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:


Thank you for your feedback. I have finalized the report and sent it to my stake president. I am pleased to report that he has agreed to send it on to General Authorities. The original text of the post is below for historical purposes, but the final version, incorporating  feedback I received from Exponent readers and others, is available at http://bit.ly/LDSpolicy.


Prophets and apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) have frequently and consistently encouraged local priesthood leaders to respect and value women and avoid unrighteous dominion. The regularity of this counsel reveals two important truths: that these goals are important and that counsel alone has been inadequate to address recurring problems.

Improvements in the behavior of any local priesthood leader yield results that are small in scope, limited to their own ward or stake boundaries, and temporary, lasting only until new priesthood leaders are called within the ever-rotating LDS lay clergy.  Moreover, problems that are pervasive over time and personnel are symptoms of systemic problems—general-level policies that authorize, mandate or facilitate bad behavior.  Scapegoating local leaders for systemic problems is both ineffective and unjust. A more effective approach is to evaluate general-level policies that govern local behavior, revising or eliminating policies that result in poor outcomes when faithfully applied.

Policy should be guided by values. “The worth of [female] souls is great in the sight of God” (D&C 18:10) but some church policies impose barriers to valuing womanhood. Banning women from service opportunities keeps women from the spiritual experiences and personal growth they could experience with greater opportunity. Policy barriers prevent priesthood leaders from following Jesus Christ’s example of open communication with women. (Revelation 3:20, Luke 7, Matthew 15) Some church policies, administered by men, exempt women from protections that men themselves enjoy, in clear opposition to the Golden Rule: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men [or women] should do to you, do ye even so to them.” (Mark 7:12) Christ taught that we have a special responsibility to protect the vulnerable. (Matthew 23:14, Matthew 25:31-46) Church policies that prioritize the convenience of male priesthood leaders with power over the needs, concerns and safety of those in their stewardship fail to meet this standard. Organizational secrecy was a common indicator of corruption in scripture. (3 Nephi 7, Ether 14) Transparency is key to preventing abuses in any system of governance. Scripture teaches that agency is God’s gift and plan for His children, but church policy authorizes local priesthood leaders “to exercise control or dominion or compulsion.” (Moses 4:3, D&C 121:37)

Changing church policy to better align with the Church’s values would facilitate more effective working relationships between men and women in church callings, better utilize the talents of female members of the Church, and provide safeguards to prevent unrighteous dominion, especially as it affects female members of the Church.


This post is a section of my draft policy analysis, a Values-based Approach to Woman-friendly Policy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 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. All draft sections will become available at the following links when they are posted:

Introduction

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

Values

800px-Andrea_Solario_002 Womanhood
The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet Opportunity
Jesus and the Canaanite Woman by Mattia Preti Communication
The Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch The Golden Rule
The Woman with an Issue of Blood by James Tissot Protecting the Vulnerable
Esther Denouncing Haman by Ernest Normand Transparency
Jesus Tempted by Carl Heinrich Bloch Agency

Policy Suggestions

Family Portrait by Lavinia Fontana Introduction

Missionary Work

Youth Programs

Women’s Programs

Church Participation

Priesthood Interviews

Callings & Employment

Leadership & Policymaking

Temple Worship

Gynecologic Health

Church Discipline

Access all posts here.

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is an advocate, mother, professional, lover of the arts, hater (but doer) of housework and seeker of truth. Twitter: @aprilyoungb

You may also like...

12 Responses

  1. Kristine A says:

    April I’m excited for this series, I’ve only myself gathered general ideas into a list (that I’ve talked to local leaders about) and your presentation at Sunstone was so thorough I was so impressed. I’m glad it will be somewhere I can refer to.

  2. Ziff says:

    Wow, April. I love that you’re doing this! It’s so disappointing that an anonymous GA gets to kick your concerns back down to someone who can do nothing about them. As you put it so well:

    “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.”

    It’s such a bad response. Your SP can do nothing constructive for you, and much that’s destructive. Surely the GA knows this. Perhaps getting the destructive outcome is his intent. I really admire your willingness to put such a thorough policy recommendation together in any case.

    • It’s a bad response, but typical, and not at all unexpected given current church policy. Many people believe there is a way to talk to General Authorities of you go through “proper channels” but I have read church policy manuals thoroughly and there are no proper channels.

  3. NotRachel says:

    I’ve only read the intro so far, but it is very powerful. I have no feedback other than praise. Looking forward to the rest of it!

  4. Sherrie says:

    I’m hopeful that this goes in the intended direction and I applaud your virtue.

  5. Thanks Notrachel and Sherrie!

  6. Mike says:

    I just read through the entire series and really have just three comments. The first is that it seems like this seems really comprehensive. It’s clear you’ve put a lot of thought into this and worked through every page of the Handbook. It’s like what Jeremy Runnells did with his Letter to a CES Director in a way. It includes pretty much everything I’ve ever heard feminists say about how they would want to change the Church. I imagine that you might develop spine problems from everyone slapping you on the back in congratulations.

    Having said that, I can’t imagine your stake president forwarding this along. More than likely he’ll view this with the same lens as he viewed your other blog posts regarding Ordain Women and like topics. I mean, I don’t know the guy, but it seems like the stuff he had you take down was relatively tame in comparison. Reading between the lines, you are really calling the Church out on the carpet for a lot of things, and putting a relatively strong argument forward for female ordination, and I can’t imagine him changing his tune from earlier this year.

    But assuming that SLC gets wind of this, either through your stake president, or more likely by someone reading about it hear on the website, then one of three things will occur. From less likely to more likely, they will either (a) seriously consider your proposals, (b) ignore you altogether, (c) or tell your stake president to move forward with discipline. Sorry to be so pessimistic about your chances, but it seems like the best you could hope for is to be ignored.

  7. Meg K. says:

    April, I loved reading this series a couple months ago and have thought about it often – I came by today to read through it again and am really disappointed to see it gone. Is there another way to access it?

  1. August 29, 2015

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

  2. July 23, 2016

    […] of what I see as the most important inequitable policy in the church. Last year, I wrote a detailed policy analysis of the Church Handbooks of Instructions and arranged for General Authorities to read […]

Leave a Reply