A Different Kind of Diversity

This morning I attended our regional Public Affairs meeting. (I am the community affairs specialist for my stake.) They hold these meetings quarterly; as a specialist (and not the PA director) I’m invited to two of them a year. Public affairs is a very strong emphasis of the Church in Chicago and a very big deal here. The meeting was presided over by our AA70.

After introductory remarks, the various stake PA directors took turns giving reports. First was a black woman who is in charge in Chicago. She reported on the showing of Nobody Knows and visit of Margaret and Darius, the hosting of an African American genealogy conference at their building, and other events. She was quite humble and acted as though they hadn’t done much, but I was quite impressed by her report.

Other reports followed, each one impressive in its own way. And by the end of this procession of reports, I realized something. Of the eight or so stakes represented, all but one PA director was a woman. Including mine. My church file leader has been a woman for the last three years or so since I’ve had this calling.

This is locally considered a high profile, extremely important calling. And I thought it was interesting that women were dominating it. There was no collusion among the stakes in making these choices; each stake president would have made his own selection. But for some reason women were selected overwhelmingly for these callings.

This may just be a coincidence, but I wonder. These are callings where the distance between the local area and the Church center is relatively small. When Salt Lake wants something done locally (such as the recent distribution of excess canned fruit to local food pantries), these are the people that get called upon. The local stake leaders don’t want to be embarrassed by not performing, because if they fall down in this sphere Salt Lake is going to know all about it and not be happy. And I realize it’s a stereotype to some extent, but if there’s something you really want to absolutely make sure gets accomplished, who you gonna call: EQ or RS? I know my answer to that question.

In my case, our stake is far better off for having this particular sister lead our efforts and not someone like me. She is extremely organized, detail oriented and she pushes to accomplish what needs to be done. In contrast, I’m organized and detail oriented, too, but I’m a typical elder in that I’m a little bit lazy and have a laissez-faire attitude to church service. Our stake leadership was certainly inspired in this choice in our particular case.

I’ve written before about how much I love my ward. Part of that is a function of the greatest diversity I’ve ever experienced in a ward. Even though I live in a white bread suburb, we have a pretty good mix of blacks, Asians and Latinos to go along with the anglos (although we can’t come close to the kind of diversity that exists at the Hyde Park ward on the south side of Chicago!). But there is another kind of diversity here that I have enjoyed and appreciated–the fact that my immediate church leader is a woman. Her file leader is a counselor in our stake presidency, of course; PA is still very much a priesthood driven function. But for whatever reason our local leaders have had the wisdom to place women overwhelmingly in these important callings.

I don’t for one minute doubt the inspiration received from heaven above underlying what otherwise might seem an unusual situation in a local Mormon leadership structure such as this.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the Hyde Park shout-out–I don’t even know how I will handle church once we leave the Hyde Park ward. February (Black History Month) is the best month of the ecclesiastical year and it is a little sad that today begins March.

  2. Kevin, I served as the stake representative for public affairs in the Southeast U.S. region and all of the regional organizers were women, so I reported to a woman for this calling also. Boy they did some great work.

  3. It seems to me that there’s a good chance that women are overwhelmingly in these calling because they can be. There are so many positions in the church that can’t be filled by women that there is usually a dearth of capable men, and in my experience women end up dominating in most of the positions that could be filled by either sex (i.e. primary teachers, employment specialists, family history workers, activities committee, etc). Of course, I’m glad that this calling isn’t restricted to priesthood holders, and that there are amazing women fulfilling it in your area. But I do wish that women didn’t dominate certain callings simply because there are so many others they can’t fill.

  4. Vada Says:
    March 1, 2009 at 1:24 pm
    It seems to me that there’s a good chance that women are overwhelmingly in these calling because they can be.

    This was exactly my thought as I started reading this post. That’s not to say that the women in these positions aren’t the very best people for the job. There are just so many leadership positions which cannot be held by women, that the few that can be often are.

  5. Natalie B. says:

    I hate to be pessimistic, but today I sat through a church lesson in which one hypothesis was that women didn’t have the priesthood, because if they did they would dominate all the callings. This logic troubles me, because it sounds a little bit like, well, because men need help being leaders we will deny women the chance. Frankly, my husband works a lot harder than I do. If I am occassionally better at fulfilling church callings, then it is because I have so few compared to him.

  6. “because men need help being leaders we will deny women the chance”
    Just because someone is in the camp that thinks if women had the priesthood men might take a backseat (look at the statistics in other religions) doesn’t mean they think that MEN or even WE are denying women the priesthood. God is and we do not know his purposes.

  7. I know that in my area that when it comes to ward employment specialists the priesthood leaders making the callings have been advised that sisters tend to be more successful at the calling. From what I’ve seen this is true. Why I think this is the case, would be a different post.

  8. Margaret Young says:

    Kevin, thanks for this post. I am always in awe of the Public Affairs folks who get Darius and me to their various destinations–and usually have a lew of other events they’re simultaneously organizing. We were in Detroit last week and I was simply amazed at what the PA folks were doing. I admit to feeling somewhat guilty, since we tend to come in as mini celebrities and just give talks or show movies, while the real workers are in the trenches and getting very little attention (and sometimes little help). They certainly wouldn’t do it if they weren’t fully committed to the calling.
    They do tend to be women. Go figure.

  9. if there’s something you really want to absolutely make sure gets accomplished, who you gonna call: EQ or RS? I know my answer to that question.

    Giving me an excuse to drag out my all-time-favorite definition from Saintspeak: A Mormon Dictionary (by Orson Scott Card, 1981), one which I’ve have cited over the pulpit and in lessons any number of times:

    Relief Society — The organization to which the priesthood delegates any assignment that is tedious or unpleasant, or which must be done right and on time.

    (That said, I will note that my current ward has one of the finest EQ presidents I have ever known, and the EQ not only handles all of its assignments right and on time, it is aggressively proactive in searching out quorum members in need of help and helping them.)

    And, yes, my own observation is that PA calling tend to be staffed by women. ..bruce..

  10. When I worked in the Cub Scouts, my three immediate file leaders were all women (committee chair, primary counselor, primary president).

  11. Natalie B. says:

    I just want to add that, depite the pessimism that my church experience induced today, I really love the spirit of this post and am so glad to hear this news about your area!

  12. How great is that, Kevin! Thanks for this. I do have a question, though, that may come across as silly but is actually earnest: During grad school, our bishop called a sister in the Ward as Sunday School President. After a bit of time, he got word from Salt Lake that actually that position is supposed to be held by a priesthood holder, and she was released. My question: What are the chances that Salt Lake might issue similar clarification as to Stake Public Affairs Directors? I have to presume that with the sheer number of women PA Directors that are purportedly out there, that Salt Lake is cool with it. I sure hope so. But still, I’m wondering.

  13. mofembot says:

    I was our stake’s public affairs (at the time, public communications) director, and the regional PA director was also a woman. (Interestingly enough, I was also called to be the stake historical clerk—with the official title and everything—at pretty much the same time.)

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Hunter, it really is pretty silly that SS President has to be a priesthood calling. I’ve held that calling, and I can’t imagine why that should be the case. But as you say, given the overwhelming dominance of women in the PA callings, I seriously doubt the Church is going to put the priesthood tag on that one.

  15. #5 Natalie: Ugh. I hate it when people use the “if women had the priesthood they would dominate” apologetic. I’ve attended three different egalitarian Protestant denominations (Nazarene, Presbyterian, Assembly of God) and I have never had a woman pastor. Plenty of women elders and deacons, but never a woman pastor. All of the lay pastors, assistant pastors, and youth pastors at my churches were men. Even when the door to leadership is open, not many women want to do it.

    I realize things in the LDS church are a bit different since callings come from the top-down (no pun intended!) and things aren’t volunteer-based like most Protestant churches are, but still. If women were given the priesthood they would not overrun all of the callings currently held by men so that the poor men would have nothing to do.

    Love the post and the spirit of the post, Kevin.

  16. Naismith says:

    I also worked in public affairs in the US Army, and back then, they had a quota of how many women could go to Defense Information School, if not actually serve in public affairs.

    The thing is, women are generally better at verbal stuff, and if you come up the ranks of public affairs through being a print media specialist, some basic writing ability is important.

    Also, some women have more time to spend on it. In a nearby city, no Habitat for Humanity house is dedicated without a gift from our church, a basket filled with half a food order and a bunch of strengthen-your-family pamphlets, including a broom with a big bow tied around it, etc. Very visual, good for newspaper pictures. The same woman who does that represents the church on the board of directors of various civic groups. She is a mom whose kids are older (middle school and up) and she doesn’t have a paid job, and that is her only church calling. Few men could afford to sink that much time into it.

  17. Lets take your “Sterio-type” a little more local:
    In my family if you want me to do something do you ask me (the Preisthood leader of my family) or my Wife(the woman of the Family)?
    Here is how each will play out:
    Ask me = I will in some form either say no or let me check with my wife… (She could have had something planned or needs my help at the time, else I would do it.)
    Ask my wife = She will tell you strait away either No, that i am busy then, or that she will “ask” me if I can… (this really is telling me what I should do, after all I need to be a good example to my family as their Preisthood leader).

    Long story short, if you want to get something done eventually, ask the guys, but if you need it done (and soon) ask the gals, they will get it done even if they need to involve the guys too.

    input from one of the (lazy/indecisive) guys,
    -D

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