A Book Review (Of Sorts): Way Below the Angels

Craig Harline

Not very long ago, I read this post, that made me want to read this book, Way Below the Angels: the pretty clearly troubled but not even close to tragic confessions of a real live Mormon missionary. Even shorter ago, I did.

While it isn’t a woman’s story, I still feel that it is worth reviewing here, in this women’s story space for two reasons. 1) The author, Craig Harline, does a fairly good job pointing out when women’s stories, voices, and presence are forgotten.

One example of this is when his Salt Lake Mission Home President tells a mixed group of Elders and Sisters that they are to dress like “local businessmen.” Another is when his going-Belgium group was moved to the Rexburg, Idaho LTM, and they held a nightly devotional with the older going-Belgium missionaries, that fully excluded the Sisters because it was in an Elder’s dorm room. The saddest examples took place in Belgium. The first question they asked women who answered the door was if they could speak to their husband. Not because they weren’t allowed to speak to women, but because they were taught that they should focus on the man. A woman named Lieve demanded focus, because she had a dream and a wish to be baptized. She also had a husband who did not share that dream or wish. He was required to sign a permission slip, which he did. But then he took it back. Lieve learned that if her husband had the dream and wish, her signature would not be needed.*

2) Harline’s ofttimes funny/ofttimes insightful words created a space for me to remember my own mission story.

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Guest Post: Give a Title to the Woman who Has a Mission President Husband

by Frank Pellett

I saw this article about the wives of Mission Presidents in the Salt Lake Tribune this morning, and I wanted to share it with the wider readership of Exponent, as a small but good example of something in the Church doing something right in the way of improving gender issues.

It seems they’re working on having a formal title for the wife of the Mission President:

Don’t call her a “co-president” with her husband, either. Mission president is a “joint calling,” Evans says in an interview from church headquarters in Salt Lake City, but only the man carries the title “president.”

An appropriate moniker for “mission president wife” remains elusive, he says. The church’s all-male missionary committee recently asked the female LDS general auxiliary leaders to come up with one but so far has not settled on any that captures the job.

This is a refreshing change from the oft brought up lack of female voices in the drafting Proclamation on the Family.  No, it’s not a big thing.  Yes, they could probably start by getting some women actually in the missionary committee.  I just like to sometimes celebrate the little things.

So, that brings us to the post.  It’s not merely an attempt at a feel good flicker of hope.  I figure if they’re looking for titles, the least we can do is see what we can come up with on our own.  What would be a good title for what is now the “Mission President’s Wife”?

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January 2013 Visiting Teaching Message: Missionary Work

We’ve all seen the recent, almost wild eruption of missionary applications that resulted from the change in missionary age. This; combined with the 2013 Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) curriculum makes no surprise that the opening 2013 Visiting Teaching message is of missionary content, includes a quote by the (presumably) female-favourite Dieter Uchtdorf and uses only the D&C in the scripture section. Not a subtle introduction to the year.

I daresay most of us have already heard stories of women between the ages of 19 and 21 who are now engaged in the missionary application process. The thing is, unless we are visiting teaching someone in the age bracket who is eager to serve a mission, this really just feels like a predictable snoozy message.

So- how do we liven it up? Well, how about this quote that I have seen on a few facebook status updates:

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Memory Capsules: The Robes I Have Worn and the Parts I Have Played

1) When I was a child, my siblings and I would act out the nativity story on Christmas Eve, as per one of our family’s traditions. My youngest brother always played the babe, Jesus; my brother Joseph always played the betrothed Joseph; my oldest sister always claimed the prized (and perhaps lone) female role of Mary. Another fair haired sister generally played the angel, leaving me and the remaining sister as shepherds. We wore headdresses in the form of bath towels and robes in the form of sheets, and braided our respective long, dark hair in front of our faces as beards. (If I had a picture, I promise I would share.) I don’t recall resenting this repeated casting too much (though I did dream of being Mary), because if you have to be a shepherd, there was no one better to be a shepherd with. Still, I do recall noticing that there weren’t that many parts for girls.

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Another Endowment of the Change in Missionary Age Policy?

This last Sunday, we had combined Relief Society and Priesthood opening exercises owing to the Young Women needing rehearsal space for a fireside planned for that evening. Forgotten announcements of the switch resulted in a slow but eventual gathering. In the temporarily combined room, the seating arrangement resulted in a change in the average seating patterns, which in turn resulted in people sitting and chatting with people whom they might not routinely sit with. This was not uncomfortable for me; I rather like a good mix up- besides- it was just for opening exercises.

In this, I began to notice something interesting. It seems to me that “average” church meeting small talk is along the line of “how are you/your family doing?” But in this meeting, and in other interactions I have had in the last few weeks with church members, the small and big talk is focused on the recently announced change in missionary age.

In nearly every conversation, the reaction is one of happy excitement; 18 year old males who had thought they had a year to prepare are suddenly, yet happily questioning if they should go sooner. Further, it seems to me that a very large number of women between the ages of 19 and 20 have already spoken to their bishops and are in the process of submitting their papers (I personally know of 3).

Interestingly, in this combined meeting moment, a member of the Stake Presidency pointed out an observation of his that seemed to almost border on a concern. This was that males still had to be ordained as Elders before they could serve; hence, they would need to be sustained in Stake Conference. I do not know why this seemed to concern him (perhaps a Stake admin issue that could be challenging?), but I could not help but consider the implications in relation to age. Based on a male’s birth date, high school graduation date and stake conference scheduling, it is possible that he could very well still be 19 years old the soonest he is eligible to serve a mission.

If this is the case, and a young man was anxious to serve a mission, is there an equality argument for males to forgo Melchizedek priesthood ordination in order to be as readily eligible to serve as un-ordianed women?

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