Mormon women used to give blessings similar to but not necessarily the same as the ones currently restricted to male priesthood holders. This is a historical fact. I know of no revelation declaring such practices as being contrary to God’s will, but we’re at a point when many members of the Church feel that even bringing this up is somehow dangerous, irreverent, disrespectful, or otherwise suspect. There’s an “Ordain Women” movement going on which provokes some intense reactions (whether passive-aggressive or just plain aggressive.) There are other movements–like WAVE–which seek more incremental goals like finding better ways to include women in the Church without even requiring Priesthood ordination. (Neylan McBain’s 2012 FAIR Conference address is a must-read in this regard, and I think it could usefully be offered to bishops for their consideration.)
So we have a variety of ways that tension about this issue manifests itself. I was discussing things with a friend when someone called into question the motives of women who feel a desire to exercise priesthood power.
The general thrust was something like this: Such women–whether they would like ordination or simply an even more meaningful ways of contributing to their fellow saints–are probably just power-hungry, lacking the humility which disciples of Christ should manifest in their own designated sphere(s). As the discussion devolved, I offered a touching experience one Mormon woman recorded in her autobiography. One of the replies to the excerpt touched me, so I want to share it.
Here is the excerpt followed by the reply. (And yes, I recognize the irony in giving voice to the concern of women through me, a dude.)
One morning I was sitting undressed crying & just to miserable to do the days tasks–wondering what we were going to do–When a little knock came to the door. I smoothed my hair, & opened it–and there stood our Relief Society President Mary Pickering. She said “I have come to give you a ‘blessing.’” I invited her in saying, I truly needed a blessing, as I was pretty low. She told me she was washing her morning dishes, when some one said to her, very clearly, go down & give Sister Gordon a blessing–So she said I wiped my hands & came. I sat down & she laid her hands on my head & gave me a wonderful blessing, not in the authority of the Priesthood but in the simple faith of a good true Woman Saint. She told me I was going to have good health & that I was going to California, and that God had a great mission for me to perform, greater than any thing I had ever done, and I must be comforted, & not to be discouraged any more as the Lord loved me & had me in his care. With that she took her hands off my head, kissed me & went back to her home–I sat there feeling full of peace & comforted, wondering at the blessings of my Lord, & marveling at the things she told me. How was I ever going to California. We couldn’t afford it What great work was there for me, who was not well enough to do my own work, but I couldn’t doubt it was an inspired blessing. So I dressed & proceeded with the days task. Though I was still very weak I felt sure some [how] I would improve. Shortly after on a week end Fair [Pansy's son] came in from Bingham, & told me he was going to send me to Los Angeles to visit Tensie [her daughter] & see if that wouldn’t restore my health.
From Claudia Bushman, ed., Pansy’s History: The Autobiography of Margaret E. P. Gordon, 1866-1966 (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2011), 205-206.
And from my friend:
I would be supremely humbled if I ever had the opportunity to be ordained, and I would not take such a thing lightly. If not, it is also true that I feel incredibly blessed to have a husband who worthily holds his priesthood. I am so grateful. We have been blessed by his priesthood many times in the short while we’ve been married, and we have both felt protected by the promised guidance he receives through this power.
But I can’t deny I feel a twinge of *something* when I read about moments like the one Blair quoted from that early sister’s journal. I *don’t* feel capable of being able to bless or receive such specific revelation for the women I visit teach, for example, and I wish Relief Society was filled with stories like these, rather than casserole dishes alone (not to undermine the sisters today or undermine casseroles, but I do feel many women feel like their husbands should be the scriptorian and the spiritual leader for the whole family because they are priesthood leader the end). It isn’t power that I want, it is the confidence and faith that God can work and speak through me no less than He can through my husband. I want to feel that close to God. I want to know my place better so that I can work and serve to my best capacity.