Women in the LDS Church + The Relief Society

I was surprised to learn (with the recent US Presidential election activity) that people view the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as oppressive toward women.

As a woman and a member of the LDS Church, this has not been my experience.

On the contrary, my experience as a Mormon has taught me that women are valuable, capable and equal in the sight of the Lord.   My experience as a Mormon has taught me to value my womanhood, and to feel empowered by all the good I can do.  The LDS Church has taught me that,  “The world’s greatest champion of woman and womanhood is Jesus the Christ” (As stated by James E. Talmage, noted LDS Apostle and author).

In my own family, my mother and father worked together as equal partners. They have a healthy and balanced relationship based on mutual respect, love and service.  My grandparents were married for 60 years in the most alive, enviable marriage I have ever seen.  The Mormon women in my life are examples of highly educated, entrepreneurial, insightful leaders who stand up for their beliefs.  They are respected in the community for their professional and volunteer work and they are loved and respected at home.  The Mormon women in my life hold positions of leadership in the church.  Teaching and preaching in the Church is assigned equally to men and women.  Each Sunday both men and women address the Church congregation from the pulpit.

In fact, the LDS Church boasts the largest women’s organization in the world, the Relief Society.  There are nearly SIX MILLION women in the Relief Society organization, belonging to 170 countries. The Relief Society is a service organization, primarily.  It was founded in 1842. The idea for the organization began with a strong group of women who saw a need in their community.  They started a charitable group to care for their friends and neighbors, providing clothing, meals, and love.  Today, the organization has much the same function, to help women “increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and help those in need”.

To give you an idea of what the Relief Society is all about, I’ll share a story.  When my sister was pregnant with her third baby, she had complications and was ordered on bed rest by her doctor.  She couldn’t be on her feet without jeopardizing the health of the baby.  With two other small children at home and a husband in a demanding school program, she needed help.

She didn’t just need a little help, she needed full-time live-in help.  Our mother lives in a different state and works full time.  None of our siblings, including myself, live closer than 5 hours away.  Her husband’s family is the same.  My sister and her husband were in the middle of dental school, hiring full-time help was not an option.

Here’s where the Relief Society comes in.  The Relief Society President in her area heard about my sister’s situation and asked for volunteers.  Woman after woman  stepped up to help.  It makes me cry to think of it.  Three times a week people brought dinner to my sister’s family.  These were good, home-cooked meals.  Women volunteered to get her groceries. People called and offered to take her two older children to the park so they could get out for the afternoon. A kind woman in the Relief Society started coming by to pick up my sister’s laundry each week.  At first, my sister only sent out the kids clothes, thinking that was enough of a burden for the woman to manage.  But, noticing that surely there was more laundry to be done in a household of four, the woman asked my sister to please give her the rest of it. Each Thursday the Laundry was returned in neat, crisp piles.  What a labor of love.  This service went on for three months, until my sister safely delivered a healthy, full-term baby.  The Relief Society got her through that rough time.

As I thought of my sister, half way across the country and in need, my heart ached to be there for her.  When I saw the christian service she received from the Relief Society, I felt so grateful.  It felt like I was the one receiving that service.  It reminded me of the scripture “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my bretheren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt 25 :40)

That has been my experience with the Relief Society and as a woman in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I have never experienced or witnessed anything like oppression as a Mormon woman.  On the contrary, Church leaders (especially male apostles) constantly commend the women of the church.  With words like these by Elder Jeffery R. Holland:

“I am grateful for all the women of the Church who in my life have been as strong as Mount Sinai and as compassionate as the Mount of Beatitudes. Somehow the too-often unheralded women in this church are always there when hands hang down and knees are feeble. They seem to grasp instinctively the divinity in Christ’s declaration: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these . . ., ye have done it unto me.'”

The Church teaches that all men and women are equal.  In contrast, I feel a constant barrage of oppression for our societal mindset toward women.  Women idolized in the media are valued for their beauty, youth and sexuality. In my home, I was taught that women are worth far more than this. So, again I say, I have never experienced or witnessed anything like oppression as a Mormon woman.

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