Gordon B. Hinckley, a former prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, described Eve, the first woman, as “God’s final creation, the grand summation of all of the marvelous work that had gone before” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Women in Our Lives,” Ensign, Nov 2004, 82-85). Because the Church promotes differing roles for men and women, people sometimes misunderstand the exceptional respect and opportunities the Church gives its women. Members of the Church don’t consider the traditional roles of women to be demeaning—what greater honor can one have than to bring into the world a child of God and raise it with the help of a good father? Because the Church considers the family the most important unit on earth, having an important role in that family is an honor, not a burden, especially to those who love their families.
LDS women actually have far more opportunities to serve within their church than do women in most churches. This is a lay church, and everyone helps contribute to its success. The congregation is led by a priesthood holder, a man who is called the bishop. He is similar to a pastor, but works without pay, as does everyone else, and so must also have a career and care for his family while serving as the father of the ward (congregation).
However, the bishop doesn’t do everything himself. Many people, male and female, assist in the work. During services, the bishop or his counselors conduct the meeting, but prayers, music, and talks (sermons) are given by members of the congregation by invitation. In any given week, you will see women offering the opening or closing prayer or delivering the sermons. When the service ends, and people scatter to their various auxiliary classes, you will find women leading all around the building.
In a lay church, everyone has callings—volunteer church jobs assigned by the leaders. One place women lead is in the Relief Society. The Relief Society is an organization for the women of the Church, and it is always led by other women. The Relief Society president has tremendous responsibilities, responsible not only for the teaching of the women, but for most of the welfare needs of members, such as ensuring that families have enough to eat, that women who are ill have help caring for their families, and that women who live alone are checked on regularly.
In addition, the Relief Society oversees the literacy needs of all congregation members, teaching reading, helping people learn to speak the native language, and other literacy needs for both men and women.
Another place you might find women serving is with the children or the teenage girls. Women serve as the leaders in both organizations, and fill all the positions in the auxiliary for the girls. The children can be taught by either men or women, but are led by women, who oversee all teachers in the organization, including the male teachers. Women also teach in the Sunday School to both men and women. They can serve as missionaries and in many other church positions. There are some jobs they can’t hold, but there are also jobs men can’t hold.
Women lead in these auxiliaries all the way up to the church-wide level. Julie Beck, for instance, is over the General Relief Society, which means she has leadership responsibility for more than five million women all over the world, and it is true leadership with a large amount of autonomy. You can read more about her and those who lead with her in the article, “Relief Society Program Strengthens Mormon Women.”
Gordon B. Hinckley, a previous president of the Church, summed up the attitude of women leading in the Church when he spoke to the National Press Club: “People wonder what we do for our women. I will tell you what we do. We get out of their way and look with wonder at what they are accomplishing.”
Some people balk at the fact that Mormon women cannot be ordained to the Priesthood. Studies show that outside the Church, even women who work full time are saddled with most of the household duties and child-raising responsibilities. Mormon women do all these things, plus work in their communities, participate in humanitarian aid, involve themselves with schools and extra lessons for their children, fulfill callings in the Church, and somehow try to look after their own health and well-being. Adding priesthood responsibilities to this load would be impossible to bear. Ask the Mormon woman whose husband is called away at midnight to give a priesthood blessing to someone who’s ill, and see whether she feels like adding that to her busy schedule.
Find out more at Mormon Woman.org.