Money and Power Within the Walls of the Church
Very early in the Book of Mormon, the Great and Abominable Church is described in 1 Nephi 13; it is described in many ways, but specific to fiscal wealth as a church that positions money, the power of money and those beholden to financial overlords as “captive.” Though temporal self-reliance and independence is an important concept in Mormon culture and doctrine, I can’t help but wonder why this is so grossly different to the way the church structures its finances for women. The historiography of the church suggests that the church does not see fit to have women handle money on an institutional level, yet it encourages a degree of egalitarianism between husbands and wives when creating a family budget. For example, the principal lds.org website includes a section on temporal self-reliance and well as information on provident living and discussion resources on how to create a household budget. To the credit of the church, much of the budget and household financial materials provided at the lds.org website relay a sense that home finances are a joint decision made by “couples” (this is an example of language used to address a ‘couple’ as primary financial decision makers). However, probably as a means of not contradicting the gender-based roles consistent with church dogma, there is still the derogatory placement of men only as primary “breadwinners,” and women as “bread-spenders” (I found this church video particularly shocking). These labels are not only offensive, they are not necessarily reflective of all Mormon households.
Any sense of egalitarian budgeting, however, is institutionally abandoned as soon as this same couple enters the doors of a church building. If the church teaches that men and women (i.e. husbands and wives) are equals in maintaining a household budget, it stands to reason that the Relief Society President and Bishop should be equally responsible for the financing and operations of a ward, and that the Relief Society as a whole should have access and responsibility of at least 50% of the available finances of the church. Yet it is within the walls of the church building that financial disparity is reinforced with men making all of the financial decisions in regard to the ward, creating financial captives of the women who choose to serve callings that need financing in order to be effective, such as those who would organize Primary Activity Days and Girls Camp. J. Reuben Clark seems to be the most-quoted leader on the administrative structure of the church in seeking to provide for the temporal needs of church members, where the finances of the ward are dictated by the bishop:
“The office of bishop is in administering all temporal things … having a knowledge of them by the Spirit of truth.” In his calling he is to be endowed with the spirit of discernment to detect those “professing and yet … not of God;” he is to search “after the poor to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud.” (one resource is here)
With a bishop in charge of the finances associated with a ward, his perspective of finances are influenced by his experience as a Mormon male, and likely as the primary income provider for his family. Even in cases where the family has joint income, it is no stretch to presume that the husband’s income is greater than the wife’s income based on any number of studies that prove the fact that men are paid better than women. Additionally, his experience as a young man may have very well been formed in his teen years in the Young Men’s program, and in countries where it operates, the Scouts. If he additionally believes the oft-disproved theory that women are naturally more spiritually inclined than men, he would likely see a higher investment in men, especially the young men in the ward as appropriate and necessary. As a priesthood holder, he would likely also have less empathy for the degree of the work associated in managing weekly out-of-pocket costs linked to primary, Sunday school and youth presidency callings that are often silently incurred by, and burdened upon the women who hold these callings.
With the pre-disposition of men being labeled as the primary breadwinners, partnered with the worldly fact that men are paid better than women, I can’t help but think that income -outright money and fiscal value- is the deciding factor in the financial workings of each ward and branch within the church, as well as the overall financial culture of the church at large. Indeed, although needs and even wants are deemed to be the precursors for church expenditure, income of the ward and of the individuals managing the ward influence the choices made in regard to church budgeting and spending. That is to say, the social capital associated with money is better regarded than the philanthropic desire or position in addressing needs, wants, or equality in ward budgets and spending habits.
Consider this argument of income: A report from the United Nations states that globally women earn 24% less income than men. This is based on earnings, and not reflective of income. When we consider earnings and income as separate tools for social enhancement and societal progression, we can construct a formula that reflects social capital, or the financial influence that defines the social roles of men and women within a particular unit or society. In Gender and Power, R.W. Connell pairs income to social power; making the disparity between financial influences and social credibility much greater than a mere 24% less. Connell writes:
“More women than men earn less than a full wage because they are less than full-time workers. [in his study] 36 % of employed women were part-timers, compared to 6% of employed men…Further, a higher proportion of women workers earn no wage because they are unemployed, and many more women than men have very low incomes because they are dependant [on welfare]. …The result is that the average income of women who have any income at all is 48% of the men’s average. And even that overstates the degree of equality, since a higher proportion of women have no income at all. Adjusting for that, the average income of all women is 45% of the average of all men.” – Connell, Gender and Power, Standford University Press, p 6-7 (my emphasis added)
That is a pretty huge income gap, and that is not for Mormon households, but the general public. When we consider that (American) Mormon women are more likely than any other group of Americans to be housewives (i.e. unemployed), the income, therefore social capital (voice) of women in the church is even less. This means Mormon women have an income that is even lower than 45% of Mormon men (see these Mormon Social Capital Tables as constructed by myself and Ziff at Zelophehad’s Daughters). And whilst the argument will be made that a man provides “for his family” and therefore “his” income is “shared,” more than a few men’s blogs (for example this), note how wives tend to ask husbands permission to spend money on themselves and their personal needs; that is to say, women in the church are accustomed to asking for money, even when household and church budgets are declared to be equally managed, and when women are taxed with the stereotypical admonition of “spending less (I seriously hate this video).” In laymen’s terms, if we apply the 45% rule, two women’s voices (90% social capital) are almost equal to that of one male voice (100% social capital) in the church. In reality, however, because women do not have priesthood, and likely have an even lower income than women outside of the church, women’s social capital in the church would be significantly lower than this– i.e. perhaps generously speaking in egalitarian wards, something along the lines of four women’s voices (25% social capital each) being equal-ish to one male voice (1oo% social capital). In other wards and branches with no degree of egalitarianism, the voice of women would reflect 0% social capital.
This all connects to the social capital of worthiness within a Mormon context. It is an immediate reflection of the underlying concept that those with higher income are “more worthy” than those with lower income: they simply have more social capital because they have more money, therefore might better be able to “afford” tithing, and thus are in prime position for prominent roles within the church hierarchy. This is evident in that a man who is unwilling or unable to pay tithing is often forbidden from participating in ordinance work, higher-ranking callings, and so on, making his social capital very low: he is emasculated because his financial contribution is lesser, and while he might still serve as a teacher in youth or children’s classes, he is usually forbidden from even the most introductory ordinance work of passing the sacrament. Equally dis-empowered are women, not just because the priesthood title and authority are not available to women, but because women are additionally strongly encouraged to remain unemployed. Without income or with only government-funded welfare-based income, women provide little to no financial investment within the structure of the church.
According to Connell, where money plays an imperative part in social capital, this affords those with higher income a respectively higher social capital, i.e. they have greater prestige in social programs, policies and community development. In applying this concept to a ward, this would influence on how the finances in a ward are distributed among Relief Society, Young Men, Young Women, Primary, Scouting programs….. and most significantly, in Priesthood/administrative offices. Think about it like this for a moment: only men are called to a lifetime of priesthood services, so those who become full-time general authorities receive a wage, and at the age of 70, are designated as “emeritus general authorities”- the term “emeritus” meaning that the man is retired and receives a retirement wage from the church until death. No such retirement program exists for women in the church to my knowledge. That is just one end of the spectrum. On the other end, we see the commonly noted frustrations of women in regard to the disparity between youth and children’s programs. (see here and here and here and here for previous Exponent posts showing this.)
This was not always the case in the church, where there are significant examples of the Relief Society, when managing its own funds, found itself a benefactor (at best) and exploited (at worst) by the men of the church for its monies. In the end, the 1971 edict of forced Relief Society membership for all women coupled with general church “Correlation” annihilated any remaining degree of financial autonomy for women in the church. In terms of social capital within the church where women are encouraged to not be employed, and are forbidden any financial position in the church, women have no social capital.
So what does this all mean? Women are already at a disadvantage in the church because they are forbidden the rights of administering the church through priesthood office. But in further consideration of income, and the ability to be a decision maker (rather than just a voice) in the financial structure of a ward, branch, stake or mission, and its associated contribution in social capital (and its partnered “worthiness” by virtue of paying a “full tithe”), women are even further disadvantaged within the structure of the church. This means that although tiny strides are being made by the church to include women’s voices, at the end of the day, women do not have the same social capital as men within the church. Or, put bluntly, women have NO institutional voice within the church.
The church has long-held its financing and accounting practices as private, even from its own membership. But in consideration of social capital, the forbidding of any financial autonomy to women is just as restrictive as forbidding women to hold priesthood keys and offices. In this, and within the historiography of the church in cases when it commandeered the finances of the Relief Society can be taken, at least in part, as a reflection of fear held by church administrators of women gaining financial, and therefore social influence to be in equity with, or worse, influence over men within the church. In other words– has the restricting of church finances, priesthood and therefore all social and monetary power in secrecy to men– actually begun to create the Great and Abominable organization that the church so desperately teaches is it’s opposite? I hope not. I do not think this is the church that Christ came to create. I also recognize how generous the church is globally for those in need and in crisis. But until women have priesthood or the authority to create a budget and access to church funds, I can’t help but wonder what financial, and therefore, motivational factors might underlie church administration in regard to the current structure of capitalist patriarchy. Is this what Christ would have wanted? Women utterly beholden to men for all finances and social capital? I don’t think so. And I’d like women to have a voice in regard to all budgeting in the ward, and church at large.
What do you think? Should women have 50% control of ward finances? Does financial capital hold a higher position than it should in an ecclesiastical organization?
For further reading, please see April’s post, “Can Mormon Women Count Money?”