I find it curious, the general attitude of disrespect among the media regarding the Church’s treatment and view of women, for I have been unable to identify any organization of any kind anywhere in the world where more women have more influence than in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hundreds of thousands of women serving in more than 25,000 congregations in 160 nations of the world have the rights and responsibilities of presidency, and tens of thousands more are called to teach men, women, youth, and children. Where else do so many women bear such weighty responsibility and enjoy such respect and influence?
There is simply no women’s group anywhere to compare with the Relief Society, which is the only organization for women that was founded by a prophet of God and thereby may justly be considered the "Lord’s organization for women," as President Kimball defined it (Ensign, March 1976, 4). And President Joseph F. Smith made this declaration, referring to the influence of the women of the Church: "It is not for you to be led by the women of the world; it is for you to lead the world and to lead especially the women of the world, in everything that is praise-worthy, everything that is God-like, everything that is uplifting and that is purifying to the children of men" (minutes of the General Board of the Relief Society, 17 March 1914, 54). The Relief Society’s purpose is to help sisters and their families come unto Christ— meaning to help women and their families grow spiritually and temporally.
Though the Prophet Joseph organized the Relief Society "after the pattern of the priesthood" and stated that the Church "was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized" (Woman’s Exponent, 1 September 1883, 51), there are some who cite the fact that women are not ordained to the priesthood as evidence that our work and thus our influence is less significant than that of men. But such a view of the Lord’s plan is incomplete and narrow, for there is no theology that embraces a more ennobling doctrine regarding women than does the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Said Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "In all matters that pertain to godliness and holiness and which are brought to pass as a result of personal righteousness . . . men and women stand in a position of absolute equality before the Lord" (Ensign, January 1979, 61). And President Gordon B. Hinckley said, speaking to the sisters of the Church: "You are an essential part of [the Church], a most important part of it. It could not function properly without you. You provide inspiration. You provide balance. You constitute a vast reservoir of faith and good works. You are an anchor of devotion and loyalty and accomplishment. No one can gainsay the great part you play in the onward rolling of this work across the earth" (Ensign, November 1998, 97). In another setting he said, "I am confident that the daughters of God are as precious to Him as are His sons. They are as important a part of His eternal plan. It is obvious that there could be no continuity of the race without woman" (New Era, September 1988, 46).
From an eternal perspective, we know little about the reasons specific assignments were given to men and women, and little about the reason for the division of responsibilities between men and women in the gospel kingdom. Because of this the adversary seeks to create confusion about something that need not be confusing. He does this, in part, by attempting to divert our attention from what is really important. And what is important is eternal life and exaltation. The blessings of the priesthood—which include, but are not limited to, such blessings as the power to heal and bless, the power to hear the voice of the Spirit, the authority to baptize and endow, the authority to bind and seal generations, and certainly the power to exalt—are eternal and make anything this world has to offer pale by comparison. The blessings flowing from these powers, and many others, are available equally to righteous men and righteous women. In fact, the highest rewards the Father has for His children can be obtained only by a man and a woman together. The blessings of having an eternal family, of progressing eternally, and of eventually receiving exaltation together are all derived from the priesthood.
We also know that the Lord has declared His will on the matter of the division of responsibilities between men and women, and for reasons known to Him but not as yet revealed in their fulness to us, our assignments as sisters do not require that we be ordained to the priesthood, though the stewardship of worthy men does require ordination. This difference in the stewardship between the sons and daughters of God need not concern us. We should feel secure about the manner in which the Lord administers His kingdom.
I do. I do because I trust the Lord, and this is an issue of faith. This is His Church. He stands at its head. And it is inconsistent with the divine character of Jesus Christ to undermine or diminish the contribution or value of any of us. Our Father’s plan assures that all our Father has is available to all who qualify, for "they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever" (Abraham 3:26), and those who seek the riches that it is the will of the Father to give them "shall be the richest of all people, for [they] shall have the riches of eternity" (D&C 38:39).
Regrettably, there are some men who hold the priesthood who do not treat the women with whom they associate closely—including their wives, daughters, and those who serve as teachers and leaders in the Church—with the respect they deserve. But on this issue President Hinckley has been clear and definitive: "I regret that there are some men who are egotistical and evil, who are insensitive and even brutal. They are to be both condemned and pitied. I believe that any man who offends a daughter of God will someday be held accountable, and the time will come when he will stand before the bar of judgment with sorrow and remorse" (Ensign, November 1989, 95).
Gratefully, the offenses of a relative few do not negate the blessings or undermine the power of the priesthood, which is eternal, or the goodness of the majority of priesthood holders who stand as watchmen on the tower, who bear the priesthood worthily, and who exercise their responsibilities and priesthood privileges righteously.
I repeat: The blessings of the priesthood are available equally to righteous men and righteous women. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained that "the Lord offers to his daughters every spiritual gift and blessing that can be obtained by his sons" (Improvement Era, June 1970, 66). And Elder James E. Talmage’s words add further understanding: "It is not given to woman to exercise the authority of the Priesthood independently; nevertheless, in the sacred endowments associated with the ordinances of the House of the Lord, woman shares with man the blessings of the Priesthood. . . . In the glorified state of the blessed hereafter, husband and wife will administer in their respective stations, seeing and understanding alike, and co- operating to the full in the government of their family kingdom. . . . Then shall woman reign by Divine right, a queen in the resplendent realm of her glorified state, even as exalted man shall stand, priest and king unto the Most High God. Mortal eye cannot see nor mind comprehend the beauty, glory, and majesty of a righteous woman made perfect in the celestial kingdom of God" (Young Woman’s Journal, October 1914, 602).
All of us, men and women alike, receive the gift and gifts of the Holy Ghost and are entitled to personal revelation. We may all take upon us the Lord’s name, become sons and daughters of Christ, partake of the ordinances of the temple from which we emerge armed with power (see D&C 109:22), receive the fulness of the gospel and a "fulness of the Holy Ghost" (D&C 109:15), and achieve exaltation in the celestial kingdom. These spiritual blessings emanate from the Melchizedek Priesthood, which holds the "keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church" (D&C 107:18).
The first time we have record of the Lord acknowledging Himself to be the Christ, it was to a woman, a Samaritan woman no less, at Jacob's Well. After teaching her about Living Water, the Savior proclaimed, simply, "I . . . am he" (John 4:26).
It was Martha to whom the Lord declared: "I am the resurrection, and the life. . . . And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?" Martha responded with the kind of faith countless believing women have exemplified throughout the history of the world: "Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God" (John 11:25-27).
Then, during His greatest agony as He hung on the cross, the Savior reached out to one person-His mother-when in that terrible but glorious moment He asked John the Beloved to care for her as though she were his own (see John 19:26- 27).
And finally, it was a woman to whom He first showed Himself after rising from the tomb. "Touch me not;" He instructed Mary Magdalene, "for I am not yet ascended to my Father." He followed that request with a simple assignment, to go and find His Apostles and relay the news that He had risen! "Go to my brethren," He instructed, "and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." Accordingly, "Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her" (John 20:17-18). Imagine! It was a woman who had the privilege of first seeing the Risen Lord, and then of relaying that news to the Twelve. Surely such an action bespeaks the Lord's reverence and respect for women.
Of this I am certain: The Lord loves and delights in righteous women- women who are not only faithful but filled with faith. Women who are optimistic and cheerful because they know who they are, who they have always been, and where they are going. Women who are striving to live and serve as women of God.
The penetrating question, then, related to the blessings of the priesthood is why more of us, men and women alike, don't more earnestly seek the blessings available by virtue of this transcendent power. Brigham Young declared that "we should learn how to take into our possession every blessing and every privilege that God has put within our reach" (Discourses of Brigham Young, 53). How, then, do we as women "take into our possession," or gain access to, the blessings of the priesthood?
Throughout modern revelation, particularly the Doctrine and Covenants, the word receive is used to mean "having faith in" or "accepting as true." Do not all of us, including we who are not ordained, receive or activate the blessings of the priesthood in our lives by our own faith and obedience-by believing the priesthood to be the power of God and having faith in its governance, by seeking those blessings and keeping sacred covenants, and by sustaining those who are ordained and called to lead us?
"For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed . . . and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift" (D&C 88:33; emphasis added). Again from Brigham Young: "The Priesthood is given to the people . . . and, when properly understood, they may actually unlock the treasury of the Lord, and receive to their fullest satisfaction" (Discourses of Brigham Young, 131; emphasis added). Surely the "treasury of the Lord" includes the "wonders of eternity" (D&C 76:8) and the "riches of eternity" (D&C 38:39) that the Lord wishes to give us. Surely it includes the "mysteries of God" that are granted unto those who give Him heed and diligence (Alma 12:9). It is the power of the priesthood that makes it possible for us to receive the Holy Ghost and then learn to hear promptings conveyed by the Holy Ghost. It is the power of the priesthood that unlocks the door to heaven and allows us to understand the mysteries of God-or in other words, to understood how God works. The question we might therefore ask ourselves is, Are we receiving the privileges and unspeakable blessings associated with the gift of priesthood power by believing, seeking, and sustaining? And are we rejoicing in Him who gave the gift?
While on a Relief Society assignment in Cali, Colombia, with Carol Thomas of the Young Women general presidency, I had an unforgettable experience. We were finishing up a long evening of meetings, and because we were to catch a pre- dawn flight, the presiding stake president asked the congregation to remain seated while we departed. But upon the final "amen," several dozen priesthood leaders jumped to their feet and formed two lines, creating a pathway from the chapel outside to a waiting van. As we walked through this sheltered passageway, I found myself choking back tears. In that setting, there was no need to protect us physically. But the metaphor was clear. In that instance, priesthood leaders were symbolic of priesthood power. And it is the power of the priesthood that marks the path leading to eternal life, that clears the path, and that protects the path.
Within the priesthood is great power: the power to separate and safeguard us from the world, the power to subdue the adversary and surmount obstacles, the power to comfort, bless, and heal, the power to enlarge our physical and spiritual capacity and enable us to hear the voice of the Lord, the power to strengthen marriages and families and bind us to each other, and the power to triumph over mortality and come unto Him. These blessings may be received by every righteous, seeking son and daughter. As President Harold B. Lee taught, "Through the priesthood and only the priesthood may we . . . find our way back home" ("Be Loyal to the Royal within You," BYU Address, October 1957).
I can't imagine life without access to the blessings of the priesthood. Even as a girl I knew there was something magnificent and profound about this power, because when my father gave me blessings or performed ordinances, I could feel something I felt at no other time. Now, after years of seeking understanding in the scriptures and in the temple, I have come to know for myself, to know beyond doubt, that the priesthood is the power of God to bless and exalt every one of us-if we live worthy and seek its blessings. And that is what is important.
I had an experience in Recife, Brazil, while on Church assignment that demonstrated in a poignant way the influence of a priesthood leader magnifying his calling. For meetings there, I had a translator who was very skilled but also a bit nervous about doing side-by-side translation before a large audience of priesthood and auxiliary leaders. She had prepared herself by studying, fasting, and praying. The member of the Area Presidency under whose direction I was serving, Elder Claudio R. M. Costa, knew of her concerns. The meeting went well, and the translator did a beautiful job. It wasn't until afterward, however, that I learned "the rest of the story." A stake president seated on the stand told me what he had observed during the meeting: "I wish you could have seen Elder Costa and the Area Authority Seventy with him. They were on the edge of their seats, listening to everything you said and prompting the translator at times to make sure everything she said was a precise and faithful translation. When I said to Elder Costa, 'You were really listening to Sister Dew,' he said, 'Of course. She has brought a message from the Brethren, and it was my responsibility to make sure everyone heard it exactly as she meant it.'"
The Area Authority Seventy then told me, "You should know that Elder Costa told me that my assignment throughout the entire meeting was to pray for you and the translator. And so I did." My eyes instantly filled with tears. Though I was serving under Elder Costa's direction, as part of his leadership he in turn did everything he could to support and help me. Again, through the action of a worthy holder of the priesthood, I came to experience the support and protection of the power of the priesthood.
The power of the priesthood will be a vital source of strength and protection in our families and throughout the Church in the days ahead. The priesthood of God distinguishes the Lord's church from any other. Wherever and whenever its power and blessings are exercised, we may expect to find peace, security, directions, and protection-if we believe it to truly be the power of God and thus place ourselves in a position to receive the spiritual gifts and blessings that emanate from its power.