Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood


Mormon Women Are Men’s Equals, Kind Of Sort Of Maybe

posted by Jana Riess

There’s a brilliant piece of Mormon satire up at By Common Consent today — all the more brilliant because judging from the initial comments, few people realized that the author, Kristine Haglund, was being satirical at all. Here is the short text of her piece:

My children regularly (at my direction) offer prayers and teach family home evening lessons. They are confident and articulate. They participate in Family Council, where they are encouraged to share their opinions, which are listened to and valued. We implement some of their suggestions. They are (with the occasional exception of one uppity teen) content with their place and their role in the family. One of my children even said the other day, “I would hate to have all the responsibilities parents have!”

Parts of the responsibility for maintaining our home and family life are (under my direction) delegated to the children. They are allowed to choose furnishings for their rooms and are responsible for the care and maintenance of those rooms. They often (with my permission and under my direction) grocery shop (with the money I magnanimously give them) and prepare meals all by themselves. In all of these responsibilities, of course, their decisions are subject to parental review.

My children have a unique place in the family–as children, they see the world in fresh and new ways, and have an eagerness and hopefulness that is a necessary component of family life. They are loved and deeply valued, even though they are young, and even because of their youth. Our family would not be what it is without them. A couple of weeks ago, one of their teachers said, “your children are incredible!” I couldn’t agree more.

To understand the context for this post, you have to go to last week’s op ed that Church PR leader Michael Otterson wrote for the Washington Post. In his own short piece, Otterson recounted how “incredible” Mormon women are and affirmed that they are every bit as important as men in the eyes of God. However, at no point in his insistence on women’s leadership did he concede that Mormon women do not have the priesthood. He failed to mention that a Mormon woman cannot preside over a sacrament meeting, be called as a mission president, seek ecclesiastical forgiveness from another woman, serve as a ward Sunday School president, teach Institute while she has children at home, or pray to her Mother in Heaven.

It’s not just that no LDS woman can ever become the prophet. It’s that she can’t even hold a Relief Society meeting in an LDS church without a male authority figure present in the building.

The nail in the coffin of Otterson’s ruminations is that he says he wants to allow Mormon women to speak for themselves about this issue, since he is a man and not a direct authority on the subject. Fair enough. He then goes on to quote three Mormon women — anonymously — to declare their equality before God and Mormon men. Apparently he feels that quoting Mormon women anonymously is the best way to demonstrate to the world that they do, in fact, have a voice. Irony much?

I met Brother Otterson once, and quite liked him. In fact, I met him when the Public Affairs department asked me to address a group of religion journalists who were visiting Salt Lake City and had questions about Mormonism. So yes, I was asked to perform a leadership role and be an ambassador for my Church. I felt proud that someone in a position of leadership thought that I would be a good spokesperson.

However, I am not an equal in the Church. Period. I represented Mormonism in that official capacity because several men in authority decided for whatever reason that I would be good at it. In fact, with the exception of my being invited to speak at BYU Women’s Conference, which was planned by and for women, every speaking invitation I’ve ever had within the official Church has been issued by a man.

I make my peace with the LDS Church’s institutional sexism every day, every week, because I  believe that this is where God called me to be. I’ve also been very lucky to have local leaders who understand some of the challenges that women face in the Church and try to do what they can to encourage progress.

However, here’s the thing: no man gets the right to reassure me that I’m his equal when every single outward sign of how the Church is run tells a different story.

Salt Lake City leaders, here’s a request: Stop telling me I’m incredible, and start giving me responsibility and authority befitting an adult and not a child. Stop standing up each Mother’s Day to wax on about how women are fantastically spiritual and start taking a hard look at the institutional sexism that repeatedly devalues women.

And start praying about women’s emancipation. You may be surprised at the message God has been trying to impart to you.



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Lynn Matthews Anderson

    Brava, Jana, extremely well said.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Reader

    Even you aren’t getting the full satirical glory, Jana. The “incredible” dig was to Quentin L. Cook’s “LDS Women Are Incredible!” address at the recent general conference.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/flunkingsainthood/ Jana Riess

    Actually, the tagline and link Kristine put at the top of her post refer to Brother Otterson’s Wash Po essay.

    The sad thing is that there is no shortage of well-intentioned but sexist remarks from male leaders in SLC, so she could have just as easily chosen the talk you mention. Sigh.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Boyd Petersen

    Wonderfully stated, Jana. Not to burst any bubbles, but even though it’s planned by and for women, all speakers at the BYU Women’s conference must be approved by men.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Robin Jarrell

    Well done, Jana.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    I encourage you to leave and take your talents where they will be appreciated and earn you the rights and responsibilities you deserve and want.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment LRC

    Wonderful job on this post, and thank you for staying around long enough to say it articulately and forcefully. Pressure from without and within!

  • http://ethesis.blogspot.com/ Stephen M (Ethesis)

    Err, when Kathy Pullins was putting the Womens Conferences together at BYU, I would not have put the conclusion Boyd Petersen put on what happened.

    As to “she can’t even hold a Relief Society meeting in an LDS church without a male authority figure present in the building” the guidelines are quite clear that men who are supposed to be present have no authority whatsoever. They have no control, they do not preside and are there to make the place safer and to help out in the nursery.

    Otherwise, you do make some interesting points.

  • http://www.clpearson.com Carol Lynn Pearson

    You can be sure we have reached equality in our church when one day a female leader speaks to LDS men saying, “Brethren you are incredible, and I want you to know your Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father love you just as much as they love their daughters.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jeff Spector

    “It’s that she can’t even hold a Relief Society meeting in an LDS church without a male authority figure present in the building.”

    Jana, you try so hard to make this a dig on the Church. Since when two two half awake High Priests waiting to get fed and help put away tables constitute authority?

    Just silly.

  • http://www.lifeasareader.blogspot.com Macha

    @ Stephen M – “make the place safer”? As in, women aren’t capable of protecting themselves from danger? Are you supposed to be articulating an argument that says this organization isn’t sexist? If so, you’re failing.

  • Lincoln Cannon

    Jana, I enjoyed this post. Thank you.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment anna

    Jeff – the requirement of having two men in the building, regardless of their hunger or sleepiness, will cease to be sexist when it ceases to be a requirement. in a way the incompetence of the priests you’re trying to illustrate actually makes it MORE insulting…however young, sleepy, hungry, disinterested, etc these men might be they are STILL required to come and watch over the women. what does that say about the church’s opinion of the women?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Boyd Petersen

    @Stephen M: The infamous example I am thinking of is when Laurel Thatcher Ulrich was invited in 1992 to speak at the Women’s Conference and then was not approved by the BYU Board of Trustees for some unknown reason so the invitation had to be rescinded. There are other examples I could give, but I don’t want to sound snarky (it’s easy enough to find the report of the BYU Chapter of the AAUP prepared during the winter of 1996 that documents other examples). I honestly do not know of many exceptions to the rule that speakers at BYU must be approved by the administration. (And administration at BYU runs a lot like a priesthood calling. Of the 13 colleges at BYU, only one has a woman as Dean [Nursing]. If you count Associate Deans, there’s a 34:3 ratio of men to women.) The only exceptions I know of where a speaker does not necessarily need approval are if she is coming to an individual class or is speaking at the Law School where they do not advertise. There may be other exceptions, but I am fairly confident the men get a say on the final program for the Women’s conference just as they do for most (all?) major events at BYU.

  • http://www.wheelwrightpublishing.com Catherine Wheelwright Ockey

    Bravo, Jana. Thank you!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Lori Mitchell

    Thank you, I can’t say it enough….thank you!!!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Shawn

    Wow, bitter much? I think this is what the Book of Mormon had in mind when it talks about murmuring. I’m sorry, but I just don’t think the Parent/children = men in the church/women in the church analogy/satire holds up under scrutiny. I gave a talk last Mother’s Day and really labored and prayed over the assignment. I ended up praising women for their work of following the Savior in the work of rescue. You seem to be saying that that prais was invalid, unmerited, undeserved because of deficiencies in the institutional structure. The institutional structure was set up by God. The institutional church is led by an (albeit fallible) prophet of God. You seem to have difficulty with those premises. This is the kind of intellectualism, that, where well-intentioned, toes a fine line between thoughtful worship and the murmuring that leads to apostasy. I think it is this kind of rhetoric that leads many straight into apostasy. It smacks of “kicking against the pricks.” Such anger, I don’t understand.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Barbara Roberts

    I taught Institute while I had children still at home (a little one and teens). And I have been in meetings at night when there were no men there or in the building. True I am never going to be called to be the Bishop, the Stake President or THE Prophet for that matter, but after being close enough to see some of the time and effort it takes to do those jobs, I don’t covet those jobs. I don’t covet presiding over anyone else. I don’t covet telling anyone else what to do. I don’t covet the priesthood. I am grateful for what I have been asked to be: a good Christian. Presently that’s taking up most of my time.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Gary Lund

    Apparently, Jana suffers from the self-inflicted wound of subscribing to the false notion that ecclesiastic rank brings some sort of Priesthood ‘power’. True and real Priesthood power only comes from the embodiment of righteousness and is totally ‘calling-indifferent’. Inasmuch as men lust for influence through Priesthood and to the extent they are able to persuade the deceived to give it to them, they will, at some point, find themselves stripped of any authority whatsoever. By being denied the Priesthood, Jana can at least avoid the humiliation of having it taken away when the true desires of her heart are revealed.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Coyote Bob

    “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”

    Why would one expect God to organize his church any different than he organizes his family?

    Show me a man standing in heaven, and I’ll show you his wife, an equal partner, standing at his side. Furthermore, show me a man and his wife standing in heaven, and I’ll show you a gaggle of others standing in heaven as well, that were assisted and helped and motivated and served and inspired by that man and woman jointly. There ain’t no other way to accomplish this feat.

    Having or holding the priesthood does not give any man the right to preside over anyone. Callings in the church provide the opportunity for imperfect members to have the opportunity to preside in their given stewardships. The stewardship or calling is wherein the right to preside lies. Technically speaking, there are only four Priesthood Callings in the ward wherein some keys of the priesthood (including the key of presidency or right to preside) are bestowed. Therefore, only those four individuals, while in the current position (not having been released) hold the right to preside over their given stewardship. Only one has the right to preside over the ward as a whole, that of course would be the presiding high priest in the ward, otherwise known as the Bishop.

    I have found that it is far easier to obtain a testimony as to the truthfulness of any given principle of truth vs. spending a lifetime trying to prove it right or wrong. Simply living the principle allows the Holy Ghost the opportunity (at some point)(on his schedule) to confirm the veracity of the principle. I have also found that if I’m living the principle for a period of time (i.e. not for hours but rather for months/years) not only do I have a right to seek confirmation of veracity via the Holy Ghost, but that the answers come quicklky and typically are already known due to the blessed consequences of having lived such principles.

    Rather than claim sexism and rail against it, live the gospel, enjoy the gospel, and seek confirmation via the Holy Ghost.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment anna

    i can think of a few pricks i’d like to kick.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment anna

    striking, the gender divide in these comments. with a few exceptions the women are saying a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the author for expressing what they feel, while the men are busy accusing her of apostasy and pride. it’s all right, boys. everyone has a hard time understanding something they’ve never experienced. unfortunately for us, your lack of understanding combined with women’s lack of voice and authority in the church (except for inasmuch as we can influence and convince YOU) adds up to a lot of quietly seething women. advice for those who claim not to understand – try listening to us. it will help.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment anna

    i’m also not entirely certain what those who object to this article are objecting TO. are they debating whether the church is indeed sexist? on one hand coyote bob tells us that men need women in heaven too (although, bob, i’ll leave it to you to answer your own challenge and show me one woman in heaven standing by a man – we know plenty about heavenly father, could you tell me one sure thing about heavenly mother? let’s start with how many there are, oh wait not even that is certain…), and that the priesthood does not confer the right to ‘preside’. bob lund agrees that priesthood does not equal power, and assures us that it is better to not even be offered that kind of responsibility. or wait..so it does equal power? when exercised righteously? is that why you justify the placement of women under men’s authority in every respect (budget planning, presence in a building, etc.) with the proclamation on the family? but wait…i thought the priesthood doesn’t equal power. hm.

    the arguments are not logically coherent. priesthood doesn’t equal power – power comes with righteousness – righteousness gives men the right to determine women’s lives and callings – priesthood doesn’t equal power. it doesn’t add up.

    or maybe people aren’t disputing whether the church is sexist, they are admitting the church IS sexist, and the disrespect the author is talking about women receiving (note she does not dispute gender difference or even gender roles, she is talking exclusively about disrespect and disempowerment) is justified? is that what we’re really arguing here?

  • http://www.clobberblog.com Ms. Jack

    Jana ~ Thanks for penning this thoughtful and articulate essay. In the wake of all of the “wasn’t Elder Cook’s talk wonderful?” love that followed General Conference, I was beginning to think I was the only one who was feeling less than optimistic.

    I recall the story that you shared on the Mormon Expression podcast, how you were studying to be a Protestant pastor just prior to converting to Mormonism. Had we met for lunch last year at Sunstone, I would have loved to have been able to pick your brain on how you were ever able to come to terms with the limitations that the LDS church puts on a woman’s use of her gifts and talents. It’s something that I don’t think I ever could have done, even if I had believed in the church’s other distinctive truth claims.

    I continue to appreciate the example that you set with your life as well as your writing. Please keep at it.

    (And I agree—Kristine’s satire at By Common Consent was nothing short of brilliant.)

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Gary Lund

    @Anna

    The ‘power’ of the Priesthood is the ‘ability’ to discern, heal, reveal, interpret, be a ‘seer’, etc., all of which, come through the gift of faith and power of the Holy Ghost. These ‘powers’ are available to men and women alike (see Joseph Smith’s approval of the healing by laying on of hands by the R.S. Presidency at their 5th meeting). The ‘Priesthood’ as it should be, is an orderly organization of these powers for the benefit of those without them and as a ‘delegated authority’, can only be wielded in the blessing of others – not one’s self. Any attempt to use the Priesthood in an unrighteous manner will cause the loss of any such ‘power’.

    It appears that YOUR concept of Priesthood ‘power’ is the ability to tell people what to do, which is a false imitation of the real thing. And if that’s what you covet, you’re no better than those men who disgrace their callings by breaking their covenants in behaving that way. There are sexists in the Church but, the only power they have does not come from the Priesthood they purport to bear, but from those who are willing to let them get away with it.

    BTW:
    - MY R.S./Primary Presidents worked out their budgets with the rest of us in Ward Council.
    - There’s no reason a woman cannot be a president/chairman of anything other than organizations requiring Priesthood keys (S.S. included).
    - The reasons for having men in the building when women meet stemmed from some unfortunate incidents that occurred when they were alone.
    - Bishops too, need another Priesthood bearer close by when privately interviewing a woman – same as merit badge counselors (it’s called discretion)

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Gary Lund

    @Jana

    re: “the institutional sexism that repeatedly devalues women.”

    Either:
    1. The “Salt Lake City leaders” have been/are prophets, seers, and revelators and hence, the “institution” comes from God, or

    2. The “Salt Lake City leaders” are frauds and so is the “institution.”

    Which is it?

    Maybe you’d better take a hard look and start praying about your emancipation. You may be surprised at the message God has been trying to impart to you.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Eric

    Gary Lund: That’s a false dichotomy.

    And who are you to say Jana hasn’t prayed lately?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Gary Lund

    @Eric

    Maybe you could try reading her blog – I was merely using her own words.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Coyote.Bob

    @Gary

    While I agree with what you’ve said, I need to point out that according to Handbook 2 in section 12.2.2 it states:

    “Members of the Sunday School Presidency are priesthood holders. Where possible, the president holds the Melchizedek Priesthood.”

    Although not an apologist by nature, I couldn’t help but respond to this blog and the various comments. It startles me that there are those that think and feel this way walking through the halls of the church every Sunday. I have never encountered sexist attitudes or conversations as I have walked through the halls, or attended the meetings contained therein. Every man knows (as I stated previously) that a righteous woman at his side is a requirement. Equally true for women. Thus I have typically encountered men and women being courteous and kind to one another throughout the church.

    Sure, all members are imperfect. Yes, I’m sure there are sexist men, and women, whom are members of the church. Just as I’m sure there are thieves, liars, and other sinners in the church as well. As Gary pointed out, either the church is true or it isn’t, and if its true, we need to accept it, embrace it, and work together for our salvation.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment JMock

    I find this interesting, all be it slightly depressing fodder.
    I am a practicing LDS woman. Single at that and in my thirties. I love my religious beliefs. I love my Heavenly Father; I believe in his perfection. I also know from trial and error, personal experiences and personal failures, that no one on this earth is perfect. Therefore the leaders of the church are imperfect.

    I have never desired the Priesthood. I see it as a function of God’s power given to imperfect men to help them learn self control, compassion, selflessness, and understand true worthiness in the eyes of God. Motherhood is a similar calling to teach the same things to imperfect women.

    Women, where needed are given authority to act in God’s name. Consider several of the temple ordinances are performed by women. As far as the religion itself is concerned, I have no qualms for inequality…as far as the leaders (especially those in jobs at church corporate headquarters) there absolutely is sexism towards women in their behaviors and policies.

    Having spent the last 18 months working at BYU, I experienced again and again sexism in the work place. I have been working professionally for years and the first environment where I truly felt belittled for no other reason than being a woman with an opinion, was working with a church entity. Sad. Truly, sad. I know this is not behavior towards women that is condoned by God. But it happens none the less. Men in the church, so many of them, see women as second class. I often encountered situations where I was treated like a problem, a difficult person to work with, even “bitchy” because I dared to express valid concerns and opinions on the way male counterparts in the work place were handling their responsibilities.

    Elder Cook’s talk didn’t sit well with me this past GC. On one hand, I get that he is trying to set an example to the men of the church to love the women in their lives…on the other, it felt totally condescending; like women are pretty pets that we should be tender with. What I wish he had said would have been “men, stop being controlling pricks and respect the women in your lives!”.

    But some things are slowly changing…in recent years I have had a younger bishop who actually gives leadership callings to single women. I have never seen that before. Most church culture deems single women as incapable of serving in leadership roles…as if marriage alone qualifies her to serve.

    Anyway, all this to say…I understand where the impetus for this article comes from. Sure, sure if we all dwell on it too much we could become angry and apostatize; but really when good, faithful women in the gospel feel this way…then it’s time the church recognized it as a real issue. And I don’t mean women getting the Priesthood, but women getting respect.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Chris

    I have served as a stake and ward Relief Society president and in many other positions of responsibility in the Church. I am an active member and my husband has served in many positions of responsibility as well, including bishop. Over the hills, I have observed a culture in the Church that not only condones abuse of women in the Church by priesthood leaders, but even encourages it.

    Although my husband is a kind and good man, I have many friends who are married to men in high positions in the Church who have been and are being abused, either psychologically, physically, or both. They tell me that the psychological abuse is more painful than the physical. In a patriarchial culture in which authority goes unchecked, any reporting of abuse by Church leaders results in minimizing, threats of disfellowship or excommunication, and/or rejection by neighbors and church members.

    My close relative, an active member of the Church, is a distinguished physician in Salt Lake City. He tells me that he sees many patients who are being abused by their bishop/stake president/GA husband. These women have no one to turn to. Church leaders do not believe their accounts, even when medical records are produced that document abuse.

    A Church hotline needs to be set up for the many women in the Church who are being abused, and Church leaders need to realize that this is a serious problem in the Church because of the authoritarian culture in the Church and an “old boys” network that protects serious abuse. Women who are being abused also must know that the Church will not help them if their husband is a Church leader. They need to report the abuse to police, keep details records and pictures of the abuse, go to a shelter, and leave the marriage if necessary to protect themselves.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Shantell

    I have been quietly reading your posts for a while. I am so grateful for you. I am grateful for the previous post as well. I have grown up LDS and it has been dear to me, although at times I have struggled with certain points. I felt such guilt for struggling with anything that I eventually quit pushing and just did what I was told. It did bring peace; but not for the right reasons. Peace born out of an absence of unnecessary guilt and shame is not the kind of peace that comes from Jesus Christ. His peace comes from deeper truths that at moments we have all felt and hope are true…truths that His mercy and justice come from perfect love, without judgment or guilt and shame. Those negative feelings are not from Him.

    This experience of ‘doing what is right’, whatever I was told was right, affected other areas of my life. I have been divorced about 18 months now. I married the perfect guy. He was an RM and active and “appeared” to match every one of my ideal husband requirements that I wrote down during a Young Women’s lesson years ago. It didn’t take long to realize I was so so wrong. He was abusive; emotionally and mentally primarily, which, Chris, are undoubtedly worse. I struggled so much thinking if I was just a better wife, if I prayed more or read my scriptures more consistently all would get better. That was not the case. It seldom is. As Mormons we often mistakenly think that if we are righteous, good things happen, and if we are not, then bad things happen. Simply not true. This difficult situation has lead me on a path that has shown me truly our greatest purpose is progression and growth and healing; that the Savior’s atonement is more about healing than the ticket to save us from hell. I have been led down paths that have made clear the need for women to stand in their truth. And that truth unfortunately is that many men use their “authority” in the church to rule over women in horrific ways. I love the gospel, but the church system does create the sad truth of what happens when men are given a little authority.

    It was not easy to get out of my situation, which was complicated by all the priesthood leaders encouraging counseling (joint counseling doesn’t work with abusers) and time and patience. Um…been there, done that. I had my answer from my Father in Heaven, I was to leave. Why did I need anyone else’s permission? When I escaped from my hell, anything that felt controlling or manipulative or ruled by fear and guilt I completely bristled against. Unfortunately, that has meant many aspects of the church. My journey through this has been difficult and I am so grateful for your insight, Jana, which allows me to not feel guilty for my views and to find a venue of similar hearts. The gospel is beautiful with hope and peace; it unfortunately gets tangled in the institution. We get hurt when we make the mistake that people or life should be perfect. We place too much incorrect emphasis on that. Life is messy…it is supposed to be. It gives us a chance for growth and healing if we seek it. These issues can not be ignored. Handled with the right intent, but not ignored. I am grateful. I know many women in the church in abusive situations. Hopefully the women will begin to empower themselves and know that our Father would never condone mistreatment or disrespect of His daughters.

    During the more difficult times as I studied my scriptures I found great strength in the scripture that simply stated, “I am.” That became my mantra. I let the truth of that resonate through me and the sense of my divinity and worth as a woman permeate every part of my soul. We are all that we should be if seek to heal and grow and stand in our own power and truth without trying to convince anyone else of it. Women, rest in that. We are. You are. I am.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Cary Talbot

    So I have two “thought” questions for you, Jana, based on the last two sentences of your post:

    1) How do you know they aren’t praying for that?

    2) If they are praying for it and their answer is and has been to continue in the pattern that currently exists, are you OK with that?

    2a) If you’re not OK with that, who do you have a problem with?

    Ok, so that was really three questions. Just wondering how you know for what the Prophet and Apostles are and aren’t praying.

  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/flunkingsainthood/ Jana Riess

    I want to thank those of you who have taken the time to think about these issues and especially those who are brave enough to share their personal stories. I realize that it is not always easy to speak out. Please know that you are not alone. –JKR

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jay Kelly

    @Shawn The ‘kicking against the pricks’ reference is probably not the best choice to make your point. That’s the passage where Jesus confronts Paul on his dogmatic protection of the established religious institution and his refusal to accept the new direction God was taking His people.

    That passage would seem to point the finger, not at Jana, but at you.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jay Kelly

    Observation from a Non-Mormon:

    My understanding of Mormonism is that a) it places a high value on personal experience and b) it has a history of changing and growing (e.g., finally allowing African-Americans to hold the priesthood).

    It’s odd to me that those things co-exist with what appears to be rigid adherence to institutional constraints.

    I’m an outsider to Mormonism, so my perspective may be misinformed. Or maybe there’s an explanation for their co-existence that I am not aware of. But from the outside looking in, it seems odd.

    This discussion is the sort of thing that makes the juxtaposition of those things pretty stark.

    If anyone wants to help me understand, I’m all ears! (Or eyes, I suppose.)

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  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ben

    An interesting point, Jay. The institution can and does flex, which suggests that the competing calls for debate and for prayer in the comments, once reframed, do not have to be for naught. Debate and prayer, after all, could be a redundancy. When done in good faith (e.g., Lot, Abraham, Ruth), the two roll up into one.

    I really appreciate the initial article and, among others, the thoughtful responses it has provoked. What people feel is real and, while arguments may rise and fall, as long as some members feel disenfranchised or less than others, the overriding concern of loving members should be to help one another.

    We all know the LDS Church as an institution organizes itself around a clear gender distinction. Many institutions do that. The army. PE class. We can move on. That doesn’t mean as individuals we have to live divided into genders, though. Playgrounds organize into gender, but, here’s a pie-in-the-sky wish: Even though the institution divides along those lines, members who live and talk and serve with one another do not have to.

    Genders, after all, are most fertile when its intermixed. Maybe there are sacred, social ways of intermixing we have yet to institutionalize.

    Gender’s a given, but the perceived binary difference is probably starker than the real biological basis. It’s an important part of inherited bodies on earth. BUT, gender does not need to play a defining role in how we treat or how we talk about one another, except that it can teach us to be sensitive to certain issues others neglect due to social mores about gender. In my work with statistics, I’ve repeatedly noticed that gender appears as a ubiquitous but very weak factor in explaining social differences. For example, men and women will, on average, have marginally different views on, [pick a topic] say, the death penalty, but the set “men” and the set “women” is not significant enough statistically to matter for social study. In the case of the death penalty, region, political background, education, socio-economic status, etc. will tell you much more about someone’s views than their gender. In most things most of the time, the differences between any two individuals is likely to be larger than the differences between the genders as aggregated averages. Gender blinds are not a great way to socially navigate our world.

    A person’s gender is the thing we notice first about another. If that’s all we know, though, we only know we don’t know much.

    Instead of debating whether it is flattering or condescending to say that “Mormon women are incredible” (both are true to different audiences), let’s consider that, most of all, the statement is meaningless. Many are wonderful, many aren’t. All people who try to live right are wonderful. Instead of talking about Mormon women as a category for evaluation, let us take interest in Mormon women as our sisters with names, opinions, responsibilities, jobs, favorite colors, birthdays, and problems–including, as Chris and others commented, real problems like abuse, neglect, and other real problems that come as a result not of gender itself but of social behavior of gender.

    Plus, this view could help resolve many of the real problems that attend how we treat genders: women and men would be given leadership callings based on their leadership abilities; marital status would not play a defining role, except as a question of how much time a person has to devote to church callings, or as a resource for guiding members on marriage-related questions. Singles and marrieds may serve together, fraternize, and build other projects–to the degree that it serves the institutional purpose, not to the degree that we tend behave like a separation between males and females, single wards and married wards is immanent. If you’re organizing a basketball game, invite everyone, but don’t be surprised if sweaty men dominate the court. Tell me it’s not in the Church’s interests to have Priesthood holders who can do crafts, respect house-making, and know at least that, if they don’t watch the kids, then maybe they will have to go to crafts night.

    Plus, this gender-minimizing social view could actually help us come to terms with what can seem to some as a retrograde gender-maximizing institutional arrangement. It’s great to be with your Priesthood Quorum or Relief Society, especially once you know that, after church, you can find out from your sisters or brothers what went on in the other room. Wouldn’t it be great if the reasons men and women did not talk to each other in the hallways after church were because the men, recognizing social gender divisions are real and productive, were secretly planning a surprise holiday potluck, and the women, in their turn, were playing as if they didn’t already know?

    Gender differences can be great, it just depends on what we make of them.

    Is anyone else on board? Can the critics of LDS culture suspend their doubt, and can the proponents of LDS culture suspend their belief, long enough to experiment, and give it a good ol’ good faith try? If so, where does it begin? How many members of the opposite gender will I chat with this coming Sabbath?

  • http://michelleglauser.blogspot.com Michelle Glauser

    Amen, sister! Amen!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment anna

    shantell – i appreciate you sharing such a personal story here. i admire your strength of will to get out of it. i am especially struck by the parallels you draw between your husband’s controlling, abusive rhetoric, and the way the church can exert social control. ‘if you were a better person/wife/woman, this wouldn’t happen to you.’ ‘you deserve this treatment.’ and ‘if you knew your place, you’d be happy.’ you CAN see these attitudes in the way the church deals with women, and while they usually have a positive sheen to them, you can even see the uglier side on this very comment board (my favorite is gary lund’s classic ‘the only abuse that is happening is what women let men get away with’. talk about bizarro world). it is this blaming of the victim that reinforces the power dynamics that make abuse possible in the first place. the abusers believe they are not to blame (bob has never met any sexists in church, after all, although i’m suspicious that happens to be because his name is ‘bob’), and the victims suffer in guilt, feeling too worthless to even speak up (again, what gender is making the majority of comments on this blog? and what are those comments, by gender, communicating about the author’s point? and more importantly, how is each gender approaching the other? who is showing more condescension, self-assurance, and will to control?).

    i am not saying all men are abusive. this is obviously, patently not true. what IS true is that we have a culture that grants men power over women (whether or not that is what the lord intended, and of course i passionately believe it was not), and that makes whatever abuse DOES occur systematic and institutional, and leaves women with little recourse (note the above comment about how, in an all-male system of authority, abused women have no one to turn to when the men band together to protect their own). i am not the only one who sees this abuse – to my knowledge almost every priesthood session of the last several general conferences has included pleas with the men to stop beating and otherwise abusing their wives. isn’t it pathetic that this is still apparently required? doesn’t it speak to you, men, that it is? coyote bob’s “a few bad apples” argument just doesn’t cut it. the venue for abuse is systematic as long as men are given authority (and they are given it in our church, and women are not, and whether or not they immediately lose it because of unrighteous dominion doesn’t always stop them from exercising just that) over women. much as the occurrence of sexual harassment and rape were not going anywhere until women were granted the legal right to press charges (itself a battle), despite the argument that ‘most guys are nice fellows,’ the abuse simply won’t change until the playing field is evened out.

    ben – i quite like your comment. i’m grateful that the majority of comments on this post have been thoughtful. i like to think most men/people in the church are like this, but sometimes between the knee-jerk accusations and black and white dichotomies, i am just not sure.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment anna

    ps gary’s condescending attitude telling me what i believe about the priesthood is also telling. further signs of an abusive attitude include just that, informing the victim what they do or do not think or feel, assuming the authority to declare such things. i’m sure gary is a perfectly nice guy in real life. he’s just been taught that its ok to treat women this way, that his word about what they think has more epistemic authority (there’s that word again) than their own expression of their thoughts (or lack thereof, as in my case, i didn’t say a thing about what i actually believe the priesthood to mean). with such great authorities around to tell us what we think, no wonder so many women just fall silent.

  • http://bradcarmack.blogspot.com Brad Carmack

    “You can be sure we have reached equality in our church when one day a female leader speaks to LDS men saying, “Brethren you are incredible, and I want you to know your Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father love you just as much as they love their daughters.””

    Good call, Carol Lynn!

    Pithy post, Jana: thanks.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sylvin

    I’ve never sought to explore gospel topics posted by random people on the internet but with the Internets use and popularity spreading I’ve recently learned of several disturbing issues that more people in the church are becoming concerned with. I’m sure these issues aren’t anything new, but just that I was not aware of them until more people post those concerns on the internet for others to see.

    It must feel terrible to believe that parts of the church you know is true supports sexism. I can’t imagine going to church each week thinking the men in positions of responsibility are intentionally sexist. I’m a man and maybe that blinds me to a womens view, but I’ve never seen it in any of the wards I’ve attended. Well, I should say I’ve never seen any kind of sexism by church leaders or members I respected. (There are always individuals who fall far short of the ideal). I think I’ll be more open minded to this now, curious if I’ll see any sexism if I look with open eyes.

    Another issue I heard of recently is something I’ve actually experienced myself – that of wanting to question some church history. Seriously, have you ever heard of the wacky and crazy things that happened? Brigham Young excommunicating people for buying clothing from Eastern merchants (even if they weren’t ‘immoral’ styles)! All the accusations of racism about preventing blacks from holding the priesthood! Quotes from prior General Authorities that sound racist to us today! I took a class on church history at BYU and couldn’t believe some of the stuff the professor shared. Truth, rumor, or just shock value? A guy in my ward shared with me that some church historians face excommunication for wanting to publish stuff that puts the church and it’s people in a negative light. Who knows…

    As I’ve been thinking about these things I think I’ve come to a conclusion for myself and felt like I should share it on this blog. These and the many other issues and concerns that cause some to leave the church are definitely valid issues. I trust and hope people are reading scriptures and praying their hearts out, for that is (in my opinion) the only appropriate response when questions about the church and doctrine arise. Each individual needs to explore the gospel and reach their own conclusions.

    I’ve reached mine and this is what I wanted to share today. I understand how all these issues can affect one’s worship of the gospel in the LDS church. I personally have never seen or experienced all these negative things. I have seen imperfect people make mistakes that harm others – we are all human and this will continue to happen. But I haven’t seen sexism in the church. I haven’t seen racism in the church. I haven’t experienced all these terrible things (thankfully!) that others have.

    The only things I know and understand are the things I’ve experienced, which have shaped and grown my testimony. I sometimes wonder how I would respond should people ask me about these serious issues others have experienced in the church. How would I respond to people accusing the church of being racist in the past? What about the BofM scriptures talking about a skin of blackness being a curse? About institutional sexism in the church?

    I don’t have an answer for those things except to say just about everything I’ve experienced in the church has been positive. Not all the people in the church have been positive, but my experiences in the GOSPEL have been. I believe this is what Jacob meant when he spoke about the Jews looking beyond the mark. The gospel is about Christ and becoming Christ-like; not about having a full understanding of all the things that confuse and distress us.

    I don’t share this to say people who see sexism or racism or other problems in the church are looking beyond the mark. Only God and each individual can really know what’s in their heart. What I am saying, though, is to experience and enjoy the gospel through focusing on the mark – Jesus Christ. If only everyone of us would keep our minds and hearts on the mark and act accordingly we would better accomplish the aims of the gospel of Jesus Christ, no matter what imperfections we may see in others in the church.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Rebecca

    Very interesting article/ comment combo!!!!! HOLY COW, you’re brave! As an outsider, I’ve read your blog with some curiosity and it all makes sense to me now. My sister once worked in SLC as a family doctor and she said it’s the strangest place because she has never seen so many prescription narcotic drug addicts and huuuuuuuge numbers of women on anti-depressants. How can a religion be sustainable when women are so miserable?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment AssemblyNotRequired

    @JMock

    I appreciate your post. However, you wrote “Motherhood is a similar calling to teach the same things to imperfect women”. I have to take issue with this all-to-prevalent thought. Wouldn’t FATHERHOOD be the more accurately-similar calling to motherhood, to teach men about “self control, compassion, selflessness, and understand true worthiness in the eyes of God”?

    A week ago, my teen learned in YM’s about how “his priesthood” would help him later in life, with his mission, his career, his future – his life in nearly every aspect – EXCEPT HIS ROLE AS A FATHER. Not once was fatherhood discussed, and how “his priesthood” would enhance his calling in that role.

    Meanwhile, across the building, the YM were being taught how the principles they were learning would help them in their future roles as wives and mothers. There was no mention of how virtue and honesty would help them at school, or in their careers, or in a role as a community leader.

    Where is the equality at this most basic level? What are our youth being taught? What are the examples being set? I can tell you that the YM are learning from their adult quorum examples that they can procrastinate, or delegate, away their church responsibilities (usually to the women). Whereas the YW are learning from their adult advisors that they need to go above and beyond whatever is asked of them by their church leaders (usually men).

    How can we even expect change if we keep propagating the same old-SAME OLD through our examples? I say, begin with the YOUNG MEN, in the way they’re taught. It needs to go beyond “respecting women”, to looking at their own roles and callings, with emphasis on their futures as fathers. ENOUGH of the “future in the priesthood” and MORE about “when you are a father and are responsible for your children”! Only then we can begin to claim equality in the church between men and women.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Princess Charlie

    Adding to that list of things that Mormon women aren’t allowed to do:

    baptize
    give healing blessings
    officially “name” their children
    perform marriages
    serve as military chaplains
    collect tithes or monetary offerings

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment LOTTIE

    You seem an educated and articulate woman, who sits idly by allowing your church to dictate that you are less valulable as a PERSON than the men in your church-even the dumb, inarticulate, spirtually corrupt ones, just because the heirarchy of the MAN-made institution or a god makes it so. And you know it is true, based on a MAN telling you,right? Ever hear the “fox guarding the hen-house” story?
    The gift they have received that justifies this treatment of all women, Mormon or not, is not their intellect, their leadership training, their character, or even their superior spiritual presence, but that dangly thing between their legs? Really?
    Too expensive at any cost–even free.
    This is tantamount to slaves praising their massahs for not beating them—much. Or allowing them to speak freely, unless they say something about their standing in polite society. Or allowing a woman to cook and “give it up” on command because the Bible says so.
    How can you defend a religion or a god that expects/wills you to get a blast of poisonous, self-debasing sexism with every verse, with every decision, with every lesson you “explain” to others?
    I enjoy your posts and some of your self-deprecating humor, but self-deprecation is funny when it is BASED on confidence and irony-not REAL self-hatred. Insulting yourself first BECAUSE you know you deserve it is not funny. It is sad. It is delusional. It is fraud.
    I am APPALLED! My choice, when confronted as teenager with Catholicism’s systemic sexism, historic collusion with Nazis, overwhelming megalomania, and disgusting pandering to sexual perversion, I chose to clear my conscience of any assocation with them and their followers. I continued, in this vein, to free myself of any worldly association with a spiritual concept—with the obvious exception of being able to talk, feel,and think about spiritual topics. I continue to be concerned with “spiritual” topics, like justice, love, honesty, and generosity, freedom, but from a decidedly secular angle.
    If it turns out there is a god somewhere, I have great confidence that she/he/it/they will approve of me, based on my desire to be as true to my “nature” as I can be.
    If not, tough. I still lived as a generous partner, loving mother, doting grandmother, lively poker of hornet’s nests, and snarky, smart-aleck gypsy.

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  • http://RUN Jim

    Run from this cult as fast as you can!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Emily Jacobson

    Dear Jana, I fear your request to the brethren to pray for the emancipation of women may not work as well as you think, because there are quite a few of us LDS women who offer up pretty regular prayers of our own, and they go something like this: “Dear God, I had so much to do today, I am exhausted. Please let my children sleep well tonight, so that I can get some rest too. And I thank you for the strength that you have given me to help me carry the burden, not only of raising my children, and running my home, but also keeping up with a full time job which our delightfully “emancipated” cultural climate and dual-income economy has forced upon me. I also thank you from the bottom of my heart that you aren’t stiffing me with all the work of running a ward too. Please keep that burden on the men, particularly the ones who still haven’t figured out how to run a vacuum cleaner, as long as possible. And don’t let them think, for even a minute, that there is a chance in hell that they’ll be able to pawn it off on the women any time soon. I pray for these things, and anything else you can come up with to lighten my load. Amen.”

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