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Women and Priesthood

The scriptures teach that male and female are alike to God. It is difficult to see how that teaching can be reconciled with excluding women from priesthood offices, just as it was difficult to see how the pre-1978 black priesthood ban could be reconciled with the teaching that black and white are alike to God (2 Ne. 26:33). Claims that men and women have "equal but complimentary" roles sound uncomfortably like the "separate but equal" rhetoric that once justified racism. Given that women serve priestly functions during temple ordinances, it is not obvious why they could not do the same in other areas of church service. During the 19th century, Mormon women also anointed and blessed the sick.

Ordaining women and girls to priesthood office would require a new understanding of gender among the Saints, and perhaps a new understanding of priesthood itself. It remains to be seen whether the Saints may someday come into new light on this issue. A first step might be to understand priesthood not as authority bestowed on individuals but as a gift to the church as a whole. The restoration of the priesthood commissioned the church collectively to undertake God's work. All members, male and female, are empowered for service through priesthood ordinances: baptism, confirmation, the endowment. Priesthood offices are just some of the diverse capacities in which Latter-day Saints are called to use their spiritual gifts to bless others' lives (D&C 46:15-16).

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Inspired Blessings    

Eliza R. Snow: Is it necessary for sisters to be set apart to officiate in the sacred ordinances of washing, anointing, and laying on of hands in administering to the sick? . . . It certainly is not. Any and all sisters who honor their holy endowments, not only have the right, but should feel it a duty whenever called upon to administer to our sisters in these ordinances, which God has graciously committed to His daughters as well to His sons; and we testify that when administered and received in faith and humility they are accompanied with all mighty power. Inasmuch as God our Father has revealed these sacred ordinances and committed them to His saints, it is not only our privilege but our imperative duty to apply them for the relief of human suffering.
Woman's Exponent, Sept. 15, 1884, 61; quoted in Linda King Newell, "A Gift Given, A Gift Taken:
Washing, Anointing, and Blessing the Sick among Mormon Women," The New Mormon History
(Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 105

Bathsheba W. Smith: I never like to hear a sermon without hearing something of the Prophet, for he gave us everything, every order of the priesthood. He said he had given the sisters instructions that they could administer to the sick and he wanted to make us, as the women were in Paul's day, "A kingdom of priestesses."

Pioneer Stake Relief Society Minutes, June 9, 1905; quoted in D. Michael Quinn, "Mormon Women Have
Had the Priesthood Since 1843," Women and Authority (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992), 369

John A. Widtsoe: Paul the Apostle, speaking in an earlier day said that "neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord." (1 Cor. 11:11.) This notable statement implies that woman . . . bears joint responsibility with the man in establishing the Kingdom of God; and, that the work will fail unless both do their duty. . . . There can be no question in the Church about man's rights versus woman's rights. They have the same rights.

Relief Society Magazine, June-July 1943, 372

Eldred G. Smith: If service is the work of God, and if we are to become as he is and return to live with him in his kingdom, our work must be to serve others. There are many ways to serve. Every activity of the Church provides an opportunity to serve—priesthood, Relief Society, genealogy, the paying of tithes; all of the auxiliary organizations are mediums through which we may serve.

Conference Report, April 1967, 78

Ardeth Greene Kapp: If we were to begin with the time a child is given a name and a blessing and then continue on through baptism, confirmation, the sacrament, callings and being set apart, patriarchal blessings, administrations, the endowment, and finally celestial marriage, we would quickly realize that all the saving blessings of the priesthood are for everyone, male and female.

My Neighbor, My Sister, My Friend (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 75-76

Chieko N. Okazaki: Priesthood isn't a matter of who's in charge and who gets to give orders. It's a matter of serving others. Every officer and every member, whether man or woman or child, needs that feeling of being sustained, both by members who hold the priesthood and by those who do not, so that all the members, men and women, can be strengthened.

Disciples (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1998), 65

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