Women Mormon Ministers

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Joseph Smith’s teachings on Mormon priesthood and women, according to two new essays posted Friday.

The final of two essays released by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affirm that women cannot be ordained to the priesthood, even though they can assume positions of leadership in preaching and prayer, in addition to participating in church councils.

Much of the Mormon belief is based on the teachings of Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who is reported to have experienced a vision in which the Angel Moroni guided him to a book of golden leaves which contained the history of a Jewish community, that included prophets that had been led to the American continent some 800 years before Christ and lived there for four centuries after the appearance of Jesus Christ. Smith published an English translation of this, which came to be known as the Book of Mormon. He organized the church in 1830 and along with his followers, he set out west, hoping to found a modern day Zion.

Early Mormons identified the term “ordain” as “handing over the keys” allowing those ordained to preside over the structure of the church. Much of the confusion arises from the establishment of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo in 1842, where Joseph Smith, in his own words, “turned the key to them in the name of God.” It was only in 1880 that John Taylor, the third President of the LDS Church (Joseph Smith was the first) clarified that this did not mean ordination to the priesthood, citing history – neither the priesthood descended from Aaron nor the order of Melchizedek had any women who served as priests.

Joanna Brooks of the San Diego State University, a Mormon writer herself, says these essays throw light on the position of women in the church, and Andrea Radke-Moss of the Brigham Young University at Idaho believes this is a step in the right direction, relieved that they don't dwell on why women cannot be ordained. Interestingly, Brigham Young, after whom the university was named, was an early leader of the LDS Church and Joseph Smith's successor, becoming the second President of the church. Radke-Moss adds that there is nothing in the documents to suggest that the status quo will continue, and so is hopeful of change. The Mormon Church has a following of more than 15 million worldwide.

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