Priesthood Authority vs. Priesthood Power

This is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

We’ve made it to the Priesthood session of April 1976’s General Conference. Most of the talks were kind of blah for me, but President Kimball had a few interesting things to say:

Indecision and discouragement are climates in which the Adversary lives to function, for he can inflict so many casualties among mankind in those settings.

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The next bit stood out to me largely because of my research on the theology of work:

We hope you will make no less effort to fellowship those members and prospective members who are tradesmen and craftsmen. We must never come to feel in the Church that those who labor in the crafts and skills have somehow done less than they should. We are grateful, of course, for the many professional men in the Church and for those who are thought of as being in our white-collar occupations; but I want us to reach out more than we now do for the men—young and old—who labor in the so-called blue-collar skills, which are more essential to our society than many realize. Indeed, some of these skills are in short supply! Let us reach out in a special way to these men, for among them are many of our prospective elders whose strength and skills we need and whose families will fully affiliate only if these men come and join us in greater numbers.

I think there is something metaphysical about physical labor. Blue-collar work deserves more respect.

And finally:

Please avoid, even by implication, involving the Church in political issues. It is so easy, if we are not careful, to project our personal preferences as the position of the Church on an issue.

This was unexpected, especially given the recent debate over Mormon conservatism. But it’s a much-needed warning to not confuse political partisanship for discipleship.[ref]To be clear, I’m not accusing the authors of the Deseret News articles of putting politics before discipleship. I think politics should be influenced by religion.[/ref]

My favorite talk, however, was Elder Peterson’s. Look at the way he breaks down the difference between authority and power:

From [D&C 121:34-36] I understand that there is a difference between priesthood authority and priesthood power. Power and authority in the priesthood are not necessarily synonymous. All of us who hold the priesthood have the authority to act for the Lord, but the effectiveness of our authority—or if you please, the power that comes through that authority—depends on the pattern of our lives; it depends on our righteousness. Note again, “The powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.”

…If we live for it, ours can be a power given us from our Heavenly Father that will bring peace to a troubled household. Ours can be a power that will bless and comfort little children, that will bring sleep to tear-stained eyes in the wee hours of the morning. Ours can be the power that will bring happiness to a family home evening, the power to calm the unsettled nerves of a tired wife. Ours can be the power that will give direction to a confused and vulnerable teenager. Ours, the power to bless a daughter before she goes on her first date or before her temple marriage, or to bless a son before his departure for a mission or college. Ours, my young brethren, can be the power to stop evil thoughts of a group of boys gathered together in vulgar conversation. Ours can be the power to heal the sick and comfort the lonely. These are some of the important purposes of the priesthood.

When we have the power to bless families in some of the ways mentioned, then we are using this God-given authority for its most exalted purpose—to bind family ties and perform priesthood ordinances that will endure through the eternities.

For me, this focus on priesthood blessing families is rooted in Joseph Smith’s temple theology. It is about solidifying relationships in eternity, calling on the power of connection and love that transcends death. The approved words by the approved representative (authority) fall short without the meaning intact (power). It makes little sense to speak of eternal relationships via authoritative rituals if the very essence of the relationship has fizzled. This is why Peterson highlights the following when it comes to holding authority:

Many are the brethren who do not understand what these sacred words [D&C 121:39-40] mean:

We must not be inconsiderate;

We must not command;

We must not be dictators;

We must not become puffed up in pride.

These things are toxic to relationships.[ref]Peterson also states, “May I also suggest to you that it is important for the brethren to develop the same concern for the training of girls as they have for the training of the priesthood boys.”[/ref] And toxicity erodes the very essence of what priesthood is supposed to maintain.