The Mormon Church issued a new essay Friday addressing the sensitive topic of women in the priesthood, clarifying that although women gave healing blessings in the early days they were never allowed to be priesthood holders.
An accompanying essay also published Friday explains the religion’s belief in a Heavenly Mother, calling it a “cherished and distinctive belief.”
The essays complete a series of 13 articles published in the last two years addressing sensitive parts of the religion’s doctrine or history. The series is part of a larger push by the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for transparency over secrecy when it comes to its history and beliefs.
“These essays are the first time the church has acknowledged so openly that women, priesthood, and God are complicated questions deserving serious study and thought,” said Joanna Brooks, editor of “Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings.”
It was taboo two decades ago to even talk about Heavenly Mother, Brooks said.
The article on the priesthood addresses founder Joseph Smith’s speaking of “ordaining women,” when he formed a women’s organization called the Relief Society. Smith was delegating women priesthood authority related to this organization only, the article says.
“Mormons sometimes used the term ordain in a broad sense, often interchangeably with set apart and not always referring to priesthood office,” it says.
The article can be taken as a rebuttal to pieces published by historians, feminists and theologians who argue Smith did, in fact, bestow priesthood on women since 1843, and that modern church leaders are incorrectly withholding this privilege from women, said Patrick Mason, associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in California and Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies.
“Anytime our leaders engage in topics our members are talking about, it’s good,” said Debra Jenson, chair of Ordain Women. “It’s exciting to see Heavenly Mother being discussed and being brought out in a way that we haven’t spoken about her before.”
The article points out that Mormon women hold other leadership positions and handle numerous important roles, such as preaching in congregations, participating in priesthood councils and serving proselyting missions.