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Mormon young women and priesthood: ‘Change the rhetoric or change the rules,’ says guest blogger

In this month's LDS youth magazine, one article tries to include young women in the exercise of priesthood, while the very next article excludes them. Guest blogger EmJen says we need better ways to teach girls about a priesthood they do not hold.

Young Latter-day Saint priesthood holders prepare the sacrament for Sunday worship services. Image courtesy of the Newsroom of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

A guest post by EmJen

With the subject “Priesthood and Priesthood Keys,” the June curriculum for Young Men and Young Women and youth Sunday School begins anew the careful balance youth instructors try to maintain: priesthood duties/blessings need to be appealing enough for young men so that they strive to be worthy of the power of God, and not so appealing to young women that they feel lesser than the young men in not holding it.

Enter the June 2016 New Era where this balance is on full display with an article on “A Great Work—and You’re Doing It.” It begins with a plea for the young women to stay with the author:

Heads up! This question is for young men and young women, so no fair tuning out once you read the subject…The question: what comes to mind when you hear the phrase “the work of the priesthood”?

The author continues by describing how the work of the priesthood does not just have to be the stereotypical deacons passing the sacrament or the priesthood brethren helping with moves, but that anything that falls under the umbrella of blessing others is priesthood work:

Let’s say your friend just had the worst day ever at school. You decide to send her a quick text of encouragement. Does that also fit under “work of the priesthood”? Absolutely! And that applies whether or not you actually hold the priesthood.

Now putting aside the discussion we could have about collapsing the grand priesthood cosmology into a more generic notion of building up and blessing others, the argument that “Women are essential in accomplishing the work of the priesthood” is undermined by the very next article in the magazine: “Ready to Give a Blessing?”

Inside, a newly minted elder just weeks from going on his mission finds himself unexpectedly called upon to give a priesthood blessing of health to his mother who has fallen from a tree and twisted her knee. He explains:

The blessing finished with everyone in tears and my mom feeling much better. I am forever grateful to know that I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and have received the priesthood authority to act in His name and bless others. I’m grateful I was worthy and ready to serve my family in a time of need. I know that as a holder of God’s priesthood, I will continue to receive opportunities to serve and bless the lives of others with these new and sacred responsibilities that He has entrusted to me.

Could this article have been written about a newly minted sister missionary? Of course not. Will some young women, just after being told that they are integral in the “work of the priesthood” find themselves wondering why they cannot give blessings of health?

This comes even more to the fore if they have read the gospel topic essay about how women in the past used to participate in healing blessings but do not now because “currently, the Church’s Handbook 2: Administering the Church directs that ‘only Melchizedek Priesthood holders may administer to the sick or afflicted.’”

We need to be honest with our young men and young women over and above these blanket platitudes and vague directions towards the Church handbook. Open up their minds, and maybe your own, with true stories of women healing, both physically and spiritually as outlined in the new “The First Fifty Years of Relief Society.” Wrestle with the uncomfortable truth that the Relief Society lost much of its financial, charitable and leadership independence in the past fifty years as outlined here.

Be more theologically imaginative, as does scholar Cory Crawford who has recently uncovered why further study is needed about how women have historically wielded God’s power in “The Struggle for Female Authority in Biblical and Mormon Theology.” He shatters the idea that there is no biblical precedence for women holding priesthood authority in describing how  “(n)ot only does the biblical evidence demonstrate clear precedent for female authority (understood as priesthood in the LDS tradition), it also shows how priesthood traditions were created, repackaged, contested, and combined to come to new understandings or to make sense of social dissonance.”

And if we’re going to teach about virtue, jettison the ideas about it being only about virginity and instead embrace it as a call to find women’s power. Allow for these brilliant young women to claim their own power to serve, promote goodness, and model principled living. Teach young women that their power does not lie in their sexual purity and willingness to obey their future husbands and priesthood leaders, but in their knowledge of what they and their bodies are capable of. They have the power of consent, the choice of being modest to feel comfortable and empowered, and the freedom to use their own ungendered talents and gifts to be leaders wherever and in whatever they choose.

As long as we continue to tell young women that they can participate in the work of the priesthood but they cannot fully utilize it as do their young male counterparts as seen so blatantly in this example, we stop their potential.

We need to either change the rhetoric or change the rules.


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