The Moral Force of Women: Some connections

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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.”

GCBC Week 23: “By Faith All Things Are Fulfilled” by Elder Marcus B. Nash, and “Becoming a True Disciple” by Elder Daniel L. Johnson

I’m squeezing in two talks this week because we’re getting dangerously close to general conference and I’m hoping to finish. Only two weeks and two talks left after this. Exciting, right?

By Faith All Things Are Fulfilled by Elder Marcus B. Nash

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and Becoming a True Disciple by Elder Daniel L. Johnson

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What stood out to you as you read both these talks? What role has faith played in your life? What does discipleship mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

(A reminder to those of you who are new to General Conference Book Club: You’re welcome to return to this post any time this week and leave your comment and thoughts in the comment section below. You may also want to see what others are saying about the talk and engage in a conversation for mutual understanding and encouragement. A new talk will be posted each Sunday and will be studied and discussed throughout the week.)

The Beauty Paradox

As promised, I’ve gathered my notes and tried to type up a summary of the fireside I recently taught (for both women and young women) called “The Beauty Paradox: The Surprising Relationship between Righteousness, Self-Image and Power.”  The links to my quotes, references and study materials are all listed at the bottom of this post.  Sorry, but there was no way to do this briefly and do it justice.  Grab a cup of cocoa and settle in for a while.

There is opposition in all things.

For everything good and powerful and designed to bring happiness, Satan creates a counterfeit.  He sets easy traps, and when we fall into them, we cannot enjoy what we wanted in the first place . . . the real deal.

Even when it comes to beauty.

People have many different opinions about beauty and modesty and self-image.  Even among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I’ve found that some take modesty standards more seriously than others.  Some think that standards must be more closely followed and enforced, and some think that we should just teach general doctrines about the body and divine nature and stay away from specific standards.  Some think that women and young women should not be held responsible for what men think about their clothing choices, and others would argue that females should be taught to dress themselves modestly with a better understanding of the inner workings of the male psyche.  All these (and other) different approaches have valid points, but they make it quite difficult to teach principles of beauty and modesty without some serious inspiration.  Luckily, my inspiration came one morning during my daily devotional time, otherwise known as a shower.  After many weeks of study, the previous evening I had studied a talk by Sister Elaine Dalton where she taught about the principle of “deep beauty.”  The ideas began to flow, and I literally wrote them with my finger on the foggy shower door in hopes of not forgetting them.  When I finished, I wrote it all down as quickly as I could.  This is what came into my mind that helped me organize all the principles I had been reading and pondering:

I know it looks crazy, but it truly gave me the direction I was seeking.  I’ll start at the top, then left column, then right column.

Dictionary.com defines Beauty as:

“the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from [1] sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), [2] a meaningful design or pattern, or [3] something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).”

The first of the three defined sources of beauty-satisfaction is what makes up SURFACE beauty.  The last two fit more meaningfully in the category of DEEP beauty.  Surface beauty is the element of beauty that Satan has latched onto and the world-at-large has bought into.  Deep beauty is what God sees as beautiful and wants us to strive for.

Surface beauty is measured by outward appearances: usually by clothing, body, and makeup/hair.  These are the elements of beauty most embraced by our media culture and most flaunted by those who try to copy it.

Clothing: (It’s important to distinguish that from here on out, any advice to young woman can and should apply to adult women as well, and vice versa.)

Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke to mothers about their daughters and asked them to teach the following:

“Our daughters as well as your sons are coming of age in a world that openly embraces early, casual, and thoughtless promiscuity. Immodest, unchaste women are glamorized and all too often celebrated and emulated. While there are steps that we can take in our homes and families to minimize our exposure to these unsavory elements of contemporary living, your daughters cannot entirely avoid the blatant sexual messages and enticements that surround them. You need to have frequent, open discussions during which you teach your daughters the truth about these issues.

For example, they need to understand that when they wear clothing that is too tight, too short, or too low cut, they not only can send the wrong message to young men with whom they associate, but they also perpetuate in their own minds the fallacy that a woman’s value is dependent solely upon her sensual appeal. This never has been nor will it ever be within the righteous definition of a faithful daughter of God.”

Notice that he talked about sending the wrong message to young men.  A Catholic blogger recently wrote an article called “The Death of Pretty,” in which he lamented the prevailing trend to abandon “pretty” in favor of “hot.”

“Once upon a time, women wanted to project an innocence.  I am not idealizing another age and I have no illusions about the virtues of our grandparents, concupiscence being what it is.  But some things were different in the back then.  First and foremost, many beautiful women, whatever the state of their souls, still wished to project a public innocence and virtue.  And that combination of beauty and innocence is what I define as pretty.

By nature, generally when men see this combination in women it brings out their better qualities, their best in fact.  That special combination of beauty and innocence, the pretty inspires men to protect and defend it.

Young women today do not seem to aspire to pretty, they prefer to be regarded as hot. Hotness is something altogether different.  When women want to be hot instead of pretty, they must view themselves in a certain way and consequently men view them differently as well.

As I said, pretty inspires men’s nobler instincts to protect and defend.  Pretty is cherished. Hotness, on the other hand, is a commodity.  Its value is temporary and must be used.  It is a consumable.”

I remember talking to some young men that I taught in seminary and asking them if it was hard to fulfill and focus on their priesthood duties at the sacrament table if there were women and young women in the congregation that were immodestly/provocatively dressed.  They vigorously nodded their heads to the affirmative, and the young women in the room were surprised by their answer. Now, some may be on different sides of the argument about how responsible a woman should be for the way a man views her.  Regardless of where you stand on this issue, I think we can probably agree on a few simple principles as outlined in the Proclamation on the Family.  When the Lord sets forth the divine roles of women and men with regards to families, he proclaims that men are to “provide” and to “protect.”  I think it’s very interesting that these same concepts are mentioned by the blogger as being naturally inspired by the virtuous and modest appearance of women.  The proclamation also states that within our divinely appointed gender roles and interactions with one another, husbands and wives — and I think it’s safe to extend it to men and women in general — “are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”  We can, and should, help one another to be our very best selves and to fulfill our divine roles as outlined in the Proclamation.  While acknowledging that men are ultimately accountable for their thoughts and attitudes toward women, we can promote respect by showing respect for them and for ourselves. Modesty in dress is one way we can do that. Continue reading