In April 2014, Elder Oaks gave a sermon on women and priesthood. Dr. Jonathan Stapley said this was no ordinary talk. He called it theologically groundbreaking! I was a bit surprised how revolutionary Stapley felt the sermon was. It seemed to me to be a response to the Ordain Women movement which was asking for women to be allowed to attend the priesthood session of General Conference. I saw the address under a different light than Jonathan.
GT: I remember just thinking, “Oh, this is just to placate the Kate Kelly people and to say, ‘Women, you’ve already got priesthood. You just didn’t know it yet.’” But you’re saying this is a theological change.
Jonathan: When Elder Oaks delivered that sermon, I was looking around like, does anyone else [recognize this?] This is mind-blowing. I couldn’t believe it. And everyone else was just like, “Oh yeah, this is just Elder Oaks.” Revolutions happen sometimes a very subtly apparently.
Jonathan: It’s certainly a linguistic shift and language frames our reality. So, it is certainly, for example, an interesting piece from Elder Oaks’ sermon was he was quoting in many parts from a sermon that Joseph Fielding Smith gave to the Relief Society in a general Relief Society meeting. And in this meeting Joseph Fielding was as I remember, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve at the time, discussed women’s authority in the church and how they were heirs to a great heritage, but also heirs to authority and their capacity of the work in the Relief society and the temple. But he was quick to say, you have authority to do this work. You have authority in the temple, but authority is not the same thing as priesthood.
Jonathan: And Elder Oaks takes this sermon he talks about, he quotes Joseph Fielding Smith, how women have this great authority in the church and this great heritage. And then he stops and says, what else can this authority be except priesthood? Right? So, it’s this really wonderful kind of re-imagining of what these terms mean. At the same time, reaching to our past to grab hold of our past and make sure we’re still connected, but also in very interesting and creative ways, refashioning it in a way that makes more sense for the present.