Agency

Thank you for your feedback. I have finalized the report and sent it to my stake president. I am pleased to report that he has agreed to send it on to General Authorities. The original text of the post is below for historical purposes, but the final version, incorporating  feedback I received from Exponent readers and others, is available at http://bit.ly/LDSpolicy.


Jesus Tempted by Carl Heinrich Bloch

Jesus Tempted by Carl Heinrich Bloch

Scripture teaches that agency is God’s gift and plan for His children. (Moses 4:3) Honor agency by eliminating policies that authorize priesthood leaders “to exercise control or dominion or compulsion.” (D&C 121:37) Church policy authorizes local church leaders to punish members for not following their counsel, treating counsel from a local lay leader as a type of commandment instead of a type of advice and subjecting members to undefined, capricious criteria. Punishments may be administered informally without safeguards to stop local priesthood leaders from using punishment to coerce compliance with unreasonable demands. Some local priesthood leaders use temple recommend questions to justify denying temple recommends to members for disagreeing with the local leader’s social and political opinions and historical interpretations or for failing to shun loved ones that the local leader does not approve of. However, no justification is needed; church policy permits local priesthood leaders to confiscate temple recommends without justification, even if members can honestly answer temple recommend questions correctly.

The power of local leaders to use family weddings as coercion opportunities is exacerbated by the policy penalizing couples in the United States of America and a few other countries of the world for marrying outside of the temple by prohibiting them from being sealed in the temple for at least a year following their wedding ceremony.

Revise temple ceremony scripts to eliminate implications that women may exercise less agency than men.

Christ rebuked the Pharisees for their misplaced focus on rules governing details of Jewish life, yet Church policy also governs intimate details of members’ lives, such as the underwear they wear in their own yards and homes and the people with whom they carpool. (Mark 7, Matthew 12) Fewer rules and greater privacy would help members “claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of [their] own conscience.” (Article of Faith 11)

“The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord.” (Handbook 2: 21.4.4) Eliminate policies that contradict this assertion by inserting local priesthood leaders into private family planning decisions or strongly discouraging certain reproductive options. Replace such policies with statements like the following: “The Church neither forbids nor encourages the course of action. Members are encouraged to make this a matter of personal prayer.”


This post is a section of my draft policy analysis, a Values-based Approach to Woman-friendly Policy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have completed as much policy research as I can alone and now I am asking for feedback from the Mormon community before I finalize and submit the report. All draft sections will become available at the following links when they are posted:

Introduction

Charlotte du Val d'Ognes by Marie Denise Villers, Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Introduction

Values

800px-Andrea_Solario_002 Womanhood
The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet Opportunity
Jesus and the Canaanite Woman by Mattia Preti Communication
The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch The Golden Rule
The Woman with an Issue of Blood by James Tissot Protecting the Vulnerable
Esther Denouncing Haman by Ernest Normand Transparency
Jesus Tempted by Carl Heinrich Bloch Agency

Policy Suggestions

Family Portrait by Lavinia Fontana Introduction

Missionary Work

Youth Programs

Women’s Programs

Church Participation

Priesthood Interviews

Callings & Employment

Leadership & Policymaking

Temple Worship

Gynecologic Health

Church Discipline

Access all posts here.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is an advocate, mother, professional, lover of the arts, hater (but doer) of housework and seeker of truth. Podcast: Religious Feminism Podcast Twitter: @aprilyoungb

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23 Responses

  1. Rob Osborn says:

    Sounds like you have some personal issues with the church of which none truly deal with agency as spoken of in the scriptures. It also seems you have a complex with male priesthood holders in general.

    • liz says:

      Do you have some scriptures you’d like to reference to back that up? Because I’m not seeing this comment being at all constructive to the conversation – it’s just insulting April’s character, hard work, and research.

      • Rob Osborn says:

        The whole post is about the perception that men use their priesthood for unrighteous dominion to limit and destroy women’s agency. I read posts like this and a part of me wants to go hide under a rock because I am afraid of this overly strong feminist surge that belittled all males. It’s not productive, it’s not even acceptable. I resent this perception used as a general attack on men. Agency is about destroying ones righteous desires. If a person decides to not follow the rules, they cannot possibly enjoy the blessings that come only from following the rules. Satan wanted wickedness and justification for it. We’re not that far off with all these fringe Mormon movements that seek to make their own rules and laws according to their own will and not Gods. In the end they end up losing their own agency because they cannot follow within the rules but then blame the righteous as wicked and send scorn upon them. Whose side are we on folks?

      • This post is not about how men use their priesthood for unrighteous dominion, but rather, how church policy authorizes them to. A good system of governance places checks and balances on people in power. I did not belittle any men in this post, but rather critiqued written policies.

  2. Ron says:

    April
    If u r so unhappy, why stay?

  3. Sorry you didn’t like the article, Rob and Ron, but I am more interested in feedback about the ideas in the post than about your assumptions about my personal issues, complexes, and level of happiness.

    • Rob Osborn says:

      Okay, you start by saying- “Honor agency by eliminating policies that authorize priesthood leaders “to exercise control or dominion or compulsion.”

      I am not aware of policies that authorize this control, dominion and compulsion. You make it sound like we’re the Nazi SS. Perhaps you could quote this “policy” because I am unaware such exists.

      • nrc42 says:

        Ron, she isn’t arguing that all men are exercising unrighteous dominion or that the handbook says, “Control everyone!” Rather, she is pointing out that local leaders do have a high degree of power and influence over those in their stewardship, which goes largely unchecked. Many local leaders are genuinely good people who are trying to do what’s right, but the fact remains that there ARE those who abuse their authority. Attempts to go around or above abusive leaders (Contacting stake presidents, area authorities, etc.) are hit-and-miss because there are no set policies for dealing with abusive leaders. Now, again, most leaders are not abusive and – in these ideal circumstances – the existing system functions in a reasonably adequate manner (in terms of preventing abuse of authority). However, if a system only functions under ideal circumstances, the system needs to be revised. People aren’t perfect – we know this – so why are many of our policies operating under the assumption that local leaders are? The system should be designed to protect the people from potential abuse.

      • A more specific post about policies that authorize leaders to exercise coercion is available here: http://www.the-exponent.com/coercion/

  4. Martine says:

    These men’s comments are sad and I would love to believe that their mindset is not representative of most men in the church. “You have a problem,” when someone expresses pain, rather than listening and attempting to understand, empathize, attempt to find common ground and search for solutions is really a very defensive way to deal with issues that arise in an institution.

  5. Rob Osborn says:

    Just something to think about but I believe it has some relevence.
    Have you ever wondered why, in general, man is both taller and physically stronger than women? I don’t mean this in any way a sexist question, but rather the intrigue of reality of the facts. There literally are myriads of comparisons of man to woman and how both sexes lay claim over the other with some special ability. The ability to bring to pass the extension of God’s seed through the formation and birth of life lies almost entirely with the woman. What a special power, a special gift that men do not have. So, why are we fighting for equality when our makeup and differences don’t allow nor work as designed?
    It’s rather easy to see this as a battle for priesthood power and authority to be seen as equal by each of the sexes. The problem is however, that just as woman have their sacred special and holy calling, so do men have their sacred and holy calling which is different than womans.
    I mean, really, we could all fight for equality and ask for equality in all things I regardless of our genders, but we would soon find that we weren’t created to be equal in every special gift. We all know it would be unfair if we let high school boys tryout for certain girls sports teams where muscle mass and strength have a great impact.
    As applied to the family, the man’s role is to preside over because as such he is the enforcer physically over the law and acts as the primary protecter. So the, what is he protecting and presiding over? Well, it’s what I think is the greatest and most sacred of all the gifts- women, and their sacred right and power of procreation and literally accounting for the literal seeds of the earth. It’s called “life” and this sacred duty was not given to man. As a man, I think of this priesthood power like wielding a sword of protection as law enforcer to ensure the safety of the greater power of childbirth.

    We really are comparing apples to oranges then. The policies the church makes are made to ensure the greatest success rate of God’s plan of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. If you can comprehend that, then also realize that husband and wife become one flesh that compliment and add to each others special powers. It actually expands our agency when we marry because we gain in power and strength through each others distinct abilities.

    • nrc42 says:

      In terms of behavioral differences, it is largely unclear whether such trends have roots in biology or are learned, socialized behavior. Even so, as with most generalizations of that nature, there are enough exceptions to render such stereotyping essentially meaningless. In terms of actual physical differences, again, there is such a wide variety in this world that things really need to be looked at on a case-to-case basis. I do agree that in marriage, spouses usually complement each other. My husband and I complement each other wonderfully, albeit in an unconventional way. I am physically much stronger than my husband. My husband is very calm and gentle, whereas I tend to be more assertive and – when necessary – aggressive. My husband worries more about the details, whereas I am more concerned with the big picture. In the workplace, he keeps his head down and works independently as often as possible, not wanting to involve others or step on any toes, while I focus on networking and push (both him and myself) to get ahead. You see, we balance each other perfectly. But not according to 1950s gender roles.

    • I think your first sentence reveals a fundamental difference in the way you and I think. Yes, most men are taller than women, but there are many, many exceptions. If you take any woman out of a crowd, you are likely to be able to find examples of men who are taller than her and men who are shorter than her. There is a great deal of overlap and variability. If you only allowed one size of tall pants for men and one size of short pants for woman, most people in the world would be at a loss to find something to wear.

  6. Ron says:

    April
    I seen many women, when all is said and done, will lose their exaltation because they chose their feminism over their exaltatiin.

  7. Ron says:

    It boggles my mind why women spend so much time with feminists when you’re not going to be exalted with feminists you’re going to be exalted with your husband.

    • nrc42 says:

      I don’t know why I’m even engaging anymore, since logic doesn’t seem to be invited to this party, but that argument makes literally no sense.

      Watch:

      It boggles my mind when women spend so much time with Relief Society sisters. You’re not going to be exalted with Relief Society sisters, you’re going to be exalted with your husband.

      It boggles my mind when women spend so much time with the PTA. You’re not going to be exalted with the PTA, you’re going to be exalted with your husband.

      It boggles my mind when women spend so much time with their friends. You’re not going to be exalted with friends, you’re going to be exalted with your husband.

      Are you seriously suggesting that women shouldn’t spend time with anyone but their husbands?

      • Liz says:

        NRC42, thanks for taking the time to engage and have the conversation. I really appreciate all of your comments.

        Ron, my hope is that you’ll start to see us as your sisters, and try to hear us rather than just talk down to us. You’re welcome to your opinions, obviously, but I hope you’re at least seeing that opinions about these things vary wildly among members of the church, but we’re still all striving to be one in the body of Christ.

  8. Joanne says:

    Ron, the fact that most men abuse authority is written right into our scriptures. When given authority, “it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, to immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” That scripture gives the green light to April’s assertions and policy recommendations. Her concerns are based in the reality of man’s nature as verified by God’s word. I observe that so many LDS men seem to put themselves outside of the “almost all men” category, as though they and their male leaders are incapable of abusing their priesthood authority. “Almost all men’s” abuse of authority even applies to our general male leaders.

    Christlike use of priesthood would prohibit name-calling, unkind insults, and making character slurs against women bloggers.

  9. Ziff says:

    I really like your concluding line in particular:

    Replace such policies with statements like the following: “The Church neither forbids nor encourages the course of action. Members are encouraged to make this a matter of personal prayer.”

    It seems like there are a lot of issues that the Handbook encourages leaders to get involved in (especially related to contraception and fertility, as you point out) that would be best left to people to figure out on their own. I think this actually extends to some topics that we have a lot of hand-wringing about at church too, like how girls and women choose to dress, or how people are going to keep the Sabbath.

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