If you would like to send us a question, feel free to send us an email at ‘mormonwoman’ AT ‘gmail’ DOT ‘com’
***Please note: The answers in “Ask a Mormon Woman” and (other content on this site) reflect the thoughts and perspectives of the administrators at Mormon Women. Although we strive to have our content consistent with the Church’s doctrine and teachings, we do not speak officially for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For official information about or from the Church, please visit www.mormon.org or www.lds.org.
For more information on our basic doctrines, click here.
What is a solemn assembly? (This was a question discussed at the time Pres. Monson was sustained as president of the Church.)
Question: I’ve heard a lot in the news about polygamy with all that is going on with the FLDS group in Texas. Some people are concerned about the fact that Mormons once practiced polygamy, and that somehow issues we see today reflect issues that existed then. What does your church say about this?
–For some thoughts on this topic, see what Marlin K. Jensen, LDS Church historian has to say.
Why are ordinances necessary?
Q: What is a solemn assembly?
Recently, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held its semiannual general conference. Part of that conference included a solemn assembly, where the new prophet, Thomas S. Monson, was sustained. We have the opportunity to sustain our general church leaders every year in general, stake, and ward conferences, but a solemn assembly is different. Elder David B. Haight explained the various purposes of solemn assemblies. He said:
A solemn assembly, as the name implies, denotes a sacred, sober, and reverent occasion when the Saints assemble under the direction of the First Presidency. Solemn assemblies are used for three purposes: the dedication of temples, special instruction to priesthood leaders, and sustaining a new President of the Church. This conference session today [when Spencer W. Kimball was sustained as the new prophet, similar to the session recently held when President Monson was sustained] is a solemn assembly for the purpose of sustaining a newly called Church President and other officers of the Church.
There is a pattern to solemn assemblies that distinguishes them from other general Church meetings where we sustain officers of the Church. That pattern, which was established by the Prophet Joseph Smith, is that the priesthood quorums, commencing with the First Presidency, stand and manifest by the uplifted right hand their willingness to sustain the President of the Church as a prophet, seer, and revelator, and uphold him by their confidence, faith, and prayers. The priesthood quorums of the Church so manifest by their vote. Then the general body of all the Saints stand and signify their willingness to do the same. The other leaders of the Church are similarly sustained in their offices and callings.
Whenever sustainings take place, members are given the chance to raise their hands if they oppose an action or someone’s calling. However, such an expression does not change the results, particularly in the case of a sustaining. Callings are not made or carried out by popular vote. But giving members an opportunity to sustain their leaders serves a couple of purposes. One reason is often mentioned by President Boyd K. Packer. He says:
Every President of the Church…has been sustained in a solemn assembly…. And in similar manner, the sustaining procedure is repeated annually in general conference and duplicated in every stake and ward and branch as required by revelation.
The Lord said, “It shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church” (D&C 42:11).
In this way, no stranger can come among us and claim to have authority and attempt to lead the Church astray.
The sustaining process is also an opportunity for individuals to witness their support and promise to sustain the prophet. Elder Haight explained:
When we sustain the President of the Church by our uplifted hand, it not only signifies that we acknowledge before God that he is the rightful possessor of all the priesthood keys; it also means that we covenant with God that we will abide by the direction and the counsel that come through His prophet. It is a solemn covenant.
You can find links to some people’s thoughts about the recent solemn assembly, as well as other aspects of the April 2008 general conference, here.
Q: Why aren’t women in the Church ordained to the priesthood?
This is a question that is often asked about Mormonism and about Mormon womanhood. One of the keys of being able to understand the answer to this question is to understand first the doctrinal truth that men and women are equal in God’s eyes. The scriptures state that “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34) and that “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).
President Spencer W. Kimball, twelfth president of the Church, said: “We had full equality as [God’s] spirit children. We have equality as recipients of God’s perfected love for each of us” (Ensign, Nov. 1979, p. 102). That perfected love can be experienced in its fullness through the saving ordinances of the gospel, which both women and men have the opportunity to receive. And the crowning ordinance of the gospel can only be received by a man and women together.
In the plan of God, however, equality does not mean sameness in roles and responsibilities as it often does in cultural vernacular. Carolyn J. Rasmus, a professor at Brigham Young University and a convert to the Church, said this:
Although men and women are equal in the sight of the Lord, their eternal roles and assignments differ. Men’s primary duties are associated with fatherhood and the priesthood; women have responsibilities relating to motherhood and sisterhood. By virtue of these assignments, men are directly responsible for Church governance and thus have organizational and administrative duties. Women, on the other hand, have specific responsibility to create and nurture.
Because men hold the priesthood and are therefore often more visible in the operations of the Church, some people assume men are more important and more competent than women. But Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve made it clear that the priesthood is not a reward for competency or excellence:
“Women of a congregation … may be wiser, far greater in mental powers, even greater in actual power of leadership than the men who preside over them. That signifies nothing. The Priesthood is not bestowed on the basis of mental power but is given to good men and they exercise it by right of divine gift, called upon by the leaders of the Church. Woman has her gift of equal magnitude” (Priesthood and Church Government, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954, p. 90).
On another occasion he said, “No man who understands the gospel believes that he is greater than his wife, or more beloved of the Lord, because he holds the priesthood” (Evidences and Reconciliations, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960, p. 308).
God has designed the roles of men and women, both in the Church and in family life, to be complementary. He needs men and women to work together — to bring their roles, responsibilities, talents, and abilities together for His eternal purposes. The goal is not to have men and women be independent, but interdependent. This principle was explained beautifully by Sister Sheri Dew, when she was one of the leaders of the Relief Society for the Church:
Our Father knew exactly what He was doing when He created us. He made us [as men and women] enough alike to love each other, but enough different that we would need to unite our strengths and stewardships to create a whole. Neither man nor woman is perfect or complete without the other. Thus, no marriage or family, no ward or stake is likely to reach its full potential until husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, men and women work together in unity of purpose, respecting and relying upon each other’s strengths.
Thus, while women don’t hold priesthood offices, they have a critical role in the plan of God, in both family life and in the Church.
Sister Julie B. Beck, now Relief Society General President of the Church, taught another important fact about priesthood when she said:
Priesthood blessings are the great equalizer. Those blessings are the same for men and women, for boys and girls; they are the same for married and single, rich and poor, for the intellectual and the illiterate, for the well-known and the obscure.
I am grateful that through the infinite fairness and love of God, all men and women were given equal partnership, gifts, blessings, and potential through priesthood ordinances and spiritual gifts. Because of the priesthood, which is woven in and around and through our lives, every power, every covenant we need to do our life’s work and walk back to our heavenly home has been poured out upon our heads.
Priesthood is thus designed to bring covenant blessings to all who desire them, through ordinances and gifts of the Spirit.
“Ordinances and Covenants” Dennis B. Neuenschwander, Liahona, Nov. 2001, 16–23; or Ensign, Aug. 2001, 20–26
Dieter F. Uchtdorf: “Our willingness to repent shows our gratitude for God’s gift and for the Savior’s love and sacrifice on our behalf. Commandments and priesthood covenants [which are a key part of ordinances] provide a test of faith, obedience, and love for God and Jesus Christ, but even more importantly, they offer an opportunity to experience love from God and to receive a full measure of joy both in this life and in the life to come.
“These commandments and covenants of God are like navigational instructions from celestial heights and will lead us safely to our eternal destination. It is one of beauty and glory beyond understanding. It is worth the effort. It is worth making decisive corrections now and then staying on course.”
“Receive the Temple Blessings” Richard G. Scott
“The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament”Dallin H. Oaks
Covenants and Ordinances” Jorge A. Rojas
Steve Young and Sharlene Hawkes address myths about the church, addressing topics such as polygamy, humanitarian aid, and whether Mormons are Christians. See this story or this video for more details.