The Priesthood is a Spiritual Technology for Women Too
I would like to share a new perspective on priesthood: that of a Mormon Feminist Transhumanist. Although some may criticize me and my minority position in our vulnerability, I feel it is important to offer this perspective with authenticity and honesty.
As context, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the largest Mormon denomination), priesthood is the power and authority of God given to man, including the authority to perform ordinances and to lead the Church. Presently, ordination and full access to priesthood is reserved for men only. Although women may participate in limited ways, men preside over all women’s positions and auxiliaries, and women are excluded from presiding in Church governance.
In this post, I will first illustrate the harmful effects of excluding women from full participation in the priesthood though a personal narrative. I will then comment on desires, benefits, and risks that would accompany the ordination of women.
A Father’s Blessing
It’s a Mormon tradition for the father of the household to give each child a priesthood blessing before the beginning of each school year. They are often referred to as "father’s blessings". It’s a lovely tradition. I remember, as a young girl, taking turns with each of my sisters, sitting in a chair, while my father laid his hands on our heads and blessed each of us. They are happy memories.
However, when I was 14 my father was excommunicated from the Church on Easter Sunday. He was cut off from the Mormon community as a form of discipline and was deemed unworthy to exercise the priesthood. My father was the only male in our home. This left my mother, two sisters, and me to fend for ourselves in matters of the priesthood.
The following school year I would not have a father’s blessing. Of course, the typical response to this particular predicament is to call the home teachers or bishop to come provide access to a priesthood blessing.
If only it were so simple.
The reality is if I were to ask my home teachers to come to our home to give me a priesthood blessing, my father would have the humiliating experience of sitting by and watching another man preside in his home and bless his daughter. My mother would have the humiliating experience of watching another man come into her home and bless her daughter because she was deemed an unfit candidate for the priesthood due to the fact she was female. As for me, I was a teenage girl going through puberty, starting my period, experiencing other bodily changes, and what I really needed was a priesthood blessing from my parent, not from a couple of well-meaning men from my ward whom I had hardly spoken a word to.
No priesthood blessing was worth the humiliation it would cause my family, so I concluded it was better to go without.
I cried in bed the night before school started. I fervently prayed to Heavenly Father with genuine intent asking Him to bless me with His Priesthood. I waited quietly and patiently for a response, but felt nothing. I was alone.
After I finished crying, I fell asleep that night feeling like a silly girl with shattered dreams in a fraudulent illusion. I suppose we all have to grow up someday.
Struggling to Find My Place
A year or so later, some other negative experiences with the priesthood and priesthood holders caused me to question the priesthood more deeply. Where did it come from? Why would God exclude women? Why would God alienate women who weren’t connected to a righteous male priesthood holder? Why did Peter, James, and John confer priesthood to Joseph? Why didn't Mary, Martha, and Eve confer priestesshood to Emma? Is the former so much more believable than the later?
I had a seminary teacher, Sister Simpson, who saw me struggling to find my place in my religion. The two male priesthood-holding seminary teachers from prior classes had asked me to leave their lessons on more than one occasion for questions and conduct that were "uninviting of the spirit". Apparently, it was inappropriate for a 15-year-old girl to question her place in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and religion with the persistence that I did. However, Sister Simpson was different. She never asked me to leave her class. Not once. Instead she offered me an opportunity. She invited me to read the priesthood sessions of conference to get answers to my questions.
I remember feeling confused by her suggestion and responded, "… but I don’t have the priesthood." She smiled and calmly replied, "Neither do I, but I still read them."
I made a habit of reading, watching, hearing, and studying recordings of Priesthood Sessions of General Conference — meetings women are generally denied direct access to.
It's been a bittersweet journey. Some of the most faith affirming concepts and impressions I received were seeded in those meetings. A small, fragile testimony was forming. I longed for the priesthood to bless the lives of those I loved. I didn’t vie for any authority or power to climb the hierarchical ladder. I simply wanted to be as self-reliant as others in the Church, just as my religion counseled me to be. Perhaps that council only applied to men.
However, the beauty of priesthood came with a sting. I was clearly rejected from the group as a 16 year old girl. I was nothing more than an imposter with her nose pressed up against the glass with a clear view of what was being taught to men — and what was being taught to women. I desired to be like Jesus Christ, but my desires were met with hostility. Had I not been female, my desires would have been celebrated and congratulated and deemed worthy of praise.
Over time I grew sorrowful and eventually angry. Is the priesthood even associated with God, or is the priesthood simply one more tool men use to further subjugate women? Why are men given more tools to be self-reliant, while women are excluded? Is God sexist or is it just my religion?
My freshmen year of college, I was engaged with a wonderfully devout Mormon who wore the priesthood so lightly it didn’t even seem to matter that I didn’t have it. It was difficult to reject the priesthood when he used it so honestly, but it did highlight that if I wanted a fuller relationship with the priesthood, he was my conduit. Even with a righteous priesthood holder in my life, I still felt an imbalanced dependency.
Then we were married in the Portland temple, and my fragile faith was crushed by an overwhelming sense of sexism. I felt that the ceremonies undervalued my gender and my sincerest desires to be like Jesus Christ. The experience genuinely broke my heart.
By the time it was over, I had what I felt at the time to be a clear image of the priesthood, its origins, its purpose, and my relationship with it. I concluded that I didn’t need the priesthood in my life. I had no desire for it. I was disillusioned entirely.
A New Perspective
A few years later, I delivered a healthy baby boy. After the birth of our first child, the tradition of a father’s blessing shortly followed. There were many conflicting emotions in my heart that day. Happy memories flooded my mind from my early childhood, followed with the grief of knowing I would be excluded from equitably engaging in priesthood blessings and ordinances for my children.
I watched my husband hold our tiny baby in his strong but gentle arms. During the blessing he spoke words that deeply resonated with me. I still had no intention of believing that the priesthood was anything more than a bunch of made-up nonsense, and I had no interest in receiving a priesthood blessing for myself, but nonetheless hearing his blessing changed me.
I became grateful to have a husband who held the priesthood, not because I subscribed to any superstitious nonsense, and not because I valued any unilateral male dependency. No, certainly not. I changed because I was able to see the priesthood from a new perspective — a completely natural, yet less cynical perspective.
I could see the priesthood as a spiritual conduit for bonding that provoked a collective mood of love and devotion. Had the majority of my experiences with the priesthood been like that, perhaps I would have been, as some Mormon women are, indifferent or resistant to female ordination.
But the young teenage girl inside me was still sad to be excluded from the experience of blessing my own baby. I contemplated what it would be like for my newborn son, who I created inside my body, to be ordained to the priesthood. What would it be like for him to bless, ordain, and baptize his future siblings, while I could not do the same for my own children? What would it be like for him to be congratulated and praised for his righteous desires for ordination at age 12, when my teenage desires for ordination were met with hostility and rejection?
I was conflicted, but ultimately grateful for the opportunity for my husband and son. I couldn’t be angry when it brought them so much happiness. I genuinely loved them, so their happiness became my happiness, and I pushed my own pain into the corners of my mind.
That day I realized what I missed most about not having the priesthood directly in my life was the opportunities to express and share love through ritualistic blessings and ordinances.
When my father blessed me before each school year, he spoke kind and thoughtful words that he probably would have never said had the opportunity of an annual priesthood blessing not presented itself. We formed positive memories and experiences that further formed our worldview. But the influence of those experiences was stunted once the priesthood was removed from my family. I wonder what experiences my mother, sisters, and I could have shared if the priesthood were freely available to us.
When my husband blessed our child with several other men, including my father, there were tangible expressions of love, devotion, and power that changed my husband as a man and father. How would those experiences shape him as a human being? How would those rituals affect our family dynamics? If my husband were removed from the equation, what spiritual technology could I use to recreate those meaningful memories and experiences for my children, if not the priesthood?
A Spiritual Technology
Priesthood is a spiritual technology and holds transformative power that is worth experiencing and exploring. The power lies in opportunities and access, just like any other technology. Priesthood technology has the potential to strengthen interpersonal relationships, forge bonds of spirituality, shape meaningful worldviews, and present opportunities for growth, leadership, and development.
Priesthood power lies not in any supernatural or mystical forces. Priesthood power lies in our willingness to let it transform us. But without access, the power is diminished.
When we limit equal opportunity and deny access to those positive experiences, we are weakening ourselves from within. When we thwart the righteous desires of women who wish to use that technology for good, we diminish the collective influence the priesthood has to offer.
The Desires of Abraham
My desire for female ordination is neither an unreasonable demand nor a groveling plea. Rather, it is a respectful and mutually beneficial desire that, I feel and think, merits our most serious consideration. It would further alleviate unnecessary suffering while providing more intimate opportunities for spiritual growth and development. And it would establish equal opportunity for us all in our desires to become Christ.
Abraham, that great priesthood patriarch himself, establishes precedent for desiring and seeking ordination:
"And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers."
Abraham, it says, was "desiring" and "sought ... the right [to be] ordained" to possess greater knowledge and righteousness. And as a follower of righteousness, he "became a rightful heir, a High Priest".
Women who seek ordination for further knowledge and righteousness are not so different from Abraham, who was rewarded for his righteous desires and became a High Priest.
Desires of the Minority
I recognize that women who desire ordination are the minority, but being in a minority does not equate with being wrong. People who desired and advocated for racial equality concerning blacks and the priesthood were once the minority until they weren’t. Mormons are a minority among Christian denominations, but does that make Mormonism wrong or unworthy of consideration? Minorities bring valuable insights that are often overlooked.
Some argue that most women “don’t even want the priesthood”. I would generally agree. However, I would urge women who speak out against ordination to consider: does your lack of desire denote that another’s genuine desire is unholy or unrighteous? Not necessarily. As for Abraham, seeking ordination may be for her a manifestation of faithful and righteous desires.
I would ask Mormon women who do not desire the priesthood to empathize with those who have perhaps had less favorable circumstances, and to contemplate how women could benefit from ordination in ways they have perhaps not yet considered.
I would also ask Mormon women to consider that not all men desire priesthood ordination either, yet we encourage young males to develop a strong and earnest desire to serve with priesthood authority, as exemplified in the Aaronic Priesthood manual: "Each young man will understand the duties of a deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood and will desire to magnify his calling as an Aaronic Priesthood holder."
I trust that if the opportunity presented itself, faithful young women would be more than capable of developing a similar desire and would embrace the responsibility and duty just as our faithful young men have.
"This Society a Kingdom of Priests"
Some believe that "asking for the priesthood" is counterproductive and actually undermines the authority of both God and women, in an attempt to receive authority from men. However, the priesthood is not men’s authority to give. Men are simply the current conduit for priesthood.
Could the ordination of women, through presently available conduits, be an essential step in the Restoration of the Gospel? Nowhere is it established in Mormon doctrine that women cannot be ordained to the priesthood. And there is strong evidence to suggest that ordination of women may be part of the Restoration.
During the early formation of the Church, women were granted priesthood responsibilities that now seem lost. In Latter-day Saint Women and the Priesthood of God, written by a fellow Mormon Transhumanist Association member, Mark Koltko-Rivera suggests that Joseph Smith intended the Relief Society to be "A Kingdom of Priests". On March 31, 1842, Joseph Smith spoke to the sisters of the Relief Society. The minutes read, "… that the Society should move according to the ancient Priesthood, hence there should be a select Society separate from all the evils of the world, choice and virtuous and holy — said he was going to make of this Society a Kingdom of Priests as in Enoch’s day — as in Paul’s day …" (page 14)
The Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book (1842-1844) also reads, "… that the keys of the kingdom are about to be given to them, that they may be able to detect every false — as well as to the Elders. This Society is to get instruction thro’ the order which God established — thro’ the medium of those appointed to lead — and I now turn the Key to you in the name of God and this Society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time." (pages 37-38)
These recordings of the Prophet strongly suggest ordination of the "Relief Society" as well as the " Elders". Was Joseph acting on behalf of God? Could an all-female Relief Society be ordained as priests? Why would Joseph call them "Priests"? Surely he knew they were female and also created in the image of God and fully capable of acting on behalf of that God.
The priesthood is commonly assumed to have a male aesthetic, but this is an oversimplification. From Genesis, we may infer that God is both male and female, as "both male and female" are created in the "image of God". Heavenly Mother’s presence in Mormonism also suggests an equitable duality of God’s gender. The priesthood is no more male than female, and no more masculine than feminine.
The priesthood is expressed in infinite diversity through each individual who is authorized to exercise it. One can hypothesize the Relief Society’s expression of the priesthood would be different than the Elder's, yet both would come from the same source of unified power and authority of Godly Parents. Equal opportunity does not need to be conflated with congruency. Our genders are different, but the priesthood itself does not have a gender, nor is it limited to a male aesthetic.
Sidney Rigdon said, "Emma was the one to whom the first female priesthood was given." (June 1868, communication to Stephen Post, LDS Archives)
On September 17, 1843, Patriarch Hyrum Smith blessed Olive G. Frost, one of Joseph’s plural wives, that "you shall be blessed with the knowledge of the mysteries of God as well as the fullness of the Priesthood."
If revelation came once could it come again?
The Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book continues, "Prest. S. then offered instruction respecting the propriety of females administering to the sick by the laying on of hands said it was according to revelation." (pages 37-38)
As expressed in the Ninth Article of Faith, we believe God "will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God."
But how would that revelation manifest itself? The symbiotic relationship between God, prophets, and ourselves allows varied opportunities for revelation to manifest, especially when not all revelation is received by a personified vision of God.
Yes, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are in the position to embrace any potential revelation concerning the ordination of women. But it is still our responsibility to assist in creation and presentation of the opportunity, according to our faith and desires. God cannot reveal what we would not accept as revelation.
In a 1997 ABCCompass interview, President Gordon B Hinckley was asked, “Is it possible that the rule could change in the future, as the rules have on Blacks?"
He responded, "He could change them yes. If He were to change them that’s the only way it would happen."
The interviewer continued, "So you’d have to get a revelation?"
President Hinckley replied, "Yes. But there’s no agitation for that. We don't find it. Our Women are happy. They’re satisfied."
Perhaps some agitation is required before revelation, and since the time of President Hinckley's statement in 1997, there has certainly been agitation.
Ordination of Black Men
I would consider the revelation of ordaining black men to the priesthood in 1978 as an act of collective revelation — inspired by the people and sanctioned by the leaders of the Church.
Were black men’s desires for ordination any less righteous before their ordination actually occurred? Did manifestation denote righteousness? Or was manifestation a product of those righteous desires? I trust God celebrated the desires and advocacies of these men who desired the priesthood before their actual ordination.
Yes, there were other members during that transition that deemed black’s desires for priesthood ordination as unrighteous or unnecessary. But nonetheless, black men’s desires to serve with the priesthood were eventually embraced. I trust God was pleased with the desires, progress, acceptance, and inclusion that resulted in black men's ordination.
Of course there would be risks and logistical issues with the ordination of women, just as there were with the ordination of black men. Of course we should mitigate those risks. But should we wait stagnantly in fear of the unknown? No. We should carefully embrace the possibilities of glorious vistas we have yet to behold. How could God meaningfully reveal such a divine image, if we would not willingly accept it as revelation?
Those who would accept the revelation of female ordination should not be fearful of expressing encouragement and support of such a revelation, just as Abraham and Black men sought and expressed their desire for ordination before it occurred.
The Morality of Female Ordination
It is also worth considering if denying women priesthood ordination is actually immoral. In Parallels and Convergences, compiled by A. Scott Howe and Richard L. Bushman, we learn about quantifying morality through a "potentiality test":
"A better way to intuitively explore morality issues is to use the ‘potentiality test’. The potentiality test helps expand the number of choices and opportunities available and eliminates all boundaries. Actions and consequences are placed on a scale by degree rather than being black and white, motivation is built into the test because it attempts to increase the number of choices available in the future. The participant becomes less and less a victim of circumstances and gains more and truer freedom. An outcome that results in a greater number of potentialities has greater value." (p 95)
As I see it, the ordination of women would greatly increase the number of choices in the future, and each participant would become "less a victim of circumstance". This is not to say that female ordination should proceed haphazardly, without deliberation, or carelessly in relation to traditional order. Quite to the contrary, caution and tradition can also expand opportunities to the extent that they do not become oppressive. Carefully combined, tradition and inclusion would increase future potentialities for priesthood influence, thus making ordination a moral action by the standard of the potentiality test.
This is My Voice
Each day we wait, we lose one more woman, one more woman is marginalized, one more child goes without a priesthood blessing, and one more woman realizes her desires to be like Christ are not supported by her religion. One by one, more hearts become jaded by the ignorance of those who won’t share her pain. When she becomes disenchanted with the priesthood and its potential influence for good, she may leave her religion altogether, believing that the priesthood is nothing more than a superstitious tool used by an elitist power structure to manipulate and subjugate women.
Surely, God is waiting on us to exercise our agency, love, and compassion to "comfort those that stand in need of comfort". In a time when it seems more people are leaving their religions than ever before, there are women who are still willing to contribute. Let’s not let another moment go by where a woman goes unsupported in her desires to be Christ. Let’s greet her with enthusiasm and excitement. I trust in a benevolent God that would encourage those righteous desires.
Imagine the opportunities of love and compassion we could create for families and communities if women were granted equitable authorization to the priesthood technology. Now should be a time of celebration!
Joseph Smith once said, “Who are better qualified to administer than our faithful and zealous sisters whose hearts are full of faith, tenderness, sympathy, and compassion? No one.” (Relief Society Minutes, April 28 1842)
More recently, the encouraging words of Elder Nelson called to women in October 2015 General Conference, "We need you to speak out … We need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom and your voices … My dear sisters, whatever your calling, whatever your circumstance, we need your impressions, your insights, and your inspiration … We need women who have the courage and vision of our Mother Eve … So today I plead with my sisters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to step forward! Take your rightful and needful place … in the kingdom of God."
I feel obliged by the request of Elder Nelson to step forward. This is my courage. This is my strength. This is my conviction. This is my insight. This is my inspiration. This is my vision.
I am one such "zealous sister" and this is my voice.