Q&A: Why aren’t Mormon feminists thrilled with the new LDS temple baptistry policy?
I have heard from many men and a few women who are confused about the underwhelming response of feminists, including myself, to the LDS Church’s announcement that youth roles, particularly male youth roles, will be expanded in Mormon temple baptistries. I cannot speak for all feminists, but on behalf of myself, let me explain.
“But this will be such a good experience for the Young Men!”
I don’t doubt that. I want our young men to have good experiences. Church leaders have taught that members must be given meaningful assignments in order to feel needed and engaged in the Church, and I believe them. However, passing the sacrament, scouting, and exercising the priesthood are already opportunities for Young Men that exclude Young Women, and extending additional new opportunities to Young Men that exclude Young Women (in this case, the opportunities to baptize and serve as official witnesses in the temple) increases the gender inequity in the church that already alienates so many of our Young Women.
“But the girls got a new assignment too!”
I said, “meaningful assignments.” Busywork is not equality. Female temple workers do not need Young Women to serve as their “assistants” because women do not have a lot to do in the temple baptistry; they are banned from most of the work. Women are not allowed to baptize, to serve as witnesses, to confirm, to stand in the confirmation circle, to welcome patrons to the temple, to check temple recommends, to keep records, or even to feed names into the projector. With so many bans in place, women often sit to the side watching or receive the kind of assignment that could easily be performed by inanimate objects like towel hooks and laundry baskets. Young Women will not feel needed if their work is literally not needed.
“But this policy change is necessary! There aren’t enough adult men to staff the baptistry!”
Yes, banning women from so many assignments yields staffing shortages. But Mormon women are ready and willing to fill these roles and do the work. In fact, not too long ago, Ordain Women asked church leaders to consider just allowing women to officially witness ordinances—even if they maintain bans on women officiating. Instead, the LDS church is dealing with the shortage by opening temple baptistry witnessing and officiation to male children, creating one more venue where Mormon women are subordinate to their adolescent sons.
“But I mopped water in the baptistry once and it was a good experience for me. Why are women complaining?”
I hope we all have a good attitude when it is our turn to rotate through some of the more menial tasks associated with the work of the church. However, please keep in mind that men have the privilege of rotating while women are barred from many other opportunities men enjoy. Being permanently assigned to menial labor is different from occasionally rotating through it.
“But I asked my daughter/wife/female friend, and she doesn’t want to baptize/witness/welcome patrons/feed names into the projector.”
Then no one should make her do those things. However, that is not a good reason to bar other women who would welcome the opportunity.