Policy Suggestions

Family Portrait by Lavinia Fontana

Family Portrait by Lavinia Fontana

This list is a resource for general-level church policymakers who write, update or revise policy within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is not a comprehensive list of policies that could behoove the Church, but rather is focused more specifically on addressing issues that negatively and disparately affect women. Policy suggestions are aligned with the values of womanhood, opportunity, communication, the Golden Rule, protecting the vulnerable, transparency and/or agency.

To use this resource effectively, policymakers should prayerfully consider the menu of options on this list, taking into consideration the ethical imperative, potential impact and feasibility. To adequately address the needs, perspectives and unique circumstances of women, women should be represented in approximately equal proportions with men throughout the policymaking process. These women should reflect the diversity of the female population of the Church.

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Agency

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.

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Transparency

Esther Denouncing Haman by Ernest Normand

Esther Denouncing Haman by Ernest Normand

Transparency is key to preventing abuses in any system of governance. Organizational secrecy was a common indicator of corruption in scripture. (3 Nephi 7, Ether 14)

Improve transparency in church policy by allowing all church members to read Church Handbook of Instructions 1 and posting it online alongside Handbook 2.  All but nine female church members are barred from reading Handbook 1, which includes many policies that affect women such as the rights of the accused under church discipline.  While many men have opportunities to read Handbook 1 as they rotate through the over 100,000 male-only positions worldwide that include authorized access to Handbook 1, a woman must rely on males with authority over her to accurately implement and disclose church policy, leaving her susceptible to unrighteous dominion.  Interview questions for temple recommend and youth interviews should also be readily accessible online.

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Protecting the Vulnerable

The Woman with an Issue of Blood by James Tissot

The Woman with an Issue of Blood by James Tissot

Christ taught that we have a special responsibility to the most vulnerable among us. (Matthew 25:31-46) He reprimanded religious leaders who prioritized their own needs over the needs of vulnerable women in their stewardship. (Matthew 23:14) Church policies that prioritize the convenience of male priesthood leaders with power over the needs, concerns and safety of those in their stewardship fail to meet this standard.

Better protect the powerless by not granting leaders authority to punish people in their stewardship informally without oversight or appeal options for the accused, by not permitting leaders to retain membership records so that they can punish former members of their congregations remotely and by providing a mechanism to report improprieties, abuses and unrighteous dominion, such as a hotline or ombudsman service.

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The Golden Rule

The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch

The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch

Christ taught the Golden Rule: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men [or women] should do to you, do ye even so to them.” (Matthew 7:12) However, some church policies, administered by men, exempt women from protections that men themselves enjoy.

A bishop may not excommunicate a man, but he may excommunicate a woman.  It takes 15 individuals to excommunicate a man, several of which are assigned to “stand up in behalf of the accused, and prevent insult and injustice” (D&C 102) but only four men are required to excommunicate a woman, none of which are under any obligation to advocate for the accused woman. [1]

Church policy calls for pregnant women to be disciplined more strictly than other people who commit the same sins—including the men who impregnate them. Disciplinary councils for adultery and fornication are optional–unless the sin is “widely known.” Unlike a man’s paternity, a woman’s pregnancy will be widely known.

A man is never required to confess to a member of the opposite sex about personal issues such as his underwear and personal chastity but a woman is interviewed exclusively by members of the opposite sex. Church policy dictates that only men may call a disciplinary council, staff the council, and judge the outcome but both men and women may be summoned to disciplinary councils.  While men are tried by peers of their own sex, women are tried exclusively by people of the opposite sex.

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