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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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Critiquing Women & Priesthood Essay (Part 2 of 9)

In our last conversation, Dr. Margaret Toscano explained what she liked about the Gospel topics essay on women and priesthood.  This time, Margaret will look at weaknesses of the essay.

Margaret:  My general critique really centers around two things. On the one hand, I feel like that they’re not willing to look at all of the evidence, that they pick out evidence that supports their thesis. And maybe I should state what their thesis is. Their thesis is, they start out with this idea that people who look at the statements of Joseph Smith to the Relief Society of Nauvoo, they’re going to be surprised by the priesthood language that Joseph uses in relationship to women. So, how do you reconcile that? So I say that the thesis of the Church Essay is that Smith’s statements about women and priesthood do not mean what they seem to mean. When he says that “I’m going to make of you a kingdom of priests,” he’s not talking about priests in the sense of like a priesthood office or something. He’s referring to the temple, and that the temple only refers to family units and temple sealings, and men and women being sealed so that they can go to the celestial kingdom and become like God.

So, they say, “Well, that kingdom of priests only means, kind of like kings and priests, queens and priestesses in the temple.”  But I would argue, what are kings and priests and queens and priestesses in the temple? Is that self-evident? Right? They seem to think it is. The other thing that they say is that Joseph Smith never ordained women to any priesthood at all, and that the temple priesthood does not have any authoritative keys connected to it, and that the Relief Society was never intended to be a priesthood organization. So, of course, he made that statement where he says, two things: “The Relief Society should be organized in the order of the priesthood”; and Joseph Smith also said that the Relief Society “should move according to the ancient priesthood.”  They kind of say, “Well, those statements of Joseph Smith don’t mean what you might think they mean at all. Really, Joseph Smith’s views on the priesthood and women in the temple are exactly the same as what leaders today believe and teach.”

So they say that there’s no difference between Joseph Smith’s teachings, and the current leaders teachings at all. And so, “You don’t need to look at that language at all.” From my perspective, I say, “Well is there any evidence from Joseph Smith, from the Nauvoo period, that can contradict their central thesis and argument?” Obviously, I think there is. So I see that as a weakness in the sense that–I don’t want to say that it’s disingenuous. I think that the authors are convinced of their thesis. But the very fact that if you’re convinced, why won’t you look at contrary arguments? That’s where I have a problem with it.

Find out what else she had to say.  Check out our conversation….

Dr. Toscano critiques the Women & Priesthood essay.

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

544:  Strengths of Women & Priesthood Essay

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Opening Doors for LDS Female Historians (Part 3 of 5)

Over the past 30+ years, Richard Turley has worked hard to promote women in the Mormon History field.  Barbara Jones Brown sat down with Rick last summer and they share their collaborations together and how Rick has helped promote women.

Barbara: I owe so much to you, because you opened doors for me in terms of my career, to help me achieve the things that I wanted to work on and wanted to achieve, both in first hiring me to be content editor for book one, and then also asking me to join you as your co-author for book two.  I know that it’s not just me that you’ve opened those doors for and extended those opportunities to. I’ve seen so many women for whom you’ve done the same thing. Our MHA President-Elect Jenny Lund, for example, other women who worked on Mountain Meadows: Janiece Johnson, LaJean Carruth. I wonder if you could talk about all that you have done to help promote women in Mormon History and to promote the field of women in Mormon History, as well.

Richard:  Sure. Let’s talk first of all about women working in what was in the Church Historical Department, what is now the Church History Department. We wanted women and men both to be participants in all of the historical endeavors that we had in the Church Historical Department. At the time I arrived at church headquarters, there were very few women who were in the position of being a director. To understand the Church structure, you have the General Authorities, then you have managing directors, then you have directors of divisions. Then you have managers and supervisors and so forth. There were a number of women in some of those positions as supervisors and managers, but there were very few in director level positions. During the 30 years that I was privileged to be in the Church Historical Department, later called the Church History Department, my colleagues and I were able to promote women to the point where we ended up with five women total during that 30 years that I was there who were in director level positions. In addition to that, we wanted women to be reflected in the History of the Church.

Richard:  Traditionally, in the United States, and in many parts of the world, history had been written from a male perspective. We wanted history to be written from a women’s perspective. So that led, over time, to the creation of Women’s History part of the Church History Department and women who were hired to write that. I can think of, you know, many who fit into that: Kate Holbrook, Jenny Reader, Lisa Tate and others. In addition to that, I had a meeting at one point with Sheri Dew and with Kathy Chamberlain of Deseret Book and suggested to them that we needed to have more women’s history as part of what was offered to Church members in particular. We got together for dinner at a restaurant in the Joseph Smith Memorial building.  We talked it through, and at the end, I was expecting them to sort of take on that project and go do something about it. At the end, they nodded their heads and said, “Yes, we agree with you, 100%. Now, what are you going to do about it?” So I thought, “Well, if the ball is back in my court, then let’s see if we can launch something.”

Richard:  So I thought to myself, if I’m going to do this, I don’t want to do this alone. This ought to be a project that a woman is participating actively in. So I thought about our staff. We had a young, recent hire Brittany Chapman, now Brittany Chapman Nash. So, I approached Brittany and asked her if she’d be interested in this kind of a project. Brittany and I worked together on a series.  We ultimately produced four books on the subject.[1] She was new at the beginning, and so my name went on to the book first with hers after mine. I ultimately suggested that we maybe reverse that. At a certain point, she came to me and said, “I’m ready for that.” So if you look at the first volume, and the last volume and compare them, the first volume was my name first, her name second. The reality is, she did the majority of the work on those volumes, all four of them. At the end, her name is on top and mine’s underneath, and that’s more appropriate.

[1] The books are titled, “Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Volume 1-4.” Volume 1 can be purchased at  . Volume 2 can be purchased at . Volume 3 can be purchased at . Volume 4 can be purchased at  .


Were you aware of Richard’s promotion of women?  We also talk about how Richard set up the Church Historian’s Press.

Barbara Jones Brown talks with Richard Turley about how he has promoted LDS female historians.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Barbara and Rick!

476: Turley on MMM

475: Hired After Hofmann

Check out our conversation….