Searching for Chieko Okazaki

This Christmas, my mother-in-law mentioned in passing how much she liked the books and other writings of Chieko Okazaki.  Now that I have read her book, Aloha!,  I share her positive opinion.  But at the time, my first question was, “Who is Chieko Okazaki?” 

Despite the fact that Sister Okazaki was the first non-Caucasian to serve on a general board and called to be a member of the Relief Society General Presidency in 1990, I do not remember learning about her before or after I graduated from high school in 2000 and entered Relief Society.  The fact that I grew up with little-to-no knowledge of this remarkable sister merits scrutiny.

Throughout the course of Sunday School, Priesthood/Relief Society, and General meetings, we customarily hear works by General Authorities, many from much earlier periods than the 1990’s, quoted again and again.  However, we rarely hear quoted works from women other than those currently serving on general boards.  Although we have extensive access to teachings from the prophets, our access to the writings of leading women are far more limited.  As a consequence, leading women tend to be quickly forgotten in our collective memories, and their teachings vanish away.

At least three factors perhaps explain the fact that we do little to recognize the teachings of past women leaders.  One, of course, is that our church still gives far more authority to teachings by priesthood leaders by virtue of the (mere) fact that they hold the priesthood.  Another, perhaps, is that while apostles are appointed for life, women leaders are typically only appointed until their release.  This means that we have the ability to become far more familiar with the apostles than we do with female leaders.  And, finally, because women are appointed to positions with jurisdiction over only sub-groups of the membership (children, young women, or women), their talks often focus on these sub-groups and, in the eyes of some members, lack general applicability.

Some might consider it a blessing to have leaders who are treated as less than authoritative and can be quickly forgotten upon their release, especially if those leaders are not well liked.  However, on the whole, I am inclined to consider it a serious problem for our history, culture, and daughters that teachings by male leaders are given such disproportionate weight in comparison to female leaders.  Many people like to argue that women are as powerful as men despite their exclusion from the priesthood (often using the very problematic claim that their “motherhood” or womanly nature is the equivalent of priesthood), but our failure to include women in priesthood leadership or to recognize their teachings as equally authoritative to that of priesthood-holding men, appears to at least take a toll on the inclusion of women’s voices and women leaders within our history.  If our forgotten record of leading women is any evidence, then it appears that holding the priesthood is still largely a prerequisite for being part of institutional memory and exercising authority outside local spheres as a gospel teacher.

Bookmark Searching for Chieko Okazaki


  1. On the whole, I think you’re right that women leaders in the Church are quickly forgotten. While Okazaki is not one of those for me (by virtue of having 2-3 books by her on my shelf), the defacto unforgettable RS leader in my mind will always be Sheri L. Dew–I don’t think anyone could honestly listen to her speeches and not confess the “authoritative” nature she carried.

  2. Is she even active in church any more?

    I met her once when I was just off my mission and visiting my aunt. Okazaki came over to watch the NBA finals with the Jazz against the Bulls. (’97). Man, was she ever giving Stockton grief!

    I haven’t heard from her since.

  3. Natalie B. says:

    I have no idea if she is still active or not. But, what I said about Okazaki I could say about almost all former RS general board members – they are viritually absent from even RS lessons.

  4. Not only is she active, she is my wonderful visiting teacher. She is still writing and and example of a strong, spiritual woman who speaks her mind and expects to be heard. She speaks all over the world to groups of women and men. She is a strong advocate for education, careers, and personal development in women.

  5. Natalie B., I was going to make the comment you just made. The reality is that I bet most Church members don’t even know who the current RS President is, let alone previous ones or their councilors. Now, most members due to demographics probably don’t know most previous Church presidents and their counselors either, let alone apostles. I think there are a few reasons why this might be, but I always include female sources in my historical work, so it is easier to include them in my devotional work as well.

  6. Natalie B. says:

    That’s awesome! Tell her that I loved her book.

  7. Natalie:

    I can’t argue much with your general observations (and wishes). That said….

    I suspect that the core Correlation issue here is that the First Presidency and the Twelve are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators, and so one is generally on safer ground quoting from them (though I have seen comments elsewhere that Church materials are undergoing a quite “de-McConkie-izing” [which probably also means a quiet de-Joseph-Fieldling-Smith-izing]). The vast majority of male General Authorities likewise are seldom or never quoted; not because their insights and observations weren’t valuable, but because they were “only” a Seventy or a member of the Presiding Bishopric.

    Second, time tends to do a lot of winnowing. I’m old enough to have heard LeGrand Richards speak in person (and, in fact, shake his hand); he was a wonderful and highly entertaining speaker, one of the best raconteurs in Church leadership and usually one of the highlights of each General Conference…but you don’t hear him quoted much these days. His classic work, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, which was a missionary essential back in my missionary days, is now mostly a curiosity, since of lot of Richards’ scriptural interpretations and commentary don’t hold up even to current LDS (conservative) scholarship. I could probably name another dozen or so General Authorities off the top of my head (e.g., Alvin R. Dyer, A. Theodore Tuttle, Sterling W. Sill, Richard L. Evans) who were quoted and cited frequently back in my early Church years (late 60s, early 70s) who would be just as big a mystery to you as Sis. Okazaki.

    For that matter, how many of the currently serving Presidents of the Seventy can you name, much less members of the First and Second Quorums of the Seventy? Can you name, without peeking, all three members of the Presiding Bishopric (all of whom have been serving there for over a decade)?

    So, yes, the fact that only men can be apostles and prophets (for now, at least) does mean a loss of institutional memory of women’s voices. Of course, it also means a loss of institutional memory for most men’s voices as well, since very few men end up as an apostle (and even fewer as President of the Church).

    In all this, remember in all this that complete archives of The Ensign exist on the website, and the Deseret News Church Almanac (which I buy when a new edition comes out) lists the names of everyone who has served in the Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society presidencies. With a little effort on your part, you could probably track down more information on these women, particularly those like Sis. Okazaki who have pursued writing and speaking outside of their Church service.

    Sister Okazaki served for 7 years in the RS Presidency, and I remember her vividly (and in fact cited her by name in a comment I made just a few days ago elsewhere in the Bloggernacle). The fact that she served before you were (apparently) old enough to have known about her speaking and writing is something she shares with the vast majority of men and women who have had Church leadership position (again, look through the Church Almanac sometime, or even just Wikipedia if you don’t want to buy the Almanac). ..bruce..

  8. Natalie B. says:

    #7 – I agree with everything you say. Nevertheless, the fact that I entered RS only three years after she was released and never heard about her bothers me. That’s not a long period of time, and our ease of forgetting says something about the value we hold her (and other women’s) writings in. The fact of the matter is that I do know the names, and sometimes even the personal views, of a lot of older general authorities, because while not all are quoted frequently in lesson manuals, many are. By contrast, I don’t know anything about former RS presidents, despite having actively attended RS for the past 8 years. As a member of RS, it puzzles me that I never hear about them. Whereas 70’s, for example, are not as prominent and hence as memorable as apostles, the presidents of RS should be recognized within RS.

    Aside from the general problem of excluding women from our historical record, the major, more pratical problem I see is that women who are new to RS have their vision of the organization defined entirely by the current presidency. I think there are a lot of risks in allowing such a limited number of people to define such a central experience of LDS women’s lives. If new members had a broader knowledge of the multiple leaders who came before, and of RS’s history, then perhaps they would have an easier time feeling welcomed in the organization.

  9. #7 – Exactly.

  10. “If new members had a broader knowledge of the multiple leaders who came before, and of RS’s history, then perhaps they would have an easier time feeling welcomed in the organization.”

    Or maybe they’d believe what past leaders believed and not what current leaders teach.

    Also, Natalie, here’s a serious question that Bruce’s comment highlights and that goes to whether this is a question of sex:

    Without any research, how many member of ANY general auxiliary presidency (or the Presiding bishopric) who served before 2000 can you name – and how many do you think the average Mormon man can name? How many of the CURRENT presidency members do you think the average Mormon man can name?

  11. You might as well ask what has become of the General Sunday School Presidents of the past. No man sleeps through their history today.

    How often is anyone who wasn’t an apostle or a prophet cited in today’s discourse?

  12. Natalie B. says:

    “The vast majority of male General Authorities likewise are seldom or never quoted; not because their insights and observations weren’t valuable, but because they were “only” a Seventy or a member of the Presiding Bishopric.”

    To clarify my response a bit, the RS president and her counselors are the top of the hierarchy in the RS organization. So, I find it hard to compare them to the “only” Seventies. Now, it might be (sadly) that our church as a whole considers them “only” members of the RS and hence not worth listening to, but it doesn’t explain the exclusion of their messages and history from the organization they headed.

  13. 1) If RS presidencies are seen as “just another auxiliary” then that means there really aren’t any women’s voices to listen to on church matters. And it’s not quite the same as general sunday school president, since the RS has it’s own conference broadcast the week before every year.

    2) RS messages disappearing means that there really isn’t any women’s voice in the historical record. It’s all men’s voices all the way back to Eliza R. Snow, and she only gets the hymnbook.

  14. “…the RS president and her counselors are the top of the hierarchy in the RS organization. So, I find it hard to compare them to the “only” Seventies. Now, it might be (sadly) that our church as a whole considers them “only” members of the RS and hence not worth listening to…”

    I think that basing an argument about gender/sex here is, even if empirically accurate, kind of misleading. The fact remains, as #7 pointed out, that this is not just a mere question of women vs. men. It’s a question of Prophets vs. Everybody Else.

    I won’t argue against the fact that many people grab a bit to eat or check their email when the YW speaker takes the stand in conference, but similar displays of non-attention are given to everyone but the 1st Presidency & 12 (and even some of them, at times). In fact, as I’m scrolling through my iTunes right now, I’m seeing that only Prophets & Apostles got imported. I’m so ashamed.

  15. “RS messages disappearing means that there really isn’t any women’s voice in the historical record.”

    Not at all. There are lots of women’s voices “in the historical record”. “The Church” has preserved MANY talks and articles given by women in the archives at Right now we collectively have access to FAR more female voices from the last few decades than at any time in the history of the world. In fact, it’s not even close.

    (For example, I did a simple search by author name for “Chieko Okazaki” and found 8 of her talks, plus one Ensign article. I then searched for “Yoshihiko Kikuchi” and found 9 talks, plus a few Ensign articles. Sister Okazaki’s talks were delivered in a 6 year span; Elder Kikuchi’s covered 29 years.)

    The central issue is “the collective (non-researched) memory of the members” – not “the historical record”.

  16. Natalie B. says:

    Ray, being able to search through articles in an archive is a far different thing from having those articles be remembered with importance in general settings. It is that latter that this post is about.

  17. Matt W. says:

    Incidently, Mrs. Okazaki has a new book out this week.

    She is still a very popular author in the Deseret Book niche. I remember a book of hers being on the front cover of the catalogue not long ago.

  18. Molly Bennion says:

    Yours is an old and frequent female lament. Thanks for being the latest to voice it. May it resurface again and again. Women need role models who look like they look and refer to sexually specific as well as universal aspects of their lives and their understanding of the gospel in the first person female. Sister Okazaki does that as well as anyone I can remember and will always be greatly loved for it.

    Furthermore, unlike some perfectly admirable general authorities with other needed gifts, she has a superior ability to understand and articulate solutions for challenges to gospel living. Okazaki connects because of her unusual personal talents and beyond the inspirations which no doubt accompanied her calling. The argument that we don’t remember lower level male authorities is irrelevant to either Okazaki’s talents or the need for the female.

  19. I really believe there is another issue at play here. That being that the talks given by women, even if at General Conference, are not given the same weight as those given by men, particularly priesthood leaders. [Before you get your hackles up at that statement, please hear me out.]
    In 1840, Parley P. Pratt, who was then serving the Church in Liverpool, England, received a letter from an Elder in the area asking him to “set forth the duty and standing of women in the church.” Elder Pratt subsequently wrote a reply which appeared in the August 1840 edition of _The Millennial Star_. [See _Nauvoo Journal_ Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1994]
    In this reply, Brother Pratt makes it clear that woman may “pray, testify, speak in tongues, and prophesy in the Church…but not for the instruction of the Elders…”
    From the research I have done on my great, great grandmother, who was an early member of the Relief Society in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith made it clear to the sisters that they could, and should, expound doctrine to each other but they were not to instruct the brethren.
    I know that things change in the Church, and clearly, women do preach to men, from ward Sacrament Meetings to General Conference. However, old teachings never really disappear in the Church. They just take on new meanings. I think especially on the general church level, women speak principally to women, or at least on subjects that are seen to be more relevant to women than to men.
    I know that some (many?) may argue with this idea. However, my own careful observations have shown me it is pretty consistant. Not only men, but women also, give added weight to talks given by men, explaining why, even in Relief Society, we hear proportionately more quotes from men than from women.

  20. True, quotes and writings of FP and 12 carry more weight than anyone else’s in the Church. From a theological view, that is because they are currently the only ones sustained as “prophets, seers, and revelators.” From a nonspiritual sociological viewpoint, it is because the FP and 12 are self-perpetuating governing bodies (with lifetime serving members) with ultimate, essentially non-appealable authority.

    The fact that women are excluded from these bodies means that female voices will not and cannot (theologically or sociologically) be considered or treated on an equal level with voices of men who serve in FP and 12. There are a couple of exceptions:

    1. Women’s voices are quasi-canonized in the hymnal–e.g., Eliza Snow and “Oh My Father”.

    2. Here and there in the Standard Works there are quotations from women.

    This result does not necessarily flow from formal priesthood office being withheld from women. If women were selected to serve in FP and 12, without holding formal priesthood office (other than, perhaps, prophetess, seer, and revelator), then there would be more equal treatment of words of women versus words of the men who are in the governing councils. On the flip side, if Priesthood office were extended to women, but women were still excluded, either de jure or de facto, from the FP and 12, the male voices of the FP and 12 would still be privileged over the voices of any females.

  21. Natalie:

    If you go back and read the start of my post (#7), you’ll see “I can’t argue much with your general observations (and wishes). ” And I don’t. I very much understand and agree with your wishes, just as I think members would benefit from knowing far more about the writings of the vast majority of former male General Authorities (many of whom had a lot of great stuff to say; I’d love to see a whole year devoted to the writings and speeches of Hugh B. Brown).

    Nevertheless, the fact that I entered RS only three years after she was released and never heard about her bothers me. That’s not a long period of time, and our ease of forgetting says something about the value we hold her (and other women’s) writings in.

    I think that’s an issue to raise with your Relief Society president and her instructors. But, again, stop and think: your entire experience with Relief Society has been within the context of a coordinated RS/PH teachings schedule, which means two lessons/month out of the current “Teachings of the Prophets” manual and two lessons/month from the most recent General Conference. That by nature constrains the vast majority of RS/PH lesson citations to (a) one of the Prophets being studied and (b) current (as of the last General Conference) General Authorities and Officers. Period.

    Note that this coordinated teaching schedule only started about 11 years ago, and it won’t last forever (for one thing, we’ll eventually run out of prophets). In the nearly 42 years I’ve been a member of the Church, I have see a wide variety of approaches to study guides and lessons in both Priesthood and Relief Society; I expect to see several more before I die.

    You keep trying to make this a male/female issue (“the value we hold her [and other women’s] writings”), but it’s not. It’s an issue on how the current RS/PH curriculum is focused on (a) prophets and (b) current GA/GOs. Yes, a side effect of that is that you didn’t know until recently about what a wonderful writer/speaker Sis. Okazaki is, but the same thing is true for a few hundred male GAs whom (unlike Sis. Okazaki) you will likely never know of or appreciate.

    As I pointed out, you have lots of tools to investigate other female LDS leaders. If you’re concerned about institutional memory, than I suggest you work to establish it yourself, rather than complain. Write blog posts. Write articles. Write a book. Better yet, find out what books are already in print and read a few of them.

    Most of all, don’t extrapolate a serious institutional deficit from your personal lack of awareness. That, in effect, is demanding that you (and everyone else around you) be taught according to your own expectations and agenda, regardless of other concerns and priorities. From your posts, it’s clear you have a strong and quisitive mind; use it proactively and help educate those around you.

    You can start by complaining to the Deseret News that they give short shrift to LDS woman leaders in the Church Almanac by listing much less information for past leaders and counselors than they do for former Seventies. That is (IMHO) a genuine inequity and one that should be changed. ..bruce..

  22. Jason L. says:

    I think there are both historical and (gendered) institutional reasons for our poor collective historical consciousness of past women church leaders. But I’m not convinced that it’s quite as large a problem as it may seem to historically-minded bloggernacle participants.

    #12 – For most members of the church, immediate experience in a ward or stake seems to be far more definitive of “the church” than anything we hear (or have previously heard) in General Conference. Far from the current General RS Presidency exclusively defining the organization for new members, it seems to me that ward (and possibly stake) RS leaders bear the larger burden of defining the Relief Society for members. And though we may not do much to introduce new converts to the modern history of the church (between, say, 1850 and 2000), the problem of only seeing the church through the eyes of current leaders is self-corrective: sooner or later we’ll get new leaders. Those who are historically-minded can then seek out the opinions of past leaders and those who aren’t as concerned won’t.

    If local axillary leaders (RS or otherwise) feel that knowing more of that history is important, they can use first Sunday lessons to introduce this material. But then, as much as I’d personally like to hear more church history in church, I know from experience that there are always more topics to cover than their are lessons to give or sacrament meeting talks to assign, so I understand if other topics edge out our rich heritage.

  23. I’ll just quickly clarify that Brad-#1 is not Brad-BCC-perma. Though he might soon find himself to be Brad-challenged-to-a-duel-by-Brad-BCC-perma…

  24. Natalie B. says:

    #21 Frankly, I don’t think it is your place to chastise me about having a personal lack of awareness. I will not reply further to any personal attack.

  25. Cynthia L. says:

    Natalie, I am continually struck by how similar our experiences in the church are. I had heard of Sis. Okazaki and her books. However it was only in reading your post that I realized just how recent her presidency was. I had thought it was back in the early 80s or so, in other words long enough distant that my only vague awareness of her would actually make sense. How incredible that it was just a couple years before you and I joined RS.

  26. Few talks from General Conference stand out in my memory more than Sister Okazaki’s. Ten years after the fact, I can remember three of her talks off top of my head. Her use of visual aids had a way of fixing her messages into her audience’s minds. She is still one of my all-time favorite speakers.

  27. I am a bit incredulous at some of the comments. There is not one person here who couldn’t rattle off two or three dozen male names and they are not all prophets. But I can’t remember more than a handful of women unless they were wives of an important man. I remember Sis. Okazaki well and I think it is fair to say that along with Sis. Dew she was the most influencial speaker in my lifetime. Yet I had completely forgotten that she existed until I saw this blog entry. It’s kind of pathetic when we want to present a public image that women are as important as men. I am hoping for the day when a RS manual for women is about women.

  28. Sigh. It’s always a personal attack when someone disagrees. You don’t even attempt to address Bruce’s comments.

  29. Natalie:

    I truly apologize if you took my comment as a personal attack, and (unfortunately) I can see how you might have interpreted is as such; I was too elliptical. Let me expand.

    I should have fully qualified my statement as “your personal lack of awareness (until recently) of Chieko Okazaki“. In other word, the fact that you didn’t know who Chieko Okazaki was until recently does not necessarily mean that the Church has some important structural deficiency that needs to be addressed, nor does it mean that a significant percentage of Relief Society sisters are likewise unaware of who Sis. Okazaki is.

    Again, please accept my apologizes for my thoughtless wording. ..bruce..

  30. I remember Sis. Okazaki, and I was a male ysa living outside the US for most of her time in the RS presidency. I remember Elaine Jack too, she always reminded me of Margaret Thatcher.

  31. My wife teaches the Beehives in our Ward. After I read this post, I grabbed her Young Women Manual I and discovered some interesting things:

    There are a lot of human-interest stories (extracted from Church periodicals) authored by non-leadership women members, including one by Emma Rae McKay. There are also some anecdotes and quotes by non-LDS women, including one by Corrie ten Boom and Eleanor Roosevelt.

    On specific point, I found a total of five quotes by the following women general leadership: one from Belle Spafford (former RS General President), one from Ruth Funk (former YW General President), one undated “letter” from the “Young Women General Presidency,” and two quotes from Ardeth Kapp (when she was a counselor in the YW General Presidency). No other women leaders were quoted, as far as I could see. (There is a quote by a “Betty E. Brown, in Conference Report, Melbourne Australia Area Conference 1976,” but I don’t know who this is. She must be a general leader, though, because of her comments’ inclusion in a Conference Report (?).)

    Thus, there are five (maybe six) quotes from female general church leaders in a 219-page Young Women manual. That averages out to about 1 quote every 35-45 pages. (Not surprisingly, there are lots and lots and lots of quotes from (male) General Authorities; on nearly every page of the manual.)

    A couple of minor asides, Camilla Kimball is highlighted for her good example as a wife, but the anecdote is told by Spencer Kimball, from his point of view.

    Ironically, in the lesson about motherhood, there are no female quotes, anecdotes or points of view. (Yes, there are several male perspectives.)

    Similarly, in the lesson titled “A Daughter of God,” although there is a text written by Eliza Snow Smith (“O My Father”), the only quotes are from Bruce R. McConkie and Marion G. Romney. (And no, you recent converts, “Marion” Romney is not a woman.)

    Last, it seems that most all the quotes by ANY general church leaders are from the 1970s or before. (I even saw a reference to something that “Elder Hinckley has told us.”) So, this manual probably needs a little updating in more ways than one.

  32. Heck, I remember Belle Spafford who was called as Relief Society President the year my parents married (1945), several years before I was born (1953) — was still RS President when I joined the Church in 1967 — and was still RS President when I returned home from my mission in August 1974 (she was released in October 1974).

    Off topic and apropos to nothing, Pres. Spafford (by then released) gave one of the prayers (opening, I believe) at a big BYU Centennial Celebration ceremony on campus in the 1975-76 timeframe, and it still remains the single longest prayer I’ve ever heard uttered anywhere, much less at a public ceremony with 20+ thousand people in attendance. I didn’t actually time it — I had my head bowed and eyes closed for, well, most of the time — but it must have been at least a good 10 to 15 minutes long. I don’t think any of the temple dedicatory prayers that I’ve heard over the years were as long as her prayer that day. ..bruce..

  33. I think that Hunter’s analysis (#31) of the YW Manual is strong evidence of some specific gender deficiencies and inequities in manuals that really shouldn’t have them, not to mention (as you noted) some serious datedness.

    If I’m not mistaken, there is a Church Correlation e-mail address in most manuals (check on the copyright page) that says something to the effect of “if you have feedback about this manual, please write us.” Sounds as though someone needs some writing. ..bruce..

  34. Chieko Okazaki has had a projound influence on me since her RS service 20+ years ago.
    Her talk from 1992 on “Healing from Sexual Abuse” was released on cassette tape. I continue to use it to help victims/survivors, including non-LDS. CAMAY, please tell Sister Okazaki that her voice still brings peace to these people. She reprised this during BYU’s “Embracing Hope: Healing from Sexual Abuse” conference in 2002. I *highly* recommend it to get a sense of this woman’s spirit and passion: you can hear or read it by entering “Okazaki” here.
    As important as Sister Okazaki has been for me, this discussion brings to mind something Elder McConkie taught us in a missionary conference in Argentina ~ 1972. He took as his text D&C 5:10, “But this generation shall have my word through you.” He led us to understand that this can be paraphrased , “The people of Joseph Smith’s time would have the Lord’s word through Joseph Smith.” He expounded on how the earlier prophets and apostles truly spoke for the Lord, but [generally, BoM is an important exception] were called to speak for Him to the people of their times. He then further paraphrased his text to read, “The people of today will have the Lord’s word through the leaders the Lord calls to speak for him today.” I believe that this applies to this discussion in that as valuable as the words of earlier Church leaders were in their time and as true as they remain, the Lord speaks most clearly to us through today’s leaders.

  35. 34. The link to find/hear Sister Okazaki’s talk is:

    Please enter “Okazaki” in the search box and listen to her discuss sexual abuse, hope for victims, and how the rest of us can and must help them.

  36. Natalie B. says:

    Thanks bfwebster for the apology! I really appreciate that, and totally understand that you didn’t mean that personally.

  37. Natalie,
    FWIW, partly the issue is your age. I graduated from high school six years before you did, and remember her vividly (although I don’t have a clue who the Presiding Bishop or the YM’s or YW’s General President was). Also, coincidentally, last night, we had a couple friends over for dinner and Sister Okazaki’s name came up; I forget the context, because it came up over the din of at least four children under the age of four.

    The reason she isn’t institutionally completely forgotten, it seems to me, is that she published a couple books that resonated across the Church. If she hadn’t been a dynamic speaker and an even more dynamic writer, she would be completely unremembered.

    (FWIW, too, I am not, and have never been, a woman–I remember her because my mom had at least one or two of her books and I’m sure I heard her speak in Conference at one point or another, although I couldn’t offhand tell you who spoke at Conference back in October.)

  38. And that’s why the case of Sister Okazaki proves some of Natalie B.’s points so well: She was much beloved and very well-known during her tenure in the RS General Presidency. Thereafter, it seems that had she not written independently or struck out on the speaking circuit, she would be largely forgotten today. Shame.

  39. “The reason she isn’t institutionally completely forgotten, it seems to me, is that she published a couple books that resonated across the Church. If she hadn’t been a dynamic speaker and an even more dynamic writer, she would be completely unremembered.”

    So, the point is, I guess, that it’s too bad that we don’t also remember the more boring speakers and less dynamic writers. Yeah, a real shame. Hark back with me to some of the most tear-inducingly boring General Conference talks of yesteryear! Sounds like a great feature for BCC.

  40. Natalie B. I’d love to share some current stories of Cheiko with you off the web.

  41. Randall says:

    Let me jump in and add a little conspiracy theory to the conversation.

    I always wondered whether Sister Okazaki wasn’t shushed a little on the way out. A core tenant of her work and speaking was around creating a larger Mormon tent. This included addressing issues that had previously not been discussed openly (i.e. sexual abuse).

    The following quote is from a favorite talk of mine from the 1996 General Conference:

    “The doctrines of the gospel are indispensable. They are essential, but the packaging is optional. Let me share a simple example to show the difference between the doctrines of the Church and the cultural packaging. Here is a bottle of Utah peaches, prepared by a Utah homemaker to feed her family during a snowy season. Hawaiian homemakers don’t bottle fruit. They pick enough fruit for a few days and store it in baskets like this for their families. This basket contains a mango, bananas, a pineapple, and a papaya. I bought these fruits in a supermarket in Salt Lake City, but they might have been picked by a Polynesian homemaker to feed her family in a climate where fruit ripens all year round. The basket and the bottle are different containers, but the content is the same: fruit for a family. Is the bottle right and the basket wrong? No, they are both right. They are containers appropriate to the culture and the needs of the people. And they are both appropriate for the content they carry, which is the fruit.”

    The focus of this talk was on the cultural diversity of the church and the need for increased tolerance of differences. Especially in a post-Benson, early-gay-rights era, that opinion was not broadly held by the church membership. And, how could she suggest that Polynesians don’t need to can or keep food storage?? That doesn’t go over too well in Utah.

    So, maybe strings were pulled to keep her quiet.

    Probably not, but maybe…

  42. Randall, yes, the church is probably trying to keep her quiet using the oldest trick in the book: publishing her books with its own printing press, and featuring her on the cover of the Deseret Book mailer. Devious.

  43. No better way for an author to languish in general obscurity than to be published via Deseret Book.

  44. I’m pretty sure that no one keeps Cheiko quiet. She has mastered the ability to ask questions that provoke some.

  45. Heh.
    I love Sister Okazaki. Maybe it’s because I lived for so long in Japan, but I remember her name and her talks being brought up quite often. I also was always one to get geekily excited seeing some one different in the leadership positions. Actually, I didn’t realize she wasn’t still in the presidency (bows head in embarrassment).

  46. Mimi (#44), I think that is the heart of her influence. She promotes a positive, life-affirming message that is widely embraced, but subtly controversial.

    My other conspiracy theory is that we all just tired of the “Alohas” from the pulpit. We’re just not really a call and response church.

  47. Jennifer in GA says:

    I could be remembering wrong, but didn’t her husband die quite unexpectedly a few years ago?? If I remember the story correctly, he was always a very healthy and fit man, and he wasn’t very old when he suddenly died of a heart attack. I would imagine she has spent the past few years adjusting to life without her husband.

  48. Thanks, gst. I wouldn’t have been so fun and funny in response to Randall’s question about a conspiracy to keep down Sister Okazaki. Your humor did the trick, just right.

  49. I believe her husband had a fatal heart attack just hours after the 1992 RS sesquicentennial broadcast. Kaimi commented somewhere at T&S that she almost spoke at a Sunstone symposium, but he has has not elaborated on that statement that I know of. (Do tell.)

  50. Kinda O says:

    I don’t think Sister Okazaki has been shushed, but there’s been no one to fill the shoes of the Jack-Clyde-Okazaki presidency. I liked Sheri Dew for her dynamic speaking style, but I didn’t hear much innovative content from her compared with Jack-Okazaki-Clyde. Her words just had different ethos because she’s a single career woman.

  51. Yeah, I agree. It wasn’t just Okazaki. Aileen Clyde was a powerhouse, too. That RS General Presidency was something else.

  52. Yeah, the current RS President is a real shrinking violet. Too bad her talks are all so bland and forgettable.

  53. KindaO, at the beginning of her talk on sexual abuse — which I linked in comments 34 & 35 — Sister Okazaki mentions her husband’s death in April of 1992, some months before she first gave that talk in Portland, Ore.

  54. Kinda O says:

    Not forgettable or bland or bad, Ray, just not innovative. It’s simply a different criterion. Innovative = applying the gospel to women in a fresh way. Not that the traditional approach is bad, but it’s using the same lens, and it doesn’t challenge us to search, to be open to alternative interpretations to God and the world. I sustain Presidents Smoot, Parkin, and Beck, but I heart the soul-stretching of the 90s. But I’ll reconsider in light of your gracious comment.

  55. katielangston says:

    Too bad her talks are all so bland and forgettable.

    Ray, LOL. Like the heart attack everyone had over–what was the name of that talk again?–I’ve forgotten already. Something about mothers doing something-or-other… ;)

  56. Aaron Brown says:

    I will never forget Chieko Okazaki for two reasons:

    1. She’s the only General Authority, or quasi-General Authority, I’ve ever seen show up for a Sunstone Symposium (granted, this was after her release); and

    2. A disturbed elder in my mission (1991-93) had a bizarre Chieko-fetish, claiming to be madly in love with her. He once created a large piece of “artwork” in which he cut out pictures of her from church magazines and put them up as part of his “love collage” or something. Very creepy. Many felt he was for real, but I don’t actually believe he was in enamored of her — I suspect he did it just to freak out the other elders. But this still counts as “disturbed” either way you look at it.

    No, for these reasons if for no others, I won’t soon forget Cheiko Okazaki.


  57. Lisa F. says:

    I’m with Kinda O — I miss President Jack and her counselors. I especially loved the visuals that Cheiko Okazaki used in her talks (the fruit, the fishing net). I reflected on those when we got the recent (?) letter about not using visual aids when you speak in church (and not asking people to turn to a particular scripture with you). No threadjack intended, but Cheiko was a master speaker…and I will never forget the fishing net.

  58. Chieko still gets around. She wil be speaking in Time Out For Women in Orlando this month. She visited us in Tallahassee , FL in 1999 and uplifted and inspired at least 1000 sisters. While I enjoy focusing on the prophets, I miss the RS having its own RS manuals focused to women and their experiences of living the gospel. I just quickly went and looked at some of those old manuals. They included so many personal examples of sisters in them.

    Camay, please tell her Vicky says hello and Lin will see her in Orlando!

  59. I’ll pass the message along Vicky and Lin. Cheiko is 81 by the way. She looks about 60 and is full of fire. Without her permission I can’t share her stories, but she still lets the brethern know her opinions and advocates for women, children, and minorities. She lives the gospel without worrying about fitting into “Mormon culture” She is one of the finest Christians I know. I love this woman and wish she could be everyones VT.

  60. I wish she was mine too! I truly love her and the women of our stake were so blessed and strengthened by her coming. As the stake RS president at the time, I could see the effect upon the women and their personal lives and their living of the gospel. We were able to have her come by a miracle…it truly was…and I have never forgotten that.

  61. I mentioned Belle Spafford in a post a good while back, because there was a six-page article about her in the Ensign.

  62. I think Cheiko Okazaki is the most memorable and likeable woman speaker we’ve had in the church – certainly in my lifetime. I read her book “Lighten Up” and always enjoyed hearing what she had to say.