To focus on the positive aspects of something has no necessary relationship with denying or suppressing the negative. I love and honor my community in the Church who struggle with the gender dynamics of the Church. That pain is real. I’ve shared in it many times throughout the 17 years I’ve been here with y’all. I share in the frustration with how easy it is for local leadership to trample on and silence the voices of women, people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, and the disabled instead of making the Church a safer place for them.

In the spirit of Relief, which was the major topic of the Relief Society devotional, I want to emphasize the elements that will be useful in advocating for ourselves and others in these kinds of moments. And because of the experiences I’ve had as a convert who has attended church in multiple countries and seen/heard so many failures on this front, I hope I can provide some perspective for how far we’ve come and the progress we’ve made.

One of the most significant moments in the devotional was when President Camille Johnson announced the standards for single women seeking their personal endowment. All sisters may be endowed who meet the following criteria:

  • They must be 18 years old.
  • They must have graduated from high school, secondary school, or the equivalents in the countries in which they live.
  • They must be 1 year out or more from their confirmation into the Church.
  • They must have a desire to receive their endowment.

I can’t fully express the relief it was for me to hear those words. I don’t know how to express to anyone who hasn’t experienced what it was like to be a convert into the Church and constantly held to a different, more difficult standard from those who are born into the Church. From the time I came into the Church, every single milestone has been made harder for me by the criteria manufactured by others at all levels of the Church. My baptism and confirmation (“we don’t have any missionaries to teach you,”) my patriarchal blessing (“you just got baptized, you don’t know enough yet,”) my personal endowment (“you have to be getting married or going on a mission for that,”) my temple sealing (“if you have a ring ceremony, you won’t be allowed to be sealed,”) and my service as a temple worker (“you have to stay home with your kids… what do you mean you don’t have kids?”) all involved being held up to the ideal standard (i.e. the lived experiences) of those who were born and raised in the Church and, when they observed mine were different, I had additional burdens I had to overcome to prove that I belonged in those spaces, having those experiences.

What God has taught me through all of those experiences is how to call down the powers of heaven to help me, with every spiritual gift and talent I possess, against those who stand in the way between me and Almighty God. I have learned the power I possess as a woman, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, to bring positive change into the Church. Without ordination, I learned how to set my shoulder against any obstacle and move it, even if it means I do so alone. I’ve been doing it for 17 years now. There is no difficulty, no hardship or heartache, that men in the Church have handed to me that hasn’t been undone in the time I’ve been a member of the Church.

These changes to the requirements for the endowment, to make it easier for young women to have a spiritual development that isn’t dependent on men? My blood, sweat, and tears went on the altars of God to make that happen. My prayers, my voice, went up to God at the injustice I faced as a young person being shut out from the temple, first by policies, then by local leadership who wouldn’t let me have my endowment even once I had my mission call in my hand because I lived with my parents and they weren’t members.

Never again. It will never happen to my younger sisters and converts like me again. Because of what I suffered, and what I did with that suffering, no one has the right or authority to do this to anyone else. The standards that were just announced, which will be in writing, will make sure of that. Every adult in the Church who has been a member for a year and qualifies for a temple recommend will have open access to the endowment. That’s the policy I prayed for as a young person, that I wished would’ve existed for me. That’s the Church we have now, in part, because of me and my prayers. My part may be small, but it is no less powerful than any man’s. When we pray together for positive changes in our community, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.

That’s the power all women in the Church possess. It’s the power God has given to us by covenant, that no weapon that is formed against us shall prosper, and every tongue that reviles against us in judgment will be condemned by us. (See 3 Nephi 22:17)

There is much work for us to do to make the Church a safe place of belonging and dignity for all people. We are far from finished on so many fronts. We have also made so much progress, and there’s nothing that ordination would give us that we don’t already possess—the compassion and might of God on our behalf. “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

In whatever way you seek to provide relief to suffering—your own or other people’s— you are doing the work of the Relief Society. You are serving God, and he will bless you with any power, influence, or opportunity you need to bring about the changes you seek for the problems you bring to him. It may not be in the way you imagine, in the timing you want, but those changes will come.

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