Searching for the “priesthood line”

In General Conference, Dallin Oaks spoke of two-lines of communication, the personal line and the priesthood line, that find primary expression, respectively, in the home and the church.  For Oaks, the personal line is of “paramount importance in personal decisions and in the governance of the family.”  The priesthood line controls “those cooperative activities that are essential to accomplishing the Lord’s work,” or, in other words, the tasks essential to running of the Church.

To be sure, Oaks’ talk focuses on the need for both lines.  But what interests me most is his association of the personal with the home and the priesthood with the church.  At the same time that this association de-emphasizes the role of priesthood leadership in the home, it reaffirms the church as a space to be run by priesthood leaders.  While there is a certain logic to this formulation, the drawing of these different spheres also, I will suggest, points to why women need more education about the priesthood to fully participate in the church sphere.

In my experience, women are taught to relate to the priesthood in ways that are primarily personal.  In RS lessons on the priesthood, they are encouraged to support priesthood holders and to ask for and receiving blessings.  Although I have had powerful experiences with the priesthood, each has taken the form of a blessing pertaining to my personal needs and life.  Not surprisingly, my testimony of the spirit’s operation in our personal life comes easily to me.  It is in that realm where I have felt the priesthood and my own, unmediated inspiration.  There, I am “at home” with the priesthood.

But my testimony of the priesthood as a force to run and organize the church is decidedly lacking.  To the extent that we believe testimonies must be based on studying things in our minds, this is probably not surprising since women are usually comparatively uneducated and unexperienced with the basics of priesthood operation.

In the past year, I have discovered just how little I know about the priesthood.  Despite having grown up in the church, no one explained to me what the oil in healing blessings was for.  I am still unsure about the rituals involved in giving blessings, and even what kinds of blessing are available.  I do not know how priesthood meetings work.  I have never attended a council where decisions were made.  I was until recently unaware of the Church Handbook of Instructions.  My participation in the organizing function of the priesthood has been limited to priesthood leaders giving me directions that make various degrees of sense.

To return to Oaks’ talk, if we are going to have a paradigm in which the personal line operates in the home and the priesthood at church, then I feel there is a very real risk of my spirituality only operating in the personal realm unless I can find a meaningful way to have a relationship with the priesthood that goes beyond receiving blessings.  Educating women about the basics might be a good place to start.  Including them more would likely be a good next step.


  1. So true… I’ve never been a fan of ignorance, and it seems women are often kept in the dark in this regard. How can the priesthood line controls “cooperative activities” if women aren’t even educated or involved in them? Who’s doing the cooperating?

  2. Elder for 13 Years and counting says:

    Despite having grown up in the church, no one explained to me what the oil in healing blessings was for.

    Let me know what you find out.

  3. Natalie, this is so far from my own experience that I’m not sure how to respond. It’s true, I guess, that there are few formal lessons about how the priesthood works (although there are certainly some. This year in the YW curriculum, for instance, there are several lessons that give significant practical detail about church operations, including a detailed list of bishops’ responsibilities, a whole lesson on father’s blessings and another one on patriarchal blessings, one on the sacrament. There’s this from the RS manual this year.) but that information seems readily available, and there’s no reason why someone would have withheld information about any of the things you mention if you had asked. And there’s always the Doctrine & Covenants, which has a fair amount of detail about how the priesthood organization is structured. Widtsoe’s Priesthood and Church Government was on the shelf in the library of the ward where I grew up. (Yeah, ok, I was _really_ nerdy).

    For what it’s worth, I think boys don’t necessarily get this education either, except through on-the-job training. I had to tell more than one elder in my MTC district where to find the sacrament and baptismal prayers in the scriptures…

    I guess I’m just wondering what you think the church’s responsibility is in terms of teaching–do you have specific things in mind that ought to be done?

  4. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: (Heb 5:14)

    There are similar precedents all over the Old Testament, starting with the anointing of Aaron. As to what it symbolizes, I believe it symbolizes the Spirit manifest on a person, e.g. as in the following:

    Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows (Heb 1:9)

  5. Elder Oaks defines three lines as follows:

    Unlike the personal line, in which our Heavenly Father communicates with us directly through the Holy Ghost, the priesthood line of communication has the additional and necessary intermediaries of our Savior, Jesus Christ; His Church; and His appointed leaders

    All priesthood authority in the Church functions under the direction of one who holds the appropriate priesthood keys. This is the priesthood line. But the authority that presides in the family—whether father or single-parent mother—functions in family matters without the need to get authorization from anyone holding priesthood keys. That is like the personal line.

    The personal line is direct communication with our Father in Heaven via the Holy Ghost. The priesthood line could be called the ecclesiastical line for all practical purposes. The third line mentioned could be called the “head of household line”, which not the personal line but which is rather like the personal line.

  6. Kristine, I must be a nerd, too, then. When my grandparents died, Widtsoe’s book was one of the ones I snagged.

  7. #4 Mark D., it’s James 5:14, not Heb 5:14.

  8. My experience has been much like Christine’s. In fact, I have to work not to roll my eyes when a teacher in my ward rolls out his standard “Priesthood Keys — What They Are and Who Has ‘Em” Sunday School lesson, which he has given three times in the six years I’ve been in the ward. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a hobby horse for him, but he certainly isn’t the first one I’ve heard it from. I remember specific priesthood-based lessons from seminary, and as I’ve gone through Primary manuals from my youth I realize that I remember specific lessons on the operations of the priesthood from the Lihoma years. Widtsoe’s book was on my parents’ bookshelf, too — one of my strong childhood memories is of my dad needing my mother to help him give me a priesthood blessing, and his using that book to show my mother that yes, it was legitimate for her to assist him (but that very incident does confirm that *she* hadn’t previously had the same priesthood education that *I* was getting at that moment, which in a way supports your experience).

    I think this may be a lot like claims of never having heard of certain events in church history from church sources — it’s possible that the lessons have been given but just have not registered with one person, while for whatever reason they did sink in with someone else.

  9. er, “much like *Kristine’s*” (sorry)

  10. “Despite having grown up in the church, no one explained to me what the oil in healing blessings was for.”

    I can recall some lessons about this. There have also been some articles and talks about it.

    “Jesus was accorded titles of unique significance. One was the Messiah, which in Hebrew means “anointed.” The other was the Christ, which in the Greek language means “anointed” as well. In our day, as it was in His day, the ordinance of administration to the sick includes anointing with the consecrated oil of the olive. So the next time you witness consecrated oil being anointed on the head of one to be blessed, and these sacred words are said, “I anoint you with this consecrated oil,” remember what that original consecration cost. Remember what it meant to all who had ever lived and who ever would yet live. Remember the redemptive power of healing, soothing, and ministering to those in need. Remember, just as the body of the olive, which was pressed for the oil that gave light, so the Savior was pressed. From every pore oozed the life blood of our Redeemer. And when sore trials come upon you, remember Gethsemane.”

    -Elder Russell M. Nelson, 1991

    There is also an entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism about it:

  11. Max Lybbert says:

    But what interests me most is his association of the personal with the home and the priesthood with the church.

    While that may be a fair way to characterize Oaks’ talk, I’m not sure it’s the whole story w/r/t the priesthood. Claudio Costa (Presidency of the Seventy, also spoke at this year’s conference) spoke to my mission just as I was getting ready to return home. He mentioned that Adam and Eve’s church services probably looked more like family home evening than 20th Century sacrament meetings.

    I’m not trying to get into dueling General Authorities. But I think it’s a safe bet that the Church isn’t going to start emphasizing Church meetings over family any time soon. But the Church will continue to emphasize “do you act like a worthy member, even when you’re not in the Church building?”

  12. I agree with Kristine that many men learn these duties on the job and usually via correction from others. There is a sense in which P. policy and practice is an oral tradition despite its formal description in the CHI and in the scriptures.

    My second comment refers to what I found interesting in this talk regarding the relationship between the personal and the ecclesiastical lines. The personal serves as a necessary supplement to the ecclesiastical line (cf. Moses) and yet the ecclesiastical is certainly the ground upon which personal revelation and practice are based. The practice of confession demonstrates this clearly; for E. Oaks writes that “we cannot communicate reliably through the direct, personal line if we are disobedient to or out of harmony with the priesthood line.” Thus confession, in part, is a process by which the failed personal line can be temporarily maintained via the P. line until the personal line has been restored through renewed righteousness.

    It is this dynamic that provides some of the space for ecclesiastical abuse.

  13. Natalie B. says:

    I’m glad to hear that some of you have had more exposure than I got. I suppose these things must vary depending on who you have around you.

  14. Researcher says:

    “It is this dynamic that provides some of the space for ecclesiastical abuse.” (12)

    Sure; but it is also this dynamic that provides some of the space for beautiful and healing personal ministry and the comfort and instruction and connection to the spirit that one person can give another in times of tragedy or personal hardship.

    And having someone set apart and recognized in the community to serve this function means that people don’t have to run around trying to invent a support structure for themselves when all of a sudden it is needed.

    The other day when my niece suddenly and tragically died in an accident, the bishop was there at the hospital with my sister and her husband, giving them blessings and words of comfort. The priesthood is a method for support and ministry and I would guess that it works so many more times than it doesn’t work, but it is probably more interesting to talk about the “ecclesiastical abuses” than to talk about the experience of leading meetings or managing welfare funds or blessing someone in a hospital emergency room.

  15. Natalie B. says:

    I have a suggestion for this thread: I generally think that comparing experiences is counterproductive, so for those who do have a robust relationship to the priesthood as an administrative/organizing force, I’d love to know how you developed a testimony of it.

  16. Researcher (#14) I agree that Bishops do great work, in many cases it is really outstanding. Regarding your comment ‘but it is also this dynamic…’ I have the opposite feeling. Those moments of healing are constrained by the relationship I highlighted in those specific duties I referred to. This is not to say that ecclesiastical leaders cannot provide healing (I think they do very often and in all the ways you cite) but rather that the authority structure implied in E. Oaks remarks organises these relations around an revelatory-asymmetry which is useful but can become perverse if it is not reciprocated. What I mean by this (and I situate my comments squarely within the context which I specified, i.e. that of confession) is that respecting the revelation of another is useful only if the other person does the same. Thus the Bishop should respect the revelation of the individual (despite their disobedience) and the individual should respect the revelation of the Bishop. In doing this it seems that a new kind of harmony can emerge from their confession/dialogue where the revelation is in the dialogue rather than located in the ecclesiastical leader alone.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Ardis, I had almost the exact same experience as a child. My father wanted my mother to assist him in giving me a blessing, she demurred thinking it was not allowed, and he insisted that it was perfectly proper (although he didn’t pull out Widtsoe or anything like that), and so the blessing was performed. That made a strong impression on me as well.

    I think it might be a good idea to have some lessons on the nuts and bolts practical aspects of priesthood administration in the church, which I’m guessing a lot of folks, both men and women, would find enlightening. If you’ve been in callings where you’ve attended PEC, you obviously know what goes on in there, but if you haven’t you may have no idea.

  18. I wish I could remember who said it, but I once heard someone half-jokingly point out that the greatest way to keep a secret in the church is to publish it in a manual or handbook. My wife’s brother is the teachers’ quorum president in our ward, and he and I were talking about his responsibilities. He had no idea what was really expected of him. I directed him to study the relevant passages in the Doctrine & Covenants, and to see what the CHI had to say, as well.

    He had no idea that the CHI existed. I told him that needed to request a copy of the section related to AP quorum leadership. I’ll need to follow up to see if he ever did this. This, along with many other experiences, has made me wonder: why is the CHI so closely guarded? I was the Exec Sec for almost two years, and so I was able to read through a lot of it, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why it isn’t made publicly available to those in the church. Does anybody with more experience know?

    To get to Natalie’s question about how my experience/understanding was gained, it wasn’t through Priesthood classes, although the AP lessons tend to at least try to explain the role and responsibility of the Priesthood. Most of it came from personal investigation. The information is out there, but my guess is that most people don’t know to look for it. I am one of those nerdy people who likes to know, wants to know, and needs to know, and so I find out. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that this is true for others.

  19. Researcher says:

    Thanks for explaining your point further, Aaron R.

    For obvious reasons, coming up with anecdotes about the confession/”judge in Israel” experience are going to be more difficult to obtain than data about the other roles of the priesthood holders. And how do you weigh the anecdotes when Sister X felt love and respect during her confession experience with Bishop Y and Sister Z felt hostility or confusion with the same bishop?

    And to answer Natalie’s question: my father was very conscientious about teaching us how the church worked. I remember Family Home Evening lessons about the priesthood and priesthood responsibilities, and I also saw him home teach faithfully every single month of his adult life, and make sure that his family was home taught. He attended multitudes of meetings and sometimes explained to his children what was happening in the meetings. I suppose I need to do more of that with my children now so they don’t end up with a mystical or confused idea about how the church works.

  20. Researcher (#19) your hypothetical question is important and I wish I had a better answer. My sense is that making the change I suggested would not resolve the problems I have highlighted simply because all Bishop’s and ‘Sinners’ are inconsistent and respond to the ministering efforts of their leaders in different ways. However I do think that such changes might reduce the number of bad experiences and may improve the experiences of those which were already positive.

  21. Now that I think more about it, Natalie, and with these additional comments, I think that maybe actual exposure to priesthood activity would be more important to developing an awareness and testimony than purely theoretical auxiliary lessons, even for us geeks who generally soak up the theory. I’ve never really understood the “counseling with our councils” part of church government, for instance, probably because I’ve never been to such a meeting, ever. I was never even a class officer in MIA, much less in an auxiliary presidency or any other position with meetings where plans and decisions were being made — I know more of such meetings from typing up 19th century diaries with notes from Quorum of the Twelve meetings than I do from actual experience. I don’t have any experience with “blessings of comfort,” or some of the other actions mentioned here. I’m sure if I had never been to a funeral, I wouldn’t really understand grave dedications, either.

    If I were a parent, I think after this discussion I would be likely to watch actively for opportunities to have my children participate or witness priesthood activities and discuss them before and after so that they would realize the significance of what they were a part of.

  22. The new CHI are being released at a World Leadership Broadcast on Nov 13. Should be a good opportunity for more instruction and discussion about priesthood leadership in the Church.

  23. “I do not know how priesthood meetings work.”

    Actually, they’re non-functional ;)

  24. “I do not know how priesthood meetings work.”

    When serving as Teacher Development leader in our ward, part of my responsibility was to visit all the classes held during the block. I assumed that included priesthood classes and made arrangments with the leadership for my visits. As far as I could see, priesthood meetings differed little from the women’s meetings. Except for the possible comfort level of meeting only with one’s own sex, there probably isn’t a logical reason to separate PH from RS. Of course, there is a hormonal reason to separate YM and YW.

  25. Thomas Parkin says:

    In my experience, PH meetings are a lot like RS meetings. Of course, in PH meetings angels come and teach us things like which planets are going around whichever other planets, and who holds the keys of those planets, and we’ll also talk about different stones – opals, for instance – and beasts that have eyes that look every way. It was in PH meeting that I learned that Metatron was like Tron, only more so. There is less knitting in PH meeting, although there may be some knitting. I don’t mean to say that knitting isn’t godly work. ~

  26. He had no idea that the CHI existed. I told him that needed to request a copy of the section related to AP quorum leadership… why is the CHI so closely guarded?

    The current CHI is split into multiple handbooks or sections. There are different colored sections for all the auxilliaries and AP/MP priesthood that were distributed directly to those leaders. So your friend could ask the Young Men’s president and he should have a copy of the section pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood.

    The confidentiality of the documents is motivated by the desire in part to keep members from using the contents to second guess minor administrative decisions of the bishop, because some of the guidelines and policies are revised on a semi-regular basis by direct communication from church headquarters, and thus even a copy of the current edition may not reflect the current policy of the church on some matters. No doubt there are others.

  27. I guess I just don’t know how someone can grow up in the church, attend seminary, etc. without knowing this stuff. Natalie, you were dozing in class too often!!

  28. “The confidentiality of the documents is motivated by the desire in part to keep members from using the contents to second guess minor administrative decisions of the bishop”

    You mean protest unrighteous dominion? Seriously, members deserve to at least know that their leaders have checked the rule book.

  29. Kristine, I agree, though it has been the position of bishops I’ve had to open the book up to people who want to read it. It doesn’t get circulated but people can have access if they like.

    That said, the CHI doesn’t prevent unrighteous dominion.

  30. No, of course not. But you of all people must recognize the value of due process and transparent procedures. ;)

  31. But behold Kristine, the Spirit makes all things known unto you, wherefor need ye yon CHI?

  32. I don’t trust that Spirit guy; he talks funny sometimes. He’s got that whole whispering thing going on.

  33. Natalie- I feel that I have a strong testimony of the priesthood relating to the organization/administration of the church, and I got it much like others have mentioned: All my life I have witnessed the church organization in action, and for the most part, it has worked well. I have in the course of the past 7 years served on the board of two different volunteer organizations (once as president), and both times I was frustrated by the lack of order/efficiency, and found myself drawing comparisons to how we run things in the church.
    Now, don’t get me wrong, I have seen some very mixed up things in church organization as well, but by and large, in the church we have a clear line of authority- and a clear order in which things should be done. For the most part, I feel that the membership respects and follows this order precisely because they know that it is authorized by God (ie, administered by the appropriate leadership according to who holds the proper keys in any given situation).
    I don’t know that I am expressing myself clearly, but in short, my testimony of priesthood is like my testimony of much of the rest of the gospel- I have seen it in action (when exercised properly), and the fruits seem good to me. :)
    For the record, and slightly off topic, I do not see the priesthood as at all complete without women- as evidenced by the fact that men cannot obtain exaltation without women. We are integral to the proper functioning of church administratively as well, and whether or not we hold (or can hold) all of the keys to the priesthood at this point in time seems largely like an organizational thing to me. I feel that I can call on the powers of heaven in the name of Jesus Christ as effectively on my own as can a priesthood holder, and while I may not be able to administer these powers in quite the same way, they are every bit as available to me.

  34. It will be interesting to see how the new CHI turns out. I’ve been familiar with the current and the previous versions, and the current one was much less detailed and shorter than the previous version. It was explained to me that leaders and members were to rely more on the Spirit, and so the CHI and it’s subdivided manuals in the current version emphasized doctrines, from which we learn principles, upon which policies were articulated.

    The last two versions have been in two parts. Part one is for bishoprics and stake presidencies, and deals with conducting meetings, organizing church work on a stake and ward level, the mechanics of disciplinary councils, missionary work at ward and stake levels, and things of that nature. A bishop normally wouldn’t let his copy out of his control, just because it is hard to replace, but I have asked and been given the opportunity to read from it. I just was not allowed to take it home with me.

    The second part deals with priesthood quorums and auxiliaries, on the stake and ward level, and the various subdivisions in it are also published as separate manuals. There is a MP, an AP, YW, RS, Primary leadership manuals, among others, that are distributed individually to all the folks in those positions. The complete part two is restricted only by the number made available, and again is primarily just given to stake presidencies, bishops, and on occasion, some of those PH and auxiliary leaders.

    I suspect that some of the “restricted” or “secret” baggage that gets attached to the CHI is that it is produced in such lower numbers. I also suspect that some bishops or SP might be less generous in letting somebody read it, but in my reading of it, there is nothing in there that should be considered confidential or not for public consumption.

  35. I guess I just don’t know how someone can grow up in the church, attend seminary, etc. without knowing this stuff. Natalie, you were dozing in class too often!!

    Actually, my experience was probably closer to Natalie’s on the spectrum. I went Seminary, Sunday School, Priesthood Meetings, and all the rest. I knew a decent amount about the doctrine of the church, but when it came to any priesthood ordinances (other than baptism and the sacrament) I really didn’t learn anything about their implementation, symbolism, etc. until I was on my mission.

    I was literally clueless about the temple ordinances, even after I’d been through.

    I think in large part the church puts the responsibility on the fathers (or parents) to teach these things. But my dad (and he is an amazing man) is not a teacher. So I was rather ignorant in this particular area until I got my “white bible” and Missionary Handbook.

  36. I was once in an EQ meeting where the Bishop was attending and fielding questions. He was going through the same fall-back lesson about ordinances, and admonished us to “use the Priesthood daily”.

    So I raised my hand, and explained that while I’d been called upon to give a lot of blessings on my mission, and even a few ordinances, there wasn’t a call for that now. My wife didn’t require blessings every day. Prayer at meals isn’t a Priesthood ordinance. So, what did he mean?

    He said he’d get back to me on that one.

    So, the next week he called an emergency all-hands Priesthood meeting. Seems after a week of research, he’d come across some statements from a lecture given by David O. McKay to some CES leaders that covered it.

    The primary duty of a Priesthood holder is to make sure his family feels loved. God loves us, the Priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God and in His place, ergo if Christ were here with us, He would help us to feel loved.

    So, when I cook dinner, or read to the kid, or anything else that helps my wife and daughter to feel loved, I am using that Priesthood authority. I can use the same authority to help others – in a ward capacity, with friends and co-workers too, but my primary responsibility is to my family.

    That lesson has brought me a lot of comfort over the years. It also helps to explain the other functions performed in a Priesthood capacity – from passing the sacrament to temple ordinances. It is the job of the Bishop, the various presidencies, and everything else we do.

    It also has the added benefit of making grilling dinner for the family a sacred obligation, and one not to be taken lightly. Cause nothing says “I love you” like great grill marks.

  37. #16, Aaron R: “Thus the Bishop should respect the revelation of the individual (despite their disobedience) and the individual should respect the revelation of the Bishop.”

    I agree with you. When I was bishop a number of years ago, in those instances where I was included in someone’s repentance, it was very important to me that that person and I were aligned. I was most concerned that I ensure that the person involved felt he or she had been forgiven and could move on coincident with the end of church discipline.

    I found that when the member and I both approached the situation humbly, ready to seek inspiration, that it was common for us to agree.

    Natalie, I think your question is a fair one, and I have worked hard to teach my daughters about the priesthood and how it works. Frankly, sometimes it was hard to get their attention as they felt it did not directly concern them. But as they have matured, I think they’ve appreciated the understanding they gained at home.

    Of course the scritpures are available to all of us. The bishop of my youth, prior to each ordination, required me to read selected passages from the Doctrine and Covenants prior to meeting with him, and we would discuss those verses (or, in the case of my ordination to the Melchizedek priesthood, sections) as part of my interview.

    I was fortunate to grow up in a ward where our bishop really encouraged youth leaders to lead, and we all received a lot of on-the-job experience and training related to councils, presidencies and the priesthood. We were a relatively small youth group, so most of us served at one time or another in at least one presidency.

  38. I’m glad that works for you, Michael, and I’m all for anything that helps us take family responsibilities seriously, but it seems to me that making every decent thing one does a Priesthood duty tends to trivialize the notion of Priesthood.

  39. Priesthood pancakes are the best.

  40. In out stake, we have talked a lot recently about the oath and covenant of the priesthood, contained in D&C 84:33 – 44, which was for years a mystery to me. It’s only in the last 10 years or so that I have gotten a better understanding. In a meeting last night, one of our HC reps gave us a better explanation than anything I can give. He said it means “I give everything I have to the Lord, and he gives me everything he has in return.”

    So for me, understanding that priesthood line, is essentially about me learning to give service to others, learning the true measure of charity. If the RS motto is “Charity never faileth,” then for us PH holders, it should be “try charity, before you tell anyone else what to do.”

    Your mileage may vary, but for me, priesthood authority is all about service, and nothing to do with power. And the more I understand councils, consensus, and the “by common consent” idea, it only reinforces to me that charity should be the primary moving factor in all of these things.

    While there are some PH callings that are more administrative or bureaucratic than others (such as some of my assignments while I served on the HC), ultimately, it comes down to what have you done for someone else today?

  41. Sorry, that should be “in our stake…”

  42. “Priesthood authority is all about service, and nothing to do with power.”

    A lovely sentiment. I’ll believe it when a woman can make a decision in the church that is not subject to approval or veto by a man.

  43. Gang, priesthood authority either means something, or it doesn’t. If it’s meaningful then let’s be proud of it and make sense of it. If the term isn’t meaningful, if it’s just chicken patriarchy, then abandon it and get down to the brass tacks of service without these needless appendages.

  44. 43 – I think when kevinf (or others) say that or things like it, they are referring to God’s true order of the priesthood, its power and authority, and its proper administration. Not necessarily the beaureaucratic iteration of the priesthood that runs the church.

    Or in a Platonic sense: kevinf refers to the perfect form of priesthood, not the shadow we see in our cave.

  45. B. Russ–even that doesn’t work–either Priesthood also contains all the keys of administering the Kingdom of God, or it doesn’t. If it does, then it matters who holds the keychain.

  46. (Not that I don’t appreciate the humble approach suggested by your framing)

  47. Natalie B. says:

    I have worked hard to teach my daughters about the priesthood and how it works. Frankly, sometimes it was hard to get their attention as they felt it did not directly concern them.

    This is often the sentiment I feel left with–that the priesthood doesn’t concern me except to the degree that I receive blessings from it or support others in it. And, ultimately, I think that my feelings about it are inadequate if we really think that it is something important. But, I find it very hard to get over that feeling when I can’t fully experience being a part of it.

    “Priesthood authority is all about service, and nothing to do with power.”

    I feel that priesthood should be about service, but I also sympathize with Steve’s point that I’m not sure that it means anything if there is nothing more distinctive to it. And, as Kristine points out, holding the priesthood does mean that you can veto other’s attempts to serve–so there is a power dynamic to it.

    Finally, here is another thing I didn’t know about the priesthood until today: When someone becomes a high priest.

  48. You’re probably right, when I first read your comment, I assumed you were discounting kevin’s comment outright. Upon reread I think you were mostly taking issue with the “all about” and the “nothing to do with” portions.

    Thats fair.

  49. Right, B. Russ–it’s a nice sentiment, but it generally gets expressed when someone is trying to explain why it’s no problem that women aren’t ordained in our church. It fails to satisfy on that count.

  50. Kristine, I understand about the lack of ordination being an issue. Even PH keys are not ubiquitous to PH callings. Bishops have keys, quorum presidents have keys, but at the stake level, only the SP has keys. None of the high council or his counselors have keys. So while I understand that is a token or symbol of authority of some sort, it still doesn’t make much sense to me why a deacons quorum president is given keys when he is set apart, but the RS president does not. Is not her calling more important overall?

    So I get the frustration. My only refuge is that I haven’t totally worked out the whole charity thing yet, so I’ll work on what I can see and get my arms around, and then worry more about the bigger issues later, which will still be out there.

  51. Natalie B, ordination of High Priests has changed over the years. It used to be done either because your calling required it, such as a bishopric member, or when you got to some indeterminate older age, which could vary from ward to ward. Eg, I was made a high priest at the age of 36, being one of the “older” 20% population of our ward at the time.

    Now, it is pretty much only done when the calling requires it, as it has been explained to me.

    And Kristine, I really don’t mean to imply that my explanation was just to placate us as to why women are not ordained. The more I think on it, I do believe there is something to Priesthood Authority, I just haven’t had any one able to explain it to me adequately why it doesn’t extend to women. So Steve, there is something there, but I don’t have that answer.

  52. It seems to me that what Elder Oaks was talking about with the “priesthood line” is not so much the offices of the priesthood, which are commonly held, but rather the keys of the priesthood, and in particular the general authorities.

    Holding the priesthood or not makes no practical difference for the vast majority of the callings in the church. The YW president presides over her organization as much as the YM president presides over his (arguably more, since it’s the bishopric that is the presidency of the Aaronic Priesthood, and the YM presidency is really in more of an assistant/advisory role).

  53. Natalie B. says:

    I’m interested in this discussion of how we tend to define priesthood as “service.” As I have had conversations with non-members recently, I find myself increasingly say that what I value about the church is “service” and “community” rather than particular doctrines.

    In general, the less comfortable I am with certain doctrines because they don’t comport with modern ideas about equality, the more I re-define religion in terms of service and community. While people always resonate with these values, some ask why go to that church if it is just about service. Often I don’t have a coherent response.

    To some extent, I really do find service and community what is ultimately most valuable about church. But I also recognize that I frame church in that way because it is difficult to reconcile doctrinal beliefs with deeply held secular ones. It is just very difficult for me to have a doctrinal view of the world that I am comfortable explains things accurately.

  54. If priesthood and church are just “service” and “community” then they are empty husks and should be discarded.

  55. right, Kevin–I wasn’t really replying only to you, even though you happen to be the person who said it this time. It’s a very common justification, so whatever pique there was in my tone has to do with having heard the idea many times in less benign contexts. Sorry about that.

  56. “making every decent thing one does a Priesthood duty tends to trivialize the notion of Priesthood”

    It is precisely being decent in the trivial things that makes the notion of Priesthood important.

    Someone becomes a High Priest when it becomes more likely that they will fill a Temple assignment and not a moving assignment. My grandfather was an Elder well into his 60s, and after a senior couples mission, because he had a large pickup truck and an appliance dolly. When his eyesight failed to the point that driving wasn’t wise, they made him a High Priest.

    And as far as every decision being subject to approval or veto by a man – that’s not the mark of a Priesthood authority, that’s the mark of an ineffective micromanager. If you’re going to call people into positions, give them some rope and then let them run with it. Give advice if consulted, speak up when clear policies are being violated, but otherwise stay the heck out of the way.

  57. 54 In my mind it makes sense like this – there are three facets of the priesthood – its authority, its power, and its use.

    Its authority is the framework, getting it by laying on of hands, and each person is accountable to those above him (the prophet being accountable to Christ) – (this facet tends to be the part that people have problems with – if they have problems with the idea of a patriarchal or beareaucratic or authoritative priesthood)

    Its power comes from the faith of the priesthood holder, the faith of the person receiving blessings/ordinances/service/etc. A person may have the priesthood conferred on him (what I referred to as authority) but it is powerless unless used in accordance to D&C 121. This is what gives the priesthood its validity.

    Its use is always (read: should be always) for the benefit of others. I can’t think of a single proper use of the priesthood for the aggrandizement of self. All callings in the priesthood are service callings. A person cannot bless nor ordain onesself. This is the “service” aspect referred to.

    At least this is how I compartmentalize it in my mind.

    Again going back to my earlier comment – I think this is perfect form priesthood. Obviously we can all think of times when priesthood has been used a)without authority, b)without faith, or c) most egregiously – without proper use – for self-glorification. But IMO these circumstances are all invalid uses, and not priesthood, but merely the misperception of priesthood.

  58. The premise of this post sounds a lot like what President Packer said in the April conference:

    Some years ago I gave a talk entitled “What Every Elder Should Know: A Primer on Principles of Priesthood Government.” Later, when it was to be published, I changed the title to read “What Every Elder Should Know—and Every Sister as Well.”

    I include the sisters because it is crucial for everyone to understand what is expected of the brethren. Unless we enlist the attention of the mothers and daughters and sisters—who have influence on their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers—we cannot progress. The priesthood will lose great power if the sisters are neglected.

    Perhaps his talk answered a need?

    I actually feel the same way you do, Natalie B. I feel like I understand and have a testimony of how the priesthood functions in our home and my relationship to my husband’s priesthood as it relates to home. I struggle more with the priesthood of church administration. Maybe it is because it seems temporal to me (we won’t have church administration in eternity, right?) or because I know I won’t ever get to participate (or get to make a decision that doesn’t have the potential to be vetoed by the priesthood leader I serve under) or because I don’t like the side-effects (like some men who think their priesthood grants them some sort of superiority, particularly the right to call me to repentence for absoluately ghastly things like questioning a priesthood leader). But, I suppose that a good place to start would be President Packer’s talks?

  59. A couple clarifications on CHI distribution.

    As has been mentioned, Book 1 is for Bishoprics and Stake Presidencies. Book 2 contains information on the administration quorums, auxiliaries and other functions (MP, AP, RS, YW, Primary, SS, Music, Libraries, Gospel Teaching & Leadership, selected policies, etc.

    While Book 1 is only to be distributed to stake presidencies, bishoprics, mission presidents, temple presidents, and up, Book 2 (the entire thing) is to be distributed to everyone listed above plus everyone who is supposed to attend ward council (HPGL, EQP, RSP, YMP, YWP, PP, SSP, WML, ES, clerk). If you are like me and have been called to one of these positions in the last few years, you will have probably noticed that the handbooks are not being passed on, and since it is difficult if not impossible to order new books, you are left without a Book 2.

    However, just about every person in a calling should have some section of Book 2. This is not my personal recommendation, btw – this is according to the distribution instructions in the CHI itself. For example, if you serve in a YW calling (counselor, instructor, etc.), you should have the YW section. If you teach in any capacity, you should have section 13 (Gospel Teaching & Leadership). If you serve on the Activities Committee, you should have Section 10 (Activities). And while you can wait to get it through your ward leadership, it is probably faster if you just order yourself, which, at least as of a few months ago, anyone can do online through the church’s online distribution center. The individual sections are free.

    Section 13 is pretty neat, btw. It is the section that describes all of the stake and ward council meetings – their purpose, how often they are to be held, who is supposed to attend, and (in general terms) what is supposed to be on the agenda. It also describes principles of leadership in the church – how to conduct a meeting, how to effectively delegate, and how we should model our leadership (after the Savior).

    Sorry for the long post. This could all change in 2 weeks at the WW Leadership Training meeting.

    (BTW, from my quick preview of the exterior of the new handbooks, they are in 2 books – divided the same way as the last 2, from what I can tell – and actually look a little bit thicker than the previous books.)

  60. Natalie B. says:


    I will definitely look that talk up. Thanks.

    However, the more I’ve thought about this post, I think I’m realizing that the real need for testimony building is not just to learn facts about the priesthood but to be able to have a meaningful experience with it outside the personal context. Without participating in it, I’m just not sure that it can ever mean that much to me, because I’ll never really have a feel for what it is. I don’t think this is necessarily a good thing, but it is probably inevitable under the current system.

    Then again, maybe I just can’t separate out my feelings on this issue from the negative feelings I have about having to report in callings to priesthood leaders, etc.

  61. I totally hear you, Natalie B.

  62. Natalie,

    For what it’s worth, every office holder in the church (male or female) can have their actions “vetoed” by those in authority over them. This is not some special limitation on women. I have been vetoed several times and was once politely rebuked for what I thought were reasonable actions as Sunday School President. I won’t even mention the trouble I occasionally got into as a missionary (and I was a straight arrow!) Take care.

    — Tom

  63. Tom–the difference is that in the case of a woman, her sex consigns her to permanently inferior status. It’s not the same.

    The analog (strictly in terms of organizational power dynamics–I’m not comparing the content of the experience) would be arguing that it was ok for black people to be slaves, because some white people were indentured servants. I have confidence you’d find that argument distasteful.

  64. Natalie–I suspect that the sentiment you express in 61 probably underlies the failure of education on these topics, at least unconsciously. Girls don’t need to know this stuff in the same way as boys do, so of course we’re going to pay more attention to whether or not boys are picking up the lessons. (That doesn’t mean some girls won’t learn them too, only that we won’t be as deliberate in teaching them). I imagine a dad (even a non-chauvinist one) is more likely to take a minute before giving a blessing to explain the proper form to his watching 14-year-old son than to his twin sister in a similar circumstance. It’s not malevolent, it’s not even deliberate, but the effect is pernicious nonetheless.

  65. Natalie B. says:

    65–I think you are exactly right Kristine.

  66. #65 “I imagine a dad (even a non-chauvinist one) is more likely to take a minute before giving a blessing to explain the proper form to his watching 14-year-old son than to his twin sister in a similar circumstance. It’s not malevolent, it’s not even deliberate, but the effect is pernicious nonetheless.”

    But it’s not true. The explanation is not so the son will learn how to give a blessing, it’s so the recipient understands how and why it’s given.

    FWIW, my daughters learned these lessons from me. My older sons, on the other hand — they could not have cared less and no longer participate in church.

  67. Paul–there could be more than one kind of explanation. I’ve seen both the “this is how you do it” kind and the “here’s how a blessing works” kind. a) is more likely to be given to a boy.

  68. #3 and others who have talked about how Natalie could have missed things:

    In my experience, I was profoundly subordinate to my husband in terms of understanding how the church functions administratively (what is the difference between a branch and ward, what kinds of things can get you ex’ed, what are the requirements for baptism, what do GAs do besides speak in General Conference, how do Ward Councils function what do they talk about, encyclopedic knowledge of Mormon rumors and esoterica, etc).

    Any time I found there was something he understood that I didn’t, further prodding almost universally revealed that it was something he had picked up on his mission. This includes direct experience (dealing with branch/ward governance very directly because he was in an area with undeveloped local leadership, receiving instruction from visiting general authorities and seeing what they’re like outside of General Conference, preparing members for baptism–or finding out they’re ineligible), or through late-night chit-chat with companions.

    So, I think it really comes down to the mission and its function as initiation into the church administration world. It isn’t a gender issue per se, except to the extent that more men have the mission experience than women.

    The YW, SS and RS lessons many have cited don’t cover the kinds of things I’ve found were lacking in my understanding. I think they’re a great idea, but largely irrelevant to this discussion, at least in my experience of the “I don’t understand this and men do” thing.

  69. Natalie B. says:

    63: After musing on your comments, I think it is probably likely that men just don’t understand how women are asked to interact with priesthood leaders because they don’t experience it.

    For example, in my current calling–genealogy–I was told that I could not even visit someone to help them without first being assigned them by a high priest who didn’t even know what was going on. This is just one example of the autonomy that I have often found lacking when women receive callings in the church, because of the fusion of priesthood/administration. I suspect that men who were aware of this dynamic would find it uncomfortable, too.

  70. In my previous ward, an elderly sister was the ward’s chief resident on genealogy, and she was always going around helping people. I don’t think the bishop, RS president, or anyone else knew any of the specifics of what she did–just that she was doing it, and that was primarily known because members would say, “If you need help with your family history, you should call Valerie! She’s amazing!”

    I served as the Temple and Family History Committee Chair in my singles ward, and was given copies of the CHI section that were relevant. There was nothing that said anything about a family history specialist needing to be assigned in order to assist others. It was, rather, encouraged that members in the committee (men and women) work as autonomously as possible, much like extraction workers do. So I see your example as not a lack of autonomy but a considerable level of heavy-handedness, instead.

  71. Here is the thing, Alex. The church has no way to deal with “heavy-handedness” in use of priesthood authority. It could be argued that it encourages heavy-handedness simply by the lack of a means for official review or complaint. And Stake Presidents and Bishops of a certain outlook might be less likely to listen to complaints because: 1) the Spirit inspired them to choose that priesthood holder or 2) they agree with what that priesthood holder is doing.

  72. It is a struggle. At home and at church I did learn a fair bit about the priesthood…the organizational side and the ordinance side–including fabulous temple prep.

    The thing about the ordinance side is it is meant to be done exactly as Christ would do it…to the extent that if a word is misplaced, it is redone.

    On the organizational side…what happens when some idiot in the name of “heavy handedness” does something and says something really stupid? Can I call for a redo? It’s a fine line a woman walks…the Hannah line…correcting while still availing oneself to the blessing to come at the hands of those you chastise. The mistakes can be at such personal and intense moments, an embarassed sorry later doesn’t quite seem to cover the ground…if even that much is forth coming.

    Yet we have a volunteer clergy…so there are lots of reasons and excuses for mistakes or intentional harm done.

    presisthood at the home can suffer the same fate…teh power of God all confused with the idiocy of man. It can be beautiful and powerful…and it can also be devestatingly misused.

  73. Natalie B. says:

    I agree John–one person’s heavy-handedness is another’s fulfilling his priesthood role. One problem that this discussion is illuminating is that I don’t think we have a very articulated idea of what precisely that priesthood role is supposed to be in an administrative context.

    While defining that role would surely create problems of its own, I think Britt makes a good point that the current system leaves us with a fair amount of discretion that there is little productive check against when it produces bad outcomes or leaders overstep–especially in a culture where we are trained to follow priesthood leaders.

  74. My primary wish in regard to this post is that women who have been endowed in the temple were taught more actively and fully about the Priesthood power and authority they have been given as a result – even though it doesn’t translate into performing and administering ordinances outside the temple at this time.

    My second wish is that women (of all ages) were taught more actively and fully about the power and authority they have as daughters of God, as baptized members who have received the Gift of the Holy Ghost and as members who have been set apart in callings by the administrative authority of the Priesthood.

  75. Ray, those are noble wishes, and I share them. The only problem with phrasing it that way is that it makes it sound as though women who feel (/are) inferior in the current arrangement just don’t get it–that if someone (presumably the men who are in charge of the curriculum committees, the temple presidents, etc.) would just teach them properly, they would think or feel differently. It still doesn’t put women in a powerful subject position with respect to their understanding of priesthood authority or church administration. And it doesn’t really do anything to address the problem that experiential knowledge is the most important kind, and, as you note, “at this time” women are prohibited from gaining that kind of knowledge.

  76. Kristine, that is probably the worst way to read it. It certainly isn’t meant that way. I’ve never said, “Women just don’t get it, so it’s their fault.”

    Fwiw, I feel the exact same way about the men and the Priesthood – that I wish they were taught more actively and fully about their own power and authority as well as that of women. It’s a comment about leadership and vision much more than about anything else.

    Finally, how would you suggest I address “the problem that experiential knowledge is the most important kind” differently, especially since I actually did address it in the very next part of what you quoted – when I said, in your words, “as you note, ‘at this time’ women are prohibited from gaining that kind of knowledge”? That addresses it just about as bluntly as it’s possible to do.

  77. Wow–I really didn’t say any of that well. Sorry, Ray. I know you didn’t say “Women just don’t get it.” And I really wasns’t responding as directly to you as you read me–I should have clarified that I was responding to the general situation that makes your wishes the loftiest one can really entertain right now.

    I appreciate the clarification about men needing better education, too. My frustration is simply that women are always constructed (not by you, but by the institution) as passive, as recipients of education and blessings, not bearers and initiators and teachers. (Though it sounds really absurd to be unhappy about being the recipient of those things :))

    And, of course, you _can’t_ address the issue of experiential knowledge more than you did. I was meaning “address” in the sense of actually doing something about it, not speaking to it, which you clearly did.

    Sorry again for seeming overly critical of you–really, truly wasn’t my intention. (Especially because we haven’t seen you around these parts for a while. Glad you dropped by!)

  78. I like to think I have a fair bit of knowledge about the church functions administratively – that somehow I got the lessons that Cynthia L. (#69) missed. I’m pretty sure that it’s b/c I grew up in a branch and was a lot closer to the goings on than many YW who are one of scores of other YW and there are a plethora of people to fulfill all callings. When your YW president is also the branch music director and the organist and you are playing the organ for Sunday School at 16 and teaching Primary at 18 and waiting at the church for several hours every Sunday for your dad’s meetings and watching the various people move in and out of the bishop’s office, you learn a lot.

  79. I should clarify that growing up in a branch gives anyone – male or female – a closer look at how a church works, although you also get a closer look at some of the odd ducks at church as well.

  80. It’s cool, Kristine.

    I was rushing to get to a church bonfire, ironically, so I didn’t take as much time to breathe and edit as I usually do. You got the immediate reaction. :)

  81. I’m not sure why this hasn’t been mentioned yet, but this is all going to change in two weeks. All quorum and auxiliary presidency members are going to be given the full CHI book two at the leadership broadcast on Nov 13. It will be a momentous meeting, so if you are in a presidency, don’t miss that meeting! We will all soon be able to easily know more than ever before about how to run the church programs.

  82. Note: I will be traveling that Sunday, with no control over my schedule. Someone please get me a new CHI book two.

  83. Rob,

    “We will all soon be able to easily know more than ever before about how to run the church programs.”

    That all depends on what “all” means.

  84. Natalie B. says:

    I glad that the CHI will be made more available. I find it quite perplexing that it isn’t already publicly available to all members.

  85. Ditto to Kristine in 84.

  86. Natalie, I took his talk n a different way I guess. I related it to my Sister-in-law who like alot more women these days are now single after 18-20 years of marriage. She complains that there is no priesthood in her home (except her boys) and doesnt seem to be able to get herself out of the ‘woe is me’ rut. I took his talk to say that she and other women in similar situations should rise up and take charge of their families rather than wait around.
    His quote:
    But the authority that presides in the family—whether father or single-parent mother—functions in family matters without the need to get authorization from anyone holding priesthood keys. That is like the personal line.
    She always said that she couldn’t do anything in disciplining the boys, fixing things basically running the family. Most of her problems would be solved by just doing what she can.