Matriarchy: NOT THAT BAD

I attended a blogger event this morning in the Presidents’ Room of the Relief Society building on Temple Square.  If you’ve never been to that building, take a trip sometime.  It’s gorgeous.  The room is lined with portraits of past leaders of the Relief Society going back to the beginnings in 1842.  It’s an impressive visual legacy.

The event was a panel discussion of the recently launched At the Pulpit collection of great speeches, sermons and teachings from LDS women.  Present were several leaders included in the volume: Virginia Pearce, Elaine Jack, Jutta Busche, Gladys Sitati, as well as Kate Holbrook, one of the editors of the volume (with Jenny Reeder, who could not attend).  Elder Steven Snow was present and gave some very brief opening remarks, then the rest of the event was each panel participant speaking plainly and boldly about their leadership, spiritual development, and their included speeches.

I was one of maybe 5 or 6 men present in a crowd of about fifty.  This is the first time I’d ever seen female leadership speak, uncensored and uninterrupted, on matters of doctrine and spiritual leadership.

It was excellent.

These women have organization talent, spiritual gifts, keen minds and they speak with power and authority.  They were speaking, surrounded by their forbears, of the tremendous and underappreciated legacy of great LDS women-leaders.  Sister Sitati spoke of the importance in her own culture of grandmothers as sources of spiritual legacy, and referred to this At the Pulpit text as a way of discovering new grandmothers.  Sister Pearce described gathering personal revelation with friends as she put together her own talk.  The Spirit was present, and it was just as present as it would be were any ordained prophet, seer or revelator were speaking.

It seems to me that the prophecy of Elijah’s return is not just about turning our hearts to our fathers; we now have opportunities to turn our hearts to our mothers and reclaim a forgotten legacy of leadership and true spiritual power.  At the Pulpit is a catalyst for that turning of hearts, as was the First 50 Years of Relief Society volume (now available online! ), and the excellent The Witness of Women book (by Reeder and Janiece Johnson).  I do not believe that the coming forth of these books of women’s history are accidental or without divine design.  I think it’s just God telling us that we are cursed if we do not remember the greatness that is the legacy of LDS women, and of the future of LDS women.

We have nothing to fear from female leaders speaking with power and authority from God.  I felt that today and know it’s true.  And yes, get a copy of At the Pulpit and use it, not just to spice up your curriculum but to remember for yourself that being Mormon means an amazing birthright.


  1. Swisster says:

    I was last in the building about 15 years ago. I loved it as well. I can never get enough of Elaine Jack and her crew. How did she sound?

  2. She sounded great and still kicks butt, as always.

  3. “It seems to me that the prophecy of Elijah’s return is not just about turning our hearts to our fathers; we now have opportunities to turn our hearts to our mothers and reclaim a forgotten legacy of leadership and true spiritual power.”

    Yes to this.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m envious; I saw that picture online and thought how wonderful it would have been to be there in person. Thanks for this report.

  5. I love this. I had similar feelings as I watched Sister Hinckley answer questions in this interview with the wives and daughters of General Authorities: I was overcome with emotion as I listened to her crack jokes and come up with biting wisdom, off the cuff. She was every bit as clever as her husband! My tears were because I never knew anything about her when she was alive! It was grief for that missed opportunity to discover that Mormon women are remarkable! I had always just thought that she was an old woman with a grandma perm and pearl earrings, nobody worth knowing anything about. Of course, this was an artifact of my own internalized misogyny. (I am still unlearning it, but it’s not easy.)

    I’m not alone, though. I was in a meeting with local RS leaders recently, and I observed that we all tended to talk over each other and dismiss one another’s ideas. We’ve been trained to devalue one another. It made me sad.

  6. thedoveflies – I had the honor of listening to Sister Hinckley live twice. Both times I had the same laughing and crying experience. I remember wishing that more of us could be ourselves like she was.

    Steve – call me jealous. I love Sister Jack and her team. Aileen and Chieko. Their short run was not enough. Thanks for update/overview.

  7. Hedgehog says:

    “and they speak with power and authority” I’d love for us to see this from the local RS leadership in Britain. Sadly it’s constant deferral and referral to the Bishop, or Stake President. So disheartening, even though we do get auxilliary leaders speaking with the assigned high councillor, which is something. We did get a great sacrament meeting talk from our previous stake primary president, delivered with real power and authority, and then she was released… Not saying it was connected but we seem to be back to ‘the Bishop said/wanted,..’ or ‘the Stake President asked me to…’

  8. “Not That Bad” ??? “nothing to fear.” ??? A not so subtle commentary on the attitudes of readers? Or the author? (Love your work, Steve.)
    The real reason to comment is that, while I haven’t yet seen the book (there’s a copy at home and another on its way, but I’m out of town) and I wasn’t there yesterday, my best friend and (only) spouse Linda was there and she would want everyone to hear that At The Pulpit belongs on the general church reference shelf, not the EFW (especially or exclusively for women) shelf. It ought to receive a wide and non-gendered reception. The copies we buy and distribute will go to both sons and daughters..

  9. Thanks for sharing this, Steve.

  10. Of course. I’m sure to a lot of people (especially women) my wonderment is kind of a “well, duh” moment. I wish the experience was replicable on a large scale.

  11. It was a pleasure to sit next to you and hear your open admiration for the hearts and minds of the women of the church.

  12. It was a pleasure to meet you!

  13. Sounds fantastic. Wish I could have been there. Thanks for the report!

  14. “We have nothing to fear from female leaders speaking with power and authority from God.”

    I like this very much, and agree. As a (slight) tangent, though, it got me thinking about talks in general conference and how to increase the number of talks by women given that there are far more general officers who are male than there are those that are female. It’s 9 versus something like 100, I think. Is there a way to increase the frequency of female speakers while maintaining the status quo on the female-ordination issue?

    As a more attenuated tangent, I’d mention that my experience in the bloggernacle is that the women who speak at general conference are often most vocally criticized by the women here, rather than the men. The female general officers’ voices are too sing-songy; and they don’t know the problems *real* women face; and they’re always talking about “defending the family”; etc. We seem to want women to speak, but only if they say the things we want to hear in the way we like to hear them.

  15. Jason K. says:

    Thanks for this, Steve. I join with you in hoping that events like this will be replicated.

  16. Amen to Christian Kimball. Hoping that this will be considered and used not just as spice to the curriculum, but as the meat of it, even if not officially.

  17. JImBob–there are General Board members in all the women’s auxiliaries, who are the functional equivalents of 70s. It would be very easy to even things up if we wanted to.

    And unless you’ve got some numbers to back up your perception that women are more criticized (esp. by other women), you should probably not make such blanket assertions.

  18. ChristianKimball – I hope so, too. Daughter’s of My Kingdom never gets mentioned in RS or by women. We can do better than that. I am on your wife’s team.

    JimBob – As a woman, I make double sure I thank any speaker who references a woman in their talk or lessons. I thank them personally than write them a note. I can’t fix the world, but if my gratitude helps open the door for everyday pulpit quoting of religious women I will do it.

    – I acknowledge that I do complain about sing songy, and fluff talks, I love my sister hood. I love my strong pioneer ancestors. I love courageous scriptural woman. I want them represented fully and completely. At the same time I will accept any female voice over none at all. But for my money an Elaine Jack, Chieko Okazaki, and Aileen Clyde suit my style better.

  19. I’ve been reading the bloggernaccle for 13 years Kristine–or however long it’s been around. I guess I’ll trust my own perceptions on that issue. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve read a comment on a live blog of general conference here where someone said they couldn’t listen to a female speaker because she was addressing us with her little girl voice. Heck, there’s been whole posts about it. Usually, those come from women. I don’t suppose there’s a great way to quantify anything at all as it relates to blogging, but as just the most recent example, I’d suggest you go over to FMH right now and look at their second article: Elaine Dalton is criticized for saying the wrong thing, apparently.

  20. Ergo what, jimbob?

  21. Jimbob – I complain about the men equally as much. I am an equal opportunity whiner. On the why I complain about insipid and anemic style has everything to do with honoring women. I have 2 daughters who have college degree’s, one in anthropology the other in business management. Neither have a husband waiting in the wings (and we are all okay with that). In their chosen fields they are surrounded by mature, empowered, wise women. I want the same for my girls at church. I want the voice of womanhood to sound like real women. My best suggestion is give us more women speakers. Let their lives be varied, fulfilled, versatile. I believe God’s women through out time were that way. I don’t imagine Mother Eve being a mousy sort. To be honest it’s not just a bunch of bloggernacle women whining. Our Millennial Girls are looking else where for their life inspiration or languishing in a model that is past it’s season. I can not tell you how many times I have cried when I have heard the story of one of our beautiful Young Women heading off to college with dreams of a major in music. Two years later she’s stuck playing for Sacrament Meeting and making ends meet in her new marriage doing daycare. And this was our Heavenly Parent’s dream for her?

    I want everyone to live to the full measure of their creation.

  22. Kristine says:

    I’ve been around in the Bloggernacle even longer than you have. I strongly suspect that there are more complaints from women about men’s talks than about women’s. But even if that were not the case, the fact that women who consider themselves feminists don’t like talks from women who are ardent supporters of patriarchy is neither surprising nor unhealthy. Nor does it in any way negate the argument that we need more (and more varied) women’s voices in official church discourse. Indeed, the fact that the voices of the token women currently allowed to speak are irritating to many Mormon women argues strongly in favor of expanding the number and range of women who are allowed to officially speak as Mormon women.

  23. Kristine, loved that comment. The modern vs past voices is also particularly illustrative…

  24. Aussie Mormon says:

    D&C 88:15-19

  25. Aussie Mormon says:

    Hmmm, the post my reply was to has disappeared.

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