The stripling warriors of Helaman turned the tide for the Nephite nation in a dire time, thanks to their mothers who knew God.
Now, we live in an equally dire time when both stripling sons and daughters must arise because they understand God and who they are to Him. They know that the battle is real.
These are some of the toughest, darkest times in our earth’s history when earthquakes of immorality are rocking our media, when souls are being lost, when wars and rumors of wars are blasted across the airwaves, when people who should know better, have turned from religion, when violence is celebrated, when rivers of pornography need to be turned aside from our homes. The Lord needs His entire army activated in all its power—both men and women who clearly know who they are and what power they can call upon for potency.
These warriors must function with power, authority, courage, strength and leadership. As Eliza R. Snow declared to the Relief Society sisters, “The Lord has laid high responsibilities upon us.”
He needs an army who is fired by revelation, founded in truth, descended upon by His power. What would Satan like? That the Lord lose half his army because the women have bought a diminished view of themselves and their destinies.
Why suggest that women might ever embrace a trivialized, smaller view of themselves? Because Satan has made the crushing of women his special target for millennia. It is a backhanded compliment to how important women are in the grand, eternal scheme to see how ferociously the Adversary has attacked them since the beginning of time.
Overcoming Wicked Traditions
Over the centuries heading back as far as we can see, Satan has misconstrued who women are. They have been objects. They have been the property of their husbands. They have been barred from education. They have been walled off from work. They couldn’t own their own property or vote. It was legal to beat them. They have been blamed for men’s sins. They have been characterized as weak in mind and character, unable to do hard things. They have been reduced to menial jobs. They have been cast as sweet and ineffectual. They have been praised for being beautiful and decorative, but resented for being strong.
Though today, women’s position has much improved from some of these tragic conditions of the past, the Adversary has not attenuated his attack, just changed it. Diminishing women is still one of his most potent weapons.
Even today, in developing nations, where I have spent much time, women do the vast bulk of the work while man’s voice rules.
If aliens from another world dropped in to take notes on the human race, they couldn’t help but observe that men have ruled, dominated, and set the standard in most times and places. They might wonder why that is. They would certainly register that a man’s voice often has much more weight than a woman’s in decisions. He has authority and she has none.
How has this persisted over such a lengthy period of time?
Restoring Women’s Rightful Identity
Certainly, one of the premiere truths that the restoration of the gospel came to ignite was a refreshed and correct understanding of who women are. What does God think of women? What does it mean to be His daughter?
The revealed truths of the gospel should propel us into new understanding of women and the important complementarity they share with men, but there is a hitch.
While we want to understand the powerful way that the Lord regards His daughters, what we think about women and what women think of themselves is consciously or unconsciously impacted by the pieces and parts of the unfortunate cultural traditions we have inherited.
Years ago, I told my then five-year old daughter that I had just written a book and she said, “That’s good for a girl.” I was bewildered and surprised by her statement. Where at such a young age had she gotten that idea? What made her suppose that women were not quite capable? What invisible cultural message had she absorbed?
How do Women See Themselves?
We still see disquieting things.
Too often women think of themselves as somewhat powerless—or at least not as powerful as the men in their lives.
Sometimes, they see themselves and their role as merely making other people’s lives work for them. They conceive their part in life as endless sacrifice—that sacrifice even until it hurts is the expectation for their lives and it is selfish to look for much else.
One piano teacher, who instructs 50 students a week, looked forward all year to her two weeks off. She had many ideas about what she would do with this unexpected free time. However, her grown children saw she was “free” these two weeks and quickly filled up her time with babysitting and other things they needed done. She ached a bit as she saw her two weeks eaten up, but she incorrectly thought that to do anything else meant that she wasn’t being a selfless mother.
Though God has given women talents lavishly, many think that for women to have a personal dream is self-centered. Yet, what is more corrupting ultimately to a sense of well-being than a talent forever unused?
They may get the message that men are more solid and bright in their understanding of important topics, that maybe they should turn to a man for the “right” answer.
I remember sitting at a book signing with a male author who turned to me and asked, “Why is it that men write all the solid, doctrinal books and women write the fluff?”
Sometimes women feel that they don’t have a right to make a plan for their lives, all the time believing without question that a man does have that right. They may get the sense that men lead and women influence—an important calling, but still an indirect and sometimes frustrating use of personal power.
Do we think that it is ok that women and their work are so often invisible? While you may answer that visibility is only the need of someone who wants to be important, I might respond—where do women look for strong, undaunted role models if their sisters’ work and leadership is so often invisible to them?
While you may not identify with any of these snapshots, some will, and they at least hint at the idea that some of us may not have fully understood in what powerful terms the Lord sees his daughters.
Sending out Messages
Any culture sends out messages. The question is what cultural messages do we as Latter-day Saints inadvertently give our daughters? Our mothers? All of our women? We may be giving out messages that we don’t intend–and the results can be damaging and limiting to women and their view of themselves. It is difficult to define yourself in different or stronger terms than your culture constantly suggests.
Do we suggest that women are good for choosing colors and providing refreshments, but not for wrestling with the real issues of our day? Do we invite our young women to do less vital things than our young men? Do we teach women to be kind and forget to also urge them to be talented, courageous and knowledgable? Do we sometimes forget to train them to lead and lead with authority?
Do we pass to our women ideals of high competence and power or school them in impotency and interest in the trivial?
We don’t want leftovers from false cultural traditions to distort our view of the gospel and, certainly a critical part of that view is who and what women are.
Emma Smith said, “I desire the Spirit of God to know and understand myself, that I might be able to overcome whatever of tradition or nature that would not tend to my exaltation.”
Not His Character to Diminish Our Roles
Our prophets and apostles have asked us as women to arise to our privileges. These are much more than the cultures we have come from. The kingdom of God is not the same as the culture of any given country or any given time. It is more. We are more.
Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “The pre-mortal and mortal natures of men and women were specified by the Lord Jehovah Himself, and it is simply not within His character to diminish the roles and responsibilities of [Heavenly Father’s] children.”
If we think that women are somehow less or have fewer gifts or less spiritual power than men, we misunderstand the loving nature of God Himself and the utter devotion He has for both His sons and daughters. We also badly misunderstand ourselves.
Zebedee Coltrin recorded an experience he had with Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery: “Joseph lay down on the ground on his back and stretched out his arms, and we laid on them. The heavens gradually opened, and we saw a golden throne, on a circular foundation, and on the throne sat a man and a woman, having white hair and clothed in white garments. Their heads were white as snow, and their faces shone with immortal youth. They were the two most beautiful and perfect specimens of mankind I ever saw. Joseph said, ‘They are our first parents, Adam and Eve.’
“Adam was a large broad shouldered man, and Eve, as a woman, was as large in proportion.”
President Boyd K. Packer declared:
“We need women who are organized and women who can organize. We need women with executive ability who can plan and direct and administer; women who can teach, women who can speak out. …
“We need women with the gift of discernment who can view the trends in the world and detect those that, however popular, are shallow or dangerous.”
President Russell M. Nelson called his comments at the Oct. 2015 General Conference,“A Plea to My Sisters,”a title that indicates both urgency and passion to be heard and understood.
He said, “We need women who know how to make important things happen by their faith and who are courageous defenders of morality and families in a sin-sick world. We need women who are devoted to shepherding God’s children along the covenant path toward exaltation; women who know how to receive personal revelation, who understand the power and peace of the temple endowment; women who know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen children and families; women who teach fearlessly.”
President Nelson added, “The women of this dispensation are distinct from the women of any other because this dispensation is distinct from any other.”
We hear powerful words here to describe women. Courageous. Strong. Fearless. Discerning. Articulate. Revelatory.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that “where spiritual things are concerned as pertaining to all of the gifts of the Spirit, with reference to the receipt of revelation, the gaining of testimonies and the seeing of visions, in all matters that pertain to godliness and holiness and which are brought to pass as a result of personal righteousness-in all things men and women stand in a position of absolute equality before the Lord.”
Power and Authority
This equality includes not only gifts, but authority.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks noted that President [Joseph Fielding] Smith said again and again that women have been given authority. To the women he said, ‘You can speak with authority, because the Lord has placed authority upon you.”
Elder Oaks added, We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties.”
Nephi also tells us that all of God’s covenant people function with priesthood power. He said, “I, Nephi, behold the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended…upon the covenant people of the Lord…and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory”(1 Nephi 14:14).
Power. Authority. These are magnificent words full of promise to add to the ones we have already listed as what the Lord gives to women. As Sheri Dew said, “There are countless evidences that God actually wants a powerful people.”
Well, of course. He has given his righteous, covenant sons and daughters work to do. The stakes are high. When the war in heaven was transferred to earth, He looks to us, men and women, to do His work, to stand with Him, both fully empowered.
President Nelson admonished the men in the April 2016 General Conference Priesthood Session with words that apply also to women in light of what we’ve just said. “Are you willing to pray to know how to pray for more power? The Lord will teach you. Are you willing to search the scriptures and feast on the words of Christ—to study earnestly in order to have more power?”
This is a yearning the Lord wishes to grant because He needs His people, both men and women, to be powerful and strong to uphold his standard in this darkening world. He needs us to know His word and hear His word.
When the four sons of Mosiah went on their missions to the ferocious Lamanites, they were able to withstand every sort of hardship“because they supposed that great was the work they had undertaken”(Alma 17:13). In these last days, great is the work that all of the covenant people have undertaken, against mounting odds, so men and women both must have no questions who we are and Whose we are—and that we can be a powerful force in His hand.
We have not yet begun to see the power of God’s army when covenant-keeping, righteous women bring their full strength to the battle.