Can Women Matter?

An organizational chart from the New York and Erie Railroad, ca. 1855

Women don’t count in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I say this not as a critique of male Mormons’ attitudes towards women, nor as a doctrinal proposition, nor yet as the cri de coeur of a woman who has been scorned or abused by a church leader. I say it simply as a matter of bureaucratic fact.

A fully functional Mormon ward, able to administer all the requisite ordinances outside of the temple, can be constituted with exactly one woman–the bishop’s wife–because we are still sticklers about that NT “husband of one wife” standard. A branch can be constituted with no women. When deciding whether to create a new unit in any of the stakes of Zion, the only tally that matters is the number of active Melchizedek priesthood holders.

Obviously, a church with no women would look very different than what most of us have experienced, and women and children are valued members of our families and wards and branches. I don’t believe that Mormon men don’t care about women, or go around thinking “we don’t really need women, so why should I listen to them?” But the stark institutional reality is that women are not needed. This is structural sexism. It is prior to contemporary Mormons’ attitudes towards women–that is, it is not a system deliberately designed to discriminate against women because Church leaders are chauvinistic or misogynist; it is merely the ground on which their consciousness of gender is formed. Mormon children learn early and without being explicitly taught that men have more authority and can do more things at Church than women. When I say that the Church is “sexist,” I am pointing to this structural reality.

But that is not what most Mormons respond to when they hear the word sexism. Instead, they are likely to be defensive about their own progressive attitudes towards women, citing examples of bishops who willingly listen to women and value their opinions, or Mormon men who go out of their way to show the women they interact with how much they care about “women’s issues.” Perhaps the most famous example of this reflexive response is Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” gaffe. He was asked a question about historical and structural issues in the economy that cause women in the aggregate to earn significantly less than men. He responded by detailing his personal efforts to recruit individual women and (presumably) pay them well. That might have been the most Mormon moment of his campaign.

I suspect that part of the reason Mormons are especially* susceptible to this kind of blindness to the effects of institutional structure is that we are predisposed to see the Church itself, not just the gospel, as “true.” It’s understandable that people who believe their leaders are prophets would conclude that the organizational structure they dictate is divinely approved. It seems like a futile exercise to discern how much inspiration is involved in the creation of any given program or Church bureaucracy, so we readily presume that the whole institution is perfect. And that means we don’t think very much about how organizational structure influences behavior and belief. I was in college before I read Meg Wheatley’s article examining the effects of structural incentives on the efforts and involvement of Mormons in their church Despite having grown up in a family that tolerated (some) criticism of Church programs and plenty of doctrinal dispute, and despite having, apparently, had a feminist awakening well before Kindergarten, I had never once thought systematically about the Church as an organization that could be fitted into an organizational chart for analysis.

Up until that point in my life, the goodness of the individual men in my life–my dad, my Sunday School teachers, my bishops and Stake Presidents–had sheltered me from the effects of a sexist structure. I think many women go through their whole lives this way, and I am glad for them. Women who are happy in the Church exactly the way it is are not suffering from false consciousness. I believe that most men who accept callings in the church do so because they are good and want to bless others. I believe that the structure of the church provides an extraordinarily effective vehicle for them to do exactly that. The socialization of men in the church very often produces exceptionally thoughtful, committed, and loving husbands and fathers.

But (you knew that was coming…) the institutional superfluity of women means that Mormon children absorb certain messages about what women are and can do that will come into conflict with what they learn elsewhere, and what their own divine nature whispers to them. It’s possible that God could not call latter-day Deborahs and Huldahs and Annas and Junias and Priscillas, because those callings have become literally unthinkable for people raised as Latter-day Saints. The reason to consider carefully which parts of the Church’s structure are inspired and which are the result of tradition, or adoption from the business world, or simple thoughtlessness, is that organizational structures and cultures are powerful tools for shaping behavior. In the same pre-conscious way that it matters whether some pilots are women, it matters whether boys and men see women in positions of leadership and power. I imagine God can (eventually) work around such human limitations, but we should be sure that we are not making God’s work more difficult by failing to attend to what we already know about how human minds and spirits develop. Structural sexism communicates damaging messages, even when it is not motivated by chauvinism or misogyny. I believe with my whole heart that those are not the messages God wants either his daughters or his sons to receive from the Church. I also believe that God trusts us, women and men, to work out these questions together, and lends us all the power and inspiration we need to truly build Zion, if only we will.

—————————–
*–though by no means uniquely susceptible, as witnessed by the endless efforts of people of color to educate white folk about structural and institutional racism, and white folks’ unrelenting

defensiveness about their own lack of personal animus toward individual black people…

Comments

  1. Incontrovertible.

  2. Michael Austin says:

    “In the same pre-conscious way that it matters whether some pilots are women, it matters whether boys and men see women in positions of leadership and power.”

    Yes, this I think is the crux of the matter. It matters a lot. And quite frankly, this is why a not-inconsiderable number of Mormon me that I know have a hard time functioning in a world where women really do have positions of leadership and power. In the world of higher ed. that I inhabit, we are still catching up numerically, but there are women who are presidents, provosts, deans, department chairs, and chairs of the board. This is a reality, and boys who grow up without ever seeing women in these kinds of roles, they often make perfect arses of themselves in professional situations.

  3. Emily Jensen says:

    I honestly think beyond the structural sexism, there is just plain sexism.

    Structual sexism:

    “President Oaks asked the men in the congregation to rise up to their responsibilities to lead families in righteousness.”

    Plain sexism:

    “In a lighter moment, President Oaks shared a list of five things that a husband should say to his wife. “I love you. I am sorry. Yes, dear. You look good in that. We can’t afford it.”

    Both quotes from a talk given just this Friday August 24, 2018.

    2018.

  4. Emily, yes–the structure reinforces the attitudes, and vice versa. But I think that, for the most part, attitudes have changed more quickly than the structures.

  5. “A fully functional Mormon ward, able to administer all the requisite ordinances outside of the temple, can be constituted with exactly one woman–the bishop’s wife–because we are still sticklers about that NT ‘husband of one wife’ standard.”

    Kristine, though this counter-example has nothing to do with the structural sexism you describe, there is at least one LDS bishop who has never been married. I have wondered, but will never know, if whoever approved at Church headquarters simply failed to read the stake president’s response to the question about the proposed bishop’s marital status. However, it happened, I’m glad it did. Also beside the point of your post — in the very real, day-to-day sense (as opposed to “requisite ordinances outside the temple”), I rather doubt his ward could/would function at all without the women.

    I don”t know what any of us outside the Q15 can do about the structural sexism, though I’ve done and seen things done to counteract some of the damaging messages it communicates — with varying degrees of success..

  6. But obviously not at the top, which is where the structure is changed .

  7. I think change happens there, too, although the increments can seem awfully small…

  8. Benjamin Knoll says:

    If you’ll forgive the shameless plug, some of my research supports the arguments presented above: https://religionnews.com/2018/07/17/its-good-for-girls-to-have-clergywomen-study-shows/

  9. 100!.
    Comments:
    1. In a pinch the Church would do without the bishop’s wife. I’ve seen it.
    2. The structural sexism affects women as well as men and children. In the few cases I’ve seen of efforts to change the structure, too many women have too few role models. Arguably the structure is the reality—we don’t know how to do differently.
    3. It didn’t have to be so, and there are historical practices and experiences to call on if we want to and have long memories or good history.
    4. As a practical matter, I predict that structural change will look like it comes from outside (whether from God or not, it will look like from outside the institution) and as a result the institution will fight it.

  10. Christian–yes, exactly to all of those comments. Re: #4 (and 3, I guess)–I once had a heated argument with a certain skinny redheaded law professor who called me a “Harvard-trained feminist,” because my feminism was first inspired by historical Mormonism and Harvard had nothing to do with it.

  11. Left Field says:

    Actually, you can form a branch with *no* Melchizedek Priesthood holders. As long as you have at least one priest to administer the sacrament, you can have sacrament meeting, and the priest can be called as a branch president (Doctrine and Covenants 20:49; https://www.lds.org/manual/branch-guidebook/branch-presidency?lang=eng)

  12. Thanks, Left Field :)

  13. Very insightful and helpful post. I’ve said before that Mormon men are individually and on the whole less sexist than most of their non-LDS counterparts I’ve met–in terms of things like listening to women, pitching in with child-rearing (putting families first), and being a partner in marriage. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but that’s one of the fruits of church culture.

    And yet, and yet, I can’t tell you how many times I as a girl or woman have thought about something I could do or experience only to realize that no, I can’t do that or that will never happen, simply because of my sex. I’ve never felt more invisible or unnecessary at those times, like when I realized I could never be a leader on my mission or become a mission president one day (just two examples). The church is a grunchy place.

  14. Nate’s not that skinny, Kristine. (Also: superb post, as always. Your faith that the women and men who make up this institution have the spiritual resources within themselves to change humbles me.)

  15. There are simple changes that could be made. Why not a female Sunday School President?

  16. Yes, Marvin. If we wanted to, there are lots of simple changes we could make. Neylan McBaine wrote.a terrific book about them: https://www.mormonwomen.com/women-at-church/

  17. Sure, a female Sunday School President would be a nice to have. Let’s make incremental change.
    But not necessary. Without women being necessary, nothing real changes.
    My one-liner (on the ordination question) for years has been “whatever it takes to make my next bishop a black woman.”

  18. Perhaps change will come if retention becomes a problem that can be traced back to the institutional sexism. It is only going to get harder for girls and women to switch back and forth between autonomy and participation in “the world” to dependency and narrowly prescribed roles at church. Parents might begin to think twice about the downsides of bringing their kids up in the church (I have). Losing membership** might be the only message the leaders might be able to hear on this issue.

    **I’m not encouraging anyone to leave – I’m not leaving. But I understand if the cognitive dissonance pushes other people away.

  19. It is interesting that this post has both such a starkly honest and hopeful feeling to it, perhaps because stark honesty engenders hope. Thank you deeply Kristine.

  20. On the mission, we reported two statistics weekly. Number of discussions taught, and number of discussions taught to potential Melchizedek PH holders. Baptisms were similarly segregated.

  21. Reading about the Prophetess Deborah ignited my religious feminism. I had a grandmother, who was raised in a family of girls without a father. This empowered them and likewise empowered us in every facet of life except church. However I didn’t see it that way until my reading of Deborah in the bible. People flocked to get her advice. They rallied behind her words. Because church is a haven in my life, I tried to carry out Deborah-esque qualities. It didn’t always go well. People didn’t flock, nor did they listen, even when I was in leadership. It was a very painful lesson.

  22. One Sunday during my mission in South America, my companion and I showed up to church and we were the only women there. Sure, it was just a branch, and only 25 men showed up, but not one local female member was there. We went ahead and had sacrament meeting as usual, and the men stayed for EQ, but there was no one in Relief Society. Now I’m wondering if the women there were all just way more aware than I was, and they knew they didn’t matter.

  23. “ the institutional superfluity of women means that Mormon children absorb certain messages about what women are and can do that will come into conflict with what they learn elsewhere, and what their own divine nature whispers to them”

    I am thankful for the whispers of divine nature. The most effective bishops I have known have removed or ignored as many of the barriers as possible between male and female leaders in the wards, but the implicit structure places limits on that tendency. Other groups may also have some claim to a similar ‘least favored relevance’ status. Homosexual or transgender people increasingly (yes, I think increasingly) have almost no center of relevance in Mormon wards, temples, or cosmology structures. The greatest hope for a way forward is that LGBTQ individuals are also in families, a locus that often is touted in traditional Mormon views as being the place where women have mattered most (begging the question that perhaps is that not where ALL of us should matter most?) But the POC and even the PTTW seem to implicitly and even fervently strike us loose from any structural mooring in our religion… except for the whispering of divine nature. As a mostly closeted mtf transgender person I don’t fit in Relief Society and I feel a little like a sham as I teach priesthood, but I can thank Heavenly Parents that they let me know that I matter, that I am a loved trans-daughter of God and that Christ knows how to succor me. I would love to stay in the church too, but it might drive me out if I choose to express my divine nature openly before I die. I don’t wish to hijack the thread since this is perhaps not exactly the same issue, but I felt at least there was some symmetry. Again, thank you Kristine, so well done!

  24. An excellent post Kristine.

  25. Every time I think “A” is the best blogger on BCC, “B” comes along, followed by “C”, then “D”….
    Thoughtful and thought-provoking.

  26. Christine John says:

    Wonderful and thoughtful, Kristine. The sexist structure didn’t bother me most of my life, probably for the reasons you outline here (my bishop/stake president/husband/father were not personally sexist). But for the last 4 or 5 years I have become increasingly aware of the sexist structure of the church and the difficulty that poses for women striving to make a difference. I appreciate the clarity and thoughtfulness of this post.

  27. I think the sexism (and to some extent the racism and homophobia) of the church and its structures caused so much cogdis that it allowed me to consider that the church just isn’t true. Once I honestly allowed myself to consider that, I was easily able to leave, despite all of my positive (although not particularly spiritual) childhood and young adult experiences.

    Church became a total grind for me in my early 20s because of the constant compartmentalization of “church life” and “life” I needed to do to stay sane, but I stayed in the church for another 15 years hoping for change. Out now almost five years.

  28. The church is already shifting and I’m all for it: not required to have PH give the closing prayer in meetings, PH leaders taught to give women in their councils an equal voice, traveling GAs bring their wives and give them the first opportunities to speak, women’s conference is now considered General Conference, in a Ward Conference ward council I just attended all the sisters got first dibs at the lunch table, and on, and on. It seems some here won’t be satisfied trying to steady the ark until they see female bishops, though.

  29. Jason, being first in line at lunch isn’t exactly a measure of institutional authority, though it is polite to let the people who planned and prepared the meal eat it, too…

  30. Being allowed by those in authority to participate is also not the same as actually having authority—women’s roles are, in all the situations you describe, still contingent on men’s choices. We know that “almost all men” will sometimes not exercise their authority righteously, and women are without recourse in the current structure when that happens.

    I am glad and grateful to see the changes you describe, but there is more work to be done.

    (NB—so far, you are the only one who has hinted at the possibility of women holding priesthood office. I specifically and deliberately did not suggest it.)

  31. Abolishing PEC and moving the center of gravity of ward leadership to Ward Council is an attempt, I think, to encourage members to recognize that institutional authority does not need to require priesthood ordination. But at the same time, correlation’s main accomplishment (putting all non-priesthood institutional authority subordinate to priesthood leadership) persists, which means that without either a major, paradigm-changing revelation on priesthood or a reversal of correlation, any institutional authority that women currently have or (absent ordination) could even potentially have is subordinate to men’s institutional authority.

    But Kristine’s point, I think, is not about whether men’s authority and women’s authority in the church are equal; it’s whether women’s authority is even a necessary part at all. A system where women’s authority is subordinate to men’s, but a ward cannot exist without women’s authority might still be criticized, but it’s definitely different from a system where women’s authority is just not needed at all. Lots to think about.

  32. Bishop here. An issue that I agree with and to which I am very sympathetic. Though I feel those grand aspirations for the changes I think we all desire, the institution of the church creates such a churn of work and need that, particularly at the local level, a lot of those big goals fall victim to voluminous, acute, ministering needs. To which both men and women contribute. I am finding that the big thoughts that I had “if i were ever bishop” are pretty tough to implement. Both because of the institutional restrictions you ably outline, but also because it’s just so darn busy. I am also finding that the women of the ward are an absolute necessity to keep things going, to minister, and to love. The “real” work is done by all, perhaps with an imbalanced burden on our women. That contribution and potential imbalance does not solve the real institutional problem you highlight (I know that’s part of your point). But perhaps a greater recognition of it can contribute to progress. thanks for the post.

  33. nobody, really says:

    I came to this realization probably 25 years ago – a good friend of mine is a beauty queen, muscle-car driver, gifted athlete and musician, and fiercely independent business professional. She decided the weather was way too nice not to go camping for a 3-day weekend, so she rounded up 15-20 girlfriends, made food/gear assignments, and booked a nice campsite with a short walk to showers and flush toilets.

    The other girls in the group refused to go unless a Priesthood holder was going to be present. This wasn’t a Church activity, but these women had been trained that you can’t go camping on your own, because no camping experience they had ever experienced showed them that they could do it on their own – that in fact, it was just as wrong to go camping without a man present as it would be to get drunk and sell naughty pictures on-line for drug money.

  34. A quibble: Anyone with the gift of prophecy is a prophet. Only one person has the calling as the Prophet and leader for the whole Church. If someone is doctrinally ignorant enough not to think women can not possess the gift of prophecy that is their fault, IMHO.

    Also, Yes, you do not talk about the priesthood, but deliberately take aim at its structures. It is difficult to talk about the things you talk about and not talk about the priesthood and how it is exercised in the Church through leadership and thus power.

  35. Brilliant, Kristine. As usual.

  36. Nathan, I agree that this conversation requires a discussion of how leadership and priesthood are conflated in the current iteration of the Church’s organizational structure. But there is a lot of ground to cover in the discussion before we have to unbracket the question of women’s ordination. Accusing a woman who voices any suggestion of change of wanting the priesthood is often a rhetorical move to shut down the conversation, rather than a rational conclusion about the impossibility of changing anything about women’s roles and status without ordination.

    (“deliberately take aim at its structures” seems to be assigning a hostile intent I don’t have. If the OP evinces such intent, it’s a lapse in my ability to communicate, and I apologize.)

  37. Outstanding post, Kristine.

    Nathan, I don’t think it’s surprising that someone in the Church would think that women don’t have the gift of prophecy, when all our correlated manuals carefully omit discussion of women in prophetic roles.

  38. Left Field says:

    One Mother’s Day years ago, my ward had a dinner after church. I’m sure they thought it was a good idea at the time, but somebody decided that since it was Mother’s Day, the women should go through the buffet line first.

    The sisters with families either had to eat without them, or else they sat and watched their food get cold for 15 minutes while their family waited in line separately. Either way, they still had to wait for the men to eat before they could go home.

    I’m sure it would work out better for a smaller group like Ward Council, but really in any circumstance, it’s more respectful to women if they’re not singled out for “special” womanly treatment.

  39. Ziff–yes. There’s a reason we don’t talk about Huldah. The Big P/small p distinction that has become such a comfortable platitude kind of falls apart with her utterance of “thus saith the Lord.”

  40. Also, we both know an unmarried Bishop, so even the Bishop’s wife is unnecessary.

  41. Leo, some members are so hostile toward other church members that responding, asking, suggesting, sharing views, participating, or engaging are all actions considered hostile toward the church or its leaders. To such members, the only appropriate response is immediate obedience without commentary. I’m not sure how that got to be the gold standard. Church leaders don’t model that among themselves. They also claim to wrestle with the important issues of the day. So should we all.

  42. Kristine “The Big P/small p distinction that has become such a comfortable platitude kind of falls apart with her utterance of “thus saith the Lord.”?

    Anyone can use that phrase when sharing revelation from the Lord. If you feel so inclined feel free. Platitude indeed.

  43. Structural misogyny in practice: Four years ago my husband and I left the church. Since then 100% of re-recruitment efforts have been aimed at him( our children are adults so we’re empty nesters) yes you read right , 100%. Apparently I’m invisible.

  44. Clinically – this is brilliant. Well written and thoughtful. However. My first thought was “pffft. ANOTHER post stressing the differences. Another post dismissing women in the LDS Church. And following those? The LDS church has always been a patriarchy. From its beginning. A MAN founded it. Based on the teachings of another MAN (Jesus Christ). So ‘women don’t count’? Well DUH.

  45. Melanie obliquely touched on my response. Church culture such as it is preserves a structure inherited from the 19 century. It’s not particularly surprising that Joseph Smith created a structure that excluded women from its administrative structure. It’s only surprising that today’s church excludes women from the structure when viewed through the eyes of presentism. Given the church’s reliance on precedent and following inherited structure, it would take a visionary leader indeed to alter the structure in a more inclusive way.

  46. Descent. I agree.
    Yes, and where there is no vision… well you know.

  47. Melanie, the MAN who started the Church indicated that he intended to have women hold some institutional authority. He also validated the Eliza Snow’s revelation that Mother in Heaven was part of the Godhead. We showed the possibility for something different early on in the church. It is not a given that because a MAN starts something, it will be patriarchal and dismissive of women.

  48. I had an experience several years a go which opened my eyes to how the church passively teaches sexism to its members. I went to a marriage being conducted by a judge at the courthouse. The brides father a long time member of the church and an old codger who spent lots of time at the temple was there. When the judge asked the witnesses to step forward, one of them was a woman. The bride’s father asked in a very surprised voice “A witness can be a woman?”. To which the the bride turned to her father and said “Sexist!”. It was a funny moment, but also kinda sad.

  49. I too have had very positive experiences as a woman in the church, but I’ve always been aware that those were gifts granted to me by tolerant/inclusive men, not something I was entitled to. It really does make a difference when you know that your inclusion is a nice favor that can be retracted at any time, and that you’ll have no recourse if that happens.

  50. Opinion: That the Abrahamic religions are male dominated and structurally patriarchal dates back to construction of the great Books at least.

    Opinion: That Kristine can be categorical in saying “women don’t count in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [in the 21st century]” and nobody objects that she’s being hyperbolic, dates to choices and decisions made in the post-polygamy survival-of-the-Church period–early 20th century.

    As one example, suffrage in Utah–1869 as a territory and 1895 as a state–and the powerful voice of notable Mormon women on the subject, would suggest a different trajectory until then.

  51. Ryan Mullen says:

    Kristine, thank you for this careful and thoughtful analysis. Great presentation on a topic we desperately need to address.

    “I believe that most men who accept callings in the church do so because they are good and want to bless others. … Structural sexism communicates damaging messages, even when it is not motivated by chauvinism or misogyny.” This sparked the idea that perhaps I should not accept any calling that is structurally sexist. I’m curious what you think.

  52. At the fundamental level, where people look each other in the face and do the work of feeding spirits and filling stomachs, women are essential in the church. Every single properly functioning ward–that is, a ward that effectively meets its members’ needs–has capable women as leaders. Such wards have dedicated Relief Society presidents, among others, whose work is just as important as any bishop’s. That’s how the church actually works.

    Then there is the theory of how the church works–the theory that says women are not necessary. The theory is an abstraction that does not reflect reality. We all know from our own experience that it does not reflect reality, but we live with it, we prop it up, and we allow it to hobble us. This is weird.

    We have the ability to see what is obviously mistaken. I think Kristine is right to believe that we have within us and among us the resources to overcome this weirdness.

  53. Thank you Kristine. I believe the central tension is that the general membership increasingly desires for more female leadership, but our church is founded on restored priesthood authority through with all leadership must flow. To give women more responsibility, we must either (1) give them new priesthood authority (something I support, but the membership – particularly the sisters – do not) or (2) reduce the importance of the priesthood.

    We’ve seen some movement on the ‘reduction’ front: ward council has replaced PEC, priesthood office is no longer needed to pray in general conference, and in my stake, stake priesthood meetings are being phased out for state ward council meetings. But that approach comes with a cost in that priesthood is less important. Elder Oaks provided a helpful step forward to recognizing that women can act with ‘priesthood authority’ even though they lack ‘priesthood office’ but the structure of the church still largely excludes roles where women can lead (read: preside) over men.

    My view is that the watershed moment will come when women are allowed to preside over men in meaningful ways (ie, outside primary). I’m not sure how that happens; perhaps by saying they’re using the ‘priesthood authority’ of an office holder (though that just opens to questioning to why men need an office if women don’t). The most likely avenues for women leading men are by allowing them to serve in Sunday School Presidencies and in clerical roles.

  54. I had an experience a few years back that directly ties in to the issue of the Church’s structural sexism. At the time I was, for various reasons, living back in my parents’ ward which was also the ward I grew up in. I was a ward missionary and the ward mission leader happened to be my own father. My dad and I have always worked well together, so I was functioning as a kind of unofficial assistant ward mission leader, mostly of the “running correlation meetings when my dad couldn’t be there” variety.

    At one point my parents decided to take a month-long vacation to visit my brother and his family in Australia which would leave us ward mission leader-less during that time. I mentioned to him that, since the ward mission leader doesn’t exercise any priesthood keys, maybe I could sub in for him during the duration. Unbeknownst to me, he brought the idea up with the bishop who gave his approval and so for about a month I was the acting ward mission leader.

    There were ups and downs, but one of the ups was when I had the chance to organize a day of multiple baptisms. I organized the program, filled the font, asked brothers to be witnesses, and, because attendance at one of the baptisms outgrew the normal venue, had the chance to conduct a meeting from the pulpit in the chapel.

    I felt so useful, so fulfilled. It was just so good to stretch myself in new ways, ways I’d never had the opportunity at church to explore.

    My parents returned home when they were supposed to and things continued as they had before. But a few weeks later something new happened. One Sunday we were asked to sustain a brother, new in the ward, as the assistant ward mission leader. No one, in my memory, and it goes back a ways, had ever officially been called to that position, there’d never been a need. But now we had one.

    I knew it wasn’t personal, but it felt like a punch in the gut, all the same. They had certain expectations of who could lead, and I, because I couldn’t attend PEC, because I didn’t attend Elders Quorum, because I didn’t hold the priesthood, didn’t meet those expectations.

    It still hurts. They were all good men but even good men are indoctrinated by systemic and structural sexism. That’s just the way it is.

  55. Samantha Ellsworth says:

    Thank you Kristine, this is a relevant, excellently worded post and I appreciate it.

  56. melodynew says:

    At 9:27 AM Megan, the LDS church has a long and illustrious history of appropriating women’s creative problem solving and best practices, then subsuming them within areas of priesthood oversight. See also: Church publications, wheat storage, innumerable funds from women-driven projects [Relief Society Building, SLC] correlation, and so on and so forth.

    I’m a devout, temple-attending, life-long Latter-day Saint. And this is one of my favorite essays from BCC.

    “… it is not a system deliberately designed to discriminate against women because Church leaders are chauvinistic or misogynist; it is merely the ground on which their consciousness of gender is formed.” Well, in my opinion, it’s high time for an earthquake.

    Thanks for your contribution, Kristine. Beautiful. Brilliant.

  57. Nathan says:
    August 29, 2018 at 6:51 am
    ” If someone is doctrinally ignorant enough not to think women can not possess the gift of prophecy that is their fault, IMHO.”

    I am not, nor was I doctrinally ignorant when I read the Deborah passages in the Old Testament. As an adult, though, and a leader in the church, fully set apart to act as a leader in a calling – the dismissal of my ideas on a regular basis – hurt deeply. None of my requests were unsafe or dangerous. I wasn’t trying to change the church. My ideas just weren’t status quo. I could bring no inspiration to the calling. Only follow a path someone before me set. It could well have been a woman who set it. But when it was my God-ordained turn, my gift was dismissed.

    As the years have gone on I realized it doesn’t happen just to me. I’ve seen it happen to a plethora of woman who aren’t pounding down the door asking to be Bishop or have “The Priesthood”. It happens to Godly women working to serve as they feel their Father in Heaven wants them to serve.

    The circle of our “prophetic” gift is very small.

  58. In the church and throughout scripture we often read and hear the words “patriarch” and “patriarchal.” They are good words and reflect profound concepts and good men. “Matriarch” and “matriarchal” are underused for a variety of reasons, not usually good. I suggest that every one of us possesses familial and communal matriarchal nets, which reaches into the heavenly council itself. I do not know where I would be without the influence of some powerful women, whose talents and abilities far exceeded the limited roles to which they were called to in the Church.

  59. ” in a Ward Conference ward council I just attended all the sisters got first dibs at the lunch table”

    Lol x infinity!

  60. Not a Cougar says:

    Dave, I’m not so sure “the general membership increasingly desires for more female leadership…” I guess it depends on how you define “general membership,” but my experience is that a large number of actively attending, tithe-paying members are perfectly happy with how things are run and have no real desire for change. It seems clear that, whatever shifts have occurred, current leadership is loathe to do anything that will turn off people who “show up and pay up.” Thus I don’t expect to see any real structural change in women’s official authority occurring until most, if not all, baby boomers are in graves or nursing homes. Yes, talks by Elder Oaks on women acting under direction of the priesthood and elimination of HP groups is a start, and they help plow the field so to speak, but I think this is a much more long-term project (assuming that there is some recognition among the leadership that it is in fact a project) that won’t have tangible results for decades. But perhaps I’m too defeatist.

  61. wreddyornot says:

    Formidable. May I print and share this?

  62. Ok, here we go. . . I don’t give a crap about institutional power. “No power or influence CAN or ought to be maintained by virtue of the Priesthood.” We always skip the part where he says power actually CAN’T be maintained via the Priesthood, (or institutionally). We just assume it shouldn’t be done – not that it can’t be done. How much time to you spend taking care of your children? Or a beloved pet? Cleaning poop, feeding, responding to their needs and requests? They have NO actual authority of any kind – but you alter your behavior and personal desires to do what they want. No amount of Priesthood “authority” can get people to change their behavior to the extent your average cat can.

  63. Kristine, this was very thought provoking and convincing. Thanks for such a well-structured argument. Your pilot post remains one of my favorites at BCC.

  64. Kevin Barney says:

    OH, Megan, what a terrible thing to have to experience! I’ve never heard of an Assistant Ward Mission Leader (although I don’t live in some huge Utah ward where they have to make up callings for people), so knowing for a certainty they did this to prevent you from serving in such a capacity (however temporarily) must have really hurt. I’m dotty you had to experience that.

  65. Kevin Barney says:

    *sorry.

  66. Craig Hiatt says:

    Appreciate this very thoughtful description of reality! This needs to be discussed openly in church!

    I am tired of leaders telling me that it is my sole responsibility to lead my family and make sure everyone is on track. In my house, my wife and I are truly equals (we just don’t make that statement and then really mean something completely opposite like some church leaders do) and it is our joint responsibility. In fact, my wife is a better follower and believer than I am….she actually leads our family much better than I do. Why should I be the only one to answer to the Bishop and say that “yes, I myself and myself alone am leading my family the right way.”?

  67. This is such a good, powerful, and necessary post Kristine. I pray someone who matters (Q15) will see it and reflect seriously on it, including the comments.

  68. This is one of my favorite BCC posts ever. Thank you!

  69. Ditto to the pilot post being a favorite BCC post.
    I think the last paragraph really nails why this is so important. When you grow up seeing only men have authority, seeing only men in visible positions, seeing only men doing the ‘important’ jobs — it’s far too easy to internalize the idea that men are in charge and women support them in their ‘important’ jobs. I am a 37 year old female attorney who has been affected by this in my marriage, by how I perceive male vs. female authority, by how I handle my own goals and dreams. It does real damage.

  70. lifeasanastronaut says:

    Excellent post. I’ve been mulling over this notion in regard to the YW I work with. How do I help them see themselves as leaders? Boys can see the good qualities of their male leaders as aspirational. Women and girls have an inherent hierarchy. Sure there are female leaders, but so so many more men.

    Thank you for articulating so clearly the difference between being offered opportunity to lead and that leadership being structurally supported.

  71. D. Fletcher says:

    Fascinating.

  72. 1stcounselor says:

    Bishopric member here. Thanks and there’s a lot to consider here. I get to teach sharing time once a month. The primary president thought it would be good for the kids to see a member of the Bishopric once a month and I jumped at the chance to spend time away from needy and whiny adults.

    Every month I make it a point to tell the kids I am teaching sharing time b/c I was assigned by the Primary President. I tell the kids she is in charge of primary and I am doing what she’s assigned me to do. (Then I sit down and play enough videos to take up the rest of the time. J/K.). The first month I said it the Primary President looked a little confused; now, she just smiles. I don’t know if it will make a bit of difference for any primary kid or parent of a primary kid but I’ll keep it up until I get fired.

  73. 1stcounselor—it’s a start. And I’m a hopeless meliorist—I really believe that small good things matter. May your tribe increase!

  74. (btw, I think the Handbook specifies that the counselor assigned to Primary is supposed to coordinate having members of the bishopric talk to the kids during sharing time, so I think your PP is just managing up ;))

  75. Well this is dumb.

    I realize you might be Mommy bating, but there’s no point to the gospel if there’s no Mother; earthly or heavenly.

    You may think you covered this objection in your aside, but you forget that the institution of the church is for the family – the family is not for the church.

    If you consider a yin/yang, for instance; it’s possible that one side of the symbol is the church institution and it’s maleness. But at the very center is that powerful dot of femininity. And the othersside of the symbol is the family, of which female is a prerequisite. Take either half of the symbol away and you’ve destroyed it.

    Describe only one half, while pretending it’s very design and intent is not dependent on the other half, and you’ve missed the forest for the trees.

    You’re smart; and yet, this post is willfully dumb. So you either don’t want to acknowledge this reality and you’ve become so obsessed with a particular framework or you’re dishonestly opposed to the church to begin with.

    If this is hurtful, it’s no less than the hurt your post causes when it not only implies but promotes high level disdain and bigoted charges against my faith. You don’t get a pass when you throw rhetorical grenades. Sometimes we have to pick them up and throw them back.

  76. Here’s my high five. Blunt and graceful in every paragraph. And so much truthful, directly stated perspective from a feminine voice – not something we’re used to in LDSChristian discourse. I’m surprised (only a little) that there weren’t more pushed buttons reflected in the comments. Maybe the church is weary of bearing the burden of the institutional sexism, and ready for a difference. Maybe the OP is that gracious and straightforward.

    Last April I had the good fortune to hear Laurel Thatcher Ulrich give an address about early Mormon women. It was a Sunday night fireside, in a chapel, and the two presiders on the stand were visibly uncomfortable about being responsible to contain all the potential uppity feminism anticipated. Of course she modified her content appropriate for an inspirational fireside, describing powerful contributions made by women in fortifying the Utah church in the early Utah decades. It was her thesis that the women did much to keep the church running and healthy while the men’s energy was consumed by breaking fields, hauling timber, building shelter, and providing the next harvest. She had strong historical evidence to back it up, citing women’s efforts made while fully sustaining priesthood leadership. She frankly and deftly addressed a few of the elephants in the room. I haven’t felt so inspired in a chapel in ages, and the presiders felt that too. At the end, the guy conducting was blown away with admiration for what those women did to build up the church, that he never knew. “I’m speechless” were his words, and he wasn’t articulate in his praise, but his joyful spirit was visible, and I like to think that it came from a place of relieved conversion, that women can and do have vital contributions and need to be at the table to make them, AND venerable women have already done so.

    Though her historical information was taken from LTU’s newly published book, no such book was mentioned at the fireside. She knows her boundaries and how to manage them. The thought came to me that she, and women like her, have so much to teach us about women at church, and can be the powerful and inspiring, and female(!) voices that we need to hear but such women are marginalized by the PTB. Attendance at our fireside was a bit sparse, I thought. So I guess it will be the small, inconsequential changes that bring change to people who aren’t aware how great their need for it.

    And Lona, thank you for pointing out that institutional irrelevance exists for LGBTQ members to an even greater degree. It’s good for me to remember that.

  77. Laurel’s the best. If I were a LOT smarter, I would hope to be like her when I grow up :)

  78. @Hq. Well, this is dumb [and full of vagueries].

    I realize you might be dude bating, but there’s no point to the gospel is there’s no Mother; earthly or heavenly.

    You may think you covered this objection in your yin/yang aside, but you forgot to mention that the institution of the church is for the family—the family is not for the church. Describe only one half and you’ve missed the forest for the trees.

    You’re smart; and yet, your comment is willfully dumb. So either you don’t want to acknowledge this reality [of how the institution in fact does not support a full capacity women and thus family] and you’ve you become so obsessed with a particular framework or you’re dishonestly opposed to women fully operating as equals in the family to begin with.

    If this is hurtful, it’s no less than the hurt your comment causes when it not only implies but promotes high level disdain and bigoted charges against my faith. You don’t get a pass when you throw rhetorical grenades. Sometimes we have to pick them and throw them back.

  79. Thank you MDearest.

  80. Valtuwilliger says:

    Here is wisdom.
    Feminist don’t want equality they want supremacy.

  81. Valtuwilliger,
    This is wisdom. You’re a scared little chauvinist man-baby.

  82. True and embarrassing:

    Background to the comment: My wife and I are both working professionals. Both of us grew up in the church. She manages hundreds of people and millions of dollars as an administrator in a large and complex multi-national company. In just the last month she has travelled to Japan, India, China, Germany and France. I have always been proud of her career and have done all I can to support it.

    Now the comment: My wife and I have received several “couples” assignments. For example we were both asked a few years ago to produce “Savior of the World” in our stake. It was a large undertaking with about 70 people on stage and an entire live orchestra from violins to tympani.

    My wife has noted that the two of us work in relatively equal terms when we discuss the house, our cars, projects, raising of children, etc. But she can’t help but notice that I tend to “take over” when we have co-assignments at church. I think that I just can’t help it (although of course I can). I go into “church” mode where men lead and women support. She and I have discussed it and I think that she finds it sort of funny. Maybe not. I am sure that it is directly related to the structural and cultural sexism that permeates every aspect of our church.

    I have enjoyed the OP and the discussion that has followed. I know that we, as a church, have made some progress. Women attend Ward Council. Women occasionally pray at GC. Women speak in a sadly limited way at GC as well. We have started to quote women in church settings. But still the structural sexism permeates everything. I pointed out at a recent stake meeting that it isn’t rare for the bishop or one of his counselors to visit the Young Women’s classes or the RS. They may sit at the back, or they may comment, or they may teach the lesson. But the reverse essentially never happens. The RS president or her counselors never just drop in on the deacons or priests. Thus the young women learn to look to men for spiritual leadership (as well as their own leaders of course) but the young men never really learn that they can receive spiritual guidance from a woman. They never learn, at church, to look to a woman as a leadership role model. They see women as family role models, but not as leaders. I am sure that someone can cite some ward or stake where a woman has visited a priesthood quorum, but we must all agree that it is rare, and is part of a structural problem where women have no true leadership structure that would make such visits important or necessary.

    Our loss.

  83. Most weeks when my son attended as a young man, he was thanked from the pulpit after the sacrament for his contribution to the meeting. My daughter has been thanked after the occasional talk she gives but only rarely has that been from the pulpit. Men have a visibility in the church from the time they are 12 that women do not. It leaves our sons and daughters with a warped view of what children of God are capable of.

  84. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Excellent OP, Kristine – and insightful discussion has followed. Structural sexism is just so hard for many people to see, and to understand (as is structural racism, inequality, …). It’s easy to get responses like Hq (above), that seem to miss the point, entirely, because looking at structure is hard. In fact, by it’s very nature, social structure is obscured (similar to how you don’t really see the supporting structures of buildings, once all the other stuff is built around them}. That’s why things like women praying and speaking in GC, or attending Ward Council, or having influence in the home, are really just window dressing that has no impact on the underlying structure of the organization. That structure is limiting in ways that are unseen, and often unrecognized. Kristine is calling out these limitations and making them visible, and highlighting the severe implications they pose for the Church and it’s members. Women are not counted, and they just don’t count as much as men. By all means, have women pray, and teach, and nurture, and preach, and serve, and “lead” in their callings. But let’s not mistake that for addressing the underlying structural constraints that persist, and even seem to be tightening over time. Those things are great, but we cannot mistake them for progress. It’s just window dressing.

  85. This post perfectly describes the unneedness I’m feeling at church right now, especially as a single woman. I’ve been in a new, small ward for a few months, and as a few other families have moved in, the bishop has immediately taken each of them aside to discuss callings. People in the ward have also been talking excitedly about a large family that’s arriving in a few weeks, and how useful they’ll be to the ward. Meanwhile, the bishop has barely spoken to me, except to apologize in the hallway because he’s not sure yet what to do with me. I’m a fairly successful professional with skills that are in high demand, so it’s slightly jarring to be told by a man that barely knows me that he’s just not sure how I can contribute. I know it’s not personal, but it still hurts to be structurally superfluous.

  86. Em–yes. One of the things I left out to keep the post relatively straightforward was the ways that this structure especially hurts women on the margins–those who are, for whatever reason, not connected to the valued active Melchizedek priesthood holders. Thank goodness I learned to play the piano!

  87. Em, you and me both. With a whole heckuva lot of other sisters to keep us company.

    Kristine, in addition to all the other praise for your post, I appreciate that you called this “Can Women Matter?” instead of something like “Women Don’t Matter.” You really have invited thought and action in an unhappy situation, instead of assuming nothing can be done or merely complaining about the status quo.

  88. OftenPerplexed says:

    I really, really appreciate this post and its tone. I am a successful career woman who has done billion dollar deals, led boards of directors, managed large numbers of men, etc., and ever since my conversion I have managed to understand that I will never be a leader in the Church. It is true that my skills and talents are best used in the secular world. However, it is often hard to watch as male leadership in the structural Church flails around. In the church structure, God only taps men to lead other men (unless it is primary). I understand that I truly am not necessary for the Church in a structural sense. At church, our household is a bit like what steve h describes; my husband and I lose a bit of the egalitarian nature of our marriage. Our very bright daughters have noticed how different they are treated at church versus the world. As we sat and watched the last general conference my youngest daughter asked “Where are all the women? Are there Area Authority women, mom? It is pretty much just all men all the way up, isn’t it?” My middle daughter has asked me why God wouldn’t want to use all of her talents and skills for the Church. She is a math genius, a human computer. Can female CPAs be auditors and clerks? No dear, God would rather have an untrained man. My oldest daughter isn’t as restless, and yet she finds the structure perplexing too. She firmly believes we all can have the spirit of prophecy. She was disgusted when only the YM were allowed to conduct joint opening exercises with the YW and she went to BYC to request a change. She came home and said that really the Bishop makes all the decisions. He is going to think about it. The YM need leadership opportunities. It is why they get to baptize in the temple. This post reminds of all of the times my firm sent me out to recruit women because it was important for the female recruits to know that women were valued, and that there were equal opportunities for growth and leadership in our organization. The recruiter said that women want to go where they will develop their skills and talents and will experience real advancement in an organization where they are valued. Seeing a woman like me in a leadership role was more important than all of the lip-service given to the idea of equality. Actions speak louder than words. The actions speak a powerful message.

  89. Anon for this says:

    “This is structural sexism. It is prior to contemporary Mormons’ attitudes towards women–that is, it is not a system deliberately designed to discriminate against women because Church leaders are chauvinistic or misogynist; it is merely the ground on which their consciousness of gender is formed. Mormon children learn early and without being explicitly taught that men have more authority and can do more things at Church than women. … the institutional superfluity of women means that Mormon children absorb certain messages about what women are and can do that will come into conflict with what they learn elsewhere, and what their own divine nature whispers to them.”

    Yes. And this is a principal* reason why — even though I myself desire to remain active in the LDS Church because it is my people and my heritage, because there is much beauty in it in addition to the ugliness, and because I feel morally obligated to continue to be a part of this community, serving and being served, and contributing in my small ways to filling this community with more courageous love — my husband and I have decided it would be wrong of us as parents to raise our child(ren) within the Church. For months now my husband and I have been attending online services for the Community of Christ, which ordains women and has a lot of amazing female role models in leadership, in addition to our local LDS ward meetings. And starting next week, coinciding with a move, my husband will begin attending CoC exclusively, and he will be taking our five-year-old son with him to those services. I’ll go with them half the time and attend my local ward half the time (I would attend both every Sunday if I could, but alas the scheduling and our possession of only one car prohibits that).
    ~~~~~~
    *A principal reason, but not the only reason. It also doesn’t feel right for us to raise our children in an institution that we feel would be unsafe for our gay friends to raise their children in, nor does it feel right to raise our children as members of a church if such membership would make them more likely to kill themselves if they themselves turn out to be LGBTQ. Nor does it feel right to raise our children in a church that is still permeated in many ways by white supremacy and colonialism. Rightly or wrongly, I think it is possible for *me* as an individual to stay here despite all of that, as an act of bravery and devotion and solidarity and stubborn love. But I can no longer in good conscience keep my child here. Children are only children once; we only get one shot at raising them.

    My husband and I have spent the past few years counter-teaching all of the problematic messages about gender and race and exclusivity and superiority and conformity that come from church media and structures and culture, lessons we have had to learn through much struggle and dissonance over the course of the past decade-plus. While that has paved the way for productive conversations with our son, we’ve realized there is a simpler way, one that is less full of angst and anguish and contradiction, that will enable him and any future children of ours to be children, still with nuanced conversations about truth and agency and the imperfection of any religious institution, but against an institutional backdrop that implicitly (and explicitly) facilitates the formation of a healthier and more egalitarian gender consciousness.

  90. Excellent post, Kristine. It is always balm to my aching soul when I read great writing where others clearly articulate the silent pains of my own heart. Thank you.

  91. Em–yes. One of the things I left out to keep the post relatively straightforward was the ways that this structure especially hurts women on the margins–those who are, for whatever reason, not connected to the valued active Melchizedek priesthood holders. Thank goodness I learned to play the piano!

    Thank you! Thank you!
    I have the good fortune of being married to a man who is inactive. It has been my experience that there is real confusion about how to handle me.

  92. RockiesGma says:

    Kristine, thank you for this inspired post wherein the Spirit burns. May God bless and sanctify it to go forth in faith unto pondering and mighty prayer by our beloved leaders is my humble and fervent prayer all the remainder of my days.

  93. “It’s possible that God could not call latter-day Deborahs and Huldahs and Annas and Junias and Priscillas, because those callings have become literally unthinkable for people raised as Latter-day Saints.”

    Nor latter-day Emmas and Zinas and Emmalines, or for that matter, women just two generations removed from me. The prescribed space wherein women may practice their spiritual gifts has become a narrow one indeed.

    Thank you, Kristine for bringing this forward in a way that is impervious to the arguments, justifications, anger, good intentions, et all. I have faith that we could work out these things together through an abundance of charity and an organic groundswell of women laying hold of the power within them. Is there any other way?

  94. Honest question: do you think there’s a risk of losing the good socialization of men mentioned in the original post by democratizing the priesthood?

  95. jimbob–it’s a good question. I’m inclined to think not, but there is the question of whether church governance loses prestige (as many professions have) if women are allowed to enter. The problem is that it’s kind of a tautological argument–excluding women because if they are allowed to be full participants an activity is somehow tainted just perpetuates and reinforces the attitudes that make men fear the taint of the feminine. It’s hard for me to imagine that the benefits of having women’s insight and fully-utilized talents isn’t worth the risk of alienating a few men with intractably chauvinist attitudes. But I could be wrong, and part of being committed to the building of Zion means being willing to retreat if an experiment goes wrong, and I’d want to keep that question in mind.

  96. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Jimbo – No. But if that good socialization only existed because women have been excluded from leadership roles, then it needs to get lost.

  97. Thank you for the excellent post. Here’s my two cents.

    I recently attended a special fireside in Hamilton Ontario Canada along with eight thousand fellow church members for the visit of President Nelson. His remarks were framed as advice to parents on how to raise their children in the gospel. This made me wonder if his visit was motivated in part by the desire to retain the next generation.

    President Nelson was accompanied by Elder Neil L. Andersen who spoke first. Elder Andersen began his remarks by saying that he knew women in the church had concerns but when it comes to giving blessings, it does not matter who opens the curtains. What’s important is that the sunlight gets in. Okay, fair enough.

    But then he told a story about a man who had been in the church for ten years and had never given a blessing before. The man who was a friend of Elder Andersen asked him to bless his daughter. After speaking with the daughter and obtaining her consent Elder Andersen then said that her father would be the one to pronounce the blessing. The point seemed to be that it was a vitally important spiritual experience for this man to perform a blessing. That it was essential for this man’s spiritual growth.

    As I sat there I thought to myself, well I’ve been in the church forty years and I’ve never given a blessing either. Why isn’t it important for me to have this vital spiritual experience? Especially since it doesn’t matter who opens the curtains and that historically women used to open those curtains too.

    Which is it? Is it or is it not important who performs the ordinance? Or is it just important for men because women are kind of like superfluous or invisible? But it’s soooooo important for men because they’re the ones who count – at least that’s how it seems. (Sorry for the snark.)

    But more to the point, that Elder Andersen stood in this huge meeting with no awareness of the contradictory nature of his remarks and that President Nelson listened with seemingly no awareness of how this sidelined women tells me that we have a long way to go. Systemic sexism is just not on the radar. Either there is no awareness of this issue or if there is then it is not deemed to be important. The focus is on retention, especially of the rising generation. But the sad part is that our leaders don’t seem to understand that this issue has a lot more importance to the rising generation than they realize.

  98. From my perspective, the idea that priesthood exists to benefit the men who hold it lacks any scriptural foundation. In practice, it does benefit us, through the good socialization Kristine mentions. But we’re constantly taught that the purpose of the priesthood is not to benefit priesthood holders, but to bless those that they serve. And I don’t think there’s any scriptural basis for the idea that the reason priesthood exists is to socialize men. That feels to me like a post-hoc justification for gendered priesthood, not a real reason for it.

    So the way I see it, there’s no reason to think (1) that women holding the priesthood would remove that good socialization, (2) if it did, that men can’t be socialized in other ways aside from holding the priesthood, or (3) if it did, that losing such socialization would mean a loss of something essential to the priesthood.

  99. To jimbob’s question (about losing the socialization of men), I hope not and my best guess is no and I’m down with the idea that there’s a lot more to gain than to lose anyway. But my opinion is beside the point. I am confident that a critical mass or more of men in power think the answer is yes, men would lose . . . yes, the socialization of men would weaken. And *therefore* it’s an important question that needs to be acknowledged and addressed.

  100. Speaking of us women in the margins…

    I think it’s a monumental and consequential tragedy that women like Kristine and Ardis, and so many others, are marginalized in their wards, and their gifts left to lie fallow. I can’t think of any better examples of the powerful, inspiring, and faithful female voices who could do so much to remedy the institutional sexism under which we suffer. I have a wild fantasy of Ardis being given a biannual sidebar address at general conference— which would inspire the faith of everyone because she wouldn’t have it any other way, but would raise the performance bar in ways* that might be problematic. But even her being the venerable teacher in her home ward is a pipe-dream because the narrow confines of our sexist structure creates an undeserved bias against women like her, and us.

    *I could, however, totally see a man, properly ordained and called to the correct high office, delivering Ardis’ content in my fantasy LDSChristian History sidebar address at GC. Yeah, they’ve co-opted women’s work and correlated it as priesthood effort before, thereby contributing to the overall problem of erasing women, their history, and muting their female voice. Nope. Only Ardis’ voice will do.

  101. Anon,

    “he was disgusted when only the YM were allowed to conduct joint opening exercises with the YW and she went to BYC to request a change. She came home and said that really the Bishop makes all the decisions. He is going to think about it. The YM need leadership opportunities”

    This is contrary to the handbook which states twice that Priest Quorum assistants and Laural class presidencies are to take turns conducting opening exercises.

    8.13.1 and 10.8.1 for her reference.

  102. JKC: “we’re constantly taught that the purpose of the priesthood is not to benefit priesthood holders, but to bless those that they serve. And I don’t think there’s any scriptural basis for the idea that the reason priesthood exists is to socialize men. That feels to me like a post-hoc justification for gendered priesthood, not a real reason for it.” Precisely. It’s a head pat.

    “there’s no reason to think (1) that women holding the priesthood would remove that good socialization” The underlying issue here is that gender in the church is never win-win. There must needs be an opposition in all things: there are winners (men) and losers (women). If you give something the men have to the women, the men lose because there’s nothing the women have that the men want except access to the women (sex, children, free labor). Something belonging to the women is automatically tainted by being “for women” and therefore of less value. Women can’t get to do what men do because men don’t want to do what they’ve relegated to women.

  103. My question stemmed from a hazy recollection of what this post was getting at: https://www.timesandseasons.org/harchive/2012/09/gender-and-priesthood/.

  104. Geoff - Aus says:

    I think part of the problem is politics. In the Australian Labor party 44%, are women, in the governing conservative coalition less than 20%. I think the same would apply in US. The leadership of the church took a lurch to the right 60 years or so ago. Conservative men just don’t seem to see the problem. Are there any less conservative men in the 12 who might see the problem? How many would it take?
    Not sure how the message gets to the 15 that change to this and gay marriage should be considered? As I am of the, study it out then ask, view of revelation, that requires an awareness of the problem.
    I have a 40 year old daughter who is a federal police officer (like fbi) and in her spare time is a smokejumper, she can not play the piano, and has no calling at church. She is also a senior officer of her volunteer fire brigade. My wife is more capable than I am, and has been RS pres on numerous occasions, and on Stake RS presidencies. We are now temple cleaning supervisors, which is one of the places a woman can tell men what to do, some of the more conservative men don’t respond well.

  105. RockiesGma says:

    There are so many important points made in these comments. The discussion is one I wish reached many more people. In the many wards I’ve lived in throughout my life all over the US I have heard different people express their concerns regarding the full measure of equality for women. Complacency is by far the most common attitude—things are just fine the way they are. But another very common thought is that if women receive priesthood ordination (or anything close to it) men will be emasculated and egos shattered beyond repair. These folks have pointed out that in nature there is always a pecking order. That’s how God created things. In humans that pecking order is men first, then women, then children. Men are the head of the home and all that.

    Yet it seems the Savior oft commands us to live in the world—this natural, telestial world—but not be of it. He seems to command us to live above this level we are born into and to rise to holier heights toward Him. This is the crux and weight of the whole matter to my way of reckoning. Most of my life I, too, thought a pecking order was…well…in order. And the Lord’s house is a house of order, after all. Yet as the decades have unfolded and I’ve witnessed many changes as well as the lack thereof, I have come to feel that surely structural exclusion of one gender in any part of life cannot be wise or of good report or praiseworthy.

    I don’t know how men would respond if women became equal in fullness. I would hope it would be a grand thing. I would hope we all could see that we accomplish more, in more ways, by more means *because* we truly walk side by side, and that no egos would be shattered nor any man feel emasculated. I would hope we would feel we had risen above the natural ways of this world toward greater and holier levels. I have seen such living in sacred dreams and it is quite lovely.

  106. One of the dynamics here that I think will make change really, really slow when it comes to structural sexism is that the vast majority of leaders and members (in the US) are fairly embedded in a political party and ideology that essentially refuses to acknowledge or even actively argues against the concept of structural inequality. So it is even that more difficult for them to accept or even see the problem brought up by those that have come to believe that structural inequality matters. I generally think that analysis falls on conveniently def ears where it matters.

    I do think women’s lived experience, especially those that hold jobs out in the world will be the primary vector by which effective internal pressure comes to bear. I see so much whiplash among women of all orthodoxy and political persuasion when they experience getting treated as equal professionals with real voice and then rise to positions where they have real decision rights and then in their church world have that completely inaccessible to them. They can *feel* the difference no matter how nice the dudes are on the other end. I prophesy that you will see structural changes in the church when your average US Mormon women is not economically dependent and holds a job with some sort of authority.

  107. Excellent post. Such an important issue. We must find better ways to recognize and practice the equality we preach.

    Much of this discussion has focused on altering practices, which is certainly needed. I’m also wondering about doing a better job of recognizing and celebrating equality that already exists.

    What if, for example, we’re giving the Church too central a role in our opportunities for spiritual (and other) growth? It looms large, certainly, as a world-wide organization, but if we place our focus primarily on Christ? And families? And what if we treat all opportunities for personal growth also as opportunities to bless the lives of God’s children (just as vital as church callings)? That doesn’t solve the issue by any mean, but won’t our perception of equality naturally level out a bit?

    Or what it were taught that women come to earth imbued already with priesthood power, and that’s why they don’t need ordination? And what if their priesthood gives them increased power to act as Christ in love? Wouldn’t that be at least as potent a priesthood responsibility and opportunity as the authority to preside over ordinances?

    Or what if the The Two Trees model (http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerTwoTrees.html) is accurate, and women’s role to bring God’s children into the world is understood to be equal and in partnership to men’s role to administer the ordinances that get them back home to God? Might that help make some sense of current church structure?

    If any of these what-ifs are true, I think that can get us a ways down the road toward equality – as long as these things were preached and understood widely. That said, I think there’s still plenty of room for improvement to the organizational practices and culture that must ultimately grow to empower women and men equally and together. I applaud this discussion.

  108. Billy Possum says:

    I am blown away that there’s not a strong consensus here that ordaining women is the only real answer to this problem. That’s the only difference between men and women that creates the problem.

    The people who lead the church are obviously not ready for that yet, but that doesn’t make it less true. Kristine, I’m surprised you’ve so carefully rebuffed suggestions in that direction. You don’t strike me as someone who’d be intimidated by threats of sanction – or is it that you’re not certain that universal ordination is the solution?

  109. /sarcasm/ yes the problem is we haven’t considered or understood the two trees analogy /end sarcasm/

  110. Billy Possum, I think ordination to the priesthood as it is currently constituted is unlikely to be an adequate solution. There isn’t any reason that ordination has to precede some of the needed cultural changes, nor am I convinced that it would be an effective catalyst for those changes. And since discussion of ordination tends to shut down the whole conversation, I think it’s better to talk about the things that people are able to at least consider.

    Which is to say, I guess, that I disagree with your first paragraph. I don’t think that lack of ordination is the only difference causing the current problems, and I don’t think that ordination is “the only real solution,” although I do think it might be part of a solution.

  111. Billy Possum, from my own perspective, allowing women to enter the workforce didn’t eliminate the dynamics of gender discrimination or sexual harassment in the workplace. That’s probably a parallel. Women entered a space that was created by men, for men, and if they didn’t do well, they were head patted about not being the most qualified.

  112. JohnnyM: Your thoughts boil down to “what if the status quo is better than we think?”

    That’s not always a bad question to ask in discussions on progress (although quite frankly it’s usually a suspect one), but it fails to address the issues raised in this post in any meaningful way.

    Additionally, some of your questions are at odds with doctrinal and practical reality.

    “What if, for example, we’re giving the Church too central a role in our opportunities for spiritual (and other) growth?”
    This question requires that the Church be given less standing than the organization and its theology claim. The temple covenants demand a major portion of its members time, energy, talents, etc. and explicitly say that they should be given *to the Church*. In practice, many callings do demand a significant portion of member resources.

    Given that ordinances are, according to doctrine, essential to eternal growth and progress, and they explicitly require that members be prepared to give all of their non-financial resources to the Church (and not just to God), the Church is based on its own theology a central figure in its members’ opportunities for spiritual growth.

    “And families?”
    I don’t see how this can be said to increase our perception of equality unless men and women are on average equally contributing to their families in a way that satisfies both parties. That is not the status quo, inside or outside the Church.

    “And what if we treat all opportunities for personal growth also as opportunities to bless the lives of God’s children (just as vital as church callings)?”
    Nominally the Church believes this; in practice, it requires that Church callings receive priority at least most of the time. I do not anticipate such a framing allowing us to perceive the equality you claim already exists.

    “Or what it were taught that women come to earth imbued already with priesthood power, and that’s why they don’t need ordination? And what if their priesthood gives them increased power to act as Christ in love? Wouldn’t that be at least as potent a priesthood responsibility and opportunity as the authority to preside over ordinances?”
    It might be if you could meaningfully support it theologically. I am aware of no doctrine to substantiate a claim that women come to earth with priesthood power that men don’t have. And before you talk about childbearing, if not being capable of childbearing requires priesthood ordination, women who cannot get pregnant would theologically require receipt of the priesthood as well.

    “Or what if the The Two Trees model (http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerTwoTrees.html) is accurate, and women’s role to bring God’s children into the world is understood to be equal and in partnership to men’s role to administer the ordinances that get them back home to God? Might that help make some sense of current church structure?”
    Again, not all women can give birth, and female capacity to give birth is tied to sex and individual physiology, not to any religious practice. How can childbearing be equal and in partnership to men’s role in ordinances when a) the number of women capable of the former vastly outstrips the number of men capable of the latter and almost always has, and b) not all women can have children, but every man who satisfies local leaders regarding his worthiness can administer the ordinances of the priesthood. That is an egregiously lopsided vision of equality.

    All told, your suggestions regarding equality seem more likely to reveal further inequalities than to assuage concerns that the system as is preferences one gender over the other. I also do not know of strong doctrinal support for most of your suggested paradigmatic shifts.

    Billy Possum: I’m inclined to agree that at the heart of these issues is the fact that women don’t have the priesthood.

    Kristine: I am also inclined to believe that giving women the priesthood wouldn’t solve the problem set we have to live with now, despite the fact I consider one of its most significant root causes to be male-only ordination. If nothing else, attitudes would be slow to change even if doctrine did, and we don’t need to give women the priesthood to make *some* necessary changes.

    I further agree that women’s ordination is such a third rail that even discussing the way male-only ordination affects church structure and attitudes can quickly be considered radical and unfaithful. I understand and support Kristine’s decision to steer the conversation away from female ordination as a solution.

  113. wreddyornot says:

    I would hope that ordination of women is a problem for men to address and to have to worry about, apologize for, and fix. After all, from what we know men are solely responsible for the inequality, aren’t they?

  114. Molly Bennion says:

    Great post, as usual, Kristine. Loved your comment about ordination being an inadequate, perhaps partial, but inadequate solution. Until we acknowledge the many contributions of women and our need for all of their potential contributions, until we see them as valuable individuals, until we love them, really love them (none of this “we love the sisters” verbiage with little action), we will have a big problem, ordination notwithstanding. Ordination would bring just a few into local and national leadership. (The Church is organized to use a lot of time and talents from some and little or nothing from others.) We’d fight resentments from the sexists and the potential of insensitive power among some of those few women chosen. Love is the answer and how, oh how, do we get there? I fear we try to enforce a score of less valuable cultural proscriptions to prove loyalty because we don’t know how to teach and realize love–unprideful, selfless love. But if we got there, we couldn’t get to any change that would unleash the talents of all fast enough.

    Meanwhile, most women who want to matter must matter outside the Church organization.

  115. Billy Possum says:

    wreddyornot makes my point. To flesh out: The premise of the OP is that the current structure of priesthood authority (that is, the set of roles that must be filled in order to constitute a unit of the church) relegates women to secondary status (actually, to no status at all). That’s true. It’s also true that people bring biases and other cultural baggage into Church with them, and that will probably always be true. The first problem is one that the Church could fix tomorrow (Molly Bennion: what makes you think that ordination would result in only a few women moving into leadership roles?). Men didn’t invent priesthood authority. The second problem is always with us, and it’s hard to see how it would get better without a resolution of the first problem.

    I guess I fail to see how “institutional superfluity” (a wonderful term for it, Kristine) gets any meaningful resolution without a change to who gets to run the Church. And the Church, at present, is run by people ordained to the priesthood.

  116. Molly Bennion says:

    Billy Possum, As I said, “the Church is organized to use a lot of time and talents from some and little or nothing from others.” 4 times a RS President, I know firsthand how little of a ward’s talent, male or female, is tapped to lead and those few are constrained from developing new and creative initiatives. More women in that limited pool of leadership would help but perhaps the greater benefit of ordination would be in personal and interpersonal spiritual growth. Perhaps that would prepare us to love and appreciate, empower and respect everyone. I’m not at all sure and, as Kristine and others above have pointed out, ordination is unlikely and laced with pitfalls. But nothing stops us from working on a more loving and inclusive community now.

  117. Rosalynde Welch says:

    Reminds me of many rip-roaring discussions in the good old mid-aughts. :) I agree with your observations on chapel Mormonism — though “agreement” is irrelevant since the point is factually incontrovertible. And chapel Mormonism dominates public and internal discussions, institutional self-image, and lived experience.

    Mormonism is so various, though — in practice, in theology, in historical development. Temple Mormonism is quite different from chapel Mormonism: in the temple, heteronormativity is central and women are indeed necessary for the relational soteriology of the endowment-sealing complex (though I’m sympathetic to arguments that, in some influential historical interpretations of the endowment, women have mattered mostly instrumentally for men’s glory). It’s hard and problematic–practically, politically, theologically–to integrate that theology and practice into the ordinary discourse of chapel Mormonism, of course. The displacement of these two registers of Mormonism, and the shifting political functions of heteronormativity and the “necessariness” of women, is part of what’s at stake in the theological divide between, say, V.H. Cassler and Margaret Toscano (who defend the theological utility of heteronormativity) on the one hand and Taylor Petrey on the other (who does not).

  118. Organized religions have always been about reinforcing someone’s power. In our church, it’s about mostly white patriarchal power. True religion is an individual’s quest for truth and, despite what we’ve been told, I am starting to believe that it CAN exist independent of organized religion, and maybe that’s the ONLY way it can exist. There are several toxic aspects of Mormon culture: One is the rhetoric of certainty that prevents us from discovering truth (because we think we already know it). Another is the patriarchal order, which, as you’ve artfully explained, subversively persuades us that women have little or nothing to offer.

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