The Relief Society: A Women’s Organization?
In a 2009 speech, General Relief Society President Beck said, “The Relief Society is the largest women’s organization in the world. The fact that it works under priesthood direction makes it completely unique.” 1
Yes, it certainly is unique to call an organization “a women’s organization” when it works under the direction of a men-only organization. Can we really call Relief Society a “women’s organization” if it is governed by men, not women? Let’s read more of the speech:
“Each [female] Relief Society president is called to assist one [male] bishop or branch president.”
“In planning meetings, leaders should give priority to topics [that I assume were selected by Beck, a woman] that fulfill Relief Society purposes, such as marriage and family, homemaking, provident living and self-reliance, compassionate service, temple and family history, sharing the gospel, and other subjects requested by the [male] bishop or branch president.”
“The [female] Relief Society presidency makes recommendations about Relief Society meetings to the [male] bishop or branch president for his approval…”
“As approved by the [male] stake president, one or two stake Relief Society meetings may be planned and carried out by the [female] stake Relief Society presidency each year for all Relief Society sisters in the stake.”
When reading this description, I note that in the Relief Society, women are called as assistants to a men; men may request topics for R.S. and women are advised to give these male-selected topics “priority;” women may recommend R.S. topics, but may not implement them unless a man approves (and he is not advised to reciprocate by giving priority to female-suggested topics); and women must seek male approval for their female activities.
Of course, this speech only focused on one aspect of Relief Society, the choice of topics for meetings and activities. There are other aspects of Relief Society governance. And even if I am correct in assuming that Relief Society is mostly governed by men, not women, perhaps the fact that its participants happen to be women is reason enough to call it a women’s organization. So I ask you, readers: