Read LDS female leader’s controversial speech about ‘priesthood power and authority’

J. Anette Dennis spelled out how Latter-day Saint women can draw on that power.

(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. It was broadcast Sunday, March 17, 2024.

Back in March, a top women’s leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spurred headlines — and a fair amount of heartburn and heartache — when she discussed the “priesthood power” exercised by the global faith’s women.

“There is no other religious organization in the world that I know of,” J. Anette Dennis, first counselor in the church’s Relief Society for women, said in a worldwide devotional, “that has so broadly given power and authority to women.”

That statement raised eyebrows among many inside and outside the patriarchal church, which does not ordain women.

The text to her March 17 address — titled “Accessing God’s Power Through Covenants” — has been published on the faith’s website. Here is a transcript:

Dear sisters, our prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, has spoken repeatedly concerning the priesthood power available to men and women through a covenant relationship with God. He said:

“Every woman and every man … who participates … in priesthood ordinances [and makes and keeps covenants with God] has direct access to the power of God. Those who are endowed in the House of the Lord receive a gift of God’s priesthood power by virtue of their covenant, along with a gift of knowledge to know how to draw upon that power.

“The heavens are just as open to women who are endowed with God’s power flowing from their priesthood covenants as they are to men who bear the priesthood.”

As daughters of God, we can be endowed with priesthood power — the power of God that comes to us as we make and keep priesthood covenants. This has such important implications. As endowed women, we have the right to draw liberally on the Savior’s power to help ourselves, our families, and others.

I received my own endowment when I was 20 years old, but for decades I did not understand the heavenly power I had access to through the covenants I had made with my Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ. However, now as I look back, I recognize the added strength and capacity I was given to weather the many different challenges in the varied circumstances of my life. What a blessing that we live in a time when there is more understanding of the increased power, peace and strength that can be ours through a covenant relationship with God.

Our Father in Heaven loves all his children, and he wants to be involved in our lives. But he will not violate our agency. He will not force himself into our lives. When we use our agency to choose to enter a covenant relationship with him, we are witnessing to him that we want him to be more deeply involved in our lives and that we are willing to pay the price to receive the increased power and privileges that come with that covenant relationship.

As our prophet has taught, when we enter a covenant relationship with God, our relationship with him becomes much closer than before our covenant and he will never abandon that relationship. He will never tire in his efforts to help us, and he will never exhaust his patience with us. We are joyfully bound together through an everlasting covenant that we have chosen to enter into with him.

This knowledge should give us great peace and assurance as we go through the difficulties and heartaches of this life. God’s priesthood power will amplify our spiritual gifts and talents, it will give us strength beyond our own to carry the heavy burdens of mortality, and it will give us the peace and power we need as we face the physical, emotional and spiritual earthquakes of our lives.

This power that flows from our covenants can bless our lives in so many different ways because it is God’s power! Mothers can draw on his power for added capacity and energy to meet their daily challenges and more clearly hear the Lord’s direction to help and guide their children. Those who have lost a loved one through death or divorce can call on his power to feel comforted and carried. God’s power can also give hope to those who have trouble seeing any light in their lives because of the very difficult life circumstances they face.

In addition to the power we can be blessed with through keeping our priesthood covenants, when we are called and set apart or assigned to help with God’s work, we are also given priesthood authority — God’s authority to represent him as we fulfill our callings and assignments. In 2014, when my husband and I were serving as mission leaders in Ecuador, President Dallin H. Oaks said this in General Conference: “We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their church callings, but what other authority can it be?” I was so grateful to have this added understanding, and I’ve tried to teach this truth ever since to the women in my circles of influence. President Nelson said, “As a righteous, endowed Latter-day Saint woman, you speak and teach with power and authority from God.”

There is no other religious organization in the world that I know of that has so broadly given power and authority to women. There are religions that ordain some women to positions such as priests and pastors, but very few relative to the number of women in their congregations receive that authority that their church gives them. By contrast, all women 18 years and older 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. And as we serve in whatever calling or assignment, including ministering assignments, we are given priesthood authority to carry out those responsibilities. My dear sisters, you belong to a church which offers all its women priesthood power and authority from God!

Nevertheless, just as he tried to do with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the tree of life, the adversary wants to focus our attention on what we haven’t been given and blind us to all that we have been given. Sisters, generations coming after us will be influenced by the choices we are making now. Let us choose a deeply connected covenant relationship with our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ so that we can invite their power, their strength and their relief more fully into our lives.

I know that the divine privileges and blessings that can be ours as we choose that covenant relationship will bless our children and grandchildren for generations to come.