March 2015 General Women’s Session: Bonnie L. Oscarson
It is no small task to prepare an address for a worldwide sisterhood with varying experiences and privileges, let alone one tasked with defending the Church’s doctrine and teachings on the Family. There were some powerful moments in this talk where long past due truths were acknowledged and new possibilities were presented to women. But there were also times when President Oscarson fell back into the tired rhetoric so often present in Church discourse on the Family.
President Oscarson started her talk by telling the story of Marie Madeline Cardon, an early Italian convert to the Latter-day Church. This is a remarkable story of a young woman who bravely stared down an angry mob of men and powerfully rebuked them. She claimed power from God and protected the missionaries and fellow believers in her family’s home. I am thankful that this story has been added to our record and that there is now one more example of a woman assertively standing up for herself and her beliefs. These are the role models our young women need.
I was also immensely grateful that President Oscarson openly acknowledged that life often presents unforeseen challenges and that many women do not live the “ideal” that the Proclamation on the Family puts forward. While I personally find the statement that we must “teach to the Lord’s pattern” reductive, I know there are many who are comforted when their individual experience is honestly recognized and not disappeared into a sanitized ideal. And amen to Oscarson’s admonition to plan for contingencies. While I hate to lump education and a satisfying career into the “Plan B” category, too many women have and continue to be hurt by the seemingly official sanctioning of only one life path.
President Oscarson admonished Latter-day Saint women to be defenders of the “Lord’s plan, described in the Family Proclamation.” She defines this plan as the Church’s doctrine on marriage, divine gender roles for men and women, and the sacredness of the home. She reiterates that marriage should be between a man and a woman but that we should show love and compassion for those with differing view. Next, Oscarson says that we need to elevate the status of motherhood and fatherhood. I was pleasantly surprised by her strong statement that our daughters have the potential to be whatever they can imagine and that we hope our girls will love learning and that maybe they can become the next Marie Curie. But she also admonishes us to teach our children that there is no higher calling or title than that of mother and father. Along that line, she encouraged everybody–men, women, youth, children, single or married–to adopt the title “homemaker” and make our homes places of order, refuge, holiness and safety.
I tend to agree with President Oscarson that the world would be a much different place if all people saw themselves as makers of righteous homes. And I suppose this is also where I start to differ with her as I suspect my definition of “righteous” is broader and more inclusive. I do not see the same cause to despair over the state of the family as she, and so many of our leaders do. The divorce rate is down and children are safer than they ever have been in history. My definition of a righteous home is one that is safe and loving and where everybody is provided an environment where they can access their best selves. I am comforted that there are more homes like this than ever before so I guess I don’t care if those homes also include a gay couple, a single mother/father, or other “unique” living arrangements.
Honestly, I believe we are fighting the wrong fight. There are reasons to be concerned about the fate of the family but it’s not because the family is disintegrating or that people see them as outdated and limiting. We need to be concerned about issues like the one in three children in the United States that live in poverty or that the reality is much worse for children in the developing world, where so many of our members live. Why don’t we talk about the abuse that is pervasive among our own people and ruins the lives of everybody it touches. Addressing poverty, abuse, hunger, lack of education–this will strengthen the family in ways that making self-righteous statements about traditional family structures never will.
I respect President Oscarson and I believe that we can disagree on this issue and both be faithful Mormon women. I appreciate that she has often been a voice for compassion and sisterhood. I also hope that she will put action behind her stated concern for the family. There are so many places her leadership could make a difference–from being a champion for family friendly work policies to education for girls. I hope that President Oscarson will use her remarkable opportunity and abilities to be a voice for all Mormon women.