I am tremendously grateful for the blessings of the priesthood in my life. I can scarcely count them.
But, in spite of the phrase’s popularity, I could never realistically claim that I have “the fullness of the blessings of the priesthood.” There are several reasons that I could never make this claim, principal among them is that the priesthood continues to bless my life in new ways constantly. Every week when I take the sacrament, I experience a new blessing of the priesthood. When I receive wise counsel from a bishop or stake president or general authority, I am experiencing a whole new blessing of the priesthood. When I give a blessing to a sick loved one or participate in any priesthood ordinance, I am experiencing yet another blessing of the priesthood.
I have read and heard many commenters say that the fullness of the blessings of priesthood are available to both men and women. I appreciate the sentiment. It is certainly true that some of the richest blessings of the priesthood are available to both men and women. Baptism. Confirmation. Temple endowments. Temple sealings. Priesthood ordinances and their associated covenants have blessed my life tremendously as they have blessed the lives of countless men and women in the Church for nearly 200 years in this dispensation and thousands of years of scriptural history before that.
But really the problem with the claim that “the fullness of the blessings of the priesthood are available to all” is so basic as to be almost tautological: Priesthood ordination is one of the blessings of the priesthood.
Under current Church policy, women do not have access to this blessing of the priesthood.
And it is a blessing. There are incredible powers, experiences, and gifts that are only available to those who have been ordained to and to those who serve in the priesthood. I think that in many instances when I gave a blessing of comfort or health, it was more of a blessing to me than to the person to whom I ministered, strengthening my testimony and my connection to the Divine above anything that the recipient received (though I certainly can’t speak for them). Blessing my two little children (as they screamed and screamed) in sacrament meeting was among the most precious and sacred experiences of my life. I have never felt a greater reverence for the sacrament than when I blessed it or passed it. Some of the most profound experiences I have had to affirm that God leads this Church came as I knelt in prayer during bishopric meetings seeking confirmation before the bishop extended that calling.
I know I am not alone in this feeling. I have heard countless men speak reverently and tenderly not only about their experiences in receiving priesthood blessings or ordinances, but about performing them. In fact, I wager to say that many Mormon men are more eager to share their experiences exercising priesthood authority than they are to discuss times when a priesthood leader ministered to them.
Even for Mormons who are not ordained to any priesthood office, this should be no surprise. Sacrament meeting speakers and Sunday School teachers regularly express that their lives were blessed in greater measure by preparing their talk or lesson than it could have been by hearing it. (Often expressed in a fashion such as this: “I got more out of preparing this talk than I think you could ever get out of hearing it.”) Upon their release, every bishop of every ward I have ever been in expressed deep and humble gratitude for the blessings he received from his service in that calling.
When counting the blessings of the priesthood, nothing could be less grateful than to exclude the magnificent blessings that are available to those who are ordained to and serve in the priesthood.
And gratitude is very important. God has instructed us that “in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.” (D&C 59:21)
Perhaps more to the point, though, gratitude is one of the keys to revelation. One of the most famous scriptures in the Book of Mormon is Moroni’s Promise, which states that “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (Moroni 10:5) In my experience, the key to receiving a testimony through revelation is found two verses before that passage:
Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. (Moroni 10:3, emphasis added)
Remembering “how merciful the Lord [has] been” from the time of Adam until today includes a lot of things, to say the least. It includes pondering the sacred teachings in the scriptures; contemplating Jesus Christ’s ministry, atonement, and resurrection; reflecting on the restoration of the Church and priesthood through Joseph Smith. It also includes counting the ways God has blessed your own life. Thinking about the people who have touched your life, giving thanks for the opportunity to learn the gospel, reflecting on the covenants into which you have entered through priesthood ordinances, and – if you are a priesthood holder – the blessings of priesthood ordination and priesthood service.
When we confess God’s hand in our lives, the windows of heaven – of revelation – swing wide open.
This was the case with me. I did not always believe in or advocate for women’s ordination. That is not to say that I advocated against it or held a strong contrary opinion. I simply didn’t think about it all that much. (As a person unaffected by the policy, it was my privilege not to think much about it.) I reasoned that since this is God’s Church and this was Church policy, ordaining only men to the priesthood must be God’s will. When I heard about people who believed women should be ordained, I often dismissed them and their concern, reasoning that there must be something they simply don’t understand about the priesthood or gospel that I do understand. (Though I never really bothered to figure out what special bit of gospel knowledge or testimony I had that they didn’t.)
But when I truly contemplated the rich blessings that have come to my life not just because of the priesthood, but because I hold the priesthood, I could no longer hold back. My heart swelled with gratitude for the blessings that priesthood ordination has brought into my life and with empathy for anyone kept from these blessings. That is when a surge of revelation came to me. That is when I gained a testimony that in order for the priesthood to bless the earth in its fullest measure, it can not be withheld from God’s daughters based on gender.
When I truly made an honest accounting of the ways that the priesthood – its restoration to the earth, my ordination in it, and the service it has helped me perform – has blessed my life, one of my most immediate reactions was to wish those same blessings for others. (Enos 1:9, 11) I thought about so many wonderful women in my life and the incredible honors and privileges I have had and they have been denied only because of biology. As I have “let [my] bowels be full of charity,” and empathized with women who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6) I feel as though the “doctrine of the priesthood [has] distil[led] upon [my] soul as the dews from heaven.” (D&C 121:45)
And what I have learned about the priesthood through my gratitude shouldn’t come as a surprise to any priesthood holder: Priesthood is about service.
The Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods are not clubs that draw value from their exclusive nature. They are God’s power on earth, entrusted to us only for the purposes of blessing God’s children. And accompanying them comes a charge to spread the gospel, to build the Church, and to share every blessing God has given you with others.
God “doeth that which is good among the children of men… and He inviteth all to come unto Him and partake of his goodness; and He denieth none that come unto Him.” (2 Nephi 26:33)
As a priesthood holder, I am a representative of God. And if God denies none that come unto Him, who am I to do so?
Honoring our past,
Envisioning our future.
Zachary Noyce, the author of this post, is on Ordain Women’s Male Allies Committee.