Twice, I stood in my Brooklyn apartment, during the Saturday morning session of conference, to sustain Russell M. Nelson as Prophet, Seer and Revelator (and the twelve apostles). I stood as a member of the Relief Society and as a member of this Church. I did this with full conviction and heart. I’ve long admired President Nelson—“A Plea to My Sisters” is a touchstone for me. I sustain the Prophet. I now plead with President Nelson, the first presidency, the twelve apostles, the auxiliary presidencies and any other decision-makers to continue to give more opportunities for our female leaders to address the general assembly.
Three women (Three!) spoken in the general session of this Conference. From what I can tell, the only other time this has happened was in April 2002. This is wonderful. And I want more. I want to see at least one woman at the pulpit during each of the four general sessions. I understand baby steps are sometimes necessary for change; therefore, I could be satisfied (for a time) with three speakers and a prayer (note, not a single woman offered the prayer in any of the sessions this conference). I fear moral licensing—justifying returning to the practice of one or two female speakers in the general sessions because there were recently three. I hope it isn’t another 16 years before we experience this again.
In 2015, when President Nelson plead with the sisters of the church to be more active and visible in worship, governance and service, he said, “My dear sisters, whatever your calling, whatever your circumstances, we need your impressions, your insights, and your inspiration. We need you to speak up and speak out in ward and stake councils…So today I plead with my sisters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to step forward! Take your rightful and needful place in your home, in your community, and in the kingdom of God—more than you ever have before. . . . I thank you, my dear sisters, and bless you to rise to your full stature, to fulfill the measure of your creation, as we walk arm in arm in this sacred work. Together we will help prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord.”
When I first heard these words, my own thoughts were validated, and I was energized by President Nelson’s conviction and belief in the contributions of women in the Church. I continue to be inspired by these words. However, in order for President Nelson’s plea to be a reality, we need the leaders of the church to visibly model women of the church speaking up and speaking out in general conference. As I discuss this desire with members of the church, I’m often met with, “Yeah, but there are so many more male leaders than women leaders, and we need to give all of them opportunities to talk.”
I too want to hear from the varied priesthood leadership of the church, but not at the expense of parity. Women are the majority of the membership of the church. They particularly, as well as the men, adolescents and children of the church, need to experience our female leaders proselytizing from the highest positions. If women are to speak up, we need to have examples of our voices being heard and valued. We need to believe that the authority and ministry of women carries equal importance to men’s in the progress of the Church.
In her final address, Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson advocated for the recognition of the usefulness that the Young Women are to our wards and Gospel and to utilize them in the building of Zion. Just as Christ taught, “…The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19), it is imperative that our Young Women see empowered women and the empowerment of women in our church.
President Nelson also asked, “Sisters, do you realize the breadth and scope of your influence when you speak those things that come to your heart and mind as directed by the Spirit?” The only way we will fully realize the breadth and scope of our influence is in the doing. I plead for more opportunities for us to do the very thing the President of the church has plead for us to do. Yes, this needs to happen in our general assemblies; it also needs to happen in our wards and stakes. What if we started modeling in our meeting what we expect from our general leadership? We are being asked to utilize and strengthen our ward councils. Are we using these meetings to discuss parity at our ward pulpits? Is this a topic being discussed in our new first Sunday Relief Society and Elder Quorum council meetings? It should be. Use your influence. Speak up. Speak out.