How does the priesthood apply to women?


The priesthood is something I’ve found incredibly confusing ever since I was in Young Women’s. Whenever people talk about the priesthood, it always goes in one ear and comes out the other. I don’t retain the information because I don’t feel it applies to me. And, it seems that the priesthood is only about men. After all, the men’s quorum is always referred to as “Priesthood.” The men are referred to as “the priesthood.” And the men’s session of general conference is also referred to as the “Priesthood session.” Then there’s always all the talk about priesthood keys, priesthood leaders (which only refers to male leaders) and priesthood offices, which only men get.

You can see why I tended to disassociate the priesthood from me. Yet, we often hear at church that the priesthood is available to all and that people receive all the blessings of the priesthood. We are told that women receive all the blessings of the priesthood. My question is: if women receive all the blessings of the priesthood, then the priesthood must apply to them too, right? And if so, then why are men referred to as the priesthood and why are men’s meetings always called priesthood meetings? Isn’t it more correct to label the men’s quorum or conference session with a word other than “priesthood?” Church members always associate the priesthood with men, and at the same time teach that everyone has access to the blessings of the priesthood. Can you see why I get mixed messages?

I really appreciated the article “Connecting Daughters of God with his Priesthood Power,” which appeared in the March 2019 Ensign. It’s written by Barbara Morgan Gardner, a BYU associate professor of Church History and Doctrine.

It’s no surprise that, as the writer puts it: “Many women, not knowing what blessings they have access to, are not taking full advantage of the spiritual feast available to them” (31). The writer says that women need to “step forward” and “take their rightful place…in the kingdom of God” (31).

I believe that a few things could have been improved in the article. For example, the quote by Gordon B. Hinckley says that women “stand in an associate role to the priesthood” (32). I think a better word could be used instead of “associate.” “Associate” can mean “partner” but it can also mean a “subordinate.” The word “associate” is vague and can be interpreted as either an equal or someone of lower status. I prefer the word “equal” or “partner” instead of “associate.”

The article mentions several great things that people never talk about at church. I once was in a Sunday School class and we were learning about the ministering of angels, which the scriptures mention in regards to Aaronic priesthood offices, and one woman raised her hand and asked, “Does this relate to women too?” The teacher said she didn’t know for sure but that she believed so because we all receive the blessings of the priesthood. When I heard that, it was like a lightbulb went on in my mind. I had always thought that the ministering of angels was something that only those with the Aaronic priesthood had access to, or at least, I thought that this was what the scriptures were saying. But at that moment I realized that I have to separate the blessings from the usual descriptions of the priesthood in order to apply it to women.

The article states that “Both women and men are delegated power and authority by those who hold priesthood keys” (32). This idea is very unclear at church. We’ve only had hints of this idea spoken by apostles in General Conference. Elder Oaks has provided several quotes that talk about this idea, and I’m grateful that he’s providing more insight about how women use the priesthood. When I read that God gave men the power “to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood” (32) I admit I feel uneasy. I think to myself, why did God give the priesthood to men only? Why is this based on gender? Why do men get to make decisions about the church? Is it possible for women to make decisions about the church, while at the same time not having the priesthood?

I have so many questions but very few answers. I also think to myself: if priesthood-holders are allowed to delegate, then why don’t they delegate more opportunities to women? Why do they get to decide and make major decisions for the church? Shouldn’t women be able to do any thing in the church, since the priesthood can be delegated?

“Women have authority to perform their callings, under the direction of one who holds priesthood keys, just as men do” (32). I like that it recognizes that women have authority, but I cringe a bit when it says that they have that authority because of a man. I also liked that it reminds us that men have to answer to others as well, but it would be nice if men answered to women too (besides male primary workers answering to the female primary president). I like it when things are reciprocal and equal.

Another issue I see with this quote is that it makes it sound as if a man is needed in everything, but I don’t believe that’s true. I don’t believe that God would leave women without some kind of power. And I’m not just talking about the Holy Ghost. I like to think that women have something that we don’t know about yet. Wouldn’t God have given some kind of divine power to women as well? I think that women do have a divine power, but that it goes unrecognized by church members and that members also don’t know much about the women’s power, perhaps because it doesn’t have a name.

The article asks who would preside if a joint Stake YM and YW presidency meeting were taking place. I personally had never thought of this before, nor did I think it could happen. Since both presidents were given the authority by the Stake President, then they “both have the same priesthood authority and therefore neither presides over the other” (33) and can take turns presiding. I was glad the writer addressed this. I honestly had never known about this. I thought that men with the priesthood always had more priesthood authority than women did, but I guess that’s not true when it comes to certain callings. I once attended a joint Relief Society and Elder’s Quorum meeting, and the RS president kind of stood by and let the EQ president direct the meeting. I don’t blame her for thinking that men should preside; this kind of thing is so widespread everywhere in the Church. I was so disappointed in how the meeting went. And to be fair, it was the first joint meeting and ministering had recently come into place, so I guess it was a new thing for everyone.

Then there’s the question of spiritual gifts. It seems that sometimes people equate certain spiritual gifts (like healing and revelation) with the priesthood. However, President Joseph Fielding Smith said “The Lord offers to his daughters every spiritual gift and blessings that can be obtained by his sons” (33). If this is the case, then women too can exercise the healing power. This isn’t just something that men can do. One example I can think of is Amanda Barnes Smith, one of the early church members, who healed her son’s hip. While church materials often explain this in terms of revelation and the power of prayer, I believe this story is principally describing a healing. The woman healed her son. Surely women must have some kind of divine power since they’re able to do these things without having priesthood office.

One thing that makes me cringe is when women talk as if they need a priesthood holder in their home in order to have added blessings. I hear this all the time in sacrament meetings. But what about the temple? Don’t women officiate in priesthood ordinances there? Both men and women talk about the priesthood as if women are missing something and as if men are adding something to the women’s lives. For example, when people talk about single women, they tell them they can ask their home teachers for blessings and such. That’s fine and all, but it also makes it sound as if single women are defenseless without a priesthood-holder, and that is just not true. Don’t women have the Holy Ghost? Don’t women have priesthood power? There’s no reason to talk about women as if they’re incomplete or lacking in God’s power. The article says “…women can have priesthood power in their homes regardless of a visit from a priesthood holder” (33). Men are not mediators between women and God. The article states that women can access priesthood power “without any mortal intermediary” (33).

I hope we get more articles about the women’s access to the priesthood, because it would be great to understand more clearly how women use the priesthood. I hope “priesthood” becomes a word that refers to women and women’s organizations as much as it refers to men and their groups. It’s about time for women (including myself, of course) to stop feeling like the priesthood doesn’t apply to them. I sincerely hope we get more clarity on this issue. I’m not an expert on the priesthood by any means (far from it, actually), but I hope that women start taking their rightful place, as the article said. Perhaps that can only be achieved when we learn more about how women use the priesthood.


  1. Excellent Dani! I agree with everything you’ve written and I think Barbara Gardner’s Ensign article is one of the best writings on the priesthood I’ve ever read. I also agree with Barbara that one of the biggest issues with the priesthood is lack of knowledge and understanding, that most members of the church, women and especially men, don’t have a clear understanding of the priesthood.

  2. Things have changed so much in the last 20 years with regards to priesthood and women. Church publications didn’t refer to women as having priesthood authority back then. It is changing, however slowly. We could definitely use more clarification of doctrine

  3. I am a single woman with “no priesthood in my home.” I had a medical problem many years ago and was looked at by three different doctors who could do nothing for me. I called my Hometeachers asking for a blessing but didn’t want to come over because it was “too late” and they had “already been away from their families for too long.” I sobbed and asked the Lord if that was how things worked in his Kingdom – those with priesthood access get help, those without don’t. I cried myself to sleep. When I woke up I was healed. So much for needing a priesthood holder in the home.

    • Lily, I am a single mom and have had similar experiences. Sometimes I’ve been made to wait two weeks for a blessing. Or they couldn’t come until they found someone to come with them, because oh no a man cannot come into my house unaccompanied. I’ve stopped asking. There is no joy or comfort in receiving a blessing when it is such a hassle. I reckon the Lord can comfort/bless/heal me and my kids without us being such a bother to others.

  4. Great article. At the same time, I do not see opportunities to “step forward” and “take their rightful place…in the kingdom of God.” The administrative structure of the church is based pretty much exclusively a male domain. My daughters aren’t even allowed to handle the microphone on fast sunday, much less pass the sacrament or do really have any responsibility at all. I don’t even see possibilities for me. I very sincerely would love specific suggestions on how to step forward and participate.

    • Very good point! I too am still trying to figure this out. I think that a few things that help (even though they’re small) is to not refer to men as the priesthood, to talk about the gift of healing as something that anyone can do, and to talk more about women having priesthood power/authority. I try not to let things get to me, but sometimes they still do.

      • Another thing I could think of is to serve without being asked. For example, something I’m currently trying to do is to become friends with the people I minister to. I’m not seeing it as an assignment, but as a person I’d like to get to know and become friends with.

      • Thank you! I can see how these are small, yet quite significant. Just not referring to men as the priesthood would create a substantial change. Small things matter.

  5. I’ve spent a lot of time lately as a ministering angel. The door is never locked. Usually it is already ajar. I don’t quite understand why you would need a key. . .

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