On assignment from my Stake President, President Stowell, my Presidency and I have been attending each of the different wards and branches in our Stake addressing the topic of Women and the Priesthood. I have spoken in each Sacrament Meeting, and my counselors have taught a special lesson in Relief Society the day of each visit.
Yesterday we attended our last ward and I gave my talk for the tenth and final time.
Words fail to express what an incredible experience this has been for me. I hope to write a post attempting to capture how I feel about it all and what I have learned through this opportunity, but I thought I would start by just posting my talk. It was one of the hardest talks I have ever had to write. I spent an extensive amount of time in study and prayer and conversation and preparation of all kinds. Deciding what to share after learning so much and knowing I was only going to get to impart about… ohhhh… maybe…1/47th? of it… was difficult. In the end I tried my best to follow the Spirit and discern what the Lord wanted the specific members in my stake to hear at this time. There came a point when I almost re-wrote the talk entirely, but after praying about it felt strongly that I was not to do so. So here it is.
If you read my talk at the beginning of when we started the tour of the Stake (I sent it to some interested family and friends who knew of my assignment) it has changed somewhat. We had experiences along the way that lead to subtle but important changes and additions.
I know it’s a little odd to post a sacrament meeting talk on your blog, but this has been such a huge part of my life this year that doing so will give me a nice sense of closure, so I’m going to do it. (I would also love for my children to read it some day, though by the time they would do so I hope I will have already taught them all of these things and more!)
Anyway, I don’t expect many people to read this… I’m not actually known for succinctness in general and I think this post may end up being my longest… like ever in the history of ever… but like I said, this is mostly for me and my sense of closure, so I’m okay with that. Read on if it interests you. If not… have a nice night!
Good Morning Brothers and Sisters. I am here today on assignment from President Stowell who has asked me to speak in all the units of our Stake about the Priesthood, specifically about Women and the Priesthood.
Now, as a girl growing up in the church, I never felt particularly close to the priesthood. It was quite separate from my world. I was a girl. I knew I would never hold the priesthood and so it didn’t feel like a big part of my life. The only time I really recognized that it touched me was when I received a blessing of healing or comfort, but that was about it.
Thankfully, as I have grown and matured in the gospel, my understanding has increased. I have come to realize that the priesthood has been with me as an integral part of my life since birth. “(I am) not, nor have (I) ever been, a third party observer of the priesthood.“ (Beck, GC April 2006)
In preparation for this talk I went to the temple several times specifically asking Heavenly Father to teach me about the priesthood. I wanted to understand the doctrine. I wanted to know my relationship with the priesthood. I went three times, each time participating in a different ordinance. I did Initiatories, the Endowment, and Sealings.
Each time I walked out of the temple with the same understanding: That Heavenly Father desires the protection, the empowerment, and the sustaining power that comes from the priesthood to be with me always. He wants the power of His priesthood to literally be wrapped around me, to warm and to bless me. It is helping me accomplish the work He has given me to do in this life. It is the power that will save me and bring me home to Him.
I have come to understand as Sister Beck once beautifully put it, that:
“The priesthood is intricately woven into who we are and have ever been.” And that
“The blessings of the priesthood… are woven in and through and around (our) lives.” (GC April 2006)
So I want to talk to all of you, both the brethren and the sisters, about the marvelous blessings of the priesthood and some specific doctrines I have learned that have lead me to understand and appreciate my own relationship to it.
The first doctrine that I’d like to discuss is that the blessings of the priesthood are available in full equality to men and women alike.
Daughters in my Kingdom teaches this principle. It states that “All Heavenly Father’s sons and daughters are equally blessed as they draw upon the power of the priesthood.” (pg 127) It quotes both Elder Oaks and Elder John A. Widstoe as they taught this principle. The latter taught that “Men have no greater claim than women upon the blessings that issue from the Priesthood and accompany it’s possession.”
This doctrine of equality is very easy for me to believe because I have a relationship with Heavenly Father and I know Him to be no respecter of persons. For, as the prophet Nephi taught in 2 Nephi 26:
33 …. he (The Lord) doeth that which is good among the children of men … and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female… and all are alike unto God…
The blessings of the priesthood are numerous and varied, far too many for me to talk about today. For instance this very world we live in is a blessing of the priesthood. We know that it, and everything in it, was created and is upheld by priesthood power. (D&C 88:36–45; Abr. 3, Hales GC Oct 1995; Beck GC April 2006)
This world that we all live and progress in.
The 3rd Article of Faith highlights another: (pay attention and see if you can hear it, there is no actual use of the word “priesthood,”)
We believe that through the atonement of Jesus Christ all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.
Did you hear it? Salvation (for all mankind) is possible through the Atonement. We access that atonement through laws and priesthood ordinances.
Elder Merrill J. Bateman clearly taught the link between the priesthood and the atonement. He said:
“Priesthood and priesthood keys open the door to the blessings of the Atonement. Through the power of the priesthood, people are baptized for the remission of sins, made possible by the Savior’s great act of mercy. A holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood may confer the Holy Ghost. Through the bestowal of the Holy Ghost, members are cleansed with fire, guided into truth, comforted, sanctified, and blessed in many ways as partakers of the fruits of the Atonement. The sealing authority may bind a man, a woman, and their children together forever, making possible exaltations in the world to come.” (GC Oct 2003)
These ordinances are a fulfillment of prophecy given to Abraham by the Lord where he talked with him about the blessings that would come to families because of the priesthood. Abraham 2:11:
“… in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed… shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal.”
Yes, access to the Lord’s infinite atonement, to it’s enabling, it’s redemptive, and it’s exalting powers is in large measure a priesthood blessing. And these blessings are available to all of us.
I want you to think for just a moment about how having participated yourselves in at least some of these ordinances if not all of them has blessed your life. I was thinking recently about the sealing ordinances of the temple… about what worthy couples are promised together for their faithfulness and through the priesthood… and I became overwhelmed. Those blessings are so grand and so profound. We never could have thought of them ourselves, and if we had, I for one would never have presumed to ask for them. What a generous, generous God we have. He is not withholding anything from me, He offers me everything. How very, very grateful we all ought to be for the blessings He willingly offers us, unworthy creatures (Mosiah 4:11) through the priesthood power.
The next principle I’d like to share is that because Priesthood Keys have been restored we all can act with power as authorized servants of the Lord. This privilege does not just extend to priesthood holders.
Much has been said recently from our General Leaders about the Power of the Priesthood and how women have access to that power, so I’d like to focus more on the Authority of the priesthood.
We speak often of authority in this church. Holding proper priesthood authority is the reason we claim to be the one and completely true church on the Earth. We know that all ordinances must be done by the proper authority or they are not valid before the Lord (DC 132:18). So I think we all have a pretty clear understanding of the importance of proper priesthood authority. We also understand that men who hold the priesthood act with authority when they righteously exercise the priesthood power.
But Sisters… do you understand that you also act with authority when you serve in the kingdom? Have you ever taken time to ponder the significance of the Relief Society being organized under the priesthood, after the pattern of the priesthood? (Ensign, March 2011; Joseph Smith, quoted in Sarah Granger Kimball, “Auto-biography,” Woman’s Exponent, Sept. 1, 1883, 51)
Women are absolutely given the authority when they serve, and in many different capacities, not just in the Relief Society. We have sister missionaries who are authorized to proclaim and teach the gospel. There are women who serve in the temple and officiate in priesthood ordinances, and many, many more women who serve as presidents, in presidencies, and as teachers in the auxiliaries of the church. And when we serve, whatever that capacity is, we serve as a representative of the Savior, (Eyring GC Oct 2002, Handbook 2, 3.3.1) which means, among other things, we have the right to receive revelation to direct us in our work.
So where does this authority come from? It starts with priesthood keys.
The Bishop or Branch President holds the keys to govern his ward or branch. He seeks revelation and calls others to the work. (Handbook 2, 19.1.2) He, or someone he delegates the responsibility to, lays hands on that person’s head and sets them apart. (Handbook 2, 19.4) I sometimes wonder if we catch the significance of this act. Do you think of it as just a nice tradition? A chance for the person setting you apart to give you a little bit of advice? Or do you understand that you are now authorized with a delegated priesthood authority (Handbook 2, 2.1.1) to act as a representative of the Savior and to serve Him in his kingdom?
One great example we have in church history of a woman being given this “delegated authority” is Emma Smith. Emma was obviously not a priesthood holder, and yet in DC 25 we learn that she was “ordained,” under Joseph to “expound scriptures, and to exhort the church.” (vs.7) Isn’t that is marvelous? From the very beginning, women in this church have been given the authority to participate in meaningful ways, Emma to expound scripture to the whole church, and that has continued to this day. I bet there’s not a person here who can’t think of a woman in the church who has blessed their life in significant ways. We could probably all name many!
I’d like to tell you about one such sister in my life. Her name was Sister Pereria and she was my primary teacher at the age of 8. One day we were having a lesson on the Restoration and the Book of Mormon. At the end of the lesson she got very serious, and she asked us… a group of newly baptized 8 year olds… straight out: Do you have a testimony of the Book of Mormon and of the Church? Can you testify to others of their truthfulness? I was rather shocked by the question if you want to know the truth! We all were! We just kind of sat there in a stunned silence. No one answered her question.
She then told us that by the time she turned 8 she had read the Book of Mormon and that she had received a witness for herself that it was true. She told us that as baptized members of the church we not only had the right to receive a testimony but we had the responsibility to gain a testimony of our own. I felt the spirit powerfully as she spoke and knew that I must gain a testimony for myself. From that day forward I sought diligently for one with the full expectation that I could obtain it. It was an important seed that she planted, and I am so grateful that she did, for I would find in my life the absolute need to have a testimony at a young age. Not too many years after this experience my family would basically fall apart and I am absolutely convinced that if I had not been equipped with a strong testimony and a close, personal relationship with my Heavenly Father that I would have too.
I know that Sister Pereria acted powerfully as an authorized servant of the Lord that day. Having been set apart and given a delegated priesthood authority, she had the right to receive an important revelation concerning the words and experiences she should share, and the result was that at least one little 8 year old girl was changed forever. She was helping the Lord in his mission to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)
And each and every one of us can be privileged to do the same! Please Note: I could have chosen a story about a Relief Society President who similarly impacted my life (I have a few of those stories too!) but I very much on purpose chose to tell you about my primary teacher.
Brothers and Sisters, I know that we are sometimes tempted to think that there are some callings in the church that are more important or have more influence or more potential to do good than others.
Principle #3 for the day is that no matter the capacity we are called to serve in, it is important to the Lord and to accomplishing His purposes. Priesthood related, leadership related or not. It does not matter. I love the image we receive in 1 Corinthians ch. 12 where the church is compared to a body, and each of us as specific parts or members of that body. Symbolically it addresses the emotions we can be tempted to feel when we are called to be, say, a foot in the kingdom. It also highlights the importance and necessity of us having different and varied responsibilities. Starting in vs 15:
“If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? … And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour… Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”
Now I testify to you again, every person who is called to this work, in any capacity, is important. Set apart under proper priesthood authority by those holding keys, YOU act with authority, whether you are a priesthood holder or not. You have the opportunity and the responsibility to represent the Savior as Elder Eyring taught and to assist Him in His work.
The last principle that I’d like to share has to do with the governance of the church. It is true. It is largely men who hold the leadership roles that determine the course and direction of the church. But the principle I want to share is this: Men do not run this church. This church is run by the spirit through revelation. Christ is our true leader. And I testify that He is involved in what happens and the decisions that are made on every level.
Now, are women involved in the process through councils and other means? Yes. Absolutely.
I recently watched a video with Sister Burton, Sister Dalton, and Sister Wixom where they talked about how often their opinions really are sought by the brethren, and the role that they played in helping determine that the missionary age should be lowered. Daughters in my Kingdom (ch 8) offers further examples on the general level of women’s opinions and help being sought by the brethren. I myself have participated in Ward Councils as the Relief Society President, where I always felt that my opinions mattered. I was an important and respected member of that council, and I witnessed revelations be received by both the brethren and the sisters on that council that determined the course our ward would follow. And I am currently serving on the Stake Council where I am having a similar experience.
I know that it is pleasing to the Lord that his daughters participate in this way. It’s very much what He wants. Handbook 2 (ch4) is very clear about that. So the idea that women don’t have a say in this church, or that they aren’t asked to contribute, is just false.
But the point I’d like to make is this: even if it were true… it would be okay with me, because I know that ultimately this work is guided by the spirit through revelation. This truth is absolutely foundational to my testimony. In the eternal scheme of things, who receives the revelations really matters very little. The fact that it is received and that we are doing what the Lord would have us do is what matters to me.
I want to testify that we can especially trust in our prophet to lead us in the way that Christ would have us lead. President Woodruff taught this reassuring principle:
“I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so he will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, pp. 212–13; see also Official Declaration 1).
And so I’d like to ask you: Do you have a testimony that President Monson is truly the mouthpiece for the Savior on the Earth at this time? Do you believe that President Stowell and Bishop/President ___________ likewise operate under the direction of the Lord in their callings? If the answer to either of these questions was “no,” or even just an “I don’t know, maybe…” then let it be my invitation to you to obtain that testimony for yourself. I have received that witness, and it makes all the difference.
Finally I’d like to end today with 2 warnings, both of which I felt strongly impressed needed to be shared with the members of our Stake. The first warning comes from 2 Nephi ch28. As I read, I’d like all of you to think personally about how you feel towards your God-given roles, whatever those are. In the home… in the church… priesthood related or no. I’ll be sharing with you some insights from Sister Beck, the former General RS Pres (Another woman who was called to expound scripture to the benefit of the whole church!) She defined some of the scriptural words in more modern day language that can give us some important insights which I’d like to apply to our subject today. Staring in vs 20:
For behold, at that day (he’s talking about our day here) shall he (meaning Satan) rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.
Sister Beck taught that another word for that anger could be: resentment. (BYU Women’s Conference 2011) Have you ever felt or been tempted to feel resentful towards the roles that your Father in Heaven has given you?
vs 21: And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security.
She said that in our day we call that security “Apathy.” So that in my mind means a lack of understanding about how important our role is that leads us to pursue it less than wholeheartedly. We just don’t really care.
vs 22: And behold, others he flattereth away and telleth them that there is no hell.
Sister Beck described this flattery as “entitlement.” I have known priesthood leaders who felt entitled to certain treatment or say by virtue of the fact that they held the priesthood. I have also known women who felt entitled to different responsibilities by virtue of their talents or righteousness.
I share these warnings to you today because I think Satan absolutely wants us to feel resentful or apathetic or entitled towards our roles as priesthood holders or as women in the church. If he can do that then he can be successful in undermining the work. He will rob us of blessings we should be receiving and he will rob others of blessings that they should be receiving from our hands.
The Lord needs men and women who embrace their God-given roles both in the church and in the home. We need to understand how important we each are, and we need to appreciate the things that others contribute.
Last word: In studying this topic for about the past 8 months I have found that there is a wide spectrum of understanding and opinions about Women and the Priesthood. I am personally quite concerned about the division and bad feelings that have come between individuals in the church as conversations surrounding it either personally or on the internet have occurred. Let me assure you: Feelings of enmity, ranging from annoyance to downright hostility are not born of the Spirit. (Benson, 1989 Beware of Pride) I would urge you, please, seek for understanding. Be respectful of people who think differently than you. These are important things and we need to be able to discuss them safely and learn and grow together. We are all God’s children, and I think we ultimately all want the same things.
Finally, I’d like to leave you with my testimony and with an invitation…