This July 2021, the Church News is taking readers “Inside Church Headquarters” in a series of articles highlighting the council system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The series explores how revelation guides Church councils and how the principles discovered there can be applied to stakes, wards, families and individual members around the world. This is part two of the podcast series on the Church’s councils.
Church News reporter Sydney Walker discusses the inspiration behind the series and shares quotes from Church News interviews featuring women leaders of the Church: Primary General President Camille N. Johnson, Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon and Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham. Each of these leaders serve on one or more of the Church’s executive councils, in addition to other councils and committees.
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 with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question, “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast and this is what I know now.”
For the past several weeks this July 2021, the Church News has taken readers “Inside Church Headquarters” with a series of articles highlighting the council system of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This series of articles explores how revelation guides Church councils, and how the principles discovered there can be applied to stakes, wards, families and individual members around the world. This is part two of the two-part podcast series on Church councils. Sydney Walker, Church News reporter and digital editor, joins us once again to talk about this series. Today we are going to feature clips of Church News interviews with Primary General President Camille N. Johnson, Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon, and Relief Society President Jean B. Bingham. Each of these women leaders serves on one of the Church’s executive councils in addition to other councils and committees. We are so excited to learn from them and hear their perspective as they work with other leaders of the Church.
Sydney, welcome back to the Church News podcast.
Sydney Walker: Thanks. I’m excited to be here again and continue this great conversation that we had the other day about the Church’s councils. So to get us started, we asked each of the women presidents that we interviewed — President Cordon, President Johnson and President Bingham — what councils they serve on and what their role is on those councils. So we will hear from President Cordon first.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: I have an opportunity to sit on many councils, and the role is many times the same — it is to contribute my voice and to be part of the process of revelation. One of the councils that I sit on that is very interesting is the Missionary Executive Council. And that is a remarkable council, because all things to do with missionary work comes through that council. And so as you can imagine, we have an opportunity to give recommendations for mission leaders that will go all over the world and preside and take care of missionaries.
Sydney Walker: So as Sister Cordon said, she sits on the Missionary Executive Council, and as a woman and a mother, she brings a unique perspective to this council. She’ll talk more about this.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: I’m a woman and mother, and I had an opportunity to serve a mission, and I was a mission leader. So it’s interesting how the Lord says, “Bring everything: all your experience, where you’ve been, what it looks like, and add to the council and be a voice.” And so that has been a really fun council for me to sit on. One of the other councils I sit on is the Board of Education. I went to BYU, so I can add that voice also to the Board of Education. That has been an exciting one. I think the council, though, that I love the most, is sitting with my presidency and with our general advisory council. The general advisory council — we have 10 sisters, from all walks of life, lots of different experience — and we counsel together often and, of course, what we’re counseling about is young women, and how does that affect homes, communities, environment? And so that is a fabulous council to sit on.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Isn’t it interesting how the Lord uses unique experiences of the women of the Church, and how those unique experiences can enhance and define their service? That’s also the case with President Bingham and President Johnson as they have sat on councils.
President Jean B. Bingham: And one of the general councils that I serve on is the Priesthood and Family Executive Council, and that council includes almost everything besides missionary and temple and family history work. Another council that I sit on is the Welfare and Self-Reliance Executive Council. And that’s everything else out of those three departments, really. The Priesthood and Family Department touches every aspect of every member’s life, whether it’s the organizations — Primary, Young Women, Young Men, Relief Society; from Sunday School curriculum to our Church, Priesthood and Family touches every aspect of every member’s life.
Sydney Walker: So President Bingham shared how she sits on the Priesthood and Family Executive Council, and also the Welfare Executive Council. And President Johnson, our newly called Primary president, sits on the Temple and Family History Executive Council.
President Camille N. Johnson: Well, it’s a thrill to be able to sit on the Temple and Family History Executive Council. And this group, of course, addresses everything related to temples around the world and family history, so the names that we identify, so that we can do temple work for our deceased ancestors. And it really is a privilege to sit on that council. In my several meetings, I’ve had the opportunity to be with Elder [David A.] Bednar and Elder [Gary E.] Stevenson and Elder [Dale G.] Renlund, and they are delightful.
What unique perspective do I bring to it? The life experience of a Latter-day Saint woman, I suppose. I’ve heard it preached from the pulpit, and it’s been interesting to me that they are interested in women’s voices, and I’ve seen it in action now. I feel like they have been very solicitous of my concerns and my opinions, not just on behalf of the Primary children, but on behalf of women and saints around the world. And each of those meetings, for me, has been an opportunity to really bask in a revelatory experience, as we see heaven’s help about the matters that are before us. So… a real privilege to have the opportunity to participate.
Sarah Jane Weaver: So this is a good time, Sydney, for us to kind of backtrack. This was such a strong series; it got so much interest. We wanted to take people “Inside Church Headquarters” and give them a glimpse of how the Church operates. And it’s so interesting that you actually came up with the idea for the series because you had a glimpse inside how the Church operates. Can you share with us a little bit about what happened and what you were trying to accomplish when you proposed this series of articles?
Sydney Walker: Yes, so I think a seed for this idea was planted a few years ago before I started writing for the Church News. I was a staff assistant in the Priesthood and Family Department at the Church Office building. And the Priesthood and Family Department helps support the Priesthood and Family Executive Council, which President Bingham sits on. And so in my role as a staff assistant, I would help prepare for some of these executive meetings.
One of those meetings was the executive directors’ meeting, which is a meeting I attended twice a week, and I would prepare the agenda and I’d also go sit in on that meeting and take minutes. And so, that meeting included a small group of General Authority Seventies. And I remember this day early on in my job, I just kind of sat there and it was one of those “wow” moments. I just observed the General Authority Seventies counseling with each other, sharing their perspectives from their different experiences serving all around the world, and then the Young Women general presidency came in and joined for an item.
And so I just listened to them as they presented what they wanted to say and then they interacted with the General Authority Seventies, and there was just such a unique spirit of humility and love and concern. And so it was so neat to watch them counsel together all sitting around the same table. It was one of those days where you kind of go home and you’re like, “Wow, after everything I’ve seen today, like how can this not be true?” It was such a kind of a spiritual high for me.
So now, as a reporter for the Church News, I thought back to that experience sitting in that executive directors’ meeting, observing the General Authority Seventies interacting with the Young Women general presidency. And I had this thought: you know, we can show members what it’s like, and that the revelation that they’re seeking at the general level, we can do in our wards, stakes and families. We can counsel in humility with each other, we can listen to learn, we can have the same respect, and realize that all our voices matter, that we each have something to contribute no matter where we are at, or what council we sit on, or what calling we have or what our family situation is like. We are each valued and needed in the Lord’s work.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, President Bingham actually described that really well in her interview. Let’s listen to what she said right now.
President Jean B. Bingham: It is so critical that everyone has a voice. That is one of the things that you learn in council, that every single person that comes — they have something valuable to contribute. And we all see things differently because of our background, because of our personal experiences. And I can’t know what everyone else knows from my knowledge. I have this perspective that they also can’t know what I have. So when you put all those things together, we find the best solution every time. And really, if we are focused on what the Lord wants, that’s how we find the best solution. It is not because what I want is such a great idea or someone else has a brilliant idea. It is as we put our voices together, men and women, they find what is the best solution and we are looking for the Lord’s will.
It’s interesting that in the world, there are many places that don’t necessarily value women’s perspectives, women’s voices. That’s one thing that’s different in the Church — that wherever you are in the Church, your voice as a woman matters. Those who lead councils understand that they need the perspective of women, as well as men, and we work together when we are united. That’s how we really make progress.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Isn’t it interesting that President Bingham said that progress is made when men and women work together, and are united in purpose? And one of my favorite portions of the interview we did with President Bingham, was when we asked her about the idea that a lot of people think that women don’t have a voice in the Church. And her response actually strengthened my testimony and gave me such insight into the role women have at the highest level of governance in the gospel.
President Jean B. Bingham: Women have a voice in the Church. We are on all of the executive councils. Personally, I sit on three of them — with the Church Education System Council, the Welfare and Self-Reliance Executive Council, the Priesthood and Family Executive Council. Others of the presidencies, all nine of us, have assignments on councils. Women do have a voice in the general Church.
The Church is set up so that at the stake level, women leaders have a voice in the Stake Adult Leadership Committee, as well as the stake council, and the Stake Youth Leadership Committee, and the ward, of course; there’s a ward council, and each presidency has a voice. So women absolutely have a voice. We know that around the world, there are different areas where women have not traditionally had a very large voice, but we’re learning in the Church that absolutely women have a voice. And our brethren are learning that we work together, and the more we work together, the more successful we are. We can’t do it alone. Women can’t do it alone. Men can’t do it alone. When we work together, unitedly we can accomplish the Lord’s work in a spectacular fashion.
Sydney Walker: And as President Bingham described how women have a voice at the general level, it was great how she also pointed out that women have a voice in a stake council or a ward council, and that women also have a voice in their families. President Cordon emphasized some of the same things that President Bingham did.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: As we all know, men and women see things differently. They have different perspectives, different experiences. Individuals have different ideas and thoughts. And so men and women, as they come together, and counsel together, there’s a strength, because we see it from all different angles. It’s not The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Women. It’s not The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Men. It’s The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Saints striving to do the will of the Lord. And so as we come together, you can take ordinary men and ordinary women and as they come together and counsel together and are unified with the purpose of the cause of Christ, they become extraordinary leaders.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I loved the part where she said that we are all needed in councils, and that there is room for everyone at the table.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: Well, aren’t we grateful that we’re all needed in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — men, women, especially women. We have such a unique perspective of what can happen, we have a heart to feel and understand things. And so I hope that women will add their voices, and that they will add their experiences and their perspective to those councils. There is so much need for women in those councils. Come prepared to share. I testify that we have a responsibility, and we’ve been prepared uniquely, to be leaders in the Church now. And to have a woman use her voice does not diminish a man’s voice. Having a man use his voice doesn’t diminish the woman’s voice. But we work together. And as women realize, “I am part of this Church. In fact, it is my Church, I am a member of Christ’s Church,” you realize that there is strength, and you also realize that, “I have a place at the table, and that I can use my voice in very happy, positive and constructive ways to move this work forward.”
Sydney Walker: I love that quote of President Cordon and how she said I hope women will add their voices. This idea of women bringing a unique perspective is also something that President Johnson highlighted.
President Camille N. Johnson: Women offer a unique perspective because of our womanhood, but there’s so many different women with many life experiences. So we don’t all fall into one category either. We’re all women. It’s our divine nature, and we bring to these councils — our ward councils, our family councils, these executive councils — our womanhood. But we also bring our life experience as women, which are all unique.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I think President Johnson brings such a unique perspective, because she comes to her service as the General Primary President for many years working in a law firm, and her perspective is shaped by that working experience. So I loved it when she shared a personal experience of participating in a weekly meeting at Church headquarters, and what she learned about women’s roles and councils in just the few months that she’s been in general Church leadership.
President Camille N. Johnson: So the general officers of the Church — the women are all invited to a meeting with the Quorum of the Twelve every single week. It’s called Area Committee, and we get to participate in that, and it is delightful. And I, on a couple of occasions, have seen Elder [M. Russell] Ballard turn and say, “Well, what do the women have to say? What do you want to contribute?” They are very interested in knowing what we’re thinking; and the fact that we’re there, participating, that our voices are requested and then heard, is wonderful.
Episode 40: President M. Russell Ballard and three other Apostles on why and how the Church is governed by councils
And I can tell you in the world, it’s not necessarily the case. I think, to be candid with you, women have had to fight harder to have their voices heard outside the Church. It might surprise people to know that, but I think it’s the case — my perspective, at least.
In the workplace, women have to push really hard to have their voices heard, a lot harder than you have to push here. I don’t have to push at all. People are asking, “What do you think?” I sat down in my first meeting, an executive directors’ meaning. I thought, “Well, I’m just going to sit here and I’m going to observe,” and I got, “Well, Sister Johnson, what do you think?” Very first meeting, very first day, and it was sincere interest in what I thought about a particular point.
Sydney Walker: I think this principle of making sure that we’re seeking perspective from women is so important, and I love that our women leaders highlighted that. In our interviews, they also talked about several other principles that we can follow to help make our ward, stake and family councils more effective. First, we’ll hear from President Cordon, who talks about some of the general advisory council meetings that she’s had and how spiritual preparation is key.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: We always seek to create an environment where revelation will flow in those meetings. So, as you can imagine, we start with prayer, really hoping to align with the Lord’s will in our councils. And we ask them to come with all of their goodness, their perspectives, their wisdom, and they do. They add pieces — really, revelation is sprinkled among us. There is no one person in that council that is the source of all the revelation. There’s a piece here, an idea there, and it’s interesting how the Lord uses all of us to make it as one whole.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Isn’t it true that spiritual preparation is key, like President Cordon said, and each of us brings a certain piece to that puzzle. She uses this puzzle analogy in describing why each of us need to speak up.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: As you open up the space to have a revelatory experience, every member is key, and every member needs to contribute. Sometimes in our councils, I’ll notice that a sister in our general advisory council may be a little quiet, and I’ll invite her: “Do you have any thoughts?” And sometimes she is exactly the missing piece that we were hoping to have.
Sydney Walker: Isn’t that experience interesting? That shows me that even if we don’t feel like we have something to contribute, our individual perspective might be the missing piece. She also talks about this point in relation to family councils.
President Bonnie H. Cordon: It works on a ward council, it works on a stake council, and it even works in families — as a husband and wife work together, and increase that to allow their children have a voice in how their family’s working. They will notice that sometimes the eight year old has some revelation. So family councils are so important. I wish that one thing I would have done better is involve my kids in our family council.
Sarah Jane Weaver: President Bingham actually shared a few more principles that help us strengthen our ward, stake and family councils.
President Jean B. Bingham: You know, in the world, we see people think of compromise when you get together and talk to people. That means, “I lose something but I get a little something and you lose something but you get a little something.” That’s not how a council in the Church works. We work through consensus. We continue to work together, we continue to have interchange and honest and open ideas shared, and we’re looking for the best solution.
Sydney Walker: I think this point about consensus and not compromise is huge. This is definitely one of my biggest takeaways from the interviews that we did, and it’s something that President Dallin H. Oaks and President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency highlighted as well when we interviewed them for the first part of this council series. They said that the goal is consensus through revelation, consensus through the Spirit. President Bingham also talked about how the discussion leader, the council leader, can help foster the spirit of revelation.
Inside Church headquarters: What President Oaks and President Eyring have learned about revelation in councils
President Jean B. Bingham: You know, something else I’ve noticed about councils is whoever is leading the council is very wise to be the last person to share their thoughts. You don’t want to cut off discussion, you don’t want to make people feel like it’s already a done deal, that there’s already a decision made. But, in fact, if that leader waits and listens to everyone and solicits input, you find that you have a much better idea of really where you want to go.
Sarah Jane Weaver: That’s something that I’d actually never thought of, that the person leading the council should be the last person to share their thoughts. I think we’ve all been in situations where someone who is leading a discussion or council states their opinion first, and then it can be difficult for those of us, especially for those of us who can tend to be a little insecure in those situations — which is often me — then we don’t want to speak up and say something to the contrary, or something that may conflict with what the person leading the discussion has already said. So the discussion leader or council leader can really help foster the spirit of revelation by asking for others’ opinions first. And that’s something that President Bingham taught us. She emphasized the Savior’s role in counseling, which we know is so important.
President Jean B. Bingham: The Savior’s role in this council is absolutely critical. That’s what we want. We want to have revelation so that our choice, our decision, is in accordance with the Lord’s will. We sometimes stumble along, but the Lord is patient with us. The Lord leads us along. and when we listen, when we want what He wants more than anything else, whether it’s as an individual, as a family, as a ward council, as a presidency somewhere — when we want what He wants — He is more than willing to give us everything that we need.
Sydney Walker: I love the part of President Bingham’s quote when she says that when we want what He wants — whether that be as an individual, or a council or a family — when we want what He wants, and when we listen for the Spirit’s guidance, then He’s more than willing to give us everything that we need, and I think that’s so true. President Johnson also testified of the Savior’s critical role in councils.
President Camille N. Johnson: It’s the principle that we teach to young married couples and missionaries about the triangle: That members of the companionship are the husband and the wife, and when they invite Christ, who’s here, the pinnacle of the triangle, into that relationship, then the two, the companions draw closer as they come closer to Christ, and He becomes central to our purpose. And at each of these council meetings, and hopefully, in our ward councils and in our family councils, we’re inviting Christ into that equation. These are not board meetings where directions are given to executives to fulfill certain responsibilities or directives. Not at all. It’s a revelatory experience to identify what the Savior has in mind for His Church. And I hope that we’re replicating that principle in our homes and in our wards by inviting the Savior into that. This is more than just administration — this is ministering to the one, and the way we can know how to do that on a global basis is by inviting our Savior into that process and recognizing the Spirit.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I have heard that triangle analogy before, but it had more meaning this time. The idea of inviting Jesus Christ to be part of the equation seemed to have more meaning to me when I learned about it from President Johnson. I really liked how President Johnson was so candid and how she talked about family councils, and what that meant to her kids and her family, as her children were growing up.
President Camille N. Johnson: My experience with family councils: If I had called it a family council, I have three sons, they probably would have fled. But we had family council, they just didn’t know that’s what we were doing. And it typically happened around Sunday dinner after our Sunday meal altogether, and I had a big master calendar, and I’d pull out the master calendar, and we’d go through the week. And we identified what each family member had that week, what their responsibilities were, who was going to get them there, whether they were going to have clean socks for it, if they had the poster board or materials they needed to put together their presentation. And we figured out how we were going to help each other accomplish our universal purpose to have a successful week as a family. That was family counseling, and it was an opportunity for each member of the family to identify what their particular needs were, but importantly, for all of us to identify how we could help that individual person with their individual needs. And, like I say, we didn’t call it family council if we’d said, “Now we’re sitting down for family council,” it probably wouldn’t have gone over that well. But you feed your boys a Sunday meal and then pull out the calendar, and it was just wonderful family time. So that’s how we orchestrated it in our home.
Sarah Jane Weaver: So you know, Sydney, we have a tradition at the Church News podcast where we like to give our guests the last word. And today, I hope we can give two people the last word. Of course, we want to hear from President Johnson. She’s one of the newly sustained Primary leaders of the Church, and we’re all excited to get to know her better and hear the things that she is bringing to this calling. But I also am interested in what you learned as you wrote this series. Today, we’ve heard from the voices of our general women leaders; and as a woman, as a Latter-day Saint, as a Relief Society sister, what do you know now that you didn’t know before about counseling in the Church?
Sydney Walker: Thanks, Sarah, for that question and for the opportunity to be on this podcast as we highlight these quotes from these general leaders.
There are several things that I’ve learned from writing the series and being part of these interviews. But I think two of my takeaways are: number one, I feel more empowered to take a more active role in whatever council I’m on or in a discussion that I’m in, or even in my relationship with my husband and my family and our future children, and helping others to have a more active role as well, and recognizing that each person has something to contribute. I really loved that story from President Cordon about how she invited the member of her general advisory council that hadn’t said anything yet to voice and opinion and that was the missing piece they needed. I think that’s so true. I think we each have something to say, and we never know — our opinion may be the missing piece to this puzzle in trying to reach this consensus through revelation through the Spirit.
The other thing I wanted to highlight was, I was just so touched in each of these interviews, as the Church leaders testified of the Savior’s role in counseling. I remember thinking back to that day when I was in that executive directors’ meeting. As the Spirit was there, and as the conversation centered on, “How can we seek the Savior’s will? How can we help these people come closer to the Savior?” It was a reminder to me that the Savior does, in fact, lead this Church, and He works through imperfect men and women, but through His power, they become extraordinary leaders. And we can do that too in each of our positions, in our ward councils, in our stake councils, in our family councils. Wherever we’re serving, the Lord can help us be extraordinary as we seek His will.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And Sydney, as we close, I’d also like to add my testimony to your testimony, and to the testimony of the Apostles that we featured on last week’s podcast, and to the women leaders who were part of this podcast, because I am so grateful to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to know that through revelation, the Lord directs His work at every level — at Church headquarters, and in our wards and stakes and in our families, and even in our personal lives as we counsel with Him in prayer.
I recently also had an experience where I was seeking feedback from a colleague and someone that I work with, and she said, “It would be so great if you always functioned from a place of security, where if you just assume that everybody wanted to hear what you have to say.” And that is not always true in the world. It’s not always true in some of our interactions. But it is true in councils. We can all function from a place where we’re secure, where we don’t have to be fearful that our opinions won’t be accepted. And it’s the way the Lord brings everything to the table, where every voice is looked to, where every opinion is heard. And President Johnson highlighted that when she talked earlier in this podcast about the difference of what it’s like to be in business, and what now it’s like to be in the Lord’s service as a leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She said people want to hear her voice. They’re eager for her to share her voice, and I hope that we all can approach this that way. As we close today, let’s also give President Johnson the last word, as she talks about what Elder David A. Bednar talked to her about serving in councils means.
President Camille N. Johnson: In a great act of kindness and benevolence, Elder Bednar invited me to his office with the two General Authority Seventies who are responsible for family history and temples, and gave me an overview of what our executive council was going to address. What a blessing that was, so that I went into that first meeting, having some confidence about the subject matter that we were going to cover. So it really was so kind of him. It really was a blessing to me to understand the context in which our work was going to be done. I just appreciated that so much, and he was very solicitous of my opinions. I felt that way in the councils and from all of the members of the council have sincerely asked what my thoughts were. And again, I’m the new person on the block. I don’t have a lot of context to bring to it, but I have my perspective as a Latter-day Saint woman, and that’s what they’re seeking. And I really appreciate that. I felt included right from the beginning.
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.