Recent Church Changes: Are They Enough?
I recently stumbled across a piece I wrote a little over two years ago that’s been languishing in my drafts folder. In it, I poured out my dreams for my daughter in the church. Reading through it again, I was almost surprised to see how many of the things I’d hoped for have already come to pass. Here is an excerpt with hyperlinks added to show recent changes:
I was sitting next to my five year old daughter, my firstborn, in church during the sacrament. She watched the proceedings with serious eyes, then tugged on my sleeve. “I want to pass the sacrament,” she whispered. “But only boys get to. Right?”
I’d hoped I could protect her from the patriarchal sexism in the church. I’d hoped she would be blind to it somehow.
“Right now only boys get to. Maybe someday you will,” I said.
“I wish I could,” she said. And I saw her eyes sparkle at the thought of being involved in something so important. She understands the sacrament is a Big Deal. She doesn’t have words for it yet, but she knows that serving in a public way is an exciting privilege, a way to both help others and to feel special herself.
“I wish you could, too,” I said.
In our church, I often hear people argue that men’s and women’s roles are “separate, but equal.” I thought about that in the silence after my whispered conversation with my daughter, thought about how if our roles were really equal, I would be able to say to her, “You’re right; it is really special that the boys are able to serve everyone the sacrament, but listen to this cool thing the girls get to do!” But there is nothing.
And I wondered, at what point should I break it to her that there is no doctrinal or scriptural reason she can’t pass the sacrament? And even if policy changed and she could pass the sacrament, would it be enough? She still wouldn’t be able to bless or prepare the sacrament. She still wouldn’t be able to be a visiting or home teacher or perform or witness baptisms or give blessings as a teenager.
Soon she will be eight, and she will see that the boys in her class will have Scout activities once a week, while she only has Activity Days twice a month. She won’t know, and I won’t tell her, that the boys often have ten times the budget the girls do, that they have many more leaders and resources, that they have award ceremonies once a month, that they have derbys and day camps.
When she turns 12, she’ll watch her as her male peers are ordained and pass the sacrament for the first time. By then, she’ll have learned it’s taboo for her to express desire for priesthood. Will she be angry, like I was, that her peers take for granted the privilege they’ve been handed just for showing up?
If she follows in my footsteps and serves a mission, she may wonder, like I did, why she can’t serve as early or as long as the Elders. She may experience confusion and frustration when she sees her sisters serve in leadership positions over other sisters, but never over Elders.
When she goes through the temple, she will learn what her brothers did before coming to earth. She will see a depiction of the Father-God her brothers are told they can aspire to be like. She will not learn anything about the Mother-God or even hear Her mentioned. My daughter will hear, officially, that there is a hierarchy to heaven: her potential husband will become a king and priest unto God, but she will be a queen and priestess to her husband. She will also hear there is a hierarchy to her marriage: her husband will hearken directly to God; she will hearken to her husband.
When I dream big dreams for my daughter, I dream of a temple experience where she is treated as her own agent and not as an appendage to a husband she may not even have. I dream of a temple experience where she can learn what her role was in world framing and what her eternal potential could look like. I dream of gender roles being abolished and tasks instead divided based on circumstance, desire, and skill. I dream of fatherhood and motherhood both being celebrated as equally important roles that are just one potential piece of a beautiful, full life.
There was a time not so long ago that every new shift the church made toward parity between men and women, boys and girls, filled me with giddiness. When President Monson announced the missionary age change, that women could serve missions at 19 instead of 21, I literally dropped to my knees and shouted “Yes!” I was grateful for every small inch of ground, every crumb, every effort toward inclusion of women, even when the gains were few and far between.
Now progress has accelerated. There have been an almost unprecedented number of policy and procedural changes and shifts, both large and small, since President Nelson took the helm, with many of them granting more parity or greater opportunity to girls and women. I will always be happy on some level for changes like these, but I have felt my discontent accelerating, too.
Viewing recent improvements as standalone events, they feel significant, but view them in context and zoom out, look at the full structure of the church and the layers of hierarchy, and it becomes painfully clear that even changes that seem big are just one drop in an empty bucket, one bud on a barren branch, one ray of light cutting through a dark and gloomy sky.
My daughter is nearly eight now. She loves church, loves Primary, loves it all. She is completely earnest and trusting and without guile. Part of me would love for her to experience all the beautiful aspects of the church that worked so well for me for so long. Part of me wants to spare her from the crippling cognitive dissonance, the anguish if (when?) the church breaks her heart the way it broke mine.
Even with all the changes the church has made, many of them laudable and long awaited, my dreams for my daughter still stretch past the confines the church has put on her because she was born female.
Are the changes enough?
Will they ever be enough?