Saturday, June 12, 2010

Relief Society and the Priesthood: Then, Now, and Forever

I wrote a post discussing the power of women's virtue here. I'd like to expand upon those thoughts to an organizational level, and explore the great gift God has given the Church by restoring the Relief Society to the earth.

The following is an article from the Deseret News, published in April of 1868, available here.

FEMALE RELIEF SOCIETY 
--by Eliza R. Snow--
This is the name of a Society which was organized in Nauvoo, on the 17th of March, 1842, by President Joseph Smith, assisted by Elders Willard Richards and John Taylor. Although the name may be of modern date, the institution is of ancient origin. We were told by our martyred prophet, that the same organization existed in the church anciently, allusions to which are made in some of the epistles recorded in the New Testament, making use of the title, "elect lady."...

From this we see that the Relief Society was just as much a part of the gospel Restoration as the priesthood. For women to be organized and contributing to the affairs of the church is a function of the Plan of Salvation, the gospel of Jesus Christ. That gospel is incomplete without Heavenly Father's daughters.

If that's the case, what does He intend for them to do? We find those answers in the very next sentence:
"This is an organization that cannot exist without the Priesthood, from the fact that it derives all its authority and influence from that source."
The Relief Society has power, authority, and influence in the priesthood!

Whoa! Are you tellin' me that everything I've heard about the powerless Mormon woman is a lie? That she has had power and authority in the gospel this WHOLE time? That she can act in God's name through her access to the priesthood, and Joseph Smith taught that from the very beginning?

Yes, dear. That's what I'm telling you. And if you'll come with me to the scriptures, we'll explore a few things about the calling of an "elect lady."

There may be more references that are not so explicit and of which I'm unaware, but one New Testament reference to an elect lady occurs in 2 John 1: 1. A few verses of note from the epistle directed to the elect lady, which hold an amazing amount of relevance to the Relief Society of today:
5 And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.
6 And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it. {Note: the classical Greek word for love used in these verses is agape, also translated as charity. Charity Never Faileth? Anyone?}
7 For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.
8 Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.
9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:
Also note in verse 13 it refers to an elect sister. This phrase, along with elect lady, baffles Bible commentators. Who is the elect lady? Why isn't she named? Is she even a person? If not, who/ what is her sister? Because the verses refer to the elect lady both singularly and collectively, it's difficult to identify who she is by the sparse details provided. I read an online commentary here which presents a few ideas on the Greek, but ultimately decides the elect lady must be a name for a single congregation of the church.

To say it's a congregation seems simple enough, without ever having to acknowledge the radical notion that women actually participated in and mattered dearly to the early Christian church.

We must also recognize that just as God is infinite, eternal, impartial, and unchangeable (1 Nephi 10: 18, Moroni 8: 18), His gospel is infinite, eternal, impartial, and unchangeable. If He empowered women before in His covenant, they will always be empowered under His covenant.

We see this power throughout the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, beginning with Emma Smith, long before the Relief Society was ever established.

In July of 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith revealed the following unto his wife Emma from the Lord Jesus Christ:
3 Behold, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou art an elect lady, whom I have called.
5 And the office of thy calling shall be for a comfort unto my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., thy husband, in his afflictions, with consoling words, in the spirit of meekness.
7 And thou shalt be ordained under his hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit.
8 For he shall lay his hands upon thee, and thou shalt receive the Holy Ghost, and thy time shall be given to writing, and to learning much.
9 And thou needest not fear, for thy husband shall support thee in the church; for unto them is his calling, that all things might be revealed unto them, whatsoever I will, according to their faith.
15 Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.
Notice Christ, through the mouth of Joseph Smith, has called Emma an elect lady 12 years before the Relief Society would be restored. The Lord was not giving Emma the charge to babysit her husband. He was teaching her about her access to the priesthood.

Women do not function in the offices of Melchizedek because they have their own office as wives and mothers in God's covenant. To reject that office and calling it to reject His power.

Emma's calling also goes beyond her personally, in her ordination to "exhort the church." That sentiment, along with "elect lady" require the Relief Society to truly be fulfilled. These phrases function as prophesy that not only would the Relief Society return, but that Emma's eternal destiny was tied to it. She would become the Relief Society's first president--a choice daughter of eternity not just by association with her husband, but to the Restoration of the WHOLE Church. A Church that would be incomplete so long as the women were not formally organized and given power and authority within it.

There are women in this Church who look at verses 6 (not shown above) and 7 and wonder why women are not given such responsibilities today--why they no longer have some of the same responsibilities women had early in the Restoration. These women argue that our power has been taken from us. They don't see how covenant motherhood IS powerful, and has a much greater purpose than bearing children--as important as that also is.

Julie B. Beck, the Relief Society general president, has given many talks over the past few years that outlines where women's access to power and authority is.

In Mothers Who Know, she taught that women's power comes through motherhood.
"Nurturing requires organization, patience, love, and work. Helping growth occur through nurturing is truly a powerful and influential role bestowed on women." 
People criticized President Beck in this message because they never stopped to consider that this kind of influence would require them to access the power of the priesthood, and to have the authority to USE IT.


In Fulfilling the Purpose of Relief Society, she makes her message to the sisters of the Church even more plain when she teaches:
"Just as the Savior invited Mary and Martha of New Testament times to participate in His work, women of this dispensation have an official commission to participate in the Lord’s work."
But perhaps that's not plain enough. Let's go to her most recent talk. You don't have to read anything but the TITLE to see where she's been going with this the whole time!

And upon the Handmaids in Those Days Will I Pour Out My Spirit is not just a title. It's a prophecy found in Joel 2.
28 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:
29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.
32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.
In the Church we're so used to hearing we're in the latter days that we wouldn't know the call we've been waiting for if we heard it--the one that tells us when the Savior is coming.

You wanna know how I know that? Because the call--or some portion of it--came this most recent session of General Conference, and almost nobody heard it.

Go back and read President Boyd K. Packer's talk. Read it like he just told you something extremely important. This line should scare you:
“The authority of the priesthood is with us. After all that we have correlated and organized, it is now our responsibility to activate the power of the priesthood in the Church.”
What's he talking about? Haven't we been acting in power the whole time? We have temples and ordinances and callings and stakes and all that. What else is left to activate?

To answer this, I direct you to D&C 113:
7 Questions by Elias Higbee: What is meant by the command in Isaiah, 52d chapter, 1st verse, which saith: Put on thy strength, O Zion—and what people had Isaiah reference to?
8 He had reference to those whom God should call in the last days, { who should hold the power of priesthood to bring again Zion, } and the redemption of Israel; and to put on her strength is to put on the authority of the priesthood, which she, Zion, has a right to by lineage; also to return to that power which she had lost.

The purpose of the Relief Society is the SAME as the priesthood: to build Zion on the earth. I've been in enough lessons on Zion to see how people sell her short--Zion is wherever you live, they say. The Church has been building her all this time. It's nothing to get excited about.

I'm telling you, when God wants to hide something, He puts it in the Pearl of Great Price.


Read Moses 7: 62:

62 And righteousness will I send down out of heaven; and truth will I send forth out of the earth, to bear testimony of mine Only Begotten; his resurrection from the dead; yea, and also the resurrection of all men; and righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, that my people may gird up their loins, and be looking forth for the time of my coming; for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem.
The purpose of the priesthood and the Relief Society is to build Zion, which will usher in the Second Coming of the Savior.

So when I read and hear comments from women about how lame, how unenlightened, how boring Relief Society is, the nicest thing I can think to say is: if you can't get excited about participating in Christ's return to the earth, I sure hope you like maggots.