What LDS women are saying about priesthood — and how they supposedly have it — after a controversial sermon

Social media is buzzing with intense discussion about gender and power in a global faith that doesn’t ordain women.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Latter-day Saint faithful sing at a women's session of General Conference in 2022. Many members are speaking up about a talk given by a top leader suggesting that Latter-day Saint women are more widely empowered than women of other faiths.

Four days after a top female church leader called Latter-day Saint women the most widely empowered of any faith tradition, waves of comments were still flooding in.

By Thursday afternoon, more than 13,600 appeared below a post quoting the sermon on the official Instagram page of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Delivered by J. Anette Dennis, first counselor in the faith’s worldwide Relief Society presidency, the speech sought to expand on a relatively new way of conceptualizing the power known as the priesthood, defined as God’s authority and traditionally seen as the sole prerogative of worthy male members starting as young as age 11.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) J. Anette Dennis, first counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, speaks during the filming of a worldwide Relief Society devotional in the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. The devotional was broadcast Sunday, March 17, 2024. Her talk is getting pushback.

Men and boys, not women or girls, are ordained to priesthood offices.

Quoting church apostles, Dennis explained that Latter-day Saint women who have made covenants in one of the faith’s temples in a ceremony known as the endowment or been set apart to perform a volunteer assignment (known as a “calling”), “are endowed with priesthood power directly from God.”

Had that been all she said on the matter, it’s possible the next few days would have been quiet ones for the church’s public relations team. As it was, Dennis went further, stating, “There is no other religious organization in the world, that I know of, that has so broadly given power and authority to women.”

Below is a sampling of the thousands of responses that poured in, most pushing back and many from recognizable names long engaged in the push to elevating women’s voices in the Utah-based church.

“I’ve watched as Mormon women have been very clear about what helps them feel included in the church, and they’re chastised for it. I do have power and authority. God gave it to me and I gave it to me. Mormon women like Claudia Bushman and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Joanna Brooks gave it to me. The church has not.”

Rachel Hunt Steenblik, scholar and writer

“While the 19th-century Relief Society was a robust, independent organization, Relief Society today appears to mean little more than a bimonthly lesson that often regurgitates the remarks of male authorities. …We are rarely even given the authority or the budget to perform more than occasional local service projects. We are not meeting each other’s needs for community and practical support in our parenting and professions. Could we imagine something different?”

Natalie Brown, lawyer, scholar and Tribune guest columnist

After a technical issue at Meta, Instagram’s parent company, swallowed thousands of comments, Brown returned to add this:

“I regret hastily concluding that comments were deleted since it appears to have been a glitch. But I have also been contemplating why it seemed so natural to me that the church would delete them. …I have been attacked, harassed and labeled as a threat to the church or misinformed when I have sought to publicly express my concern about the role of women…I have learned that the church only wants certain voices.”

Natalie Brown (in a later post)

(Courtesy) Natalie Brown, Salt Lake Tribune guest columnist, says Relief Society women are "rarely even given the authority or the budget to perform more than occasional local service projects."

“No, women are not more empowered in our church than in any other. Men are in charge of everything. But…because it is a lay church, we have…opportunities to jump into our callings both to help others in meaningful ways, limited only by our capacities and sensitivities, as well as to gain tremendous skills as we learn to better, more effectively, work in groups and with individuals. I don’t know of another church that offers such opportunities…”

Helen Claire Sievers, academic and writer

“The Relief Society presidency is right that the LDS Church is a lay ministry, where every member is a minister, and women age 18 or older are members of Relief Society, a female ministry order numbering 8 million. …Yet Mormon feminists are right that LDS women’s ministry, authority and priesthood offices aren’t fully apparent as equally parallel with men’s nor explicitly communicated or enacted in terms of ordination, so LDS women’s authority doesn’t fully translate into gender equality in administration and decision-making. However, it could, easily, if the women’s ministry and priesthood offices were named, titled and ordained as in the [church’s early history].”

Maxine Hanks, feminist writer and scholar

“Please clarify what ‘priesthood authority’ actually means. What authority do LDS women actually have? We can serve in callings, serve in families and communities and pray…which EVERYONE can do. …It’s heartbreaking that our Heavenly Mother, our eternal prototype, was not mentioned once.”

Julie Hanks, therapist and podcast host

“Looking down on other women [in other faith traditions] in order to claim a pretense of gender equality in the LDS Church fails to see the hurt of LDS women cut out of institutional power and harms the ability of LDS people to make meaningful partnerships with other faiths on essential community issues.”

Katie Ludlow Rich, writer and scholar

“I was raised by this village, and there is so much to love about ‘my people.’ But to make a statement like this about other religions, who actually do offer women and all members the same power and position as men, is insensitive and disrespectful.”

Mindy Gledhill, musician

“The groundswell represented here would never have happened a decade ago. …Sisters, thank you for the soulful, reasoned and grounded responses presented here. Pushing against the fact of structural sexism while continuing to embrace the beauty of the gospel in our lives is the tension that will move us forward. Thank you for showing up here. This is the most hopeful I’ve felt in a long time.”

Neylan McBaine, writer and advocate

(Rick Bowmer | AP) Neylan McBaine, shown in 2021, is glad to see Latter-day Saint women speaking up.

Finally, the pushback did not go without, well, pushback.

“Our devotion to Heavenly Mother is a cishet white supremacist problem. There’s no other way to slice it. And the fact that many Mormon feminists don’t even know why that is is exhausting to try and explain repeatedly. We need to be more creative and less transphobic in our recreation of divinity.”

Kate Mower, nonbinary scholar and podcast host