Dear Kristine A.,
I’m not your Bishop, but I thought I would draft a quick response to your notes, perhaps as a dry run for a conversation I might have with someone in my ward who shares your concerns. Although these issues haven’t yet been raised with me personally in my role as a Bishop, I know that many individuals in our ward – including me – have many of the same concerns you do. As your own Bishop indicated, many of the topics you raise are simply outside the Bishop’s control, but since you’ve been instructed to raise these matters with your local leader, let me attempt to give some responses.
1. Equitable structure, funding, and support of programs
I agree that ward funding should be equitable. I’m not sure that a per capita funding structure (if that’s what you mean by “equitable per person”) would work, though. Our ward budget allocations are made by the ward council. In other words, I ask the leader of each organization (RS, EQ, HP, Primary, YM, YW, and other ward organizations) how much money they ideally would want to fund their programs for the year, and then allocate our resources based on those requests. Typically, the requests are below what is available, so everyone gets what they ask for. This is the source of inequality, which, in our ward, includes RS having far greater funds that the EQ and HP combined, and the YW having substantially more funds than the YM. Of course, one could argue that general Church funding of the BSA, as well as Stake level funding (i.e., the Stake pays BSA registration fees) are additional funds that support the YM over and above the ward budget amounts. Ideally, Bishops would be told how much per YM is being contributed at the Church level and the Stake level so this can be considered in setting the YW/YM funding levels. Absent that (or ditching the BSA altogether, which I would not object to), I think the best I can do is to ensure that the YW have at least its fair share of the ward funds.
2. Gender roles and the motherhood/priesthood paradigm
I agree that our discourse about the roles of men and women is too limiting and confining, and that Christ, rather than some idealized masculinity or femininity, should be our model. Having said that, I try to be sensitive to all those among us who find the Proclamation on the Family, and similar statements by contemporary Church leaders, to be inspiring, and to be a model that they find beautiful, valuable, and saving. I think my job as Bishop is to encourage all ward members to speak their minds and share their views on this topic in the appropriate settings (i.e., not Mothers Day), but to do it in a way that is uplifting and charitable.
3. Gender Limitations on Callings in the Church
I agree that there is no logical reason why a woman could not serve as a financial clerk, stake auditor, or in the Sunday School Presidency, and I believe, with you, that it would only strengthen Church leadership to have women more involved. Of course, as Bishop I need to follow the current Church program, even if I believe it is not ideal. But I will say that even within the current paradigm, there is much that could be done to achieve the same ends. For example, along with a Ward Mission Leader, we have a Ward Mission Coordinator, a sister who works in partnership with the WML. Our RS President attends our PEC meetings. We can find roles for our YW to participate in Sacrament Meeting alongside our YM. I am always looking for more ways to have a more cooperative model of Church leadership and participation within the current paradigm, and would love to hear any specific ideas you might have on this.
4. The Shame and Fear surrounding our Rhetoric on Sexuality and Modesty
I fully agree that much of the modesty rhetoric in Church culture is unhealthy and harmful. I personally have not seen such rhetoric in my diverse, urban ward. If and when we do discuss modesty (either at a Bishop’s Youth Discussion, or BYC, or elsewhere), we will talk about modesty as humility and as trying to dress and act appropriately for the setting and occasion, whatever it may be, and without regard for gender.
5. Mormon Temple Theology and Teachings of Women and the Priesthood
I agree that the temple ceremonies raise many unanswered questions about women and the priesthood, and that Elder Oaks’ recent conference address raises even more questions. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers to these questions. In fact, I would love to discuss these questions further with you, including in the Celestial Room where we could feel comfortable addressing specific language and ceremonies. I’m also happy to discuss Church history with you, including the development of the priesthood in Joseph’s thought, the limiting of women’s authorization to bless and heal (both in and out of the temple), correlation (both curriculum and organizationally), “priesthood creep,” and the other factors that led us to where we are today as a Church. These are rich and interesting issues, and I’m sure I could learn from your perspective and use it in how I try to teach and lead as Bishop. I would also join with you in prayer that we as a Church might receive further light and knowledge on these issues. Clearly we need it.
6. Lack of Voice of Women in the Teachings and Leadership of the Church
Church organization, General Conference, and Curriculum matters are far above my pay grade, but I fully support women as leaders of both men and women, having equal number of women speaking in General Conference, basing curriculum materials on the writings of great women leader, and having co-mission presidents. As Bishop, what I can do is to make sure that women have a voice and authority on the ward level. I try to do this by including women’s General Conference (and Women’s Conference) talks in our Teaching of Our Times selections, having women speak equally in Sacrament Meeting (i.e., men don’t need to be the closing speaker), and quoting from women in my talks and my email messages to the ward. I also try to include the Relief Society President as much as possible on significant matters affecting the ward. Again, I would welcome your suggestions on improvements at the ward level.
As the father of an adventurous daughter, your latter point is near and dear to my heart. My daughter is in Activity Days, but always makes and races a car with the boys at the Cubs’s Pinewood Derby. You ask “Can you hold a pinewood derby for girls?” The answer is – Of course! I would love to see the Activity Days girls either have their own race, or join the Cubs in their race. I do not, however, want to force or pressure the women who are in charge of Activity Days to do so. So I make suggestions, but ultimately it is up to the leaders of the organization to plan the activities. Now this means that some YW’s groups get to go rock climbing, while others groups are learning to sew, but I’m not sure how to address that on behalf of my daughter, who would much rather rock climb than sew, other than to make sure that there is diversity of interests among the leaders so that there are a variety of potential activities considered and pursued. If you have any other ideas, please pass them along.
Kristine, thanks again for posting your thoughts. I appreciate all the time and effort you put in helping our Church move forward and make progress. Please don’t feel like you need to bear anything in silence. We need your voice, and I personally value it greatly.