The Brain Drain or Where Have All the Women Gone?

My husband and I had dinner with our home teacher and his family this past Sunday. We enjoyed a lovely meal and after Sis. X and I had thoroughly exhausted the topic of the vagaries of a life spent wearing undergarments designed by a male who clearly had no design experience, we got into the good stuff.

Home teacher X is a good man, actually a great man, and I have no problem with him – in fact, I like him very much – except that he happens to be in the stake high council. Unfortunately for him, this quirk of his means that sooner or later, as in any conversation I have with anyone with administrative authority in the church (ward clerk, anyone?), I started to pepper him with interrogatories and accusations, attempting to elicit any enlightened response on church policy.

This is my issue: why does the church so forthrightly and singlemindedly waste its greatest resource- the women?!!! In particular, let’s talk about administrative leadership. I happened to go to law school in NYC along with others of you. Even during law school, a number of my male compatriots in the law school were tapped, rightly so, I’m sure, to share the burden of the administrative functioning of the stake. They were/are stake clerks, members of bishoprics, members of the high council, etc. This trend has only increased in the years since graduation. In fact, I would say we have a definite bias towards lawyers in the stake, perhaps because our great stake president is himself, one of the chosen. I, on the other hand, being of the female, if not feminine, persuasion, hold callings like primary teacher and compassionate service committee member. So, that is all well and good. I certainly don’t aspire to be a bishop; I can rarely stay awake through sacrament meeting, and it would be mighty embarrassing to have to do my snoring on the stand.

I also recognize that we do have leadership roles for women: a woman can be a leader in the auxiliaries, as Primary or RS Pres. However, these roles tend to be reserved by age and experience in the church, unlike the leadership roles chosen for men around these parts. Furthermore, they are certainly off-limits for women who choose or are unable to work outside the home in a professional capacity. Finally, those roles deal exclusively with women and children. If a woman has a position of leadership in that or another capacity and needs to deal with men, her authority is always subject to the authority of a man.

So, what’s up with the sexist treatment? Let’s take as a given that the priesthood for men is a divinely inspired dictate and necessary for the preservation of order in the church and that hierarchy itself is a good (not that I don’t, ahem, question that). What does priesthood service have to do with administrative function? If the men who come to NYC to go to law school and business school (sorry, MDs, I know you’ve got Yamada, but there just aren’t as many of you) possess certain leadership/organizational skills, and the church chooses to call upon them to use that skill set, why not use women with those same skills that way?

The way I see it, priesthood function is organized to keep men interested in church. Excuse the generalizations, but the majority of men respond to hierarchy, responsibility, concrete accomplishment and power. So, the organization of the church does an effective job appealing to a certain kind of man, if not all men.

This isn’t just a personal vendetta for me, because I happen to enjoy my callings, but rather a pattern of abuse we can track throughout the church. The bigger problem, aside from hurt feelings, is wasted resources. More educated women are not just excluded from serving most effectively in the church, they are squashed when attempts are made. Women, even those with certain carved-out leadership administration, still have to answer to (typically) socially-conditioned sexist males for approval of projects. Ultimately, I think many women just opt out. Why try to set up service projects at church when we can go outside the church and serve more effectively? I could be an attorney at Human Rights Watch and effect change, but if I wanted to set up a program to help at-risk youth in the church, I would have to clear it with fifteen people at the top of the stake, assuming I could even get them to answer my phone calls.


  1. “Isn’t it the case that without a unanimous vote by the congregation, an individual cannot be set apart before some kind of ad hoc administrative hearing to air the concerns of the opposition?”

    No, that’s not the case. Sustaining someone isn’t a vote, it’s a chance for us to show our support. When we choose to raise our hands doesn’t affect the outcome.

  2. “The way I see it, priesthood function is organized to keep men interested in church”

    I’m sure I’ll be shouted down, but I think there is more than a little truth in the above.

    “I just get sick of the Sisyphean effort of banging my head against the stake glass ceiling”

    Isn’t part of the problem how we think of church like a corporation we’re trying to work up in? Why do we need to do our service through the church? (As many others mentioned) I’ll be quite honest that I’ve *never* understood why people want leadership positions. They take time, give stress, and so on. I honestly think that we ought to be anxiously engaged in a good cause on our own. I really that half our problem is seeing the church like a worldly corporation where leadership = power = value. I think far too many men think that. (Oh how I hated the recent RM want-to-be GAs and their comments in Sunday School) I also think that far too many women buy into it when they look at gender and the church.

    As for me – I try to stay as far away from leadership callings as possible! Heavens, I’m nervous enough with my recent calling to Weblos assistant.

  3. “thinking about what “priesthood” means, and how it is related to administration.”

    I thought the two were synonyms. No, really — isn’t the priesthood an administrative body? I’m speaking of priesthood as a group, not a power. If we found some way to separate the two definitions more neatly, perhaps that would facilitate the introduction of women in Church hierarchy.

  4. Kristine says:

    Ah, yes, but Julie, what if you wanted to be an Institute Director? Or a full-time seminary teacher?

  5. Christina,

    I am not unsympathetic to your post, but if you wanted to set up a program to help at-risk youth in our ward, no one (and I mean no one) would even think of slowing you down. And if you were a YW leader, I can’t even imagine anyone would even require you to clear it with anyone (depending, of course, on what exactly this program entails). I suppose the leaders would probably like to eventually know how things are going. Still, my experience has been that most church leaders are more than happy to let others do the heavy lifting and don’t want to get in the way of people doing good. I take it that your experience has been different. I’d be curious to hear your story.

  6. Christina,

    I’ll see what our Bishop thinks about having a meeting with the RS. I don’t know how likely it is that we would get much constructive criticism though in this type of meeting, though. Maybe I should grease the wheels. I’m scheduled to talk in sacrament meeting next month. Perhaps I’ll tell the story of the Daughters of Zelophehad. ;) See .

    I think we do a pretty good job here of conveying feedback (from all) back to the stake, and I think the stake does a spectacular job of incorporating that feedback into their actions. This is largely a result of the fact that our current stake president is, in all seriousness, the best stake president I have ever known.

    As for some of the unwritten rules that Steve mentions, we disregard many of those with impunity here in our ward. I’m responsible for planning sacrament meetings. We often have meetings with only women, we often have meetings where women speak last and the men speak first, we often have meetings where only women give the prayers. Alas, no sacrament meetings conducted by women, but there is only so much I can do.

    I’m all for not assuming traditional males roles have to stay that way. Do you have something in mind? I’m not sure what you are getting at. I’d be more than happy to let women take the lead in giving blessings to others, etc., as they did in the good ol’ days, but the handbook, as currently written, doesn’t allow that.

    At the end of the day, I don’t know that your suggestions are going to do much to help me “share the burden.” If anything, these tasks are going to give me more to do, not less.

    And on a final note, no way I’m going to take my wife’s name; but then again, she didn’t take mine either. ;)

  7. Christina, a great deal of your post seems to rely on the premise that our Church is concerned with efficient use of resources. What gives you that impression (no, really)?

    I agree with you, though, and it’s something Sumer and I have also discussed at some length, because there’s no question that she is smarter and more capable than I am. However, the prevalence of ‘special projects’ in the Church leaves some room for women to show their quality: witness the jubilee and other events. It’s not much, and it’s not an ongoing administrative role, but it’s becoming increasingly important.

  8. Christine, to answer your question, I certainly don’t dispute (how could I?) that men are afforded more leadership responsibilities in the church than women. My point, however, is that, in my experience, local leaders generally do not get in the way of people trying to help others. Why would they? I’m sorry to hear about your experience up in NY. You should come try your idea here in Atlanta!

    I understand your not wanting to have this discussion degenerate into griping. So, given current circumstances, what are we to do? What do you mean “share the burden”? I currently serve in a Bishopric and would love to share. Any suggestions?

  9. D. and Sumer,
    Agreed, no one really cares if we leave the church, certainly not anyone in church leadership. And, frankly, that is as it should be. The church shouldn’t be the parent to our rebellious teenage soul. We are responsible for our own choices, and I wouldn’t – and haven’t – left the church to make a statement. But, this just begs the question of how we can live with consonance within an organization that is sexist (or whatever -ist that injures each of our selves). I’ve in the past tried to have pockets of safe havens – groups of friends to discuss issues with – in order to buffer the larger church culture. This helps me function and stay in the church in a reasonably happy way, but it doesn’t do much to strengthen or change the church organization at large. This is where I see the biggest problem.

  10. D., I agree, the burden on men in the church is great. Part of my point. We all work hard in this city, whether it is in music, the arts, law, business, science. No one gets a free ticket here (or if they do, please call me and tell me how you did it!). I feel awful for our bishop’s wife, our stake president’s wife, etc. What’s to be done? Share the burden around, let’s be more creative about how we allocate resources. My father was bishop when my parents had six kids and one of them dying of cancer. I’ve never heard him gripe about it, but it sure was hard on Mom.

  11. Kristine says:


    I think that many hundred women have voted with their feet, and it does not get the Brethren’s attention. President Hinckley actually commented once in an interview (post September 93) that while a few malcontents were leaving, the church was baptizing hundreds of members a month. Leaving the church is so thoroughly understood as evidence of personal unrighteousness, rather than as a clue to any failure of the church, that the foot-vote is not an effective tactic, imo. Better to stick around and make the whole congregation sing “As Sisters in Zion” for Sacrament Mtg. every once in a while (and perform other small acts of subversion, of course.)

    Christina, your thesis is spot-on, I think. Someday we are going to have to do some serious thinking about what “priesthood” means, and how it is related to administration.

    Have you read Meg Wheatley’s essay, “An Expanded Definition of Priesthood? Some Present and Future Consequences” ? It’s a pretty straightforward attempt to apply basic principles of organizational behavior to an examination of church structure and the effects of subtly (and not so subtly) undervaluing/underutilizing women’s contributions and potential. It’s quite diplomatically written (the title is the most troublesome part for people inclined to be troubled), and I’ve given copies or sections of it to priesthood leaders and had productive discussions of it with them.

  12. Funny-yesterday at church I had this exact conversation with a member of my bishopric. I asked him why my calling (ward clerk) had to be performed by a member of the priesthod. ?? No idea.

    While I struggle with the topic as well, I think the LDS definition of the family (which may be sexist or may be revelation) is to blame for the division. Surely a marriage between a Bishop husband and a Councilwoman wife would not leave much time for the family. (Most of the leadership callings not available to women require significant time away from the home) And, since the Proclamation clearly places the primary responsibility for raising children on the mother, the husband handles the church leadership and the career so that the wife can raise the family.

    While this is not a complete answer, (e.g., doesn’t explain why single women or women without children aren’t given leadership callings) I think it is what underlies why the church is hesitant to “progress” and open up more leadership opportunities to women.

  13. Sumer Thurston-Evans says:

    Gosh Christina, that’s a tough one.

    My first instinct has always been that we shouldn’t put up with it. The problem is that as women (and probably most men), we don’t really have a forum to press these issues with the church, without fearing the repercussions (which in my mind are very real).

    Those of us who stay, probably do so because of a testimony of gospel truths. And it’s hard to walk away from something that you know is true- simply to make a point. And I’m not sure how much even a whole mass of women leaving the church would accomplish anyways. Let’s admit it, they don’t need us.

    My only solution is to intellectually separate the gospel truths from the administration of the church. Even then there are those who would argue that that’s the first step to apostasy.

    Exactly how does the church expect us to react to this? Are there any proper avenues of friendly non-consent?

  14. Sumer Thurston-Evans says:

    Great topic, and I know I’m coming in late in the game.

    A couple of years ago, I sat in the Priesthood session of conference (gasp) and listened to President Hinckley talk about how overworked our local leaders were. He said that the members of the 12 were very concerned about this and had in meetings ‘taken the church apart and then put it together again’ to try and solve this problem. It was after statement that they announced that temple recommends would be valid for two years instead of one.

    I couldn’t help but think that perhaps they had missed the obvious here, that is that half of our membership is allowed to serve in most all of the leadership positions available in a local ward. (Certainly they must have at least considered this, right?)

    I don’t think this is a matter of women desiring these leadership positions – this is an indicator of the implied priorities of the church and how the church values women and their contributions.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I’d never join a secular organization that did not allow women in the highest ranks because of what it says about it’s priorities. Somehow it seems odd that I’m actually lowering my standards for the church.

    Is that what we are doing as women in the church, holding the church to a lower organizational ethic ?

  15. Here are some fun ideas. (1) Call a few women to the Stake High Council. Not formally, replacing existing men, but “informally” as “liasons” from the Relief Society, maybe three or four who attend High Council meetings and go around to wards as speakers. Just like women now appear as General Conference speakers, kind of acting as informal GAs. (2) Why couldn’t women serve as assistant ward clerks? Full ward clerks? Ward executive secretary? Hard to explain why simple clerical functions require priesthood power.

    I suspect there’s an overwrought desire to keep functions gender segregated so men and women don’t work “side by side,” so to speak, in Church callings. That’s silly–men and women already work side by side in the choir, in activity committees, working with lots of joint activities in YM and YW, etc.

    There’s also a feeling that in the Church women can direct children or other women but never men. Actually there are plenty of men who serve as Primary teachers and the Church has not fallen apart. From workplace, government, and military examples, it’s clear women can serve in any role in a corporate hierarchy. Sooner or later, the Church will come around.

  16. D. Fletcher says:

    I am a little surprised that there hasn’t been some major brouhaha over women and women’s roles and callings in the Church. But I suppose this would have to be organized by someone, and that someone would probably have to be a woman (Sherrie Dew?) and the Church leaders have probably already determined how to deal with it before it happens.

    Of course, I’m not in a very good position to judge these things, being male, single and childless. I’ve left the Church to make a point, and find some fulfillment elsewhere, but it doesn’t seem to have made much difference. As I’ve said elsewhere, I would stay in the Church if I could have it all, but the Church is slow to exact change, any change.

  17. I apologize for being a drag on the momentum in the thread, but I just don’t think I’m ready to buy into the assumptions of the discussion yet.

    How can we effect change? That assumes chante would be a good thing. While I admit that there have been many faithful people who have worked positively, and successfully for progressive change in the church, I don’t think it’s that controversial to say that the position of seeing oneself as an agent for change in the church is always a precarious one. Yes, some such people can and do pull it off, but some such people also “vote with their feet,” a nice new euphemism for apostasy.

    I don’t like playing the heavy, but I just wanted to challenge the idea that change would be a good thing. Underlying that claim would be the more basic claim that sometimes church policy is not really the will of God, but an artifact of flawed human leadership. I fully accept this premise. The problem is deciding when the policy we dislike belongs to the flawed human leadership category.

    In this case, let’s use the example mentioned by Sumer, of when the First Presidency and Twelve apostles sat together and took the church apart and put it back together again. How could they have failed to think of maybe extending women’s leadership roles? Are we really prepared to conclude, without even having a discussion, that this was simply an oversight by the fifteen men responsible for communicating with the Lord about how his church is to be managed? Or perhaps the expansion of women’s roles never came up because of prejudices among these men, most of whom hail from an age long past? In my mind, this shows a very disconcerting lack of trust in the First Presidency and the Twelve. We know they got together and discussed it. We should probably assume they did so prayerfully, and seeking guidance from the Lord. The fact that the Lord decided not to inspire one of these men to think about expanding women’s roles in the church should be at least relevant to this topic, should it not? Again, without saying I know this for sure, I can say the idea that the current structure of gender roles in the church *might* be the will of God.

    I don’t wish to make any anecdotal arguments to support that claim. Given my preference, I would expand women’s roles with the rest of you. Just think it’s interesting that we’ve overlooked the fact, without even noting it, that the church claims to be led by direct revelation, and that most of us here trust that stance to a large degree. Why should we assume, despite our personal preferences, that the change we’re discussing would be in accord with God’s aims for his church?

  18. I don’t want to turn this into a “women are good, men are apes” gender war. I happen to know several good men, even in the church, and my darling husband is much more loving and caring than I am, most would agree.

    But, D. I guess I just get sick of the Sisyphean effort of banging my head against the stake glass ceiling. It’s great that we have women who speak in General Conference now, but how about hearing about something from them besides childcare? The members of the church have distinct talents. Why do we only use the leadership talents of men and the nurturing talents of women? Isn’t that an unnecessary limitation on our growth, God’s work, and the strength of the church?

  19. I take issue with the implicit assumptiont that lawyers are likely to have administrative skills. Having worked in courts and lawfirms run by lawyers, my impression is very much otherwise.

  20. I’m not grabbing for authority or power. I happen to get a great deal of satisfaction out of those callings I have had, even those reserved for women! I’m concerned here with why the church places this artificial limitation on what women can do in the church, and further, I’m concerned that it limits it by channeling women through male lines of authority.

    Dave says “There’s also a feeling that in the Church women can direct children or other women but never men.” I don’t think this puts too fine a point on it; this is the crux of the problem. Women are limited because men have decided that it is unrighteous for women to have any “authority” over men. If priesthood function were only about service (and yes, Steve, I agree that we need to parse out priesthood service from administrative authority) then what would it matter if women were “over” men? And that’s exactly it: the administration of the church is not about service, it is fundamentally about power.

    One could point out that men have to go through the same channels as women. I say there is an important distinction on a few counts: 1) men always have the potential to access the power structure by being part of it (one day ward missionary, next day, member of the bishopric) and women are denied this; 2) some men going through some other men is a very different thing from all women going through some men. Let’s not forget that.

  21. I’m with Julie and Clark on this one. Endowed women have priesthood, but priesthood does *not* equal hierarchical power. The only priesthood that matters in the eternities is conferred in the temple equally upon men and women. (And it’s not just a hint or a “theological seed” — they come right out and say it in the endowment ceremony.) If we equate priesthood with hierarchical power, we have bought into the world’s view of priesthood, and that means a loss of the priesthood, per D&C 121.

    Don’t get me wrong; I think it would be great to have women serving as bishops, stake presidents, apostles, etc. But that’s a separate issue from priesthood *per se*.

  22. D. Fletcher says:

    Interesting twist on your post; there’s some evidence that the compassionate service provided by churchmembers is coming exclusively from the women — the only thing the men do is help somebody move.

  23. Julie in Austin says:

    It pains me to the core to agree with Lyle, but . . .

    Why is it that no one ever posts with a complaint that the Church doesn’t encourage men to be full-time homemakers and then men are missing out on the power, rights, and responsibilities of raising children?

    That we are being inefficient by ‘banning’ men from the core role in the home, when they may well be more efficient than women?

    Why aren’t the men complaining that all of the really important callings (compassionate service, most of the Primary slots) aren’t open to them?

    It’s because deep down most of us don’t believe that a mother is doing something more important and of more worth than the stake president is. But she is. The problem is that we have our values out of whack.

    That said, I think there has been some progress in recent years in taking women on ward councils more seriously, although I am sure that varies ward to ward. Part of the equation there is that the women need to speak out. I’m sure there are some sexist fossils out there, but my experience is that every man in any position of authority that I have ever dealt with has been more than willing to hear me out.

    Christina wrote, “More educated women are not just excluded from serving most effectively in the church, they are squashed when attempts are made.”

    I think you are overlimiting by focusing on leadership to the exclusion of teaching. I’m 29 and I’ve taught seminary, supervised a stake seminary, and taught Institute in two states, as well as done firesides, seminary teacher training, etc. Frankly, sometimes when I think about how much power I have had to shape the way people think, it scares me a little. I certainly don’t feel that my opportunities to share what meager talent I have have been limited. (On the other hand, I suppose a woman whose talents lean toward organization and management instead of teaching could feel limited in the Church.)

  24. Jim,
    It’s number 2, why is administration limited to priesthood. Not that I don’t have a problem with 1, but I say, given 1, why 2?

  25. My current thinking about this runs in two directions.

    First, the point has been made on prior posts that men respond to a heirarchical active structure. It’s a sad comment to say that men have to be in charge or they won’t play the game (or as it is more commonly put, men need the priesthood because they are not as naturally spiritual as women) but the fact is that Mormon men are engaged in their religion in measurably higher proportions than most other Christian religions (sociologists write books about the “feminization” of Christianity and it is a common observation many places around the world that most people actually in church are women). Peggy Fletcher Stack recounted to me a comment from a woman religion scholar to the effect that one of the most amazing strengths of Mormonism is that it has kept its men — but that that was also one of its greatest problems. I personally feel that the phenomenon is real. Whether it is worth the costs is another question.

    Second, and this is rank speculation, there is an entirely opposite approach. The theological seed exists within Mormonism for a parallel female priesthood (the seed is the temple). I could see the rise of an entirely service-oriented female “priesthood.” But I suspect that for someting like that to develop it would have to be without any administrative affects. Just pure Christianity without any baggage of institutional authority. This speculation makes me ask myself which I care about more, the ritual authority to render service, or administrative power.

    Of course, it may only be my grand-nieces who will have the Mormon equivalent of a bat mitzvah.

  26. my guess is that the 15 think they have already asked women to provide the most valuable service that they can (in trying to run the _family_ organization.) & frankly don’t care how incompetent the rest of us menfolk are (in trying to run the _church_ organization.)

    Then again, I’ve only attended school at the UoU & BYU law & haven’t had any callings “higher” than primary teacher or home teacher; so…what do I know? ;)

  27. Nate … you make the excellent point that training for professions, for the most part, provides no training at all for administration.

    Locally, UT Dallas provides training to medical professionals who find themselves in leadership and realize they have no training at all for it. Some law firms hire administrators since the lawyers recognize a disticnt lack of skill, but few go get training like the doctors do.

    (still teaching the CTR-B class).

  28. Not to diffuse the discussion of a very very important topic, but it seems to me that this comes down to a broader issue of how can we effect change in (or even input into) a hierarchical institution that does not currently have any formal means for bottom-up functionality.

    I am certainly not settled on this topic, but here is where I am at currently:

    (1) Much of what really affects us, esp. away from Utah, occurs on the local level. Local leaders change and are more often than not (although not universally, I agree) accessible to personal communication. As noted in some previous posts, many local leaders are more receptive to women’s input than you may have personally experienced to date. Certainly, in NY in the past many professional working women have been called to all of the leadership positions available to women.

    (2) Over time, the Church does evolve, but very slowly. As an example that is relevant to gender, note how the official position on birth control has evolved from active discouragement to subtle encouragement. Whether one can have the patience to wait out the evolution depends, IMHO(bservation), on how rewarding the local Church experience is to people and how rewarding Mormonism is as a religion personally.

    (3) As tempting as other religious situations might be, few if any other religions offer the same possibilities of lay participation and service. As admirable as it may be that a woman can become a paid professional priest in the American Episcopal Church, that still leaves all of the other women as mere congregants with participation possibilities far more limited on the whole than those available to an active LDS woman.

    Getting beyond the question of how the system can be either alleviated or endured in practical applications, I can see two fundamental issues that can be framed but am not clear as to which you are querying in this post:

    1) Why is the Mormon priesthood limited to males?

    2) Why does the male-only priesthood have exclusive institutional administrative authority?


  29. D. Fletcher says:

    Oh, I’m completely with you C. I think one reason the women end up doing service is because the men are at the Bishopric meeting. In other words, women are assumed to have more time (even though they’re supposed to be raising the children).

    I honestly think women would be better than men at many callings currently reserved for the men, and vice versa. Why are women always called to Primary Presidency callings, for instance? Women should be doing every calling available, without “needing” the Priesthood (which is a subject for another day). Men should have the opportunity to lead the Primary, or even teach some Homemaking skills which might be useful to everyone.

  30. Rob Briggs says:

    Okay, I got a theory. Mind you, it’s not the official answer. It looks at the “effects” of the doctrine/policy (you choose which).

    The theory observes the noted absence of (many) men in Catholic & Protestant faiths. Women at mass, women hearing the sermon. The case can be made that many men are largely disenfranchised. Where have all the men gone?

    The genius of Mormonism, on the other hand, is that because of two things, a male priesthood & strong emphasis on lay involvement, guess what? The men are involved, committed and dedicated. Attendance & commitment among men is on a par with women.

    So that’s looking at pragmatic results.

    However, I acknowledge that these observations don’t squarely address your observation concerning the waste of talent among the women. Why, you’re wondering, can’t we involve the men AND enhance the role, talent, etc. of women.

  31. D. Fletcher says:

    One codicil to this is that I think the young men with families are overburdened by Church callings. They should be home helping out with the family, the MOST important thing for them to do. Instead, they’re given a calling which requires them to be away from the family for many hours.

    I’m not talking about middle-aged guys, I’m talking about our Stake President, who has 4 children, and they’re young children too. It’s a shame: his wife is basically raising those kids alone. Maybe he likes it this way, but it does seem antithetical to the central purpose of the Church.

  32. p.s. if you do work at human rights watch, let’s chat. i do international human rights litigation in philly [primarily ATCA litigation involving nigeria & the Sudan…prayers for our poor sisters & brothers who need more folks like you & your benevolent desires to serve & less Sudanese government bullets…]

  33. Q–What does the Church do with a smart, assertive woman? A–Call her husband to be Bishop. Ha ha. Kind of points up the problem, doesn’t it? I agree with Christine’s take on things, although I confess it is rather striking to see it all spelled out in black and white. The Church simply doesn’t have a category “smart, assertive faithful female.” Females are either submissive, smart and submissive, or “feminists,” a Mormon code word signalling a rebellious woman, that is one who is smart but not submissive.

    I think early LDS leaders developed a bias against bright, assertive women from their experience with Emma. Anything that came between a polygamist and his wives was deemed to be evil and probably Satanic for opposing God’s wonderful polygamous plan of salvation. So it’s not too far off base, I think, to trace this whole problem, like so many with the Church, back to polygamy.

    I agree that people tend to go where their talents and dedication are recognized and valued rather than marginalized. Why don’t you go look up your local Episcopal congregation? Women play a very active role including (I think) full ordination but certainly including a variety of lesser pastoral offices. Their Sunday liturgy will also cure that “boring worship service” problem. This is not a flippant suggestion, I’m quite serious. If a few hundred committed LDS women simply start voting with their feet, leaders will figure out they have a problem. As long as everyone keeps signing checks and trudging off to meetings, there simply is no problem from the leadership’s perspective.

  34. Randy,
    My experience has certainly been quite different, particularly on the stake level in NY. But, I don’t want to talk about my own experience so much, because that can degenerate quickly into so much griping. Do you disagree that women aren’t given the same opportunities to participate in the organization of the church as men are? I do think women are as involved as men, but I think the rights and responsibilities of the two sexes differ in an inequitable and ultimately harmful way.

  35. Randy,
    Thanks for your openness. I have had some great experiences with leaders in the church, I’ve also had disappointing ones, let’s leave it at that.

    How about holding a meeting in RS with women where you field suggestions from women about how better to run the ward? You could first distribute a list/chart of the areas where you see needed improvement as a way to generate ideas, and then listen to women’s ideas about what needs to be done and how to do it.

    Or, use your influence as a man with church authority to discuss these matters with those in authority over you. It is insulting that women can’t get their views aired without going through men, but given that reality, both apply the feedback you receive to your ward’s situation and also bring it to the attention of the stake.

    Encourage the men around you to listen to and validate women’s concerns.

    Don’t assume that traditionally male roles need to stay that way.

  36. Randy,
    Short term investment, long term change. I know giving extra attention to remedying the problem now requires additional time and effort, but maybe it will pay off in the end.

    It’s hard for me to comment in the abstract about what traditional views any given person might have. I’m always working to be aware of and work against the ones I hold. That’s all I mean.

  37. re: extra effort/investment being worthwhile for the payoff down the road theory.

    maybe. not necessarily. In fact, taking action too soon could actually hurt your cause as you alert ‘oral law’ sentry guardians (i.e. reactionary conservatives, possibly like me).

    ergo: you can either rail against the “oral” tradition, if it is that, or…you can join it; i.e. start ‘modifying’ the oral tradition & acting w/o asking & speaking w/o acting like it is unorthodox. hospitals might have restricted access, but if you just walk in & act like you know what you are doing…chances are that few folks will question you (well, it worked on my mission at least. of course, maybe they thought we were CIA).

    then again, maybe not. :)

  38. Steve,
    You’re right, it is probably not wise to assume a purpose of the church is efficiency. But, I do think a purpose should be to nurture the needs of its citizens, and I think the church fails to nurture women’s need/desire to contribute in meaningful ways.

  39. Steve,
    What discussions? Do you mean to say that I’m not just paranoid, and the whole schematic of having women speak first, if at all, sit left, and smile demurely are part of a conspiracy by The Man?

    Seriously, what can we do? I don’t know, beyond becoming an Episcopalian. I settle these days for putting what I can into the church and trying to develop my talents elsewhere.

    As a man, you could take your wife’s name (Brother Thurston), be a primary caregiver for future children, take women seriously, use gender-neutral language, raise future generations to question male authority … so many possibilities! But I’m sure your wife has already covered these topics.

  40. Sumer- yes. The question is, why are we still putting up with it? As Kristine adeptly pointed out, voting with our feet only means we get painted as unrighteous people, not exactly what any of us is aiming for, I assume. So, are we just biding our time until something changes? we can’t stand it anymore?

  41. Tacking to starboard, I’d have to agree with Julie that “there has been some progress in recent years.” Women often teach Gospel Doctrine class and seminary now, which was much less common even 25 years ago. And while the organizational independence of the RS and other auxiliaries may have eroded at the COB level, I think the role of auxiliary heads at the local level (the Ward Council types) has been strengthened. If Bishops use the Warc Council something more like a President’s cabinet these days, it means women have three portfolios. So there is some progress. Enough to keep most women happy most of the time, it seems.

  42. Thanks, Dave, I do like your suggestion, although I think it might lead more quickly to excommunication than to change in church structure (witness ERA debacle in 1980s).

    You make a good point re Emma S. and polygamy. It’s unfortunate and unnecessary for our organization to be so sexist. We have such a terrific creation myth for women, i.e., Eve the great decisionmaker, where did we go wrong?

  43. The discussions going around lately at T&S and elsewhere have made me think a great deal about the recent rise in unwritten church policies, such as who speaks first, who sits where on the stand, etc. I’ve got to think that this oral law will only hurt the role of women in the Church, as more and more women ‘get’ to speak first in Church, sit on the left side, and are otherwise relegated to subservient roles in accordance with some people’s ideas of tradition.

    That being said, there’s got to be a way to fight it. I agree that traditionally male roles shouldn’t be assumed as permanently so, and I’d be interested in reversing the course. What can I do, short of apostasy, though?

  44. The short answer is that the priesthood is the Church and the Church is the priesthood. In LDS doctrine, the Church does not exist apart from the priesthood. For example, what is the “president of the Church”? There actually is no such position or organization. Despite all that talk about the Church being formally organized under the laws of New York on April 6, 1830, in fact there is no record indicating that a New York religious corporation was legally organized then or any other time.

    Currently the temporal assets of the “Church” are held by legal entities with names like the “Corporation of the First Presidency” and the “Corporation of the Presiding Bishopric” (I think they are Utah non-profit corporations, but am not certain).

    Theologically, revelation says that the actual title of the “president of the Church” is the “Presiding High Priest of the High Priesthood” (see D&C 107:65-67, 78, 91-92). He leads the Saints by virtue of being the chief High Priest, nothing else. Every other aspect of the “Church’s” organization is similarly tied into the priesthood structure revealed to Joseph Smith (Bro. Bushman will have all kinds of interesting stuff about this in his JS bio.)

    That said, and without reverting to #1, several things can be noted:

    (1) Historically, before the Correlation movement of the 1960s, women’s organizations in the Church functioned with much more autonomy, assuming primary responsibility for many independent welfare initiatives.

    (2) There are precedents in the Church for separating administrative from priestly functions. For example, in researching the united orders of the 1870s, I discovered that despite what the D&C said, that they eventually were separated from control by bishops and turned over to professional management. In modern times an example is the growth of the Church bureaucracy which assumes more and more functions previously handled by priesthood offices.

    I think then that we can reasonably hope that in the future, new generations of (male) Church leaders can expand the role of women in the Church if they want to. And I think that that is likely on the local level, at least in urban areas where enough faithful Church memebers privately push for it (keep propagandizing that high councilor, put your proposals into the system, as I wrote before, local leaders change).

    However, I now must admit that, given the foregoing, #2 can not be entirely cut loose from #1. I can see the stake RS president having far more autonomy and authority, but I can not see there being a woman stake president (at least in my lifetime).

    (I always get cut off, so I am posting this and will continue below).

  45. Uh, that was a typo, not an oversight, in my earlier comment. I know it’s “Christina.”

  46. Without endorsing the behavior, I’m curious as to why you could not engage in smaller acts of civil disobedience? It seems to me that the action to instigate change does not have to be limited to something as severe as walking out the door, never to return. Sustaining people for callings comes to mind. Isn’t it the case that without a unanimous vote by the congregation, an individual cannot be set apart before some kind of ad hoc administrative hearing to air the concerns of the opposition? What are the good faith procedural boundaries of this act?

%d bloggers like this: