Women and the Priesthood


Women play a vital role in the Church.


There is no serious question that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, in some very important senses, a patriarchal organization.  Its priesthood is exclusively male, for example, which means that the central leadership positions in local congregations and in the Church as a whole are held entirely, or almost entirely, by men.


But, I’m going to hastily argue, that may not be quite as important or lethal as some on the outside assume.


For example, while the Catholic hierarchy is likewise all-male, there is this crucial difference between the Catholic and LDS churches:  The Catholic hierarchs are celibate.  Which is to say that, while they obviously all have mothers and may well have sisters, they have no wives and no daughters, and they’re formed in all-male institutions such as seminaries and monasteries and live and work very largely in an all-male and all-celibate world of fathers superior, abbots, bishops, archbishops, and cardinals.  By contrast, all Mormon leaders are married, and most have daughters and/or daughters-in-law and/or granddaughters.  In fact, Mormonism teaches that the highest degree of heaven is available only to those who are married.  (It also makes provision for those who have died unmarried to enter into marriage after death.)


Further, I suspect that many outsiders assume, hearing that Mormons have an all-male “clergy,” that sermons in our worship services are always given by men, and that women are silent in our churches.  But such an assumption is entirely baseless.  We have no professional clergy, and our bishops don’t give sermons every Sunday, or even most Sundays.  Rather, ordinary members of our congregations give the “sermons,” with several such “sermons” being given on just about any typical Sunday.  And, in fact, it’s a very rare Sunday when there isn’t at least one woman speaking in our main worship service.  Often, in fact, there will be more than one — perhaps, in addition to one or two men, a young woman (a teenager) and an older, married woman.  And women routinely teach our Sunday school classes, too.  (Even in the worldwide general conferences of the Church that are broadcast globally — today’s, for example — women speak to the entire church from the podium of Salt Lake City’s Conference Center.)


Moreover, women are represented in the ward leadership council of each local congregation, and in councils for the Church as a whole.


And they serve as missionaries for the Church.  More of them, in fact, will soon begin serving (I confidently predict) with today’s announcement that they can serve at age nineteen instead of, as previously, at twenty-one.


I was delighted by the announcement.  I think it will lead to many more sister missionaries representing the Church to the world — which will help to lessen the Church’s reputation for patriarchal sexism — and to more missionaries overall.  I’ve known many young women who wanted to serve missions but who, for various reasons, were worried about beginning their service at a relatively advanced age.   (Twenty-one seems really old when you’re really young.)  This will, I’m positive, thrill many.  It will also tend to make available to the Church a huge reservoir of enthusiasm and spiritual power that will be of enormous assistance in the work of, as we say, “building the Kingdom.”



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  • Strategoi

    An excellent counterpoint to Joanna Brooks and the like, but how long will the 18 year thing last?
    My dad was one of the elders that had to serve 18 months (19 w/extensions), and then they changed it back to 2 years. Not trying to be cynical, because I’ll be 18 in just over a year.
    It’s still awesome for YM & YW!

    • danpeterson

      By the way, just for the record: If Joanna Brooks has had something to say on this matter — and I wouldn’t be surprised if she has — I haven’t read it. So, if I’m offering a counterpoint (or an amen) to what she’s written, it’s not by design.

  • http://realintent.org Bonnie

    Amen. And if the responses in the past have been 6% for men, 12% for women, and 18% for seniors, the simple announcement of a 2 year earlier departure time for women will (I predict) bump up the numbers of women serving more than any other set of numbers. Hold on to your hats, world. Here come the sisters.

  • Machtyn

    Allowing the sisters to serve as missionaries at age 19 has a couple of advantages. 1. It will allow the sisters who put off marriage when they’ve got the burning desire to serve, to serve without waiting 2-5 years for the marriage. 2. It will allow the sisters that chance to mature during that time. And, perhaps, it will further decrease problems in the future marriage.

    Most of all, none of the above matters without continuing revelation to provide guidance to the Prophet and Apostles in directing the Church.

  • Sean

    This is not a counterpoint to Joanna Brooks at all. Dan Peterson actually comes out and says that the church is a patriarchal organization, a fact often explored by Brooks. The two agree here. Brooks has often highlighted these very same points while also suggesting ways the church might include women more. I agree with Peterson (and Brooks by the way) that the announcement about women being able to serve missions younger is a great first step.

  • Sean

    This is not a counterpoint to Joanna Brooks at all. The two actually agree here. Brooks often highlights how women serve in the church while suggesting ways they could do more. I agree with both Peterson and Brooks that the Church’s announcement of allowing women to serve at a younger age is an exciting step at tapping into the “huge reservoir of enthusiasm and spiritual power” that, yes, is still under utilized.

  • http://southamericanzion.wordpress.com Antonio Trevisan

    I am also glad at the opportunity LDS young women will have to serve missions at 19. It will hopefully foster a better appreciation of the role of women.

    As far as priesthood is concerned, however, I am surprised that professor Peterson doesn’t mention all the historical and doctrinal evidences that point to the fact that women do receive priesthood authority through the higher ordinances of the temple. Needless to say that a religion that recognizes the existence of a female deity has a lot more to say about (and to) women than what it does through its “all-male clergy” on Sundays.

    • danpeterson

      Quite so. I thought of mentioning that, and then, for whatever reason, didn’t.

  • http://bethandherspinrad.blogspot.com Beth

    Amen, Antonio!

    I’ve learned some really amazing things about Womanhood and the Gospel in the Temple and through personal scripture study, but I am disheartened that this is a subject that only rarely comes up in Relief Society. The history of the primitive church and in the early days of the restoration is full of strong, beautiful women, but we don’t get to hear about them enough. And, sadly, only two women are mentioned in the Book of Mormon by name, so we have no idea what life was like for Women in Nephite culture. What issues did they face? How did they cope with all the wars? What did Teancum’s wife tell her children when he didn’t come home?

    The truth is, we don’t have as many powerful examples of righteous dicipleship as men do. It would be really helpful to be able to draw on those examples when faced with trials (especially in this day and age, when the very nature of what it means to be a woman is under attack), but they just don’t exist. I think it would be good if we delved into the power of womanhood a little more deeply than, “The priesthood blesses us all.”

    I am excited – and a little jealous – about lowering the missionary age. I predict that we’re going to see a new generation of men and women who are particularly strong in the gospel. I’m jealous because if going on a mission had been an option for me when I was 19, I might have done that instead of getting myself entangled in a manipulative and controlling relationship. (I didn’t marry him, don’t worry.)

  • http://southamericanzion.wordpress.com Antonio Trevisan

    I’m excited too, Beth. And maybe a little skeptical too. I guess we have to wait and see the outcome of all this.

    As a convert to Mormonism I was first taught by sister missionaries. And during my own mission some -if not most – of the best missionaries I met were girls too. Maybe because they hadn’t decided to go on a mission because of the social pressures young men receive in church. Or maybe that explains why I could relate to them, once that at age 26 I had to ignore leaders who told me not to think about serving a mission.

    So I’m glad that women will be able to serve missions younger in the LDS church. That may help the quality of missionary work around the world. But it can’t be accomplished without changing sales-like proselyting. The 19-year old sister missionaries will still be presided by the same men and under the same rules as today. And more important, they will still be sharing the same church culture. So I dont want to fantasize things.

    These are just possibilities though. I don’t see it as a huge, revolutionary change and my guess is that it was motivated by the decreasing numbers of missionaries (when compared to previous decades). A huge change would be turning the Quorum of 12 aback into the Traveling Presiding High Council it once used to be.

  • Lydia

    I am happy,too. My daughter has a desire to serve a full time mission. I am excited.