Could we Sustain the Female General Officers of the Church as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators?

This past conference, President Nelson announced additional changes to the ecclesiology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among other things, ward young men’s presidencies are discontinued, and their functions are shifted to Bishops, who are to put more of a focus on their role as the President of the Aaronic priesthood in the ward, consistent with D&C 107 (see WVS’s excellent series for some background on the history of section 107 and how the church has applied it) and delegate more of their other responsibilities to the presidencies of the Elders Quorum and the Relief Society. Young Women’s and Relief Society (along with Primary and Sunday School) are no longer “auxiliaries” and are now referred to as “organizations,” and their presidencies are now called “ward officers,” “stake officers,” and “general officers” rather than auxiliary presidents. The Bishop still ultimately presides over the entire ward, but by eliminating the Young Men auxiliary and arguably elevating the Young Women and Relief Society organizations, this change arguably puts Young Women closer to parity with with Aaronic Priesthood, and, with the earlier elimination of ward-level High Priests Groups, it arguably puts the Relief Society closer to parity with the Elders Quorum at the ward level.

How President Nelson’s Ecclesiological Changes are Similar and Different to Correlation.

I am sure that other people smarter than me will comment on this change, but it strikes me, similar to previous changes by President Nelson, as both consistent with the impulse that motivated the priesthood correlation movement in the church in the mid-twentieth century, and a departure from the tactics and methods of correlation. Correlation seems to me to have been motivated at least in part by a concern to reconcile the ecclesiology that developed over time with Joseph Smith’s revelations that don’t seem to provide for church organizations other than priesthood quorums. Similarly, President Nelson in making these recent changes has emphasized the importance of hewing more closely to section 107. (I’m not suggesting that these changes are strictly textualist–President Nelson is not afraid to let some things remain that aren’t provided for in the revelations, but they seem to me to be motivated by a desire to at least incrementally hew closer to the revelations on priesthood.)

But the tactics of correlation and the tactics of President Nelson’s changes are different. Correlation sought to realign the ecclesiology of the church with the priesthood revelations by reasserting the primacy of the priesthood and subjugating other organizations to priesthood, relegating any non-priesthood organization to the role of an “auxiliary” to the priesthood/church. The recent changes, by contrast, seem to reassert the primacy of the priesthood by eliminating an auxiliary like the Young Men that seems to duplicate a role that the Aaronic Priesthood can fill as the Young Men’s ministry, but at the same time, it is more nuanced: because of the gendered nature of the priesthood, the Aaronic Priesthood is not well-equipped to serve as a Young Women’s ministry, so the solution seems to be not to eliminate the Young Women auxiliary, but to have it mirror for girls the role that the Aaronic Priesthood serves for boys, and elevate it from a mere “auxiliary” to a organization of the church itself.

Similarly, the recent emphasis on the ministrative and administrative role of the Elders’ Quorum presidency not just for Elders, but for ward members in general seems like a way to reassert the primacy of the role of the Melchizedek priesthood quorums in the ward, and it has come with a similar emphasis on a mirroring role for the Relief Society. In that sense, these changes seem to be much more sensitive than the priesthood correlation movement was to issues of gender inequality. Straight-up ordination of women appears, at this time, to be a non-starter, but these changes seem to be in search of ways, short of ordination, to at least have men and women and boys and girls in complementary organizations that serve in similar roles with similar authority (even if they are ultimately all presided over by a man as bishop).

Certainly there is more than the church could do, even short of ordination, to bring men and women in the church closer to equality in administrative authority. It could allow women to serve in other non-priesthood roles like clerks or Sunday school presidencies, for example. But this post’s purpose isn’t to criticize the changes for not going far enough; its purpose is to think about how they changes may open the door to something closer to gender equality. And on that point, I think the change from auxiliary presidents to church officers is potentially significant.

Now, you might say it’s just words, but here’s why I think I think it matters: An “auxiliary” suggests something non-essential. Something that’s connected to the church, but separate from the core church organization itself. A church “officer” by contrast, suggests that a role that is itself part of the core church organization, not just part of an auxiliary to the core church organization. For a long time, church leaders have discussed the Relief Society as a women’s organization that’s comparable to the priesthood, but eliminating ward-level high priests groups and emphasizing the role of the Relief Society as an administrative partner with the Elders Quorum, and emphasizing that partnership in relation to the bishopric makes that a little closer to reality. And if that’s the goal, then it makes sense to recognize the Relief Society’s presidency not just as leaders of an auxiliary connected to the church, but as church officers themselves, just as the Elders Quorum presidency are officers of the church (see D&C 107:21, 60).

Joseph Smith’s revelations don’t make any provision for auxiliaries, but they do provide for “officers” in the form of priesthood presidencies. And in that sense, you could view this change away from auxiliaries to church “organizations” with their leadership explicitly recognized as church officers as part of the effort to hew more closely to those revelations. But calling Relief Society leaders and Young Women’s leaders “officers” of the church (ward officers, stake officers, or general officers) is also significant change because “officers” is a term that is, in the revelations always given to priesthood leaders (D&C 107:21; 124:123). And this is where President Nelson’s changes radically depart from the approach of correlation. While both are arguably motivated by a desire to adhere more closely to Joseph Smith’s revelations on the priesthood, these changes arguably add to those revelations by adding a new category of “officers” in addition to those priesthood officers that the revelations provide for. Like I said above, they are not strict textualist changes. They take the revelations seriously, but they don’t take them as exclusive.

Recognizing and Emphasizing the Ecclesiastical Authority of Women

We will have to wait and see how these changes shake out in application, but one thing that these changes should do is that they ought to encourage members to recognize the ecclesiastical authority of women serving as church officers. A woman serving as a church officer (like Young Women President or Relief Society President, for example) should have just as much institutional authority as a man serving as a church officer (like Elders Quorum President, for example) to “expound the scriptures and to exhort the church” (D&C 25:7). I am not talking about liturgical authority here–the authority to perform priesthood ordinances (as I noted above, that appears, at present, to be a non-starter). But that doesn’t preclude women from exercising another kind of ecclesiastical authority–the authority to speak authoritatively on scripture and doctrine and to prophetically proclaim the message of the restored gospel.

At the general church level at least, the female church officers have proven more than adequate to this task. President Eubank, President Marriot, and President Aburto (to name a few examples of talks that I’ve personally found to be powerful and moving) have all recently spoken prophetically in general conference. So it’s not a question of their worthiness or ability to exercise this kind of authority; it’s a question of whether we, as a church, are willing to accept them. If women are to be recognized as church officers with this kind of authority, then there should be nothing to preclude the female officers of the church from authoritatively addressing even exclusively male audiences–like, for example, the female general officers speaking in a general priesthood session.

But some men in the church seem resistant to the idea of women exercising this kind of authority. I recently heard about a conversation about suicide and depression where a priesthood holder had refused to read or listen to Sister Alburto’s most recent address–even though it was directly on the subject of the conversation–because he felt that the message, coming from a woman, and given in the women’s session of conference, was a message that was “just for women,” and not for him as a man and a priesthood holder in the church. This is a secondhand story, but I’ve personally observed the same kind of attitudes in the past and it;s not hard for me to believe. This kind of attitude can only from from a false idea that women are and should be unequal to men in the gifts of prophecy and revelation in the church. Sure, men aren’t invited to the general women’s sessions of conference, and women aren’t invited to the general priesthood sessions, but that has never stopped us in the past from using talks given by general authorities in general priesthood session as the basis for talks and lessons for all ward members. There’s no reason why that can’t be reciprocal. And the church has made recent steps to raise the profile of the women’s session, first with President Uchtdorf casually referring to the women’s meeting as the opening session of general conference a few years ago, then with President Nelson making that official and emphasizing it by moving it to the same weekend, putting it in the same time slot as priesthood session. President Nelson making new temple announcements in the women’s session is consistent with that pattern to raise the profile of the women’s session of conference. So is his offering a “teaser” for the women’s session by noting, after announcing certain changes, that the changes would be explained in more detail at that meeting by President Cordon.

Prophetesses, Seeresses, and Revelatrixes?

I’d like to think about the implications of recognizing women as church officers, not just auxiliary officers. I wonder if we couldn’t recognize the ecclesiastical (if not liturgical) authority of women by expressly affirming them to be equal to other church officers in their authority to speak authoritatively on church doctrine. We sustain the First Presidency and the Twelve–whom the revelations refer to as church officers–as prophets, seers, and revelators. If the female general officers are also church officers like they are, could we sustain the female general officers of the church as prophets, seers, and revelators?

Surely there’s nothing inherently objectionable about a woman having or exercising the gifts of prophecy, seership, or revelation. Eliza R. Snow was often called a “prophetess” by contemporary church members and leaders. We seem to believe that the conferral of priesthood keys can also include these gifts, but these spiritual gifts don’t always require priesthood ordination. The spirit of prophecy, says the Revelation of John, is nothing less than “the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 19:10) and “the spirit of revelation” says Joseph Smith revelation, is nothing less than the Holy Ghost. And surely there’s no reason why a woman would have any less access to the testimony of Jesus or to the Holy Ghost than a man. 

But maybe the title “prophet, seer, and revelator” isn’t literal. Maybe instead of meaning literally a person who exercises the gifts of prophecy, seership, and revelation, it only means a person who exercises ecclesiastical authority. If so, does that exclude women? Before the most recent changes, the answer would arguably be yes. Previously, women only exercised authority in their own “auxiliary” organizations, and they arguably had no institutional ecclesiastical authority with respect to members that weren’t part of their organization. But now they have been church officers–officers not just of an auxiliary under the church, but officers of the church itself–and, as I’ve tried to show above, there’s reason to interpret that change as recognizing them as having ecclesiastical (though, again, not liturgical authority–at least outside of the temple). And, President Nelson’s remarks at the women’s session make this point precisely, repeatedly referring to section 25, which refers to Emma smith being ordained to this authority. So if the women serving as general church authorities have ecclesiastical authority, then there should be no inherent obstacle to expressly recognizing that authority by sustaining them on equal terms with the other church officers, the general authorities.

Admittedly, Joseph Smith’s priesthood revelations don’t apply the title “prophet, seer, and revelator” to women. But that alone shouldn’t be a reason to conclude that women can’t be sustained as prophets, seers, or revelators. This is true for at least two reasons:

First, we already sustain church officers as prophets, seers, and revelators that the revelations themselves don’t apply that title to. The earliest mention in the revelations of the role of prophet, seer, and revelator applies that title only to Joseph Smith himself (D&C 21:1). Later revelations do the same (D&C 124:125) but also apply the title to his brother, Hyrum, then serving as Assistant President and Partiarch, and also expand it more generally to the role of President of the Church (D&C 107:91-92). But in no case to the revelations ever apply the title of prophet, seer, and revelator to anyone other than the President of the Church (or the now-defunct offices of Assistant President or Presiding Partiarch). But in spite of that, our historical and current practice shows that we don’t view that as exclusive. At the solemn assembly dedicating the Kirtland Temple in 1836, Joseph Smith called upon the assembly to sustain the Twelve Apostles and the Presidents of the Seventy as prophets, seers, and revelators, even though no revelation applies that title to them. And church practice since then has been to sustain the First Presidency and the Twelve as prophets, seers, and revelators. So there’s no reason to conclude that only those officers named prophets seers and revelators in the revelations can be properly sustained as such.

And second, as noted above already, those same revelations also only apply the title of “officer” in the church to priesthood officers, but President Nelson’s recent changes, recognizing women as officers in the church show us that he doesn’t view that as exclusive either. So the fact that the revelations only apply a particular title to those that have been ordained to the priesthood is alone not a sufficient reason to conclude that that title cannot also apply to others in the church that are not priesthood officers.

Conclusion

As for myself, I already recognize that the female general officers of the church (as well as other women I’ve known in the church) have and exercise the gifts of prophecy and revelation. And I am glad to uphold them in their callings by my “confidence, faith and prayer” (D&C 107:22). But formally recognizing them as officers of the church, like the Twelve, entitled to the spiritual gifts of prophecy, seership, and revelation in the same way that we recognize the Twelve by a vote to sustain them as prophets, seers, and revelators, could be a powerful rebuke to the false idea that men don’t have to listen at church when a woman is speaking because she has no authority to prophesy to him. And it would be in keeping with President Ballard’s repeated message over the years that priesthood leaders cannot effectively and righteously exercise their priesthood authority in the church without counseling with women in the church as equals. It’s not my intention to tell the general authorities how to do their jobs, but as I see it, there’s no scriptural obstacle to sustaining the female general officers of the church as prophets, seers, and revelators, or to inviting them to speak in priesthood session as church officers. I believe doing so would both reinforce the brethren’s recent emphasis on women’s authority and could help to fight sexist ideas among church membership.

Comments

  1. You say that we sustain the other officers of the church as prophets, seers, and revelators, but do we? I thought we only do that for the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. I’ve never picked up on us doing it for the Presiding Bishopric, the Presidency of the Seventy, the General Sunday School Presidency, or for any of the Quorums of the Seventy.

  2. That’s correct. Current practice is to sustain the first presidency and the twelve as prophets, seers, and revelators. Joseph Smith also extended it to the presidents of the seventy.

  3. I think Nelson hewing closer to the D&C is a fine change, however, perhaps they should allow bishops to call more than two adult counselors seeing as his job description has grown, the quorums he is in charge of are still composed of juveniles, and he has not been given any more hours in the day to operate. On the point of sustaining female general officers as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators, I disagree. Not because I think women don’t have these spiritual gifts or shouldn’t be publicly recognized as possessing them, but because I think we should stop sustaining The FP and QT as P, S and R’s as well. There is no scriptural reasons to do so based simply upon ecclesiastical office. They so rarely exhibit such gifts that our regular sustaining are in vain. They have perfectly good scriptural titles, “Presiding High Priests” and “Apostles” “Special Witnesses”, that we could sustain them as instead. Finally, the sustaining as P, S and R’s sets up unrealistic expectations both for the sustainers and the sustained. It’s a hard pass from me for sustaining even more people with these titles regardless of their sex.

  4. “But some men in the church seem resistant to the idea of women exercising this kind of authority.”

    This statement is true, but avoids the complicated reality that opposition to women’s authority in the church is at least as strong among women as it is among men (in my experience I’ve seen it to be even stronger). Importantly, I do not believe this opposition is inherent in how women view themselves. Rather, it is a result of at least three reasonable concerns women share to one degree or another: (i) a concern that if women exercise more authority the men will drop out, (ii) a concern that if a woman is called to lead over men she will not receive the same level of deference and sustaining that flows to men, and (iii) a concern that if women take on more roles of authority, the respect our culture holds for women of prior times who did not exercise the same level of authority will diminish.

    The good news is that, as sisters take on more and more responsibility, these concerns are slowly eroding. But that erosion requires not only active change (repentance?) by brethren, it requires active faith by sisters to take hold of and exercise authority.

  5. Good point, Dave.

  6. Trying to read the culture, not scripture or history, I believe the specific “prophet, seer, and revelator” label would have one meaning only–“pay attention at General Conference.” For that alone it would be a positive change. I’d like to see it happen.

    Culturally, sociologically, (in my opinion), labels are a very small part of authority. Maybe necessary–and a positive step for that–but far from sufficient. What matters in real life is being in the room where the real discussions happen and decisions are made (rubber stamping after the fact doesn’t count), and being empowered by common consent–ground up recognition–to say yes, and no, and make it stick. I don’t see a necessary relationship between the PS&R label and invitation into judgment and decision making.

  7. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Now that women (and children) can be witnesses for baptisms, they can exercise oversight on priesthood holders. A woman can now decide that the ordinance wasn’t performed correctly, and have the male priesthood holder repeat the ordinance. These situations will typically be amicable, but there may be instances where a man is not so receptive to that oversight. I welcome those as opportunities, and am interested to see how they play out.

  8. Of the many changes that the church has made, elimination of the YM presidency is the one that gives me most pause. From my uninspired perspective, that looks like a disaster. Essentially, that turns the bishop into both the YM pres and the presiding high priest. Give whatever lip service you want to the EQ Pres and RS Pres handling more of what have traditionally been the bishop’s responsibilities, but the fact is that bishop is still on the hook to deal with anything involving money or transgression, and most crisis in the ward involve at least one if not both of those things. You could put the EQ in charge of funerals and marriages I guess.

  9. But it’s not just the bishop I’m worried about. A YM pres and a YW pres are equivalent officers — equal. A YW pres. is not equal to a bishop. Instead of having equal men’s and women’s roles when it comes to youth activities and coordination, the YW Pres has become subordinate. Furthermore, bishoprics will change a lot. The guy best equipped to issue callings, assign sacrament talks, and manage administration when the bishop is away is not necessarily the best guy to be in charge of the Teacher’s Quorum.

  10. christian, your first paragraph succinctly sums up the point of the post. As to your second point, that being sustained with this label doesn’t ensure administrative authority, I agree.

  11. Turtle, you’re probably right that the way witnessing works now it includes an obligation to ensure that the ordinance was done properly, which implies a sort of veto power. That said, historically, my sense is that witnesses were only there to certify the fact that the ordinance happened, and not that it was done correctly. I sort of wonder if we’ll see a return to that, but who knows.

  12. Martin, it will be interesting to see where things go from here. I wonder if we’ll see even more of an emphasis on the Elders as an administrative body. I almost wonder if we may even see a return of the old “Presiding Elder” position. But who knows?

  13. Jared: I reread your OP after posting and recognized that I had essentially summed up. On the one hand, that means I agree. On the other hand, it’s mildly embarrassing to not recognize that’s what you’re doing until after the fact.

  14. “Furthermore, bishoprics will change a lot. The guy best equipped to issue callings, assign sacrament talks, and manage administration when the bishop is away is not necessarily the best guy to be in charge of the Teacher’s Quorum.”

    The BIshop and his councilors taking responsibility for the AP quorums has always been the case in my lifetime. It’s just rarely followed because Bishoprics gave the “lead” to the Young Mens Presidency’s who again rarely followed the council that they were actually advisers and not leaders, and the Aaronic Priesthood quorums gave up their leadership responsibility to their advisers.

    If you noticed, the announcement made specific reference to still calling additional advisers to the quorums — can you guess who will fill those? — The young mens presidencies I imagine. Hopefully, hopefully! those advisers will not pick up the reigns and just take charge in anything but assisting others to understand and perform their duty.

    I do find it interesting that this change has eliminated a male voice from Ward Council. Not sure if that’s been explicitly stated. So in the last couple years, we’ve removed two men from Ward Council, and before that we completely eliminated the idea of Priesthood Executive Committee. So the church clearly is acting in a way that let’s women take more responsibility.

    Let’s go out and do something wonderful with what we have, rather than insisting on more changes before giving our hearts and time in service to the Lord.

  15. I agree with Martin on both of his points. If a bishop hasn’t already made the youth a high priority, a workload increase probably won’t do it. And a YW president with an authoritative bishop now has even less of a voice for the youth.

  16. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I agree, Jared. The role of witness is usually just an honorary position. But, technically, there is a function of oversight, which brings up interesting implications now that women and children to perform that role.

  17. I hear you, Martin, but that oversight function appears to be a recent innovation.

  18. Last Lemming says:

    Concerning the issue raised in the OP, I half-way agree with CwB. I am fine with extending the titles of prophet and revelator to female officers, but am uncomfortable extending the title of seer to anybody who has not demonstrated the specific talents associated therewith (which covers everybody currently living).

    Following up on some of the comments, how do we take a load off of bishoprics and let them focus on the young men? Here are some ideas for our prophets and revelators to consider:

    1. Give the EQ and RS full responsibility to staff, in addition to their own organizations, the ward mission, the family history corps, and the Sunday School. The bishop would retain responsibility for staffing only YM, YW, and Primary. The bishop, EQ pres and RS pres would have to resolve conflicts over personnel in a new council.

    2. Allow the EQ and RS presidents to handle routine temple recommend interviews instead of bishopric counselors. The bishop would only interview first-timers and nonroutine renewals.

    3. Have the EQ and RS presidents each assign one sacrament meeting talk and one prayer each week.

    4. Allow the EQ and RS presidents to schedule use of the bishops office for interviews. If you want people to turn to someone other than the bishop, they will be more willing if it can be done in a setting more inviting than a classroom.

  19. 1st Sgt Warden says:

    I hate officers. I’ve always hated officers.

  20. Last Lemming, that’s a great list. As a member of a bishopric I’ve been thinking about the elimination of the YM president quite a lot. You would think that a bunch of men who had been bishops and who supposedly have the pulse of the membership would know the demands on a bishop. It’s only going to be a few extraordinary bishops, either in talent or in time, who will successfully add YM president to their role without letting something else slide, or let YM slide while continuing their role as before.

    You can’t just vaguely hint that EQ and RS need to take the burden off of bishops, GAs have to make specific structural changes so that can happen. Right now the bishop is still CEO and CFO of every ward and he’s going to be just as involved in everything until the people above them change how wards function. Your list is a great start to that restructuring.

  21. Former EQP, YMP, SSP, WML, B1STC, WC says:

    I think the point is to force bishops to let things other than the youth slide. Either that other ministering will be picked up by the EQ and RS or it must not have been very important/appropriate in the first place. The bishop need not be involved in any of the financial or counseling issues he usually is embroiled in now other than to authorize payments and formally certify that repentance has occurred in cases that would affect temple worthiness. The hours and hours of counseling people that bishops now do can be done by the EQ and RS or certified professionals. Even callings don’t need nearly the attention from the bishop currently paid. What’s the point of having organization presidents when their staffing is micromanaged higher up?

  22. Jared Cook,
    What is this “presiding elder” position you speak of? I have seen the title in church publications from the 19th century, but it generally referenced what we refer to today as “branch presidents.”

  23. Agreed with Former etc, etc.
    Our stake just had leadership training where they specifically had us thinking of ways to not involve the bishop and the executive secretaries were told to suggest other avenues when people call for an appt with the bishop – ” is this something you can talk to the RS president about instead?”. It will take some time to change the culture that the bishop is the first and only person to go to when there’s a problem, but I think that’s the intent if the structural changes.

  24. That’s right, Old Man. It was similar to branch president.

  25. Jes: That’s fascinating that stake leadership is trying to relieve the Bishop. But I wonder. If the Bishop is still ultimately responsible for deciding who can told a temple recommend, and who can receive tithing funds, then I personally would not be at all interested in first speaking to somebody else about the matter, as eventually I’m still going to end up seeing the Bishop, and now two people have had to spend time being involved in my personal life. It seems like an unkind screening process. Similarly, unless my RSP or EQP is a licensed therapist, I’m not sure how they would help me. At least some Bishops receive some training on listening to people, when to access the abuse hotline, etc.

    If eventually RSP and EPS will have discretion over these matters, it seems like more opportunity for leadership roulette within the boundaries of your own ward.

    Did they happen to explain any more of the logistics?

  26. Former EQP, YMP, SSP, WML, B1STC, WC says:

    Chadwick, I think the point is that the vast majority of bishops’ counseling time is not taken up by the serious issues you’re talking about, and even when issues are more serious, regular meetings with the bishop aren’t terribly effective. The way this was described to us about six months ago by our stake president is that we (the Elders) have a whole quorum of people with life experience and skills, so why do we so seldom use those resources? Why are we constantly heaping it all on the bishop? Why not have the bishop (or EQP or whatever gatekeeper) look for others in the quorum to partner with brothers who need help with learning financial management/being a better husband/overcoming addiction/whatever. If someone is embarking on a long-term repentance process, why not just have the bishop meet with them at the beginning and end of the process and have others step in to do the week-to-week support work. Like maybe…ministering brothers/sisters… Yes, this involves sharing our problems with more people, and that may not always be appropriate (if it isn’t, the bishop may not be the right person either, since he isn’t a trained counselor), but often all that sunlight may be a great disinfectant and a nice way to destigmatize the things we all struggle with. I see leadership roulette as less of a problem when more people are involved. When it’s all on the bishop, you’re stuck with that one person for five years.

  27. I feel like I want to hear women’s voices in the comments.
    As a woman, I’ll say that the three reasons mentioned as to why women have a harder time accepting women in leadership does not mention the biggest reason:patriarchy. We have been told for thousands of years that it’s not God’s will. We have been told it’s apostates like Kate Kelly who want ordination. So, for us to open our hearts or minds to even thinking we can want that is to equate those thoughts with apostates who have paved the way before us and for us to one day (hopefully in my lifetime) be ordained.
    Sustaining is nice, but it’s throwing us crumbs. Witnessing is nice, but it’s infantilizing us with the “women and children can witness.” And I also agree with the commentor who mentioned that our leaders rarely use their prophecy and revelation, so sustaining as such seems unnecessary unless they’re in the act of being a seer or revelator.
    I know you said ordination is a non-starter, but either being ordained by laying on of hands matters or it doesn’t. You get the priesthood when the hands go on, or you don’t. The double-talk of saying we have it but don’t use it, or we use it only in the temple (but haven’t had laying on of hands there to get it) doesn’t work for us…or men. The hands on head ordination matters or it doesn’t.
    At this point, we are thankful and grateful for what seems like a more equal playing field by being thrown these crumbs at least so we don’t look as foolish to our LDS friends/sisters who have look at us weirdly for our “feminist” comments. Now, they can say, “See, we DO have the priesthood, but we just don’t USE it.”
    I recently heard Jana Reiss speak about her book and she mention that educated men stay in the church, but a higher number of educated women leave. Someone commented, “Maybe that’s because educated men get elevated into leadership roles, while educated women do not.” Amen to that. Not only are we usually not elevated, but we are often put in quieter corners.
    So, here’s to all the women like me who are still hanging in there by our fingernails. Here’s to the men who have a voice, have the priesthood, but are most importantly elevated to leadership roles where the can be and bring the change—where they can echo our voices so much that maybe one day God will hear them.

  28. Gg- I have no doubt that God hears women’s voices but I long ago stopped believing that men in charge hear Gods. Maybe that’s cynical but I just don’t believe in a God who only wants crumbs for his daughters.

  29. Starved, thank you. As for sustaining female leaders in conference, it’s nice, but then it’s another way for our friends to say, “See, they recognize us because they’ve made this huge revelatory change, so stop wanting more. Be content.” It would, however be nice for my young daughters to see more women at the pulpit or sustained. Might even be nicer if my daughters could pass the sacrament. Crossing my fingers and toes.

  30. A calling to be an “officer” in the Church is a calling with a future release date. The 15 men we now sustain in General Conference as “prophets, seers, and revelators” have lifetime callings. Until women can be called as apostles (and I fervently hope for that day), I don’t see how we can sustain them as prophets, seers, and revelators in General Conference.

  31. J. Stapley says:

    I really enjoyed the post, JKC. I am a fan of “officers,” I think likely because it is rationally descriptive and not making up some weird linguistic or theological construction. If you hold an office in the church, you are an officer. You could be a priesthood officer or a Relief Society officer.

  32. Prophets? Seers? Revelators? Members sustain them as such, I suspect, with out much thought. It falls into the category of vain repetition. What have those 15 men actually done that qualifies them or evidences that they are prophets, seers, or revelators? It all seems like an empty title to me. What they should be sustained as is teachers, speakers, testifiers, administrators, policy makers, and doctrine gatekeepers, and priesthood authority gatekeepers. I am not trying to criticize these men. I’m just saying the obvious. We can all try to fool ourselves that President Nelson is receiving revelation, but the way the church in general defines revelation now is so watered down. We have turned every little policy change into revelation. What has really been revealed, seen, or prophesied?

  33. Former, I suppose the divine plan could be to overload bishops to the point of letting things slide and then hope that they let the right things slide, but shouldn’t we expect more from prophets, seers and revelators than a plan we would get from a mediocre, uninvolved, clueless mid-level bureaucrat?

  34. I am sympathetic to what CwB and Tim are saying and find myself unable to avoid taking the issue a bit further–I realized suddenly one day that even female ordination and exact ecclesiastical parity of the sexes would not completely relieve my misgivings about the notions of spiritual authority in the LDS church. I wouldn’t be much more interested in or impressed by a group of 15 women or 8 women and 7 men who claim to receive revelation for other people…I think that’s fundamentally wrong. I absolutely believe it is intended that we collaborate together and share even very strong and specific opinions–but I think making an even subtle shift from “This is the will of God,” to “I believe\feel strongly that this is the will of God,” is necessary. In essence, I think achieving equity between the sexes is critical, but I think it’s only one step (albeit a big one) in the right direction.

  35. Ryan Mullen says:

    “but the way the church in general defines revelation now is so watered down.” Perhaps. Or perhaps the revelatory processes of Joseph Smith were more similar to the revelatory processes of Russell Nelson than we typically care to admit. It seems to me that Joseph was comfortable framing mundane matters of church governance (e.g. extending callings, calling on missions, changing church offices and responsibilities) as revelations–so much so that many sections of the D&C contain more counsel specific to an individual than applicable to a general audience.

  36. Gg, thanks for sharing your voice here. It’s important.

    Thanks, J. I agree. It’s important, I think, that they’re not just auxiliary officers, but “ward officers,” “stake officers,” and “general officers.”

    CJ/CwB/Tim, I think sustaining somebody as a prophet, seer, and revelator is more aspirational than descriptive. Prophecy, sight, and revelation are spiritual gifts that can’t be conferred by a vote, but only given by God. In my view, sustaining is a petition to God to give them those gifts and a pledge to receive them, more than it is a recognition that the given leader already has those gifts. Here’s an old post where I talked about that. https://bycommonconsent.com/2018/01/18/the-president-of-the-church-and-the-prophet-to-the-church/

  37. Jared, Thanks for this and the link to the old post.

  38. John Mansfield says:

    My bishop had asked me a couple days before to meet him Sunday morning, a couple hours before General Conference. Following the Saturday afternoon session, I wrote to him, “After Elder Cook’s talk, do you still wish to meet with me tomorrow?”

    As we conversed Sunday morning on how his calling had been modified, I mentioned where he had been a year ago that week: visiting my wife and those with her each of the last ten days before her death. He said he had been thinking of such things and planned to continue making time for cases he thought he should. No one expected his daily time with my family a year ago either, but it was given. We’ll see in the years ahead how it goes for bishops and the wards they preside.

  39. Be that as it as may, the frequent sustainings seem to me in vain. The noble aspirations of the membership towards our leaders seem to be the scaffolding that props up a system that isn’t working. It doesn’t feel right to me that every six months, not to mention at local conferences and during interviews, the body of the church puts their confidence in fifteen men, not to do their best as a presiding priest or elder/apostle, but to prophesy, to see past present and future beyond normal human capability, and to reveal the mind of God to us with a high degree of accuracy. Doesn’t their record thus far give you pause? I think the Community of Christ model is better: Seeking to be a prophetic people with presiding officers to handle the day to day execution and lead out in new revelation being received and accepted by the body. That’s my understanding of it at least. But what do any of us know, nobody sustains us as Prophets nor Seers nor Revelators? Those closely guarded appellations.

  40. CwB, I get it; you don’t like sustaining. But I must confess I don’t understand the difference between your description of the Community of Christ and what I understand sustaining to mean in this church. Though I recognize that lots of members have a pretty shallow idea of sustaining

  41. Jared no that’s not it. I am fine sustaining my bishop, EQ pres etc. I think automatically sustaining anybody as a P, S or R without any evidence of these spiritual gifts is unscriptural, pointless and in fact harmful to the church. It creates misplaced, sometimes even blind confidence. That’s the difference between our system and what I understand CofC’s system to be. As you say, lots of members have a shallow understanding. I think it’s most members and pretty much all general leadership that has a shallow and warped understanding of these issues. I would point to this talk from April Conference as an example of how its taught in the church. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/04/34eyring?lang=eng
    I just don’t want to be misunderstood. I know I have somewhat derailed the purpose of your post and I didn’t mean to do that. Sorry.

  42. Yeah, I understand you, CwB. When I said “sustaining” I meant that as shorthand for “sustaining as prophets, seers, and revelators.” Sorry for the confusion. Listen, I agree with you that lots of members treat sustaining the brethren this way in a shallow way, but I don’t think it’s nearly as dire or as monolithic as your comment suggests. The Eyring talk you posted, for example, strikes me as pretty benign for the most part. He doesn’t say much of anything that I find inconsistent with the idea that sustaining as prophets, seers, and revelators is aspirational rather than descriptive, for example. I may just have to respectfully disagree that it’s as bad as you suggest, but I think I understand you and I appreciate where you’re coming from.

  43. Honestly, I’d just like it if President Nelson would actually read the Doctrine & Covenants, and especially Section 107. Maybe the apostles could go back to being the “traveling high council,” and only have authority outside the regularly constituted Stakes of Zion, and a stake presidency could work up the nerve to tell the Twelve to go pound sand when they’re given some goofy directive, or instructions to discipline some poor schlub for questioning the infallibility of the top leadership. We might get rid of some of the leader-worship that distorts our doings down to the lowest levels. This was the Lord’s clear intent in Section 107 and I’ve never seen any revelation to the contrary.

    “Aren’t we just rearranging the deck chairs here?”

    “That isn’t a deck chair. It’s a weather-rated relaxation apparatus. Shut up and drag it over here, would you?”

    Gg says, As a woman, I’ll say that the three reasons mentioned as to why women have a harder time accepting women in leadership does not mention the biggest reason: patriarchy.

    I think that was Dave K.’s comment, and I think all three of his reasons equate to patriarchy.

    #1 – Men are going to slack off or step away if women become leaders? Like men have done in business and everywhere else as women have made inroads, you mean? As a “reasonable” concern I think you have to be grasping at straws to take this one seriously.

    #2 – A woman called to lead over men might not receive the same level of deference and sustaining that flows to men? Why not? Could it be millennia of patriarchy and an explicitly patriarchal culture in the church, which has actually gotten worse in the last 20 years?

    #3 – “If women take on more roles of authority, the respect our culture holds for women of prior times who did not exercise the same level of authority will diminish.” I think this one is just plain made up (not by Dave, to be clear). We don’t look back on the suffragists with less respect now that women have had the vote for a century. We don’t, as a rule, look back on our pioneers with disdain, or forget them, simply because the difficulties have been overcome. It’s both counter-intuitive and counterfactual to think otherwise. Oh, yeah – and why do we pedestalize women worthy of respect who “did not exercise the same level of authority”? So we can (patriarchially) point out that being oppressed wasn’t so bad; look how much (_________) was able to accomplish!

    By all of which you can take it, accurately, that I am skeptical of treating all of this administrative musical chairs as “revelation” in any real sense, and that sustaining the Q15 for me has come to mean essentially recognizing them as the Church bureaucrats authorized to exercise all administrative keysfunctions for the guiding of the institutional Church. That’s fine. Just don’t expect me to jump through a bunch of hoops trying to make it sound like it comes from a burning bush.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.