LDS Public Affairs: Connecting Priesthood Leaders to the Community?
About five months ago, I was called to be our ward’s Public Affairs representative. I was happy to accept. Seeing as I have been the ward’s humanitarian coordinator for the last 5 years, I thought that the two callings would gel nicely together. I was also excited by the thought that I could get more involved in the interfaith side of Public Affairs. It seemed to me that Public Affairs was one wing of the Church in which gender wouldn’t really matter, in which men and women could work together to build bridges with the community. After all, you don’t need priesthood to do PR work for the Church, right?
Well…. it turns out that gender still is coming into play, in a way I didn’t foresee. At one of our first training meetings I learned the purpose of Public Affairs: “Public Affairs serves priesthood leaders by helping them to form positive relationships with those who can affect the reputation of the Church, or who can help or hinder the Church in its efforts to bring souls to Christ.”
This was typed out on the agenda given to me, and I’m quite positive that our stake PA man didn’t make this up himself. It must have come from higher up.
Needless to say, this statement of the purpose of Public Affairs made me raise my eyebrows. Is it really just about connecting priesthood leaders to opinion leaders in the community? Shouldn’t its goal be a whole lot broader than that, like fostering bridges of understanding and community between LDS people and their neighbors?
At a regional PA training meeting, this focus on priesthood leaders was confusing to other women as well. A friend of mine who is much higher up in PA than I am, told me the story of how an area authority was articulating this purpose of connecting priesthood leaders to other community leaders at this training meeting. One woman who worked in PA asked the authority where women fit in to this stated purpose. The response: women in PA should be trying to connect their husbands to these leaders.*
This was jaw-dropping to my friend. I imagine this was an off the cuff response by the authority that wasn’t necessarily all that well thought out. I’m not sure what to make of it, though I suspect it reveals something about the way this authority’s mind was working. He was clearly connecting the idea of priesthood leadership to a husband/wife relationship.
Perhaps this is common in Mormon thought, but I just don’t see my husband as my priesthood leader. He’s my partner and my friend, not my Church leader. And I really don’t see my job working in PA as being to connect my husband of all people to leaders in the community.
This incident, as well as the stated purpose of PA on the handout I was given, has made me question the place of women in PA. These incidents manifest to me a clear androcentrism in this branch of the Church. Now androcentrism is nothing new in Mormonism. I guess I was just surprised to find it in PA, where it seems so unnecessary.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Is any of it surprising? Is there another way to interpret the area authority’s remarks or the stated purpose of PA?
*I hope I’m not portraying this incident unfairly. This to the best of my memory, is how my friend relayed it.