In a live “Sister to Sister” conversation Friday morning at Brigham Young University’s Women’s Conference, the three top female Latter-day Saint leaders offered unscripted responses to a few of the 5,000 questions submitted by women in the faith.
The event, billed as “historic,” was a first of its kind at the annual gathering for women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that draws thousands of attendees to the Provo campus.
Sheri Dew, chief executive officer of Deseret Book, the faith’s publishing house, moderated the discussion with Jean B. Bingham, president of the women’s Relief Society; Bonnie H. Cordon, president of the Young Women organization; and Joy D. Jones (just back from praying at the White House’s National Day of Prayer event), president of the children’s Primary organization.
One question was about dealing with male church leaders “who seem a little dismissive.”
She had heard “how important women are,” the woman wrote, “but that has not been my experience.”
Bingham said she could relate because she has had her own interactions with “dismissive priesthood leaders.”
One was especially difficult, she said. Whenever she attended a meeting with him, she would walk out “seething.”
“I would be angry the whole way home,” Bingham recalled, and, arriving at her house, walk in “and slam my purse on the counter.”
Her husband would say, “Another purse-slammer meeting, huh?”
Over time, though, she learned to “work with this brother.”
She discovered it was a style-and-personality issue and if she prayed for him, worked to understand him, and found better ways of expressing herself, the exchanges improved.
“We women tend to be shrill or demanding or stubborn, thinking we have the best idea ever,” Bingham said to audience laughter, “and if they don’t see it our way, clearly there’s a problem here.”
She suggested women look inside themselves for the solution.
“Charity never faileth,” Bingham said, quoting the Relief Society motto.
Another questioner asked about feeling like an outsider as she faced infertility in a church that emphasizes motherhood and wondering about all the others who don’t feel there’s a place for them — being single, divorced or LGBTQ.
“Everyone wants to belong,” Cordon said. “Our Heavenly Father puts us in families for a reason.”
She then quoted a passage from the Book of Mormon, the faith’s signature scripture, when Jesus is ministering in the New World and instructs his disciples to bring to him all those who are sick or troubled in any way and he would heal them.
“We bring each other to the Savior,” she said. “May we come to the Savior together, and have everyone feel important. We are all children of God. We can have our arms opened a little wider.”
Bingham echoed that sentiment. “We all belong in this church. We all belong to the family of God, the Relief Society family, and the ward family,” she said. “No one is left out.”
The first query came from a mother of three young boys, who is pregnant with a girl, serving in a Young Women presidency and managing a chaotic household. She asked about how to balance her parental and religious responsibilities.
“I feel overwhelmed and fatigued. … I happily could sleep for four years,” the letter writer quipped.
There is a “natural tension between the ideals of the gospel and the realities of life,” said Jones, who urged the woman not to compare herself to others and to let the Holy Spirit prompt her to know what to do.
Bingham quoted a Book of Mormon scripture, saying God does not expect believers to “run faster than [they] have strength.”
Using divine assistance, the Relief Society president said, the harried mom should set priorities.
The final concern was about dealing with doubt, particularly about aspects of Mormon history and the church’s stance on social issues.
It is “good to ask questions and good to explore,” Bingham said, “but start from a basis of faith.”
Some questions “will not have answers,” she said, “but I have to be faithful and put them on the shelf, trusting that Heavenly Father loves me enough to help me move forward without all the answers.”
Jones also recognized the value of open-endedness.
“We all have questions and that’s OK,” she said. “But it’s important to put as much time into our spiritual indoctrination as into the internet and what that would tell us.”