Priesthood keys. Priesthood authority. The priesthood. These are all terms generally used by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to describe men who bear the priesthood. It's cultural and it's correct, but it's not the full truth. Women can also fit under each of those categories.
Latter-day Saints typically think of the priesthood in terms of presiding authority and ordinances including sealing of families and work for the living and dead. But there is so much more to priesthood authority, power, and potential that both men and women can access.
Priesthood Authority in the Home
When a friend of mine was a teenager, his father had to temporarily work out of state. My friend's mother told him that he was to preside over the family while the father was gone. This included gathering everyone for family scripture study in the morning and calling on someone to pray before every meal. This situation may sound familiar to many of you. It stems from a misunderstanding that men are the priesthood.
As President Oaks and other leaders have repeated over and over, “Men are not the priesthood.” Barbara Morgan Gardner adds this insight in her book, The Priesthood Power of Women: "Priesthood is not something we are. It is God’s power that He authorizes His servants to use for the benefit of others."
President Oaks also said, "the authority that presides in the family—whether father or single-parent mother—functions in family matters without the need to get authorization from anyone holding priesthood keys. This family authority includes directing the activities of the family, family meetings like family home evenings, family prayer, teaching the gospel, and counseling and disciplining family members. It also includes ordained fathers giving priesthood blessings."
Years ago my own family fell out of the routine of daily scripture study and prayer. I admit that I assumed it was my husband's duty as a priesthood holder to take charge of the spiritual matters in our home. I held my tongue day after day hoping that he would remember. It makes me sad as I think of all the spiritual blessings my family missed out on because I was so clueless. I had every right and just as much authority as my husband to gather my family and to call upon the blessings of heaven for my family.
Priesthood Authority in the Church
President Oaks said, "One important difference between its function in the Church and in the family is the fact that all priesthood authority in the Church functions under the direction of the one who holds the appropriate priesthood keys."
When women receive a calling and are set apart, they receive priesthood authority. A Relief Society president can receive direction and guidance as to best help the sisters in her ward. Sister missionaries have priesthood authority to teach and bring others closer to Christ. A primary teacher, young women's camp director, and Sunday school teacher are all given priesthood authority when they are set apart.
In her book, Barbara Morgan Gardner shares the following example. "If a husband and a wife, for example, were called to be team teachers to the same Primary class, neither the husband nor the wife would preside over the other in the class. It has often been misunderstood that the phrase the priesthood presides refers to men possessing authority over women."
Let's not get priesthood keys and priesthood authority confused. Presiding in the Church isn’t dependent upon gender or even ordination but is a matter of the functioning of priesthood keys of presidency.
Both women and men can have priesthood authority. They can both act with priesthood power - the power of God! And through the power of the priesthood, we can all enter back into God’s presence.Becky Squire is a writer and speaker. She has been published in several media outlets including the Ensign, LDS Living, and the Today Show. She's also the founding editor of Latter-Day Woman Magazine. Follow Becky Squire on Instagram