Why the Radio Silence From On Top?
There has been a rare sort of radio silence in my ward and stake since the Covid19 pandemic began in March. I haven’t been very bothered by this. I’m married with three kids. No church meant less arguing with kids on Sunday morning and no mutual activities meant one less Tuesday night activity to keep track of on my calendar. Like other busy families, I missed the many things that shut down simultaneously, but it was also very refreshing to have so much less to do.
I’ve received a handful of emails from my bishopric and noticed the primary chorister posted some songs on the ward Facebook page a couple times, but other than that, we’ve mostly been on our own during this quarantine. That was fine by me.
However, last week I went out with a longtime friend from my ward and she shared with me her perspective over the past few months as a single mom. She and I moved onto the street as newlyweds in 2003. We’ve each had three kids, and she went through a painful divorce about 7 years ago when her husband left her. Since then she’s survived on her own and stayed very active in the church, even as her ex-husband left the church and their oldest son followed. She attended every week with her two younger boys, and when the world shut down she found herself alone with her three boys – the oldest no longer a member and the younger two not old enough to bless the sacrament.
Among the other stressors in her life during these past few months, she tearfully told me how incredibly abandoned she felt by the church. Other families were having home church and posting photos on social media, saying how special and spiritual it was to have their husbands and sons perform that sacred ordinance and the blessing they felt partaking of it.
Meanwhile in her home, she had no ordinances. There was not only the lack of the sacrament each week, there was no ability to receive priesthood blessings and even meeting with the bishop to ask for help became too complicated. As we sat in her car and she cried, it became clear that not only did she feel left completely on her own at the ward level, she felt like the top leadership of the church didn’t notice she was suffering either. The message from top to bottom was that everybody else was fine with home church, and those rare exceptions where a woman didn’t live with a priesthood holder were few and far between, and not a big deal.
Only a few days later, I read an online post from the family member of a top female church leader. The author explained that the topic of single women (like my friend) was in reality a major topic of concern at every single meeting of the first presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. Unlike the feeling of being forgotten that my friend was experiencing, quite the opposite was true – according to this source they are very aware and very concerned about women like her. She’s the topic of prayer and discussion and deep compassion. But if that’s the case, why hasn’t church leadership expressed this to the church membership so that she’d know they haven’t forgotten her?
I obviously can’t know for sure, but I have a theory. Throughout my entire life, I’ve been told consistently that women don’t need to hold the priesthood. In primary, they used an umbrella as an example. It doesn’t matter who holds the umbrella up, because everyone can stand under it and be protected. In general conference they said it doesn’t matter who opens the curtains, because the light comes in and warms everyone up equally. I heard a sacrament meeting talk that likened priesthood power to a river, and the priesthood holders were the rocks on the banks of the river that guided the power where it needed to go. All the plants (the women, I guess?) get the water they need to grow and thrive because the rocks (the men?) directed the water right to them.
Whatever the analogy, I was taught frequently that holding the priesthood in no way benefited men over women. There are plenty arguments to be made against that idea, but the basic premise was that it didn’t matter a bit who specifically held the priesthood, as everybody was equally blessed by it.
But in this current pandemic, that’s not the case at all anymore. Plenty of people aren’t being blessed by the priesthood, and it kind of does matter who’s holding the umbrella. What would happen if church leadership spoke out publicly and loudly about their concern for the single women of the church during a time when they can’t access something as basic and supposedly important as the sacrament? Would addressing the problem of women lacking access to this ordinance open them up to criticism about women’s real life disadvantages in the church? Is that why they’ve been so quiet about the whole thing?
I believe it is. I think they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Their compassion calls them to loudly address the single sisters in the church during this time, but their need to protect themselves from criticism demands silence. I don’t know what changes these unprecedented circumstances will lead to, but I hope these months of constant prayer, discussion and concern for women with no priesthood access will give them a new empathy. I also hope it leads to new revelation, better understanding, and substantial changes moving forward in the way women are prioritized and acknowledged in this church. Because if this moment in history doesn’t significantly change things for Latter-day Saint women moving forward, I don’t know if anything ever will.