March 2015 General Women’s Session: Carole M. Stephens

Sister Carole Stephens framed her talk around the children’s song, “The Family is of God,” and she based much of her talk on portions from the Proclamation on the Family. One thing I particularly appreciated about the talk was that she twice referred to Heavenly Parents. I am someone who craves acknowledgment and discussion of our Heavenly Mother, so it was very refreshing to hear Sister Stephens refer to our divine Parents.

Early in her talk, Sister Stephens acknowledged that we “try to create traditional families,” but that belonging to the family of God is not contingent on marital, financial, or social status. I think that message — that there is a place for everyone and that we all should feel a sense of belonging, despite different life circumstances — is expansive and hopeful, and I welcome such messages. I am glad that she chose not to dwell on this idea of trying “to create traditional families,” since that seems potentially alienating to those very many women who don’t belong to such families.

I also appreciated her honesty in acknowledging that she has not been tested and tried in the ways that so many other women have — she hasn’t lived through the death of a child, divorce, single parenthood, same gender attraction, infertility, or abuse.

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Traditional Marriage

Traditional Marriage

no to polygmayI recently came across the blog of a local Utah woman of color who has started an advocacy group, Big Ocean Women for maternal feminists in support of traditional family, natural motherhood (no surrogacy or IVF), against abortion, anti-pornography and against sex education in schools. Promotion of polygamy, child marriage, and protection of rapists were not identified as platforms.

Unfamiliar with the term maternal feminist, I followed links on Big Ocean blog and learned that maternal feminism recognizes that the sexes are different but equal, espousing a complementarian philosophy of gender roles. I also learned about the sister organization, United Families International which trains Mormon women (and other faiths) to attend the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Women to advocate for traditional marriage and against practices viewed as anti-family.

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Series: #VisibleWomen: You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: General Women’s Session

General Women's SessionA letter to the General Female Auxiliary Presidencies regarding General Women’s Session
(A similar letter to be set to my Stake Female Auxiliary Presidencies)
To: President Burton, Counselors, and General Relief Society Board
President Oscarson, Counselors, and General Young Women Board
President Wixom, Counselors, and General Primary Board

Greetings and warm wishes to you as we near the Easter Season.

The General Women’s Session is approaching and I praying for you: that preparations are going smoothly and that you feel inspired with words of counsel and love for the women of the church.

Thank you for the testimonies you have shared in the past.  It is obvious that you love the Savior and your testimonies of His grace have touched me.  I appreciate the way you have shared of yourselves in personal and vulnerable ways.

It appears that our church leadership values some same-gendered meeting time.  (ie: Priesthood Session is for men and General Women’s Session is for women – and – one hour each Sunday is set aside for women to meet in Relief Society and for young women to meet together.)  I see advantages to this approach as it allows us to explore our spiritual gifts, discuss concerns that may be unique to women, and most importantly, to be accountable directly to God for our stewardships.

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New Series: #VisibleWomen: You can’t be What You can’t See

My years in the Young Women’s organization were rough on me. Part of it was just teenage awkwardness and the rest was teenage cliquishness. As soon as I turned 18, I switched to Relief Society. I have a December birthday, so I spent the last half of my senior year out of Young Women’s. For me, Relief Society was a level playing field filled with a rich history of strong women. Age didn’t matter, we were all women together.

I was called as the Relief Society pianist and paired with one of my seminary teachers as visiting teaching partners. We were assigned to teach one of the other seminary teachers. I’ll let you all imagine how odd it is to refer to your seminary teachers as Sister So-and-so on the weekdays and by first names on Sunday.

Very quickly I learned that all was not well in Relief Society Land, either. The seminary teacher I was supposed to visit teach didn’t like the visiting teaching program and requested that we not visit her. My companion would do lunch with her (and obviously was in constant contact because of sharing the job of teaching seminary) and that was my extent of visiting teaching.

It was both shocking and good for me to learn that a person that I looked up to as a spiritual leader didn’t follow all the programs of the Church exactly. I think it has helped me be more compassionate with people whose needs must to be addressed differently. I still very much believe in Relief Society and its attempt at its expansive mission, but it’s obvious that it isn’t reaching everyone. From Ordain Women to Mormon Women Stand, Mormon women are creating organizations to fill the gaps that the church programs are leaving behind. Of course, Relief Society can’t be everything to everyone, but I believe it, and in turn the Church, can be more to more people.

This Sunday is International Women’s Day and for this, the Exponent is starting a new blog series: #VisibleWomen: you can’t be what you can’t see. In addition to personal stories of Mormon women, this series will come with calls to ask the Church, “Would you please consider…” ways to make women more visible in the Church and feel more include. Hopefully a few of these suggestions will speak to you and you’ll participate in your own ways.

Friendship

 

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An Open Letter to Claus Inc. North Pole

dear santaDear Mr. and Mrs. Claus,

A recent video mashup  of male LDS leaders providing instructions to LDS women on how to be LDS women, left me longing for gender parity in General Conference speakers. The ratio of two female speakers to 36 male speakers documented here  is devastating to those like me that hunger for messages from Heavenly Parents spoken in a female voice of leadership.

An English speaking woman of modest means or a non-English speaker is restricted to the meager rations of LDS female leader voices doled out in increments of two every six months (with a once a year bonus of three additional talks by women in the Women’s Session of General Conference). That’s an annual total of seven talks by women translated in a variety of languages and available for free. Half the membership of my church is represented by seven voices in a year!

Those privileged as English language speakers with money and means may hear from the female auxiliary leaders and some other LDS female role models at BYU’s Women’s Conference sponsored by BYU and the Relief Society. Last year over 11,000 women attended. Early registration for 2015 will cost $52 for two days of predominantly female voices with additional costs for transportation and lodging ($92 for a stay in Helaman/Heritage Halls). That’s half a million US dollars in registration fees for 11,000 attendees! I wasn’t part of the elect 11,000 this year, but I caught most of the talks for free online.

Thank goodness I speak English! My Spanish speaking grandmother struggles to understand spoken English, but has no trouble with a written English language copy of a talk. Sadly, no free transcripts of the 2014 BYU Women’s Conference are available for printing at home. You might want to pay the $24.99 to buy a copy of the 2014 talks from Deseret Book. I think she’d really like this gift, but this is not what I want for Christmas.

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