First, go read Karen’s excellent post. Then return here.
The setting was a Sunday evening stake priesthood meeting, in an affluent stake along the Wasatch front. The stake president announced that the theme of the meeting was administering the youth programs, and he invited all the bishops in the stake to join him on the stand. He asked each man to take a few minutes and speak extemporaneously about what his ward did to honor the young men who achieve the rank of eagle scout.
They all proudly described the elaborate celebrations, and it turned into a good-natured competition where each bishop tried to outdo the ones who had spoken before. There were descriptions of dutch oven dinners for 100 people, professional photographers who donated their time to take pictures and video of the big event, and grandparents coming all the way from California, just to be there for such a significant achievement.
When the last one had spoken, the stake president then asked them each to step up to the pulpit and describe what they did to honor the young women in their wards who earned their YW medallions. There was a lot of hemming and hawing and uncomfortable shifting around in their chairs as they were forced to acknowledge that they didn’t do anything, beyond a handshake and an “attagirl” for 10 seconds in sacrament meeting.
At first I felt sorry for them, because the stake president had very obviously set them up in order to make his point. But upon reflection, I realized that they, and also all the rest of us, deserve to be deeply discomfited by this state of affairs which continues to this day, unchanged. It exposes something very ugly about us, which is deeply embedded in our thinking and culture. We are a sexist people. Period.
Note, please. This has nothing particularly to do with agitating for female ordination or demanding action from the leadership. In this case, the leadership tried to make a change but we in the rank and file were happy and determined to stay where we were, and still are. But I think it does refute the notion that the current status quo reflects the detailed personal wishes of Jesus Christ Himself, so we should all just shut up. We love our privilege and complacency more than we love justice. Those Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon apply to us as surely as they applied to Jerusalem before its destruction.
I fear we are like the people described in Joseph Smith’s first vision, who draw near with our lips and our pretty talk about honoring all these fantastic women, but whose hearts are far from it. Actions matter more than words, and Karen’s experience is the rule, not the exception. We ought to be deeply ashamed of that fact, and never forget it. It ought to motivate us to repent, but the first step in repentance, as they teach us in Primary and Alcoholics Anonymous, is to recognize that you have a problem. I sorrow to say that I don’t think we have hit rock-bottom yet, so there will still be a lot of pain to be borne, almost exclusively by LDS girls and women.
St. Paul’s metaphor of the body applies here. When I had a sudden appendicitis attack, my arms, legs, eyes, and feet were all just fine, but the pain in my lower abdomen told me something was very wrong. We people in the church who are male (and also some who are female) who are the head, back, or colon of the body of Christ need to be mindful and attentive when another part of the body tells us that something hurts. When some of our sisters tell us they are experiencing pain, it behooves us to try to listen. Their pain might be signalling that there is something wrong. We belong to each other, and we are under covenant to bear one anothers burdens, after all.