Role of Women in the LDS Church

At last week’s FAIR conference in Sandy UT, Neylan McBaine gave a presentation which described the angst that many Mormon women feel about their roles in the church:

There is a tremendous amount of pain among our women regarding how they can and cannot contribute to the governance of our ecclesiastical organization. . . .

Denying this pain or belittling it is an all too common occurrence among both our men and our women. 

Lest you think that McBaine is just another radical feminist, it should be noted that she holds a very responsible position for the LDS Church-owned Bonneville Communications and is an active member of the church.

A problematic example of a problem was registered on zelophehadaughters.com:

I found myself accompanying my husband and his teenaged home-teaching companion as they took the sacrament to a nursing home within our ward boundaries.  They broke the bread, blessed it, and set it before the old man they were ministering to.  He was so frail that he had difficulty taking it, and I unthinkingly, spontaneously reached out to help him.  Equally unthinkingly, my husband intervened to prevent me from touching the tokens.  I was devastated.  I don’t know when in my extensive experience it has been clearer to me that my feminine presence was contamination of the sacred.

McBaine suggested shifting the church’s ecclesiatical model from a hierarchical to a cooperative one.  Toward the end of her presentation, she listed several suggestions for elevating women’s stature in the church:

  • consistently using the title “president” when referring to women leaders;
  • having local women leaders routinely sit on the stand so congruents know them;
  • more female participation in leadership meetings;
  • inviting female leaders to speak monthly, as men on the stake high councils do;
  • quoting women’s speeches as often as men’s;
  • allowing women to be the last speaker in Mormon services;
  • recognizing the mother after baby blessings: and
  • inviting girls to participate in the Pinewood Derby.

These suggestions seem more like tokenism than real change.  And ironically the first two seem to emphasize the hierarchical over the cooperative.

I’ve never been a big fan of titles, so calling men or women “president” is not something that has a lot of meaning for me.  But, I do agree that women should play a more prominent role in Sacrament Meeting, but again this is not real change, it is just a small accommodation.

When I was in Africa last month, I witnessed an LDS baby blessing where the mother held the baby during the blessing.  And I see no real reason why the mother and other women couldn’t participate in the circle.  My father, just before he died, was given a blessing by my son.  I wish we would have had my wife, daughter, and mother participate in the blessing.

Ben McGuire in his critique of McBaine’s presentation makes another suggestion:

My son was invited to help pass the sacrament by the Deacon’s quorum president (he hadn’t been ordained yet – that was to come later in the day).  When it was noticed, one of the leaders as inconspicuously as possible took the tray from him and continued with the passing of the sacrament.  We discussed it afterwards.  His rationale was that Deacons were officiating and so needed to hold the priesthood.  That view (probably not uncommon) was shot down a century ago when Deacons first started to pass the sacrament.  It was then decided that administering the sacrament only referred to blessing it.

Thus, maybe woman shouldn’t be excluded from passing the sacrament (or touching someone else’s bread).  McGuire goes on:

What are we doing to look at our collections of policies and traditions that we cling to?  Can we distinguish between what is really “divinely mandated” and what is largely non-doctrinal, but yet has the stamp of tradition and time?

McGuire concludes that much of “what we view as divinely mandated practice isn’t anything more than tradition and custom backed by history.”

I would additionally suggest that girls be more involved in the competitive and outdoor activities offered by the LDS Church.  For example, they should be camping with the boy scouts.  In his autobiographical article in Dialogue (Summer, 2006), L. Jackson Newell discusses his time as an LDS youth leader:

. . . [W]e organized outings for both young women and young men.  As our own children moved up through their school years, I was able to take advantage of my youth leadership callings to do with them and to see that they and their peers got many opportunities to enjoy the out-of-doors and engage in community service.  Contrary to usual Church practice, I tried to involve the young women in the same activities as the young men.

There are plenty of examples of women serving very capably in high leadership positions in the church and its peripheral organizations.  (McBaine appears to be one of these.)  Common sense should tell us that by not involving more women in high leadership positions, there is a great potential that is being lost.

I realize that change is frequently evolutionary rather than radical.  And what McBaine proposes are small increments of change.  But I think the LDS Church needs bigger steps than she is proposing.

Let’s have more women speak in General Conference, and not just the leaders.  Let’s find more real decision-making church positions for women.  Let’s put visible women in church’s PR department and give them real responsibility.  Let’s find real ways for women to participate in some church ordinances.  Let’s have the minimum age for going on a mission identical for men and women (say 20).  Let’s develop a better interpretation of the role of Eve in the Book of Genesis.

And most of all, let’s start to build into our theology a better description of our Mother in Heaven.

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8 Responses to Role of Women in the LDS Church

  1. gold account says:

    Romney wasn’t sure about holding such a meeting, but he ultimately agreed to it. Sievers went back to the Exponent II group and said they should be realistic and not demand things Romney could never deliver, such as allowing women to hold the priesthood. On the day of the meeting, about 250 women filled the pews of the Belmont Chapel. After an opening song, prayer, and some housekeeping items, the floor was open. Women began proposing changes that would include them more in the life of the church. In the end, the group came up with some 70 suggestions—from letting women speak after men in church to putting changing tables in men’s bathrooms—as Romney and one of his counselors listened and took careful notes.

  2. KLC says:

    I have to disagree with her first suggestion, calling every president by their title. To me that only reinforces the hierarchy she says she wants to replace with cooperation. My stake carries this to the ridiculous extreme, referring to 13 year old leaders of the deacon’s quorum as President Jones instead of Billy. The answer to me is to call no one by their title. We are all brothers and sisters in the gospel, why isn’t that title sufficient for everyone?

  3. roger hansen says:

    The SLTrib (16 Aug 2012) published a list of suggestions for enhancing the role of women in the LDS Church: (1) give Young Women’s leaders some pastoral authority; (2) invite women to serve as witnesses for baptism and sealings; (3) invite mothers to hold their babies during blessings; (4) have bishops give girls a special blessing when they turn 12, 14, and 16; (5) allow women to preside over and conduct the General Relief Society and Young Women’s meetings; (6) name a woman to head the Humanitarian and Welfare departments; (7) include photos of Relief Society, Young Women’s and Primary general presidencies in hierarchical photos; (8) call women as Sunday School presidents, ward mission leaders, and ward and stake clerks; (9) lower the age for female missionaries to 19, while letting them serve two years and as district and zone leaders; and (1) remove the rule that every event needs a priesthood chaperone.

  4. roger hansen says:

    The following is a quote from an article by Peggy Fletcher Stack in SLTrib (16 Aug 2012): “Those who have “issues with the Proclamation on the Family deserve to be heard,” says Margaret Young, a BYU English professor. “The role definition in that document troubles many women. Might that be a document which could use more female input and even a rewrite, since it has not yet been declared official revelation, nor (as far as I know) has yet had femaile input?”

  5. roger hansen says:

    Joanna Brooks on religiondispatches.org brings up the issue of contemporary polygamy and how the Mormon practice discriminates against women: “The fact is that current Church policy does allow for a living man to be “sealed” to more than one woman at a time. For example, a widower or divorced man who has elected to terminate his civil marriage but not his LDS temple marriage is permitted to marry another woman in an LDS temple with the assurance that both the first and second marriages would be eternal. The same is not possible under current Church policies for living LDS women who have been widowed or civilly divorced.” Polyandry any one?

  6. Susan says:

    I enjoyed the SL Tribune’s article on Saturday, August 18th. It pushed the envelope so much further vs. McBaine’s attempts at FAIR. McBaine’s presentation of ways to bring equality to women in the LDS Church seemed weak and at times insulting. Placing girls at the door during the sacrament to open and close them as the boys go in and out to pass to the people in the hall is one example. Is that really “equality” between the deacons and young women? And I just did not get Maxine Hanks’ comments (one of the September 6 who was ex’d by the church in 1983), who was recently re-baptized into the church. McBaine quoted Hanks as saying, “I don’t think gender tensions in Mormonism are due to inquality in the religion, but due to invisibility of that equality.” Hanks goes on to say, “The equality is embedded, inherent in Mormon theology, history, texts, structures. Gender equality is built into the blueprints of Mormonism, but obscured in the elaborations…The inherent gender equality in Mormonism just needs to be seen by extracting it from other distracting elements and contests.” I read and re-read Hanks comments. I appears that Ms. Hanks is talking in circles. Equality is built into the blueprints of Mormonism? I got the feeling that Hanks words were an attempt to justify her journey in feminist theology, Gnostiism, and other theology to convince herself (or others?) that equality was always there in Mormonism, she just had to find it. I strongly disagree.

    Margaret Young, BYU English Professor, was quoted in Tired Road Warrior’s blog as saying, “Those who have “issues with the Proclamation on the Family deserve to be heard.” “The role definition in that document troubles many women. Might that be a document which could use more female input and even a rewrite, since it has not yet been declared official revelation, nor (as far as I know) has yet had female input?” What ramifications are in store for Ms. Young for these comments?

    LDS Women of the church are making “baby steps” towards progress and some are willing to make their voices heard, hopefully without ramification(s). I am curious to see what will be said at the upcoming General Conference. The role of women and gays in the church (a whole other topic) are two items which need to be addressed in a forward-thinking manner. I will be listening as will many others.

  7. Pingback: Mormon Women and Their Roles in the Church | Dad's Primal Scream

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