General Relief Society Broadcast Review

copyright dawnyz58 on FlickrTwo weeks ago, I trekked the small drive to our stake center, armed with some yarn for my daughter’s mittens and a notebook for the General Relief Society Broadcast. Today, I share with you my reactions.

President Julie B. Beck

President Beck started her talk stating that her topic was, “What I Hope My Granddaughters Will Understand about Relief Society,” a beautiful and personal way to address her audience. She began with something of a history of women in the Church, starting with the Primitive Church with a reference to Mary and Martha, though technically, Christ didn’t start a church while he was alive; that was done post-resurrection. She continued with the female disciples mentioned in the Pauline epistles and I was secretly hoping she’d mention female “apostles” as well, especially following up as she did, “But as the Lord’s Church was lost in apostasy, this pattern of discipleship was also lost.”

She continued this history with the organization of the Relief Society in Nauvoo, “I hope my granddaughters will understand that the Lord inspired the Prophet Joseph Smith to organize the women of the Church…. [Emma Smith] was named as president of the organization, with two counselors to serve with her in a presidency. Rather than being selected by popular vote, as was common in organizations outside of the Church, this presidency was called by revelation, sustained by those they would lead, and set apart by priesthood leaders to serve in their callings.” While a nice way to present the birth of Relief Society, I found it to be disappointing and historically misleading. The Relief Society was created and initiated by the women of Nauvoo seeing a need they could fill. Yes, Joseph Smith did say that the Lord had something better for them, but it never would have started had it not been for the insight and forthrightness of the women in bringing the idea to Joseph Smith. Additionally, by the minutes taken by Eliza R. Snow of the first Relief Society meeting, the Nauvoo women did, in fact, choose and vote upon Emma Smith’s position as president. After the vote, she is referred to as the “Presidentess Elect.” Beck’s presentation is confusing in that she presents a picture that sounded like Joseph Smith came up with the idea, prayed about who should be the president, and then organized the Relief Society in the manner callings are chosen today. Leaving out these details, Beck missed a chance to demonstrate the genius, power, and ability of women.

Other parts I found confusing included “Being organized under the priesthood made it possible for the presidency to receive direction from the Lord and His prophet for a specific work.” Does this mean that a presidency doesn’t receive their own revelation for their callings?And I wondered if her statement, “the sisters of Relief Society have at times imposed many written and unwritten rules upon themselves in their desire to understand how to strengthen one another,” was an apologetic nod to her own written rules from the Mothers Who Know talk.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed the nods to the Nauvoo women who, “sustained homes and business and earned income for families and missionaries” and her later shout out to the diverse and unique lives and situations of women today, something that some have argued that she hasn’t acknowledged well in the past. She used strong words like “impressive” and “heroic” to describe our work as women, quoted that Relief Society is “the head, not the tail”, and I appreciated her statement that the purpose of Relief Society is to “lift [us] above all that hinders the joy and progress of woman.”

Sister Silvia H. Allred

Sister Allred spoke on charity. The first thing I noticed about her talk was that all of her references to charity in the scriptures came from male voices, which is no fault of her own, as female voices on charity are few (nonexistent?). She quoted Paul, Mormon, and Nephi. Then she continued on to give examples of people who show charity and used Christ, Joseph Smith, and President Monson. I think there was a lost opportunity there to give examples of women who exhibit charity, though, at the end of her talk, she did mention three visiting teachers, Rosa, Kathy, Cali, and their efforts to lift the people they visited.

While listening to this talk, I kept thinking about Whoa-man’s post, To Some it is Given, where she wrote about faith being a gift of the Spirit and perhaps not everyone has it. Charity is also a gift of the Spirit, so I kept trying to mesh that with the idea that charity is something we can all obtain, as given in this talk. Two quotations that made me think a lot about charity as a gift versus actively trying to obtain charity were, “As we choose to be kind, caring, generous, patient, accepting, forgiving, inclusive, and selfless, we discover we are abounding in charity,” and, “This society is composed of women whose feelings of charity spring from hearts changed by qualifying for and by keeping covenants offered only in the Lord’s true Church. Their feelings of charity come from Him through His Atonement. Their acts of charity are guided by His example—and come out of gratitude for His infinite gift of mercy—and by the Holy Spirit, which He sends to accompany His servants on their missions of mercy. Because of that, they have done and are able to do uncommon things for others and to find joy even when their own unmet needs are great.”

I loved the quotation by President Monson she used, “Charity is having patience with someone who has let us down. It is resisting the impulse to become offended easily. It is accepting weaknesses and shortcomings. It is accepting people as they truly are. It is looking beyond physical appearances to attributes that will not dim through time. It is resisting the impulse to categorize others.”

Sister Barbara Thompson

I really loved the way she started with a story from her family and life. Having been in the position of packing up and throwing away the things of someone who has died, I could easily put myself in that place. I also loved her widespread use of stories of women: Maria Speidel, Sarah Rich, Mercy Fielding Thompson (related, perhaps?), and her grandmother. I did wish that Sister Thompson, and all the other speakers, would use female-oriented language. It was a little off-putting to hear, “A covenant is a contract made between God and man,” when saying “woman” would have been just as easy and more accurate for the audience.

Presiden Dieter F. Uchtdorf

The first thing I loved about President Uchtdorf’s talk was when he turned around to thank the Relief Society Presidency. He didn’t have to physically acknowledge them more than saying a few words, but he did anyway. And his thanks were repeated to the whole audience at the end: gratitude chiasmus! In fact, one of my favorite parts of his ending thank you’s were, “Thank you for who you are.” I loved the message that we are acceptable as we are now. I believe our Heavenly Parents feel so, too.

President Uchtdorf knows how to write a talk: personal story and connection, thorough background information, easy to remember pneumonic device, inclusive “we” with the audience; it’s really well-written.

His five messages, if you haven’t read, were:

  1. Be patient with yourself.
  2. Know the difference between a good sacrifice and a foolish sacrifice.
  3. Be happy now.
  4. Understand the “why” of the gospel.
  5. The Lord loves us.

These are good messages to share and I wish talks like this were given to the whole church. We all need these reminders. There were beautiful sentiments:

“Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It’s wonderful that you have strengths. And it is part of your mortal experience that you do have weaknesses.”

In this next one, I liked the mention that this life is for happiness and peace.

“[The gospel] is a pathway, marked by our loving Father in Heaven, leading to happiness and peace in this life and glory and inexpressible fulfillment in the life to come.
like emphasis on happiness and peace in this life.”

There was one part that didn’t sit well with me and that was the examples of “good” sacrifices and “foolish” sacrifices. For me, the moment that explicit examples with labels of un/acceptance are introduced, judgment enters the picture. I know he meant the examples to be over-reaching and funny, but I felt for the possible women in the audience who may have spent hours working on handouts for their classes the next day who might suddenly wonder, “If my ward sees my handouts, will they judge me a poor manager in my lesson planning time?” I know a woman who did stay up all night working on an accessory for her daughter because she was being deployed the next day and wasn’t going to see her for months (she had to finish the one for her other daughter and mail it to her after reaching her base). I felt for the woman whose love language might be gift giving, who might now feel that the way she shows love to others would be looked down on. Additionally, his examples were of women who were probably trying to follow his previous counsel to be creators and felt belittling of hobbies traditionally associated with women. I loved the message to be judicious with our time and efforts, but felt like it might have been better to emphasize that only we can determine if something is worth it.

So that’s it! I think it’s possible to find the perfect message for ourselves from one of these talks and I hope everyone left feeling closer to our Heavenly Parents. I, at the very least, got a little knitting done.

What do you think? Am I off on my reactions? Did you notice something different? Were there parts that stood out to you?

TopHat

TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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31 Responses

  1. Diane says:

    Does this mean that a presidency doesn’t receive their own revelation for their callings?

    I was always taught that RSP, and all the rest of the auxiliaries served under the auspices of the Bishop/BP. I’m not sure if that’s true, but, that’s been my understanding

    • TopHat says:

      Yeah, they do. I’m trying to figure out how to rephrase that question to describe what I was feeling more fully. Hmm…

    • ohkj says:

      My one-time stint as RSP was a exercise in patience, because even though, theoretically, RSP and other auxiliaries receive the revelation for who should serve in what capacities for that arm of the church, I had a Branch President who made it frustratingly clear that he had the last say in who got what calling. I was vetoed more times then I care to count.

      It implied that my revelations weren’t as good as his. Or maybe I have it all wrong, and his revelations ARE better than mine, since he has the mantle to “see the big picture.” ??

      • Kara says:

        I think the logic of this who idea is kind of short sighted. Staffing an entire ward or branch is a logistical NIGHTMARE. (With emphasis on the NIGHTMARE!) If you take someone from one orgranization…you have to replace them with someone else… but factor in worthiness, willingness and follow through and anyone that longs for a leadership calling will soon pray for release. How does a bishop work out the issue of a Young Women’s president, Primary president and Relief Society president all praying for, receiving confirmation for, and insisting on the same person? What if they’ve ALL gone to the temple, prayed with with their presidencies, fasted for 48 hours and dreamed about the same person? Who gets her? If you can answer this question…bishops from around the world will worship you. Unoffically of course…

      • spunky says:

        Kara, are you a bishop? Otherwise, your comment just doesn’t make sense.

        Plus, having been in a number of presidencies, I can state that when the spirit confirms that someone in particular is to be called, it is clear and all parties know perfectly. I also know that if there is someone who is popular, talented or clever, they are suggested for a lot of callings, usually without the leadership really thinking about or seeking the spirit… after all, why pray about a particular person or calling when you are openly told that the Bishop will usurp your impressions?

        I am not impressed with your inability to see the “big picture.”

  2. Squashy says:

    I have very low self esteem and constantly often needlessly beat myself up over stuff. The part where President Uchtdorf said “stop punishing yourself” made me cry and also “you are not forgotten” I had only the previous day written that it feels like the church had forgotten me. God has not forgotten me though. I will be ok 🙂

  3. Maureen says:

    Thank you for this balanced review TopHat. I wasn’t able to attend and generally been uncomfortable at RS broadcasts for the past few years, so I appreciate the gentle introduction and personal insights you have provided.

    • TopHat says:

      Thanks! I tried to be balanced. My notes were not balanced. When I came home and read them to my husband he wondered to me, “Did you like anything?” I’m glad that my final write up was more balanced. 🙂

  4. jks says:

    I hope that you are wrong about the hurt feelings over cross-stitching or other examples. My hope would be that the woman who loves cross-stitching wouldn’t be thinking of it as a sacrifice, but the woman who doesn’t would be sacrificing sleep or time with family or cleaning and needs help knowing it is ok to not do it.
    For instance, I love helping my kids with their homework (guiding them to do it themselves I mean). So I never think of it as a sacrifice to stop whatever I am doing to take care of that. I like giving talks and lessons, it doesn’t ever feel like a sacrifice to prepare a talk (I have never brought a centerpiece or a handout, I hope those who do do it because that is part of the lesson that they love preparing). I LOVED spending hours preparing stuff for the home preschool for my 3 year old this year….didn’t think of it as a sacrifice. Sure, I felt bad for my family that the kitchen table was messy, but too bad.
    For me, the sacrifice would have been to spend those hours cleaning my house rather than preparing preschool stuff. It wasn’t worth it to me. Having a clean house and missing the chance to make a singing board with something to hold for songs like 5 little speckled frogs on a speckled log and velcro for them to jump into the pond…….cleaning my house and not completing the project would have been the sacrifice and for what? Not worth it. Of course for someone else, it would have been torture to make stuff like that.
    Its the sacrifices that don’t make sense, that aren’t working, that are too hard for the pay off, that are about keeping up with the Joneses that you need to have good judgement on.
    Our lives are full of these judgements. I feel it especially as I have to manage my time to take care of four individual children’s needs, the family’s overall needs, my needs, my husband’s needs.

    • TopHat says:

      I hope so, too. I might have been extra sensitive because I was sitting there knitting and wondering myself, “Are people thinking I’m a Martha doing work while I’m supposed to be listening intently to our leaders?”

  5. jks says:

    Sorry for all the cleaning references. I guess you can tell what my biggest challenge in life is these days. Currently my husband and older children are very busy (my 13 year old has a job!) so it is mostly up to me to keep the bare minimum done to keep the family functioning. During this busy time, we have lost more items than ever before. I think we need to get rid of stuff because we are starting to get buried in it.

  6. Great balanced review of the conference. How did you get any knitting done while taking notes on the speakers?

    • TopHat says:

      My notes were actually pretty sparse. I went back and re-listened and read along with the conference for this review. 🙂 And I got a surprising amount done on that mitten! I haven’t worked on it since, though. Alas!

  7. de Pizan says:

    Other parts I found confusing included “Being organized under the priesthood made it possible for the presidency to receive direction from the Lord and His prophet for a specific work.”

    I agree with this since it’s my understanding that at the beginning the Relief Society, even after Joseph Smith’s involvement, it was not really considered to be “under the priesthood.” Relief Society presidents at ward level answered to the stake RS president, who answered to the General RS presidency. They did not answer to or account to the bishoprics of their ward or their stake presidency–Relief Societies even raised money for their own meeting halls and all moneys raised were solely for their use and not ward use.

  8. April says:

    I think it is charming to call RS, “the head, not the tail.” Unfortunately, I also think it is completely nonsensical to say so in the same talk in which one reminds everyone that RS is “under” another organization that no RS member is allowed to join. If possible, I think this head/under dichotomy makes even less sense than saying that a husband is both president over and equal with his wife.

    • Diane says:

      For sake of argument.or rather discussion, what word choice would you use, I’m trying to think of one, but can’t.

      The only positive word that I can come up with is “In conjunction with” but that doesn’t quite seem right, because it well just doesn’t work that way.

      And I mean no disrespect by this question, I just really want to know what word you would use and why.

      • April says:

        I think it is accurate to describe RS as “under” the Priesthood and inaccurate to call RS the “head” given the way things are presently organized. I would love to see that change someday. While I think it is accurate to say that RS is “under,” I have trouble understanding women who brag about that subordination as if it were a good thing. (In my marriage, specifically, it is accurate to call my husband my equal and inaccurate to say that he presides over me.)

      • Kara says:

        I would use the word ‘within’ to describe the relationship between the Relief Society Organizaton for Women and the Priesthood Organization. Relief Society, on all levels, is ‘within’ the way the Priesthood is administered. Which is why my interpretation of Relief Society isn’t just women caring for ‘women’…but caring for ‘families’. Just like the Priesthood isn’t caring for men, but for families.

  9. Spunky says:

    Great post! I need to check this– but from memory, there was some dialogue in regard to the preisthood undergirding the relief society- so sort of making is sound like it was supported BY priesthood, but this was in opposition to the “under” the PH thing… I need to check it, but it just seemed like more than a few things in her talk seemed confused… which I oddly liked; perhaps Beck is gaining greater understanding of the equality of women, but doesn’t know how to express it or is even afraid to express it? I am not sure; but I did find that some points of her talk were contradictory, and other points were very strong. I felt like I was listening to a woman in transition, but unsure of where to go.

    I am not a fan of Alvarez, I think many of her talks are old-school, accepting of traditional-role-only – sounding, and though well-intended, I feel sad when I listen to them. I am not sure why, but I always feel depressed after her talks. I wasn’t as depressed after this talk as I usually am, so I guess that is a good thing.

    • April says:

      That is an encouraging thought, Spunky! It would be delightful if the reasons behind Beck’s self-contradictions are because she is at a stage where she is less satisfied with subordination and wants to move forward, but just isn’t all the way there.

  10. Lynn says:

    I am so frustrated by how the church has been rewriting the history of the Relief Society. 20 years ago when I first started attending RS, we were taught, matter-of-factly, IN CHURCH, that the women organized the RS and then went to Joseph with the idea. Then he said the famous “God has something better for you” quote (not an exact quote) and ORDAINED the first RS presidency. Now what we hear is “Joseph organized the RS.” Does anyone else remember it being taught the old way in church?

  11. CatherineWO says:

    The minutes of the Nauvoo Relief Society are now available online, along with a side-by-side transcription. It’s quite fascinating reading, made even more interesting if you have done some reading in church history of the time period so you can understand the context. See the minute book at http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/nauvoo-relief-society-minute-book. (Sorry, I can’t figure out how to imbed it.)

  12. Blackbird says:

    Thanks for all your comments. I understand what is meant when reference is made to Elder Uchtdorf’s comments on the two different types of sacrifices. Thank you for pointing out the need to be inclusive of all love languages and styles of sacrificing. Nevertheless, the abstract behind Elder Uchtdorf’s remarks remains valid – be careful about the way in which you sacrifice, in case it jeopardises that which is more important. How we sacrifice is indeed a personal decision and the use of the word “may not be” covers Elder Uchtdorf’s overall intentions in his remarks about the different types of sacrifice.

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