In the 1868 novel Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Meg March, the eldest daughter of morality-conscience parents, goes to a party away from home and experiments with dressing and behaving less modestly than usual. She is punished for this mild indiscretion by becoming the subject of gossip among the older women at the party. In the 1994 movie adaptation of the novel, the young sisters muse about why their male next-door neighbor, who was at the same party, was not subject to the same degree of censure as Meg. Their mother explains: “Laurie is a man, and as such, he may vote, and hold property and pursue any profession he pleases, so he is not so easily demeaned.” Reference 1
In my modern world, women have caught up with men in the basic civil liberties mentioned by Mrs. March, but as a Mormon, there are still a great many important activities that are reserved for men. Only men may baptize, bless the sacrament, perform weddings (or even officially witness them), monitor church finances, conduct temple recommend interviews, appoint other members to callings, and supervise church functions. With men required to perform such an array of necessary tasks in the Kingdom of God, can we afford to demean or even overlook a Mormon male?
In the October 2012 priesthood session of General Conference, Pres. Thomas S. Monson told a story about a less-than-exemplary Mormon man:
Many years ago it was my opportunity to serve as president of the Canadian Mission. There we had a branch with very limited priesthood. We always had a missionary presiding over the branch. I received a strong impression that we needed to have a member of the branch preside there. We had one adult member in the branch who was a deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood but who didn’t attend or participate enough to be advanced in the priesthood. I felt inspired to call him as the branch president…It was the beginning of a new day for that man. His life was quickly put in order…Sometimes letting our brethren know they are needed and valued can help them take that step into commitment and full activity. This can be true of priesthood holders regardless of age. Reference 2
I think it is wonderful that church leadership reached out to this less active male member, showed him how much he was needed, and that this effort resulted in a spiritual awakening for him. But I also wonder, what about non-priesthood holders, or in other words, women? Would there be a similar effort to reach out to a less-than-exemplary Mormon woman? Could you accurately show such a woman that she is needed and valued? Or is she more easily demeaned than her male counterpart?
When I was a missionary, one of the goals set for us by our mission president was to baptize a certain number of male converts. Why was the goal limited to men, when church doctrine is that both men and women equally need the ordinance of baptism for salvation? The mission president explained that priesthood holders were needed to staff the church. Women and men may equally need the church but the church itself disproportionately needs men.
A ward or branch can 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. In an established ward, there are about twice as many callings reserved for men as those reserved for women. The higher levels of church governance include about 50 male-only positions for every one female position.
Jesus asked, “If a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?” Reference 3
I ask, “Would he bother if that sheep happened to be a woman?”