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Is Conversation Surrounding Women’s Access to Priesthood Power a Recent Development? + Why We Shouldn’t Answer Questions When We Don’t Have Answers

by | Jun. 15, 2019

Makes You Think

It may seem to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that discussion surrounding women and the priesthood has increased in recent years. While that could be true across Church membership, Barbara Morgan Gardner, an associate professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University, says that the doctrine of the priesthood and women’s access to it has not changed. Additionally, she says that in studying the words of previous Church leaders, she has found that talk of women’s access to priesthood power is “blaringly there.”

Read Barbara’s comments on the subject below or listen to the entire episode here.

Morgan Jones: You mentioned earlier, Barbara, that one of the things that President Nelson and the leadership of the Church have really been stressing is to understand this and that by striving to better understand it, we're really standing with them. I have a friend that said to me, "I feel like it's (and she was referring to our understanding of women's roles in accessing priesthood power) broadening and changing so fast. How do we keep up? How do we not get ahead of ourselves?" And I really liked that question because I thought it was very honest. And I think we do look at it, and it's shifted so much just in the past few years. I remember, you know, being younger and never hearing conversations about women accessing priesthood power, but now we're hearing it more and more and more. And it's not that anything's changed. But how do we keep up with what we're learning and absorbing?

Barbara Morgan Gardner: Yeah, I appreciate a couple of things you said there, Morgan. One of the things is about it not changing. The access and maybe the emphasis and the position of women and their use of priesthood definitely has been stronger, as I mentioned earlier. But the doctrine of the priesthood has not changed at all. It has been the same since the days of Adam, and one of the greatest takeaways from my studying is [that] the priesthood is the power of God. And God has always had power. And he has given that power to Adam and Eve, to Abraham and Sarah, and to Joseph and Emma, and to President and Sister Nelson, and to every worthy member of the Church who has received their endowments, and also another blessing for those who have been sealed in the temple. I'm actually very conscientious about single women and making sure that they are recognizing this because I was single till I was 40. And the blessings and promises of the priesthood are relevant for single as well as married women. So, I'm just going to throw that in for a second as well.

As far as how do we, how do we not get ahead of ourselves, or the Church or the brethren, the number one thing I would say is stay close to the brethren, and the auxiliary leaders, the female leaders as well. Listen carefully to their talks, read and reread what they're saying. Whether it be at general conference or in other settings, Education Week, women's conferences, and study the scriptures very closely. And then most important, listen and pray for the guidance of the Spirit. And all of the things that I have learned regarding the priesthood, especially for women. I've been shocked that although we've been emphasizing it more in the last few years. It's always been there. I have gone through so many Ensign articles, and so many general conference talks, and so many teachings of Joseph Smith especially and it is blaringly there. And I think that we've gone through ebbs and flows of it being taught, but it ebbs and flows, there are times when it's being taught more and times when it's being taught less. But the brethren are quoting Joseph F. Smith, and they're quoting Joseph Smith. They're not just quoting themselves, which I find very fascinating.

But I think as we also work on, I know, for me as publishing or talking about things in my classes, and being careful with talking to friends or family, I'm cautious to know enough about what the brethren are saying to not say things that are guesses or explanations that haven't been given. I'm careful to know my sources and to be able to go back to those sources, and the term I use is “triangulate.” I will look at what President Nelson says and see if there's another one of the apostles recently who has said something similar. And then I'll go to my scriptures and see if it's also there. And I take it to the Lord, and the Spirit, and I just pay attention. And I can honestly say I've yet to find a time when the Spirit hasn't confirmed what President Nelson has said, or President Oaks has said. And I think if we stay close to the brethren and stay close to the Spirit, stay close to the scriptures, we're in very safe territory.

MJ: I think that is so, so wise. I was thinking about how recently I've been thinking about how when you say I don't know an answer to something. I think that's one of the wisest answers that can be given to any question and then seeking that knowledge and how important that is so I love that idea of triangulating. How did you say it?

BMG: Triangulating.

MJ: I like that a lot. So, Barbara, next, I want to ask you about—

BMG: Can I give you just one more thing on not giving answers?

MJ: Please, yeah.

BMG: President Oaks has a great quote, a talk and a great quote where he talks about not giving answers to questions that the Lord hasn't given answers to. So, for example, many have asked why women are not ordained to a priesthood office. I loved President Hinckley's answer to that. His question was simply, "I don't know. The Lord has not revealed it." As members of the Church, I have heard so many answers to that question and similar questions. And just something I have learned and I have a testimony of that's very strong: If the Lord hasn't given an answer, we shouldn't be giving answers. If you want to cause confusion and you want people to question testimonies and really struggle in the Church is to give an answer to a question God hasn't answered. And the topic of women and the priesthood is one of those extremely important topics. The answers are as fluid and as far-fetched as I could possibly imagine. And they're never good. God hasn't given the answer, so we simply do not know.

MJ: Yeah, if President Hinckley didn't know the answer, we probably don't.

BMG: And President Nelson hasn't given us anything more. He's just asked us to learn more and to act on what we do now.

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