Have you ever wondered how women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints work with priesthood holders to build the kingdom of God? As a woman who is a lifelong member of the Church, I have observed and experienced women working with priesthood holders in homes and in the Church for my entire life. While serving as the president of the Relief Society in our ward, I had the opportunity and blessing of meeting monthly with the Bishop to discuss the needs of sisters in the ward; I also had the opportunity to meet with the leaders of priesthood quorums and other auxiliaries each month. My working relationship with the Bishop was very much like a good marriage: he held the position of “head” of the ward, and I took care of the “heart” of the ward. I have a good understanding of how women work with priesthood holders in furthering the work of the Lord and preparing for eternal life. I know that both men and women have important and valuable responsibilities.
I understand that men do not hold the priesthood to benefit themselves. They hold the priesthood to serve and bless OTHERS. They can give father’s blessings to their families, but they cannot give one to themselves. They can use their priesthood to perform ordinances for other people, but they cannot perform an ordinance for themselves. They need to seek that service from another priesthood holder just as women do. Women are natural nurturers and, as mothers and co-creators with God, are constantly serving others. The priesthood gives men a way that they, too, can serve others.
Leaders of the Church speak highly of the sisters and treat us with great respect. On 8 March 2000, President Gordon B. Hinckley became the first President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to address the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where more heads of state have appeared than at any other forum in the United States except the White House. The audience included members of Congress, ambassadors and other diplomats, members of the interfaith community, and journalists from around the world. President Hinckley used the following information to begin his talk. (“President Hinckley Speaks to Press, Legislators, Diplomats,” Ensign, June 2000)
“I have chosen to speak on the Church, giving a sampling of its operations. We now have more members overseas than we have in the United States, and the percentage overseas is growing, although we are growing significantly also in the United States. I believe that no other church which has risen from the soil of America has grown so large or spread so widely.
“It was not many years ago that we were largely a Utah church. Now our people are found everywhere across this nation and Canada, and beyond the seas around the world. We are now operating in more than 160 nations. Our worldwide membership is approaching 11 million. [There are currently more than 14 million members in the Church.]
“Of these, approximately 4 million are women who belong to what we call the Relief Society of the Church. I think it is the oldest women’s organization in the world and perhaps the largest. It has its own officers and board, and these officers also sit on other boards and committees of the Church. 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.
“I think I might capsulize what we are doing across the world by telling you of an experience I had. I was in Mexico City to speak to the graduating class of the school which we operate in that area. I was introduced to one of the graduates, a young woman. Her mother and her grandmother had come for the exercises.
“The grandmother had lived in the bush. She had never learned to read or write. She was totally illiterate. Her daughter had received a little schooling, not very much. She could read a newspaper headline or something of that kind. Now came this beautiful young woman. She was in the graduating class. I asked her, `What are you going to do now?’
“She replied, `I have received a scholarship to the medical school of the National University.’
“That to me was a miracle. From the bush and total illiteracy to refinement and medical school in three generations. She spoke not only her native Spanish, but English as well. She gave full credit to the Church and its programs for what had happened to her.”
In 1995 the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles introduced and published a document known as “The Family – A Proclamation to the World.” This document outlined the divine responsibilities of men and women, husbands and wives. Two paragraphs of the Proclamation are as follow:
“Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. `Children are an heritage of the Lord’ (Psalms 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives – mothers and fathers – will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.
“The Family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.”
I understand that some women in the Church think they have been short-changed by being “deprived” of the priesthood. I have never felt the personal need to hold the priesthood because I have always understood that the blessings of the priesthood are available to me. In fact, I know that I have the best of both worlds: I have all the blessings of the priesthood without any of the responsibilities. I carry enough responsibilities as a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and member of the Relief Society, and I do not need or desire any priesthood responsibilities.
A friend explained the relationship between women and the priesthood as follows: “I had a realization years ago that really helped me. In Heavenly Father’s plan, two things need to happen: 1) Receive bodies and 2) Receive the ordinances of the gospel. Women make part one happen, and men with the priesthood make part two happen. Everyone needs a woman and a priesthood holder in their life to access the full plan. No one can access either part of the plan on their own. If women won’t give birth, the plan is frustrated. If men do not hold the priesthood, the plan is frustrated. Both genders are required to sacrifice and serve others for the plan to be fully operational. Parenting (notice this includes both mom and dad) and living in families helps the plan be more successful. This helped me to see the balance in Heavenly Father’s plan and to feel a lot of peace.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard explained it this way (“This Is My Work and My Glory,” Ensign, May 2013, p. 19):“In our Heavenly Father’s great priesthood-endowed plan, men have the unique responsibility to administer the priesthood, but they are not the priesthood. Men and women have different but equally valued roles. Just as a woman cannot conceive a child without a man, so a man cannot fully exercise the power of the priesthood to establish an eternal family without a woman. In other words, in the eternal perspective, both the procreative power and the priesthood power are shared by husband and wife. And as husband and wife, a man and a woman should strive to follow our Heavenly Father. The Christian virtues of love, humility, and patience should be their focus as they seek the blessings of the priesthood in their lives and for their family.”
In partnership with the bearers of the priesthood of God, women are essential to helping Heavenly Father bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Under the direction of those who hold priesthood keys, priesthood holders and women counsel and work together to bless the lives of God’s children. This can happen in families, in ward and stake council meetings, and in many other settings. Women and priesthood holders are both necessary strengthen the kingdom of God.