It’s the Message, Not the Messenger, That Matters. Or Is It?
I had a conversation recently with an elderly woman who is a dear friend of mine. We were talking about General Conference, and I asked her how she felt about the Church discontinuing the Saturday night session of Conference (which was, most recently, the Priesthood session or the Women’s session). My friend loves General Conference, probably even more than she loves Christmas, so I expected her to be a little bummed that she’d now get less of it.
But she wasn’t. She said she’d been upset when the Church had moved the women’s meeting to the Saturday night slot (instead of the weekend before Conference) because it felt like Church leaders were “catering to the women who complain” about gender disparity in the Church. “They’re trying to make everything equal to please these insecure women,” she said. “That’s just stupid.”
I said I actually preferred having the Women’s Meeting on its own weekend because once it was moved to replace one of the Priesthood sessions, most of the time was taken up by the three male speakers from the First Presidency, and it felt like there was less time to hear from our female leaders.
“Well I don’t care about that,” she said. “I don’t care who says it. I just like the words they say.”
I’ve heard this exact argument many times before, usually when I make a comment that I wish we had more than two female speakers during the general sessions of Conference. “The messenger is irrelevant; it’s the message that matters,” I’ve been lectured. But if it doesn’t matter who says the words, and only the words themselves matter, then why does it matter if a woman says them?
Because that’s the flaw in this argument: it only goes one way. “I care about the message, not the messenger” seems to only apply when the messenger is a man.
Last Sunday, I looked up at the people sitting on the stand during the sacrament. There were ten males and one female (the chorister). Ten deacons, all male, trooped silently in formation up and down the aisles. All of the five people who spoke at the pulpit during the meeting were male. And the occurrence was so normal, I doubted anyone else even noticed.
What if it had been ten women and one man who sat on the stand? What if it had been girls walking the aisles during the service? What if the five people who’d stood at the pulpit that day had been female?
All of the people on the stand, including the men who spoke, were white. What if, instead, they were all people of color?
Or, going back to my friend, what if there were only two men who spoke next General Conference, and the rest of the talks were given by women? What if only two talks were given by white people, and the rest of the speakers were Black?
I don’t pretend to know what the collective response to such a large switch would be, but I’m guessing that at least for my friend, and likely for many others, it would not be “I don’t care who says it. I just like the words they say.”
Because, by and large, “the message matters and the messenger doesn’t” isn’t a call for more diversity; it’s just an excuse for having overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly white messengers.