Why Every Man in the Church Needs Relief Society


As a young co-ed at Brigham Young University, I wasn’t trying to become a subversive voice for cultural change and gender equality. I wasn’t advocating for women’s ordination. I wasn’t personally invested in the budding movement to wear pants to church on Sundays. All I wanted was to watch the general Relief Society meeting, and to know if anyone else was coming with me. On that autumn day in 2010, all I cared about getting a seat to watch the meeting in the Marriot Center—on time.

Regency Apartments was an all-girls complex that fit six women to each unit. Someone was always coming or going from my friends’ apartment—usually me, or one of half a dozen other people with some connection to someone there. Clarissa didn’t feel like going to the Marriot Center with me, but did I mind turning the television on so she could watch it from home? That’s what I was doing when someone else’s boyfriend and another guy I didn’t know came in through the door. Katie wasn’t ready yet, but could they just sit on the couch and wait for a bit? She’d be right out.

Out of the boredom that overtakes all men sitting on couches, they asked what I was doing.

“Looking for the general Relief Society meeting.”

One of them laughed and scoffed.

“You mean the meeting with all the doilies and women CRYING?” They laughed heartily at their own joke.

I didn’t look up from what I was doing before I gave a caustic response.

“Relief Society is not a meeting where we all go to cry like children. We are grown women and this is the female leadership of our church. If you wouldn’t talk about the priesthood leadership like that, don’t talk about our leadership that way.”

I don’t remember what response they managed to sputter out, and frankly I didn’t care. I had somewhere to be and nothing nice to say to them at that point.

But I’ve thought about that experience a lot. I’ve asked myself a lot of questions about it—the same kinds of questions I found myself asking many times at BYU. How can someone be raised in the Church their entire lives and have no respect for the Relief Society? How can someone who was raised by a Relief Society sister be this painfully ignorant about the contributions and sacrifices we make? It was another experience where I, the convert in the room, had to explain something fundamentally basic about the Church to someone who was raised in it, who had taken that experience for granted. It was profoundly isolating in a way I hadn’t been prepared for.

But this was different. It landed differently. It hurt more. I got my first glimpse of what too many men in my own church genuinely think of me, whether they will openly admit to it or not.

As the years passed and I continued gathering experiences as a woman in the Church—first as a missionary, then as a wife, a childless woman, and eventually a temple ordinance worker—I noticed a pattern emerging. This stereotype of women who cry and make things pretty without contributing anything of substance was not an isolated attitude. I encountered it in multiple countries, from men young and old, in converts and those who were born in the covenant. The failure to instill respect for Relief Society in our boys and young men is all but universal, and begins at an early age.

Allow me to demonstrate.

How many times do boys and young men hear their male leadership pray for women by name from a pulpit, or at an altar? The general, stake, or local Relief Society president—how often do we pray for them publicly? I’ve been in the Church for fifteen years now. I’ve never heard it once.

How many various male leaders do they see receiving prayers by name from a pulpit? The bishop, the stake president, the visiting general authority, the apostle who is sick, the president of the Church—the list goes on forever. Some will be familiar with the temple policy that forbids any prayer to be said for any individual by name who is not the president of the Church. This excludes all female leadership. How is that discrepancy reinforced in how these young men are taught to pray at home?

When boys and young men receive temple recommends at twelve, they affirm they have a testimony of the president of the Church as the only living person with the power to access the keys of the priesthood. They sustain that prophet by name. That experience is then reinforced in general conference when they give a similar affirmation, by name, for every single member of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as “prophets, seers, and revelators.”

They do not similarly sustain any woman by name in a temple recommend interview. They sustain women by name in general conference and in their local units only when the leadership changes. Depending on their age and where they live, they may be able to count how many times they’ve witnessed this in their lifetimes. And even though women prophesy[1], have visions[2], and receive revelation[3] in this church, these boys and young men have never heard ANY modern woman referred to as a prophetess, seer, or revelator. When God declared, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” surely, he meant in every aspect of his life—including leadership and church administration.[4]

As participants in the offices of the Aaronic (and later, the Melchizedek) priesthood, they will act as ministering brothers to women in their wards with their leaders and relatives. They will have occasions to see men blessing women through the power of the priesthood. They will never see that action reciprocated. How DO women bless men, other than by making food or giving them children? Of course, that’s all some of them think women are good for—that’s all they’ve ever seen us do! And in their young minds, they cannot fathom how the priesthood blessings they watch their fathers give to sisters in the ward are equal in power and influence to the casseroles those same sisters bring over for a variety of reasons throughout their lives. The confusion is understandable because the assertion is laughable. How is an ordinance supposed to compare in importance to a tray of funeral potatoes? Especially if the sister doesn’t “do it right” like their family does, and everyone eating it complains about how weird it tastes and how much better it would be “if mother had made it"?

We can quote scripture at these kids all we want. We can tell them “neither is the man without the woman, neither is the woman without the man in the Lord.”[5] We can quote 1 Corinthians 12 at them about how every member of the body is as important as every other part. We can quote Joel about how our daughters will prophesy and upon the “handmaids” in the last days God will pour out his spirit.

When are we going to realize our youth are not internalizing what we tell them? They’re internalizing what they hear and see us do. And what they hear and see is an unacceptable discrepancy between how men and women are sustained at church. The unspoken message, taught in action, is that women don’t receive these opportunities because they don’t deserve them. Their work is not important enough to merit any real acknowledgment or praise by name. After all, women exist to make babies and feed people. That is their purpose because nothing else they do will ever be more important than that. What could they possibly want or need with more?

This sounds harsh—until you’ve been a young woman in this church and you’ve heard these words come out of a young man’s mouth. Then the mouth of someone the same age as your father. Then a grandfather. Then you hear versions of this from your bishop. A stake president. A mission president. The elders in your mission. Your ministering brothers. The day you hear some version of it come out of your husband’s mouth is a particularly hard day.

But the day that would truly break me would be the day I hear any of this come out of the mouth of my son. That is why the secret prayer of my heart, long before I ever fully realized it was there, was that I would never have to raise a boy in the Church.

Why should every man in the Church be required to go to Relief Society? So they can learn what the voice of the Divine Feminine sounds like, and truly “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.”[6] I want them to realize that for as long as they believe there is no woman in the Church equal in power and authority to the prophet, they are unprepared to enter the presence of the Lord and to meet his Equal. I want them to realize we are also servants.[7] We have names. We are also the anointed.[8] I want them to understand that in a church of continuing revelation, there is no “sealed portion”—just the words written in the fleshy tables of a woman’s heart they will never receive without us, no matter how much they ask, seek, and knock.[9]

I want them to see the sheer number of clipboards and sign-up sheets it takes to do all the compassionate service, community outreach, and the amount of cooking it takes to run a congregation the way they expect it to operate.

I want them to see how differently women speak in spaces that don’t revolve around men—how honest we are with each other. How vulnerable we are, in ways many of them are still not allowed to be. If there’s any truth to Relief Society being a place where women cry, men shouldn’t be laughing about it. We’re usually crying because of something they’ve said or done. In those moments, we’re exercising the gift of healing (and the gift to be healed) from the wounds men have been causing us since before this world began. It’s an endowment of power unique to us. It also comes complete with a whisper network where we discuss together which men at church to avoid for our own protection. You know, the ones President Monson warned us (and you) about when he said, "Men, take care not to make women weep, for God counts their tears."[10]

I want the men in my church to listen to women. Really listen. Hear the voice of God in what we have to say. Recognize it. Hear that it is prophetic. It is revelation, for “whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.” I want men to understand they’re not the only prophets, seers, and revelators in this church. Clearly, that’s not something they’re learning in Priesthood these days.

So come on over to Relief Society, fellas! Pull up a chair. Get a cookie that some woman got up early to make this morning before she came to church. Let’s taste the quiet desperation in every bite as you finally realize it’s there for the first time.

We can all cry about it together.

[1] Judg. 4:6-7, 1 Sam. 2:10, Joel 2:28-29, Luke 1:48, Luke 2:36, Acts 2:17-18, 21:9.

[2] Matt. 27:19, Luke 24:23, and A of F 1:7.

[3] D&C 25:7-9.

[4] Gen. 2:18.

[5] 1 Cor. 11:11.

[6] D&C 68:3-5.

[7] D&C 84:36.

[8] D&C 121:16.

[9] 2 Cor. 3:3.

[10] Monson, Thomas S., “That We May Touch Heaven,” churchofjesuschrist.org, April 1990 General Conference, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1990/10/that-we-may-touch-heaven.

The Many Apologies of Hank Smith

When you've been on Twitter as long as I have, you see online kerfuffles come and go. Because it's a platform that rewards the airing of grievances like an ongoing digital Festivus, it's all but guaranteed that everyone will have the wrong take in a situation and spend some time as the Twitter Villain of the Day.

However, there's one character on Mormon Twitter that seems to end up in that position more often than anyone else. And that person is Hank Smith, a BYU professor in the religious education department and public speaker who tweets under the handle @hankrsmith.

I've been on Mormon Twitter since 2009, and in the Mormon blogosphere since 2007. And I'll be honest with you. It's rare for someone to have to apologize for what they say as often as Hank Smith does. In fact, the only person I can think of off the top of my head who has the same reputation online as a troublemaker is John Dehlin. And I'd still go out on a limb and say that Hank Smith has still issued more apologies in less time than John Dehlin has ever had to do.


My goal here is to provide context for some of the situations in which my friends and I have found ourselves in our interactions with him. For those who are trying to engage in the community of Latter-day Saints and adjacent folks online, the decision about whether, when, and how to engage with Hank Smith is one that will come up. Because I value the safety and well-being of the people who engage and participate in that community, I want to assist people who want to protect themselves from harm online. And unfortunately, whether he wants to admit it or not, Hank Smith has a habit of hurting people he doesn't know on the internet.

Why I Blocked Hank Smith

Twitter has several functions that people can use to select the content they choose to see and engage with. There are keyword filters, where you can filter out words, topics, and hashtags you no longer want to see on your timeline. There's the mute function, which allows you to remove a specific user from your timeline without restricting them from seeing your content. And then there's the block feature, which prevents you from seeing a user's content, and keeps that user from seeing or interacting with your content at all.

These strategies aren't perfect, especially when folks you follow take screenshots of that users tweets to repost them with responses. Sometimes, this is necessary because the user will delete the problematic things they've said, thinking they can erase all evidence that they ever happened. But using these tools is a skill you have to develop over time by watching the behavior of other users. You get really good at seeing how people carry themselves online and recognizing when someone is going to become a problem.

When did I remove Hank Smith's access to me because I knew he was going to become a problem?

It was six years ago today, actually. (A coincidence, I assure you.) And it was the only conversation I've personally had with him.

He was making fun of a student for coming to him and asking for help to salvage a failing grade. He said that students come to him saying they'll do anything to improve their grades, except of course to attend class and study for exams all semester. It's a complaint, a chorus we have all seen and heard from post-secondary educators, at the beginning of every December.

But as someone who has been in this position at the institution where Hank Smith teaches, there's more to the story than that. This complaint coming from a BYU professor, especially in the religion department, doesn't mean the same thing as it does coming from other college professors. The implication here that students do poorly at Brigham Young University because of laziness is part of the toxic, abusive environment that runs rampant on that campus.

BYU is a terrible place to have disabilities and difficulties with mental health. My father passed away while I was a student there. My entire life fell apart. I didn't have enough money for food and was frequently going hungry. My paychecks from my on-campus job didn't pay me enough to cover my bills. I stopped going to class because I couldn't get out of bed. I didn't stop going to class because I was lazy. I stopped going to class because I was in a full blown mental health crisis.

Did anybody at the university care that I was struggling? Did any of my professors contact me? Did anyone ask me if I was okay, if everything was okay at home? No. They put me on academic probation, which was against university policy for a student who had lost a parent even then. I went from being a model student, a high achiever with good grades, to completely disappearing. I was giving off every sign of a student in crisis.

All I got from Brigham Young University was a paper to sign threatening to kick me out of a school and a lecture from a girl my age, a total stranger, telling me I needed to "try harder."

That's the institution where Hank Smith teaches. And that same attitude, that mercy and care only belongs to the deserving (i.e. the people who don't actually need it), is alive and well because of individuals like him.

I told him this story. I told him it was inappropriate for him to be presenting a student's personal struggles on Twitter like that. I reminded him that mercy is for those who need it, not for those who deserve it. I told him to do better because he was capable of a better, more compassionate response than this.

All I got in response was defensiveness, then silence. But you know what? It told me everything I will ever need to know about him.

He has been blocked ever since. Had I known how much deeper it was going to go, I would've held back a hell of a lot less.

A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

Despite having him blocked, I wasn't able to completely remove myself from the impact Hank Smith was having on the people around me. Because he deletes his worst offenses as soon as they breach containment, you'll just have to settle for the summary I'm able to provide as someone who has been there and witnessed it.

Here are some of the things Hank Smith has had to apologize for over the past several years.

He has expressed mistrust and judgment towards women who work outside of the home, especially when they have children. He has presented being a stay at home mother as a morally superior choice, and has straw-manned that position into a completely different one where women aren't allowed to say they want to stay at home to raise their children. He is smart enough to know that if he was a woman saying that, no one would be mad at him. It's sexist for him to say that because he's a man passing judgment on the choices of other women.

He shows blatant disregard for the thoughts and experiences of the women with whom he interacts online. I've personally seen him retweet women who disagree with his positions so that his followers will attack them. He conducts himself with total indifference towards the safety and well-being of women online. This is ironic, given that a significant amount of his online platform and his paid speaking engagements have been dedicated to the prevention of bullying and online harassment in schools throughout the Intermountain West.

He has been caught interacting with, and possibly posting as, DezNat. As the sexist, racist, radically conservative faction of Mormon Twitter that has engaged in violence and harassment, Hank Smith has no business interacting with members of the Church like that. He talks a big game on the importance of inclusion, of showing respect to women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color, and all the things that are supposed to signal him as a good person. But if he genuinely believed those things, he wouldn't have the stomach to be around people who have made NOT valuing those people their entire personalities.

He started several arguments by stating that anyone who can't fully and unconditionally accept Joseph Smith as a prophet can't possibly have faith in any other aspect of the restored gospel. He openly insulted people, both for disagreeing with him and for telling him that this is a bad way to make friends and influence people. It was bad enough that there were several people I saw saying that they felt what little faith they were clinging to being totally undermined by how Hank Smith was conducting himself throughout that entire exchange. 

When he was called in by the adults in the room who were watching him do this, he doubled down. It escalated to the point where he attacked a gay BYU student, a personal friend of mine, by calling him a Korihor. This is a character from the Book of Mormon who is considered an anti-Christ. Following the same tactics he has long used with women, he pushed his statement out to his followers, which endangered that student at BYU. The harassment was so severe, the student transferred to another school and is no longer a student at Brigham Young University. 

Despite reports to the department chair that his online language and behavior had endangered a student, Hank Smith was not removed from his position and still teaches at Brigham Young University.

Protect Yourself

Since then, I've been advising people to stay away from Hank Smith. Do not engage with him online. Block his account. Do no post screenshots of his tweets. Do not buy his materials. Do not use them in your homes or at church. Avoid him the way you would stay away from someone whose kind words and good intentions could all suddenly disappear in a puff of smoke.


Because there will come another day, as there have been so many days before, where you may find yourself in a position where you too will deserve an apology from Hank Smith. It could be something minor, like blowing you off when you tell him to be nicer to his students. It could be because he has assembled the worst people on the internet and has encouraged them to attack you for daring to disagree with him, or trying to undo some of the harm he's causing to the people you care about.

The trouble with Hank Smith is, you never know exactly which version of him you're going to get.

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