A Seat at the Table




A photo going around the internet lately has really been on my mind.  Perhaps you’ve seen it? Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is standing at a huge table of men. This isn’t a political post, but this picture is so striking.  A lone woman in a sea of men. Old white men wearing white shirts and ties. This same table of men, who are the highest leaders of our country, could easily be a table of men that are the highest leaders of our church.  We notice immediately that Speaker Pelosi is the only female. She is pointing at the president. She is boldly calling him out. It is so unusual to see a woman admonishing men, but the reverse would not even be noteworthy.

Half of the people in our nation are female.  The elected representatives of all Americans, at the highest level, those that have a seat at the table, are all men.  Except one. At lower levels the balance is somewhat better, but at the big table, in “the room where it happens,” there is just one woman. Our elected leaders call themselves “public servants”, but how much service do you feel they do for you?

At the big table for our church, it is all men.  Without exception. At lower levels there are some women, but not many, and none with lifetime appointments.  Can you imagine this happening at any level in our church: a woman leading and teaching and correcting men?  Church leaders always refer to “church service”, and I have seen remarkable service from leaders of both genders at the local level.  At the highest levels of leadership, do you feel that service, personally?

In our government, our elected officials are meant to represent us.  There cannot be adequate, equitable representation without gender balance. Until women are included at all levels of government, especially at the big table, there won’t be good governance or leadership. Imagine that big table with equal numbers of men and women.  Equal female representation, wisdom and lived experience added to the decision making process could be world changing.

Are our church leaders meant to represent us? Unfortunately, I don’t think so.  They are meant to lead and guide us. Knowing what we need and want requires knowing us.  Until women are included at all levels of church leadership and councils there won’t be the best possible leadership.  Can you imagine a stake high council that has six women and six men?  Equal female representation, wisdom, and lived experience added to the decision making and inspiration seeking process could be church changing.

Having wives and sisters and daughters is not enough to enable men to represent, lead and guide. Having good intentions is not enough. Thinking that women are magnificent is not enough. Women need seats at the table. The big table that is in the room where it happens.


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17 Responses

  1. Maureen says:

    Powerful post!

  2. Dani Addante says:

    Wonderful post! I completely agree! I love the point that it’s not enough for a man to be related to a woman. The women themselves need to be at the decision-making.table.

  3. Abby Hansen says:

    Yes, 100 percent! I do not feel very well represented in either government or church structure. There should be more of us in all of these places!

  4. Risa says:

    Absolutely fantastic.

  5. Ellen says:

    Thanks for the comments- If any of us wants to lead, guide, serve, or represent, it has to start with asking questions, and then listening. With elected officials we can write and call, and vote the bums out. In church there is no avenue for giving input. When I expressed a concern to a member of the stake presidency he said that he had no one to pass my issue along to. As long as the communication is top down only I don’t have any hope for improvement.

  6. Wendy says:

    Thank you for this powerful post, Ellen, and for your comment above. It’s painful to recognize how broken a system/institution like the church is and how change only seems to occur in the church when it suits the needs of the institution and not based on what people—especially marginalized people—need who are hurting. Marginalized folx of all kinds need to have seats at the table. Full stop. That kind of structural leadership change from the top can’t come soon enough.

  7. EmilyB says:

    Wow love this, thank you.

    A leadership guru once posted to social media: The best indicator of an organization’s health and whether it serves its members equally and without bias/prejudice is to look at its uppermost leadership. Is there a diverse and inclusive balance of gender, races, and sexual orientations represented in those upper echelons of leadership? If not, then that organization will not be able to serve its members in an egalitarian manner

  8. Sam Tindleson says:

    so get yourself a seat at the table. Diversity of thought is far more important than outward “diversity”. This obsession on tribalism is pathetic and unhelpful

  9. Ellen says:

    Thanks everyone, for participating. Sam, I don’t view gender concerns as tribalism, and the seats at the table have historically been given to those that conform best with the ones already seated at the table. In the case of the church there is no room at the table for any diversity, of any type. Wendy, do you feel the people in power are even aware of the people at the margins’ existence, much less their needs? Emily- do you know of an organization that models that ideal of leadership/representation/service? I struggle to feel at all optimistic, either about the church or our government.

    • Patty says:

      Interesting and thoughtful post. I’m not optimistic about any organization opening up their “table” to a diversity of thought. Maybe they can orchestrate the right number of men, women, races, etc., but true diversity of thought seems to be far too challenging/threatening to most organizations. Look at the rise of businesses that advertise openly that they are all female owned, all African American owned, all family owned, etc Their tables are exclusively like oriented, like minded people, that they have chosen. Our government, and churches for the most part, just seem to reflect societies instinct towards tribalism – both for comfort and success of some, at the expense of others. While I disagree with Sam’s tone and comment, tribalism is real and used by both sexes to advance their agendas that largely benefit just their group.

  10. Ziff says:

    Yes! Well said, Ellen! I’m sure all-male councils *think* they’re taking everything into account that women would, but especially when you’re in a privileged class, you don’t know what you don’t know, right?

    And I think this is also relevant to Sam’s comment. Sure, there’s lots of diversity of thought that might not be well captured by simply striving for more diversity by gender (or race, for that matter, or sexual orientation). But getting diversity by these fairly gross categories seems like just a first step *toward* improving diversity of thought. It’s a much lower bar. “Diversity of thought” isn’t a magic wand that you can wave and suddenly make it okay to have white men running everything. It’s an even higher standard you reach for *after* you’ve achieved the easier-to-see diversity we’re talking about here.

  11. MrShorty says:

    I’m conscious of the fact that I am a man speaking into a feminist space, but something about this is really rattling around in my head — especially after Pres. Nelson’s remarks in the recent women’s session about how women (only temple endowed women??) access priesthood power.

    I believe it was during Pres. Hinckley’s time, the big reason given for not extending ordination to women was some version of “we’ve asked women and, except for a few, they don’t want priesthood.” No reasons were given, but I have long wondered if the motivation behind those women who say they don’t want priesthood is because they do not want to serve in Church government. If that is the case, I, too, don’t want to serve in Church government — so why am I ordained?

    Church government is half of what it means to be ordained. The other half is being in a position to bless and serve others. In Pres. Nelson’s recent comments, he seemed to me to be suggesting that women don’t need ordination in order to call upon the power of the priesthood to bless their families and others. As a priesthood holder, I like to bless and serve others through the priesthood, but Pres. Nelson seems to be saying that ordination is not necessary to call upon those powers of the priesthood. Again, I’m asking myself why am I ordained if ordination is not necessary?

    I don’t understand any of it, but it almost seems like ordination is a declaration of eligibility to serve in Church government. I feel like my eligibility for Church government is thrust upon me kind of against my will (I realize I can always turn down the calling if I am so inclined). To the point of the article, many women who are willing to serve in Church government are denied eligibility merely because of gender.

    I don’t understand it, but I feel like something in my not understanding how priesthood works helps me understand the OP.

    • Violadiva says:

      Great questions. I think this post of Trudy’s will answer a lot of your points – this idea that the church is simultaneously talking about two different types of priesthood. One is, like Trudy writes, similar to the Catholic priesthood: lines of authority, ordination, keys, and men are the ones who perform ordinances. This is the version of priesthood that men have in the LDS church. The other version is a more Protestant version of Priesthood, an idea of a Priesthood of all Believers. This does not require keys or ordination, but it also doesn’t apply for church governance. This is like the Priesthood we speak of for LDS women. There are many confusing parts about this, namely that church leaders don’t tell us which version they’re talking about at any given time, and so we’re left to wonder if we all have the same priesthood, if it requires ordination, or temple endowment, or what.
      And while it feels like it would be empowering to women to encourage them to use that Priesthood of Believers, it’s just another way for us to be excluded from executive leadership, no matter how keenly our spiritual senses and gifts develop. It’s a win-lose for women.
      Take a look at Trudy’s post https://www.the-exponent.com/a-priesthood-of-half-the-believers/

    • Violadiva says:

      Or, to answer your question, “why am I ordained if ordination is not necessary?”

      It’s necessary for leadership positions, not ministerial or pastoral care of others. By requiring ordination for men and denying it to women, it’s a systematic denial of women’s leadership potential. Benevolent Patriarchy, at its finest.

  12. amphvivian says:

    Norway’s government looks much more gender balanced – refreshing!

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