Women and the Priesthood (Hardcover)
What One Mormon Woman Believes
by Sheri L. Dew
The fact that women are not ordained to the priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is for some a sticking point, a hot topic, even a potential media controversy. Others aren't troubled by the issue at all. But wherever you fall on that spectrum, you'll be fascinated by this doctrinal exploration of a topic that is crucial for both women and men to understand.
In Women and the Priesthood, 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.
This enlightening book shows how studying the doctrine of the priesthood will help you find 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.
- Size: 6" x 9"
- Pages: 224
- Year Published: 2013
About the Author
Sheri Dew is a native of Ulysses, Kansas, and a graduate of Brigham Young University. She has authored several books, including the biographies of two presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Presidents Gordon B. Hinckley and Ezra Taft Benson. Her most recent books are God Wants a Powerful People and Saying It Like It Is. Sheri was named the president and CEO of Deseret Book Company in March 2002. She also serves as a member of both the BYU Marriott School of Management’s National Advisory Council and the President’s Leadership Council for BYU-Hawaii. In March 2003 the White House appointed her as a member of the U.S. Delegation to the Commission on the Status of Women and Girls at the United Nations.
Last summer I went with my mother, sisters, a sister-in-law, and several young-adult-age nieces to see a stage production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers at a popular outdoor theater high in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. It was a girls’ night out, and we loved being together, but the show—despite being nicely produced and featuring some fine talent—raised more than a few of my nieces’ eyebrows, not to mention my own.
I’d forgotten how sexist that play was. In 1954, when the movie version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers was initially released (and snagged a Best Picture nomination), the “me-Tarzan-you-Jane” way women were treated was probably considered “normal.” But in the summer of 2012, the dialogue and even the plot seemed like a throwback to the Dark Ages. My nieces were uniformly bugged. Even I was surprised at the reminder of how provincial society was in its treatment and depiction of women six decades ago. I often have the same reaction when I catch an I Love Lucy or Mary Tyler Moore rerun. Though filled with unforgettable, classic humor, those golden-oldie sitcoms frequently portrayed women in stereotypical ways that elicit gasps today.
From all appearances, superficial though appearances almost always are, “we’ve come a long way, baby,” as the old marketing slogan from the sixties goes. Some of the changes during the last half-century regarding women have been important ones—more women receiving more education, women having more protection under the law (and in some countries and cultures, for the first time), more women being compensated fairly for their work, more women benefitting from the removal of various kinds of “glass ceilings,” and so on.
I am not a feminist. But I am pro-progression, meaning that I am in favor of opportunities and experiences that allow for the personal development and growth of men and women alike—especially when those experiences are sanctioned by the Lord.
By the same token, some kinds of “progress” with respect to women haven’t been progress at all. Society’s diminished view of motherhood and marriage as God defined them is troubling, as are the dramatic escalation of the sexualization of women in all forms of media and the ever-increasing number of out-of-wedlock births. The Desperate Housewives, Sex and the City approach to life that glamorizes adultery and paints immorality as normal and even desirable is alarming. And any trend that attempts to blur important, God-given distinctions between men and women threatens the ability of some to recognize the truth of the plan of happiness. In the clamor for women to be treated “equally” with men, many appear to have missed, misunderstood, or discarded as insignificant the innate, transcendent gifts women have been given and the unique position women have occupied in the eyes of our Creator all along.
Our Experiences and Beliefs Shape Us
As is the case with each of us, my experiences and beliefs have shaped my view of the world. I am the daughter of a Kansas grain farmer who expected me to set irrigation tubes, camp out behind the wheel of a John Deere tractor on hot summer days, and maneuver large grain trucks through the fields during harvest just like my brothers. Farm life combined with a love of sports turned me into something of a tomboy. Though I grew up in a pre-Title IX era, girls’ sports in the sunflower state were already big, and I never felt that my games were less important than my brothers’. At the same time, I studied the piano seriously enough to entertain the notion of becoming a concert pianist. Though I ultimately had to face the fact that I wasn’t talented enough for the big leagues (on either the court or the concert stage), I did spend a stint as a pianist in a professional USO group that toured Asia, Europe, and Alaska—including a stormy flight through wind blowing sideways out to Shemya, the next-to-last island in the Aleutian chain. Through it all, my youth and young-adult years taught me that though there were certainly important distinctions between girls and boys, there was nothing constraining about being a girl. In fact, I deduced early on that there were significant advantages to being a girl.
From my earliest days, life has revolved around my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Everything I believe about the purpose of life, the potential of eternal life, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ has been heavily influenced by prophets, seers, and revelators, by what I have learned from immersing myself in the word of God—particularly the Book of Mormon—and by decades of regular temple worship. All I understand regarding what heaven has revealed about where women fit into the divine plan and the Lord’s Church has been framed by my experience, observations, and learnings as a Latter-day Saint woman.
I will admit that I am not terribly interested in discussions about such topics as women who work versus those who don’t, or the “can-women-have-it-all” debate. I am far more interested in what we know about how our Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, view and treat women. My views of this have been shaped by a body of rich doctrine as well as nearly six decades of lived experiences in which I’ve seen firsthand the results of the application of those truths.
Since my young-adult days, or for nearly forty years now, I’ve studied and prayed and thought about the place of women in the kingdom of God. In addition, it has been my privilege to meet literally millions of Latter-day Saint women around the world, and I have spent years observing, learning from, praying for, and thinking about them. Nonetheless, the initial stirrings for the combination of material in this book didn’t begin until a couple of years ago. Increased attention to the Church’s doctrine, practices, and the accomplishments of its members has also shined a light on LDS women. Depictions of who we are by the media have ranged from even-handed and respectful to wildly inaccurate and downright bizarre.
Causes of Confusion
There are reasons for this. Despite frequent doctrinal declarations by Church leaders about the worth, influence, contribution, and value of women, flawed perceptions about LDS women are as old as the Church itself. Two of the causes of confusion deserve mention: first, a lingering cloud of misunderstanding over the temporary practice of polygamy, which ceased more than 120 years ago; and second, the reality that LDS women are not eligible for priesthood ordination.
First, polygamy. For a period of time during the nineteenth century, some members of the Church—a minority, actually, but among them a number of Church leaders—lived in polygamy. During the 1860s, public fervor against polygamy reached a fever pitch, and accusations that the Church degraded women flew from the halls of Congress to some state governments. Spurred largely by misunderstandings about Latter-day Saints and their beliefs, Congress passed a series of legislative acts targeting the Church, including the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862 and the Edmunds Act of 1882, culminating with the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887, which, among other things, outlawed polygamous marriages. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints formally renounced polygamy in 1890, and today the practice of polygamy results in swift and certain excommunication.
The second issue that has created strong opinions as well as aroused deep emotion about the Church’s view of women is the fact that LDS women are not eligible for priesthood ordination. Hence, the purpose of this book—to explore the doctrinal question of women and the priesthood.
Because the doctrine that undergirds this vital and sensitive topic cannot be discussed in isolation from other key doctrines, the attempt of this work is to provide context and suggest a framework from which we can understand how our Father and His Son view women, as well as the privileges women have in the kingdom of God.
Being a Female Is Complicated
As mentioned earlier, I love being a woman and feel there are tremendous advantages to being female. But womanhood is not uncomplicated. A woman’s life is filled with ambiguity. The path for a man in the Church is somewhat laid out for him—at twelve, he’ll be ordained a deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood, at fourteen a teacher, and at sixteen a priest. Then other expectations follow in short order: he will be ordained an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood, go to the temple, enter the mission field, come home and pursue an education, find a wife and get married, earn a living, and so on. I am not suggesting that this defined path doesn’t create its own stiff challenges, because it does. Our expectations—not to mention the Lord’s—of believing, committed men are high and unrelenting.
A woman’s journey, however, has its own distinctive complexities. Among other things, it can be difficult to know what to prepare for. A young woman may serve a mission if she desires, but there is no requirement to do so. She is encouraged to get as much education as she can, but she may or may not end up using that education in some kind of professional vocation or career. And some young-adult-age women express concern that if they pursue an education or career they might be sending unintended “signals” to the Lord that they care more about a profession than about getting married. A woman should develop her talents, but how she will use them may not be clear. She may or may not marry at a traditional age. If she does marry in a “normal” time frame, she will likely desire to be a mother, but she may or may not be able to bear children. She may or may not choose to work outside the home, but in all likelihood, that decision will be charged with a variety of emotions.
In short, a woman tends to have more flexibility than a man, but at the same time that flexibility introduces ambiguity and uncertainty. This disturbs some women. But perhaps our Father allowed this fundamental circumstance to exist to encourage women to learn to discern and follow His will. I believe that it is a reflection of His confidence in our ability to do so.
Truths I Know
There are risks to publishing this book, and almost daily I’ve been tempted to set this manuscript on a shelf and leave it there. The risks are significant:
First, I am still learning. I will understand more next year about vital Church doctrine than I know today, and more the year after, and so on. It is almost inevitable that as soon as this book goes to press, I’ll hear or learn or find or come to understand something that would make a meaningful addition to this text. This is a work in progress. It seems unwise to publish something that isn’t finished. But on the other hand, it will never be done.
Second, and closely associated with the first, there are plenty of things I still don’t understand. Further, I could be wrong in some of my assertions. I have gone to great lengths to vet the doctrine in this book with doctrinal scholars in whom I have great confidence. Nonetheless, there may be errors in doctrinal interpretation. If there are, they are mine and mine alone.
Third, as is the case with many who put their thoughts into print for others to consider and weigh, I’ve taken my share of lumps. I have been judged (and in some cases harshly) plenty of times by critics for things I’ve said and done, and this work will likely invite criticism from various corners. Some will feel I have not gone far enough in my assertions, and others will feel I have said too much.
Fourth, today blogs and social media are filled with emotionally charged discussions about women and priesthood and Church governance. A recent major study of the attitudes of LDS women indicated that a fair number of them feel marginalized by the Church as second-class citizens. It also highlighted the fact that many women feel there is no “safe place” to share their concerns or even ask pointed questions.
This is a concern. Questions are good. Questions lead to answers, as demonstrated by the Prophet Joseph Smith and countless others. The crucial issue is not about asking questions, it is the spirit in which questions are asked. A question posed against a backdrop of doubt and criticism—i.e., “I don’t understand thus and such, so the Church must not be true”—can be debilitating, as it negates faith and leaves a person unable to be guided by the Spirit to learn. On the other hand, the same question asked in an environment of faith—“I don’t understand thus and such, and I wonder what the Lord will teach me about that question”—demonstrates faith in the Lord and the hope that at some point an answer will be made clear. Questions asked in an environment of faith unlock the power of God to answer them.
It has not been my experience to feel marginalized in the Church, but I respect the fact that some LDS women do feel that way. Despite the significant participation that women already have in the Church (which I will say more about later), there would seem to be ways in which the visibility and legitimate involvement of women in the Church could be enhanced—and without altering doctrine, covenants, or ordinances. But ideas for change are not unique to me, nor are they unique to women.
The idea of change should neither surprise nor alarm us. Changes in policy and administration, as distinguished from doctrine, are ongoing because the Restoration is ongoing. Changes that have occurred during my lifetime would require a book of their own. We now attend Church in a three-hour block as opposed to the much different meeting schedule of my youth. There are multiple quorums of Seventy and Area Presidencies helping to administer the Church in major geographic regions around the world. More than 140 temples dot the earth, compared to a few dozen just three decades ago. Today women are much more involved in ward and stake councils than they were twenty years ago. Elders may now serve missions at age eighteen and sisters at nineteen, which change has led to a dramatic increase in the number of missionaries serving full-time missions and the number of missions in the world. And so on.
Although I can see ways in which the participation of LDS women in the Church could be further enhanced, if nothing changes in my lifetime in this regard, it won’t affect my testimony one whit. I’ve had far too many witnesses that the gospel is true and that the keys, power, and authority of the Savior’s kingdom have been restored to let organizational issues discourage me.
Fifth, I could easily be misunderstood for writing this book—and probably will be. I am not attempting to be a spokeswoman on sensitive doctrinal issues, and I am certainly not declaring doctrine for the Church. I do, however, feel compelled to testify about what I know to be true. President Wilford Woodruff said that “we have nothing else to do but to build up the kingdom of God.” Bearing witness of the magnificent doctrine that teaches us who women are is something all converted women can do to help build this kingdom.
And finally, I have decided to publish this book, despite the risks, in an attempt to provide a different framework for the conversation about Latter-day Saint women. Blank pages have been provided at the back of the book for readers to begin to capture their own thoughts, impressions, and learnings. My fondest hope is that this work will spur men and women alike to study, ponder, pray, discuss, and seek revelation for themselves on these life-changing, mind-expanding eternal principles.
Because the doctrine about women is glorious. It is ennobling. It is enlivening and motivating.
I love being a Latter-day Saint woman! I am grateful beyond my ability to express to know that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored. I am grateful for the covenants I’ve made that bind me to the Lord, and that bind Him to me.
Attempting to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ in a world where a relative few believe in anything or anyone, let alone the Savior of the world, is seldom easy, rarely convenient, sometimes frustrating, often misunderstood, and almost never popular. But I crave the enlightenment of doctrine that answers the “whys” of life and many of the “whats” and “hows” as well. I’m grateful for the direction and spiritual privileges the gospel provides, including direct access to God’s power. I am eternally indebted to the Savior for His Atonement, which is filled with healing and mercy and power for all of God’s children, and I have felt His healing—including the healing that brings peace of mind—in my life more times than I can remember. I feel blessed to be alive when His gospel in its fulness is on the earth and when the priesthood has been restored. I hang on the teachings of prophets, seers, and revelators. And I love what the gospel has taught me about the exalted position of women in the eyes of the Lord—in other words, what it has taught me about who I am.
LDS Women Are Incredible
The acclaimed Western historian Wallace Stegner wrote extensively about the U.S. Western movement, including the Mormon migration. Though he did not accept the faith of the Latter-day Saints, he wrote with admiration about the courage of the Mormon pioneers—and especially the women. He said, simply, “Their women were incredible.”
Bathsheba Smith, who would later serve as the fourth general president of the Relief Society, is a classic example of the women Stegner honored. Describing her last moments in Nauvoo, she wrote: “We left a comfortable home, the accumulations of four years of labor and thrift and took away with us only a few much needed articles such as clothing, bedding and provisions. We left everything else behind us for our enemies. My last act in that precious spot was to tidy the rooms, sweep up the floor, and set the broom in its accustomed place behind the door. Then with emotions in my heart . . . which I then strove with success to conceal, I gently closed the door and faced an unknown future, faced a new life, a greater destiny as I well knew, but I faced it with faith in God. . . . Now I was going into the wilderness, but I was going with the man I loved dearer than my life. I had my little children. I had heard a voice, so I stepped into the wagon with a certain degree of serenity.”< p>Eliza R. Snow wrote about women in the westward company, women Stegner referred to, who “walked all day, rain or shine,” rather than ride in a wagon and who then “at night prepared supper for their families, with no sheltering tents. . . . Frequently with intense sympathy and admiration I watched the mother when, forgetful of her own fatigue and destitution, she took unwearied pains to fix up in the most palatable form the allotted portion (most of the time we were rationed) of food, and as she dealt it out, was cheering the hearts of her children, while, as I truly believed, her own was lifted to God in fervent prayer that their lives might be preserved.”
Moral courage and faith weren’t exclusive to the nineteenth century. LDS women today continue to pioneer as the gospel kingdom marches onward. Sahar Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian woman raised near Bethlehem, witnessed so much conflict and injustice in her young life that for a period of time she lost faith in God. But a scholarship to attend BYU introduced her to the Church, and when she heard President Howard W. Hunter refer to her land as “Palestine,” she was intrigued. One thing led to another, and over the strong objections of her family, who claimed that “the Mormons had brainwashed her,” she joined the Church.
When she moved home to the West Bank, it became an ordeal just to attend Church in Jerusalem. Because of the separation walls built to keep Palestinians on the West Bank from traveling easily or conveniently into Jerusalem, it could take hours to make the trip. Sometimes she walked for more than an hour to a place where there was a small hole in the separation wall, slipped through, and then maneuvered her way around a long line of guards. At one point in the journey she had to climb a ten-foot wall and jump down on the other side. She did this week after week. After several years of close calls and nerve-wracking trips, she obtained a United Nations job that provided the papers necessary for her to enter Jerusalem. She has subsequently served as the Jerusalem Branch Relief Society president, which carried its own unique set of challenges. Through all the upheaval, she has learned that the “only true peace has to come from the Prince of Peace Himself, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The peace that the Holy Ghost brought into my life after I was baptized has remained with me during days of trouble and conflict,” she testifies.
Though Wallace Stegner described LDS women as incredible, I doubt Bathsheba Smith or Eliza R. Snow or Sahar Qumsiyeh saw, or see, themselves that way. And most of us living today wouldn’t use that adjective to describe ourselves. I certainly wouldn’t. But as an imperfect though thoroughly converted Latter-day Saint woman who is trying to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I declare with certainty these truths about women:
I know that women have a divine errand.
I know that God expects women to receive revelation.
I know that God is perfect and so is His Son.
I know that women are vital to the success of the Lord’s Church.
I know that both women and men have access to God’s highest spiritual blessings.
I know that God reserved the high privilege of motherhood for women.
And I know that converted women can change the world.
I do not fault anyone—in or outside the Church—for expressing contrasting views about women and the priesthood, about motherhood, and about any doctrine that cuts to the heart of who we are as women. We all speak from our knowledge and experience as well as our concerns. That is precisely what I desire to do in this book: to share what I believe heaven has revealed about the place and role of women in the Lord’s Church and in the kingdom of God.
It is not possible to undertake a discussion about women and priesthood without laying a foundation that includes a discussion of such doctrinal issues as pre-mortal existence, personal revelation, our Heavenly Father’s plan, and motherhood. The chapters are arranged to provide that foundation as well as needed context.
My prayer is that what follows will either stand as a second witness to what you already know to be true or propel you forward in your own journey of spiritual discovery. May the Spirit of the Lord touch your heart and your mind, enabling you to feel and know that our identity, purpose, and value as women are shaped by an incredible body of rich doctrine that ennobles and will ultimately exalt us as covenant daughters of God.
Instant Mormon Classic!
by Nate - reviewed on November 05, 2013
So I picked this book up today for a Christmas Gift for my wife. But as a "Closet-Sheri-Dew-Reader" I started reading and I can't stop. Her understanding of Women's divine role in the Father's plan is obvious on every page. This isn't some cheesy apologetic approach to womanhood, this is the very doctrine of women that God would have us understand. The thoughts she expresses, with some of the most brilliant quotes from our latter-day leaders, is how my wife and mom view themselves. There is no inferiority complex when the full doctrine is in view. Sister Dew is brilliant in the defense of our unique and commendable and accomplished and mature view that womanhood is equal in the sight of God to that of the priesthood. A must read. This will be a book all of my kids will read before they leave the nest. A great gift, but if you are like me...read it first! Nate (n8c)