The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints recently released two new essays as part of a now-completed series of scholarly articles covering more controversial Gospel topics and beliefs. The first essay, entitled Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women, further explains the roles of men and women in Church leadership and Priesthood organization. We’d encourage you to read the full essays for proper context, but here are some notable statements:
This statement shed light on the cultural origins and meaning of the word, “priesthood”:
Joseph Smith taught that Christ’s priesthood was lost after the deaths of the ancient apostles and had been newly restored through angelic ministration. Even so, many Latter-day Saints initially understood the concept of priesthood largely in terms common for the day. In 1830s America, the word priesthood was defined as “the office or character of a priest” and “the order of men set apart for sacred offices,” identifying priesthood with religious office and the men who held it. Early Latter-day Saints likewise thought of priesthood primarily in terms of ordination to ecclesiastical office and authority to preach and perform religious rites.
This statement explains Joseph Smith’s use of the terms, “ordain” and, “set apart”, when referring to the organization of the Relief Society:
Two aspects of Joseph Smith’s teachings to the women of the Relief Society may be unfamiliar to members of the Church today. First is his use of language associated with priesthood. In organizing the Relief Society, Joseph spoke of “ordain[ing]” women and said that Relief Society officers would “preside over the Society.” He also declared, “I now turn the key to you in the name of God.”
These statements indicate that Joseph Smith delegated priesthood authority to women in the Relief Society. Joseph’s language can be more fully understood in historical context. During the 19th century, Latter-day Saints used the term keys to refer at various times to authority, knowledge, or temple ordinances. Likewise, Mormons sometimes used the term ordain in a broad sense, often interchangeably with set apart and not always referring to priesthood office. On these points, Joseph’s actions illuminate the meaning of his words: neither Joseph Smith, nor any person acting on his behalf, nor any of his successors conferred the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood on women or ordained women to priesthood office.
This statement further explained the oft-reported instances of women in the early Church who blessed the sick:
During the 19th century, women frequently blessed the sick by the prayer of faith, and many women received priesthood blessings promising that they would have the gift of healing. “I have seen many demonstrations of the power and blessing of God through the administration of the sisters,” testified Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney, who was, by her own account, blessed by Joseph Smith to exercise this gift. In reference to these healing blessings, Relief Society general president Eliza R. Snow explained in 1883, “Women can administer in the name of JESUS, but not by virtue of the Priesthood.”
The second essay entitled, Mother in Heaven, covers the seldom-discussed topic of our Father in heaven’s companion. Some notable statements include:
Latter-day Saints direct their worship to Heavenly Father, in the name of Christ, and do not pray to Heavenly Mother. In this, they follow the pattern set by Jesus Christ, who taught His disciples to “always pray unto the Father in my name.” Latter-day Saints are taught to pray to Heavenly Father, but as President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.”
and this encouraging quote as well:
“We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us when we do all we can.”
These two essays bring the total of the series to 13. All the essays can conveniently be found on this page on lds.org.