I was late in listening to Elder Oaks’ Priesthood Session talk; at the time he was speaking, from about 6:10 to 6:30 pm, I was waiting outside in a line, hoping for entrance to the meeting in which he was giving it. However, the moment I entered the crowded hotel ballroom where I would have the wifi necessary to listen to the rest of the session, his talk seemed to be the thing people wouldn’t stop talking about. Some had heard the whole talk, others had only heard snippets, and still others knew of it only because of friends, family, and complete strangers who had seen fit to send them messages telling them that Oaks was addressing the movement directly and that if we didn’t stop after listening to his talk we were in open rebellion against God. With such an introduction, I was both intrigued and hesitant to listen. 24 hours later it was the only talk I had yet to hear and curiosity won out; I scrolled through the church website until I found it and hit play.
What I heard was the most informative talk on the Priesthood that I can remember ever hearing. With the recent discussions that have been going on in the wake of Ordain Women, there have been many accusations that those who believe women will one day be ordained only believe so because they do not understand the Priesthood, and there have been misconceptions about it on both sides. Oaks’ thorough explanation of what the Priesthood is and the difference between Priesthood keys and Priesthood authority could not have been more timely.
It was a talk of a lot of firsts. At the beginning of his talk he directly quoted a woman: Linda K. Burton, the General Relief Society President. That has long been a complaint among Mormon feminists; women giving talks will almost exclusively quote men, but there is no reciprocating; the men quote men too. Elder Oaks quoting a woman – and one who was speaking authoritatively about something male-exclusive like the Priesthood, no less – is big!
He then went on to talk about women and the Priesthood. The standard argument is that only men hold the Priesthood, but everyone, women and children included, are blessed by it, etc. etc. Oaks did not use that argument. Instead, he said something quite revolutionary: that women DO have Priesthood authority. “We’re not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their church callings. But what other authority can it be?” I had long heard it speculated that sister missionaries, when they are set apart on their mission, receive some sort of Priesthood authority, but this was the first talk to specifically confirm this. Then he went a step further and said that anyone who is set apart in a church calling by someone who holds Priesthood keys hold Priesthood authority pertaining to that calling. This made me think back to my previous calling as ward chorister; I had never told anyone this, but I had felt a spiritual prompting that as one who picked and led the music I was playing as large a part in the weekly Priesthood ordinance as those who blessed and passed the Sacrament.
I was glad he explicitly mentions tne temple, that the women there both hold and exercise the Priesthood. There are problematic aspects of the temple, as detailed by Rebecca’s post last week or the Feminist Mormon Housewives post The Mormon Priestess, but the fact of the matter is that women DO receive some form of Priesthood in the temple. And not just in a future sense, as in the “kings and queens, priests and priestesses” part, but right now. In the initiatory, women lay their hands on the head of another woman and anoint her. In the endowment both men and women wear a robe, preparatory to officiating in the ordinances of the Aaronic, then the Melchizedek Priesthood. And the full name of the garments that endowed members wear is the Garment of the Holy Priesthood. Going through the temple for my own endowment in January of 2013 is what had originally opened up my kind to the possibility of female ordination, so the temple is dear to my heart.
He reminds everyone that the Relief Society is NOT just a class for the women of the church, and what immediately sprang to my mind was the words of Joseph Smith in the Relief Society minutes, when he spoke of making the society “a kingdom of Priests” and said it should move according to the ancient Priesthood. It is a reaffirmation that the Relief Society, much as I love it in its current form, is not as Joseph Smith and its founding mothers had envisioned it; there were faith healings and many other ordinances that the early sisters once performed that are now under the umbrella of the Priesthood and thus limited to men. While it is amazing to hear the rhetoric changing within the words of his talk from men=priesthood, women=motherhood to women have the Priesthood already, the fact remains that we are far from the kingdom of Priests that Joseph envisioned, and Ordain Women, say what you may about it, is the only group of people right now making steps toward it.
Nowhere does he say that women will never be ordained. There is a part where he states that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve “they are not free to alter the divine decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood”, but we already knew that. Ordain Women fully recognizes that the Priesthood does not come from the First Presidency; it comes from God. We never asked them to alter the Priesthood, and no one who believes in the power of the Priesthood would. What we are asking is for them to ask God, for though they cannot alter the current pattern of the Priesthood, God can (and has on several different occasions).
Combine all this with President Uchtdorf’s talk in the same session that quoted the ninth article of faith which states that “God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God”, and I don’t feel rebuffed at all. Rather, I feel justified in my participation with Ordain Women and look forward to the day when we will see the work come to fruition. As Uchtdorf asked this conference, “When our time in mortality is complete, [...] will we be able to say that we rolled up our sleeves and labored with all our heart, might, mind, and strength?”