For a more in-depth look at this topic, check out, "5 Ways Women Are Already Given Priesthood Authority and Officiate in Priesthood Ordinances in the Church."
Although this authority has been a revealed part of the Church from the beginning, it has not always been clearly understood by many Church members. This article seeks to clarify this important doctrine by explaining three ways women have priesthood authority in the Church and one way that is unique to men.
Note: I am not the first to write on this important topic. Barbara Morgan Gardner (Helping Female Students Rise to their Spiritual Privileges, Religious Educator 18, p. 117-139) and Wendy Ulrich have examined many of the same prophetic sources and drawn similar and related conclusions. These articles have inspired me and I recommend them to the reader who desires to know more about the topic of women and the priesthood in the LDS church.
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1. Women have priesthood authority in their Church callings.
In a landmark talk on women and the priesthood, Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught: “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? When a woman—young or old—is set apart … she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function … Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties” (Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign May 2014). As this powerful statement declares, women are given priesthood authority through the setting apart to their Church callings.
Although this was a novel idea for many members of the Church, it is grounded in the early revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants. For example, only three months after the Church was organized, the Lord told Emma Smith that “thou shalt be ordained under his [Joseph Smith’s] hand to expound scriptures, and exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit” (D&C 25:7).
In our day we use the term “ordain” exclusively for priesthood ordinations of men and would use the term “set apart” to describe the authority Emma is promised here (see footnote 7a). However, we should recognize the importance of this revelation in establishing the role and authority of women in the Church. Despite statements in the Bible that “women keep silence in the churches” (1 Cor. 14:34), this early revelation restores the rightful and authorized place of women in the Church to teach and preach scripture just like ordained elders (see D&C 20:42 for the same language describing the work of elders).
Furthermore, the Lord has revealed that “all other authorities or offices in the Church are appendages to this [Melchizedek] priesthood” (D&C 107:5). This means that the auxiliary organizations of Relief Society, Young Women, Young Men, Primary, and Sunday School, are all appendages that are attached to the priesthood. This means that they derive their authority from the priesthood to assist in the work of salvation.
Indeed, as Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained, “it is truly said that Relief Society is not just a class for women but something they belong to—a divinely established appendage to the priesthood” (Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign May 2014). This is in harmony with what the Prophet Joseph Smith taught when he first organized the Relief Society “in the order of the priesthood after the pattern of the Church” and commissioned them to not only “relieve the poor,” but to “save souls” (See Gospel Topic Essay: Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, Women).