A Mormon Priesthood of All Believers in Alma 13

I have a new essay out in A Preparatory Redemption: Reading Alma 12-13, edited by Matthew Bowman and Rosemary Demos, which was just published by the Maxwell Institute this month.

It has been my experience in dialoguing with Latter-day Saints that my LDS friends tend to see the most similarities between their priesthood and the Roman Catholic system of priesthood in that both priesthoods are linear (purportedly stretching back to the church Jesus founded) and exclusive. [1] They are less inclined to see analog between their priesthood and the Protestant doctrine of a priesthood of believers. Furthermore, the LDS priesthood as it is currently taught and practiced tends to be assumed in the text of Alma 13.

I argue that the LDS priesthood is closer to a hybrid between linear, exclusive priesthood and a priesthood of all believers, and that the text of Alma 13 provides the basis for a Mormon priesthood of all believers. An excerpt:

. . . Alma 13:4 seems particularly concerned with establishing that there has been no unfair treatment of nonpriests . . .¬†Historically, the concern raised in Alma 13:4 has been broadly justified. In order to explain why whole classes of people have been excluded from the priesthood, these classes have been consistently slandered. Highly negative theories have circulated about the groups in question. In LDS history, for instance, the now-discarded theory that blacks of African descent were less valiant in the premortal existence is one example of a theory that places the blame for nonordination on the actions of an entire race. And, in broader Christian history, early church fathers and other Christian leaders have regularly taught that women should not be ordained because, as a whole, women were naturally more susceptible to sin than men. While many Christian denominations have repudiated the idea that women are inherently more sinful than men, and while the contemporary LDS Church has emphatically stated that it “disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else,” it seems to me that the practice of excluding certain classes of people from the possibility of priesthood ordination still carries substantial risks. It is to the Book of Mormon’s immense credit that, in its only sustained discussion of priesthood (see Alma 13:1-20), the text is so sensitive to these risks.

This represents the first essay by a non-Mormon in the Mormon Theology Seminar series.

The book is available on Amazon and from third-party sellers and contains other essays by Matthew Bowman, David Charles Gore, Rosemary Demos, Robert A. Rees, Sheila Taylor, Joseph M. Spencer, and Adam S. Miller.

Kristeen L. Black was a participant at the 2016 Mormon Theology Seminar, but her essay does not appear in this volume. You can read her essay, “A Capacious Priesthood and a Life of Holiness,” in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 50.3 (Fall 2017), p. 73-88.

[1] The Eastern Orthodox priesthood is similarly linear and exclusive, but my LDS friends tend to be less aware of Eastern Orthodoxy.


A Mormon Priesthood of All Believers in Alma 13 — 1 Comment