FAIR Conference, number three: Neylan McBaine, ‘Gendered Participation Within Church Organizational Structure’

The complete title of this talk is:

“To Do the Business of the Church: A Cooperative Paradigm for Examining Gendered Participation Within Church Organizational Structure.”

McBaine is the founder of the Mormon Women Project, a non-profit web site. She works at Bonneville Communications, which is responsible for the “I’m a Mormon” campaign. She has been published in many periodicals.

“There is a tremendous amount of pain among women in the Church.” She says many women feel like they are treated like lesser human beings at Church. Nearly half of the people leaving the Church cited women’s issues.

She wants to publish reaffirming narratives of women in the Church. She also serves as a bridge between various women’s groups. We need to explain better why women cannot pass the sacrament. We cannot devalue these opinions as “prideful.”

She says there has to be room for struggle, for doubt, for wondering about the role of women in the Church.

Many of the rites of passage for men and boys are obvious. Boys receive the priesthood, pass the sacrament, receive the Aaronic and Melchezedik priesthoods, etc. The rites of passage are not so obvious for women. We tell our daughters they will never be able to pass the sacrament, be the bishop, be the prophet, etc. This can cause a lot of pain for girls.

It is important to affirm to girls and women that they are needed and that their opinions matter.

She points out that we need a new narrative that does not compare the Church to secular organizations. She said she has been involved with Church public affairs on how to create the correct narrative.

She says there needs to be emphasis on an eternal paradigm. We need to emphasize the cooperative structure of service. She says that hierarchical power in a cooperative structure is not as important, especially because no one is materialistically rewarded. In a cooperative structure, there is a division of roles and a division of labor. We need to emphasize an ordered approach to Church structure. It is not about power and “leadership.” It is about being servants and being facilitators within the larger community. We do not use “top-down power.” In the Church, every position is a service position. Power is a human construct, not an eternal principle.

We need to make the contributions of women more visible. The Gospel is a gospel of empowerment for women. She discussed a conversation with a bishop when he tried to think of new ways for young women to be involved in Sacrament meeting. (Girls could be greeters, etc).

Other suggestions: We need to have women’s leaders be as visible as the men at stake conference and during ward conference. More women need to sit on the stand.

The women need to be addressed by their titles as Primary president, Relief Society President, etc.

Use more quotations from women in talks, in conference, etc. We need to hear more sermons from women in the Church’s history.

In church history, there are women who are described as “a prophetess and a revelator.”

Avoid having men always speak last at Sacrament meeting. Invite the Activity Day girls to participate in the Pinewood Derby. Ask Sacrament speakers to discuss talks by women leaders in the Church. Baby blessings can be difficult for women because only the husbands are involved. Recognize the mothers as well during blessings.

Boys join their fathers in home teaching and participate in priesthood meetings. Young women are not included in Relief Society meetings, and are not encouraged to go visiting teaching. McBaine encouraged women to take their daughters with them visiting teaching. She praised her husband for taking their daughters to the father-son campouts and noted nobody has ever objected.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

82 thoughts on “FAIR Conference, number three: Neylan McBaine, ‘Gendered Participation Within Church Organizational Structure’

  1. “She praised her husband for taking their daughters to the father-son campouts and noted nobody has ever objected.”

    Let this be the first, then.

  2. Wouldn’t it be awesome for a mother-daughter campout celebrating the YW/RS beginnings? I’ve always thought that YW should be involved in visiting other young women in their homes, if the program is run correctly.
    I agree that more emphasis should be given on listening to the sisters, giving them more prominence where we can, etc.

  3. Being a father of 2 daughters and no sons, I was happy to hear of someone bringing their daughters to the Father/Sons campout. I didn’t know that was an option, but I’ll definitely be doing that next time. 🙂

  4. As the father of two daughters, and with only one son (who recently passed away), I’d like to have more opportunities to do more father/daughter activities in the Church.

    In a previous stake in which I lived, they held an annual daddy-daughter dinner.

  5. Please help me understand why you would want to bring daughters to a “Father/Son” campout.

  6. Some excellent ideas from Neylan. I wonder how difficult would they be to implement. I think it would have to come from the “top-down.” The powers given to women in the Relief Society, the temple, with healings, etc. came directly with the approval and encouragement of Joseph Smith. Without him, it would not have happened.

    I can imagine some more liberal wards in SF or NYC implementing these sorts of things at the local level, through the spearheading of local priesthood. But because the membership already has a lot of liberals, the whole endeavor would smack of a liberal agenda, and would be regarded suspiciously by the mainstream membership.

    These sorts of cultural things may happen, but only if and when the main leadership of the church feels inspired to implement changes.

  7. I’m with MC. Fathers/Sons has been a wonderful tradition for me and mine. Most Fathers/Sons campouts I’ve been on, there has been a family or two. It doesn’t bother me, exactly, but if Fathers/Sons turns into just another ward activity, it will lose some of it’s value. It won’t be giving the same experience to a wider group, it will be giving a different experience to a wider group.

    It is true that males and females have different experiences throughout church programs, but I also think the groups have different needs. Personally, I’m amazed at what the RS wastes their time on, but presumably their choices meet their needs. If girls aren’t getting their needs met, then something should change and perhaps trade-offs need to be made. If girls want to go camping with their dads, I’d much rather do that than all those daddy-daughter sock-hops. And if daughters want to camp with their Moms, I’m happy to stay home with the boys.

    When my wife was RS president, a couple men wanted to attend a particular homemaking class. Most of the sisters thought that would be fine, but a few expressed honest resentment at the intrusion. At first, my wife felt those women were being unreasonable, and then she felt inspired to ask the men not to attend. The men were a bit put out, but as RS pres, the needs of those women took precedence.

  8. I wasn’t in the session, so I can’t comment on the tone (and I think the tone of these kinds of remarks is as important as the content), but these seem pretty straightforward concerns and options. I would not want my daughters on a father-sons campout, but I’d sure like to take my daughters on a mother-daughter campout rather than have a modesty fashion show. The YW attend RS opening exercises once a month and the YW and RS presidents alternate conducting that week. I have a great many thoughts about these issues, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Thanks for the play-by-play!

  9. I would hate to go on a mother-daughter campout because I hate camping. Our ward has a father-daughter campout, which my daughters enjoy. (Well, my husband enjoys it too.) I can understand why men (and boys) wouldn’t want girls at a father-son campout. I also understand, though, why fathers who don’t have any sons would want to take advantage of an opportunity to go camping with other men, if their ward doesn’t do a father-daughter campout. (I think that some stakes don’t approve of father-daughter campouts. I think perhaps my stake doesn’t approve of father-daughter campouts but our ward does it anyway.) At any rate, if they start having mother-daughter campouts, I’ll have to leave the church.

  10. “We do not use ‘top-down power'”

    How could you get away from this? I mean, anytime a bishop, stake president, or general authority says, “No, you can’t do that,” top-down power is immediately reinforced. So long as priesthood holders ultimately have the final say, and so long as women are not priesthood holders, then I don’t see how we could ever get around this way of thinking.

    But there’s me being a pessimist. :-/

  11. I have never had a bishop, stake president or GA say, “no, you can’t do that.” I have seen them offer advice to people, but they are not your bosses. You can make your own choice. In general, I have found taking their advice is a good thing, but if you see it as “power” you completely misunderstand the role of church leadership.

    When my new High Priest Group Leader was called, I jokingly said to him: “are you my new boss?” His response was: “no, I am your new servant.” If you can understand the difference, you go a long way to understanding the priesthood.

  12. Geoff B, your experience with leaders saying no is very different than some of us have had. I have served in 6 bishoprics over a span of 30 years, as counselors to the bishop, as clerk, executive secretary, and also as a high councilman advisor to wards. I have had the stake president say, “no” very adamantly to two specific requests on issues involving empowering women in the Church. One was to continue to allow the RS president to attend PEC (about 7 years ago, now it is being encouraged and I’m glad). He said no, and don’t ever do it again (the RS pres had been attending and definitely helping us for more than a year prior to someone “tattling” to the Stake president about our ward being so awful). About 5 years ago, a new stake president was called, and I asked about changing the tradition in our stake of only having men say the opening prayer in sacrament meeting. He said no. When the new handbook came out online (I was no longer in the bishopric), I asked the stake president again if he would consider changing the tradition, and he reluctantly said he would let each bishop decide. I then went to our bishop and asked if he would follow the new handbook which clearly states anyone can offer the opening prayer in any meeting. He said no, he would not change the tradition as he felt it should always be a man opening the sacrament meeting with prayer.

  13. Joseph McKnight, I was referring to personal events in one’s life, not questions regarding how the stake or ward are run. Obviously, bishops and stake presidents can and do say “no” to certain suggestions on how the ward and stake should be run. They have the authority to do this. So, point taken, if that is what DavidF means, then he is correct: the bishop has authority for how the ward is run and can and will say “no.” My point was that a bishop cannot be your boss in your personal life, and often people interpret the power relationship in that way, which I think is erroneous.

  14. “Power is a human construct, not an eternal principle.”

    I’d be interested in hearing more about this statement. I think you could make a strong counter-argument.

  15. Geoff B, thank you for clarifying that you were referring to personal events, but since the discussion was on Church “events” relating to women and power, I hope you realize that my assumption wasn’t unusual. Your assertion is that the leaders DO have that authority and that only reinforces the ideas of the FAIR conference speaker on this issue, that women are lacking power in the Church and we, all of us, should be looking for ways to change that.

  16. This obsession with power misses the point of the Gospel. It misses the entire point of it. As long as men or women fume about rank, position, power, or privilege, we miss out on the heavenly gifts.

  17. Joseph McKnight —

    Your examples of bishops and stake presidents being jerks illustrates one of the outstanding features of the Church: we don’t have a professional clergy. The leaders are called from the rank and file. And you know as well as I do that we in the rank and file can be obnoxious to each other. Having a jerk bishop can actually teach you and I to be forgiving, and to NOT be a jerk if/when WE are called to a leadership position.

    However, for every egregious example you choose to bring up, I can also bring up counter examples of men in leadership roles who truly exemplify Christ-like love while at the same time following the Brethren and the handbook. Tremendously good men are out there, and their service outweighs what, in the overall scheme of things, are minor peccadilloes.

  18. I don’t necessarily buy the argument that a bishop deciding to run his ward a certain way means he is mistaken at that current time. There are a myriad of reasons for him making decisions that may seem nonsensical to us. If I were a bishop (never going to happen because I am divorced, so don’t worry), I would be open to many of Neylan’s suggestions, but I would pray about it and it is theoretically possible I would be told that there are reasons why young women cannot be greeters at a Sacrament meeting or why women cannot open the Sacrament meeting with prayer. My natural mind says that doesn’t make sense, but I am open to the possibility that the Lord may not want that to happen for some reason. I find Joseph McKnight’s supposition that he definitely knows better than his jerky bishops to be very, very sad. It is possible his bishops may in fact know better than him.

  19. I thought being divorced would disqualify me from being bishop as well, Geoff – but then I met several divorced bishops.

    Not that I would ever get called to the bishopric – I have something worse. I have a beard. 😉

  20. LDS men telling LDS women that focusing on power leads them to miss the entire point of the gospel is like rich people telling indigent farmers that focusing on food is missing out on the joy of work. If power really doesn’t matter, then it should be very easy for men to share it.

  21. No, Kristine. Your analogy is brazen, but fails on multiple levels. I mean, seriously, if you think the gap between men and women in the church is that extreme (rich people vs. indigent farmers) then you have a warped sense of reality, in my ever so humble opinion. Is that really your world view? Please tell me you don’t drink that kind of kool-aid.

    This is why you are missing the point of what I said. I said nothing about LDS MEN telling LDS WOMEN to stop focusing on power.

    What I suggested is that WE ALL should stop focusing on it. Men, women, all of us.

  22. Again, easier to stop focusing on it if it’s distributed by some reasonable approximation of fairness.

    And, in terms of institutional power, that analogy is perfectly apt. I recognize that it is not true of spiritual power, which ultimately matters more.

  23. That is, it’s easier not to “focus on” power if your lack of it doesn’t come up regularly as a stumbling block in your participation. If you’re the Primary president who can’t get her classes staffed because the bishopric forgets or doesn’t get around to extending callings, it’s hard not to notice that you don’t have the power to extend those calls yourself.

  24. I should note that that never stopped Eliza R. Snow–she just went around calling people and setting them apart… The good old days 🙂

  25. Most bishops I know would gladly give the “power” to somebody else. Somebody has to decide things in a ward, and unfortunately for bishops it is often them. I prefer to support my bishop than criticize.

  26. Geoff–in case it wasn’t clear, that was a hypothetical. I did not sin so severely in the pre-existence that anyone would ever call me to be Primary President, and my bishop is great.

    The point was only that women must _always_ depend on someone else making the decisions that directly affect them (even about relatively straightforward and not obviously priesthood-related matters like making a phone call to extend a calling after the person to be called has already been designated)–it is virtually impossible not to notice that this is the case, even if one is not particularly inclined to “focus on” power.

  27. “The point was only that women must _always_ depend on someone else making the decisions that directly affect them”

    You are setting up a false dichotomy. Men must also “depend upon someone else” to extend those same callings and phone calls. Elders Quorum Presidents have to have callings cleared at the stake/ward level. Bishops can’t just call anyone to serve in a bishopric — he is answerable to a Stake President. Stake Presidents are accountable to people as well.

    Ultimately, the one making the decision is accountable to “depend upon Someone Else” — there are no omnipotent men on the earth, in the Church or out of it. We all put our pants on one leg at a time and we are all accountable to God for the discharge of our duties. If Bishops err, they WILL be held accountable at the Judgment.

    But then again, we all will be. All are alike.

    If you choose to view the world through such a gender-jaundiced eye, no wonder you’re grouchy.

  28. I’m actually not grouchy at all, mormonchess. You don’t really know me well enough to be making judgments like that.

    Take a look at the number of decision-making callings available to men and the number available to women. It simply isn’t the same. Take a look at the number of men in Ward Council compared to women.

    Now imagine that you lived the most important part of your life in a culture which categorically excluded people with your hair color from its decision-making body and from executive office. Would it make you feel better that people with haircolor x could sometimes be consulted in a non-binding way, and that even the people with acceptable haircolors had to work in cooperation with others? The problem isn’t that one can’t learn to function–even quite cheerfully–in such a system, but that it violates principles which seem important to the God we understand from scripture, like justice and unity.

  29. Please stop with the accusations, mormonchess. Kristine is anything but grouchy, and you’re attempt at gaslighting is — well, I’d say “despicable,” but that would probably get my comment censored by M*.

    Kristine used an analogy to try to help you step into the place of an LDS woman, but you haven’t yet been able to do that. All you can see, all you can insist on, is that Kristine (who represents far more of us than herself alone) is whiny or worse. Why is it so hard for you to admit the possibility that a woman may be believing, faithful, supporting of her bishop, filling her callings cheerfully and to the best of her ability, and doing all that anyone can expect of such a Latter-day Saint, while at the same time aware that something isn’t quite right?

    As for your dismissive attitude of well, hey, they’ll be accountable in the hereafter, so there’s no need to remedy anything now, that’s precisely the same unsatisfactory, inelegant, untrue brushoff that is used far too often for far too many problems. What it boils down to is “you’ll be better off dead.” While that may be true, it’s an exceedingly unhelpful suggestion for managing life now.

  30. Kristine:

    Your appeal is “justice and unity” is touching. However, I can make the same appeal to those two principles in DEFENSE of using priesthood authority to preside and direct the affairs of the Church. I can even quote scripture to back up my patriarchal viewpoint. “Justice and unity” has been evoked many times, even for aims which are diametrically opposed. It’s ultimately a murky appeal.

    My take away from you is that the Church is a fundamentally flawed, unjust organization. If only we could open our eyes to the true meaning of scripture, surely the Church would adjust itself. Am I far off the mark?

    More important than the “God we understand from scripture” is the God we know from revelation.

    And He, because His ways are higher than ours, had ordained men to receive those revelations for the benefit of all. I am sorry that galls you.

    By all means, continue agitating for your conception of “gender equality” in the Church. You are, of course, perfectly free to do so.

  31. Thanks Ardis.

    Unfortunately, your comment hasn’t made me appreciate the issue at all.

    For every disgruntled female in the ward, there are two others that are quietly, cheerfully, faithfully serving and consecrating. And they do so without the apparent ego needs of agitating for change.

  32. And thank heavens that for every mansplainer and gaslighter named mormonchess, there are thousands of LDS men who quietly, cheerfully, faithfully serve others … including Latter-day Saint women … without the ugliness you have displayed in this thread.

  33. Oh dear Ardis,

    Please please please forgive me for using the word “grouchy”.

    I know that was beyond the pale; I have committed a serious sin and I require absolution.

    I sit in sackcloth and ashes; may heaven have mercy on my soul.

  34. Well, if nothing else, this little discussion has performed the argument of Neylan’s paper in a way that tends to confirm her analysis.

  35. The point I was making is that no matter how you look at it, men are ultimately in charge of the Church. There is no woman equivalent to a stake president who approves RS presidents like a stake president approves bishops, etc. It goes back to men.

    Of course there are a lot of very Christlike men in the Church, but so long as an organizational structure, including a hierarchy which ultimately has men over women, is in place, I don’t see how we will get over the perception that men have access to greater power than women–as servants, yes, but also as administrators. We can stop talking about it in those terms (which is worthwhile), but it is still so easy to compare the Church to other hierachical structures (e.g. corporations, governments), that do allow women equal access to the same positions and authority. And if gender is the dividing line, then we will increasingly face charges of sexism in an increasingly gender-equality valuing world. I like McBane’s suggestions on how to get women more involved, meaningfully into different strata of the Church, but I think it will take a lot of time and attention to make sure we are really as gender-inclusive of a Church as we want to believe that we are.

  36. And actually, power may be the wrong word to use, as I doubt many women crave more power in the Church, but I think greater callings have more importance, and everyone wants to feel important.

    Sure we are told that every calling is equally important, but in the real world, an administrator in charge of lots of other people are more important. In the Church, high up leaders have more keys and more authority. It is a very ugly thought, but at least on paper, the Church could function without women. It can’t function without men.

  37. “It is a very ugly thought, but at least on paper, the Church could function without women. It can’t function without men.”

    Not true in the slightest. It wasn’t true in Joseph Smith’s day and it’s not true in our day.

  38. “Well, if nothing else, this little discussion has performed the argument of Neylan’s paper in a way that tends to confirm her analysis.”

    Nice way of sliding out of the debate. If you are truly interested in inculcating a dialogue about gender issues in the Church, I stand ready to engage. But you’re going to have to convince me you’re right, and you’re going to have to do it without accusing me of being a “mansplainer” or a “gaslighter”.

    Those are convenient ways of dismissing me personally, but you can’t dismiss the argument itself so easily.

  39. mormonchess,
    I’m curious as to what the crux of your argument truly is. Are you saying that because both women and men are asked to submit to male priesthood authority that charges of gender inequity are unfair?

    I’m also curious about your take on Neylan’s talk. Are all women who are dissatisfied with the answers given currently just seeking power or recognition? Is it possible, in your opinion, to express frustration or irritation with the current institutional structure while being faithful?

  40. Mormonchess:
    “It is a very ugly thought, but at least on paper, the Church could function without women. It can’t function without men.”

    Not true in the slightest. It wasn’t true in Joseph Smith’s day and it’s not true in our day.


    Why not? If every woman left the church, you’d still have the sacrament, Sunday school, and priesthood meetings. The stake presidency would still work, the high council would keep meeting. Baptisms, missionary work, patriarchal blessings, so on and so forth; as long as missionary work kept thriving among men, we’d keep growing.

    Sure, you wouldn’t get temple sealings, but even without those the Church on earth would still function (obviously it didn’t need temple sealings to work in the very beginning, nor a relief society for that matter). And if that’s the only arena where women are absolutely critical for the Church to keep working, then my point is still made. Deny it if you want mormonchess, but if you are going to make a convincing point, you may want to justify your claim.

  41. “We all put our pants on one leg at a time ”

    Um, unless you’re a woman and not allowed to wear pants to the temple, or to work for the church, and culturally all but prohibited from doing so at church in most areas…

  42. Please. Stop. Everyone. We are all after the same thing. We love our Savior. We value all people in the kingdom. We want to do what is right and best to prepare the world for the return of our Savior. We love our prophets and we treasure their words. We all know that women make tremendous contributions and that God views them with perfect equality. These are things on which we can all agree.

    Sometimes we have to work gently from a position we mutually hold and explore the ideas others bring to the table with respect and patience. There is no room to label each other. There is no point in taking offense. There are times when ice cream is a health food. Stop and make yourself a bowl.

    Come back with a cooler head. No accusations. No defining someone else’s thoughts or intents. Ask honest questions. Give honest answers. No guerilla attacks. Let’s have a real conversation in which we all learn and grow.

    My favorite flavor is creme brulee if someone was going to get me some …

  43. mormonchess,

    It’s a little funny to accuse me of not being willing to engage an argument about gender issues. I’ve been around the ‘nacle for a while; my views are easy to discover if you’re actually interested. Luckily for you, I don’t need a sparring partner today 🙂

  44. Neylan’s ideas are simple, easy to implement, and would be hugely beneficial to women–the only thing standing in the way of doing these is that it has never been thought of or prioritized by those in leadership. That doesn’t mean they aren’t inspired, or aren’t good, or aren’t trying hard enough, or are sexist. It just means that information and representation are important to quality leadership decisions and functioning.

    The fact that (a) these things weren’t thought of and fixed long, long ago, and (b) Neylan had to present these ideas at a not-church-affiliated private conference rather than in a church leadership meeting as part of church service, is itself compelling evidence that the church suffers from the lack of including women’s contributions in leadership. In other words, if Neylan and women like her were included in ward, stake, area, and general leadership in more representative way, these holes in the dike of our fellowship as saints that she has called attention to would have been plugged long ago.

    I am extremely proud of Neylan’s talk, the exceedingly tender, balanced, and diplomatic way she presented her information. I’m confident that it will make a positive contribution to the church, because I know many men in leadership who will welcome these kinds of contributions and input from women with open arms. Men who care deeply about magnifying their callings and lifting up everyone in the church. It’s too bad that some in this thread seem to place more emphasis on being right and putting others down than consecrating their best (which isn’t *always* the status quo) to the kingdom.

  45. I agree, Cynthia. I found her talk extremely well structured. I wonder, however, if she has been excluded. I got the impression that she was included in a committee that was deeply concerned about these issues, her ideas had been used, and that she had an open and continuing relationship with Michael Otterson.

    At church-affiliated training there have been a number of cases of the administrators of the priesthood being counseled to include stake and ward RS leaders in major decisions, even shown how devastating it would be if they were not (I’m thinking of the Arizona training in which the Stake president talked about how foolish they had been to not involve the SRSP in their boundary discussion – he followed Pres. Beck’s talk – it’s available online). Admittedly, it’s not universal, but I think there’s a lot of effort to demonstrate the unity of councils that is supposed to occur.

    I’m curious how you feel about her beginning remarks about a cooperative rather than a competitive culture of leadership?

  46. Those thoughts were interesting, Bonnie. I think an interesting question is, Who is proposing or promoting a competitive culture of leadership? Even those who most vociferously advocate for female ordination (which I don’t, fwiw) don’t view leadership as “competitive” in other words some zero-sum game. I think advocates of equality just want to be included in the cooperation! 🙂

    If anything, those who are adamant about excluding women from greater participation are the ones who have an implicitly (or explicitly) competitive understanding of leadership. You hear things like men won’t value the priesthood anymore, or won’t participate fully in church anymore, if they have to share leadership service with women. That implicitly assumes some kind of zero sum competition where sharing something with someone else diminishes what you have. That seems like a really depressing and pessimistic lens on life. Isn’t it more likely that the priesthood and leadership service in the church–the powers to act in Christ’s name–probably works more like love: the more you share love the more powerful the love that you have.

  47. I think it’s really important to get those real desires out there for people to see. Many people see those who voice for change as competitive-minded. The more people who say, NO, this isn’t what we want, the clearer the picture is and the less animosity is generated.

    You are right, there are some asinine responses. The key, for me, is that they’re not coming from the top. Churches are inherently conservative, as well know, preserving values and institutions and traditions. The downside to that is how the adherents interpret the call to be traditional. One of the things that has drawn me to the gospel is the emphasis on personal revelation that provides its own subtle tension to that idea of tradition.

    Really liked your thoughts on love. I agree. I really think mormonchess agrees too. Right, mormonchess?

  48. I always wonder after reading these threads if people wake up in the middle of the night saying, “why did I write something that mean-spirited?” It’s just a blog, folks. Sheesh.

    The last two comments have taken a better direction — let’s continue with that tone, please. Thanks.

  49. “I’m thinking of the Arizona training in which the Stake president talked about how foolish they had been to not involve the SRSP in their boundary discussion”

    It’s not foolish of him personally, it’s like all but inevitable given the way the system is structured. That’s like somebody being thrown onto a banana peel covered ice skating rink saying it was “foolish” of them to fall down. Um, no, it was foolish of the system that put him there. Let’s melt the ice and put away the banana peels, and stop putting blame on individual women (and men, as in this case) who end up getting hurt by the conditions.

  50. But I think the council system, which trainings have been promoting and trying desperately to teach for several years DO include the voices of women. The problem is women aren’t universally habituated to speak up, and men aren’t universally habituated to ask the right questions in councils.

    Here’s my thought – I’d love your feedback. At one time I thought the best thing was to set up a parallel administrative structure to the PH (and I want to be very clear I’m talking about the administrative arm of earthly priesthood power, not the real priesthood, which is the power that moves everything), but then I began constructing that in my mind to see how it would work. Ugh. Duplication. Multiplication of meetings. Families eviscerated by the service parents are giving to the administrated church.

    IF, I thought, stake presidents were counseling with SRSPs, they could simply tell them the cliff’s notes versions of the meeting they had and gather their counsel, what a breath of fresh air that would be in an administrative church that is burdened with meetings. IF bishops were truly asking the input of all the members of ward council and if decisions were being made there instead of PEC, then it all happens without the whole parallel structure with all its inefficiencies.

    The key to me seems a change in culture rather than a change in structure. Your thoughts? Better structures you see?

  51. “The problem is women aren’t universally habituated to speak up”

    Right. They’re conditioned by a lifetime of seeing men speak and make decisions and women speak only when spoken to. Which is the fault of the structure.

    Or, what Cynthia said about banana peels.

  52. It seems like you’re already aware of the weaknesses, with the number of “ifs” you wrote in there. Those are big ifs. The re-habituation would have to be strong. Do you think we can do it? And with the example coming from the top still looking like this?

  53. I don’t need equal numbers in administrative positions to feel equally treated. Administration is “the least of these” in the gospel. That point was made extremely well by Neylan. I’ve done culture work in business organizations. It’s hard. But it can be done. And I see all kinds of evidence that the executive team for the church organization is trying. All I’m saying is that if people who aren’t complaining are willing to listen, that the people who are complaining should be willing to be concrete, not accusatory.

  54. And Cynthia, I am FILLED with optimism! Get close to me; it will rub off! I see the same kind of hope that Laurel Ulrich saw when she used carefully worded statements to direct our attention to the great culture work that DIMK could do. I’m excited for women to catch a vision of themselves as prophetesses. I’m excited!

  55. He really is a nice guy. He’s had a really rough day today. We all have that happen. I’m actually a big part of his rough day because I play mediator too much. All might have been better if I had spent today playing grandma instead of being online … :\

  56. Cynthia L, if you don’t like what Mormonchess has to say, don’t read it. It is not your job to monitor whether he fits your orthodoxy.

    One point from above: in our ward, there are more women than men in ward council. I am pretty sure that is the case in most wards I have been in. You can’t get men to go to meetings, but the women always are willing to go.

    Once again: decision-making does not equal “power.” That is a worldly way of looking at things. Power in the Gospel means bringing the Spirit, which women very often do a lot better than men. The men who “run” the wards are facilitators who would, almost without exception, rather be doing something else. They are stuck in their callings, stuck making tough decisions out of a sense of duty more than anything else.

    I would encourage an attitude of appreciation, rather than envy, to their situation. They would change places with others in a heartbeat but are instead usually doing their best because they are called to do so. Give them a break.

  57. One other point: Neylan has been sharing her thoughts with Church leadership for some time now, so the claim above that Neylan had to do this at FAIR because the Church is not interested is incorrect.

  58. For what it’s worth, I think Neylan offered many great suggestions, but there definitely needs to be more.

    1 – An overhaul of young womens’ manuals to emphasize lots of other things than marriage, motherhood, and related topics (obviously I’m not a young woman, but I think I’m informed enough to say this)

    2 – A priesthood/RS manual along the lines of the prophet manuals today that are quotes solely from women leaders. I don’t think any single woman has said enough to make a whole year’s worth manual, but a compilation manual gets members aware of lots of past women leaders, their voices, and their contributions as leaders in the Church. It also will help men realize a person doesn’t have to be a prophet to take their words seriously (and the compilers would have to mine quotes pretty hard so we don’t have lessons only on motherhood, charity, and virtue).

    3 – Just as RS sisters are called and sustained in sacrament, men with new priesthood callings are called and sustained in sacrament

    I’m sure the bloggernacle could come up with a whole lot more if they were asked

  59. Bonnie–if we agree on underlying principles, the specifics are easy. If we don’t, listing specific, concrete examples just provides endless fodder for discussion and inaction. There are almost always reasons why it’s easiest and seems most reasonable to maintain the status quo–basic Newtonian physics tells us that inertia is one of the most potent forces in the universe and in large organizations.

  60. IME Kristine, specifics are NEVER easy. We can be 100% in agreement on principles and still have great difficulty coming to agreement on implementation. The reason is that we bring differing assumptions about what implementations mean to the discussion and those are often hidden, even from us. The discussion elicits many of these assumptions.

    This is one of the reasons that I liked Neylan’s presentation so much: she addressed an unspoken divide in the church over secularism right off the bat. We have to agree on that. If we are bringing our ideas of secular equality to the table, that difference in assumption will hijack every effort to understand one another.

  61. I am often astonished at a) men who have advice for women on how to deal with living in a clearly one-sided organization where all counsel flows towards you and virtually none is ever sought, and b) women who are wiling to reinforce and impose that sort of subservient thinking on their daughters and other women. I mean, good grief, the lesson manual for Young Women, in a lesson on being a strong and active woman in the Church, requires the instructor to ASK THE BISHOP before inviting a woman to speak to the girls in the class. I can’t imagine living under that sort of imprimatur and wholly unnecessary oversight.

    I recognize that men are on the receiving end as well, but we cycle through and take our turns at leadership, and ulitimately, our experience in the Church is fundamentally different, and more empowering, than that of women. And there is no good reason for it. There are so many ways we could improve the opportunity for women to participate more fully in the Church:

    1. Passing the sacrament is not a Priesthood ordinance. Women do it every week as the sacrament is passed down the row. Neither is preparing it. Why not let young women participate equally with young men? They have done it in the past.
    2. There is no priesthood required to be a membership clerk or to count tithing money. The position of ward clerk should be made available to women.
    3. Likewise, there is no reason why women cannot serve as Sunday School President. The fact that they don’t speaks volumes about how we truly see the roles of men and women in the Church.
    4. Joseph Smith, in the minutes on the establishment of the Relief Society, recently published by the Church (how ironic) clearly established them as a separate yet equal entity, designed to operate autonomously, and frankly, gave their own authority. Women called women to serve, set them apart, gave each other blessings, managed their own finances, published their own journals, and ran amazing projects, like establishing what is now Alta hospital and the American Fork Training Center (to name just a few) without ever asking for permission to do so, nor ever needing a man to preside over or speak at their meetings or rubber stamp their agendas.

    (As an aside, when Wilford Woodruff would become il he would usually call for the sisters to give him a blessing as he felt that their faith was stronger than that of the Elders.)

    ALL of this could be done without diminishing the role of the Priesthood one iota. The fact that we have strayed so far from the original divine establishment of the Relief Society, and abrogated exclusively to men what could be shared with women, is deeply disconcerting. The fact that so many, especially men, don’t even see these slights as real, nor recognize that they are cultural rather than divine, shows that we have a long way to go.

  62. Geoff,
    Would you like me to list the ways in which your previous comment (not the one about Neylan; the other one) is wrong or wrong-headed? I don’t mind letting it go, of course, but if you’re interested or haven’t worked it out for yourself, then I’d be willing to point out the inadequacies of the comment.

    Regarding the Neylan comment, you are, of course, correct. I don’t know what that tells us exactly (the brethren are indifferent to these issues doesn’t seem like the appropriate takeaway), but the facts are facts.

  63. Bill McGee, I simply don’t agree with the statement: men’s “experience in the Church is fundamentally different, and more empowering, than that of women.” Different yes, more empowering definitely not. You are conflating worldly definitions of power with spiritual ones. The Savior, the most powerful of all, allowed Himself to be destroyed by people not fit to lick His feet. He was the most powerful because he was the greatest servant. I see no evidence that being a bishop, stake president, etc, makes you more powerful than a woman who is humbly serving her family, her neighbors and her ward. In fact, all of the evidence seems to suggest the exact opposite, ie, the greatest are the least. You really need to change your construct to: these are people thrust into leadership positions that don’t give them any real power in the grand scheme of things.

  64. So, Geoff, do you just not believe Neylan when she reports that many women find their experiences to be exactly as Bill describes it? Or are all the women who report feeling that way just mistaken or not humble enough to appreciate not being “thrust into leadership positions”?

  65. Kristine, I believe Neylan, and I believe that some women feel this way. I also believe they misunderstand the relationship of “power” in the Gospel in the way I describe. Neylan spent a lot of time in her talk (which overall I liked, btw) talking about how power in the Gospel is not the same thing as power in the world. I agree that some of her suggestions would change perceptions.

    My issue is with comments that continue to maintain this erroneous paradigm that ignores the fact that the servant in the Church is the least of us, not the greatest.

  66. Geoff, by calling it “power” you manage to misunderstand the whole conversation. What women are missing is not power, but participation.

    Think of it as always sitting in the bleachers when you’d like to play ball. Or always sitting in the plush seats when you’d like to play an instrument in the orchestra. Or always sitting at the dining table when you know by experience how rewarding it is to season the sauces. Sure, we’re always being served, but we’d like to dig in and tackle the work sometimes, too, to have the opportunity to learn and grow and test ourselves and have new mortal experiences and simply *to participate* rather than always standing passively by and applauding those who do get to play.

    Instead, what we get are reassurances that the audience is so very, very important to the performance or there would be no point in performing. And performing means getting dirty, and spending long hours in practice away from your family, and so really, girls, you don’t want to do that. Performing is hard, and we’re here to serve you because you are incredible.

    We aren’t demanding to be head coach, or conductor, or master chef, which is the kind of “power” you seem to resent the possibility of sharing. Stop misconstruing our motives.

  67. Geoff, I think the problem is that men misunderstand the relationship of “power” as much or more than the women.

    Invariably, women who have a problem with male-only priesthood do so because they have been somehow misused by it.

    When people who take your argument talk about “power,” it seems they are talking about a worldly definition of power; the ability to control other people’s lives. But for many women who talk about wanting more “power” they aren’t talking about controlling others’ lives as much as they are talking about being free to control their own.

    If the priesthood-support side would stop reducing the arguments of those who would like women to have the priesthood to a mere power play, perhaps better understanding would be reached. Sure SOME women want that sort of power, but most don’t. Most just want to participate, as Ardis says.

    As a man, there is perhaps no way for you to know firsthand what that feels like entirely, to be continually excluded from full participation in the function of the ward. Even in those limited capacities that women participate, they are often summarily overruled by the men “over” them. If the priesthood power is servant power (which I agree it is,) than where is the servant behavior? Why are women’s voices so frequently ignored, and underrepresented? Why is the revelation that women received so often set as nothing? Where is the communication, the back-and-forth discussion?

    As part of the only fully-assigned missionary pair in a ward, I have participated in a ward council where my voice was heard. It felt incredible to know that I could serve my stewardship as a fully functioning member of the team. That was the only time that I have felt that. THAT is what women crave. Not control-power, but the power TO serve to their utmost capacity, to utilize their gifts of the Spirit: of administrations, discernment, operations, prophecy, healing.

    Now, the use of all those gifts for women are severely discouraged because they have been misinterpreted to be the purview of the priesthood.

    They are not.

    And MEN need to understand that just as much if not more than women. MEN are the ones with the authority to administer the Church. Therefore, they are the ones that need to recognize and encourage the gifts of the Spirit in women, rather than depending on their own understanding alone.

  68. Ardis, you will note that several commenters discuss “power,” so I am not misconstruing anybody. My comments are aimed at them. I have no problem with any of your other points — and I think you put it quite well. If your point is that the Church should offer women more opportunities to participate, I have no problem with that.

    For the record, I have very little “power” of any kind, and what little I have I would gladly give to you or anybody else. Stop misconstruing my motives.

    Ardis, a warning: I will let this comment pass, but if you are going to comment on this site, hold your anger in check. You have interesting, substantive points to make. You ruin them when you start making it personal.

  69. Actually, I have thought of a way that men can experience being excluded from participation.

    Some women, with their responsibility to nurture, freeze men out of being able to make decisions regarding designing the home, raising the children, or even planning meals.

    Some men may be satisfied having no say in the running of the home. But some may want to participate more fully in the lives of their children and home. It is wrong for women to exclude the men in this way, and it is wrong for men to exclude women from having more than an occasional passing consultant function within the Church.

  70. Excellent observation Silver Rain. I have observed this OCD behavior also. This kind of dysfunctional behavior hurts the entire family’s relationships with one another.

  71. I enjoyed Neylan’s paper very much and plan to print out a copy and give it to my Bishop. I do think there are ways that women can participate more in the church–and they don’t have anything to so with power (I think the most powerful person in any ward is the RS President). I have soe comments on a few of the comments I have read here: Ivan–I have had a bishop with a beard in the past and currently, one of the counselors in our bishopric has a beard. David F–you said greater callings have more importance. I don’t know what you mean by “greater callings.” There is no greater calling than to be a Home teacher or Visiting Teacher. And to be a VT is probably a greater calling than to be a HT because the women actually do it. Bill McGee–we had a woman serve as SS President in a ward I was in once.

  72. One way to show the difference is to compare how money decisions are made. In many families, one of the spouses has more to say about the way money is spent than the other. Whether it is a matter of wisdom or habit isn’t that important. Most people nowadays would argue that it is inherently unjust if a husband or wife is entirely excluded from making a financial call for the family. They may not want to be the one to make the call, they may be happy to let the other spouse worry about the finances, they may never intend to be the financial decision-maker, but most people would still argue that each spouse should have the right to make financial decisions. Arguing otherwise is a short trip to divorce in most instances.

    Compare that to the church. There are money decisions that women will always be excluded from. They can spend their own budgets at their discretion (I think; they may still need to get permission from the bishopric). But they never set the budget. They can request, but they cannot demand or establish. It’s like always being the non-financial spouse by default. It is possible for any man, who lives worthy and who is called by authority and of God, to wield the budget authority. It is impossible for any woman.

    That doesn’t have anything to do with the power of God (at least, not directly; you can always make arguments about inspiration in budgeting decisions, I suppose). It very much has to do with making sound financial choices, which ability is available to both genders. It results in a systemic imbalance of institutional power (like SilverRain said: it isn’t possible for us, as men, to experience what it is like to feel the power differential (except, maybe, in the sorts of cases she later describes)). This doesn’t have to be bad in any particular case; good bishops will listen to their women leaders and revelation and do the right thing. But it does mean that certain types of discrimination and unrighteous dominion are probably more likely than they would otherwise be; this could well be why Neylan encounters these women with some frequency.

    Now, in a business, not a household, it is just fine to assign all the budgetary decision-making to one dude forever. It may not be wise (it can easily lead to embezzlement), but small business owners often find themselves in this situation. So, perhaps, one of the questions we should ask ourselves is: should our model for how to run the church draw more inspiration from family dynamics or from business dynamics? My hunch is that family dynamics are closer to the cooperative ideal that Neylan describes, as well as closer to the Zion that Christ is asking us to form.

  73. Sharee,

    Good point. I should have been more specific by what I meant by “greater callings.” We are taught that every calling is of equal importance (but also, HT/VT are the most important), I know this is the rhetoric, and the perspective we push, and for good reasons, but I don’t know how well the message always gets sold. Every mission has missionaries who aspire to be the assistants. Everyone admires those who serve in callings higher up in the chain of authority (we pray for our leaders, not our HTs/VTs, or to be better ones). I’m at BYU, and even today in my religion class my teacher was enthusiastic that we would one day be leaders in the Church: bishops, stake presidents, maybe even GAs. Maybe, in this context, implies a kind of specialness. We were all foreordained to different callings in the pre-earth life, but think of those who were foreordained to be GAs. They were selected out of multitudes.

    I’m not saying I agree with this kind of perspective, but let’s not pretend it isn’t there. I can think of three different elders quorum presidents I’ve had who clearly were very glad to hold their callings; two of which I knew before, and you could smell their excitement to hold that kind of calling on their breath (you can pick this kind of awareness up in the mission, I believe, because missionaries are especially susceptible to it).

  74. ” I’m at BYU, and even today in my religion class my teacher was enthusiastic that we would one day be leaders in the Church: bishops, stake presidents, maybe even GAs.”

    Were there any women in the room when he said this?

  75. Yes, and it was a woman professor, though I had another male professor say basically the same thing before (he did include RS presidents).

  76. My husband and I have been asked to speak in Sacrament meeting on Sunday. Since ours is a ward where the husband always speaks last, I suggested that we ask if he can go first and I speak last. He said that tradition is tradition and he doesn’t want to distract from the Spirit of the meeting by shaking things up, but reluctantly agreed to let me ask. His opinion is that the tradition doesn’t mean anything – it just is what it is. If anyone reads sexism into it, they need a lesson in equal partnership. My opinion is that it is a tradition rooted in the patriarchal order, so by keeping it a tradition, it reinforces that. We both agree that it is “no big deal” who speaks in which order, but he would prefer to keep the tradition the way it is, and I would prefer to get rid of unnecessary traditions that theoretically have no meaning and can actually be harmful. These are the things that are easy to change!

    I guess it kind of surprised me at how much resistance even he is giving. We have a very equal marriage. If it is this hard to change unnecessary, gender-reinforcing traditions with someone like him, movement to a more cooperative paradigm will be slow.

    (I haven’t heard back from the Bishopric yet.)

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