Saturday, November 16, 2013

"The Moral Force of Women"

Last month Dominic and I were asked to give talks about General Conference in sacrament meeting. Usually I make an outline and talk from that. On a whim I wrote out my talk this time. I received quite a few complimentary comments, which I don't normally get, so I thought you might enjoy it, too.

I have chosen Elder Christofferson’s talk on The Moral Force of Women, because it has been on my mind a lot lately. Let me begin by giving you a little of my background. My father, who was born and raised in the church, did his graduate studies at Yeshiva University, a Jewish-run institution. While there he developed a better understanding of and love for Jews and their culture. (In fact 2 of my brothers, Aaron and Joshua, were named after my Dad’s favorite professor.)  Because Orthodox Jewish women stay at home, many Gentiles mistakenly believe they have no value. However, it is because they are so highly valued that they are entrusted to teach and care for the children, and protected from the harsh outside world. So I grew up in a home that also highly valued the role of a mother in raising children. My parents encouraged my sisters and me to seek higher education so that we could become the best mothers we could. Hearing this talk during the Saturday afternoon session resonated with everything I believe about the role of women as wives and mothers.

Elder Christofferson expresses gratitude for the influence of good women, warns us of dangerous trends, and pleads with us to cultivate our innate moral power.

He speaks of 3 specific women who had a positive influence on him. One mother in Mexico “was love personified” as she sacrificed earthly treasures in order to care for her home and family. Elder Christofferson even compared her to the Savior, “blessing others through service and sacrifice.” He then tells us about Anna Daines, who worked tirelessly in New Jersey “to overcome deeply rooted prejudice against Mormons and to make the community a better place for all parents to raise their children.” When Elder Christofferson was a teenager his family moved into Anna’s ward. She encouraged him to reach higher than he would have otherwise. And “once, because of a thoughtful and timely warning from her, I avoided a situation that would surely have led to regret,” he said. Next he talks about his own grandmother, who taught him to be a conscientious priesthood holder. She encouraged him to memorize the sacramental blessings on the bread and water. She taught him a reverence for sacred things. Although she “never learned how to drive a car, … she knew how to help boys become priesthood men.”

Elder Christofferson moves on to describe a mother’s influence in her home. It’s amazing, and I want to read the whole paragraph.
            “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. Elder Neal A Maxwell once asked: ‘When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?’”
            Wow. That’s all I can say, just wow. I always thought that the saying, behind every great man is a great woman, referred to the great man’s wife. After reading that, I’m inclined to think it is actually talking about the man’s mother.

Our role in creating life is very sacred. We give physical bodies to God’s children. I don’t know anyone who has given birth who will say it was easy or fun, but it is worth it. Sometimes we even put our lives on the line. But childbirth is an “integral part … in God’s work and glory ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.’” Once we realize that, I hope we will be righteous role models “of chastity before marriage and fidelity within marriage.” It is because we have a “civilizing influence in society, [and] have brought out the best in men.” That is almost exactly what my dad says about women. His example: look at the first Europeans in Idaho – hunters, trappers, and explorers. They were constantly moving around and had reputations of being a bit rough. Who settled here? Men with wives, who encouraged them to settle in one place and raise children. That’s when towns and cities grew.

Elder Christofferson doesn’t want to overpraise us, which he realizes makes us cringe. We know we’re not perfect, so when people tell us we are, I for one feel like I fall short, by a lot. So he switches from praising to warning.

One modern philosophy is devaluing marriage, motherhood and homemaking. Society says that homemaking “demeans women, and the relentless demands of raising children are a form of exploitation.” My family has first-hand experience with this. My older sister Emily was invited into the gifted and talented program in 3rd grade. For the next 3 years of elementary school, she was told over and over again that she was too smart to be a mom, that she was meant for better things, that motherhood was a waste of her talent. My mom, who earned her Bachelor’s degree and chose to leave her career to raise children, was insulted by this attitude. So when others of us were invited into the gifted and talented program, my mom refused to send us. I am happy to report that all my mother’s daughters are college educated and happily raising children now. Emily had a hard time giving up her lucrative career at first, but now she has no regrets. Let’s not forget about my brothers, who sought out righteous, moral women to marry. Their wives are also well-educated and staying home to raise their children. My brothers work very hard to provide for their families and support their wives in child-rearing.

Another dangerous attitude concerns sexual immorality. Like immodest clothing is debasing, not liberating. My youngest brother impressed me when he threw a Hawaiian themed birthday party his senior year of high school. Now, my brother is very out-going, has always been popular, and he isn’t shy about letting people know he is a Mormon and what he believes. So when 2 of his friends showed up at the party wearing grass skirts and bikini tops he said, “I thought they knew me better than that.” He then went to his room and grabbed 2 of his own Hawaiian shirts and gave them to his friends before they even stepped into the house. My brother is a full foot taller than me, so his shirts are big and baggy. And that’s what the girls wore the entire party. He valued his friends enough to keep them modest.

[And this is where I stopped because it was time to go to church. The rest was written while I was waiting for my turn to speak.]

Another problem is the cultural double-standard of sexuual promiscuity. Women were expected to be pure, while men were allowed, or even expected, to sow their wild oats. That double-standard is finally equalizing. Unfortunately in the wrong direction. Instead of women and men being chase, women are joining the men in promiscuity. It leads to father-less families and poverty. Women lose their moral influence, and it degrades all of society.

The final concern comes from those who want men and women to be equal in every way, erasing the differences between masculine and feminine. Women are being portrayed in the media as more aggressive, tough, and confrontational. I remember studying Shakespeare's MacBeth in high school. Lady MacBeth wants to help her husband attain power, so she murders a man who stands in the way. Before she commits this heinous act, she throws off her fenininity. I remember my teacher telling us that in Shakespeare's time, it was unthinkable that a woman could do anything so awful unless she denies her natural state. Let us remember what former Young Women General President Nadauld taught: there are enough women who are tough, coarse, rude, vain, and popular. Let us be the ones who are tender, kind, refined, virtuous, and pure. 

Elder Christofferson's final plea is that we protect and cultivate... [and this is when Dominic finished talking and I had to speak. When I reached this part of my talk, I fumbled a bit and finally concluded with my testimony. If you hate cliffhangers, go to Christofferson's talk to read the exciting conclusion here.]


Missa said...

Thanks MaryRuth. What a great talk.

Judy and Lloyd Abbott said...

I would repeat: WOW. Talk about a "certain trumpet." Good for you!

Hilary said...

Excellent talk! I'm glad you write it out :)

Nathan and Kristen said...

This is excellent, MaryRuth!

Pink Panda said...

Loved this!