Top Mormon Women Leaders Provide
Their Insights into Church Leadership
Ruth Todd: Tell us a little bit about some of the councils that you sit on; I know a lot of people know that you’re a president, but your job entails quite a bit more.
Sister Dalton: Well, so Sister Burton and I serve on the Church Education System board, and that's no small thing because it involves, okay, BYU, BYU–Idaho, BYU–Hawaii,
Sister Burton: LDS Business
Sister Dalton: LDS Business College.
Sister Burton: Seminaries and Institutes.
Sister Dalton: All the seminaries and institutes. And we meet monthly in that setting with the First Presidency and all the presidents of each of those universities in a board meeting, which I absolutely love because we are a part of this because we sort of represent the segment that is affected by the decisions on that board.
Sister Burton: I have an opportunity to meet with my counselors and the Presiding Bishopric at least monthly. And that's a marvelous opportunity to counsel together about things concerning the welfare of members of the Church. It's quite an incredible experience to sit with the Presiding Bishopric and know that you're valued for what you bring and they are listening. There have been a couple of occasions that we've sat in those meetings where we've counseled for two hours, sometimes two and a half, and then Bishop Stevenson will say, "I feel that the sisters have a strong opinion on this, or we have not — we need to think about this more, considering what the sisters have brought that we hadn't considered before. Let's table this decision until we've all had a chance to think some more about it." And I have appreciated that. It's been nothing but an ennobling experience, and it's a great opportunity.
Ruth Todd: Tell me about the council system. How is it supposed to work? How does it work for you, and how is it supposed to work on all the levels of the Church?
Sister Burton: It certainly applies. We are asked to model what we hope happens on every level, which is what the Brethren do. They don't just talk about you should hold councils, they demonstrate it, and then we take that and try and help sisters and stakes and ward levels see that they are an essential part of that council.
Sister Dalton: Elder Bednar taught me probably one of the most profound truths of all: as a woman, come prepare yourselves spiritually and come prepared for a revelatory experience.
Ruth Todd: Tell me about some times that you have been sought out for your opinion or for some guidance on a particular issue.
I'm especially thinking of one particular committee that you both were on with me when we talked about missionary age of the — changing the missionary age for the members of the Church, and that was a marvelous experience. At one point in that committee meeting, Elder Nelson stopped and said, "We don't want to hear from anyone except the sisters," and then one by one he asked us our opinion: "How do you feel about this Sister Dalton? How do you feel about this, Sister Wixom? Sister Burton, what is your feeling? Tell us your honest opinion, and if you have concerns, we want to know." And we were very frank.
Sister Dalton: The thing that's so nice about it is you don't have to feel it alone because you're counseling together and so you're all — you come to the right decision unitedly together and you don't have to worry, “Oh, did I make the right choice?”
Ruth Todd: You have the opportunity to counsel regularly with the leaders of our Church. Do these Brethren understand the issues that face women and families and children today?
Sister Dalton: I think that by and large if people could sit in where we've been and realize how in the details our Brethren are and how aware they are of individuals, of issues, of trends, of things that are taking place that really affect families, women and children, they would be absolutely astounded, as I am. I have to run to keep up.
Sister Burton: Not only are they aware, they are pained by things that affect women in the Church, and they say, “How can we help? What can we say to help the women of the Church? Help us frame this so that we know what it is that we can do to help.” I've seen the pain in their eyes and their heart, the longings in their heart. They are aware, and they feel it. They are real, and they are who they profess to be. These are devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. And I get pretty emotional about it because I see them up close and personal, and I see them working day after day after day after day, year after year.
Sister Wixom: I see that in spite of the experience they have and the years and years of service, there's an element of humility that they know the source of the answers. And they spend the time on their knees and they go to that source for the inspiration that they are seeking, and what they tell us comes from that source of our Heavenly Father because they are humble men — real, like you said, real and imperfect and with a sense of humor. But they seek the source from our Heavenly Father and then stand with confidence because their confidence is in the Lord.
Ruth Todd: Let’s talk about the priesthood. How do you access the priesthood in your lives?
Sister Wixom: I see it in three segments. I see the priesthood blessing me through the covenants that I've made personally. It happens for all of us in baptism and in the temple. And then I see it with my husband as we really complete each other and stand together as parents and counsel together. We couldn't do it alone; we need each other. And then I see it in my service in the Church.
Sister Dalton: Well, you know, the power of the priesthood — there's a distinction between the authority of the priesthood and the power of the priesthood. And I think sometimes people don't understand that. It can be — the authority can be conferred upon a man, but the power can only be exercised in purity.
Sister Burton: The same way we receive the power of it is the way they receive the power of it.
Sister Dalton: “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.” And so as a mother of five sons I have been so blessed by the power of the priesthood.
Sister Burton: And I have five daughters and have been equally blessed by the power of their righteousness by cleaving to covenants. It works together. They're complementary. But the priesthood is not man. Men can bear the priesthood; they can have the priesthood to bless others; they cannot use it to bless themselves.
Ruth Todd: How do you utilize the priesthood as you are leading and guiding your individual organization?
Sister Wixom: I remember two weeks after I was called as the general Primary president, Elder Hales called me to his office and he, we had a conversation and then he said, "Sister Wixom, I want to ask you a question. What is the taproot that will anchor a child in the wind?" And I leaned back in my chair and I went to think about it, and then he said, "No, no, no. Sister Wixom, you're going to think about this. And what's more is that you will get the answer to that question. I won't, because you are the Primary president." I left his office that day feeling the mantle of my calling. The calling came from our prophet, and he was allowing me to carry that mantle, and I would be the one — with the help of my counselors and the board and, above all, inspiration from our Heavenly Father — to come to the conclusion to the answer of that question.
Sister Burton: Recently, Rosemary and I had an opportunity to travel to the Pacific together.
Sister Dalton: I know, I'm jealous.
Sister Burton: I know, we missed you. We got to go to Africa together.
Sister Wixom: Oh, it was so insightful.
Sister Burton: But the interesting thing to me was after we'd had that experience, the area presidency wanted a follow‑up experience with that. I'm sure you've done that, but that was my first that we actually went back and they said, "What did you learn? How can we do better? What did you see in our area that maybe is too close to us?" And we had a meaningful discussion, and I was very grateful that they were so seeking to know what we had seen in a very candid way, and we did not hold back.
Sister Wixom: We didn't. And they asked for that. They said, "Now, put aside, but we want to know what could we do to make it better? And what did you see? What can we learn from your visit to us?"
Ruth Todd: Some women are concerned that they don’t hold the priesthood and feel like they’re not equal. What do you say to them?
Sister Burton: I don't think women are after the authority; I think they're after the blessings and are happy that they can access the blessings and power of the priesthood. There are a few that would like both. But most of the women, I think, in the Church are happy to have all the blessings. That's what matters most to them, and it doesn't matter who holds that umbrella. They're happy to let someone else hold the umbrella because we have different complementary roles and are happy with that.
Equality is an interesting term. It doesn't always mean sameness, but we are of equal value no matter where we are in the Church or at home; we are definitely of equal value. In the home we're co-equal spiritual leaders. And so I think that's an important thing that sometimes is misunderstood.
We can have equality having different roles; we each have strengths that we need to bring, and we're strengthened when we bring what gifts and talents we've been given, and we strengthen each other so we don't necessarily have to be equal in same roles. We need to have differing roles to give that strength and bless the Church. And so I would hope those that don't — don't feel that way, that they would feel that they are needed for the strengths and gifts they bring to strengthen this opportunity to work together. We're inseparable in our opportunity to work with the priesthood.
Ruth Todd: What’s your best advice when women are struggling with puzzling questions or situations? Where do they go?
Sister Burton: Form a question. Ponder it — for many months if you need to. Search out. Look in the scriptures. Sometimes we go to the Internet to get all our answers, but if we will be humble and kneel on our knees and ask our Heavenly Father, "I have a question," and search it out and propose an answer and let Him help us, we are entitled to that. It doesn't matter whether we're a man or a woman; we are entitled to personal revelation. For those that have questions, follow that same pattern that Joseph Smith did. And then go to the Lord and ask.
It's okay to have questions. But we have to have the faith like we just said to act upon what we come. And sometimes we know the answers come from the Lord because we don't want to do it. If it comes from something we really want for ourselves, sometimes that's our own personal desire and not necessarily coming from the Lord.
Ruth Todd: You’ve all had the opportunity to travel the world and to rub shoulders with membership, as well as leadership, of the Church. Tell us about those experiences.
Sister Burton: I'm thinking of one woman in particular that I think kind of exemplifies a lot of the women of the Church, a young single mom, two little boys, who joined the Church about four years ago, and she just radiated joy. And that's what I see. I see the joy of living the gospel in their home, and I will forever be changed from that one visit alone.
Sister Dalton: Don't you appreciate the opportunity we have to travel, so
that we can actually just be right there, look into eyes, see face to face, one‑on‑one, be in homes, counsel with the priesthood brethren in those areas, you know. As — I've really loved being in an area and have that touch and feel of all the young women and their mothers and their parents and then huddling up with the area president and saying, "What did you see? What needs to happen? What did you learn?" And having them listen to me and then teach me, also, additional things that I can bring back here so that I can say in another council setting, "If you're considering this for a worldwide church, that won't work for the women in India," or "That will work for those that are in Africa." So the privilege is — the opportunities we have to become eyes and ears are really quite phenomenal.
Ruth Todd: If you could look at the face of a Relief Society sister or a Primary child or a young woman, what would you want her to know?
Sister Wixom: Well, from a Primary perspective, we can't forget I am a child of God and who you are. And it begins at birth when we hold that infant in our arms and we sing that Primary song to them — for them to remember who they are and their potential and who their Heavenly Father [is] and the connection to their Heavenly Father and to the Savior Jesus Christ.
Sister Burton: I see the same thing in Relief Society. It's the same thing. And they've had longer to forget who they are, and they forget that they are a daughter of God who loves them and wants only the best for them, and we get into this perfection mode. We think we have to be perfect all at once and all right now. And we're a hospital here; we aren't a hotel for perfect people in the Church, we are a hospital. We're all flawed and we all need each other for the gifts and talents we bring.
Sister Dalton: You know, what I have in my heart for all of us is the last message that Moroni gave us, his final words. Have faith. He will help you combat the adversary. Have hope. And have charity. And charity is the pure love of Christ. And I think that we women do that best. And charity never faileth.