LDS leader pushes 'Mormon brand of female empowerment'

The Salt Lake Tribune/September 28, 2008

What a difference a year makes.

When Julie B. Beck spoke at last October's LDS General Conference, she was only six months into her service as general president of the church's all-women Relief Society. Her talk, then, sparked heated debate, as she urged women to hasten and not limit their child bearing, spoke of the virtues of good housekeeping and - in doing so - set Mormon blogs ablaze and managed to alienate, hurt and anger many single women and others.

But Saturday night, as Beck stood behind the podium addressing the approximate 20,000 women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who had assembled at the downtown Salt Lake City LDS Conference Center, and the countless others worldwide who were tuning in via television, radio and satellite-feed, the evening's message was one of inclusiveness and a Mormon brand of female empowerment.

She spoke of the Relief Society's founding in 1842 as a mobilization of "the collective power of the women and their specific assignments to build the Lord's kingdom."

Beck called up memories of pioneer women who faced persecution, traveled across oceans and unforgiving ground, buried husbands and children, "because the fire of their faith burned in their souls." She gave credit to Relief Society women who bolstered and inspired her, when Beck's own mother was living outside the country. And she encouraged women, all women, to seize opportunities for service.

"Thousands upon thousands of you who do not currently have a husband or children are an incredible reservoir of faith, talent, and dedication. . . Relief Society needs you." And, to the new arrivals coming out of the Young Women Program, she added, "I have seen how your hearts yearn to make a difference for good in the world. . . We simply cannot afford to squander your youthful and energetic power."

First Counselor Silvia H. Allred, in her address, homed in on the significance of the LDS Church's 128-and-counting temples, while asking women to be worthy of temple recommends - approval cards to attend and perform ordinances in these holy buildings - and go often. Second Counselor Barbara Thompson said "more than ever we need women to step up and be strong," after offering a brief history of the Relief Society in which she quoted Joseph Smith, the LDS Church founder and first prophet, who said at the inaugural society meeting that the " 'organization of the Church of Christ was never perfect until the women were organized.' "

President Thomas S. Monson sat next to First Counselor Henry B. Eyring, as Dieter F. Uchtdorf, the second counselor in the church's first presidency, stepped to the podium. The one man to speak, Uchtdorf thanked a list of women who had shaped his life and drew laughter as he compared his cooking skills to his wife Harriet's. Her meals he called "masterpieces," before sharing his recipe for Knusperchen - "You cut French bread into small slices and toast them twice," he said. And though he feels "pretty heroic" after making fried eggs or fancy-named toast, he said his wife, like so many other women, is quick to undermine her accomplishments.

"What you create doesn't have to be perfect," he said. "Don't let the voice of critics paralyze you, whether that voice comes from the outside or the inside."

By being creative and compassionate, by serving others, women - and men - can "discover our own lives and our own happiness," Uchtdorf said.

"Sometimes women who are single, divorced, or widowed wonder if there is a place for them," he continued. "Every sister in the church is of critical importance, not only to our Heavenly Father but to the building of the kingdom of God as well. There is great and plenty of work to do."

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