Some random thoughts about Relief Society

Last month I was visiting my father’s ward and happened to notice a blurb in the ward bulletin about the upcoming Relief Society birthday. It gave a (very) brief history of Relief Society’s origins followed by an invitation for the ladies in the ward to attend a “Hats Off to Relief Society!” tea in honor of the organization’s anniversary. (By coincidence, my own ward was planning a hat-themed tea party for the Relief Society’s birthday. Or maybe it wasn’t a coincidence. Maybe there’s a church-wide conspiracy to get Mormon women to wear more hats. I had intended to do more research on the subject, but the project has since fallen by the wayside, I’m afraid. Anyway.)

The reason I found this blurb noteworthy was that the heading for it read “Separate But Not Equal.” What was the author trying to say? It’s like they had just enough knowledge of history to know that they didn’t want to compare the formation of Relief Society to Plessy v. Ferguson, but couldn’t quite bring themselves to let go of the segregation theme. (That would have made for an interesting tea party, wouldn’t it? Probably better that they went with the hat thing.)

Anyway, it was a head shaker. Part of me was tempted to imagine the bulletin being written by some subversive person wanting to draw attention to the gender inequality in Mormonism, but I know that it was probably just somebody not really thinking about what they were doing. Now I’m using it as a mildly amusing anecdote to introduce a not-particularly-coherent post about Relief Society.

Some people—and by “people” I mean women—don’t like Relief Society. Everyone’s got their reasons. I happen to love Relief Society. I have my reasons too. Everything I love about Mormonism I learned from Relief Society. (Hey, that would make a great title for a post, if it weren’t so cutesy and derivative.) As a newly-minted, eighteen-year-old Relief Society sister I loved Relief Society just for not being Young Women. Most of the girls in my Laurel class were begging our leaders to let them stay in YW after they graduated from high school. Not moi. I was itching to go to Relief Society, because I was pretty sure that whatever went on there, it wouldn’t be a non-stop lecture about getting married in the temple. (And it wasn’t. Totally called that one!) But I only developed a mature, meaningful love of Relief Society when I had the opportunity to serve in it.

For that opportunity I can thank the young single adult ward I attended after college. Before and during college I had attended family wards where I always served as the Primary pianist. (Best calling in the church, unless you can’t play the piano, in which case I wouldn’t recommend it. But that’s another story.) In my singles ward I initially had a piano-related calling, too, but I was soon called to the Relief Society presidency. It was kind of a shock, because I’d never thought of myself as presidency material, but there I was. At first I didn’t like it. I didn’t like conducting because I didn’t like people looking at me. Or listening to me. (With my verbal skills, being listened to is often worse than being looked at.) I didn’t like doing the visiting teaching reports because…well, mostly because I just kept forgetting to do them. (I hate having to do stuff I have trouble remembering.) Technically I was the secretary, but because the ward was half students, we often had vacant callings (or good-as-vacant callings), which meant that the presidency members had to pick up the slack. And sometimes there were vacancies in the presidency, which meant that the president and I had to pick up the slack. The bottom line was that I learned how to do every job in Relief Society. I immersed myself in Relief Society and thereby gained a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and discovered the true meaning of charity. It was the high point of my church activity and the high point of my personal faith.

I’m not the same woman I was back then. For one thing, I’m a lot more tired. I’m a little more cynical (which is impressive, considering that I was born cynical). My testimony has taken more than a few hits in the intervening years. Which is why I’m pretty sure that without that transformative Relief Society experience, I would not be active in the church today.

As Julie Beck said in General Conference last week, Relief Society is not a church program. “It is an official part of the Lord’s Church that is ‘divinely ordained of God.’” I cut off the quote there to let that sink in. Marinate in it for a while. Are you marinated? Good.

I confess that I have often complained—as recently as…well, last week when Sister Beck was talking—that General Relief Society presidents seem to always be talking about how great Relief Society is and how grateful we all should be to be a part of such a magnificent, glorious organization, but they don’t say much beyond that. I find it terribly frustrating (in addition to boring). I don’t mean this as a criticism of Sister Beck, whom I like very much. I met her once. I don’t mean this in a name-droppy way like we’re besties and oh by the way when I met Sister Beck… No, I just mean that I met her once and she impressed me personally on that occasion, and ever since then I have felt only affection and respect for her. But I also think that if I hear another person tell me how awesome Relief Society is, I might have to stab myself in the ear.

Remember that quote I had you marinating in? Sister Beck went on to say that Relief Society is “to teach, strengthen, and inspire sisters in their purpose regarding faith, family, and relief.” That’s where it gets murky. People are always telling us women that we have a “purpose”–a “divine purpose,” even. But no one ever tells us what it is, exactly. I guess it’s supposed to be self-evident…but I suspect that if it really were self-evident, we wouldn’t have to be reminded of its existence all the time. We’d just go about doing it.

I know that Relief Society is magnificent and glorious. I also know that what makes it magnificent and glorious is not talking about how magnificent and glorious it is. Relief Society has to be experienced to be appreciated. No amount of hearing about how awesome it is will convince women that it’s awesome. I really wish people would stop talking about how awesome Relief Society is and just let Relief Society be awesome. Talk about the gospel and about the gospel in action because that is what Relief Society is.

I can’t abide when people do the priesthood: motherhood analogy. In our church, at this time, women are not ordained to the priesthood. That is what it is, and I don’t know why it is, but I do know that it isn’t because women are mothers. To begin with, not all women are mothers. (No, they’re not.) To end with, motherhood is awesome but it’s not like the priesthood. (No, it’s not.) Better people than I have expounded on the fallacy of this analogy. (Although if I chose to expound on it, I would kick ass. Maybe another time.) My point is not to talk about women not having the priesthood or what our consolation prize is. The point is that men in the church have priesthood duties; the corresponding duties for women are in Relief Society. I’m not saying that Relief Society membership is analogous to holding the priesthood; it isn’t. But I think of Relief Society as the women’s “quorum.” Our charge is to teach the gospel and succor those in need. I’ve always loved the Spanish translation of Relief Society—Sociedad de Socorro. (Sounds classier than “Relief,” which always reminds me a little of Rolaids.) I may not buy that all women are mothers, but perhaps the errand of angels is given to women. I won’t argue that it compensates for a total lack of institutional authority; that’s another subject. I don’t know why women aren’t ordained to the priesthood or if they ever will be, but I know that Relief Society exists for the purpose of women doing God’s work in God’s name.

What does that mean? It’s hard to explain. Maybe that’s why Sister Beck and all the Relief Society presidents before her seem to be giving the same talk over and over again to not much avail. That’s why I wish they’d stop talking about the purpose of Relief Society and just…do the purpose of Relief Society. Don’t tell us what angels we women are; teach us to be better. Comfort and strengthen us with the good word of God. Talk about the gospel and about how to live the gospel because that is what Relief Society is.

Perhaps this post is just as frustrating (and boring) as that talk I keep deriding. I only know how to express my understanding of Relief Society in impressions. A moment in my adult life that I will remember as long as I live was when I was doing one of my mundane Relief Society secretarial tasks. I don’t remember which one it was, just that I was looking over the roll and reading the name of each sister in my ward, noting which ones had been to church how many times that quarter and which ones we never saw and which ones we didn’t have current addresses for—I knew those names like a math geek knows the first 100 digits of pi. (There were about 120 sisters on the roll, so it was kind of like that.) As I was looking over this list of names, I was struck by a feeling of love and concern for these women. It surprised me because I thought I was just doing paperwork and here I was getting all emotional and crap. At that moment I realized that what I felt was a glimpse, just a taste, of what God must feel for me. I understood, for the first time, that God loved me. I understood because I knew I loved those women and the reason I loved them was that God had blessed with the ability to see them as He did. I got that blessing because of Relief Society.

Of course, your mileage may vary. For some women Relief Society is a bunch of gossipy, judgmental biddies and the occasional class on vinyl lettering. If I’m rolling my eyes at yet another talk on the wonderfulness of Relief Society, I can only imagine the strain these women’s eyes are under. My singles ward Relief Society was not the “ideal” Relief Society; my experience there did not prepare me for the specifics of serving in a typical, family-ward Relief Society, which is a different ball game (as anyone who has served in both kinds of wards knows). It didn’t make me an “expert” on Relief Society, just a loyal member—because it made me believe that God had a work for me, an ordinary woman, to do. It made me believe that I was His daughter, and that other people were my brothers and sisters.

It was the last time I was directly involved in the administrative aspect of Relief Society. After I got married and returned to family ward activity, it was back to the Primary for me (no offense to Primary, which I also love), followed by several years of exile in the library. But I have always felt a part of Relief Society because Relief Society is not a church program or a class that I attend on Sunday or a midweek activity involving vinyl lettering; it’s the female half of the Kingdom of God on earth. I’ve been in wards that were friendlier than others. I’ve been in wards where I wasn’t particularly close (or at-all close) to any of the other women. But I’ve always felt a part of Relief Society because Relief Society is God’s organization of women, for women. (For the world!) Whenever I do God’s work, I am serving in Relief Society. That’s how I think about it. That’s how I feel about it.

I understand that we women often fail to live up to our society’s motto, Charity Never Faileth (just as men often fail in their priesthood responsibilities—we’re all just folks.) But charity never faileth! Where charity succeedeth, there is Relief Society. That’s what Relief Society means to me.

I invite you to share your thoughts and feelings about Relief Society. I am most interested in what you think is right with Relief Society (as opposed to what’s wrong with it—we all have horror stories), followed by how you think Relief Society as an organization can (and should) be strengthened.

Comments

  1. Well, I love belonging to any organization RJ belongs to, so huzzah, Relief Society!!

  2. beccachan says:

    I first learned to love Relief Society as a scrawny 19 year old living in Japan. I’d joined the church only days before moving overseas by myself, and I felt so lost sometimes. Those (mostly) older ladies in RS are who I think of whenever I hear the admonition to “put loving arms around” people. They welcomed me in, even though my Japanese was terrible at the time. I almost never understood the lessons or what they were saying, but the love of Christ was definitely present, so we didn’t care about silly things like cultural barriers and age gaps.

    I am with you on strengthening RS by trying to be more like the Savior, rather than talking about how great we are. I would like to see more focus on welcoming others without judgement (lets face it, RS can be the most judge-y part of the ward) and serving others without being asked. I don’t mean this is the sugary-sweet way, but in the way that means making sure there is a place for each individual sister in the gospel and the ward. Rather than telling people to just come to activities or having “good news” minutes, maybe we could give 3 minutes to learn something about another sister you don’t know well?

    Thinking about ways to apply this to a more general level…

  3. Well, that was just fun. Yep, yep, yep, everything you said, except that that’s what I heard Julie Beck say too, so I guess we had different ears on. No matter. I just wrote about this whole RS thing and coming to terms with it about a billion years ago (okay, a quarter century, but whatever). I think if we canned the whole obsession with administrative stuff and just went out there and got stronger and helped each other do so along the way, nobody would be up in arms, but that’s probably naive. Been called that too. What if, here’s a thought, we all just did good, not caring who had keys or suits or whatever the metaphor is and just led out. Who was it who said it’s amazing what we could get done if nobody cared who got the credit? Yeah, that. I love RS too, with the old, nearly-deaf ladies sitting on the middle row talking through the whole lesson in stage whispers, the ladies all around them paying as much attention to them as the teacher, the young women trying to feel like they fit in and succeeding because every two weeks a bunch of us take off and go camping, the RS President who is doing a smashing job but has absolutely no clue what wild hare the bishop got calling her, and the women who, from every crazy walk of life and situation, find a sister there that they can serve and that they’re not offended to have serve them. When someone miscarries more than halfway through her pregnancy and stays home for a month because she can’t face everyone’s “sorrys” and then comes back to a roomful of people who ask her how her garden is instead, I know we are beginning to feel heaven. I love this RS thing. Heck, this wouldn’t be a tenth as much fun if you let the guys in.

  4. RS is “the gospel in action”. Yes, your description is right on. That pretty much sums up why I love it. Before attending RS for the first time two years ago, if someone told me actively participating in RS was a way to be both a practicing feminist and a disciple of Christ, I would have smiled politely, but thought they were crazy. But, now, after observing and then participating (oh, and after hearing Emma Lou Thayne speak at our stake RS celebration), I would be in total agreement. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of this imperfect, yet truly awesome organization.

  5. Bonnie, thanks for linking to your post. I enjoyed that.

    I’m sadly aware that I complain about talks that seem (to me) to be one big advertisement for Relief Society, and yet I write a post that I’m afraid comes off as yet another big advertisement for Relief Society. I suppose this is why I called it “random thoughts” instead of a title that would suggest something more meaningful or definitive. I just wonder why I find myself so irritated when I have to listen to how great Relief Society is and how important Relief Society is when I share those exact sentiments, i.e. that it’s great and important. I guess all the talk about how great it is smacks of protesting too much–like they’re saying, “Look, women are just as important as men are–otherwise we wouldn’t have this great organization! See how awesome it is?” I really don’t need that or want that. I don’t know who does. Anyway, my purpose in writing this was not to say, “This is why everyone should love Relief Society.” I just wanted to say what Relief Society did for me, while I’m well aware that it definitely does not do the same for other women.

    And I don’t mean to discourage those who have had bad experiences in RS from commenting. I know lots of people have bad experiences; we all have bad experiences, and I do want to discourage a gripefest about bad experiences. But would the church be better without Relief Society? I really don’t think so. So what do we want out of Relief Society? How do we get there?

  6. And yet again I forgot to sign back into WP as Rebecca J.

  7. You’re quite right, RJ (that seems a bit forward when we haven’t met, but I do it to everyone – my initials used to be BS, and you’re welcome to use those too.) We are writing as if we’re running some kind of PR campaign. Maybe it’s because we’ve all had to be convinced that we didn’t get some kind of shaft. We didn’t, and we’ve awakened to that, and like all people who have an epiphany, we tend to share it without thinking. You’re also right that it’s time to talk about what the mystery of RS is. Everyone lean close: it’s see a need, fill a need. That’s it. RS is about the spirit of revelation and prophecy, acting in the lives of women. It’s courage to face off with some of the greatest evils in the world and still remain tender to a still small voice (not a particularly easy thing to do, I must say.) It’s the resilience to do great things and humble things and to not differentiate between them. It’s the widow’s mite living in our lives, but multiplied by 6 million widow’s mites spread throughout the world. It’s women training women to protect families and the sensitive environment of homes in a profane public. They may do that by running for public office or making hairbows at home and teaching their children how to wisely vote. They may do that by starting change organizations or by volunteering or by making sure the scriptures are read (and understood – Go Cheryl Esplin) on such a regular basis that an entire generation is growing up more familiar with God’s word. They are reaching after one another in meetings and in neighborhoods and in visiting teaching that is genuinely looking for ways to strengthen homes rather than “deliver a message.” They are women with spiritual gifts who don’t have to be told what to do because the spirit does. I love the fact that the church doesn’t tell us everything to do, as either RS sisters or PH brethren, and we are free to do as much or as little as is appropriate to our place in life. RS is the independent study program for goddesshood, and I think it’s cool. Well, there I go again. I’m like a mormonad.

  8. I am reminded of Christ and the apostles, when they started in about precidence and who was to sit at the left hand and the right and he stopped and washed their feet. The gospel is not about dominance, but service. When we conflate the two, we fall into apostacy. When you experience that “ feeling of love and concern” you have captured the gospel.

  9. Mommie Dearest says:

    You persuade me to not be such a crank about RS. I’ve had far more good experiences with it than bad, and besides, I have a testimony of visiting teaching. Even when it’s done poorly. Thank you.

  10. cathodroid says:

    I think it’s bogus that the YW generally aren’t included in Relief Society. The legacy/history of this auxiliary should be a part of their experience in the Church from the moment they graduate from primary until they’re dead. The YW’s valures are great, but they should be made familiar with LDS women such as Emma Smith, Eliza R. Snow, Emmeline B. Wells, Lucy Mack Smith, Patty Bartlett Sessions, Belle S. Spafford, Minerva Teichert, Chieko Okazaki, and on up to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich & Gladys Knight. The histories of these women and what they meant/mean to the Relief Society and the Church should be a part of the discourse that eases the transition from YW to RS. Why? Because all of these women were/are badasses.

    I also respectfully disagree with the OP on Priesthood and Motherhood not being compliments. Sonja Johnson had her say in “Mormonism’s Odd Couple”, but what she failed to recognize then (and what most LDS feminists fail to recognize to this day) is that Christ declared the whole soul to be a temple. If that’s true, then the body must necessarily be understood as a place of veil work, and the womb is none other than a veil. Hence, if women are stewards over a veil that passes whole souls (babies) into mortality, then they have a commensurate “yes” and “no” stewardship regarding a temple of God to any Priesthood holder in the history of both the Church & scripture. Mothers who birth in the covenant necessarily seal just as authoritatively as any temple sealer, and all women are sentinels of the veil that allows people to partake in mortality in the first place. The genealogy of all mothers & daughters is to be understood as a _line of authority_ because only women can endow women with their veil (the womb), and Priesthood reflects Motherhood in every aspect right down to symbols (breast feeding and umbilical cord) that might be sewn into certain articles of clothing, and even Christ’s decision in Gethsemane which was a nod to Eve/Eden if there ever was one.

    Altars generally reside between mirrors for a reason. The meaning is just lost on most LDS because we’ve become a business church chin-deep in practicality & corporate acumen instead of the mystics saturated in symbolism that we aught to be.

  11. My experience with RS has been 80% terrible, 19% boring and/or harmless, and 1% margin of error.

    I won’t go into detail but I do want to address the notion of equality. Men and women are not equal. That is not only true
    in The Church, it is true in the world. Are we all loved by God? Most certainly. That still doesn’t make us equal. I am not butt-hurt about this. I would have fewer issues with RS if this notion were merely embraced in a healthy way. The healthy way being yes, we are not equal (XX does not equal XY), but we are not baby pumping subservient sandwich makers either. I have yet to be a part of any RS that has not considered women the latter–and hard. One of the reasons I get so frustrated with RS is because, to me, it is not RS anymore–it is Motherhood Familytime. I said I will not go off on my reasons for disliking RS in this post, but when thinking about the woman who didn’t come to Church for a month because she miscarried, think about how it must be for the woman who comes to Church for 3 straight years being asked practically every week “When are you going to have kids?” knowing that her husband cannot have children.

  12. That being said, my favorite LDS woman in the world is giving the lesson this Sunday in RS so I will note here if my percentages (or my mind) change in any way.

  13. I’m with EOR and will add that although there have been plenty of lessons in our ward about serving the wider community and not being so insular, we have not done anything about it. I suggested we organize a ward Habitat for Humanity day and was told that was more of a priesthood activity.

    I know there are several women in my ward who do their own home improvement projects, including tiling, plumbing, painting, etc, but — Go gender roles!

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    My wife is not a big fan of RS; she’smore of a Primary person. But I’ll add this. She attended a RS lesson once about getting involved in the community, and was moved to start driving a route for a meals on wheels program on Fridays. That was 20 years ago, a lesson that is now lost to the shrouds of time and no one else even remembers. And she’s still driving and delivering meals to seniors every Friday.

  15. Kristine says:

    cathodroid, it was Sonja Farnsworth, not Sonia Johnson. And she was right (and Valerie Hudson, whom you’re paraphrasing–unless you are pseudonymously she, in which case, we’re honored by your presence–is wrong).

    But RS is still awesome.

  16. Just this past Sunday in a YW lesson the teacher (also the Pres.) began to say something about the men have the priesthood and women have motherhood–I stopped her and said “Let’s not perpetuate that myth. The truth is men have the priesthood and women have Relief Society–those are church service organizations. The equivalents in the family are Fatherhood and Motherhood.” If priesthood and motherhood are equal, does it stand to reason that Relief Society and fatherhood are equivalent? NO. And worthy man can be given the priesthood, and all women in the church over 18 are members of the Relief Society, both organized to serve and build the Kingdom of God on Earth. Father and mother are eternal callings in and out of the church, complimentary to each other and part of exaltation.

  17. “It’s the female half of the Kingdom of God on earth.”–Rebecca J
    “It’s courage to face off with some of the greatest evils in the world and still remain tender to a still small voice (not a particularly easy thing to do, I must say.)”–Bonnie
    “Christ’s decision in Gethsemane which was a nod to Eve/Eden if there ever was one.”–cathodroid

    All of the above comments I found very powerful.

    This post brought up so many thoughts. I have often felt that RS is all about the doing as well. Going around putting up ‘Missing’ posters with a woman whose teenage daughter had run away from home, crying with a woman who lost her brother in Afghanistan, signing as a witness on the will of a fellow sister in the ward, attending the rebaptism of a woman and weeping with joy with her as she was welcomed back into the fold. I have experienced all of these and that’s when RS is real to me.

    I am a witness to the fact that charity, does in fact, sometimes faileth. But mostly, it succeedeth!

    I had a similar experience to Rebecca’s when I looked out over the faces of the women in RS and couldn’t speak for awhile due to the emotions that were invoked in me of their power and greatness. I too had a taste of how Heavenly Parents must feel for their daughters.

    Regarding motherhood & the priesthood, I have battled this for years. Every worthy male can now hold the priesthood but every worthy female cannot bear children. How is this equal?! After one particular talk on it when I was 6 years into my infertility struggle, I went to the member of the stake presidency who gave it and talked with him about how I believed motherhood and fatherhood were equivalent, and priesthood was an entirely separate thing that people try to equate to make themselves feel like there isn’t inequality in the church. He listened intently, didn’t patronize me and agreed on several points. It was one of those rare occasions where I felt we both were able to talk candidly and both be edified.

    He then talked at length about creation and taught me many things. Here are some of my remembrances. Priesthood allows men to create. They create families through marriage ordinances, they create quorums, they will one day create or organize worlds, etc. Motherhood allows women to create. The ultimate creation seems to be human life but that is all most of us think of–myself included–when we hear the term motherhood. However, it’s really about all kinds of creating. Creating places of refuge for the world, creating thought provoking essays out of words, creating a safe place for a teenager to share their not-always-pleasant thoughts, creating beauty and order in place of gray and chaos, etc.

    With all that being said, the part that doesn’t make sense to me is that everything that women do to create men can do as well…except giving birth. That is why I go back to my original statement about motherhood and fatherhood being equal and the priesthood is a separate entity unto itself.

  18. J. Stapley says:

    Love it, RJ.

  19. I do not think the motherhood analogy is perfect but few analogies are and few parables given by the savior himself are perfect. But they are intended to get us to think about a certain point.

    There is nothing a man does in the priesthood that a woman could not physically do herself. Many of those things she does with the same power. A woman could just as easily pass a tray of bread (happens every sunday in a certain context) or lay hands on a head, etc. The obvious difference is it would not be done as an ordained holder of the priesthood. So while a woman could baptize someone physically the spiritual authority would not be there.

    By contrast there are many things a man is incapable of doing that mothers do, and there are a few things that men have their own rule in Fatherhood that a woman can’t. Mostly that’s relating to the act of procreation, but still a woman’s role in procreation is much more meaningful and involves a greater degree of service than a man. Just speaking of the physical acts that are often marginalized by saying “ya but any woman can do that” or “men have their own role in fatherhood” (clearly vital but not to the same degree)

    (Almost) Any man outside the church can pass a tray of bread, so too for a woman. None can do it with the same sanctioned priesthood authority. Any woman (almost) can bring a child into the world. None but an endowed woman can do so where that child is sealed by the holy spirit of promise and linked back to God in an eternal family as an heir of exaltation with Jesus Christ.

    Do not marginalize many men who are unable to render various types of priesthood service due to physical or mental reasons by pointing out some women also suffer from physical maladies or circumstances that prevent motherhood. Just as there are women who can’t fully receive motherhood in this life there are men who can’t fully receive the priesthood.

    So admittedly the analogy is not perfect but few are and even fewer scriptural parables can withstand such scrutiny. The point is not to get us to pick apart nits but to consider a certain point. I know many women who have received this analogy through personal revelation. I do not claim it to be binding on anyone but I don’t like the idea that someone’s personal revelation, which adds a few pieces to the puzzle, is rejected off hand in a blogpost because the pieces can’t describe the entire picture. It is relevant. It is most certainly not irrelevant because it does not perfectly explain everything.

  20. NOOO, we just did a “hats off to our visiting teachers” conference–it’s a script from the 80s, and deserves to be buried and not performed church-wide. so sorry to hear that it’s spreading…

  21. Right now, I’m in a period of loathing RS. I know we tend to only see what we want to see, but it seems like an unending parade of sentimentality, well-intentioned misinformation, and ham-handed moralizing. Really, what I want from RS is more opportunities and ideas for serving others. I keep hearing our RS president publicly praised as a paragon of service, and I’m sure she is (she is a wonderful woman), but these opportunities to serve don’t seem to be getting passed down the chain much, so I’m left felling pretty hollow about RS. I think I’m having a personal crisis in my relationship with the institutional church, so maybe that’s coloring my feelings. No, i’m sure it is. I’ve felt so unsatisfied with my church experiences of late that i am actively searching for service opportunities outside of church channels. RS mostly fills me with despair, and i don’t want to feel that way about it. I just have to keep trying, I guess – but i don’t thinkI have the right attitude, and I don’t know how to change my gut reactions. Thinking too much about it makes me desperately unhappy. Sigh.

  22. I can see your point Chris. It isn’t a perfect analogy. However, I feel like fatherhood is being marginalized by not equating it with motherhood.

    “Just as there are women who can’t fully receive motherhood in this life there are men who can’t fully receive the priesthood.”

    I think that is how I left the meeting with the stake pres. member. My husband isn’t creating worlds right now and I’m not creating life right now, but someday we both will have that experience if we stay true and faithful.

  23. Every once in a while (well, maybe twice) I have caught a glimpse of Relief Society the way you say it can and should be, Rebecca. The implementation tends not to work well, though, in my experience.

    I chalk most of that failure up to differences in style — I need RS to help me find opportunities to serve, because there is no natural object of my desires to serve. It seldom if ever has met that need, because the opportunities offered don’t fit my personality (greeting ten sisters with a hug every week, as we were encouraged under one presidency), or my physical limits (my current ward ties quilts every week, but in such a dark room that my eyesight won’t permit me to help), or for other reasons (I’m not able to pay for a telephone just so I can make VT appointments, and there has been difficulty finding VT partners and a beat that will cooperate by using email). Mostly, RS is just so broad that while it’s busy addressing the needs of other women, there is no time to address my own, even when my needs are opportunities to meet others’ needs. So I have to go it alone, outside the structure of RS.

    But the theory of it, the idea of it as a quorum, resonates.

  24. I’m sorry, but RS is in no way necessary to one’s salvation. Attending church means sacrament meeting. if RS is bringing you down then leave it. Leave it fast. I am at a stage in my life where anything that does not enhance it gets the boot. I have a hard enough time getting out of bed, and using all my energy to live my life I do not need something
    sucking my soul from me.

    All: Motherhood is a noble calling, however that does not mean that women who are not mothers are somehow ignoble. ipso facto, it is not relative to the Priesthood. There is no analogy for motherhood, or fatherhood, or priesthood, or relief society. They are each separate things. Attempting to compare them to each other is the height of comparing apples and oranges. Motherhood is like Motherhood, Fatherhood is like Fatherhood, Priesthood is like Priesthood and Relief Society is like Relief Society. That is all there is to it.

    Also, Motherhood is not necessary for exaltation. God would not place such a caveat when sometimes there simply is no choice involved. You can marry an ugly guy, or one with fungus or bad breath and horrible teeth just so you can say you got married but sometimes no amount of trying can give you a child. Where there is no agency, there is no law. Simple as that.

  25. The first part of my comment was addressed to Melissa (21). This is a popular topic I guess and hers was the last comment when I started mine.

  26. I’m not a lover of Relief Society. When they called me to be secretary I may have laughed outloud, because I’m SO not the type. That said, I loved that calling and loved getting to see how the organization works and being forced to get to know all the women.
    It really bothers me that we don’t DO more. I’ve been in RS for 10 years and the only service I see being done is casseroles for new moms (which, frankly, my husband and I never wanted) and a quilting bee once a year for a local interfaith charity. Which is fine, we’re busy being moms or whatever, but maybe then we should stop patting ourselves on the back for all the charity we do. I’ve had awesome experiences with some of the sisters but nothing about them was because of the RS organization, it was because good women take care of each other.
    I’m, quite unexpectedly, a fulltime career mommy now. I can’t make it to midweek activities because I work, and frankly, I don’t care for crafts, canning, or freezer meals. I attend whatever RS activities I can simply because I love the sisters and the companionship, but I do not feel like the organization is beneficial to me or to the rest of the world (at least, not what it claims to be). I don’t like the VT program much because it feels like obligated friendship. If we were better saints, it wouldn’t be needed, we’d all be caring for each other anyways. I’m usually assigned the less-active or higher-maintenance sisters because I’ve usually befriended them anyways so I’m a familiar face. And now that (as of this month) I’ve been removed from being a visiting teacher (because of questionable spiritual beliefs, they don’t want me near the less-actives), nothing is going to change in my relationship with those women, because it had nothing to do with being assigned to them to begin with. (Don’t worry, I have no interest in spreading my disaffecting ways)
    My husband, quite unexpectedly, is now a fulltime stay-at-home dad. And you know what? He’s wonderful at it. He’s a “priesthood holder” and a “mommy” now, essentially (though he and I both have our doubts about the priesthood, but that’s a separate topic). He’s a nurturer, and I bring home the bacon, and, if we’re being honest, lead the family spiritually. While this is never what either of us wanted, it works really well. But now more than ever I feel like I’m a “bad fit” for relief society.

  27. So admittedly the analogy is not perfect but few are and even fewer scriptural parables can withstand such scrutiny. The point is not to get us to pick apart nits but to consider a certain point. I know many women who have received this analogy through personal revelation. I do not claim it to be binding on anyone but I don’t like the idea that someone’s personal revelation, which adds a few pieces to the puzzle, is rejected off hand in a blogpost because the pieces can’t describe the entire picture. It is relevant. It is most certainly not irrelevant because it does not perfectly explain everything.

    Everyone:
    1) I understand what an analogy is.
    2) I understand what they’re designed to do and not designed to do.
    3) Please do not explain to me the purpose of an analogy.
    (Sorry if I seem a little touchy–I am, a little–but after a string of posts where I take issue with an analogy because it is, in my opinion, a bad one, I am really sick and tired of people assuming that I don’t understand how analogies work. It is possible to disagree on this subject. I don’t have to be missing the point to be wrong.)

    chris- If someone has received a personal revelation about their divine role or purpose or mission, I am not going to dispute or discredit their personal revelation. I am also not going to accept their personal revelation for myself or on behalf of an entire group of people for whom it may not be relevant. I don’t have a problem with people saying, “Motherhood works like the priesthood in that…etc., etc.” That’s fine. I only take issue with saying that motherhood is the equivalent of the priesthood. The priesthood is sui generis, in my opinion. In my opinion. I don’t want to discuss it any further in this particular thread. (Feel free to talk amongst yourselves, but I’m just not going to go there anymore. I will take in further comments on that point for metaphorical digestion, but I won’t engage them at this time.)

  28. I appreciate that some women hate RS and have had bad experiences with it. I am lucky in that I have not had any nightmare experiences with RS. That doesn’t make your nightmare experience with RS an outlier or atypical. I think I have met more women who dislike RS than like it. That’s why I get frustrated with talks about how great RS is. It’s not great for so many women. The things that are wrong with RS are the same things that are wrong with the church in general, I think–it’s people not engaging the gospel, acting like suckheads instead of Christians, etc.

    I also appreciate that my transformative experience in RS is not unique to RS. RS happened to be where I was serving, and so for me it is positively associated with RS. Someone else may have a similar experience while serving in Primary or while visiting teaching or even while serving outside of the usual church channels. Insofar as the church has “programs” or organizational structures, it is to help us learn to love one another. If we were all perfect Christians, everyone would be loved and have their needs met without anyone needing to be “assigned friendship.” Because we are not perfect (and not even the best saint in the church can pick up the slack for everyone), we get assignments. That is why I think the church is better with RS than without it. Would it be even better if everyone were always a Christian and never a suckhead? Sure!

  29. I want to thank everyone for their insightful comments, even the ones that made me a little eggy. [Insert appropriate emoticon here]

    Count me among those who would like to see RS do more service and involve the YW in that service. Specifically, I would like us to do more service in the broader community. I think moving from the monthly activity meetings to an emphasis on small group activities has been good, but we’ve mostly used this flexibility as an excuse for doing less. Not that people aren’t busy, blah blah, that’s why the flexibility is a good thing. But most of the RS activities I’ve seen in my wards have been social opportunities rather than service opportunities. Not that there’s anything wrong with social activities. But I think one of the reasons I have often felt isolated from the women in my ward is that I have not served with them. We grow close to people with whom we have things in common. Some people we are naturally drawn to; other people we only bond with through the experience of working cooperatively with them in service.

    I am just thinking out loud now, but I wonder if we should stop thinking of RS and YW and Primary as separate auxiliaries. Maybe we could think of YW and Primary as service arms of RS. Not to make for more hierarchy or give the RS president more to be in charge of–God forbid. I don’t mean a structural change but more a change in mindset or attitude. Obviously, men serve in Primary too, but women more or less run the show because that particular show does not require priesthood authority to run it. I don’t know, I haven’t thought this through much longer than it’s taken me to type this.

  30. “Would it be even better if everyone were always a Christian and never a suckhead? Sure!”

    BCotW nomination.

  31. madhousewife I am grateful for your candor. I want to say that one of the reasons I get so frustrated with RS is because I know that we are better. We are strong, beautiful, vibrant women, daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves us–we own a kickass heritage and a divine nature to boot and imo it is being squandered. I want to be like Eliza R. Snow! I want to boldly worship God. Service is important, to each other, to the community, to ourselves, to Christ. It is by service that we live the doctrine. This is what I want for us as Sisters in the gospel. Not doilies!

    Also, I read a pamphlet produced by The Church the other day and the first sentence wasn’t even a sentence–it just said the word Family 15 times in a row. Obviously I am exaggerating, but only a little bit. It was insane.

  32. “I want to boldly worship God. Service is important, to each other, to the community, to ourselves, to Christ. It is by service that we live the doctrine. This is what I want for us as Sisters in the gospel. Not doilies!”
    Amen!
    (Except for the Eliza R Snow bit. Not sure how much I’d enjoy being married to Brigham Young. (I’m joking- kind of) ;) )

  33. I think we might have a lot more peace with the inadequacies of our present experience if we understood it more often as part of a very long continuum in which many things equalize as they mature in other estates. That’s not pleasant for people who don’t live the ideals here, and I’m the first to recognize that. I’m 45 years old and single and that’s probably not going to change until I die (all those statistics, you know.) In a married church with a married exalted state, that’s occasionally uncomfortable, but it’s still temporary. Childless women and men serving in humble local priesthood leadership do not experience the fullness of their natures any more than I experience the fullness of my sealing covenants. If we could just be patient with this primary estate. So much relies on our ability to live faithfully under imperfect conditions, in faith that the ideal is available to all.

    I’ve often thought that the Lord uses this imperfect vehicle (a lay church) to do such amazing work on us. I am sitting here laughing at so many ludicrous situations in my life. I’ve learned a lot of patience and to go find my own service and talk local leaders into joining in, I’ve stepped on toes and had mine crunched and that seems to be the most efficient way to soften us up, make us durable, and, ultimately, useful. I love Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s quote about there being too much of her to fold into a lesson twice a month, and I think all of us feel that way. Rather than ask RS to fill all the spaces within us, we can use its principles to stretch us, just as we do with the gospel at large. That has worked for me.

  34. JD Dancer says:

    It’s kind of scary to me that I could tell just from seeing the title of the post in my Twitter feed that this was going to be a Rebecca post (and that parenthetical joy would ensue). You have a distinctive voice; thanks for your thoughts RJ, as always.

  35. I may be suffering from the Good Girl Syndrome, but I want to apologize for the pissiness (for want of a more ladylike word) of my response to chris (19)’s comment in my #27. I appreciate the substance of the comment even if we disagree on one basic point. I don’t want to discount or demean anyone’s personal revelation. Personal revelation is how we make sense of difficult issues when human reason fails us. However, some of us have to make do with reason sometimes, and this is where I get frustrated with the insistence that motherhood and priesthood are complements. I said I wouldn’t go into it further and I won’t, but I regret my gratuitous hostility. So apologies to chris and anyone else who felt included in “everyone.” (When I get ticked off, I tend to go global–like using a bomb instead of a knife, I kid myself that it’s less personal.)

    I do not regret my assertion that I understand analogies just fine. Insert emoticon here.

  36. Sharee Hughes says:

    I love Relief Society. In my ward, we have great teachers, we have fun (but sometimes not so fun–that’s life) “additional Relief Society meetings,” where sometimes we may do crafts, but not always, and we do service. And, like Jana (maybe you’re the Jana in my ward), we had Emma Lou Thayne at our Stake RS birthday social, and she was awesome. My RS president is a saint. When I was cleaning out my storage unit, she came a couple of times a week to help and lined up the Elder’s Quorum when we needed trucks to haul stuff to the dump or DI or whatever. And she took a picture of me standing in my empty storage unit–what a great piece of memorabilia. We have regular service projects, not just taking casseroles to new mothers (although that is service, so I don’t understand why people would put it down). We have welfare square canning assignments or humanitarian service assignments (I’m sure areas outside of Salt Lake have other types of service projects). I sign up whenever I can and I sometimes wish there were more opportunities, but sometimes it is hard to even get enough sisters to fill the assignments we do have (the priesthood are also supposed to help, but they rarely do). We also take meals (not necessarily casseroles–sometimes it’s fast food or KFC, but at other times it’s a real meal) three times a week to a mentally disabled man in our ward, who is humbly thankful for all we do for him. People don’t do it just out of a sense of obligation–we do it because we care about him.

    I am a VT district leader and I have a hard time convincing some of the sisters in my district what a sacred calling visiting teaching is, but that’s what I believe–it is a most sacred calling. Excuse me, but it is not obligated friendship–it is service, it is showing our fellow sisters that we care about them.

    I have to confess I did not always like Relief Society. In the days before we started having lessons from the same manuals as the priesthood, too many of the lessons were about child-raising, and, as a divorced sister with no children, I had a hard time with such lessons. I always thoguht we should be studying gospel topics. Well, now we do, so no more complaints about RS. It definitely is the “female half of the kingdom of God on earth.”

  37. Rebecca,
    Actually I don’t think you were being testy, but in the process of saying you got the point I felt and still feel you (somewhat) missed the point. I’m not too bothered by it, but I did want to put another voice out there, if only to make the claim that the opposing view is still very much relevant even if you disagree.

    In general, I whole heartidly agree that RS can and should be doing much more. I’ve known some women who have tried and tried to get that vision that Pres. Beck had for the RS into their local RS organization and it rarely sinks into leadership skulls beyond “doing what we’ve always done”, such as having a nice dinner, some speakers, and coming to meetings where we talk and feel the spirit.

    Pres. Beck was truly focused on meaninful service that saves souls and points those we serve as well as ourselves to Christ. I admit to paying as much attention to her talks as anyone elses. In fact, somewhat shamefully, I’ll admit to having my mind wander a time or two while Pres. Monson talks, but I’m always interested in what Pres. Beck says because she speaks with a very clear authority to me. It’s not a crush, but she has made a lot of bold and assertive statements as far as doctrine is concerned that really get to the heart of what life is all about. So when she talks I pay attention because there is a lot to unpack in what she says.

    That’s a long way of saying that I agree with the main intent of this post, which is to say that by and large RS is getting some things right, and totally missing the picture on a lot of things, and could be doing a lot more.

    The same thinking applies to the Priesthood, but in my mind it’s even more so. (ie. not “getting” it as it relates to meaningufl service, and we should be doing better)

  38. “I admit to paying as much attention ”
    That came out wrong and could seem demeaning to Pres Beck… I was trying to say that often I actually pay “more attention” as evidence by my next line, where I admit to not paying enough attention to other speakers at times.

  39. cathodroid says:

    #29, madhousewife, exactly. Especially with regards to service, the YW should be involved with the RS. In fact, YW should simply be a quorum of RS. Recontextualize the entire experience of YW as a RS program, and just watch what happens. You’ll begin to see mia maids and Laurels excell in their pursuit of a deeper understanding of the Relief Society. The transition, consequently, will be far less of the precarious jump that it is currently.

  40. Because of Kristine’s comment about Valerie Hudson I started poking around and found Julie’s review of Women in Eternity, Women of Zion (which I found very interesting) but especially liked JKS’s comment at the very end. It seems to me that if we could resolve the defensive subtexts to our conversation just among women, a lot of issues regarding women’s place in the world, church, and eternity would resolve as well, and we could focus on defining the work or RS and getting it done. This is where I’ve seen Julie Beck struggling against the weight of an organization that is not unified (and why I think she didn’t often address the contentious doctrines openly), and why I think Daughters in my Kingdom is her magnum opus. It says just enough to (hopefully) pour oil on troubled waters and awaken within women a more expansive scope to their labors. If women do read it (limited as it may be from a historian’s point of view) with spiritual eyes, it will encourage more questions/revelation. We live in a different age than retrenchment leaders did. It seems that if women expanded their own role by embracing the power available in implementing the mission of RS (instead of getting caught in our defensive subtexts) that the leadership structure of the church would come around sooner to a more heavenly ideal.

  41. cathodroid says:

    #15 Kristine, Hudson’s theory is backed by Christ’s assertion that the body is a temple. What is the core function of a temple and all of the ordinances performed therein? Veil work.

    Motherhood is composed of three basic elements: conceiving, birthing, and raising. Fatherhood at it’s best can only participate in two out of the three, so it simply is not commensurate with motherhood. Hence the Priesthood is given to men so that they can be brought up to speed with regards to working veils, and the scriptures are dominantly addressed to men because God seeks to involve men in his grand working of the second veil. When God addresses women it is usually with regards to something happening in the womb (see Eve, Mary, Hannah, Rachel, Rebekah, Sarah, Elizabeth, Leah, et al) because that is the veil under their jurisdiction. Christ was the only man in existence that could go to that altar to meet all mothers. That the result of his decision in Gethsemane was bloodloss merely highlights the symmetry. The Very Eternal Father answers the Mother of All Living.

    The ordinances necessarily answer Motherhood (which includes sex, conception, pregnancy and birth), and is precisely how Priesthood allows fatherhood to finally be commensurate with Motherhood. Christ’s entire construct for the second veil is “rebirth”. Hence Christ’s discussion with Nicodemus concerning being “born again”.

    Being “worthy of the power” is beside the point. True, not all women will be mortal mothers, but not all Priesthood holders will bless their own children in mortality either. All women carry the first veil, and it’s no coincidence that girls begin their menses at approximately the same time as boys receiving the AP. Christ has promised that stewardships carried out faithfully will result in sovereignty in the hereafter. Farnsworth will always be wrong because she assumed that fatherhood by itself is the compliment to motherhood. Not only does this ignore Christ’s statement about the body and the implied symmetry, but it ignores Moses 6:59 where the mirrors are put on display for all to see.

  42. #41 cathodroid: Fascinating!

    Fatherhood + Priesthood = Motherhood

    Did I summarize the above correctly? I’ll have to chew on that for awhile….

  43. Jon Miranda says:

    Rebecca and all other women. Think about this. Women have immense power in marriage and in the home. If you were to make everything exactly equal, woman would lose out.

  44. Jon, this post is not concerned with making women and men equal (whatever that means). It’s only concerned with improving Relief Society and strengthening women’s souls.

  45. KerBearRN says:

    RJ– thank you for this post. And thank you everyone for your comments. Sometimes I need you, the larger Community of Sisters, to see, in a finer context, our more local roles (and my more personal ones). And I am another who believes that for the many of us who struggle at times (or all the time) to fit in or find meaning in RS– that it is as much a problem of RS not fitting us, as us not fitting RS. And I believe that we, as Daughters of God, have a right to make our voices heard and to find Gospel-based approaches to helping it be a “better fit”. I feel blessed in my current ward, anyway, that most sisters seem to feel similarly.

    I can honestly say, IME, that RS generally heats the hell out of ANYTHING they manage in Priesthood meetings. Much of that seems to be marathon “endurance to the end” (of the meeting). Is it just me? I find that the RS seems to relate in a much more lively way in lessons and discussions. My DH describes an awful lot of dozing and watch-gazing in his meetings.

    And– I truly hope and pray that someday, maybe my grandchildren’s generation, will venerate us also as “badasses”. I don’t think I know of higher praise (especially if it could be in the same sentence as Eliza R. Snow and Gladys Knight).

  46. I’ll admit I see “Fatherhood + Priesthood = Motherhood” and shudder a bit. Is a father so incomplete on his own?
    Is a priesthood-less but otherwise wonderful single father not equal to a mother then, for the mere fact that he doesn’t have the same ability to get knocked up that an irresponsible out-of-wedlock teen mom does? Perhaps it’s more “Righteous Fatherhood + Priesthood = Righteous Motherhood”? Even then, why does anything have to be equal?
    The idea of mothers controlling the first veil and men controlling the second veil is very interesting, I’d never thought of it like that. Though the fact that women can’t conceive without men weakens the thought a tad. The priesthood can stand completely on its own without a woman (or with many women at once, apparently), but righteous motherhood requires a male partner or at the very least, priesthood stewardship, with the expectation she will submit to it. That is inherently unequal. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad, but…. it is what it is, why try so hard to make it “equal”.

    And yes, the scriptures only really reference woman for their ability to bear children (Ruth aside, God bless her), but perhaps this is NOT because birthing is their primary importance to God, but because the scriptures were written by men in a time that women were treated as nothing more than walking incubators (and if they did not, it was the fault of the woman- the fact a man could be infertile had not yet been figured out). If fatherhood+priesthood=motherhood, then where are the scriptural stories of God talking to the husbands of this women who couldn’t conceive? Because (in the minds of generations of patriarchy) they had enough in their priesthood, they didn’t need fatherhood to reach their divine potential.

    In my household, the daddy (my husband) is a mommy in many ways (he’s a stay-at-home parent while I work). And no, he didn’t/couldn’t conceive and birth the children, but I couldn’t have done it without him- either the getting pregnant part OR the birthing part, he was my support and believe me, he suffered as I did:).
    Priesthood is given to worthy men who strive for it. Motherhood can be given to a wide range of women- from Britney Spears to Sister Beck. The mere act of incubating is not in and of itself a thing to make a woman realize her divine potential- it is what we make of it. Just like fatherhood. Parenthood is what we make of it, and we can be nurturers and it can make us be humble and more christlike, or we can view it as a burden or obligation and get little or nothing out of it except for bags under our eyes.

  47. “And yes, the scriptures only really reference woman for their ability to bear children ”
    Nope.
    Miriam, Deborah, Abigail, Huldah, Anna, Priscilla, Junia, Phoebe, Abish, Mary Magdalene, Joanna…

    In fact, the scriptures almost never talk about women as mothers.

  48. cathodroid says:

    Not “=”. Rather, “is commensurate with” in the Lord’s economy. All must pass through both veils, men simply preside over the second one.

    If they were equal, men would perform veil work on par with Christ & Mothers, and this would remove the need for a lamb messiah. Instead they sacrifice the natural man on the altar in order to be worthy of exercising the Priesthood, and essentially ride on Christ’s coattails whereas mothers actually risk their lives in like manner to Christ. So the relative silence towards women in scripture is not the silence of the silent treatment. It’s more akin to the silence of a common yoke.

    The tradeoff is that once men become sovereigns over the same veil (Christ’s veil) in the next life, to exercise that sovereignty they must ultimately do what Christ did. They have to perform a Christ-level sacrifice in answer to another set of mothers for another set of children (on another world) who also must pass through both veils. So this notion that men get off scot-free in the symmetry is just an illusion of the veil of mortality.

  49. Just popping to say I adore RJ and everything she writes.

  50. Fair enough, Kristine- thanks for the reminder of the too-often forgotten women of scripture.
    I was just referencing what cathodroid said : ” When God addresses women it is usually with regards to something happening in the womb (see Eve, Mary, Hannah, Rachel, Rebekah, Sarah, Elizabeth, Leah, et al) because that is the veil under their jurisdiction. ” My point was that if Rachel or Rebekah were only referenced for their wombs, that is far more indicative of the culture of their time, and is not an endorsement from God that their womb was of more importance than other aspects of them.

  51. It appears that this motherhood/priesthood thread is taking on a life of its own. I’m sorry I ever brought it up–not because it isn’t a worthy subject for discussion, but it really wasn’t what I wanted to talk about with this post. I was trying to forestall a discussion about gender equality or inequality, but I clearly screwed that up. People are making intelligent comments, which is wonderful, but I was hoping to discuss Relief Society without the gender equality baggage. I actually do think that is possible. Many women feel alienated from RS; they don’t have the vision of it that Julie Beck describes in her talk (and countless other GRSPs have described in their talks). Women aren’t getting the priesthood anytime soon (if ever–that is really not my concern), and not all women can appreciate the motherhood analogy, so what we have here is an organization of women who don’t hold the priesthood and of whom some are mothers and some are not, but we are all daughters of God–so what do we do with that?

  52. Well said, RJ. Sorry, I get easily distracted. I agree entirely- the point of RS is NOT motherhood- it is service. Motherhood is a kind of service. But there are other kinds, too. So let’s focus a bit more on service and less on scrapbooking.

  53. Kristine, thank you for the link to Lynette’s post at Zelophehad’s Daughters and which also contained a link to Cassler’s Two Trees Talk (though I don’t see your post now). I appreciated the opportunity to form my own opinion, which is that Cassler makes some salient points (even if I agree with a few of Lynette’s objections). It has been interesting reading, and RJ, I do think that it enriches a discussion of RS (though probably it did wander a bit.)

    Why can RS not be seen as a mortal construct that teaches the principles of divine motherhood? I’m okay with that. It seems to me that PH is a mortal construct that teaches the principles of divine fatherhood. If I make this assumption, then I can help RS be more service-oriented in protection of relief, family, and faith. The mortal construct may lumber along but that’s a mortal issue. We are made godlike by struggling against and overcoming mortal limitations. So make some suggestions to your RSP about how you’d like to see things change, and then be willing to be patient and roll up your sleeves, working with people who see things differently. If we work with people’s fears about what changes will mean for them personally, we will see unity a lot faster.

  54. Sometimes it’s hard to get the water to the end of the rows, due to the dams people in those rows build. Likewise, it almost always is easier to recognize the incorrect traditions of THEIR fathers than the incorrect traditions of OUR parents.

  55. When I joined the church, I always wanted to attend a RS session instead of Priesthood. I was positive it would be more engaging (I’m still positive, even though I’ve yet to sit in on one.)

    My wife enjoys going, and this surprises both of us. She has a misfit complex (that’s not completely off-base) but I think it surprised her to find women in RS that she could relate to. It’s rare that she comes out of it with any sort of scriptural insight, though they do happen, but it’s common for her to share some interpersonal glimpse. You know, like, Sister Johnson always has her kids perfectly groomed and polite and she always has a fixed smile on her face, it’s like she’s Sister Stepford. But then she made a comment in class today about being OCD and needing her kids to appear perfect because she then felt in control and at peace, even if just for a few hours on Sunday.

    I don’t have much personal interaction with the RS, but I was grateful to have them help out with meals when my wife came home after giving birth. It was awesome. (And delicious.)

  56. cathodroid says:

    #46 Jenn, The Priesthood cannot stand on it’s own. Not only is a wife required for any man to enter the CK, but a birth is required for any rebirth to take place. Ordinances follow motherhood, not the other way around. Eve was first, Christ was second. Both authorities, both stewards are
    required to pull a child through the first veil, and both are required to pass through Christ’s veil into his Kingdom. Hence, the Lord’s grand metaphor for the Atonement is a marriage.

    I’ve heard that the fact that women can perform certain ordinances in the temple means that the second veil is not solely the stewardship of men. Indeed, women perform ordinances in the temple “having authority” without ever being ordained. And Kristine is correct in pointing out that not all women in the Bible were identified as mothers. Some were even prophetesses. But my answer to this critique simply reflexes back upon the symmetry: Men are also allowed to do something with authority within a woman’s veil. So when Elder Holland identifies sex as a “sacrament” he’s unleashing the fact upon us that everything that occurs at the womb is also an ordinance. Brigham Young backs him up in JD 15:137:

    “We have not the power in the flesh to create and bring forth or produce a spirit; but we have the power to produce a temporal body. The germ of this, God has placed within us. And when our spirits receive our bodies, and through our faithfulness we are worthy to be crowned, we will then receive authority to produce both spirit and body. But these keys we cannot receive in the flesh.”

  57. #46 My understanding is that in the OT, the ultimate honor for a Jewish woman was to have the Messiah come through her loins & lineage. Therefore fertility was the focus for many, including the men who wrote (down) the scriptures. Ironically, Ruth was the one whose lineage the Messiah did come through!

    In the NT, the fertility of the women were not mentioned as much–aside from Elisabeth who was probably raised with that same hope/expectation since she was on the tail end (pun NOT intended) of the women who gave birth prior to Mary’s baby boy. Obviously, her son became the forerunner of the Messiah. Once the Messiah came, the scriptures seem to be silent on women with fertility issues.

    Can you tell this has been one of my issues that I have studied and tried to find answers to in the scriptures? Sorry we seem to have thread-jacked your RS post, Rebecca, but when you put down “random thoughts” in your title, it looks like anything goes!

  58. cathodroid says:

    Rebecca, sorry for the derail. I will keep my comments to the RS after this post, but I will say that Lynnette’s critique of Hudson at Zelophad’s Daughters makes a lot of the same mistakes as Farnsworth. I do agree with a couple of her critiques of Hudson’s approach, however.

  59. cathodroid says:

    I think that the best thing that the Relief Society does is empower women without going to war with Patriarchy. This is precisely why 2nd wave feminism fails its adherents: It does well when it identifies culture that objectifies women and/or relegates them to second-class status, but it is an inadequate lens for understanding the divide between the sexes. It’s MO is to war with patriarchy when it is vital that both sexes be ennobled simultaneously. Secular feminism never heals anything. It merely functions as an apparatus that endows women with temporal power and thereby feeds wounded egos.

    An LDS feminism must abandon the war aspect of the 2nd wave in order to preserve relationships and enact healing. It must forgive men, and in this respect the Relief Society functions effectively because it uses service and unity to enact the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The RS may fail from ward to ward in making all feel welcome & being free of backbiting, but these quorums are universally teeming with women that are willing to go to bat for their husbands and the Priesthood, in spite of everything.

  60. cathodroid, I think that you are presenting many things in #56 as normative, that I don’t think can be accurately be construed to be within any of the various “doctrinal” traditions in Mormonism. I appreciate that you have come these conclusions and that they are meaningful to you. If it is something you are interested in, see how they relate to broader frameworks in LDS thought.

  61. I just loved this bit: “Relief Society exists for the purpose of women doing God’s work in God’s name.”

    I’ve seen that often, sometimes I’ve been able to be a part of it.

  62. but when you put down “random thoughts” in your title, it looks like anything goes!

    Oh sure, kc–blame the victim! (But you have a point.)

  63. I typed out a whole big post, and in the midst of it I realized I am too bitter. RS stings too much. I do not believe that maternal women will ever understand what it is like to be in The Church for non-maternal women.

    This is not referring to anyone here, just as a comment on my in-person experience in RS: Motherhood is absolutely a noble calling so far as it does not cause you to turn your nose up at others. Whatever reason you may think up for why I do not have children even if you are correct is not your business. I am a woman, a divine daughter of my Heavenly Father no moreso or less so than anyone else. I don’t want a rose on Mother’s Day because you think I feel bad about not being a mother. I don’t want to sit around on a Sunday meeting and talk endlessly about women’s role in a family. I don’t want pity, or knowing looks, or “helpful” suggestions. I want to be what I am.

    I tried to keep my bitterness to a minimum–didn’t work.

  64. Rebecca, I feel much the same way you do about RS about my mission. Most of it was a deadly slog, most of the time I wasn’t much of a missionary, but one experience in particular was absolutely life-altering. Even though I now avoid the missionaries because they innocently, earnestly want to come over and fix my husband, even though their sacrament meeting talks frequently drive me crazy, even though I know more than one person whose mission destroyed him or her, even though the MTC is a great place to develop new and fun mental illnesses, I have a soft spot for missions because they were my life-transforming context of passage to adulthood and service.

    I can’t say I feel the same about RS, and I have doubts I ever will. That’s OK. I’m glad you do.

  65. J.Stapley,
    Can you point to how Cathodroid’s ideas do or do not relate to broader frameworks in LDS thought?

  66. Whatever reason you may think up for why I do not have children even if you are correct is not your business. I am a woman, a divine daughter of my Heavenly Father no moreso or less so than anyone else. I don’t want a rose on Mother’s Day because you think I feel bad about not being a mother. I don’t want to sit around on a Sunday meeting and talk endlessly about women’s role in a family. I don’t want pity, or knowing looks, or “helpful” suggestions. I want to be what I am.

    Ordinarily I’d say, “Cross-stitch that on a pillow,” but in light of current trends I should probably say, “Vinyl-letter that sucker on a block of wood and hang it in the Relief Society room.”

  67. cathodroid says:

    60, Jstapley, Out of respect for Rebecca, it’ll have to wait for another thread.

  68. mmiles, a quick and incomplete pass:

    Not only is a wife required for any man to enter the CK…

    I’m unaware where this is claimed by anyone.

    both stewards are required to pull a child through the first veil

    If this isn’t a reference to the creation of the world by Jesus, I’m not sure what it means.

    Hence, the Lord’s grand metaphor for the Atonement is a marriage.

    It seems to me that the Lord had many metaphors for the Atonement. I’m not sure where marriage is delineated the most grand.

    Quick aside: this discussion of first and second veil, what is that from?

    women perform ordinances in the temple “having authority” without ever being ordained

    Yet they receive authority through ritual performance, not because they are women.

    Men are also allowed to do something with authority within a woman’s veil.

    What does this mean?

    Elder Holland identifies sex as a “sacrament” he’s unleashing the fact upon us that everything that occurs at the womb is also an ordinance.

    I’m fairly certain that he his not. Ordinance, while its meaning has varied over time, means a particular thing in modern Mormon parlance. And I read BY as saying that God has given all men (both Mormon and not) the “power” to create mortal bodies. Hard to argue with that. And while vivaparous spirit birth is championed by many church leaders it is not championed by all.

    So, in summary, while there are many things in cathodroid that use Mormon images, language, and ritual as a starting point, it seems to me to be wholely novel and outside normative traditions. And as I said, this is fine. But lets not call it something its not. Saying that women have the right (or should have the right) to be ordained to the administrative priesthood of the church is, I think, outside of the normative traditions as well. Does that make sense?

  69. I very much enjoyed this post, Rebecca. I’ve often been ambivalent about RS, but there have been times when it really has played a positive role in my life. My first two years of grad school, I was in a small singles branch in the Midwest. And I was incredibly lucky to meet a fabulous group of women there, many of whom were also doing graduate work, and who offered encouragement and support as I wrestled with the transition to grad school, the feeling of being caught between the two worlds of the church and the academy, and just the general stress and worry that I wasn’t good enough. I usually roll my eyes when I hear people talk about sisterhood, but I think at that time of my life I caught a glimpse of what it could be.

  70. Jon #43: “Rebecca and all other women. Think about this. …”

    Late to the party, but just wanted to note my assessment of this as one of the classic BCC blog comment openers of all time. Not in a good way, but in an awesome way nonetheless.

  71. Kick ass post, madam. Just excellent.

  72. #51
    It was good for me to read all this.
    I’m new to these blogs, and the motherhood-priesthood issue has been a bugbear I’d had packed away for years (I’m having to unpack it as my daughter approaches YW age though – she’s already a self-declared feminist and complaining about girls not being ordained deacons). Funnily enough, I had just read the Sonia Farnsworth essay online. I endured rather than enjoyed YW, frequently chafing at what I felt to be nauseating platitudes. My first years in RS were blighted by those awful 4-yearly rotating manuals of the 80s, similarly full of nauseating platitudes. It got so bad, that as a student in my singles ward, there were weeks when I could not stomach another RS lesson. I felt guilty about not attending a lesson, so would go and sit in the back of the EQ just for a break. I hadn’t heard the Valerie Hudson ideas, so it was interesting to read them (thank you cathodroid and Chris), but am certainly more of the Farnsworth camp myself. I don’t believe any of this material was readily available to UK members before the internet…
    At the moment I feel very ambivalent about RS. I have not been able to bring myself to open the ‘Daughters…’ book we were all given last year.

  73. hawkgrrrl says:

    RS is better than a Turkish prison (if books are to be believed) or suicide ward, although it has a similar quality in that same sex inmates are all housed together in solidarity and boredom and to occasionally do crafts or talk about feelings. I agree with Ardis that I love when RS provides opportunities to serve or to do humanitarian projects because I am a busy woman who wants to do more on that front, but I just don’t get or take the time to find those opportunities. I’m not inclined to go out and do that on my own, but I think it’s important for me to do it.

    I sometimes have this weird inkling that RS is a modern-version extension of life in the Lion House for all those wives.

  74. Stephanie says:

    For those commenters who perceive a lack of RS-sponsored community service, I’d like to share my own recent experience. We’ve become involved with Safe Families for Children (check them out at http://www.safe-families.org), and have found the church ladies to be delighted to be a part of our service. We had an autistic 2-year-old (didn’t sleep much and a climber!) with us for several weeks, and as a result nursery leaders, YW babysitters, neighbors and friends were introduced to a great organization. RS presidents in many wards (in mine, certainly) are seriously overworked, and shouldn’t be expected to command in all things–it’s up to all of us to serve and to invite our sisters to pitch in.

  75. Thanks Stephanie for that great link. I’ve looked it over, signed up, and passed it along!

  76. #72 I had the same initial feeling re: Daughters in My Kingdom. But this summary of a talk by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich helped me come around. If only we all could’ve been present in THAT 5th Sunday discussion! Simply awesome. See: http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/?p=8094

  77. #76
    Thanks. I did look at that. Still pondering though.
    I didn’t enjoy Sis Beck’s tenure. I always felt she had her hands tied, but I don’t know why I felt that. I also don’t know if she’d tied them herself (consciously or unconsciously), or that it had been done for her. I attended the RS broadcast introducing the book with an open mind (or tried to). I wanted to want to read the book. But that plane/apron introduction was a killer. I want a plane not an apron, and she’d described the book as an apron. I realise that I am probably pushing her analogy too far, but my heart sank as she said it.
    Some women love aprons, but I’m not one of them. I didn’t play with dolls: I turned my doll pram upside down to spin the wheels, far more satisfying. I longed for my Yr3 (that’s 2nd Grade for you US bods) teacher to invite me to play with the meccano as she did the boys. I loved, and still love, lego. I have a BEng, and a PhD in a Science/Eng field. And I have spent the last nearly 15 years raising my 2 children at home. I (nearly) always do all my VT, but otherwise my interaction with RS is minimal at the moment. Currently I serve in primary, which is probably just as well the way I feel at the moment, but have previously been on an RS presidency, and finished up teaching most of the lessons (the relief I felt that they’d introduced the same manuals for RS and Priesthood was enormous), and get to play piano in primary and as a stand-in when the ward pianist/organist is away. RS activities are held the same evening as bishopric and PEC so I get to stay home with the children. Some of you might think they are old enough to be left alone, but given that they often want internet access to complete their homework, I’m not prepared to do so yet. And anyway it’s a good excuse. As many others have said, I don’t mind pitching in for real service, but a sitting around, chatting social event is mentally exhausting…

  78. #77 Kai I am with you. I don’t fit into a typical gender-role box that they want to shove me into. I did play with my Cabbage Patch Kids, but they did things like ride the dog, and breakdancing. I never had a tea party, my EZ Bake Oven collected dust, and absolutely forget about Barbie. My Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles used to steal my sister’s Barbie car (I swear, I knew nothing about it). I haven’t even tried to read the book because I just don’t know if I can bring myself to do it. I know my own worth so I do not need a book to tell me it, and I know I certainly don’t need a book telling me about motherhood and mentioning family every 5 seconds. From all I have heard about it I just don’t believe it would be useful to me, so I leave it alone to people whose lives it will enhance.

  79. Kristine says:

    This made me a little more optimistic about the book: http://stream.scl.utah.edu/index.php?c=details&id=8263

  80. #63 “I do not believe that maternal women will ever understand what it is like to be in The Church for non-maternal women.”

    Agreed. I call it the modern day leprosy. Someone announces she’s pregnant but not ready to be a mother or concerned that her children will be too close together in age and the outpouring of love and encouragement by the RS sisters is overwhelming. Someone announces they are infertile and the silence is deafening except for the whispers they give to each other. They might as well shout “Unclean!”

  81. cathodroid says:

    I attended Sister Thatcher’s presentation. She is quite adroit with a crowd, and I was impressed with the way she answered questions. I think about her every time I go to the DI, as I always see copies of DIMK.

  82. Thanks, Kristine, I’ll take a look.
    kc
    You make an excellent point. People can be very insensitive. Personally I never ask people if/when/how many etc. regarding children. It is none of my business.
    Not wanting to be picky, but please can we differentiate between ‘maternity’, which I think you meant, and ‘maternal’.
    As I see it, there are women possessing naturally maternal feelings, and those who don’t. There are women who have children (maternity) and those who don’t. But there is overlap in the catergories. Not all women with children are naturally maternal. Neither are all women without children nonmaternal.
    EOR
    You have my sympathy, and I’m glad you have a strong sense of self-worth. It was the baby dolls I didn’t do. I will admit to a cross-dressing Sindy clone who relied on Action Man for her wardrobe. (Sindy was the British Barbie, and Action Man a boy’s military doll of similar size.)
    More seriously, on the subject of boxes:
    I don’t actually object to this is how it is for the moment – we want the men to do this, and the women to do that. It is an administratively simple way to divide people, and all the work gets done. There really isn’t the time or resources to conduct individual personality tests for one thing. What really really gets my goat is that this is wrapped up in language that claims women have particular character attributes, gifts, talents etc., call them what you will, and men others. Everyone is different, with different gifts and talents, male and female. And frankly, in the auxilliaries as well as in Priesthood quorums the more ‘masculine’ administrative, critical thinking , logical stuff, is required, just as I would hope there would be compassion, gentleness etc. in the Priesthood quorums (the most compassionate people I know are actually men).
    It can be incredibly painful to sit there listening to a litany of ‘womens special and natural gifts’, and to know that actually I don’t have those gifts, they are not innate, you are not describing me. And mostly they seemed to be statements by men, who so far as I could tell had a very rose-tinted view… perhaps it was all wishful thinking, and they only saw what they wanted to see. I am sure it can be very affirming for women with those gifts to hear this rhetoric, in the church or out, feminist or not, but it hurts those who don’t. To be told that it must just be that I hadn’t discovered them yet, looked hard enough for them etc. wasn’t helpful. I knew I was bad at those things, and that it just did not come naturally, it wasn’t that I hadn’t tried. That’s not to say we don’t ALL need to develop those attributes, learn new things, that’s part of the reason we’re here, and it is hard work… Ban the box altogether, just accept people for the individuals they are.
    Sorry Rebekah, I realise that wasn’t the subject of the opening post, the positive RS related bit comes up next. My crisis came to a peak you might say, just before I was to go through the temple and get married in 1994. In so absolute a way had these statements been presented that I was driven to think that actually I didn’t conform to the church’s definition of a woman at all, and where did that leave me I wondered? Yes I have gifts, but my gifts are different. I was saved by a dear RS sister, who can only have been guided by the Spirit, completely out of the blue, who handed me a set of cassettes of Chieko Okazaki’s book ‘Lighten Up’ to listen to. I was able to cut through the gordian knot that entangling me.
    And since I had my children I am learning, and I am getting better at it, but it is a learning experience, not innate.

  83. I’m so sorry, that’s Rebecca not Rebekah (I’m grovelling).
    And either ‘knot that entangled’ or ‘knot that was entangling’, take your pick.

  84. Kristine says:

    Amen, Kai. I wonder why they think Mormon women (who have always sacrificed astonishingly willingly and generously) wouldn’t accept simply that Church leaders are asking them to sacrifice their time and careers for their children, and to accept subordinate status in the priesthood hierarchy for now. The explanations seem designed to make the men feel better, as though women are different sorts of creatures who don’t mind the sacrifice, because the men wouldn’t like to be asked to do the same things. The rhetoric about how “natural” this is supposed to be cheapens and denies the real sacrifice involved.

  85. There was a talk in Sacrment Meeting yesterday about “what women do” and “what men do” it was looking like they extended Relief Society to 2 hours. My brother stays home with his baby during the day while his wife works, he goes to school at night, and work on the weekends. I wonder how he would take the news of finding out that he is not a man based on this ridiculous one size fits all formula–oh wait, that is how a lot of women feel already.

  86. Yesterday, during a priest quorum lesson on Charity, one of the YM leaders carefully explained to the boys that this virtue was a feminine trait, and that women came by it naturally and men had to work to develop it. Before I could raise a point to get the group to see how that might not be a good generalization to make, the bishop piled on with a couple more observations on gender roles. My frustration is not just that the stereotypes are used to divide people, but that we actively pass them on to the next generation.
    I have a hard time believing that my mom was born with an innate desire to change diapers and do laundry. I hope that 10 years from now, the boys I am teaching won’t expect the same of their wives.

  87. cathodroid says:

    Well, since everyone else gets to continue with the gender roles discussion with no objections, I guess I will as well.

    First, Jstapley 68, the two veils theory was introduced by former BYU professor Valerie Hudson in her “Two Trees” presentation. She basically takes all of the same gospel symbols (two trees in the garden, Adam and Eve, birth by mothers & rebirths by Christ, Etc) and arranges them so that both sexes are attributed authority instead of one. She identifies the womb as the first veil (corresponding to the Tree of Knowledge) and the Priesthood as the second veil (Tree of Life), and discusses from there. It is available here: http://www.fairlds.org/fair-conferences/2010-fair-conference/2010-the-two-trees.

    Critics of Hudson seem to take issue with the fact that the two veils theory seems to support the status quo of a male hierarchy in Church leadership. But the theory is far more radical than many are willing to admit. Not only does it highlight the fact that the primary function of both authorities is to “work veils” (hence rendering the corporate administrative aspect of being a GA beside the point) it also inadvertently frees the sexes to fulfill whatever roles they’d like outside of veil work. So moms can work and dads can stay at home, whatever makes a family run, so long as they’ve got their veils straight. If the theory were known and embraced by more LDS people it could be utilized to far more revolutionary ends than are currently understood.

    To identify the womb as a veil, just by itself, has the potential to empower women beyond anything that the discussion of gender politics has offered at any of it’s stages because authority over a veil is on par with anything presided over by the Priesthood. You state that women receive authority “through ritual performance, not because they are women”, but rituals themselves don’t grant authority. When women exercise their authority in the temple (or in any situation where they perform a blessing) they need no ordination (unlike men) because they were born with their veil built into their body. Possession of a veil makes you a sentinel of a door between this world and the Kingdom of God. So women are set apart by their mothers to this authority, and it resides outside of the Priesthood. The fact that a woman has entered this notion into the discourse instead of a Priesthood holder is revolutionary because a) she doesn’t introduce any new scriptural symbols or “philosophies of men” to do so, and b) she doesn’t defy anyone in the Priesthood. That’s female power without utilizing feminism.

    To address your observation that the marriage metaphor of the Atonement isn’t any more grand than any of the other metaphors utilized by the Savior: I would ask, which metaphor, in your opinion, even comes close to the the savior’s allusions to the Atonement being like unto a “marriage”? When he refers to himself as “father” he is being literal because rebirth is his primary construct of ordinance work. When he refers to himself as a “mother hen” that supports the two veils approach because it infers the compliment of the Priesthood. The Ten Virgins parable, the wedding feast parable, and his self-references via the term “Bridegroom” all infer the marriage metaphor, and therewith more so than any other metaphor in play. John the Beloved even refers to John the Baptist as the “best man” to the marriage in question. When you throw in verses of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, ll Corinthians, Ephesians, Revelation, and the entirety of Hosea, then I feel nonplussed that you would deem the metaphor anything other than the primary metaphor at hand, besides being grand.

    Finally, if sex is a “sacrament” as Holland asserts, then it is necessarily an ordinance. Just because no GA has said so doesn’t make it an untruth. And if our bodies are “temples” as Jesus asserts, then sex is necessarily temple work. The Book of Mosiah claims that God won’t dwell in “unholy temples” but it doesn’t drop the term “temple”. So sinning doesn’t change Jesus’ claim, nor does it change what your body is. The current parlance of the Church notwithstanding, if Jesus is to be taken at his word, then the womb must be a veil because it is the only orifice that passes whole souls into new contexts. In this way it is like the font, the chapel, and the temple.

  88. I find some aspects of Hudson’s theory compelling. I know that Rebecca would prefer the thread on-topic, but I’d like to continue the discussion, elsewhere if needed. Kristine, you voiced dissent. Would you consider writing a post to outline your objections to Hudson’s theory? Or directing us to current content online that fleshes out those objections?

  89. cathodroid, I think we are approaching this discussions with different purposes. It seems to me that Hudson (and you) are engaging in creative religion making. I hope that you don’t take that as an insult. It is not intended to be. I almost wrote “creative exegesis” but I think that would suggest more of a contextual approach to the various texts at play. I also don’t think “theory” is quite the right word. Just like there wasn’t ever really an “Adam-God theory” (there were Adam-God teachings or beliefs). Theory implies a level of criticism that I don’t think applies. I think it is important to recognize these ideas for what they are and then we can talk about them. That the ideas have an specific relation to the status quo is less interesting.

    The association of a “veil,” a term that you seem to be associating with some sort of divine and perhaps salvific authority, with the womb, seems to me to be deeply problematic with the Mormon traditions I am familiar with. Moreover, I think that you are misreading conceptions of authority as employed in the church, both historically and today. Women performed rituals in the church (healing rituals, blessing rituals, prayers, etc.) for the first hundred or so years of the church by virtue of their church membership, the same as non-priesthood holding males. Though what qualified women to administer the rituals of the temple has, I think, evolved a bit, women currently receive authority to administer temple rituals, first by participating in the rituals themselves, and then second by the laying on of hands, when they are called to perform the rituals. Women simply are not “set apart by their mothers” in any recognized way in the current or historical church that I can see.

    Regarding Holland’s talk, I think that you are mistaken. There is a huge disparity in Hollands usage and equating the procreative sex act with an ordinance. Moreover, any application of these ideas seems irreverent to the church. Unless, you are taking the position that some early church members took that any sex by people not sealed in the temple was illegitimate, as were the offspring of such unions.

  90. Mommie Dearest says:

    Thanks JStapley, for writing what I was thinking (and more.) The Hudson ideas are nicely structured and very creative, and can be soothing to women who are seeking to find more about their place in the eternities, but it’s all speculatory. Which makes it not much help.

    The more useful ideas, to me, in this later comment thread, are Kai and Kristine’s conversation that ended at #82-84, particularly that when all women are labeled as the bearers of the “feminine” virtues, it has the effect of everyone off the hook for recognizing the very real and painful sacrifices that women make rather routinely and willingly when asked. Kristine sums it up well: “The rhetoric about how “natural” this is supposed to be cheapens and denies the real sacrifice involved.”

  91. cathodroid says:

    J. Stapley, I’m not offended at all. What you deem as a right of membership I merely attribute to veil stewardship. That non-priesthood holding males performed blessings is par for the course in early LDS execution of the Lord’s techne. That these ideas are not immediately familiar to the traditional schools of LDS thought you refer to is not distressing to me at all because I see no reason in either the doctrine, or your critique, to not implement the available symbols in this way.

    If Mormons have never traditionally discussed the womb in this way then I’m not surprised. The early LDS people arose in a 19th Century United States that was steeped in all kinds of nonsense and misconception. Christians, generally, have misinterpreted Jesus’ assertion about the body being a temple ever since the words left his lips. So the traditions of Mormonism don’t really strike me as being completely pertinent to the discussion. People in the Church always quote Jesus by saying that “the body is a temple”, but they never really expound on what that statement specifically means. Hudson at least takes us to consequences A, B, and C whereas our traditions take us into a massive abstraction that doesn’t really spell out much that is useful.

    When I say that mothers set their daughters apart as, essentially, veil workers, I’m not trying to say that this is an LDS tradition. No one has any proof that my statement is a falsehood. You are right that we don’t typically recognize the birth of females as anything different than the births of males, but I attribute this to people not paying much attention to Leviticus 12 (other than the usual feminist critique of misogynistic, Patriarchal Jews). Blood, purification, and sanctification are all implements of veil work, and are to be thus understood. The doubling of these processes for girls is significant.

    As for women utilizing authority in the temple, you state that the authority comes from the ritual, but there is no ordination to Priesthood authority in the rituals for women. You can’t jump from ritual that endows one with knowledge & symbols to the words “having authority” when no actual ordination has taken place therein. The same can be said of the later blessings performed by women in accord with the second anointing. So I find your assertion untenable. The authority that women already have, which is a “yes” or “no” regarding who enters the holy of holies of their temple body, is what is actually advanced by the New and Everlasting Covenant. Hence, temple married women are authorized to seal children to both parents outside of the temple without any subsequent sealing ordinances because her body _is_ the temple of this particular ordinance (birth).

    As I stated before, unholy temples are still temples that belong to God. This is supported by Paul who in 1 Corinthians 6 states: “know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” Who is he referring to? Is he referring to just the Jews? Just the Christians? Or is he in fact referring to everyone? And if so, what is it exactly that makes us his? Is it merely the creation? Why do we belong to him whether we’ve been baptized or not?

    I maintain that it is the womb that creates this belonging. Exodus 13:2-15, 34:19, and Numbers 18:15 seem to infer the same thing. It’s not really an issue that people have sex outside of the covenant. The real issue is not understanding that bodies are temples that are incapable of doing anything that isn’t a covenant in the first place.

  92. cathodroid says:

    “Feminine virtues” are a myth. Christ’s attributes and the fruits of the Spirit are the real virtues. LDS, and especially Priesthood leaders who attempt to empower women within the church, are the biggest perpetrators of this myth, unfortunately. Elder Holland was correct in the later part of this quote from his recent Q&A at Harvard University:

    “Certainly doctrinally, theologically… I don’t mean this to be boastful or overly patronizing in any way of any other religion… but I would put the position of a woman in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints up against the dignity, and worth, and merit, and wonder of a woman anywhere on this planet. And we just need to do better to be able to convey that, and to make sure everybody understands that, including the women within our church… which I don’t think we’ve done well enough yet.”

  93. “What you deem as a right of membership I merely attribute to veil stewardship. That non-priesthood holding males performed blessings is par for the course in early LDS execution of the Lord’s techne.”

    To be clear, it is not that I “deem” it, but that it was the understandings of the people who participated in the rituals. How is non-priesthood performing males par for the course, but not females?

    I’m also pleased to see that you agree that what you arguing is essentially a creative, and in many ways unprecedented theology.

    “No one has any proof that my statement is a falsehood”

    While this is a threshold that may be fine for your own purposes, I hope that you do recognize that it isn’t a particularly robust epistemology.

    “having authority” when no actual ordination has taken place therein

    You do realize, however, that women are set apart to administer temple rituals and it is by this process that they are “authorized” to do so, right? I also think that you are collapsing several different usages of the term “priesthood” in ways that unprecedented.

    So I find your assertion untenable.

    Which one?

    I also realized that I didn’t address your assertion regarding the marriage metaphor of atonement. It seems to me that Christ as Father spiritually begetting humans is not a description of the marriage relationship. But even then I still see many metaphors that are commonly used for the atonement.

  94. The odds are exponentially high that cathodroid is Valerie Hudson, imho.

  95. Mommie Dearest says:

    cathodroid #91 and prior posts are infused with hypothesis. It’s interesting, but not much help in conclusively filling the big holes in our doctrinal understanding of women’s authority. Not to mention that it’s a bit of a threadjack from a great OP.

    That said, if you want to bushwhack through this discussion, I am no one to restrict it.

  96. cathodroid says:

    “How is non-priesthood performing males par for the course, but not females?”

    Why would God require men to be authorized by ordination to work in the temple and not women? Why are all of the other ordinances in the temple performed by the power/authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood except those performed by women? Females, if the womb is a veil, are authorized to a far greater extent than we realize. To me it’s a matter of taking Jesus’ words seriously. If the body is a temple, then what in the world is the womb? Why call baptism “rebirth” at all if it’s not a reflection of motherhood? Then if one requires authority, how can the other not also?

    A setting apart to a calling is simply not the same thing as an ordination, and there is likely no reason for women to be ordained under the male Priesthood anyway. They have their own ‘hood, so to speak. (there is a little Hudsonism for ya, BHodges) If the term “priestess” is going to be used, then an independent Priestesshood is inferred. Aside from that, everything in the Gospel suggests that mortal stewardships become sovereignty in the next life. Parable of the talents, et al. So Heavenly Mother is still referred to as a “mother”. She’s likely still working the same veil she worked as a mortal, just from the other side. Instead of endowing spirit children with temple bodies she’s sending them through. Meaning that she likely decides which children go where, which women are barren, who lives, and who dies. If she’s a “queen”, then what is she sovereign over? It is likely a veil, which is anything but light duty.

    It’s all speculation until a prophet or apostle says so, right? But what if Christ revealed the whole thing with one sentence, and no one listened? What if Holland’s and Brigham Young’s notions are simply rare because few ask the question? The Priesthood ban wasn’t even an issue in the church until David O. McKay was prophet in the ’50s. It’s not going to be surprising if the Church has whiffed on the symbols at their disposal regarding women and authority. What other explanation of the womb is there with regards to Christ’s statement?

    I don’t see why it is necessary to wait for a GA to say it. This isn’t about the veil presided over by men, it’s about the one women wear on their heads… the one that only they have the right to place and remove. Rebekah in Genesis being the first example, as she veiled herself. Why is it there? Is it to hide their faces? It is much more likely that it is there to identify their authority. And what better place than the temple to do so? I think it’s self-evident in the symbolism.

    The path is going to continue to be precarious for GAs as long as Jesus’ statement, and its ramifications, remain ignored. If the epistemology for this way of seeing the Gospel is as weak as you say, then the doctrine and the scriptures will reveal the flaw. It’s not bearing out in the symmetry thus far.

  97. The authority that women already have, which is a “yes” or “no” regarding who enters the holy of holies of their temple body…

    Meaning that she likely decides which children go where, which women are barren,…

    Oh. Good. Grief. Correlation, I hail thee.

  98. Wow. cathodroid, you’ve got some fascinating things to say. But manifesting some iota of self-awareness about the degree to which these are your personal theories, and not settled doctrine, would make your comments a lot less wacky-sounding. It’s fine to have personal theories. Heaven knows all of us at BCC do. But it’s good to be aware of the difference between those and things that are generally accepted.

  99. Kristine
    #79
    I have now managed to listen to the talk and following discussion all the way through, without it freezing. It has helped. Thank you.
    #84
    Quite. A lovely succinct way of putting it (agreeing with #90).

  100. cathodroid says:

    Cynthia, they simply should not allow some people to read the scriptures. Exhibit A.
    /threadjack

  101. Those who do not read their scriptures have no advantage over those who cannot read them.

  102. You had me going for a minute there, then I realized I had stumbled into another one of SteveP’s alternate universes.

  103. An excellent place to end the conversation. Just kidding, kids–it was all a dream.

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