The Gospel Doctrine lesson #1; D&C 1, Our Heritage: Introduction
To begin our Sunday School supplement for Doctrine and Covenants and Church History, I want to address two central difficulties I see with focusing on women and the gospel specifically in our study material for this year. Firstly, it is the Doctrine and Covenants itself. In comparison with the biblical text and the Book of Mormon text, even a smaller percentage of the new revelations recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants directly involve women. Secondly, it is the church history. LDS Church History has always predominantly been his story. It has generally been the story of great LDS men—the Josephs, the Brighams, and the Wilfords. (Generally white and American, too.) Though either of these issues on their own might be enough for us to throw in the towel, we don’t want our spiritual foremothers turning over in their graves, nor do we want to miss out on the great possibilities offered us in the Doctrine and Covenants and church history.
I’ll address the former first—only two nineteenth-century women, Emma Smith and Vienna Jacques, are specifically mentioned in the text. (If we expand our timeline, Sarah, Hagar, and Eve get a moment.) Section 25 is the only section given directly to a woman, Emma Smith. The section itself is critical; Latter-day Saint women in the latter-half of the nineteenth-century would often read this section and use it as a guide to the role of women in the church (hint: expounding and exhorting are essential). However, some LDS commenters have called section 25 “the” women’s section as if it was the only section that applied to women—the snarky voice in my head asks, so are the rest “the men’s sections”? The Lord seems to read my mind and responds in the last verse of section 25 declaring, “This is my voice unto all.” And this is not the only place, more than forty times in the revelations the Lord proclaims that His words are “unto all.” As the Lord says in His preface to the revelations, “Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding” (1:27). Whether or not our gender or native tongue or culture is the same, each of us has our own unique and personal “manner of language.” Differences in interpretations are not weakness; the Lord will speak to each of us so we might understand.
As for the second problem of church history, this is a great time to be studying church history. Elder M. Russell Ballard’s seminal February 2016 talk described “extraordinary efforts” that have been made “to provide accurate context and understanding of the teachings of the Restoration.” He pled with CES instructors to gain a better understanding of church history—particularly through the historical Gospel Topics essays on lds.org, the Joseph Smith Papers, and the many other resources now available. We see evidence of this charge being taken up in the newest additions to the Sunday School manual. Each lesson offers new additional resources. (Those who use the hard copy manual or the pdf copy will not have access to the new references, so use the version on lds.org or in the Gospel Library.) The manual encourages teachers to use the historical Gospel Topics essays, Revelations in Context (also available in book form for the bargain price of $3.50), the Joseph Smith Papers, Daughters in My Kingdom, The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, tours of LDS Historic Sites, and articles and films from Pioneers in Every Land. Many of these resources are available from history.lds.org. The Women of Conviction section also provides many important examples LDS women. There are links in each lesson as well as a new Church History Study Guide which will aggregate many of these resources. Moreover, there is a new Church History section in Gospel Library for easy access (scroll to the end of the first page).
As we further work to incorporate women’s experiences into the history of the church, Daughters in My Kingdom is a great place to start. The monumental First Fifty Years of Relief Society is a marvelous resource of women’s voices—including Eliza R. Snow’s minutes of Joseph’s words to the women in the first six meetings of the Relief Society in Nauvoo. The Beginning of Better Days is a bit more accessible look at the minutes of those initial meetings along with useful essays. For additional resources, we may turn to any of the many LDS women’s history biographical works. Since 1877 and the publication of Edward Tullidge’s Women of Mormondom, much of Mormon women’s history has been biographical. Some great examples include: Mormon Sisters, Women’s Voices, Women of Covenant, and the multiple volumes of Women of Faith. There are also many others. To make the experiences of LDS women more easily accessible in lesson preparation, Jennifer Reeder and myself have recently published The Witness of Women: Firsthand Experiences and Testimonies of the Restoration (a review and interview about the book will be forthcoming). The Mormon Women Project seeks to fill a dearth of women’s voices related to scripture and clearly we will continue to need more. As we make efforts to include women’s voices as we study the Restoration and work to better understand our theology, we will help fulfill the Lord’s work of speaking “unto all” in a way that all “might come to understanding.”
Other Related Women’s Voices
Looking for additional perspectives on this lesson? We recommend Mormon Sunday School, Meridian Magazine and LDSLiving.