Women are often underrepresented in the Church and in the hymns. As Sisters in Zion was written by women and about women. It brings the spirit and inspires us to serve and be more Christlike. However it is an older hymn and some stereotypes remain that may be difficult for some modern women to relate to, and may insinuate that a good woman should already possess those qualities. With minor tweaks, we can keep the inspirational message without relying on old stereotypes.
It is becoming more acceptable for women to be bold and assertive and for men to be gentle. We are learning to celebrate all of the varieties of gifts that the women of the Church have. We are also learning to be more sensitive to those who do not fit into gender norms.
There is fine line between celebrating femininity and defining it. When we try to define what it means to be a woman, women who do not fit that definition can experience increased guilt and shame. If they have gifts don’t fit the stereotype, they may hide those gifts in an effort to conform or fail to develop them in the first place. When we don’t value people for the traits they have or discourage them from reaching their full potential, their rates rates of depression, stress and other mental problems may increase. Likewise, if traits are gifts that only women claim, it could discourage men from developing these traits.
This hymn says the errand of angels is given to women and associates the gift that women claim with being gentle, being human, cheering, and blessing others. These are wonderful traits that we should all aspire to, male or female. Many hymns encourage us to be loving and gentle. However, the wording of this hymn makes it sound like women should be more gentle than men, reflecting the societal expectation from when it was written. While it was meant to celebrate these feminine traits, we are now faced with the question of whether we should continue to associate these traits as uniquely feminine.
The errand of angels is poorly defined. It becomes a circular definition. Women should be angelic, and being angelic is everything a woman should be. It probably isn’t talking about death and destruction like the angels in Exodus or Revelations. We end up relying on stereotypes to fill in the blanks.
Gentleness is associated with patience and kindness, but also with being subservient. It is not associated with being bold and assertive. If women are expected to be more gentle than men, it can be harder for them to be effective leaders, stand up for themselves, be equal partners to their spouse and take on other roles that require boldness and assertiveness. Women may avoid these roles and those who pursue them may be viewed as not being gentle enough. Likewise, men may be less likely to take on roles that are viewed as being gentle.
We can all use more people to cheer us, but there is also time to mourn and express righteous indignation. Christ wept when Lazarus died. He expressed indignation against the money changers. He called those who mourned blessed. If women feel that as women, their role is to cheer others, they may feel increased pressure to suppress anger and grief, which can cause their mental and emotional health to suffer. We can encourage women to cheer others, without connecting it to their role as a woman. This will inspire without putting undue pressure or making it overshadow other roles.
We should celebrate the unique contributions that only women can bring without confining women to any particular set of traits. Perhaps with a few tweaks we can present these as gifts that women can aspire to without being defined by them. These lyrics will hopefully inspire us to be the best women possible without defining womanhood:
The errand of angels is givenAs Sisters in Zion Alternative lyrics #309
to womenfrom heaven;
And this is a gift that,
as sisters, wewe surely can claim:
To do whatsoever is gentle and human,
To cheer and to bless in humanity’s name
This would still be a song about sisters in Zion being gentle and cheering and being about the errand of angels, without implying that a woman should already be those things or that a man can’t. Here is a segment of Relief Society choir singing “As Sisters in Zion” during General Conference:
Here is the link to the full lyrics:
Here is the link to leave feedback for the hymns:
What do you think? Should we edit the hymn? Should we get rid of it? Should we leave it as is? Let us know in the comments below: