naphtali.) See http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=188&letter=D

    Tara,

    I think controversial theology is called controversial for a reason. It does not tend to foster unity when discussed. How is calling Deborah a priestess controversial and who’s to say that the church intentionally didn’t mention that point simply to avoid controversy?

    Calling Deborah a priestess is controversial for this reason–where are the priestesses today? (Apparently in the RLDS church, though they don’t use that terminology.) If Deborah was a priestess, or prophetess, and Joseph restored the gospel, shouldn’t he have restored the priestesshood too? If we start talking too much about Deborah, won’t women who want the priesthood start asking questions about being priestesses? Or does that only happen in the Community of Christ?

    From what I can tell, it seems to me that when Joseph organized the Relief Society, it was to be a priesthood quorum with duties separate from the men. It seems to me that the temple ordinances granted to women the priestesshood (for lack of a better word.)

    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 Melchizedek Priesthood you received in your Endowments, and you shall have them.”

    Quoting from BiV in my post, Women and the Melchizedek Priesthood,

    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).

    I liked FireTag’s reference to Samuel the Lamanite. I think we can be a bit too rigid in applying modern ideas about prophets to ancient times, especially Deborah as “THE” prophetess, not “A” prophetess. I don’t believe it is accurate to say that there weren’t enough Levites around, so Deborah was somehow elevated to prophetic status. She was a prophetess because she exhibited traits just like Abraham did.

  25. One thing I love about this blog is it helps direct my study of scriptures and doctrine. I will remember things but go back and do more research because of something mentioned here by MH or FT or Tara. I think the people that participate in this blog (and those that read silently) would fall into that 10% MH mentions, but I think MH was being generous with 10%. I would be surprised if more than 1 or 2 people outside the instructor knows anything about Deborah.

  26. Tara:

    But where is there evidence that Deborah was THE prophet instead of just A prophet?

    I already stated the evidence. We already know that there were no righteous men so there was no male Prophet, and we also know that God spoke to Barak thru Deborah. That is pretty good evidence.

    There are other women referred to as prophetesses, but they were prophetesses at a time when there was someone leading the church, for example Miriam, when Moses was the prophet.

    I hesitate to mention this, but sometimes women were referred to as prophetess when they were related to the prophet. Wasn’t Miriam the sister of Moses?

    Now, Gideon was a judge in Israel just as Deborah was. Was he ever referred to in the lesson as a prophet? Was there ever any indication anywhere that he was ever THE prophet?

    I never equated being a judge in israel with being the Prophet. I was referring to the quote that said Deborah did not act in an official manner, when being a judge in israel was clearly an official manner. Therefore, Gideon would not be a Prophet either, just because he was a judge.

  27. FireTag :

    BR: Re: #17. Same question to you. In a society where the church is NOT identical to the civil authority, is there the possibility of a non-church prophetic authority for the governing of society as a whole?

    I’m not quite following you. I don’t recall asking a question, but to answer yours, I don’t know for sure, but my opinion on the matter is no. That of course is based on my opinion that there is no God that interferes with life on earth. As I participate in these blog posts, I’m trying to do so based on what the scriptures say about the topic. Now you have asked my opinion, so in this case I give it.

  28. @FireTag
    Samuel was a prophet, yes, and I don’t know that he was THE prophet, but probably just A prophet who was called to share the message of the Lord.

    I don’t think that’s something that we would see happening today, particularly because we have a church hierarchy and sufficient leadership in place. If there wasn’t sufficient leadership, then I could see that as a definite possibility. I think that’s what was going on in Israel with Deborah and the other judges.

  29. @MH
    I don’t think I asked you to answer any of my questions. I asked if you had a response to anything I said. You focused on my frustration without addressing anything that I actually said on the subject. That’s all I was asking.

    Women as leaders are greatly under-represented in scriptures, don’t you agree?

    Well yes. But that doesn’t mean that women can’t look at men as examples. We do it all the time because women are not very well represented. Behaving in a righteous manner and isn’t strictly limited to the female species, and as much about leadership can be learned from a man as from a woman.

    How often does a teacher get up and say “Who read the lesson?” and only a handful of people have read it?

    Admittedly, I rarely ever read the lessons. But I have and do read my scriptures sometimes using the student manuals as a supplemental resource.

    I’d like the lessons to be a bit more accurate, and help women realize that Deborah is more than a friend here….I don’t see people carrying the Institute Manual to church unless they’re the teacher.

    Why? Most women aren’t going to hear the lesson anyway because they are in primary or in other callings during SS. I don’t carry my institute manual to church either, but it doesn’t mean I don’t use it. Most people wouldn’t need to carry their institute manuals anyway if they aren’t teaching. That would just be weird if they did.

    Most members don’t know squat about Deborah. I don’t know much about her, and I think I study scriptures more than most.

    Perhaps that’s because there isn’t much to know. Reading through her story, there isn’t much to get out of it. There isn’t much insight into Deborah. Yeah, she was a prophetess and a judge, and she gives a prophecy to Barak, but we don’t really know anything other than that, except that she may also be a mother. But I don’t see much in the way of insight into her to get a lot out of her story. Maybe there’s more that you can see.

    Did you ever read/hear President Julie Beck’s talk?…Does that describe Deborah?

    Yes, I’ve read the talk before. You might want to check out what Kristine from BCC said about Sister Beck’s talk. I’ve read feminist housewives before and I don’t really like their blog. I’ve read BCC before as well. As best I can recall, I’ve liked that blog. I haven’t met anyone from FMH or BCC though.

    Does that describe Deborah? I think that it could. We don’t know all the details. We don’t even know if Deborah had children. If she did, we don’t know if maybe they were all grown when she became a judge. There isn’t enough detail in the story to make the assumptions you are making. I also think that it is rather pessimistic to assume that church leaders choose to de-emphasize Deborah’s role as judge and prophetess simply to keep women down and in the home. That really bothers me that you make judgements about church leaders like that without any proof whatsoever.

    Okay, I said priestess, but that was not my intention. I meant prophetess.

    Calling Deborah a priestess is controversial for this reason–where are the priestesses today?

    And women will just start getting up in arms about not getting to be “prophetesses” because if they don’t learn about it in Gospel Doctrine they won’t learn about it anywhere else. Yeah, right. Even if they did, there’s nothing that the leadership of the church can do to make women prophetesses. Sorry, but prophet or prophetess isn’t a priesthood office. Apostle is. Seventy is. Patriarch, High Priest, and Elder are. Bishop is. So is Priest, Teacher, and Deacon. There are also leadership offices. The Prophet is President of the church. His priesthood title is not prophet. But he is a prophet. However, that isn’t a function of his priesthood. It is a spiritual gift requiring no ordination.

    If we start talking too much about Deborah, won’t women who want the priesthood start asking questions about being priestesses?

    Sure, because that’s what you believe will happen. Guess what. It won’t matter. As a teenager, I thought it was unfair that only the men got to hold the priesthood. But then you would’ve had to know me at the time. I was a huge tomboy who seriously thought that I could do anything a boy could do and better. I didn’t know then about Deborah, so it didn’t take her example to make me want to hold the priesthood. But even if I had known about her, Deborah didn’t hold the priesthood. There was no functioning priesthood at the time and the Institute manual points that out, and you point it out by the fact that Deborah wasn’t a Levite.

  30. @Bishop Rick
    I already stated the evidence. We already know that there were no righteous men so there was no male Prophet, and we also know that God spoke to Barak thru Deborah. That is pretty good evidence.

    That still isn’t evidence. As I stated to MH, prophet or prophetess is not a priesthood office. The prophet must have the gift of prophecy in order to lead the church, but it isn’t function of his priesthood.

  31. Tara:

    I guess we just have to agree to disagree then, because I believe it is evidence.

  32. It doesn’t look like the church is trying to marginalize Deborah role in this Ensign article.

  33. Here is an interesting answer to the question about the meaning of the term prophetess as found in the Bible.

  34. I don’t carry my institute manual to church either, but it doesn’t mean I don’t use it.

    You’re a rare person Tara. I’ll bet nobody else in your ward uses the institute manual. I hope you don’t think that you, me, Bishop Rick or FireTag are typical members. I think we study FAR more than the average member. Do you really think others have had any sort of discussion about Deborah like we’ve had on this blog?

    That really bothers me that you make judgements about church leaders like that without any proof whatsoever.

    Bishop Rick and I have provided evidence for lots of things, and you reject everything that doesn’t agree with your point of view. When you and I disagree on something, I don’t think I will ever meet your standards of proof.

    “Most women aren’t going to hear the lesson anyway because they are in primary or in other callings during SS.

    This sounds like a gross stereotype to me. Men don’t outnumber women in Gospel Doctrine in any wards I’ve been in. (Maybe it’s different outside Utah?) I’ve taught primary, nursery, and young men’s too, missing out on GD class.

    I must say those are impressive links you’ve provided, especially the Kristin E. Litchman article. I think they should produce these more often then every 20-30 years though. In 1990, I was on my mission and didn’t have a subscription to the Ensign, so I missed that issue.

  35. I’ve enjoyed the discussion on Deborah, but I do wonder Tara, what do you think of the change in women giving blessings in 1946–good or bad? Do you think General RS Pres Belle Spafford was wrong in feeling hurt that women shouldn’t do these blessings?

  36. @MH
    As to the change in women giving priesthood blessings, I am neutral on the subject. I don’t know enough about the circumstances behind the change to take a position. I am personally fine with women being allowed to give blessings if that’s the Lord’s will, and I’m fine if it isn’t his will. And I trust that the leaders of the church have done what they think is right and in accordance with the Lord’s will. I choose not to be a victim, but instead grateful for what I am blessed with in the church.

    President Spafford was not wrong in her feelings. I don’t think feelings are wrong in and of themselves, but how we cope with those feelings is what matters. We can let them eat at us and bring us down, or we can choose to look for the good. When life hands you lemons….

    If you are interested, here is an article that addresses women’s issue within the church, including the issue of priesthood, though not to the depth I was hoping for. Anyway, I felt it was a pretty balanced article, although it is definitely apologetic in nature. Haven’t had time to finish reading it yet–it’s pretty long, and I’m heading out of town today.

  37. I know I am joining this discussion rather late.. but it is better than never. 🙂 I am feeling quite positive in saying that if the Church focused on women giving blessings.. most men would probably end up feeling.. “Well.. there is another thing that is taken away from me that I have to compete with women for.” So Suzie.. do you want mommy or daddy to give you the blessing? Someone is going to feel rejected. I know.. it is just a feeling and so many people would probably say.. nah.. wouldn’t bother me. But that is because they have not had to experience it yet.

    The Priesthood is something that the men have. Of course not to abuse it.. but to use it. And really.. how many men in the church really use it? Conference talks and Priesthood Meeting talks are always about using the Priesthood. If women were allowed to give blessings.. that would be just one less thing that a man gets to do to use his priesthood… and often times.. that is the only thing he gets to use his Priesthood for.

    Now.. I have no problem with extending for example.. positions of Leadership that are currently assigned to the Priesthood only. Example would be the Sunday School Presidency. If a sister can be called to teach us in Gospel lessons.. she should also be able to hold a position in the Presidency. But not the Elders Quorum Presidency or the High Priest Group Leader. Already the calls in Scouting.. like the committee.. are made up of men and women. Priesthood is not even a function of the Scouting Committee. I know because at this time I do not hold the Priesthood and I am the Committee Chairman.

  38. Mr Nirom, your statement seems to suggest “who” gives the blessing is more important than the blessing itself. If a man gets his feelings hurt because mommy gives the blessings, and not daddy, amen to his priesthood, because that is borderline unrighteous dominion. I mean really, Let’s assume you and your partner went home teaching, and the family asks for a blessing. Would your feelings be so tender that you would really feel rejected if your partner was the voice instead of you? I mean really, that is incredibly petty and has no place in priesthood blessings. It’s time for the man that feels “rejected” to grow up.

    Furthermore, your statements seem not very sensitive to one-parent families. If a man loses a wife to death or divorce, he can bless his children. But if a woman loses a husband to death or divorce, she cannot bless her children. As I mentioned earlier, when the early church practiced polygamy, men weren’t around as much. Women were left to their own devices, and often anointed and blessed the sick, and it wasn’t seen as a rejection of men if a woman blessed the sick. Why is it seen as a rejection now?

  39. […] October, I wrote a post titled, Mormon Women Blessing the Sick, as a follow up to my post on Women with Priesthood in Ancient Christianity.  Jonathon Stapley was […]

  40. I think everyone is forgetting that Joseph Smith was acting as a prophet before he was given the priesthood. Anyone can receive the gift of prophecy through their faith and there are special circumstances like in Deborah s case were the lord can only find the righteous amongst women. Like when he instructed Nephi to kill Laban outside of what we normally would expect. That does not mean that Deborah held the priesthood Joseph Smith didn’t have it before he spoke to the Lord and was directed to the plates, it was via revelation some time later that he was instructed about the priesthood. So that is my evidence you do not need to have the priesthood to act as a prophet. Plus in Old testament times the only tribe allowed to have the priesthood was the tribe of Levi of which Deborah was not.

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