Oh, Lay your hands

October 24, 2005    By: Geoff J @ 3:29 pm   Category: Mormon Culture/Practices,Scriptures

Over at BCC Kris posted on the subject of women healing. She focused on the ritual of healing through the laying on of hands in the post. She writes:

Most members would agree that women are not precluded from receiving or seeking any of the spiritual gifts outlined in Doctrine & Covenants Section 46, “And again, to some it is given to have faith to be healed, and to others it is given to heal.” This is not a gendered statement. Yet while it seems that Mormon women are not officially forbidden to heal, they are prohibited from engaging in the rituals of healing. The current Handbook states that, “only brethren who hold the necessary priesthood and are worthy may perform an ordinance or blessing or stand in the circle.” In this system, women become “hidden healers”; often the gift of healing that literally lies at their fingertips is unused, accidentally discovered and sometimes serves as the source of confusion or guilt.

I agree that there is a problem and faithful Mormon women do not heal the sick nearly as often as they could or should. I disagree with the solution that Kris hints at however. She opined that “often the gift of healing that literally lies at their fingertips is unused” and indicated that the problem is that women are currently precluded from modern priesthood healing rituals. My contention is that the healing of the sick has very little to do with the rituals we currently use to begin with.

As Kris points out, healing the sick is a gift of the spirit. The priesthood is not required to heal or receive any of the gifts of the spirit. The current practice of anointing with consecrated oil and sealing that anointing by the authority of the higher priesthood is also not required to heal the sick. The scriptures are full of examples of healing happening apart from the most common practices in the church today. Here are just a few examples:

Elijah telling Naaman to bathe in the Jordan to be healed of leprosy

The woman who was healed by touching the clothes of Jesus
The blind man that was healed by Jesus using some home made mud

What do these examples have in common? — A makeshift ritual of some sort was used in each of them. What can we learn from that? – One thing is that rituals of some kind do seem to help in healing. I believe this is because healing is a result of faith on the side of the person healing or the side of the sick person or both. I believe rituals have the effect of focusing the mind and in my experience focusing the mind is a major part of generating miracle-producing faith. So the Jordan River did not heal Naaman, the clothes of Jesus did not heal the woman, and the mud did not heal the blind man; those were simply tools to increase the faith of the afflicted (and perhaps the healer as well). In each case the sick were healed by faith.

Kris doesn’t explicitly say it, but she does imply that the current church policy precluding women from standing in on priesthood blessing of healing or administering similar blessings of healings themselves hamstrings the ability of Mormon women to heal. While I agree changing current policy would help many women wake up to their rights to call upon healing, I don’t think that Mormon women should wait for such a change or that they need to. Mormon women can heal today with or without standardized priesthood rituals. They just need to realize their rights and use them.

Knowing that you can heal is crucial to the faith of the healer. Any Mormon woman that thinks healing is not her right needs to read the scriptures about the gifts of the spirit again. It is as much her right as it is the right of qualified priesthood holders. As she studies the scriptures her faith as a healer can grow. The second part is the faith of the sick. This might be more difficult with adults who incorrectly believe that women can’t heal, but children know when to have faith their mothers. If mom says she can to talk to God and ask for (and receive) a healing blessing the child will not doubt her mother knows it. If one feels a ritual of some kind would help I liked the example in Kris’s post of a girl holding the hand of her dying father and praying for him (with miraculous results).

Now, sisters, comes the hard part. (Or as the men in the audience are thinking “welcome to our world”.) You need to give an inspired prayer. Not just a prayer, but a prayer that is revealed to you, or at least one where the words are guided by God himself through the Holy Spirit. When God does guide your words you know it (at least I do). See these scriptures about having prayers directed by God (italics mine):

29 And if ye are purified and cleansed from all sin, ye shall ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done.
30 But know this, it shall be given you what you shall ask; (D&C 50:29-30)

5 And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will. (Hel 10:5)

30 He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God; wherefore it is done even as he asketh. (D&C 46:30)

24 And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus prayed unto the Father, he came unto his disciples, and behold, they did still continue, without ceasing, to pray unto him; and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray (3 Nep 19:24)

The idea seems to be that in order to get real miracles we need to have a dialogue with our heavenly father. That dialogue bolsters our faith and as we pray he lets us know what we can or should request. (No one ever said healing was going to be easy…)

The last scriptures that I think apply to both men and women that wish to exercise the gift of healing are the teachings in D&C 121. After giving us a long set of instructions on what is required for us to be both called and chosen the Lord says this to both the men and women of the church:

45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

Did you catch the IF/THEN promise there?

IF we are a) filled with charity and b) let virtue garnish our thought unceasingly…

THEN a) Our confidence will be strong as we pray for miracles b) the doctrines of God’s power (the priesthood) will slowly become clear to us c) we will always have the Spirit to be with us and d) all sorts of other good stuff will happen.

Sounds easy enough right? Happy healing, brothers and sisters.


  1. Geoff, while I agree in principle, I think that you are missing a few key elements. The basis for healings in the restoration (as pronounced by Joseph) is Mark 16:

    17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
    18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

    It is a sign of those who follow Christ, that they lay their hands on the sick and they recover. Moreover, you state:

    If mom says she can to talk to God and ask for (and receive) a healing blessing the child…

    Do you think that this is how men heal? I think that many would disagree with you.

    Comment by J. Stapley — October 24, 2005 @ 4:15 pm

  2. Geoff, it’s also worth pointing out that women did participate in what we now think of as priesthood healing rituals for about a century. The theology and policy connecting oil and the laying on of hands with male prerogative is a 20th-century development. Aside from the question of whether women can heal without these rituals, there’s an issue of what message is intended by the invention of a special gender-based exclusion preventing women from participating in rituals that they were once free to carry out.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 24, 2005 @ 4:25 pm

  3. J – Do you think that this is how men heal?

    I do think this is how men with the priesthood heal. The laying on of hands serves the same purpose as washing in the Jordan river or anointing the eyes with mud. If a man thinks he healed someone instead of God he is just plain wrong.

    Also, I see no conflict between what I said and the Mark 16 passage you quoted — am I missing something?

    RT – Those are interesting things to speculate about but the fact is that those with the keys of authority have made policy decisions and I believe God backs them on those decisions. So a faithful Mormon woman has the choice to lament the current policy precluding her from healing or to start healing. Seems like an easy call to me.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 24, 2005 @ 4:26 pm

  4. Geoff,

    I like it. I think the theological point is simple and that you’re largely on the right side of it. Let’s think about the sacrament. If someone that’s performing the sacrament blessing shouldn’t be (say he fornicated ten minutes beforehand), nobody’s saying that the sacrament doesn’t count, or that we should get the congregation together on Wednesday to redo it. The ordinance isn’t made effective by the power of that priest, but by the power of God.

    We should perform the ordinances as indicated and request them to indicate our faith and to strengthen it. Your analysis of “why rituals” is solid and I can’t add anything substantive to it.

    I should add that my faith in priesthood blessings is relatively limited in comparison to some others. I agree with one of the commenters on BCC that didn’t want to trivialize the priesthood. Let’s rely on the Spirit to let us know when to bless or not bless and honor the request of those that ask. I’ve performed a blessing or two where the only thing I said was “seek competent medical attention” and felt like that’s exactly what the Spirit would have me say. In those cases, it may be that the purpose of the blessing was simply to encourage people to seek the temporal assistance that was required.

    Comment by D-Train — October 24, 2005 @ 4:45 pm

  5. Geoff, to the extent that healing is about fasting and prayer, I’m convinced that faithful Mormon women are already doing it. So that’s really not what people are currently worried about.

    Instead, people (including me and my wife) are worried about whether God would really back a decision to exclude a certain class of people from a gospel blessing that the New Testament promises them and that they enjoyed for about a century. The laying on of hands as a healing ritual is just such a practice. Would God approve of such arbitrary and anti-scriptural discrimination? If so, I’d love to understand why, since it would require significant recalibration of my understanding of the goodness of a God who is said to be no respecter of persons. If not, what does it mean that the church leadership did it anyway?

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 24, 2005 @ 4:57 pm

  6. I am having a women and the priesthood overload.

    Comment by annegb — October 24, 2005 @ 5:05 pm

  7. Anne, if you had enough priesthood power, you could overcome that overload… =)

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 24, 2005 @ 5:10 pm

  8. Well…..men can’t ever have the blessings of being a mother. Women can’t ever have the blessings of being a father.

    Ugly people can’t ever have the blessings of being pretty. Pretty people can’t have the blessings of overcoming ugliness.

    RT, I totally agree that it seems arbitrary. But so does nearly anything else that is largely or totally based on birth. If your criticism is legitimate, there’s a lot wrong with God.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I’m more comfortable with the status quo than with the criticism. It certainly seems possible to me that it’s ok for God to differentiate on the arbitrary basis of gender.

    Comment by D-Train — October 24, 2005 @ 5:11 pm

  9. D-Train, this is more troubling than the other things you’re talking about because it’s a change–and because the New Testament promises laying on of hands to all believers. Overt, active discrimination by God’s church is quite different than the passive discrimination associated with nature, in my opinion. The same principle is at work here as with the discrimination against people of African descent from Pres. Young to Pres. Kimball: a blessing was given and then revoked for arbitrary, discriminatory reasons. Kimball finally reversed that; I have faith that the other will be reversed as well in time.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 24, 2005 @ 5:19 pm

  10. I agree with you, D-Train, “Let’s rely on the Spirit to let us know when to bless or not bless and honor the request of those that ask.” But I think what we’re talking about here is where the spirit has directed for there to be a blessing, but none is forthcoming. Doesn’t the priesthood holder sin when ignoring these promptings? And is it solely up to the holder to determine such circumstances, even if they don’t pray about it, etc.?

    Comment by Steve Evans — October 24, 2005 @ 5:21 pm

  11. a gospel blessing that the New Testament promises them

    What’s your reference for this RT?

    Comment by Ben S. — October 24, 2005 @ 5:48 pm

  12. RT: to the extent that healing is about fasting and prayer, I’m convinced that faithful Mormon women are already doing it. So that’s really not what people are currently worried about.

    Of course that is what people are worried about. If both men and women were healing the sick regularly and equally in the church then we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But that is not happening. Most Mormon women think that they must rely on someone with the priesthood to do all the healing. That notion in contra-scriptural.

    (I considered including a long analogy comparing the various healing rituals to Dumbo’s feather but I’ll wait to see how far you are willing to take your dubious argument before busting it out…)

    Comment by Geoff J — October 24, 2005 @ 7:18 pm

  13. Ben – Here is the reference I think RT was talking about.

    They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them: they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.

    RT – The problem is that you are assuming there is only one way to “lay hands on the sick”. The example Kris gave of a girl holding her ailing father’s hand and healing him through the prayer of faith is an example of laying hands on the sick too. I think you and others are too hung up on the ritual and not enough concerned about the actual miracle. I still contend that the ritual is not actually necessary and really mostly serves to focus the faith of the giver and receiver.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 24, 2005 @ 7:52 pm

  14. Geoff, the problem is that within Mormonism “laying hands on the sick” has been given a specific ritual meaning. The multiple generations of women who carried out this ritual reinforce this interpretation. (Thanks, by the way, for providing one of the New Testament citations I had in mind.) I agree that faith and healing are independent of ritual behaviors. But I must insist that we return to the question of the motive for excluding women from the ritual. That motive seems like hurtful, sexist discrimination, and I do know that at least some people are worried about this topic not because women feel divorced from God’s power but rather because they feel marginalized by the church.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 24, 2005 @ 9:05 pm

  15. Geoff — Thank you for your thoughtful response. It is midnight here, so I hope that my own thoughts are somewhat coherent. First, I would agree with you that the rituals of healing are not necessary to heal (for instance, the woman touching the hem of the Saviour’s garment or Joseph Smith sending a “healing handkerchief” to heal babies during a malaria epidemic.) However, I think that the laying on of hands is generally an important sign of those who follow Christ as Jonathan has pointed out. There is something incredibly important about human touch and it is just not confined to priesthood blessings — think of a mother’s touch on her child’s forehead, or even alternative therapies like massage or therapeutic touch.

    Also, what I meant by saying that the gift that literally lies at women’s fingertips is unused, is that can be. I know women who literally accidentally found out that they could heal through their touch and not just their prayers.

    Finally, I think that including women in rituals of healing would greatly empower them and this does not mean that they would use “priesthood language” to administer to the sick (see my response over at BCC for more details on this).

    I am intrigued by this statement:

    I don’t think that Mormon women should wait for such a change or that they need to. Mormon women can heal today with or without standardized priesthood rituals. They just need to realize their rights and use them.

    I would love to see a RS lesson on this very topic, but I think that many women still feel hesitant to exercise their right to heal — in our current culture, many of them would be worried about doing “something wrong”.

    Comment by kris — October 24, 2005 @ 9:17 pm

  16. P.S. I always liked the Thompson Twins :)

    Comment by kris — October 24, 2005 @ 9:18 pm

  17. Steve,

    Yeah, I know. That was more of a side point relating to why some of these things can come up. But, nevertheless, it’s worth asking: if one partner thinks a blessing should be given and another doesn’t/isn’t concerned about it, what’s to be done?

    One other thing worth asking: has anyone thought of asking the child/other person in question?


    I see where you’re coming from now. Thanks for the clarification.

    There does seem to have been a change in Church policy, but women were never being ordained to the priesthood in droves. I think the change in policy is really rather minute compared to the inequality to begin with. Which means that we’re back to the question of whether the initial inequality is ordained of God. Given my (admittedly trivial) examples above, I don’t see any reason that God can’t make arbitrary decisions about one’s lot in this life. Whether this is one of those, I can’t say for sure. But I don’t see any reason that it can’t be possible.

    I agree with you that it’s an inequality, but I’m more hesitant to move from inequality to injustice than you seem to be. You might be right about this. Shoot, I don’t really know to be honest. It seems that the core question is not whether there is inequality, but whether women are feeling oppressed by it. My gut answer is probably, but I don’t know.

    I also don’t think priesthood is the core issue of oppression here. The core issue of oppression, should it exist, is the Church’s insistence on males “presiding” (insert semantic debate here) and being authority figures in general. Why do I think that even if we gave women the priesthood, they wouldn’t be bishops or seventies?

    My point is simply that I don’t think priesthood division explains male oppression/domination of women in the Church, even if it is a contributing factor. There’s something else in here.

    Comment by D-Train — October 24, 2005 @ 9:54 pm

  18. I agree that presiding is the core problem. Since presiding is assigned as a priesthood duty, priesthood becomes entangled in the problem. Since healing by the laying on of hands has been redefined as a male-only ordinance, it also becomes part of the problem. D-Train, you’re right: inequality is indeed the problem; the place where I feel that inequality becomes injustice is where the church leadership could easily take a proactive decision to make my wife equal to me–but chooses not to.

    As Ann pointed out at BCC, God didn’t just tell Pres. Kimball out of the blue to ordain people of African descent. Kimball had to initiate the process. Let’s initiate the process of making our sisters full members of the community! We can’t make Pres. Hinckley pray that the women get the priesthood, but we can let it be publicly known that we are praying for God to touch his heart so that he will pray for that. Until that directive comes, I’m not going to ordain my wife or anything like that–but we are allowed to hope and pray, aren’t we?

    In thinking about this, by the way, I’m forced to think of the tensions that people in another generation faced with respect to the racial priesthood ban. I’ve covenanted to sustain and uphold the people who have made and are making the decisions that I don’t understand. Those covenants are important to me, but it’s equally important that I find ways of keeping them that are true to the light that I’ve been given. Hence, prayer rather than rebellion, no?

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 24, 2005 @ 10:20 pm

  19. Many of Christ’s healings were done by voice, not by touch. And most were accompanied by words such as “thy faith hath made thee whole”. Never does he say the priesthood did it, nor does he say laying on of hands is necessary. The priesthood blessings for healing as stated in James is one way of healing, healing by faith without the priesthood is also done and valid. Women don’t need the priesthood to heal, and neither do men.

    R.T. who said life was fair, that men and women should get the same “blessings”? What’s right is right now because God says so, will it change? maybe…it has in the past. Blacks and priesthood, law of consecration and tithing, polygamy and monogamy, law of Moses and law of the gospel, Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God and the Mel. Aaronic and Levical priesthood, animal sacrifice and contrite heart, Satan tempting us and the Millenium without him….and on and on. Will women hold the priesthood…I don’t know, could be. But they shouldn’t wait for the change to use the power of God to do what they shoudl and can be doing now.

    Comment by don — October 24, 2005 @ 10:56 pm

  20. Don, nonetheless, the laying on of hands for healing is a gift promised to believers, without sex restrictions, in the New Testament passages quoted above. Neither women nor men need that gift, perhaps, but they are both promised it. The church is in the uncomfortable situation right now of preventing women believers from receiving a gift that the Bible promises to them.

    Is it God who says that women can’t have the priesthood? It turned out not to be God who said that people of African descent couldn’t have the priesthood; as President McKay explained, that was a policy decided by Brigham Young, not a revelation or a doctrine. Are we sure that excluding women doesn’t fall in the same category?

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 25, 2005 @ 7:47 am

  21. D-Train #8, not so. There are no truly ugly or pretty people. Anybody can clean up well. Totally off the subject, but not a good analogy.

    Sigh, Do you know there are, I think, four blogs discussing this issue?
    Maybe five.

    Comment by annegb — October 25, 2005 @ 8:09 am

  22. R.T., I don’t think the church pe se is keeping women from the laying on of hands for healing. They can’t do it by the power of the priesthood, but nothing is stopping them from doing it with the power of faith.
    Women and the priesthood, I don’t have a problem with that. Praying for that to happen, I don’t have a problem with that either.
    Presiding in the home, my wife lets me do that, so no difference if she held the priesthood anyway.
    I say let’s go for it…just think Home Teaching would really get done and we’d have a table cloth for every meeting.

    Comment by don — October 25, 2005 @ 1:24 pm

  23. Don, the church actually issued an instruction telling women not to perform the “laying on of hands” ritual. This was an explicit change of policy. Women used to be free to do this and now are told not to. Priesthood aside, the church has in fact told women that they are not allowed to lay on hands for healing!

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 25, 2005 @ 1:58 pm

  24. Geoff, for what it’s worth, I think you’re right on. You’ve stated more eloquently and more completely what I was trying to get across on the BCC thread, before everyone there abandoned it rather than having to speak to me. :)

    Let’s lay out the logic here:

    1. Healing is a spiritual gift.
    2. Women can have spiritual gifts.
    3. Thus, women can have the gift of healing.


    But then:

    1. Women can have the gift of healing.
    2. When people with the Priesthood heal people, they lay hands on heads
    3. Women healers in the past have laid hands on heads
    4. Thus, women who heal should lay hands on heads.

    It’s a strange way to go about it, but Kris, RT, J., et al. have set out a course in which they think they can get from legitimate spiritual gift-based practice to Priesthood-like behavior for women because both involve healing. But the whole point of the proofs above is that the power grows out of a gift of the Spirit, not Priesthood. In the course of the above premises, the creep moves slowly toward Priesthood, even though they originally establish that women have that power by means independent of the Priesthood (in the sense of God’s power held by men).

    Speaking generally, in every Priesthood ordinance, there is a ritual prescribed. In no spiritual gift is there a ritual prescribed. Thus, we need to be disciplined in keeping these two categories conceptually separate from one another. If you can find a gift of healing for women by showing that these are two separate categories (which you can), you ought to be able to keep the categories separate for long enough to understand the difference in the administrations thereof.

    Comment by Ryan Bell — October 25, 2005 @ 2:23 pm

  25. Ryan, I think I have to disagree with you on a few different points.

    1) I think endowed Mormon women already have as much priesthood as any Mormon man. The reasons have to do with the temple ceremonies and with various 19th- and early 20th-century teachings from prophets and leaders. The act of anointing with consecrated oil for healing is a distinct, if related, issue.

    2) It’s important to note that the women in the past who laid hands on heads did so using a full ritual format, almost identical to the priesthood ritual. This is the central factual weakness that I see in the argument you’ve just made. Historically, there wasn’t very much “difference in the administrations thereof.” The existing difference is a 20th-century innovation for which no public claims of revelation have ever been offered.

    3) You claim that gifts of the spirit don’t have rituals prescribed. Then it must be the case that, for the multiple generations during which Mormon women were allowed and encouraged to anoint each other and their children using a ritual of consecrated oil and the laying on of hands, that they were exercising priesthood with official church permission. This exercise of what you’ve defined as priesthood power was stripped away from women by administrative action with no claim of revelatory justification. Isn’t that troubling?

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 25, 2005 @ 2:46 pm

  26. RT:

    1) I think this is a whole different topic that doesn’t add much light to the present discussion. Regardless of the various views on what kinds of dormant Priesthood might be possessed by endowed women, we all agree that there is no authorized female Priesthood practice at the moment.

    2) I think this rebuttal is inneffective for two reasons. A, Even if true, it doesn’t rebut my point. I understand that there was some ritual connected with female healing in the early days of the dispensation (although I think its probable rarity makes it perhaps less worth arguing about than you might). But there is no reason to suspect that the ritual was a necessary part of the practice, nor do we understand why it was done. In a Church that consistently favors present practice over past practice, and believes that God is present in the details of his Church’s policies, it’s strange to me that some here believe that pointing to something done by a few people with very little doctrinal background or revelatory guidance 100 years ago is enough to normalize that behavior now. I just don’t see why it’s relevant. Yes, it was done. Now explain why that informs us today? B, Geoff has argued effectively that rituals, when not specifically and categorically prescribed, are often malleable and flexible, often lacking actual substantive content in themselves. I do not know any reason why that is not the case with the restoration-era woman healers.

    3) Again, this is just plain faulty logic:

    a. gifts of the spirit have no prescribed ritual
    b. female healing had, at one time, a ritual that was often followed
    c. therefore, female healing, when practiced with a ritual, was not a manifestation of a spiritual gift
    d. therefore, it must have been the Priesthood.

    I’m afraid the conclusions don’t even come close to following from the premises here. It rests on the unstated premise that any spiritual practice done with a ritual is Priesthood practice. The same would apply for handing out merit badges at Pack meeting. I think the much better argument is that in that instance, a ritual came into vogue (whether prompted by statements of leaders, or just a desire to imitate the well-known Priesthood practice), and women followed it, often with the encouragement of leaders. Why on earth does it need to be the Priesthood?

    Comment by Ryan Bell — October 25, 2005 @ 4:09 pm

  27. R.T., I wasn’t aware of the church’s specific policy to prohibit women from using the laying on of hands for healing. Does it prohibit the laying on of hands, or using consecrated oil, one or the other or both? Can a women lay her hands on her child and give a “Mother’s” blessing by faith when that child leaves for school or a mission or whatever? Is it the laying on of hands, or is it trying to copy a priesthood ordainance that brings the problem?

    Comment by don — October 25, 2005 @ 4:51 pm

  28. Don – Good question. I did not think there was any prohibition of women laying the hands on the heads of someone (like their children) and praying in faith for their healing. I thought the prohibition was simple on using the wording the priesthood ordinance uses or anointing with consecrated oil. Does anyone have access to the actual instructions on this?

    RT – I’m a little confused by your complaint. It seems to me that you readily concede that women can heal with or without the priesthood ordinance/ritual but you are bent because women are asked not to specifically use the priesthood ordinance in the last 100 years. But they can heal without it, so who cares? The fact is that men can heal without it too (lots of scriptural and church history of examples of this). Your complaint is like Dumbo complaining about not getting his feather any more even after he learned he could fly without it. After he knew he could fly without the feather why should he care? This reasoning of yours makes no sense to me.

    I sense that you are hoping to use this as a ramp to a larger agenda regarding presiding, the patriarchal nature of church heiracrchy, etc, but it is a forced connection I think. We are talking specifically about healing. My point is that healing is equeally available to men and women and that current priesthood rituals are incorrectly associated with the healing power in the minds of many saints and that it need not be so. You seem to want to obsess over a small thing like the ritual (the feather) and to ignore the glorious news (we can fly even without the feather!)

    I have discussed why God allows policy decisions to be made by his stewards here in lots of posts. I can recap my conclusions on that for you if you’d like as well.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 25, 2005 @ 5:17 pm

  29. (#28) Geoff

    You are a bit gentle in your use of the words “pray in faith” (what women can do). A man, using the Priesthood, if so inspired, can “command” or “rebuke” the illness (or a mountain or river for that matter).

    For anybody: Did (and/or can) women “command”? (I believe the answer is yes in at least the NT case of casting out devils).

    Comment by Daylan — October 25, 2005 @ 8:51 pm

  30. Ryan #28, during the 19th century, women’s application of the consecrated-oil-and-laying-on-of-hands ritual was extremely common. For detailed evidence of this from the historical record, see the last few chapters in Maxine Hanks’s 1992 edited volume, Women and Authority. This practice was never marginal at all. Furthermore, it has canonical revelatory basis in the New Testament texts discussed above. Last, the decision to rescind was never based on any announced revelation. This is a big deal to some people because it can feel like rank, unjustified discrimination.

    #27 and #28: In the official message in 1946 which called an end to women’s right to heal, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that women should not try to heal the sick and instead should always “send for the Elders of the Church to come and administer to the sick and afflicted.” The policy may be read as being broad enough that it comes into contact with Geoff’s thesis that women are allowed to heal via the prayer of faith.

    So this is potentially a serious problem. But even the matter of the ritual is serious to a fair number of people. After all, nobody has ever been able to offer me a compelling explanation for why taking that ritual away from women isn’t an act of symbolic violence…

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 25, 2005 @ 9:17 pm

  31. RT: In the official message in 1946 which called an end to women’s right to heal, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that women should not try to heal the sick and instead should always “send for the Elders of the Church to come and administer to the sick and afflicted.”

    A citation for your claim here is conspicuously missing… Where can I read the official position now and the actual comments then? Any ideas?

    I found a Sunstone article but it takes liberties similar to the ones you take here. Further, it says that only washing and anointing was mentioned — nothing about healing via praying while placing hands on a person etc. Therefore, I suspect you are wrong when you say: “The policy may be read as being broad enough that it comes into contact with Geoff’s thesis that women are allowed to heal via the prayer of faith.” But again, perhaps the actual original statements will shed more light on this.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 25, 2005 @ 9:53 pm

  32. Daylan,

    I believe the ability to “command” or “rebuke” sickness (or devils) is equal for men and women. Both require a revelatory green light to be effective when spoken (ie God must give you the words – or at least indicate his approval of your intended words – as per the verses quoted in the post). That is why I referred to the prayer of faith being required. As I read the scriptures, these spiritual gifts are independent of the holding the priesthood.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 25, 2005 @ 10:48 pm

  33. I’m not aware of an online copy of the official statement. I have a paper copy somewhere or other, but the part I quoted was from a previous text I’ve written. I didn’t mean to take liberties, but I just can’t find my copy of the text!

    This rare gem is said to be on the list for inclusion in the new Signature collection of First Presidency statements.

    For the time being, I’m willing to stipulate that, while the discussion above represents my understanding of the intent of the statement, it might be inaccurate.

    Besides, I’ve got a headache. Since my wife isn’t allowed to give me a healing blessing, I guess the only recourse I have is to go sleep! =)

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 25, 2005 @ 10:50 pm

  34. Ha! Have her read my post. There is nothing stopping her from helping a brother out…

    (Of course the sisters will learn that participating in a standardized ritual is a lot easier than getting the dialogic revelation required to generate the faith to actually heal. Any priesthood holder that has tried to give healing blessings can attest to that…)

    Comment by Geoff J — October 25, 2005 @ 11:35 pm

  35. By the way, I think we’ve done a bit of oversimplifying here, which was probably necessary for this discussion. But still, it bears pointing out that there are three means by which people can employ the power of God to heal. First, there is prayer, in which a person asks the Lord to heal someone. This can be amplified with faith and fasting. Anyone can do this. Second, there is healing by someone with the spiritual gift of healing. This can be done by prayer, or by some other means; but can only be done by someone who has that specific gift. Third, there is a Priesthood blessing. This can only be done by those who have received the Priesthood.

    Yes, women can do 1. and 2. above. But when we say that everyone can, it’s a bit too easy. In reality, only those who have recieved the spiritual gift can do 2., and it would be deceptive to act like that gift is available to everyone. It may actually be possible for every person to gain that gift, but it’s likely that most people will not gain it in this life. As for men, my sense is that the Priesthood makes it possible for every man to heal, although that may overstate it some. But I don’t think a gift of healing is required for men to heal using the Priesthood. Probably a lower threshold of faith and worthiness.

    Comment by Ryan Bell — October 26, 2005 @ 7:37 am

  36. Geoff, a different take on the root issue here. As has come up various times in this discussion, Mormon women in the past healed all the time. The premise of your post is that they no longer heal as often as they used to. As a social scientist, I can assure you that large-scale changes among an entire population don’t just happen for no reason. What do you think the underlying cause of this evidently meaningful decline in healing acts is?

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 26, 2005 @ 8:09 am

  37. Ryan,

    Ah-ha! I was wondering if you might bust out such a comment. My challenge to you is to defend your #3 (“As for men, my sense is that the Priesthood makes it possible for every man to heal”) with the scriptures. I don’t think it can effectively be done.

    My point is that many or most saints believe this but that it is not true and is not taught in any of our scriptures. Our scriptures make it clear that healing is exclusively a gift from God through our faith in Christ and that it is a sign that follows true believers. This conflating healing with the priesthood is a modern development and I believe it is simply a popular misconception. (That sounds nicer than calling it a doctrine of men, ya know?)

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2005 @ 8:41 am

  38. RT: What do you think the underlying cause of this evidently meaningful decline in healing acts is?

    My answer to your question is largely the same as my answer to Ryan’s comment. I think that a popular misconception has grown among the saints and that if there is a decline in women causing healing (something that is purely speculation thus far) then it is because some doctrines of men (like the notion that priesthood is required to heal) have snuck into our culture and such misinformation has caused it. I think the way to unlock the healing power in our sisters in the church is to stop wresting the scriptures on this subject and to teach women that these verses apply to them as much as any man:

    65 And these signs shall follow them that believe-
    66 In my name they shall do many wonderful works;
    67 In my name they shall cast out devils;
    68 In my name they shall heal the sick;
    69 In my name they shall open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf;
    70 And the tongue of the dumb shall speak;
    71 And if any man shall administer poison unto them it shall not hurt them;
    72 And the poison of a serpent shall not have power to harm them.
    (D&C 84: 65-72)

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2005 @ 8:51 am

  39. Amen, and amen. (With respect to your sermon about signs applying to all believers with no ascriptive-status restrictions.)

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 26, 2005 @ 10:58 am

  40. I just found this site so forgive my ignorance. When you say “women healing” what are you refering to? Do you mean through prayer or do you mean by laying on of hands? The power of prayer is given to everyone on the planet and it is a very powerful gift, as long as there is much faith involved. However, the laying on of hands is strictly a priesthood ordinance that can be done by a member who holds the Melchizedek priesthood.

    Comment by Matthew — October 26, 2005 @ 7:12 pm

  41. Matthew — if you read through the comments you will see that we are basically in agreement on that. Priesthood rituals are not needed to heal.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 26, 2005 @ 11:46 pm

  42. Matthew, if you read through the comments, you’ll also see that there’s some disagreement about whether the laying on of hands is strictly a priesthood ordinance. I agree with you on that, so in my point of view, the common practice of endowed women healing with consecrated oil and the laying on of hands from the early days of the church through the 1940s is evidence that endowed women have the Melchizedek priesthood. Others would argue that this historical heritage simply proves that the “laying on of hands” ritual isn’t actually a priesthood ordinance at all.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 27, 2005 @ 8:15 am

  43. Geoff, it’s funny that you called me on that, because I waffled before writing it. My first version of the comment read more like “it’s probable that even with the Priesthood, men may only heal given certain circumstances such as great faith or a spiritual gift.” So, I’m mostly agnostic about this. But, as I said in the comment that got written, if I go with my gut, I think the Priesthood is the trump card, and that in some circumstances, it will heal someone regardless of the gift-status of the mouthpiece. But no, I would never go to war on that one.

    But again, if your later comment about the misconception that Priesthood is required for healing is directed at me– no, I don’t believe that either.

    Comment by Ryan Bell — October 27, 2005 @ 2:47 pm

  44. I need more information about women using oil and giving blessings. I’ve never heard this before and I would like to see some evidence of it. I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but in 30 years I’ve never heard of women holding the priesthood outside of Gods house. Where can I read more about it?

    If the laying on of hands is not a priesthood ordinance than what is it? Perhaps it is not needed, but as far as giving blessings go, that is what is we are instructed to do, therefore it is what God commands and there should be no more discussion about the will of God.

    One more thing, is everyone here LDS or is this for all religions?

    Comment by Matthew — October 27, 2005 @ 4:56 pm

  45. Matthew,

    J Stapley has put up some good posts on the history of women and anointing the sick at Splendid Sun and recent at BCC (here and here).

    Yes, nearly all commenters here are Mormon (at least at my posts). Everyone is welcome but since I like to talk about Mormon doctrine not many non-Mormons are interested.

    Comment by Geoff J — October 27, 2005 @ 10:17 pm

  46. If you look at the primary sources that J Stapley has posted, you see an interesting phase of the evolution of the women’s anointing-with-oil ordinance. In particular, the two letters linked from Splendid Sun are informative. The earlier letter restricts this ordinance to endowed women, while the later letter rescinds this restriction, claiming instead that the ordinance is not a temple ordinance. Of course, this latter claim was always correct but it misses one original logic behind the earlier restriction, which saw the women’s healing ordinance as a use of the Melchizedek priesthood that women (arguably) obtain during the endowment.

    A piece of that logic is available in an official statement by Salt Lake Stake President Angus Cannon in 1878: “Women could only hold the priesthood in connection with their husbands; man held the priesthood independent of woman. The sisters have a right to anoint the sick, and pray the Father to heal them, and to exercise that faith that will prevail with God; but women must be careful how they use the authority of the priesthood in administering to the sick.” Two interpretive points are relevant to this passage. First, bear in mind that during the 19th century, the Salt Lake Stake President had a status much closer to that of an Apostle today than to that of a modern Stake President. Second, the women’s anointing-with-oil ordinance is explicitly situated as a use of the priesthood. Other sources can be offered that make this same point.

    On the other hand, a panoply of sources can be offered in support of the position that the women’s ordinance relied always on faith rather than on priesthood power. In other words, this point was ambiguous and debated–rather than clear and resolved–during the 19th and early 20th century. The same is true of the question of whether women need to be married in order to hold the priesthood.

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 28, 2005 @ 8:15 am

  47. Do these statements conflict with the fact that priesthood must be given by someone who holds it? If not then who ordained these women to the priesthood?

    Comment by Matthew — October 28, 2005 @ 4:22 pm

  48. Dug up this older thread, had some comments to make:

    Rituals not only serve the purpose to focus the mind, but to teach lessons. In ideal situations, we want white table cloths to be on the sacrament table to represent purity, and the linens which wrapped around Christ’s body. If a bishop saw the teachers setting up the sacrament without the table cloths, he would give them a stern talking to. But, in trenches, soldiers don’t have table cloths, but their sacrament is perfectly acceptable.

    The little white handbook of my mission days says that two elders are to perform anointings and healings (I’m assuming it is to teach about the order of the priesthood, travelling in pairs, Father and the Son, etc), but hey, if one elder is all there is, then just one elder can do it. We are also supposed to anoint with consecrated olive oil -this oil is loaded with symbolic teaching. If none is available, instead of using a different oil, we are instructed to just proceed to the laying on of hands portion of the blessing.

    Do you think that a person would be healed “partially” because consecrated olive oil was not available and they only received the laying on of hands? Absolutely not. It is the faith in Christ that heals. If that faith in Christ is sufficient to follow all of Christ’s instructions to the best of their ablility, then that faith is sufficient for healing.

    So, when the church issues that statement instructing women to cease healing by the laying on of hands (what does it really say, I wonder) I think it is no different than a bishop telling the teachers to get a tablecloth on the table. Send for the elders of the church! If none are available, don’t let your child die, heal him!

    Comment by britain — December 29, 2005 @ 10:01 am

  49. I’m with you Britain. (And I’d still like to see the official statements precluding women from laying on hands too — if for nothing else, to at least know how to discuss the subject).

    Comment by Geoff J — December 30, 2005 @ 1:24 am