I recently read a comment about a father rejoicing that he was able to bless his young son, who was in a coma and near death. In his comment, the father said that he was able to bless his son because of his own personal worthiness to exercise the priesthood, and that he couldn’t imagine any sweeter feeling. After reading this comment, I immediately dashed off my reply, “Neither can I, Geoff”, but I didn’t send it.
I honestly can’t imagine a sweeter feeling in the world than to hold my child and to know that, if God so willed, I could play a role in saving her life. And while some claim that women already do have and should exercise this healing power (or some subset of the priesthood), the practice in the Church today is that women are neither ordained to any priesthood office, nor are they authorized to exercise any priesthood power (outside the temple). That’s the way things are right now, and as I thought about this, I wondered if it is possible for this to change (before the millennium!).
I remember an article written by Eugene England I read a few years ago. In this article, written five years before the priesthood ban was lifted, England presents an interesting illustration of the distinction between a doctrine and practice (or policy), as he struggled to understand why the Church excluded worthy black male members from holding the priesthood.
England was particularly troubled because Church leaders had said that he could not be a member in good standing unless he believed that blacks were denied the priesthood because of conduct in the pre-existence. England was able to meet with President Joseph Fielding Smith (then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) to discuss his concerns:
I told President Smith about my experiences with the issue of blacks and the priesthood and asked him whether I must believe in the pre-existence doctrine to have good standing in the Church. His answer was, “Yes, because that is the teaching of the Scriptures.” I asked President Smith if he would show me the teaching in the Scriptures (with some trepidation, because I was convinced that if anyone in the world could show me, he could). He read over with me the modern scriptural sources and then, after some reflection, said something to me that fully revealed the formidable integrity which characterized his whole life: “No, you do not have to believe that Negroes are denied the priesthood because of the pre-existence. I have always assumed that because it was what I was taught, and it made sense, but you don’t have to to be in good standing because it is not definitely stated in the scriptures. And I have received no revelation on the matter.” (“The Mormon Cross”, Dialogue, Spring 1973, page 84)
After meeting with President Smith, England was not convinced that denying priesthood to blacks was right. But he sustained his leaders and waited until they received the revelation to change–which they did, you will recall, five years later. I wonder, likewise, if we make the same mistake about women and the priesthood–do we assume that it is doctrine that during mortality women will never be ordained to priesthood office and be able to officiate in priesthood ordinances in the Church? Put another way, is it Church doctrine not to ordain women to the priesthood (meaning, it can’t change?), or is it a matter of practice (meaning, potentially it could change).