In 2005, former 1st Counselor of the General Relief Society Presidency Chieko N. Okazaki gave an amazing interview to Gregory Prince in Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought.1 In all the times I have heard a woman representative of the church speak, I have never been impressed so thoroughly nor learned as much as I have from this interview. Sister Okazaki speaks surprisingly openly and candidly about how often women in the church are overlooked, not consulted about important issues, and lack a feeling of self-worth. The interview starts as follows:
“In my meetings with the young women or with the Relief Society women, I’m often really surprised that they do not feel that they can function as women in the Church—not all of them, of course, but many of those who come to me and talk to me. I just keep wondering, “How did they get to that point of feeling like they were not worth anything in the Church?”
Is it just me, or is this kind of a shocking thing for a woman who has served in so many general leadership capacities to openly say? From my experience, it is usually status quo for leaders to speak of what a fabulous job the church does of making women feel valued. If anything, they will say that it is the number one organization in the world that makes women feel valued. Sister Okazaki’s candid, truthful nature is a font of knowledge and insight into the struggles facing Latter-day Saint women.
The more I know about Sister Okazaki, the more I am impressed. In 1962, she was the first non-Caucasian to serve on any LDS general auxiliary board and is the first woman to serve all three of the LDS women’s auxiliaries at a general level, with her highest calling being the 1st Counselor in the General Relief Society Presidency from 1990-1997. I’m going to quote from her 2005 Dialogue interview heavily because I think it is so important for everyone to hear the candid, heartfelt record of this woman’s story.
She was very dedicated to serving the women of the church through her callings, but often felt at a loss to be able to do so because women simply weren’t invited or a part of the meetings where big decisions were being made, not even if you’re part of the General Relief Society Presidency. Because the role of the 1st counselor in the General RS Presidency is to oversee the education structure for the sisters, Sister Okazaki was looking for ways to help the lessons better help the current needs of the women in the church. She realized that the lesson manual was due to be updated soon so she prayerfully wrote a general outline to get the important process underway. After her outline was approved by the RS presidency, she brought it to the Curriculum Committee. She was promptly told that her lesson manual outline and suggestions were not needed because a new manual had already been written for them and was near completion.
“I asked what [the new manual was about], and he said, “Well, it’s the manual on Harold B. Lee.” It was the first one in that series of teachings of the Church presidents. I asked, “Why are they writing a manual for us on Harold B. Lee?” He didn’t know. I told the presidency, so we went and asked the Curriculum Committee, “What is this all about?” They said, “Well, we’re already almost finished with the first book.” We said, “You’re almost finished with the first book, and you didn’t tell us that you were doing this? Why is this is the first time we have heard about it?” “So I asked, “Who is writing this manual?” It turned out to be five men, and the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums and Relief Society would have the same lessons. I asked, “Why aren’t the women included in this?”
As was the case with the new manuals, the biggest hurdle with getting the needs of women heard was the fact that women simply aren’t included where the most important conversations and discussions are being had. On a local level, Sister Okazaki suggested in the interview that the church would greatly benefit if the RS president was included in all bishopric meetings. The current set up of solely working with the Bishop during ward counsel (a larger group in which all auxiliaries are represented) is not enough. At the general level, she found women being excluded from a wide majority of important committees and meetings was not serving the needs of the sisters equally to those of the men.
“We asked one time if we could be on the building committee and the temple committee, because sometimes we think, “Why did they build it this way?”—because it doesn’t work very well for the women’s needs. And we wanted to be on the temple committee, because there are many things that affect women in the temple. But we were never allowed to be a part of those committees.”
The part of this interview that surprised me the most was finding out that the General Relief Society Presidency was not even notified that “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” was in the works. They were not informed of it, they were not asked for consultation of any kind in its drafting, and they were not asked if there were specific concerns for women that might need to be included. When she was presented with the finished product, her response was as follows:
“How come we weren’t consulted?”
Greg Prince: You didn’t even know it was in the works?
Chieko Okazaki: No. They just asked us which meeting to present it in, and we said, “Whatever President Hinckley decides is fine with us.” He decided to do it at the Relief Society meeting. The apostle who was our liaison said, “Isn’t it wonderful that he made the choice to present it at the Relief Society meeting?” Well, that was fine, but as I read it I thought that we could have made a few changes in it. Sometimes I think they get so busy that they forget that we are there.”
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” is a document that guides us in our understanding the roles of women, men, and the family unit in God’s plan. The proclamation outlines an ideology for the family and has been set as a standard to which all members of the church are encouraged to look.
Many members mistakenly say that “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” is a canonical revelation directly from God. If this were the case, then it would make sense for women to not be included as advisers since revelation is hardly a group effort. But proclamations are not meant to introduce new doctrine, that is not their purpose. If it were, a proclamation’s acceptance into the canon would be voted on by common consent and it would be included in the next edition of our printed canon (which was updated in 2013, its first update since 1980). The purpose of official proclamations of the church (there are five official proclamations, the most recent of which was at the sesquicentennial in 1990) is not to be seen and treated as new revelations as a whole, but instead to clarify the position of the church in matters that are significant to the world at the time with the hope of bolstering the resolve of the saints and to increase their understanding of issues of their day.2
When Boyd K. Packer mistakenly said the Proclamation to the Family “qualifies according to the definition of revelation” [video
] when he gave his talk “Cleansing the Inner Vessel” in General Conference of 2010, the phrasing was officially redacted when the talk was printed and instead the Proclamation was accurately described as “It is a guide that members of the Church would do well to read and to follow” [printed correction
So if “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” is a public statement made by the leadership of the church with the intent of aiding the saints as they face current challenges, why wasn’t the General Relief Society Presidency consulted or even notified of its drafting? When we are told time and time again that women’s highest form of divinity is their unique ability to nurture and strengthen the family, why is it that women would not even be consulted in drafting a document proclaiming and outlining the church’s stance on the family? Surely the proclamation would have benefited from the insight of the General Relief Society Presidency. From what I have read of Sister Okazaki’s life experiences as a minority and outlier in the church, I think she would have insisted on including a section dedicated to those whose family prospects do not fit the “perfect” mold through no fault of their own. I truly don’t feel that this document is complete without including counsel to those who will never have a two-parent + children formula in this lifetime and ensuring them that they too are fulfilling a godly purpose.
I think this interview with Sister Okazaki is the perfect example of the struggles so many women are facing in the church today. It’s not that the church doesn’t love and value its women, it clearly does. But the infrastructure of the church is not allowing women to be equally represented; our voices simply aren’t an integral part of the narrative. Since women are excluded from the meetings and committees wherein the majority of church policies and practices are created, a gap has always existed for many women between their needs and what is being offered from the church. When Sister Okazaki was asked if she thought younger generations of women have a chance at correcting this dichotomy, she said:
“I have to say that, in my sixty-four years in the Church, I sometimes see a little bit of a change that the women themselves prompt, but most of the time, I haven’t seen women who would make that change possible. Wherever I go, I think that they already know their place.” … “When women get the message that their job is to be supportive and just agree with the decisions of the bishop, they become clams.”
I think that Sister Okazaki’s impression of Mormon women as rarely being the initial prompt or engineers for meaningful change in the church is accurate; they simply aren’t taught that that is their purpose so it rarely occurs. In the time since this interview was given however, the Internet has become a hub where like-minded women have found each other and have started to organize to better address the needs of women.
Groups such as Mormon Feminist Housewives
, Ordain Women
, and Young Mormon Feminists
have formed to provide a productive, unique space for the growing number of women who are finding themselves in need of extra support.
The mainstream church describes Mormon Feminists as not valuing their womanhood and not understanding their sacred role as mothers and nurturers. Much like Sister Okazaki, this could not be further from the truth. They value their divine role immensely, but they just want to do more in God’s kingdom on Earth. Ordain Women’s action of standing in line to ask for seats to Priesthood Session has been labeled by the church as a protest.3 But again, this is completely false. It is not a protest at all. They are simply faithful LDS women who wish to be in the room to hear the Prophet and our leaders speak about the Priesthood, something that we have been reassured we have equal access to though we do not hold it ourselves. The church also says that Mormon Feminists are purposefully trying to be divisive and cause discord, but again–this conjecture is inaccurate. These are not women who are unknowledgeable of doctrine and are apathetic to the church’s purposes and goals. They are women who are so committed to the gospel that they want to see it thrive, and the only way they can see that happening is by taking a more active role and being given a parallel structure for growth and leadership. They can see that many of the current policies, mindsets, and procedures of the church are hindering church growth world-wide and causing an alarming amount of members (especially among the youth) to become disaffected. They want to be part of the change for good in the church in ways they are not currently allowed to be.
Mormon Feminists know that in the early days of the church, women’s auxiliaries had far more autonomy and scope than they do now. Joseph Smith referred to the Relief Society as a “kingdom of priests”4
when he adopted the Relief Society officially into the church and Mormon Feminists want to know what he meant when he said that. They are seeking the restoration of responsibilities (such as the overseeing of finances, collecting tithes, and washing, anointing with oil, and laying hands on the sick)5
that were originally
given to women when the church was first organized. Mormon Feminists know these requests sound strange now since so few members even know that women ever performed such functions in the church, but they hope that bringing this knowledge to the foreground again will help restore these roles. They aren’t afraid to ask the tough question of why our influence and involvement in the church has been diminished rather than expanded with time.
Much like Sister Okazaki, many women in the church today know that you can have a true knowledge and testimony of the pure doctrine and gospel of Christ and yet disagree with the policies and procedures of the earthly institution that bears his name. They also know that no one should ever have to ask “Why aren’t the women included in this?”.
1) “Interviews and Conversations. There is Always a Struggle; and Interview with Chieko Okazaki”. Gregory Prince. Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought. http://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V45N01_CO.pdf
2) “Proclamations, declarations clarify, reaffirm LDS doctrine”. Chuch News. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/36742/Proclamations-declarations-clarify-reaffirm-LDS-doctrine.html
3) Church Asks Activist Group to Reconsider Plans to Protest at General Conference http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-asks-activist-group-to-reconsider-general-conference-protest-plans
4) “Women and Authority”, edited by Maxine Hanks of Signature Books. “Mormon Women Have Had the Priesthood Since 1843” By Michael Quinn. http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=1171
5) A gift Given, A gift Taken. Sunstone Magazine. https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/pdf/029-16-25.pdf
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Lori wrote for Rational Faiths as a permablogger for the calendar year of 2014. She retired from writing about Mormonism in early 2015 to pursue new interests.
She grew up in the Pacific Northwest. She received a BA in English from Brigham Young University and also served a mission for the LDS church. She was a web designer during college, then went on to be a technical writer and editor for 3 years until she went on hiatus to take care of her kids full-time. She loves photography, music, recreational sports, reading, and studying.
All posts by Lori Burkman
I really like this. I wonder where some of your sources are. I remembered that change in 2010 when Pres Packer said the Family Proc was doctrine and then they retracted it. I have looked everywhere, but I have never been able to find a source for it besides my memory. Do you know where I could reference that?
Sorry I didn’t source it better originally. I was up until 4am writing this, lol. If you look again, I included links to both the video of his talk and the written conference talk so you can see the change. He makes the statement about the family proclamation just a few minutes into the video. Thank you for following up! I’m glad you enjoyed the article.
Here is a partial transcript and extensive discussion of the original talk:
Lori, this is such a great post. I really, really enjoyed reading this interview in full just a few months ago and I felt exactly as you have expressed. She was phenomenal and the Church STILL can learn so much from her. Excellent post–totally agree.
Thank you so much! I’m so happy to help get this interview more of the exposure that it deserves.
Thanks for a great post. Very informative!
Very interesting post! Wonderful thoughts. I’m excited to go read Prince’s interview with Sister Okazaki.
Thank you so much! Definitely read the whole thing. It is truly outstanding.
Thank you so much for this post. Sister Okazaki’s experiences really resonated with me. It was while I was in a RS presidency with a very kind bishop, who just didn’t have time to deal with the Relief Society that I really felt the sting of inequality. It wasn’t that he was trying to exclude us it was just that he didn’t realize what the RS had to offer to support him, so we were largely ignored.
This happens so often, no matter how much the church professes that it doesnt. I’m really grateful that Sister Okazaki was so candid about these limitations.
Thank you for bringing attention to this very important interview.
I also like when Chieko Okazaki says in the interview, “It seems to me like Christ loved the women. I think he really included them in many areas where Jewish society excluded them. He didn’t mind breaking those rules.”
Oh man, when I first started writing this, it was over 7000 words long because I was including SO much of this interview. The whole thing was amazing. It took me forever to pick and choose what to focus on. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Feel free to share it.
Correction to ¶ 11:
In his talk “Cleansing the Inner Vessel,” Pres. Packer did not refer to the Family Proclamation as “doctrine.” His exact words, as spoken in the Conference, were: “It qualifies according to the definition as a revelation and would do well that the members of the Church to read and follow.” (Video link)
Watching the video, it’s pretty obvious that he stumbled over his words at that point, and the printed talk does read “It is a guide … ,” but his original word was “revelation,” not “doctrine.” However, the Proclamation can be an accurate statement of Church doctrine without being a declaration of new doctrine and without being canonized.
Even with that correction, the word GUIDE is far from doctrine. But that is a small little thing that has no bearing on main purpose of this post.
Thank you! I will go correct it.
I was up super late writing this and didnt have time to watch and compare the video again and my mind slipped on the discrepancy. Thanks for posting the link! It has been fully included in the post.
Right? Sister Okazaki really knocks this one out of the park. SO glad she did this interview!
What I wouldn’t give to know what was in Sis. Okazaki’s lesson plan. 🙁
Yes me too!!! At a speaking engagement, she also said that the RS presidency wanted to created an acceptance/support program for homosexuals and it was completely shot down by the brethren. I really would love to see what they would contribute if allowed.
As an learning scientist and instructional designer, I have long wondered the same thing on both a personal and a professional level.
I want her lesson plan and I want to know what additions/deletions she would have made to the Proclamation. I soooo wish the next question in that interview had been, “What changes would you had suggested to the Proclamation?” 🙂
Excellent article Lori! I’m a history buff, especially Church history, and I was never aware of women receiving the Priesthood. It does make sense though! I’d like to know more of your research.
Well, it’s not that the Priesthood was conferred on them in the same way it was with men, it was more that they were allowed to act on it using faith. It’s sketchy. Here are a few great references for women’s roles over time in the church (one is the one I used here in my essay)
*I found this one to be particularly interesting and well-done* http://feministmormonhousewivespodcast.org/episode-73-the-history-of-lds-correlation/
And addition to what I quoted and cited up above, here is where Joseph ordains the women to preside over the RS, just as he does over the church, which is unique wording from what we believe today:
“Prest. Smith further remark’d that an organization to show them how to go to work would be sufficient. He propos’d that the Sisters elect a presiding officer to preside over them, and let that presiding officer choose two Counsellors to assist in the duties of her Office— that he would ordain them to preside over the Society— and let them preside just as the Presidency, preside over the church; “
Also,things to consider: we’re robed in the priesthood in the temple and women perform priesthood ordinances there. Using the Priesthood is also our mantle in the afterlife; it is part of our divine potential. Women were prophets, apostles, and leaders in the bible (There are at least 6 prophetesses mentioned in the OT and Junia the apostle/leader is female as mentioned in Romans 16:7, this is empirically proven in the greek writing and historical references surrounding it). So if the church is about 1) helping us be ready for our divine celestial roles and 2) restoring aspects of what was established during Jesus’ time–then it is doctrinally sound to assume women’s ordination could be part of that.
Great post! Thanks so much. You say here “Using the Priesthood is also our mantel in the afterlife.” I’ve discussed this (whether women will have the Priesthood hereafter)with quite a few of my friends and we can’t find an answer to it; with different interpretations of words said in the temple. Do you have another source? I’d love to know! Thanks!
I have received personal revelation and guidance when searching the scriptures on this issue. I believe whenever God’s covenant people have sought to establish Zion (a terrestial state)
women have received and exercised the priesthood. The spirit has confirmed that this is the case in Nephite Zion. It is referred to as “the heavenly gift” 4 Nephi1:2-3. In the scriptures Zion is referred to in the feminine ( see Doc & Cov 64 and 82) I believe its because one of Zion’s unique characteristics is that women have the priesthhood. Zion’s (esp. Latter-day b4 Christ’s coming) people are often referred to as seeing eye to eye (Isaiah 52, Mosiah 15, 3 Nephi 16, D&C 84). I believe these prophesies refer to the equality and oneness that will happen when all covenant members receive and exercise the priesthood. The most amazing reference is in Moroni 10:30-33. He exhorts us to come unto Christ and lay hold upon every good gift. In the following verse he promises the daughter of Zion that if we do this the church will be able to strengthen its stakes and enlarge its borders. Moroni promises we will no more be confounded and the covnants God has made to house of Israel will be fullfilled (see references to Abrahamic covenant). The next sentence Moroni commands Israel to come unto Christ and be perfected in Him. I believe perfected means the greek “complete”. That the house of Israel will be able to fully develop to a complete Zion society when women receive the priesthood also. That the men and women of the House of Israel will be equally yoked as mothers & fathers, priestesses & priests, having one heart and one mind and seeing eye to eye…essentially sanctified and becoming holy without spot- when they are both literal partakers of the Heavenly Gift. Pres. Monson on mormon.org declares that the priesthood is God’s most priceless gift. Would a loving Eternal Father who loves his sons and daughters the same withhold his greatest gift from half His children? No, He woulf not.
I worked for the church for many years and I can totally see this happening. Departments would rarely communicate with each other. Sometimes we would spend a long time on a project only to have it shelved because some other department had other plans they didn’t tell us about. Also my boss was in charge of bringing in new temple dresses. For years there were no women involved in selecting the new dresses. Only in the last couple years has the general relief society had a say in what kind of dresses we brought in.
Thank you for your insight! I’m glad things have improved at least a bit. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, thanks for the comment.
Wow! Thanks Lori for writing this. These are things I have struggled with for a long time as well. Sister Okazaki is my new hero! Being a church employee and manager makes me privy to how the business side of things run as well. It’s quite challenging at times, but I believe change will come. It’s unfortunate that we (the LDS culture) changes at a snail’s pace.
Snails pace indeed! I’m glad that the Internet has the pull that it does to bring these issues to the foreground though. Perhaps we shall be upgraded to turtle speed soon!
Great post! There are so many gems from the previous generational waves of great thinkers who have asked really important questions. The work of digging up and polishing these gems off to be appreciated by others’ today is crucial. One of these days there will be a generation with adequate responses to the tough questions that Chieko and others have been asking.
Thanks so much! I am so glad to have found her interview–I was so blown away by it when I first read it. I’m glad that this post is helping others to understand church dynamics better!
THANK YOU!! Please write more about this whole topic! You are great and we need more articles like this getting out to people. The word has be to spread about how things really are. No more pretending to have a perfect church. I’m so tired of that facade.
Thank you so much! Feel free to share it, I would love for more people to be aware of these issues.
I know I personally have prayed over and healed my children when they desperately needed it and have often wondered why we are not taught that we, too, have this ability. Can’t wait to read the interview!
This is my new favorite article on this subject. Thank you for putting this together!
You’re very welcome! Thank you for such a kind comment. Please share it with anyone that might enjoy it or learn from it.
Thank you for this awesome post. I adore Sis. Okazaki and I am so pleased to see the way you’ve used her example to support the Mormon feminist movement. She is such a refreshing example of a devout, active LDS woman who loves The Lord and yet is still able to recognize and acknowledge areas within the church that need improvement. Thank you for the reminder that “feminist” and “Mormon” are not mutually exclusive.
Thank you so much! Yes. Sister Okazaki is/was amazing. I was so happy to come across this interview.
And yes, feminist and mormon are not mutually exclusive!
Another fantastic one Lori! So very good. Isn’t it amazing that she was so candid in this interview and obviously the reason why so many women in the church love her.
Thank you so much for your enthusiastic support and friendship Alison!
The absolute worst way to get more revelation is to question and reject the revelation already given. If women would like more light and knowledge then questioning if the light knowledge already received will ensure they will not get more. You are splitting hairs here is it doctrine?/not doctrine?/who said what. The Proclamation to the World is a divinely inspired document. It is the BEST document that we have on the family, written and approved by a prophet of God. Study it out and accept it, and then see if God will give you more.
No where in my article here did I reject at or scoff at revelation. The point of the article is that women are not included in important meetings. They simply are not represented in any way equal to men. Surely there is a way to do so within the realms of current revelation as it stands. Just invite them to the meetings and allow them to be an equal voice and deciding vote in all things. Having the Priesthood allows you to do ordinances in the name of God. Not having it in no way means you can’t receive revelation the same as men, be on all boards and committees, and be an intrinsic part of the leadership of the church on all levels.
I enjoyed the article. Thanks. Your comments about the Proclamation call to mind the claim by former BYU professor, Richard Wilkinson, culture warrior extraordinaire, that he wrote it. I assume he was on the committee.
I really enjoyed your article, thank you for providing a little different perspective. I’ve been fascinated by the OW movement. I personally have never really had the desire to hold the priesthood, but as I listened to the women who are requesting female ordination I have come to understand their desires and am fully supportive of them.
What has been very troubling to me, though, is the reaction to their request from many members of the church and the church itself. This blog post (and comments) is an example of a very mean spirited reaction to the OW movement.
I am very disheartened by the negativity and vitriol that is directed towards these women, and it makes me wonder why that is? Why are some members of the church threatened by these women who are simply asking the prophet to ask the Lord how women can be more involved in the building up of the kingdom of god?
As I see it, there are people (women in this case) who are having a difficult time feeling as though they have a place in the church. How would Christ want me to respond to them? I can say without a doubt that Christ would want me to show love and compassion for them, not criticize them and question their motives. I am worried for the future of our church if this kind of reaction becomes the norm anytime anyone expresses a difference in opinion or suggests a new way of doing things. How will our church ever improve if we are not willing to listen to the needs of our members? It truly concerns me. I know so many people who have left the church in the last few years, and I don’t want to lose any more wonderful members because they were maligned and made to feel like the enemy because they don’t fit the mold.
Beautiful comment. My thought mirror yours completely! Thank you so much for sharing.
Interesting article. I’d like to point out, however, that the Proclamation outlines doctrine, so everything mentioned in it is doctrine (https://www.lds.org/prophets-and-apostles/unto-all-the-world/proclamation-on-family-is-still-a-clarion-call?lang=eng.) It is not the mortal opinions of Gordon B Hinckley, it is the words of the Lord’s Gospel (https://www.lds.org/manual/doctrine-and-covenants-and-church-history-study-guide-for-home-study-seminary-students-2014/section-7/unit-32-day-4-the-family-a-proclamation-to-the-world?lang=eng&query=famly+proclamation) and thus divinely inspired. SO I dont see how women knowing of it would have changed anything. It’s worded perfectly, as the Lord would have wanted. I think we as women can be too prideful- oh if only men are involved, it won’t be perfect.
I suppose we can agree to disagree here. Yes, it contains concepts based on LDS Doctrine, but that doesn’t mean that everything mentioned in it is doctrine and that there isn’t anything valuable that a woman’s perspective couldn’t have added. Which is why it is a proclamation, and not a revelation to the world.
I appreciate the insight you added however and the links are definitely good to read over. The purpose of this article is not to decry the Proclamation to the Family in any way, but to point out that women are not involved where they need to be and that it is causing a growing void and a lot of pain for many people.
Your comment assumes that their inspiration was dictated from the Lord himself and if you believe that, then I guess it wouldn’t have made a difference in the proclamation. Many people (myself included) do not believe that is how inspiration or revelation works. There is a reason they meet together, instead of God just telling the prophet himself. I assume they met together to discuss ideas, issues, problems, and as a group and through divine inspiration, come up with the proclamation–as they did. However, I think women could have added some value and insight just as the other men on the committee did.
Kayli finds the proclamation to be “worded perfectly.” I have a starkly different reaction. It strikes me as the type of poorly-written document that is produced by committee of writers (if I were Richard Wilkins (the person Jonesie refers to above), speaking purely from a rhetorical perspective I wouldn’t want to take credit for having anything to do with the document).
As for its “doctrine,” if I’m standing in general conference and they request for a vote of common consent in accepting the document as scripture, I will let my vote against it known.
I am a former member of the church. Reading all this gives me even a better reason to have left. I don’t know how a man or a woman can remain loyal to a church who change’s its doctrines and policies, and dose not discuss the teachings and doctrines of the early church and it’s beliefs from Joseph Smith. people just believe anything, as long as a man says it.
I read your post. I also read the 29 page article that you used as a reference. You did use quotes by Sister Okizaki. However, you’ve taken them out of context to support your message. I loved Sister Okizaki. I had the privelage of being in a fairly small conference where she was the keynote speaker. She spoke of many things that day. The take away for me that day was the Giant Redwoods. The root systems of these trees do not grow down deep. They grow outward and stretch and intertwine with the other roots. That is how they grow and support each other. That is how we should all grow. To reach out, intertwine ourselves with each other for support so we can grow and reach our full potential. I didn’t know Sister Okazaki but I have a hard to buying in to her as a “mormon feminist”. She wanted women of all ages and faiths to be their best. To have joy. For me personally, posts like this are not encouraging of the Giant Redwood root system she so eloquently spoke of. It’s just sad-and maybe even damaging.
So what is the proper context in your view?
For me personally, telling someone that their thoughts are sad and damaging isn’t encouraging of the Giant Redwood root system; at least in this case. I understand attacking ideas which you see as harmful, but you don’t specify what ideas you see as damaging here. Is it calling Chieko Okazaki a mormon feminist? I doubt you question the ‘Mormon’ part of that claim. A feminist is:
Are you saying you think Sister Okazaki thought that women shouldn’t be politically, socially, and economically equal to men?
I agree with Geoff. If you would like to explain which quotes were taken out of context, that would be interesting to me. The quotes are stated in the context they were given. If you don’t like that I am using Sister Okazaki as an example of a woman in leadership with whom Mormon Feminists relate, then that is also something I really stand by. She was amazing and an example to many.
Posts like this totally support an intertwining root system. Women being integrated into leadership and committees would do nothing but strengthen the church in every way.
I just read Sister Okasaki’s 29 page interview and I disagree with this response. At several times in her life her faith was challenged by the inconsistencies she saw in the church. She says “know that you know the truth and others haven’t learned it yet…hold fast and let the rest go”. She was asked why she didn’t leave, she said because she wants to be like God and Christ, not idividual human beings. She said that in 64 years she hasn’t seen women in the church that can stand up for the ideas and feelings of women and make change possible. From her words and life experience, I would identify her as the first mormon feminist. And the writer of the above article is one of the women Okasaki was refering to who create make change in the church.
Extremely important, very well written article. It is high time for the many of us who feel excluded and marginalized by this document written by older generation white men, to come forward and let it be known that this has nothing to do with the life purpose of the many women in the church who will never marry and/or never have children.
And if anyone is thinking of reassuring us that we’ll get this after we die, please don’t — that is not helpful at all since it is our time here on earth that is supposedly the important probationary testing period where we are to fulfill our life’s missions. For some women, the role of wife and mother is primary and I have deep respect for those women. However, for the many of us who do not fit that role and never will, there needs to be equal respect for what we do with our lives. This is completely lacking in the Proclamation, which is in dire need of input and revision from non-traditional women who find ourselves, thanks to this document, on the outside looking in.
Thank you so much for your comment here. I’m glad you enjoyed the article and I appreciate hearing your POV!
I had the opportunity of talking more than once with Aileen Clyde, 2nd counselor in that same dynamic, wonderful RS Gen. Presidency. She is certainly a witness to what Sr. Okazaki described, and in fact was if anything even more blunt about how excluded from decision-making they as the nominal leaders were.
From being isolated from the workings of their church in their own building (which she referred to as “the playpen”) from the Church Office Building(s — the tall one as well as the older one where the offices of the 12 and the First Presidency are located) — to not being alloted the usual per diem and travel allowances that male leaders received; to being severely limited in their budgets and not receiving administrative support; to having to beg for even the most rudimentary computers and other office equipment, and to having the findings of the studies they commissioned about women in the church absolutely and completely ignored … well. It was all too clear then exactly how “auxiliary” the male leadership considered their service and worth.
—And still do. Ever since their release, “safer” women have been chosen to be the “leaders” of more than half of the adult population of the church. A pity.
“findings of the studies they commissioned about women in the church”
I want to read this. Just like I want to read the RS curriculum that Sister Okazaki prepared!
I wonder if some of the pushback *against* RS presidents being included in all priesthood leadership meetings has come from women. I hear so many TBM women saying that they *don’t* want the priesthood, and that it’s too much responsibility. I think we’re being held back by members of our own tribe. Oh, Phyllis Schlafly would be so proud.
This is SOOO interesting! Thank you for sharing this. I would love it so much if these stories were in officially published places! Thank you for your comment and insight.
You may have also noticed that after the dynamic trio was released, the general relief society presidency term of service was shortened/limited to five years! Five years! Way to keep the sisters in their place, brethren. ..
This is an amazing piece, Lori! Well done, sister. Very well done.
Many interesting points are made in this article. I am curious, though; Sister Okazaki served in the RS presidency from 1990-1997, and the quoted interview is from 2005. Is there any way to know if circumstances have changed since then, and in researching for this article, were efforts made to discover whether changes have taken place?
I definitely have researched additional changes for women in leadership and I plan to do further posts on them.
It was during Chieko Okazaki’s time in the presidency that women first spoke in conference and that the women’s general meeting was first broadcast. Since then, after much petitioning from women, The first ever woman prayed in general conference in 2013. The church also made efforts to create a more parallel structure in the women’s general meeting to that of the Priesthood session.
There have been some major setbacks though. For instance, women were banned from serving as stake auditors in 2010, eliminating the last position of financial authority open to women since the Relief Society lost its financial autonomy in 1978. Until the 1940s, women were the main fundraisers for the Relief Society and were also tithe collectors for the church. It was until this time that the RS had autonomous use of its funds. So it is interesting and saddening to me that women are no longer even allowed to be auditors and that such a change happened in 2010.
Years ago my mother was walking through a new church building in Logan Utah. As a former nursery leader she noticed that the restrooms were at the opposite end of the building from the nursery. Her comment at that time was that obviously no woman or no nursery leader was consulted or involved in designing the layout of building for if they were they certainly would have suggested a closer location so that poor nursery leaders would be spared taking long walks with bladder-full children.
I have noticed comparable problems in buildings. I also think it would be nice if there was a designated room where men could comfort children while their wives are serving in their callings. Currently, the fact that there’s only a mother’s lounge makes it harder for men who are also taking care of young children.
Thank you for taking the time to read this essay and comment, it was good hearing your POV.
How sad it is that women can’t be equal in their own church.
Amen and amen!
This article is interesting, but let’s be honest – it does 1 of 2 things. People are enticed to develop negative views of the Church they are members in or non-members look at it as more reasoning to never join. So if you believe fully and love the Church you write about – are you growing or diminishing this church you love? You can find fault in everything – EVERYTHING. I love my children and am in love with my wife…but they probably are not perfect, especially to everyone. But I promise you this, I never would write a negative thing about them and post it on Facebook or a blog. If I blogged – it would be all about beautiful pictures and stories of my family…family trips, birthdays, smiles, and BBQ’s. And not because I am covering up a lie, but simply because the perfection is just too perfect and would not try to nitpick on their very few faults.
Truth isn’t always picture perfect. This are real problems facing thousands (millions) of women. Not talking about these issues and pretending everything is perfect is not doing anyone any favors. What I wrote about here is 100% real and was not spoken in malice toward the church. Finding ways to find better representation for women in the church will only benefit the church as a whole, and that is one of the ways I support Mormonism; in finding ways to give it a better future. Thank you for taking the time to read this essay though. I hope you found it informative.
Cancer is also unpleasant, but ignoring it can kill you.
The idea that we should only ever speak positive things about others is what leads to serial abusers in the church never being convicted or punished for their crimes because it makes people uncomfortable, so it’s easier to blame the people being hurt for being too negative and not kind enough to the person hurting them. I’m not making this up, I’ve had personal friends and family this has happened to within the Church. Loving someone is pointing out their weaknesses so they can get better or repent. The Church has weaknesses and needs to get better. It’s an act of love and hope.
I get what you are saying Casey, but in my opinion, there is line between focusing on the good and addressing issues that need to be addressed. Going with your analogy of a marriage relationship–some disagreements may be able to be dismissed by focusing on the good. But if you pretend that everything is perfect or just “put it on the shelf”, then resentment can build up until it blows up in your face. I have dealt with some issues (not this issue particularly but others) gradually and that has helped me to keep anything that isn’t perfect from getting too big to handle. And ultimately that has helped me to continue to enjoy my membership in the church.
Interesting information on Sis Okazaki but hardly earth shattering. There are many voices in the church that are heard but not considered both in and out of leadership positions.
If your complaint is that all voices and opinions aren’t acted upon in a global church run by fallible men, you are in for a lifetime of disappointment.
You lost me when you said Ordain Women’s actions to disregard the request of Church leaders not to attend General Priesthood was not a protest. Regardless of opinion, those actions are the definition of a protest. It clearly begs the question as to what other issues you want to see differently so it will fit in your narrative? You have a lot of good information and interesting ideas with some bad salt sprinkled in that ruins the over all savor.
Thanks for taking the time to read the essay. I’m sorry that you found parts less tasteful than others, but I very much stand by my statements about OW. Women are guaranteed over and over again that we have as much access to the Priesthood as men do, and yet we are not even allowed in the room when the prophet and other leaders speak on the subject? Men can attend women’s conference sessions; they preside there, they are key speakers, and any man can attend. I see no reason why women shouldn’t be allowed to learn of the Priesthood and feel the presence of that room first hand. Asking to hear the Prophet speak is not a protest, it is a plea.
Ask yourself, “Is my post bringing people closer to Christ and to His Church or driving a wedge?”
There are lots of things in the Church that I don’t understand or agree with. However, I focus on the things that I do agree with, and try to grow my testimony so that I can, perhaps, one day understand those things.
When I am troubled by a Church doctrine or policy, and can’t find a suitable answer, I stop and ask myself, “Self, am I going to let this get in the way of my salvation?”
Would I complain about whatever is bothering me to the world and perhaps let this get the way of another’s salvation? While you may be strong enough to stick with the Church despite it’s short comings, others will fall away and use this as the reason. I don’t want to be the reason anyone falls away.
If you’re looking to change Church policy and get women more included, I don’t think this is the proper forum. I suggest you consult with your Bishop, Stake President, or write a letter to the Church Presidency. Perhaps a little humility is in order on both sides, but remember: this is not a democratic church and never was.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Ask yourself are people being hurt because they aren’t being included? Yes women are being hurt. Can we improve the way we treat women inside the church? According to Elder Holland, yes we can.
Complaining about it to the world on a blog won’t help though- in fact it makes it worse.
Perhaps more pointedly: Are you using all your time, talents, and things that the Lord has blessed you with (or may bless you with) for the building up of the Kingdom of God on earth? Or are you using them to tear it down?
This website which posted the interview in question https://www.dialoguejournal.com is often overtly antagonistic towards the Church and in my opinion is an anti-Mormon website. Dr. Greg Prince, the interviewer, is an unabashed progressive liberal, who’s belief’s contradict many doctrines and policies of the Church. I suspect he interviewed this 76 year old lady, who actually believed that people in Utah didn’t know that there were other races besides white and died believing that older Mormons were racists, for his own purposes. The whole thing is suspect to me. Consider the source.
We can change our culture and make people aware and that’s what this post does. Just because it might make you uncomfortable to talk about people that are being harmed doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.
This 76-year old lady was called by a prophet of God to serve, and in her setting apart blessing by Gordon B. Hinkley was told to speak her mind. Would you refer to an apostle as a “76-year old man” and imply that they weren’t all-there because of their age? They were both called by the same authority, yet because she is a woman she isn’t viewed with as much deference?
I agree with Paul, yes, we can change our culture and make people more aware–the internet is an amazing tool to help ideas travel fast. And as far us building up the kingdom of God–one could argue that blogging about these things is doing exactly that. Their idea of what the kingdom looks like vs. your idea of what it looks like may be different, however. If not a blog like this, where would you suggest to bring up issues that are important to you and you would like to see change? You mentioned Bishop or Stk Pres–and if your voice isn’t heard or agreed there? What would you do? Maybe pray and humble yourself? A blog seems like a pretty safe and reasonable place since you get to decide what you want to read and study.
I very much agree with Paul’s sentiments. Sister Okazaki is known for speaking openly and candidly and she was very alive and aware of this interview and article when they were posted. Just because Dialogue strives to be objective in its content in no way discredits the validity of the interview or the points Sister Okazaki brings up that I highlighted in this essay.
I find that the cause of Mormon Feminism is bringing thousands of people to Christ who otherwise find no place in His church. So yes, I think that essays like this are causing for greater inclusion and awareness to important issues that will benefit the church as a whole.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post, I hope you found it informative.
Just kinda stumbled across this page and found the comments very interesting.
As someone currently serving in a leadership position in my ward I want all of my members to feel that they have a place in the church and that their input is valued – no matter what that may be.
I do not believe that it is appropriate for man to dictate to God what His order for the priesthood should be, but questioning is part of everyone’s faith experience – how else would we learn?
I don’t think anyone disagrees that we could be better at listening to and including the sisters in our decision-making processes – that is something we’ve been trying to work on for a few years but we can still improve.
Hey Lori. This was really, really fantastic. I loved your approach and using Sister Okasaki (who is amazing, by the way) to point out that the inequality and lack of involvement of women, particularly at the highest levels in the church. This is not something we crazy feminist women have come up with. It is real and it is measurable. And Paul, I love your comments. Just because people are uncomfortable hearing that the church isn’t perfect doesn’t mean these things should be ignored or not talked about.
Really, I cannot praise Sister Okazaki enough. I’m so happy I found this article and that her words give substance and weight to all of those times we have been told we’re making a big deal out of nothing! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.
I can not tell you how much I appreciated this. I had this discussion with my in-laws not more than 3 days ago. Being a convert I felt like I shouldn’t have been questioning doctrine. My husband is being very supporting and I find it very helpful to know he supports this cause. I am now happy to know that there’s more people out there with the same thoughts and questions I have. I am proud to be a member but I want the church to move forward and reach it’s full potential. Again, thank you for this.
I’ve felt many of the feelings reflected in your article for the past 40+ years and been involved in the Exponent II group for many years. As a young woman I truly loved Sister Okesaki! She was always a brave woman willing to speak her truth as well as the Lord’s.
Thank you from the depths of my heart for this well-written, informative article on a topic which I believe needs to be brought to light and discussion with just such historical background now. I am grateful for the time and attention you took to present this message. I’ll be looking for your future messages as well.
First, I just want to say that this one of the only posts where I’ve ever read all the commons. It is so inspiring and reassuring to me that there are so many strong, intelligent women in the Church. It is also wonderful to hear that there are many women who understand the difference between protesting the Church and trying to inspire positive progress in its management. Sadly, it seems there are still many church members who think that these are the same thing – that you cannot seek for the church to be greater and better for all its members without being, in some way, negative. It’s sad, because it’s this very idea that stifles progress. The Church has a long history of striving towards perfection, and in doing so altering its practices (though not its fundamental doctrine) as appropriate to best serve its divine purpose.
I find it interesting that feminist groups waited until AFTER Sister Okazaki died before they started using this interview. After all, she gave the interview back in 2006. Why is it that it is only recently being brought back to light? Could it be that Sister Okazaki would NEVER have supported the feminist cause, and therefore you had to wait for her to die before you could turn her words against church leadership? I would certainly hate to be you when you come face to face with her on the other side! That Sister has some fight n her!
Actually, no, we’ve been using it for years. We just weren’t getting enough media attention for you to notice.
Seriously? Seriously. SHE gave the interview. She was alive when it was published. She stood by her words. I am not using them out of context in any way shape or form. I never said she was a “mormon feminist”, I just said we relate to her. Had I known of this interview at the time, I most certainly would have written about it back then. Please stop assuming the worst and just read it for what it is. These are real words from a 1st counselor of the RS. They stand on their own. The commentary I add is how we continue to experience similar problems. Nothing about this is a spin or fictional. You would probably like it to be though, because that makes life seem less complicated.
When was it first published?? Where??
My dear friends and fellow sisters, do you think Sist. Okazaki is part of this movement or were her words used and then interpreted to far? I don’t know her very well, but I don’t believe she meant to state what was stated in this article.. “Much like Sister Okazaki, many women in the church today know that you can have a true knowledge and testimony of the pure doctrine and gospel of Christ and yet disagree with the policies and procedures of the earthly institution that bears his name.” Maybe I would have added “some” policies and procedures… Othewise this would include all, and especially basic procedures, and that includes the Prophet and the 12. To disagree with Pres. Monson and the 12 Apostles can be a slippery slope and lead to weakened spiritual strength and faith. Careful!
I do agree, however, especially as I get older and have had several leadership positions in the church, including Relief Society, that women and men need to learn to better talk and counsel together in the church. For that read an excellent book by Elder Ballard “Counseling with our councils.” As we get older and take over the leadership of this church, we will find amongst us people of all kind of spiritual levels. Sometimes we are called on supporting a leader in our wards or stakes, or maybe even on a regional level, who have been called to preside over us and have yet have to learn a few things about leadership, or we just don’t feel we connect with them. But I believe also the Lord knew why He called them. Maybe it was not for me, but for someone else who would be touched by their decisions/style. In the case of those making decisions about the most important policies of the church, however, I believe we have the most capable, tested, sensitive, inspired and trust-worthy people leading us.
In any case, you guys really want the priesthood?? I don’t feel I lack anything. I have been to priesthood session (in a ward), because I was a guest and had no where else to go–so I went with my date, and if I really felt I was missing something, for example because there is no priesthood bearer in my home, I could read the priesthood session later. Let the men have their meeting like us in Relief Society. They need the feeling of brotherhood and bonding as much as we do. I think it strengthens their resolve to serve us better. I have not yet found anything in the priesthood talks that I have not gotten from the other General Conference talks. Let men have the priesthood–just like going on a mission, they need it to learn about sensitivity, duty, and to have a task to focus on. Many men need an errand to feel useful. We have womanhood and are sensitive by nature. Sometimes too sensitive. I don’t think we need a calling to work in the priesthood. Anyways, as a temple worker, I do get to participate in depth in priesthood ordinances. As for outside of the temple, I like being protected and served by men who hold the priesthood. I have also seen a simple mother’s prayer(especially when the priesthood was not available) work just as powerful as a priesthood blessing….But I agree that some brothers need to learn to be more sensitive to the input of leading women, especially in decisions about policies and things that include women. These are my thoughts..
Anna Manja, I appreciate your thoughts. However, even though you do not feel any lack, there are plenty of women that do. I actually do not feel any lack either…not interested myself in holding the priesthood. But just because you or I do not feel the need or do not care to hold the authority, doesn’t mean other women don’t feel hurt by it. I don’t think we should undermine their feelings or act like it’s silly that they want it.
Great Article! Thank you so much for writing it!
On a very related note, be sure to check out this excerpt from a Claremont University women’s panel where RS first counselor Aileen Clyde talks about the forthcoming of the family proclamation
Thanks so much for sharing that! It was great to hear her POV and backstory as well.
This article has a factual error. The first presidents of the church manual that was published in 1997 was Brigham Young. The Harold B Lee manual wasn’t published until three years later. In light of this glaring innacuracy I question whether any of the interview is quoted correctly. It’s is unfortunate that feminists are using a deceased woman’s words to support their cause and she is not able to comment.
Does that minor error take way from the message? The interview is available online – I’ll have the author provide a link so you can read her own words.
The interview is linked right here in the article itself. Chieko Okazaki was alive when the interview was published and she took no issue with anything written in it. She herself had a lapse of memory on which was the first printed manuals, but that doesn’t change her experience with what happened when they were printed. I didn’t alter the interview or her words in any way to correct her error.
When and where was the interview first published? Is there an audio recording of it?
From what I understand, the church is trying to move teaching manuals more like “Preach My Gospel”–to prayerfully prepare lessons based of outlines principles (Come Follow Me) instead of teaching straight from a manual that is hardly relevant to our time. The principles of the gospels are timeless, but the way they taught them 100 years ago really isn’t all that relevant to us. Last year in RS, I thought every lesson was on Missionary Work–well it wasn’t. It was just that missionary work was such a focus in the early days of the church (for obvious reasons) that every principle of the gospel was seen and preached through that lens. I’m excited for this new way of teaching and hopefully it will stretch the members of the church. I don’t know if that will take place in RS, but regardless, I’m happy to see some change:)
Thought provoking writing.
I have known several women in the church who have felt so fulfilled with respect to their membership and their callings in the church. One sister said, several times, that she was totally converted to the fact that the priesthood was ordained of God and that she would not consider for an instant that women, for instance, ought to have the priesthood.
l serve as an audit committee chairman in a small stake & I have often thought of calling a Sister as an auditor. The only reason that I didn't was because they would have to conduct an audit 1 on 1 in a closed office with a brother (Ward Clerk) & that this might be a) uncomfortable for both & b) not be in keeping with the Church desire to not only avoid any impropriety but avoid anything that might give the appearance of any impropriety by calling on a woman & a man not married to each other to meet alone for 2-3 hours.
Oddly enough, most of Joseph Smith’s revelations came when he was… drum roll… questioning things! If he’d accepted the status quo, the church wouldn’t be here. The only way that we will get more revelation is to knock and ask.
Grateful to have found this. Thank you for writing it.