Relief Society: A Restoration of an Ancient Pattern
I enjoyed this first chapter in Daughters in My Kingdom regarding the ancient church of Jesus Christ. The chapter mentioned how Christ "demonstrated deep familiarity with women's lives and drew timeless gospel lessons from their every day experiences." It mentioned that little is known about the early "formal organization of women in the New Testament" and that women "met and prayed together with the Apostles" (p. 3). The chapter mentioned Mary and Martha and several other stories of women in the NT (p. 4).
I think I came away with several questions after reading this chapter. I read it under the assumption that women were probably second-class back then (but I'd like to know more), so I found it significant that Christ even acknowledged them. I also assumed that even men were not so organized back then -- at least there's not much record of it in the NT (well I guess you can look at all the social groups: pharisees, sadduces, etc., but I don't know how "formal" those groups were, and I guess they wouldn't be considered Christian organizations -- obviously I could study this); at least is seems the only official record of early Christan organization is that of the 12 Apostles. So, to me, it's significant that women were even acknowledged and some men were organized.
I wonder more about why have women been put down in society so many times? Are men just more power hungry? Are they bigger and stronger, so they feel entitled to power? How much are women mentioned in other writings from this era in history? Are more women mentioned in the NT than in similar writings?
I've learned to love Paul's counsel to Titus to "encourage older women to serve and teach young women about their eternal roles as wives and mothers. . ." (p. 5). I'm really coming to appreciate the advice of women who have done this child-raising stuff before. There is NO reason for me to think I know it all; I can use the advice of older women to my advantage. Why reinvent the wheel?
I really loved the example of Dorcas/Tabitha and how she made clothes for widows. I've learned a bit about historical clothing and have learned that clothing was not cheap back then, and obviously labor intensive. Was she wealthy? Either way, the time to sew and the cost to purchase goods was surely substantial. Sounds like she gave her all and the widows loved her (p. 6).
We've always been told that the Relief Society was organized after the pattern of the priesthood. That's always been a slightly confusing statement to me because RS is not organized into little groups like deacons, teachers, priests, elders, high priests, or Aaronic/Melchizedek Priesthood and we don't seem to have quite the same responsibilities. We're just organized into one big group of women, and some of us are pulled out of that big group to help in Young Women's or Primary. However, I've come to interpret the statement as meaning Relief Society is (and was) organized through inspiration; those in leadership positions are set apart; they operate with counselors -- just as most all auxilaries in the church.
An even more clarifying statement was made by Julie Beck at the General RS Meeting last night. She said something along the lines of the RS being organized after the pattern of discipleship. I fully expected her to say "the priesthood," but she didn't. This pattern of discipleship clarifies the role of women. The book states that we are dignified, noble, needed, valued, and serviceable (p. 7) -- qualities of disciples. The Relief Society is a way for us women to be organized and to act officially in the name of the Church. If we weren't so organized, I don't believe we'd be able to do as much good.