I Have an Answer

Questions to Gospel Answers

First published in Mormon Women's Forum, vol. 8, no. 3-4 (1997)

ANSWER: Mary Ellen W. Smoot was interviewed by the Ogden, Utah Standard Examiner a few months after her call as General President of the Relief Society. According to that interview, published on August 23, 1997, Smoot has three specific goals for Mormon women. First, “we need to learn to be happy in the era of life we are in.” According to the Examiner, “Smoot said women throughout the church are always looking for happiness in the next phase of their life: when they turn 16, or 21, or when they get married, or when they have their first baby, or when their children leave home. But …the sisters in the church need to make the best of the time in which they are living.”

Second, Smoot told the Examiner, she “wants LDS women to be more pro-active, especially when it comes to genealogy and journal writing. ‘I would like to see women get out of the mall and away from the television, and start writing their own story,’ she said about keeping a journal.”

Third, the Examiner reported, “Smoot wants Mormon women to be happy, and set that example for other women in the world. ‘I don't see women in the world as happy women,’ she said. ‘We need to learn to be happy women.’”

QUESTIONS: Has President Smoot talked at any length to her predecessors in the Relief Society General Presidency? If so, how could she possibly conclude that LDS women are spending their time in the malls or in front of the TV? Does she know that the majority of LDS women (even in Utah) are working outside the home to help support their families?

When did the true work of the Relief Society—caring for the needs of the living poor—get superseded by a preoccupation with genealogy? (It is easier to deal with ancestors than with the problems of those currently alive, yes, but the Savior served the living during his earthly ministry.) Is President Smoot aware of the connotations of the term “pro-active,” particularly when used by the head of an women’s organization dedicated to Christian charity and service? Does she understand how incongruous it is to use it in the context of journal-keeping and genealogy?

Further, will President Smoot encourage LDS women to use Relief Society as a time to share with one another the stories and experiences she is asking them to write about in their journals? Does she see LDS women telling the whole truth of their lives in their journals or simply the “happy” parts?

For whom are President Smoot's goals designed? Will she be able to transcend the white, middle-class, Wasatch-Front parochialism her comments evidence? Can her presidency expand its focus and goals to include the needs of women in second- and third-world countries? In short, will she come to grips with the root of many women's unhappiness—powerlessness—and the real problems they face, such as poverty, abuse, discrimination, and narrow definitions of women's roles?

Finally, was President Smoot chosen for her vision of LDS women being truly “pro-active” in making the world and the church a better place, or because she is “safe” and will do absolutely nothing that will threaten the patriarchal status quo? As was asked on a private LDS women's e-mail discussion group, will President Smoot act as a gatekeeper for men, rather than as a door opener for women?

— Olivia “on my way to the mall right after Jerry Springer” Kallner