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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Relief Society Sister of the Year: Moral Decision Making in Mormondom #6

(This is an occasional series that discusses normative questions. Too often we do not consider the inferences and implications of what we do. In short, we fail to realize when a moral decision is necessary. This occasional series will do so. Readers are encouraged to pose their own questions and views in the comment forum.)

The Handbook identifies the Purposes of the Relief Society as the following:
Relief Society prepares women for the blessings of eternal life by helping them increase their faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and help those in need. Relief Society accomplishes these purposes through Sunday gospel instruction, other Relief Society meetings, visiting teaching, and welfare and compassionate service.
One of the best ways to make a moral decision about Relief Society is to evaluate whether it meets or violates these purposes.


Does honoring one woman a year as Relief Society Sister of the Year prepare all women for the blessings of eternal life by:
- helping them increase their faith?
- helping them increase their personal righteousness?
- strengthen families and homes?
- help those in need?

I can't see any way this practice would increase faith at all. It may actually harm personal righteousness because of its unholy incentives and seeking earthly honors. I can't see it strengthening families or homes either. I doubt helping one's family members will be used a criteria for the award, probably only helping non-family members will. If honoring someone as Sister of the Year causes those in need to be helped then perhaps this purpose is served. It may well create incentives to do good works. But, it won't be for the right reasons.

Should a particular sister be honored as the Relief Society Sister of the Year? I don't think so. In fact I think it is a supremely bad practice for the following reasons:


First, it honors only one woman. In a normal ward you may have at least 100 sisters. It would take at least 100 years to honor all of them. This is neither egalitarian nor inclusive, something I thought we were supposed to aim for in the Church. Isn't that why we try and include everybody and value each individual? Doesn't this practice suggest that one woman should be valued over others? Doesn't doing this contradict gospel teachings?


Second, people should do the right things for the right reasons. This will add unrighteous incentives to women attempting to be Christlike. These are earthly honors, not of God. We are supposed to do good works anonymously, otherwise we have our reward.


Third, doesn't this cloud people's perception of others' acts? If someone did a good deed for you was it a Christlike gesture or was she angling for the Sister of the Year Award?


Fourth, only outward appearances can be judged. We can't look on a sisters' heart. We shouldn't be engaged in this type of judging at all. This should be left to the Lord.


Fifth, this sort of thing is likely to cause jealousy, competition and politicking amongst the sisters as a group. We shouldn't be fostering this, should we?


Okay, more fuel to the fire . . . Should the Sister of the Year Award be bestowed during Sacrament Meeting?


In conclusion . . .


I hope there are sisters who fill their lives with selfless, charitable acts and good works.


I hope they do so because the Relief Society inspires them to act.


I hope they do all these things for the right reasons.


I hope Heavenly Father bestows blessings on them in this life and the next.

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