08 May 2010

Women of Faith and Priesthood Power

Some women in the Church believe that men are superior in authority to women because women do not hold the priesthood. Believing this opens the door for women to feel alienated and ostracized from the Church because they do not act in the offices of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood.

What these women do not understand is that the priesthood has much more to it than these two offices. The priesthood is the very power of God Himself. It's the power by which He does everything. It's the power by which the planets are fixed in their orbits. The priesthood, by very definition, is one thing: the power of God. And while that power attends the offices of the priesthood, acting in those offices is not the only way to access the authority to use that power.

Women’s access to the priesthood is different because her calling is different. Her calling is to motherhood, and many women have looked at this as a slap in the face, as if that calling limits her in comparison to the men of the Church. But I would argue that Motherhood--the covenant motherhood we talk about in the Church--is a sacred office closely tied to the power of God, in which He gives His daughters the authority to act in His name to do His work. Her inherent virtue, combined with the Holy Ghost and her covenants, give her power and authority in her own right to minister to God's children.

A Noble Birthright
I know that I am a daughter of my Heavenly Father—a literal daughter of Almighty God. This means, in the words of Relief Society President Julie B. Beck, that I have a “noble birthright.” I have power and authority through my influence as a daughter divine. I know I have power and authority to act in God’s name according to my virtue, talents, blessings, and covenants. This divinity is seamlessly associated with my sacred role as a mother, but exists as my inherent virtue, compassion, and goodness that I can strengthen even if I never have any of my own children.

I have learned from experience that motherhood has so much more to it than bearing children and taking care of their temporal needs. A calling to motherhood is a call to be selfless and powerful, connected to God in a way that no other relationship can ever begin to match or imitate.

I learned much of this from my mother, who is not a member of the Church and knows very little about what we teach. She did not teach me the gospel, or the doctrines of salvation. She did not teach me to know Jesus Christ. But she did teach me to be a strong woman, to know what I want, and to work hard for it in the face of poverty and desperation. She taught me to dig deeper and climb higher towards worthy goals, and to reach beyond myself and what my life would give me. She wanted me to have a life that was worth something because of the things I could do with it, and she has never let me lose sight of how much she knows my life is worth.

She knows these things about me, even though she does not have the gospel, because she is a mother. She has been my mother all my life and the love she has for me helps her to teach me those things which are even greater than she is, and yet are so much a part of who she is. She is not a perfect mother, but she has shown me so much of what it means to be a good mother. Her love for me, despite all opposition and all odds, helps me to understand the infinite love of God. Her unfailing example helps me to understand the relationship between women and the priesthood—beautifully ironic by the fact that she does not even know what the priesthood is.

A good mother—one who sees all of God’s children as her children--and a Saintly woman of faith are one in the same to our Church in its teachings. And with good reason, because a good mother is everything a good woman could ever hope to be. She is a homemaker, a mechanic, a doctor, a teacher, a scientist, a ruler, and a friend to all who know her—especially to her children. Else, how could she nurture them in all the directions their lives will take together? How can she guide them to an infinite God if she herself is not closely connected to Him, and near to all that is infinite? That connection to God will require all of her skills, talents, hopes, intelligence, dreams—literally all she has to offer. When she does this, a woman of faith nurtures her children in the ways of the Lord.

A Sacred Partnership
In his most recent General Conference address, Elder Bradley D. Foster quoted President Joseph F. Smith when he taught “The love of a true mother comes nearer [to] being like the love of God than any other kind of love.” To nurture God’s children in the gospel is a calling for women to come nearer to God than in any other capacity, to partake of His loving presence, and to bring their children into that presence. Little wonder Elder Richard G. Scott taught in that same General Conference “The most important callings in time and eternity are those of father and mother.” (emphasis added)

To be a woman of faith, then, is to be and do everything that makes life rich and abundant—to learn, to grow, to nurture, and to have sacred experiences of her own. The only things she has ever needed to accomplish this work is to be worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost, to make covenants with God, and to pray. Those prayers—in which she calls down the powers of heaven to assist her in the work of building our Heavenly Father’s kingdom—do not require her to hold an office in the priesthood. It does not matter if she is rich or poor, educated or ignorant, strong or weak. The companionship of the Holy Ghost that ultimately follows such prayers and seals her covenants to her is all the power and authority she needs to perform her calling as a mother.
Line of authority template for men

So where does the priesthood fit into this image of a woman of faith? The priesthood is the power behind her prayers and covenants, the sealing power of the Holy Ghost. Through the Holy Ghost, her power and authority are connected back to God Himself. When men are ordained to the offices of the priesthood by other men in the Church, those men place hands upon their heads and ordain them. These new priesthood holders are then given a line of authority that traces their newly given priesthood through their priesthood leaders, through Peter, James, and John, and finally back to Jesus Christ. This priesthood line of authority is crucial, and is what separates us from every other church on the earth.



Line of authority template for women
However, the righteous women of the Church do not need such an ordination because they do not act in the offices connected to those ordinances. Instead, they make covenants with Christ, approach Him in prayer such as they are—with an inherent virtue and goodness that is their power, authority, influence, and destiny. These women of faith promise “to mourn with those that mourn… comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places… even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life.” (Mosiah 18: 9) And it has been my experience that they will be given great power from Almighty God to keep that promise.

While we celebrate the ordination of our men to the holy priesthood order—the ordained hands that crown our fathers, brothers, and sons with the glory of God—we as women should never doubt the reality and glory of our own crowns just because we have had them since our birth. If she is so inclined, a Latter-day Saint woman can then think of her priesthood line of authority in motherhood as tracing through the Holy Ghost, then to Jesus Christ, then to the Father of us all. Because her calling is different, her line of authority in motherhood and womanhood is different, but never diminished.

In a season of my life when I had no access to the priesthood—no father, no home teachers, no callings—it meant everything to me to have the gift of the Holy Ghost attend to my needs and spiritual upbringing. Through His influence, Heavenly Father gave me opportunities to minister to others that permanently changed the way I see everyone, including Him. That experience remains a firm testimony to me of the good my Heavenly Father intends for me to do in this world, and the power He has promised to give me to do it all in His name.

This is not to suggest that women can achieve their fullest glory on their own. In order for women to access the gift of the Holy Ghost, they must be baptized and confirmed through the offices of the priesthood. To then receive the highest ordinances necessary to reach the Celestial kingdom, men and women must grow and advance together. By magnifying their respective callings that rely on the priesthood, men and women obtain eternal life in families—which are the lifeblood of this Church. Healthy homes and covenant families build healthy communities that allow generations to thrive. Men and women both are individually talented and divine because of their noble and godly heritage, but “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” Exaltation requires men and women in equality and harmony to work together in building the kingdom of God. Therefore, the image of the silent, passive Mormon woman has no place in the true Church of God.

A Divine Destiny
Throughout my Church experience, I have seen rhetoric that has asserted the sacred role of womanhood to women by way of calling them queens. The Relief Society does, in fact, offer the women of the Church the opportunity to obtain the fullness of their stature as queens in Zion. Apostle M. Russell Ballard has expressed a “deep desire is to clarify how we in the presiding councils of the Church feel about the sisters of this Church… we believe that God’s plan is for you to become queens and to receive the highest blessings any woman can receive in time or eternity.” This message is not new, nor is it some product of the Church trying to be more politically correct due to public censure, as some critics might suggest.

Since the days of Joseph Smith, the Relief Society has been urged to live up to its potential. Joseph Smith himself taught that “if this Society [will] listen to the counsel of the Almighty, through the heads of the Church, they shall have power to command queens in their midst.” (History of the Church, 4:605-606) This respect and confidence in the divinity of woman’s mission and the importance of the Relief Society find their echo in the statement of former President Gordon B. Hinckley more than a century later when he testifies that Relief Society “gives [women] status as queens in their own households.

And still, the misunderstanding persists in the minds and hearts of women everywhere that somehow this stately role must be one as a figurehead only in the Church—one where we as divine daughters sit beside our husbands as bejeweled bearers of children, to be seen and not heard.


I take this as a compliment from the Quorum of the Twelve’s senior-most apostle—his all-too-prophetic warning to women of how they see themselves, and how they think the Church sees them. We are, in fact, queens through covenant. While all of God’s power is priesthood, and women do not act in the offices of that priesthood, we have access to power and authority of that priesthood. We have all the scepters, swords, and banners of a queen. With all of God’s children as “our greatest jewels,” we find our worth in Zion. In the latter-day mission of Jesus Christ, in opposing evil and preaching the gospel, we find our swords and banners. In the Holy Ghost and the covenants of Jesus Christ, we have our scepter of power and authority in Zion.

As President Julie B. Beck, our Relief Society leader in this latter day battle, has taught us—we are no ordinary queens. We do not sit upon our thrones playing patty-cake with our children, hardly more than children ourselves. We have a mission, a work to do, a fight to win against evil in the name of God. That fight will take us many places—opportunities for employment, traveling in foreign lands, and educational training of all kinds. These opportunities for women are blessings from God that have never been as prevalent on the earth as they are today. But these blessings become distractions when we seek them against the will of the Lord and His timetable for our individual lives, and the lives of our families. It is the responsibility of each individual sister to council with the Lord and to understand His will for her life.

We would do well to remember that not every sister will bear her own children, not every sister will marry, and not every sister will have opportunities for a career. Just because the Lord has made opportunities for many blessings does not mean every sister will receive them all in this life. This does not, however, excuse her from the responsibility of cultivating that goodness that is inherent in her being, or the benevolence that is her mission at all times.

I did not always understand these truths. I had to struggle to find my place in Church like any other young woman who must try to make a future for herself. I wanted to be a missionary, and then maybe an English teacher. The Lord had other plans for me, and He brought a wonderful young man into my life—ahead of schedule, I might add—that turned my world upside down forever.
Instead of fearing and skirting around being a wife and mother, I’ve come to embrace those opportunities and I’m excited to grow into those roles. I’m grateful for my leaders and their inspired council on how I can magnify these most sacred of all callings. I’m grateful for the Relief Society and all it has taught me about being a woman of faith. In the absence of a covenant family of my own, the best thing I ever did for myself and my testimony was to firmly root myself to the Relief Society. As long as I am there, I will not be led astray from the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the one true church of Jesus Christ on the earth today. I know that Joseph Smith is the prophet of the Restoration, and that Thomas S. Monson is the modern-day prophet that leads the Church in these latter days. I testify of Jesus Christ, of His Atonement and sacrifice that have provided us all with this mortal probation, this time to discover for ourselves what is most important in life, and to exercise our agency in choosing it. I deliver this message in His holy name, which delivers us from every bondage and lifts us where we stand—even Jesus Christ. Amen.

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