My wife follows the Exponent and from time to time shares articles with me that raise many fascinating and legitimate points, particularly when it comes to gender inequality in the church. Without downplaying in any measure the concerns expressed in this blog, I have lamented the gender inequality in the church for many years but from a different perspective.
Having served primarily with the youth for about 30 years I have often wished that the men called to work with the youth were as faithful in their callings as the women in equivalent callings in the Young Women or Primary organizations. I cannot count the number of times I have been let down by male leaders on Sundays, activity nights, camping trips, or other events. On the other hand my wife, who has served in the Primary for as long as I have with the youth, probably could count the number of times she has been let down by a sister in the ward and not exceed her fingers and toes.
Based solely on my experience, there is a huge gender gap in the church when it comes to faithfully fulfilling our calling; and the men come out on the bottom by a considerable margin.
My great-grandparents holding my grandfather on his blessing day
About a month ago, my father decided to clear out his collection of family memorabilia and give it to me, the de facto family historian. I was thrilled. In my free time I have been perusing the journals, albums and family records. I came across my Grandpa’s baby book, a more thorough record than most of its kind. It goes all the way through his high school graduation and includes a map of the Pacific Ocean with the route his ship took during World War II carefully inked in. Evidently my great-grandmother was a diligent scrapbooker.
The book contains a page for “baby’s first prayer” in which my great-grandma transcribed the words of my grandpa’s baby blessing. They were not Mormons. My great-grandfather was a minister of a protestant denomination, and my grandfather later followed in his footsteps. The fact that this was a father’s blessing therefore had more to do with the family profession than the biological relationship.
July 5, 1917
Our Father in heaven – thou who has given us this child to make glad our home – we give him back to Thee today. Use him we pray in Thy great purpose for the world, and through him bring in some small way the Kingdom of God. Teach him that the only failure is selfishness and the only success service; and when his life is ended, grant that the world will be more Christ-like for his years in it.
We pray too for ourselves. Help us to live such lives that this boy will find it easy to believe in God, and help us to build such a home that in it he will naturally discover Jesus Christ. As he works with us, may he see in our lives the spirit of Thy Son; and as we play together may we never do anything that will drive God from his life. Take us and take him, we pray, and use us in Thy work on Earth. Through Jesus Christ, Amen.
I really love this prayer. Every time I read it I get goosebumps and I think “that is what I want for my family. That is the blessing I would want said for my children.” I also feel that it was a blessing that was fulfilled. My grandpa did devote his life to service. He eventually left the ministry in order to work full time in fundraising and philanthropy. Even in retirement he constantly volunteered. I do think the world was more Christ-like for his years in it.
In our church we would teach that my great grandfather had no priesthood authority, though I am certain as a graduate of Harvard Divinity he would have disagreed. Yet when I read this blessing I can’t help but think that this is the baby blessing par excellence. I wonder what difference having the priesthood could possibly make in blessing a baby. It isn’t a covenant, it isn’t necessary for salvation by our doctrine. Why then do we need a priesthood holder to perform this blessing? I myself was blessed by our home teacher as a baby because my father is not a member and probably wouldn’t have been interested anyway.
What role do you think the priesthood plays in offering a baby blessing? Is it different from a father who does not hold the priesthood offering a prayer on behalf of his baby? What about a mother blessing her baby?
Unlike many lessons with “priesthood” emphasis, this lesson includes the key element of the “human family.” I like this; as a result, the lesson can take some non-traditional directions such as a focus on family history or a focus on humanitarian services of the church or even an emphasis on baptism as rebirth. Because of the “human family” element, this lesson has better applicability than average priesthood lessons.
However, I also suffer from a personal history of disengagement from any lesson with priesthood focus. As a Young Woman, I was taught that I could “help the priesthood” by dressing modestly. As a Young Single Adult, I was taught that the best thing I could do was marry someone with the priesthood so I could finally “have” priesthood in my life. As a married woman, and recognising that these previous teachings were improper, I still often feel disengaged from priesthood lessons because outside of the temple, I am unable to render any priesthood service. This, mixed with varying levels of sometimes well-intended, other times satirical, yet often misogynistic lesson plans usually results in me finding some reason to sit in the church foyer commisserating with a dozen other women for the term of the lesson. I think the best way to direct away from this line of thinking is to write “Salvation of the Human Family” on the board. This is not intended to erase priesthood, but rather to direct the lesson in a manner relevant to women, thereby engaging them, rather than writing “priesthood”, which by experience, can automatically disengage women
As a Mormon feminist, I often here comments like, “The church loves women and we think they are equal. Why do you feel different or unequal?”
To answer this question, I submit my own short Father’s Day talk. (And it is June and time to celebrate Fathers.)
A note: I love my earthly father; I honor him. I love many fathers I know, including the father of my ward, my bishop; I celebrate them. I love my Heavenly Father. My short talk is not meant to be disrespectful, but just a little look into “how it feels”.
Fathers and all men, I start my talk by reminding you how special you are to our Heavenly Parents. You are so important. The work you do with the Priesthood is so important. You are sons of God – and God loves His sons just as much as His daughters.
Fatherhood is essential part of the plan; it is NOT what is left over after the woman’s role or motherhood. We honor your work and the part you play in the overall building of Zion. We women learn so much from you and your experiences. We stand in awe of your service to your families and to the ward.
Men, you are the head of the home, which is just as important as the heart of the home; in fact, you’re probably more important. We would benefit if we listened to your counsel more often. I know that my mother got the better deal when she married my father, who is always such a strong head in our home. He is her better half. We all (his children) benefit so much from his wisdom and love. And I think my mother has learned so much over the years from his example.
The influence of a righteous man goes beyond the home. It is felt in the community and in the work place. I hope each of you men realize the power you have on others when you live in righteous ways and stand up for family, for God, and for the Gospel of Christ. You should be proud to be a man.
As I conclude, I remind all of you men that God is mindful of you. He knows the challenges your face in juggling your work, church, and priesthood responsibilities. He loves you and will hear and answer your prayers. And, we, the mothers (and women) in your life, are always here to support you too. You are never alone. Never doubt your divine potential; it is great. We love you. And today, on Father’s Day, we honor you and your contributions. We celebrate the important role you play.
I have long held that football is the worst so I was thoroughly unsurprised when another scandal presented itself this week. But rather than another story about a football player and his involvement in a rape or assault, this scandal involves a seemingly good Mormon boy caught up in a cruel hoax. I have no idea whether Manti Te’o was complicit in this lie, what is interesting to me is that we have yet another high-profile Mormon man unconsciously, or consciously, displaying the complexities of Mormon gender relations for the world to see.
In fact, it doesn’t really matter whether Manti lied, the gendered impulse behind both possibilities is the same. Mormon men benefit profoundly by being romantically attached to women. But before we examine the privileges that come from being a partnered man, it is important to understand what Te’o had to gain either by believing he was in a relationship or lying about being in one.
I know that it sometimes seems like it is—that it sometimes seems like someone else’s gain automatically signifies my loss, but it is not like that. Or, at least it is not always like that, or not in the things that matter most. This is true on individual levels as well as institutional levels. For instance, men’s gain does not need to mean women’s loss, as women’s gain does not need to mean men’s loss. It doesn’t.
When things are done right, everyone gains: when things are done poorly, no one does. One of the best examples of this in a religious context is set forth by renowned feminist Rosemary Radford Ruether in a direct dialogue with Mormon theology. Straight from a paper I once wrote:
Ruether “engages in a critique of patriarchal images and concepts of God,” as well as “in a re-visioning of God-language inclusive of women and men.” She began by stating her view of the problem of patriarchal God-language. She did this not to suggest that “the traditional patriarchal language for God has been fine for men but has excluded women, so we need some additional feminine language for God,” but to emphasize that “language for God that subordinates women is detrimental to men as well.” Subordinating language “distorts and limits the humanity of men as much as it does the humanity of women,” for a “God who is alienating and dehumanizing to women is harmful to everyone, and even to the well-being of the planet earth itself.”