Beehives, MIA Maids and Laurels are out — Heavenly Parents are in.
That’s what happened Saturday night at the women’s session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Utah-based faith eliminated the names historically associated with Young Women classes. All will simply be known as “Young Women.”
In another step on the gender-equity front, it revised the Young Women theme Saturday night, changing “we are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love him” to “I am a beloved daughter of Heavenly Parents, with a divine nature and eternal destiny.”
Mormonism teaches the existence not only of a God the Father but also a God the Mother — a doctrine the religion touts as “cherished and distinctive.”
Latter-day Saint feminists have been pushing for the change to “Heavenly Parents” for years.
Top church authorities opened that door with November 2015’s release of an essay stating that all humans are “beloved spirit children of Heavenly Parents, a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother.”
The previous theme, repeated every week by Young Women, also spoke in the plural — “We are daughters...” That has now been replaced in the new theme by the singular “I.”
“These truths apply to you individually,” said Young Women general President Bonnie Cordon. “You are a beloved daughter of Heavenly Parents. You are a covenant disciple of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Class sizes will vary depending on the number of girls in a congregation.
In the new system, class presidencies, chosen from among the teenage students, are even more important, Cordon said. “It is by divine design that young women are called to lead in their youth.”
The general president urged leaders to “make the calling of class presidencies a priority and then lead side by side with them, mentoring and guiding them so they can succeed. Whatever level of leadership experience a class presidency has, start where they are and help them develop the skills and confidence that will bless them as leaders.”
Stay close to them, Cordon said, “but don’t take over.”
In the concluding speech of the evening, President Russell M. Nelson described the ways in which women participate in the all-male priesthood.
“The heavens are just as open to women who are endowed with God’s power flowing from their priesthood covenants,” he said, “as they are to men who bear the priesthood.”
And the idea that a home without a man does not have the priesthood, he said, “is incorrect.”
Such women “may not have a priesthood bearer in your home,” he told his listeners, “but you have made sacred covenants with God in his temple. From those covenants flows an endowment of his priesthood power upon you.”
The 95-year-old Nelson, whom the faithful view as a “prophet, seer and revelator,” said it grieved him “to think that any of you [women and girls] have felt marginalized or have not been believed by a priesthood leader, or have been abused or betrayed by a husband, father or a supposed friend.”
“I feel deep sorrow that any of you have felt sidelined, disrespected or misjudged,” he said. “Such offenses have no place in the kingdom of God.”
Earlier in the evening, Reyna Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, spoke passionately about depression, anxiety and “other forms of mental and emotional affliction.”
She disclosed the deep sadness she experienced after her own father’s suicide.
Black clouds form in some lives, “which can blind us to God’s light and even cause us to question if that light exists for us anymore,” Aburto said. “ … They can distort the way we perceive ourselves, others and even God. They affect women and men of all ages in all corners of the world.”
Like any part of the body, “the brain is subject to illnesses, trauma and chemical imbalances,” she said. “When our minds are suffering, it is appropriate to seek help from God, from those around us, and from medical and mental health professionals.”
Sometimes the cause of depression or anxiety can be identified, she said, “while other times it may be harder to discern. Our brains may suffer because of stress or staggering fatigue, which can sometimes be improved through adjustments in diet, sleep and exercise.”
But in other cases, sufferers may need “therapy or medication under the direction of trained professionals,” Aburto said. “ … Untreated mental or emotional illness can lead to increased isolation, misunderstandings, broken relationships, self-harm and even suicide.”
Fellow Latter-day Saints should help those with mental illness “know and feel that they do indeed belong with us,” that depression “is not the result of weakness, nor is it usually the result of sin,” she said. It “thrives in secrecy but shrinks in empathy.”
Together, Aburto said, “we can break through the clouds of isolation and stigma so the burden of shame is lifted and miracles of healing can occur.”
Dallin H. Oaks, Nelson’s first counselor, took up a familiar topic for him: the relationship between love and law when it comes to the LGBTQ community.
The church is ultimately concerned with “preparing the children of God for the Celestial Kingdom, and most particularly for its highest glory, exaltation or eternal life,” Oaks said. “That highest destiny is only possible through marriage [between a man and a woman] for eternity.”
There are many, even church members, “who do not believe or choose not to follow God’s commandments about marriage and the law of chastity,” he said. “ ... All can choose obedience to seek his highest blessings or make choices that lead to one of the less glorious kingdoms.”
Mormonism teaches that are three “degrees of glory,” or divisions in heaven. But even “those lesser kingdoms,” Oaks said, “are still more wonderful than mortals can comprehend.”
Church leaders “seek to persuade our members that those who follow lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender teachings and actions should be treated with the love our Savior commands us to show toward all our neighbors,” he said. “ … But it’s a fine line between law and love. … [It] requires us to seek divine inspiration on what to support and what to oppose and how to love and listen respectfully and teach in the process.”
And it “opposes recruitment away from the covenant path,” he said, “and it denies support to any who lead people away from the Lord.”
In all of this, the former Utah Supreme Court justice said, “remember that God promises hope and ultimate joy and blessings for all who keep his commandments.”