In Retrospect, what Russell M. Nelson Might Wish He’d Said at his Press Conference

At a January 16, 2018 press conference following his introduction to the world as the new President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Russell M. Nelson was asked by Peggy Fletcher Stack what he would do to bring women, people of color and international members into Church decision-making.  Stack had preceded this question by observing that the leadership of the Church remains “white, male, American.” Stack’s assertion wasn’t completely true, since Apostle and former member of the First Presidency Dieter F. Uchtdorf is German, and as President Nelson pointed out, several members of the Seventy are from foreign lands.  However, President Nelson never really answered the question, and initially forgot it altogether.  He even had to be reminded of the “women” part of it by Stack interrupting him and shouting from the audience, “What about women?”

I speculate that at some point of his existence, whether on earth or in the next life, he might look back and wish he would have answered the question something like this:

“There’s something everyone needs to understand about what the leaders at the head of this church actually believe.  You see, we really do believe that this church is led by revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ.  We honestly think he is the head of it.  We pray for  revelation from him every day.  We try to only do what we conclude he wants us to do.  Discerning his will involves much study, pondering, discussion and of course, prayer.

“We have studied the question of whether women should be ordained to the priesthood, and whether the apostles and First Presidency ought to include women among their number.  That study has included, of course, a thorough review of what the scriptures have to say on that question.  While the Bible tells us of women who were prophetesses, we have found no instance in the Bible or Book of Mormon where a woman was ordained to the priesthood.  Jesus chose no women to be among his twelve apostles in the Old World, nor did he choose any to be among his twelve disciples in the New World.  We have thought about that fact a lot, and why Jesus did things that way.  Several obvious explanations come to mind, but we do wish Jesus would have explained his rationale.  For now, though, we’re strongly influenced by the way he did things during his time on earth.

“Not only did female prophetesses not receive the priesthood, most male prophets actually held no priesthood authority either.  Instead, they were, and still are, far better known for their spiritual gifts than those levites, priests and high priests who officiated in the temples, or baptized or blessed the sacrament in Jesus’s post-resurection church among the Nephites.  The brother of Jared, Elijah, Isaiah, Nephi, Abinadi, Samuel the Lamanite and of course, Deborah, Anna, Elizabeth and even Mary are just a few of many such prophets of either gender holding no priesthood.

“What we glean from the scriptures is that the definition of a prophet or prophetess seems to be a person who speaks for God and who communicates God’s inspired messages courageously to the people.  They bear God’s word for the purpose of teaching, reproving, correcting and training in righteousness, and often, foretelling important future events.  In the church today, many men and women might fit this description.  We have no reason to try to restrict who might fill the role of prophet and prophetess or any kind of spiritual leader.  Would to God all our members would feel called to fulfill that role!  By their fruits, not by their titles, shall we know them.  The fact that only 15 people in the church are called “prophets” is something I aim to correct.  Holding priesthood authority doesn’t equate with being a prophet, seer or revelator, nor does being a prophet or prophetess, or person of great spiritual influence, equate with holding the administrative authority of the priesthood.

“In addition to studying whether women should be ordained to the administrative authority of the priesthood, we have continued to consult the Lord on the matter, praying that we might discern his will.  We are intelligent enough to know that if we were to announce to the world that women were now to be ordained to the priesthood, we would instantly gain popularity in today’s society and be heralded as courageous reformers.  We’d be relieved of much social pressure.  But because we only do what we think the Lord wants us to do, we can’t ordain women to the priesthood unless we feel the Lord had communicated his will in that direction, whether by dreams, visions or the whisperings of the Holy Ghost.  So far, we have not received any communication from God that we can interpret as his will that we should take this unprecedented step.  That’s why we haven’t done it.

“There will be many who will scoff at this answer, accusing us of desperately holding on to our own power, and using God’s failure to communicate clearly to us as an excuse.  Interestingly, however, no one, whether man or woman, has come to our attention claiming that God had revealed to him or her individually that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should ordain women to the priesthood, or ordain female apostles.  If that were to happen, my response would be, ‘If you have received that revelation, why do you care that we haven’t? You obviously believe God is revealing to you things he’s not revealing to us, so you consider your leadership inspired, and us uninspired.  Why would you want to stay in this church with leaders less inspired than you?  If God’s not directing us, but is directing you, you should therefore start your own church and not worry about what this church is doing.'”

“Of course, we will continue to seek the Lord’s will in all things.  I suspect, though, that Jesus will soon come to the earth again, and if we’re fortunate enough to be there, we’ll get to hear the answers to questions like this one from the Lord’s own mouth.”

Whether or not you agree with the views expressed in such an anwer, the answer would nevertheless have been, I believe, a truthful statement, and his logic hard to argue with.