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Why can't women be ordained to the LDS Priesthood?

by W. John Walsh and Jenny Scoville Walsh

Since women can't receive the priesthood, doesn't that make the Church sexist and against women?

Why can't women be ordained to the priesthood?

Since men hold the priesthood, are LDS women at the beck and call of their husbands?

The Church promotes the interest of women by teaching an exalted view of womanhood.   The First Presidency has stated:

"The true spirit of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives to woman the highest place of honor in human life." (Improvement Era, May 1935, 276)

A proper understanding of the relationship between women and the priesthood will reveal that the Church reveres and respects womanhood and offers women every possible blessing.

The most important and fundamental unit of the Church is the family. An ideal family consists of a husband and a wife acting together as full and equal partners raising children. While the world teaches that men and women do not need one another, the reality is that only by forging a perfect spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical union can men and women find perfect happiness in the Celestial Kingdom. The scriptures teach us:

"[N]either is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord." (The Holy Bible, 1 Corinthians 11:11)

"In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase." (Doctrine and Covenants 131:1-4; Also see Teachings About Marriage home page)

In the family, there are many responsibilities. While some of these responsibilities are jointly shared, others belong solely to either the husband or the wife. President Spencer W. Kimball taught:

"[Men and women] had full equality as [God's] spirit children. We have equality as recipients of [his] perfected love for each of us. ... Within those great assurances, however, our roles and assignments differ. These are eternal differences—with women being given many tremendous responsibilities of motherhood and sisterhood and men being given the tremendous responsibilities of fatherhood and the priesthood—but the man is not without the woman nor the woman without the man in the Lord (see 1 Corinthians 11:11). Both a righteous man and a righteous woman are a blessing to all those their lives touch....

Men and women are complementary. I have mentioned only a few of the special blessings God gives his daughters in helping them to become like him. His sons have their own special opportunities. And in his wisdom and mercy, our Father made men and women dependent on each other for the full flowering of their potential. Because their natures are somewhat different, they can complement each other; because they are in many ways alike, they can understand each other. Let neither envy the other for their differences; let both discern what is superficial and what is beautifully basic in those differences, and act accordingly. And may the brotherhood of the priesthood and the sisterhood of the Relief Society be a blessing in the lives of all the members of this great Church, as we help each other along the path to perfection." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.315)

In order to understand why men and women have different family roles, it is necessary to have a complete understanding of the Plan of Salvation, especially those areas of belief which are uniquely LDS in nature. Let's begin by summarizing some fundamental LDS doctrines:

1) Our Father in Heaven is married to our Mother in Heaven and together they live in a state of perfect happiness and joy. As Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained: "An exalted and glorified Man of Holiness (Moses 6:57) could not be a Father unless a Woman of like glory, perfection, and holiness was associated with him as a Mother."

2) The parenthood of our Heavenly Father and Mother is literal. As explained by the First Presidency, "Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father," that man is the "offspring of celestial parentage," and that "all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity." (See (Man: Origin and Destiny, pp. 348-355.)

3) The ultimate purpose of life is to become like our Heavenly Parents by acquiring all divine attributes and doing as they do and being as they are.(See Godhood; Exaltation, Eternal life; Eternal Lives, Eternal Increase)

We become like our Heavenly Parents by using their lives and roles as a pattern for our own. In fact, the roles we fulfill on earth prepare us for our eternal roles. In other words, the earthly family is the training ground for the heavenly family. In the family, men learn to become like Heavenly Father by exercising the priesthood and women learn to become like Heavenly Mother by bearing and nurturing children.

By magnifying their callings in the priesthood, men are saved because they have learned to perform Heavenly Father's work:

"For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies. They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God. And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord; For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me; And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father's kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him. And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood." (Doctrine and Covenants 84:33-9)

By bearing and nurturing children, women are saved because they have learned to perform Heavenly Mother's work:

"[Women] shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety." (The Holy Bible, 1 Timothy 2:15)

"[F]or [wives] are given unto [their husbands] to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfil the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that he may be glorified." (Doctrine and Covenants 132:63)

Since "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." (See The Family: A Proclamation to the World), men and women cannot exchange their natural roles. As noted by President Kimball above, "these are eternal differences."  President David O. McKay counseled:

"It is surprising how eagerly the young women and some married women seek calls to go on missions. We commend them for it, but the responsibility of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ rests primarily upon the priesthood of the Church.  In this connection, we advise that mothers who have dependent children, that means children who are in their teens or unmarried, should not be called on missions even though the grandparents are willing to take care of the children. No nobler work in this world can be performed by any mother than to rear and love the children with whom God has blessed her. That is her duty, and that is far greater than going out into the world to proclaim the gospel because somebody else can do that who does not bear the responsibility of rearing and loving the children who call her mother." (Gospel Ideals, p.128)

It should be remembered that a man cannot use his priesthood to give priesthood blessings to himself. The priesthood can only be used to bless and serve others. Therefore, when a man uses his priesthood, his wife and children are actually the direct beneficiaries. The husband derives no direct benefit from holding the priesthood. He only receives indirect benefits from it by seeing his wife and children receive the Lord's blessings.

Let us now emphasize some very important points about the gospel as taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  First, Latter-day Saints do believe that fathers preside over their families.  The Proclamation on the Family states:

"By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families."

Wives have a responsibility to follow their husband's counsel and instructions.   It should be mentioned that they have a responsibility to follow their own husband's counsel, the husband they personally chose and selected, and not anyone else.   No other man, whether he holds the priesthood or not, has any authority over them (e.g., congregation leaders only issue callings to women with the approval of their husbands).  However, a husband's authority is only valid if it is consistent with righteousness and the will of God.  The Doctrine and Covenants teaches:

".....the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.   That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man......We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.....No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;  By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile ...... and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever."  (D&C 121:34-46, emphasis added)

If a father tries to unrighteously instruct his family, then his authority evaporates and no one should follow him.  President Brigham Young taught:

"I have counseled every woman of this Church to let her husband be her file leader; he leads her, and those above him in the Priesthood lead him. But I never counseled a woman to follow her husband to hell…I am sanguine and most emphatic on that subject.…If a man is determined to expose the lives of his friends, let that man go to the devil and to destruction alone." (Priesthood and Church Government, p.90)

Enemies of the Church often state that Latter-day Saint women are "under the thumb" of their husbands.  Such descriptions are not only untrue, but offensive to Latter-day Saint men.  This condescending attitude also tends to irritate Latter-day Saint women who don't appreciate such disrespect regarding their chosen lifestyles.  As noted above, a husband has no power or authority to compel his wife to do anything.  Yes, he presides, but only as long as it is accordance with her wishes.  If a wife chooses not to follow her husband's counsel, then there is absolutely nothing he can do about it.  A Husband only governs a wife as far as she chooses to be governed.

Finally, since these issues are utterly foreign in faithful LDS families, it seems a little bizarre that we are talking about them in the first place.  In homes where the gospel is taught and followed, you will find a greater degree of happiness and satisfaction in family life than you will anywhere else.  Latter-day Saints simply have a program that works. 

(See Teachings About Motherhood and the Role of Women home page; Priesthood Organization home page; Response to Criticism home page; Accusatory Questions home page; Teachings About the Family home page)

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