Guest Post: Thoughts on Equality in the Church

by Tom P

My wife follows the Exponent and from time to time shares articles with me that raise many fascinating and legitimate points, particularly when it comes to gender inequality in the church. Without downplaying in any measure the concerns expressed in this blog, I have lamented the gender inequality in the church for many years but from a different perspective.

Having served primarily with the youth for about 30 years I have often wished that the men called to work with the youth were as faithful in their callings as the women in equivalent callings in the Young Women or Primary organizations. I cannot count the number of times I have been let down by male leaders on Sundays, activity nights, camping trips, or other events. On the other hand my wife, who has served in the Primary for as long as I have with the youth, probably could count the number of times she has been let down by a sister in the ward and not exceed her fingers and toes.

Based solely on my experience, there is a huge gender gap in the church when it comes to faithfully fulfilling our calling; and the men come out on the bottom by a considerable margin. And the truly sad thing is that, in many cases, it doesn’t appear that we really mind. We seem content to let the Relief Society take care of the struggling families in the ward, or to let the YW Presidency plan the joint activities and provide the snacks for the Youth firesides. We certainly want the Primary to teach (or babysit) our children during church so we are free to wander the halls and carry on important conversations. For many of us, it appears that we figure if we show up to help move someone every few months and home teach periodically then we’re doing great.

Now that my days with the youth appear to be over and I’m consigned to work with the High Priest in the ward I struggle to motivate them to perform their basic ministering functions. My only solace is that I am not the Elder’s Quorum President because his struggle is bigger than mine.

I desperately wish my High Priest Group, on the whole, was more like the sisters in the ward. If it was our group might actually know some of the 400+ less active members on our rolls and perhaps even find some that would like to return to church. Instead when I periodically throw out for discussion how we are going to address this challenge the counsel I receive back from the group is to let the missionaries do it; like they have nothing else to do.

Now I realize that I am speaking broadly of my experience in the church. I have known many faithful men who regularly perform their duty and a number of women who were less diligent in their efforts. Yet it appears to me that overall the percentage of women faithfully engaged in putting the gospel into action significantly exceeds that of the men in the church.

I recognize that for many the day-to-day struggle of life is such that finding time for church activity can be difficult, but I don’t buy the excuse that men working full-time are more pressed than a young mother who stays home with the children. In our home my wife’s day was much more physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging than mine nine times out of ten.

Neither do I accept the argument that the priesthood is some form of leveling agent to raise men to the natural level of women. For thousands of years most men did not hold the priesthood. It has never been as widely distributed to the covenant people as it is now. So if 3,000 years ago a man from the tribe of Judah did not require the priesthood to level the playing field why do we need it now? We are all sons and daughters of heavenly parents and each of us, men and women, have the same potential; no inequality and no excuses.

So I am all for gender equality in the church but from both sides. I want the men of the church to listen more when the women speak up and provide more opportunities for that to happen. After all, the reality is that the church would fall apart within a matter of months if we really were running the place. On the other hand, I want to see the men in the church wake up and be more like the women of the church when it comes to doing their duty. My guess is that the former is likely to happen sooner than the latter because at least you are talking about the idea and taking some action, whereas many of us men are kicking back in our recliners trying to find ways to avoid any inconvenience. Keep up the good fight.

(Tom P is a husband, dad, home teacher, hockey player, senior MTC language tutor (French), and, most of the time, anxiously engaged in the work.)

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14 Responses

  1. Rachel says:

    Thank you for sharing your observations and experiences. It reminds me of a Gloria Steinem quote that has been going around the last few days, about how we have often had the courage to raise our daughters as our sons, but not our sons as our daughters. You seem to suggest doing the latter, in the context of religious service.

  2. April says:

    I wonder if what you have seen is related to the fact that there are so many more male callings than female? If a woman is flaky, she might not receive a calling or might get a less demanding calling, but in my experience, nearly every active male ward member is needed to fill all of those male-only slots, even those who are less interested or responsible.

    • Caroline says:

      Oops, I don’t know what happened there.

      Anyway, I was going to say — April, I think you put your finger on one possible explanation for this. There are so so so many only-male leadership callings, that often the most committed and responsible are going to go to those — bishopric, counselors, high council, etc. So therefore the average level of commitment/magnify the calling-ness of a man that gets put into YM might be less than the average quality of that for a woman that gets put into YW, since far fewer women are getting sucked into leadership positions.

      Thank you for sharing your perspective with us, Tom. I have heard anecdotal evidence that corroborates your experience, and I definitely agree that it would be fantastic if all people stepped up and stretched themselves.

    • Meody says:

      Thanks for this comment, April. You too, Caroline.

    • Ziff says:

      This is such a good point, April! I had never thought of it in these terms, but what you say totally makes sense. And given that, on average, women are more religiously active than men, the shorter list of callings for women will likely make the differences even more stark.

  3. Shelley says:

    I appreciate the intent here, but being pedestalled is condescending and frustrating.

    • Tom P says:

      I did not intend to pedestal anyone but I can see how one can take that from this piece.

      I am very much a believer in the parable of the unprofitable servant (Luke 17:7-10). The best we can say is that we have only “done that which was our duty to do.” My personal observation is simply that some do that better than others, yet each of us falls short of the glory of God and none of us deserve a pedestal.

  4. Em says:

    Your observations are interesting but I do wonder how that cycle would perpetuate itself. I realize this evidence is anecdotal, but the other commenters’ explanation makes sense to me — highly competent men who are motivated to serve often get sucked out of the ward service entirely, working at a stake level, whereas their female counterparts typically continue to serve at the ward level creating an apparent imbalance. It is strange to me though, given how much energy we pour into teaching young men to serve and lead and how little comparable effort we put into the young women. I say this as someone who works with the YW. I plan service projects for them and we’re having them teach some Sunday lessons, but there is no institutional leadership or service role for them. Given the training you’d expect the opposite outcome.

  5. Penny says:

    This reminds me of the many Sunday conversations I have with my husband. All too often I come home sharing my thoughts on a wonderful Relief Society lesson, while he laments that the Elder’s quorum teacher forgot to prepare a lesson.

  6. Melody says:

    Thank you for writing, Tom. I appreciate your perspective and willingness to share it here. I can’t help feeling that many women and men feel burdened by various inequalities inherent in a patriarchal system. I love the gospel. I love the LDS church. And, like you and the commenters above, I’d like to see changes happen. .. Thanks again for this post.

  7. Georgia says:

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. I agree with many of the earlier comments about how the large number of male-only ward and stake leadership callings is likely contributing to this imbalance. I wonder, also, to what degree attitudes about gender, employment, and the value of time also play in here. To add more anecdotal experiences to the mix, when I was teaching full time, I noticed that women/moms volunteered at my school far more frequently than men/dads. Employment differences (SAHP vs. career) are certainly key here, but even many moms who did work seemed to put a high priority on getting involved with the school through hands-on volunteering–PTA, planning student activities, fundraisers, helping in classrooms, tutoring, etc. My principal actively reached out to dads, planning special events and groups to encourage more father (or grandfather/uncle/other male figures) involvement with the school and its students. I am somewhat hesitant to say this, but I feel like there’s some underlying cultural bias that makes volunteering in these ways more expected for women, and simultaneously that the time they spend doing so seems less valued.

    Returning to the post, I wonder whether those feelings are perpetuated in the LDS church culture, too. While there might be specific conditions (SAHP, other non-church responsibilities, broader cultural ideas about volunteering) that encourage women to have a greater commitment to church callings, there also seems to be an underlying attitude, which I think the post also reveals, that for women, excelling at church responsibilities seems almost expected. In my experience in singles wards, the leadership has openly acknowledged that in callings with joint male-female chairs (FHE committee, stake YSA planning committees, temple and family history committee, etc.), the women typically do the majority of the work. The fact that it’s almost a joke sometimes even seems to excuse those men from not really pulling their weight. (Again, I’m sure that in these cases, the fact that so many of the men who don’t share that same attitude are pulled out to ward leadership callings is also a major factor.)

  8. Bethany says:

    Thank you Tom! I feel peace as I hear more men and women talking openly (and with open minds) about this topic. It encourages me to be less fearful of sharing my thoughts.

    I recently discovered there are a few callings that are not gender specific. In a friend’s ward, the clerk was a very intelligent, female accountant. I would love to see men in the primary presidency and more women in the Sunday school presidency. I think women and men working together in all of the Church presidencies could be really wonderful and effective.

  9. Ziff says:

    Sorry that this is the topic to which all conversation flows right now, but I think you’ve articulated an excellent argument for ending the priesthood ban for women. If men aren’t doing our church work as well as women, and people being served are suffering, wouldn’t it be better to expand the pool of people who could be called?

    Particularly this point, I think, argues for it:

    ” I want to see the men in the church wake up and be more like the women of the church when it comes to doing their duty.”

    What better way to prod (us) men to raise our game than to include women in the group that’s doing the ministering and administering work in the Church?

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