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Introduction

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are regularly told that priesthood blessings are available to everyone. However, these seemingly clear statements of inclusion are too often paralleled by language, directed solely to men and young men, which seems to say that there are specific blessings to which holders of priesthood office are uniquely entitled. However, linking specific blessings to holding a specific priesthood office is, by its very nature, exclusionary for women and young women (and everyone else) who do not or cannot currently hold a specific priesthood office.

Bruce R. McConkie’s October 1977 General Conference talk, “The Ten Blessings of the Priesthood”[1] is a prime example of this phenomenon. In fact, the talk is specifically intended to outline blessings “which are available to all of us who hold the holy Melchizedek Priesthood” (emphasis added). Consider a few statements from this talk:

All the blessings discussed above are rhetorically linked not to priesthood access (e.g. receiving ordinances at the hand of priesthood holders) but rather to holding specific priesthood offices. But what about those who do not hold the priesthood? Do they not have access to these blessings? Of course they do! In every instance, women, children, and men who do not hold the priesthood have access to every blessing God has to offer. However, the unfortunate consequence of talking about the blessings priesthood holders receive comes at the implicit exclusion of everyone else—more than half the Church—who do not hold the priesthood. The unspoken statement seems to be that priesthood holders have access to blessings that are not available to the Church’s membership at large.

Although the rhetorical link between priesthood office and specific blessings (along with the implied exclusion that accompanies it) is a subtext that permeates much of our priesthood-related language, I want to examine one specific instance which often occurs very early in the church education of our young men and young women. The inclusion/exclusion framework regarding the promise of the “ministering of angels” discussed in Doctrine and Covenants 13 may inadvertently lead our young men to believe, erroneously, that they are entitled to blessings that their female counterparts are not, and may have a chilling effect on our young women that prevents them from seeking the blessings to which they rightfully have access.

One Example: Ministering of Angels

Throughout my time in the church, young men have been encouraged to memorize Doctrine and Covenants Section 13, which reads:

“Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.”[2]

The reason for this memorization effort (at least as I have heard it articulated by various men in leadership positions), is something along the lines of “young men need to understand that the Aaronic Priesthood may be the ‘lesser priesthood,’ but it still has remarkable power—deacons, teachers, and priests have access to the ‘ministering of angels!’ If young men understood this fact better, they would be more dutiful, more spiritually prepared, and more faithful priesthood holders than they currently are.”

I was told this as a young man—almost word-for-word. And in every place I have lived since moving out of the young men’s program, the male leadership have repeated the same refrain to the young men. Even in General Conference, General Authorities use Section 13 to encourage young men along their spiritual journey. For instance, in his October 1981 General Conference talk, “The Aaronic Priesthood,” President Boyd K. Packer concludes his remarks with: “our deacons, teachers, and priests—have been given sacred authority. May the angels minister unto you.” And in President Gordon B. Hinckley’s April 1988 General Conference talk, “The Aaronic Priesthood—A Gift from God,” Hinckley addresses young men, saying, “It is a tremendous thing to have the right to the ministering of angels.” President Hinckley then goes on to quote President Wilford Woodruff, who said, “I desire to impress upon you the fact that it does not make any difference whether a man is a priest or an apostle, if he magnifies his calling. A priest holds the keys of the ministering of angels.” [3]

It seems that although the venue and messenger may change, the logic is the same: young men who have been ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood offices of deacon, teacher, or priest have the “keys” to have angels minister unto them. In other words, young men who hold the Aaronic Priesthood, have the “right,” (as President Hinckley said) by virtue of that priesthood, to access angelic assistance. However, the way this teaching is often expressed suggests that Aaronic Priesthood holders have this angelic access in a way that is superior to those who do not hold the Aaronic Priesthood.

Although perhaps a useful rhetorical argument to encourage personal righteousness in Mormon young men, this assertion may unintentionally (1) misrepresent the concept of “priesthood keys” and (2) misread Section 13.

Priesthood keys, according to the 2017 “Come Follow Me” Young Men’s manual, are “the authority Heavenly Father has given to priesthood leaders to direct the use of His priesthood on earth.”[4] Dallin H. Oaks builds on this by noting, “Every act or ordinance performed in the Church is done under the direct or indirect authorization of one holding the keys for that function.”[5] In other words, priesthood keys provide those who hold those keys the ability to “direct” or “authorize” the administration of priesthood “acts” or “ordinances” for all of God’s children.

Since priesthood holders (even those with keys) cannot perform acts or ordinances on themselves, the clear implication is that priesthood keys are expressly for assisting others in accessing the blessings associated with any given priesthood act or ordinance. Given this understanding of priesthood keys—that keys are used to make “blessings… available for all of God’s children”[6]—it is incongruous to argue that Aaronic Priesthood holders benefit in ways that others do not (in this case by having the ministering of angels) by virtue of the keys associated with that priesthood. In short, the purpose of the Aaronic Priesthood is to help other people access ministering angels, not to enable special, angelic access for the Aaronic Priesthood holder.

A close reading of D&C 13 bears this out. In this section, John the Baptist is recorded as saying that the Aaronic Priesthood “holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.” There is no pause after discussion of the ministering of angels; there is no hard break signifying that the Aaronic Priesthood holder would be uniquely ministered to. Rather, by speaking about the ministering of angels as part of continuing list that includes the gospel of repentance and baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, John the Baptist connects all of these blessings as equally attainable by everyone through the Aaronic Priesthood. The ministering of angels, just like repentance and baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, is freely available to all people. Just as it would be inaccurate to say that only Aaronic Priesthood holders can repent or get baptized, it is similarly inaccurate to say that Aaronic Priesthood holders have any sort of special access to ministering angels.

I am not trying to assert that church leadership at the general, stake, and/or ward level is intentionally misleading our youth. On the contrary, I think the phrasing is simply not felicitous. But even though unintentional, the impacts of this language are very real for our young women. In a church already challenged by charges of gender inequality, using Section 13—and specifically the “ministering of angels” promise—to encourage young men to be more responsible may well be damaging to the spiritual progress of their female counterparts. Yes, the young men probably need to take their priesthood responsibilities more seriously (as do all priesthood holders), but by creating a rhetorical link between “access to angels” and “holding the Aaronic Priesthood,” young women are inadvertently but effectively excluded from access to the angelic ministration promised by John the Baptist. As a result, I worry that far too few young women are striving for this blessing. And young men may be led to believe that young women are denied this blessing because of their sex, suggesting erroneously to them that their male sex is somehow more privileged by God.

Obviously, this is not the case—access to gospel blessings is available to all and God is no respecter of persons. Although the point is made far less aggressively than it should be—and even occasionally portrayed incorrectly—the fact is that having access to the “ministering of angels” has nothing to do whatsoever with whether one holds the priesthood. Many Church leaders have articulated this same point.

Perhaps the clearest explication of this point is in Dallin H. Oaks’ October 1998 General Conference address, “The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament.” In this talk, Oaks explains that the vital component to the ministering of angels is not whether one holds the priesthood, but whether one has access to the ordinances of the Aaronic Priesthood. Oaks explains:

“How does the Aaronic Priesthood hold the key to the ministering of angels?... Through the Aaronic Priesthood ordinances of baptism and the sacrament, we are cleansed of our sins and promised that if we keep our covenants we will always have His Spirit to be with us. I believe that promise not only refers to the Holy Ghost but also to the ministering of angels, for “angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ” (2 Ne. 32:3)… the Aaronic Priesthood open[s] the door for all Church members… to enjoy the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord and the ministering of angels (emphasis added).”

The promises and opportunities outlined in this Section 13 are remarkable. The simplicity and power of the doctrine is profound. Indeed, Section 13 is central to the Latter-day Saints’ understanding of what it means to exercise faith in Jesus Christ, of how we draw upon the power of the Atonement, and the ways in which the powers of heaven can touch our everyday lives.

Conclusion

In our efforts to encourage priesthood duty and reinforce the very real blessings that priesthood access provides each of us, we must be careful to ensure our language is inclusive. All the blessings of the priesthood are available everyone. Our teaching needs to reflect that reality. So, do I think that young men should continue to memorize Section 13? Sure. But so should the young women. [7] The ministering of angels is for Beehives, too.



NOTES:

[1] Available at: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1977/10/the-ten-blessings-of-the-priesthood?lang=eng --- [Back to manuscript].


[2] This well-known section of scripture is the blessing that John the Baptist gave to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdry on May 15, 1829 when he conferred upon them the Aaronic Priesthood. [Back to manuscript].


[3] From the Millennial Star, 5 Oct. 1891, p. 629, quoted in Gordon B. Hinkley, The Aaronic Priesthood—A Gift from God, April 1988 General Conference. [Back to manuscript].


[4] “What Are the Keys of the Priesthood.” Come Follow Me. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City. 2017. Available at: https://www.lds.org/youth/learn/ap/priesthood-keys/keys?lang=eng. See also Doctrine and Covenants Section 124:143. [Back to manuscript].


[5] Oaks, Dallin H. “The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood.” April 2014 General Conference Address. Available at: https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/04/the-keys-and-authority-of-the-priesthood?lang=eng. --- [Back to manuscript].


[6] Ibid [Back to manuscript].


[7] Relatedly, in May 2, 2013 Women’s Conference remarks, General Relief Society President Linda K. Burton invited the sisters to “memorize the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood,” suggesting that promises outlined in D&C 84:33-44 are equally available to, and thus should be understood by, the women of the church. See, Priesthood Power—Available to All, June 2014 Ensign Magazine. Also available at https://www.lds.org/ensign/2014/06/priesthood-power-available-to-all?lang=eng --- [Back to manuscript].



Full Citation for this Article: Hutson, M. David (2017) "'The Ministering of Angels' is for the Beehives Too," SquareTwo, Vol. 10 No. 3 (Fall 2017), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHustonBeehives.html, accessed <give access date>.

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COMMENTS: 1 Comment

I. Jerrod Guddat

I appreciate author M. David Huston's efforts to discuss a sensitive and important topic of women and the priesthood. I too, have spent much time attempting to understand the various aspects of Priesthood and how it relates to gender in the Church. While I agree with Brother Huston's article conclusions, I am not sure the examples he uses to arrive at his conclusions are completely sound. Granted, Elder McConkie's conference address does insinuate that there may be blessings afforded to holders of the priesthood, however, we need to keep in mind the audience to which his address was given, that of the Priesthood Session to boys and men who held the priesthood. When you read each of the 10 blessings to which Elder McConkie referred, all but one of those blessings could have easily been a talk given in the Women's Session of General Conference. I will leave this point quoting from the recent Gospel Topics Essay on Joseph Smith's Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women: "Latter-day Saints and others often mistakenly equate priesthood with religious office and the men who hold it, which obscures the broader Latter-day Saint concept of priesthood." So again, I agree with Brother Hudson that we may sometimes insinuate exclusivity surrounding priesthood, but I may quibble over his examples cited.

Furthermore, my doctrinal and cultural experience with the 'ministering of angels' was not and has not been similar to Brother Huston's experience. I do not discount his experience. I only say that mine has been different. From my experience, there has generally been a lack of understanding surrounding the concept of ministering of angels, but my experience has never been one of the ministering of angels to holders of the Aaronic Priesthood. At best it has been one of the ministering of angels through the aaronic priesthood. Regardless, a recent New Era article seems to add clarity to the whole concept of ministering of angels. Quoting Elder Oaks the article states:

“What does it mean that the Aaronic Priesthood holds ‘the key of the ministering of angels’ … ? The meaning is found in the ordinance of baptism and in the sacrament. … When we keep the covenants made in these ordinances, we are promised that we will always have His Spirit to be with us. The ministering of angels is one of the manifestations of that Spirit. …
“… Angelic messages can be delivered by a voice or merely by thoughts or feelings communicated to the mind. …
“… As explained earlier, through the Aaronic Priesthood ordinances of baptism and the sacrament, we are cleansed of our sins and promised that if we keep our covenants we will always have His Spirit to be with us. I believe that promise not only refers to the Holy Ghost but also to the ministering of angels, for ‘angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ’ (2 Nephi 32:3). So it is that those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood open the door for all Church members who worthily partake of the sacrament to enjoy the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord and the ministering of angels”

In the end, Brother Huston’s article is a noble effort to open a dialog and continue the conversation surrounding women and the priesthood and whatever issues some of us have with conscious or subconscious attribution of the concept of priesthood being synonymous with men. In the context of Brother Huston’s article it would be important for future articles to definitively answer whether or not there are blessings reserved for those who hold a priesthood office. A detailed analysis of Declaration 2 and the history surrounding it may be insightful in this regard. It would appear to me that the blessings spoken of in the context of blacks and the priesthood had more to do with temple ordinances and covenants rather than priesthood conferral. If that is true, then in my mind being ecclesiastically ordained simply acts as a conduit for God’s authority, power, blessings, ordinances, and covenants to flow from heaven to his sons and daughters on earth. I suppose that is Brother Huston's point that we should avoid accidentally reserving blessings for bearers of the priesthood since God doesn't appear to do that.