General Women’s Session: Certain Women
I loved Sister Burton’s talk at the General Women’s Session. Her talk was framed around the concept of “certain women,” based off of scriptures in Luke that refer to “certain women” who walked with Christ as his followers and disciples. She said,
The New Testament includes accounts of certain women, named and unnamed, who exercised faith in Jesus Christ and in his Atonement, learned and lived his teachings, and testified of his ministry, miracles, and majesty. These women became exemplary disciples and important witnesses in the work of salvation.
She specifically referenced Luke 8:1-3, which talks of “certain women” who walked with Christ and his disciples, “preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom.” She also referenced Luke 24:22-23, which says that “certain women” were early at the sepulchre, and had witnessed Christ’s resurrection. Despite having read these passages countless times, the phrase “certain women” jumped off the page and led her to ponder what it could mean to be a “certain” woman.
She goes on to mention synonyms of “certain” as it relates to faithful discipleship: convinced, positive, confident, firm, definite, assured, and dependable. I love how Sister Burton re-frames “certain women” to be more about the individual qualities within the women, rather than a group of women separate from others. Rather than this being about a certain group of women, she centers her talk on women who are certain.
She goes on to use examples of women in the scriptures and in the early church who showed their certainty:
- the woman at the well who has a theological discussion with Christ before going on to proclaim to others, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is this not the Christ?“
- Martha, sister of Lazarus, who after the death of her brother, declared to Christ with assured faith that “if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died,” but also that “whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee” and “I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.”
- Drusilla Hendricks, who cared for her disabled husband and family despite persecution, and who wrestled with the Lord when her son was called up for service with the Mormon Battalion. She was asked in prayer, “Do you want the highest glory?” She responded “Yes,” and the voice continued, “How do you think to gain it save by making the greatest sacrifices?” (this story is one of many referenced in At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women, which is an incredible resource!)
Another thing that I loved about Sister Burton’s talk were the varied examples of women she held up – she referenced women she had come to know in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and other places as being “certain women.” Before she began her address, she spoke of visiting women in prison and said that she hoped those women would know that she has not forgotten them with her talk, implying (in my mind, at least) that those women are also “certain.” She talked about a woman in her life who is confined to a wheelchair, but maintains an attitude of faith and fervent testimony despite many difficulties with a degenerative illness. She referenced Jenny Reeder, LDS Church Historian and co-author of “At the Pulpit,” as a “certain woman,” who despite being diagnosed with leukemia while working on her doctorate degree, exemplified courage and strength. I love that she mentioned women who have made mistakes, disabled women, non-American women, and women getting advanced degrees as examples of “certain women.” Simply put, there is not only one way to be a “certain” woman and disciple of Christ.
She also included a bit about how “gospel living often clashes with family and country cultures,” which made me grimace. I agree that many countries – including the United States – have cultures and systems in place that contradict the teachings of Jesus, but so often “gospel culture” has been equated with “conservative, capitalist American culture” and I hope that was not the message she intended. I very much love Sister Okazaki’s take on this in her 1996 General Conference address entitled “Baskets & Bottles.”
Overall, Sister Burton’s talk lifted me up and gave me great hope. I love her exhortation of women as disciples of Christ, as witnesses, and as spiritual authorities and role models. It is a little disheartening to hear the stories of these incredible women of scripture and faith while recognizing that current church policy doesn’t allow for women to act as official witnesses, but I was left overall with a feeling that the church is good, and that the restoration of Christ’s church is both ongoing and incomplete. May we all strive to be women who are certain in testifying of the things we know to be true!