“Report of Relief Society General Conference,” Ensign, Nov. 1975, 140–42
“I hope that all of your lives will be brightened and blessed by your having come to this conference,” said President Spencer W. Kimball, leaving his blessing with Relief Society sisters in the concluding session of the last general Relief Society conference. “May God bless you, bless you in your homes and in your families, and especially with your husbands, that they may recognize in you a great power so that they might better fulfill their responsibilities in life. This is the work of the Lord. God Almighty is responsible for it.”
Both President Kimball and Sister Barbara B. Smith, general president of the Relief Society, focused on contemporary issues in instructing the sisters. Themed “Every Woman in Relief Society,” the conference used a variety of talks, demonstrations, and presentations to, as Sister Smith said, help women “focus eternal values while living in the midst of a materialistic, unspiritual environment,” which challenges “their right to be women, to carry out their divinely appointed and defined roles.”
President Kimball reminded the sisters: “You are intelligent women. You have learned from your infancy what is right.” He warned them that “much that comes to your consciousness is designed to lead you astray,” and listed four lies women will encounter: that they need not marry, need not bear children in wedlock, need not have children at all, and that they may have worldly pleasures without obligations and responsibilities.
In contrast, he said, stands the eternal role of women “fixed when she was created,” as eternal companion to Adam. He explained that God’s statement “Let us make man” was not referring to “a separate man, but a complete man, which is husband and wife,” and that “the story of the rib, of course, is figurative.” He stressed that the creation was not an experiment. “There were no guesses, no trial and error.”
In the scriptural instructions that the Lord gave to this couple, President Kimball suggested that a more accurate meaning might be given by reading, “In distress thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall preside over thee.” (See Gen. 3:16.)
Sister Smith identified the chief causes of concern among Mormon women as self-fulfillment, home and family, and community and society improvement. “In each of these areas, the Latter-day Saint woman has already received wise counsel either in the scriptures or through the words of prophets of the Lord,” she reminded.
The first responsibility of a woman seeking self-fulfillment, she said, is “to love the Lord with all her might, mind, and strength. … She should … reject any counsel that suggests the doctrine of selfish personal gratification at the expense of one’s personal exaltation, or one’s children, husband, or other close associates. She should realize that she is a daughter of God and is here in mortality to obtain a physical body, and to give the opportunity of life to others, to nurture others, and to learn to live according to eternal principles.”
On issues of home and family, the Latter-day Saint woman “should do all in her power to maintain that God-given pattern of family life. She should, with her husband, train their children effectively,” and revere human life, understanding that abortion is justified only when the mother’s life is endangered or in the case of rape, that “there should be chastity before marriage and fidelity after, and there must be wisdom used in decisions concerning multiplying and replenishing the earth.” In sum, she should understand that “men and women have separate but equally valid roles in society and that they are companion and supportive roles.”
Internal harmony comes from counseling and making joint decisions as a couple and also as parents with the children. “She should recognize that each home is entitled to and should receive the blessings of priesthood leadership. … She should realize that both men and women are counseled to put the family in top priority as decisions are made.”
On issues of community and social improvement, the Latter-day Saint woman should “be aware and concerned about problems that exist and be actively involved” in solving them, either through volunteer service or through legislative actions. “She should support those programs that will ensure men and women protection under the law for themselves and according to their special needs.”
Sister Smith stressed: “We cannot shift the responsibility for our actions to anyone else—to our friends because they are more capable, to our children because they make us tired or because they have greater opportunity than we had, to our husbands because they hold the priesthood, to our bishops because they preside over our wards, to our prophet because he is the mouthpiece of the Lord, or to the problems of our existence because they are difficult or weighty or seem overwhelming. Ultimately we are responsible for our own happiness.”
Elder Mark E. Petersen, speaking to the theme of “Every Woman in Relief Society,” stated, “For all practical purposes, the program of the Church is the plan of salvation. The Relief Society was made part of the restored church by the great restorer, Joseph Smith,” and invited women to participate fully in the plan of salvation by participating in their own organization, the Relief Society. “You have more opportunities for self-expression and for service than any women in the world,” he declared. “As the hand cannot say to the foot, ‘I have no need of thee,’ neither can the priesthood say to the Relief Society, ‘I have no need of thee.’ What Mormon woman can say to the Relief Society, ‘I have no need of thee’?”
“Husbands,” he continued, “should desire their wives to participate in Relief Society if only for selfish reasons and should actually sponsor their attendance because of the benefits to marriage and family.
“Be Relief Society missionaries,” he exhorted the stake leaders, “and you will be saviors on Mount Zion to thousands.”
Throughout the conference, the sense of challenge in the face of change was well-understood. Presentations and skits focused on the potential differences new programs would make toward the goal of “Every Woman in Relief Society.”
Departmental sessions gave sisters ideas about how lessons could be taught, the kinds of visual aids that could be used, and various ways in which the sisters could be involved in discussion. Nursery leaders were treated to an array of suggestions for creative teaching and play. The homemaking demonstration featured quilting and patchwork among other displays on Christmas decorations, basketry, canning, and organic gardening. Bicentennial projects, including a gallery of Revolutionary War women, “Melt Down My Pewter!” and beautification skits added dramatic spice. A morning program accenting youth described the Young Adult-Young Special Interest sessions of Relief Societies.
Sister Smith counseled young women to sacrifice in giving compassionate service. “No one can serve just when it is convenient for them.” Could they help support a needy missionary? a struggling student?
She also counseled, “Continue to improve your earning capacity. … It will make you both a more interesting person and a person better able to help others.” She encouraged them to increase in testimony and spirituality, and summarized, “The world you have come into is a world with unfinished battles, many wrongs to right, temptations to overcome. Have the courage to stand against sin and error.”
Elder David B. Haight, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve, discussed the relationship of the Relief Society and the Melchizedek Priesthood who share the responsibility for single adults who live away from their families. “They have more needs than those who live in families,” he said, and stressed the need for flexible planning to meet those needs. Included among the optimum conditions for success are “a high councilor who’s comfortable working with his assignment and an empathetic Relief Society representative.”
Bishop H. Burke Peterson emphasized the special place women have in the workings of the Church by commenting: “I have observed too often a big difference between the authority and the power of the priesthood as some of the brethren use it. Many have the authority to act but lack the power to do so because they are not prepared spiritually to call down blessings from heaven. I believe you women, more than any other, are the catalysts, the motivators, the reason for the brethren living righteous lives that will prepare, them for power in the priesthood.
“There is cause for concern when the uniqueness of women is ignored,” he continued, “but just because some men, and even some priesthood leaders, may be insensitive, does not nullify the Lord’s eternal plan which declares that women have this most special place in the kingdom.”
He concluded with a plea to the sisters “to purify your lives that the Spirit of the Lord can work through you, unrestricted and unrestrained as you go about your life-saving labors. Hands that help and the compassionate service they render become more effective as they become more pure.”
Sister Janath Cannon, education counselor in the general presidency, urged the sisters to set priorities in their pursuit of excellence. Using the examples of Michal, David’s wife who unseasonably rebuked him for dancing before the Lord, and Saul, who disobeyed the prophet’s voice in deciding to save some Amalekite animals for sacrifice, she stressed, “The word of the Lord through his living prophets has priority over any of our own ideas, however excellent they may seem to us. So also the work of the Lord should have precedence over other pursuits in our search for excellence.”
Sister Marian R. Boyer, homemaking counselor, pointed out some of the forces that erode the home and reaffirmed the sisters’ great responsibility for family preparedness—“not only the physical aspects of home living but the spiritual as well.” Essential are such homemaking skills as cooking, time management, cleanliness and order, knowing how to sew, and how to manage a budget so that “yearnings never exceed earnings.”