The Priesthood of All People

Mormons are generally familiar with division of the priesthood into the Melchizedek priesthood and Aaronic priesthood. In this blog post, I will suggest that both of these priesthoods are a subset of something called the priesthood of all people.

Priesthood is the power to act in God’s name. What does it mean to act in God’s name? Our Heavenly Parents’ motivating force is love: They love us and They ask us to love Them and each other. I therefore propose that anyone who can act in a loving way toward others (i.e. any being with moral autonomy) has the capability of acting in God’s name or, in other words, holds the priesthood.

The priesthood of all people is divisible in as many ways as people themselves are divisible into groups. There is a priesthood of mothers, of fathers, of children, of spouses, of siblings, of friends, of ecclesiastical leaders, of musicians, of construction workers, of astronauts, and so on. These categories of priesthood are not meaningless: people in each of these roles can perform loving acts in ways that are specific to that role.

What then of the Mormon priesthood? I propose that when our Heavenly Parents were organizing the church in various dispensations, they carved out part of the larger priesthood for people who would perform specific functions within the church. For example, ancient temple priests could act in loving service (i.e. use the priesthood) by following the instructions for priests set down in scripture.

In carving out priesthood for the church in this dispensation, our Heavenly Parents specifically stated that it could be exercised only through love. In Doctrine and Covenants Section 121, God states that priesthood has no authority except to persuade “by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.” Those who exercise their priesthood with love will have an “everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.” (vv. 41-46). In other words, when Mormon priesthood holders act out of love, others may feel an increase of love that will naturally incline them to follow. This is true, of course, for all people.

I suggest that the Mormon priesthood is not more important than the priesthood of all people. Mormon priesthood holders are given opportunities to show love to others in a particular context, but I suggest that our Heavenly Parents are concerned not so much with context in which we show love but that we do show love where we can.

Finally, what implications does the priesthood of all people hold for Mormon women? Should they be allowed to exercise the Mormon priesthood? It is not my place to make decisions for the Mormon church. It seems to me, however, that priesthood is given to people based on their ability to exercise it. The priesthood of all people is available to those beings who have moral autonomy because beings without moral autonomy are incapable of exercising it. The priesthood of, say, musicians (or of mothers or fathers) is given to them because they are capable of exercising their priesthood in a way that other people cannot.

The question, then, is whether women are capable of performing the functions that Mormon male priesthood holders perform. Are women capable of administering the sacrament? Making decisions for an entire ward or stake? Witnessing of Jesus Christ to all people, as do apostles? The answer is obviously yes. This position is supported by the scriptures—which speak of prophetesses and female apostles—and Mormon church history, which shows that Joseph Smith organized the Relief Society as a “kingdom of priests” to “move according to the ancient priesthood” and ordained Emma Smith and other Mormon women to the priesthood.

If the scriptures and church history support a female Mormon priesthood, why are Mormon women not currently allowed to exercise it? Again, I would not presume to say. One possible explanation, however, is that in the social milieu of past times, women seemed less capable of performing priesthood functions and were therefore not allowed to. Looking about the world now, however, we have ample evidence that women can lead and serve at the highest levels. To the extent the exclusion of Mormon women from the priesthood rests solely on historical rather than doctrinal grounds, I personally see no reason why it ought to continue.

7 comments on “The Priesthood of All People

  1. Ryan
    January 3, 2013

    Hey Ed,

    I wrote this a couple of years ago after thinking a little about some of the cases (including in my own family, in the 1930s) where, in rare instances, and in the absence of a worthy male priesthood holder, righteous LDS women ministered or gave blessings, which appeared to be effective:

    “The man is not without the woman, neither is the woman without the man before the Lord. We are only saved jointly. Man and woman, sealed together eternally as husband and wife, is what constitutes the fulness of the priesthood. Without this, there is not the fulness of the priesthood. This is why, for many callings in the Church–usually a bishop’s counselor, a branch president, or a high councilor, and certainly any higher offices than those–a man must be married to hold these callings. This is why my father often invites my mother to be present when he gives a priesthood blessing. This is how temple work can be performed by women. The priesthood is bestowed upon men, but it is not intended for it to be done so singly. It is intended for it to be held jointly, though in different roles, so that both the man and the woman, sealed together as husband and wife, may be exalted as a single unit.”

    What do you think?

    (I realize that some of this doctrine has further implications on other issues, and, while I don’t know the whole history of your journey over the years, I do respect you enough to discuss these matters).

    • Curtis Penfold
      January 4, 2013

      That idea, Ryan, idea bothers me a lot, since it seems that we’re desanctifying the beauty of marriage. No longer is marriage two individuals that love each other and wish to spend the rest of their lives together. Now it’s just a means to an end.

      Not only that, but how degrading to women, which appear to be nothing more than an accessory to one-up the man’s priesthood authority, priesthood authority that is withheld from them just for their lack of a Y chromosome.

      • Juan Blanco
        January 13, 2013

        Curtis, VERY good point! Well said in very few words! I am a gay Mormon man who believes that the sanctity of marriage is between two people, and is a freely God given right, held sacredly between two human beings. Involved in the gift of free agency is the right to choose. Same-sex attraction is not a choice, thus I would consider it to be offensive to Gods divine purposes of making us this way, in his image. Free agency, by the way, came after we where created; thus not the choice of being same-sex attracted of opposite-sex attracted; we didn’t get to choose that. Remember, choices came after we where thus created.

        The mythology of ignorance that exists with some people, is that somehow, same-sex attraction and or marriage might somehow trump opposite-sex attraction and or marriage. In the middle of all of this non-sense of who can marry who is [fear].

        As a gay man, I’m not going to enter into a marriage with a person whom I can not make a [sincere] fully vested sacred and binding covenant. Since being LGBT is “now” not the sin; not a choice; then a person would have to admit that same-sex attraction would inherently be be part of a persons nature and thus, part of the divinity of those two people forming a sacred union such as marriage. The sanctity of marriage binds two people together, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and let’s not forget physically. All of those elements are inherent in the sacredness of marriage between two people.

        Mankind can’t change Gods inherent truth; it doesn’t work that way. The person created can not change the creator.

  2. EdwardJ
    January 4, 2013

    Curtis, I have known Ryan long enough to know that he has a good heart. It seems to be that he is acknowledging women’s role in the Mormon priesthood as it currently stands, in a way that official rhetoric does not. In my opinion, that’s a big step.

    Ryan, I agree with you that Mormon institutional priesthood is given to men and, in some contexts, also exercised by women. The question I raise is why it is not given to both men and women directly. The pat answer is “because God said so.” That answer is not satisfying to me, however, because it doesn’t seem to account for the way the church changes over time to include wonderfully positive aspects of wider cultural change.

    I think we’re all quite glad the priesthood is now available to all worthy males. I personally see no reason why it should not be exercised by all worthy people. If I am correct that institutional priesthood is available to people according to their capabilities, it is now abundantly clear that men are not somehow superior to women in their ability to carry out the duties required of priesthood holders.

    Once we accept that women can hold and use the Mormon priesthood independently of men, we no longer require a heterosexual couple as a priesthood unit. That warms my heart, in part because I know that homosexuality is just as much a gift from our Heavenly Parents as is heterosexuality. I also look to great priesthood holders of the past who were unmarried and see that their lack of the obligations associated with couplehood in fact enhanced their ability to perform their mission.

    I am very interested to hear your thoughts on this, Ryan! Am I a complete apostate? 😉

    • Worn out
      September 18, 2013

      You are awesome

      • EdwardJ
        September 18, 2013

        Thanks! 🙂

  3. LaVerl 09
    June 4, 2013

    In the beginning of the channeled book, “A Course in Miracles” it says that there are only two basic emotions–love and fear.” Then on page 217 it defines fear as a call for love. Therefore, all emotions can be summarized as either love or a cry for love.
    I give you this reference to validate your thinking that love is very much a common denominator..
    God’s love for us is defined by Moroni as “the pure love of Christ”,
    My research in this area has led me to a scripture chase in the subject of the Light of Christ. See if this doesn’t help you expand your thinking:

    Shocking as it may seem, the Spirit (Light) of Christ is non-persona!

    To help stretch our minds for this subject, let our minds think “Spirit of Christmas”. It has a huge influence on our lives, but it is not a person.
    Elder Joseph Fielding Smith taught that ‘this Spirit fills the immensity of space and is everywhere present. This Spirit is impersonal and has no size, nor dimensions; it proceeds forth from [through] the presence of the Father and the Son and is in all things.” (Doctrines of Salvation 1:49–50.)
    Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave this explanation: “There is a spirit—the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Christ, the light of truth, the light of Christ—that defies description and is beyond mortal comprehension. It is in us and in all things; it is around us and around all things; it fills the earth and the heavens and the universe. It is everywhere, in all immensity, without exception; it is an indwelling, immanent, ever-present, never-absent spirit. It has neither shape nor form nor personality. It is not an entity nor a person nor a personage. It has no agency, does not act independently, and exists not to act but to be acted upon.” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, 1985, p. 257.)
    This Light of Christ consists of the universal laws of cause and effect that subsumes all “spiritual truth”. It can be thought of as the “cosmic wind” in which God flies all of His kites and the same wind in which we can learn to fly the kites by which all our spiritual progress is made. It is THE truth, or THE set of cosmic laws of cause and effect by which all actions prosper or fail.
    “There is a law irrevocably decreed in Heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:120-121).
    “The Light of Christ”… is “the light which is in all things,…, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God…” (D&C 88:13).
    “All kingdoms have a law given; and there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom. And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions. All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified”. (D&C 88:36-39)
    “And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away. (II Ne 2:13)

    Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that the Light of Christ “is the agency of God’s power; it is the means and way whereby ‘he comprehendeth all things,’ so that ‘all things are before him, and all things are round about him.’ It is the way whereby ‘he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things.” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p. 258; D&C 88:41).
    It is called the Light of Christ because without the mediation of Jesus Christ we would have no access in our current time-space existence to this otherwise unnamed yet cosmically pervasive spiritual wind.
    No matter where we are on the spiritual progress ladder, the means by which we access this wind and learn to fly our spiritual improvement kites may have different names assigned, but they all are allowing us to access this wind currently called the Light of Christ.

    “The word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit. And everyone that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit cometh unto God, even the Father.” (D&C 84:45-46).

    Another way of looking at the Light of Christ is that since it is the ever existing, uncreatable essence of light and is the ultimate source of light in the whole of the universe, then just as a prism can disperse light in a myriad of nameable colors, the Eloheim have separated this “Light” of Christ into nameable levels of dispersement so that we can have access to it at whatever level of spiritual development we may have achieved at the moment.

    Although this universal light is omnipresent, it has no ability to increase its power and influence in us unless by using our own agency, we open our individual camera’s aperture and “allow” this light to enter.

    This “Light” of Christ is also called the light of truth. (D&C 88:5-7)
    And this light of truth is what our original intelligence is composed of (“Man was in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth was not created or made, neither indeed can be.” (D&C 93:29)

    It is in the magnified glory of God—that intelligence referred to in D&C 93:36 as “light and truth”.

    It is in the “Spirit of Christ…given to every man, that he may know good from evil” (Moroni 7:16) and in “the Spirit” that “giveth light to every man that cometh into the world” (D&C84::46) And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; (88:11) and thereby provides the ability to evolve from our original state of “the light of truth” to our goal of reaching the “light and truth” glory of God. (D&C 93:29.36.)

    “And the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world” (D&C 84:46) so that we can learn from our time-space experiences. As Hyrum Andrus explains: “To be enlightened by the Spirit through the world means that man is to be enlightened by means of the world. As man ponders the expressions of truth, justice, beauty, love, and holiness that are found in the world, whether they be in the field of art, science, or religion, the Spirit of truth enables him to see and in some measure comprehend the underlying verities of which the symbols are but outward expressions. Man may acquire truth by studying symbols, or expressions of verities; and in his diligent study of the outward symbol, his mind may be enlightened by the Spirit to see the inward truth.” (God, Man and the Universe, p 262)

    And as we well know, “All truth may be circumscribed into one great whole.”

    Pres. Joseph F. Smith says “[The Light of Christ] is the Spirit of God which proceeds through Christ to the world, that enlightens every man that comes into the world, to strive with them until it brings them to a knowledge of the truth and the possession of the
    greater light….” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 82)

    It is in the influence of the Holy Ghost that testifies of ALL truth to all men (scientific discoveries as well as eternal truths). “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things”. (Moroni 10:5)
    “The Holy Ghost makes use of the Light of Christ to perform his work. The Spirit of Christ (or Light of Christ) is the agency through which the Holy Ghost operates”. (Mormon Doctrine, p. 314.) (italics in original)
    “Moroni wrote that all spiritual gifts come through the Spirit of Christ” (Moro. 10:17), meaning that when the Holy Ghost works with us, he transmits his gifts by the agency of the light of Christ”. (Ensign June, 1989, p26-29).

    It is in the companionship of the Holy Ghost promised to baptized members who worthily partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. (III Nephi 18:11; Moroni 4,5; D&C 20:77-79)

    It is in the Gift of the Holy Ghost that acts as the refiner’s fire and sanctifies all who have been baptized and given this Gift by the laying on of hands. “By listening to the promptings of the Spirit [of Christ] one is led via faith and baptism to a higher spiritual blessing called the gift of the Holy Ghost, ‘a greater and higher endowment of the same Spirit which enlightens every man that comes into the world’”. (CW Penrose, JD 23:350) as cited in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
    “More powerful than that which is available before baptism, it acts as a cleansing agent to purify a person and sanctify him from all sin.” (Bible Dictionary p 704)

    It is in the power by which the worlds are and were made (we call it the Priesthood). (D&C 88:6-13). “Which priesthood….is without beginning of days or end of years,” (D&C 84:17). and “Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days nor end of life”. (Hebrews 7:3)

    It is in the power of the Priesthood that allows one who is ordained to know the “will of God” and manifest it with full confidence within his/her stewardship. “He that is ordained of God….. is possessor of all things; for all things are subject unto him, both in heaven and on the earth, the life and the light, the Spirit and the power, sent forth by the will of the Father through Jesus Christ, his Son.” (D&C 50:26-27)

    It is in the power of the Priesthood that comes and goes according to worthiness. “The rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. (D&C 121:36-37.)

    It is in the light “which giveth life to all things.” (D&C 88:13)

    It is in the light we receive from God on a daily basis.
    D&C 50:24 says “That which is of God is light and he that receiveth light and continueth in God, receiveth more light and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.”

    It is in the Second Comforter and Holy Spirit of Promise by which all one’s spiritual covenants are stamped with a seal of approval and we are sealed up unto eternal life. (D&C 132:7)

    It is in the quickening of the resurrection (D&C 88:28-31) by which power we are resurrected with bodies that glow with the amount of intelligent “light” we have let in and absorbed during our time-space existence.

    It is in the everlasting dominion that comes to us without compulsory means and flows to us forever and ever (D&C 121:46)

    It is in the word of the Lord. “The word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ”. (D&C 84:45).

    The Word is truth and truth is light and Light is enlightenment about the cause and effect of cosmic law.

    “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection”. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence [enlightenment about the cause and effect of cosmic law] in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come”. (D&C 130:18-19).

    “Ye were also in the beginning with the Father; that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth; he that keepeth His commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.” (D&C 93:23,28.)

    The central purpose of God’s plan then is to allow man (as well as all of the other of God’s intelligent creations) to absorb the intelligent substance called the Light of Christ in himself until he is filled to his individual capacity or in other words with as much Light and Truth as he is willing to absorb.

    “My voice is Spirit; my Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound. And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.” (D&C88:66-67.)

    God’s voice—the “Word” is the gospel instruction manual for the manifestation of this miracle. “In the beginning was the gospel preached through the Son. And the gospel was the word, and the word was with the Son, and the Son was with God, and the Son was of God. In him was the gospel, and the gospel was the life, and the life was the light of men; Which was the true light, which lighteth every man who cometh into the world; Even the Son of God. He who was in the world,….and the world knew him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God; only to them who believe on his name.

    And the same word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. And as many as believe on his name shall receive of his fullness. And of his fullness have we all received, even immortality and eternal life, through his grace. For the law was given through Moses, but life and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (JST John 1:1, 4, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 17).

    The simplified summary of all this then is for us to daily hearken and absorb with all our heart the light of the eternal Word whether by oral, written or still small voice, which is “the power of God unto [exalt]ation.” (D&C 68:4)

    To me then, I can see how the highest manifestation of priesthood is the love of God in giving us access to ALL the necessary pieces to be able to put the jig-saw puzzle of life together in a way that makes sense to us,

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