Coercion within a Church that Values Agency

Hester-marchingMormons believe that agency (free will) is fundamental to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our scriptures teach that agency is God’s gift and plan for us:

Moses 4:3

Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him…I caused that he should be cast down.

Yet, several institutional policies and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, Mormon) authorize or require local leaders to coerce members of their congregations. To coerce is “to make someone do something by using force or threats.” Reference A

Temple Recommends as Leverage

Article of Faith 11

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

A local, lay priesthood leader may threaten to confiscate temple recommends from their parishioners, which prevents them from attending any ordinance, including weddings, in any Mormon temple anywhere in the world. Essentially, local lay clergy have the authority to tell a member of their congregation, “Do what I say or I will not allow you to attend your son’s/daughter’s/sibling’s/best friend’s wedding.”

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Bikes, Bikes, Bikes

Bikes, Bikes, Bikes

Some bike-themed Exponent posts, a poll and a video.

(Click on the titles of some of these wonderful, classic posts to enjoy some bike-related reading. When you’re done, get off the computer and go for a bike ride.)

The Invisible Bicycle Helmet | Fredrik Gertten from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

National Bike Month

“But a year later after we moved from rural Indiana to the suburban sprawl of Chicago, bicycling became my morning meditation.”

tricycle bike

Photo by Jana Remy


Biking In A Skirt

Modesty was a problem for me during my missionary days. Skirts flap around Marilyn Monroe-style on a bike.”

Don’t Come Cryin’ To Me!

I have to admit part of me was SAD that the bikes were patiently waiting for them after the movie.”

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Introducing Informed Consent to Bishop’s Interviews

Introducing Informed Consent to Bishop’s Interviews

First do no harm.Ethically sound research interviews must have informed consent, maintain confidentiality and undergo an Internal Review Board process to verify that psychological, social and other risks to participants are limited. Research interviews and ecclesiastical interviews differ in purpose, but with some adaptation, many of the ethical guidelines used by researchers could be applied to ecclesiastical interviews performed by local LDS church leaders. Such safeguards could help ensure that our ecclesiastical rituals do not have any unintended, harmful side effects.

The basic elements of the informed consent process include:

  • full disclosure of the nature of the [interview] and the participant’s involvement,
  • adequate comprehension on the part of the potential participant, and
  • the participant’s voluntary choice to participate. Reference A

There are three major kinds of LDS Stake Presidency or Bishopric interviews described in church handbooks: temple recommend, worthiness and youth interviews. Here are some policy change suggestions inspired by the ethical standards of human subject research that could be incorporated into these ecclesiastical interviews:

1)    Begin with a brief, written or verbal statement like this,  “You may stop the interview at any time and skip any questions that you do not want to answer.” Adding such a statement would not lengthen the interview by much, but would do a great deal to eliminate the expectation that church members must disclose personal information against their will just because a priesthood leader asks.

2)    Confession should be voluntary, not compelled by the priesthood leader on the basis of rumors, tattling or hunches. In most cases, it would make sense to let the transgressor confess when they are ready to do so of their own free will.

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It’s Not All About Money

It’s Not All About Money

There are some women (it has become very many in fact) who have to work to provide for the needs of their families. To you I say, do the very best you can. I hope that if you are employed full-time you are doing it to ensure that basic needs are met and not simply to indulge a taste for an elaborate home, fancy cars, and other luxuries. -Gordon B. Hinckley, 1996 Reference A

My daughter knows me well.

My daughter knows me well.

Statements like this one by former LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley belie an assumption that paid employment for women is only about money:

  1. Financially secure women who work outside the home are assumed to be doing so because of a greedy desire for more money.
  2. The only good reason for a woman to work outside the home is a dire need for money.

This dichotomy neglects the many other reasons a woman may be employed.

In 1959, Frederick Herzberg, in the book, The Motivation to Work, introduced Motivation-Hygiene Theory (also known as Two-Factor Theory). His findings showed that money was not a primary motivator in the workplace. Instead, employees were motivated by enjoyment of the work itself and by the advancement, recognition, achievement, and growth opportunities the work brings. Reference B

Personally, I feel motivated to work outside the home because I love the work and the contributions I can make to my community at large. While motherhood is rewarding in its own way, many of my strongest skills are not exercised by motherhood. In my paid employment, I work in fields that I have chosen to study because they interest me and align with my personal talents. In contrast, I spend a great deal of my at-home time cleaning up spills and searching for lost shoes, tasks that never interested me at all.

Housework is so intrinsically unenjoyable to me that it is hard for me to imagine how it could be that in 1963, when The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan was published, the idea that a lifetime of uninterrupted housework wouldn’t fulfill a woman was groundbreaking.

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Will we be silenced again?

One by one they throw us from the tower and we spread our wings and fly linda sillitoeMy name is April Young Bennett.

About three years ago, I published my very first post at the Exponent. I identified myself only by my first name because I was scared. Terrified. Silenced.

I loved my Mormon faith, but I could also see its flaws—how the sexism embedded in its culture, policies and doctrines were affecting my life. I had more than complaints; I had ideas! I wanted to contribute to my church, to make it a better place, but my input was not wanted because I am a woman. 

The Exponent gave me a forum to air my views, but I continued to sign my posts with only my first name.

It wasn’t my fault that I was scared. I grew up in a culture of fear. People who dared to publicly discuss the church’s flaws were cast out of it when I was still a child. When I reached adulthood, I thought I was the only Mormon in the world who cared about sexism because people with questions stopped asking them. It wasn’t safe.

A little over a year ago, Kate Kelly invited Mormon women to try again. We could be bold. We could ask for what we want.  We could break taboos that silence us, speaking out in public instead of limiting ourselves to semi-anonymous cyberspace.

We could use our real names.

Mormons accuse each other of “going public” as if it were a sin, as if the phrase from the Book of Mormon, “All is well in Zion” were a script we should follow, instead of an example of “carnal security” that “cheateth [our] souls.” (2 Nephi 28:21) We hope that by keeping our opinions to ourselves, our faith community will appear to be perfectly happy. We are living advertisements, wooing potential converts. We can’t actually address our problems while we are busy hiding them, but we hope that no one else will notice our issues because we don’t mention them in public. Building Zion takes a backseat to keeping up the appearance of Zion.  We lay aside scriptural admonition to “lay aside…all guile, and hypocrisies” (1 Peter 2:1).

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