On pages 14-15 of the new Daughters in My Kingdom, Joseph is quoted as saying,
“This society is to get instruction through the order which God has established—through the medium of those appointed to lead—and I now turn the key to you in the name of God, and this society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time—this is the beginning of better days to this society.”13
(Note to self: get ahold of that RS minute book! 🙂 )
It seems to me that “the order which God has established” is equated with “through the medium of those appointed to lead.” Now, this could be read as referring to Joseph himself and all subsequent priesthood leaders. However, in the context, it seems to me to mean something different. The “order” is that there are appointed leaders, and in this case, there are leaders appointed to lead the Relief Society. They function as the recepticals of revelation for this organization. This seems born out by the phrase “I now turn the key to you.” We talk of priesthood keys, and here Joseph is giving the Relief Society organization its own kind of key. A key to revelation, a key which unlocks the doors to heaven to talk with God. It is not a priesthood key, because this is not a priesthood organization (yes, I know all the auxillaries are correlated with the priesthood for certain purposes, but that is not the kind of priesthood organization I am talking about right now). The Relief Society has the authority, given over by Joseph to the women, to receive “knowledge and intelligence” from heaven. What else would that mean, but that the leaders should and can receive revelation for their organization, just like Joseph received for the whole church? The Relief Society, it seems, wasn’t an organization under the priesthood. It was a separate organization, which followed the same pattern that the church did. But, each of these Relief Society members was also a member of the church, and in that way every member of the RS was also “under” the priesthood, but the organization itself, it sounds to me, was not.
Indeed, for many many decades the RS ran its own organization, had its own sources of income, its own budget, its own manuals, etc. All of this was done without using tithing and without getting approval from anyone outside of the organization. (In fact, the RS basically had its own storehouse and lived a sort of law of consecration – there was a treasurer appointed to receive donations, and then the group decided who to help and how to go about it.)Again, remember that every individual sister was also a member of the church, and therefore she did pay her tithing and participate in temple ordinances, took the sacrament, and listened to the counsel of the Prophet. To say that the RS was not “under” the priesthood does not mean that it was against it or in competition with it. The RS was another, supplemental organization fulfilling the call Joseph Smith and others had extended: save souls, both temporally and spiritually.
This sounds to me like the relationship between the family and the church (though different, in that the family is eternal…). The family has its leaders, and the church has its leaders. The parent of a family receives revelation for that family. The Bishop of a ward receives revelation for that ward. A parent doesn’t receive revelation for the ward, and the Bishop doesn’t have to approve everything that goes on in a family. (See this talk by Elder Oaks.) They overlap in that the members of the family are also members of the ward. But this doesn’t mean that they are in competition.
More thoughts to come…