Sis. Burton’s Boy Crazy Talk #ldsconf

Finally!  A talk about something I love:  men.  As a person who has sometimes struggled with opposite sex attraction, I can relate.  In The Sound of Music, the Baroness von Whatsername wisely said there was nothing more attractive to a man than a woman who was in love with him, so right now, Sis. Burton is looking pretty good.  There is the obligatory nod at the beginning to so-called “perfect” women.

I have been told by many sisters that what they love most is watching the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as they exit this podium with their eternal companions. And don’t we all enjoy hearing the Brethren tenderly express their love for them?

I get it.  You don’t want to seem catty.  You have to nod to the sisters.  But, as they say, “Bros before hos.”  Let’s get on with the man-tasticness that follows.  Sis. Burton juxtaposes the admiration the apostles express for their wives with her own appreciation for her husband Craig.

He is a precious gift to me! . . . Borrowing from the words of Mark Twain, I say that “life without [Craig] would not be life!  I love him, heart and soul!

Let’s just say, when it comes to honeyed words, Sis. Burton can hold her own among the leaders of the church.  When she is released, she could consider a job at Hallmark as a fallback.  I could imagine Craig’s blushing cheeks as he heard his wife’s bold declarations for all the world to hear.  Not wanting to seem insensitive, Sis. Burton throws a bone to those less fortunate than she has been:

Please know that I am painfully aware that the topics of fatherhood, motherhood, and marriage can be troubling for many. I know that some Church members feel that their homes will never reach what they perceive to be the ideal. Many are hurting because of neglect, abuse, addictions and incorrect traditions and culture. I do not condone the actions of men or women who have willfully or even ignorantly caused pain, anguish, and despair in their homes. But today I am speaking of something else.

tl;dr “Not every man is a Craig.”  But enough about you neglected and abused lot, back to the ideal.  Also, no real mention of the singles, who have neither attained a “Craig” nor been abused or neglected by an addiction-addled “non-Craig” which seems like a big omission.  My last two wards have been magnet wards for the singles (if that’s what we are calling them), so I’m used to attending wards with high numbers of singles mixed in.  I imagine they noted that omission.

I am convinced that a husband is never more attractive to his wife than when he is serving in his God-given roles as a worthy priesthood holder—most importantly in the home.

While we are sharing, I am convinced that a husband is never more attractive than when he’s doing the laundry, although most kitchen tasks are probably a close second.  I also like when he puts gas in my car.  Plus, I’ve noticed that the older we get the more and more he looks like Cary Grant, all distinguished and continental, and the more and more I look like Fred Armisen in a wig.

Now we move on to the meat of the talk, or at least the hearty appetizer:  Uncle Don’s string fence.

Because there were five small children to feed and clothe, there was not enough money to fence the yard. Taking seriously one of his divine roles as the protector of his family, Uncle Don drove a few small wooden stakes into the ground, took some string, and tied the string from stake to stake all around the yard. He then called his children to him. He showed them the stakes and string and explained to them that if they would stay on the inside of that makeshift fence, they would be safe.

She links this to the need to be a protector of one’s family, even without the means to do so perfectly.  I couldn’t help but liken this to the role our bishops and other church leaders have to protect those in their charge from harmful influences and from straying into spiritual danger.

Because I’m Mormon, my first instinct was to look up the definition of the word “makeshift,” which means “serving as a temporary substitute; sufficient for the time being.”  Synonyms are provisional, interim, stopgap, improvised, jury-rigged, or cobbled together.  One thing Mormons are good at is building hedges about our hedges about the law, but as her analogy point out, these are often made of string, the best we can do with our limited resources.  I couldn’t help but think of the Honor Code at BYU, the prohibition on earrings and tattoos, tee shirts under sundresses, and considering words like “crap” swear words.  Our “makeshift” fences are our best cobbled together attempts to keep the children from wandering out into the street, keeping them safely in the front yard.  I can only imagine what lies beyond the string fence, but certainly the stuff of after school specials.

The visiting teachers watched in disbelief as they approached the house and saw five little children standing obediently at the edge of the string, looking longingly at a ball that had bounced beyond their boundaries and out into the street. One little child ran to get their daddy, who, in response, ran and retrieved the ball.

The image of the kids looking over the string meerkat-like reminds me of how people train dogs not to cross boundaries, although I confess that my dog-training skills have been a complete failure, and my child-training skills have likewise not been great.  Let’s just say, my spool of string might have been a few feet too short.  But it also occurred to me that the string boundary in the story creates a co-dependence on the dad, a situation in which the dad can be the rescuer to his children.  He both creates the problem and provides the solution.[1]

And yet, that’s how we train people new things.  We create a situation in a safe environment that builds skills.  In this example, the skill is “Rely on dad, and fear what lies beyond the yard.”  I assume that as teens they were no longer asking dad to fetch their ball from the street.

Most importantly, the desire to protect one’s family is core to fatherhood whether you have a cadre of fully armed secret service agents at your disposal or just a ball of string.

It must be difficult, at best, for covenant men to live in a world that not only demeans their divine roles and responsibilities but also sends false messages about what it means to be a “real man.” One false message is “It’s all about me.” On the other end of the scale is the degrading and mocking message that husbands and fathers are no longer needed.

This part seems like a stretch to me.  In the formulaic talks about the divine role of women there’s always a part where the speaker details all the contrary messages women get from “the world.”  I’m not sure Sis. Burton nails it here, in that I don’t think there are a lot of men (or women) who think fathers are no longer needed.  If that were the case, I wouldn’t see so many advertisements for cheap paternity tests on my daily commute. [2]  Looks to me like the sometimes scarcity of fathers among the poor makes them a hot commodity.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t give Sis. Burton extra props for coining the term “covenant men.”

This role-reversal talk is unique in that we are hearing a woman talk about men for a change rather than the other way around, and she even follows the same patterns of speech.  It’s not Eloise Bell’s The Meeting, but I’ll take it.  Any port in a storm.

The remainder of the talk disintegrates into gender complementarianism.  Like two hands are opposites, they work better together (although very few people are truly ambidextrous–one hand is almost always stronger than the other).  God made women to be an help-meet.  1/2 + 1/2 = 1.  Yin and yang.  Cats and dogs, living together.  She cautions spouses not to compete with one another, although I’m not sure this is really a thing.  Is this a thing?  Competing just seems like a lot of work.  I’d rather band together against the children who currently outnumber us.

Speaking of which, she shares the following anecdote about her stay-at-home life:

When I was a young mother of several small children, at the end of days filled with diapering, dish washing, and disciplining, no one sang more emphatically the Primary song “I’m so glad when daddy comes home.” I’m sad to admit that I was not always cheerful when Craig seemed to bounce through the door after a day of hard work. . . I wish I had been a little less preoccupied with the endless list of “to dos” still to be done and had more wisely focused, like he did, on things that mattered most.

Back up the truck a second.  Let’s not forget that a stay-at-home parent’s endless list of “to dos” is 24×7 whereas Craig’s “wisely focused” perspective was because he was no longer at work.  Stay-at-home parents are at work when they are at home.  Let’s not imagine that Craig is wise and refreshed because he’s inherently awesome.  He just isn’t the stay-at-home parent.  He’s off work, unlike you.  I’m refreshed when it’s quitting time, too.  He’s been listening to Queen in the car for a half hour, reveling in his freedom, whereas you’ve been in the diaper-filled trenches waiting for the cavalry to join you.

She ends with advice to speak more kindly to our spouses and about our spouses to others after she quotes (in rapid succession) two more apostles.  There was quite a bit of name-dropping in this talk, all men, but perhaps that’s appropriate in a talk about how incredible LDS men are. [3]


[1] That only occurs to me because I’m of a certain age, an age in which my feckless youth was spent unsupervised playing in the woods, out until well past dark with no supervision whatsoever, a time before twenty-four hour news.  I’m one of those people who constantly get emails asking how any of us are still alive given the lack of bubble wrap (easy answer: those who didn’t survive these free range, unseatbelted childhoods don’t have email accounts).

[2] Well, that and Phoenix’s indifferent zoning laws.

[3] Just like how our male church leaders mostly quote women in talks about women.


  1. Villate says:

    When that talk was over, my husband turned to our freshly-minted deacon and said, “Now son, in a few hours we’ll go to Priesthood session and you’ll hear the exact opposite of everything she just said.”

  2. Jen Galan says:

    “When was the last time you held your tongue…” (I yelled “25 seconds ago!!) “When was the last time you forgave…” (Husband yelled “25 seconds ago!”) Then we hi-fived and ate some Tim Tams we had hidden from the children. EAT THAT, SECULAR MARRIAGES.

  3. Fantastic.

  4. Angela, I love you.

    I despair that this is the best we can talk about husbands and wives. Being married and raising children is important work, and worthy of putting in actual effort. And, maybe one day we could talk about those many?

    But at least the ill-fitting shoe is on the other foot?

  5. sigh. This is great, Angela.

    My silver lining is that there seemed to be an elevation of fatherhood in importance… baby step…..

  6. I didn’t catch her talk, but I hope Sister Burton doesn’t happen by this post. I’m trying to imagine how I’d feel reading this post if I’d given the talk.

  7. Morthodox says:

    Mmm…gender rolls, with butter and jam!

  8. Craig Burton happens to be my stake president. In a SINGLES stake. His amazing wife Linda will accompany him often as he makes the rounds visiting the different wards. I struggle to find my place within this church and don’t go because I have fait but because I hope that one day I’ll feel something again. I struggle to know if God is real. I struggle to know what my role as a single adult is when our church is mainly about families. I feel alone when I go to the temple and the words spoken speak and focus on couples and families.I know that Linda and Craig are personally aware and pray daily for the singles and the struggles they face. I don’t feel she has to justify or give us a shout out. She’s allowed to talk about a subject without acknowledging EVERYONE who may not fit in the category.

    And I feel sad reading this article you wrote. Lately I try to absorb any ounce of information to try and categorize it and maybe help me decide where I stand. I loved Sister Burton’s talk. She spoke out of sincerity. I don’t love everyone’s talk. And I feel sad that when I read this the tone that comes off is hurt… for whatever reason you’re hurt and you want to hurt others. You’re just mean. I hope you find what you’re looking for. I sure haven’t.

  9. I never got past the image of the string fence. I kept thinking that my HOA would never allow that.

  10. I am a single. I didn’t notice. And I really liked her talk. For once, someone was aspirational rather than critical towards men.

    She spoke of fathers as necessary, contributing, and loving. I hope men take courage from that and know they are appreciated.

  11. I am a man. I liked the talk. I think this article, like most blogs about general conference talks, tends to over-analyze the talk.

  12. Did she say women are helpmeets, or did she kind of imply that spouses are helpmeets? I noticed that she made an effort to apply things both ways. At my MIL’s funeral the other day, FIL called himself her helpmeet. He didn’t seem to think it was even a gendered term. Maybe it isn’t.

  13. I think that the most remarkable thing about this talk is that perhaps the words of a woman will be widely studied in Priesthood meetings in our local congregations.

  14. Angela C says:

    Sarah: Thanks for sharing the additional information about their link to singles. That’s a wonderful perspective for those who don’t know her. There are those singles who did feel overlooked by her talk as discussed in various on line forums. No talk can meet the needs of everyone. I’m surprised her talk was a great match for you given that it bore so little resemblance to your situation, but I’m glad it did and that you felt uplifted. Sis. Burton seems a very kind, genuine woman who loves her husband dearly. I take her at her word. I like her face.

    I don’t know why you think my post was mean. It’s amusing to see the juxtaposition of roles in a woman giving a talk about men in the same pattern men have given talks about women. That’s no slam on Sis. Burton. That’s pointing to the sexist expectations we have as an audience and a church, our gender-based norms that do merit criticism.

    The string story, though an imperfect analogy, was thought-provoking and the heart of the post as well as her talk. These types of posts are the way we as individuals interact with the talks we heard. No more, no less.

  15. Another single member here. I had mixed feelings about Sis. Burton’s talk, but it hardly merited the condescending, sarcastic response given in this post.

  16. Love this, thanks.

  17. The Other Clark says:

    I thought Sis. Burton’s talk was excellent, and thought this post smacks of light-mindedness.

    I mentioned to my wife that I found it interesting that the Gen RS president should direct her talk to the men of the Church. She responded that it wasn’t directed at the men; it was directed to the women who don’t appreciate their husbands.

  18. I thought the post smacked of ham, but I might be confusing it with hot ham water.

  19. Mmmmmmm, hot ham water…

    It’s about time a woman addressed her remarks to the men. Listen up, brethren! No? Okay, it might not have been this talk, but it’s still about time.

  20. I think Angela’s snark can be taken too easily as criticism, when it is actually a very dry wit – a problem I frequently have myself. At times I’ve resolved to be more clear by being unambiguously nasty when I mean to be critical, but this carries some negative consequences as well. ;) I haven’t found the ideal compromise yet.

    My wife and I howled at the string thing. My kids would have tied up the VTs with the string and used their car as a potato gun target, all in good fun, of course. They’re all upstanding citizens, now, and faithful if somewhat mouthy members.

  21. Angela C says:

    New Iconoclast: You complete me.

  22. MilliBea says:

    I am divorced from a non-Craig, raised my children alone and come by my sarcasm & bitterness honestly.
    To keep my Faith, I work hard to restrain my eye rolls over the ideal Craig & Linda church-goers but this post just plain made me chuckle all-the-way-thru! And most of the comments even more…maybe the uncle Don’s & his family are the innocent ones and I’m jaded but I came to the conclusion, through chuckling, that the wisdom is somewhere in between the sweet naïveté of the Linda, Craig & Don’s, the serious or bitter displaced ones and the plain irreverent layered on top. Thank you!

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