Relief Society Lesson #20: The Women of the Church

This lesson rounds out the 3rd and final chapter of what DH recently dubbed the “Trilogy of Touchy Topics” (see Lesson #19 and Lesson #18 for more details). DH is excited for our nightly couple’s study to soon move on to the less-controversial (at least in our household) messages contained in Lessons #21-24.

I must disclose that in order to hypothetically teach this lesson to a room filled with regular RS women, I have had to carefully pick and choose which parts of the lesson I would focus on. However, I don’t feel badly about that, because in keeping with the spirit of Instruction 2 (see p. vii of the manual), I feel I have “prayerfully select[ed] portions that [I] feel will be most helpful to those [I] teach.” 🙂Quotes appear below in plain text, and my thoughts and questions appear in bold.

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Introduction: Share an anecdote about a woman you personally know who rendered Christ-like service. Share why her example has inspired you to be a better person. [I would try to avoid painting her as a perfect saint 100% of the time. Because, frankly, she wasn’t. You didn’t see her on her off-days. The guilt-producing myth of the Perfect Woman need not be perpetuated in your lesson; we get enough of that from other sources.]Ask the class to share some examples of women they know who offered Christ-like service. How did their actions/examples bless your life?

“President Kimball taught the importance that all righteous women have in Heavenly Father’s plan for His children. He said: ‘Someday, when the whole story of this and previous dispensations is told, it will be filled with courageous stories of our women, of their wisdom and their devotion, their courage, for one senses that perhaps, just as women were the first at the sepulchre of the Lord Jesus Christ after his resurrection, our righteous women have so often been instinctively sensitive to things of eternal consequence.’”

Righteous women play a pivotal role in the Plan of Salvation. Today’s lesson will focus on that role.

“The scriptures and the prophets have taught us clearly that God, who is perfect in his attribute of justice, ‘is no respecter of persons’) . . . We had full equality as his spirit children. We have equality as recipients of God’s perfected love for each of us. The late Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote: ‘The place of woman in the Church is to walk beside the man, not in front of him nor behind him. In the Church there is full equality between man and woman. The gospel … was devised by the Lord for men and women alike.’”

Why do you think it is important to the Plan of Salvation that there is “full equality between man and woman”? How is the gospel devised “for men and women alike”?

“[H]owever, our roles and assignments differ. These are eternal differences—with women being given many tremendous responsibilities of motherhood and sisterhood and men being given the tremendous responsibilities of fatherhood and the priesthood—but the man is not without the woman nor the woman without the man in the Lord . . . Both a righteous man and a righteous woman are a blessing to all those their lives touch . . .The Relief Society is the Lord’s organization for women. It complements the priesthood training given to the brethren. There is a power in this organization that has not yet been fully exercised to strengthen the homes of Zion and build the Kingdom of God.”
Often in the church we hear statements to the effect of “God’s gift to men is the priesthood and God’s gift to women is motherhood.” Statements such as this may be problematic, however, considering that any worthy man may hold the priesthood, but not all worthy women are given the opportunity to be mothers. Moreover, it seems quite logical that the masculine gift most easily equated with motherhood would be fatherhood, as both involve the parenting of actual children. I appreciate the way that President Kimball clearly states that Motherhood = Fatherhood and Sisterhood = Priesthood. Additionally, I really like his emphasis on the important responsibility we have to the Sisterhood of the Relief Society.

Do you view the Sisterhood responsibilities of the Relief Society as equal to the importance of the Priesthood? If so, why? What personal experiences with the Relief Society organization have you had that have informed your opinion? What role does the Relief Society organization play in the Plan of Salvation?

“Be assured, too, that all faithful sisters, who, through no fault of their own, do not have the privilege during their second estate of being sealed to a worthy man, will have that blessing in eternity. On occasions when you ache for that acceptance and affection which belong to family life on earth, please know that our Father in Heaven is aware of your anguish, and that one day he will bless you beyond your capacity to express.”

President Kimball, and others, have repeatedly offered this counsel to women who are not married or who are unable to have children. If you think about it, the promises he makes are extraordinary—that God knows our pain, and that someday God will make it up to us. What does it mean to you to know that God knows your pain, and that someday you will have children? How does your knowledge of the Plan of Salvation affect your feelings on this topic?

In my experience, on a day-to-day basis this counsel is rather difficult to apply. I want babies, and I want babies now, not hundreds of years from now! Have any of you been able to apply President Kimball’s counsel to your life? If so, how? What advice would you give to another woman who struggled with this counsel?

“Meanwhile, one does not need to be married or a mother in order to keep the first and second great commandments—those of loving God and our fellowmen—on which Jesus said hang all the law and all the prophets. . . Those of you who do not now experience the traditional woman’s role, not by choice, but for reasons beyond control, can still do so much to help others.”

I really like the way that President Kimball emphasizes that, even if childless, we “can still do so much to help others.” Have you personally known any women who you feel exemplified this counsel? If so, how did they provide service to others? How do these women play an important role in the Plan of Salvation?

“We encourage all our sisters to take advantage of their opportunities to receive light and knowledge in school, in personal study, and in Relief Society . . .You can set your goals, young women, to make you reach and strain. Keep striving for them. Be prayerful and humble in seeking wisdom and knowledge. You are in the time of your life for studying and preparing. Learn all you can. Growth comes from setting your goals high and reaching for the stars.”

On a practical level, what does “setting your goals high and reaching for the stars” mean for you? How can we apply this counsel to our lives, when, for so many of us, our lives seem so overscheduled already? How might this counsel help us to fulfill our important roles in the Plan of Salvation?

“I stress again the deep need each woman has to study the scriptures. We want our homes to be blessed with sister scriptorians—whether you are single or married, young or old, widowed or living in a family . . . Regardless of your particular circumstances, as you become more and more familiar with the truths of the scriptures, you will be more and more effective in keeping the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. Become scholars of the scriptures—not to put others down, but to lift them up! After all, who has any greater need to ‘treasure up’ the truths of the gospel (on which they may call in their moments of need) than do women and mothers who do so much nurturing and teaching?”

Why is it important that every woman be a “sister scriptorian”? Why do you think many women struggle with this instruction? If you have succeeded at regularly studying the scriptures, what advice would you give to another woman who would like to do the same?

How does studying the scriptures help us become more effective at loving our neighbors? How does studying the scriptures help us understand the Plan of Salvation?

“My dear sisters, may I suggest to you something that has not been said before or at least in quite this way. Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world . . . Thus it will be that female exemplars of the Church will be a significant force in both the numerical and the spiritual growth of the Church in the last days.”

Since 1979 when President Kimball made this statement, the Church has seen major growth, due in part to the conversions of thousands upon thousands of women. What do you think is appealing about the Church to female converts? What can we be doing, as women, to reach out to our friends and acquaintances who are not of our faith to invite them to learn more about our church?

Closing: Reiterate that righteous women play a pivotal role in the Plan of Salvation.

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7 Responses

  1. Ana says:

    I’d love to be in your class, Maria. I think you’ve done a great job with your approach to this.

  2. Caroline says:

    Fabulous lesson, Maria. Just awesome.

  3. Laura says:

    I too am teaching this “touchy topic”, in Orem Utah, no less, and have been trying to come up with an approach on the subject for over a month. I was so glad to read your take on the material and it really helped me to focus and redirect some of my thoughts that may have come accross as too liberal or confrontational. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  4. LauraandAndy says:

    Maria: I really appreciated your thoughts on this. Equating the priesthood to motherhood has never made sense to me, although I hear it in almost every RS lesson related to this topic. But… motherhood is to fatherhood what sisterhood is to the priesthood. I love this. Thanks so much for your post.

  5. april says:

    I read your lessons monthly and find them so helpful, so I thought I should finally contribute. Maybe it will help someone else.

    When I first read this lesson, I cringed after thinking that the fact that there is even a lesson dedicated to women somehow assumes that there is a thought out there that women don’t have intrinsic value and that there must be a lesson to tell them that they do, which I think is wrong.

    After making this comment to my husband, he said he didn’t see it that way at all. He talked about how it would be a wonderful opportunity to talk about the difference between the way the Lord views women and the way society/the world views women and why that matters. By trying to be equal to men in all things, women have almost lowered themselves in many cases to the lowest common denominator (i.e., we’ve got to drink as much as men, we’ve got to be as morally “free” as men, etc.), therefore, exposing themselves to the downfalls and consequences that come with such degrading actions. Women in society have spent so much time trying to be equal to men that it is almost as if they have forgotten what it is they are trying to be equal at and, therefore, are losing the essence of the beauties of womanhood. I’m summarising quite a lot, but I hope that makes sense…

    Anyway, on that note, after your question:
    Why do you think it is important to the Plan of Salvation that there is “full equality between man and woman”? How is the gospel devised “for men and women alike”?

    I have taken the lesson in this direction (following your lead, of course!)…

    In his wisdom and mercy, our Father made men and women dependent on each other for the full flowering of their potential. Because their natures are somewhat different, they can complement each other; because they are in many ways alike, they can understand each other. Let neither envy the other for their differences; let both discern what is superficial and what is beautifully basic in those differences, and act accordingly. And may the brotherhood of the priesthood and the sisterhood of the Relief Society be a blessing in the lives of all the members of this great Church, as we help each other along the path to perfection.

    In light of their different natures and responsibilities, how can men and women help each other? How should they work in partnership in the family? in the Church?

    To be a righteous woman is a glorious thing in any age. To be a righteous woman during the winding up scenes on this earth, before the second coming of our Savior, is an especially noble calling. The righteous woman’s strength and influence today can be tenfold what it might be in more tranquil times. She has been placed here to help to enrich, to protect, and to guard the home—which is society’s basic and most noble institution. Other institutions in society may falter and even fail, but the righteous woman can help to save the home, which may be the last and only sanctuary some mortals know in the midst of storm and strife.6

    You read the papers, you watch television, you hear the radio, you read books and magazines, and much that comes to your consciousness is designed to lead you astray. …

    How does our society look upon and treat women? How does the Lord look upon women compared with how society/the world is looking upon women? Is there a difference? What are the differences? Why does it matter?

    Some of the things they are telling you these days are: it is not necessary to marry; it is not necessary to marry to have children; it is not necessary to have children; you may have all the worldly pleasures without these obligations and responsibilities. … There are [many] ways to give you this loosely held, so-called freedom. They are telling you that you are manacled [chained] to your homes, to your husbands, to your children, to your housework. They are talking and writing to you about a freedom they know nothing about. …

    Eve, so recently from the eternal throne, seemed to understand the way of life, for she was happy—happy!—that they had eaten the forbidden fruit. … Our beloved mother Eve began the human race with gladness, wanting children, glad for the joy that they would bring to her, willing to assume the problems connected with a family, but also the joys. …

    (Too many women spend their time in socializing, in politicking, in public services when they should be home to teach and train and receive and love their children into security.8)

    President Kimball encourages us to reach our divine potential.

    “We encourage all our sisters to take advantage of their opportunities to receive light and knowledge in school, in personal study, and in Relief Society . . .You can set your goals, young women, to make you reach and strain. Keep striving for them. Be prayerful and humble in seeking wisdom and knowledge…Learn all you can. Growth comes from setting your goals high and reaching for the stars.”

    We are interested in our sisters having everything that is good. We believe in having all these blessings—culture, refinement, education, knowledge, perfection—so that the mothers of our children may be able to rear and train them in righteousness…Seek excellence in all your righteous endeavors, and in all aspects of your lives.

    …then jumped back in to talk about “setting goals and reaching for the stars”

    I also found this fantastic story of a practical influence that the RS had on the women of Iraq:
    http://alisaterry.blogspot.com/2006/06/lds-womens-relief-society-intrigues.html

    Thanks again for your wonderful insight!

  6. Deborah says:

    April:

    I had never seen the SLTrib article you linked to — simply fascinating. Thanks!

  1. July 18, 2013

    […] been the theologians while the women have been the Christians.” If we wish to have a church of sister scriptorians,  women need access to the same theological education offered to men. However, since the […]

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