Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Incomparable Role of Righteous Women

(l to r) Melanie, Merilee, Emily, Dianne, Allison

I am a blessed man.  Much of that has to do with the women in my life who surround me and bless me with their faith and righteousness.  The accompanying picture is one of my five living daughters, all grown women now, all righteous, all accomplished, all talented, all faithful.  My cup truly runneth over.  They will be the first to tell you they have also been blessed by the righteous influence of their mother, their grandmothers and their mothers before them.

Andrew and Jessica Goates
This past week our family added another righteous woman to our ranks, a new daughter-in-law, Jessica Topham.  Patsy and I consider each of our daughters-in-law as daughters.  All my sons have married way above themselves, following the example of their father.  Outside the sealing room as we were preparing to leave the temple, I had a wonderful conversation with a couple I had not met previously.  They sat among our children and their spouses during the sealing.  President and Sister Hill were Jessica's mission parents as she served her mission in Japan.  "I had 450 missionaries in our mission during our three years," he said.  "I would not be exaggerating in the slightest when I tell you she was the finest missionary we had."  I promised him we would take good care of her.

When I first met Jessica, I looked into her eyes and the depth of her soul was revealed in an instant.  She is only the latest of extraordinary women to marry one of our sons.  Andrew is the last of our seven sons to be married.  As I spoke at their wedding dinner the night before the ceremony, I reminded them they had each been blessed by holding out and not settling for anything less than the best.  Often, if we expect the best and don't settle, we obtain the best.  So it was for each of them.

With my dear friend Scott Strong, we have written extensively in the past about the role of women and men and how those roles intersect with the priesthood to put us on the path to eventual godhood.  I write today on that topic in a season of even greater confusion about those roles.

The Path of Womanhood

Scripture delineates the prescribed path that illuminates the man's and woman's course leading toward eternal life. (D&C 132:20; 138:39). We are not left alone to wonder about it, because a merciful Heavenly Father has revealed it to those who will choose it. In customary fashion, He also reveals an alternative path, underscoring the freedom to choose will never be violated in His plan. (D&C 132:42). Today that alternative path is also called an "alternative lifestyle."

All the women in my life fill roles as righteous daughters, wives, and mothers. As I observe them in each of these roles, there is little doubt in my mind they will someday be glorified with their spouses and receive the promised blessings in "a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever." (D&C 132:19). These roles as men and women, properly defined and pursued, are as old as Adam and Eve, as fresh and vibrant as last week's sealing between Andrew and Jessica.

Before they were "mine" my daughters and daughters-in-law (all my daughters without the "in law" designation) began their role as women when "the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God." (D&C 76:24). As daughters of God first, they learned the ennobling truth "[the Lord] created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them." (D&C 20:18).

They learned their earliest lessons in womanhood through observation of "our glorious Mother Eve, with many of her faithful daughters who had lived through the ages and worshiped the true and living God." (D&C 138:39). 

Women in Mortality

These daughters of mine then came to earth to take upon themselves a physical body like the one they had seen Eve take in mortality, and like Eve they have become subject to the seeds of death through that body.  For now, however, each has advanced past the age when they become subject to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. They have learned they "must repent and be baptized." (D&C 18:42). Each was baptized, and as they kept the commandments they naturally yearned to have a day at an altar in a temple, where they could be sealed to a righteous priesthood holder and take upon themselves additional covenants with God. These covenants include making a lifetime commitment to personal sexual purity and worthiness. As each has observed and kept those sacred covenants their righteousness shines in their faces for all to see (look at that picture again).

Women as Wives

President Spencer W. Kimball
Women, my daughters included, have "a claim on their husbands for their maintenance." (D&C 83:2). The word "claim" means "rights, privileges, and entitlements." It can be said some wives are "high maintenance" but that is a topic for another day about which I know little. The women in my life give me little experience with such things. President Spencer W. Kimball, includes the husband's "obligation to maintain loving affection and to provide consideration and thoughtfulness as well as food." (CR, October 1978, 63).  Memo to my sons: Loving affection, consideration and thoughtfulness for your spouses is what you promised them at the altar on the day they "gave themselves" to you as the most precious gift you will ever receive. Don't break their hearts through indifference to that covenant.

These righteous women as wives are counseled "to comfort her husband." (D&C 25:5). Despite all his hardships, Joseph Smith found comfort in Emma's love and affection for him, and offered this counsel to women as wives:

"Submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands, in everything." (TPJS, 89).

Emma Hale Smith
Emma Smith was told, "Thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou art an elect lady, whom I have called." (D&C 25:3). The meaning and use of the word "elect" was defined by Joseph Smith on March 17, 1842, in Nauvoo, Illinois, when he told the sisters that "elect meant to be elected to a certain work. . . and that the revelation was then fulfilled by Sister Emma's election to the Presidency of the [Relief] Society." (HC 4:552-53). A righteous woman living her covenants will find the callings she was elected to fill revealed to her in her patriarchal blessing in addition to her roles as daughter, wife and mother. We have daughters who have presided and served as teachers in every auxiliary organization in the Church.

Emma's counsel from the Lord is pertinent to all wives: ". . . the office of thy calling shall be for a comfort unto my servant, Joseph Smith, Jun., thy husband." (D&C 25:5). She was to use "consoling words, in the spirit of meekness" with him. (D&C 25:5). Emma was to cleave to Joseph and to "go with him at the time of his going, and be unto him for a scribe." (D&C 25:6). She was promised that for faithfully fulfilling her calling as a wife, her "husband shall support thee in the church." (D&C 25:9).
Women and Their Talents and Gifts

Over dinner several months ago with a son who was in town for business meetings, Patsy and I were reminded how much is required in today's Church of young married couples.  He was serving as an executive secretary in the bishopric, teaching the gospel doctrine class and his wife and young mother of three (then quickly thereafter four) was serving as the ward Young Women's President. Where much is given, indeed much is required. They must support and sustain each other in their callings in the Church, and it is not easy to be a servant to others in addition to those under your roof.

Emma was called as a wife and mother, named an elect lady, and beyond that Emma was instructed to develop her talents. Emma's talents included expounding the scriptures, exhorting the Church, writing, learning, and selecting sacred hymns. (D&C 25:7-8, 11). I have observed all my daughters without exception following these admonitions in their lives. She was told that while fulfilling these responsibilities, she was not to murmur but was to "lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better." (D&C 25:4, 10). One of our daughters related years ago how that particular verse had guided their family in making a critical employment decision that took them to a new state. Emma was also warned to beware of pride. (D&C 25:14). If she proved faithful, Emma was to receive "a crown of righteousness." (D&C 25:15). The reason I know this counsel extends to every woman in the Church beyond the private instruction Emma received is I have witnessed these same principles at work in the lives of the women I love most.

Joseph Smith loved Emma more than we can even imagine. In one revelation, he pleaded with the Lord on her behalf in these words: "Have mercy, O Lord, upon [my] wife. . ., that [she] may be exalted in thy presence, and preserved by thy fostering hand." (D&C 109:69).

The realization of his pleading comes in another revelation, when she is told "to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else." (D&C 132:54). She is also told to "forgive my servant Joseph his trespasses; and then shall she be forgiven her trespasses. . .; and I, the Lord thy God, will bless her, and multiply her, and make her heart to rejoice." (D&C 132:56). The fact Joseph and Emma are reminded to repent and to forgive one another should give ample hope to those of us who seek to follow their example, knowing a little of the dissonance and resolution that goes with the marriage covenant. Today in ward choir practice we sang "Where Love Is," and were reminded by our director that the song has many dissonant chords that all get resolved in the song, just as we seek to resolve them in our marriages.

Abrahamic Tests for Women

Returning to the earlier counsel, Emma is told she must endure faithfully to the end or risk losing all, for unless she does endure, "where I am you cannot come." (D&C 25:15). "She shall be destroyed, saith the Lord; for I am the Lord thy God, and will destroy her if she abide not in my law." (D&C 132:54).

I have written before about "Abrahamic tests," here and here. Perhaps none in our dispensation illustrate those tests more thoroughly than Joseph and Emma. Through it all she is still admonished to beware of pride? How could pride even enter into that equation? Can we actually be proud when we are compelled to be humble? She is told to let her soul delight in her husband.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie
Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote, "Just as it is possible for the very elect to be deceived, and to fall from grace through disobedience, so an elect lady, by failing to endure to the end, can lose her chosen status." (Mormon Doctrine, 217). The same lessons from the Lord's revelation to Emma apply equally to Joseph and all men by extension: Cleave to each other, comfort each other, serve in the Lord's kingdom, and endure faithfully to the end. I have confirmed the word "cleave" in the scriptures applies in only two usages -- to spouses and to God.

Women Become Mothers

Mothers are extraordinary little girls who mature as women. A righteous young wife earnestly yearns for what comes next -- being a mother. Every mother will desire the children to be sealed to her who are born of her through her marriage relationship. They are sealed to her and her spouse and linked eternally to her through the ordinances and authority of the holy priesthood. (D&C 138:7; 48). Even from the earliest age the parents will teach the children "to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old." (D&C 68:25). These children will have "claim upon their parents for their maintenance until they are of age." (D&C 83:4).

Evidence our familial relationships as husbands, wives, sons and daughters continuing beyond the grave is obvious in this reference to his vision of futurity and eternal realms, when Joseph wrote, "I saw Father Adam and Abraham; and my father and my mother; my brother Alvin, that has long since slept." (D&C 137:5).

Righteous Influence of Mothers

Lucy Mack Smith
There can be little doubt of the influence of a righteous mother in Joseph's life. This description taken from the words of his mother in the minutes of a Church conference held on October 8, 1845, in Nauvoo, Illinois: "I raised up 11 children, 7 boys. I raised them in the fear of God. When they were two or three years old I told them I wanted them to love God with all their hearts. I told them to do good. I want all you to do the same. God gives us our children and we are accountable. . . I presume there never was a family more obedient than mine. I did not have to speak to them only once. . . I want you to teach your little children about Joseph in Egypt and such things, and when they are four years old they will love to read their Bible. . . Set your children to work; . . . don't let them play out of doors. . . I call you brothers and sisters and children. If you consider me a Mother in Israel, I want you to say so." (Conference in Nauvoo, 8 Oct. 1845, General Minutes Collection, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, as cited by Susan Easton Black, LDS Women's Treasury, 13).

According to the minutes, Brigham Young then arose and said, "All who consider Mother Smith as a Mother in Israel, signify it by saying yes." There were loud shouts of yes. I bear witness there are mothers in Israel in my family and yours despite the distraction of other "siren voices" in our world today.

Laws, Rites and Ordinances of Marriage

Woman's role today is consistent with what it has always been throughout ancient scripture dating back to Adam's day. The same is true for men. Together men and women joined in the marriage covenant can learn the doctrines of salvation and how they are to participate in the laws, rites and ordinances of the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.

We are all weak, and often we stumble and sometimes become indifferent to our covenants because of the cares of the world. Either through neglect or knowingly, often those we love most receive the harshest treatment from us. If we love each other truly, our actions will accord with our words. If not, we are full of nothing but empty gestures with no substance.

Despite our frailties in the flesh there is always hope. In Mosiah 7:33, the Lord assures us: "But if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage."

In D&C 1:32 we read: "Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven." In other words, "Nevertheless, he or she that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven."

We get to "practice" on each other in this life: "And let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practice virtue and holiness before me." (D&C 38:24). In the marriage covenant the equivalent is, "And let every man and woman esteem his or her brother or sister as himself or herself, and practice virtue and holiness before me."

Men learn mostly through trial and error (emphasis on error) to respect and dignify women, because as they come to understand the language God uses they eventually are left without excuse. God uses these exalted titles in referring to his daughters: "daughter," "handmaid," "woman," "wife," "mother," and "widow." He uses these titles to teach unthinking men what He expects of us in treating women with respect.

The Parables Highlight Women

The Lord taught many parables highlighting women. We are admonished in these parables about the importance of continually seeking the Lord (D&C 101:84), of being prepared when he comes again (D&C 63:54), and of his desire to gather the house of Israel (D&C 10:65; 29:2; 43:24). Jesus chose a woman as His example of generosity and sacrifice when a certain poor widow threw two mites into the treasury. (Mark 12:43-44).

My Grandmother Leda Meryl Kirkham Goates was an example who was similarly disposed. Her mantra, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without" still rings in my ears. She dutifully paid her "mite" on her Social Security check, not wanting to "rob God." Also highlighted in the parables is one woman's joy at the recovery of a lost piece of silver to illustrate angelic joy over one soul that repents. (Luke 15:8-10). Such was Grandma's joy when her prodigal son went to the temple with her for the first time in her advanced years only months before she died on an April 6th temple endowment session.

Zion the Bride

Front (l to r):  Heidi, Kristin, Shauna, Emily, Allison
Back (l to r):  Patsy, Kim, Jessica, Dianne, Melanie, Merilee
When I wrote about Zion years ago, it struck me that the pronouns referring to Zion were "she" and "her." One example: "For, behold, I say unto you that Zion shall flourish, and the glory of the Lord shall be upon her." (D&C 64:41). The female traits associated with Zion and the female pronouns "she" and "her" illustrate the Lord's vision of the cherished and even sacred position of righteous womanhood. If Zion is prototypical of women, then surely we can all expect the mercy we need and seek, for no one in my life typifies mercy, love and long suffering better than Patsy and all thirteen of our daughters (missing in the picture at the right at Thanksgiving this year are Adrienne, deceased, Toni and Tina ).

Women are Stronger

Elder John A. Widtsoe
Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote: "This doctrine of equal rights is confirmed in the ordinances of the Church, which are alike for man and woman. Faith, repentance, and baptism are the same for all. The rewards, such as the gift of the Holy Ghost and the temple ordinances, are alike for men and women. The gifts and obligations of the gospel are alike for all. The man who holds the priesthood officiates in it, but the blessings of it descend upon the woman, also." (Joseph Smith, Seeker After Truth, Prophet of God, 185).

President Joseph F. Smith
President Joseph F. Smith wrote: "There are people fond of saying that women are the weaker vessels. I don't believe it. Physically, they may be; but spiritually, morally, religiously and in faith, what man can match a woman who is really convinced? Daniel had faith to sustain him in the lion's den, but women have seen their sons torn limb from limb, and endured every torture satanic cruelty could invent, because they believed. They are always more willing to make sacrifices, and are the peers of men in stability, godliness, morality and faith." (Gospel Doctrine, 352; also, CR, Oct. 1947, 152). He was peering into the future in that prophetic statement as it relates to the women in my life.

The Sophistry of the Single State

If you believe the current trend to "do my own thing" in the single state without the possibility of an eternal correct marital relationship, you believe a sophistry that is inconsistent with the plan of God.

There really is no such thing as "an alternative lifestyle" for those who would style their lives as God has revealed. Women who long for these relationships will not be denied them in the eternities. (For example, see President Harold B. Lee, Ye Are the Light of the World, 292, and President Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:36; also see Special Situations).

So sacred is the role of women to bear children in the eyes of the Lord that men and women are specifically warned about it: "He that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit; and if he repents not he shall be cast out." (D&C 42:23; 63:16). Women are similarly warned, "If she be not in the new and everlasting covenant, and she be with another man, she has committed adultery." (D&C 132:42).

Babylon the Whore

In the ancient and modern scriptures Babylon is referred to as a "whore." A whore is one who rejects her sacred opportunity to co-create life. She cannot obtain eternal lives except she repents and seeks it through righteous union with one God's sons. A "whore" in the scriptural equivalent uses her most sacred and eternal gifts to get worldly gain, to destroy others, and to create cults for personal, selfish power. She is the antithesis of Zion, the beautiful and pure bride of Christ. The examples abound, but one need look no further than Brian David Mitchell and Warren Jeffs for the example of a whoring misinterpretation of Zion.

Babylon is the moral equivalent of evil whoring for gain after other gods. In the scriptures we see references to false churches, the result of whoring originating with the "mother of abominations." (D&C 88:94).

When these abominations redefine the nature of Deity and the covenants, they often seek a redefinition of the divine role of motherhood. Joseph Smith referred to the teachings of a false prophet, a woman named Ann Lee, who taught, "You must forsake the marriage of the flesh or you cannot be married to the lamb, or have any share in the resurrection of Christ." She abominably concluded, "Those who are counted worthy to have any part in the resurrection of Christ neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like unto the angels." Ann Lee was born in 1736, the daughter of a blacksmith. She married a blacksmith by whom she bore four children, who all died in infancy. At age twenty-two, Ann was converted by Jane Wardley and began to preach. Ann came to America in 1774, and from then until her death in 1784, she was able to found three Shaker communities. Joseph encountered the Shakers (see preface to D&C 49). She also taught the Second Coming had already occurred and Christ had come back as a woman named Ann Lee.

Conversely, there are those who have strayed beyond the authorized priesthood keys and still advocate plural wives. More or less is still abominable without priesthood authorization.

All false religions, false churches and false prophets will one day be revealed and we will exult, "She is fallen, is fallen!" (see D&C 88:105) when Babylon, the great whore of all the earth, finally expires.

Sorry to get sidetracked on whores, but the contrast makes pure womanhood, as seen in the faces of my daughters, all the more delightful. The whore today comes in many guises and disguises. She can be alluring on the surface, but certainly there can be no lasting depth in believing a false premise upon which they are all founded. There is a God in heaven who has given revelation and pointed the way back home. The test of this mortal life is to find Him and Christ crucified in spite of the demons of hell who abound to deceive us and point us in the opposite direction.

Faithful Women

For those who are faithful, nothing can destroy the sacred roles of a righteous daughter, wife and mother in exchange for all the personal or temporal gain the world has to offer.

Cherish the righteous women in your lives.

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