In Mormonism, priesthood is defined as the power God gives to man to act in His Name. All official administrations in the Church are directed under and by priesthood authority - which 'authority' women in the LDS Church do not possess. However, as critical as one chooses to be with this arrangement, it is not unusual, nor primitive.
On March 17, 1844, Relief Society was established by the prophet Joseph Smith, to organize the women of the Church, under the hand of the priesthood. Their charge was to minister alongside the brethren to accomplish the work of the Lord. Relief Society was to be something quite different than what was popping up among other womens' groups of the time. Emma Smith caught her prophet-husband's vision and exclaimed these infamous words -- "We are going to do something extraordinary."
And indeed, that "something extraordinary" is evident more so today, than at any other time in the history of the world. Faithful Mormon women, who understand, cherish and value their role as Latter-day Saint women, with the help of technology, are having an increasing influence for good. Our ability to connect with each other to strengthen, teach and support is one of the great blessings of modern times, and most assuredly is part of God's plan to hasten His work. And in our desire to do so, we are touching the lives of many outside of our faith.
Mormon feminism is also broadening its influence, not only within the Church, but outside of her borders as well. With few exceptions mainstream media are much more interested in the minority, sensational agendas of LDS women who refer to themselves as progressive Mormon women, than with what the majority of faithful Latter-day Saint women think and feel about the same topics. And more importantly how faithful Mormon women resolve various issues, seen by outsiders of the Church as oppressive, in ways that strengthen their testimonies of the truthfulness of the gospel.
Certainly we could have a lively discussion here about LDS women and priesthood authority -- which unfortunately just fuels the fires of dissent. So we won't. The many injustices that particular women have experienced within the Church, if listed, often due to lack of understanding, could possibly fill volumes. Nevertheless, that would not address the way things are intended to be, as understood by probably hundreds of thousands of faithful women in the Church -- and which both men and women within the Church acknowledge.
In speaking to the sisters of the Church, Sheri Dew said this:
“Sisters, some will try to persuade you that because you are not ordained to the priesthood, you have been shortchanged. They are simply wrong, and they do not understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. The blessings of the priesthood are available to every righteous man and woman. We may all receive the Holy Ghost, obtain personal revelation, and be endowed in the temple, from which we emerge ‘armed’ with power. The power of the priesthood heals, protects, and inoculates all of the righteous against the powers of darkness. Most significantly, the fulness of the priesthood contained in the highest ordinances of the house of the Lord can be received only by a man and woman together.”
It's been my experience in speaking to and reading the thoughts of many progressive Mormon women, that they do not have a strong, LDS doctrinal understanding of priesthood and womanhood, in general -- or, that they are openly choosing to be in opposition to the direction and revelation received by those called of God to direct these affairs -- and whom are sustained regularly by the body of the Church as prophets, seers, and revelators. Thus the discomfort that I, and many other LDS members share, when their liberal ideas, philosophies and advocacies are broadcast as false representations of how the majority of active Mormon women think and feel.
Faithful, active Mormon women do not oppose the counsel and inspired direction of living prophets, called specifically to address our day and whom members of the Church, by covenant, sustain.
I greatly appreciate section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The Lord straight up exposes the tendency of every man, when given authority, to use unrighteous dominion in its administration. He also warned that to do so would be the end of a man's priesthood power. Sadly the natural man, in so many, choose to ignore this admonition, and the tender hearts of the Lord's daughters are the frequent recipients of such ignorance. However, this is not the way the Lord intended it to be, but rather, knowing full well this was going to be a problem, called it out. As a Mormon women this is comforting revelation, which enables me to trust in the Lord, and His decisions, on how His Church would be administered here upon the earth -- and confident that ultimately, regardless of human frailty, His power will only be manifest upon the principle of righteousness.
Said Jeffrey R. Holland, at a recent Harvard Conference covering Mormonism 101: "I would put the position of a woman in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints up against the dignity; and worth; and merit; and wonder of a woman anywhere on this planet. We just need to do better to to be able to convey that. We need to be able to make sure that everybody understands that -- including the women in our Church -- which I don't think we've done well enough yet."
Julie B. Beck, former general Relief Society president, eloquently instructed Mormon women on how to gain a better understanding of our own priesthood duty, as well as where and how we all obtain God's power to accomplish His work:
"I will say the priesthood duty of sisters is to create life, to nurture it, to prepare it for covenants of the Lord. Don’t confuse the power with the keys and the offices of the priesthood. God’s power is limitless and it is shared with those who make and keep covenants. Too much is said and misunderstood about what the brothers have and the sisters don’t have. This is Satan’s way of confusing both men and women so neither understands what they really have. . . . “Mine is a home where ev’ry hour is blessed by the strength of priesthood pow’r, With father and mother leading the way.” Mine is a home where every hour is blessed by the strength of priesthood power. That is your responsibility, sisters, to help your home be a home that is blessed every hour by priesthood power. It isn’t just when Dad is there. It’s not just when Mom is there. It’s not just when a priesthood ordinance or blessing is being performed. It’s every hour as ordinances, as covenants, are made and kept."
I think it is wrong to assume that simply because the majority of Mormon women do not choose to be critical of our brothers, or try to change what the Lord has established, that we don't see or acknowledge problems within the Church -- because many of us do. Personally, I prefer to go forward, with faith, trusting that as I better understand the doctrine of the priesthood, and how it is manifest in the different roles that men and women share in the Lord's Plan of Salvation, I will better appreciate how, together, we are united in this great work of saving souls, and not necessarily administering the Church -- or being politically correct.
"When the frailities and imperfections of mortality are left behind, in the glorified state of the blessed hereafter, husband and wife will administer in their respective stations, seeing and understanding alike, and co-operating to the full in the government of their family kingdom.
"Then shall woman be recompensed in rich measure for all the injustice that womanhood has endured in mortality. Then shall woman reign by Divine right, a queen in the resplendent realm of her glorified state, even as exalted man shall stand, priest and king unto the Most High God.
"Mortal eye cannot see nor mind comprehend the beauty, glory, and majesty of a righteous woman made perfect in the celestial kingdom of God." (from the Young Woman’s Journal 25 [October 1914]: 600-604, link) -James E. Talmage
Note: A few of my comments, in this post, were used out of context, and inaccurately, at the recent 2012 FAIR Conference. Please see my response here: Clarifying My Position on Mormon Women and Equality as Opposed to McBaine's FAIR Misrepresentation. (But probably best read after you read this post.)
Read my latest article on The Washington Post's On Faith Blog: Mitt Romney's Mormon milestone
Read more of what Jeffrey R. Holland had to say about women in the Church: Woman: The Crowning Creation and Glory of the Human Experience
Straight Mormons March on Sabbath in Gay Pride Parade