Women Should Be Bishops
I think that women (not just men) should be called as LDS bishops. In fact, I think women should be bishops more often than men. When people argue about whether or not women should or could be ordained in the future it often comes down to the concern, “Do you want a young mom with little kids called as the bishop? That would be impossible for her!” But I disagree. I think it makes sense for women to be bishops at all stages of life, and for a lot of different reasons. I’ll go through a few scenarios in this blog post.
WOMEN WITH YOUNG FAMILIES:
Regarding the question of whether I want young mothers called as bishops, my answer is, “No, of course I don’t. But I don’t want to call a young dad with little kids to be the bishop, either!”
However, if the church is small in an area and the parent of a young family does have to be called into a leadership position, which makes more sense in a traditional family with a stay at home mom and an employed dad? I think it’s the mom!
Imagine a typical weeknight for them. She’s been home all day with young children, or if she’s outside of the house she’s been hauling them around with her while running errands and fulfilling her responsibilities. The dad has been away from home and his kids, dealing with adults and solving problems at work. By dinnertime, the mom is very ready to have a break from childcare and interact with adults, and the dad is very ready to spend time with his kids and unplug from the outside world. But what do we do? We call the dads into bishoprics, pulling them away from home on evenings and Sundays for church duties and meetings, and moms stay at home – isolated and without support from her partner.
Many women I’ve interacted with at church really enjoy callings in the Young Women’s program- not only because they love the teenage girls, but because it gives them a weekly evening outing and summer events like Girl’s Camp and Youth Conference where they can leave their children behind in someone else’s care for a few hours or days. It’s a chance to interact with other adult leaders, plan and carry out activities, and feel useful to others outside of the sometimes drudgery of day-to-day care of babies and toddlers. Because of this, Young Women’s always felt more glamorous than say, nursery or primary callings. Those callings teaching young children usually require fewer hours and less work overall, but they rob the women called of their adult time in Relief Society class or with other leaders in the youth program.
Yet we continue to call young dad into bishoprics, and their wives into nursery. I propose we swap that trend! Let the dads spend time with the toddlers, and the moms spend time running the ward and helping the grown-ups.
WOMEN WITH OLDER FAMILIES AND EMPTY NESTERS:
I once overheard someone ask the wife of a new stake president how she’d been doing since her husband was called. She shrugged and said, “Well, I’ve just gotten used to being alone a lot!”. Her husband owned his own business and went to work all day, then in the evenings he’d often go straight to church meetings. They’d see each other for only minutes some days. She was canning and gardening, hanging out with her grandkids, taking institute classes, and passing the time. She wasn’t unhappy, but I do think she was seriously underutilized by the church.
We could stop calling young fathers to be bishops by broadening the pool of possibilities to include older women who have spent decades raising their families but not working outside of the home. Their husbands still go to work because they haven’t reached retirement age, but these women don’t have a career and aren’t planning to start one at age 55. They have a lot of life experience, wisdom, patience and compassion that younger people don’t always have yet. More than anything, these women have time. Unlike young parents or older working men, they have the flexibility in their schedule to meet people when they are available or immediately in need. They could drive to the hospital at 10:00 am or go to a house late at night without disrupting a work schedule.
I would argue that both single women AND single men would be great candidates for ward bishop – but for the purpose of this blog post, I’ll focus on single women.
Recently Exponent blogger Trudy wrote a great post about why she believes LDS singles should be integrated fully into family wards, and I agree! Many girls and young women growing up in the church will not have the opportunity (or desire) to marry when they reach adulthood. The current unintended messaging to young people is that a woman who doesn’t achieve marriage and motherhood is not fulfilling the measure of her creation – and she’s sent away to the singles ward until she can find herself a spouse and then return to the family ward, finally able to serve. What better way to change this false idea than to let young people see single women serving as bishops in their wards as they grow up?
Sometimes people worry about a single person being qualified to counsel families and married members of their wards if they have never been married themselves. However, male bishops currently give advice and counsel on all kinds of things they have zero firsthand experience with. (Single motherhood, divorce, abuse, loss of testimony, etc.) Spiritual leaders in many other religions are single and yet lead and counsel their congregations (for example, a Catholic priest who can’t marry still regularly provides marital counseling to members of his parish). Even Wendy Watson Nelson, wife of the current prophet, was a successful marriage and family therapist for decades as an unmarried woman. There is absolutely no reason to believe that a married man will give better support to families in crisis than a single woman could.
Have I ever dreamed of being called as a bishop? Nope! It sounds terrible. So many uncompensated hours, plus thankless work and stressful nights. But just because I don’t want to be in charge of a ward doesn’t mean I don’t want any woman to do it anywhere.
I also don’t want to be the president of the United States, but I’d never say, “I don’t want any woman to be president, because if we’re allowed to I might have to do it!” That’s silly. No woman ever has to be a bishop, simply because it’s permitted. (No man ever has to be one either, for that matter – because it’s a volunteer position and you can decline it.) Permitting women to be called as bishops would allow the entire church community to benefit from women’s distinct leadership skills in positions of authority and decision-making power. This filters up to the men in charge above her, finally able to have female voices directly included in meetings they are absent from now, and filters down below them to those they counsel and lead. Just because an individual woman doesn’t want to be a leader herself should never make her wish to ban all women from ever becoming leaders themselves.
I also don’t want to be a politician, a brain surgeon, a Navy Seal or a lawyer – but I still want those fields open to as many women as are drawn to them. We all benefit from women writing our laws, doing our medical research, and defending our freedom.
The church would benefit so much from opening priesthood positions (like bishoprics) up to women. I understand why it didn’t make sense to have women included in church authority in the 1800s when the church was founded, but we are now living in the year 2022. Women are no longer relegated to second class citizenship like they were then. We vote, we own property, we go to law school, we sit in congress – and it’s time we sit on the stand in Sacrament Meeting. There is zero scriptural or doctrinal mandate for a male only clergy, other than it’s just the way things have always been done. We’ve changed and adapted many other things since the 1800s that were fine one way then but aren’t anymore (like polygamy, slavery, Word of Wisdom, temple ceremonies, garments, tithing, etc…). If we can change all of that, why can’t we also change from a male only priesthood? Is the church not a church of continuing revelation?