March 2015 General Women’s Session: Bonnie L. Oscarson

Bonnie L. Oscarson, General President of the Young Women’s Organization.

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.

Marie Madeline Cardon

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.




Mraynes lives in downtown Denver with her husband and four children. She spends her time lobbying at the Colorado Legislature, managing all the things and preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons.

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7 Responses

  1. Rachel says:

    Such a beautiful and thoughtful write up. Thank you, Mraynes.

  2. Liz says:

    My husband’s Elder’s Quorum lesson was on this talk today. I’m so glad that Sis. Oscarson’s words are being seen as authoritative and taught to the men, and I’m so glad that you did this write-up so that I could text the link to my husband (I’m home with sick kids). Thank you, MRaynes!

  3. Michelle Johnson says:

    Oh, how I long to have the beautiful compassion that my dear friend Mraynes has. Oh, how I long to not just jump to anger. Oh, how I long to see the good in these messages myself. Thank you, my sister, for always pointing it out to me.

  4. Jenny says:

    I love your perspective on Sister Oscarson’s talk. I especially love how you respectfully disagree with her and highlight things that would better serve us in our work of strengthening the family.

  5. Joanna says:

    Thank you for your perspective and thoughts here. However, although you acknowledged that the talk was meant for a world wide sisterhood, I felt that some of your comments were limited to an american, or even Utah audience. Particularly this one: ‘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.’

    In a global perspective, I’m afraid this isn’t so. I recently read a a rather alarming article in the Wall Street Journal titled ‘The global flight from family’ – here are a couple of short excerpts:

    ‘All around the world today, pre-existing family patterns are being upended by a revolutionary new force: the seemingly unstoppable quest for convenience by adults demanding ever-greater autonomy. We can think of this as another triumph of consumer sovereignty, which has at last brought rational choice and elective affinities into a bastion heretofore governed by traditions and duties—many of them onerous. Thanks to this revolution, it is perhaps easier than ever before to free oneself from the burdens that would otherwise be imposed by spouses, children, relatives or significant others with whom one shares a hearth.

    Yet in infancy and childhood and then again much later, in feebleness or senescence, people need more from others. Whatever else we may be, we are all manifestly inconvenient at the start and end of life. Thus the recasting of the family puts it on a collision course with the inescapable inconvenience of the human condition itself—portending outcomes and risks we have scarcely begun to consider.’

    ‘According to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency, the probability of marriage before age 50 has been plummeting for European women and men, while the chance of divorce for those who do marry has been soaring. In Belgium—the birth-land of the scholars who initially detected this Second Transition—the likelihood of a first marriage for a woman of reproductive age is now almost down to 40%, and the likelihood of divorce is over 50%. This means that in Belgium the odds of getting married and staying married are under one in five. A number of other European countries have similar or even lower odds.

    Europe has also seen a surge in “child-free” adults—voluntary childlessness. The proportion of childless 40-something women is one in five for Sweden and Switzerland, and one in four for Italy. In Berlin and in the German city-state of Hamburg, it’s nearly one in three, and rising swiftly. Europe’s most rapidly growing family type is the one-person household: the home not only child-free, but partner- and relative-free as well. In Western Europe, nearly one home in three (32%) is already a one-person unit, while in autonomy-prizing Denmark the number exceeds 45%. The rise of the one-person home coincides with population aging. But it is not primarily driven by the graying of European society, at least thus far: Over twice as many Danes under 65 are living alone as those over 65.’

    Link to full article:

    As a mother of young adults I am seeing up close how they and their peers are facing discouraging odds when it comes to building their own family units. So how are we to defend and strengthen the family? By providing steadfast and positive examples, and working tirelessly to eradicate poverty and inequality that prevents young people not only from getting married and having children, but even wanting to…

    • Mraynes says:

      Thank you! You are right, this talk and my review of it are incredibly US-centric. Your last paragraph is perfect and another great example of a way to actually defend the family.

  6. Emily U says:

    I can’t imagine what I’d say to such a large and diverse gathering of women and girls, and I appreciate the challenge Bonnie Oscarson and other General Conference speakers have. Which is why I think it’s so important to focus on gospel fundamentals in that setting, and to tell stories from real people’s lives, like about Marie Cardon.

    I think preaching about defending the family leaves conservatives feeling validated and self-satisfied, progressives feeling alienated and frustrated, and I imagine it leaves relatively affluent members from outside the US scratching their heads about what the Americans are wringing their hands about. I don’t know what this rhetoric would mean to poor church members throughout the world, but I doubt admonitions to defend The Proclamation feed their souls. They certainly don’t feed mine. Basically I’m saying, what good does this rhetoric do? It’s not going to convince a single Japanese woman that she should marry, or convince a Swedish couple to have a baby, or influence same-sex marriage legislation in Mexico, or stop child marriage in Sudan. What General Conference messages COULD do is to influence individual souls to have kinder interactions with one another. That will strengthen families.

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