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Episode 74: Relief Society President Jean B. Bingham on the 180th anniversary of the worldwide women’s organization

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President Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, joins the Church News podcast to talk about the 180th anniversary of the Relief Society.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints


On March 17, 2022, the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will celebrate its 180th anniversary.

This episode of the Church News podcast features Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham on the importance of the organization and the essential role of women in the Church.

With the motto “Charity Never Faileth,” the Relief Society for 180 years has blessed millions worldwide in its efforts to strengthen women and families, increase faith and offer relief across the globe.

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Transcript

President Jean B. Bingham: We need every single woman to know that she is valued, that she will have tremendous contributions to make, and really depends on where you are and your stage of life, what your circumstances are. The sister who's living in Ghana has a very different experience than a sister who's living in Georgia, and yet, can they make contributions that are meaningful? Absolutely. No matter where we live, no matter what our life stage is, no matter what our socioeconomic situation is, we can make contributions to the Church and the Lord will support us in those and we'll be blessed and we are blessing others' lives.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I'm Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News — welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

On March 17, 2022, the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will celebrate its 180th anniversary. This episode of the Church News podcast features President Jean B. Bingham. President Bingham was sustained in April 2017 as General President of the Relief Society, the Church's organization for its 7.5 million women worldwide. President Bingham, welcome to the Church News podcast.

President Jean B. Bingham: Thank you, it’s a delight to be here.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, let's just start today and have you talk to us about what you think of when you hear the words “Relief Society.”

1:46  

President Jean B. Bingham: Well, you know, those two words are very interesting. When you think about “relief” and “society,” those really encapsulate what we're really doing. You know, everyone needs relief at one time or another, and the need is often ongoing. I think about the worldly influences that cause stress, they’re relentless, both today and in the intervening years since Relief Society was first organized. I think about the initial meetings of Relief Society. When it was organized, prophet Joseph Smith taught the sisters that their focus was not only to relieve the poor, but to save souls, and so I'm thinking about relief in lots of different ways. 

When you look down over time, Relief Society has provided relief in lots of different ways to different people. I love, matter of fact, the quote by Elder John A. Widtsoe, he talks about relief of poverty, relief of illness, relief of doubt, relief of ignorance, relief of all that hinders the joy and progress of women, and that's what we're doing in Relief Society. 

And I think about the word “society,” which is the concept of a group working together to fulfill their common goals. When Relief Society was first organized, it was clearly a group of women who wanted to lift and strengthen their fellow members, both temporally and spiritually. Now, over the years, I think it's, for some women, Relief Society has kind of become a class or a room, but it's truly a group. It's a sisterhood that has relieved suffering, and we do it today in every way that we can. I think we work in charitable activities, we can accomplish more in our society, in our group, we have more resources together. And also, I think about individually: when you belong to a society of women, you have the common goal of spiritually and temporally preparing ourselves and each other for challenges, and that's really empowering this society. So Relief Society, really, actually, perfect words for what we do.

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Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham smiles in the Monument to Women garden in historic Nauvoo, Illinois, on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and it sounds like it really is a way of life. 

President Jean B. Bingham: Yes. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: So now we're celebrating 180 years of Relief Society. As you think about this organization, what is the legacy of Relief Society?

3:53  

President Jean B. Bingham: That is a very broad question. The first thing that comes to mind is that women started out wanting to help one another and help families, but it wasn't just all about just themselves, they wanted to help young women and youth and children. So we have that same focus today. The legacy: for instance, I think about — Young Women was organized, actually, under the Relief Society. There was a real need, and Eliza R. Snow moved out, and under the prophet’s direction, helped to organize the young women so that they could fulfill their best potential. The same of the Primary: under Eliza R. Snow, it was authorized that Aurelia Spencer be the first president, and she saw a need. These children needed some direction, some help in that way, and this was all done as part of the Relief Society, and so that's just a little bit of a legacy. 

Now, when I think about a legacy, certainly, this has been a body of women who have worked together to build faith in God, to strengthen families, to relieve suffering ever since 1842. But then you think about — OK, legacy looks backward, but real vision is looking forward. We're just really getting started in some ways, even though it's been 180 years, we're really seeing what we can do. You know, you think about women who are very different, but yet are all devoted to Jesus Christ, becoming disciples, helping one another in that way. So, what can we do to influence the world in the future? You know, the world is changing, we have to adapt, and yet we have the same goal to strengthen women and families around the world. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I am the mother of three daughters, when each of them become 18, I've said, “This is such an important time for you because now you get to be a member of this spectacular organization that has defined and blessed my life in really, really special ways.” How has Relief Society influenced your life?

5:53  

President Jean B. Bingham: You know, I think back, watching my mother prepare her Relief Society lessons, she would spread her materials out on the whole dining room table, and she would kind of practice, and I knew that she valued her relationships with the sisters, and she worked to increase the connections they had, not only with one another, but with Heavenly Father. And then I think, “OK, my next exposure was really as a young, a new mother.” I was called to teach the mother education class and I knew very little, but I learned so much from my other sisters who were willing to share, the other mothers who were willing to share their insights and their learnings with me. And I think about, over the years, as I've served in Primary, Young Women, Relief Society, Sunday School — wherever I've had the opportunity to serve, no matter where I was currently serving, I continue to feel connected to my Relief Society sisters. That has given me a great understanding of others, has helped me through the rough spots in my own testimony and growth. It really showed me different ways of developing healthy relationships with family with others, and most of all, it’s grounded me in the gospel of Jesus Christ. To me, that's how the organization has really blessed my life.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, several years ago, I was in Manaus, Brazil for the dedication of the Manaus (Brazil) Temple. I was there covering it for Church News, and on an afternoon, I remember having the opportunity to walk on the banks of the Rio Negro River with a Relief Society sister. She was helping me translate, and yet here we were, we were women from different parts of the world, we spoke different languages, we had such varied life experiences, yet we felt so connected. I remember talking to her about “Daughters in My Kingdom,” and about our joint Relief Society experiences. What have you learned from women across the globe, as you've had the opportunity to visit with and minister to Relief Society sisters?

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President Jean B. Bingham hugs a member during a ministering visit in Manila, Philippines, on Feb. 2, 2020.

Noel Maglaque, Philippines Area

7:50  

President Jean B. Bingham: I've had some of the same experiences that you've had, in that as I visit with women around the world, you find that they are sisters, you have the same goals, you have the same understanding of your relationship with Heavenly Father. I have watched women around the world do amazing things for each other. I remember visiting the Philippines, I watched them screen one another's children from malnutrition and, and want to help each other to have the healthiest children they can have. I watched women in Sierra Leone, teaching one another how to read. They want to be able to help each other read the scriptures, and be able to move forward in teaching their families at home. In Prague, I remember going with a sister to minister to a young single mother with her little child and what great support and love she felt from her Relief Society sisters. In Wales, I participated in a multi-faith gathering of women where they shared their stories of faith and how they just reached out and put their arms around one another, no matter what their beliefs were. That was powerful. I remember in Chile, talking to some sisters about how they were helping each other get to the temple. No matter where you are in the world, Relief Society sisters reach out and love and help one another make progress in their individual lives, and that's really what it's about.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, there's certainly, through Relief Society, there is so much more that connects us than divides us. Several years ago, I covered a site event held at the United Nations. They were holding a Commission on the Status of Women, and the Church had been asked to sponsor the site event. I was asking some of the organizers why they had invited the Church to participate in the event, and I will never forget what the woman said. She said, “When a woman joins your Church,” so she's talking about the status of women worldwide, and then she takes it to the next level, which is to our faith. She says, “When a woman joins The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she learns to read. She learns about hygiene. She is brought into a circle of sisters. She's given the opportunity to teach and to lead,” and she talked about council. She said, “She sits in discussion with men in countries where women aren't often expected to speak, and they expect her to share her opinion.” And then she said, “and when all of those experiences are finished, she goes out into her community and serves.” And I have thought about that so much because of the lifting and the elevating that happens to women as they participate in Relief Society. What do you wish everyone knew about this organization?

10:24  

President Jean B. Bingham: I wish that everyone understood that Relief Society is not just a social group — Relief Society is an organized way to meet needs. When I think about — for instance, let's talk about emergencies. When an emergency comes up, you need order. Relief Society already exists, right? It's ready all the time to respond. You know, we have 33,000 Relief Society units around the world. So you find this community of women who are already tuned in, that are already ready and prepared to help, and then they go out into the community, as you say, they don't just keep it to themselves, but they want to help everyone around have a better life, feel happier, find that joy in life. I wish that every person understood the power of Relief Society. When we work together, we have the potential and the power to really make changes in the world, heart by heart even, when we help each other. 

Sarah Jane Weaver:Well, and as we started this podcast, you talked about some of the reasons Relief Society was organized and some of the early women who organized Relief Society, and certainly their objectives are objectives that we still share today. What are some of the threads that run from that early organization 180 years ago, to what we do today in Relief Society?

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Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Emmeline B. Wells, and Eliza R. Snow. Circa 1876. Whitney, left, and Snow, right, were members of the Nauvoo Relief Society and served together when the general board of the Re-lief Society was organized in 1880. Emmeline B. Wells, center, edited the Woman’s Exponent and worked as the general secretary and then general president of the Relief Society in later years. These three womentraveled often to speak to different congregations. Photograph by Charles R. Savage.

Church History Library

11:44  

President Jean B. Bingham: Those early women had the same kind of hearts we do today. They saw suffering, and they said, “We've got to help. These people are hungry, these people are cold, these people are lacking whatever it is, some simple things that they need. They're also lacking direction. They're feeling that they don't have what they need, whatever that is.” And so that's one of the things that is common from those early leaders to today.

When I think about some of those early founders, I am astounded what they were able to accomplish with the few resources that they had. When I think about their vision, their strength, their insight, their testimonies, they were willing to share that and they were willing to go outside their comfort zone. Are we willing today, in our current Relief Society, are we willing to look beyond our comfort levels? It's not easy for many of us to step out and to influence the world. We want to kind of stay in our own little corner, but we've got to do that because we have the knowledge, we have the understanding of an eternal perspective that many people don't see. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: And on your social media pages recently, in honor of the 180th anniversary that's coming up of Relief Society, you and your presidency invited Relief Society sisters around the world, to reach out and give service. Can you talk about that invitation?

13:08  

President Jean B. Bingham: I hope every one of us finds a way to serve. You know, it doesn't take a major project to make a difference in someone's life. It can be one on one, but, you know, if you go to JustServe, for instance, there are many countries now that have that as part of their repository, their opportunities. We say, when we can reach out and serve others in simple ways, we can accomplish a great deal.

Sarah Jane Weaver: When I think about those early women who pioneered Relief Society who gave us such a powerful legacy, I have to think about Nauvoo. It's hard to be in Nauvoo without looking at the temple and thinking about what they did to help make sure that temple was built, and to actually think that's the city where it all started. Now, you recently visited Nauvoo. Can you share some of your own personal thoughts and feelings and memories of that city?

14:04  

President Jean B. Bingham: Nauvoo was a very tender place for me. Every time I visit, I think about those women, what they first came to. It was not even as nice as it is now. I mean, it was a malarial swamp, and they were trying to build homes and have healthy children in that kind of environment. And then as time went on, they got a little bit more comfortable temporally, but then the opposition from neighbors from enemies really began, so they were working with a lot of negative influences. And yet, they stayed firm to what they wanted to do. They wanted to help others. I think about, of course, Emma Smith, and what she went through, but I also think of so many others who were early members of the Relief Society: Sarah Granger Kimball, and Eliza R. Snow, and just some of those famous names. There are lots of women, we don't know all the women that belonged to Relief Society at the time, but they were anxious to join and they were anxious to make a difference. And I think about, “What am I doing today?” That legacy really helps me to say, “OK, they did really difficult things. I can do difficult things.” They are different kinds of difficult things, but those early women from Nauvoo became the pioneers who went across the plains, who lost family members, who left their footsteps in blood, so to speak, they lost all their worldly goods. By the time they got across the plains, they sacrificed a lot, but they knew who they were, they knew what they wanted to accomplish. They knew what their end goal was, they really kept an eternal perspective, because you'd have to, in that kind of a situation.

Sarah Jane Weaver: You know, Joseph Smith promised those women that they were going to accomplish something extraordinary, and I wonder if they even glimpsed that that small group of women, in just 180 years, could become 7.5 million in so many different countries across the globe.

15:59  

President Jean B. Bingham: I wonder, too. I can't, you know, if I'm looking putting myself in their position, I can't even imagine. I'm sure they'd never seen 7.5 million, or even 23,000 — that fills the Conference Center —  to think of that many women being in this group, I'm sure would have been a mind-blowing thought for them. But yet, I know that they had the hope that their daughters and their granddaughters would continue with the work that they had begun, and that's how they taught them. They helped them, as you did, you helped your daughters understand that Relief Society is a magnificent organization that was organized by the prophet, that was authorized divinely, that was what the Lord wanted His daughters to do. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: And for almost five years now, you have carried on a role and a calling that Emma Smith held as the 17th General Relief Society President of the Church.

Can you reflect back on the last few years? Is there an experience that sort of epitomizes your whole Relief Society experience?

President Russell M. Nelson shakes hands with Sister Jean Bingham, Relief Society general president,

President Russell M. Nelson shakes hands with President Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, after the general women's session of the 188th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

17:08

President Jean B. Bingham: You know, there have been so many experiences. One experience that I will never forget, is the first year that President Russell M. Nelson, after he was called as a prophet that October, which at the time was the traditional time for a women's session. Some months before that, he asked me to come to his office, and of course, I was a little nervous: “What does he want to see me for?” But when I came in, he greeted me so completely warmly. He ushered me in right by his desk, and he said, “I would love to have your thoughts on the talk that I'm planning to give at the Women's Conference to the sisters.” He gave me a copy of his talk, he gave me a pencil, and then he proceeded to read through his talk. And I knew that he was serious, that he did want my input, because he wants to make sure that he is communicating, just as clearly as he can, his love and counsel and direction for the sisters. So I took him seriously, and I made myself a few notes on the copy that I had, and then we went through them, comment by comment, and he accepted every one of them. It was fascinating. And then he said, “Well, thank you so much, Sister Bingham.” And I thought, “What a choice experience that it was.” The next week, fascinating to me, he asked if our entire [Relief Society general] presidency could come visit him, and then again, we all felt, “Why is he calling us in?” And I said, “I think he may want some more input, some more feedback.” Sure enough, he ushered us in. He had a lovely table in his office, he pulled out a chair for each one of us, he seated us at the table, gave us all a copy of his talk and pencils and said, “And now I would love to have your feedback on this talk.” And he again, he read through it, and I noticed that he had adopted the suggestions that I had given him the week before. And they looked at me like, “Do we really? Do we really make suggestions for the prophet?” And so they did, they wrote down some things. And after, as we talked about each one of those, they had some very different input than I had. It was fascinating, because we're all different women, haven't all had the same background, and so different things stood out to them than stood out to me. So we had kind of a council, and as we went through each of their ideas and suggestions, he had questions, and we went back and forth. And he said, “Thank you so much.” And as he gave his talk in October, we noticed the places that he had accepted that counsel and tried to make it as clear as possible the way he was communicating to the sisters wouldn't ruffle any feathers, would help the sisters understand that his intent was to express his love and clear, prophetic counsel to the sisters. That was an experience I will never forget.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I'm so glad you brought up President Nelson, because you have led Relief Society at a very dynamic time in Church history. We have seen a lot of revelation that has changed Church organization on so many things, and a lot of those things impacted Relief Society. We switched from visiting teaching to ministering, and we started holding Relief Society on Sundays only every other week. And we asked women to really focus on Come, Follow Me and creating a home-centered Church that would be Church-supported. Can you talk about what it's like to have been kind of on the front line of all of those changes?

20:43  

President Jean B. Bingham: It has been a remarkable experience, and you're absolutely right that I have been blessed to be the president during this particular administration. As you know, President Nelson has given the message of, “This is an ongoing revelation in this Church,” and we've seen it over and over, in temple language, in policies, so many things that have happened during President Nelson's administration. He is a remarkable — that's not even a word that does him justice at all. He is unique. He has been prepared for this particular time, when we've needed this kind of openness in this looking at women's concerns, from maybe a fresh perspective. And that's one of the things that he has brought to this time, and I feel very, very blessed to have been working, serving during this administration.

Sarah Jane Weaver: One of the most meaningful changes that have come in President Nelson's administration, to me personally, is the opportunity for women to be witnesses of temple sealings, of baptisms. Now, certainly, we have always been witnesses of the Savior and of His ministry, but now we have this very symbolic opportunity to actually stand and witness something significant.

22:12  

President Jean B. Bingham: Oh, I have absolutely loved that, and it's been delightful to be in the temple and watch sisters have that first experience. It really makes women feel that they are interdependent, we can really work together, that it's not women doing one thing, and men doing another. But we truly are united in this work of the Lord, and that's just a symbol of that greater unity that we're experiencing in the Church. 

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President Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, and President Russell M. Nelson discuss the role of women in the restoration of priesthood authority in a video shown during the Saturday evening session of the 190th Annual General Conference on April 4, 2020.

Screenshot, ChurchofJesusChrist.org

Sarah Jane Weaver: As you talk about men and women working together — I was just released as a ward Relief Society president. During my time as ward Relief Society president, there were some shifts in the bishop focusing on the youth, and then the Relief Society president and the Elders Quorum president started working together on the work of salvation. Now, I loved that my counselors who, at one time, would have been planning weekly meetings or Sunday lessons, were suddenly focused on temple and family history work and missionary work, and that they were doing that in conjunction with the men in the ward and working with them side by side. Can you talk about that change and what that means, because it feels so significant to me.

23:23  

President Jean B. Bingham: It follows up on President Nelson's invitation to gather Israel on both sides of the veil. He talked to the youth, he talked to the women, and then he talked to the men, inviting everyone. And this really gave us structure for that, because both Elders Quorum and Relief Society counselors had the opportunity to — one was focused, as you say, on missionary work, on inviting others to come in, and the other one had to focus on temple and family history work. In other words, the work on the other side of the veil. And working together, we can see that we do so much better together. It started off really, when you think about it, with ministering. The Elders Quorum and the Relief Society president were to be coordinating their ministering efforts, they were to be looking at, “Who's the best person to visit this family, this sister, this brother, this child?” And those kinds of working together, helping us understand it really is better together.

Sarah Jane Weaver: So another one of President Nelson's changes, which we referenced, was the change from visiting teaching to ministering. But I think something that is really fun about one of those changes is that now young women are ministering companions. What can young women contribute to ministering? 

24:39  

President Jean B. Bingham: Wow, OK. I could talk a long time on that. When I think about young women being ministering companions, I get so excited. They have such an enthusiasm and different ways of looking at things and technology. I mean, think about the talents that they bring to ministering. Young women can be incredible ministering sisters, they can relate to people of all different ages. They bring a freshness that is so helpful, that I've had quite a few sisters say this is the best companion they've ever had. On the other hand, I've heard others who are very reluctant to make the effort to include the youngsters. They think, “Oh, well, she's busy with school, these other activities,” or even sometimes, leaders are mothers who say, “My daughter's too busy with all the other things in her life. She doesn't have time to be a ministering sister,” I hope, hope, hope we can change that, because that is a great strength to the young women, and to the Relief Society, and if nothing else, it helps them understand one of the major contributions that you make as Relief Society sisters is ministering to one another. Helps them become comfortable, they already know someone, they know several people now, if they've been a ministering sister as a young woman now, when they come into Relief Society, it's not an unfamiliar group. They have friends already in that Relief Society. So yes, I am a fan of having young women be ministering sisters.

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President Jean B. Bingham talks to a Relief Society sister during a ministering visit in Cebu, Philippines, on Feb. 6, 2020.

Noel Maglaque, Philippines Area

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, my youngest daughter, she has a ministering companion that's not me, it’s another other sister in our ward, and that has been great. The other day, she she came home, I said, “Where have you been?” She said, Well, I needed to buy salad and dessert to take a family, in the ward, dinner.” And I said, “Well, when are you going to take it over?” She said, “Oh, I just dropped it off.” 

President Jean B. Bingham: I love it.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And so there is a practicality of this age group where they just, they get an assignment, they're willing to do it. They're happy to be trusted with it, and then they just move forward.

26:39  

President Jean B. Bingham: And given the opportunity, they're very capable, given the opportunity, to lead out and follow through on their own. They're remarkable.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and you've had an opportunity, as do all of us who end up serving in ward and stake callings, to sit in council, either in a ward council or stake calling, and in your capacity as Relief Society General President, you've served on some of the Church’s general councils. Tell me what councils you serve on, and then talk about your experience on those councils.

27:11  

President Jean B. Bingham: I'm privileged to participate, be a member of the Priesthood and Family Executive Council, and that organization, there are three very major councils. One is for Missionary, one is for Temple and Family History, and the other is Priesthood and Family — that's everything else besides missionary and temple and  family history. So all your curriculum, magazines, everything else, but that my input from the very beginning has been solicited. If I did not speak up, the dear apostle who was chairing that committee would say, “Well, Sister Bingham, we haven't heard from you. Do you have any ideas?” Or, “Jean, how do you feel about this?” No matter what the decision was, my input has been solicited. I also sit on the Welfare and Self-Reliance Executive Committee with the Presiding Bishopric, and exactly the same experience. Our input as sisters is valued and solicited and encouraged and acted upon, and I know that the same experience happens for our sisters who are our general officers, who are members of the Missionary Executive Committee, as well as the Temple and Family History Executive Committee. We also have general women officers who serve on the correlation committees and on the communication committees, on the scripture committees — I can't even think of all of them right now — but at the general level, the women officers participate in all of the significant councils.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And so your experience is that your voice is not only wanted, but actually solicited. They really care about what you have to say and about your experiences.

President Jean B. Bingham: Absolutely. 

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is interviewed Sergio

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is interviewed by Sergio Rubin, Argentine journalist and biographer of Pope Francis, in Montevideo, Uruguay on Oct. 26, 2018.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: Several years ago, I had an opportunity to be with President Nelson during some of his global ministry tours, and we were in Uruguay in 2019, and he was interviewed by Sergio Rubin, who is Pope Francis's biographer. He'd flown to Uruguay from Argentina to do this interview, and what unfolded was this really remarkable experience for me, which I have referenced on this podcast before, but Mr. Rubin was told he could ask President Nelson any question, and one of the questions he asked was about women. And he said, “So many churches are run by men at the exclusion of women.” Now, I'm going to tell you the end of the story, but then I want you to answer that question. He said, “Is that the case with your church?” And President Nelson did something really, really sweet. He looked around the room. A few of us had been allowed to sit in on that interview. Besides myself, Sheri Dew was there working with Deseret Management Corp. media teams, and he said to Mr. Rubin, “Why don't we ask a woman about that?” And President Nelson got up and got a chair and invited Sister Dew right into the interview and had her answer that question. Now, what a powerful lesson that was for me, that when the Prophet, who could have talked about women, had the opportunity, he actually allowed a woman to speak for herself. But the question remains, I think, in a lot of women's minds: at times, when we look at the organization of the Church and see so many men, is our church run by men at the exclusion of women?

30:34  

President Jean B. Bingham: Now, that makes me laugh, because I did hear someone say not too long ago: Relief Society is the largest women's organization run by men.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I have also seen that meme.

30:46  

President Jean B. Bingham: And I can say no, that is not true. No, that we have the opportunity as women to make decisions, to be able to move forward with lots of different kinds of initiatives. Now, certainly we work together. As women, we don't know everything that's going on all over the Church. There are lots of other things that are happening at the same time, so we have to make sure that we're working together so that we don't take resources that are not appropriate at the time, that kind of thing. But I can tell you that the brethren that I have worked with have been very supportive of things that I have wanted to do. I brought ideas to them, and they've been very supportive and said, “Let's see how we can make that work,” and have put their efforts towards things that I have wanted to do. 

So I would say, No. The Relief Society is not run by men. As a matter of fact — I don't know how many people know this — but we also have, besides our three members of the Relief Society presidency, we have nine council members, women council members that are resources for us, and that we send out to do work for us. So we're not just the three lone rangers here, but we have others that also help us and each of the Young Women and Primary general organizations have that same body that help them with their work.

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Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham joins the fifth annual International Women-in-Diplomacy Day symposium on Monday, March 8, 2021. The virtual event was held on International Women's Day.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sarah Jane Weaver: Do you have a message for women who may be questioning their place in the Church right now?

32:19  

President Jean B. Bingham: Yes. You have a place. You belong, and you may not know all the answers, we don't know all the answers, but Heavenly Father does. He loves you as His daughter, and there will always be a place for you in the Church. We may not all have the same perspective, and we can't, because as women, we are different, but that's a strength. But we have to work together, and so when we work together, we try to see one another's perspective. You know, that's something that I work at. I come from my background, I come from my perspective, but when I look at and I listen to and I try to understand another person's perspective, then I can see why they're doing things, how they're doing, and that helps me to have patience. 

Frankly, one of the things I'm excited about is the young adults in this Church, my wonderful sisters that are becoming leaders in the Church. I see the contributions that they are making. We need every single woman to know that she is valued, that she will have tremendous contributions to make, and really depends on where you are in your stage of life, what your circumstances are. The sister who's living in Ghana has a very different experience than a sister who's living in Georgia, and yet can they make contributions that are meaningful? Absolutely. No matter where we live, no matter what our life stage is, no matter what our socioeconomic situation is, we can make contributions to the Church and the Lord will support us in those and we'll be blessed, and we're blessing others’ lives with the contributions that we're making. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: And one of your predecessors, Sister Julie B. Beck once said that one of the most important things that a woman can learn to do is to qualify for, receive and act on personal revelation, and that really gives each of us a custom blueprint for our lives. 

President Jean B. Bingham: That's exactly right. I absolutely love that. I completely 100% agree with that. You know, when President Nelson talks about “Hear Him” and looking for our own revelation. That is the key, really, to finding happiness. When we can, as you say, receive and act on personal revelation, we’ll have that opportunity, we'll know where to go, we’ll receive that assurance that we are doing what the Lord wants us to do. And that's really what we all want to do, isn't it, in order to be happy? There's so many different paths. I'm not going to have the same path as you or any other sister. That's the beauty of being unique. Each person has been created with a certain bundle of talents and abilities and we can use those in very different ways, because we're all different. The Lord expects us to do that, and when we access that revelation, we know how best to use those talents and abilities that we've each been given. Every single one of us has multiple gifts and talents, we just have to recognize them. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and this is a really trying time, we've been dealing with the pandemic. So many women feel isolated. Certainly, we've also dealt with some political tensions. Right now, the world is involved in conflict. So many things are happening that make the world feel dark. How can Relief Society be a light during a kind of turbulent time? 

President Jean B. Bingham: If Relief Society sisters can help one another focus on the Savior, that's where the light comes from. He is the true light. We all have challenges in our lives, and we all have times when we're feeling down. How do we help one another as sisters, to remember that light and to walk towards that light? That's what we could do as sisters. You're right. There are so many challenges in this world today, but we've had challenges all throughout history. You know, we think this is a unique — it is unique in some ways, but it's not unique that we have challenges. Every single generation has had challenges, large challenges to overcome. But it's the gospel of Jesus Christ that helps us to find the answers, be able to move forward, to be able to find joy, even in the midst of our circumstances.

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Sister Jean B. Bingham, then of the Church's Primary general presidency, talks with UNICEF child protection officer Fatuma Arinaitwe in Uganda in early 2017.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sarah Jane Weaver: And as I look back on history, certainly to the early days of the Restoration, all the way through World War II, through so many other challenging times, it's been the women who were the rocks that sort of moved things along, whose faith just conquered all. 

President Jean B. Bingham: And that can happen today as well, and I think it is happening. You know, I think about, for instance, you mentioned the mothers who've had to, some of them working at the same time they're trying to help their children do school at home. Think about that. Those are incredibly strong women, it may not be easy every day, and you may feel a little depressed, you may feel anxious. But just that one small thing alone. We've all experienced the impact of COVID, for instance, in the last two years, now where we're struggling with political issues, and there are different kinds of natural disasters that happen throughout the world. And yet, how do we work together as Relief Society sisters? Well, we look with love at one another, rather than comparing each other or ourselves to others, we look for the beauties of each other, and every single woman is beautiful in different ways. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: And society has put a lot of labels on women or a lot of expectations, or a lot of definitions on what we're supposed to be, what we're supposed to look like, what we're supposed to say on our social media. Is there anything that you have to say to women that could make them feel good about where they are right now just being them?

38:06  

President Jean B. Bingham: I think most women do not give themselves much credit for the things that they're doing that are good. We tend to — I don't know what it is, is it a woman thing? But we seem to think, “I should always be better, I should always be doing better,” and that's true, in one sense, but there are so many ways that you are having an impact, a good impact as a lifting influence on those around you. It's OK to look for the good in yourself as well as others, because that's really a mentally healthier way to treat yourself. 

Sarah Jane Weaver: I think society often tries to empower women by making them more like men. There is some danger in that.

President Jean B. Bingham: Absolutely, because we are not the same. We should rejoice in our differences. You know, men have wonderful capacities, and different abilities, and yet there are some things we have in common. Women have different sensitivities. I think women tend to network, we somehow have this sense for one another, and for children and those who are suffering. That's not necessarily unique to women, but we have a heightened, I think, appreciation and radar for that, if you will. And so we also have learned how to share resources, we network with one another. That's a natural thing, rather than compete. And I think you're right, the world has really taught women that we should compete, that we should not use those innate abilities, those innate talents that we have to strengthen one another and to work together. 

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Primary General President Camille N. Johnson, left, and Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham pause for a photo outside of the Sarah Granger Kimball home during a tour in historic Nauvoo, Illinois, on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, we have a tradition at the Church News podcast. We end each podcast with the same question, and we always give our guests the final word. And so as we close today, I'm hoping that you can think about what you know now after serving almost five years as Relief Society General President and ministering to and visiting with and being taught by women across the globe, and what you've learned as you've studied the 180th year history of Relief Society. So President Bingham, what do you know now about Relief Society?

40:11  

President Jean B. Bingham: I've become more aware of the strength of women all throughout the world. I've become more aware of women's gifts and how we can embrace them. I've become more appreciative of women who are in very difficult circumstances, but are living the gospel of Jesus Christ and are teaching others to do the same. I've also learned that Relief Society gives us the opportunity and the power to accomplish more together than we could individually. And I've also recognized that Relief Society is for every single woman in the Church: the high school graduate, 18 year old who comes into Relief Society, has something to contribute just as much as the sister who's been a member of the Church all of her life, and she's now winding down. I think when I was very first called, one of the things I said was Relief Society is not your grandmother's Relief Society, meaning that it's relevant today, but it is for your grandmother, but it's just as much for you who's a brand-new member of Relief Society. No matter where you're currently serving in the Church, you're always a member of Relief Society. You may be deployed for a while, shall we put it that way, into Young Women, or Primary, but your identity is as a member of Relief Society. I know that there is great power in women working together and that that's what Heavenly Father wants us to do. He wants us to work together. He wants us to share our testimonies. He wants us to teach about Him, so that we can become united and fulfill His great desire for us, which is to return to Him.

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I'm your host, Church News Editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.

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