This past Thursday evening I was invited to give a lecture, one in a series of lectures being held at my Stake Center, for an adult religion class entitled “Seeking the Truth, Defending the Faith.” My assigned topic was “Women in the Church.” It was an honor to address the adult members of our Stake on such an important subject. And what a blessing to prepare! My preparations solidified something important within me. It is difficult to describe, but I feel like I was given a glimpse of what the church could be like…. what our Father in Heaven always intended it to be like. Anyway, this is going to be the longest post in the history of ever on this blog since I had an hour and 10 min to talk. So I will stop commenting. I guess I will just tell you that I had a slide show presentation to go with it, so that’s why you see the word “Slide.” It was a little reminder to push the button on my computer to bring the next one up 🙂 The notes are basically what I said, though of course in the moment the spirit will prompt you to word things slightly differently/add something or to bear testimony and express love.
I’d love to hear any comments people have on this topic. I welcome questions as well. But since I know we all have strong opinions and feelings, I just ask that you be sure to keep things respectful in the comments, okay???
And I would be happy to email a list of references for the quotes/scriptures I used to anyone who wants them. Just shoot me an email at email@example.com. I assure you that what THEY have to say is better than anything I wrote.
Slide: “The greatest champion of woman and womanhood is Jesus the Christ.” James E. Talmage
Throughout His life the Savior Jesus Christ showed respect and honor towards women.
- He taught them. (Slide: Picture of Jesus with Woman at the Well)
- He spent time in their homes. (Slide: Picture of Jesus with Mary and Martha)
- He healed them (Slide: Picture of Jesus with Woman with the Issue of Blood)
- He forgave them (Slide: Picture of Jesus with Woman taken in Adultery)
- He lifted them up (Slide: Picture of Jesus with Daughter of Jairus)
- He thought of them and cared for their needs (Slide: Picture of Mary and Peter at the Cross)
What is the doctrine of HIS gospel as found in HIS restored church concerning women and femininity? (Slide: Picture of the Savior)
I’d like to start my lecture today by attempting to answer this important and timely question. We’ll get into practices and culture too, I assure you, but I don’t feel that I can do that without addressing the doctrine first.
After all, the title of these adult classes is “Seeking the Truth, Defending the Faith.” And the TRUTH is in our doctrine.
Culture and practices inevitably get a little tricky. At that point we are talking about imperfect people trying to live up to their doctrine, and we just aren’t quite there yet. This is true of every aspect of our church. Can you think of ANY way in which the church or it’s members are absolutely perfect? Where there isn’t any work to be done? Nothing to be improved???
In the case of women in the church I think in so many ways we are getting it right. BUT… we are not ZION yet. We still have some work to do. And we are going to talk about that tonight.
But to reiterate: The truth is in the doctrine.
Not only is this doctrine true, it is exciting! If someone not of our faith asks us our beliefs concerning women and femininity we ought to be jumping at the chance to answer that question! Our doctrine is incomparable, especially when viewed against other Christian faiths. It is the most empowering, most beautiful, most marvelous doctrine on the subject available!
I’m anxious to share what portions of it time will allow with you tonight. So let’s get into it.
Slide: “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” The Family: A Proclamation to the World
What do I learn from this quote alone?
First, my femininity matters. It is not a coincidence that I am female. It is not a temporary condition of mortality. It is an integral part of who I am, who I have always been, what I am to do with my life and what I will be doing in the eternities. My gender, my femininity is important. It matters. It matters a great deal.
I also learn that femininity is a divine quality. I am a spirit daughter of Heavenly Parents. Not only do I have the wonderful blessing of a Father in Heaven, I have a Mother as well. Because of that I can embrace my femininity as something beautiful… it’s a characteristic of the divine. Being a woman is not an unfortunate thing, it’s not a cursed, dirty or shameful thing. I can easily reject those ideas about being a woman because of my Mother, and my knowledge that I was created in Her beautiful, exalted, feminine image.
Do you know any other Christian Faith that teaches a divine feminine? As I have described, a knowledge of Her impacts the way I view my femininity. Knowing about her also lends dignity and validation of the important work of being a Mother.
Misunderstandings about the nature of femininity and the first woman, Eve, have been the religious justifications for much of the abuse and mistreatment women have received through the centuries. But our doctrine teaches a divine feminine, and we have a much clearer picture of what happened in that garden.
Along with feminine physical attributes, women possess natural, feminine spiritual and emotional attributes.
Speaking to the Young Women of the church in the April 2000 General Conference President James E. Faust said:
Slide: “One of your unique, precious, and sublime gifts is your femininity, with its natural grace, goodness, and divinity. Femininity is not just lipstick, stylish hairdos, and trendy clothes. It is the divine adornment of humanity. It finds expression in your qualities of your capacity to love, your spirituality, delicacy, radiance, sensitivity, creativity, charm, graciousness, gentleness, dignity, and quiet strength. It is manifest differently in each girl or woman, but each of you possesses it. Femininity is part of your inner beauty.” President James E. Faust
There were many quotes that I could have chosen to establish this doctrine of feminine spiritual attributes, but I wanted to share this quote with you because I think it teaches a couple of important principles.
First, Femininity is not a superficial quality. When we talk about what being feminine means, we are not talking about stereotypical “girly,” things, activities or interests. We are going so far beyond that. The qualities of femininity that I value and have felt in my interactions with other women have nothing to do with what they present on the exterior. They are things that I feel deeply from my heart to hers. So when we think of feminine characteristics, let’s look past those more superficial things and think about deeper qualities.
Secondly, I wanted to highlight that he says here our femininity “is manifest differently in each girl or woman.” This means that even though there are some qualities that are deeply imbedded in women, each woman herself is unique. Each of us express our femininity differently, and that is okay. It’s good even! There is strength and beauty in diversity. There is no one “right,” way to be a woman. He has listed some of the ways that he has seen women express their femininity, and certainly we could list others… Perhaps even some that are even opposite to what he has listed, that could be influenced by a woman’s unique personality or talents. For instance: I know women who possess this quiet strength he listed and who don’t like to be terribly visible. But I also know women who are passionate and vocal in standing for the truth. The important thing is that the righteous women I know, though different, express their femininity in ways that bless and lift those around them.
In my studies again and again the authorities from Joseph Smith onward have taught that the gifts of femininity include: Slide:
-Spiritual and Emotional Sensitivity
-Natural Nurturing and Charitable Capabilities
-Propensity for Virtue and Valor
-Strength, Resiliency and Faith
I see these gifts in the women that I know, certainly, especially if I am taking a broad look at women in general. There are exceptions. Of course things vary on an individual basis. It is reasonable for me to guess that individual personalities and choices have a bearing on this… that perhaps the way we were raised, our culture and our experiences have a bearing on this. We take comfort in the fact that the Lord works with us from where we are at (Parable of the Talents) and we recognize our responsibility to develop these qualities and to use them for the Lord’s purposes.
Indeed that is why we were given these gifts: for a purpose. To be employed by the Lord in blessing families, the church, and our communities. Elder Richard G. Scott taught:
Slide: “Our Heavenly Father endowed His sons and daughters with unique traits especially fitted for their individual responsibilities as they fulfill His plan.” Elder Richard G. Scott
Another important clarification I feel is needed here… Just because women were given these natural feminine gifts this is not to say that we don’t also want men to develop them too. Certainly we need men that are spiritually and emotionally sensitive! Certainly we want nurturing fathers! President Kimball taught:
Slide: “Even though the eternal roles of men and women differ, this leaves much to be done by way of parallel personal development—for both men and women.” President Spencer W. Kimball
And Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught:
Slide: “Righteousness is not a matter of role, nor goodness a matter of gender.” Elder Neal A. Maxwell
So we want our men to develop these qualities too. And vice versa, right? Men have been given the responsibility to provide but our women also have the responsibility to gain an education, and to develop their intellect and temporal skills.
In preparing for this lecture I wrote to all the female members of my family and asked them which doctrines surrounding womanhood and femininity they prized most and why. The doctrines I am about to share with you were the most common answers that I received back.
First, they were grateful for the reassurances that being a wife and a mother here on earth is valuable and carries importance beyond this life. It is not a waste of our time and talents. As the First Presidency once declared:
Slide: “Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels.”
We understand the absolutely vital role that women play in the Father’s Plan of Happiness in the Christ-like service of bearing and rearing children. Let’s not forget how birth is rich in symbolisms related to the Atonement. Women bring life through sacrifice and by the shedding of blood. Birth, like priesthood ordinances, is a completely necessary step in our progression back to our Father in Heaven, and it is administered (for lack of a better word) by women.
They also spoke of their gratitude for the knowledge that family relationships hold the greatest potential for personal fulfillment and joy both in this life and the next. It was clear that eternal families was what mattered the most to them, and they were grateful for our church’s emphasis on that and the help they and their loved ones receive towards being a successful family.
The last doctrine they referenced is an expression of both the mercy and the justice of God. It is one of those unique doctrines that I get really excited about.
Do you know of any other church that gives an assurance for someone who does not have the opportunity in this life to marry or to rear children that they will have that experience someday?
Everybody has the need to love and to be loved. And we have the promise that nothing will be withheld from those who are faithful. Nothing. Elder Boyd K. Packer in April of this year reaffirmed our doctrine that:
Slide: “Arms now empty will be filled, and hearts now hurting from broken dreams and yearning will be healed.” Elder Boyd K. Packer
No opportunity will be withheld from the righteous.
A dear cousin of mine has suffered repeated miscarriages. She wrote to me of her joy not only in knowing that she would have children someday, but that her nurturing gifts don’t have to be wasted now. She knows she can nurture within her extended family and she is grateful for the opportunity the church has provided her to work with and love the children in her ward.
Sister Sheri L. Dew taught:
Slide: “When we understand the magnitude of motherhood, it becomes clear why prophets have been so protective of woman’s most sacred role. While we tend to equate motherhood solely with maternity, in the Lord’s language, the word mother has layers of meaning. Of all the words they could have chosen to define her role and her essence, both God the Father and Adam called Eve “the mother of all living” —and they did so before she ever bore a child.” Sister Sheri L. Dew
Now, I’d like to talk about our doctrines related to equality, importance and value. I’m going to start with the easily accepted ones, and then we’ll move on to the more difficult questions surrounding equality which will lead us nicely out of the doctrine and into our culture and practices.
First, from Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
Slide: “Where spiritual things are concerned, as pertaining to all of the gifts of the Spirit, with reference to the receipt of revelation, the gaining of testimonies, and the seeing of visions, in all matters that pertain to godliness and holiness and which are brought to pass as a result of personal righteousness—in all these things men and women stand in a position of absolute equality before the Lord.” Elder Bruce R. McConkie
After baptism and the receipt of the gift of the Holy Ghost, to the benefit of all, women can:
–Heal, Work Miracles, Prophesy, Discern Spirits, Experience Visions, Speak in Tongues, Revelate, Dream Dreams and Testify with Power.
And that’s just to name a few! It is remarkable to me the kind of power that the Lord is willing to grant to all of us, not just to men who hold the priesthood or to the prophets and apostles. We have the potential to be powerful women for the Lord, and He wants us to be!
Said Elder M. Russell Ballard:
“As President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) explained, “The Lord offers to his daughters every spiritual gift and blessing that can be obtained by his sons. All of us, men and women alike, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost and are entitled to personal revelation. We may all take upon us the Lord’s name, become sons and daughters of Christ, partake of the ordinances of the temple from which we emerge endowed with power, receive the fullness of the gospel, and achieve exaltation in the celestial kingdom. These spiritual blessings are available to men and women alike, according to their faithfulness and their effort to receive them.”
Why are you not in tears right now? I just told you that the Lord is willing to bless you with exaltation in His celestial kingdom! Sisters, I know. We hear these blessings repeated frequently. But please, I beg of you. Do not ever let them become trite. When was the last time you really thought about what it means to leave the temple “endowed with power,”? How often do you contemplate the blessings of exaltation? These are not just nice things on a list! They are blessings so grand I can’t even wrap my mind around them! And our Heavenly Father is willing to give these things to us, unworthy creatures.
Let’s read what a man and woman together can be blessed with in DC 132: 19-20. I can’t help but be overwhelmed with wonder and gratitude each time I read or hear it. I remember my sealing day and the spirit and power that was in the room as my husband and I entered into that covenant:
–Have someone stand and read with feeling—
19 And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.
20 Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.
Yes. The Father is willing to give us all that He hath. And Sisters, “All that He hath” means: Everything!
Lastly, women are as equally loved as men by our Heavenly Parents and by our elder Brother Jesus the Christ. If the blessings available to women are not enough to prove that point, I offer you THIS (Slide: Picture of Dorothy). Nope. Not a quote or scripture, though I could have shared some of those. Instead I wanted to introduce you to my daughter, Dorothy Elizabeth. She is indescribably precious to her father and I. Could we, even in our far from perfect state as a parents and people, possibly love her any less than our three sons? No. No, no, no! And our Heavenly Father is a perfect parent. He is so much better at this than we are and I do not doubt for one moment that He loves me as much as my brothers. Don’t you ever doubt it either.
I’d like to wrap up this portion of my lecture with a quote that I have seen used by many authorities, including Elder Holland just to name one, to sum up the doctrine and how this church feels about it’s women. It comes from President Gordon B. Hinckley:
Slide: “Woman is God’s supreme creation. Only after the earth had been formed, after the day had been separated from the night, after the waters had been divided from the land, after vegetation and animal life had been created, and after man had been placed on the earth, was woman created; and only then was the work pronounced complete and good.
Of all the creations of the Almighty, there is none more beautiful, none more inspiring than a lovely daughter of God who walks in virtue with an understanding of why she should do so, who honors and respects her body as a thing sacred and divine, who cultivates her mind and constantly enlarges the horizon of her understanding, who nurtures her spirit with everlasting truth.”
So then here’s the big question. Keeping in mind this quote and everything else that we have discussed up to this point… How is it possible that there are women in our church who do not feel valued and important in the Lord’s church? Who do not feel equal? And why are we so divided on these issues?
Elder Ballard once spoke of a letter that was received at church headquarters which said the following:
Slide: “I have a wonderful husband and children, whom I love deeply. I love the Lord and His Church more than I can say. I know the Church is true! I realize I shouldn’t feel discouraged about who I am. Yet I have been going through an identity crisis most of my life. I have never dared utter these feelings out loud but have hidden them behind the huge, confident smile I wear to church every week. For years I have doubted if I had any value beyond my roles as a wife and mother. I have feared that men are that they might have joy, but that women are that they might be overlooked. I long to feel that I, as a woman, matter to the Lord.”
Now, I don’t claim to know everything about the way women are feeling about the issues surrounding women in the church because each woman is unique and had her own experiences and thoughts.
And I need to openly admit that I LOVE being a woman in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. For me it has been a blessed, happy journey. I have been treated with respect. I have been uplifted and encouraged. I have been given opportunities to grow and exercise my talents. (And I don’t just mean in leadership positions, like I currently hold.)
But, notwithstanding this, I have felt a strong desire to understand women who feel like this Sister that wrote to church HQ. I know there are sisters in our Stake who have felt real pain and who have been filled with serious concerns and questions. I have spent almost 2 years learning how and why our sisters and other sisters feel like this. It has been an enlightening process for me, one that I am very grateful to have gone through. I am particularly grateful for the examples of humility that I have seen from women, some of whom are here tonight, who are faithfully going about finding answers to the questions they have and who are remaining true to their covenants as they do so.
So next, I’d like to suggest at least a few reasons (Again, I cannot be comprehensive here, for which I am truly sorry) why women may feel lesser in the church.
First, and most obviously, women can feel lesser because they are TREATED as lesser. This goes back to what I said at the beginning of the lecture. Doctrinally there is absolutely NO room for anyone to treat a woman as inferior, in the home or in the church. Our leaders and the scriptures teach this often and with absolute clarity. Still, we are imperfect people and it happens. It happens in large, abusive ways, and it happens in less dramatic ways too. Consider this teaching of President Spencer W. Kimball:
Slide: “Our sisters do not wish to be indulged or to be treated condescendingly (And I would add, patronizingly); they desire to be respected and revered as our sisters and our equals. I mention all these things, my brethren, not because the doctrines or the teachings of the Church regarding women are in any doubt, but because in some situations our behavior is of doubtful quality.”
And what is the answer to this? Stop it. Just stop. Don’t act like that!
Another reason women may feel lesser is because we do not have the same opportunities and roles as men in the church. We do not hold the priesthood. We can never be a prophet or an apostle.
Judging by the standards of the world, that makes us inferior and discriminated against. Sister Neylan McBain who works with the Public Relations department of the church and operates a website called the Mormon Women Project was asked about gender discrimination in the church and she said the following:
“Is there gender discrimination in the Church? If discrimination means separation according to gender, yes. If it means delineation of opportunities based solely on gender, yes. Many argue that different opportunities based on gender is unfair, adverse, and/or abusive by definition. The Church does not satisfy secular gender-related egalitarian ideals, period; and our institutional behavior fits that definition of gender discrimination in several inescapable ways.”
To give you an example of one of the ways we fail to live up to secular ideas of equality, she cited leadership opportunities:
“In the outside world, when you say men and women have equal leadership opportunities, you mean — at least ideally — that men and women have the same cleared path to advance to the same positions of influence and authority.”
So arguing that a woman can be a Relief Society President in her ward isn’t good enough because as nice as that is, she still can’t be a Bishop. His stewardship is larger and encompasses hers, therefore, according to this outside world definition he has more power and influence. I’ve heard it said that the most a woman can ever be in our church is a “special interest figurehead.”
Now I can tell some of you are starting to get a little uncomfortable and probably upset with me, but before you get too worried about Ashlee going heretical let me explain why I bring all of this up.
I am trying to show you that we cannot judge this divine church based on secular paradigms or we will not be satisfied with what we find. But why should we do that anyway? We are not a secular institution! This is the Lord’s kingdom established on the Earth. HE was the one who organized it as it is.
When defending the faith or teaching within the faith, before we even begin to answer the questions people have, I think it is helpful to first take a step back and acknowledge that we very different notions of power, importance, worth and equality than most of the world. I for one am grateful that we are not just reliant upon the best ideas of human kind, because if it were so, we would lose the wisdom of the Lord which we desperately need, even if we don’t fully comprehend the reasons why He chooses to do things in a certain way.
Slide: “¶For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8
But, I recognize that accepting this takes a great deal of humility and faith. For some of us it takes a huge shift in our expectations which can be a hard and painful process.
It can be difficult to accept that the worldly standard of equality is not what the Lord wants for His church when it has done so much good and has advanced the cause of woman in ways that we are so happy about. We are so glad women can vote! We are so glad women have increased opportunities for education and advancement in the workplace!
Sisters, I don’t know why the Lord has organized His church in this way. But I will tell you what I do know. I know that the Lord loveth his children. And I know that God’s whole work and glory and is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of His children. And so, I have to trust that if He wanted it this way then it is in our best eternal interest that it is so.
The hard thing is that this church, on the outside, does bear a remarkable resemblance to a secular, business organization. But, it also has some crucial differences which I’d like to highlight.
–Make T Chart on the Board—(One side: Typical Secular Business Organization Other Side: The Lord’s Church)—One by one tape up signs and describe.
Let’s start with our business side. A Typical Secular Business Organization:
Calculates greatness from the top down. The presidents of companies are considered the best… the most important and most influential.
Promotions Associated with Good Work. When someone does well at their job they are promoted to a higher position like a manager.
Higher Influence, Pay and Prestige for Higher Up Positions. The higher up you go on the ladder of your company there is a correspondingly higher level of influence, prestige and pay.
And while not everyone is this way, it is usually quite easy to find Competitive, Self-Serving Mentalities within these types of organizations.
Okay now let’s contrast that with the Lord’s Church:
To begin, please open your scriptures to Luke 22: 24-27. Link HERE.
Esteem the servant as the greatest. And in this church every one of us is called to a service position! Even with our leadership positions we don’t talk about them in terms of power. I particularly love this example Jesus gives about the dinner. It makes me think of Downton Abbey. In that situation the people being served dinner are in a higher class with more privileges. But the Savior said He came as the one to serve the dinner. And He was the greatest of us all.
Next let’s turn to:
1 Corinthians 12 Paul is making a comparison of the church to a body and each person or role as a particular part of that body. We are actually going to read the entire chapter aloud. I hope that you will open your minds and hearts to what the spirit would have you learn as we read because there is so much in this chapter and I only have time to make a few comments. Link HERE.
From these verses we learn that: All roles are valued. Not everyone will be the head or the heart but we need all the parts of the body if it is to function properly. And I really love how it talks about our pain and our joys being shared. And that while we work differently there is so much the same… we operate with the same spirit etc. So let’s add another principle to the board. In the Lord’s church we: Work in unity for the benefit of all and for the Glory of the Father. We aren’t going to look up the scriptural reference to that last part, but in all positions we try to emulate the example of the Savior and give honor to the Father, not to ourselves.
Other important hallmarks of our church I’d like to add. In the church we Receive no pay. Also, no one applies for positions or moves up the ladder based on good performance. We are Called of God by Prophesy. We talk about people being prepared for certain positions by experiences that the Lord gives them, but that is quite a different thing from vying for positions and working towards one because we want it. And with exceedingly few exceptions, Most Callings are Temporary. In this church of millions, only 15 people will keep their callings forever. For everyone else we rotate every few years giving each of us opportunities to play all kinds of different kinds of parts. I am currently serving as the Stake Relief Society President. But because I am not permanently in this position I don’t get to claim the calling as part of my identity. I am a servant to the calling for the time the Lord sees fit, and when He chooses to place me elsewhere, I will be happy to serve… wherever that may be.
Lastly, just a quick comment about influence. Think to yourselves for just a moment about the top 5 most influential people in your life…
I am willing to bet you thought of people that one on one interactions with you on a regular basis. I sustain the Prophet and Apostles as much as anyone I know. I love them. I appreciate them. But if I am thinking of who has influenced me most in my life, I have to tell you, my Mom beats them.
So as you can see, though our structure is similar to a business organization, our ideals and our practices within that structure are QUITE different.
Unfortunately we don’t always speak in ways that reflect our ideals. Let me give you a real life example of something that happened in our Stake. This is actually only the beginning of the story. We will finish it later:
In our Stake there is a certain primary class with a bunch of little boys. The teacher of this class is a good person and I am sure that her intentions were completely honorable, but at some point during a lesson one Sunday she pointed her finger at each boy and said “Johnny… YOU can be a prophet.” “Harry… YOU can be a prophet.” etc. Why would she do this?
This well meaning teacher just reinforced the idea that there are better, more important positions in this church than others. We have to stop doing things like this!
I’m no better. I couldn’t wait to tell people about my brother being called as a Bishop in his Provo ward recently, something I certainly didn’t do when he was called as a nursery leader. Why do we do this? If we fully embraced the principles in 1 Corinthians we wouldn’t! Can you think of other things we do culturally, maybe some traditions we have, that unwittingly support this “you are better at the top idea?” I can.
We need to be better at letting our actions and our words reflect our doctrine, which is that:
“Men and women are equal in God’s eyes and in the eyes of the Church, but equal does not mean they are the same. The responsibilities and divine gifts of men and women differ in their nature but not in their importance or influence. 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. President Hinckley declared to women that “our Eternal Father … never intended that you should be less than the crowning glory of His creations.
Men and women have different gifts, different strengths, and different points of view and inclinations. That is one of the fundamental reasons why we need each other. It takes a man and a woman to create a family, and it takes men and women to carry out the work of the Lord.” Elder M. Russell Ballard
Maybe another reason that women sometimes feel like second class citizens has to do with problem of inherited traditions from our fathers which are still practiced but which are not doctrinally based.
To give you an example: Women, until recently, did not pray in General Conference. Why was that? Was there some doctrinal foundation to explain it? No. There wasn’t. The church has recognized this and it has been changed. Perhaps we will see more of these types of changes on the general level.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a lecture at the Harvard Law School in March of 2012. And in a question and answer section afterwards (which you can watch yourself on YouTube if you’d like) he was asked about women’s roles in our church. He taught a bit about our incomparable doctrine but then admitted that in practice we need to do better. We need to find a better vocabulary in which to talk about women’s roles, and we need to “make actions follow our language and our vocabulary and our sermons.” In other words he was saying that we need to bridge the gap between our doctrine and our culture/practices.
I hope we will not only see changes happening on the general level but on our local levels as well. I had a talk with President Stowell about this recently and we are examining what we can do here in our Stake to make sure that our practices are doctrinally, not culturally based. We want to ensure that we are not needlessly limiting the participation of our women. I am hopeful that being conscious in this way will have a particularly positive impact on the messages our rising generation receives about women at church.
But WHY is it important that we making these changes? To me, the WHY of all of this is crucial.
Brothers and Sisters: It is not about making women feel better about themselves. To do things with that intention is patronizing and demeaning.
It is also not about demanding equality as the world defines it from our leaders or the Lord. Not everyone who wants to see change in the church approaches it from that angle. That is not at all what I am saying. Still, I have encountered voices that to me sound very demanding and entitled. When I hear things like this I can’t help but think of King Benjamin, (a person we could have studied to for an excellent example of our principles related to church service) who taught that we are all “unprofitable servants.” He has given us our life, the very air we breathe and the opportunity to inherit, again, ALL that He hath. Neither the Lord or His church owe me anything. I owe Him everything.
No. It is not about either of these things.
It’s about discovering the Lord’s will of how His precious daughters are to participate in His Kingdom to the benefit of the entire church. It’s about discovering about how men and women should work together to bring about his purposes.
As Sister Linda K. Burton, General Relief Society President, said recently in a New York Times article: The Church will benefit as “men’s vision of the capacity of women becomes more complete.”
I would add that women’s vision of the capacity of women needs to become more complete.
To illustrate I’d like to finish telling you that story now of the primary class full of little boys in our Stake. There is a little girl in the class too. Just one. After the female teacher finished calling each of the boys by name and telling them that they could be a prophet, she got to this little girl and said “And you, Jenny, you can be a prophet’s wife!”
Now I am not saying that a prophet’s wife doesn’t play a critical role. One of my top 5 Favorite LDS Heroines is Sister Marjorie Pay Hinckley. We all recognize the important support that husbands and wives give to one another in their callings. But… this sister’s comment… Ahhh! First of all, we don’t even know if little Jenny is going to get married, so to tell her that her best way to serve in the church is by supporting her husband is inappropriate. But, even if we knew she was going to get married… comments like these reflect a lack of understanding about the important roles women play at church.
Sister Julie B. Beck, former General Relief Society President and her counselors saw the need for women to understand and better execute their irreplaceable roles. In the October General Conference of 2010 she taught something that left a lasting impression on my heart which I have pondered repeatedly since. Now before I read it Sisters, let me give you an instruction. I don’t know if you have read all of the conference talks yet, but President Uchtdorf gave an excellent talk in the Priesthood session entitled “Lord, is it I?” He talked about the importance of looking at ourselves and finding our own weaknesses and imperfections and not judging others. So. You are NOT to think about any of your Sisters as I read this. Think about yourself, and whether you fully comprehend and execute your important roles in the church. She said:
Slide: “Because we are living in the last days of this earth, there are signs of a great struggle everywhere. Myths and misperceptions regarding the strength, purpose, and position of Latter-day Saint women abound. Prevailing myths imply that we are of lower importance than men, that we are generally sweet but uninformed, and that no matter what we do, we will never be enough to be accepted by our Heavenly Father. As the Apostle Peter said, there are “false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them.”
In the growing climate of entitlement, excuse, apathy, and enticement, daughters of God who are not watchful, prayerful, and inspired are increasingly at risk of becoming what the scriptures describe as “silly women” who worship a variety of “strange gods.” Sadly, as a result of life’s difficulties and the world’s popular heresies, many sisters believe the myths more than the truth. Their misalignment with God’s plan is demonstrated in findings that many are not doing essential things such as praying and reading scriptures. The Lord Himself has said that “this is a day of warning, and not a day of many words.”
Our presidency has prayed, fasted, pondered, and counseled with prophets, seers, and revelators to learn what God would have us do to help His daughters be strong in the face of “the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth.” An answer has come that the sisters of the Church should know and learn from the history of Relief Society.”
Who can tell me what the result of this revelation was? That’s right! The publication of Daughters in My Kingdom! This book is a call for all of us to better understand the roles of women. I recently re-read it because of an invitation my ward Relief Society President extended to our ward Relief Society. Brothers and Sisters, I LOVE this book. I have read it prayerfully desiring to be taught by the spirit of the Lord about His purposes for me. Because of this book my vision has increased dramatically. This book tells stories of women who GOT IT. Eliza R. Snow GOT IT. When I think of her the word that comes to mind is: ROCKSTAR! And I want to be like her. I want to be like all of the remarkable women it highlights! I want to turn the principles this book teaches into actions in my life to help me be a more dedicated and effective disciple for Jesus Christ.
This book is also physical, tangible, evidence of the important acts that women have contributed to the church from its very beginnings. Again, going back to the class title and “defending the faith,” I would love to share some of these stories with people not of our faith. I think my favorite would have to be about Sister Jack starting the literacy program. That story demonstrates that important revelations received by our women have a lasting impact on individuals and families. The Relief Society is an unparalleled organization.
It was also reaffirmed to me that the Relief Society matters. It is not just somewhere nice for the sisters to go during 3rd hour. It is not just a way to satisfy our social needs. It is our complement to the Priesthood organization. As our Handbook States
Slide: “Relief Society prepares women for the blessings of eternal life.”
In the home our complimentary roles are husband and wife, father and mother. In the church, our complimentary roles are priesthood and sisterhood. I know some people may disagree with me on that point but I have the words of Spencer W. Kimball to back me up:
Slide: “Our roles and assignments differ. These are eternal differences—with women being given the tremendous responsibilities of motherhood and sisterhood and men being given the tremendous responsibilities of fatherhood and the priesthood.” President Spencer W. Kimball
Notice how he used the word “responsibility,” related to our sisterhood. The Relief Society is the organization of our Sisterhood. It was organized under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood and that means our responsibilities within it are serious. They are as serious as priesthood responsibilities and I don’t think everyone gets that yet.
Regardless, the publication of Daughters in My Kingdom was a huge step in helping us all understand the role of women in the church more completely.
So was the publication of Handbook 2, which is helping us better understand how men and women are supposed to work together in councils and other ways to fulfill the purposes of the church.
I will never forget the training meeting held when the new Handbook 2 was rolled out. I remember them pointing to a section in the handbook where it teaches about the importance of women voicing their opinions in our councils… how the male leaders like the Bishop or Stake President should seek their input on all matters considered by the council, regardless of whether the matter at hand has to do with their particular stewardship. This is a worldwide church now and the church resides in areas where it is not customary for women to voice their opinions in these types of settings. Why do we need them to? Oh how we need the perspective of women! Inspiration needs information. It’s that whole “study it out in your mind,” bit that is so important to the process of revelation being received, and women have different information than men. We have different relationships with and insights into individuals and families. We notice and are attuned to different things!
It wasn’t long after Handbook 2 was rolled out that a powerful example of this was given in General Conference by Elder Quentin L. Cook:
—Have Someone Paraphrase Tonga Story—
Several years ago I attended a stake conference in Tonga. Sunday morning the three front rows of the chapel were filled with men between 26 and 35 years of age. I assumed they were a men’s choir. But when the business of the conference was conducted, each of these men, 63 in total, stood up as their names were read and were sustained for ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood. I was both pleased and stunned.
After the session I asked President Mateaki, the stake president, how this miracle had been accomplished. He told me that in a stake council meeting reactivation was being discussed. His stake Relief Society president, Sister Leinata Va’enuku, asked if it would be appropriate for her to say something. As she spoke, the Spirit confirmed to the president that what she was suggesting was true. She explained that there were large numbers of wonderful young men in their late 20s and 30s in their stake who had not served missions. She said many of them knew they had disappointed bishops and priesthood leaders who had strongly encouraged them to serve a mission, and they now felt like second-class members of the Church. She pointed out that these young men were beyond missionary age. She expressed her love and concern for them. She explained that all of the saving ordinances were still available to them and the focus should be on priesthood ordinations and the ordinances of the temple. She noted that while some of these young men were still single, the majority of them had married wonderful women—some active, some inactive, and some not members.
After thorough discussion in the stake council, it was decided that the men of the priesthood and the women of the Relief Society would reach out to rescue these men and their wives, while the bishops spent more of their time with the young men and young women in the wards. Those involved in the rescue focused primarily on preparing them for the priesthood, eternal marriage, and the saving ordinances of the temple. During the next two years, almost all of the 63 men who had been sustained to the Melchizedek Priesthood at the conference I attended were endowed in the temple and had their spouses sealed to them. This account is but one example of how critical our sisters are in the work of salvation in our wards and stakes and how they facilitate revelation, especially in family and Church councils.
Do we need to information and insights of our women? Yes!
Another recent positive change was the lowering of the missionary age requirement for sisters and the creation of the first female leadership position in the mission field. What miracles will we see as a result of this decision?
I am also grateful for the questions that have been asked surrounding women and the priesthood. Elder Oaks’ talk in April of this year during the Priesthood Session articulating how women hold priesthood authority in their callings and act with binding priesthood authority in our temples and other settings was not just a matter of semantics. We need to understand how the priesthood functions with all of us!
Now. We have covered many things tonight, but not as many as I would have liked to. My counselor Sister Nakea laughed when I told her I was doing this and teased me saying “Will an hour and a half be enough time for you???” The answer is, “no.” It really wasn’t. So I leave you with an invitation to continue to study.
I’d also like to leave you with two more quotes to ponder. Stay with me, they are really worth it!
The first comes to us from Elder Glenn L. Pace and it is about our Mother in Heaven:
“Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high and you look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny.”
This church believes in line upon line revelation and that we still have many great and important things to be revealed. Perhaps someday we will know more about our Heavenly Mother.
And finally from Elder James E. Talmage:
“When the frailities and imperfections of mortality are left behind, in the glorified state of the blessed hereafter, husband and wife will administer in their respective stations, seeing and understanding alike, and co-operating to the full in the government of their family kingdom. Then shall woman be recompensed in rich measure for all the injustice that womanhood has endured in mortality. Then shall woman reign by Divine right, a queen in the resplendent realm of her glorified state, even as exalted man shall stand, priest and king unto the Most High God. Mortal eye cannot see nor mind comprehend the beauty, glory, and majesty of a righteous woman made perfect in the celestial kingdom of God.”
Sisters, may we be ever faithful and worthy of such a destiny. And as we continue to work, please, be patient. We are not Zion yet. And let us never let these issues be a reason for division among our sisterhood.
I leave with you my love and my testimony…
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.