Guest Post: The Unspoken Messages

 

By Tina

“We need to talk about the unspoken messages in sacrament meeting today,” I announced to my daughters as we walked in the house after church.

“You are both at an age where the differences for girls and boys in opportunities for service and leadership in the church will become more apparent. I want you to know that I firmly believe that God—and when I say God I mean Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother—and Jesus did not intend for the division, inequality, and lack that now exists between women and men in the church and in the world.” I breathed and continued on. “The scriptures say that all are alike into God and that we are all one in Christ Jesus. You are important and valuable. You are here on earth to grow and fully become you. You are as valuable as anyone else simply because you exist.”

Sacrament meeting talks that day had been painful. Two boys spoke about service. One spoke about how he had been ordained a teacher before church; the other spoke about how he would be ordained a teacher after church. As a mother of daughters, the pain of watching my daughters’ male peers receive a place in the church hierarchy while they do not have a place is surprisingly and intensely gut wrenching. Admittedly, this agony caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting this feeling and it’s difficult to put the experience into words. I gave birth to and am raising two precious human beings that I love with all my soul. How do I explain the feeling and experience of watching these two people not have the same opportunities available to them only because they are female and not male? How is this right? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not right.

In his talk, one of the boys spoke of a great-grandfather who earned a Ph.D. and, upon graduation, gave up a lucrative career to work for the church establishing seminaries and institutes. He mentioned his great-grandmother three or four times. Each time it was to say that she supported his great-grandfather in whatever activity he pursued. Something about this struck me as off. I’m not sure why. I wanted to scream that my daughters were born to do more than sacrifice themselves and their dreams to support a man. I spoke to my daughters about partnership, about figuring out what they want to do in life, and finding a partner who they can work together with to support each other.

It was a short yet important conversation. At one point in response to my statement that females have fewer leadership opportunities in the church than males, my oldest daughter said, “But Mom, I have Girl Scouts. Do you know what G.I.R.L. stands for? Go-getter, Innovator, Risk Taker, Leader.” I smiled. My girls are going to be ok. Between me, my husband, Girl Scouts, their therapist, and the Holy Ghost, we can give them the tools to navigate this patriarchal mess of a church structure with their sense of worth and sense of self intact.

I wish the bishop had stood up and addressed the unspoken messages given in church that day. Along with celebrating those boys advancing in priesthood ordination, it would have been nice for the ward to mourn with the girls who do not have those opportunities open to them. It would have been nice if the bishop had clarified the boy’s talk about his great-grandparents to make sure ward members understood that service did not equal a woman sacrificing herself. Until then, I’ll counter these unspoken messages with spoken ones.

 

Tina is a mother, teacher, and woman who lives near mountains yet loves the ocean. She feels a deep gratitude to the women and men who showed her the way to Jesus.

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6 Responses

  1. Elisa says:

    Love this. The only way I can feel comfortable remaining active with my family in church is be being really transparent about what things they might see or hear at church and that they don’t have to assume those things are correct. I tell them to talk to me if they hear things in class that don’t sit well with them or that they have questions about, and I also share with them when that happens to me. When we read scriptures, if we read something I think is off I’m open with them about it. (The biggest areas I see this in are (1) gender roles, (2) LGBT issues, (3) race, (4) leader worship past and present, and (5) just generally the fear-based garbage that God will love you less if you aren’t obedient which I think is a really massive issue and actually at the heart of many other issues).

    When my daughter (who has three brothers) was baptized, the bishop speaking in the service asked her what some next steps were. She brightly exclaimed, “get the priesthood!” to some chuckles in the audience. I actually really appreciated his response: he said “well, maybe!” She and I had a good chat afterward and I’ve been really clear that (1) priesthood office is about responsibilities, not access to the power of God which she has in equal measure to her brothers and anyone else; and (2) even given (1) I don’t think it’s right that she has different responsibilities in the church than her brothers, that I don’t think God would make it that way, and that I hope someday it changes. The thing is these concepts – the equality of all people, God’s love for all people – are natural and intuitive to children. They only start to think otherwise if they are taught so. So when I have these discussions I usually start by asking what *they* think before giving them my opinion so that they learn to trust their own judgment.

  2. Anna says:

    Thank you for recognizing that this unspoken message actually is a message. Too often, when I say I felt “less than” at church people will demand to know what exactly was said to the effect that women are less than men. They inform me that the church says men and women are equal. But then it goes about behaving as if the males are oh, so much more important. That females are second class is never outright said, but it is there in thousands of ways that are never said. The church can say men and women are equal, but then it turns around and says but only men are really important because they have priesthood. And they just can’t make the boys feel special, without making the girls feel unspecific. As the old cliche goes, they can’t have their cake and eat it too.

  3. Rachel says:

    Love love LOVE thisPost!! It’s amazing to me how much these things pain me as a mother, not just as a woman. But we shouldn’t stay silent to our girls or those around us. 💙💙

  4. DB says:

    “It would have been nice if the bishop had clarified the boy’s talk . . . .” Bishops clarifying other people’s talks over the pulpit to explain what they really meant or what they should have said? Now that’s a scary thought.

    • Tina says:

      I can see your point. To expand on the frustration driving that statement — I wish the implicit messages would be discussed during church meetings and that more men would be aware of the possible challenges facing women at church and advocate for women. I don’t know what awareness and advocacy could look like and what I wrote is what came to mind.

  5. Risa says:

    I agree with DB. Bishops shouldn’t be clarifying comments from Sacrament speakers unless little girls come out as gay or people preach equality over the pulpit.

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