I close with some truths about the blessings of the priesthood. Unlike priesthood keys and priesthood ordinations, the blessings of the priesthood are available to women and to men on the same terms.
I mentioned that Elder Oaks said this, with different words, multiple times throughout the talk (including in the upcoming paragraphs) - but that he was about to use two specific examples that rarely have been discussed in those terms in the past.
The gift of the Holy Ghost and the blessings of the temple are familiar illustrations of this truth.
We defined "the priesthood" one more time (the power of God) and I asked the students if they could list times / events in life when we could say we represent God in some way. The obvious responses were ordination for the young men and baptism, so we talked about those and others.
1) We believe we all are children of God, so, in a very real way, if we believe that, we also believe we can represent him as his children. That is emphasized in our theology by our belief in the light of Christ, which we equate with our consciences. Everyone, with a few exceptions, represents God in this way.
2) When we are baptized, we covenant to take the name of Jesus upon us - to become "Christian". That is a direct commitment to do what Jesus would do and represent him.
3) When we are confirmed, we are told to receive the Holy Ghost - which we equate to striving to understand and do the will of God.
4) We talk of the Priesthood in terms of service - which, phrased differently, is participating in the work and glory of God.
5) When members are endowed in the temple, every ordinance men experience, women also experience - and women perform almost all of them. We talked about each ordinance - what it is meant to convey, what blessings are promised, what covenants are made, what symbolism is used, etc. I told them that there are two primary wording differences for men and women in the endowment and the sealing - and that I personally see them as cultural remnants of our earlier history that don't match a lot of what has been taught in numerous talks over the last couple of decades and the last part of what we discussed last week from Elder Oaks' talk. (the description of marriage as a full partnership of equals)
All of these things are "exercising the authority and power of the Priesthood" - and all of them are available, according to Elder Oaks, to men and women alike. Currently, the only exceptions are, in his words, "priesthood keys and priesthood ordinations" - and those can change if the top leadership receives revelation that would change the historical "pattern" they see right now and not if they don't.
In his insightful talk at BYU Education Week last summer, Elder M. Russell Ballard gave these teachings:“Our Church doctrine places women equal to and yet different from men. God does not regard either gender as better or more important than the other . . . When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which is priesthood power . . . Access to the power and the blessings of the priesthood is available to all of God’s children.”
This is another reiteration of one of Elder Oaks' central themes - but it is one of the first times I have heard two apostles say unequivocally that women are endowed with priesthood power when they attend the temple. As was the case with his words earlier in the talk, Elder Oaks did NOT frame this as women having access to the priesthood power men are given; rather, once again, he framed it explicitly as women having / being given the same power men are given - that the priesthood power they exercise is their own power, endowed directly and personally to them.
We talked about the temple garment - the "garment of the holy priesthood". I explained that both men and women wear symbolic clothing ("robes") in the temple that represent the ceremonial clothing temple priests wore in the Old Testament time. Thus, in the temple, men dress as priests and women dress as priestesses. We talked about how men AND women leave the temple "clothed in the garment of the holy priesthood" - which means, in a tangible way, BOTH men and women "hold the priesthood" when they leave the temple. In other words, when women wear the garment, they are "putting on the priesthood" once again, symbolically - and that the garment is the tangible representation of their priestess robes outside the temple. Again, with that in mind, when women do the Lord's work outside the temple, they are doing it as priestesses through the priesthood power with which they were endowed when they first went through the temple.
I testify of the power and blessings of the priesthood of God, available for His sons and daughters alike. I testify of the authority of the priesthood, which functions throughout all of the offices and activities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I testify of the divinely directed function of the keys of the priesthood, held and exercised in their fulness by our prophet/president, Thomas S. Monson. Finally and most important, I testify of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whose priesthood this is and whose servants we are, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
I told the students that if they wanted an interesting experience they should go through the talk again, in its entirety, and count the number of times Elder Oaks said that men and women both have access to the power and authority of God and exercise it in everything they do in the Church. I asked why he would have to repeat it so many time, and, after we talked about that, I told them that I think it's because members who are close to my age and older need to have it repeated that many times to have it register and to understand and accept it. I asked them to be patient when they heard members repeat the former framing - to understand how hard it can be to let go of things that were learned when those people were teenagers and early adults - but to commit to make sure they helped change the Church into more of what Elder Oaks described than it currently is.