Relief Society? Who Cares?!

When Barbara Bradshaw Smith was called to be the General Relief Society President on October 3, 1974, the Tabernacle was filled to capacity. President N. Eldon Tanner paid special tribute to Belle S. Spafford whose presidency had lasted 29 years. She had served under 6 different Presidents of the Church. Many women who were present that day had never had a different General Relief Society President. When President Kimball announced at the last session of the two-day conference that Sister Spafford was being released, gasps could be heard throughout the building. The murmured exclamations of “Oh, no!” were clearly heard by Sister Smith who was sitting with other general board members. When she came to the podium, her voice trembled and she declared,

“When you said ‘Oh, no’, so did I. I have sat in this audience many times; when the conference was over, I have thanked my Heavenly Father that Sister Spafford was still our general president. And when President Kimball came to my home and called me to be the general president of Relief Society, I couldn’t believe it could happen to me.” (Women of Covenant, p. 347)

While Barbara Smith may have felt overwhelmed by the reaction to her new calling, at least she got one.

From what I can tell, the Bloggernacle has been generally silent and disinterested in the calling of a new General Relief Society Presidency. (If I have missed your post, please notify me and I will link to you immediately.) In case you missed it, the new General Relief Society President is Julie B. Beck who had been serving as a counselor in the General Young Women’s Presidency. Her first counselor is Sylvia H. Allred. According to the Deseret News, she is the first member of the Relief Society General presidency ever to have been born outside the United States. She is a native of El Salvador and a convert to the church. Second counselor, Sister Barbara Thompson is employed as executive director of an international assessment center for abused and neglected children. She is also an official with Christmas Box International, a charity focused on abused and neglected children. It would seem that this is a presidency who could represent some of the diverse interests of the women of the Church.

Who cares about Relief Society? I do. I care desperately about the history of the women in this Church. I care deeply about the women in my ward. I am disappointed when we drop the ball as an organization in regards to gender, but I’m also saddened when women leaders are dismissed because of their suit colours, hairstyles, intonation or analogies. I am sorry that Sister Beck did not address the conference and regret the possible reasons for this omission. In spite of it all, I continue to hope that Emma Smith’s vision of doing something extraordinary comes to fruition and hold out the highest of hopes for those sisters that temper the body of the Relief Society together.

**update: there are links in comments below to other bloggernacle notations of the RS changes


  1. Thank you , Kris. And Amen.

  2. I was a little suprised myself at the little discussion, though I’ve seen some. I though it was historic (little h).

    Why isn’t it a big deal anymore? I think the 5 year limit has made it less of a big deal. It’s expected that in April of 2012, there will be a new general RS president.

  3. I echo your thoughts, because I care too, deeply. My relationship with and devotion to the church is inextricably linked to my membership in this Society of women.

    (FYI I did comment on this change in ExII’s Virtual Oases on Sunday and have planned a longer post once we have more bio information on these women).

  4. Emma Smith’s vision? This is new to me. Can you point me to this? I thought Emma was just going of of Joseph’s steam here. (I am being sincere in this, please don’t take it as a sexist hit.)

    The change was mentioned by Justin B. in one of the many Conference threads, but I think, it being only 3 days after conference, most just don’t have any info on these new authorities. If it’s any consolation, I haven’t seen much buzz about the major changes in the 70, which were also very international sounding this time around…

  5. I agree with you completely. I feel like everyone is just ignoring this very important event. I came online thinking, well, there will be a blog about them. And found nothing. I find the new presidency very significant. I am excited to hear what they have to say. I wish that the general meeting would happen before September. I love what Relief Society could be, and sometimes get sad that it is not all it could be.

  6. cj douglass says:

    I continue to hope that Emma Smith’s vision of doing something extraordinary comes to fruition

    The vision is coming to fruition regardles of the attention we pay to it. And that’s the irony of the whole thing. The Relief Society today is doing more for humanity than ever before yet today is when it seems to be recognized the least.

  7. I echo Matt W. comments: there hasn’t been much “buzz” about any staffing change this year, male or female. I know a member of my stake went into the 6th quorum, and that’s about it. Maybe, sadly, it’s because we’re becoming so large that we only really get excited when a change of the Twelve happens.

    Would you prefer that we all gasp everytime there’s a staffing change? Because I would actually prefer that. I enjoy gasping generally, particularly if I can then hurriedly look around the room with wide eyes muttering softly to myself.

  8. Actually, I predicted the change before it happened here. I also mentioned it here.

  9. Steve Evans says:

    Kris, word up for a good post.

  10. I’ll say I have really enjoyed Sister Beck’s addresses to the Young Women over the last few years. I’m looking forward to hearing what she has to say to the adult women of the Church. I think her international experience will be a great asset for her in this calling.

    I imagine she chose her counselors as most presidents in the Church do? If so, I think it was wise of her to choose a single sister and a Latina sister to help broaden the organization’s perspective.

    I’m also interested to see whether Sister Thompson’s experience working for an international charity will help re-emphasize the original service-related intentions of the RS organization.

    I also like Sister Beck’s very classy, non-puffy hairstyle, but that’s kind of beside the point.

  11. Thanks for this. I didn’t get to watch/listen to all of conference and had no idea a new RS President was called (I guess partly due to the lack of bloggernacle hubbub about it). Sister Beck’s counselors sound like a good representation of who the Relief Society is today. Or at least a step in the right direction.

  12. It seems to me that making RS/YW/Primary leaders into de facto General Authorities might be a good thing. (That is, have them write more in the Ensign and speak at Stake and Area Conferences around the world, etc.)

  13. Ronan, maybe the YW and SS leaders could do that too. One thing i noted this conference which I’d never noticed before is that there are “general authorities and general officers”. I wonder if this means that RS/YM/Primary are not general authorities…

  14. I meant YW.

  15. Naismith says:

    I think this time it was less of a big deal because Sister Beck is such a known quantity, coming from the general YW presidency. She has spoken in General Conference at least twice that I recall, and so many of us are familiar with her.

  16. I first heard of it from Deborah’s X2 link to the Deseret news article. And it made me very excited about Relief Society … an organization that I have generally not been excited about for the last ten or so years. I’m trying to be realistically hopeful about what can be accomplished with these sisters at the helm of “the largest women’s organization in the world.” I wish we could have heard from them.

  17. I am very excited about a new presidency–not that I have anything against past presidencies, I just love change and new ideas. The inclusion of a Latina also pleased me–I wonder if our Latina sisters are especially excited about this, or if it is not such a big deal? Anyway, anyone who can include a non-American perspective on the world is very welcome in my church leadership–it was a pleasure to sustain them and it will continue to be.

  18. NoNameNedra says:

    I’ve never heard women referred to as General Authorities. I’ve always heard women in leadership positions referred to as General Officers or just Officers.

  19. Caroline says:

    I definitely noticed Parkin’s release. I was a bit sad, because it seems to me that the less time a person has in a calling like that, the less time they have to make meaningful improvements and impacts. I look back with a bit of nostalgia at the decades that Eliza R. Snow and Belle Spafford had to become a real presence in people’s lives.

    I’m cautiously hopeful but not all that expectant that Beck will have a meaningful impact. I like the sound of her counselors, but I was quite troubled by a talk she gave in GC last year, in which she insisted that men and women are treated equally in the church. She cited opportunities for both sexes to get baptized, endowed, married in the temple, but she forgot to mention the 500 pound elephant in the room: women’s inability to be ordained to the power act in the name of Jesus Christ and administer spiritual things, i.e. the priesthood.

  20. Kristine says:

    Y’know what? It doesn’t matter if Julie Beck has spoken in conference in the last couple of years. The new RS President should be asked to speak. Full stop.

    Heaven forbid we should have to actually listen to women for 12 **minutes** (instead of 8) in a two-day long conference. Or see some of them sitting on the stand. Or see their pictures in the Ensign centerfold… Sometimes my day-to-day interactions in my ward and stake make me think we’re making progress on gender issues in the church, but General Conference always makes me despair.

  21. Kristine says:

    that was supposed to be “instead of 8 minutes” Maybe my computer has learned to anticipate my overuse of emoticons?

  22. Caroline says:

    I should add that I do give Beck snaps for at least trying to address the gender equity issues. I’m glad to know it’s on her mind. But I hope that in the future she’ll try to improve the situation rather than defend the status quo.

  23. Kristine, this is the first time I’ve seen an LDS woman actually wanting to see women in magazine centerfolds…

  24. Kristine says:


    And, btw, Matt, you REALLY need to read _Women of Covenant_ if you think Emma was “going off of Joseph’s steam” in her vision for RS. That is about 179 degrees off from the truth.

  25. Having not paid much attention to YW presidency in the past years, I don’t know who Julie Beck is & now she heads the largest organization for women in the world, my organization (I pay dues!) and I still haven’t seen her face?! I must admit that when the change up began I was sitting on the edge of my seat anticipating who would breath fresh air into the RS at large, but when they released the YW counselors my shoulders dropped & when they called one as the RS President I got comfortable again, thinking, “same guards, just a shift in position.” I squinted to see her face on the stand, along with those women who walked up to their seats on the stand. But I couldn’t make them out on the 9″ tv in my studio. I thought surely I’d get a close-up later in the conference when they spoke & be able to make a real assessment of what MY future held as a member of this world-wide organization.

    BTW, the Gen. RS Pres. is NOT akin to any of the 70. Her role is more closely parallel to the 1st presidency considering how many she leads & the impact her leadership has world-wide. She stands for 50% of the church membership in more ways than one.

    & as far as women speaking in conference…when their higher voices begin broadcasting I watch my kids’ faces return to the screen & my own ears enjoy the refreshing change. I’ve often wondered if the sisters are token speakers simply to give “recess” to our eyes & ears. I wish there were more of them for many reasons, but one is so they weren’t such an annomoly. Because of their infrequent contribution it is an oddity and something to be either awaited, ignored or dreaded, depending on who you are. Our homes certainly aren’t like this…probably the REVERSE.

  26. Thanks for all the comments and thanks especially to those who have commented/linked to Deseret News on other blogs.

    Matt, I was kind of riffing of a quote from Emma. At the meeting where the RS was organized there was some question about what the name would be — some liked the term “benevolent” instead of “relief” as they were concerned that the word relief would convey the idea that they “intend[ed] appropriating on some extraordinary occasions instead of meeting the common occurences.” Emma responded, ” We are going to do something extraordinary … When a boat is stuck on the rapids, with a multitude of Mormons on board, we shall consider that a loud call for relief — we expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls.”

    This is the vision I was alluding to.

  27. I completely noted the change and the article, and put a link on APoF, but just found out that that feature is broken right now.

    I think Sister Beck didn’t talk because Sister Parkin did.

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    Nice post, Kris. I confess that I had blown off the Saturday sessions and so only learned of the leadership changes through the blogs.

  29. I brought up the new presidency on the GC comments section of the blogs over the weekend (here and on T&S) but it went largely ignored.

    Anyway, here’s an interesting article in the DesNews today:,1249,660208411,00.html

    Pay attention to the last 2 paragraphs.

    Is this new RS presidency is a step in the direction of getting the relief society into becoming more visible and engaged in more international work? Perhaps. Might that cause the US wards to reevaluate the mission of RS? Hopefully.

    It may also serve as the impetus to (perhaps) one day calling people who don’t live in Utah to serve in the auxiliary presidency positions (e.g., like the Apostles).

  30. Kristine says:

    “I think Sister Beck didn’t talk because Sister Parkin did.”

    But m&m, that’s exactly the point. They should *both* speak. It would really be ok to increase the participation of women (who make up at least 50% of the church) to somewhere around 1% of the speaking time in conference!!

  31. It seems to me that making RS/YW/Primary leaders into de facto General Authorities might be a good thing. (That is, have them write more in the Ensign and speak at Stake and Area Conferences around the world, etc.)

    For what it’s worth, at least some of the membership regards them as such. Several years ago, when Sheri Dew was in the general RS presidency, she was scheduled to come speak at a YSA conference in the area. Beforehand, we were admonished to be on our best behavior and dress appropriately because we were having a general authority come to visit.

  32. I assumed that Sis. Beck didn’t speak at Conference because she had just given a talk on March 24 for the General Young Women Meeting. That would have been a lot of work preparing two talks within aprox. a week’s time. (Although I’m sure it has been done before.)

  33. Kristine,
    I don’t want to argue with you. The auxiliaries are simply not fully represented, from either the men or the women. We heard from someone in RS, someone in Primary, someone from YM and that is it, I believe. That’s more women than men. :) I understand what you are saying, but I don’t think we will see a lot more than we do. Besides, we get an entire meeting every year, and the YW do, too.

  34. On Sunday morning I printed out multiple copies of the Deseret News article about the change–complete with the photo of the new presidency (evidencing that Sylvia Allred is indeed Hispanic–one can’t be too sure by just the name). I took the copies with me to the Stake Center for the morning session and handed them out to the Spanish ward sisters. They were all thrilled with the news. Most had been in attendance the day before but hadn’t seen Hermana Allred in any of the far-away pan shots (I hadn’t been sure, myself). All were excited about the prospect of perhaps hearing a female general authority address them in their native tongue some day. None of them could recall that having taken place in the past.

    Oh, and FWIW, my husband was in Julie Beck’s ward growing up, and he says that both her Portuguese and Spanish are pretty good. Given Sister Thompson’s international experience she might speak Spanish, too–maybe we’ll have a Spanish womens’ conference someday? I can only hope.

  35. I’ll admit to being initially bothered by Sister Beck’s talk last year on gender equality. But then my husband and MIL spent a few hours telling me dozens of “Julie Beck is the most amazing, Christ-like, funny, down-to-to-earth women there has ever been” type stories, and I decided to read her talk again with a more forgiving attitude. It helped. My heart definitely softened and I learned a few things. I’m really looking forward to her presidency.

  36. m&m, the point is not that we think the “auxiliaries” need to be more fully represented, but that “women” need to be. And while the women may have General RS and YW meetings not only do the men have their own meeting *twice* a year, the culminating speakers of the women’s meetings are not women, but men.

  37. Struwelpeter says:

    Marie, #33 makes a good point about the fact Sister Beck spoke last week at the General YW meeting. It would have been nice to at least hear her testimony, as is often done locally when someone new is called.

  38. Re 38: But had they done that, we would have had to heard the testimonies of 50 or so new leaders sustained in that meeting, right?

  39. Kristine says:

    m&m, I believe I will nominate you for a new category of Niblet: Best Porcine Ototransformative Silken Purse Seamstress.

  40. My thoughts were like Marie’s (#33)—Sis. Beck just spoke at the YW’s meeting (I liked her use of imperfect examples, by the way). That said, it does seem like it would be respectful/right/curteous to hear from both the departing and the incoming president. If not for them, at least for the half of the adult membership in the church who will be affected by the change and are curious as to who they will be working with.

  41. @#20 Caroline:

    Quote: “women’s inability to be ordained to the power act in the name of Jesus Christ and administer spiritual things, i.e. the priesthood.”

    This has not always been so. In the old days, the Relief Society sisters could often be found ministering to women who were giving birth, and blessing the sister and the baby. Women often gave blessings to their children or the children of others, in conjunction with the mother of the child. Old journals are full of such accounts, and never was there any one telling them not to do this. Indeed, sisters of old knew they had Power from God to bless and heal those in their authority, just as do men to bless and heal those under their authority. This is as God would have it!

    While the terminology “by the authority of the Melchizedek priesthood” was not used in these blessings, the sisters knew they had the authority and power to bless and heal in the name of Jesus Christ, and they did so.

    The change came around the late 1890’s, when sisters began to be told not to give blessings or anything like unto a blessing.

    But why??? I agree, endowed women ought to be able to exercise the divine power and authority of God through the blessings they have been given. If women are to become “priestesses and queens”, how can they do so without ever exercising the priestesshood?

  42. I was at a leadership meeting a long time ago when a General Authority (I wish I could remember who) advised us to seek a blessing from our wives when faced with difficulties. Yes, an actual laying-on-of-hands blessing in the name of Jesus Christ but not “by the power of the Priesthood.”. He said that nothing would draw us closer together than that simple act. He was right.

  43. cj douglass says:

    Several years ago, when Sheri Dew was in the general RS presidency, she was scheduled to come speak at a YSA conference in the area. Beforehand, we were admonished to be on our best behavior and dress appropriately because we were having a general authority come to visit.

    Keri, her status as GA is because of her position as CEO of Deseret Book not her place in the RS general presidency.

  44. cj douglass says:

    That last one was a joke…just in case…..

  45. #44 prez: what do you suppose the reaction would be if you discussed this in your gospel doctrine class, or while giving a sacrament talk? Methinks you might get corrected afterward. Why? because I’ve seen this happen. This is not something that we are willing to discuss, openly, for some reason? Why, I wonder?

  46. Kristine,

    Suffice it to say that I think often too big a deal is made out of what sex the speakers or leaders are instead of listening, say, to what the awesome outgoing female speaker (our outgoing RS president) said about how blessed we are as women in the Church (channeling Eliza R. Snow, I believe). I agree wholeheartedly with her. There’s complaint about not having enough from our female leaders, but then it seems like what they say is either criticized or ignored. (I agree wholeheartedly with Kris on this: “I’m also saddened when women leaders are dismissed because of their suit colours, hairstyles, intonation or analogies.”)

    Sister Parkin also talked about gratitude, and I think that can go a long way in how we view things in this regard. We have prophets, and God’s authority on the earth, and all the blessings of eternity available to us and that is all wonderful! It doesn’t matter to me that prophets or general authorities are male or that they are the concluding speakers at our women’s meetings or that they get the most time in Conference. They should. It could matter to my brain perhaps if I internalized everyone’s complaints, but it doesn’t matter because of the Spirit I feel because of what we have. (paraphrasing a talk from Conferenece: “We have the truth! What else matters?”) Prophets, apostles and seventies are the called and ordained special witnesses of Christ and yes, they are men. Why complain about this? It’s a privilege to listen to them anytime, anywhere.

    We can care deeply about RS and be fine with having male leaders at the same time. Our female leaders do it all the time (those we want to hear more from — I think they would just tell us more of how blessed we are if we did hear more from them) and I personally think if we care about RS, we will listen to and internalize what they say. We don’t have to wish for change re: priesthood or prophetic leadership to hold up and treasure RS and women. In fact, we shouldn’t. Men and women work together. That is God’s design. We have different roles. That is God’s design, too. I feel like conversations like this do nothing but undermine what RS is all about.

    I really don’t mean to demean those who struggle with this issue (and I know I’m misread as doing so, and for that I’m sorry), but I’m frankly tired of the fact that those who don’t so struggle are so easily dismissed in the ‘nacle. Again, I feel like the perspective we need to really care about RS is being shared all of the time from our sister-leaders and they aren’t being heard, because they are constantly — constantly — talking about what a blessing the priesthood and prophets and all of these things are, and they talk about the respect they get from those leaders as well. This is a marvelous added testimony to my own that we are, indeed, blessed as women.

  47. p.s. If feeling that way means that I am a “Porcine Ototransformative Silken Purse Seamstress” then so be it. (And, if that was meant as a compliment, then thank you.) :)

  48. Naismith says:

    If not for them, at least for the half of the adult membership in the church who will be affected by the change and are curious as to who they will be working with.

    She spoke in General Conference on Saturday morning in April 2006 and on Sunday Morning in 2004. Thus I feel I know her better than any General Relief Society President who has been called since I’ve been a member.

    I don’t know if people tuned her out because they saw her only as a Young Women leader, if they weren’t involved with Young Women? I think that would be sad, and a loss, since both talks were memorable and were clearly to the entire membership.

  49. Kristine says:

    It was actually meant as a compliment, m&m; I think you are astonishingly adept at finding something to be happy about. If everyone felt the way you do, though, we’d be stuck wallowing in blissful contentment with our lot all the time, and I fear not much would get done. We wouldn’t ever have any structural change. We wouldn’t have RS, for instance (or YW, or YM, or Primary) if the women of ERS’ day had just been content to praise the church as it existed and quote Joseph Smith all the time. They criticized, they took initiative, they pushed for change. There is room for both cheerleaders and honest critics in the church; I daresay this is also part of God’s design.

  50. Matt W. says:

    Kristine: Worst. Compliment. Ever.

  51. Kristine says:

    Kris, back to your original post–was Spafford’s the last longish tenure as President? How long was Barbara B. Smith in? Do you think the new, shorter terms are a mere historical accident, or a way of bringing RS more firmly under correlated control?

    (My copy of Women of Covenant is, alas, boxed up with all my books while we attempt to make it look like normal people who clean house instead of reading books all the time live here while the house is for sale…)

  52. Melanie says:

    I don’t think it’s fair to imply that women like m&m don’t take initiative or push for change, or that they are somehow less than honest just because they aren’t “honest critics.” It seems to me that m&m is driven and critical in her own way–just maybe not of the things you wish she would criticize. To imply that those of us with m&m-like perspectives spend our lives “wallowing in bliss” is just as reductive (and frankly cruel) as it is to assume that no one cares if women speak at conference or not.
    I choose to be optimistic about my church experiences–my optimism is not some sort of inferior state for which I merely settle.

  53. Kristine says:

    Melanie, I implied no such thing. The binary division is inherently reductive, and it was introduced by m&m: “those who struggle” and “those who don’t struggle.” (For the record, I don’t actually *struggle* with this; I just think there’s a problem.) Doesn’t stop me from working constructively where I can, just as I presume that m&m thinks hard (probably even critically) about the areas where she has stewardship, as well as working and contributing and praising what she finds praiseworthy. I was merely trying to suggest that both are righteous, and that neither of us needs to be told to be more like the other.

  54. Kristine says:

    I should say this more carefully: I think m&m’s approach is very healthy at an individual level. We would all be happier and probably more productive if we could manage such equanimity and gratitude all the time. However, I think that merely telling everyone to adopt such an attitude may be extremely unhealthy at the institutional level–if the institution and its leaders are walled off from critical feedback while all the members just try to will themselves into gratitude, the growth that might come from taking account of the criticism is lost. Moreover, really dangerous institutional practices (ecclesiastical abuses) can take root if *all* problems are always defined as belonging to the person who complains.

    I’m reacting to that possibility (which is sort of what m&m said abstracted and magnified a couple of powers of 10) more than to what she said, and certainly I’m not meaning to assert anything about her personally. I’m sorry I was careless.

  55. Melanie says:

    Fair enough, if that’s what you meant. I agree that the struggle/not struggle division is false. But you did say that if we were all like m&m, “we’d be stuck wallowing in blissful contentment,” and not getting much done–in contrast to ERS et al., who “criticized…took initiative…pushed for change.” Even now, your “probably even critically” comment seems condescending to me, which I’m guessing is unintentional on your part–but those of us in the m&m-like crowd (for lack of a better description of what we’ve already agreed is a spectrum rather than a binary) seem to get that type of condescension routinely.
    It’s past my bedtime, so I freely admit that this will all sound much nicer to me in the morning!

  56. Melanie says:

    Ah, just read your second comment, and I agree.

  57. Kristine says:

    sorry about the “even critically” thing–it’s such a loaded word. My mother, for instance, thinks that being “critical” is always wrong and mean-spirited, while my father thinks being critical is what you have to do to be smart. I was just dithering about the word, trying to soften it to leave wiggle room if m&m is one of those people who would be horrified at the thought of herself being critical…

    sometimes words are not very useful.

  58. Kristine says:

    Matt W., I’m sure I could come up with a worse one for you, if you’d like… I thought ototransformative was a *little* clever, no?

  59. Not Ophelia says:


    Thanks for the lovely post. FWIW I was going to do one over at fMh, but I’ve been so sick and miserable and grumpy that it just never happened.

    Glad it didn’t. You’ve done a much better job than I would have.

  60. Kristine:

    Barbara B. Smith October 3, 1974-April 7, 1984
    Barbara W. Winder – April 7, 1984- March 31, 1990
    Elaine Jack — March 31, 1990 – ? 1997
    Mary Ellen Smoot — 1997-2002
    Bonnie D. Parkin — 2002-2007

    So it would seem that the tenure of the RS Presidency has been decreasing from 10 years to 6 or 7 to 5 for the past two presidencies. Unfortunately, I don’t know my 20th century history well enough to comment too deeply, but it would seem that there is a fundamental shift between the presidencies of Sister Spafford and Sister Smith. The Smith era was a pretty tough time in RS — ERA, IWY,etc. Similarly, under Barbara Winder’s presidency there was the dramatic shift of all the “sister organizations” moving in together to share general offices, so correlation certainly had a great impact. Does shorter tenure equal greater control?

  61. Kristine,

    I really think it’s a bit misguided to think that any of us are in a position to tell the prophets what should change, and it, IMO, underestimates how plugged in I believe they are to the issues that are discussed here. I doubt anything in the ‘nacle would be news to them as a whole. They know people have concerns. They travel all over the world, and have an extensive network of leaders and members with whom they have contact and from whom they get feedback. They also receive unsolicited feedback (so much so that two apostles in CES talks explictly asked BYU students not to write letters to complain to them! — they could predict what the complaints would be!)) And they have addressed many of the concerns publicly, telling us not to worry about them. And yet, the criticism continues.

    I think the leaders believe in feedback and seek it (mostly from the Source of truth, but also from people, councils, etc.). I don’t think we need to worry about complacency at the institutional level (even without “our help”) because of the way our leaders are.

    I say with all the fervor of my soul that never in my personal or professional life have I ever associated with any group who are so in touch, who know so profoundly the issues facing us, who look so deeply into the old, stay so open to the new, and weigh so carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully everything in between. I testify that the grasp this body of men and women have of moral and societal issues exceeds that of any think tank or brain trust of comparable endeavor of which I know anywhere on the earth. (Elder Holland)

    Who are we to think we know better than they?

    I also think if we do have feedback we feel is valuable, we ought to give it in ways that are valuable as well, in appropriate, private ways as they have requested. I think there is a time and place for feedback (I have given it myself to local leaders when I have had concerns). Public forums aren’t really an effective way to create change at the institutional level, IMO. But they can have an effect at the personal level, which is why I think we ought to be careful about an overabundance of complaint and criticism. I’d love to see more testimony-building in the ‘nacle (like JDC’s this weekend).

    Obviously, I think in the end our leaders need more of our support and trust, and less of our criticism and complaint, unless we truly care enough to give them feedback in appropriate ways, and are willing to then let go and trust them to take the feedback and do what they feel is most appropriate. Too often, we think we have the solutions when very likely we don’t, because we don’t have the mantle to see the big picture as they do.

  62. Does shorter tenure equal greater control?

    I think it might equal a chance to rest (worldwide church = lots of travel!), and possibly a chance to get new minds and perspectives (which, I think, should be seen as a positive…look at the diversity of this presidency…more than we have ever seen, IMO).

  63. m&m, your orthodoxy is consistently refreshing!

  64. Ben,

    Concerning #47. Who do you think would correct me if I discussed women giving blessings in a meeting? And if I was corrected…?

  65. Kris and Kristine: Sort of off topic, but does anyone know when and who the first woman when to speak in lds general conference was. I have the GC records of 1890-1970, but a quick browse found no sisters…

  66. Kristine says:

    Matt W.–Jane Malan, “Feed My Lambs”, 1988 or 89, I think.

  67. Kristine says:

    m&m–I know that’s what you think. I wonder why you bother talking to us poor, misguided souls, or reading our wicked, soul-destroying thoughts. For the record, I’m under no illusions about my ability to see the whole picture or my power to solve problems. Also no illusions about the efficacy of the prescribed channels for giving input to leaders.

  68. Comment # 68 — A good reason to know our history. I remember talking to a convert-relative, wondering how she felt when women were allowed to pray in sacrament meeting. This was followed by a heated discussion, as she informed me that she would have never joined a church that didn’t allow women to pray in public and that I was wrong. Sure enough, when researched a little more it turns out that this person joined the church just a month or so before the change, and hadn’t noticed, perhaps due to the newness of her membership and all the changes that entails. We tend to view the church through our modern lens sometimes, assuming how things are is how they have always been. If one or two women have been allowed to speak in GC for almost 20 years now — we still have a distance to go.

  69. Kristine — I’ve done a very quick and quite possibly sloppy search of the Ensign. I’m thinking it might be Dwan J. Young who spoke between Elders Kikuchi and Wirthlin in the last session of April 1988 GC. I’ve got Joy F. Evans (1st Counselor in the General RSP) speaking in May 1989. Women of Covenant doesn’t seem to note this. I could be wrong as I’m doing all of this one-handed while balancing baby …

  70. m&m: I believe that our leaders are good, thoughtful and inspired people who genuinely want to do what is best. But if all of their sources of feedback are from people who believe that their duty is to sustain and support church policies, and their leaders always know more than they do, and are always in tune with God’s will, then what kind of feedback do you think they are getting almost all of the time? They are surrounded by people who come primarily to listen to their inspired declarations and to affirm their absolute faith and confidence in all that they say and do. Virtually none of the people with whom they interact have any intention of expressing concerns with church policies. There is a great risk that sustaining our leaders in the way you suggest insulates them from the feedback that all good leaders need.

  71. I did a post on this subject several years ago. Lucy Mack Smith was the first to speak in General Conference (October 1845). Ruth May Fox, Louise Robison, and May Anderson spoke at the October 1929, April 1930, and October 1930 conferences.

    During the April 1984 General Conference, both the released and newly called presidents of the Relief Society, Barbara Smith and Barbara Winder, respectively, spoke during regular sessions, as did the released and newly called presidents of the Young Women’s organization, Elaine A. Cannon and Ardeth G. Kapp, respectively. At the April 1988 General Conference, Dwan J. Young, who had been released as Primary President, spoke during the Sunday afternoon session. Her replacement, Michaelene Grassli, addressed the membership during the Sunday afternoon session of the October 1988 conference.

    Joy Evans, first counselor in the Relief Society, spoke during the April 1989 conference, and Jayne B. Malan, first counselor of the Young Women’s organization, did the same at the October 1989 conference. For the next four years generally one female leader spoke at each conference, although Barbara Winder and her replacement, Elaine L. Jack, both spoke at the April 1990 conference and Ardeth Kapp and her replacement, Janette C. Hales, gave brief addresses two years later at the April 1992 conference.

    At the April 1994 General Conference, church leaders implemented a new practice of having a woman leader speak on Saturday and another speak during a Sunday session. This practice continues to this day. The Relief Society, Young Women’s, and Primary presidents and counselors rotate speaking assignments, each woman generally speaking every two to two-and-a-half years.

    The April 2002 conference represented the only deviation from this pattern: three women spoke, including Mary Allen Smoot (the released Relief Society president), Bonnie Parkin (the newly called president of the Relief Society), and Gayle Clegg, second counselor in the Primary Presidency.

  72. Thank you Justin. I was hoping you would stop by.

  73. Kris, with regards to comment 70, I looked through conference records a few years to see whether a woman has ever given a prayer at a regular General Conference session. I don’t think it’s happened.

  74. I don’t think it has either, although I’m waiting.:) To clarify, I meant women praying in sacrament meeting which I think was in 1978(?)

  75. m&m–I know that’s what you think. I wonder why you bother talking to us poor, misguided souls, or reading our wicked, soul-destroying thoughts.

    I don’t have strong opinions on this issue one way or another, but this seems like a particularly condescending way to disagree with someone who’s doing little more than espousing moderate orthodoxy.

  76. Right. President Kimball made the announcement on September 29, 1978, at a seminar for regional representatives:

    “The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve have determined that there is no scriptural prohibition against sisters offering prayers in sacrament meetings. It was therefore decided that it is permissible for sisters to offer prayers in any meetings they attend, including sacrament meetings, Sunday School meetings, and stake conferences. Relief Society visiting teachers may offer prayers in homes that they enter in fulfilling visiting teaching assignments.”

  77. Matt W. says:

    Justin, thanks for having superpowers. I’ll have to look these up and explore this venue of church history. I’m surprised it hasn’t been more developed.

    As for prayers in Sacramanet meeting, I thought that began in the 60s and ended in the 70s “officially”…

  78. Re sacrament meeting prayers, the following announcement appeared in the July-August 1967 Priesthood Bulletin:

    “The First Presidency recommends that only those who bear the Melchizedek Priesthood or Aaronic Priesthood be invited to offer the opening and closing prayers in sacrament meetings, including fast meetings. This also applies to priesthood meetings.”

  79. Anonymous says:
  80. Getting back to the original post, this isn’t a gender issue, no matter how much some would like to see it that way. With the expansion of the quorums of 70 and with increasing correlation all presidencies and authorities other than the 12 have suffered a diminution of attention.

    Anyone over the age of 45 or 50 knows that not so long ago the Presiding Bishopric was a much more powerful and visible presence in the church hierarchy than it is today. The presiding Bishop was a personality and a symbol, whereas today’s Presiding Bishop, as evidenced by his talk in the Priesthood session, is just another 70 with an extra title.

    Older members will also recall that the seven presidents of the 70 used to be charismatic officeholders on par with the 12. Think of Vaughn Featherstone and Marion Hanks. There are still 7 presidendts of the 70…can you name even one? Again, they are now just another anonymous 70 with an extra title.

    The RS presidency has suffered the same fate, withering in public persona as the number of GAs grows and power is concentrated by correlation.

  81. Marjorie Conder says:

    For those longing for the days of Eliza R. Snow. She was about as orthodox as m&m. She certainly did a lot and left a lasting legacy, however I’m at at a loss to think of any “boatrocking” ERS did. Also the RS was not founded at the instigation of the women. In fact they had no idea grander than a simple sewing circle (they were making shirts for the workmen on the Nauvoo Temple). They asked ERS to draw up a simple constitution for their sewing circle, which she did and then showed it to JS. He replied that God had accepted of the (women’s) sacrifices and he (God) had “something better” for them. Joseph then invited a group to meet with him in his red brick store where the RS was organized. Emma became president and ERS as the first secretary recorded most of what is written in minutebook of the “Female Relief Society of Nauvoo”. She also carried this important document across the plains and preserved it. It is now in the vault of the Historical Dept. of the Church. From my perspective the vision of RS has not yet been realized, but I think we are more on track now than we have been for about a century. (And I believe that much that has been lost will yet return.)

  82. Marjorie Conder says:

    And as to who cares about RS–I care!

  83. Kristine says:

    Marjorie, that’s a pretty reductive view of what the women were wanting to do in Nauvoo–I think plenty of eminent historians would take issue with you. In fact, I know a couple who would be LIVID with your phrasing.

    And if you don’t think ERS rocked the boat (and a great many other conveyances), well, I can suggest some bibliography… I don’t think she thought in terms of “orthodox” and not, and I frankly don’t think that’s a very useful way to think about different approaches among contemporary Mormon women, either.

  84. Kristine, how many “eminent historians” actually study Mormonism? I can think of only a handful of living ones. And I can’t imagine any of them being livid about anything.

    Anyone who would be livid with anything is probably not very professional and is clouded by personal bias.

  85. Kristine,
    I’m sorry I’ve annoyed you. My comments were not directed at you personally, btw…just general statements about the ‘nacle and how I think that the idea that complaining online is somehow a noble endeavor to help keep the church in line is simply misguided.

    I feel the same way about ERS. I get tired of her being held up as the example of revolutionary feminism, especially because I don’t think we can compare our time to hers…the church was still in a significant formative stage, and nearly anyone could have direct access to the prophet to give feedback. Times are much, much different in both senses today.

  86. p.s. I realize, too, that this kind of forum can be personally helpful and/or interesting (obviously there’s something about discussion I like :) ), so I don’t mean to imply that it’s all useless, either.

  87. I’d love to see more testimony-building in the ‘nacle (like JDC’s this weekend).

    The problem is, though, that what nourishes testimonies is highly individual. I think we need to step outside the idea that only particular types of discourse, like the Ensign, can nourish our testimonies. Clearly they do for some and in some cases (at times the Ensign and such certainly provide me with spiritual nourishment). But I also find the frank discussion of difficult issues to be essential to my faith. I need desperately to see that people can confront various difficulties both honestly and faithfully and manage to go on in the Church. The Ensign and faith-promoting stories are not going to provide that for me. The Bloggernacle and similar fora, on the other hand, do fill some of that need.

    If you find that the Bloggernacle and such discussions don’t nourish your testimony, that’s perfectly legitimate. But I think it’s misguided to try to change the Bloggernacle into something that would nourish your testimony, personally, instead of just letting it be what it is for those it does sustain. I’m not calling up the Engisn and trying to get them to address more of my personal testimony needs; I realize that they play a vital role for many people’s spiritual lives just as they are. By the same token, maybe it’s not particularly useful for you to call for the Bloggernacle to made into something that you, personally, find testimony-building. Perhaps it already is testimony building (it’s important not mix the Bloggernacle up with the DAMU, for instance)–just not for you personally.

  88. Anyone who would be livid with anything is probably not very professional and is clouded by personal bias.

    Matt, that’s a pretty exalted standard, for historians or for anyone else! Personally, I don’t think I could be friends with someone who was incapable of getting livid. God, for his part, seems quite capable of appropriate lividity. Hard to have an ethics or a love of anything or anyone withot the capacity to care if those things are violated and those people are hurt. (Not to suggest that my own anger is in any way godllike; I’m sure it’s not. But I couldn’t worship a God who couldn’t get mad.)

    Ah, the dreaded question of personal bias. I do think we–historians and everyone else–have a responsibility to consider all the evidence, maybe especially the evidence that cuts against our personal biases. We have a responsibility (a hard one, one I don’t live up to well) to seek out other points of view and force ourselves to consider what we disagree with, as well as why we have such strong feelings about it.

    But that said, there’s no one on the planet who doesn’t have personal biases. And again, I wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who had no personal biases, nor to worship a God who had achieved some ideal of detached rational objective consideration of all realities. Would you?


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