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Women’s Spiritual vs Ecclesiastical Priesthood (Part 7 of 9)

LDS Priesthood encompasses both spiritual and ecclesiastical aspects.  Dr. Margaret Toscano compares and contrasts her position on female priesthood with that of Dr. Jonathan Stapley.  Where are they similar and where do they converge?

Margaret:  Both Jonathan and I say, yes, if you look at 19th century views on the priesthood, not just women in priesthood, but even the larger issue of priesthood, I think we agree on two things. The 19th century did view it differently than we do now. They had a different view. I think both Jonathan and I really like to focus on the spiritual dimension of priesthood, the notion of how people use the priesthood in kind of a private way. Jonathan emphasizes that a lot with looking at blessing rituals, and so forth. Those are the two areas where we agree that current views are different. Maybe the way I could say that is that I think that when people think of the priesthood in the Church now, they think of it as the priesthood offices that men hold, and then their callings, how they function within the church ecclesiastical structure. Most people think of the priesthood in those terms. So, even if you think of that definition that’s used in the Church of what is the priesthood? It’s the power of God. Right? I think all of us have heard of that.

Where we disagree, and maybe it comes from a different focus, is that I think that if you look at Jonathan’s book, he uses a lot of documents from the 19th century Utah period, to look at how did people think and use priesthood in the 19th century, again, not so much in the ecclesiastical sense, but kind of on a private level? So, that’s his focus.

Mine, the focus I’ve always had, is looking at Joseph Smith, and looking at everything that Joseph Smith said and did, and asking, “How did Joseph Smith view the priesthood?”  My work really does focus on Joseph Smith’s views on priesthood. In that sense, I believe that Joseph Smith, and here we’re going from kind of just general how he saw priesthood in general to how he saw it with women. I feel like Joseph Smith’s statements and actions mean that he felt that women not only were they supposed to have priesthood, which he began to give them, but also that he felt like that there was a Church function with that. Because of the priesthood that they received through the endowment, that they had various functions that they can perform within the Church. I think Joseph Smith felt like that the Relief Society was supposed to be women’s priesthood organization. So, that’s really where Jonathan and I very much disagree.  He sees the idea that, “Yeah, they had the spiritual authority and power, but it didn’t give them any justification for functioning within the Church structure.”  I think that’s the big difference. I think there are ways in which he and I overlap in the way we look at it, but I think that’s the kind of central difference.

Do you side with Jonathan or Margaret?  Check out our conversation….

Dr Margaret Toscano compares & contrasts her opinions on early Mormon priesthood with Dr Jonathan Stapley.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Margaret!

549:  Priest or Priestesses?

548: Quorum of the Anointed

547:  Keys of the Priesthood

546: Joseph’s Statements on Women & Priesthood

545: Critiqing Women & Priesthood Essay

544:  Strengths of Women & Priesthood Essa

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Joseph’s Statements on Women & Priesthood (Part 3 of 9)

In a previous interview with Dr. Jonathan Stapley, he stated that when early Mormon women healed, it wasn’t through Priesthood.  Dr. Margaret Toscano disagrees with Jonathan’s position.

Margaret:  I think that there’s quite a bit of evidence to show that. Again, I think that the big difference [between Jonathan and me is how we connect God’s power with priesthood power]. And it’s funny. I said this in my 1984 essay [that Joseph’s view of priesthood is different than how the Church views it today]. I think today in the Church, when we talk about [that] it’s the power of God, we think about the organization. It’s the power of God, where you can have an office in the Church or have a calling in the Church or whatever. But we don’t see it as–and even though, obviously, we acknowledge that you have to have spiritual power– I don’t think we see it as this necessary power that is part of the process of sanctification. The more I studied Joseph Smith’s statements about priesthood, I became convinced that for him, priesthood was kind of this series of ordinances, and that the ordinances are both a conduit to connecting to spiritual power, but they’re also an outward expression of what should be happening in the interior for us. So, I mean, even if you think about the whole idea of the power of godliness, it’s the power to make you godly. I think that’s partly what it means. So, we kind of focus on the church ecclesiastical function.

Margaret:  I think Joseph Smith was more concerned with the spiritual cosmological aspect of it. So even though Joseph Smith didn’t use the term cosmological, he used, again, the fullness of the Melchizedek [priesthood], the priesthood of Elijah, the Messianic priesthood.  Those were terms that Joseph Smith used, and he connects that. He used the term the fullness of the priesthood. You have this full power of the priesthood to bring you into the presence of God, which, of course, the temple does symbolically. It represents that journey of the soul from the pre-mortal world to go back to God. I see the endowment of priesthood as being part of that.

Margaret:  I want to say one more thing about this, I think for Joseph Smith, he saw the fullness of the priesthood as residing in individuals, that when you are given priesthood, God plants his power in you. Whereas, I think in the Church, we think of priesthood as the power residing in the institution. Then the institution can grant you power to act within the Church structure. But I think Joseph Smith saw priesthood, it was an endowment of power. It’s called an endowment. You’re endowed with power, and it’s internal. Now, obviously, you cannot act. You can’t ordain yourself to be an elder or you can’t say, “No, I’m really called to be the bishop.” But again, that’s an ecclesiastical thing. But I think from Joseph Smith’s perspective, that that spiritual power was the center, and that was the most important part of it.

GT:  Well, that’s interesting, because I think the issue, especially when I was talking with Jonathan, but I think with the essay as well is, in modern times, we have kind of conflated priesthood with priesthood office. I know Jonathan’s point, and I think the essay’s point, too, as well is, women were not ordained teachers, priests, deacons, elders, high priests, etc. I think everybody can get on board with that. The problem is, this definition of priesthood–today we equate priesthood with priesthood office. But that’s not necessarily how Joseph viewed priesthood.

Margaret:  No, I don’t think he did.

GT:  When we say that women have priesthood, or even Joseph Smith, when women have priesthood via the endowment, or even you said earlier, baptism, which kind of surprised me when you said that. That use of the word is completely separate from priesthood office. So, is that the issue? Is [the issue] that modern people equate priesthood with priesthood office rather than spiritual power? I mean, is that a way to view this issue?

Margaret:  Well, I think that that’s part of the problem. But I think it’s more complicated than that in the sense that, again, if you go back to these women, Eliza Snow, Bathsheba Smith, Sarah Kimball–people called Eliza Snow, a High Priestess–I think that those women really did think that the Relief Society, which was a Church organization, it’s not as though they saw it as a separate organization, or it wasn’t part of the Church. But I think that they saw their roles in the Relief Society as a kind of church function. Now, again, that didn’t make them Elders in the Church, right? So that’s one issue. I do think that in those 19th century women, [they] saw more of an overlap than we ever would.

What are your thoughts?  Check out our conversation….

Margaret Toscano analyzes Joseph statements to the Relief Society concerning priesthood power.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Toscano.

545: Critiqing Women & Priesthood Essay

544:  Strengths of Women & Priesthood Essay

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Strengths of Women & Priesthood Essay (Part 1 of 9)

We’re continuing our series on the “Gospel Topics Series” book, edited by Dr. Matt Harris and Dr. Newell Bringhurst.  Dr. Margaret Toscano is back to discuss the Gospel Topics essay on Women, Temple, and Priesthood.  We’ll find out more of her background in writing the book and discuss the essay’s strengths.

Margaret:  I’m excited that the book came out. We actually worked on this for a long time. At the very end, I actually had to add some new material, because there had been a couple of important changes in terms of women’s place in the Church. A couple of months right before Signature [Books, the publisher] put it out, I added material. It was maybe four or five months before it came out. So, that was interesting, too, to see how the LDS Church is a church where things can change. That was an interesting addition that happened.

GT:  Well, cool. So one of the things that I really liked about the book as a whole was that Matt and Newell asked each of the writers to talk about the strengths of the [Church] essay, the weaknesses of the essay, what was left out. Could you start us off with what you really liked about the essay, and then we’ll talk about the weaknesses?

Margaret:  Well, first of all, I was just happy that the essay came out. I think it was really important for the Church to acknowledge that Joseph Smith made a lot of statements of connecting women and priesthood, and also the temple. So, the very fact that they have an essay that addresses the questions of, “What is women’s relationship to the priesthood? What did Joseph Smith say? How does that relate to what’s in the temple? And how do Joseph Smith’s statements relate to what we have in the Church today?” So, from my perspective, the very fact that they address the topic, I saw as very significant. I think it’s important that there is the possibility of looking at difficult questions in the Church, whereas sometimes things have been pushed under the rug a little bit. I’m glad that this came out.

Margaret:  I think it’s significant that the Church essay on Joseph Smith on Priesthood, Temple and Women, came out in 2013, which was the same year that Ordain Women happened. [Ordain Women was] where you had, first, an online group. It was advocating for women’s ordination. Then there were a couple of actions where women went to the Conference Center and asked for admission to the priesthood session. So, the fact that the essay came out at the same time, obviously shows–I think it’s obviously– I mean, I don’t know if there’s complete proof, but you can say, “This was a response to what was happening in the Church.” I think that, in spite of the fact that Ordain Women [is now really out of the news, but] it was very important for a while. Then in 2014, after Kate Kelly was excommunicated, it sort of went quiet.  It’s still there. We still have a group. The website is still there; you still have women who are advocating for ordination. But I think that also it became more acceptable in the Church, maybe even in Sunday school or Priesthood or Relief Society, to talk about the issue of women’s ordination. So that conglomeration of events, the Ordain Women movement, the Church essay, the other things, meant that people began to talk about these issues. I see that as very positive, just that we can talk about them and say, “Well, what do we really know?  What is the Church’s position?” So, that for me is the most important thing [the Church essay represents].

GT:  Let me go on there for just one second, because I know Matt had mentioned on another interview that the Church had considered putting out an essay on Masonry and the Temple, but they decided not to. So do you think that it was because of Ordain Women that– or to put it a different way– if Ordain Women hadn’t come out, do you think the Church might have avoided talking about women and priesthood?

Margaret:  That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think they may have still talked about it, because it has been one of the big issues. Even without Ordain Women, I first started talking about women, and Joseph Smith, and the temple and priesthood back in 1984. It has been an ongoing discussion that obviously feminists bring up. But I think even [for mainstream] women in the Church, there’s been a lot of discussion about women and priesthood. I think definitely Ordain Women pushed it in that direction.

What are your thoughts of women & Priesthood essay?  Check out our conversation….

Dr. Margaret Toscano tells the strengths of the Women, Temple, and Priesthood essay.

Don’t miss our previous conversation with Dr. Toscano!

373: Arguing Against Genderless God

372: Turning Key to Relief Society Quorum

371: Why LDS Leaders Don’t Like Popular Speakers

370: Charismatic, Ecclesiastical, & Messianic Priesthood

369: Theological Case for Women & Priesthood

368: An Excommunicated Believer

367: Feminist Awakening at BYU

366: Toscano: From BYU to Utah