A talk by Pete Codella for high council speaking Sunday in September 2016 (learn more here). Most of this talk comes from the resources on lds.org noted below. Please note that some of these quotes weren’t read from the pulpit due to time constraints, but I felt it was important to include all the materials in this post.
As I turned 12 and left primary for young men’s, I remember clearly the Sunday when our primary president, in the Spring, Texas Ward, held my hand as she prompted me to complete reciting the articles of faith. Her hands were cold, but her smile, and the patience and love with which she handled the situation, left me no doubt about how much she cared for me.
All these years later, I can still remember struggling through the articles of faith while she helped and ultimately recommended me for primary graduation. It sure would have been embarrassing if I didn’t graduate. I’m not sure I could serve on the high council if I were still in primary.
This good primary president left a lasting impression on a rambunctious young boy who grew to become a full-time missionary and eventually a husband and father whose family is sealed in the temple. She had great vision and faith in the future as she fulfilled her calling.
I’m certain we all have many examples of inspiring LDS women in our lives. Some of us will start that list with our own mothers and grandmothers. I express both appreciation and admiration for my own mother, my wife and mother-in-law who are each remarkable in their own way.
The happiest, most joyful day of my life was June 26, 1999 when I knelt across an altar in the Salt Lake Temple and was sealed to my wife, a covenant keeping Latter-day Saint woman, for time and all eternity.
For some of us, exemplary LDS women come from interactions at church, in Relief Society, through visiting teaching, the community, or in our extended families.
Whether you’re alone in your faith or part of a large family with pioneer heritage, each of us should be grateful and express admiration for the amazing, covenant keeping Latter-day Saint woman, especially in our spiritually challenged world.
Even if there aren’t covenant keeping women in your life, you can look to others as an example. Girls, young women and women: you can become that example to others.
The first reason we should be grateful for women is this: The culminating act of all creation was the creation of woman.
“And I, the Lord God, caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam; and he slept, and I took one of his ribs… And the rib which I, the Lord God, had taken from man, made I a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said: This I know now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.” (Moses 3: 21-24).
In the creation of the earth, Heavenly Father, indeed, saved the best for last.
If you’ll recall, last fall President Nelson spoke about the women of the church. My remarks today include much of what he shared.
It would be impossible to measure the influence that covenant-keeping women have, not only on families but also on the Lord’s Church, as wives, mothers, and grandmothers; as sisters and aunts; as teachers and leaders; and especially as exemplars and devout defenders of the faith.
President Kimball said:
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.
Certainly, the women of the church today are the fulfillment of President Kimball’s vision.
President Nelson continued: “Your virtue, light, love, knowledge, courage, character, faith, and righteous lives will draw good women of the world, along with their families, to the Church in unprecedented numbers.”
I’m aware of at least one example in this ward where the women have reached out, befriended, shared testimonies, and helped rescue their sisters; helped them accept the gospel and join the church.
President Nelson said: “We, your brethren, need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices. The kingdom of God is not and cannot be complete without women who make sacred covenants and then keep them, women who can speak with the power and authority of God.”
President Packer taught:
We need women who are organized and women who can organize. We need women with executive ability who can plan and direct and administer; women who can teach, women who can speak out…. We need women with the gift of discernment who can view the trends in the world and detect those that, however popular, are shallow or dangerous.
Again, I’ll quote from President Nelson:
We need women who know how to make important things happen by their faith and who are courageous defenders of morality and families in a sin-sick world. We need women who are devoted to shepherding God’s children along the covenant path toward exaltation; women who know how to receive personal revelation, who understand the power and peace of the temple endowment; women who know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen children and families; women who teach fearlessly.
I wonder if the women of the church, the women in the River Ridge Stake and in this ward, realize the power they have, and their influence for good, as they live righteously, with their thoughts and actions directed by the Spirit?
Elder Neal Maxwell once asked:
When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?
When I attended high school, my family lived in upstate New York. Our ward encompassed many high schools, even many different school districts. We lived about 25 minutes from our chapel and about 30 minutes, in the other direction, from our stake center.
Our ward, the Schenectady Ward, had a combined youth Sunday school class that for many years was taught by a woman who, as President Nelson put it, knew how to call upon the powers of heaven to strengthen children, and who taught fearlessly.
I had many spiritual experiences in her class on Sundays. She always asked us what was going on in our lives and showed how much she loved each one of us by the way she interacted with us. She bore a strong testimony as she taught and re-emphasized principles of the gospel to a sometimes rowdy teenage crowd.
I am grateful for the sacrifice of this good sister, for her preparation, for her determination, for her positive, optimistic attitude and for her ability to consistently teach by the Spirit.
We may never know who we influence for good. This reminds me of a favorite Broadway musical song:
I’ve heard it said,
That people come into our lives for a reason,
Bringing something we must learn.
And we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them.
And we help them in return.
…I know I’m who I am today because I knew you.
(from: Wicked | song: For Good)
Sisters, because of the way you nurture and show love, because of your kindness and humility, because of your patience, you will influence those around you — family, friends, neighbors and others. And for that, we, your brothers in the gospel, thank you.
We’ve been taught that nothing is more crucial to eternal life than our own conversion. This is true for all of us, men, women and children. It’s President Nelson’s witness that, “converted, covenant-keeping women whose righteous lives will increasingly stand out in a deteriorating world… will thus be seen as different and distinct in the happiest of ways.”
You may not know this, but similar to how general conference topics are determined — by personal revelation and inspiration after the assignment to speak has been given — our stake presidency, at the conclusion of each year, asks the members of the high council to submit six topics for high council speaking Sundays. Then, the stake presidency selects topics for each month, one for the high counselor and another for the returned missionary speakers.
My topic today happens to be one I submitted. It has been on my mind for some time, with talks by a number of different church leaders, both women and men, who have addressed the unique, wonderful contribution the women of the church have to make in these latter days.
It has weighed on me as I’ve watched public scrutiny and individual apostasy over women wanting to hold the priesthood. Sometimes the role women play in the Lord’s priesthood is misunderstood.
Elder Oaks said: “Priesthood keys direct women as well as men, and priesthood ordinances and priesthood authority pertain to women as well as men.”
In an address to the Relief Society, President Joseph Fielding Smith said:
While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood… 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.
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 [stakes,] 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.”
Elder Oaks observes:
Thus, it is truly said that Relief Society is not just a class for women but something they belong to—a divinely established appendage to the priesthood. 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.
Women and men participate in ordinances in the temple where we call down power in the priesthood for us individually, and for our families.
President J. Reuben Clark said:
The greatest power God has given to His sons cannot be exercised without the companionship of one of His daughters, because only to His daughters has God given the power to be a creator of bodies … so that God’s design and the Great Plan might meet fruition. This is the place of our wives and of our mothers in the Eternal Plan. They are not bearers of the Priesthood; they are not charged with carrying out the duties and functions of the Priesthood; nor are they laden with its responsibilities; they are builders and organizers under its power, and partakers of its blessings, possessing the complement of the Priesthood powers and possessing a function as divinely called, as eternally important in its place as the Priesthood itself.
In those inspired words, President Clark was speaking of the family. As stated in the family proclamation, the father presides in the family and he and the mother have separate responsibilities, but they are “obligated to help one another as equal partners.”
Before the family proclamation, President Spencer W. Kimball gave this inspired explanation:
When we speak of marriage as a partnership, let us speak of marriage as a full partnership. We do not want our LDS women to be silent partners or limited partners in that eternal assignment! Please be a contributing and full partner.
In the eyes of God, whether in the Church or in the family, women and men are equal, with different, divine responsibilities. And just consider, for a moment, how Satan has befuddled even the basic definition of what it means to be male or female with terminology like ‘identifying’ with one sex more than another. We live in a confused and confusing world. We’re fortunate to have prophets and apostles who teach us correct principles.
Elder M. Russell Ballard said:
Our Church doctrine places women equal to and yet different from men. God does not regard either gender as better or more important than the other…. When men and women go to the temple, they are both endowed with the same power, which is priesthood power.… Access to the power and the blessings of the priesthood is available to all of God’s children.
And this clarification on the priesthood comes from the Church’s essay on LDS.org:
The priesthood authority exercised by Latter-day Saint women in the temple and elsewhere remains largely unrecognized by people outside the Church and is sometimes misunderstood or overlooked by those within. Latter-day Saints and others often mistakenly equate priesthood with religious office and the men who hold it. Since Joseph Smith’s day, Church prophets, exercising the keys of the priesthood, have adapted structures and programs in a world in which educational, political, and economic opportunities have expanded for many women. Today, Latter-day Saint women lead three organizations within the Church: the Relief Society, the Young Women, and the Primary. They preach and pray in congregations, fill numerous positions of leadership and service, participate in priesthood councils at the local and general levels, and serve formal proselytizing missions across the globe. In these and other ways, women exercise priesthood authority even though they are not ordained to priesthood office. Such service and leadership would require ordination in many other religious traditions.
In early morning seminary, which for me, in upstate New York, went from 6 to 7, I had excellent seminary instructors, both male and female. I can remember well the lessons taught by one sister, whose husband went on to serve in the Albany New York stake presidency.
As she taught us gospel principles, they were clear and easy to understand. She related the scriptures to our personal journey and experience. She provided ample opportunity to nurture and share testimony. I’m grateful for her example of righteous living; for her sacrifice and determination to teach sleepy teenagers the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I had a similar experience as an undergraduate with an excellent BYU professor of religion. She was an inspiring, thought provoking teacher. She taught and led by example.
Former young women general president Margaret Nadauld observed:
The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity.
Now, let’s return to President Nelson’s remarks:
My dear sisters, whatever your calling, whatever your circumstances, we need your impressions, your insights, and your inspiration. We need you to speak up and speak out in ward and stake councils. We need each married sister to speak as “a contributing and full partner” as you unite with your husband in governing your family. Married or single, you sisters possess distinctive capabilities and special intuition you have received as gifts from God. The brethren of the Church cannot duplicate your unique influence. We need your strength. Attacks against the Church, its doctrine, and our way of life are going to increase” he said. “Because of this, we need women who have a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ and who will use that understanding to teach and help raise a sin-resistant generation. We need women who can detect deception in all of its forms. We need women who know how to access the power that God makes available to covenant keepers and who express their beliefs with confidence and charity. We need women who have the courage and vision of our Mother Eve. …today I plead with my sisters [in the Church] to step forward! Take your rightful and needful place in your home, in your community, and in the kingdom of God — more than you ever have before.
Elder Christofferson shared this recently:
My plea to women and girls today is to protect and cultivate the moral force that is within you. Preserve that innate virtue and the unique gifts you bring with you into the world. Your intuition is to do good and to be good, and as you follow the Holy Spirit, your moral authority and influence will grow. To the young women I say, don’t lose that moral force even before you have it in full measure. Take particular care that your language is clean, not coarse; that your dress reflects modesty, not vanity; and that your conduct manifests purity, not promiscuity. You cannot lift others to virtue on the one hand if you are entertaining vice on the other.
We do not diminish the value of what women or men achieve in any worthy endeavor or career—we all benefit from those achievements—but we still recognize there is not a higher good than motherhood and fatherhood in marriage. There is no superior career, and no amount of money, authority, or public acclaim that can exceed the ultimate rewards of family. Whatever else a woman may accomplish, her moral influence is no more optimally employed than here.
Think of covenant keeping women who help families avoid deception in all its forms. Think of the power of these women in our homes and community when they express their beliefs with confidence and charity.
These quotes and comments are not intended to make anyone feel guilty. Rather, I hope they will inspire and uplift, and remind us all of the amazing LDS women around us.
Speaking of the power of women, Elder Holland last week commented about the role women play during his remarks at a conference on preventing sexual violence in conflict and forced migration, addressing the world’s current refugee problem. As reported in the Deseret News:
A committee recently released a report on the problem of sexual violence that found that peace negotiations and lasting peace are less likely to succeed if women are not directly involved. “We need that powerful and unique female force for good,” Elder Holland said.
When we elevate women, we elevate everyone, every member of the family, all of the church, and all of society. We each play important roles in Heavenly Father’s plan.
Now young men and you older men, these promises and covenant keeping characteristics are available to us as well. In fact, to fulfill these prophecies, I believe it will require equal effort from all of us.
Please don’t feel slighted because of my focus today on our amazing Latter-day Saint women. I hope you’ll join me in expressing gratitude and love to the good women of this church.
All of us should strive for increased virtue and integrity. All of us should rise to a measure of the stature of Christ.
I share my own plea, that all of us will trust in the Lord and His timing for us individually, and for those we love and support. Also, that we do not dwell on the past or beat ourselves up about what could have been.
Let’s move forward, be optimistic, and pray for the ability to make a positive difference in the lives of others as we draw upon the enabling power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Let’s be covenant keeping Latter-day Saints who know how to call down the powers of heaven.
Let’s work to magnify our roles and make meaningful, lasting contributions in our various callings, assignments and responsibilities.
“And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify [us] for the work. Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence. Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (D&C 4:5-7).
President Nelson, “A Plea to My Sisters,” Oct. 2015
Elder Oaks, “The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood,” April 2014
Elder Christofferson, “The Moral Force of Women,” Oct. 2013
Essays on LDS.org, “Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women“
“At Windsor Castle, Elder Holland says world needs more outrage over refugees’ plight,” Deseret News