My dear sisters, I wish to tell you at the outset how much we appreciate the women of this Church. You are an essential part of it, a most important part of it. It could not function properly without you.
You provide inspiration. You provide balance. You constitute a vast reservoir of faith and good works. You are an anchor of devotion and loyalty and accomplishment. No one can gainsay the great part you play in the onward rolling of this work across the earth. You teach in the organizations and do it so very well. Your preparation is an example to all of us. Each of you is a part of this vast enterprise, the Relief Society, a great family of sisters, more than four million strong. In your worldwide membership lies the power to accomplish incalculable good.
You are the keepers of the homes. You give encouragement to your husbands. You teach and nurture your children in faith. For some of you life is difficult and even bitter. But you complain so very little and do so very much. How deeply indebted we are to you!
Speaking of the Relief Society, President Joseph F. Smith said on one occasion:
“This organization is divinely made, divinely authorized, divinely instituted, divinely ordained of God to minister for the salvation of the souls of women and of men. Therefore there is not any organization that can compare with it, … that can ever occupy the same stand and platform that this can. …
“Make [Relief Society] first, make it foremost, make it the highest, the best and the deepest of any organization in existence in the world. You are called by the voice of the Prophet of God to do it, to be uppermost, to be the greatest and the best, the purest and the most devoted to the right” (Minutes of the General Board of the Relief Society, 17 Mar. 1914, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 54–56).
A great challenge! At the marriage of each of our daughters and granddaughters, my wife has presented a special gift. It is not a vacuum cleaner or dishes or anything utilitarian. It is a seven-generation family history chart of her maternal line, beautifully framed. It is made up of photographs of her maternal great-great-grandmother, of her great-grandmother, of her grandmother, her mother, herself, her daughter, and her newly married granddaughter.
Every woman in that picture for seven generations has been a Relief Society worker. This beautiful family history chart becomes an ever-present reminder to the younger ones of this generation of the great responsibility they carry, of the great obligation they have to move forward this work in the tradition of their mothers and grandmothers in service in the Relief Society organization.
You and your forebears have walked in the light of the Lord. From the beginning it has been your most important responsibility to see that no one goes hungry, to see that no one goes without adequate clothing, that no one goes without shelter. It has been and is your responsibility to visit your sisters wherever they may be found, to give encouragement as they may need it, to assure them of love and concern and interest. It is and has been your opportunity to tear away the curtain of darkness that enshrouds those who are illiterate and to bring into their lives the light of understanding as you teach them to read and to write.
It is and has been your opportunity to mingle together as sisters who love and honor and respect one another, to bring the blessings of pleasant sociality into the lives of tens of thousands who, without you, would be left in very bleak and lonely circumstances.
I pulled a book from my shelf the other evening. I read again the life of Mary Fielding Smith, wife of Hyrum Smith, sister-in-law of Joseph Smith, mother and grandmother of two presidents of the Church. A convert to the Church, originally from England and then from Canada, she came to Kirtland in her late 30s. There she met and married Hyrum Smith, who was left with six children after the death of his first wife.
Mary loved him and brought an added dimension into his life. In that process she set a course which brought her happiness only to be followed by immeasurable sorrow, for there was laid upon her a terrifying and fearful responsibility which took her from Nauvoo across Iowa to Winter Quarters and, in 1848, on the long trail that led to the Salt Lake Valley. At the age of 51 she was worn out, weary from the struggle. She passed away September 21, 1852.
Her life is the epitome of the Relief Society woman of those days. In fact, some of her experiences predated the organization of the society in 1842.
Mary’s boy Joseph was born at a time when her husband was snatched away by the mob militia then terrorizing Far West. Hyrum and the Prophet Joseph were taken to Liberty, Missouri, where they were imprisoned. Under the compulsion of Governor Lilburn W. Boggs’s extermination order, she left Missouri with the stepchildren for whom she had taken responsibility, as well as her own son. Her sister Mercy placed Mary, who was seriously ill, on a bed in a wagon box with her infant boy cradled at her side.
In February 1839, when winter was still upon the land, they traveled east across the state and then across the Mississippi to Quincy, Illinois, bumping along in a springless wagon where every jolt brought pain.
When her husband and the Prophet escaped from Liberty Jail and came to Quincy, life again improved. The Saints moved to what became Nauvoo and established their beautiful city on the Mississippi. But their peace was short-lived. Her little boy was less than six years old when a knock came at night on her window and a man said, “Sister Smith, your husband has been killed!”
Joseph F. never forgot his mother’s weeping through the night.
Her world was shattered. She was on her own now with a large family to care for. In the summer of 1846, they bade their comfortable home good-bye and rode a flatboat across the Mississippi. Taking matters into her own hands, she was able to trade, borrow, and barter for ox teams and wagons.
While living in Winter Quarters, she and her brother went down the Missouri River to purchase provisions and clothing. They had two wagons, each having two yoke of oxen. Camping for the night, they discovered in the morning that their two best oxen were gone. Young Joseph and his uncle spent the entire morning looking for the lost animals. They found nothing. Disheartened, he returned to tell his mother. Their situation was desperate, terribly so. As he approached, he saw her on her knees praying fervently, speaking with the Lord about their problem. When she arose to her feet, there was a smile on her face. She told her son and her brother to get their breakfast and she would look around. Following a little stream of water, and disregarding the words of a man who was in the area, she went directly along the bank of the river.
Pausing, she called to her son and brother. She pointed to their oxen, which had been tied to a clump of willows growing in the bottom of a deep gulch. The thief, who had tried to misdirect her, lost his prize and they were saved.
Mary’s faith imprinted itself in her son’s boyish heart. He never forgot it. He never doubted her closeness to the Lord.
All of you are familiar with her experience when one of her oxen, exhausted and worn, lay down to die while they were en route to these valleys in the West. In a mixture of utter desperation and simple faith, she secured consecrated oil and asked her brother and an associate to administer to the ox. They did so. It rose to its feet with a renewal of strength and carried them for the remainder of their long journey.
Such was the faith, sweet and simple and beautiful, which graced this woman’s life. She walked in the light of the Lord. She lived by that light. It guided her in all of her actions. It became the lodestar of her life. She exemplified the tremendous faith of the women of this Church—the women of the Relief Society, who today on a thousand fronts carry on the dedicated work of this remarkable organization.
Now there is an added challenge for you sisters of this day. Never before, at least not in our generation, have the forces of evil been so blatant, so brazen, so aggressive as they are today. Things we dared not speak about in earlier times are now constantly projected into our living rooms. All sensitivity is cast aside as reporters and pundits speak with a disgusting plainness of things that can only stir curiosity and lead to evil.
Some to whom we have looked as leaders have betrayed us. We are disappointed and disillusioned. And their activity is only the tip of the iceberg. In successive layers beneath that tip is a great mass of sleaze and filth, of dissolute and dishonest behavior.
There is a reason for it. I feel it is simple to define. I believe our problems, almost every one, arise out of the homes of the people. If there is to be reformation, if there is to be a change, if there is to be a return to old and sacred values, it must begin in the home. It is here that truth is learned, that integrity is cultivated, that self-discipline is instilled, and that love is nurtured.
The home is under siege. So many families are being destroyed. Where are the fathers who should be presiding in love in those homes? Fortunate indeed is the woman who is married to a good man, who is loved by him, and who in turn loves him; a man who loves his children, provides for them, teaches them, guides them, rears and protects them as they walk the stormy course from babyhood to adulthood.
It is in the home that we learn the values by which we guide our lives. That home may be ever so simple. It may be in a poor neighborhood, but with a good father and a good mother, it can become a place of wondrous upbringing. My wife likes to tell of Sam Levenson. He speaks of growing up in a crowded New York tenement where the environment was anything but good. Here in this slum, his mother reared her eight precocious children. He said, “The moral standard of the home had to be higher than that of the street.” His mother would say to them when they acted the way they acted on the street, “You are not on the street; you are in our home. This is not a cellar nor a poolroom. Here we act like human beings.”
If anyone can change the dismal situation into which we are sliding, it is you. Rise up, O women of Zion, rise to the great challenge which faces you.
Stand above the sleaze and the filth and the temptation which is all about you.
You women who are single, and some of you who are married, who are out in the workplace, may I give you a word of caution. You work alongside men. More and more, there are invitations to go to lunch, ostensibly to talk about business. You travel together. You stay in the same hotel. You work together.
Perhaps you cannot avoid some of this, but you can avoid getting into compromising situations. Do your job, but keep your distance. Don’t become a factor in the breakup of another woman’s home. You are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You know what is expected of you. Stay away from that which is tempting. Avoid evil—its very appearance.
You who are wives and mothers are the anchors of the family. You bear the children. What an enormous and sacred responsibility that is. I am told that between 1972 and 1990 there were 27 million abortions in the United States alone. What is happening to our appreciation of the sanctity of human life? Abortion is an evil, stark and real and repugnant, which is sweeping over the earth. I plead with the women of this Church to shun it, to stand above it, to stay away from those compromising situations which make it appear desirable. There may be some few circumstances under which it can occur, but they are extremely limited and for the most part improbable. You are the mothers of the sons and daughters of God, whose lives are sacred. Safeguarding them is a divinely given responsibility which cannot be lightly brushed aside.
Nurture and cultivate your marriage. Guard it and work to keep it solid and beautiful. Divorce is becoming so common, even rampant, that studies show in a few years half of those now married will be divorced. It is happening, I regret to say, even among some who are sealed in the house of the Lord. Marriage is a contract, it is a compact, it is a union between a man and a woman under the plan of the Almighty. It can be fragile. It requires nurture and very much effort. I regret to acknowledge that some husbands are abusive, some are unkind, some are thoughtless, some are evil. They indulge in pornography and bring about situations which destroy them, destroy their families, and destroy the most sacred of all relationships.
I pity the man who at one time looked into the eyes of a beautiful young woman and held her hand across the altar in the house of the Lord as they made sacred and everlasting promises one to another, but who, lacking in self-discipline, fails to cultivate his better nature, sinks to coarseness and evil, and destroys the relationship which the Lord has provided for him.
Sisters, guard your children. They live in a world of evil. The forces are all about them. I am proud of so many of your sons and daughters who are living good lives. But I am deeply concerned about many others who are gradually taking on the ways of the world. Nothing is more precious to you as mothers, absolutely nothing. Your children are the most valuable thing you will have in time or all eternity. You will be fortunate indeed if, as you grow old and look at those you brought into the world, you find in them uprightness of life, virtue in living, and integrity in their behavior.
I think the nurture and upbringing of children is more than a part-time responsibility. I recognize that some women must work, but I fear that there are far too many who do so only to get the means for a little more luxury and a few fancier toys.
If you must work, you have an increased load to bear. You cannot afford to neglect your children. They need your supervision in studying, in working inside and outside the home, in the nurturing that only you can adequately give—the love, the blessing, the encouragement, and the closeness of a mother.
Families are being torn asunder everywhere. Family relationships are strained as women try to keep up with the rigors of two full-time jobs.
I have many opportunities to speak with leaders who decry what is going on—gangs on the streets of our cities, children killing children, spending their time in practices that can lead only to prison or to death. We face a great overwhelming tide of children born to mothers without husbands. The futures of such children are almost inevitably blighted from the day they are born. Every home needs a good father and a good mother.
We cannot build prisons fast enough in this country to accommodate the need.
I do not hesitate to say that you who are mothers can do more than any other group to change this situation. All of these problems find their root in the homes of the people. It is broken homes that lead to a breakup in society.
And so tonight, my beloved sisters, my message to you, my challenge to you, my prayer is that you will rededicate yourselves to the strengthening of your homes.
Three years ago, in this same meeting, I read for the first time in public the proclamation on the family given by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles. I hope every one of you has a copy and that you occasionally read it carefully and prayerfully. It sets forth our great concepts of marriage and family, of a man and a woman in a sacred bond under the eternal plan of the Almighty.
Now, in closing, I wish to reemphasize my deep gratitude, my profound appreciation for the women of this Church and the tremendous sons and daughters you are teaching, training, helping to take their places in the world. But the task will never be finished. It will never be complete. May the light of the Lord shine upon you. May the Lord bless you in your great and sacred work.
I leave my blessing, my testimony, and my love with you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.