Sunday, May 13, 2012

Not your typical Mother's Day talk

Sacrament Meeting Talk (Spring Creek 18th Ward) on Mother's Day May13, 2012

Last Thursday I drove to Logan to spend time with my mother on her 85th birthday. I am so grateful for her long life of love and service to me and to so many others. I am also grateful to my wife Marie and for her devotion to our three wonderful children.

For the past ten years at BYU I have been associated with a research project that focuses on trying to improve the status of women in the world. Because of my involvement with that project, my daughter Sarah has happily decided that I am a “Feminist.” Today I want to share with you some of my feminist feelings. Instead of focusing specifically on mothers, I will expand out my remarks to focus on all women. In doing so I hope that we can all be reminded that we can all do better in the ways we treat each other—especially women.

A few years ago in Afghanistan three teenage sisters were walking to school when a man pulled up to them, asked if they were going to school and when they said yes he lifted their burqas and threw acid in their faces—leaving them scarred for life. The hope of this and other Muslim religious extremists was to scare these girls and all other girls from going to school.

A few months ago in Israel a modestly dressed eight year old girl was spat upon and vilified by Jewish religious extremists because her standard of modestly was not up to their extreme standard of modestly. Elsewhere in Israel similar men are now enforcing gender segregation on buses.

Over the past thirty years, China has strongly encouraged a one-child policy. Strong cultural preferences to make sure your only child is a son has lead to horrible, destructive acts against female fetuses and baby girls. As a result, by 2020, it is estimated that in China there will be 24 million more men of marriageable age than women.

During 2005 in the United States, 1,181 women were murdered by an intimate partner. That's an average of three women every day. Of all the women murdered in the U.S., about one-third were killed by an intimate partner.

Acts such as these, as well as many other equally horrible ones, recently prompted one Egyptian woman to question “why do [men] hate us?”

Why are girls and women subjected to such violence? What prompts men and sometimes even women to participate is such cruel acts.

I think it is all part of the plan of Satan. He knows that if he can defeat women he can defeat the plan of salvation.

In the April 1986 General Conference President Ezra Taft Benson stated: We live in a day of great challenge...We live in that day which John the Revelator foresaw when "the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ: (Rev. 12:17). The dragon is Satan, the woman represents the Church of Jesus Christ. Satan is waging war against the members of the Church who have testimonies and are trying to keep the commandments."

I wonder if John was also speaking literally when he said the dragon was wroth with women and wanting to make war with her and her seed?

In the October 1993 General Conference Elder Dallin Oaks sated: “Although Satan and his followers have lost their opportunity to have a physical body, they are permitted to use their spirit powers to try to frustrate God’s plan….Satan’s most strenuous opposition is directed at whatever is most important to the Father’s plan. Satan seeks to discredit the Savior and divine authority, to nullify the effects of the Atonement, to counterfeit revelation, to lead people away from the truth, to contradict individual accountability, to confuse gender, to undermine marriage, and to discourage childbearing (especially by parents who will raise children in righteousness).”

In the April 1998 General Conference President Henry B. Eyring stated: “But with the Fall it became clear that living in unity would not be easy….The children of Adam and Eve had become subject to the temptations of Satan. With skill, hatred, and cunning, Satan pursues his goal. It is the opposite of the purpose of our Heavenly Father and the Savior. They would give us perfect union and eternal happiness. Satan, their enemy and ours, has known the plan of salvation from before the Creation. He knows that only in eternal life can those sacred, joyful associations of families endure. Satan would tear us from loved ones and make us miserable. And it is he who plants the seeds of discord in human hearts in the hope that we might be divided and separate.

Bassam al-Kadi, a Syrian man who founded a woman’s rights organization has this to say about the mistreatment of women: “Trying to stop violence and discrimination against women is generally defined as defending women’s rights. But I believe that by doing so I am also defending men’s rights. Women are the prima facia victims of violence and discrimination, but men are also victims. When you violate women’s rights, restrict their development and treat them as second-class citizens, you create an unstable marital relationship and an unbalanced family. This takes a toll not only on women, but on husbands, children and the whole of society.”

It is interesting that in the Old Testament, when Israel and Judah turned from the Lord and engaged in idolatry and other perversions, the Lord referred to his people as harlots (Hosea 4:14) (Isaiah 1:21). I think that imagery is very telling. A fallen woman is symbolic of a fallen society. If Satan can get women to turn from God, from serving, from marriage and from raising righteous children then everything else falls too.

A good example of what Satan wants to stop is what I have witnessed these past few weeks in our ward. As was announced, Brother Hartman passed away yesterday. My wife Marie is a visiting teacher to Sister Hartman. During the past few weeks she and her companion have visited the Hartman’s many times and have taken in various meals, In addition the Relief Society presidency has also been involved with helping. The Hartman’s four daughters have all rallied around their parents and sweet sister Hartman has been at her husband’s side for some rough medical challenges. I know this from a middle of the night call from sister Hartman to my wife with a question about how Marie’s dad had dealt with a similar health challenge. Satan wants to stop such goodness.

How does Satan work to undermine the positive power women have in this world? I think he does it in two general ways. First he does if by stirring up the hearts of men to do harm to women. He somehow convinces men to think that it is OK to rape a woman, to hit a wife, to molest a daughter. He also convinces them to think that it is OK to talk demeaningly about women, to not pay women as much, and to keep women from participating fully in all segments of society.  Second, he does it by making us think that some ways of treating women are indeed religiously justified: that it is justifiable to keep women uneducated so that they can stay at home to take care of their families, that it is justifiable to force women or shame women into dressing a certain way so that men do not need to be responsible for their own thoughts and acts, and that it is justifiable to kill a daughter who has been raped in order to restore honor to the family name.

It is easy to think that these problems are not our problems. While the status of women in Springville Utah is definitely better than that of women in Afghanistan, I think that there is room for improvement everywhere, even here. In the Book of Mormon Jacob condemns the Nephites for their mistreatment of women and children: He states: Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren. Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you. (Jacob 2:35) 

As the disciples of John the Baptist once asked: What then shall we do?

In other parts of the world, brave girls and women have started to demand better. In Afghanistan, the sisters who were assaulted with acid all went back to school with the encouragement of both their father and mother. In Yemen a 10 year old child bride walked out on the older man she was forced to marry, hailed a cab and went to a judge who agreed to grant her a divorce. And in Saudi Arabia where women are not allowed to drive, a woman with an international driver’s license decided she should be able to drive. When she did, she was pulled over by the religious police and told she needed to have a male chauffer. She hired a male chauffer and then put him in the back seat and she continued to drive. She was pulled over again and told she was still breaking the law. Her next move was to buy a bike and ride it unaccompanied through the streets of Riyadh. That too met with the disapproval of the religious police. Finally she bought a donkey and started riding it. When pulled over this time, she was ready. She challenged: “If the female companions of the Prophet Mohammed rode donkeys through town then certainly I can too!”

Closer to home we can also do better

We can honor our mothers for all the good they do

We can obey our mothers and help our mothers—not just today but throughout the year.

We can teach our sons how to respect girls. A former student of mine tells a story about his two children talking one day. The son, who was older, told his younger sister that she could never be a doctor. The parents jumped in and explained to the son that girls, including his sister, have the same opportunities as boys and they can certainly become doctors. A few days later at the bus stop, the father knew that his son was starting to get it when he bucked the bus stop tradition that boys always get to stand at the front of the line. When he and his sister arrived at the bus stop first he told the later arriving boys that his sister had the right to keep her spot at the front of the line and not move to the back as had always been the practice.

We can talk respectfully about woman. My first five years working at BYU I was not married. During lunch time gatherings, I was amazed to often hear some of the married men in my department talk disparagingly about their wives and about marriage. When I finally did get married one of my colleagues actually admitted that perhaps one of the reasons I was so slow in getting married was because I had been subjected to so many negative comments from some of them.

At the same time I was hearing husbands talk negatively about their wives, President Howard W. Hunter in the October 1994 General Priesthood Meeting gave some direct teachings about how men in the church can do better. He counseled: “Any man who abuses or demeans his wife physically or spiritually is guilty of grievous sin and in need of sincere and serious repentance. Differences should be worked out in love and kindness and with a spirit of mutual reconciliation. A man should always speak to his wife lovingly and kindly, treating her with the utmost respect. Marriage is like a tender flower, brethren, and must be nourished constantly with expressions of love and affection.”

He goes on to say: “We urge you to do all in your power to allow your wife to remain in the home, caring for the children while you provide for the family the best you can. We further emphasize that men who abandon their family and fail to meet their responsibility to care for those they have fathered may find their eligibility for a temple recommend and their standing in the Church in jeopardy”

In the April 2002 General Priesthood meeting President Hinckley had this to say to the men of the church: “The wife you choose will be your equal. Paul declared, “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:11). In the marriage companionship there is neither inferiority nor superiority. The woman does not walk ahead of the man; neither does the man walk ahead of the woman. They walk side by side as a son and daughter of God on an eternal journey. She is not your servant, your chattel, nor anything of the kind. How tragic and utterly disgusting a phenomenon is wife abuse. Any man in this Church who abuses his wife, who demeans her, who insults her, who exercises unrighteous dominion over her is unworthy to hold the priesthood.”

Women can also do their part, by loving and supporting one another. Years ago in a singles ward I remember the Relief Society President once telling me that some of the sisters in the ward expressed their dissatisfaction with her because in the past month she had had dates with two different men from the ward. They thought it wasn’t fair that she dated multiple men, while they dated no one. Why can’t women be happy when someone else gets a date, someone else gets married, or someone else has remarkable children.

Mothers, when you are reading a book about how to be a good mother or are sitting in a Mothers Day Sacrament meeting and someone praises his or her mother for all of her goodness and you begin to feel inadequate, in the phraseology of President Uchtdorf:  “Stop it.”

Women need to recognize and focus on all the good they do. In his April 2011 General Conference talk by Elder Quientin R. Cook  entitled “LDS Women are Incredible” Elder Cook stated: “Our women are not incredible because they have managed to avoid the difficulties of life—quite the opposite. They are incredible because of the way they face the trials of life. Despite the challenges and tests life has to offer—from marriage or lack of marriage, children’s choices, poor health, lack of opportunities, and many other problems—they remain remarkably strong and immovable and true to the faith.

I would like to close with a quote from the Bahai faith that is very much in concert with what the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches. “The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for humanity will not be realized;... When the two wings…become equivalent in strength, enjoying the same prerogatives, the flight of man will be exceedingly lofty and extraordinary.”

It is my hope that on this mother’s day we can choose to honor our mothers by making sure that we are actively trying to honor, respect and fairly treat all woman.


  1. Wonderful, this is just wonderful! Thank you for saying this! You are such an example to others.

  2. Wow. If you happen to be in my parents' ward in Springville, how I wish I'd gone to church with them! Thanks for putting together such a wonderful collection of thoughts. Inspiring.

  3. Enjoyed the talk and wish I'd heard it in person. -Jess

  4. Excellent. Also concur with "Fabulous" and "Wonderful".

  5. Well stated. I especially like that last quote. Can you speak in our ward next year?

  6. You are right, this is not your usual sacrament meeting talk. I loved it! You made some remarkable points. I am wondering what the reception was?

  7. Jake asked if you could speak in our ward next year. Why wait that long? As you indicated that is much more than a Mother's day talk. We had some good talks in our ward today. We usually do. But I am glad to have been pointed to this by my most recent former Bishop. I wish I could share this with some of my family and friends who will not see it.

  8. The points you make are important but I don't think young, innocent kids need to hear about rape in sacrament meeting. This is such an important topic and I can think of a lot of appropriate settings for these stories but sacrament meeting is not one of them.