Linda K. Burton: All That is Unfair About Life Can Be Made Right Through the Atonement

Posted by on September 29, 2012 in Mormon women | 16 comments

Six months after she was called as the new General Relief Society President, President Linda K. Burton spoke tonight.

I thought her talk was worth the wait. The thesis of her talk and the chosen focus of her presidency is the Atonement. She repeated this powerful statement a few times in her talk, “all that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” I love that this is a message of hope, love, and acceptance. I love that it is doctrinally-deep and universally-applicable.

I’m also excited because this past Easter, I gave a talk on the Atonement. I had to search long and hard on LDS.org for women speaking about this topic. (I also learned in my research that those searches are skewed towards the members of the First Presidency and apostles.) After tonight, I hope that these three women’s talks will come up earlier in that lds.org search. We need more women speaking authoritatively and deeply about important aspects of our doctrine like the Atonement. Brava to President Burton for showing us how to do that.

President Burton began her talk with a scripture from Jeremiah and relating the troubled times he lived in to our own. Then, she talked about the things she plans to carry in her Relief Society handcart: an understanding of the Atonement, strengthening family and homes through keeping our covenants, and working with the other auxiliaries and the priesthood. I thought the third item was particularly interesting. What would that work look like?

Then, she went to describe the three ways that we can achieve an understanding of the Atonement.

1)  Faith. This is where President Burton first spoke the excerpt I used above. She also gave a lengthy story about Mary Lois Walker, a convert from the 19th century. I’m not usually a fan of pioneer stories, but I loved the quote from Mary about what she learned about depression and the Atonement after suffering so much loss at the age of 19. (President Burton’s talk isn’t on lds.org yet, but I’ll link to it when it’s available.)

2)  The power of the Atonement helps us overcome the natural man or natural woman. Yay for using gender-inclusive language! She went on to give an analogy of sin being a pit that a woman falls into, used a quote of Elder Bednar that I have always loved, and a story about a Chilean sister.

3)  The Atonement is the greatest evidence we have of God’s love. I appreciate that President Burton focused on the crucial role love plays in the Atonement. She spoke also of how we are all beloved daughters of God, but I liked that she took it a step further in asking a few questions about how that knowledge helps us progress.

President Burton ended her talk using the example of King Benjamin’s people and their understanding of the Atonement and how we can hope to become like them.

So, overall, I was impressed. There was some of the same rhetoric that we see in female Church leaders’ talks, but President Burton showed an understanding of doctrine and inclusivity that I found exciting and refreshing.

I look forward to hearing more from this presidency, but maybe next time, we could skip the Primary songs?

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16 Comments

  1. Great summary, Emily!
    I was pleased by the focus on Jesus. And very grateful that she didn’t spend any time talking about strengthening homes and families, which as you mention above, is going to be one of the focuses of her presidency.

    One question — did you (or anyone else) understand really what she meant when she said that all things that are unfair in life could be made right by the atonement? I sense that there are some really deep and interesting things that can be done with that idea, but I admit to some confusion. If someone is a slave, can that be made right through the atonement? If someone is suffering from abject poverty because of horrible societal structures, can that be made right through the atonement? With that acknowledgment of unfairness in the world, I would have loved some kind of push for us to try to right that unfairness in the world today, rather than just find comfort through the atonement of Christ (if that’s what she was saying.)

    • I found that confusing as well, Caroline. The only way it makes sense is if you add the qualifier “in the next life”. I don’t necessarily disagree but I think it runs the risk of tacitly saying we don’t have to make things better now because Jesus will take care of it later. That being said, I appreciate that President Burton focused on deep doctrine that applies to us all.

      • I sense that much of that unfairness will be made right in the next life.

        But I also find that each person who comes to fully understand the nature of God and Jesus’ atonement and therefore what it means to become a disciple of Jesus also becomes a warrior against unfairness in the world to some degree or another.

        So all that made-right-ness from the atonement doesn’t happen in this life, but part of that work does have a chance at getting done, or at least getting started here because of those atonement-understanding warriors.

    • My super TBM friend who sat by me, leaned over and said “I’ve never really understood this part.”

      So you aren’t alone! I assume it means that you will receive blessings in heaven…which don’t really erase the unfair parts of life, but I guess are supposed to make it worth it? Doesn’t make me feel any better, but I know people who do.

      • I understand it to mean “complete healing” such that the truths learned remain, but the pain and confusion and hatred are healed and replaced with peace. Hard to imagine when you are in the midst of it, but I believe Christ can do that in a person’s life.

        Some steps towards that healing can occur in this life, but I suspect that for most of us it will take more time and celestial intervention in the next to make that process complete.

    • Great question, Caroline, and one I had to think about for a bit. At first, I realized that I was looking at that statement through my first world privilege, but I still feel like there’s truth in the statement and not in a “blessings in the next life” sort of way.

      For me, it helps to think of living and understanding the Atonement as the ideal, much like we work to build Zion. If I, my family, friends, my community, and beyond, take advantage of the Atonement and allow it to work in our lives, then, indeed all will be made right.

      When I’m thinking in this way, I’m not just thinking of the literal act of Atonement that Christ made in Gethsemane. I think the Atonement is our Mormon theological language that describes a love for our God, ourselves, and our sisters and brothers in the world.

    • I think it can be confusing, but I have found it to be completely true, and not in a “blessings in the next life” way.

      It would be hard for me to explain through this medium, and would be way too long for a comment. But I did want to say that in my life I have found it to be true that it is through the Atonement that all can be made right, even slavery, even abuse, even physical challenges. Even starvation, losing children, feeling trapped and alone in a life we have been dealt. Everything.

      It is not just “comfort in the Atonement.” It is an actual balancing of the scales, literally “made right.”

      • I concur SilverRain. I’ve felt it too – but it is hard to put into words!

  2. I don’t want to threadjack, but I am curious about your parenthetical statement: (I also learned in my research that those searches are skewed towards the members of the First Presidency and apostles.) Does that mean that the web designers skew results away from talks by women? Maybe you could write a post about that sometime and explain further?

    • I hope I’m not feeding the thread-jack too much here, but I recently discovered that the “Advanced Search” options on lds.org now include a list of author/speaker categories to choose from for your search. The options are: President of the Church, First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, All General Authorities, Presidency of the Seventy, Quorums of the Seventy, Presiding Bishopric, and Auxiliary Presidencies. I will be putting that “Auxiliary Presidencies” option to good use for my future searches. Perhaps everyone already knew this, but I wanted to share in case I wasn’t the last to discover that.

      • Lilian, I didn’t know about this…I can’t wait to try the Auxiliary Presidencies advanced search option!

    • Oh, I haven’t done any real research. I’ve just noticed that in the past year, every time I do a search the results are now heavily skewed towards the groups I mentioned above. When I used to do searches, it seemed like the results were organized by who used my search word the most.

  3. The story of the 19 year old grieving mother really struck a chord with me when Pres. Burton described how she had wished that her live would be over too. When I was 19 years and into the my early twenties, I shared that sense of grief and hopelessness in the face of loss. If this story had been told a few years ago, I would have considered it as an answer to prayer that my inclinations toward suicide or an early death had been validated in another woman’s experience and then used as an example at a worldwide meeting. Unfortunately, I felt that other talks in the session diminished that sense of empathy for her grief.

    When the counselor spoke of her fear of losing her husband and her resulting withdrawal from God, then repenting, I was saddened to hear her express her shame for struggling. I felt like her take home message was that it is not okay to struggle and that you have to feel happy in the face of hardship. It would have been so much better for her comments to turn to the atonement and express how in spite of her brief disaffection, all was made well when she turned her heart back to God. Instead I felt like the take home message was, “Don’t sin! And be happy even when you are afraid your life is crashing down around you!” Talk about emotional manipulation.

    When will we hear the messages that it is okay to struggle with hardship and that it is a process that we are required to experience before we come out the other end with increased wisdom or strength?

  4. Descent, I think President Reeves had a good start, but I think you make a valuable point. When leaders gloss over the hard parts over the pulpit, it sets up a false expectation when we, as individuals, struggle.

  5. This is a great post. Thanks for summarizing the talk, as I missed them this time around.

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