Every woman in the 7.5 million-member Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should feel welcome and included, the church’s top female officials said Thursday — but many don’t.
That was the message delivered by Relief Society President Jean B. Bingham and her two counselors, Sharon Eubank and Reyna Aburto, in a keynote session titled “The Place of Belonging” at the 2021 Brigham Young University Women’s Conference.
“The promise of Relief Society is that we can become a Zion society,” Bingham said. “When we look at one another from an eternal perspective, we can see each one as an eternal sister.”
But there is a need for “improvement,” Bingham said. “Studies have shown that the number one reason people leave religion is that they feel judged or unwelcome. That is cited more often than doctrinal disagreement or lack of belief.”
The good news, she said, “is that that situation can practically be eliminated if we really open our arms and hearts to everyone.”
To that end, Eubank, who heads the church’s humanitarian arm, Latter-day Saint Charities, invited her friend Jessica Livier Mendoza de la Vega — “Liv” — to talk about her experience as a self-identified queer Latter-day Saint.
She has never been hurt by the “gospel,” Liv said, but by what members have said to her.
She also described positive experiences.
When she told the bishop (a lay leader of a congregation) of her young single adult ward about her queer identity, he replied, “I don’t know anything about this. What can I read? How can I help people know this is a safe place?”
For nearly 20 years, she thought she was “broken” because of her attractions, but now she knows she is loved by God and Jesus Christ just as she is, Liv said. “My eternal identity is not something anyone can take away from me.”
Eubank praised her friend and told in-person attendees and those watching online to “recognize the courage it took to stand on this BYU stage to talk about this.”
The Relief Society leadership trio also discussed good and bad things to say in sensitive moments such as addressing childless couples, singles and divorced members, or missionaries who return early from their missions.
The global Relief Society “needs to support all women, to help them always feel a part of our divine, eternal sisterhood,” Bingham concluded. Jesus Christ “waits with outstretched arms to bring each one into his fold. He fervently hopes that we will help in this essential effort.”
After Bingham’s presentation, members of the recently appointed general Primary presidency, which oversees the faith’s children’s programs, spoke.
President Camille N. Johnson described the spiritual serendipity of choosing her counselors, Susan H. Porter and Amy Wright.
Though the three women were not well-acquainted, when they gathered as a presidency, they felt a clear kinship, Johnson said. “We are all connected and share a collective testimony of that principle.”
Each member of the presidency then gave her own address.
Wright described feeling that she was “not enough” for the Primary position and had hoped she would get a confirmation that she was, indeed, “enough.”
That didn’t come, she said. Instead came the thought, “You are right. You are not enough. And you will never be your definition of enough. But Jesus Christ is enough. He is more than enough and therefore everything will be OK.”
Porter described the divine comfort she felt during the last days of her husband, Bruce Porter, who had been a general authority Seventy for the church (among the top quorums, until his death in 2017.
God let her know “in a gentle and loving way that the peace I had felt, the safety I had experienced, and the sense that I was not alone had nothing to do with me,” Porter said, “and everything to do with a loving Heavenly Father and his son, being on my right hand and on my left, with their spirit in my heart, and angels bearing me up.”
As an attorney for more than 30 years, Johnson said in her speech, “there is a reason they refer to it as the practice of law. I have never taken a perfect deposition, nor conducted a perfect cross-examination — there was always another question, or a better question I could have asked.”
Still, she believes that the service she provided to her clients “was not only satisfactory, it was of value,” Johnson said. “I was practicing law with an eye toward changing, improving, and perfecting.”
In the religious sphere, Latter-day Saint women are “practicing perfection....Practice makes perfect with the Savior,” she said. “He makes all the difference.”
In the afternoon Thursday, President Bonnie H. Cordon and her two counselors, Michelle D. Craig and Rebecca L. Craven, in the Young Women general presidency, which supervises programs for girls between ages 11 and 17, explored what it means to stand as witnesses of Christ.
God is asking young women “to be a light; to witness to our friends, family, co-workers, associates, and strangers,” Cordon said.
“We can do this because we do not do it alone,” she said. “The lives of those around us are precious to our Heavenly Father. He invites us to treat them with love — his love.”