Thursday, May 28, 2009

He Said: Women Giving Blessings in the LDS Church

Women giving blessings is not a foreign concept to me. As a kid growing up every Sunday night my grandparents and my mother and brothers and sisters watched Oral Roberts and Kathryn Kuhlman's programs. Both shows were based on faith-promoting Christian experiences and included healings. Kuhlman's program I Believe in Miracles was more charismatic and on each program Kuhlman would tap a person on the head who was instantaneously healed of some kind of sickness or disabilities. Roberts, another faith healer would preach sermons with an occasional healing. In Kulman's service she would call on the Spirit and touch or slap them on the head. The person would fall to the ground overcome by the spirit and stand up healed usually praising God. Then Ms. Kuhlman would say "Nothing is Impossible with God." She felt "“I believe in miracles, because I believe in God" and the healings were manifestations of the power of God.

I grew up believing that she really healed people from polio, palsy, cancer and other ailments. It made for a fascinating episode each week. Sometimes I was credulous that they were healed but for the most part I accepted that she some kind of gift from God and really could heal people. I was never sure if it was their belief or the power she had but I watched So the fact that women could have the same power as men in healing the sick was not outside of my mental construct.

I remember seeing an episode where a woman with cancer was healed that is described in the Wickipedia entry below:

Following a 1967 fellowship in Philadelphia, Dr. William A. Nolen conducted a case study of 23 people who claimed to have been cured during her services.[2][3][4][5] Nolen's long term follow-ups concluded there were no cures in those cases.[6][7] Furthermore, one woman who was said to have been cured of spinal cancer took off her brace and ran across the stage at Kuhlman's command; her spine collapsed the following day and she died four months later.[8].[6]
Until today I didn't have any clue that Dr. William A. Nolen had conducted a study where no cures were ever proven. An interesting piece called The Hurt of Healing debunks Roberts and Kuhlman.

As a Latter-day Saint I don't often hear about faith-healing even among active LDS men. I do believe in faith healing having experienced it in my own ministry. A couple of weeks ago in the lesson from the Joseph Smith manual on healing only a couple of men had experiences to share. A former stake president talks about taking Gene R. Cook down to the hospital to give a sick missionary a blessing. Most of the men in the quorum talked about healing a sick child over their many years of Melchizedek priesthood ordination. I shared how I raised my child from the dead.

When I joined the church I was told that men hold the priesthood and that women support the priesthood. I have never witnessed any woman (other than once or twice allowing my wife to stand in with me) that ever exercised the priesthood with their husbands. Even among more liberal sisters including the birth of a child that had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck I haven't seen a woman attempt to heal or cure a sick person.

In my reading in Church History I read where Mary Fielding Smith healed a sick ox. I read where women exercised priest-like powers in the ordinances in the temple but I have not read where a husband nor a wife exercised the power of laying hands on a person. Recently my wife pointed out in a post "Emma Smith's Blessing to Herself" that Joseph Smith allowed Emma Smith to write herself a blessing which he supposedly signed to ratify its acceptance. When my wife told me she was writing herself a blessing I told her I would sign it also. I figured if Joseph Smith was liberal enough to do that being an ultraconservative Mormon then I could do the same.

When my wife first suggested that since I didn't have another person with me in giving blessings to my children why couldn't she put her hands on mine and assist I tried to find a way to do it that would be acceptable to LDS Church leaders and my ethical conscience. Honestly since I invoke Heavenly Father and take care of being voice in both ordinances I figure the requirements of the church are being met. In some ways I am not deep down sharing the priesthood since I don't let her act as voice. I would feel uncomfortable if I wasn't in charge of the ordinance. I figure the combined faith can only help not hurt when conducting healing blessings.

I read where women share the priesthood with their husbands but nowhere in Mormon Doctrine (McConkie) nor Answer to Gospel Questions (Joseph Fielding Smith) do I find much evidence to support women assisting outside the temple in the actual laying on of hands. In the temple I am sure in giving washings and anointings that they conduct priesthood ordinances using the priesthood with other women.

In terms of operational practice I don't see much evidence that women generally bless anyone except through prayer. I once asked a general authority about why women couldn't lay hands on and heal their sick children if the husband wasn't home and he told me that the child could just as easily be healed through the righteous prayer of a faithful mother. I told him I let my wife lay her hands on mine and he didn't say a word--just looked at me.


  1. After having a miscarriage, when I got pregnant again, I asked for a Priesthood blessing. I wanted the blessing more for the baby than myself and wanted to be assured that I could carry him to term and that he would be healthy. In the blessing that followed I was assured that I would have a healthy pregnancy... as I heard it, all the blessings were for me, not for the baby. I cried. The men probably thought I was spiritually moved, but I was crying for my baby. It didn't seem appropriate to say that's not the blessing I wanted, so I didn't say anything. I carried the child full term and he was stillborn. Should I have asked for another blessing??

  2. Anonymous:

    That is very sad. There is some possible good though as LDS doctrine does offer some hope for raising a stillborn child after the resurrection. One or two apostles at the turn of the century had children born stillborn and felt that they would be able to raise them. Val Greenwood wrote a very good article in the in 1987 that discusses the doctrinal background on this.

  3. To be honest, I just wish that somehow the church would have an official statement on stillborn babies. Our daughter was stillborn two years ago and sometimes the pain is still unbearable. I have gone to the temple and feel at peace that yes, she is ours, but it still doesn't answer the question of why. Why are some babies stillborn? Were they so worthy that simply existing in the womb was enough?I know that this is where faith comes in, but it is hard to have faith when there are so many questions.

  4. You must have the Melchizedek Priesthood in order to give ordaninance, including healing the sick by the laying on of hands. The Family Guidebook a publication of the church says: "The following ordinances must be authorized by the presiding authority: baptism, confirmation, naming and blessing children, administering the sacrament, dedicating graves, and conferring the priesthood and ordaining to an office. Consecrating oil, administering to the sick, and giving father's blessings do not need to be authorized by the presiding authority. They are authorized when a person holds the Melchizedek Priesthood and is worthy.",4945,13-1-1-7,00.html

    1. It says father's blessings are authorized when you hold the Melchizedek priesthood. It doesn't say anything about mother's blessings.

      Women blessing their children and other women, as well as accounting with oil, was common practice in the first 100-150 years of the church. It was taught to be acceptable and expected by Joseph Smith. They did it without policies, manuals, or scripts.

      As far as I can tell from some brief research, it simply fell out of practice and at some point people just started believing that's the way it should be. I've never read or heard a revelation that women are not allowed to administer this way. It was never considered to be the priesthood, so why would/should the rules governing the priesthood have anything to do with it?

      I have always felt left out when my husband has administered blessings. Now I know why (I only recently learned of the early church practice of women giving blessings). The spirit was testifying to me that I am equally capable of ministering to my children.

      The next time I desire a blessing for one of them, I will administer it myself.

  5. Anon, there are two interesting points your comment brings up:
    1. Is administering to the sick actually an ordinance, and
    2. Does an endowed woman hold the Melchizedek priesthood in connection with her husband?

  6. 1. Any blessing given by the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood is a ordinance even though the ordinance is not always considered a saving ordinances such as baptism.

    "The Lord has given many priesthood ordinances that we may receive or perform for guidance and comfort. These include the naming and blessing of children, administering to the sick, patriarchal blessings, father's blessings, blessings of guidance and comfort, and dedication of graves."

    Reference: Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders, Part B

    2. Sure, but does that mean they can give priesthood blessings when they have not been ordained by one holding keys? NO! but they can participate in the blessings that come from the Priesthood.

    President Gordon B. Hinckley said to the women of the church:"It was the Lord who designated that men in His Church should hold the priesthood." (in Conference Report, Oct. 1996, 95; or Ensign, Nov. 1996, 70).

  7. "Does a wife hold the priesthood with her husband and may she lay hands on the sick with him, with authority?"

    A wife does not hold the priesthood with her husband, but she enjoys the benefits thereof with him; and if she is requested to lay hands on the sick with him, or with any other officer holding the Melchizedek Priesthood, she may do so with perfect propriety. It is no uncommon thing for a man and wife unitedly to administer to their children. . . . "(Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., 1:, p.149)

  8. I understand that the common practice and norm in the Church is for only Melchizedek priesthood holders to participate in any such ordinance. However, the above quote from the Family guidebook states that certain ordinances must be 'authorized by' a presiding authority. It does not state that they can only be 'performed by' a Melchizedek priesthood holder.