Within the last year, there has been considerably more discussion within the Church about the relationship between women and priesthood.  This is a good thing.  We cannot imagine what we never think about, or as Hugh Nibley put it, “God can’t pour a one-gallon revelation into a one-cup mind.”  I see the current discussion as enlarging that one cup size to something considerably bigger, preparing the way for “the further light and knowledge” that will surely be forthcoming on these issues.
            Three recent efforts by those with standing in the Church are arguably of most note: Elder M. Russell Ballard’s Education Week talk of August 2013, President Sheri Dew’s book, Women and the Priesthood (reviewed by SquareTwo here), and Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ April 2014 conference talk in priesthood session. [1]

Before the New Level of Discussion

            Until this new and higher level of discussion allowed for a more nuanced analysis, the formula had always been that while women did not have the priesthood, they were recipients of all blessings that could be offered by the priesthood, and that therefore all was well.  Married women even told themselves that they “held the priesthood each night” when they went to bed with their husbands.  To be eternally married to someone with divine power even while not holding it oneself, then, was the first way in which women were urged to cope with the fact that only males hold the priesthood in the LDS Church.
            However, this formulation was always problematic.  It reduced women to powerless beings who required male intermediaries to access the divine. It also lamentably legitimized certain cultural ideas that men were the “head” of women; that men’s role was to direct women and their efforts, and to make final decisions not only for the Church but also for the family.  Cultural acceptance of men’s “directorship” over women meant that ultimately men would both create and control the world that women and their children then had to live in.  Like other religions, this was justified in the eyes of many by men’s God-given roles to “protect and provide for” women.  If men were protecting and providing for women, the argument went, that implied that men should also have the right to be their “head.”
            In the evolving cultural narrative, women responded by suggesting that men might be the “head,” but that women were in fact the “neck” which moved the head.  This new cultural parry by women implied that the head itself needed some direction and motivation, which women were providing.  So, “under but with de facto power” was the second way that LDS women attempted to cope with the fact that only males hold the priesthood.  Women knew themselves to be beings of power—after all, they experienced this powerful female self in action every day within their families at least—but the doctrine did not reflect this reality. But women understood from their own lives that “necks” were more than just an appendage to a “head”: women experienced themselves as intelligent, practical, spiritually-attuned, and even wise beings who wielded great power—albeit these contributions might have to be offered through affiliated men to be accepted (think Eleanor the queen in “Brave;” this formulation is certainly not flattering to men, either).
            In past centuries where women had fewer opportunities to magnify their God-given talents, where they were purposefully educated to a lesser degree than men, where they were on unequal footing with men economically, where they were excluded from public life and collective decision-making within their societies, where physical might controlled the world, this formulation of women as having only a certain private power through men in all probability made some “sense.”
            But in this century, the world is no longer uniformly structured in these old, fallen ways. In the 21st century, there are nations where women have won Nobel Prizes, have reached the pinnacle of education (college degrees are now awarded disproportionately to women in the US, China, Saudi Arabia, and many other countries), are on almost equal footing economically with men, and have become world leaders—even being the majority in some legislatures (such as in Rwanda). Conceptualizing women as powerless beings now no longer makes “sense.”
            Furthermore, we live in an age where women have looked at the world that men have created, and they are not happy with it.  Women realize that their exclusion from collective decision-making has not been good for their children, and therefore they conclude God can’t be happy about this exclusion either because their children are also God’s children. Women realize that to make this world less dysfunctional for their children, they are going to have to have a seat at the table: they are going to have to co-rule with men.  The world desperately needs the wisdom, experience, talents, intelligence, passion, perspective, and power of women.  And that means the world needs men to accept women as their truly equal partners, or, as Elder L. Tom Perry has put it, their “co-presidents.”[2]

It is Time

            We, the LDS, have an incredible head start in these matters.  The LDS, of all the Christianities, believe that God is not solely male, and that all divinity requires the sincerely equal partnership of male and female.  The LDS believe that there is a Heavenly Mother, who is the absolute equal partner of Heavenly Father.  Our Parents rule together in Heaven, we aver.  These are foundational beliefs, not peripheral beliefs, of our faith.
            What have we made of this head start?  Not a heck of a lot.  As Alixandra Lewis Adams relates in her article in this issue, the women of the early Church made a great deal more of it than the Saints did in the latter half of the 20th century.  Arguably, this is because the prevailing national culture during that post-World War II time period still handicapped women to such a degree in education, the marketplace, and leadership that the doctrinal disconnect between foundational beliefs and the implementation thereof in the daily lives of men and women could persist and even be overlooked.
            No longer.  The daughters of God now understand that those educational, economic, and decision-making handicaps were not of divine origin, but were completely man-made.  Furthermore, over the past two decades, there has also been an incredible outpouring from our General Authorities to the effect that women are the equals of men, and that their relationship in the family is to be one of equal partnership.  The foundational beliefs have finally resurged to the fore, thankfully. But those welcome restatements only accentuate the doctrinal disconnect, placing it into even greater relief: if women are the equals of men, what does a male-only priesthood mean? 
            A deep yearning for greater light and knowledge on this issue has therefore arisen within the Church membership at the beginning of the 21st century.  This is all to the good, but it does bring with it some discomfort, as well.  It seems to me that LDS women now want God—not men—to tell us our role, for God is our Heavenly Father and our Heavenly Mother.  Consider the Proclamation on the Family as an example of this attitudinal shift.  About a year ago, I stumbled upon a 2005 interview of Chieko Okazaki, who was a counselor in the General Relief Society presidency from 1990 to 1997.  In it, Okazaki relates how the Family Proclamation (which was not a revelation, but is rightly treated as doctrinal) was never shown to their presidency before the meeting where it was scheduled to be announced in the general women’s meeting that year. [6]
            At the time of the announcement (1995), perhaps no one thought that omission might be problematic.  However, in 2014, that seems like an absolutely stunning factoid, and completely inappropriate for the true Church.  If women are the sincerely equal partners of men in both earthly and divine families, men should not be laying down general principles of family life for the children of God without any input whatsoever from women.  “The thought makes reason stare!”  Indeed, I like to think that the reason the Family Proclamation is not yet in the latest (2013) version of the scriptures is that Heaven is waiting for the male authorities of the Church to get feedback from the female authorities before it is finally included, with all the scriptural stature that inclusion would entail.  That would be the way of Heaven, would it not?
            My brothers, the time when such presumption could be overlooked is now over.
            We stand now at a threshold as a people, in my opinion. The deep yearning for greater light and knowledge among Latter-day Saints means that the moment is ripe for Church authorities to wrestle with these issues of women’s relationship to the male priesthood and try to enlarge the membership’s understanding, thereby laying the groundwork for new revelations that surely lie ahead.  The talks by Elder Ballard, President Sheri Dew, and Elder Oaks are an important beginning, and they are well worth studying for the light they collectively shed on these issues.

Priesthood: Power, Authority, Keys

            Together these three talks tell us more about women’s relationship to the priesthood than they do alone, I would submit.  Let’s first identify the pieces contributed by each, and then set about fitting them together.

            Elder M. Russell Ballard
            Elder Ballard, whose marvelous book Counseling with Our Councils has held an honored place on my bookshelf for many years, provides the following helpful propositions in his August 2013 Education Week talk:

            1) Endowed women hold priesthood power. 

“When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which by definition is priesthood power. . . The endowment is literally a gift of power. All who enter the house of the Lord officiate in the ordinances of the priesthood. This applies to men and women alike.”

            2) There are apparently two great works in the Plan of Salvation, and the participation of both men and women are essential to each:

“It takes a man and a woman to create a family, and it takes men and women to carry out the work of the Lord in the Church.”

            3) These existence of these two works implies there are two powers at work:

“Just as a woman cannot conceive a child without a man, so a man cannot fully exercise the power of the priesthood to establish an eternal family without a woman. . . . In the eternal perspective, both the procreative power and the priesthood power are shared by husband and wife.”

            These assertions are really quite remarkable.  On their own, they would be worth deep contemplation, but Elder Oaks is prepared to add even more . . .


            Elder Dallin H. Oaks
            In a very interesting and detailed April 2014 conference talk, Elder Oaks contributes these additional noteworthy propositions to the discussion:

            1) Women, when called to a position of authority in the Church, hold priesthood authority.

“Priesthood keys direct women as well as men, and priesthood ordinances and priesthood authority pertain to women as well as men . . . We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.”

            2) In addition to the priesthood keys on this earth now, there exist other priesthood keys that have not been given to man on earth.

“At general conference many years ago, President Spencer W. Kimball reminded us that there are other priesthood keys that have not been given to man on the earth, including the keys of creation and resurrection.”; [Elder Oaks then cites President J. Reuben Clark as saying that women] “possess . . . the complement of the priesthood powers.”

            He might also have made reference to an analogy used by President Boyd K. Packer back in 1993, which suggests the same:

“Once a man received as his inheritance two keys. The first key, he was told, would open a vault which he must protect at all cost. The second key was to a safe within the vault which contained a priceless treasure. He was to open this safe and freely use the precious things which were stored therein . . . The man went alone to the vault. His first key opened the door. He tried to unlock the treasure with the other key, but he could not, for there were two locks on the safe. His key alone would not open it. No matter how he tried, he could not open it. He was puzzled. He had been given the keys. He knew the treasure was rightfully his. He had obeyed instructions, but he could not open the safe. In due time, there came a woman into the vault. She, too, held a key. It was noticeably different from the key he held. Her key fit the other lock. It humbled him to learn that he could not obtain his rightful inheritance without her.”

            3) All priesthood keys exercised in the Church are keys associated with or appendages to the Melchizedek priesthood, or the Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God. 

            Elder Oaks cites D&C 107:5 on this score and then adds his commentary:

“. . . ‘all other authorities [and] offices in the church are appendages to this [Melchizedek] priesthood’ (D&C 107:5) . . . Thus, it is truly said that Relief Society is not just a class for women but something they belong to—a divinely established appendage to the priesthood.” [emphasis mine]

            No doubt you are beginning to put the pieces offered by Elder Ballard and those offered by Elder Oaks together; President Dew can help us with that task . . .


            President Sheri Dew
            Fittingly, it is a woman—Sheri Dew—who provides the insight necessary synthesize the pieces we have been given by Elders Ballard and Oaks into a larger and more coherent whole.  In her book, Women and the Priesthood, Dew adds several additional propositions well worth noting:

            1) Women are not required to be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood to receive their endowments or to serve in positions of authority in the Church or to wield godly power. 

            Dew comments, and then quotes Elder Matthew Cowley on this score:

“Motherhood in its doctrinal sense can only fully be exercised upon principles of righteousness—much the same as priesthood authority—and can be understood and exercised by all righteous women, not just those who have the privilege of bearing children in this life.” (139) . . . [Quoting Elder Cowley,] “[M]en have to have something given to them [in mortality] to make them saviors of men, but not mothers, not women. You are born with an inherent right, an inherent authority, to be the saviors of human souls . . . by a right divine . . . you’re the saviors and regenerating force in the lives of God’s children here upon the earth.” (142)

            2) That which we call “priesthood” is not all there is to “Priesthood.”

            This implied proposition resonates with the new definition of “priesthood” given in the most recent YM and YW manuals that states, “The priesthood is the eternal power and authority of our Heavenly Father."  This new definition of the term “priesthood” with a small “p” includes the keys, power, and authority given by God the Father to His sons to offer the ordinances of salvation and exaltation to all worthy souls through the mechanism of the Church.

            Consider Dew’s commentary suggesting there is more to notice:

“Both men and women would have full access to this [heavenly] power, though in different ways.” (74) . . . “[T]he manner in which He authorizes the distribution of His authority and power throughout the earth is through priesthood keys.” (81; emphasis mine). 

            Dew seems to be suggesting here that there is a larger concept of heavenly power of which male priesthood with a small “p” is but one part.  “Priesthood” with a capital “P” is something more than “priesthood” with a small “p.”  And this “something more” would accord well with women’s deep-seated experience as holding divine power within themselves—consider the following thoughts by an LDS blogger:

“I dare anyone to tell a black woman she can't call down the power of the Lord because she's a woman. We've been doing it for years. This is what makes us Black Pearls of Great Price. I've never thought that I COULDN'T pull down the power of heaven and ask a special blessing upon my sick child and not have it happen because a man wasn't around to do it. I've never felt that I COULDN'T petition directly to the Lord for anything and have it withheld because i didn't go through a member of the priesthood.  I've always known I've had a direct line to the Lord.  And isn't it he who gives his power to those worthy of it to go forth and bless others?  Don't get me wrong I would LOVE to have a husband who can handle those things for me, cuz I'm a busy woman. But I know that I will never be withheld the blessings of the priesthood because I don't have certain anatomical body parts.” (http://ablackmormongirl.blogspot.com (ShaBang))

            What is this larger concept of “Priesthood” with a capital “P,” then?  How does this fit in with women’s feelings of divine power?  From Dew’s writings, Priesthood with a capital “P” appears to include the keys, power, and authority of God the Father and God the Mother—the combined powers of Heaven, if you will.  Father’s keys, power, and authority are given to His sons through priesthood with a small “p.”  Dew implies there may well be another “hood” that refers to the keys, power, and authority given by Mother to Her daughters.

            3) When a new understanding of women comes to the Church, its power on earth will be greatly enhanced:

“I believe that the moment we learn to unleash the full influence of converted, covenant-keeping women, the kingdom of God will change overnight.” (163).

            Dew is on to something all right: let’s add it up: 3+3+3= . . .

Putting It All Together

            I hold no high position in the Church, and thus proffer no authoritative interpretations.  But as a faithful female member of the LDS Church who has studied and written on these issues for almost a quarter century, when I put the nine pieces of these three talks together, I feel I can see significant new groundwork being laid for our people.  And I agree with Dew when she predicts that, “the kingdom of God will change overnight” for the better when we move to higher ground on these questions.  Feel free to disagree with my interpretation--at this stage of the Church’s seeking on this issue, that is all to the good.

            Here is what I think I see, based on these nine propositions:

            The primary work done by God’s sons with reference to the Plan of Salvation is to create, sustain, and grow the Church, which is the means by which the ordinances of salvation and exaltation are given to all the worthy children of God, male and female.  This work is the work of the “priesthood” and it is after the work of the Son of God, and represents the stewardship of the Second Tree in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Life.  It is the apprenticeship given to the sons of God to the end that they might each eventually become a Father in Heaven.
            God the Father provides the keys of this work to His sons, and ordains them to offices in this priesthood to enable them to do this great work.  The daughters of God may be asked to assist the sons of God in this work, and may in fact be organized by divine plan (such as in the Relief Society) to help their brothers.  To help in this work, the daughters of God may even be given authority in the Church organization under the direction of those who hold priesthood keys. (Though, frankly, this part is still a bit iffy—after all, even though Elder Oaks suggests that female missionaries have “priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function,” they do not baptize their investigators as male missionaries do.)
            But from the pieces here assembled, it appears that "priesthood" with a small “p” is not the only power in the Universe. There is a larger power--Priesthood with a capital “P."  This is where that old and hurtful doctrinal disconnect begins to finally melt away, and the relationship of women to divine power finally comes into the light.
            From these three talks, we begin to see that there are other keys, and at least one other “hood” with its own powers, and other works to be done in the Plan of Salvation besides the work of the sons of God under the direction of their Father.  The term which encompasses all keys and all hoods and all powers of good and of divinity is Priesthood with a capital “P.”  This term refers to all the power our Father and our Mother have—that is, all the powers of Heaven, where our Parents reign together as equals.



                                                                           priesthood                     priestesshood

            Men hold the priesthood as part of the Priesthood.  Women do not hold the priesthood. 
            But there is a natural deduction to be made based on the propositions offered by Elders Ballard and Oaks and President Dew:

            Women hold the priestesshood as part of the Priesthood. 

            Women appear to have their own keys and their own authority, which Elder Cowley suggests were given premortally, most likely through ordination there.  He believed that women are born with a divinely-bestowed authority that is not given them by men and is not given through the work of men that is the Church.  Women have their own great work to perform in the Plan of Salvation, which proceeds in parallel with--but not under--the Church which is the work of men in the Plan.  
            Indeed, we know that women can perform their sacred work even in the absence of the Church in their midst, as they do all over the world today.  This is the stewardship of the First Tree in the Garden of Eden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the ordinances thereof. [3]  This sacred work is the apprenticeship for the daughters of God to eventually each become a Mother in Heaven. (I would also add that the sons of God, whether member or non-member, are asked to assist the daughters of God in this work, and men may in fact be organized by divine plan even outside the Church (such as in marriage) to help their sisters.)
            Thus it is that while a man may preside over the work of the Church, and may preside over the work of the Church in his family, he does not preside over his wife or her priestesshood work.  They truly are partners; they are “co-presidents.”  She is doing her own great work in the family and among the family of God, and has keys, power, and authority given to her—not by men or by the priesthood with a small “p” or by the Church—to do it.  And thus she stands by his side as an absolute equal partner, representing the priestesshood, as he represents the priesthood. Together, and only together, they comprise the Priesthood with a capital “P” in the home.  President James E. Faust put it perhaps most eloquently: “Every father is to his family a patriarch and every mother a matriarch as coequals in their distinctive parental roles.”[4]  A recent Ensign article further elaborates,            

“The husband’s patriarchal duty as one who presides in the home is not to rule over others but to ensure that the marriage and the family prosper. . . . The husband is accountable for growth and happiness in his marriage, but this accountability does not give him authority over his wife. Both are in charge of the marriage.” [5]

A Firmer Foundation for Moving Forward            

            With the pieces provided by these three talks in mind, the doctrinal disconnect that led members to believe that women did not possess divine power completely evaporates.  Women have always been beings of divine power, with keys and authority given them in the priestesshood, co-equal with but not identical to the priesthood with a small “p.”  And when women are endowed, they are endowed with a further measure of divine “power in the Priesthood.”  Furthermore, when women and men are married in the temple, the Priesthood with a capital “P” heads the home, as it does in Heaven.
            This is the beginning of a firmer new foundation for our people, a foundation for moving forward, a foundation for building Zion in our midst.
            The issue of the moment is not whether to ordain women to the priesthood with a small “p”—indeed, that formulation of the problem but solidifies the old, erroneous notion of maleness-as-power.  No, the real issue of the moment is whether we will finally recognize that women have always held the power of the priestesshood, and that they truly stand as beings of equal divine power to their brethren.  If we awaken to this recognition, then males who hold the priesthood will need to learn how to more fully implement that divinely-inspired “co-presidency.” Mis-steps, such as occurred during the unveiling of the Proclamation on the Family, will hopefully become a thing of the past.
            That fuller implementation may hinge on our recognition that the work of the priestesshood is not done “under” the priesthood with a small “p,” except insofar as women are called to help with the work of the Church, such as in Relief Society or in the temple or as Church missionaries.  No, the divine work of women in the priestesshood is and always has been a work of Priesthood with a capital “P.”  While that work can continue even in the absence of the Melchizedek priesthood, the priestesshood exercises its greatest, truest power when united with the power and the work of the Melchizedek priesthood which establishes the Church and the administration of the ordinances of the Second Tree, the ordinances of salvation and exaltation.  That the priesthood with a small “p” was restored by Joseph Smith is a fact to be celebrated by every woman on earth, for that restoration of priesthood with a small “p” makes possible the restoration on earth of Priesthood with a capital “P.”
            That uniting of priestesshood and priesthood, which uniting comprises the Priesthood, is expressed in crowning ordinance of mortality: the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.  Through this restored ordinance, the power of the Priesthood is once again manifest on earth.
            It is time to acknowledge this reality of two divine powers and two divine works and two divine authorities, and then to strive to more fully emulate in our homes the co-presidency found in Heaven.  And while men will no doubt continue to preside over the Church, for that is the work of the Melchizedek priesthood in the Plan, they would never imagine they could do so without sincerely seeking input from the daughters of God, their partners in the Plan of Happiness. 
            As that transformation take place, Dew’s prophecy will be realized: “I believe that the moment we learn to unleash the full influence of converted, covenant-keeping women, the kingdom of God will change overnight.” (163).  She is absolutely right: the releasing of the full power of the Priesthood with a capital “P” on earth will be one of the most momentous steps we as a people could take in preparing for the Savior’s return.
            As I contemplate the messages of these three talks, I am moved with gratitude. These are great days to be a member of the LDS Church—especially a female member.  Glimpses of the great whole of our Heavenly Parents’ work are being offered to us, and as we contemplate and embrace these, new vistas will come into view and our understanding will be greatly enlarged.  As that happens, the Spirit will be able to move upon our prophet and our people as we ready ourselves for those one gallon revelations that are surely to come . . .



[1] Since it is customary to still call men who have previously been stake presidents and their counsellors “president,” I think it entirely appropriate to call women who have previously been in the General Relief Society Presidency “president.” [Back to manuscript].

[2] L. Tom Perry, “Fatherhood—An Eternal Calling,” Church News, 10 April 2004,:15, hard copy version only; the original wording is in the audio version of the 2004 April General Conference address at http://broadcast.lds.org/genconf/2004/apr/4/4_2english.mp3 . [Back to manuscript].

[3] Analiesa Leonhardt, “The Sacrament of Birth,” SquareTwo, Vol. 3 No. 1, Spring 2010, http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleLeonhardtBirth.html . [Back to manuscript].

[4] James E. Faust, “The Prophetic Voice,” Ensign, May 1996, p.4. [Back to manuscript].

[5] Randy Keyes, “Counseling Together in Marriage, Ensign, June 2012, p. 14. [Back to manuscript].

[6] Stephen Saunders alerted us to the detailed of the chronology, from the interview with President Okazaki in 2005:

"...in 1995 when “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” was written, the Relief Society presidency was asked to come to a meeting. We did, and they read this proclamation. It was all finished. The only question was whether they should present it at the Priesthood meeting or at the Relief Society meeting."

[Back to manuscript].

Full Citation for this Article: Cassler, V.H. (2014) "Zion in Her Beauty Rises: Current Discourse on Women and the Priesthood by Ballard, Dew, and Oaks," SquareTwo, Vol. 7 No. 1 (Spring 2014), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerOaksBallardDew.html, accessed <give access date>.

Would you like to comment on this article? Thoughtful, faithful comments of at least 200 words are welcome. Please submit to SquareTwo.

COMMENTS: 6 Comments

1) Jocelyn Midzinsk

Thank you for this beautiful and complete view of women's role in the Priesthood.  It gives voice to the feelings I have always had that gender is an important part of our roles here on Earth and for eternity.  I have always felt blessed to be a woman, and have felt pride and power in my role as a wife and mother.

I was nervous when I started reading this article that the quotes given would be taken out of context.  There is always a danger is summing up a conference talk, but the true meanings were preserved perfectly.

I, too, believe that the change that needs to occur is not that women need to hold the priesthood too, but that women and men, but especially women, need to recognize the power that women already have.  It saddens me to see women heartbroken that they don't feel "equal" because they don't have the Priesthood.  Ironically, I've never met a man that envied a woman's innate power to create life.  Since this is the most powerful force on Earth (really, where would we be without it?) I am proud to have a part in it, and I feel so very blessed to have been trusted with this enormous responsibility.

I appreciate you clarifying this important position.


2) Tara Bence

I really enjoyed this perspective of women being called and sustained before this life. For me, it’s easy to be focused solely on our mortal life and not think of all the organization that must have happened before we came to earth. 

Perhaps because our Mother in Heaven is often forgotten and her glory overlooked, womanhood may seem less important than the role of the “little p” priesthood. I’ve often heard the justifications mentioned (the women is the neck) and it always felt like just that--a justification. 

Glenn L. Pace’s BYU devotional speech has a lot of meaning to me: “Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high and look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny.”

Thank you, Valerie, for providing additional, meaningful clarification about our divine nature!


3) Kathy Bence

Once again, your thoughtful insights provide clarification on a confusing church issue while, at the same time, feeding my faith.  

Elder Holland’s, Lord, I Believe, April 2013 conference talk is usually the way I handle Church topics, such as this one, that leave me puzzled.  He said,  

“When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.”

While I don’t know how to set aside, nor do I believe that I should set aside, my questions and doubts, I’m grateful that I also have faith in Jesus Christ and the basics of His gospel.  In other words, I may not be satisfied with every aspect of my church, but I hold fast to my faith in all the rest.

I appreciate the light you’ve shed on some of the topics I find challenging and, like you, I look forward to the further revelations that will someday come. 


4) David Kitchen

Along with other commenters I thank you for your important thoughts and dedication to women’s issues in the church.  I appreciate your consistent citation to Elder Perry’s remarks regarding “co-presidents.”  Just this past week in a ward marriage relations class the instructor stated (paraphrase): “Both the church and the family have presidents and counselors.  Just as a bishop has counselors, so too does a father in the home.  His wife is his counselor.  Back when we practiced polygamy, a father would have many counselors.”  I was glad to have Elder Perry’s quote, not so much as a rebuke, but a defense to explain why in my home my wife is a co-president, not just a counselor.  That said, in full disclosure, I think it would be appropriate to reference in your citation the fact that Elder Perry’s comment was removed from the published conference address, which to me suggests that others in the FP/Q12 may not fully agree with him.

Along with thanks, let me offer two questions and a comment.  The question is whether you believe the LDS temple ceremony should be changed to reflect the equal governance structure you propose.  Without getting into detail, the temple ceremony sets men as intermediaries between God and women.  While men covenant with and become priests to God, women make covenants to their husbands and become priestesses to them.  In a real sense, the temple ceremony establishes a husband as god to his wife.  At least that is a straight-forward view that many who have been through the ceremony express (me included).  The temple ceremony changed substantially in 1990.  Do you think another change is in order now?

My second question comes from the point of view of a father.  A few weeks ago in the same marriage relations class the instructor said (paraphrase): “men and women are not equal because equal means same and same means interchangeable.  Women’s roles are superior to men’s.”  Obviously, that comment stung.  But it sounds as if you may be proposing something similar.  In our church, we are taught that the home is the most important thing.  As Elder Holland expressed in a meeting I attended last week (paraphrase): “I’m not sure if there will be wards and stakes in heaven, but I am sure there will be families.”  If that is the case, by giving men primary authority over church matters and women primary authority over the home, it would seem that men are given the less eternal and thus less valuable role.  After all, the things that matter most are the things that last the longest.  Is this what you are proposing?  If not, what exactly is the “divinely-bestowed authority” given to women and not to men?  Gestation?  Lactation?  If so, wouldn’t it be equally correct to argue that men were “foreordained” to contribute sperm?  That may seem a little terse.  But it falls in line with my reading of your article. 

Finally, my comment.  Isn’t the simplest and best approach to allow all men and women the opportunity to do all the good they can?  Both men and women can read and teach.  Therefore, allowing only one sex to read the scriptures and preach in synagogue is unnecessarily limiting.  It’s just better when men and women are both allowed to participate.  Likewise, missionary service is best when men and women serve together rather than sending only men as the Savior did in his time and culture.  Why should priesthood offices and ordinances be any different?  Elder Oaks acknowledges that, by “exception,” women are allowed to perform the temple initiatory ordinance.  So why not expand the exception to allow women to perform proxy baptisms and confirmations?  And if that, why not also allow sister missionaries to baptize/confirm converts under the keys of their mission president, mothers to baptize/confirm their children under the bishop’s keys, and beehives to pass the sacrament under the same keys?   In short, why do we continue the rubric that women and men must treated differently in order to need each other, rather than acknowledge that we have removed many differences without the sexes collapsing into one and that removing the priesthood ordination barrier will not make women into men, it will make them into Christ – who, interestingly enough, is the full expression women have for their mother in heaven even though he is male. 


5) V. H. Cassler, in reply to David Kitchen

Thank you, Jocelyn, Kathy, and Tara for your kind words.  And thank you for your thoughtful comment, David!  We are glad to count all of you among SquareTwo’s readers.

First, yes, whenever I have referenced Elder Perry’s comment about co-presidents—which was published verbatim in the hard copy of the Church News (a copy of which I have in my possession)—I have indicated that to find it in the original General Conference address, you will have to listen to the audio.  Follow the link in the original article and you will see that is the case.  You will have to ask Church Correlation if they now feel the same about that quote.  I like to think not.  Elder Perry was simply several years ahead of his time, as the 2014 conference talk by Elder Oaks suggests.

Concerning your first question, I have written elsewhere that “Given these interlocking stewardships in the Plan, it is evident that at some point men were asked to hearken unto the daughters of God in their apprenticeship to Heavenly Mother.  It is my opinion that this covenant was undertaken by the sons of God before approaching the doorway of the First Tree, over which the daughters of God preside.  Later, once past the First Tree, women are asked to hearken unto the sons of God in their apprenticeship to Heavenly Father.  We know this covenant is undertaken by the daughters of God before approaching the doorway of the Second Tree over which the sons of God preside.” 

So I disagree with your interpretation of the temple ceremony.  The first hearkening in the Garden of Eden was Adam hearkening to Eve and accepting from her hand the fruit of the First Tree.  This act of Adam’s, I believe, was the direct fulfillment of the pre-mortal covenant that Adam made to Eve in the pre-mortal endowment en route to the First Tree.  That covenant was to hearken to his wife as she hearkened and enacted her apprenticeship to Heavenly Mother.  At several points in the temple, I believe this is made plain—consider the difference in conditionality in the washing; consider that a woman need not be ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood to receive her endowment, etc.  What we experience here in mortality is the endowment given en route to the Second Tree.  But I do not believe that is the only endowment there is.

Therefore, the symmetry is already there in the temple for those with eyes to see. Two hearkenings are visible, and the pre-mortal covenant made by Adam is unmistakably implied.

Concerning your second question, as a father in your home, you represent the Church.  You lead out in prayer, in FHE, in baptizing your children, etc.  Put more correctly, the Church acts like a father to those who need fathering.  The Church is in similitude of what Father does, and what a good father does, in his family.  So, no, you need not fear—you do not play a less important role in your family than your wife.  You are he who will offer the fruit of the Second Tree to the people you love the most.

Additionally, your references to the male body and the female body seem deeply infected by the perspective of our fallen world.  Processes such as gestation, lactation, and even “contributing sperm” (as you put it), are not mere bodily processes.  They were meant to be deeply spiritual ordinances.  Remember that an “ordinance” is “an earthly expression of a spiritual reality.”  I think the best treatment around of women’s divinely-bestowed authority is Analiesa Leonhardt’s essay in SquareTwo, and I refer you to it.

Finally, your comment: “In short, why do we continue the rubric that women and men must treated differently in order to need each other, rather than acknowledge that we have removed many differences without the sexes collapsing into one and that removing the priesthood ordination barrier will not make women into men, it will make them into Christ – who, interestingly enough, is the full expression women have for their mother in heaven even though he is male.” 

Gosh, David, sexual difference is not the problem.  This attitude has become more prevalent over time—sex has become a rock of offense to some.  I find it so very sad.  What we make of sexual difference is often the problem, certainly, but sex is not.  We are not, and never will be, a post-sex Church.  Sexual difference has a deeply spiritual meaning--our sexed bodies, our genitalia, our mammary glands, all of these are incredibly meaningful in a spiritual sense.  And no, Christ is not the full expression of our Heavenly Mother.  Christ will never bodily give birth, will never feed a baby at his breast.  Christ vicariously felt these things through the act of Atonement, and Heavenly Mother and Christ share the same virtues to the fullest degree, but Christ is not our Mother.  He will never be a woman: D&C 49:22.  The Proclamation on the Family asserts that gender (by which is meant sex) is eternal, as we also believe are our bodies with all their parts and all their passions.  These are foundational, not peripheral beliefs. 

Why is sexual difference found in the Kingdom of Heaven?  Here’s one possibility, expressed in an earlier essay:

"Among its many other profound meanings, sexual union between a man and a woman in marriage is an admission that self-love, or love of what one is, is sterile. Thus Agacinski (2001) calls sexual difference the foundation of ethics: to realize that one cannot produce offspring without the Other, to realize that one is not infinite of oneself, to realize one is limited by oneself but unlimited with the Other. She goes on to say,

[I]f humanity is mixed, and not single, all individuals are confronted with their own insufficiency and cannot fully claim to be full human beings . . . There is indeed a lack essential to every human being, which is neither the lack of a penis nor some other attribute of men, or women, but stems from being only male or only female.” (2001:39)
"Sexual finitude in reproduction, of which sexual union of a man and a woman in a loving, committed marriage testifies, thus serves an important ethical function in human society, and in so doing “generally wards off individual egocentric fantasies of omnipotence.” (xxiii)"

Lastly, I am profoundly suspicious of any post-sex society; it is very likely to be a post-women society, and I have written on that at length in that same essay.  Consider how it plays into the ravings of Elliot Rodger, the Santa Barbara shooter—

“In fully realizing these truths about the world, I have created the ultimate and perfect ideology of how a fair and pure world would work. In an ideal world, sexuality would not exist. It must be outlawed. In a world without sex, humanity will be pure and civilized. Men will grow up healthily, without having to worry about such a barbaric act. . . . All women must be quarantined like the plague they are, so that they can be used in a manner that actually benefits a civilized society. . . . The first strike against women will be to quarantine all of them in concentration camps. At these camps, the vast majority of the female population will be deliberately starved to death. That would be an efficient and fitting way to kill them all off.”

So, sorry--as a feminist and as a Mormon, I could never buy into post-sexuality.  I intuit where that path leads. 

Vive la difference=Vivent les femmes.


VI. Liz McGuire, responding to David Kitchen

1) In relation to temple covenants, a woman's obligation to hearken to her husband has a contingency attached - and as Nibley points out (in Chapter 5 of Old Testament and Related Studies) - who is it that decides whether he's doing his side of the hearkening? It's his wife - and therefore she has more obligation than just to blindly accept his lead (not that David was necessarily suggesting the latter, but some might make that assumption).

2) In regard to the comment he heard in his relations class: "Women’s roles are superior to men’s." I'm really tired of hearing comments like these. I cannot find a positive interpretation of such statements in light of revealed truth. At worst, they're patronizing sops not supported by words and actions elsewhere, or ways to excuse one's own lack of effort since it's impossible to match the work of one whose "role" is naturally "superior". At best, they're sincerely believed (without the disabling self-doubt) but not deeply considered enough to recognize the logical flaw in the statement.

Apparently the speakers don't realize that intelligent women don't want to be (thought of as) "superior" - they want all people to be free to be the best self they're able to be. It's as if the men who say these things are trying to figure out on their own what (compliments) women want to hear, instead of doing the hard work of understanding women (no doubt the reverse is true just as often).

Whatever the case, such statements don't fit with the idea of equal partners in life, each with divine potential and responsibilities, and intended to be one (with no asterisks attached).

The Nibley chapter mentioned above goes into detail about Satan's efforts to divide men and women. I wish every person on the planet could read and understand what I think he's trying to show us.

To the author: Thank you so much for all your writing in relation to women's issues. I have never personally felt limited in any way in the church or elsewhere (much like the blog post you cite). But your clear analysis and insights have helped me to understand things which I'd put on a shelf, and figure out how to talk with other women I know, who have felt limited. Your work is a gift.