When I was younger I really struggled with the question of why women couldn't hold the priesthood. In fact, for a little while my testimony was really shaken because I felt God was being unfair and demeaning to women.
Yet over the last few years, as I've really prayed and searched for understanding, God has given me tender mercies, pieces of understanding, that bring peace to my soul and answers to my doubts.
One of these tender mercies happened to me about a year ago when I was walking through my kitchen. On the wall next to the door we have a key shaped key holder on which we put all our household keys. The purpose of this holder is to keep our keys organized and in a safe spot, so that we always know where they are when we need them. When keys don't get put on this holder things get a bit chaotic at our house, resulting in frantic searches through the house for car keys, house keys, and shed keys which actually sometimes get lost for good.
As I looked at this key holder and reflected on its purpose, I realized that Priesthood authority is much like a key holder. In fact, we call men in the LDS church, who are authorized to administer and use Priesthood keys, Priesthood holders. Men aren't the priesthood, the Priesthood is the power of God, but men are the vessels that God has authorized to "hold" and watch over the keys of His Priesthood so that they aren't misused or lost. God has said that His house is a house of order and He has designated men responsible for keeping the keys of the Priesthood organized and safe so that when they are needed they will be available to all who seek them, both men and women.
Just because men have been given responsibility to hold the keys doesn't mean that they have more privileges, blessings, or power than women in the church, nor in spiritual things. The Priesthood is the power of God, and both men and women have equal access to the blessings and privileges associated with it. In fact, Priesthood keys can be "turned" by those who have authority in the behalf of women. Joseph Smith first did this in March of 1842 when he organized the Relief Society, which as one sister recalled his saying, “I will organize the women under the Priesthood after the pattern of the Priesthood.” (Sarah M. Kimball, “Auto-Biography,” Woman’s Exponent, 1 Sept. 1883, p. 51.)
Just like the Priesthood quorums, the Relief Society is self-governing but receives instruction and direction from Priesthood leaders who hold responsibility for the Priesthood keys. President Joseph Fielding Smith taught, “While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, … that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. Authority and Priesthood are two different things. 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.” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1959, p. 4.)
Women don't lose anything because they don't "hold" the keys or administer the Priesthood. They are still given the authority to participate in the same Priesthood ordinances and receive the exact same blessings as the men who administer the ordinances. The truth is that it just isn't women's responsibility to be key holders. God has given women other responsibilities that are in every way just as important for the eternal salvation of God's children as holding and administering Priesthood keys. True, these responsibilities aren't always as clearly defined or as acknowledged as ordinations to the Priesthood or the administering of ordinances are, but just because the world (or even church members) don't recognize their value and power doesn't mean that God doesn't. God is very aware of the important jobs women do on this earth and accepts their offerings and sacrifices.
Often times the world teaches women that if they don't have the exact same responsibilities or opportunities as men, they are being cheated and controlled. This is just another of Satan's lies. Men and women are different and God has given each different talents, gifts and responsibilities that enrich the lives of all human beings. Joseph Smith taught the early women of the Relief Society that "...Being organized under priesthood authority, they were to reject worldly concepts of power and seek the power that flows down from heaven for those functions and to those individuals who are using their time and talents in the Lord’s way." (Dallin H. Oaks, "The Relief Society and the Church", 1992)
Men and women aren't here on earth to compete against each other, but rather are here to help one another return to the presence of God. When men and women learn to respect and sustain one another in their sacred responsibilities, the work of God goes forth at a brilliant pace, blessing the lives of all the human family.
I am grateful that when I ask, God answers my questions and He gives me tender mercies of understanding. Now whenever I hang my car keys on the key holder in my house I am reminded that even though it is not my responsibility to be a holder of Priesthood keys, it doesn't mean that I have less power, privileges or blessings than men who have. It just means that God has a different purpose and mission for me, one that only I can accomplish. It helps me remember that God is not a respecter of persons, that He loves His daughters and much as He loves His sons, and that women have a noble and divine role to play in God's work.
guest post submission from Heather of Women in the Scriptures