Chapter 24: The Work of Latter-day Saint Women: “Unselfish Devotion to This Glorious Cause”
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 297–309
During 2014, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.
Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith
The scriptures tell of faithful women who have had responsibilities in the Lord’s Church.
We may read in the Pearl of Great Price that after the consequences brought upon Adam and Eve by the fall, Eve preached the discourse. It is brief but wonderfully full of meaning and is as follows:
“… Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” [Moses 5:11.]
“And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.” [Moses 5:12; italics added.]
We learn from this that Eve as well as Adam received revelation and commandment to teach their children in the ways of eternal life.
Of course, Christians don’t accept the Pearl of Great Price as scripture and thus these words must be taken with a grain of salt. There were great consequences from Adam and Eve’s sin (much more than a “transgression”), as described in Romans 5:
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that,as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Praise God there is a mediator who took the consequences for our sin and allows His people to have a relationship with Him!
We read that in [early] days of Israel women were active and had duties to perform [see Exodus 15:20; Judges 4–5].
In the New Testament we read of a great number of faithful women who sought and gave counsel. Many of these followed the Lord and ministered to him [see Luke 8:1–3; 10:38–42].
There is no doubt that women played a vital role in the early Christian church. Imagine the risk the Gospel writers took by explaining how women were the first to see Jesus’s body. Jesus’s mother Mary, the sisters Mary and Martha, and other women were instrumental in the foundation of our faith. And we owe them a great deal, just as we do Peter, Paul, and the other leaders of the early church.
Throughout the history of the Church, women have played essential roles in the Lord’s latter-day work.
In the latter days, Relief Society sisters play vital roles in the restored Church of Jesus Christ.
On the 17th day of March, 1842, the Prophet Joseph Smith met with a number of the sisters of the Church in Nauvoo and organized them into a society which was given the name of “The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.” … That this organization was by revelation, there can be no doubt. This truth has been abundantly demonstrated throughout the years and today its value and necessity are abundantly attested.
We must understand some points of history. First of all, Emma Smith did lead the original Relief Society, founded in 1842, and was completely unaware that Joseph Smith was marrying many of her friends and associates who belonged to this society! This fact is well documented. Consider one of the first orders of business, according to LDS writers Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery write in their book Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith:
Emma reported that a young woman, Clarissa Marvel, “was accused of [telling] scandalous falsehoods on the character of Prest. Joseph Smith without the least provocation,” and asked that “they would in wisdom, adopt some plan to bring her to repentance.” She continued, “I presume that most of [you] know more about Clarissa Marvel than I.” There must have been silent consternation among a few in the group who were privy to the teaching of celestial marriage. Joseph’s plural wife Louisa Beaman sat in the meeting as did Sarah Peake Noon and Vilate Kimball. Did Emma know that her husband had approached some women and aged them to become his plural wives? (108)
Referring to some of the older women in the Relief Society, the authors added on the following page,
Unknown to Emma, Joseph had already taught these older women the principles of plural marriage. Sometimes referred to as “Mothers in Israel,” they assisted Joseph by contacting women, explaining the new order of marriage to them, and occasionally delivering marriage proposals.
Interesting beginnings for the women’s organization, wouldn’t you say?
I wish to commend the sisters of this great organization for their integrity and faithfulness which have been manifest constantly since the days of Nauvoo.
Integrity? Listen to what Mormon Enigma says about a message given by Joseph to the women:
At the April 28 meeting Joseph counseled the women—and not incidentally his wife—how to treat a husband. “Let this Society teach how to act towards husbands, to treat them with mildness and affection. When a man is borne down with troubles—when he is perplexed, if you can meet a smile, not an argument—if he can meet with mildness it will calm down his soul and sooth his feelings. When the mind is going to despair it needs a solace.” If there was a pointed message for Emma, within twenty-four hours she forgot about mildness and long-suffering. Someone apparently told her about Joseph’s involvement in plural marriage. (113-114)
The Lord is pleased with your labors. You, through your service, have helped to build up and strengthen the kingdom of God. Just as necessary is the labor of the Relief Society in the Church as it is—shall I say?—with the quorums of the Priesthood. Now some may feel that I am expressing this a little too strongly, but my own judgment is that the work that you, our good sisters, are doing, finds its place and is just as important in the building up of this kingdom, strengthening it, causing it to expand, laying a foundation upon which we all may build, just as much as it is for the brethren who hold the Priesthood of God. We can’t get along without you.
Certainly this is true. Somebody has to bear all the spirit children for the new husband-god in the forthcoming celestial kingdom!
The Lord expects women to seek for light and truth that they may be entitled to celestial glory.
The gospel means just as much to our sisters as it does to the brethren. They are just as much concerned in it as are the brethren. And when the Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled,” [D&C 1:37] he did not limit that commandment to the male members of the Church. … It is just as important that our sisters understand the Plan of Salvation as it is for the men. It is just as essential that they keep the commandments. No woman is going to be saved in the kingdom of God without baptism for the remission of sins and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. …
Ahh, back to good works, something we discussed in detail in other places of this manual, including
- Chapter 3: The Plan of Salvation,
- Chapter 18: Living by Every Word that Proceeds from the Mouth of God
- Chapter 23: Individual Responsibility
The Lord requires of the women, as well as of the men in the Church, that they know his divine will and have an abiding testimony in their hearts of the revealed truth pertaining to salvation in the kingdom of God. The Lord did not reveal The Book of Mormon for the benefit of those who hold the Priesthood only, but for every soul who seeks the truth, male and female alike.
We talked about the Book of Mormon in Chapter 9: Witnesses of the Book of Mormon
Our sisters are entitled just as much to the inspiration for their needs of the Holy Spirit as are the men, every bit. They are entitled to the gift of prophecy concerning matters that would be essential for them to know. … When they pray they should pray earnestly, expecting to have an answer to their prayers. The Lord will hear them, if they are earnest, true, just as well as he will the brethren. The Lord has promised to all, males and females alike, the gift of the Holy Ghost on conditions of faithfulness, humility, and true repentance. They are required to study and to know the truths of the gospel and to prepare themselves by study, faith, and obedience to all commandments to seek for light and truth that they may be entitled to celestial glory.
I guess the only thing they are not entitled to is the Priesthood, still reserved only for men. Their authority ends here. For more on this, see
- Chapter 11: Honoring the Priesthood Keys Restored by Joseph Smith
- Chapter 12: The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood
Through the priesthood, God offers to His daughters every spiritual gift and blessing that can be obtained by His sons.
I think we all know that the blessings of the priesthood are not confined to men alone. These blessings are also poured out … upon all the faithful women of the Church. These good sisters can prepare themselves, by keeping the commandments and by serving in the Church, for the blessings of the house of the Lord. The Lord offers to his daughters every spiritual gift and blessing that can be obtained by his sons, for neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man in the Lord [see 1 Corinthians 11:11].
The Bible never suggests that being married is a requirement to go to heaven, or in the case of Mormonism, the celestial kingdom. Think about it: The thief on the cross, Paul, and Barnabas were not married with authority. How did they make it? Even Jesus was single. One would think if marriage was so important that these important leaders would have led by example.