Lesson 18

The Relief Society and the Church

“Lesson 18: The Relief Society and the Church,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Manual (2015)


Introduction

“Relief Society prepares women for the blessings of eternal life by helping them increase their faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and help those in need” (“The Purpose of Relief Society,” lds.org/callings/relief-society/purposes). This lesson will help students better understand the establishment of the Relief Society and its purposes. Students will also see that women have great opportunities and responsibilities in building God’s kingdom that are unique to them.

Background Reading

Suggestions for Teaching

Doctrine and Covenants 25

The Lord’s instructions to Emma Smith

Display the following statement by President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985), and ask a student to read it aloud:

President Spencer W. Kimball

“Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world … will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball [2006], 222–23).

  • What thoughts do you have as you consider this statement?

  • Do you know any women who exemplify happiness in righteous living? How have they made a difference in the lives of those who know them?

Explain that this lesson will focus on the ways in which Relief Society blesses Heavenly Father’s daughters and sons in the restored Church of Jesus Christ.

Ask students to turn to Doctrine and Covenants 25 and look at the section heading to find the person the Lord spoke to in this revelation. Then read verse 3 aloud. Explain to students that in the eyes of the Lord, Emma Smith was an “elect lady.” At the first meeting of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, Joseph Smith explained that “elect meant to be elected to a certain work.” He also said that the revelation given to Emma Smith was “fulfilled by Sister Emma’s election to the Presidency of the [Relief] Society” (in History of the Church, 4:552–53). Divide the class in half, and invite half of the class to read Doctrine and Covenants 25:4–9 and the other half to read Doctrine and Covenants 25:10–15. Invite students to find the assignments or callings that the Lord gave to Emma Smith. They could make a list of these responsibilities or mark them in their scriptures. After sufficient time, invite students to share what they have found.

  • How would the fulfillment of these responsibilities contribute to the growth of the Church?

  • What blessing did the Lord promise to Emma Smith if she was obedient to His commandments?

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 25:16 aloud.

  • While this was a revelation given to Emma Smith, in what ways can the Lord’s words to Emma be likened to us? (The teachings about obedience and other gospel principles taught in this revelation apply to everyone. [Note: Explain that likening the scriptures to our own experiences is an important scripture study skill that helps us see similarities between our experiences and those of individuals in the scriptures.])

As the students share their answers to this question, help them understand the following truth: As we faithfully keep the commandments and fulfill our assignments from the Lord, we will receive a crown of righteousness. You may want to testify of this truth.

The Relief Society is a significant part of the restored Church of Jesus Christ

Tell students that the Lord revealed the organization of the Church line upon line. As part of this process, He gave a very important calling to Emma Smith. Invite a student to read aloud the following summary of the organization of the Relief Society. Ask students to listen for how the Prophet Joseph Smith’s vision of the Relief Society expanded the women’s initial vision.

In Nauvoo, Latter-day Saint women were blessed with their own organization in the Church. It had its beginning when several women, led by Sarah Granger Kimball, organized to make shirts for the men working on the temple. The women decided to formally organize, and they asked Eliza R. Snow to write a constitution for their group. When the Prophet Joseph Smith was consulted, he told them that their constitution was excellent but offered to organize the women in a better way. On March 17, 1842, the Prophet, along with Elders John Taylor and Willard Richards, met with 20 women in the upstairs room of the Red Brick Store, where the Prophet organized the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. Emma Smith was selected as the organization’s president, thus fulfilling the revelation identifying her as an “elect lady” (D&C 25:3). The Prophet later stated that the organization’s objective was to “relieve the poor” and “to save souls” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 453).

On April 28, 1842, the Prophet met again with the sisters. He told them that they would receive instruction through the order of the priesthood and then declared, “I now turn the key to you in the name of God, and this Society shall rejoice, and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 451).

You might point out to students that they can read the minutes of early Relief Society meetings at josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/Nauvoo-relief-society-minute-book.

  • How did the Prophet’s vision of the potential of the Relief Society expand on the original proposal of Sarah Kimball?

  • What do you think the following statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith means: “I now turn the key to you in the name of God”? (The Relief Society was organized under the direction of the priesthood by those who held priesthood keys.)

Display the following statements by Sister Zina D. H. Young (1821–1901) and Sister Julie B. Beck, former Relief Society general presidents, concerning the purposes of the Relief Society, and invite three students to read the statements. Ask the class to follow along and consider what these statements teach about the purposes of the Relief Society.

Zina D. H. Young

“The Relief Society … was first organized nearly half a century ago, by the Prophet Joseph Smith; after the pattern of the Holy Priesthood, and under its direction, to dispense temporal blessings to the poor and needy: and to give encouragement to the weak, and restrain the erring ones, and for the better development, and exercise of woman’s sympathies, and charities, that she might have opportunity to attain spiritual strength, and power for the accomplishment of greater good in the work of the redemption of the human family” (Zina D. H. Young, “First General Conference of the Relief Society,” Woman’s Exponent, Apr. 15, 1889, 172).

Julie B. Beck

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“The Prophet Joseph Smith defined the purpose of the Relief Society and instructed the sisters in their purpose. … Ours is an organization that continues to be led today by prophets, seers, and revelators” (Julie B. Beck, “Relief Society: A Sacred Work,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2009, 110–11).

“Just as the Lord’s prophets have continually taught elders and high priests their purposes and duties, they have shared their vision for the sisters of the Relief Society. From their counsel, it is clear that the purposes of Relief Society are to increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and seek out and help those in need. Faith, family, and relief—these three simple words have come to express the vision of prophets for sisters in the Church” (Julie B. Beck, “The Vision of Prophets Regarding Relief Society: Faith, Family, Relief,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 83).

  • How do the purposes of the Relief Society bless the whole Church? (Students should identify the following truth: The Relief Society seeks to increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and provide relief by seeking out and helping those in need. The entire Church is blessed as women accomplish these purposes.)

  • How have you seen the Relief Society accomplish its purposes?

Display the following statement, and ask a student to read it aloud:

“The Prophet Joseph Smith declared, ‘The Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized’ [Teachings: Joseph Smith, 451]. …

“Besides Joseph Smith, other latter-day prophets have testified that the organization of Relief Society is an inspired part of the Restoration, whereby women in the Church are called in ecclesiastical positions to serve one another and to bless the entire Church. President Joseph F. Smith … said, ‘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’ [Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith (1998), 184]” (Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society [2011], 7).

  • What does this statement teach about the part Relief Society plays in the Restoration of the gospel? (As students respond, make sure they understand this truth, even if it is expressed in different words: Relief Society is a divinely inspired part of the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ. Write this truth on the board.)

  • How does knowing that the organization of Relief Society is part of the Restoration make a difference in your life?

  • How does women’s participation in callings in the Church help the Church to be “perfectly organized”?

Women and the priesthood

Explain to students that there are some who question why women are not ordained to priesthood offices. Emphasize that while we do not know why women are not ordained to priesthood offices, we do know that women participate in the priesthood in their Church callings and in their homes.

handout iconDistribute a copy of the following statement by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to each student, and ask a student to read it aloud. Invite students to identify ways in which women can exercise priesthood authority:

handout, Women and the Priesthood

Women and the Priesthood

Foundations of the Restoration—Lesson 18

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

“In an address to the Relief Society, President Joseph Fielding Smith, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said this: ‘While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, it has not been conferred upon them, that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. … A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord. They have authority given unto them to do some great and wonderful things, sacred unto the Lord, and binding just as thoroughly as are the blessings that are given by the men who hold the Priesthood’ [‘Relief Society—An Aid to the Priesthood,’ Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1959, 4].

“In that notable address, President Smith said again and again that women have been given authority. To the women he said, ‘You can speak with authority, because the Lord has placed authority upon you.’ He also said that the Relief Society ‘[has] been given power and authority to do a great many things. The work which they do is done by divine authority.’ And, of course, the Church work done by women or men, whether in the temple or in the wards or branches, is done under the direction of those who hold priesthood keys. Thus, speaking of the Relief Society, President Smith explained, ‘[The Lord] has given to them this great organization where they have authority to serve under the directions of the bishops of the wards … , looking after the interest of our people both spiritually and temporally’ [‘Relief Society—An Aid to the Priesthood,’ 4–5]. …

“We are not accustomed to speaking of women having the authority of the priesthood in their Church callings, but what other authority can it be? When a woman—young or old—is set apart to preach the gospel as a full-time missionary, she is given priesthood authority to perform a priesthood function. The same is true when a woman is set apart to function as an officer or teacher in a Church organization under the direction of one who holds the keys of the priesthood. Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties” (“The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2014, 50–51).

  • What truths about the roles and responsibilities of women in the Church do you learn from Elder Oaks? (As students share their answers, make sure they understand this truth: When women are set apart to serve in the Church, they receive priesthood authority to perform their responsibilities.)

To deepen students’ understanding and their feelings about the truths they have discussed in class, divide students into pairs and ask them to discuss the following:

  • How can we improve what we say about women in the Church to reflect the true significance of their contributions?

Invite students to share their feelings about the influence of women and the work they do as disciples in the Lord’s kingdom. Encourage students to act upon what they have felt during the lesson, particularly by elevating the importance of Relief Society in their lives.

Student Readings