LDS Church gives more power to women than any other religious organization, leader declares

It is unknown how many women skipped Sunday services as part of a boycott.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) J. Anette Dennis, first counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency; President Camille N. Johnson; and Kristin M. Yee, second counselor, pose in the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City during the filming of the worldwide Relief Society devotional broadcast on March 17, 2024. The three spoke about priesthood power and the importance of the "endowment" during a March 17 worldwide devotional in which church President Russell M. Nelson offered closing remarks.

Latter-day Saint women who have made covenants with God in the faith’s temples are “endowed with priesthood power,” a leader in the global Relief Society declared during a prerecorded worldwide broadcast Sunday celebrating the 182nd anniversary of the founding of the women’s organization.

“There is no other religious organization in the world,” J. Anette Dennis, first counselor Relief Society General Presidency, said, “that I know of, that has so broadly given power and authority to women.”

Her reasoning: Yes, other faiths ordain women to roles like priest or pastor, but those individuals represent a small minority when compared to the total number of women within their congregations.

“By contrast, all women, 18 years and older,” she explained, “in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who choose a covenant relationship with God in the House of the Lord are endowed with priesthood power directly from God.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) In a talk during Sunday's devotional, J. Anette Dennis, first counselor Relief Society General Presidency, said she was not aware of any other religious organization "that has so broadly given power and authority to women.”

And that’s not all.

All Latter-day Saint women are given priesthood authority to fulfill their callings, or volunteer positions within their congregations, and other assignments, she said, regardless of whether they have performed the rituals found within the faith’s temples.

“My dear sisters,” she concluded, “you belong to a church which offers all its women priesthood power and authority from God.”

Priesthood authority vs. priesthood office

The idea that Latter-day Saint women act with priesthood authority isn’t entirely new.

More than a decade ago, a grassroots campaign for female ordination ended with church leaders excommunicating a chief organizer, Kate Kelly. In a sermon broadcast months before that action, apostle Dallin H. Oaks, next in line to head up the Utah-based faith, explained that women utilize the priesthood when performing the work the church calls them to do, asking “what other authority can it be?”

Dennis cited this talk, as well as one from church President Russell M. Nelson, in which the current leader explained, “As a righteous, endowed Latter-day Saint woman, you speak and teach with power and authority from God.”

If some women have not always appreciated this fact, it is because, Dennis said, “the adversary wants to focus our attention on what we haven’t been given and blind us to all that we have been given.”

‘It doesn’t speak to the pain’

Not everyone was convinced.

Elizabeth Ostler, editor-in-chief of the LDS Women Project, pushed back on Dennis’ remarks.

“While I do think it is helpful to recognize that endowed women have the priesthood and are utilizing that priesthood more than we may be aware, this claim doesn’t actually address the grievance within our community,” she said. “It doesn’t speak to the pain or desire that many members have about how we talk about, understand and use the priesthood in our services and homes.”

To this point, Kristine Haglund, a writer and former editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, noted that the church’s patriarchal structure bars women from its central decision-making structure in their local congregations and church headquarters.

“Latter-day Saint women’s ecclesiastical authority is dramatically less,” she said, “than in churches which extend priesthood to women.”

While “distinguishing between priesthood power and priesthood office in this way may feel empowering for many LDS women,” Haglund said, “the fact that women’s priesthood power is exercised exclusively with the permission and at the direction of men who hold priesthood office feels constraining and disempowering to many.”

So disempowering, in fact, that one woman, discouraged at the recent removal of women from the stand in a few Bay Area congregations, called on other Latter-day Saint women to boycott Sunday’s services, the same day of the broadcast.

“To my fellow sisters, here’s what I’m thinking. If the church would like us to be less visible, let’s help them out,” Seattle Latter-day Saint Kierstyn Kremer Howes wrote in a widely read op-ed published by The Salt Lake Tribune. “Let’s just not show up.”

In a follow-up op-ed last week, she described hearing from “a lot of women” who responded to her previous piece with stories of “being belittled, maligned, insulted and ignored.”

Those messages only reinforced her position, Kremer Howes wrote, explaining that, come Sunday, she would “try to get five hours of sleep instead of the usual four.”

Afterward, Kremer Howes said in an interview, she received emails from “a few” women who said they “love the idea and are planning on sleeping in on that day as well,” although it was unclear by Sunday afternoon how many ultimately participated.

Don’t wait until marriage, mission to receive ‘endowment’

President Camille N. Johnson, head of the nearly 8 million-strong global Relief Society, followed her counselor by encouraging listeners who had not yet received their “endowment” — a sacred temple ritual in which individuals make promises to God — to do so, explaining they need not wait for marriage or a mission as has customarily been the case.

To be eligible, she said, women must:

• Be “worthy.”

• Be at least 18 years old.

• Have completed or are no longer attending high school or secondary school.

• Have been a member of the church for at least a year.

• “Feel a desire to receive and honor temple covenants throughout their lives.”

Kristin M. Yee, second counselor in the Relief Society presidency, spoke poignantly about how her own “covenant relationship” with God has served her as a single woman.

“Sometimes, at the end of the day,” the former Disney artist explained, “I want to talk to someone about a tender mercy from the Lord that I’ve witnessed or a difficult situation I’m struggling with.”

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Kristin Yee of the global Relief Society presidency visits with Relief Society sisters after a special meeting involving multiple congregations at a church meetinghouse in San Diego on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. In her talk Sunday, Yee spoke about the comfort entering into a "covenant relationship" with God has granted her as a single woman.

At times, God intervenes, she said, sending a friend or family member her way in the exact right moment.

“But many times, I have had the privilege and blessing of speaking to my Father in Heaven about my day and the feelings of my heart,” she said. “Because of this, I’ve become better acquainted with God and better at counseling with him.”

Nelson, who, at 99, occasionally slurred words and spoke in a sometimes-halting manner, closed the recorded devotional by extolling the gifts he said were intrinsic to women, including a special “receptivity to the Spirit and an enhanced moral compass.”

“In saying this, I do not absolve men from distinguishing right from wrong or from doing the spiritual work to receive revelation,” Nelson explained. “However, if the world should ever lose the moral rectitude of its women, the world would never recover.”