Elder Dude

Elder DudeThis post is dedicated to a memorable missionary district leader. To protect the guilty, I will refer to him by the alias “Dude” instead of by his real name. (In my mission, all the elders called each other Dude, anyway.)

My Mormon mission was my first, close-up experience with patriarchy. Sure, as a Mormon, men had presided over me at church my whole life, but I hadn’t noticed that too much because those men merited my respect for reasons other than their gender—they were much older than me and therefore more mature and experienced.

My mission was different. When I served, only male missionaries were given any position of leadership. Missionaries were divided into tiny districts of only four to six missionaries. This meant that a district often consisted of only one female companionship and one male companionship. The two female missionaries were disqualified from leadership due to their gender and so one of the two male missionaries was automatically exalted to a position of authority over the women. Because the minimum age was younger for male missionaries than for women, this “Elder” was usually younger than the women he was assigned to lead.

I got along well with almost all of the elders in my mission. I worked under the direction of at least twenty different male missionary leaders, if not more, and found the vast majority of them to be respectful and decent young men. Today I would like to talk about the exception.

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Auxiliaries Aren’t Designed to Address Women’s Concerns

temple dc christmasThe theme of the most recent General Women’s Meeting was temple worship, a topic that is fraught with anxiety for many women because the roles, covenants and promised blessings of the temple are different for female worshippers than for male worshippers and, in the opinion of many, much less affirming. (See Endnote.) When the meeting began, I was hopeful that female leaders would take advantage of this opportunity to address women’s concerns about the implications of temple ceremonies for women. Instead, the speakers talked about women who enjoy the Mormon temple experience without acknowledging that women who feel differently exist. Reference A

Maybe General Auxiliary Leaders don’t know that many women have concerns about the temple. With only nine women serving as General Auxiliary Leaders, they are not a representative sample of the wide range of female opinions in the church and there may be too few of them to thoroughly investigate the concerns of the people in their stewardship. In contrast, there are more than 100 men serving as General Authorities, General Auxiliary Leaders or Presiding Bishopric members, plus over 200 Area Authorities, greatly increasing the human resources and potential for diversity of opinion among male leaders.

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Traditional Marriage

Traditional Marriage

no to polygmayI recently came across the blog of a local Utah woman of color who has started an advocacy group, Big Ocean Women for maternal feminists in support of traditional family, natural motherhood (no surrogacy or IVF), against abortion, anti-pornography and against sex education in schools. Promotion of polygamy, child marriage, and protection of rapists were not identified as platforms.

Unfamiliar with the term maternal feminist, I followed links on Big Ocean blog and learned that maternal feminism recognizes that the sexes are different but equal, espousing a complementarian philosophy of gender roles. I also learned about the sister organization, United Families International which trains Mormon women (and other faiths) to attend the annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Women to advocate for traditional marriage and against practices viewed as anti-family.

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Feedback is Not Enough

mormon-women-leaders-videoMormon feminists have long advanced the notion that women should have the opportunity to offer feedback on policy decisions that affect women. Recent reports suggest that this message is being heard. However, an overemphasis on feedback, without female inclusion in other stages of the policy-making process, leaves much to be desired.

Recent examples of church policy-making suggest that there is more inclusion of women in churchwide policy-making today than there was in the nineties, when important initiatives such as the Proclamation on the Family and the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church curricula were advanced without female feedback. Reference D

Yet, a model in which feedback is the female role is still an androcentric model, with women excluded from both the beginning and end stages of the policy-making process. Certain women are offered opportunities to provide feedback after ideas are formed by men and before decisions are made by men but all of these women are selected by men through church callings or special invitation.

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An Announcement from April Young Bennett

temple recommendAs a condition of renewing my temple recommend, my new stake president has required me to resign from the board of Ordain Women and, with the exception of my Ordain Women profile, take down posts I have written that raise the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood. I do not believe that temple recommends should be used as leverage to censor ideas or silence advocacy, but if I hadn’t complied, I would have missed my brother’s recent temple wedding. Choosing between following the dictates of my conscience and being present for a family wedding has been heartbreaking. In the end, I concluded that while others may take my place as an author or an advocate, no one can replace me in my role as my brother’s sister.

The 11 posts I have deleted were published here at the blog site of Exponent II, which has provided a safe forum for Mormon women to share their opinions since 1974. This is the first time an Exponent blogger has deleted posts due to the mandate of a priesthood leader. Some of the deleted posts literally raised the question of women’s ordination simply by posting an opinion poll question for Exponent readers, but others, such as Ordination is the Answer to Correlation, Confirming our Hope: Women and Priesthood, and Shouldn’t It Be Obvious? How Women Hold and Exercise the Priesthood Today, represent months of scripture study and analysis of church history and the teachings of living apostles and auxiliary leaders.

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Church Ends Discriminatory Employment Practice: How Mormon Feminists Made a Difference

The New York Times invited Mormon women to post their feedback about the status of women in the LDS Church in April 2014.  We are still waiting for Mormon church leaders to show equal interest in the feedback of Mormon women as the Times.

The New York Times invited Mormon women to post their feedback about the status of women in the LDS Church in March 2014. Do Mormon church leaders show as much interest in the feedback of Mormon women as the Times?

The Church announced yesterday that it will no longer refuse to hire women with children under 18 or fire female seminary and institute teachers when they become mothers. “This change makes it possible for families to decide what best meets their needs as it relates to mothers working while raising children,” said the announcement. Reference A

Amen to that.

I am thrilled about this change because it will make a real difference in Mormon lives (unlike renaming Women’s Meeting to Women’s Session, which is a nominal change only, especially considering that men will continue to preside and give the keynote speech at the women’s session). I look forward to a future with more  female scriptorian role models for our youth. Even for women without children, the knowledge  that they would be fired if they ever had children was a big deterrent from seeking a seminary or institute job.  It was also an obstacle preventing local managers from hiring women, even without children; who wants to hire someone they would most likely have to fire later? As a parent, I am relieved that I will not have to make a difficult decision to either enroll my children in a program that blatantly discriminates against female employees or forego the benefits of seminary instruction for my children. And as I mentioned in a recent Exponent post, the discriminatory seminary and institute policy was actually undermining teachings by current apostles who encourage more friendly attitudes toward working mothers. Reference B

In December 2011, I posted here at the Exponent about some life events that had helped me realize that I needed to seek gender equality within the Mormon faith, including how I learned about the church’s policy banning mothers with minor children from employment as seminary teachers.

Insignificant Events That Make A Mormon Feminist | The Exponent, December 2011

In the online conversation surrounding the post, I noticed that people who defended the church’s seminary program did not argue that firing women for having children was okay; they said that the Church has no such policy.  It occurred to me that even more traditional church members would disapprove of this policy if they were made aware that it really exists.

I searched the Internet for documentation of the policy and found nothing.

Finally, I called my local Seminary and Institute Preservice Training Office and asked about the policy. They confirmed it, clarified it (although the clarification did not make it sound any less reprehensible) and admitted that they intentionally avoided disclosing the policy publicly. I suspect that they preferred to hide the policy because its discriminatory nature would bother church members and the general public. I documented the conversation, posted it here at the Exponent, and at last, the policy was available for others to read.  I hoped that shining a light on the policy would lead to change.

LDS Church Educational System Employment Policies For Mothers | The Exponent, January 2012

There was a strong reaction to the posted interview. A healthy debate ensued about how to change the policy. In April 2012, a major media outlet

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