Women and the Priesthood

What is the priesthood?

The Church defines the priesthood as "the power and authority of God" and how "God created and governs the heavens and the earth."[1]

In mortality, it is "power" delegated to "worthy male members of the Church" which "enables them to act in God’s name for the salvation of the human family."[2]

Can women hold the priesthood?

No. Someone who "holds" or "bears" the Priesthood holds an office in the Priesthood, such as Deacon or Apostle,[3] and can perform and officiate in ordinances.[4] These positions and responsibilities are only available to male members of the Church, starting at age 11.[5]

However, women can perform priesthood ordinances in the temple,[6] as well as participate as witnesses in certain ordinances, such as baptisms and sealings.[7]

Detail an illustration from the cover of the March 1936 issue of the Relief Society Magazine by Joseph A. F. Averett. While the image is about the founding of the Relief Society, keys are often used to represent priesthood authority.

Why can't women hold the priesthood?

It's unclear. President Gordon B. Hinckley[BIO] stated, "It was the Lord who designated that men in His Church should hold the priesthood."[8] In 2014, President M. Russell Ballard[BIO] cited this quote and added that "The Lord has not revealed why He has organized His Church as He has."[9]

Will women ever be allowed to hold the Priesthood?

Possibly, however when asked about women receiving the Priesthood in a 1998 interview, President Gordon B. Hinckley stated, "It would take another revelation to bring that about. I don't anticipate it."[10]

And in 2014, President Dallin H. Oaks[BIO] stated in General Conference that Church leaders "are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood."[11]

Does this mean that women are limited in their opportunities for leadership and service in the Church?

Yes. The Church is "governed by the priesthood," which means that women are limited in their opportunities for leadership[12] and certain types of service,[13] though there are some leadership positions held exclusively by women.[14][15]

Are there any women involved in the governing councils of the Church?

Yes. Since 2015, each of the following governing councils of the Church has had a permanent appointment of a female general authority: the Family Executive Council, the Missionary Executive Council, and the Temple and Family History Executive Council.[16]

But isn't it true that even though women have some positions of authority and governance in the Church, ultimately, in theory, all final decisions are made by men?


Doesn't that make women "second-class" citizens in the Church?

Some have argued this is the case.[17] Others have argued that the Church is empowering and helpful to women.[18]

Prominent Latter-Day Saint Women's Views on Women in the Church.




Sheri Dew[BIO]

CEO of Deseret Book

Former counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency

  • “There are hundreds of thousands of women, right now, who have legitimate leadership opportunities and expectations. As women in the Church we teach and preach, we expound doctrine, we serve missions as full-time proselyting missionaries, and we have leadership responsibilities.”[19]

  • "Why has the Lord organized His Church in this manner? I don't know. But followers of Christ have always been required to accept some things on faith. Unanswered questions are not unique in the annals of the Lord's Church. Only the Lord 'knoweth all things.'"[20]

Sharon Eubank[BIO]

First Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency

  • "And the answer to the question of 'Is this a woman's church,' rather than give you a premise or a thesis and back it up by a bunch of quotes, I'm only going to rely on my own experience and I'm going to tell you that my witness from being here and around the world is what I'm going to say to my Sisters: what you're hungry for, what you want most, is in this Church."[21]

Reyna Aburto[BIO]

Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency

  • "Priesthood authority is the permission or license to perform specific priesthood duties and comes from ordination to priesthood office and from being set apart for callings in the church. Priesthood authority is conferred by the laying on of hands under the direction of those who have priesthood keys. Women receive this authority in the form of a calling. Men receive this authority in the form of a calling or an office in the priesthood. President Dallin H. Oaks made that clear when he said, 'Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.'"[22]

Barbara Morgan Gardner[BIO]

Associate professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU

  • "Priesthood keys are 'the authority God has given to priesthood [holders] to direct, control, and govern the use of His priesthood on earth.' President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, explains, 'Every act or ordinance performed in the Church is done under the direct or indirect authorization of one holding the keys for that function.' Women have authority to perform their callings, under the direction of one who holds priesthood keys, just as men do."[23]

Valerie Hudson[BIO]

Professor of political science at Texas A&M

  • "The restored gospel of Jesus Christ is the strongest and most progressive force for women in the world today...Our Church authorities have been strong in their depiction of the equality of women and men before the Lord and before each other."[24]

  • "We have the most revolutionary and feminist doctrine."[25]

Expand Table

Do women in the Church want the priesthood?

In 2011 a national survey conducted by Pew Research indicated that 90% of active Latter-day Saint women do not agree that women should be ordained to the priesthood.[26] There are some Latter-day Saints, such as the "Ordain Women" organization, that have advocated for the ordination of women.[27]

Does the Church teach that men have the priesthood and women can have babies and that is somehow equal?

Kind of. The Church asserts the position that "women and men are equal, with different responsibilities,"[28] and that there are "eternal differences—with women being given many tremendous responsibilities of motherhood and sisterhood and men being given the tremendous responsibilities of fatherhood and the priesthood.”[29]

Wasn't there a female apostle in the primitive Church named Junia? Does that mean that she had the priesthood?

Junia is a woman mentioned in Romans 16 and is referred to as "prominent among the apostles" which has led some secular scholars to speculate[30] that she was one of the Twelve.[31]

However, in the New Testament the Greek word ἀποστόλος (apostolos)[32] can be translated multiple ways: as one of the twelve apostles[33] or as a messenger (or missionary),[34] and was often used interchangeably.[35] It is not always clear which definition Paul had in mind when he was writing Romans and what implications about priesthood roles or duties, if any, he intended to suggest with it.[36]

I heard that things were different in the early days of the Church—that women were ordained and gave blessings. Is that true?

Although Joseph Smith[BIO] used the term "ordain" when referring to Relief Society leadership,[37][38] there is no historical record indicating that he intended to ordain women to priesthood offices. And shortly after Joseph's death, Brigham Young stated that women can "never hold the keys of the priesthood apart from their husband."[39]

However, women gave non-priesthood blessings of healing by the laying on hands throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century.[40]

Timeline of Women and Blessings of Healing


Joseph Smith Sr.[BIO] gives a patriarchal blessing to Eda Hollister Rogers[BIO] and says that in the absence of her husband that she "shalt lay thy hands on [her children] and they shall recover."[41]


Joseph Smith[BIO] taught the Relief Society that there was "no sin" in women laying on hands to heal.[42]


Mary Ann Freeze[BIO] recorded in her diary that women were washed and anointed with oil before the receiving blessings of healing from other women.[43]


A eulogy in the Women's Exponent writes that Lucy Smith[BIO] blessed and healed a sick child.[44]


A eulogy in the Women's Exponent states that Susanne Smith Adam was "set apart" by Elder George A. Smith[BIO] in 1854 to "wait upon her sex in sickness."[45]


The editor of the Juvenile Instructor stated that "all members of the Church have a right to lay hands on the sick. . .even sisters can do this. . ."[46]


Ruth May Fox[BIO] recorded instructions from Elmina Shepard Taylor[BIO] that it was "all right" for women to seal blessings if there was no available priesthood.[47]


Relief Society general board minutes instruct women to "confirm" blessings rather than "seal" them.[48]


Joseph F. Smith[BIO] is reported to have performed a blessing with the assistance of two of his wives.[49]


In the April 1921 general conference President Charles Penrose[BIO] gives instruction that women should not "take the place that is given to the elders" with respect to administering to the sick.[50]


In a meeting with the Relief Society general board, a mission president said that women were still performing washings and anointings before blessings in his mission "without any harm having come from it."[51]


Pearl Knowles Everton[BIO] was reported to have been "appointed" in her ward to give blessings to expectant mothers.[52]


Joseph Fielding Smith[BIO] instructed the general board of the Relief Society that "the plan the Lord has given us" is to have Elders administer to the sick, but "under certain conditions and with the approval of the Priesthood" women could perform washings and anointings for healing.[53]


In the Improvement Era Joseph Fielding Smith quotes Joseph Smith saying that women may participate in blessings, but that these blessings are done by faith, not the priesthood.[54]


In Joseph Fielding Smith's book, Doctrines of Salvation, it states that blessings from women are not "necessary or wise" and should only be administered by the priesthood.[55]


In the 2020 General Handbook, Latter-day Saints are counseled against seeking spiritual healing outside of properly performed priesthood blessings.[56]

Expand Timeline

Does a woman receive the priesthood if she receives the second anointing?

Sort of. It depends on how you define "priesthood." Women who receive their second anointing are ordained as queens and priestesses.[57] But receiving the second anointing does not in itself authorize women to administer additional priesthood ordinances in this life.[58]

Do women have the priesthood and perform ordinances in the temple?

Yes and no. Joseph Fielding Smith said, "A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord."[59] Recently this has been echoed by Church leaders and publications in a more general sense, but there have not been any statements about women having the priesthood.[60]

The Facts

  • Only men can be ordained to the priesthood and hold priesthood offices and callings.

  • Women are delegated non-ecclesiastical positions of authority and leadership in the Church as callings.

  • The Church has no official position as to why women cannot hold offices in the priesthood.

  • In the past, women were allowed to do washing and anointings outside of the temple and perform blessings of healing by the laying on of hands.

  • Junia was a woman in a position of importance in the early Church, but no record exists indicating that she was given priesthood authority.

Our Take

From the inception of the Church, women have played crucial roles and continue to be vital contributors to its mission today. However, the male-only structure of the priesthood often seems like a historical vestige that appears outdated and sexist. For the numerous accomplished, skilled, and caring women within the Church, this policy can be a painful limitation, particularly when it prevents them from taking on leadership roles such as serving as a Bishop, shaping policy decisions, or offering blessings for the sick, including their own family members.

While women do carry out priesthood ordinances within the temple, the reasons behind the male-exclusive ordinations remain unclear. And although in the past women were encouraged to lay their hands on the sick to heal them in the name of Christ, today, this is discouraged. Some have argued that a change would benefit women and the Church, while others have argued that the gender roles in the Church are divinely inspired.

It's okay to have questions about the current policy and to hope that future changes may include the ordination of women. Recognizing the complexity of this issue enhances our ability to support and minister to Latter-day Saint women effectively. At the same time, we should maintain empathy for both those who find the current policy troubling and also those who consider the current policy to be inspired and beneficial. By acknowledging the significant ways women have and continue to exercise spiritual authority and service that benefits the Church, we can foster a more positive dialogue. And ultimately, we should find solace in the belief that any existing injustices will be corrected in the next life, thanks to the atonement of Jesus Christ.

What's Your Take?

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These takes are curated for a general audience and may contain minor edits when posted.
  • Anna Marie
    If the church is true, all the doctrine and history should make sense to me, right? No reason to question. But in the scriptures, the pattern is clear- the Lord requires great faith of his children. We must each inquire of the Lord for answers. We walk by faith and not by sight.
  • Barry W.
    Clearly a woman shares the priesthood in her family with her husband through temple marriage. That's the patriarchal priesthood. It's a foolish man who does not actively consult women regarding ecclesiastical decisions
  • Jace
    I have no problem with women being ordained as long as it comes through a revelation revealed to the Prophet and Apostles. Most men in the church that I know feel the same way. Maybe it happens some day and maybe it doesn't. Either way, I'm ok with it.
  • Carolyn
    Although questioning is healthy, faithful members should remember mortal beings are being directed by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. If we have confidence in our prophets, even though not understanding the “why’s”, we can feel confident they are obeying a higher power. Are we?