Wednesday, June 25, 2014

TFOT: The Moral Force of Women


That's how I felt about this week's TFOT lesson in relief society. I groaned when I got the assignment. Really? This talk, THIS week?

You can't sign into social media lately without seeing post after post about Kate Kelly and the Ordain Women movement. Aside from occasionally "liking" something on Facebook, I avoid posting or commenting on this at all for several reasons, the most important of which being that there doesn't seem to be a point. People have their opinions and I don't believe getting on my soapbox on Facebook is going to change anyone's opinion. Just cause contention.

It's a very incendiary topic. And I knew in particular several women in our ward with very passionate feelings on this topic and I saw this lesson spiraling out of control.

Thankfully, it went way better than I expected. I have to commend the women of our ward for keeping this lesson point and being carefully respectful of the different opinions in the room. Many thanks, ladies.

My advice to other TFOT teachers tackling this lesson - focus on the personal development as a woman, not about our "place in the world." It's more about our relationship with ourselves. How to recognize our worth, how to improve ourselves, how to find balance.

One of the most important things we discussed was that we need to stop comparing ourselves to others and feeling that we fall short. Our bishop's wife shared a story from when she had given birth to their third child at the same time as a friend who was also having a third. She commented to the woman "Do you ever feel like you're jus failing as a mom?" The other woman responded "No! I'm AWESOME and my kids are lucky to have me." At first, she was taken aback by this response, before she realized that she, too, is an awesome mom and her kids are lucky to have her. And three more kids and several years later, this sweet sister is still rocking that positive attitude (and let me tell you, it's true).

As women, we are blessed with nurturing qualities that help us shape our children, nieces and nephews, siblings - everyone around us. We must hold ourselves to a higher moral standard so that we can help raise others there. The best way we can do that is through being a good example and living a life of faith, love, and service.

My outline is below - hopefully it can help others navigating this topic. Good luck!

The Moral Force of Women


Philosophies of good women - how can women be a morally influential?
  • Ex: Anna Daines lived in New Jersey in the 1930s. There was extreme prejudice in the community against Mormons. That didn’t stop Anna from volunteering with school and civic groups to help improve the community and the lives of its children. She became so vital at the local YMCA that she was appointed president of its board - this an organization that only a few years prior wouldn’t even let the LDS saints use their building for meetings. How does this example show us the moral influence of women? Service, example, love. She didn’t force them to change. She radiated goodness and it made them want to change on their own.
  • Ex: Grandmother Adena Warnick Swenson encouraged him to memorize the sacrament prayers, telling him that this would help him to say them with greater understanding and feeling. He also watched how she sustained his grandfather as a stake patriarch and says that she taught him reverence for sacred things. Quote: “Grandma Swenson never learned how to drive a car, but she knew how to help boys become priesthood men.”
  • Ex: Then Elder Christofferson focuses on the moral force of mothers. He says “A woman’s moral influence is nowhere more powerfully felt or more beneficially employed than in the home.” Quote #1: “In all events, a mother can exert an influence unequaled by any other person in any other relationship. By the power of her example and teaching, her sons learn to respect womanhood and to incorporate discipline and high moral standards in their own lives. Her daughters learn to cultivate their own virtue and to stand up for what is right, again and again, however unpopular. A mother’s love and high expectations lead her children to act responsibly without excuses, to be serious about education and personal development, and to make ongoing contributions to the well-being of all around them.”
  • Important note: He does not expect women to be without reproach. We are often too hard on ourselves because this standard seems to demand perfection. Here’s what he says: Quote #2: “Sisters, I don’t want to overpraise you as we sometimes do in Mother’s Day talks that make you cringe. You don’t have to be perfect; I don’t claim that you are... What I mean to say is that whether you are single or married, whether you have borne children or not, whether you are old, young, or in between, your moral authority is vital, and perhaps we have begun to take it and you for granted.”

Trends that threaten -
He says “ Certainly there are trends and forces at work that would weaken and even eliminate your influence, to the great detriment of individuals, families, and society at large. Let me mention three as a caution and a warning.”

1. The devaluation of marriage and motherhood and emphasis on career
Quote #3: “Some view homemaking with outright contempt, arguing it demeans women and that the relentless demands of raising children are a form of exploitation. They ridicule what they call “the mommy track” as a career. This is not fair or right. We do not diminish the value of what women or men achieve in any worthy endeavor or career—we all benefit from those achievements—but we still recognize there is not a higher good than motherhood and fatherhood in marriage. There is no superior career, and no amount of money, authority, or public acclaim can exceed the ultimate rewards of family.”

Has anyone experienced this, and would be willing to share your experience?

I feel like this is a good example of how the adversary can take a good thing and twist it just a little bit so that it becomes a bad thing. I think a woman’s career is important. It’s part of her personal development, something she can take pride in, it keeps her challenged and advancing. We value education, and it allows us to use that education. I remember saying to my mother once (Out of spite, I might add), “Why do I need to go to college if I’m only ever going to be a mom?” So I think it’s important for us to recognize that education and careers are a good thing. But any good thing that keeps us from fulfilling a more important role is a bad thing. When we use our career (or whatever endeavor, really!) as an excuse for not fulfilling our divine role as mothers, that’s when it’s a bad thing. This is exactly why this is so dangerous. By being less involved in our children’s lives, in allowing someone else to teach and nurture them more than we do, we are losing some of our moral influence. We then less responsible for instilling the values and principles we want in our children and helping to guide their behavior. Sure, there are still opportunities, but the force is diminished.

2. Attitudes toward sexuality
Quote #4: “Attitudes toward human sexuality threaten the moral authority of women on several fronts. Abortion for personal or social convenience strikes at the heart of a woman’s most sacred powers and destroys her moral authority. The same is true of sexual immorality and of revealing dress that not only debases women but reinforces the lie that a woman’s sexuality is what defines her worth.”

He goes on to say that there’s a bit of a double standard - women are expected to be more virtuous while men’s immorality has been excused. Instead of correcting this by raising the male standard, he sees that women are falling to the male level.

Do you feel like this is a threat? How or why?

Elder Christofferson concludes: “Where once women’s higher standards demanded commitment and responsibility from men, we now have sexual relations without conscience, fatherless families, and growing poverty. Equal-opportunity promiscuity simply robs women of their moral influence and degrades all of society. In this hollow bargain, it is men who are “liberated” and women and children who suffer most.”

3. Push for masculine traits
Quote #5: “A third area of concern comes from those who, in the name of equality, want to erase all differences between the masculine and the feminine. Often this takes the form of pushing women to adopt more masculine traits—be more aggressive, tough, and confrontational.”

This one’s interesting to me. Is it bad to be aggressive, tough, confrontational? Are we encouraging women to be passive, weak, easily controlled? What does this mean to you?

Elder Christofferson quoted former Young Women general president Margaret D. Nadauld: “The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity.” In blurring feminine and masculine differences, we lose the distinct, complementary gifts of women and men that together produce a greater whole.

Concluding thoughts
Elder Christofferson had two pieces of advice he encourages women to follow:

  1. Put your faith first. He says: “Sisters, of all your associations, it is your relationship with God, your Heavenly Father, who is the source of your moral power, that you must always put first in your life. Remember that Jesus’s power came through His single-minded devotion to the will of the Father. He never varied from that which pleased His Father.  Strive to be that kind of disciple of the Father and the Son, and your influence will never fade.”
  2. Exercise your influence. “Do not be afraid to apply that influence without fear or apology. “Be ready always to give an answer to every [man, woman, and child] that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” “Bring up your children in light and truth.” “Teach [them] to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.”

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