Elder M. Russell Ballard used the occasion of a mostly-female audience at BYU’s Campus Education Week to speak about the importance of women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A crowded Marriott Center was the setting for the devotional. Elder Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said he had recently returned from England where he saw the Church’s first-ever British Pageant. He said he was struck by the stories told through song, dance and the spoken word by some 200 pageant performers.
“As the story progressed, I was deeply touched by the overwhelming contribution converts in the British Isles, and of course some Scandinavian countries made in building up and strengthening The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1837, and even on through today,” Elder Ballard said.
Elder Ballard said he was so touched by the pageant that he decided to change the topic of the devotional address at BYU to the “importance of faith, testimony and the power of the dear women and children who joined the Church during the formidable era.”
“In some many ways women are the heart of the Church,” Elder Ballard said. “So today, with the help of the Lord, I would like to pay tribute to the faithful women, and the young women, of the Church today.”
Ballard was a missionary in England shortly after the end of World War II. He testified of the important role women played in holding local branches and wards together during the war. “Had it not been for the sisters and their faith and their strength during those difficult days, we would have had to start over from scratch in several of the branches where I served,” he said.
Elder Ballard said there have been many times non-members and journalists have confronted him with false preconceived notions of women’s roles within the Church. He went on to give five key points to help give Mormons and others a proper perspective about the roles of women in the Church.
His first point focused on God’s creation of both man and woman, and that gender is eternal.
“(God) has a plan designed to help all who choose to follow Him and his son Jesus Christ to achieve their destiny as heirs to eternal life,” Elder Ballard said. “Heavenly Father and his son Jesus Christ are perfect. They are omniscient. They understand all things. Further, their hopes for us are perfect.”
Since Heavenly Father and Christ are perfect, they have both men and women’s best interests in mind, including what traits and experiences would best prepare them for eternal life.
In his second point, Elder Ballard emphasized that the Church is the Lord’s church, governed by leaders with divine priesthood power. He quoted the Prophet Joseph Smith, who said, “The priesthood is an everlasting principle and existed with God from eternity, and will to eternity, without beginning of days or end of years.”
Elder Ballard said both men and women are essential to the priesthood; it cannot work successfully without both men and women. He quoted Elder Neal A. Maxwell, who said all members needed to trust the Lord and his design: ”What we already know about God teaches us to trust him for what we do not know fully.”
Elder Ballard went on to say that men should value women’s input in Church councils, as well as in all other aspects of life. He also cautioned sisters to “not assume a role that is not yours” by encroaching on priesthood roles.
In his third point, Ballard said though men and women’s roles differ, God doesn’t view one or the other as more important.
“Men and women have different gifts, different strengths, different points of view and inclinations,” Elder Ballard said. “That is one of the fundamental reasons why we need each other. It takes a man and a woman to create a family, and it takes men and women to carry out the work of the Lord in the Church.
“A husband and wife righteously working together complete each other,” he continued. “Let us be careful that we do not attempt to tamper with Heavenly Father’s plan and purposes in our lives.”
Elder Ballard’s fourth point focused on the fact that both men and women are endowed by the same priesthood power and subsequently have equal access to priesthood keys. He quoted Elder John A. Widtsoe, who said, “The priesthood is for the benefit of all members of the Church. Men have no greater claim than women upon the blessings that issue from the priesthood.”
In his fifth and final point, Elder Ballard urged women to learn and understand the doctrine of the gospel, allowing them to bear testimony in a complex, troubling world.
“All of us, men, women, young adults, young boys and girls … have the Lord and his Church to defend and protect and to spread throughout the earth,” Elder Ballard said. “We need more of the distinctive influential voices of women. We need you to learn the doctrine and to understand what we believe so you can bear your testimony.
“Only you can show the world what women of God who have made covenants look like and believe,” he continued. “None of us can afford to stand by and watch the purposes of God be diminished and pushed aside. … The brethren of the General Authorities and the sisters who are general officers cannot do it alone. The full-time missionaries cannot do it alone. Priesthood leaders and auxiliary leaders cannot do it alone. We must all defend our Father in Heaven and His plan.”
Elder Ballard concluded his remarks by bearing his testimony of the importance of women in the Church.
“Sisters, your sphere of influence is one of unique spirit, one that cannot be duplicated by men,” Ballard said. “No one can defend our Savior with anymore persuasion and power than you. … The Church needs your voices now more than ever.”