Recent LDS events in the news have focused on a small group of women who are challenging longstanding traditions and even LDS doctrine. In light of this situation, many members are unsure how to respond when others ask about this hot-button topic.
To help you in your explanations to others, here are some important points to remember as you discuss women and the priesthood:
Church Policy and LDS Culture vs. Doctrine
An important distinction that must be made when discussing gender equality in the Church is the difference between Church administrative policy, LDS culture, and true doctrine.
Because the Church is a large entity operating internationally with millions of members, rules are put in place to keep things running smoothly and consistently. Examples of Church policies relevant to this issue which are maintained by man include things like the missionary age.
LDS culture is similar to Church policies in that these items can be changed by man. They are customs not dictated or sometimes not even endorsed by the Church that members continue to do simply because that's how they've always been done. This includes things like only having men give prayers at meetings.
Then there's doctrine. This category covers things that can only be changed by God. This is where the priesthood falls. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained in his most recent conference address, "All keys of the priesthood are held by the Lord Jesus Christ, whose priesthood it is. He is the one who determines what keys are delegated to mortals and how those keys will be used."
Recent Changes Made by the Church
While recent changes made by the Church may be informed by more recent current events, their origin is not rooted in them.
Last month, LDS spokeswomen Jessica Moody said in a statement, "Conversations about giving more visibility to women have been going on for some years." (Note: that's well before the official Ordain Women movement gained traction in the past year.)
The results of these conversations have started to come to fruition with the Church changing some policies and working to alter LDS cultural norms. This includes having women pray in general conference, broadcasting priesthood session of conference online, and hanging pictures of the female general presidencies in the Conference Center. Decisions like these, Moody said, are outcomes of those conversations. More are expected to come in the future.
But even with the many strides the Church is taking to ensure equality between men and women in every arena, it's important to remember that sameness is the enemy of happiness. The Family Proclamation reminds, "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” Elder David A. Bednar shared, "For divine purposes, male and female spirits are different, distinctive, and complementary. … The unique combination of spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional capacities of both males and females were needed to implement the plan of happiness.”
So while important changes will doubtless continue to be made, there will never be a day when men and women are the same. Equal, yes. The same, no.
Women & the Priesthood
A concern many advocates of female ordination have is that because men "have" the priesthood and women "don't," the blessings of the priesthood are being withheld from women. This worry is unfounded. As Elder Oaks explained, "Priesthood power blesses all of us. Priesthood keys direct women as well as men, and priesthood ordinances and priesthood authority pertain to women as well as men." Another important distinction he outlines is that "men are not 'the priesthood.' Men hold the priesthood, with a sacred duty to use it for the blessing of all the children of God."
Another teaching from Elder M. Russell Ballard adds this insight: "When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which is priesthood power. ... Access to the power and the blessings of the priesthood is available to all of God's children."
And in her new book, Women and the Priesthood, former Relief Society General Presidency second counselor Sheri Dew shares this invaluable insight about the difference between priesthood keys, authority, and power: "Priesthood keys authorize saving ordinances. Priesthood authority is required to perform those ordinances. Priesthood power is available to all who receive those ordinances." Thus, anyone, regardless of gender, who has successfully received a saving ordinance has the privilege of having direct access to priesthood power for their own life and responsibilities.
Equality & Women in the Church
The basis for the question about why LDS women don't hold the priesthood is rooted in the larger concern that inequalities exist between men and women in the Church, and the feeling that women are treated like second-class citizens. Some women in the church do feel this way, and when broaching this subject, it is important never to belittle how a person feels. But instead of focusing on what women "don't get," consider the following statements from authoritative figures about what women do get in the LDS church:
President Hinckley said it this way: "People wonder what we do for our women. I will tell you what we do: we get out of their way and look with wonder at what they are accomplishing."
Sheri Dew explains this concept further in this now-viral clip taken from a Time Out For Women talk she gave in Salt Lake City:
Remember what Nephi said, when the angel asked a question he did not know the answer to: "I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things." Even though we might not accept or understand everything as it is, the most important thing to keep in mind is your personal testimony. God and Jesus love us. They want the best for us. They want to give us every blessing, and will not withhold anything we need from us. And like any parent knows, gender does not play into that pure love.
If you want to learn more about current LDS discussion on this topic, be sure to check out some of these additional resources.
Women and the Priesthood, by Sheri Dew
In this enlightening book, Sheri Dew discusses the varying responsibilities of men and women in the context of key doctrine of the Church, including the eternal truths that women are vital to the success of the Lord's church, that God expects women to receive revelation, and that both men and women have access to God's highest spiritual blessings.
Women and the Priesthood shows how studying the doctrine of the priesthood reveals the answers you seek about women and the priesthood, about women in the Church, and about the vital influence righteous women can have in the world.
"Blessings of the Priesthood for All," by Sharon G. and Cecil O. Samuelson
"Lesson 13: Women and the Priesthood," from The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part A
"Women, Priesthood, & Mormon Theology," by Linda & Richard Eyre via Deseret News
"Pondering Mormon Women and the Priesthood," by Mormon Women