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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Relief Society Lesson 7: Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Witnesses for Christ

Joseph and Hyrum 2I still remember on my mission, one particular day when one particular investigator told my companion and me that he admired many things about our church, and had many LDS friends whose families and lives he respected, but that there was one thing he could not get over: we worshipped Joseph Smith. We tried to explain the distinction, that we worship God and Jesus Christ, but are grateful for Joseph Smith because he helped us know Them more. We also brought in ancient prophets who helped us do the same.

And then my companion said a prayer. She began it, “Dear Heavenly Father,” and closed it, “In the name of Joseph Smith. Amen.” I was mortified, and thought this guy would never believe the story we just told, or that 99.99999999999% of Mormon prayers end, “In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” My companion told me later that she was nervous. I told her that it was fine. And it was, mostly, but the issue that the man raised is an important one, because it is a real concern for many people.

I thought of it again when I first read the 7th chapter in the Joseph Fielding Smith manual: “Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Witnesses for Christ.” And I thought of some questions. Let us keep them in mind as we consider this lesson.

  • Why do we sometimes focus so much on Joseph Smith?
  • What can we learn from his life, that can help us in our own?
  • What can we learn from Hyrum’s life? (He is included in this lesson too.)
  • What can we learn from their relationship.
  • What can we learn from their willingness to be martyrs for Christ’s sake?
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Relief Society Lesson #23 The Prophet Joseph Smith

Every manual in the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manuals has at least one lesson on Joseph Smith. Before going into the lesson, I’ll link to a few other RS lessons we’ve done here at the Exponent on Joseph Smith.

The Prophet Joseph Smith from the Spencer W. Kimball manual
The Prophet Joseph Smith, God’s Instrument in Restoring the Truth from the George Albert Smith manual
Relief Society Lesson 47: “Praise To The Man”: Latter-Day Prophets Bear Witness Of The Prophet Joseph Smith from the Joseph Smith manual

I would like to start with a quick personal story and some feelings I had while first skimming the lesson to get a sense of it.

Last year when I was meeting with my stake president to renew my temple recommend and going through the appropriate “yes” and “no” responses, there was one question where I stopped and said, “Well, I try…” The stake president looked at me and said, “I don’t want any answers other than ‘yes’ or ‘no.’” So I rephrased my answer into “yes” and was given a recommend. What was the question? “Are you honest in your dealings…?” The honesty question feels a bit like a trick question- who really is 100% honest in everything? Saying you are is obviously a lie! It’s a catch-22. I  am not honest with my fellow people at all times, though like I originally stated, I do try.

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Relief Society Lesson 8: “Search Me, O God, and Know My Heart”

heart-in-handsPresident Snow once closed a funeral address by asking the “Lord of Israel to bless the Latter-day Saints” to “be prepared for the events of the near future,” with their “hearts right before the Lord.” And, as we might expect from a man of sound integrity, he sought for this goal himself.

In the same speech, he told a story about he and Franklin D. Richards approaching Brigham Young with the sole purpose of resigning their Priesthood, if their president saw fit. As we also might expect, President Young didn’t see fit, but instead told them tearfully, “Brother Lorenzo, Brother Franklin, you have magnified your Priesthood satisfactorily to the Lord. God bless you.”

So what did Lorenzo Snow mean when he encouraged others (and himself) to have their “hearts right before the Lord”?

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Daughters in My Kingdom: “Live Up to Your Privilege” (Chapter 10)

After the previous nine chapters discuss themes throughout the history of the Relief Society, this concluding chapter is the call to add yourself to that history. This chapter is full of great quotes and it would be very easy to pick your favorites, read them, and then discuss them, which is what I’ll do here.

Daughters of God

This section has a quote from M. Russell Ballard that I really like. As an opening activity, I would have this written up on a board and ask the class to pick out traits listed in it and circle them or list them on the side. I highlighted some of them here:

“We believe in and are counting on your goodness and your strength, your propensity for virtue and valor, your kindness and courage, your strength and resilience. We believe in your mission as women of God. … We believe that the Church simply will not accomplish what it must without your faith and faithfulness, your innate tendency to put the well-being of others ahead of your own, and your spiritual strength and tenacity. And we believe that God’s plan is for you to become queens and to receive the highest blessings any woman can receive in time or eternity.”

I think it is interesting to note that the most-used word is strength.

When I was growing up, one of my Young Women’s leaders moved away. One of her last Sundays at church was a Fast Sunday and one of her non-member neighbors came to church with her. This neighbor went up to the pulpit and talked about the service that my YW leader had done for her and said, “When I look at her, I see Christ. She looks like Christ to me.” I think that is probably one of the highest compliments I’ve ever heard. These traits highlighted above are all Christlike traits. And not only are we like Christ, because we take on Christ’s name at baptism, we walk every day as if we are Christ himself and can be saviors for others and ourselves. When I went to the Relief Society minutes where the quote from this chapter is found, the minutes note that Joseph Smith stated, “It is an honor to save yourselves.”

True Charity, a Legacy Passed from Heart to Heart

In this section, I like Elder Eyring’s quote,

I will speak to you … of the great legacy those who went before you in the Relief Society have passed on to you. The part … which seems to me most important and persistent is that charity is at the heart of the society and is to come into the heart, to be part of the very nature, of every member. Charity meant to them far more than a feeling of benevolence. Charity is born of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and is an effect of His Atonement working in the hearts of the members. …

The sentence “Charity meant to them far more than a feeling of benevolence” struck me. I would even say it’s more than filling out a tithing slip or making dinner for someone. After the last section and thinking about how we are like Christ, I think that charity asks us to see Christ in the people around us. The chapter tells some stories of charity demonstrated in the lives of the women in a family, but I think it would be neat to have a story of your own to share or have the group share their own stories.

My Turn to Serve

What I like about this next section is the stories of service relating to death. Now, I’ll be the first one to say that I get worn down by the third, fourth, fifth, etc. dying child story in a single conference weekend. Talking about death can be draining and sometimes feels emotionally manipulative. But I liked the emphasis on the service rendered during the time of death. I think that because it can be difficult in our culture to discuss death and grief, having examples of appreciated service can be helpful for when we find the people around us, or ourselves, in mourning. This is really where we can “mourn with those that mourn” and the Relief Society can really live up to its name. Again, personal stories are great for this, but it’s sometimes nice to have the stories from the manual if it’s too hard to share personal stories about grief.

“Lead the World… in Everything that is Praiseworthy”

This is the rally cry and ultimate urging of this book: band together, pick up your tools, and be amazing. The heading for this section is not passive and is not timid, and neither should we be. What I really like is the phrase “everything that is praiseworthy.” If you think about all the things that are praiseworthy… well, it’s a lot of things! Art, science, performance, parenting, mediating, etc. I can’t think of too many non-criminal activities that aren’t praiseworthy. So take charge and live the best you can.

At this point, I think I would ask the class if they can identify what is keeping them back from doing something “praiseworthy” that they’ve always wanted to do and if it’s possible to remove that. That can provide a lot of discussion.

For me, the biggest hinderance to this is feeling like it’s too late, that I should have done all those praiseworthy things earlier. I’d write off things, “I can’t become a great pianist- I didn’t start lessons at 5!” or “I’d never be able to contribute anything to my field of study- only young people in college do that.” However, earlier in this chapter, the phrase, “potential as holy women” is used, and when I think of a “holy woman” I imagine a wizened and thoughtful older woman. There is still time!

I also get held back if I worry that I won’t succeed or if I can’t give the time needed for success. But even a little bit is a success.

In preparing for this lesson, I listened to the TED talk Unlock the intelligence, passion, and greatness of girls by Leymah Gbowee, peace and women’s rights activist and Nobel laureate. Trigger warning: rape, incest.

In watching her tell her story, I was impressed by what she and the girls and women she talked about were able to accomplish in such a short time. Gbowee got involved in activism in 1998 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. She admits that she wasn’t saving the girls asking to be saved at the beginning. While a listener might say, “Just take that little girl in!” And maybe it wasn’t the best choice, but maybe it was. Our lives don’t have to be perfect to make things better. I also think of the character Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. His change of heart was near the end of his life and that’s ok, too. Or if you’d like a non-fictional character, there are plenty of scripture stories like Saul/Paul in the New Testament, or the woman caught in adultery: “Go and sin no more.”

I think the biggest concern with discussing this chapter is feeling like we have to do it all and immediately. Sometimes “leading in all that is praiseworthy” requires a nap or a break. And knowing your limits is praiseworthy, too.

The chapter finishes with a reminder that,

“The charge to lead out in everything that is praiseworthy, Godlike, uplifting, and purifying is a demanding one. It always has been. But individual Relief Society sisters are not alone in accepting this charge. They are part of a great organization, founded by priesthood authority and strengthened by the teachings and declarations of prophets.”

One of my favorite aspects of Mormonism is the idea of Zion and that we are all working for that, and we are all working together. We believe that Zion has happened on earth at least a couple of times (Enoch’s city, the Book of Mormon peoples post-Christ’s visit), and so it gives us hope that we can again create it. It’s hard, but not impossible and let’s get to it!

What questions/thoughts would you like to add? Also, a Happy Relief Society anniversary to all today!


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