What if…?

What if someone ordained their wife to the priesthood? Let’s say that this husband wanted to have his wife assist in priesthood blessings in the home, or be able to perform blessings in his absence. She would not be ordained to any particular office, but given the priesthood power for specific ordinances. Let us also say that this woman received it, but never in fact used it. Let us also say that this husband is a bishop, and interviewed the candidate and determined her worthiness. If he did so without claiming that such a practice is or should be church doctrine, how would we understand this practice? A few things to consider:

1. Would the woman actually have the priesthood? Is it possible for women to receive the priesthood if it is given to them, or would such a practice be null and void on the basis of some ontological inability for women to actually receive the priesthood. Would it be like giving a horse the priesthood, which presumably no one believes is possible?

2. If the woman did not actually receive the priesthood, and never attempted to use it, would any sin have been committed?

3. If someone were to be disciplined for this practice, what would be the charge? What exactly have they done wrong?

4. If someone were to be disciplined, who would it be? The wife for having received it, but not exercised it? The husband for giving it?

5. Even though she has not received an office in the priesthood, would she still have to be sustained by the membership of the church?

25 Replies to “What if…?”

  1. If you are just asking administrative questions I would say:

    1. If the ordainer is not acting with the approval of the First Presidency I don’t think it counts. (For instance apostates might start their own religion and ordain women and little children to the priesthood but it seems unlikely that God would honor such gestures).
    2-4. Seems like apostasy (to whatever degree) would be the complaint. All participating parties would likely be on the hook to one degree or another.
    5. NA

  2. I guess the title of the blog is well-founded; all I can contribute is rumor and conjecture.

    I would guess she would have the priesthood. Whether or not it would be operational is another question. Does it have to be ratified by our Heavenly Father in order to work?

    Another question: Suppose a male holder of the priesthood undergoes a sex change operation, complete with hormone therapy and surgery to remove his male appendage and testicles and a vagina fashioned. What happens then? Would that fit under the scripture that says “amen to the priesthood of that man”? (D&C 121:37)

  3. Geoff, that’s no answer. Apostasy from what? Because I’m having a hard time finding anything in particular that is being violated – unless you count Elder Packer’s “Unwritten Order of Things.”

  4. And before anyone invokes the Handbook of Instructions, it needs to be pointed out that most of the population of the LDS Church has no clue what exactly is in the Handbook anyway. How can people be bound by commandments they aren’t even aware of, nor expected to be aware of?

  5. well i am new to this religion. I noticed pretty much right away that women don’t really have an active role in this church however I do think we are not on the same level as a farm animal. If God says all people are equal then why is there a question about whether or not women can take this role. don’t women go out to be missionaries as well? We are all called to share the gospel with the world so why should this be any different?

  6. There is an oath and covenant of the Priesthood. If it is not ratified by the Holy Spirit of Promise, then I would say that the conferring of the Priesthood is incomplete.

  7. Can a person decide on their own to excommunicate someone else? Why or why not? What if that person was a Bishop?

  8. Thank you all for your comments. This post arose out of my discovery of a group of ordained catholic priests who are women. These women have been ordained by Roman Catholic bishops, but they do not have any authority within any particular parish. This got me thinking about how exactly this practice would be viewed within an LDS context with the hope of revealing something about the nature of the exclusion of women from the LDS priesthood.

    Geoff J: you raise an interesting issue about FP approval, but I am not entirely sure how you mean it. Do you mean that the FP approves all ordinations to the priesthood, and because this isn’t officially approved by them it is invalid, or that they would disapprove of it if they knew about it?

    As for the charge of apostasy, I figured that that would be the category, but what about this is apostasy? As I understand it, apostasy includes teaching something as church doctrine which is in fact not. As long as this family doesn’t teach it as official church doctrine, what is to distinguish this from any of the other “mistaken” practices or beliefs that regular members hold all the time?

    Yet Another John,
    Excellent question. As far as I understand, those who undergo “elective” transsexual operations are ineligible for the priesthood. What counts as “elective” is not explained.

    There is no question that women are not considered as farm animals in this church! The issue of women’s ordination to the priesthood is a somewhat contentious issue among Latter-day Saints, and many are reluctant to talk about it. The church currently explains the ordination of men alone to the priesthood as a function of separate roles for men and women.

    Steven B,
    Good comment. How does one know if the priesthood has been ratified by the Holy Spirit of Promise or not?

    Mondo cool,
    Very good question. The difference, I think, is one of church government. Ordinations to the priesthood require only the bishop’s approval (except for the MP, IIRC). The ordination of this bishop’s wife would follow the same procedure as ordaining a 12 y.o. boy. You do raise a good point about the problem of ordaining someone to the MP, which I think you are right to suggest that it requires Stake approval. Although, is this approval required for the office of elder, the ordination to the priesthood, or both? If it is only about the office specifically, then perhaps this bishop might not need the Stake’s approval.

  9. My point is that conferral of the priesthood is different than ordination to an office in the priesthood and that both are aspects of church governance. Worthiness to receive the priesthood is conditioned upon more than a minimum set of righteousness; also, 12+, male, member of the church, etc. And, if a Bishop does not require a specific approval for Aaronic p/h ordinations because of his position as president of the AP in his ward, that does not give him license or permission to go beyond the recognized pattern and practice of the church. The moment he does, then he invalidates the action he performs. IMO, he also violates the oath he took by accepting the p/h. Also, we cannot so easliy separate church governance from church doctrine. One cannot just take it upon himself to do things outside of the order of the church – otherwise, I could just excommunicate anybody I wished.

  10. I believe (though I could be mistaken) that whenever a male receives the priesthood, it is he is sustained (or maybe he is just welcomed if he just turns 12 – 16) upon in the ward/branch and elder or above in Stake Conference. So what would she have been ordained as? In order to give blessings she would need to be elder or above, and therefore need Stake president and membership approval for it to happen and be valid.

    This isn’t from the handbook, I haven’t read it, just seen it in practice. And if I am wrong, please correct my misconception.

    And Katie… while it may not appear that there is much women do in our church, there are equal number of positions of leadership held by women. We are in charge of different aspects of the church to be sure, but a man can never be over a Rrimary organization, Young Women’s organization, ora Relief Society. We are in charge of checking and caring for our own, we are the ones that make sure that any compassionate service gets rendered to a family. Priesthood members may be the one the RS presidents reports to and gets her help from, but he can not conduct a meeting, men cannot be teachers of young women and are to teach the older primary boys only.

    The longer you are in the church you will see that the responsibilities in the church are divided up in a way that makes sense. And as the wife of a former Bishop and a present Branch President… I do not now nor would I ever want to be in a position to be called to one of the offices of the priesthood. Let them have it. I am happy to be who and what I am. 🙂

  11. TT: Do you mean that the FP approves all ordinations to the priesthood, and because this isn’t officially approved by them it is invalid

    Yep, that’s what I mean. For that reason I can’t go ordain my little children or non-member neighbors to the priesthood and assume it means anything to God.

    I am not saying doing such a thing is necessarily apostate (though it could be of course depending on the circumstances) but your question is what the complaint would be for unauthorized ordinations if church discipline were to take place and that seems the most likely answer.

  12. Sorry follow-up…

    Women are already allowed to give blessings to their children if there is not a priesthood holder that could give it to them. I have heard that a mother can bless “through the MP that her husband holds.” She just isn’t supposed to use oil, though I have heard anecdotal stories where a mother has, it isn’t a particular “sin” it just can’t be annointed & sealed through the MP.

  13. In terms of ordination this is a simple case. All ordinations happen under the authorization the first presidency. In fact any time the priesthood is exercised it happens under the authority of the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12.

    The reason Men freely exercise the priesthood for blessings etc. is because they have standing authorization from the FP to do so. There is an unbroken line of authority that validates any ordinance. Where the mandate stops determines where you need to go for permission. The sacrament is a great example, if one is to bless the sacrament outside of a Sacrament meeting they need permission from the Bishop, who is the key-holding presiding authority. Brigham young once took this key away and no ward was allowed to bless in partake of the Sacrament for a time until the church had collectively repented (at least in Utah, I don’t know about outside Utah on that one.)

    If I ordain some young man or Woman, or a Hobo on the street to the priesthood (aaronic or melchizedek) it will be invalid unless have the approval by someone who has the keys to approve the ordination. For the Aaronic priesthood it is the bishop(which implies implicit approval from Stake President, Area President, 12, FP) and for the Melchizedek priesthood it is the Stake President (implied line of authority again). Originally The sealing power was only conferred by the twelve, but as temples have grown more numerous that key has been delegate to Temple presidents. They can pass it on when acting in the proper order.

    So short answer, such an ordination would be invalid. The guidelines given by the First Presidency (as fas as I know) require the correct age, sex, and stake-wide ratification (for the MP) to be valid. If the ordination is done outside the guidelines one is acting without keys, rendering such a n ordination invalid. This is one reason the loss of the Twelve is cited as a cause of priesthood loss during the Great Apostasy.

    In terms of what #12 said there are many stories like that in the church, and I don’t know there relative truth or falsehood. A woman can certainly dedicate her own home if there is no priesthood to do it. I have heard many convincing stories of women blessing their children, and the occasional story of a woman invoking her Husband’s priesthood. I would love to know if the Church Handbook says anything about it.

  14. How does one know if the priesthood has been ratified by the Holy Spirit of Promise or not?

    Well, in the cases of other gospel covenants, the presence of the Spirit in our lives serves as confirmation that the covenant is in effect, and that associated promises connected with the contract will be fulfilled. I suppose the same may be true with the priesthood.

    I certainly see the priesthood as one of several covenants that saints are called to enter into. Certainly a higher covenant would be the marriage covenant. And I empathize with those women who may resent not having a voice in church operation and management, but it is not like priesthood position is the crowning experience in life. Marriage and family is greater. But that is another topic.

  15. Any ordination to the priesthood must be authorized by the appropriate person. For the Aaronic Priesthood and any youth office therein, that is the Bishop. For the Melchizedek Priesthood and the office of Elder or High Priest, that is the Stake President. For the office of Bishop, or higher Melchizedek offices (Seventy, Apostle, Patriarch, etc.), it requires First Presidency approval (I believe).

    You cannot decide your brother is ready to be an elder, lay your hands upon his head, and ordain him one. Similarly, you cannot lay your hands on your son’s head once he has turned twelve without the authorization of the Bishop. Well, I guess you can lay your hands on him and say the words, but the ordination would never be recorded. And we are nothing if not a Church or records.

    Now the consequences of such an action would greatly depend on a lot of factors. I remember a Priesthood Leadership meeting in the Marriot Center with President Monson speaking where he talked about errors that came to the GAs for either ratification or correction that would shed some light on the potential outcomes. If the couple never told anyone about it, likely nothing would happen. They might feel like something had been accomplished, but in reality, nothing has been done. It would be outside the Church hierarchy. If they told someone, they would get called in and corrected by their Bishop most likely. If they had acted in genuine error and admitted as such, nothing would happen. The Bishop would tell them where they had violated the order of the Church and not to do it again. If they acted in direct, intentional opposition to the Church’s position, they would be in line for a more serious discipline, including excommunication. Excommunication would probably be reserved for situations where they were actively teaching that what they had done was the correct order of things and the Church was wrong. In almost all cases, the Priesthood holder would come in for the more serious of the discipline.

    This relates to other ‘odd’ uses of the Priesthood. I am aware of a pair of missionaries (in my mission) who were severely disciplined in the mission field for laying their hands on their mailbox and commanding it to receive more mail on their behalf. Another set of elders had a long talk with the Mission President when they were approached by a new convert family to raise their beloved cat from the dead after it has been hit by a car. They weren’t sure what to do and contacted the Pres. He told them that animals were surely a valid thing to be blessed but that they must not feel constrained by the desires of the family to make the animal live again. If they failed to act within the boundaries of what the spirit told them while giving the blessing, it wouldn’t work anyway. I’m sure others have similar stories.

  16. Just to clarify, Lon, my husband was ordained to the office of Bishop by the Stake President, though, it was approved by the First Presidency.

  17. What about the argument that women clearly thought they received the priesthood, in some fashion, in the 1800s after going through the temple? (Michael Quinn’s argument.)

  18. Reminds me of the story of the 11 year old boy ordained to the priesthood (authorized by an apostle, his grandfather): ten days before he turned 12. See


    for details. (Said boy subsequently served as bishop in Cambridge MA, so it would seem that the ordination was deemed valid.) Seems like with the right authorization, pretty much anything is OK, and without such authorization, individual acts in the end are a wash.

    That being said, D&C 42:11 says “and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church” before an ordination really counts.

    So, TT, given that your case is obviously not “regular,” I’d say the woman would not have received the priesthood, the bishop would likely be released or at least talked to for not following the known and accepted practice of the church. (I would hazard that most stake presidents would question the judgment of a bishop who performed such an act.) Determination of “sin” and discipline — three of your questions — probably would depend on intent (i.e., was this an act of rebellion or protest, or simply cluelessness).

  19. In the last days great political, economic, social, & geo destructions will occur; (some) people will be separated from “lines of authority”.

    If you were the only MP holder in a large group isolated from ‘authority’ would you 1) do the Sacrament? 2) Ordain another to the MP to share in the giving of blessings?

  20. Listening closely to the temple ceremony recently I came to the realization that my wife is able to officiate in priesthood ordinances. Not that I’ve ever asked her to.

  21. It seems that for montamuse and Lon, authorization for giving the priesthood comes solely from the FP. But for Stephen B, this comes from the Spirit. There is an interesting tension here. In one case, the only thing preventing women from holidng the priesthood is the FP. In the other, as long as the Spirit were present in the ordination, a woman could conceivably receive the priesthood, even if it were outside the structures of the church.

  22. I think the main issue raised here is “obedience”. The following scripture, in my opinion, relates here. The Lord does not have great delight in priesthood blessings as in obeying the voice of the Lord.

    And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
    For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

    1 Samuel 15:22 – 23

  23. I think the main issue raised here is “obedience”. The following scripture, in my opinion, relates here. The Lord does not have great delight in priesthood blessings as in obeying the voice of the Lord.

    And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
    For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

    1 Samuel 15:22 – 23

  24. a random john (#20):
    A woman can participate in p/h ordinances only within the confines of the temple.

  25. mondo cool,

    I have no desire to get into the details of this here, but I selected my words very carefully in my previous comment and purposely did not say “participate.” I’m also not aware of language in the ceremonies that limit this to the temple, but that is what happens in practice.

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