I’d like to start with the role of woman in the church in the past and how their decisions effect us today; women’s relationship to the Priesthood today, and the role of women in the expanding church of tomorrow.
Woman’s roles have changed in our society over the past decades. I have a little story of a conversation between a father and his son that could have happened in my life time. The son tells his father that they ran the 30 yard dash at school that day. « Really? » says his father, « How did you do? » » I came in second place » says the son. second? » says his father, « that’s great. Who came in first? » Mary Smith says the son. » What? » exclaims his father, « you were beaten by a mere girl? » « Dad » explains the son, « girls aren’t so mere anymore. »
There have never been so many doors open to women as there are today. It was not long ago when, according to a report made by the University of Utah, more than half the woman graduated in just six different majors: elementary education, English, home economics, sociology, history, and nursing. These are worthy pursuits and my own interests lie in some of those areas, but the opportunities open to women are ever-widening and more and more we see woman gettinjg law degrees, medical degrees, MBA’s, degrees in computer science, degrees in electrical engineering. What tremendous contribution these woman are making in the working world. I believe they are making it a better world for all of us as their understanding of right and wrong flavour everything they do.
What does our Heavenly Father think of all these changes? What has the Saviour continuously taught about women and their role in the earth life?
We will start by examining the lives of woman in the church during the life of Christ. It will be of great benefit in understanding The Family: A Proclamation to the World to review what the Savior himself taught about women and how he interacted with them.
To fully appreciate what it was like to be a women at the time of Christ we need to see women in the historical and social context of their day. They lived in the Jewish subculture of the Greco-Roman world. The stage was set hundreds of years before Christ was born by great thinkers like Aristotle who said, « The female is as it were a deformed male. » (Now Aristotle was a great thinker, he just seems to be a little confused on this one issue.) Cicero in the century just before Christ came into the world remarked, « Our ancestors have willed that all women, because of their lack of judgement, should be under the power of guardians. » Now if a women was unmarried her guardian was her father and if she was married her guardian was her husband. Under the Roman Empire a husband could divorce his wife for nothing more than her going out with her head uncovered. Under the law adultery was a criminal offense for women, but not for men. In the Jewish subculture women were generally excluded from public life and were often required to cover their heads or faces or both when in the presence of men. Woman along with children, did not count towards the minyan, the minimum number of people necessary for public prayer. Females could not be called upon to read the scriptures in the synagogue, and women were not to be taught the Torah; indeed women were not allowed to touch the scriptures in Jesus’ day. Men were cautioned about talking to women, even their own wives. Jose ben Johanan of Jerusalem said, « Talk not much with womankind. They said this of a man’s own wife: how much more of his fellow’s wife! Hence the sages have said: He that talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself and neglects the study of the Law and at the last will inherit hell. »
Realizing this it becomes clear how truly remarkable Jesus conversing with the woman at the well in Samaria. A women’s testimony was not admissible evidence in court (which is why you start to understanding that the disciples doubted Mary Magdalene’s testimony that she had seen the risen Christ when they had not.) These words by Flavius Josephus just about sums it all up, » A women is inferior to her husband in all things. » apparently, this was true no matter what kind of husband her husband was. Three times a day a Jewish man prayed these words, « Blessed art thou.. who hast not made me a heathen (or Gentile),… who hast not made me a woman, and … who hast not made me a slave. The Greeks, similarly, were thankful they were « born a human being and not a beast, next a man and not a women, thirdly, a Greek and not a barbarian. » so Jews were thankful they were not Gentiles and Greeks were thankful they were not barbarians but woman, however made both their lists.
On to this scene Christ is born of Mary who was probably about 12 or 13 years old at the time of Jesus’ birth if she followed the marriage customs of the day. Mary was in every sense Jesus’ first true disciple. She was recorded as being present on several occasions throughout his 3-year mission and she faithfully reappears at the cross as both a mother and a follower.
One surprising fact is that women were so often the subject of Christ’s parables. Jesus’ parables are the very key to undertstanding his mission. another very interesting aspect of Jesus’ parables is that they often address a single concern or teach a single principle with two similar stories: one with a man at the centre and one with a women at the centre. One example of these parallel parables are the story of the lost sheep which concerns a man and the story of the lost coins whuch concerns a woman. One involves the indoor labors of a woman and the other the outdoor labors of a man. Not only in parable but in direct teaching of his gospel to individuals Jesus rejects the societal view of woman. for example his teachings about adultery. He said, in Matthlew 5:27-28, « Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. » Here Jesus completely dismisses the rabbinical suggestion that simply looking at a woman inevitably causes lust. He did not warn his followers against looking at a woman, but against doing so with lust. Women were to be recognized as individuals in their own right, as human beings, fellow disciples, not as objects of men’s desires.
The same with Jesus teaching about marriage and divorce. Jewish men could divorce a wife for three main justifications: First, sexual misconduct; second, « if she spoiled a dish for him » ( a major incentive to brush up on those culinary skills!), and finally « even if he found another fairer than she. » But Jesus taught, « for this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they shall be one flesh: so then, they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God joined together, let no man put assunder. » « And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery. » He did not teach that divorce as prohibited but that divorce, for the whole purpose of remarrying another was. He had acknowledge the right of a woman to divorce, which was unheard of at the time.
One of the most memorable of Jesus interactions with women during his 3 year mission is the story of the woman taken in adultery. This beatiful story takes place in the temple. This is significant. Jesus had gone early to the temple to teach when the scribes and pharisees brought to him a woman taken in adultery, « in the very act. »
According to the law of Moses a man who suspected that his wife might have committed
adultery, brought her to the temple to undergo a test or and an ordeal to prove her innocence or guilt. She was brought to the altar and obliged to drink a draught composed of water, dirt from the temple floor and the ink scratched from parchment containing a curse. The drink would supposedly have no effect if she were innocent. If she were guilty however her belly would swell. In addition to this test she was brought to the court of woman for inflicted humiliation. Keep in mind that is if she was only suspected no convicted.
At some point during her judgment the convicted adulteress was brought to Jesus for reason of debate and discussion. The big question in my mind is where is the man she was caught in the very act with? Oh! But of course it wasn’t a sin for him.
The men asked Jesus to judge her case, saying, « Now Moses in the law commands, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? Then Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger as though he heard them not. They continued to press for an answer so Jesus stood and said, « He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her. »
Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. The crowd was convicted by their own conscience and began to leave.
Finally everyone left except the woman « standing in the midst. » Jesus stood up and spoke to the woman, « woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said no man, Lord. » And Jesus said unto her, « Neither do I condemn thee : go, and sin no more. »
Jesus treated men and women alike. Each could communicate with him, follow him, be companions with him. and love him.
He in no way sought to deny or diminish the differences between men and woman, he emphasized their partnership.
Looking forward to our own history of the last century in the LDS church we are again impressed with the remarkble position of the wives, mothers, and daughters during the time of the restauration of the gospel on the earth. Space limiting me we will look at one example. Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of the prophet Joseph Smith. Like Mary, the mother of Christ, Lucy never wavered in her love and devotion to her son. She believed him from the very beginnibg when he returned from the sacred grove to tell his mother that he had seen a vision. She was a disciple and follower of her prophet-son. But she wasn’t just a follower, she was a gifted leader as well, fearless and decisive. In 1831, there was a group of saints who were leaving the Waterloo area, travelling down the Erie Canal to Buffalo. At one point in the story ice in the harbor at Buffalo was blocking passage. A man from the shore cried out to them, « Is the book of Mormon true? » Listen to Lucy’s reply in her own words: « That book, replied I, was brought forth by the power of God, and translated by the gift of the Holy Ghost; and , if I could make my voice sound as loud as the trumpet of Michael the Archangel, I would declare the truth from land to land, and from sea to sea, and the echo should reach to every isle, until every member of the family of Adam should be left without excuse. For I do testify that God has revealed himself to man again in these last days, and set his hand to gather his people upon goodly land. » Then turning to her own company, she said, « Now, brethren and sisters, if you will all of you raise your desires to heaven, that the ice may be broken up, and we be set at liberty, as sure as the Lord lives, it will be done. » At that instant a noise was heard, like bursting thunder. The captain cried, « Every man to his post. » The ice parted, leaving barely a passage for the boat. They had narrowly passed through when the ice closed together again.
The sisters of the early restoration in a very literal sense paved the way for social, economic, religious and personal advancement, not just for the few of them gathered in Navoo but for all woman from that time forward.
One scolar of the woman’s movement just recently noted: « One of he interesting anomalies of nineteeth century women’s history is the fact that one of its most vocal feminist groups comprised the Mormon women of Utah defending their territorial right to vote… Utah was the second territory in the United States to grant female suffrage…Utah woman were the first to vote in the country. »
What does our great history have to do with today and the struggles we face? And most importantly how can we best help each other to grow closer to our Savior and increase our potential to become like him?
The principals for a healthy relationship between a man and a woman are the same weather that woman are husband and wife, brother and sister, worker and co-worker, or bishop and primary president. In all of these circumstamces the man and the woman are partners in some type pf endeavor, be it marriage, a family, a business or a ward.
What kind of partners should women be?
President Kimball said they should be full partners. Aan earlier latter day prophet, Harold B Lee, said « wife in a home, a women is expected to be… an intelligent and inspired participant in the family partnership. » President Joseph Fielding Smith in 1959 said, « Our sisters are entitled just as much to the inspiration for their needs of the Holy Spirit as are the men, every bit. »
We need to keep uppermost in our minds the most important thing we all have in common and that is our shared testimony of the Savior. As brothers and sisters we share in a single system of salvation. We walk the same straight and narrow path. We read the same scriptures. We serve in the holy temples together and we partake of the same sacrament and share spiritual gifts one with another. We all depend upon the same atonement for eternal life. To all men and women the Lord promises all that he has to give. Our savior has told us that he will help each of us reach our potential so that we may assist him in bringing about his purposes.