A Response to Neylan McBaine

Neylan McBaine’s excellent presentation at the recent FAIR Conference inspired this response from guest Ben McGuire.

This presentation caught my attention because it covers issues we are dealing with in my home. My son was ordained a Deacon just this past Sunday. And my daughter has been questioning why he gets the priesthood and she doesn’t (and further why the boys do things in church that the girls don’t). How do I answer these questions?

The presentation deals with these issues and yet doesn’t do what I think it was intended to do. Discussing women’s issues within the LDS Church sometimes feels a bit for me (both as a man and as a faithful member) like walking through a field full of land mines. This presentation seemed safe enough for those who don’t see a real issue to begin with. It certainly doesn’t seem to go far enough for those who have difficulty with gender equality in the church. Does Neylan really reach a middle ground? Personally, I think that limiting the role of women in church leadership (and we do limit it) is a much broader problem than any middle ground may resolve.

In considering the presentation several thoughts struck me. The first is that it seemed primarily about how the division is portrayed, how it is seen, and not necessarily what it means. This perspective was hammered in with a quote from Maxine Hanks: “I don’t think gender tensions in Mormonism are due to inequality in the religion, but due to invisibility of that equality.” Neylan has this comment:

Is there gender discrimination in the Church? If discrimination means separation according to gender, yes. If it means delineation of opportunities based solely on gender, yes. Many argue that different opportunities based on gender is unfair, adverse, and/or abusive by definition. The Church does not satisfy secular gender-related egalitarian ideals, period; and our institutional behavior fits that definition of gender discrimination in several inescapable ways. We shrink away from accurately representing how we work, thinking it condemns us as a church. And in the eyes of the world it might. But the Church does not, and should not, operate according to secular concepts of power, status, etc.; and if we attempt to justify ourselves in this paradigm we will not only fail, but betray our own ideals.

We need a narrative that doesn’t rely on justifications. It shouldn’t rely on comparisons to fallen world paradigms. It needs to stand on its own, while acknowledging that it may have little precedent and little comparison to worldly paradigms that describe gender-related egalitarian ideals.

New narratives are wonderful things. But, if there is at some level real inequality causing real pain, then simply changing the way we talk about it won’t help deal with the pain, and it won’t help deal with the inequality. Nor should we simply concur that just because the church has a position that this position is always right (consider the change to priesthood in 1978). I think this presentation provides at least a potential misunderstanding of Maxine’s comments (of course I could be misunderstanding Maxine as well). Doctrinally, the church is (or at least was) much more liberal than some want to think it should be. Historically we can see periods when women participated in ways that are not sanctioned today. Is gender inequality more an issue of policy than doctrine?

Changing narratives doesn’t seem to be much of a change in direction. Are we giving women a voice? Are we providing them not just with a voice, but with a language to speak about their issues? Or are we just creating narrative to set their concerns aside? Do I tell my daughter that she simply doesn’t understanding her role yet in the gospel – and that she should look for opportunities to express herself within the framework that the church provides? That she should let the men do the thinking for her? Or do I tell her what I really think: That the gospel plan isn’t perfectly implemented in the church, and that I expect at some point for there to be more fundamental changes that alter the discourse about equality between men and women? Do I recommend that she accept her role, or do I encourage her to advocate for change? The church has systematically taken away their voice (not just over priesthood issues – but in many other ways). That voice has to be returned to them so that as a church church we can hear more of their needs from them – using an appropriate language.

Perhaps a weightier issue for me was something that the presentation was silent about. One absolutely critical idea that really needs to be explored and talked about within our community is how does a woman relate to a male God figure? Women are judged by men in the church. They confess only to men. They have male advocates. This issue is often very hard for women in the church to discuss. Again, I think part of the reason for this is that we have managed to suppress a great deal of the language of feminism in the church. How do we address the gender issue in that relationship to God? From the presentation:

I love this bishop’s thought process: first, he has identified for himself as the leader of a congregation the need to have equally meaningful relationships with both the boys and the girls in his ward. He has also identified the need for the girls in his ward to have a more visible role in preparing for their future service in God’s kingdom, noting that there is a discrepancy in the ways our girls and boys are trained for service leadership. Lastly, he has identified barriers that make it difficult for him to engage the girls in the same way he does the boys, and he has committed to finding innovative solutions that are still within the purview outlined in the Church Handbook.

Both the presenter and the bishop have badly misunderstood the dynamic in my opinion – and this is part of the problem – a cultural aspect of it, if you will. The Bishop is the representative of God. And so he asks how he can have equally meaningful relationships with both the boys and the girls. And in agreeing with him, the presenter is also in a way suggesting that this is also a problem for God – how can God have just as meaningful a relationship with the women as he already does with the men. It is a harmful perspective. What we really want to know is how the girls in the ward can have as meaningful a relationship with their bishop (and with God) as the boys can. There is a difference in the ways our children are trained for service leadership precisely because there is a difference in that future service leadership. And looming over this is the Church Handbook. So, God creates a barrier (the CHI), and we need to find ways to work around it? This isn’t the beginning of the right discussion on these issues.

The Maxine quote continued with this comment: “The equality is embedded, inherent in Mormon theology, history, texts, structures.” Do we have a resistance to empowering women that stems from policy and not from doctrine? Neylan tells us:

What kinds of initiatives could we take as church members to excavate this gender equality that we currently not doing? Harvard professor Clayton Christiansen, known for his work on disruptive innovation, often speaks to LDS Harvard students about how many of the standard Church programs—seminary, Family Home Evening, for example—started from the initiative of a small group of church members who saw a need and innovated ways to address that need that didn’t compromise doctrine or divinely mandated ecclesiastical practices in any way. How can we apply this same innovative spirit to the arena of women’s responsibilities at church? How can we put into practice our desires to see this cooperative community become more of our practiced reality? In essence, while we are reigning in our external claims, we need simultaneously to be broadening the practice of egalitarian ideals in our behavior so that with these opposite pulls we can have both internal and external meet harmoniously in the middle. I ask each man and woman in the audience today: What are you doing to excavate the power of the women in your ward and make their contributions more visible?

Note the “divinely mandated ecclesiastical practices” in the comments. It is here that the pressure needs to be exerted because most of what we view as divinely mandated practices isn’t anything more than tradition and custom backed by history. But now we are walking on the land mines (not just looking at them). It is hard to separate doctrine found in scripture from policy found in the Church Handbook without being labeled as a dissenter. This separation came up this past Sunday as well. My son was invited to help pass the sacrament by the Deacon’s quorum president (he hadn’t been ordained yet – that was to come later in the day). When it was noticed, one of the leaders as inconspicuously as possible (it wasn’t) took the tray from him and continued with the passing of the sacrament for him. We discussed it afterwards. His rationale was that the Deacons were officiating and so needed to hold the priesthood. That view (probably not uncommon) was shot down a century ago when Deacons first started to pass the sacrament (back then it was over the applicability of D&C 20:58). It was then decided that administering the sacrament only referred to blessing it. In fact, there was nothing doctrinally wrong with his passing the sacrament any more than my daughter passing the tray to me (allowed, as the Handbook says, for convenience). What are we doing to look at our collections of policies and traditions that we cling to? Can we distinguish between what is really potentially “divinely mandated” and what is largely non-doctrinal, but yet has the stamp of tradition and time? Do we have room to really excavate gender equality? Not as long as we try to maintain a safe distance from the land mines.

The conclusion aims me in a different direction than perhaps what was intended:

[Women] were symbols of the extent to which the Savior was willing to challenge the conventions of his culture and usher in a new social ideal. Compared to the way women were treated in the Savior’s own time and place, His treatment of them was radical. By involving not just his mother and female friends in his ministry, but by embracing the fallen woman, the daughter of a Gentile, the sick woman, the Samaritan woman, Jesus, through his example, challenged us as His followers to engage all women, trust them, lead with them, and lean on their spiritual power. Let us meet that challenge.

I think this is good advice. Our society as a whole is still not a society of gender equality. Compared to the way women are treated in our time and place, we should be ushering in a new social ideal. Out treatment should be radical (not just by our own standards – but also by those of our society). We cannot simply say, “Here, there is so much more you can do beneath the glass ceiling” – the church needs to help women break through that glass ceiling. Will being invited to PEC as frequently as possible ever really change the notion that it is not a woman’s place? That the woman is just a guest at the men’s table?

Creating narratives to harmonize our doctrines and our policies is not in my mind a solution. Fostering dialogue about inequality – finding the conflicts between policy and theology – working to introduce language that better describes the problems of inequality so that we can have frank and open discussions with our children – those are steps in the right direction. Different but equal is never equal.


  1. It is tempting (and disheartening) to enlarge perspective and relate LDS gender inequality to same in other conservative churches – suggesting, perhaps, that we are not unique in so very many of the ways we think we are. But I’m not sure you want to go there. Topic for another day.

  2. it's a series of tubes says:

    I thought Neylan’s presentation was first rate. Thanks for the follow up.

    Different but equal is never equal.

    I don’t want to misunderstand this final sentence or respond to something that was not intended, so I’ll ask a clarifying question. Are you suggesting that, in your view, (i) men and women do not have any eternal differences, and/or (ii) inequality will inherently persist until women fill all ecclesiastical roles currently filled only by men?

  3. justapunkkid says:

    I agree with much of what you have to say, but I do think you misunderstand- (although, again I could be the one misunderstanding too) the way she uses the Maxine Hanks quote. Now, I’ve only read the speech and not listened (I haven’t seen the audio posted anywhere) but what I got out of her quote from Maxine Hanks is when you boil it down Mormon theology really does demand a sense of equality. (I would suppliment here that the first part of her presentation also considered that power structures in the Church should be service structures.)

    She then suggested that in the easiest level to create change (the ward) we create change. Not revolutionary change but evolutionary change.

    I like her more evolutionary approach because as a Mormon Feminist (though a male Mormon fenmenist like yourself) when I bring up issues of female worth I get overwhelming support, however, once I start dropping the actual ‘f’ bomb that support slips away. The cooler reception to my ideas generally is based, however, I must be challenging the bretheren. So a productive discussion gets ruined not because they disagree with helping women feel empowered, but because there is concern over respect for Priesthood authority.

    I thought Neylan McBaine, nicely provided a framework where that fear is side stepped and real empowerment is given now. As these procedures become more and more the ‘norm’ they will also become more standard and less hostile, providing an opprotunity for changes for a uniquely Mormon feminism.

    Going back to the Maxine Hanks quote, she seems to use it (again, my interpretation) to suggest rather than storm the gates that we find a way to work a way to work in harmony to achieve our goals.

  4. Ben McGuire says:

    2: (i) Differences obviously exist. And, insofar as the church sees gender as an eternal attribute then those differences continue. (ii) When individuals talk about being different but equal they change the conversation. Such statements, no matter how they are dressed up, are a denial of inequality, not a conversation about it. Obviously having women fill ecclesiastical roles that are held now only by men would be a change that would introduce more equality. It may not be the only way or the best way to do that. But, if the discussion comes from the viewpoint of equal but different, it has already trivialized the perception that inequality exists, and that inequality causes pain. If we had real, meaningful equality such explanations would be unnecessary.

  5. it's a series of tubes says:

    insofar as the church sees gender as an eternal attribute then those differences continue.

    Ben, thanks for the reply. In your view, in light of the last sentence of your OP, if one sees gender as an eternal attribute, can there ever be equality?

  6. “Can there ever be equality?” is one question we could seek to answer. Another question that comes to mind is “Can we do better, here and now in this fallen world, at approaching fairness and equality?”

  7. Mark Brown says:

    MDearest makes a very good point. The real question is not whether differences between men and women exist. The question we must answer is to what extent those differences should influence the way we organize the work of the kingdom. A generation ago women served as ward and stake clerks. It would be ridiculous for us now to attribute their exclusion from those callings to some mysterious eternal gender attribute.

  8. Mark Brown says:

    Neylan’s presentation does a good job of explaining how the current arrangements do very real harm to many female members. The least we can do is take their pain seriously.

  9. Loved Neylan’s presentation and equally love this analysis of it. I’m intrigued by this statement:

    “His rationale was that the Deacons were officiating and so needed to hold the priesthood. That view (probably not uncommon) was shot down a century ago when Deacons first started to pass the sacrament (back then it was over the applicability of D&C 20:58). It was then decided that administering the sacrament only referred to blessing it.”

    I have never heard this before. Is there an article somewhere that would shed light on this story?

  10. Re: 9. Bill Hartley’s article is good. Sorry you have to scroll to page 80 to find “From Men to Boys: LDS Aaronic Priesthood Offices, 1829-1996” here: http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1026&context=mormonhistory

  11. I’m curious about this conception that “different but equal is never equal.” At least in most current models of ontology, this is patently false in very technical applications (mathematical isomorphisms and such) but in social practice seems to invariably be apt. Some might argue that this is because social relationships are far more complex than mathematical ones, and so a perfect balance is beyond our grasp. A related argument (though with different emphasis) is that humans are just not skillful or wise enough to create, maintain, or even work within systems where different is equal. My personal thought is that such discussions are putting the cart before the horse in a very real sense because we’re so poor at measuring “value” in the first place. People may feel that Bishops have more influence or importance that RS presidents, but our metrics for those invariably involve proxies like nominal stewardships or chains of reporting. In fact, the only aspects we can measure a Bishop (or any other priesthood holder) as being “more than” someone else are those that we collectively and individually imbue, such as deference. I’d feel a lot better about discussing gender inequalities in the Church if we had a better set of tools, or at least a tighter set of terms, for talking about what continuum these inequalities exist on. It makes little sense to say priests are more “______” than laurels because priests bless the sacrament unless we first have both priests and laurels with a common characteristic AND a more than loosely intuitive way to enumerate that characteristic. Otherwise, we end up saying things that are almost as nonsensical as “Chocolate is less healthy than a iPhone because chocolate can lead to migraines.”

  12. Good God. Feminism is going to be the ruin of LDS. There are no examples of sucessful female-led or equalist religions. We need to stick with what works and reinvent the wheel.

  13. not reinvent

  14. How are you defining success, Skeptic?

  15. “Creating narratives to harmonize our doctrines and our policies is not in my mind a solution.”

    I agree with this. Simply upholding the status quo where the inequality between men an women is not questioned cannot be sustainable in the modern context.

    But I’m not going to turn around an advocate equality either. I consider equality between the genders to be a fundamentally flawed paradigm that our current society (in first world countries) uses to try and solve the problem of male-female relations. It’s got all the hallmarks of, “this was the best solution we could come up with.”

    But in many important ways – the American legal paradigm of gender equality is really nothing more than running away from reality.

    I’ll put it bluntly – until either women grow male sexual organs, or men grow female sexual organs – the genders will NEVER be equal. Ever.


    Our society copes currently by denying that reality. And it has served well in some ways, and decidedly not so well in other ways.

    Men and women need to be treated FAIRLY, not equally. Equality is a cheap consolation prize, and ad hoc solution in a world that couldn’t come up with anything better. The job of Mormonism is to create a new narrative that not only addresses the ways in which the LDS Church has sat on its own women (and its own men – to be perfectly honest), but also creates a new paradigm for that church to move on to.

    And our job is to quit bleating pathetically about how the LDS Church doesn’t match up to what’s fashionable in the rest of screwed-up American society, and move on toward creating and advocating for something better than what society offers.

  16. I wouldn’t even dare suggest that we’re all on equal footing… and I think women who want “equal treatment” are asking for a downgrade… and denying men the opportunity to serve. Women in the church are put on pedestals, I know that in my house it’s always been a weighted consensus for most decision making. As the priesthood holder my Father considered it his duty to protect her interests and always hold them in highest regard.

    I feel that the danger really is to look at it too much from the distorted worlds point of view, it’s been skewed directly by the adversary to rob that pedestal from the precious ones who belong on it.

    (I’ve always heard that the reason we have the priesthood, and women don’t is that if they had that too then there’d be no use at all for the men.)

  17. ” in the eyes of the world it might. But the Church does not, and should not, operate according to secular concepts of power, status, etc.; and if we attempt to justify ourselves in this paradigm we will not only fail, but betray our own ideals.”

    This troubles me a little because it fails to acknowledge the extent to which LDS practices are already shaped by the dominant worldly discourse of male power. Even if gender egalitarianism is a novel or “secular” approach, it’s only really arisen in the last few centuries as an influential discourse in its own right. Meanwhile, power structures based on male privilege are and have always been the norm in “the world”, no divine sanction required. In fact, given the ubiquity of male privilege in society even today we should regard it as
    THE secular paradigm, since it more accurately represents how the world really is. I believe McBaine, good intentions notwithstanding, falls into the trap of assuming that egalitarianism is the “worldly” approach contra the LDS one. I’d say our problem is exactly the opposite.

  18. Sharee Hughes says:

    “And our job is to quit bleating pathetically about how the LDS Church doesn’t match up to what’s fashionable in the rest of screwed-up American society, and move on toward creating and advocating for something better than what society offers.”


  19. Geoff - A says:

    in #4 &5 the eternal nature of gender seems to be used to say equality is not possible. Can I point out that in the endowment the belssing for man and women are equal. So if the eternal situation is equality Priests and priestesses etc) it is the present that is out of step. It is my understanding that Joseph Smith considered endowed women to be priesthood holders, though none were called as apostles.

    Seth it is not equal equipment but equal opportunity that is sought. Equal opportunity does not require equal equipment. There is no position that now requires the P”hood that a woman could not do equally well.

    When I read Neylan’ original presentation I thought she was trying very hard to justify what can not be justified. Racism can not be justified, and neither can discrimination on any other basis except perhaps ability.

    So in the eternities women are equal. Past world culture has given women less opportunities. The world is now improving and as the original post says we should be leading the way, but sadly we have missed the boat and will only allow womens eternal opportunity to begin now when enough pressure is bought to bear on the leadership. Another reason we need to change the succession of leadership so we get younger leaders.

  20. DeeAnn Cheatham says:

    I may be way out there, but here are my thoughts on this subject. I would be completely happy if women were given the priesthood and allowed the same opportunities in the church as men. I’m happy now with the current configuration. I haven’t yet figured out which is really the “right” way, if there even is such a thing. Part of me can’t help wondering if the Lord is trying to teach us something with different gendered roles. (or maybe He’s not) I see wisdom in the complementary roles of men and women in the church. Women learn humility by deferring to their husbands and church leaders. Men, in turn, learn humility by making sure they aren’t exercising unrighteous dominion in their leadership roles. When both parties are looking out for the needs of the other, this system really does work remarkably well. When one or both parties are concerned more with their own well being than with another’s, it doesn’t work so well. Since none of us are perfect, we often see the flaws in the system, but I’ve seen it working the way it should and it is wonderful when it does. But that is not to say that I know for sure it wouldn’t work as well if the roles were less gender-specific.

  21. so men promise to hearken to their wives as they hearken to the Lord? men are promised to be kings and priests to their wives in initiatories? in sealings men don’t even give themselves to their wives. Look I love the temple. I’m not a fan of confusing equivalence with equal, but every woman I know has noticed these little differences in the temple and wondered. Perhaps the invisible side of equality in eternities is that we will never be mentioned again ala mother in heaven. With some of the changes that have happened in the temple ceremony, I wonder how many of these will also change and progress and how many are eternal.

    this from one of those crazy conservative bloggernacle participants…too conservative to vote for mitt romney or have less than 9 children.

  22. There must be something people are not seeing. LDS women know that they are in a very important partnership with their husbands. To do what? Bring themselves and their children to exaltation. The glories of the world do not matter when you consider what this possibly means. Exaltation? The wonders of eternity? Each family on earth is a separate functioning mini government. There are finances, etc. It seems to me that families are what continues after this life and not really the “church” so much. Humans do not control who gets what. We simply do not have that power. You cannnot assume/presume authority/power. Let’s take 2 powers that women do have. They control access to sex and they ultimately decide the fate of an uborn child. Try to take that power away and see what happens. Women have alot of power in the marriage/the home. If you were to make things 100% equal, women would lose out.

  23. Doug Hudson says:

    @22, “Women control access to sex”? In what reality? In this reality, women (as a group) have only as much control over sex as men permit. 1 in 4 women (at least) have been denied control over their sexuality, and that is just the number of rapes and sexual assaults. When you add in sexual harassment and the virgin/whore dichtomy that still defines much of our society’s views on women, women control very little of their sexuality.

    Likewise, women’s control over their bodies (vis a vis abortion, among other things) is increasingly threatened. Many states only have one or two abortion clinics. If the religious right has its way, women will have no choice about pregnancy, except for dangerous illegal abortions.

    The power imbalance between men and women is greater in the area of sex and childbirth than anywhere else.

  24. As a non-feminist, I find this incredibly frustrating: “If you were to make things 100% equal, women would lose out.”

    I think that the church does preach and practice equality. I would not be here if it didn’t. As noted in section IV of the talk, equality can be different and complementary.

    But equality is often confused with sameness, and that is where much of the problem lies. I agree that if you were to make things 100% the same, many women would lose out. But sameness is not the same as equality.

  25. What blessing does a person receive from passing the sacrament or administering oil? It would seem to me the blessing is related to the act of rendering service. In that sense the types of service being rendered are different both across and often within genders as our various life experiences testify. But just because the types of service vary does not mean the blessings from heaven come unequally.

    I don’t ever see a day where the exact types of service rendered must equalize, otherwise we just assume that genders are useless cogs in a machine that can be replaced at will and have no function. At the same time many types of service can certainly be performed by a woman just as well as by a man (obvious examples where the inverse is never true). But I don’t think that means we must remove any kind of role from a gender perspective.

    That being said it would seem the church certainly has a lot of institutional support or opportunities for male service built into the doctrinal foundations while female service opportunities are not so readily attached to doctrinal institutions – duty to god and personal progress may be correlaries but deacon and laurel arent

  26. Doug Hudson says:

    /Brigham Young style speculation mode ON

    It seems to me that the best, most Mormon solution would be to create an order of priestesses, with different rituals and duties. This would fit the idea of eternal gender, as well as the uniquely Mormon idea of a Heavenly Mother.

    Perhaps Eve, Mary, and other notable women of the bible were holders of their own priesthood keys, paralleling those of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods? This would explain why it was a woman who anointed Jesus with the oil, and why only women stayed at the cross–they were fulfilling duties that the male priesthood could not.

    /Brigham Young style speculation OFF

  27. I’m glad this was said. I loved Neylan’s piece, but I was concerned that it didn’t go nearly far enough. I’m reminded of the civil rights movement, at the start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the leaders of the black community were simply asking for a more humane form of racism, for the dividing line to be moved forward when there were few white people sitting in the front of the bus and black people standing in the back. They just wanted a few easy concessions, and the white power structure refused to give them. So they said okay, let’s just ask for complete equality, since they won’t make these small concessions, and that is indeed what they won. I believe we need not bother with minor concessions. I doubt the leadership will make them. Let’s go ahead and ask for complete equality, which is only right and fair. Let’s ask for what we need and deserve. Please let’s not let another generation of Mormon girls grow up as second class people. We’re the daughters of Heavenly Parents, and we need a voice, real decision making power, and a clear path for young women to follow to train them in leadership excellence.

  28. In my experience, discussing “equality” rarely leads to progress. I’m not sure why. My best sense is that once equality is the issue, people hesitate to allow any small degree of progress until they can frame a complete picture of perfection.

    Instead of contending over “what is fair” or “who has it better” or “what the boys can do that the girls can’t” or “look at all the good women can do without the priesthood”, I find it most fruitful to explain all the good things that women could be doing with priesthood authority that they current cannot do. There is so much good we are missing out on. Here are a few examples:
    1) As a husband, I would love for my wife to bless our children with me. Such blessings are a key way in which I bond with my children and become one with them and God. It would be wonderful for my wife to similarly bond with the children (and with me) through exercising the priesthood in our home.
    2) As a father, I would love for my daughters to participate in the sacrament. Just as my sons come closer to Christ by performing the actions he initiated, my daughters would have a closer relationship with Christ if they could do those same actions. I want them to be close to Christ.
    3) As a former temple worker, I would love for the sisters to be able to accompany their youth to the temple and perform ordinances with them there. I have seen that process help fathers become reactivated and create real bonds with their children. The same can happen with mothers.
    4) As a bishop, I would love to have a woman as a counselor – to teach me of the sister’s needs, to counsel and interview the young women, and to preside over the ward when I am absent. I absolutely know that there are needs I fail to address because I do not understand women’s concerns. A female counselor would greatly alleviate this failure. And just as with my male counselors, such service would help build her up to godlinesses.

  29. This is a fantastic post that articulates precisely what I felt after reading McBaine’s presentation.

    “But, if there is at some level real inequality causing real pain, then simply changing the way we talk about it won’t help deal with the pain, and it won’t help deal with the inequality. Nor should we simply concur that just because the church has a position that this position is always right…”

    I appreciate that Ben pointed out the importance of discussing and thinking about the implications of a male-only framework for God. This issue may seem of little practical importance to many, since they don’t see anything missing from their worship or theology. But after long experience I believe a male-only framework for God has subtle, negative, and long-lasting implications for women in the church and for the church in general. It contributes to a culture where women are often less valued and less honored than men, have less of a voice in shaping the contours of their faith, and have less self-confidence and a poorer understanding of their divine inheritance.

  30. @Kaphor 25: I think most people who are in favor of greater equality agree that blessings are equally available to men and women. The issue is less blessings than institutional leadership and its temporal effects. Most opponents of ordaining women to the priesthood or of giving them access to leadership positions believe in gender essentialism and complemantarianism, meaning that men and women at some level have irreducible differences that influence their perspectives and abilities. To me, that’s the strongest possible argument for equality in leadership (and by that I don’t mean an artificially enforced 50/50 split or putting women in charge of Elders Quorum or Men as Relief Society Presidents) — by excluding women from significant leadership the Church loses some ability to effectively understand and respond to the needs of over half its members. By essentialist/complementarian logic, there are things that men in leadership cannot comprehend as well as women. Some might say that leading or “presiding” is one of man’s inborn gifts, but I think that modern society has shown that to be a lie — only the most blinkered misogynist would deny that women can be effective leaders, executives, number-crunchers, and administrators. And if women are indeed as compassionate and tender as traditionalists tend to argue, then such gifts would surely benefit the pastoral counsels presently devoid of them!

  31. One thing that I have observed that usually doesn’t sit well with feminists is that women tend to support causes that the LDS leadership do not. For example, if you browse through FMH posts, they openly go against church teachings and support homosexuality (including gay marriage), abortion, goddess worship, and witchcraft. Do these liberal leanings possibly prevent women from LDS ecclesiastical leadersip? On the other hand, you have humble sisters who serve their communities, preach of Christ, tend to the dying and grieving, etc.

  32. I think we miss the point, on both sides of the “issue,” when we assume that we can teach the other side something. Shouldn’t it be the Lord teaching us both? I prefer to turn to Him for the solution, and exercise patience and prayer in the meantime.

  33. I’ve humbly found that witchcraft in general, especially the goddess worship part, is a very effective ministry to the dying and grieving.

  34. Snyderman says:

    So I’m hoping someone can help me here. I remember either reading or hearing a General Conference talk in the past couple years where one of the 12 or one of the First Presidency was talking about what he did as an apostle. He effectively summed up as “helping the one.” I want to say I heard this, that it’s from a recent General Conference, but it could very well be that I read it in an old Ensign magazine.

    Anyway, I think this idea–helping the one–has important applications for equality, because I think it is helping the one that, ultimately, we are all here to do. Thus, for me, equality means everyone having ample opportunity to help the one. Obviously, “the one” could be a home or visiting teachee, a member of your Sunday School or Primary class, an inactive friend… any number of possibilities. Ultimately, though, I think the structure of the Church should be such that everyone has ample opportunity to help the one. I think that is true equality, because it is doing that that brings everyone closer to Christ; and I think it tends to help everyone pretty equally.

    At the same time, however, I think anyone in need of help deserves the best help they can get, and I think the current Church structure might hinder that in some respects. A common example brought up in Church/gender discussions is a young woman having to go to her male bishop to discuss Law of Chastity issues. I tend to think that a man is not the best person to help a young woman understand and deal with her sexuality, and that there might be a better way of helping young women deal with Law of Chastity issues.

    Expounding on this idea, I think that children deserve access to the nurturing of both parents–as much as possible. (I don’t want to discredit single parents as sometimes horrible things happen.) Beyond this, though, I think Primary children should have access to both male and female teachers and leaders, young men and women should have both male and female leaders, wards should have both male and female leaders. When I think back on problems I’ve had in my life and getting help from my parents, I realize that sometimes I can receive better help from my mom and other times I can receive better help from my dad. I think the same could be said for everyone in every Church organization.

  35. it's a series of tubes says:

    in #4 &5 the eternal nature of gender seems to be used to say equality is not possible.

    It appears that quite a few have misinterpreted my initial inquiry. To me, it seems that Ben’s original post took that position. That’s why I asked the clarifying questions, because it’s a position that I completely disagree with.

  36. I’m gonna just stop trying to learn anything from people, and lay down wait for God to teach me everything I need. *good grief*

  37. I’m just dying to hear Henry’s explanation for why all those humble death-ministering sisters are denied leadership positions along with their witchier sisters. Also, I’m pretty sure my second mission president was an evil wizard, which perhaps should have disqualified him from leadership but did not.

  38. Naismith #24

    I think our modern society does equate “sameness” with “equality” – and really there’s a lot of linguistic weight behind saying the two words actually are the same concept.

    Geoff A. #19

    I would disagree that equality is the order of heaven. We are only equal in one sense in heaven – we are all equally loved by God (that is to say – we all get all of his love). But I see no reason to believe that we will be equal in heaven. You and I will not be equal, neither will any two beings. The only way to ensure equality would be to homogenize the lot of us. It is the inequalities that add variety and richness to existence. Without them – the entire point of having a universe would be removed.

  39. I think it’s because women would “lose out”. They’d get things like opinions and start expressing thoughts…it affects your ability to mother you know.

    Zd eve. I have a friend who is a wiccan and a desire to have a mother/God figure was one of her motivating forces

    Ardis..did your second mission president have a nose?

  40. Sure lesson,

    Because of course tons of people in this thread have been openly opposing women having opinions .

    This isn’t an episode of Sex in the City. We’re trying to have an adult conversation here. And no – I don’t mean that kind of “adult” conversation.

  41. Lesson Number One, in my experience we all have that friend.

  42. Seth..that was purely mocking henry. Sorry if that wasn’t obvious. Don’t think all men are the same in their opinions in this…if i did, i never would have married.

    Zdeve…i have only had that friend for two years abd before that had never really discussed religion or much of much with a wiccan.

  43. Ah, Internet nuance fail on my part then.

  44. I should have used sarcasm font

  45. Ardis:
    You know you hit a nerve when people start mocking. The Unitarian Universaiists clergy is more than 50 percent female and guess what, they support gay marriage, abortion. The post is asking why can’t I have this or that? Could women’s tendency to support liberal causes be a valid reason as to why women are excluded from LDS ecclesiastical leadership? We may never know.

  46. To stop the irresponsible plucking of low-hanging fruit–a practice to which my name no doubt inclines me–and engage the OP: I had a deeply mixed response to Neylan’s presentation. One the one hand, she said some things that desperately need saying, and I can’t applaud her enough for that. She has more credibility than most of us, and I dare to hope that perhaps we can finally begin to lay to rest the canard that women who ask questions about their subordination are prideful and lack understanding of true womanhood and true priesthood and so forth. And I wholeheartedly cheer on every one of her practical suggestions for the inclusion of women in decision-making structures. But at the end of the day, as the OP notes, she can’t seem to bring herself to admit that we have a hierarchy and to confront the manifold implications of that hierarchy–only to soften it around the edges.

    “And looming over this is the Church Handbook. So, God creates a barrier (the CHI), and we need to find ways to work around it? This isn’t the beginning of the right discussion on these issues.”

    So well put. This gets at the heart of what’s ultimately untenable about these sorts of gender apologetics.

  47. Henry, people also mock when an idea is just plain stupid.

    However, in order to actually engage your argument. Putnam and Campbell have shown using a complex survey, which aim at being representative of the population, that active male Mormons are far more likely to support the ordination of women than active Mormon women.

    That trumps your anecdotal data and indicates that you are using some kind of faulty heuristic to incorrectly infer to all women everywhere.

    It also suggests you need to find another explanatory factor for why Unitarian Universalists support gay marriage and abortion.

  48. ZD Eve, you are a better person than I am.

  49. Snyderman says:

    Henry, hitting a nerve does not a valid or strong argument make. I could insult my opponent–falsely malign his character–and hit a nerve while not actually presenting a substantive argument.

    That being said, I think you pose an interesting question. Certainly a question I’ve never considered before. I have to believe the answer is no, though, because even though (LDS) women may be more likely to support things like gay marriage and abortion (which the LDS Church actually supports as well, just in limited circumstances) there are plenty of women who don’t support such issues that could be called to the LDS ecclesiastical leadership. Plus, I know men who have been called to leadership positions who tend to agree with the more liberal stance.

  50. Snyderman says:

    Also, Henry, I in no way meant to imply that you had falsely maligned anyone’s character. It was just an example.

  51. Tracy M, though that isn’t the approach I proposed, I suppose that works a great deal better than sarcasm into the ether.

  52. Well, for however much women want the priesthood, it’s not up to people to determine if they get it. It’s a power much greater than you or I. Why it is the way it is now, who knows?

  53. Snyderman says:

    I’m not sure that’s the question in question, Henry, if you can work through that bit of extreme ineloquence. The question is not why are things the way they are now–though that can certainly add to the discussion–but rather could things be better.

    As I’ve heard repeatedly taught and experienced in my own life, revelation tends to follow prayerful consideration and asking. I think the goal of discussions like this is to say that these questions are worth consideration and prayer. That there might be a better way of doing things that could be taken to the Lord. That, perhaps, revelation might just follow.

    I really enjoyed BHodges’ recent post about the Restoration and how it’s not a one-time event, but an ongoing process. Perhaps this is an area where the Restoration can continue, where more truth can be restored and the Church can become a little more perfect. (Then again, maybe not, but if we don’t ask the question how will we ever know?)

  54. There has certainly been some disagreement or confusion of the terminology that best reflects the central idea being discussed here (equality/fairness/sameness), and I suppose that’s partially because we believe different things but it’s also likely a product of a non-standardized vocabulary with which to discuss such issues. The field of education has long had this issue and it might be profitable to note what they’ve learned and largely agreed upon: sameness implies equality but equality does not imply sameness (i.e., sameness is a sufficient but non-necessary condition for equality); sameness is literally impossible in practice; what is desired, from our best collective judgement for the greater welfare of society is not sameness, equality, or fairness, but actually equity – that is, each is granted the opportunities to maximally develop, largely independent of the particulars of opportunities granted to others. Now, we in education fail miserably at providing such equity, but at least we have some common vernacular to banter around with. Could those with more knowledge and experience in this discussion than I propose a term or terms (with definitions!) that the rest of us could use for the remainder of this thread so that we don’t spend multiple posts talking past each other? Note: this practice requires that personal connotations of a term be largely suppressed, for the benefit of the current discussion, and it also does not resolve the difficulty that some terms must be left undefined (e.g., “maximally develop” and “opportunity”), but it is still somewhat helpful…

  55. Snyderman says:

    Brian, I’m not so sure that’s possible. I think that is largely what these discussions are about: defining “equality.” People have different ideas about what it means to be equal, which is why there is so much disagreement on the issue. I think that might actually be an excellent first step in any meaningful discussion on this topic. So…

    1) Equality means access to the Atonement and God’s love.
    2) Equality means access to Church leadership positions.
    3) Equality means access to both giving and receiving help.

    Not having reread everything, these are the definitions I remember having been put forth. They are meant to be summations and as such may not capture the whole idea, as #3 did not (I know, because I was the one that presented that one). Or they may not be entirely accurate, as they’re based on my memory of everything I’ve read over the last couple days.

    Anyway, perhaps a good next step would be to discuss which of these definitions is best and why. Perhaps all or none of them are.

  56. I dunno. The only time I feel like a second-class citizen as a woman in the church is when someone insists that I won’t be equal until I have the priesthood. It can come across as male-normative, as if the only things worth doing are what guys do, and female stuff like cooking meals, sitting in the hospital with people, cleaning houses of those in need is less than what guys do or even “not working.”

    I think we will only be truly equal when nursing a baby is seen as equally valuable to earning a paycheck, etc.

    And I think the church does value what women do. But when Elder Holland gave a lovely GC tribute to women about jello, quilts and funeral potatoes, it was criticized in some Mofeminist blogs.

    On it’s face, it sounds great to say that it would be nice if women could bless their children so they can share in that experience. But in another way, it sounds like the spiritual experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and nursing do not matter, and that only giving the blessing(the maile thing) is worthwhile to experience. I think that it is great that men have something to do as part of the process of having a baby, since they can’t experience some of the other spiritual facets.

    I think the key question of the original talk that was referenced is how do we salve the pain of sisters who experience pain? I don’t feel that pain, but I would never ever tell a sister that she is wrong to feel so. And I would feel some pain if I was in a ward with some of the jerky men that have been described.

    It’s not that I don’t feel pain because I am ignorant or have drunk the koolaid or can’t think for myself. I’m an Army veteran with a graduate degree; I am actively involved with women’s organizations and live outside the Mormon corridor. So I see and experience how women are treated in other settings.

    I don’t feel as much pain as some LDS women because I had a sweet experience in the temple which helped me feel better about letting men hold leadership roles. And because one of my classmates in grad school was a baptist minister who raved about how functional LDS priesthood was at keeping men engaged in the family and pew. His church, like many, has a “disappearing male” problem.

    And because I am not impressed.that women are really so much better off when they are treated just like men. I work at a place that prides itself on being an equal opportunity employer, and I see how devastating and disadvantaging it is to many women when they are treated exactly like men. It might work if they don’t have children or in the fortunate few who have very easy pregnancies. I would rather see a policy that recognizes that women do get pregnant, and has a policy for accommodating that– stopping the tenure clock, part-time enrollment in graduate studies, etc. Most western european countries have maternity leaves of 1-5 years.

    But if my sister is in pain, I care and want to support her. I agree that false claims of equality do not help and ring empty. I find more value in pointing to our belief in Heavenly Mother and valuing the feminine, as is mentioned in part IV of the talk.

  57. Naismith,

    Something just occurred to me. And your comment on guys “having something meaningful to do” in the childbirthing and rearing process is what triggered it.

    Sure, women can’t do baby blessings. But usually, neither can single guys in the LDS Church. Only married guys do a lot of the Priesthood ordinances and hold a lot of the Priesthood positions we talk about. So would it make sense to say the church isn’t so much “unequal” in treatment of the sexes, but rather unequal in its treatment of those who are raising families and those who aren’t.

    For instance, it makes sense to tout the experiences of childbirth, nursing, and nurturing by women in a family context, but it falls rather flat when you are talking about single women in the church.

    But I got thinking that the same thing is true for single guys, isn’t it?

    I don’t know… just random thoughts I’m piecing together here.

  58. Women learn humility by deferring to their husbands and church leaders. Men, in turn, learn humility by making sure they aren’t exercising unrighteous dominion in their leadership roles.

    There are likely some good reasons for why things are the way they are, and then there are some really bad ones. I would put that one in the latter category – just because it feels so incredibly patronizing and condescending to me as a woman.

  59. Snyderman, some interesting proposals. # 1 rubs me the wrong way, because I’ve never been able to come to terms with equal access to God and the atonement. Believe it or not, as a 7 year old rapidly approaching the “age of accountability” I somewhat seriously considered ending my own life so I’d be guaranteed exaltation. Now that I’m in my 30’s and at least nominally accountable, it seems that my probability of receiving exaltation is less than it would have been had I made that fateful decision. Ditto for those who are visited by fantastic missionaries who carry the spirit and those whose media referral goes to an arrogant putz. Only God can decide just access and I’m not even convinced that even that includes equal. Of all of them, I like # 3, as it seems to be in line with the “greatest commandments in the law.” Do we currently have that now in the Church? Probably not with regards to institutionalized processes for providing and receiving help, but certainly there are enough informal opportunities to go around. That’s a train of thought I’ll have to ponder on.

  60. I applaud Neylan for frankly laying bare the gender inequities in the church. But the solution she offers in her FAIR presentation is almost more dangerous than blatant discrimination, because it suggests there is actually a satisfying way to maintain an underlying structure in which men preside over women. There is not. Further, as has been noted, it promotes a separate but equal paradigm that, in truth, remains separate and unequal.

    The most absurd example of such an attempt is this from Bruce Hafen. Perhaps recognizing the inequity inherent in an all-male priesthood, Hafen tried to minimize its importance. In his keynote address, “Women, Feminism, and the Blessings of the Priesthood,” given at the 1985 BYU Women’s Conference, Hafen listed several of the blessings that were available to both men and women in the Church. As if it were a mere trifle, he added, “The one category of blessing in which the role of women is not the same as that of men holding the priesthood is that of administering the gospel and governing all things.” As I read this, I wondered, how could Hafen deliver this line with a straight face, and perhaps more disturbing, how could an audience of women accept it in silence?

  61. Naismith, where do you get the idea that anyone is advocating treating women “exactly like men”? There’s a vast difference between offering people different opportunities based on gender, and treating everyone as though they had no biological needs.

    I treat my daughter differently than my sons, but not because she’s a girl; it’s because she has a different temperament, she’s a different age, she has different talents and needs. I don’t see how it follows from the fact that I might occasionally need to miss a week or two of church when I have a baby that I should be permanently shut out of certain leadership opportunities. (!) Why not make decisions about callings and offices based on people’s skills or temperament, or their current life circumstances, or on revelation, rather than on gender? Wouldn’t it make more sense for a middle-aged woman whose children are grown to spend long hours in church meetings, instead of a father of young children who is also at the peak of the time requirements for his career? (Tangentially: the problem with many employers is not that they treat women like men, but that they prefer to treat all of their employees like robots with no familial or social obligations, which is to say, they like to have unpaid female workers facilitating their male employees’ maximal productivity).

    Seth–your argument would only make sense if married women’s opportunities were similar to married men’s. They are not. Single men are not absolutely and arbitrarily excluded from performing baptisms, baby blessings, etc. Indeed, there are very few callings a single man cannot hold and no ordinances he is forbidden to perform; married and single women are categorically excluded from many callings, and there are no ordinances a woman, single or married, can perform (except in the temple). Your random thoughts need a little more piecing.

  62. Molly Bennion says:

    I almost apologize for joining this discussion; it calls for so much more than a fractional view. A RS President, I will attend PEC in my ward tonight. Though I am, by the Handbook, a guest, I will not play that role. I will speak cooperatively but honestly and firmly for the women. In Relief Society, I am teaching the women to do the same. There is a culture of deference not only of women to men, but of the led to local leaders in the Church. In our silence (either because we are not invited to the table or we sit like bobble-head dolls), we rob ourselves of the talents and wisdom of so many, especially those of women. I have worked with precious few male and female leaders who understand this.
    My RS board is a partnership, a fully collaborative venture. I have to stand responsible for our little part of the vineyard, but we are all working together without need of status or credit. I don’t much care whether women perform ordinances, but I yearn for the day governance is fully shared so that we may gain from all and give to all without concerns of gender or rank. The work simply requires nothing less.

  63. Guest: “We cannot simply say, “Here, there is so much more you can do beneath the glass ceiling” – the church needs to help women break through that glass ceiling. . . .Creating narratives to harmonize our doctrines and our policies is not in my mind a solution.”

    JR: The foundational problem is the labeling and judgment of those who openly discuss this at all. So I do think that a narrative is an imperative first step in giving a common vocabulary and syntax to this issue so communication is even possible. The idea of the church helping women to break through the glass ceiling is an thrilling idea. But I also think that we first have to be in proximity to the glass. Neylan’s talk is just a beginning. Perhaps too much is being expected for a 50 min. presentation. The beginning is admitting that the church does discriminate and it can have negative, albeit unintended, consequences. That is awfully hard to do for too many members.

  64. lessonNumberOne — who washes whose feet? Who is Christ in that ordinance and who is the disciple?

    I’m always uneasy when it is a guy who is the feminist attacking the woman for not getting it. Probably just cultural.

    The job of Mormonism is to create a new narrative — yes. Not a conflict, but a transcendence. I only wish I knew what it was or how to get there.

  65. Kristine, I agree it needs more piecing.

    The inequality of the genders is one of the biggest social imbalances any society has to deal with. By nature, men are less committed to building the structures that society requires. This is just pure biology. Women have always had a natural tendency to be saddled with the offspring and naturally try to provide the nurturing social structures those offspring need.

    Purely as a biological matter – men don’t have that same mandate and natural drive. They can and will take off and leave the mother to fend for herself if you don’t give them real reasons to be involved and stick around.

    I really worry that by trying to homogenize women and men (our current society’s concept of “equality”) we are simply destroying those structures that kept men socially involved. That has to be really damaging to our society – to the extent it happens and our reforms encourage it.

    I feel like this happened with the women’s freedom movement of the 1970s and so forth. Some men protested. But a lot of the guys said “You women want job equality, freedom, and sex without strings attached? Groovy! Guess you won’t be needing me then – see ya later!” And then they took off and left the women to be the responsible ones to handle all the social infrastructure on their own.

    I can’t exactly see that as a resounding unqualified victory for the sexes.

  66. Stephen…feet washing? I’m confused. Yes Christ served. I’m unsure how this relates to anything I have said.

    It is interesting that servant leadership is the ideal we have in our church. It is not always followed and it’s antithesis (unrighteous dominion) is extremely problematic . Most people think of leadership very differently.

    I don’t feel like christ doesn’t understand me as a woman, or that there is any barrier between me becoming like Christ related to my gender. Much of what Christ does is gender nonspecific(LOVE) and very rarely is he shown performing ordinances. He likens himself to a mother hen or a nursing woman in ways that show understanding.

    My problem is more things like: my mission papers were in the hands of a guy who fundamentally didn’t understand some things about women. Because me sister struggled with anorexia he made me promise I would never loose and even want to (HA) 5 pounds before or during my whole mission-even if I gained weight on my mission or if it would have been better for my health. If I didn’t he wouldn’t let me go. I had all sorts of advice for him on books he could read and people he could talk with to have a better understanding of women and how and WHY we relate to our bodies. I hope it helped the next person. I’m guessing none of the perspective Elders he interviewed had that little stipulation. I had no recourse…there is not a woman I could instead see. There isn’t a women who is his equal on an administration level (though I did suggest he talk with his wife). I had not other path to go through. I do understand that part of this is because he was a lay minister-no training. He had just been handed a bunch of information about how some women are struggling with eating disorders on their missions and with no further knowledge took it out on me.

    I have nothing against my only path to God being Christ (a man). I have had issues with my only path to ordinances and important events in my life being men. I do respect that were women in charge part of the time there would be issues as well. I would have LOVED to have a joint interview for my mission papers with the stake RSP present as well.

  67. Kristine, I admire that you have a clear sense of how you think Things Should Be, It is not that clear to me. I am not opposed to women having the priesthood. If the Lord decides to do it that way, I am sure it will work out well.

    But in any change, there are costs and benefits. Many here are lauding only the benefits, without counting the costs. I think there would be costs as well. I see many benefits to the current system, as I watch my husband grow from his service, and I find church to be the one place in my life where my commitment to motherhood is accepted.

    I don’t see how the problem of a young parent being in church leadership would be helped by women having the priesthood. Sure, it would expand the pool. But the choice is up to the Lord, not a matter of reason. We’ve all seen a young mom serving as RSP when there were a dozen women who could serve more easily.

    In my ward, no decision that affects the entire ward was ever made without women at the table. If an issue couldn’t hold until ward council, women were invited to PEC. To my chagrin, on one occasion when I personally disagreed with a decision, I accused the bishop of making that decision without women’s input, and he calmly explained that women were there. This is an important lesson, because in the future if women get priesthood, we will have to stop blaming the patriarchy and accept that some women also have different ideas on things.

    But what I was going to say that since the new handbook and the emphasis on councils, our ward council meets twice a month, with welfare once and PEC only once. The talk in the OP does mention about the value of a gender-only meetings, and I don’t resent that the guys have one Sunday a month to talk about coordination between the quorums and home teaching.

  68. Snyderman says:

    Seth R., I’m curious. What, in your opinion, are the social structures that keep men involved?

    Naismith, what are the costs? I agree that there will almost assuredly be some, but what are they? Can they be avoided or perhaps minimized?

  69. Snyderman, I don’t think it’s clear what the correct course of action here is.

    But I do think there is a clear trend of young males disengaging from society and becoming less and less interested and less and less empowered.

    Our current popular culture celebrates female empowerment, female competency, and female opportunity. Males, on the other hand are largely being stereotyped as unneeded and irrelevant irritants. Move over so the women can run things – you loser.

    Look at the stats of female vs. male higher education and how males are dropping off. Look at how the unemployment rates for men are higher than those for women. Look at how one-sided our court systems are in favor of female attachment to the children, but not male attachment in visitation proceedings.

    Hollywood has become a wasteland of male buffoons being overshadowed by empowered females. And the crushed economy has left a lot of guys without much sense of point or purpose.

    I’m not trying to make the case that the “tables have turned” and now it’s the guys being oppressed. I’m just saying that male involvement in society is something fragile – and you can break it REALLY easily.

  70. Snyderman says:

    Yes, but I suppose my hangup with male involvement being “fragile” is that I take that to be evidence that it’s structured incorrectly. Think about having a testimony. I won’t stay active if I have a fragile testimony, so I should have a strong one. If my testimony is fragile, then I’m doing it wrong and I need to change. And yes, it will be hard and painful and all those other things, but it’s something that should be done. Similarly, if male involvement in society is so fragile that female empowerment breaks it, then we’re doing it wrong and we should change and do it better. At least that’s how I view things.

  71. Well, there’s merit to that approach, certainly.

    But I think I was demonstrating that the fragility of male involvement in society is an inherent biological trait of the entire gender. I don’t think you’re going to restructure that easily. The best you can do is come up with social structures that offset that inherent male tendency to wander off.

  72. I’m very impressed with Naismith’s remarks. There are many different ways of viewing equality. One of course is to treat everyone, regardless of difference, the same. From this perspective one would advocate, essentially, gender-blindness. No separate YM/YW. Priesthood for all. Etc. But equality can also be seen as treating differences differently. That is just as valid, and seems to be how the church is set up. And if one has faith that God’s perspective is much grander and all-encompassing than our own myopic perspectives, then it is reasonable to assume that the all-male-priesthood deal may just have something to do with God’s understanding of (eternal) gender differences. And that certainly doesn’t mean we, as a church, don’t have a long way to go in terms of how we deal with gender differences. That’s why I was so impressed with the McBain talk. It challenges us to deal with gender-related problems in our culture, but at the same time is humble enough to leave room for an all-knowing God that really is in charge.

  73. Snyderman says:

    Rick, I think treating people “the same” vs. “differently” is not quite so simple. An example from my own life might illustrate this best. I’ve been dating my girlfriend for about six months now and one of the things I’ve had to learn (and am still learning) to do is how to express my love for her in a way she understands. This has required making adjustments and changes in how I interact with her.

    One day we were discussing this and she expressed that she loved who I was now and didn’t want me to change because of her insecurities. I thought about this and realized that from one perspective I did change but from another I didn’t. On the one hand, my specific actions towards her changed. The words I used, how often I talked to her, things like that, changed. On the other hand, I hadn’t changed. Before changing how often I talked with her, my goal was to put her before myself and make sure she felt loved. After changing, my goal was to put her before myself and make sure she felt loved. So while the specifics actions I did changed a little bit, I don’t know that I would say that I changed really.

    Bringing this back to the conversation at hand, if everything the Church does is meant to strengthen families and bring people unto Christ, then the fact that the specific actions it takes may differ somewhat doesn’t mean it’s treating people differently.

    Also, what is your opinion on more “masculine” females and “feminine” males? What do we do with them? Should we switch them from YW to YM or vice versa? Or are such things simply manifestations of earthly bodies that will be corrected after death and we’re able to follow the (eternal) gender differences of our spirit bodies?

  74. No, they’re manifestations of stupidly narrow ideas about masculinity and femininity.

  75. Guenevere says:

    As long as disciplinary councils can consist of a huge group of men judging one woman alone in a room, there is a problem. The PBS documentary on the church did an excellent job of bringing that home to me. And as long as female power consists of secondary power, i.e. women trying to convince men to change things, rather than working together as partners, we have a problem.

  76. What are the costs? First, let me reiterate that I am not opposed to women having the priesthood. But treating this question as a work of fiction, extrapolating from past events, we might guess that there would be a sense of loss of the unique identity of Relief Society, if men and women simply work together with no RS organization. There was an outcry when the Relief Society magazine was abandoned and its functions into the Ensign alongside the men.

    Also, if women take over the tasks currently done by men, then someone will have to pick up and do the work currently done by women, which is sometimes invisible and unappreciated. Once when the bishop left on vacation, one of his counselors came up to me with wide eyes and said, “I just found out about all the stuff you do as Relief Society president! If anyone dies or needs welfare assistance, you can guide me through things!?” I was stunned that someone could serve a mission, be in a bishopric, and not realize that, yes, the RS president functions like the director of a social service agency.

    I don’t know how to say this without angering people, but as Seth R pointed out, there is an issue with men’s involvement when they don’t have a specific task. Unitarians are pointed to as a model in which things are wonderful with more than half of their ministers female, but this essay http://uumensnet.org/sermonwinner01.pdf raises some questions about how well it is going. Other denominations have developed men’s ministries to try to involve men, and of course there is the Promise Keepers movement. I’ve been acquainted with women in a congregation of another faith in which the women are tired and burned out because can’t get the men to do their share (but outsiders look to them as examples of egalitarianism!).

    [Of course comparison with other churches doesn’t always work well, because Mormon women already give prayers and talks, serve missions, perform ordinances, and other things that would require ordination in other faiths.]

    I do NOT think that Mormon men would have a hard time working under women or taking orders from them. I have served in Primary, Stake Public Affairs, and family history callings in which men report to women, and there have never been problems.

    I do think that disbanding Relief Society would cause LDS women and their families to lose out on a lot of practical knowledge that helps us run our homes better. I’ve been to a lot of great RS classes, from making up my first will, to learning to use a bread machine, to sprouting, to gardening in the various places we have lived.

    But to me the biggest problem is when male leadership is portrayed as “above” women. To me, it is merely a different form of service, not more or less. That is the challenge the church faces, not to try to fit into a worldly paradigm (terms like “glass ceiling” imply above) that respects all kinds of contributions, and sees the leader only as a servant who empowers his people to do and grow.

    When my husband served as a bishop, the stake president told me that he could only serve at my pleasure. I was the judge of whether his service was hurting our family, and the family came first. And that stake president was serious, and held annual interviews with me to determine that things were okay, encouraging me to call if I felt the balance was off. So while my husband did serve as bishop, supposedly with all that power, I had power over him.

    But this is all fiction and what-if, and the more important questions are how we can deal with the pain of women, and how we can respect the work that women do, even if it may be different than what men have traditionally done.

  77. Thank you, Naismith. You offer a valuable perspective I had not completely considered. The post I wrote partially in response to Sister McBaine which was posted on M* focused on an entirely different aspect which I feel might complement your points nicely.

    I would be interested in your thoughts there or in email, should you feel inclined to throw in your two cents.

  78. Obama wants to apply Title IX to S.T.E.M (science, technology, engineering, math) courses because he feels women are underrepresented in them. Title IX people all say that the law doesn’t require quotas but tell that to all the men’s sports teams that have been eliminated. This is absolutely wrong because education is supposed to be open to all. We should apply this logic across the board to all of academia including nursing school/dental hygiene school where women are
    overrepresented. It appears that feminists dont want equality, they want it all.


  79. Henry, the imbalance in Title IX causing men’s sports teams to be eliminated is not solely the fault of mandates to have equal numbers of male and female athletes.

    The problem is in tow places:

    1. the Mens’ Basketball Team and more importantly

    2. The Mens’ Football Team

    Both teams are absolutely gigantic beasts that require ungodly amounts of money, resources, and athletes to run competitively. Especially the football teams. But both teams are such cash-cows that no college wants to cut them.

    So when you come in and say – equal scholarships, funds, and numbers for the women – the college ends up killing all the other male teams so it can KEEP the football team.

    It wasn’t just Title IX that killed BYU’s mens’ gymnastics team Henry. It was the BYU Football Team that killed it.

  80. Seth:
    That’s very comforting to all the men who have to lose out on sports. Point is, the Obama sees a problem where males outnumber in fields such as the STEM ones but they see no problem where females outnumber in fields such as nursing or biology.

  81. Naismith. I think it is interesting to consider what would happen if women had the priesthood. I agree with much of what you say; t’s just that at it’s base, isn’t it the “men aren’t good enough without it” premise–or the women are too good, if they had the priesthood too it’d just be unfair? I do believe there would be a huge transition to make.

    As much as I want a place at the table as far as courts and interviews and administration goes, I have never wanted the priesthood. I have never felt that God would not give me any power I needed at any time. No I wouldn’t be able to say “in the power of the priesthood which I hold”, but the miracle would not be any less..so that doesn’t matter.

    I’m fine with ordinances being run throughout the priesthood. I know some people aren’t.

    I’m just more concerned with a voice in higher counsels and at the turning points-temple recommend interviews, mission papers, courts, counseling. I know I can always invite a woman to be with me in those points..but she would have no great voice…though that’s an interesting idea-what if we just ALL started inviting the RSP to attend those interviews and councils…as a friend? She wouldn’t be on THAT side of the table, but she’d be there.

    Title IX . sigh. I have benefited from it. I don’t necessarily like it. Yes people love football, but I’m just guessing that money is a huge part of the university’s love. Is it the football team’s fault they make so much money? Isn’t it really society in general that loves football and pays so much money to see them and revolves their ever-loving texas life around it? The problem is more that your random human would most likely watch a man play a sport than a woman. Many sports rely on bigger and faster…which is just a man thing-unless our female athletes have just been holding out on us. The game is different when woman plays. It is. For volleyball it means longer rallies and a different kind of drama. not bad or worse, but different. It takes time for people to appreciate the differences and open their minds as to what they can appreciate about a sport. Title IX is the big shove some people needed to even consider the difference being valuable. It really hasn’t been very long and people need more time to change their minds.

  82. I love the idea of inviting a sister in when we want support. That strikes me as exactly the kind of thing that the original talk seems to be pointing to.

    “…it’s just that at it’s base, isn’t it the “men aren’t good enough without it” premise–or the women are too good, if they had the priesthood too it’d just be unfair?”

    That is a very extreme interpretation of what I wrote; if you want to distill it down to a black-and-white soundbyte, that would be it. But the whole issue is much more subtle and complex than that, and it’s not quite what I was saying.

    The reality is that there is a huge body of literature outside the church suggesting that in general men are not engaging in family and church the way many would hope. Google church and “missing men” or “disappearing male” and one finds some sobering stuff. Because I came across this concept being pointed out by non-members (many of whom praised our system as working better), rather than some pseudo-doctrine of which a pink-ruffled RS sister bore testimony, I can accept it as something to be dealt with and not reject it out of hand as insulting to men.

    I have no idea how Title IX creeped into this conversation, since that is totally outside the church. But if we are going to discuss it, using the President’s title would be the more respectful way to refer to him.

  83. Snyderman says:

    How did this conversation turn from talking about gender within the Church to Obama and Title IX?

    Naismith, you bring a valuable perspective, one that I’m inclined to agree with in many ways. Earlier in this thread I presented my definition of “equality”: the opportunity to help the one (aka serve others) and the opportunity to receive the best help. I think that, ultimately, we are all here to serve the one and that all of us, regardless of gender, have ample opportunity to do just that. I think this definition works well with your most recent comment, providing a definition wherein women’s service is not less than men’s. Everyone’s is equal as everyone’s is aimed at serving the one.

    But then, this is only the first half of my definition, and it’s the second half that I think the Church could improve upon. I’m curious to know whether you think it could be done in a way that still engages men. (As a side note, I think the “gender equality” movement is not just about women doing “men’s” work, but also about men doing “women’s” work, so this might be one way to keep men engaged.) Essentially, I’m envisioning scenarios that have been presented here–the lone woman being judged by 12 men, the young woman having to talk about her sexuality with a grown man who will then have to judge her–that, to me, don’t give the person in need the best help. These women are obviously in need of help–as is anyone who sits before a bishop or high council in such a context–and I’m not convinced that the women are getting the best help they could be. I think they could receive better help if women were somehow engaged in these processes. Is there a way to do this that still keeps men engaged?

  84. I think PEC should be changed to WEC(Ward Executive Committee) and all presidents should be in attendance.

    I think the presidencies of the adult organizations(EQ and RS) should help conduct temple recommend interviews.

    Diciplinary councils should include the RS president.

  85. There is quite a bit of evidence that men are participating in society less and less. Just go on a college campus and you’ll find on average about 60% of them are women. There are of course many men still participating but all you need is a significant minority of men who begin to drop out to produce a profound societal change. Less viable men change the marketplace for partnerships and shift power further over to men in relationships. I read an interesting book that talks about how on college campuses that have less men relationships tend to follow more stereotypical male routes, including earlier premarital sex in relationships, and less committment. It had lots of different data to back it up. Women on these campuses feel that they have to “settle” because of the lack of available men. On campuses that had more men then there was more of a power balance in the relationships.
    To me the most serious indictment that there are non intended consequences to our current direction is that since the 70’s female happiness has been dropping much quicker then men’s happiness. In some studies I’ve seen men’s happiness increasing during the same time span.. It makes me wonder if our current ideas on equality are actually coming at the cost of women for the benefit of men. I think seth is right men are more than happy to give over equality to women, as it means that they are needed less and less, which to be honest with you is ideal in the minds of a decent number of men.

  86. A blogger has an interesting take on the Neylan presentation:


  87. Naismith, the “women would be too good if they had the Priesthood” idea isn’t what I was trying to get across. Besides, it smacks too much of the patronizing “women are so spiritual they don’t need Priesthood anyway” line we’ve been getting in church for decades now.

    No, I don’t agree with that concept.

    What I’m trying to say is that men bring a different approach and skill set to the table. Not “better” or “worse” – just different. And if you want them to be involved in society – then you have to provide them with natural and ready incentives to be involved.

    Any solution here that simply focuses on “how do we make things better in the church for women?” is going to be fatally flawed. That’s my take-home point.

  88. Seth, please don’t attach my name to something that *I* did not say. I don’t agree with that either.

  89. Naismith. I reread your comment and some of the previous comments. You were not giving a reason for why women shouldn’t have the priesthood…you were just talking about some of the more immediate consequences that may come up. If people use those consequences as justification…that’s where the women are just too good soundbite comes in…but to consider the consequences, as you were doing is different.

  90. I just thought you were linking the idea to what I was saying – so I responded to you by saying that I don’t agree with it.

  91. I meant to quote Seth to say only that there can be a challenge with men’s involvement. I realize that did say, “there is an issue with men’s involvement when they don’t have a specific task,” and really only the first half should have been attributed to him. The possible answers are more complex.

    The bits in quotes in my later post are from someone else. And I agree with Seth, if this just degenerates to a trite “line,” there can be no conversation.

  92. I don’t have the time to read all the comments posted, so I’m not sure if this has been addressed, but I was really taken aback by the part of the post where it says that the presenter was saying that God doesn’t know how to have a meaningful relationship with women as He does with men because that particular bishop had a hard time with that in practice. That is the strangest, most convoluted extrapolation of that story that could possibly be made. Yes, a bishop is a representative of God in the sense that he acts as our temporary judge. But the bishop is still a man who is learning as he goes and does not have a perfect knowledge of anything. But God does. It would be like saying because I have been baptized and covenanted to take Christ’s name upon me, it means that Christ doesn’t really understand how to truly love everybody since I clearly don’t have that same ability. At best, it’s a silly and erroneous generalization to make.

%d bloggers like this: