Sin Culture: part 2, how to change a toxic environment

The U.S. Armed Forces have a problem. Particularly since the advent of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the incidence of sexual assault within the armed forces is high. Perhaps more disturbing, the majority of these assaults are perpetrated by fellow soldiers. As this link indicates, in the middle 00s 6 of 10 women in the military were victims of sexual assault or harassment.

The government recognized this was a problem. Donald Rumsfeld held investigations. Recommendations were made and applied. Most of the recommendations made were designed to make it easier for victims to protect themselves and to report assaults when they occurred. Unfortunately, it didn’t obviously work. Reporting of assaults has gone up, which is good because it appears that the vast majority were never reported. However, it is difficult to tell if there has been any change in the rate of sexual trauma over this time. The military remains dangerous place for a woman; she has to be particularly wary of her fellow soldiers.

The Army recognizes that this is a tremendous problem. It has also recognized that, inadvertently, it has promoted a rape culture. It didn’t intend to, but what it had, nevertheless, was a culture where sexual harassment and assault were tolerated. If a fellow female soldier was threatened by the enemy, these men would no doubt save her life, but they often couldn’t be trusted around her at a party with alcohol.

I was recently treated to the Army’s new Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program (I am a civilian employee of the Army). In it, the Army specifically is trying to step back and restructure its culture so that rape isn’t a part of it. Watch the following video and you’ll get a sense of their approach: (warning: this video features disturbing material and language (definite PG-13)).


The Army is taking the onus for preventing rape off the female soldier and placing it on Army culture at large. Everyone is responsible for preventing rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. Everyone is responsible to be on the look-out for warning signs. No-one is an innocent bystander in this understanding. (This next video is also PG-13. Warning: language and bad jokes)


In this second video, note how the initially sexist soldier takes it upon himself to teach his squad mate. For that matter, consider the whole outlook that this video adopts. The soldier’s unit is more important than any individual within it. The individual loss caused by an assault is terrible for the soldier, but it is equally bad for the unit. Creating tension due to sexual harassment or sexism in general hurts the unit. The loss of the sexual assaultee and the sexual assaulter hurts the unit. Sexual comments and unwanted sexual advances hurt the unit. Bad jokes don’t necessarily hurt the unit, but bad sexual humor does.

This is a brand new program, so its effectiveness is still unknown. But it seems like a step in the right direction. Instead of trying to teach women to live within the existing rape culture, it is teaching the well-intentioned to alter the culture itself. I think this will only be to the good.

Imagine if we adopted something like this approach within our church units. Not that I think that rape is a particular problem in the church or that we have a toxic culture, but it is clear that sexism is prevelant. What if we taught each other that sexism is bad, because it makes everything harder, it hurts the unit. It drives away our women. It reduces trust and places obstacles to communication. Do you think showing similar videos to our leadership and our members would be a good idea?

Comments

  1. “What if we taught each other that sexism is bad, because it makes everything harder, it hurts the unit. It drives away our women.”

    If you can first prove that more women than men are leaving…

  2. Newly,
    I’m afraid I don’t see the relevance.

  3. About 8 years ago, the church produced a very short video to be shown in ward council meetings. The apparent purpose of the video was to have the 1st presidency on camera telling ward leaders that some women in the church don’t feel valued and that ward leaders should make sure women in their wards do feel appreciated.

    After showing the video, my bishop said he hoped no women in our ward feel unappreciated. He did not ask for comments.

    As a male, it probably did not occur to him (and apparently not to the 1st presidency) that Mormon women might feel undervalued because of the 13 positions on the ward council, only4 possible positions are available for women to hold–and one fof those–Teacher Development Director can be filled by a person of either sex..

  4. Having spent nine years in the military with 2 tours to Iraq under my belt I feel somewhat qualified to comment… I have more questions than answers so bear with me.

    How does the overall culture of the military as an organization tasked with directed violence keep the same aggressive qualities we celebrate in soldiers from creeping into the overall culture?

    There are differences between men and women. Those differences are exacerbated in combat environments where soldiers are under “general orders” about non-fraternization, but the hook-up culture is winked at. General immoral behavior is tolerated and expected while soldiers are not deployed. Overall objectification of women is okay if your non-deployed and the women are civilians, it’s not okay when soldiers are under combat stress and the women are your fellow soldiers… How can you switch that off in combat when the “pool” of available partners is constrained to fellow soldiers. Unless that dynamic changes (and it exists to some extent at all phases of army training and as part of barracks life) I don’t see how we can change the culture.

    I am happy the military (and the Army seems to be acknowledging and working with the problem most aggressively) is trying to change things. I will be interested to see whether this type of campaign to change the “fraternity” to a “family/team” will work.

  5. Women aren’t necessarily leaving the Church. However a good many have “checked out” of expectations of true equality (simple things like how women’s roles and abilities are viewed by too many men in the Church as being of less importance or weaker). In addition, I think the huge prevalence of depression is probably augmented by these attitudes and the fact that many women, in trying to be “righteous”, can’t or won’t demand appropriate treatment. If you don’t see the relevance, you are hopefully lucky enough to have been treated respectfully by spouse, leaders, etc. however my observations (thankfully NOT from my own marriage, I seem to have been blessed with the most wonderful guy imaginable, and I say that in all sincerity!!) tell me that there are still many women who are unappreciated, disrespected, and darn-near oppressed by husbands– much in the name of being the priesthood-holder and “head of the house”. There is certainly much being said by SLC leadership (and particularly in priesthood sessions). But I’m not hearing this stuff being strongly promoted at a local level.

  6. @John c– sorry, I see now you were responding to Newly, not the post itself. :)

  7. Kerbear,
    If its a consolation, I question my own relevance frequently.

  8. Chris Gordon says:

    I like the sense of community that your suggestion can and hopefully would foster, but I’m not sure if it would work with the same efficacy that they’re hoping for in the Army. You hear a lot of almost-cliched references to the esprit-de-corps that drives soldiers in combat (“At that moment, I didn’t care why we were fighting, I didn’t care what my orders were, I did what I did for the guys next to me”). That sense of community is ingrained in the soldiers from Basic on up, and I don’t know if it exists to the same level in a congregation.

    I think it could and you could even make a Zion argument that it should, but I don’t think it does.

  9. I like the second video, but I do wish that the sergeant had called out how inappropriate it is for enlisted men to make jokes at the expense of the officer corps. Shocking.

  10. John, I think one major hurdle for the Church is that men are NEVER expected to take orders from (or even really listen to) a woman. In the Army, having a female commanding officer is at least a theoretical possibility, and I think that makes a huge difference in how seriously women’s concerns are taken overall. The connection isn’t direct, but I think it is nonetheless significant.

    Moreover, a woman’s status in the church depends more on her ability to attract a powerful man (and charm other powerful men) than on her competence, knowledge, or skill. Sexuality functions differently in that context. You ALREADY have a culture where explicit sexism, sexist humor, etc. is disallowed, but the fundamental structures that render women powerless are not only firmly in place, but said to be divinely ordained and therefore beyond questioning. In this regard, the Church is the exact opposite of the Army–the fundamental, theoretical structure of the Army is egalitarian, and so changing behaviors on the surface allows that structural health to be manifest. In the Church, surface behaviors are strongly policed, but the fundamental structure and cultural theory are sexist, so slight behavioral failures serve only to highlight the foundational weakness. Obviously, I have no idea how to deal with that in any meaningful way, and I don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t still TRY to fix behaviors on the surface. I suppose it is also possible that men forced to behave as though women are their equals will eventually begin to believe it and start to question institutional traditions that rely on different beliefs about women.

  11. I will say, in honor of the date, when the sergeant commented on “pretty lips,” I initially thought the second video would address a different sort of sexual harassment.

  12. Kristine,
    One thing that I’ve noticed in my ward council is that in that context, women are taken seriously. YMMV, of course, but they are consistently being asked to do things, to handle things, to approach tricky situations. One of the things I like about the first video is that the female soldier’s competence is established first thing in order to show what is lost when she loses faith in the system. Whether or not women are given their theological due, they are on the front lines of the church’s mission. I think that there are significant similarities between the church’s situation and the Army’s. We don’t need to emphasize leadership equality (yet). We need to adopt front line equality to get closer to Zion and to our goals. I think that if we emphasize to lay leadership and to the ward at large how reliant we are on women to get the Christian basics done in church, then the leadership inequality problem might solve itself (as much as possible at present).

  13. “We don’t need to emphasize leadership equality (yet). We need to adopt front line equality to get closer to Zion and to our goals.”

    I guess I’m not convinced that one is possible without the other. You can’t send the message to boys that, from the time they are 12 years old, women have nothing of doctrinal or institutional import to tell them, and then turn around and tell them when they have grown up to be bishops that they should start listening to the RS President and take her ideas seriously.

    I am sometimes accused of being a pessimist.

  14. And I’m sorry to sidetrack a productive, practical discussion with an overbroad theoretical problem, so let’s bracket my comment for the moment, everybody.

    As you were…

  15. See, that’s why I think we should be showing these videos to the young men.

  16. Kristine,

    Being in Primary, I’m continually “expected to take orders from” and listen to a woman. No, I don’t mean this to placate the desire for women to have equal leadership opportunities, but I did want to point out that women in leadership roles over men does happen. Women in the church can be some of our best leaders and teachers, even if they do not hold the Preisthood. Not listening, for whatever reason, would be detrimental to the ward and completely contrary to the Church teachings.

  17. Fair enough, Frank. There’s always an exception to prove the rule :)

  18. #12 and #10

    I am with Kristine on the barrier that structural inequality puts in the path of overall equality. The inequality in structure helps reproduce or make harder to eliminate cultural and belief based inequality. In the long run that will have to change if we are serious about achieving real equality. Some would argue that it is pointless to try and work on inequality if the structural element isn’t addressed first. I disagree and do think it is both productive and incumbent on us to try and enact gender equality to the best of our abilities even if many of the structural elements are out of the local leadership’s hands.

    To answer the OP:I don’t think we will ever see training or materials from the church on sexism in the abstract, but just going after the most egregious forms such as abuse would be a huge start. Specifically video training and increased training on recognizing abuse both physical and emotional would be particularly helpful (though I imagine what is stopping this is the liability concerns that are popping up every where. I am sure the church legal department is in knots over it. Still i think legal liability should take a back seat to the risk to our Christian obligation to those in abusive situations in our pews) While the church, especially since Pres. Hinkley has come to take abuse more and more seriously in its rhetoric we are still lagging behind on good implementation at the local level where the messy problems are engaged in every week. See here for a sad current example, http://www.ldswave.org/?cat=9 .

    I also think there is huge variation across units in how good they are at empowering women in the ward. It would be great to decrease the variation and move more units to a better place. Are women in meetings just assigned things to do by the men? Are their decisions within their sphere of authority treated like suggestions to consider or solicted as binding decisions that others respect by default of their positions? Are they allowed to be as influential as men in the decision making process of councils? Are women considered and given callings that have traditionally been held by men but open to women? Are they thinking seriously about the important issues in YWs structure, funding and curriculum? etc. I hear tell of a list of “36 suggestion for a bishop who wants to increase the empowerment of women in their ward”. I would like to see that!

  19. #16

    Ahh yes the Primary president as the exception. It also proves that the world doesn’t end if you have a woman “presiding” over a man. I think the Sunday School presidency is the easy next step to what should be open to women as a calling. I can’t think of a single good reason it has to be a male. I hesitate to say this because last time i was in a SS presidency the biggest issue we faced was who was to ring the release bell and if it should be one ring for the five minute warning and 2 rings for the end of class or the other way round. I am sure there are SS presidents that magnify there calling more than that but still….

  20. Eh, I’m not sure the SS presidency callings should stick around (and I say that as a former SS president). I certainly don’t think the calling should be a ward council type calling. After three years in my last ward, the stake presidency in ward conference read out the name of the SS president for sustaining. No one in the ward knew him because he had been completely inactive for quite a while, at least for the three years I’d been in the ward. I’m not sure making the SS President (generally the least important member of ward council) a woman would fix much. Perhaps asking the counselors in the RS to come to ward council to assist the RS President would make more of a difference? Especially since the men have two organizations (EQ and HP) to represent them.

  21. [Note - this comment is based on the text only. I can't watch the videos because I am surrounded by 5 little kids. Thanks for the warning on its content.]

    I still don’t know if this goes far enough. If a male soldier hears, “The reason you should not sexually harass a woman is because it hurts our unity”, that doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as “You should respect her and her body”. I have the same feeling after reading this post as I did the first post: I don’t get the impression that women are being viewed as full human beings, and that is the biggest problem, IMO. Spencer’s comment #4 makes the most sense to me.

    (And Kristine’s comment #13 is spot on)

  22. John C., This will be my only comment:
    As one of millions of men and women who served with Honor in the military, I reject your term a “culture of rape”. It is not.

  23. Bob, John isn’t unduly picking on the military here. (1) feminists have argued (quite persuasively IMO) that the entire nation suffers from a rape culture. Google it. (2) the military leadership have admitted without reservation that this is a problem. No reason for you to be more defensive/circle the wagons than them. (3) statistics quite starkly disagree with you.

  24. “I still don’t know if this goes far enough. If a male soldier hears, ‘The reason you should not sexually harass a woman is because it hurts our unity’, that doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as ‘You should respect her and her body’. I have the same feeling after reading this post as I did the first post: I don’t get the impression that women are being viewed as full human beings, and that is the biggest problem, IMO.”

    Stephanie, that’s the difference between the military and every other institution in our nation–in the military, the individual and his or her body are subordinated to the goal of unit cohesion. So in the context of the military, it makes sense. Unit cohesion is a military value. Respect of the individual is not.

  25. Good point, gst.

  26. “You can’t send the message to boys that, from the time they are 12 years old, women have nothing of doctrinal or institutional import to tell them”

    @Kristine- Are the Young Men being taught this?

    Any guys want to comment on this? Where you taught or was it implied that women are subservient? What where you taught in Young Men about women and leadership?

  27. dc, I don’t believe the YM are taught to view women as subservient, but I think Kristine will argue that they don’t need to be taught it because they see it every Sunday. I agree with her to a degree, but not overall.

    I know what the deacons in my ward are taught, because I’m one of the teachers, and I don’t believe it’s contributing to a negative culture towards women. I don’t believe that men cannot learn to value and respect women and consider them equals because women aren’t in the hierarchy of the church.

  28. wondering again says:

    Small rant regarding “I don’t believe that men cannot learn to value and respect women and consider them equals because women aren’t in the hierarchy of the church.”

    I loathe the “men value women” we hear all too often in this discourse. It makes me implicitly think of women as valuable (objects).

  29. I am glad the army is doing something. I am glad the idea is based on unity and respect and treating women like people. I thought the video was pretty clear on respect a woman as a person based on what she can do…not treating her as a thing with body parts to do.

    I dont’ know what to do with the men need to protect women concept. Men are stronger than women. It’s real…either that or our female olympians are seriously lazy. Men do need to protect women…so how do you get that across without making it an obvious dominance and poor little helpless woman? can you?

    Our ward is very good with ward cousel and listening. The only problem I have seen is the rotten man syndrome:men don’t get things done so lets assign this to the RSZ (lately it was teaching new member discussions-they wanted the RS to take that over

  30. Bob,
    I was first made aware of these statistics by people in the military. Do with that what you will.

    Stephenie,
    I suppose that my hope is that as we approach becoming of one heart and one mind, we’ll start valuing our unity, too.

  31. dc–yes, they are being taught it in thousands of subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways, very few of them verbal. The reason we have inanity like this–http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyH0D-aGrdY –is that all the semiotics in the Church point to women having less status and importance than men. When people really are respected, one doesn’t need to tell them so often how wonderful they are.

    lessonNumberOne–men don’t need to protect women. They need to not harrass and rape them.

  32. I’m glad the army is doing something but I second what someone else said about military culture when not deployed. A lot of objectifying of women is celebrated. Unless you change that they won’t be able to change the culture of treating women solider.

    As for the Church someone said,

    “What if we taught each other that sexism is bad, because it makes everything harder, it hurts the unit. It drives away our women.”

    I suspect that one problem, especially knowing the readership at BCC, is disagreements over what sexism is. Since there won’t be agreement on that I doubt you’ll see a lot of agreement on dealing with sexism.

    That said, I think we should at least praise the starting effort here. Clearly it wasn’t enough to merely tell people women don’t feel valued. I think more explicit pointing out of problems is necessary.

  33. dc (in #26) – Of course young men are taught this. Everyone one is taught this, though not explicitly.

    My oldest child just started first grade and my husband asked her if she would like a Father’s Blessing. It had been a long time since he’d given anyone in the family a blessing so it was a rather peculiar experience for her (and for her younger sister). Afterward we had a short discussion about what the blessing is and what the priesthood is. She then asked me if I had the priesthood too. I said, “No, just boys and men have the priesthood.” She asked why and then told me she knew why, “Because boys are more special than girls.”

    I cannot tell you how that stabbed my heart to hear that explanation from my sweet daughter. Equally bad was that I had no good answer for her as to why that was the case (‘because God said so’ really sounds lame here — so does ‘we don’t know why’) nor did I have a solid answer as to what girls could do that boys could not.

    So, yes. Yes, our boys (and girls) are taught that “women have nothing of doctrinal or institutional import to tell them” because boys are better than girls, so what would a girl ever have to teach a boy?

  34. khristine, when I had a man enter my home without my permission when I was 9 months pregnant, I wanted a man around…I live in the real world. As long as there are idiots around I will want men to protect women.

  35. So, yes. Yes, our boys (and girls) are taught that “women have nothing of doctrinal or institutional import to tell them” because boys are better than girls, so what would a girl ever have to teach a boy?

    This is a good reason more men needd to step up and accept teaching positions in Primary. Show by example women presiding over men. I get to learn some pretty cool stuff from my Primary Presidency.

  36. Really, Frank? She has two men for her teachers.

  37. And if you get down to it, I don’t believe that “women preside over men” in Primary. The PP is responsible for the children. The teachers & the rest follow the guidelines set up in the manuals provided by Salt Lake.

  38. And they report to a member of the bishopric.

  39. The Primary President makes selections for her teachers and submits them to the Bishop for approval. Being a teacher, I am most certainly under the direction of the Primary Presidency, who (at least in my ward) have times to direct the teachers, including teaching, supervising, and having regular interviews. If I have a problem with my class, I dont go to the Bishopric, I go to the Primary Presidency. The Bishopric has no input on how I teach my class.

    Primary may not be much for women presiding over men, but it should not be dismissed, either.

  40. Steve Evans says:

    Frank, consider it dismissed. It’s a de minimis exception.

  41. I love these gems Frank:

    “Women in the church can be some of our best leaders and teachers, even if they do not hold the Preisthood.”

    “The Primary President makes selections for her teachers and submits them to the Bishop for approval.”

    I love a good mind-boggle. hahaha.

  42. ErinAnn, (41) I think that you are ignoring formal and informal lines of power. The issue of who are the best leaders and teachers is often quite independent of who has the formal power. It’s quite possible to be a great leader in your ward and have no calling at all beyond home teacher or visiting teacher. I always laugh at these debates since this issue of leadership is so narrowly defined in terms of formal “trump” power which frankly ignores how negotiations actually take place.

    The issue about approval as a practical matter is due to multiple people needing people for callings. Someone needs to coordinate. In the same way a Bishop often wants someone for a calling only to be found that the Stake Relief Society has trumped him.

    Regarding presiding (37) you have to be clear what you mean by that. It has several different senses depending upon context. Often it’s just a formality with little or no practical significance. (Think about who is stated to be presiding in a Sacrament meeting) I do think though that a primary president has a surprising amount of control over what teachers in primary do. There are guidelines from the Presiding Primary Presidency. You aren’t supposed to just throw out the manuals. And one might think the manuals suck (I’m not a fan of the Nusery, Sunbeam or CTR manuals myself) but it seems to me that’s a different issue. After all we frequently say a Bishop is presiding but he has tons of restrictions he works under as well.

  43. I cannot tell you how that stabbed my heart to hear that explanation from my sweet daughter. Equally bad was that I had no good answer for her as to why that was the case (‘because God said so’ really sounds lame here — so does ‘we don’t know why’) nor did I have a solid answer as to what girls could do that boys could not.

    I don’t think anyone knows but I think a compelling case could be made that men would instinctually be less involved in such matters without the duties of the priesthood. As such I think one could see it as a kind of training via a demand. That’s pure speculation though.

    I do hope you assured your daughter that men are not better than women. I constantly emphasize that to my daughter and make sure I tell her she can try anything she wants and accomplish anything she wants just as a man can.

  44. “I do hope you assured your daughter that men are not better than women. I constantly emphasize that to my daughter and make sure I tell her she can try anything she wants and accomplish anything she wants just as a man can.”

    Clark, you just said here that men are better than women. Your own second sentence takes it as given that men are valuable and can do what they want, but needs to rely on that obvious/given fact in order to attempt to make the point that women are also those things. The very structure of your argument defeats itself, because you are casting women in the position of being the “one-off” and men as being in the position of the “gold standard” to which others are compared.

    I don’t mean to pick on your personally, but this is a perfect example of how these things are so deeply deeply ingrained into us and our culture that we don’t even realize what we’re doing when we continue to put women down.

  45. Clark–solving the practical problems of leadership on the ground does not solve the ethical problem of a fundamentally sexist structure. People manage to work around all kinds of injustice; that doesn’t excuse us from our obligation to “do justly.”

  46. Steve Evans says:

    word up, Haglund.

  47. Kristine,
    I actually think that the proliferation of workarounds to create more equality, especially on the front lines, will do more to forward overall ecclesiastical equality than anything else. Encountering bishops hither and yon having to apply local tweaks to established procedure in order to better utilize ward resources (male and female) ought to give folks pause. While it doesn’t address the inherent injustices in the current system, I think it is a necessary precursor. No-one repents until they recognize that they’re doing something wrong; the church won’t seek more revelation on the matter until it occurs to them that they should. Not that I’m pretending to know what the revelation would be (I have my hopes, but who doesn’t?). Of course, I think that women will get to directly use their priesthood before we see institutional alterations to gender-proscribed roles, so what do I know?

  48. John, I agree–any incorporation of women into leadership will require much more substantial institutional change than the 1978 revelation did, and a willingness to view the structure as flexible will be crucial for that kind of change to happen. I was objecting to Clark’s adducing the possibility of adaptation and use of “informal power” as justification for continuing structural discrimination.

  49. You can’t send the message to boys that, from the time they are 12 years old, women have nothing of doctrinal or institutional import to tell them.

    Frank, I read this as referring to stewardship over. The Primary Presidency has stewardship over children (under the direction of the Bishop). The Young Women Presidency has stewardship over young women (under the direction of the Bishop). The Young Men Presidency has stewardship over young men (under the direction of the Bishop). The Relief Society President has stewardship over women (under the direction of the Bishop). The EQ Presidency has stewardship over most men (under the direction of the Stake President). The HP Group Leader has stewardship over the rest of the men (under the direction of the Stake President).

    Every person in the church has someone “over” them. From the age of 12 on, young men will NEVER have a woman presiding over them – ever. Not in the church, not in the home (with the exception of a teenage boy with a single mom). Women only preside over women and children – that is it. And the new “Daughters in my Kingdom” book clarifies (multiple times, at every opportunity) that that stewardship is always “under the direction of the priesthood”.

    This power structure is HUGE in shaping the perceptions of men in relation to the value of women.

  50. Sorry, that first paragraph was supposed to be a blockquote. Not sure what I did wrong.

  51. I constantly emphasize that to my daughter and make sure I tell her she can try anything she wants and accomplish anything she wants just as a man can.

    But can she, Clark? How do you answer her when she then asks, “Well, then why can’t I pass the sacrament, have a cool Eagle Court of Honor where everyone comes to celebrate me, be a future prophet, etc.?”

  52. Clark, you just said here that men are better than women.

    Actually if you look I said that they have a weakness in one particular area that women don’t. First off I don’t think weaknesses make one better or worse than an other. For instance I can do physics. Most people can’t. That doesn’t make me a better or more valuable person.

    The point I raised came out of the rather noticeable fact that women tend to be more actively religious than men combined with the study that’s been talked a lot about today relating religious belief (especially belief in God) to cognitive style. Those with better communication skills tend to believe more in God. There are various reasons to think this. There’s also been a lot of discussion about the relationship of autism and atheism that ties into all this.

    Once again though I offered that as at best a very, very tentative hypothesis. So not only did you get what I was saying wrong but you took its relative value wrongly.

    Clark–solving the practical problems of leadership on the ground does not solve the ethical problem of a fundamentally sexist structure. People manage to work around all kinds of injustice; that doesn’t excuse us from our obligation to “do justly.”

    Certainly that’s true. However one has to ask how unjust (if at all) a structure is. Determining that is frequently far from obvious. I’d say the major problem in the Church, for instance, is less sexual difference with regards to formal “trumps” than it is the fact people look to such structures for value. That is I think the issue is really a problem of how we view affecting others. That we value formal structures so highly is to me very much a product of our culture and not the gospel. Further the solution in my view isn’t just to change the formal structures but to change the way we view power.

    Now it may be that there are outside of that issue problems with formal structures. And I’m all for changing what is problematic. For instance I think the old rule about women not giving closing prayers was ridiculous and should have been abandoned long ago. I think some of the rules about sealings and dead husbands need modified. However I think it clear that some think the structural issues broadly speaking are simply more of a problem than they are. The problem is our culture more than anything. The prime place for us to persuade, help and so forth should be from our individual effort and not formal lines of power. To me the most important formal structure in the Church is the calling of Home Teacher and Visiting Teacher. I think that were we to take that seriously then half the things Bishops, Relief Society Presidents and so forth spend time on would become pointless.

    I was objecting to Clark’s adducing the possibility of adaptation and use of “informal power” as justification for continuing structural discrimination.

    But that’s most emphatically not what I was doing. Rather I am saying that any analysis of power has to consider both formal and informal lines. To exclude one, which is what was being done, is to simply make a mistaken analysis.

    I think it quite easy to have formal lines of power which are completely blind to sexual difference with a practical situation that is still highly sexist due to informal lines of power.

  53. You can’t send the message to boys that, from the time they are 12 years old, women have nothing of doctrinal or institutional import to tell them.

    If that is happening then a family isn’t educating their children properly. A mother should be constantly teaching their children and that should be (along with her spouse) the prime importance doctrinally and institutionally.

    So I just disagree. Further I think there is still an ambiguity over what you mean by preside.

    From the age of 12 on, young men will NEVER have a woman presiding over them – ever.

    Certainly in the sense of offices and certain kinds of formal relations. I’m not exactly clear why you think that particular relationship is the only one of value that matters. Does this mean women never direct men? Of course not. I’m frequently directed by women at Church and I respect their authority over me.

  54. Um, I just don’t think you get it, Clark. I am not sure I can explain it any better than I did in comment 49.

  55. I get what you are saying Stephanie, I just don’t buy it. Or, put an other way, why do people make that judgment?

  56. Further I think there is still an ambiguity over what you mean by preside.

    I think there is an ambiguity over what anyone means by preside . . . But, whatever it is, women do not do it over men age 12 and up.

  57. Well, I guess what I’m saying is that in the practical sense of the term that seems meaningful to me personally I see the women in the Primary Presidency presiding over me as I teach the 9 year olds. To me they have authority over me. I honestly just don’t see any practical difference between the authority a Bishop has over me and the authority the Primary Presidency have over me nor do I see any difference is value between the two. I recognize the Bishop can do things the Primary can’t. (i.e. take away my temple recommend ) But honestly in terms of value that doesn’t really matter much to me.

    All I’m saying is that what’s fundamentally wrong is that we think someone is more valuable because they get put into a leadership role. Reject that fundamental belief and then most of the scaffolding for these criticisms falls apart. Not I’m not saying people don’t do this. It’s just that I think the problem is this sort of judgment more than the structure itself. What can I say? Call me a Buddhist Mormon.

  58. Clark, I agree with you that a person is not more valuable because they are in a leadership role, and I appreciate your respect for your Primary Presidency.

    Women are very valuable in the church. Men value us for lots of things. But I just don’t really think “things of doctrinal or institutional import” are one of them. Do I think it’s possible? I certainly hope so. I think some men (like you, it sounds like) do. But, I don’t think that is necessarily the logical conclusion of most.

  59. StillConfused says:

    [I am a woman] I have not felt that I did not receive proper attention and respect in my specific callings in the church. I am currently in charge of building cleaning. I have received nothing but positive and professional compliments. But then again, complaining to the building cleaning scheduler may find you suddenly on the list to clean every week. (Just kidding… or am I??)

    The other calling I had at a different ward was ward librarian and stake purchasing agent. All three wards in the building were extremely grateful for what I did and always treated me with the utmost respect and professionalism.

    It may be different with the spiritual callings, but I find that the administrative callings are very gender blind.

  60. I wouldn’t consider those callings to be administrative. They are more custodial. I would be surprised if you weren’t treated with respect. What is your point?

  61. I was talking with my mom this afternoon about disparity and untapped resources. We were specifically talking about the wives of Mission presidents, and the wife in a senior missionary companionship. What did you mission president’s wife do? With senior missionaries, frequently they need preisthood in some obscure branch…and the wife is left (as one woman put it “to iron his shirts”). A place holder really. We were mainly talking our mission experiences (so Africa and Phillipines) The image that came to mind was that of sitting in the temple in a sealing room…there because you brought a man with you. Someone useful to be a witness and help work.

  62. I suspect that has more to do with their relationship with their husband than anything inherent to being the wife of a mission president. In our mission she was pretty ridiculously busy.

  63. And you think that relationship isn’t inflected by a lifetime of living in a patriarchal culture? (!!) Or by the structure of the temple marriage covenant? Or by the fact that he is called and has a title and she does not? The exercise of institutional power doesn’t end at the door of the Church Office Building. Or the door of the bedroom.

  64. I swear, if one more person invokes primary as evidence that women are given a token opportunity to preside over men…

    If black men were allowed to “preside” over the primary pre 1978, even suggesting that fact as indicating that things weren’t as bad structurally as they were being depicted by critics or that black folks were still capable of wielding soft or informal power would be laughable. The making of such an argument itself would be some of the strongest possible evidence of how fundamentally unjust things actually were.

  65. Steve Evans says:

    Clark, a buddhist would have compassion for suffering, not excuse it away as part of some zen trick….

  66. Certainly. But he’d also recognize the cause of the suffering.

  67. In one case Clark a couple was assigned to be over an institute. The Lady had a ton of teaching experience and was thrilled with the whole idea…until they got there and everyone was shocked that a women would want to teach, and doubly shocked that she would want to go to the meetings with her husband. Her husband had additional priesthood responsibilities in a local branch so they had thought she would obviously run the institute meetings and such while he was gone, but others wanted an official presence (read man). I have seen bad marriages as missionaries and I have seen just how our church structure requires a ton more men to run the thing…so we relaly do have a greater need for men.

    Another similar siutaiton is Temple President..the Matron of the temple is responsible for the women’s side and cleaning the temple.

  68. In conservative cultures they see the church as reinforcing their thoguths on gender…similarly to how in South Africa many people assumed the preisthood ban meant their prejudice was shared by God.

  69. There’s no doubt there are many problems like that and it’s our duty to confront them head on and correct these misunderstandings. Especially in non-American countries it can be a real problem.

  70. Brad (64) when you use words like “token” it seems to suggest you don’t really value such leadership positions. Indeed that you consider them insignificant. That to me is a large part of the problem. Bishops are important and valuable while other callings aren’t. I think that says more about your value system that anything. As I said I completely equate Bishop and Primary. To me they are just callings – and callings that I’d never want to have to have at that! Perhaps you think I’m lying in that and that I’m really just justifying excluding someone but deep inside I know that you’re more valuable if you are a Bishop. I can assure you that’s not the case. I said what I truly and sincerely believe: that men and women are of fully equal value and that what calling you have in Church has zero determination towards your value. I recognize that within our culture your values definitely dominate. In such a system the only way to value is through acquisition of power. To me that is a very, very depressing thought and a very fallen system.

    I think equating sexual difference with skin difference is quite misleading as well. Now you may indeed believe that sexual difference is as false and accidental as skin difference. That’s fine if you do. I’ll not argue that point with you.

    It’s certainly true that some people apparently think we ought get rid of our conception of priesthood and move (from what I can tell) more towards something like a Protestant priesthood of all believers or divorce callings like Bishop from priesthood. That’s fine if people feel that way. I just see zero data from which to make any conclusions. All the evidence seems to suggest that the current system is what was intended by Joseph and that at best there would be an alternative independent system for women. i.e. at best one can debate the relationship between Relief Society President and Bishop. Beyond that I don’t see any argument beyond power arguments and as I’ve hopefully pointed out I find that a very problematic line of reasoning to take.

  71. Just to add I think my point about Church is largely my point about the military above. The military solution isn’t to change the fundamental valuing system that reigns while in the US. i.e. that women’s value primarily arises from their value as sexual objects of conquest and that one should seek as much sexual pleasure through such objects as possible. Merely changing the structures without addressing that fundamental problem won’t change anything. Likewise those who look to formal structures of sexual difference (primarily Bishoprics) as the problem rather than the cultural problem of assigning value to power are really avoiding the central problem.

  72. Clark, do you honestly think that our equation of formal, hierarchical power to value is a mere reflection of the larger culture? That it has nothing to do with Mormonism itself? Yes, the problem of excluding women from participation in formal power structures is deepened and magnified by our almost obsessive linking of formal power with virtue, submission, and value. But that is also deeply embedded in our theological, social, and administrative discourses of value.

    Two of the most emphasized principles in primary are submission priesthood leadership (or have I always just been gone for the lessons when the children are taught to follow the primary president?) and upper-middle-class postwar American gender roles. If you did a term search in the GC archives and compared the prevalence of admonitions to obedience to “leadership” (sans qualifier) to similar admonitions regarding “priesthood leadership”, what two-decade period do you think would show the strongest comparative predominance of the latter?

    We teach our children to follow the prophet without reservation, that leadership positions and office are closely linked with revelatory power, that priesthood is the power and authority of Heavenly Father conferred on His sons, to make and keep and treat with absolute seriousness temple covenants, and that women do not (and should not because of an immutable divine order) have access to any such power except insofar as a man asks them to teach all the same things to young children (but they can still use other, less formal power as long as they don’t use their bodies or their attractiveness to do it, except a little like looking pretty but not pretty in a bad way).

    And you’re really arguing that the only real problem is that we care too much about formal power grounded in hierarchical position and office? The basis for the inequality (whether skin, ancestry, or sex) is a totally separate question. To defend the Priesthood ban on the grounds that it’s really not that big a deal except that people just put too much stock in the importance of leadership positions would be laughable—and not because there is an intrinsic difference between discrimination on the basis of ethnicity versus sex.

  73. Local Leadership = bishopric and stake presidency. All other auxiliaries fall beneath those.

  74. Clark, do you honestly think that our equation of formal, hierarchical power to value is a mere reflection of the larger culture? That it has nothing to do with Mormonism itself?

    It’s within Mormonism only in the sense that Mormons are part of their larger culture. What most Mormons believe is highly colored by the American culture we live within.

    So yeah, I do believe that.

    Two of the most emphasized principles in primary are submission priesthood leadership (or have I always just been gone for the lessons when the children are taught to follow the primary president?) and upper-middle-class postwar American gender roles.

    Don’t you give it away when you say, “upper-middle-class postwar American gender roles?” You’ve just conceded my point.

    and that women do not (and should not because of an immutable divine order) have access to any such power except insofar as a man asks them to teach all the same things to young children

    We most emphatically do not teach that and the brethren constantly teach the opposite.

  75. “For instance I think the old rule about women not giving closing prayers was ridiculous and should have been abandoned long ago.”

    Clark, I couldn’t disagree more. I’m very much saddened by the fact that the church had to compromise on this important principle, just to accommodate the culture around us. People complained and complained that women were “less valued” just because they couldn’t give a closing prayer. I’d say the major problem in the Church was not sexual difference with regards to formalities like who gives the closing prayer, but the fact that people look to closing-prayer-giving for value. That we value closing prayer giving so highly is to me very much a product of our culture and not the gospel. How sad that brethren felt they had to cave in to the “natural man” culture around us in changing the policy to allow women to say closing prayers. Are we all missing out on a more pure experience of the gospel because of it?

  76. Well, it’s a good thing that no women will be giving the closing (or opening) prayers in conference then. Wouldn’t want to miss out on the “pure experience of the gospel”.

  77. Steve Evans says:

    Lurker, are you serious?? You’re accusing the brethren of leading us astray just because they’re not being sexist anymore??

  78. chupacabra

  79. Steve, what is sexist about not letting women say closing prayers? To me they are just prayers – and prayers that I’d never want to have to give at that! Perhaps you think I’m lying in that and that I’m really just justifying excluding someone but deep inside I know that you’re more valuable if you can give a closing prayer. I can assure you that’s not the case. I said what I truly and sincerely believe: that men and women are of fully equal value and that what prayer you can give in Church has zero determination towards your value. I recognize that within our culture your values definitely dominate. In such a system the only way to value is through acquisition of powers like giving closing prayers. To me that is a very, very depressing thought and a very fallen system.

  80. lurker, what is the important principle behind not allowing women to say prayers?

  81. I’m shocked, shocked that people who can take access to power for granted (even little things like saying prayers in meetings) think that the people who are structurally excluded from that access are just making too big a deal about how “valuable” it really is.

    Clark, we can’t divorce the office of Bishop from priesthood or have a truly universal priesthood because that is clearly intended by Joseph, but our equation of priesthood office with value is just a reflection of the larger culture?

  82. Stephanie, you got me there–I don’t know what the principle is, though I trust there is one. But my point is that in worrying so much about who is giving closing prayers, it just showing that you’ve completely bought into the fallen/worldly view of “value.” If you think women are supposed to give closing prayers, that’s fine if people feel that way. I just see zero data from which to make any conclusions. All the evidence seems to suggest that the current system is what was intended by Joseph and that at best there would be an alternative independent system for women giving prayers. In Relief Society they can give prayers, but in Sacrament Meeting it’s always been the men. In fact, prior to the middle of the 1900s, women couldn’t give closing or opening prayer in Sacrament Meeting. So, obviously, that’s the “pure”/correct way. Beyond that I don’t see any argument for having women give closing prayers beyond power arguments, and as I’ve hopefully pointed out I find that a very problematic line of reasoning to take.

  83. “Steve, what is sexist about not letting women say closing prayers?”

    Remember, not allowing women to vote is only sexist to the extent that you, in your simplistic and naive paradigm, consider voting to be “valuable.”

  84. Lurker, I find your logic irrefutable. I now finally understand that the Church has lead us astray by permitting women to say sacrament meeting prayers and by teaching us the importance of priesthood leadership.

  85. Perhaps Ardhis will help us understand what this pure gospel would look like…though I’m assuming blacks wouldn’t have the priesthood, garments would be ankle length and polygamy would still be in…I’m sure I’m missing lots of good stuff.

  86. Steve Evans says:

    lessonNumberOne, you are in desperate need of a spell-checker.

  87. You are correct. Perhaps if I’m lucky lesson number two will be spelling. I’ll ask my preisthood leader. high snaark alert

  88. Clark, we can’t divorce the office of Bishop from priesthood or have a truly universal priesthood because that is clearly intended by Joseph, but our equation of priesthood office with value is just a reflection of the larger culture?

    It was intended by Joseph but how much of it is inspiration and how much Joseph (and thus partially his culture) I can’t say. Can you? I know you can say what you like. But can you justify that independent of your ethical values about sexual difference? I bet you can’t.

    So the issues are ultimately about how we determine what God wants us to do. Honestly I personally don’t have strong preferences on the issue but I’d say the evidence points towards Bishops being male only. I just don’t see any evidence pointing the other way.

    Now if you think Mormonism false and Joseph uninspired then that just doesn’t matter. However for those of us who think the heavy burden of proof is on those saying Joseph’s revelations got things wrong it isn’t that simple.

    As I said there’s a case one could make about female priesthood based upon the temple and the enigmatic case about Joseph turning keys to the Relief Society. It’s unclear what was meant but at least there’s evidence to argue from. I see zero evidence from which to argue the view of Bishopric is incorrect. (Whether one sees it as sexist or not) That doesn’t mean one can explain why it is the way it is. But that’s really a completely different issue.

  89. Lurker is not Ardis. His name is Nathan Poe.

  90. Sigh. My point was not that you are wrong about an all male bishopric originating with joseph…

  91. It is intellectually dishonest to explain away the parts the current system that you don’t like as merely derivative of the surrounding culture, and simultaneously characterize the part s of the current system you are interested in defending as miraculously derived from revelation through the founding prophet.

  92. To me they are just prayers – and prayers that I’d never want to have to give at that!

    Nicely played, Brother Poe.

  93. Thank you, Brad. I know a lot of ‘naclers despise me, but they don’t have just grounds to believe I could write what Lurker did, or envision the gospel as lessonNumberOnes assumes I would. Ugly.

  94. Brad and Ardis, I don’t think lessonNumberOne was suggesting that lurker was Ardis. I think lessonNumberOne was just saying that Ardis would be able to provide the historical data about what the practice was historically on the issue of prayers, garments, blacks, etc. That was my reading. That it was purely a matter of Ardis’ historical expertise, not opinions.

  95. Brad, I didn’t say that. I was discussing the issue of inspiration with Joseph. I think you’d concede that the burden of proof is on those saying Joseph’s revelations are wrong on the matter.

  96. Remember, not allowing women to vote is only sexist to the extent that you, in your simplistic and naive paradigm, consider voting to be “valuable.”

    The effects of voting have considerable more effect on me than who happens to be Bishop. Honestly Bishops have almost no control on me whereas government officials pass laws. So I think there are some huge structural differences.

    There are of course places Bishops have an effect where I can see people having issues (such as budgets) but I don’t think those need only be remedied by who is or isn’t Bishop.

  97. BTW – is Lurker just saying these things to get a reaction out of people? (I assume the picture above is of a troll – I like this one better)

  98. Clark, I’m still waiting to see what defense you can have for yourself for not supporting Joseph’s version of who gives closing prayers. I think you’d concede that the burden of proof is on those saying Joseph’s revelations are wrong on the matter. Who says the closing prayer has considerably less effect on me than who happens to be Bishop, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important to stick to the way Joseph wanted it. There are of course places prayer-givers have an effect where I can see people having issues (such as making women feel put down because they can never given one) but I don’t think those need only be remedied by who can or can’t give closing prayers. For example, women can be Primary Presidents, so, they really don’t need to give closing prayers in order to know that they have value. Primary may not be much, but it should not be dismissed, either.

  99. Clark, it’s odd that you would call lurker a troll, right? It looks to me like lurker hasn’t said a single thing that you haven’t said yourself (I mean, literally, in many cases).

  100. Clark does have a point. There really isn’t any evidence of women ever participating in priesthood administration of the church – not in modern times, or Christ’s time, or the OT. It’s been a consistent patriarchy. I have been anxiously awaiting the much-hyped “Daughters in My Kingdom” book to hear how women were involved in the church anciently. In the chapter on “Relief Society: A Restoration of an Ancient Pattern”, it says:

    Women journeyed with Jesus and His Twelve Apostles. They gave of their substance to assist in His ministry. After His death and Resurrection, women continued to be faithful disciples. They met and prayed together with the Apostles. They provided their homes as gathering places for Church members. They valiantly participated in the work of saving souls, temporally and spiritually . . .

    In an age when women were generally expected to provide only temporal service, the Savior taught Martha and Mary that women could also participate spiritually in His work. He invited them to become His disciples and partake of salvation, “that good part” that would never be taken from them. . . .

    Many other female disciples traveled with Jesus and the Twelve, learning from Him spiritually and serving Him temporally.

    That’s pretty much how it is today. Yes, we participate in the work. We give of our substance (cook) and offer our homes that we care for. We participate spiritually in the work. We are disciples. But, it is very clear about what we do not do. I would love to find evidence anywhere that God intended for anything other than an all-male priesthood leadership in the church. But, I can’t find it.

  101. Clark, reread Lurker’s comments and then reread your own – Lurker’s sound ridiculous and troll-like only because they take the form of your own. It’s an exercise in exposing the fallacies in your argument.

  102. Argh. Darn those blockquotes. The last paragraph was mine.
    [Fixed. -admin]

  103. observer fka eric s says:

    @(98) Lurker – You argument does not hold water. Joseph Smith revealed that women should give closing prayers and hold the priesthood: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20080703/obit-harmon/images/21bbb7d5-e522-4256-8a6b-e83b630eb739.jpg

  104. “I think you’d concede that the burden of proof is on those saying Joseph’s revelations are wrong on the matter.”

    The burden then is on you to demonstrate the incorrectness of Joseph’s revelations on the value of priesthood and leadership offices.

    “The effects of voting have considerable more effect on me than who happens to be Bishop. Honestly Bishops have almost no control on me whereas government officials pass laws. So I think there are some huge structural differences.”

    This is an argument that privileges and foregrounds the value of power, treats it as axiomatic, rather than minimizes it. Why is power a meaningful value in political administration but not in church administration?

  105. Clark (97),
    No, the picture is not a troll–the picture is a chupacabra, suggesting that maybe it’s time for everyone to step away from the keyboard.

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