Relief Society Lesson 22: Carry the Gospel to the World


The manual lesson may be found here. It gives us a glimpse of the heritage of missionary service President Ezra Taft Benson inherited, and the importance he places on the work, both for himself, and for all of us. His teachings offer calls for more (and better) missionaries, from full-time young men, young women, and senior couples, to non-full-time member missionaries. He also offers suggestions for preparing children to serve missions, and for four things we all need, as we engage in the work.

If you are going to teach this lesson, pause for a moment, and consider the makeup of your Relief Society. Maybe it has several young sisters who are eager and ready to serve full-time missions. Maybe it has several older sisters, who are preparing to go by themselves or with their spouses. Maybe it has several mothers who hope their children might go, who could use tips for encouraging them without unduly pressuring them. Maybe it has several mothers who despite hopes and encouragement, have children who didn’t go, and feel undue pressure and guilt, themselves. Maybe it has some combination. Your Relief Society, ward, or stake might also have a strong emphasis on member missionary work. These considerations will help you know how to allocate your time during the lesson.

A Missionary Heritage

As mentioned, President Benson came from a family with a strong missionary ethic. He was old enough to live at a time when fathers could still be called away from their family’s for full-time missionary service. His own father was one of those fathers. “As the eldest son,” President Benson remembered “the letters that [his father] wrote from the mission field in the Midwest. There came into that home a spirit of missionary work that has never left it.” Perhaps because of this, he and all ten of his siblings “filled missions,” as did his wife, who “had the pleasure of her widowed mother serving with her for the last six months.”

That he mentioned his wife serving a mission is important to me, for two reasons. 1) When I was preparing to go on a mission in 2004 and 2005, I always appreciated hearing Elder Richard G. Scott talk about his wife, Jeanene Watkins Scott’s, missionary service, and how much it meant to her, to him, and to their children. 2) There is a history of discourse from male General Authorities going back and back, that essentially tells men that it is their priesthood duty to go, while women are “not invited, but welcome.” I embrace any discourse that highlights and encourages female missionary service, and believe such speech is even more crucial as the age change has shifted the percentages of male and female missionaries. (I rejoiced the day my friend text me, that for the first time ever, there were more female missionaries entering the Provo MTC than elders.)

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Teaching, No Greater Call: How To Teach Like An Exponent Blogger

Words of WisdomThere are a few general recommendations all of us try to keep in mind as we prepare lesson plans for the Exponent blog, or for our own ward communities.

They are:

  • Include quotes from women, both from within and without the church. One of my favorite resources for finding quotes from female general leaders is WAVE’s Words of Wisdom: A Collection of Quotes for LDS Women. The Table of Contents is extremely helpful when looking for quotes on a specific topic, and the PDF is searchable as well, which makes looking for a specific word a dream. I have also had some luck searching on, though recall it previously being simpler to find talks and articles just from female speakers. Sometimes I’ve tried to use words from the General Relief Society President serving alongside the current manual’s Church President. Other times I’ve tried to learn more about–and use the words of–the Church President’s wife. More often though, I rely on women like Chieko Okazaki, Elaine Jack, and Aileen Clyde. For incorporating thoughts and ideas from women outside of the church, I’ve drawn upon Mother Teresa and Malala Yousafzai, but there are so many other wise women to choose from.
  • Add historical context. What else was going on when these words were spoken?
  • Make the lesson applicable to as many women as possible, including women in varying family circumstances. Stay at home mothering is a valuable and valid choice, but stay at home mothers should not be the only ones walking away from the lesson feeling fulfilled, heard, or understood. I recently gave a lesson in my ward’s Relief Society on “The Sacred Calling of Mothers and Fathers.” I reflected on the specific women who would be there, and after starting with a quote from President Benson, I said this:
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General Women’s Session: Carol F. McConkie

Sister McConkieWe have a saying in my family, “Do all the good you can…” It is a phrase that I ponder often and it has affected the profession I’ve chosen, the callings I try to fulfill, the way I mother my children and interact with the people around me. This simple, yet expansive personal mantra has become the cause of my life and it is something that is incredibly meaningful to me.

I was thrilled when Sister Carol F. McConkie, 1st counselor in the Young Women General Presidency, began her talk by encouraging the young women, and by extension all the women of the Church, to have a cause. She argued that having a cause gives us a reason to act and serve in the glorious work of the gospel.

One thing I especially appreciated was that Sister McConkie immediately tied this great cause to Jesus Christ. After two talks focused on other issues, it was refreshing to hear such powerful words about the mission and atonement of our Savior and the role we can play in that.

I loved how McConkie emphasized that we are all valued and needed in the cause of Christ. She urged us to love one another and see the beauty in the lives and experiences of all of our sisters. She wisely counseled us not to compare ourselves to one another for that is wasted energy and doesn’t further the work of God.

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To say what is truth?

27I have not been able to stop thinking about an essay I read a few months ago: “Oh Say What is Truth? Understanding Mormonism Through a Black Feminist Epistemology”  The author argues that in Mormonism truth is acquired through feeling, citing D&C 9:8, as well as through lived experience; these are the ways we “find out for ourselves.”  These methods of determining truth are part of a black feminist epistemology set forth by Patricia Hill Collins, and the essay argues that her ideas are very close to Mormon methods of determining truth.

Taking feelings and lived experience a step further, Collins argues that a collective dialogue is essential to furthering and developing the truth that each person has acquired, and that each person has a moral obligation to share her truth.  Collins wrote, “The fundamental requirement of [a collective dialogue] is the active participation of all individuals. For ideas to be tested and validated, everyone in the group must participate. To refuse to join in, especially if one really disagrees with what has been said, is seen as ‘cheating.’” The essayist concludes, “Because we all have a truth to speak, to fail to speak our truth especially when it is needed most – when it is being contradicted – is to fail the community’s efforts to build collective, experienced-based truth as a whole body.”

I try to live as though participating in collective dialogue is a moral obligation.  For years I’ve felt that speaking my truth regarding gender equality in Mormonism is one of the important purposes of my life.  For example, Mormonism is patriarchal, but I believe patriarchy is a Judeo-Christian heritage not inspired by God, passed down through many years of unchecked sexism, and now entangled so that it touches nearly every aspect of Church culture and much of Church doctrine.  How do I live as part of a religious community with strongly held traditional beliefs and while hoping for radical change?

I do it by talking.  I use inclusive language, I comment often in Sunday School and Relief Society, I get up in fast and testimony meeting a few times every year, I give carefully crafted talks that are both diplomatic and radical, and I write for a Mormon feminist blog and paper.  I speak my truth wherever I can.  This can be scary because it opens me up for criticism and judgement, but it can also create unexpected connections with people who resonate with what I’ve said.  In the context of contemporary American life it may seem tame to speak truth in one’s own small community – others have spoken up at much greater cost than I have, and to greater effect.  But to do this consistently, to remain attached to a community that has expanded my spirit but also makes me weep, this takes courage and staying power.

So, my ideas matter, even if, or especially when, they are contrary to the status quo.  And if a collective dialogue is needed to develop and advance knowledge, then I need to keep showing up for that dialogue.  I also believe that organizations need insiders working for change for that change to become possible.

But here’s the problem.  What if I’m a lone reed?  In my experience there needs to be a critical mass of people in a Sunday School discussion to get an idea afloat.  It’s great when that happens, and the discussion becomes enlightening and enlivening.  But what if comments or questions fall flat and the teacher marches on with the lesson as planned?  What if people hold your truth in contempt, or possibly worse, just ignore it?  A dialogue in which everyone participates sounds great, but in does that ever happen in real life?  What if, as happened to me earlier this month, a First Presidency letter, the bishopric’s selection of the theme for sacrament meeting, and the material in the talks and discussions form a unified block of content that I don’t resonate with?  Are comments against such a backdrop useful, or contentious even if contention is not my intent?

I’m lonely and tired, friends.  So please, give me your stories.  When you speak up, how does it go?  What do you learn?  Does it create a spark for generating sincere discussion?  Or does your spark fall to the ground, extingushed?  If it’s the latter, what does that mean?

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Introducing our Heavenly Mother’s Day Series

CW: Suicidal thoughts

I moved to Oakland five years ago. One of my first outings in the Bay Area was a gathering at Carol Lynn Pearson’s house where she gave each of us copies of her play, Mother Wove the Morning. It sat on my shelf for months because I didn’t want to open up Heavenly Mother-less wound I had.

When I finally read it, half a year later, I discovered that I was right in that it was an intense experience. I loved reading it and yet I ached. I wanted a relationship with Heavenly Mother, but I didn’t know how. Unfortunately the bigger question for me was “why.” Why should I have a relationship with Her?

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