The Moral Force of Women: Some connections

pb-110128-egypt-unrest-kiss-ps.photoblog900[image credit]

I’m supposed to be working on my class for tomorrow. I actually am, but I made a cool research discovery, so I wanted to share. For the last couple of days, I’ve been studying Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s most recent conference talk, “The Moral Force of Women.” I’ve long felt that women have a certain power (beyond childbearing) that cannot be duplicated or replaced. It’s not just nurturing (especially in the too-narrow ways we often define it), but it’s more like a binding power. I recently listened to a radio interview with M. Russell Ballard where he claimed that women have a special gift with one-on-one relationships. I’d never thought of that before but I think it’s true, and he said that men can learn a lot from women about that subject if they will watch and listen. Anyway, back to Elder Christofferson’s talk. He said,

“As grandmothers, mothers, and role models, women have been the guardians of the wellspring of life, teaching each generation the importance of sexual purity—of chastity before marriage and fidelity within marriage. In this way, they have been a civilizing influence in society; they have brought out the best in men; they have perpetuated wholesome environments in which to raise secure and healthy children.”*

Something about that quote rang really familiar to me, mostly the phrase “civilizing influence.” Little by little, my old and tired brain started putting pieces together and I remembered it had something to do with Australia. I know. Weird.

So I’ve been trying to research it out and track it down, and–tonight–I found the connection. The whole thing is pretty amazing, but just read this one very cool account as told by Elder Bruce R. Hafen at the World Congress of Families in 1999. By no small coincidence, the title of his speech was “Motherhood and the Moral Influence of Women.”

Consider now, in summary, a true story from Australian history that illustrates the power of women’s moral influence as mothers of hope, women of fidelity, wives of commitment, and nurturers of human ties. In its early decades as a British colony, Australia was a vast wilderness designated as a jail for exiled convicts. Until 1850, six of every seven people who went “down under” from Britain were men. And the few women who went were often convicts or social outcasts themselves. The men ruthlessly exploited them, sexually and in other ways. With few exceptions, these women without hope were powerless to change their conditions.

In about 1840, a reformer named Caroline Chisholm urged that more women would stabilize the culture. She told the British government the best way to establish a community of “great and good people” in Australia: “For all the clergy you can dispatch, all the schoolmasters you can appoint, all the churches you can build, and all the books you can export, will never do much good without . . . ‘God’s police’– wives and little children–good and virtuous women.”

Chisholm searched for women who would raise “the moral standard of the people.” She spent twenty years traveling to England, recruiting young women and young couples who believed in the common sense principles of family life. Over time, these women tamed the men who were taming the wild land; and civil society in Australia gradually emerged. Also, the colonial governments enacted policies that elevated women’s status and reinforced family life.[23] As one historian said, “the initial reluctance of the wild colonial boys to marry was eroded fairly quickly.” Eventually, thousands of new immigrants who shared the vision of these “good and virtuous women” established stable families as the basic unit of Australian society more quickly than had occurred “anywhere else in the Western world.”[24]

This striking story of women’s moral influence grew from a conscious design to replace “the penal colony’s rough and wild ways” with “a more moral civilization.” The reformers intentionally capitalized on women’s innate “civilizing” capacity. [25] These women made Australia a promised land that flowed with a healthy ecosystem of milk and honey. And the milk, literally and figuratively, was mother’s milk–the milk of human kindness. That milk nurtures those habits of the heart without which no civil society can sustain itself.”

I. LOVE. THAT. Innate civilizing capacity. The milk of human kindness. Power. Force. Influence. Elder Christofferson quoted Elder Maxwell (he and this quote are both long-time favorites for me).

“When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?”

Sigh. I love being a woman. God has made His sons and His daughters powerful. He needs us both, and we can both do more with His help.

*Lest anyone get all worked up into a tizzy about women not being responsible for the morality of men, let’s agree to agree. Later on in his talk, Elder Christofferson acknowledges, “In these exhortations to women, let no one willfully misunderstand. By praising and encouraging the moral force in women, I am not saying that men and boys are somehow excused from their own duty to stand for truth and righteousness, that their responsibility to serve, sacrifice, and minister is somehow less than that of women or can be left to women. Brethren, let us stand with women, share their burdens, and cultivate our own companion moral authority. Dear sisters, we rely on the moral force you bring to the world, to marriage, to family, to the Church.”

Women as Gospel Scholars

Women as Gospel Scholars

I am a gospel scholar. Not by the definition that means I’m some kind of an expert, but I am a student of the gospel. I love to study the scriptures and especially the words of living prophets. I love to take questions and issues and concerns in my life and do exhaustive research of all I can find that has been said by prophets about that particular topic. I am constantly amazed at how many of the answers I seek are THERE. They are just there if we look and study. Almost 20 years ago, I was walking through the BYU Bookstore on my way to class and I overheard Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s voice coming out of the speakers in the LDS book section. It was some kind of talk on tape (yep, tape) and this phrase jumped out at me and has remained with me ever since:

“We need more women who are gospel scholars and more men who are Christians.”

That charge has given me the reassurance that women can absolutely be gospel scholars– they can understand and teach the doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ; they can be wise scriptorians. And not only can we be gospel scholars, we should be.

Why study the gospel?

“Even though the eternal roles of men and women differ,… this leaves much to be done by way of parallel personal development—for both men and women. In this connection, I stress again the deep need each woman has to study the scriptures. We want our homes to be blessed with sister scriptorians—whether you are single or married, young or old, widowed or living in a family.

“Regardless of your particular circumstances, as you become more and more familiar with the truths of the scriptures, you will be more and more effective in keeping the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. Become scholars of the scriptures—not to put others down, but to lift them up! After all, who has any greater need to “treasure up” the truths of the gospel (on which they may call in their moments of need) than do women and mothers who do so much nurturing and teaching?” –President Spencer W. Kimball,” The Role of Righteous Women,” Oct. 1979

Or would you like some more recent encouragement? How about President Thomas S. Monson?

“You young women ask silently, ‘What can I do to insure my eternal joy? Can you help me?’ I offer [some] suggestions:

First, study diligently. All that has been said this evening points to the holy scriptures as an unfailing guide in our lives. Become acquainted with the lessons the scriptures teach. Learn the background and setting of the Master’s parables and the prophets’ admonitions. Study them as though each were speaking to you, for such is the truth. … Crash courses on scripture study are not nearly so effective as the day-to-day reading and application of the scriptures in our lives.” —“A Time to Choose,” April 1995

What to study?

Women as Gospel Scholars(1)

Don’t get me wrong. I have an unnatural love affair with the Internet and it is not inherently evil, nor does it need to be altogether avoided, but Google and blogs and forums should not be our primary resources when looking for truth. God is the source of all truth and He has promised us over and over and over again that if we knock we shall receive. He communicates with us through prayer and through his authorized servants (prophets, apostles, and leaders with stewardship to teach us). Start there. Search there. Authorized sources include:

    1. Scriptures/Standard Works (+ Related Church curriculum: Guides, Study Helps, Manuals). Watch the first few minutes of this talk by Elder Richard G. Scott and really think about the power that comes through scriptures. A great activity is making a list with two columns and fill them in as you listen:  1) What Scriptures Are, and 2) What Scriptures Do.Elder Hugh W. Pinnock instructed,

      What can we do to keep ourselves more in tune doctrinally with our Heavenly Father? There are [some] simple steps:

      … Second, study the scriptures with our family, with other members, and with friends, but also search the words of God in private contemplation. Search the scriptures as they relate to our priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School, Young Women, and Primary lessons. Study the scriptures for additional enlightenment on how to be more happy and less frustrated in what only too often is at least temporarily a sad and dreary world. Every four years we are guided carefully through all of the scriptures in the adult curriculum of the Church. In a lifetime, each member can become a spiritual scriptorian instead of remaining a scriptural simpleton. How blessed we are to have our four books of scripture in editions that include efficient indexes, chapter headings, and other study helps such as the Topical Guide. —“Learning Our Father’s Will,” Oct. 1984

    2. Words of Living Prophets and Apostles. Sister Julie B. Beck taught the women of the Church the importance of knowing our heritage and understanding the strength of the women that preceded us. She testified,

      “Just as the sisters in the first Relief Society meetings received instruction from prophets and apostles, we study the words of Church leaders today.” — “Relief Society: A Sacred Work,” Oct. 2009

      I like to consider that the most recent conference edition of the Ensign is actually an extra section at the end of my Doctrine and Covenants and I should read it carefully. And often. I can’t say enough about how much I love and appreciate the general conference messages. Their teachings are timely, personal, and true. President Monson challenged each of us to study them:”May we long remember that which we have heard during this conference. I remind you that the messages will be printed in next month’s Ensign and Liahona magazines. I urge you to study the messages and to ponder their teachings and then to apply them in your life.” —“Until We Meet Again,” GC Oct. 2009

    3. (Here are a few of my favorite online resources for enhanced scripture study.) I think I’ll do a follow-up post and show the nitty-gritty of the kinds of information you can find on these sites. Here’s a hint: LOTS of awesome. But for now, I give you a list with links to some excellent gospel study sites.

      lds.org [search*]

      scriptures.lds.org

      gc.lds.org

      speeches.byu.edu

      scriptures.byu.edu

      mormonchannel.org (archives)

      byutv.org (search: discussions)

      si.lds.org

How to study?

  1. With faith. It’s okay to have questions. Questions begin the quest for answers; they make us knock. Moroni promises us that when we ask with real intent, we will know the truth. I love this discussion with Sister Beck where she sets forth an example of faith-based pattern for study and research.
  2. Obey. This is the hard part, but I’ve found that the more we obey what we learn, our capacity to learn even more is increased. Consider these scriptures:

    Alma 31:5          …The word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.

    Alma 32:27        But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.

    John 7:16-17    Jesus answered them, and said, My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

  3. Sacrifice. The best way I know how to describe this is simply making the time to study. The Red-Headed Hostess offered the following excellent suggestions on her blog, where she explains each one in greater detail:

Women as Gospel Scholars(2)

God has big plans for His daughters. I just know it. I believe there is great spiritual power in women that is sometimes latent inside us because we are not (to borrow an Elder Holland quote) “fanning the flame of our faith” as much as we can. But of this I am sure: Our power and influence is multiplied as we learn and apply the doctrines of Jesus Christ in our lives. President Kimball boldly shared a glimpse of what Heavenly Father expects of us:

“Study the scriptures. Thus you may gain strength through the understanding of eternal things. You young women need this close relationship with the mind and will of our Eternal Father. We want our sisters to be scholars of the scriptures as well as our men. You need an acquaintanceship with his eternal truths for your own well being, and for the purposes of teaching your own children and all others who come within your influence.” —“Privileges and Responsibilities of Sisters,” Oct. 1978

and finally,

“Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world. . . . Thus it will be that female exemplars of the Church will be a significant force in both the numerical and the spiritual growth of the Church in the last days.”–The Role of Righteous Women,” Oct. 1979

So, my sisters, get your study on. We have a work to do and we need the Spirit to get it done.

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{This has been a collection of thoughts and resources I gathered as I prepared to teach one of my classes at BYU Education Week. I know it’s long. I hope it’s helpful.}