Sharing Priesthood Blessings with Our Wives

In a moment of weakness last month, I assented to our ward music chairman’s entreaties to do a special musical number of some sort. Today at Church she cornered me and asked me to shoot for the third week of February. So I just now dug around in an old file cabinet in the pantry to find the music I want to use. Sitting just under the music was an outline for an old EQ lesson I gave many years ago (before the Presidents of the Church series of lesson manuals), a lesson which in the manual must have had the captioned title. I have no recollection of this lesson whatsoever, but as I scanned my outline I had to chuckle at my obvious discomfort with the way the manual had framed the whole thing, and how I obviously felt it necessary to broach the issue of whether we shouldn’t just give women the priesthood directly (which in fact is my view). (I’m pretty sure this was before I had heard of the whole “women have had the priesthood since 1843” idea.) Note how I don’t even get to the point of what the lesson was supposed to be until the last third of the lesson. Anyway, I thought it might be fun to post this outline of my ancient lesson plan here:

Sharing Priesthood Blessings with Our Wives

1. Begs question, why not just share priesthood with our wives?
– controversial
– difficult (I’m not big on patriarchy stuff)
– timely (Utah this summer)

2. We can’t resolve here, but ask for views on this issue.

3. Try to elicit the following:

a. Women never given priesthood in scrips. But no explicit revelation denying women priesthood. Is scriptural precedent a reflection of timeless doctrine or cultural assumption?

b. Scriptural reqs. must be flexible. I.e., we are not descended from Levi. (Aaron, Zadock —> Sadducees)

c. Situation with blacks a parallel. No specific revelation, just longstanding practice and doctrinal rationalizations. Wouldn’t be changing a core doctrine, just a practice.

d. Women did hold priesthood in a sense in 19th century. 1880 1st pres. statement. Man and wife one. Women spoke in tongues, anointed and blessed, would stand in circle. Changed at time of priesthood retrenchment under Joseph F. Smith. Also, women will hold “it” again – “priestesses.” Joseph Fielding Smith, BRM.

e. If it is an unalterable doctrine, what is the underlying reason?
– Roles? (Ok, but what about sister missionaries, relief society pres., temple workers. Priesthood not necessarily related to the role of breadwinning. If it’s man’s role to rule, then that doesn’t answer question–why?)
– More intelligent? (used to be justification, but I don’t believe)
– More worthy? (of course not)
– Don’t want it? (not all men want it either)
– Don’t need it? (insults intelligence–we don’t really treat it as a crutch for the spiritually incapacitated)

f. Is it likely to change?
– basic conservatism
– manifesto, blacks–unwillingness to appear to bow to pressure. Crticism can backfire (but here, it’s mostly internal–must pay attention)
– External focus not on Church (other churches have same prob., but we already have the doctrinal framework in place.)
– Church’s position is requires revelation. That requires prophet getting on his knees and asking. Hasn’t happened yet. Whole thing is built on an assumption.

4. In any event, we have to live with current Church policy–we’re not in a position to change it.

5. So how do we share priesthood blessings? Idea of “flowing through.” Partnership model (cf. tax treatment)

/ \

Worked in 19th century. But now, more of a tripartite covenant model:


(cf. tripartite covenants among Great King—>Vassal King—>People) Flow through husband himself.

6. How do we “flow blessings” through?

a. hold priesthood, magnify it so that that influence will be present in our homes.

b. marry in the temple. The highest ordinances of the Church–received equally by a man or woman, or not at all.

c. administer priesthood ordinances in our families

d. beware of unrighteous dominion (D&C 121) (SWK–not rule, but “preside.” Equal partnership).


  1. I have a standing bet with friends from BYU days that women will have the priesthood ($5) and gays will have temple marriages ($5) in my lifetime. Here’s hoping I die with $10 to pass along to my kids.

  2. If I were a betting man, I might side with your first one. I don’t want to turn this into a discussion of the second one, so I won’t say how I’d tweak it to make a “similar” bet.

  3. The idea of you giving this lesson back in 1980-something just makes me smile.

    The one thing of your historical background that I would change is the sentence: “Changed at time of priesthood retrenchment under Joseph F. Smith.” Joseph F. Smith gets something of a bum wrap in some of the literature on this issue. He really was one of the last great champions of female ritual healing. The Church changed about him and then it was the Grant administration, where you find the great de-emphasis. I know that this isn’t that significant to your overall lesson (which is awesome), but I wanted to make the clarification.

  4. Admittedly, women gaining the priesthood has more support from church history and recent church developments. I’m especially heartened by the evolving role of female leadership at the ward level. It seems that the direction is to give women all priesthood authority without actually allowing them to participate in ordinances.

    As for gay temple marriage, it’s probably more projection on my part–especially given the church’s investment in the “family values” movement. Conversely, President Hinckley is probably the most gay friendly prophet since Joseph Smith.

    The precedent of other 20th century prophets is undoubtedly the biggest impediment to faster change on these fronts.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the correction, J. I assume I picked that up from some secondary source; it’s not something I have much direct knowledge about.

  6. Kevin, I sure wish we could clone you.

  7. Kevin, on point 3.a, “Women never given priesthood in scrips,” what’s your view about when a woman is referred to as a “prophetess” or “deaconness”?

  8. Cf. Compton’s argument in “”Kingdom of Priests””: Priesthood, Temple, and Women in the Old Testament and in the Restoration,” Dialogue, 36:3, Fall 2003, that in significant ways, if you think of “priesthood” as it was used in the O.T., women in early Mormonism and today hold/the priesthood because of their participation in temple ordinances.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Stirling, I guess sort of my working assumption is that generally prophet and deacon (and so their feminine counterparts as well) weren’t really technical priesthood offices in the Bible, notwithstanding the way we understand those terms today. Later in NT times deacon might have started to be understood in a technical priesthood type sense. I would want to reread the article, but what you describe as Todd’s argument in your no. 8 strikes me as a stronger approach.

  10. Very interesting. If that lesson were given in EQ now, I wonder how it would be received? What would the average Bishop do if this was being discussed in EQ? Sounds like a good poll question:

    How do you think a Bishop would react if this type of lesson were given in EQ today?

    a) Quietly “correct” the EQ instructor in private and move on.

    b) More publicly “correct” the EQ instructor by teaching the next EQ lesson and proclaiming the previous lesson to be erroneous.

    c) Release the EQ instructor after proclaiming his doctrine to be false from the pulpet.

    d) Leave it alone and tell anyone who complains that the Lord can do whater he wants to in this area.

    e) other

  11. Brewhaha, I am not sure that I see any doctrine that could be corrected? There isn’t anything that is particularly controversial in this outline.

  12. I’m inclined to think of ‘the priesthood’ in a broader sense as the power of God and so, of it’s blessings as ‘every good thing’.

    Re the institution, I couldn’t really be bothered officiating in most ordinances, but that’s just my personality :)

  13. With no offense intended, I might get up and walk out of this lesson. There’s just so much we do know for certain about how to share the priesthood blessings that having an instructor dwell for the majority of the lesson on what we don’t know–and almost for certain will never know in mortality–would probably drive me nuts. Keep the doctrinal hobby horses for the bloggernacle and dinner parties. Let me learn doctrines we have some actual knowledge about in church. This lesson would rank right up there with other lessons I’ve had such as “Are the Lost Ten Tribes Somewhere in the Middle of the Earth?” and “Did God Create the World Using Matter from Planets Which had Dinosaurs?”.

  14. J.

    The lesson is surely pointing to the call to give women the priesthood and I’m sure that that would ruffle some feathers. The subtleties of the debate as to whether that is a change in doctrine or a change in practice would likely be lost on most people.

  15. The New Testament makes all Christian women priests unto the Lord.

  16. Steve Evans says:

    ….except if you happen to be Catholic, eh Todd?

  17. Fwiw, “holding the Priesthood” (men) and “exercising Priesthood authority” (men and women in the temple) and acting through the authority of the Priesthood (men and women outside the temple) and exercising spiritual gifts outside of the official authority of the Priesthood (men and women of any religion or denomination) are very different things. We often conflate and confuse these things, which leads to some interesting statements and beliefs – some of which work themselves into “incorrect traditions of their fathers”.

  18. “There’s just so much we do know for certain about how to share the priesthood blessings”

    jimbob, there is?? Note that Kevin’s lesson was specifically about sharing them with one’s wife–I think we have very little doctrine there. Please enlighten me.

  19. Re 18:

    I suspect that you’re talking about one thing and I am talking about another, Kristine. The entire basis for the priesthood is to use it to bless the lives of others. Thus, formal blessings, fulfilling priesthood callings, consecrating homes, righteous priesthood direction in the home, etc. would all fall under ways we know how to bless our homes, families, and wives with the priesthood.

  20. Since I am only just discovering some of this church history, would you clarify your reference for 3d? What is BRM? I would love to read more about some of this, but I am not sure where to start.

    (I know I have asked similar questons before–sorry about that. I have subscribed to Dialogue, so I know I should go back and read the old issues for some of this.)

  21. Melissa (#20),

    BRM stands for Bruce R. McConkie. For some historical discussions about women and the priesthood, a good place to start is “Women and Authority”, a collection of articles put together by Maxine Hanks, many of which have appeared in Sunstone and Dialogue. It can be read online at the Signature Books website at Chapters 2, 17, and 18 are particularly readable historical essays by Linda Newell, Michael Quinn, and Margaret Toscano, respectively. Good luck, and welcome to the field!

  22. Peter LLC says:


    Lumping an examination of the church’s position on women and priesthood blessing with idle speculation like “Are the Lost Ten Tribes Somewhere in the Middle of the Earth?” and “Did God Create the World Using Matter from Planets Which had Dinosaurs?” is a silly mischaracterization of a lesson that appears grounded in the scriptures and statements by the prophets.

    While a day or two might go by without someone getting too worked up over the fossil record, I suspect that the priesthood and its blessings is something that matters a lot to most members.

  23. f. Is it likely to change?

    One thing that could inhibit change is the practical side of the question. If the priesthood is extended to women, then does that mean there will be mixed gender bishoprics? On the surface the question seems laughable but if you think a little more about it, you can see this really would be a problem: Male bishop has female first counselor, male second counselor, and female executive secretary. So you have a double-date bishopric and it becomes nearly impossible to avoid the appearance of impropriety even though this would be very unlikely. Also, there would be a lot of akwardness in that for many people: male bishop calls Bro. Jones’s wife to be his first counselor (or female bishop calls Sis. Jones’s husband to be first counselor). It is foreseeable that many people will be uncomfortable with this situation. It might be irrational but marriages are just like that — it is common in a marriage for a spouse not to be too enthusiastic about his or her spouse to be spending tons of time alone or in close company with a member of another gender so there could easily be hard feelings.

    One solution to this might be to have a policy of only all-male or all-female bishoprics. If the bishop, first counselor, second counselor, executive secretary, ward clerk, and all financial and membership clerks are female or all male then the problem of male-female pairings that could cause implications of impropriety or hard feelings in marriages would be avoided but it could get hard to manage.

  24. John,

    I think you bring up a good point. Fortunately, it’s one that has been dealt with for years in the work place. I’m the Executive Director of a non-profit health clinic. When I started, I was the only male on a 12-person staff (gotta love the glass ceiling).

    Before this job I was a family therapist. In this position I would meet alone with women on a daily basis. As part of the reconciliation process, I would find out about people’s secrets that even their spouses didn’t know.

    In both these situations, rules of ethics guide the interaction and keep things on a professional and appropriate level. I believe a similar standard would arise in bishoprics, and that models already exist in other churches.

    One difficult point is the addition of inspiration to the mix. Will a person who is uncomfortable serving in a bishopric with a particular person from the opposite sex feel comfortable and confident in turning down the calling?

  25. john, there’s another easy and obvious solution to the problem–call couples as bishop and counselors; make each of those jobs a 2-person one (which they are anyway!). I strongly suspect that if we were to modify our conception of priesthood so that it more fully included women, the practical difficulties could be fairly easily overcome. Our friends in the Community of Christ might have useful insights to offer from their now decade-long experience. In fact, [warning: shameless self-promotion follows] if you pick up the last issue of Sunstone, you can read a really beautiful reflection by a woman called to a church leadership position after they changed their policy on women’s exercise of priesthood.

  26. Lumping an examination of the church’s position on women and priesthood blessing with idle speculation like “Are the Lost Ten Tribes Somewhere in the Middle of the Earth?” and “Did God Create the World Using Matter from Planets Which had Dinosaurs?” is a silly mischaracterization of a lesson that appears grounded in the scriptures and statements by the prophets.

    Actually, as per the notes above, the lesson presented calls for just about as much “idle” speculation as the other two, since we have about as much hard doctrine on why women don’t have the priesthood as we do for the other topics mentioned.

  27. Why the assumption that women (other than a small handful) want the priesthood?
    I don’t. I like the Family Proc.’s different roles but equal to God approach. I don’t have any problems with the patriarchal order of things as they stand now.
    There is already a BofM/Joseph Smith believing church that has gone down this road.
    What do you say to those of us who don’t want the church liberalized into another CofC?
    Where would people like me go then?

  28. Peter LLC says:

    Actually, as per the notes above, the lesson presented calls for just about as much “idle” speculation as the other two, since we have about as much hard doctrine on why women don’t have the priesthood as we do for the other topics mentioned.

    With one obvious difference being that priesthood blessings matter to the general membership while a journeys to the center of the earth to find the lost tribes do not.

    If what you are suggesting is that teachers should never make up doctrine in the absence of doctrine, then count me in. And even if all your suggesting is that teachers should do no more than cobble together quotations from the scriptures and prophets in support of the prescribed manuals, ok.

    But suggesting that good faith efforts to examine priesthood in mormonism is the same as (I’ll say it again) idle (of no real worth, importance, or significance) speculation along the lines you mentioned is a silly mischaracterization of the post on a good day.

    I suspect that members may struggle with such issues and may, in their still imperfect state, want answers–what better forum to discuss possible approaches than church?

  29. Peter LLC says:

    C Jones:

    You do realize that the doctrines of a church based on continuing revelation will evolve, don’t you, and that the Church founded in 1830 has done just that?

  30. #16 – verily

    Strong point of contention between Baptists and Catholics as well.

  31. Kevin Barney says:

    C. Jones #27, I think there would be a difference in the Brighamite case as compared to the CoC experience. The change in the CoC was of a parliamentary nature; such is their manner of governance. I think it’s obvious that such a change in the Utah-based Church context is only going to come by revelation.

    So let’s say GBH announces a revelation a la 1978 that the priesthood may now be extended to all who are worthy regardless of gender. Do you really think we would have the same issues of schism that the CoC experienced? I don’t.

    Probably some group would publish a full-page ad in the SL Tribune denouncing the “revelation,” signed by 500 people. (I say this because that is exactly what happened in 1978.) To those people I would say don’t let the church door hit you in the bum on your way out. As for me and my house, we would accept any such revelation, were it to come.

  32. Snow White says:

    Not to be snarky, but to those who prefer that women be given the priesthood, especially Kristine since she obviously admires the CofC, why stay with the LDS Church when the CofC seems to fit more with your ideals? I’m just curious.
    One problem I see with the idea of “calling couples as bishopric members” is that it would be extremely hard to have any sort of family life under those conditions.
    Also, the very idea seems to question whether the Prophet receives revelation for the Church. If he doesn’t, then the Church wouldn’t be true, and if he does, then it’s Heavenly Father deciding who gets the priesthood, and you should just accept it or point your disgruntle at Him rather than “the man” lol

  33. Peter,

    I don’t doubt this is an important topic, but there are lots of important topics we don’t have any answers for. And I don’t see much utility in teaching a lesson for which we don’t have any answers by calling for rank speculation from the average member. And I particularly don’t think we should do so when there’s so much germane to that topic which we do know and could cover without asking the membership to guess at what God has in mind on a very tricky subject.
    You might even say that’s what’s “silly” to me.

  34. Snow White, please be kinder in your exhortation. Would you ask a super conservative member of the Church that used the Catholic position on abortion in a discussion why they don’t sign up to be Catholic?

    Melissa, I don’t think Rob G.’s recommendation of Women and Authority is the best place to look. It has some flaws that aren’t readily apparent to the neophyte reader that I find overly problematic. If you live in Utah, I would recommend checking out Andrew Ehat’s thesis at either the UU or BYU libraries. The volume Sisters in Spirit is also recommended (though it too is a bit dated).

    Here is a post on priestesses that you might find helpful.

  35. Peter LLC- thanks for the pat on the head.

    You said that women did hold priesthood in a sense in the 19th century. I think we still do, although it is not the ordained to a specific office variety. I agree with you that any change would have to come by revelation.
    I think in a less fallen world- perhaps in a millennial one- that we will experience leadership, priesthood, and families in different ways than we do now.
    I don’t think we are even close to being a millennial people yet, and that pressuring the prophet to “start asking” is putting the cart before the horse.

  36. Kevin Barney says:

    C. Jones #36, I would now agree with you that women do hold the priesthood now by way of the temple, even if they don’t hold any office. (This was a nuance that wasn’t really in the ether when I wrote that lesson outline many years ago.)

  37. #31

    how convenient. you happily accept “revelation” that fits your sociopolitical views, while celebrating the potential loss of those among the community who disagree with you.
    personally i think there would be a great schism; even greater if there were to be, as one earlier poster commented, “temple marriages for gays”. for people like myself (i guess best described as an agnostic mormon who hopes the gospel is real) that sort of evolution would be clear signs that this Church IS just another social club pandering to what’s popular in an effort to stay relevant.
    but we’ll be no great loss – i guess we’re not welcome in kevin’s ward anyway.

  38. 32. Snow White,

    You may be unaware but when you have something nasty to say putting icing on it doesn’t make it any sweeter.

    LOL. Not to be snarky. No offence, but… :) Just kidding.

  39. Kevin Barney says:

    anonymous #37, if my outline wasn’t clear on this point, let me be clear now. I don’t see an administrative change for women to formally receive the priesthood without a revelation, much like what took place in 1978. So if we want to talk about a hypothetical situation in which women now have the priesthood, than that hypo to my mind entails that a revelation to that effect has been received. So it’s not just a convenient assumption, it’s a very pragmatic one.

  40. #37, last sentence – Never mind.

  41. Kevin,

    In your post, you mention that there’s no scriptural basis for “males only” holding the priesthood. I’m interested to hear your take on the references in the D&C that do seem to reference gender w/regard to the priesthood. I’m thinking about section 20 (duties of the priesthood offices) and sec.88 (“Amen to the priesthood of that man”) Are you thinking “he” is given as a gender-neutral pronoun? This is one limitation of the English language that makes this discussion even more perplexing: Is it “he” (male) or he (he or she)? One intriguing thing in Sec.20 is that the instructions for baptism indicate the person being baptized as “him or her”.

  42. Kevin Barney says:

    MattG #41, I think those passages are simply assuming the status quo and not meant as revelation to the effect that it has to be that way.

  43. Thanks Kevin!

  44. Gerald Smith says:

    I also don’t think that speculation has a place in a Church meeting, where we should be “teaching the doctrine.” However, I think Pres Packer gave an apt example of how we share our priesthood with our wives, once. He said that priesthood holders have two keys. The first opens a vault door. Within the vault is a chest that requires two keys. We have the one, and our wives hold the other. Our priesthood is not exalting nor fully effective without the Patriarchal Priesthood, which is shared with our wives. One cannot receive it unless there is a woman opposite you across the altar. In this sense, we can actively involve our wives in priesthood work: encouraging them to serve and bless others, and becoming daughters of God, priestesses and queens.

  45. Rob G. and J. Stapley: Thanks for the resources. I will be sure to check them out. I don’t live in Utah (Illinois here), but I might be able to access that thesis through my university’s ILL. I will give it a try.

  46. Kevin Barney says:

    Hey Melissa, I’m in Illinois too. I live in Hoffman Estates and work in Chicago.

  47. Peter LLC says:

    C Jones–No problem. Just keep on keepin’ on.

    Jimbob–surely what we’re talking about here is closer to studying out in our minds than rank speculation?

  48. hmmm, really loved this post. Reminded me of a Bishop that I had in the ancient 70’s that told me that one day women would hold the Priesthood. I was floored, it had never occurred to me to question the doctrine. I asked him why he thought that, and he cited the temple ceremony. This post really made me think about the changes in our attitudes towards women and the priesthood over the past 30 years. It seems more like a fluctuating reoccurring theme than a steady progression towards ordaining women. I am pretty sure women will hold the priesthood someday, but I am not sure that it will be the same priesthood that the men hold now.

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