Gender and the LDS Church in the Global South, Part 2

Participants in various geographies valued their church membership for helping them differentiate themselves from the ‘outside’ culture. Fijian participants valued the church’s progressiveness (see Part 1); US and NZ participants valued the church’s respect for motherhood. Furthermore, responses to the 2019 temple updates reveal a gap in priorities between Fijian, US, and NZ participants.

An ethnographic introduction to issues of gender and religion in the Global South.

Gender and the LDS Church in the Global South, Part 2 (9:20 video presentation, summarized below)

– Fijian participants: The Church is ‘ahead’ of the ‘outside’ culture’ in empowering women – 100% saturation.

– US and NZ participants: The only consensus among US and NZ participants was the idea that they received more respect for their efforts as mothers than on the ‘outside,’ especially if the participants were stay-at-home moms. (*all the women who met the inclusion criteria in US and NZ wards had children.) 

– No crossover between the responses of participants in the US/NZ and Fiji. 

– (None of the Fijian participants mentioned LDS respect for motherhood)

– (None of the US/NZ participants mentioned the LDS church being  ‘ahead’ of the outside culture in empowering women or offering a lifestyle less constrained by rules of appearance or behaviour. In contrast, several US participants expressed the view that the church would ‘catch up’ on women’s issues eventually.)

-Women in both cultures valued their church membership for helping them differentiate themselves from the ‘outside’ culture. The women in different geographic areas had different contexts and values around which differences were active in their lives. 

Question: Does church membership help you create an equal partnership with your husband?

– All participants expressed a strong awareness of this church teaching.

– Fijian participants: “Yes, church membership helps me create an equal partnership.” (100% saturation)

– USA and NZ participants: Ambivalence (100% saturation). “Church membership both helps and hinders me from having an equal partnership with my husband.”

  • “That’s a hard question.”

– When I asked for examples, women in both cultures raised concerns about how an equal partnership was compromised when husbands were called into church leadership.

  • “The church helps create equal partnership except for those women whose husbands are in leadership. They struggle with it. I know I do.” (Fiji)
  • “Right now I question whether being a bishop is actually taking him away from our family, so sometimes my testimony is not as strong.” (Fiji)
  • “The stake president said, ‘I’m not going to sugar coat it. Your husband will be off having spiritual experiences … and you’re going to be home with the kids and alone.” (US)
  • “The church needs him more than it needs me.” (US)
  • “Because of my dad’s calling, my mom is my dad’s tag-along, and she’d never in a million years complain about it, but I would! I will complain for her!” (US)

Question: Have you noticed any difference in the temple between men and women?

– US participants: Women answered by referring to the 2019 updates, meaning that the updates removed the most noticeable differences between men and women. Approval for the 2019 updates. One participant expressed frustration that it didn’t happen sooner. All the participants brought up the 2019 updates before I asked the above question. (100% saturation) 

  • “It was somehow portrayed that God had a stronger bond with God, but now it seems so much more direct. I love it.” (US) 
  • “I already answered that.” (US) (by the time this question came up in the interview)

– Fijian participants: Participants answered by bringing up gendered differences in clothing, seating arrangements, the colour of cards.  

  • “It’s just the clothing.”
  • “It’s the seating arrangements.”
  • “Yes, I notice the difference between the men and the women. If you can see the card – us, girls, it’s pink; for men, it’s blue. There’s no difference of how they do the ordinance, the things inside. But the only thing that is different there is the color of the card.”

– NZ participants had not seen the 2019 updates because of a recent temple closure for renovations. Only one NZ participant had (vaguely) heard of the updates from an online source. 

-Were Fijian participants untouched by the updates that were so present in the minds of the US women? Perhaps the Fijian women were more reticent to talk about the temple content? 

– Follow-up questions (“Anything else?” “Any other differences you’ve noticed?”

– With follow-up questions, Fijian participants mentioned that men and women had different places in the ‘order’ of communication from God to people (God to men to women).

  • “The Church functions by Heavenly Father speaking to the priesthood, and they speak to us.”

The participants took various meanings from this order.

  • “There’s nothing wrong with this line of communication.”
  • “Men are more important because of their callings.”
  • “I feel special as a woman.”
  • “The order is only for this life.”
  • “I would do a good job if Heavenly Father directed that [authority] to me.”
  • “I told my husband, ‘I don’t want to be exalted anymore … I started wanting to explore life without the temple. (This participant eventually resolved her concerns.)

– Because Fijian participants seemed to be referring to an order which seemed more explicit formerly, I wondered if the 2019 updates had been implemented in Fiji. At this point in the interview, I specifically asked if anything had ever changed at the temple. Participants responded in the affirmative, referencing the shorter length of the ceremony rather than other changes. 

  • “I’m very satisfied with the changes, the temple is shorter.”
  • “I didn’t know of any changes. Oh wait! The one-hour session? Yeah, we have the one-hour session in Fiji.”
  • “It’s shorter now, which is good. Now more people will want to join the church.”

– Conclusions: The 2019 updates made a different impact in the US than they did in Fiji or in NZ. The 2019 updates seemed more important for the Fijian participants because of the shortened length rather than the updated wording (with one opposing view). Fijian participants volunteered information about the ‘order’ of God’s communication so I conclude that the shortened length was more important than other 2019 updates, not that Fijian participants were reticent to discuss similar content to US participants. The US participants were more appreciative of the changed content rather than the shortened length. US participants were more interested in hierarchy and gendered differences than Fijian or NZ participants. The majority of the NZ participants had not heard of any updates, which contrasted with many of the US participants who first heard about the 2019 updates from online sources. 

– In Fiji, one woman expressed approval for the updated wording, compared to the US where 100% of the participants expressed approval for the wording updates before I asked. US participants gave scant attention to the shortened time commitment.

Research Weaknesses

– I am more of an outsider in Fiji than in the US or in NZ

– ESL 

– Geographic anomalies

Research Strengths

– Insider sensitivity and access

– Participant buy-in and warmth

– Reproducible research design

Link to Part 1:…


  1. Michinita says:

    My equal partnership fell apart when my husband was called to be a bishop. It is both validating and heartbreaking that that experience overrode the cultural differences.

  2. Roger Hansen says:

    I always thought the Global South is Africa and South America. Fiji and NZ seem a poor representation of of the real Global South. Just a couple of questions: Fiji has a large population of ethnic Asian Indians. Does that play into your analysis?

    But the bigger question has to do with interference in native or indigenous cultures. To what extent should the Church try to superimpose Mormon middle-class values on other unique, spiritual cultures? Should the Church try to mess with Tibetan Buddhism? Or South Pacific island culture? Aren’t we destroying global diversity? Isn’t the Church little more than neocolonial force in some developing countries?

  3. I’m really uncomfortable with the concept of a “Global South”, especially when it comes to cultural issues like this. The concept of the Global South groups together many different cultures, and I’m not sure there’s any utility in combining so a diverse set of cultures.

  4. As a follow up to my above comment, I do think this is excellent work that helps illustrate how different cultures perceive gender issues in the Church. I would just note that it’s hard to draw conclusions about other cultures based on this sample. I have a similar reticence towards grouping the Church in terms of in the United States and Canada and elsewhere. The Church is very different in Mexico than it is in Ghana than it is in New Zealand, etc.

  5. Holly Miller says:

    Thanks for your comments, everyone. A few responses…

    – New Zealand and Australia, although south of the equator, are not considered part of the Global South (because of how ‘westernized’ both countries are.) However, the smaller Pacific countries – including Fiji – are considered part of the Global South.

    – The concept of the Global South is contested. It’s as useful as talking about the “Western world.” My study is an ethnographic case study, nothing more, nothing less.

    – Michinita, I hear you.

    – Yes, there are many Indo-Fijians in Fiji, including within church membership. My inclusion criteria, limited to a few wards, did not happen to include any Indo-Fijians. I give a little more detail in the video about choosing wards in each country in which members had similar access to the temple, but that meant that each of my research areas could be considered a geographic anomaly even within church culture. In New Zealand, for example, the area right around the temple is called “Temple View” on the city map and has a much higher concentration of LDS than where I live, which is a 3 hour drive and rural.

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