Opportunity

The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet

The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet

The scriptures teach that “if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work” (D&C 4:3) but church policy bans women from many service opportunities simply because they are women. Although there is no scriptural mandate barring women from the priesthood, the present-day female priesthood ban precludes women from serving the Church in all capacities that are limited to priesthood holders by scripture. Church policy also bars women and girls from numerous service opportunities that are not limited to priesthood holders by scripture, such as preparing and passing the sacrament; collecting, counting, distributing and auditing church funds; officially witnessing baptisms and weddings; overseeing and operating technology and leading Sunday Schools and mixed gender groups of missionaries. Gendered restrictions on male Primary workers, such as requiring co-teachers for men but not women, also limit opportunities for women, because they make it difficult to call men to the Primary so that women can rotate through other callings.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said that “holding the priesthood gives us abundant opportunities to feel the joy that Ammon expressed: “Have we not great reason to rejoice? … We have been instruments in [the Lord’s] hands of doing this great and marvelous work.”[1] For women, opportunities are less abundant than for men, which limits female access to the blessings of giving church service, such as spiritual experiences and personal growth. [2]

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Womanhood

Virgin of the Green Cushion by Andrea Solario

Virgin of the Green Cushion by Andrea Solario

“The worth of souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10) and modern day apostles have repeatedly affirmed that Church leaders value women. [1] Church policy instructs that in Ward Councils, “both men and women should feel that their comments are valued as full participants.” (Handbook 2: 4.6.1) Church policymakers could demonstrate that they value women in councils by ceasing to mandate that men outnumber and outrank women on councils in which women participate and including women on councils from which they are presently barred.

Including as many female speakers as male speakers in semi-annual General Conferences would better demonstrate that women are valued as “theologians” [2] than limiting female participation to one woman per day. Revising temple ceremonies to be as affirming for female participants as for men would go far to testify of women’s value in the eternities.

Mission goals that incentivize teaching and baptizing men instead of women are evidence that many mission leaders value male converts over female ones. As potential priesthood holders, male converts are valued because they are needed within the Church organization. Local leaders may see female souls as liabilities instead of assets because they cannot serve their congregations in the many callings and functions that are reserved by general level policy for men only. Church policy authorizes new church units to be established without any women at all, while no church unit may exist without men, regardless of how many faithful women are in the area.

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A Values-based Approach to Woman-friendly Policy in the LDS Church

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

Charlotte du Val d’Ognes by Marie Denise Villers

Earlier this year, my stake president delivered a letter to General Authorities on my behalf requesting a brief meeting to discuss my concerns about the effects of LDS church policy for women and my suggestions for policy improvement. A General Authority whose identity is unknown to me sent an anonymous verbal message to me through my stake president informing me that my request for a meeting was declined for reasons undisclosed and instructing me to address my letter to my stake president directly, instead of writing a letter to General Authorities and cc-ing my stake president.

Writing to my stake president and asking him to consider churchwide policy reform feels both ineffective and unsafe—stake presidents have no authority to implement changes to churchwide policy but a great deal of authority to punish their parishioners for expressing opinions.  While I hope that my stake president will pass along my ideas to General Authorities, this process strikes me as a rather perverse game of telephone.  My female views will be transmitted only if an unlikely candidate to advocate on my behalf—a male who has not personally been affected by policies that disparately affect women—chooses to transmit them, and even if he does, he cannot help but explain them through the filter of his own male perspective.

In spite of my many misgivings about this process, I have decided to make a good faith effort to comply. My stake president has expressed a preference for more details than I provided in my previous letter, so I have spent several months writing a detailed policy analysis. I hope that my stake president will appreciate my effort to put together a high quality analysis and use whatever connections he has to plead the case for one or more General Authorities to read my ideas in my own words and then discuss them with me personally. If this process fails, I will continue to look for options to present this analysis to General Authorities who may make policy changes. 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.  During the upcoming week, I will post one section of the report at a time for your feedback, beginning now with the introduction below:

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Women on Priesthood Councils: A Step in the Right Direction, More Steps Needed

This week, the church announced (sort of) that a woman would would sit on each of three councils previously limited to men only, the Priesthood Executive Council (to be renamed the Priesthood and Family Executive Council), the Temple and Family History Executive Council and the Missionary Executive Council. Reference A

Having women permanently seated on councils and quorums of the church is certainly an improvement over having men meet alone and solicit female feedback only when they happen to realize that it is needed. Feedback is not enough because it excludes women from bringing in ideas at the beginning of the process and participating in final decision making.

This change has been a long time coming. Chieko Okazaki reported that while she was First Counselor in the Relief Society in 1990-1997, the Relief Society Presidency requested inclusion in the council over temples and was denied:

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Money and Power Within the Walls of the Church

Very early in the Book of Mormon, the Great and Abominable Church is church-budgeting-money-pastor-malphurs-group-300x300described in 1 Nephi 13; it is described in many ways, but specific to fiscal wealth as a church that positions money, the power of money and those beholden to financial overlords as “captive.” Though temporal self-reliance and independence is an important concept in Mormon culture and doctrine, I can’t help but wonder why this is so grossly different to the way the church structures its finances for women. The historiography of the church suggests that the church does not see fit to have women handle money on an institutional level, yet it encourages a degree of egalitarianism between husbands and wives when creating a family budget. For example, the principal lds.org website includes a section on temporal self-reliance and well as information on provident living and discussion resources on how to create a household budget. To the credit of the church, much of the budget and household financial materials provided at the lds.org website relay a sense that home finances are a joint decision made by “couples” (this is an example of language used to address a ‘couple’ as primary financial decision makers). However, probably as a means of not contradicting the gender-based roles consistent with church dogma, there is still the derogatory placement of men only as primary “breadwinners,” and women as “bread-spenders” (I found this church video particularly shocking). These labels are not only offensive, they are not necessarily reflective of all Mormon households.

 

Any sense of egalitarian budgeting, however, is institutionally abandoned as soon as this same couple enters the doors of a church building. If the church teaches that men and women (i.e. husbands and wives) are equals in maintaining a household budget, it stands to reason that the Relief Society President and Bishop should be equally responsible for the financing and operations of a ward, and that the Relief Society as a whole should have access and responsibility of at least 50% of the available finances of the church. Yet it is within the walls of the church building that financial disparity is reinforced with men making all of the financial decisions in regard to the ward, creating financial captives of the women who choose to serve callings that need financing in order to be effective, such as those who would organize Primary Activity Days and Girls Camp. J. Reuben Clark seems to be the most-quoted leader on the administrative structure of the church in seeking to provide for the temporal needs of church members, where the finances of the ward are dictated by the bishop:

 

“The office of bishop is in administering all temporal things … having a knowledge of them by the Spirit of truth.” In his calling he is to be endowed with the spirit of discernment to detect those “professing and yet … not of God;” he is to search “after the poor to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud.” (one resource is here)

 

With a bishop in charge of the finances associated with a ward, his perspective of finances are influenced by his experience as a Mormon male, and likely as the primary income provider for his family.

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Can Mormon women count money?

all-male-panel-LDS-callings-sectionCan Mormon women count money? Of course we can! But here is another question: Do LDS Church policy makers know that Mormon women can count money? Based on church financial policies, it does not appear that they do. Only men may collect, count, distribute or audit LDS Church funds.

Consider these policies:

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