“Woman in Charge”: Extending Traditionally-Male Callings to Females
On the last page of the most recent issue of BYU Magazine, a two-paragraph story written by Candace Kunch Elder, entitled “Woman in Charge,” caught my eye and subsequently ruined a good night’s sleep. Nestled inauspiciously amongst slightly-syrupy “first person” memories of BYU, Elder’s piece tells of her calling as ward mission leader in a BYU ward. The inspired stake president who approved this traditionally-male calling was none other than Rex E. Lee, who would later become president of BYU.
According to the account, President Lee and this sister’s bishop had fasted and prayed concerning such an unorthodox invitation, and ultimately felt that they were “certain of the Lord’s choice” in extending the calling to her. She went on to magnify her calling, and, incidentally, snagged a husband in the process (I think the husband-snagging was actually the main point of the article).“HARUMPH!” I mutter as I thump my husband on the head with the BYU Magazine as he lies unsuspectingly in our bed, waiting for me finish up my nightly bathroom rituals (savvy readers may be able divine what particular ritual I was engaged in when I happened upon the above-referenced article).
“This proves it! I was right all along. You can call Sister X to be the new [traditionally-male calling] in our ward. Rex Lee did it, so you can, too. I mean, he was the president of BYU—you have to be like a GA to be the president of BYU, don’t you? Don’t tell me you think Rex Lee wasn’t inspired…”
I see his sleepy brain attempting to connect the dots. (Wife on toilet. Wife yelling about Rex Lee. Wife hitting me with rolled magazine. Wife resuming usual rants about gender in the church. Aaahh…)
After bringing him up to speed on my flawless logic, we begin debating the nitty-gritty doctrine that might support or undermine such a position. We agree that it probably isn’t necessary to hold the priesthood to successfully serve in certain callings, such as a ward mission leader, Sunday school president, or executive secretary, because none of these positions requires that you actually perform priesthood ordinances or be associated with a priesthood quorum. But, the GHI indicates that these callings are to be held only by priesthood holders. Is the GHI considered “doctrine”?
We definitely both agree that a two-paragraph anecdote written by a BYU co-ed 25 years after the fact doesn’t exactly rise to the level of “doctrine,” as currently defined by the Church. But, we agree that it’s something. It’s an official BYU publication, and we don’t imagine the editorial advisory committee would publish anything that was too “out there” as far as doctrine goes. We’ve seen no “first person” accounts of blood atonement or Adam-God theory on the last page of the BYU Magazine, at least in recent memory.
So, we surmise, maybe calling a woman to be a ward mission leader isn’t that unexceptional after all? Maybe inspired bishops and stake presidents do stuff like this on a small scale all the time? Hmm…do we have any data points on this? Maybe we should enlist the collective experience of family and friends to settle this so we can go to bed? It’s a good thing Utah is in an earlier time zone and we have plenty of minutes left this month.
After a few calls, we receive confirmation that, yes, Grandpa B did call a woman to be his executive secretary back in the 1980s. The stake president wasn’t thrilled, but there was literally no one else who could do it, so he ultimately acquiesced. She was the best darn executive secretary Grandpa B ever had. She color-coded all of his interviews in an appointment book for him.
But, other than Grandpa B’s famed executive secretary, we have no hard facts. The other reports are all hearsay, or, horror of horrors, even double hearsay.
Help us finish off this fight in style—do any of you have personal knowledge of women being invited to serve in callings traditionally reserved for men? Do you think the BYU piece would raise any eyebrows in your neck of the woods? Would this type of situation raise any concerns for you?