What kind of priesthood authority do Mormon women receive in the LDS temple ceremony?

What kind of priesthood authority do Mormon women receive in the LDS temple ceremony? (Shutterstock)

On Friday at the FAIR conference in Salt Lake City, LDS leader Sharon Eubank affirmed that LDS beliefs are some of the most “expansive and powerful in the world” for women, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.

However, the first-ever female director of LDS Charities also cautioned that the Church “can improve in many, many ways” in how it puts those beliefs into actual practice:

The church needs a new vocabulary, she said, for such positions as “mission presidents’ wives,” who play a vital role but have no unique title.

And, possibly alluding to the movement known as Ordain Women, which is pushing for female entrance to the all-male LDS priesthood, Eubank said, “we need a way to describe the female contribution to priesthood. We are a faith community of priests and priestesses. We need a way to talk about that.”

I was intrigued by Eubank’s comment about women and priesthood. (There is a video posted here of her actual remarks, but it would not play on my computer, so I’m just going by the Trib’s recounting and this Times and Seasons summary report.)

Eubank acknowledged that something unique happens in the LDS temple ceremony — something that imparts priesthood power to women — and suggested that we are just now beginning to understand what that means.

I hope that the change in vocabulary that Eubank refers to occurs soon, because I’m tired of the inadequate explanation that women can passively “receive all the blessings of the priesthood” even if they don’t hold it themselves.

For example, in the June issue of the Ensign the cover story by Linda K. Burton asserts that priesthood power is “available to all.” Women may not have access to priesthood authority, which requires ordination, but they have unlimited access to priesthood power, which is available to everyone.

Rehearsing a standard complementarian claim, Sister Burton promotes the idea that women’s counterpart to men’s priesthood authority (which she muddles in her own argument by calling “priesthood power” here when she has just spent the article carefully and helpfully distinguishing between priesthood power and priesthood authority) is “moral influence.”

The Ensign article is predictable and disappointing, not only in its rehash of the same old patriarchal arguments about women and relational “influence” but also in its subtle reification of Mormonism’s gendered power structure: amidst all the quotations from general authorities past and present, not a single woman is cited as an authority.

The overall argument that women (and children, and cats, and possibly guppies) can receive all the blessings of the priesthood just by having hands laid on their head and some lovely words spoken is, at best, only partially true. And without intending to, these sincere and well-meant justifications actually undermine the power of the priesthood.

This came home to me while reading that same Ensign issue, which contained a beautiful personal essay by Cesar Lima Escalante of Mexico City. One day, his bishop asked him just before sacrament meeting if he could please participate in blessing and passing the sacrament, which he was glad to do. Being asked to help made Escalante approach the whole meeting with a more spiritual focus; he read through “I Stand All Amazed” before the meeting started and tearfully pondered the Savior’s great sacrifice for us.

Performing the ordinance sparked an epiphany about Christ’s suffering and death; the act of tearing the bread reminded Escalante of what was “precious, beautiful, and extraordinary.” Never before had he so clearly understood what the sacrament prayer means by the words “that they may eat in remembrance of the body of they Son.” The act of blessing the sacrament brought home to him the Savior’s perfect love, a love he was able to share with others.

That is the fullness of priesthood. The administration of ordinances offers an unparalleled chance for spiritual growth.

By saying that I’m not demeaning how beautiful it can be to also be on the receiving end of ordinances; I’ve shared before how powerful and important this has been at times in my Mormon life. But the spiritual blessings of receiving are not the same as the blessings that come from a well-balanced spiritual life of both receiving and stepping up to the plate.

My perspective on this is admittedly unusual for a Mormon woman. At one time I was a Protestant who attended divinity school and was training to be a pastor; in that role I was called upon to practice what it would be like to bless communion, baptize babies, lay on hands for healing, and of course preach and teach. In my experience those activities were challenging and sometimes agonizingly difficult – there are good reasons I’m not a pastor today – but they certainly forced me to grow as a Christian.

Eubank’s perspective is that Mormon women deserve a better articulation of the priesthood power we already possess. That is far more mainstream than my own view that priesthood ordination is the optimal path for true equality in the Church. Even if I don’t think her view goes quite far enough, I’m delighted that we’re all having this conversation at all.

It’s a step forward. What will the next step be?

27 Comments

  1. I have often wished for a better description for my mother’s lifetime service than “___’s wife”. Though she served as a Relief Society President multiple times she was more often known as “the ____’s wife”. I always sensed my father’s desire to elevate her service.

    Aside from the sacrifice involved, she also brought a wealth of experience and served alongside. The nature of my father’s callings often required it. Further, many “important” callings in the church require a careful evaluation of both husband and wife for fitness in a particular calling as memorialized in the tongue and cheek, “We found the best person in the ward and called her husband….”

    I would love to see husband and wife share in titles where their service often goes together.

    At least there is no double standard. A brother in our ward is the Relief Society President’s husband though these circumstances are fewer.

    • Jana Riess

      Yes, the “mission president’s wife” one in particular is glaring, because MPWs do so much and have a pretty important role. Surely we can do better than that. While I’m not a fan of the “Temple Matron” title that is used to apply to temple presidents’ wives, at least it’s something that acknowledges that the woman has a job to do in the temple and is not just an appendage to her husband.

      • So, you wouldn’t be happy to use ‘Mission Matron’ then Jana? ;-)
        Yes, the Mission President’s wife is an interesting one, Called and set apart as a full-time missionary but no title – except of course Sister ___.
        Notwithstanding, she gets to speak regularly in mission and stake conferences.

  2. How many Mormon women have been ordained bishops? None that I know of.

    How many Moromon women have been excommunicated, ostracized, rebuked or otherwise punished for advocating that Mormon women should be ordained? Several that we know of, and probably many more that we don’t know of.

    Yet many Mormon deceivers claim that women already have the priesthood and the church does not discriminate. The deceivers are speaking contrary to the facts and often contradict their own statements.

    I was at a Mormon Bible study that the male leaders/teachers seemed to be trying to inoculate the Mormon church from criticisms from feminist activists, by essentially claiming that women already have the “priesthood”; by having the ability to bear children and taking the responsibility to raise children. And essentially arguing that women already hold “leadership”positions in the church. Ignoring that those positions were subordinate (lower management) positions.

    I think the Mormon leaders and people like Sharon Eubank are delivering a snow job. Dishonest deception. Delusion.

    Sorry I didn’t watch the video either. My Internet connection is lousy and the Internet connection for the video also seems to be lousy. Had to buffer the video for 10 minutes, to watch less than a minute. At that rate it would take me over 10 hours to watch the entire video. They should probably upload the video to YouTube to make it more accessible.

    Sharon Eubank sounds industrious and sounds like she’s done a lot of good things; but it sounds like she is being deceptive about women and the priesthood in the Mormon church.

    The FAIR conference seems like a snow job. Russell Stevenson is making sickening excuses for those that idolize a racist, sexist, polygamist, hate monger, warmonger and genocidal maniac like Brigham Young.

    The Church of latter-day Saints is not “true”; neither is the priesthood.

    • While this post is clearly biased, it is interesting what kind of support those who criticize the church from an “I know best” standard draw with their flesh based arguments. The fact is that notwithstanding Doug2’s wishful claims, God, through the power of the Holy Ghost, will reveal to any who are sincerely seeking truth, that The Church of latter-day Saints is in fact true, and the priesthood found within it is real.

      • @ FWJ

        Your post is biased.

        The Holy Ghost and facts reveal that the church of latter day saints is not true. It bears false witness, discriminates against women, discriminates against the disabled, uses the Lords name in vain, steals, gossips, etc… It is tainted like all other denominations.

        Like most denominations it has many good teachings and many good members; but still strays from the path.

        Latter Day Saints claim that all other denominations are not true; that only they are “true”. It is hypocrisy.

        The Mormon church often speaks with a forked tongue. They claim to have renounced their racist ways; yet they idolize a racist, sexist, polygamist, hate monger, warmonger and genocidal maniac like Brigham Young.

        • Doug 2: FWJ is biased and wrong about the Church!
          FWJ: Doug2 is biased and wrong about the Church!

          Tie

          God, through the power of his holy spirit will reveal to the sincere truth seeker which of us is correct. I assert that those who fight to overcome bias, humbly submit to God and trust his revelation, will see that I am correct, but I am perfectly wiling to leave that discovery to the seekers of truth.

      • “How to Condemn Racism and Still Call Brigham Young a Prophet.”

        I don’t know how you can call a genocidal maniac and racist like Brigham Young a Prophet.

        It would be like calling Adolf Hitler a Prophet.

        Calling evil men like them prophets, sounds like an excuse and sounds like idolizing them.

        • This argument is based of the initial false premise that BY was a racist. Since that is not the case the argument fails. It is however a good example of how bias colors arguments.

          Atheists read 1 Samuel 15: 2-3 and conclude that God is a genocidal maniac and racist. Then ask, “How can you call him God?”

          Christ’s disciples heard him speak about eating his flesh and drinking his blood and determined him to be a cannibal, so stopped following after him, wondering how that man could be the Messiah. John 6.

          • @ FWJ

            FWJ “This argument is based of the initial false premise that BY was a racist. Since that is not the case the argument fails.”

            What next, are you going to claim Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were not racists?

            You are bearing false witness to defend a racist, which would imply that you are a racist. You are allying yourself with a racist.

            The fact is Brigham Young was a racist. The fact is that the Church of later Day Saints was racist, and still has some racist tendencies, like idolizing a racist like Brigham Young.

            Brigham Young was a racist for forbidding Negroes (or anyone with any Negro lineage) from the priesthood and other leadership positions.

            Brigham Young was racist for calling Negroe’s dark skin the mark of Cain.

            Brigham Young was a racist for saying Indians, Asians, and Jews are the blood of Cain, and should not be allowed in leadership positions in church or government.

            Brigham Young was a racist for advocating murdering anyone that has mixed-race marriages with Negroes (mixed race sex). Brigham Young was a racist for advocating murdering mixed-race children. Brigham Young was racist for advocating that the Mormon church commit these murders (“blood anointment”). Brigham Young was a racist genocidal maniac, for advocating that the church be racist racist police, judges and executioners.

            Brigham Young was racist for advocating that blacks should be servants/slaves.

            Brigham Young was racist for saying the church should be dissolved if they ever allowed mixed marriages.

            It makes me sick that so many Mormons idolize an evil, racist, hate monger and genocidal maniac like Brigham Young.

            http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/sermons_talks_interviews/brigham1852feb5_priesthoodandblacks.htm

          • The link didn’t work.

            For anyone that doubts or doesn’t believe that Brigham Young was a racist.

            Google:
            Brigham Young’s Speech on Slavery, Blacks, and the Priesthood

  3. This post, taken to its logical conclusion would show that the writer’s inaccurate claims with regard to the essay by Cesar Escalante could be used to argue that the only way one can truly feel, understand and therefore really appreciate the atonement is to do that very act oneself….”Sorry Jesus, it is not enough for me to witness you do it, nor to benefit from your selfless actions,…no, performing my own atonement is the only way I can gain that unparalleled chance for the spiritual growth that comes from atoning for others. The culture of envy, which is based in selfishness, might support such an argument, but in the eternal scheme the argument would still be flawed.

    Similarly, her past fellow Protestants in the congregation she was practicing to serve, could have used the same logic to do away with the priesthood of believers and the need for clergy all together, claiming that being a beneficiary of those functions of clergy was not enough, but that they must do the function themselves in order to receive the full benefit. The end result of such philosophy is that everybody is a god to themselves, no one, male or female can preside, or take over officiating in offices for the benefit of others, for each person must, in order to realize the fullness of the blessings, officiate for themselves. Thus an ordained and functioning clergy woman, performing ordinances for others, falls prey to the same envy based reasoning. For what makes her any more special or entitled to provide an ordinance, than the recipient of that ordinance?

    • FWJ “The culture of envy, which is based in selfishness, might support such an argument, but in the eternal scheme the argument would still be flawed…

      …The end result of such philosophy is that everybody is a god to themselves, no one, male or female can preside, or take over officiating in offices for the benefit of others, for each person must, in order to realize the fullness of the blessings, officiate for themselves.”

      That is essentially what the Church of later Day Saints teaches. Essentially having a checklist for “degrees of glory”. Essentially claiming you can’t achieve the “highest degree of glory” unless you’ve served in the priesthood, sealed in the Temple, etc….

      The focus seems to be on obtaining reward, rather than doing God’s will.

      Some of the Mormon Bible studies that I have been to essentially teach that the “highest degree of glory” in the afterlife is being a god in dominion over a universe of your very own. It seems to be sacrilegious.

      I think it is a violation of Isaiah 45:5

      “I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me”

  4. I made some changes to the video player on the referenced FairMormon blog post today; hopefully no one else will have trouble viewing it. I would have been happy to help earlier if I had known there was a problem. ;)

  5. I really appreciate this post and the conversation it sparks.

    Your question about how women share in the Priesthood power is great. Women certainly already do so in callings of mission service, in the Relief Society, and in the temple. So why don’t we talk more about that? I don’t think many people in the church would say that women are less important than men- so why aren’t they in every administrative meeting? Why aren’t their voices valued to the same extent of a man’s?

    Changing the title for callings held by women is important, as Eubanks recommended, but I think that we need to accept that structural changes need to happen. Even if women aren’t ordained to the priesthood, they need to be treated- not just talked about- as equals and be equally represented in every meeting where decisions affect women.

    • Jana Riess

      Yes, and thanks for redirecting the conversation back to the actual topic and away from the whole Mormonism-is-true-no-it-isn’t-BY-was-a-racist-no-he-wasn’t debates.

      I totally agree that most Mormons would say that women are equally important to men in our religion and in the eyes of God. But as Sharon Eubank and many others have pointed out, we aren’t structuring our church as if we believed that.

  6. Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Paul speaks about the variety of gifts in the Church, and how each member of the body of the Church functions in distinct ways to serve the body as a whole. I suspect that this is the reason the priesthood ordination in the LDS Church operates as it does, to make men feel needed and give them an added impetus to service and self-sacrifice that, based on the low relative participation rate of men versus women in most denominations, would not happen otherwise. I wonder how many of those who demand ordination of women are thinking of how much more convenient it will be when they can dispense of any need to depend on men.

    Priesthood is not needed to preach, pray, proselyte, visit those in need and give counsel and help. The ONLY ordinance which a Mormon experiences most weeks is partaking of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. Most of our participation in callings is work that is not performing of ordinances. Our ability to receive inspiration and spiritual support in our lives is not dependent on priesthood ordination. Our entitlement to inspiration in callings is something available through the blessing of being set apart, which comes to men and women equally.

    There may be insights that come as a result of magnifying a priesthood calling. Somehow I think that there are insights that come from magnifying a calling that is not a “priesthood” one, such as teaching a Sunday School class. Because we share our insights with one another in so many ways, including testimony meetings, I am grateful for the insights of everyone.

  7. Jana Riess

    I agree with some of your points, Raymond, like the fact that it is possible to grow spiritually in many ways, of which priesthood administration is just one.

    However, to say that administering the sacrament is the only ordinance most Mormons participate in each week isn’t quite right. We teach that everything we do is under the direction of the priesthood, yes? That includes *all* of our meetings — and even the troubling fact that women can’t hold a Relief Society meeting in the chapel without a priesthood holder in the building.

    Since Correlation in particular, the LDS Church has sought to bring every auxiliary, every program, every decision under the auspices of the priesthood. This has some positives of course, but it also shuts women out. As Erica noted above, if we really believe that women are not less important than men, why would we not want them present when decisions are made?

    Also — your note about Paul is alarmist. Just because women ask for equality and point out inequality does not mean that they seek to “dispense” with men. Speaking for myself, the healthiest relationships and institutions that I have participated in encourage interdependence, which is in the middle of dependence and independence. Like most people, I want to be respected and to have an equal opportunity to contribute my gifts, but I have no wish to be an island. Nor do I wish to deny other people the opportunity to contribute their gifts. This is not a zero-sum game in which granting priesthood to women somehow diminishes men. God’s kingdom is not one of scarce resources.

  8. I have always argued that women don’t need the office to hold the keys. How many priesthood keys can women hold that do not require the office of the priesthood? They can lead as officers in the Relief Society and Primary with priesthood keys (church leadership requires priesthood keys) they technically could be Sunday School presidents, but never get the call for some reason. They can be missionaries, they can teach classes. These are both things men cannot do without having the office of the priesthood. But the best example is the temple. Not only can women go there and receive the same ordinances without the office of the priesthood, but they can use the priesthood there to PREFORM some of the ordinances.

    The real problem here is that we do not have a word to differentiate between the priesthood and the office of the priesthood. Even non-members use the priesthood. Priesthood is how God answers prayers. Women may put their hands on their children’s heads to bless and heal them using the priesthood by praying over them. Women may assist in a priesthood blessing. They have the power, just not the office, just like men do not have membership in the Relief Society.

    This is where the OW movement oversteps. They don’t just want the office, they want the callings. Only God can give callings. But these do not necessarily go together. The reality is that we just don’t have all the facts. This is why, rather than pushing the Church for change, I’m simply asking the brethren to use their keys as prophets seers and revelators to find out God’s will on the subject. God may have something to say that surprises all of us.

  9. Along with the first commenter, I not only wish some of the titles of women would change, but also how introductions and speaking assignments were done. If you listen to CES broadcasts or devotionals, you’ll often notice the wives of Apostles and leaders are often not given due introduction and it’s very disheartening. One reason I fell in love with the MormonChannel’s “Conversations” podcast early on was because it had Apostles and their wives being interviewed together. It gave such balance to who these leaders were and the events that shaped the couples’ lives. I hope that someday these speaking engagements will include hearing from both more often as we as members are having these conversations and both sexes are realizing the need for both voices to be heard.

  10. Kristine Stringham

    Jana – if you haven’t had a chance to watch the video since writing this post, I’d highly recommend it. Mormon Newsroom is sharing it as well. It’s difficult to catch the feel of Eubank’s speech with such a small sampling of quotes. It was uplifting and powerful.

  1. […] Friend-of-the-Report Jana Riess returns with another column at Flunking Sainthood, covering everyone’s favorite subject of women and the priesthood. She looks at Sharon Eubank’s comment at the FAIR conference about the role of women and the church. The entire piece is very well done and quite worth the read, but this section stood out to me: “My perspective on this is admittedly unusual for a Mormon woman. At one time I was a Protestant who attended divinity school and was training to be a pastor; in that role I was called upon to practice what it would be like to bless communion, baptize babies, lay on hands for healing, and of course preach and teach. In my experience those activities were challenging and sometimes agonizingly difficult – there are good reasons I’m not a pastor today – but they certainly forced me to grow as a Christian. Eubank’s perspective is that Mormon women deserve a better articulation of the priesthood power we already possess. That is far more mainstream than my own view that priesthood ordination is the optimal path for true equality in the Church. Even if I don’t think her view goes quite far enough, I’m delighted that we’re all having this conversation at all.” […]

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