The following is a segment of an address originally given by Latter-day Saint Wendy Ulrich, Ph.D., at the FAIR Mormon conference and reposted with permission:
“Who can hold the priesthood and how do they get it?”
Men are given priesthood authority by being ordained to specific offices in the priesthood by the laying on of hands by other priesthood leaders and holders and through the ordinances and covenants of the temple. They may be given specific priesthood duties and keys that authorize them to oversee aspects of the work of the Church and they delegate priesthood authority to others.
Women are given priesthood authority to fulfill specific assignments in the Church by the laying on of hands of men who hold Priesthood keys. Women are also endowed with priesthood power in the temple. Women can thus use priesthood authority to oversee and do the work of the Church in the Relief Society and other Church auxiliaries, perform specific priesthood ordinances, bring themselves and others into the presence of God, and act in the earth for the salvation of the human family.
The specific roles and responsibilities men and women assume differ somewhat, but both men and women can be given priesthood authority, they exercise priesthood power, they perform Priesthood ordinances, they are endowed, clothed, or vested with priestly identities, and they enter the Holy Order of the Son of God.
Let’s consider the evidence for each of these five assertions one at a time.
1. Women are given priesthood authority.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks says, “We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be?"
His next words reveal a useful distinction for me, showing that he’s not just talking about women in the Relief Society or as temple ordinance workers, but he’s including the young woman who lines up with her peers at 6 a.m. at the door of the temple to perform a priesthood ordinance of baptism and confirmation for the dead:
“When a woman, young or old, is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.”
Apparently, the endowment also conveys specific priesthood authority of some kind to women as well as to men. Elder M. Russell Ballard, speaking to the sisters of the Church at last year’s BYU Women’s Conference, says, “Like faithful sisters in the past, you need to learn how to use the Priesthood authority with which you have been endowed to obtain every eternal blessing that will be yours.” So, women and young women can hold priesthood authority.