Equal Means Something

It looks like one of the major responses that will be offered in the current discussion of women’s roles is that “equal does not mean the same.”

First, let me suggest that given the hideous history of “separate but equal” and its toxic legacy, it may not be the wisest move rhetorically to use “equal does not mean the same” even if it is true. The sentiment starts with an incredible disadvantage; those who want to defend the status quo might do better to pursue other lines of thinking.

Moving beyond that, I think the debate over whether you can have “equal” without having “the same” is an interesting one, but I’m not interested in engaging it. Instead, I’ll stipulate for the purposes of this post that you can in fact be equal without being the same. (I’m not sure whether I believe that. I’m just assuming it so we can move on.)

OK, so equal does not mean the same. But it does mean something. Let’s look at one part of current Mormon practice: the YM administer the sacrament in every ward every week. This has the following results:

recognition, in the form of a leader of the ward saying something along the  lines of “we’d like to thank the young men for administering the sacrament,” spoken to the entire congregation during our worship service–not to mention their presence on the stand and in the front rows, which are specially set apart for them, for part of the meeting

purpose, in that the young men know that they have an important role to fill in their congregations

motivation, in that in some marginal cases, some young men will avoid whatever sin is tempting them on Saturday night so they can be worthy to administer the sacrament (or, at the very least, not socially stigmatized by their refusal to do so)

spirituality, in that, we hope, they will feel the Spirit as they participate in this ordinance and serve their community

growth, in that, we hope, they will learn something from the experience

So we are assuming that the Young Women don’t need to be treated the same (that is, ordained to the Aaronic priesthood and given a chance to prepare, bless, and pass the sacrament) to be equal. But they do need something. What recognition are they receiving in sacrament meeting? (The pathology of publicly praising our sons as a community every single week in the context of worship while never doing that for our daughters as a group is a very deep one. Imagine a family where the son was praised weekly and the daughter never mentioned:  no one would think that this is acceptable parenting.) What sense of purpose are they developing? What is motivating them to attend sacrament meeting? What spiritual opportunities are they given? How will they grow?

In this example, “equal but not the same” might look something like one (or more) of these examples:

1. The Young Women are assigned the task of being the ward greeters. They work out the logistics of this in their class, just as the YM work out the logistics of passing the sacrament in their quorums. The same sense of importance of the task–namely, that they are welcoming worshippers to the Lord’s house, that they are setting the tone for the most important meeting of the church, that they are charged with identifying and welcoming new people and lost sheep–is impressed upon them.

2. The Young Women are collectively given the task of managing the sacrament meeting music–they choose the hymns, conduct, play (or assign these roles to others), with the same emphasis on its importance and recognition from the bishopric.

3. A YW speaks in sacrament meeting, every week.

4. The YW open and close the doors as the YM deliver the sacrament to those in the lobby.

5. The YW are formally charged with observing the congregation and aiding where needed–whether that is sitting with a preschooler whose father is on the stand and whose mother has left with a crying baby or sitting next to a new member. Perhaps 1-2 of the YW would even sit on the stand every week in order to better carry out this assignment.

6. The bishop meets with the YW monthly to observe as the YW brainstorm potential topics for sacrament meeting talks.

7. The YW introduce the theme of the meeting with a scripture and/or quotation.

8. The YW take notes, which are later distributed to people who were sick, out of town, or in the lobby with their screaming children. (I’m enough of a busybody that I really like to know who was called and released; this would be a service to me.)

9. The YW present (really) brief bios of the speakers before they speak. (This means they would ‘interview’ them during the week.)

As far as I can tell, all of these are congruent with the handbook. (By the way, I stole most of these ideas.) There are no institutional impediments to making our YW equal-but-not-the-same.

But I don’t really want to dwell on the sacrament meeting experience of Young Women. My larger point is that if you want to argue that equal doesn’t mean the same, that’s fine. But “equal” does mean something and we have lots of work to do before many current LDS practices could be described as “equal” in any meaningful sense of the word.


102 comments for “Equal Means Something

  1. I love this. Thanks you. It would help mitigate the pain when I have to tell my daughters they will never get to pass the sacrament, but they do get to do something else.

  2. Half of our church (the Missouri Synod) also believes that women cannot pass, or administer the sacrament.

    But we believe otherwise. Inasmuch as the gospel, the free gift of God Himself, to us, is not dependent upon the proper genitalia of the person announcing it, or passing it…but is solely dependent upon God Himself. And His power to create faith when that gospel Word is heard (received).

    I think the latter view holds a much bigger God.

  3. Quick response in these by number.

    1. Already being done in some wards. If this is needed in your ward, the Ward Council should address it.

    2. Every bishopric I’ve known, has assigned the music, and anytime that was usurped, it was quickly changed – even if in the middle of Sacrament meeting. When asking the Ward music director if we could sing certain songs, they always replied it was out of their hands. SO – perhaps there is some guidance from SLC, or an unwritten rule on the matter?

    3. Already happens in every ward I have attended for the past 20 years.

    4. In my experience, In all but the smallest wards, this is handled by the surplus teachers and priests that are not handling some other function of the sacrament. The very small wards end up using Elders and HP to fill in here as well. It gives those YM who are not asked by the QP to prepare or bless, still something to keep them engaged in the sacrament service. They also can observe and assist if needed to assure no-one is missed.

    5. Interesting. My family – and daughters, have done such, but it was of our own volition. Making an organized effort may have value. People peaking could pre-arrange assistance – perhaps with the same person they hire to sit their children during the week, etc.

    6. Given how the topics are already chosen – not sure how this is going to fit in the process. Speak to your bishop for details.

    7. Already happening, see number 3.

    8. Again interesting. Perhaps they compile and then its given to the ward webmaster, and the RS for distribution by web and visiting teachers = thus tying the YW closer to the RS?

    9. I think this is a good idea in them preparing the bio, but not sure about the presenting them. Also – despite that on BYU TV we would see the sacrament service on TV, and bios were given by the member of the bishopric who was conducting that day, everytime I brought it up at ward council, the bishop shot it down, like that is for TV only, and intended for a real service. A big hurdle in changing the very culture of the service, before you could get bios as part of the program, and an even bigger problem overcoming the cultural challenge of changing to have the YW do the bio. I can also foresee that if it were to progress that far, that it would be deemed necessary that the YM also participate in presenting those bios. While I understand the purpose in suggesting the idea, I highly doubt you’ll keep this a YW only experience.

    Frankly, I suggest a different approach, by going directly to the YW program.

    1.YW who achieve their YW award should have just the same level of celebration as a YM for Eagle.

    2. Quarterly Awards ceremonies involve both the YW and YM. So both Johnny and Jenny get recognized by their parents, peers, and friends of the ward for their efforts, at a joint event.

    3. YW get to be registered in the Ward Venturing program ( or their own crew if needed) A Few wards have already prototyped this expereince – albiet the YW crew registered to the Bishops company – but all else the same, with the YW leading, earning the awards, planning the outings – which are every bit the equal as the YM for adventure and personal growth. (They even did a 2 week trek in Philmont last year.) Venturing meshes so well with the YW program, that its more successfully implemented than it is with the YM!

  4. Julie, I love this. Thank you. My own experience as a youth would have been greatly improved by being included in some of these ways.

    Shawn, you’ve missed the point in some key areas. A quarterly recognition is in no way the equivalent of being allowed to perform regular, weekly, meaningful, visible service. Also, I cannot believe that it is the answer to anything to extend scouting to girls. While the current program does give short shrift to girls’ activities, Julie is talking about service, about spirituality and contribution to the community, not about recreation. I took a survey of one (me) and would have hated Venturing, especially if it had been presented as a substitute for spiritual service and participation. Scouting doesn’t even serve all YM; it would certainly serve even fewer YW.

  5. It’s worth noting that there is nothing scriptural about “passing the sacrament.” It is not a priesthood duty. Likewise for young men serving as ushers.

    Young women could easily do both of these things; no priesthood is required.

    I think it’s worth asking our leaders, “Why not?”

  6. ” A YW speaks in sacrament meeting, every week.”

    So each YW will be asked to speak 3 – 4 times per years? (Or in wards with few YW potential far more?)

    That said I do agree with a lot of the thrust. I wish YW had something as involved and scouts. My daughter is quite upset she doesn’t get to go to scouts. (I know many YW don’t like to do that sort of thing, but they should have something more than they do)

    However clearly there are many things we should be having more women doing at Church. I think that quite separate from the ordination issues and the differences between duties of Elders & High Priests and what women are often asked to do. But I do think most wards have far more flexibility here than most realize.

  7. I really appreciate your comments here, Julie. Always so thoughtful and insightful. This strikes me in a couple of ways. The first is the common priesthood leader attitude of “This is not a democracy, it is a theocracy!” Such accommodations need to flow with the ultimate approval of the Bishop, and that means he has to listen to his Ward Council and be moved to implement the changes. That is sometimes difficult for Bishops, IMHO. This also feels to me like a smaller but no less significant change that was needed to change the prohibition of priesthood to Blacks. and, keeping in mind the messiness of how imbedded our old views on that issue were as evidenced by Professor Bott of BYU, may take a while to gain recognition of the case of “foolish traditions of their fathers”. In a way your comments are as clarifying to me as those posted on the Blacks and priesthood issue presented by the great people at BlacksIntheScriptures.com. If one inequity can be righted, then so can another, by bringing it to the clear light of reason and truth. Excellent and “non-threatening” suggestions! Kudos! “You da woman!” :) I am a father of three sons so I appreciate your exposing the mistreatment of our precious young women.

  8. Thanks, Julie. Yes, it means something. And we are so completely distant from any reasonable meaning. The silver lining to that is that we have so much room to improve even before we approach areas that might require some kind of special doctrinal accommodation.

  9. If you poison the well at the outset by comparing people who aren’t racists to people who are racists, you really can’t expect to engage in meaningful debate. It’s like a conservative to starts out an article against government action XYZ pointing out that Hitler was in favor of national parks. It might rally the troops, but doesn’t really promote dialogue, just contention.

    This is not an overreaction, as the legacy of racism in the USA (the world even) is a stain upon humanity, and I find the frequent over-comparison of various philosophical battles to racism lessens the response many people have to actual cries of racism.

  10. DQ, I wasn’t comparing the people; I was comparing the argument. “Equal doesn’t mean the same” has a lot in common with “separate but equal.” That isn’t a commentary on the people holding the views; it is a commentary on semantics and logic.

    The fact that defenders of the LDS status quo of an all-male priesthood (which, on some days, includes me) are not racists does not mean that they aren’t justifying the current system where gender determines opportunities with a similar kind of logic to that used to justify a system where race determined opportunities. This in no way implies that current LDS gender segregation is anything close to as problematic as 20th century US racial segregation, but if the logic behind both systems is similar, we gain nothing by pretending that it isn’t.

  11. DQ, I think that’s what Julie was saying at the very beginning. It’s hard not to use the word “equal,” however, as it has been a part of the rhetoric of the suffrage and feminist movements since at least 1923, when the Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed by Alice Paul.

    I have wondered recently why church leaders (or at least church PR) find it so offensive for the OW to quietly illustrate what is quite obviously the official church position – that women are excluded from the priesthood. Do they not want people to know it? Is it embarrassing to have it demonstrated so graphically? If it’s forever doctrine, why not be happy to have it out there with all the other doctrinal stuff?

  12. I think it’s interesting that the comparison of Boy Scouts gets brought up in this conversation. I’ve been a Scoutmaster a couple of times and have gone through the Acorn and Wood Badge training programs for adult leaders. When properly and fully implemented the Scout program is designed to have the young men do all the planning and implementation of activities, with adult leaders teaching and shadowing the young men. My understanding is that reason, developing leadership skills in the young men, is why the Church embraced the Scouting program. Admittedly it is not realized to the intended extent often due to poorly trained adult leaders, but the point is that I see no comparable program to similarly put the Young Women in a leadership training program where they run much of their programs from soup to nuts in preparation for future leadership roles at home, church, and work.

  13. What is the appropriate way, then, to bring this and other problematic issues to the attention of those we recognize as authorized to make such changes without crossing the line into apostasy and being seen as in open rebellion against the Church and its leaders (obviously a very subjective call)? It seems that such changes also occur at a rather slow pace, but going back to the compression of Father’s work of creation, etc. in the temple, things take more time than we who are so limited by time (and impatience) can tolerate? Do we do what we can and wit for the Second coming and Christ’s righteous reign for such inequities to be rectified? And watch in pain as our children, family and friends suffer during our Telestial phase of existence (Telestial extending to Church members as well as those clearly living at a lower level)?

  14. How about just having a winning women’s basketball team at BYU–instead of the usual one and done at the NCAA tournament that the men’s team does every year?

  15. Thankfully BYU’s NCAA national standings don’t factor in to our ultimate place in the Kingdom! :) But we can always hope!

  16. 1. The Young Women are assigned the task of being the ward greeters.

    Creepy. Flirt to convert?

    2. The Young Women are collectively given the task of managing the sacrament meeting music.

    I don’t want music to be completely “pink”. Its difficult enough getting our sons through piano lessons. Music belongs to all who love it and wish to share. Boy, girl, young or old.

    3. A YW speaks in sacrament meeting, every week.

    Practical in some places, not so in others.

    4. The YW open and close the doors as the YM deliver the sacrament to those in the lobby.

    What? Hymn book passer-outer was taken?

    5. The YW are formally charged with observing the congregation and aiding kids.

    Just what our daughters need more of in church… babysitting opportunities.

    6. The bishop meets with the YW monthly to observe as the YW brainstorm potential topics for sacrament meeting talks.

    The bishopric already has 4 persons to do this. Holidays are already “set”, and then you subtract ward, stake and general conferences. Then, subtract stake directives and themes and special occasions like temple dedications.

    7. The YW introduce the theme of the meeting with a scripture and/or quotation.
    Instead of the bishopric member conducting? Interesting.

    8. The YW take notes, which are later distributed to people who were sick, out of town, or in the lobby with their screaming children.

    Shouldn’t the ward clerk do this or the bulletin-maker?

    9. The YW present (really) brief bios of the speakers before they speak. (This means they would ‘interview’ them during the week.)

    Sorry… Going to protest here. I don’t think bios have a place in church. We are already too Calvinistic as it is without dragging our worldly success this always bothered me at he MTC. We never heard a speaker without a bio being read about their lifetime achievements in this field or another. I marveled at our need for this type of context in preparing to accept spiritual thoughts. What would happen if a speaker was introduced as a “plough boy”?

  17. OK, J.s.t., now that you’ve said what doesn’t work for you, can you share any thoughts on what does work for you to address the legitimate issue brought to our attention? The total effect is to have dismissed the initial question, which may or may not have been your intent. And the initial question has merit.

  18. Handbook 2, Section 18.2.2 says, in part: “Members of the bishopric plan sacrament meetings and conduct them in a reverent and dignified manner. They oversee the administration of the sacrament, select subjects for talks and music”

    Suggestion 2 makes it sound like the YW, not members of the bishopric, are selecting the music. Suggestion 6 makes it sound like the YW, not members of the bishopric, are selecting the subjects for talks. Suggestion 9 makes it sound like the YW, not members of the bishopric, are conducting the meeting. (And doing so in a way that would be a distraction; what does my biography have to do with the price of beans in China?) And I don’t get the point of Suggestion 3; I’ve never been in a ward in which young women were asked to speak less frequently in sacrament meeting than young men.

  19. It might be nice to suggest that both YM and YW periodically address what their respective programs are teaching them in the youth talks portions of the sacrament meeting talks, both for the benefit of the youth and for the benefit of those without either children or callings in the programs.

  20. Good suggestions, Julie. A couple of comments:

    1. Tell the bishoprics to stop thanking the boys for fulfilling their duties. Of course they bless and pass the sacrament–it’s their responsibility. Why should they be praised for doing something that we and they and everybody else knows they should be doing?

    2. As Shawn E implies, the bishopric is responsible for what happens in sacrament meeting, including the music. But if they’re any good at leadership, they will operate with a light hand, and that hand won’t be seen during sacrament meeting. So, if the young women are the music director/organist/music chairman, etc., let them counsel with the bishopric well in advance to make appropriate decisions about ward music. My concern would be that some men might see this as one more step toward the feminization of music in worship, and just opt out. So, give the young women the challenge of improving congregational singing–by getting everyone to sing. Maybe they can do something about death-spiral slow tempos and dull accompaniments by overworked accompanists. If they’d really get the people to sing, they’d deserve praise indeed!

    3. I don’t know what Shawn means by “given that the topics are already chosen.” There are hints in the handbook that bishoprics are to establish themes/topics for sacrament meetings, but there’s nothing to suggest that “the gospel of Jesus Christ” isn’t an appropriate theme for all sacrament meetings, with a lot of responsibility given to assigned speakers to narrow the subject. (I’ve written long comments elsewhere about this topic–which, by the way, has resulted in wonderful sacrament meetings in our YSA branch for the past four years.)

    4. This would require a change in the handbook, but not the scriptures: let the YW assist in preparing and passing the sacrament. The only scriptural statement about the sacrament refers to “administering” it–the priests are given that responsibility in D&C 20:46, but the teachers and deacons are specifically excluded from that in verse 58. Preparing and passing the sacrament are not ordinances–the offering of the prayers over the bread and water are the ordinances–and everything else is simply a “help.” Besides, every person who receives a tray and passes it down the row to the person next to her is “passing” the sacrament already. (I see that DW already mentioned this.)

    Finally, there’s a not so subtle distinction between helping people to feel that they are a vital part of the functioning of the church (cue here the story of the young man operating the manual bellows on the organ), and spending time lavishing praise and recognition on those who make those contributions. I think that the young people in the church know most such praise or recognition is phony*–and they don’t want or need that. (Besides, if any of them has read the New Testament, they would realize that those thus praised of men “have their reward.”) But people need to feel that their being there matters–that they’re not simply spectators, but participants, that they are needed.

    *One more reason to ditch the “we want to thank the young men of the priesthood for not fouling up the simple task of passing the sacrament.” Really? Who needs to hear that? What could they do wrong, after all? Although it would guarantee everybody’s attention if some bishop ditched the euphemism in that sentence one Sunday.

  21. I guess that the handbook contains more than “a hint” about bishoprics selecting subjects for talks. Still, I think we’ve selected a darned good subject, and we’re not changing it.

  22. In one previous ward, the meeting conductor also always asked if anyone had not received the sacrament who wanted it. A couple of times people subsequently received the sacrament who inadvertently hadn’t. (Maybe this simple task is more difficult than we thought!) I haven’t heard that in any other wards since and wish it could be included as part of the post-sacrament monologue. But it’s not always taken as intended when and if I suggest it to a Bishop.

  23. Thinking about this a little further, I think that Julie’s emphasis on YW and YM is instructive. There are few greater inequities–at least in terms of broad demographics–in the church than between young men and young women.

    It’s interesting to think: How would the church respond to a visible movement of young women agitating to help with the sacrament? Unlike the general priesthood meeting issue, there is no female analogue to point to.

  24. A few other incremental changes that would not have anything to do with ordination:

    -Have the ward relief society presidency sit on the stand (like they do at conference)
    -Officially allow/encourage wives to join their husbands when giving blessings by the laying on of hands (if we’re really serious about the shared priesthood idea.)
    -Let the relief society presidency pray about and offer callings to all female organizations within the ward.
    -And, of course, call sisters to be Sunday school presidents.

  25. In our ward, we have two organists–one experienced, the other inexperienced. I am the chorister. When the inexperienced organist plays, she selects he hymns (ones she can play); when the experienced organist plays, I select the hymns. Speakers may use a topic suggested by the Bishopric, or select their own topic. I have tried to get the Bishopric to tell me what the themes are for upcoming Sacrament Meetings so I can select hymns that go along, but they seem not to be up on that. This past Sunday, there were hymns that would have gone very nicely with both the talks, but when I mentioned that to the member of the Bishopric who was conducting, he said the second speaker didn’t even know he was speaking until Saturday afternoon. So the idea of having the YW come up with themes for the Sacrament Meeting talks seems like a god one to me, since our Bishopric doesn’t seem to be very good at it.

  26. Does equality need to mean that one person engages in all of the same things that another does, even if they possess different qualities and interests? As a man, I just don’t have any interest in some of the stuff that my wife and daughters are interested in: Jane Austin novels, wedding dresses, US magazine, What Not To Wear, etc. Conversely, the women in my life are generally not that interested in some of the things that interest me like watching four football games at once, insulting my best friends for sport, and avoiding personal hygiene until absolutely necessary.

    Media and marketing executives (like me) have recognized these differences for ever and, while it is politically incorrect to acknowledge them out loud, the ad spend makes it leaves little question that there are fundamental differences in interests and priorities.

    Can’t work on equally respecting peoples unique qualities without just railroading everyone to do the same things so we can call them “equal?” What this world does not need is a bunch of women behaving like men. We already have plenty of men.

  27. DW, I think you’re right on, but this is another thing that would need to change at levels much higher than the ward level. I suspect that despite the fact that history (and D&C 20) confirm your point, the idea that only Aaronic priesthood pass and prepare the sacrament is probably stuck in the Handbook someplace.

  28. ” Imagine a family where the son was praised weekly and the daughter never mentioned: (no one would think that this is acceptable parenting).”

    I do not have to imagine a family where the son was praised weekly and the daughter ignored because it really did happen in my family, to me, the daughter. To this day, even as an adult, I still struggle with many issues.

    In my ward, the boys are treated better than the girls, and the boys are given passes for bad behavior, the “boys will be boys” mantra. The status quo and culture in the LDS church is alive and well, and running everything in the LDS church at all levels.

    (I will not get on my soap box about scouting)

  29. Got to say I am kind of with JAT on this one, sorry.

    YW as Ushers feels very creepy, especially if solely YW, having experienced the female greeters outside Japanese stores, encouraging passers by to enter. Not really empowering.

    On music in sacrament meeting, a veritable hornets nest. I speak from experience. If you do not want YW to very early on become disillusioned about their own inspiration (regarding hymn choices, having been given the topics by the Bishopric), just don’t go there. We used to have YW choristers, which was fine so long as they hadn’t been asked to choose the hymns. The combination of a Bishop who decides the YW chorister should choose the hymns (as per the handbook), but is an both an awful micromanager, and not prepared to accept hymns he doesn’t think he knows (inspite of the handbook encouraging use of both familiar and less familiar hymns) isn’t pretty.

    I cannot fathom that any Bishopric would be willing to hand over choice of topics for the meeting to the YW.

    In these discussions I’ve frequently advocated dropping titles, just Brother, Sister or first names please. Let’s take this further. Instead of more people on the stand how about fewer? The only person who needs to be there is the person conducting. Let everyone else sit with their families. Lets have a more equal feeling all round, and less aggrandisement.

    The meeting might flow better without all the thanks in the middle, to ‘the Priesthood’ (meaning YM and other assisting Priesthood holders) for the sacrament, the chorister & the organist/pianist, and later, the speakers so far, but on the other hand, where I am at least, it isn’t only the YM who get thanked.

  30. I’ve felt that there is something wrong with our gender-determined church leadership ever since the brethren stripped control of the Relief Society from the sisters of the church. How are we to attract women of the world to the church who have achieved high leadership roles in business, government, the military or any other walk of life when they can’t even run their own organization without the okay of a man? On the other hand, if we can change something this big by popular will, do we not run the risk of asking just how valid the whole thing was to begin with?

  31. So, the idea seems to be that since the administration of the bread and water is assigned to young men, all remaining matters of the sacrament meeting should be delegated to young women.

  32. Hedgehog, I don’t think Julie was suggesting that the YW set the meeting topics (that is well and truly a job of the presiding officer – whether the Bishop, Stake Assignee or SLC bod for general and area satellite conferences) rather that they introduce the theme through the reading of a scripture that ties the themes together. This would give them a voice in the meeting that is just as focussing as that of the PH holders who bless the sacrament.

    My only issue with most of these ideas is that they are clearly aimed at larger wards where a) there are plenty of YW to go round, b) they generally still place the YW in non-empowering holding-the-door, introducing-the-really-important-person type roles, and c) you stole them (shock, gasp) :P

    I can see merit in the taking and distribution of notes to those who can not make the meeting for whatever reason. I would love for someone to be taking notes when I name and bless my child, or during confirmations. (Though this has occurred for me several times) This would also help bolster the quality and usefulness of ward histories.

    Recognition is an important issue here too. I personally would prefer for the young men not to be thanked for passing the sacrament, at least not publicly. The YM in my ward try to pass the sacrament as though they were the invisible hand of God, moving in such as a way to be exactly where you need them (to take trays at the end of the row, helping parents with hands full, etc.) but without their presence interrupting your thoughts at all. But that is their job, if every person who had a part to play in the smooth running of a Sacrament meeting was thanked we’d be there for another hour. We should be recognising our youth for the things they do that are above and beyond, not just mediocre.

  33. Julie
    I appreciate your post. I will not respond to each individual example that you listed, as others are doing that and I would rather address the overall results that you mention.

    First, I sincerely hope that our young men are not passing the sacrament out of a desire for recognition of any kind. And I hope that parents do not expect such. If so, they are missing the point. Giving our young women an opportunity to be recognized for such a thing would be in effect helping our young women to also miss the point, which would not help. If anything, we need to educate both the young men and young women as to why the administration of the sacrament is important and to stress that it has absolutely nothing to do with the young men receiving “recognition” for it. We should recognize them for other reasons, in other ways, and in other venues.

    Second, the young women have a beautiful and glorious purpose, as do the young men. The duties fulfilled in pursuit of this purpose have some overlap, necessarily, but are not the same. I think this is the crux of the dissatisfaction you mention with “equal does not mean the same”. It isn’t separate but equal at all. To the contrary, the purpose is to allow both men and women to work together to accomplish great and marvelous things. That doesn’t mean hoeing the same row after one or the other has already done it. That would be a waste of time and effort, bringing no satisfaction to anyone. There are better ways to work together. I believe that we can find them.

    Third, as our youth grow and mature, they will deal with various different motivations, starting from the base and moving to the divine. However, we should not assist them by addressing the lowest common denominator of motivations (such as avoiding social stigma) when we could and should be encouraging them to have a higher purpose. Yes, they could avoid sin simply to avoid negative social consequences, but that’s not why they should be avoiding sin. It’s a reason; it’s not the best reason. Let’s help them aim higher.

    Fourth, spirituality is better served by partaking of the sacrament while communing with our Savior. If anything, the actual physical passing of the emblems can often distract from the purpose of the ordinance. Most of the thoughts I had as a youth were on the logistics of the operation and not the purpose (Don’t miss that row!, Am I going to run out of bread?, That new kid has no idea where he is supposed to go and no one has gone to the foyer yet! The priests aren’t paying attention, stand up so we can get finished already…).

    Fifth, I do agree with you that our young men can grow from the experience of passing the sacrament. They have the opportunity to learn and grow by fulfilling their callings, serving in the church and families, and yes, observing priesthood duties. Perhaps our young women do need additional duties to assist them in their growth and development. I will defer to others who have worked closely with the young women and are more aware of their needs in this area. But that hasn’t been my experience.

    As I have observed the young women in my ward growing up, in the wards where I have served, and now with my own daughter, I see vibrant, wonderful, faithful young women who are learning and growing and serving and discovering who they are, without losing sight of what is most important. I see young women of understanding, of compassion, of power and grace.

    If anything, I wish that I could be more effective in helping our young men be deserving of such amazing and valiant young women. Not to denigrate our young men in any way, as they also are learning and growing into strong, determined, righteous men of God. But I see that our young women are, speaking generally, much further along the path. I see no reason that they should have to back up so as to make sure to do the same things the young men are doing. Life is hard enough; there is no need to handicap them.


    “Tell the bishoprics to stop thanking the boys for fulfilling their duties. Of course they bless and pass the sacrament–it’s their responsibility. Why should they be praised for doing something that we and they and everybody else knows they should be doing?”

    While I agree that sacrament meeting may not be the best venue for this, I could not disagree more strongly with the sentiment that we should not thank people for doing their duty. I believe a mission president said something similar to Gordon B. Hinckley during his mission and President Hinckley made clear when discussing the incident that he disagreed. So do I.

    So, apparently, does the Lord, as the scriptures state that He “immediately blesses” us for simply obeying His commandments (which is our duty). Blessing is stronger than praise, in my mind. The scriptures repeatedly show the Lord blessing people and, yes, praising them for simply doing that which He asked them to do. How much more should we recognize the devoted service of others, even all those who strive to be obedient to the Lord?

    The idea that no one should be praised for doing their duty has always struck me as amazingly ungrateful and uncharitable to others. No one who does their duty should be taken for granted.

  34. I see a lot of comments debating the merits of the various ways in which YW might serve in their wards. Those comments miss the point of this post, which is probably my fault for not stating it more clearly in the first place. This post is not a “How To Involve the YW” post. It is a thought experiment on what “equal but not the same” would look like, meant to show that that is not what we currently have.

  35. Nice, Julie. I appreciate the thought experiment; the examples you give are certainly possible, without doctrinal or significant policy changes, and should be relatively easy to implement. And they are certainly better than nothing, which is largely what we’re doing now.

  36. This post does seem to to assume that young men and young women need to be praised in the same outlet, sacrament meeting, or a pathology is created. I’m not sure this is a great assumption in the equal but not same thought experiment. I’m also not sure that young women aren’t already receiving equal or even more praise than young men, just in different settings. Nor am I convinced that praise and recognition is a helpful rubric for determining value and equality. Isn’t a better rubric that which will lead to salvation in the lives of individuals–and then crafting a system that most closely aligns with meeting that goal. If that is the case and we accept that there are actual biological differences between men and women that reflect additional differences (a large what if, but I’m making it here for sake of the though experiment) than isn’t it at least possible that actions, such as public praise, don’t translate exactly across genders. They very well might (i.e., praise may not affect different genders differently–it may not speak to any differences we are assuming for purposes of the experiment), or may even be more important for women than men. All this to say, I wonder if providing people what they need may be more important than some universal equality. This is certainly the rubric upon which affirmative action programs have been designed.

  37. Well, one way that things are not the same and some men feel they are disadvantaged is that for the RS/priesthood meeting hour, the women have their own rooms with padded chairs while the men meet wherever they can, sometimes on folding chairs in the kitchen.

    A while back a bishop ordered plaques for recognition of all the Eagle scouts and YW who completed their program. The YW put the plaque in their room, while the scouting plaque is out in the hallway near an entrance door. I was upset when I saw the plaque for the Eagles and wondered why there wasn’t one for the YW. Um. I couldn’t really argue with the YW putting it in their room, but it gave a perception of inequality.

  38. For those suggesting that (young) women should not need praise, public visibility, or anything approaching equality, that they seem to thrive without it anyway, sometimes we don’t realize how much we would love a thing because we can’t even imagine it. A year ago, my family and I attended Mass with my aunt and her family. As soon as the meeting was over, and it was beautiful, the first thing my mother said was, “I loved seeing those altar girls up there!” My aunt replied, “Yes, it’s one small bit of equality in our church.” I wouldn’t call either of them feminists, but sometimes, when you see a thing like that, it just strikes your soul as being right and good.

    Higher motives of service and love are all very wonderful. But I remember very well from my days as a teenager that the self esteem and worth of a young woman is a frightfully fragile thing. And who am I kidding? Many women struggle with that through their entire lives. I think more opportunities to serve–really serve–and to be recognized for it, if we’re going to do recognition–would help.

    And an interesting thought experiment in the OP! I agree with many of the comments that there are countless administrative changes that could be implemented without touching the doctrine with a ten foot pole that would allow us to better meet the needs of women, the church, and our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

  39. As a father with daughters I can say that one solution is to engage in activities that suit my daughters’ interests outside of a church setting. For example, I have a daughter who seems to fulfill the measure of her creation (at the ripe age of 9) by camping out in a hammock. As far as I know, she isn’t allowed to participate in scouting, so we’ll find another group to participate with outside of church.

    Really, the YW leaders and youth in my ward are remarkable. I’m thrilled as a father to raise my children with those people in their lives. On the other hand, I have an unshakable feeling that too much of the LDS experience related to gender roles isn’t helping my daughters prepare for a world where gender roles are more plastic. Watching the young men pass the sacrament every week is an excellent example. I don’t want to tell my daughters once a week that the young men have special jobs that only boys can do.

    (This comment is not intended to be negative or snarky. These are genuine concerns.)

  40. Julie, thanks for articulating this in such a clear way.

    It’s my general sense (from discussions more generally about this issue and also specific comments here) that those who endorse the “equal is not the same” retort simply do not believe that the YM and YW should be given functionally equivalent opportunities for recognition, purpose, motivation, spirituality, or growth.

    Instead, they seem to suggest that the current structure places value and emphasis on those rewards, values, and attributes for the YM that are most appropriately targeted to the roles they want the YM to fill in church and life. By contrast, they believe that the current structure likewise provides the YW with those rewards, values, and attributes that they believe are best geared towards the appropriate position and role of YW.

    Because the structure does what is supposedly “best” for each group, the different approaches are, supposedly, still equivalent.

    This strikes me as wrongheaded on several levels, but the only way I can see to make any sense of the argument.

  41. Kudos to you, Julie, for proposing some excellent ideas! I really like several of them.

    (This is what the bloggernacle needs more of — proposed solutions to problems rather than endless posts filled with complaints but no suggested solutions)

  42. Julie, I appreciated this post very much. Thank you.

    Josh Smith, I have also taken the same approach as you with my daughters. It’s a shame that we have to look elsewhere (for our YW) for what is automatically programmed for our sons in the church.

    As a church, we can do better. Doing something is better than nothing.

  43. “In these discussions I’ve frequently advocated dropping titles, just Brother, Sister or first names please. Let’s take this further. Instead of more people on the stand how about fewer? The only person who needs to be there is the person conducting. Let everyone else sit with their families. Lets have a more equal feeling all round, and less aggrandisement.”

    Hedgehog, I couldn’t agree more.

  44. Julie, I had quietly started trying to move my ward toward some of the things on your list before you posted. I have been particularly intrigued with the music ideas; I see no reason that a particular YW class couldn’t be responsible for picking hymns, getting those to the program printer, chorister, and organist, and putting up the numbers for the congregation to see. You gave me more ideas—thanks. I will add one that isn’t on your list: have the young women arrange prayers, though working from a master list the bishop approved.

    Further as to sacrament meeting and similar events/tasks, in my thinking I have concentrated on two points. First, the one that you overtly address: what meaningful tasks are being done by young men that do not require the priesthood—even under current handbooks? Second, perhaps implicit in your post, what can we do to more fully involve youth in serving in worship in the ward? Dealing with the sacrament gives young men a meaningful task as part of our worship service without local leadership having to consider the question. But what other tasks contribute to worship? Frankly, small branches do a better than large wards in getting all youth, regardless of gender, directly involved. That’s often out of necessity, of course. But it ought to give us models that can be used to increase the young women’s involvement in any ward or branch. If we combine a serious effort to identify means by which more youth can contribute directly to our worship, and discard any false assumptions that young men are any better suited to do any of those tasks (sacrament excepted) than are young women, we should be able to accomplish something meaningful.

  45. The fact that so many commenters have their likes and dislikes and opinions might suggest why responsibility for sacrament starts and ends with the bishopric. Everybody seems to have an opinion how things ought to be run.

  46. This is a great post, Julie. As a young woman, I was lucky enough to get my first calling of ward organist right around the age when the young men were getting the Priesthood and starting to pass the Sacrament. It did a lot for my self esteem and commitment to the Gospel to have a specific, defined responsibility to perform each week that I knew was important. My teenage years and my feeling of participation in the work of the Church would have been much different without that understanding that what I did every week at Church was meaningful and appreciated.

    I would love for all the young women in the Church to have a similar experience. It matters that at the age of 12 our young men are given the responsibility over the single most important thing that happens in Sacrament Meeting. We could do so much better at giving our young women that same level of involvement.

  47. Julie,

    I didn’t like the post. I honestly don’t believe in equality. ;-)

    Honestly and respectfully, I think we should not evaluate what the YM are doing something and then wonder what the YW can do to “equalize” matters. I think we should simply ask ourselves “what would be beneficial for our YW?” “What would do they need to experience and learn?” and work from that point. What the YM do is irrelevant to our effort. I don’t want to engage in “gender leap-frog,” or create a scenario that we have to look at the opposite gender to determine what is appropriate for the age and gender of youth we are working with at the moment.

  48. First, let me suggest that given the hideous history of “separate but equal” and its toxic legacy, it may not be the wisest move rhetorically

    I know this isn’t the point of your post, but I keep seeing this come up. “Separate but equal” is a perfectly orthodox feminist ethic, as evidenced by things like Title IX in sports, or gender-segregated clubs likes Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

    There is no difference between a black man and white man (or a black woman and a white woman), which is why separate-but-equal in that context resulted in such a “toxic legacy.” However, most feminists do not disagree that there are differences between a man and a woman.

  49. I love this thought experiment and it’s one I’ve discussed before. At the end of the day, though, the separate and equal tasks for the young women all feel fabricated, like the made up callings we used to get in BYU wards when there were no more necessary callings. Fake responsibility is worse than nothing, in my opinion, and teenagers can sniff it out right away. I really think this is a case (like many, many of the other circumstances where young men have priesthood responsibilities and young women have an invented program that showed up around 1982) where there are no equivalent tasks for young women. A better solution might follow the logic that young women should do some extension of the work that the Relief Society is engaged in. I’m actually a fan of having the YW bake bread (sorry) because it’s necessary and useful.

    All that said, I have four sons and no daughters. Our ward is small, so my boys set up the sacrament every week, sometimes with help, sometimes without. Guess who remembers to buy the bread and bring it every single week? Me, their mom. Guess who irons their white shirts so they can get ready on time? Me. Guess who gets them there early so the sacrament is ready before the opening hymn? Me. Meanwhile my husband is in meetings all morning as the YM President. I submit that it is much more difficult to tease apart the question of what is “separate.” We are worshiping together as a family–the distinctions in gender shift and change with our callings and seasons of life. I consider my service as their mother a simple extension of my worship and I’m grateful the church as an institution is requiring a contribution from my boys.

    If I had daughters I would wish desperately for them to have similar opportunities for service. And then I would schedule an appointment for them to work at the homeless shelter or battered women’s home (just like I did for the YW in my ward when I was YW president).

  50. Another blessing these sorts of changes could have is engaging Young Women on the fringes. I have a younger sister who has no desire to serve in the Church, and I think it comes from an institutional lack of responsibility. She has no desire to serve a mission, which is fine, but also no desire to do anything else in the Church either. Part of it may be her age, but she’s been like this her whole life. If she were assigned as an usher, I believe that it would giver her ample opportunity to get outsider her shell and live up to her potential. The other suggestions would bless her similarly.

    And what about this for another change? Let’s have the YW play a more active role in planning girls camp. Scouts have at least some input into what goes on during their yearly encampment, but from my experience the leaders plan everything for the girls. Why have adults plan, prepare, and serve the meals? Why not consult the YW about what they want to do for activities during the day? Why do the YM get to have an input in where they go, and the girls are stuck at some church-owned camp?

  51. I may be wildly mistaken about this, but I swear that a First Presidency message was read over the pulpit in my old ward that requested that the young men not be thanked and dismissed to their seats after administering the sacrament. That had to have been at least ten years ago, and they’ve never done it since. Was this not a First First Presidency message?

  52. The nature and energy of the disagreements on this topic are interesting to me.

    I can relate to almost all of the comments to some extent and in particular to those like Josh Smith, Old Man and Aaron that are both personal and philosophical.

    The desire for gender equality and the expectation of grass roots input are so thoroughly engrained in enough LDS young people and so thoroughly at odds with enough of “The Handbook” and the forces that created and sustain it, that the issue is not going to go away and is only going to get bigger and bigger.

    Heaven help us all.

  53. Two of the laurels in our ward received “adult” callings this week – one is the sacrament meeting chorister and the other (my daughter) now manages the bulletin (she’s the one they call to put in announcements, etc. and she coordinates with the executive secretary). We have a new bishop determined to shake things up and give the youth (especially the YW) opportunities to serve and interact more with the adults in the ward.

  54. Yes, mtnmarty, heaven will help us. Like earlier problems, the discomfort that you describe will be solved partly by “further light and knowledge”. When confronted with an impasse, a new truth or understanding sometimes occurs which brings harmony to disharmony, and understanding to confusion. Women have been ignored and under-valued for centuries, really for thousands of years. We have been told, in the Book of Mormon that equality is also important to God: “The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33).” (From the introduction to Official Declaration #2 in the D&C.)

    We as a people, as leaders, will continue to re-evaluate our understanding of God’s will in terms of gender, leadership, and contributions. This is why we have revelation, and why we believe that “God will yet reveal” important things about His Kingdom. Revelation almost never occurs in a vacuum. We, and our leaders, will need to feel uncomfortable and will need to reach out to God to resolve the problem. While large numbers of members feel no urge to look for change, be assured that none will come. But, as you put it so well, the issue is only going to get “bigger and bigger.” This will lead to revelation.

    I can’t wait!

  55. I enjoyed your post, Julie.

    I’m curious, though, why we focus on seeking recognition as the central point to the gender equality issue in the Church. If man and woman are exalted—not as god (male) and goddess (female), but as a conjoined deified binary (Elohim being a pluralized noun)—joint heirs to priesthood power, why would we suppose that only the man be offered the opportunity to develop this power on earth? And since Priesthood isn’t about recognition, but the capability to invoke the power of godly parents to serve our brothers and sisters on earth through blessings and saving ordinances, the gender specificity of ordination is perplexing.

    These are sincere questions. I’m really not looking to stir the pot. It seems to me both sides of the debate are looking at Priesthood all wrong. It has been stated that ordaining women would not eradicate sexism within the Church and I agree. Perhaps what is needed is a closer inspection of our method of teaching exaltation and what that means. Again, we need to better define the feminine divine.

    The query shouldn’t be, “Should women be ordained?” But rather, “What is the full role and nature of woman once she is exalted as queen and priestess?”

  56. Equal means something? Boys and girls who don’t or almost never ask after an almost totally absent mother? As long as we don’t approach deity with the question — Where is our Mother in Heaven? — there may be some positive nudges in the post and comments that are minor, maybe a little laudable, but I have to ask you, are we on the right track? What kinds of kids are we not to ask and seek and knock?

  57. The issue of recognition is important because it ties into the question of what adult women do in the church and whether people respect work that they don’t know is happening.

    As a Relief Society president, I felt very much involved in ministry and an integral part of ward decision-making and management. Because an RS president has certain assignments around church assistance, and because some of the needy families in our ward were led by single fathers, I involved the Elder’s Quorum in tasks that the RS usually takes care of, and the EQP had no problem reporting back to me.

    But. When the bishop went on vacation, his first counselor came up and said, “I just found out about all the things you do. I was so worried about how I would deal with welfare issues and if there was a funeral, and now I understand that you will help me through those kinds of things.”

    Which is all true, but his eyes were big like this was all news to him. After being a returned missionary and serving in the bishopric for a while.

  58. Naismith – I served as a counselor in the bishopric three times and thought I had a decent feel for the things the bishops did. I knew the bishops were directly responsible for the Relief Society, so there were many conversations and discussions they had with the RS Presidents that I wasn’t privy to. By the same token, me and the other counselors did our best to make sure SS, YM, YW, and Primary ran smoothly, so there were many conversations between us and other leaders the bishop was not privy to. It wasn’t until I actually served as bishop that the full weight of welfare issues, along with morality and other personal struggles, were laid at my feet. Therefore, I can understand that counselor’s ignorance, just as some RS Presidents wouldn’t know all the stuff that goes on to keep the other auxillaries running smoothly. I worked with several wonderful RS presidencies, and they were often the eyes and ears of the ward through their own efforts and those of visiting teachers. I think (hope) I encouraged them to have an active part in both the administration as well as the ministration that occurred in the ward.

  59. Just to give a bit of perspective …

    The LDS church does more for its youth (both YM and YW) than any other organization that I know of. Seriously. I can’t name another organization (public or private) that provides as much

    *volunteer hours by caring adults,
    *youth leadership opportunities,
    *instruction regarding emotional and moral development,
    *community involvement,
    *project-based learning,
    *public speaking,
    *music training,
    *summer camps,
    *healthy peer groups,
    *seminary programs,
    … I could go on and on.

    The Mormon church is second-to-none in how it cares for its youth. I know people who reject Mormon doctrine outright who long for what the Mormon church provides its youth.

    The only thing I would add is a boarding school for my 11-year old. Kidding. Sort of.

    As I sit here today, I genuinely have concerns about an all-male priesthood. I can certainly imagine the world otherwise. I also think the church’s teachings on gender-roles can be gently overridden by parents. Parents like me who advocate more malleable gender roles can do so, and still be mostly-active tithe paying Mormons. However, such parents have to take complete responsibility for the results. Crikey!

  60. ” (The pathology of publicly praising our sons as a community every single week in the context of worship while never doing that for our daughters as a group is a very deep one. Imagine a family where the son was praised weekly and the daughter never mentioned: no one would think that this is acceptable parenting.)”

    My last 2 wards (spanning over 15 years of attendance, and 4 bishops) don’t say anything to the YM re: the Sacrament. There’s no “thank you” or anything. Whatever “public praising” your ward is doing is their fault alone. Mote/beam, etc.

  61. When I was a YM they would thank the Aaronic Priesthood for passing the sacrament and dismiss them to go sit with their families. Then at some point when I was a teacher some directive came down from SLC that they shouldn’t do that and the boys should just return to their families once the trays were all returned and covered.

  62. There is really no substitute for equal is equal. Julie, what you say about how to make different but equal work, is interesting. However most of the items you suggest for different equality are subject to local interpretation and implementation, as are most of the other observations on this thread. Until these different but equal duties appear in the Church handbooks, they will only be implemented on a patchwork basis. However if there were a statement that equal=equal were made, then the treatment of girls and boys would be the same in each ward or branch, be it good or bad.

  63. Josh,

    An all-male priesthood doesn’t bother me. Not one bit. Granted, I am a grumpy old guy, but I really don’t think that is the issue. So I think OW and arguments about equality are leading us way off the mark.

    The issue is that we haven’t solidified our thinking and practices with our women (both young and old). I think it will take revelation to resolve the YW problem. I want something which is as doctrinal and structural as priesthood ordination and participation in the ordinances is for men. I want something which is intergenerational. I like what Joseph said about the RS. The best person to teach a YW about womanhood is (shocker) an older, wiser woman. So part of the package will be the new women’s conference. I think any families and groups of friends who don’t make a big deal and develop traditions around that conference are missing an amazing opportunity. This could be the beginning of something wonderful for women and those who love the women in their lives.

  64. Re: IDIAT#66, okay, but that perhaps begs the question of WHY the work that women do is not well known? And is that part of the problem of perceived inequality?

    This is meaningful and challenging work that a YW could look forward to doing, and help with. But ward members may have no idea it is going on.

    This might also explain part of the disconnect between leadership and rank-and-file members. I do think that the bishops and stake leaders with whom I have worked value the contributions of women. But not everyone has that vantage point to see the big picture.

  65. Old Man (no disrespect intended) (#71):

    Sometimes the problem when we open our mouths (er, type) is that we reveal far more about ourselves than we intended. Sometimes our audience never gets past the author.

    The issue is that we haven’t solidified our thinking and practices with our women (both young and old). I think it will take revelation to resolve the YW problem.

    Hypothetically, if given a chance to edit the above two sentences before publishing them on the interwebs, how would you do it?

    Old Man, I think you’re a troll, and here’s why. The people I know who hold views like you don’t know how to type. You seem to be able to type. So who are you? Please share your real name. I hate calling people “Old Man.” And, I hate having conversations with an anonymous people because I never know when they’re genuine.

  66. Josh,

    You are thoughtful enough to take this the right way. Both Plato and Jesus were convicted and executed for being trolls. The antipathy to trolls is a bad sign for our culture.

  67. mtnmarty (#74): Neither Socrates nor Jesus were executed because they were trolls. (When I woke up this morning, I had no idea that I’d type that sentence during lunch.)

    Everyone knows that Socrates was a hobbit.

    Maybe my grumpiness should be directed toward anonymity? :-)

  68. “And, I hate having conversations with an anonymous people because I never know when they’re genuine.”

    I know some people who think the same thing about non-anonymous conversations.

    I won’t press the matter but “concern-trolling” and morality have more in common than we want to think. Reflecting on why it makes a difference to you whether Old Man is genuine or not and why his comment is frustrating to you will be good for your soul. Whoever posted it offered you both a mirror and a lens.

  69. Josh,

    Specifically, which of my views are you connecting with an inability to type? That we as a people have not yet gotten a handle (theologically-speaking) on the role of women? Or that we will not resolve our concerns about the YW program without revelation? And what, pray tell, makes me a troll in your eyes?

  70. Sadly, here is a cultural problem with loaded terms.

    “Equal” certainly had a traditional meaning, but unfortunately it has been coopted by certain interests, which effectively renders the term useless for meaningful communication. In mathematics, equivalence has no such ambiguity. But in the general use of words, they can be effectively hijacked and compromised by politically-correct interests.

    Of course the classic example in our culture is “gay”, which used to be a perfectly innocuous term, but now is instantly recognizable by most everyone as have a totally different meaning.

    “Discrimination” is another such term. With the negative connotation that now accompanies such words, it is probably better to discard them from our vocabulary. They carry far too much cultural baggage. The use of such popularized terms assumes the culturally loaded meaning, and effectively normalizes social deviance.

    I have no problem with approaching ideas to promote the welfare of women. But the current cultural environment that surrounds this discussion is effectively and permanently poisoned. I am not sure it can ever again be discussed with any objectivity.

    The premise of this post appears to me to be a victim of the word hijacking process.

  71. Jim,

    Are there no objective words that name, for example, women potentially performing every office in the church?

    This is the magic of the term “ordain women”. There are no “poisoned” words or semantic disagreements or evasions.

  72. Old Man (please give me something better to call you):

    I’m sorry if I mistook you for a troll. That’s the second time I’ve apologized for misunderstanding a person’s sincerity within the last week on T&S. I should probably just assume that people are genuine. And, I didn’t question your ability to type. I just don’t know anyone who talks about women like you do and can also make use of a computer.

    This is probably a terrible misunderstanding. Let’s see if we can work this out.

    Here’s the quote I’m almost certainly misinterpreting:

    The issue is that we haven’t solidified our thinking and practices with our women (both young and old). I think it will take revelation to resolve the YW problem.

    “Our women.” When I read “our women” it sounds like you’re referring to chattel. Is there a more charitable way for me to understand “our women”?

    “We haven’t solidified our thinking and practices with our women.” I’m hesitant to guess what this means. I’m pretty sure I would never talk about “solidifying my thinking and practices” about another human being, though I might “solidify my thinking and practices” regarding something like, say, ham radio reception.

    … wait a minute. Are you an engineer Old Man? That would explain everything.

    “YW problem.” We’re not discussing a YW problem. There is no problem with the young women. The problem is an institutional problem–it’s how the young women are treated relative to the young men. Again, it sounds like you’re talking about people as though they are objects to be fixed. As though what really needs to happen is for an authority to address an HR problem.

    I’m open to persuasion otherwise.

  73. Josh,

    I meant “our” in a gender-neutral sense, as in all readers and all members of the church. These sisters are “our” women, as in within our faith community. Granted that it could be interpreted as overly patriarchal because of my pseudonym and since I am male.

    Also, “our thinking and practices” is our (as in the church membership’s) culture, teachings, doctrines, organizations and institutions (like the YW program), etc.

    The acronym “YW” – I used interchangeably for both young women and the YW program, an institution, in the same paragraph. Sloppy writing, my fault. In the first case case, I meant the YW program. Agreed, the problem is not the young women. The problem is how we as a people, as a community, nurture and educate the young women. I would argue that “equality” isn’t the issue. At times and on certain issues, I think young women need more time and money than our young men do. (I have yet to see a ward in danger of doing that!) Doing right by young women in these times will take thought, work and revelation (at all levels) to work out.

    Please re-read my post again. I think you’ll see we agree on many points.

    Respectfully yours,

    Old Man

    P.S. I keep the pseudonym because it is accurate, and because some people are biased against anyone not female, who is moving “beyond middle age,” and who clings to a conservative ideal or two. It really isn’t that bad.

  74. Good heavens! The problem was, once again, my reading. Thanks for your patience Old Man.

    Doing right by young women in these times will take thought, work and revelation (at all levels) to work out.

    Agreed. Have a wonderful rest of your day.

  75. Re 67, I think that a great way the church encourages malleable gender roles in our youth is in the area of mission preparation. We taught all our kids the same life skills irregardless of gender, with the reasoning that the guys would need to cook on their missions and the young women would need to change a flat tire.

    There were differences in how the tasks were operationalized. Our son could unscrew any tire bolt with just a wrench. The girls could not, but we always keep a metal rod in the back of our cars, so that they could slip that over the wrench handle, climb up on it and bounce up and down until the bolt was loose (go physics!). And sure enough, on one daughter’s mission, she found herself in a garage full of guys who were struggling; she looked around, found a pipe lying around, and got it off.

    Not that some members don’t have unhelpful attitudes. A story came back to me that the YW were baking bread for a service project, and the YM gravitated toward the kitchen, lured by the smell. The scoutmaster came to bring them back, saying, “C’mon men, let’s go do manly things instead of this female stuff.”

    According to a YW leader, my son stood up for the value of breadmaking as equal to any manly thing, pointing out the chemistry and skill involved.

    Which gets to something I love about the OP thought experiment, of making equal without making same. One of my concerns about calls for ordination of women that it is merely a call for same = same.

  76. Diverting back to the original post. I would love it if we had some YW Sacrament meeting helpers with children. I am married to a nonmember, have two small children, one of whom is autistic. I have not been to sacrament meeting in months because I don’t know how to handle the logistics of getting them both to behave. I don’t want the situation to get out of control and disrupt the meeting for others. So I just don’t go.

  77. I want to combine Naismith’s perspective with Julie’s and with a much more radical vision of what is doctrinal vs. what is institutional inertia regarding gender roles.

    Let’s say we scale back the doctrinal to the bare minimum. We have a sacrament and a confessional role and maybe some other things the doctrinal people can add but doesn’t that leave a tremendous amount of other stuff that women *could* have authority and power over without ordination? The church education system, church welfare system, all meetings other than possibly some “presiding” role which could be ceremonial (think constitutional monarchy).

    I can relate to the many perspectives here. I think the “male only ordination is doctrinal” and “separate gender roles are good” people make very good points but I also think that they use those good points to advocate for freezing in place traditional practices and decision making power, that are neither doctrinally nor logically connected to ordination or doctrine.

    Being a Prophet, seer and revelator and even a presiding authority does not limit giving women more,or even most decision making power.

    Just as a thought experiment, imagine the handbook was replaced with the following. “Except for the following scriptural and doctrinal items minimally interpreted, reverse all prior practices and give ward level decision making authority to the Relief Society president.
    What do you imagine possible under that directive?

    Now, I’m not saying this thought experiment is preferable to the current world, bu I am saying it should lead to a more honest discussion about what is doctrinal about the priesthood and leadership and what is traditional about it. One can still be for tradition, but one will be more ready for the changes that are happening and more honest about why one believes more changes won’t or shouldn’t take place if one has done that thought experiment.

  78. No wonder Richard Bushman, et al. feel as they do: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2007/03/scholarship-versus-dissemination/

    We’re all “navel-gazers”; all of us. (I’m looking at mine, right now.)

    “Oh, dear, me oh my! Isn’t this such a (big, little, present, future, catastrophic, of-no-import) issue? Well, here is what I think: . . .”

    “Well, yes, you have a (good, bad, lucid, obtuse, verifiable, speculative) point, but I see things this way: . . . ”

    “Well, all of you have your (interesting, dull, to-the-point, pointless, useful, useless) views. But here is my considered opinion: . . . ”

    Oh dear, me oh my!

    Where’s the good “scholarship” in these – and many/most “bloggernacle”- posts, vs. all of this “my opinion” superfluity? And why no T&S, et al. referees? “I wouldn’t belong to a club that would have me as a member.” (Groucho Marx)

  79. 4wisdom,

    Who’s got time for Bushman? History is bunk.

    If one wants scholarship blogs are a poor place to find it or practice it. If one wants to change moral perceptions and community mores, blogs are one tool.

    Scholarship as a cultural force may be obsolete or at least declining in influence.

  80. Wow, Julie! I love the point you make with this post. Sorry there’s so much discussion getting hung up on your example suggestions. But this is such an excellent point, that even if it’s conceded that equality doesn’t have to mean sameness, doesn’t it have to mean something? And what would that look like?

    I love that you expressed this point so clearly.

  81. It’s interesting that people frequently criticize bloggers for not offering specific suggestions for improvement along with analysis of the problem–this comment thread is a perfect illustration of what discourages us (well, me, at least) from doing so. It is ALWAYS easy to find practical reasons to avoid change when one is not committed to the principle being implemented by that change. Conversely, the practical issues tend to work themselves out when one is truly committed to implementing a given principle. If we truly believed that girls’ opportunities to serve and grow in the gospel are as important as boys’, we’d find ways to overcome the practical difficulties.

  82. “If we truly believed that girls’ opportunities to serve and grow in the gospel are as important as boys’, we’d find ways to overcome the practical difficulties.”

    Well said.

  83. Kristine and John,

    I think everyone agrees that girls should have opportunities to learn and grow. The differences are mainly about learn and grow..”into what?”

    The sides are roughly ‘learn and grow into people doing very different things from men” and “learn and grow into people doing very similar to men”.

  84. No one that I know who is interested in equality in this context is arguing that “equal = sameness”.

    You might know some but I don’t.

  85. John F.,

    Should women learn and grow in the ability to make decisions they aren’t going to be granted the power to make? If not, then do we change their decision making power or their opportunities to grow?

  86. At the core, this issue is about the talents, skills, perspectives, and fundamentally different insights (due to inherent gender differences) of more than half of the Church population being drastically underutilized in the current life of the Church as women do not share substantive decision making responsibilities at the General or local levels (though, increasingly, they are being consulted to a greater extent, though often still unfortunately only on the periphery).

  87. John F. I agree. Do you agree that some of the people resisting change think that under utilization is by design and a good thing? If not, why do they oppose change?

  88. Yes, I think that they believe this underutilization must be by design because they subscribe to a model of belief by which nothing that happens in the Church isn’t by design, i.e. if it is happening in the Church, then it must be by design. And, since it is by design (because it happens), then it must be a good thing. And therefore they oppose change (as you’ve stated it).

    Though the same 90% figure from the Pew survey that people throw around to show that most Mormons are not pressing for ordination of women would fully support any change in that direction that would be announced by General Authorities — because that is what faithful Mormons would do. They would be thrilled with any change, calling it major revelation as many did with the change in policy relating to the age that missionaries can leave on their missions. And this fact also shows why that 90% figure from Pew isn’t useful in this discussion — they are not asking for ordination but they would not oppose any change implemented by General Authorities up to and including ordination.

  89. Let’s please not make assumptions about others, from whatever side.

    First, I don’t see as much “underutilization” in the church as some do. I have served in stake public affairs, and found that area and stake public affairs councils have a lot of women involved, often with men reporting to women. I am also of an age when our friends are going on missions. And single men can’t even serve most missions. To be a mission president or temple president, one must have a wife and she has actual duties. When there was an earthquake in Chile, it was Sister Laycock, not her husband, who was inspired to prepare the missionaries, two weeks before it happened. We also have friends serving where the wife has the technical skill, and the husband is the supportive apointment-maker/paperwork doer. And our youth are very much involved in their conferences and camps–the YW more than the YM actually, since they YM only go to scout camp and the YW can come up with their own theme, deisgn their own t-shirts, and have more flexibility. And I have found that my work as a visiting teacher and RS presidency has absolutely utilized my talents; please do not dismiss the work of women who serve in that way, just because it is “traditional.”

    Just because a woman does not serve as a bishop does not automatically mean that she must be underutilized. Most men do not serve as bishops, either.

    I live far from Utah, most of my friends are not LDS, and I work for an employer which has defined “equal opportunity” as doing things the way men do. So moms can’t attend college part-time while their own kids are in school; the must be enrolled fulltime or not at all. And a full-time parent returning the workforce cannot claim volunteer work on a job application, not even if they have demonstrated great organizational skills like managing a fundraiser that netted $25,000 and involved a coalition of organizations. This same = equal policy has not been particularly kind to women. We had one family in our ward that moved away in part so that mom could finish college at a comfortable pace.

    The non-LDS women in my toddler playgroup were wracked with failure at not living up to feminist ideals, because they couldn’t find childcare that worked for them, so they were full-time parents for a season. They felt like a burden on their husbands, and admired the way my husband saw me as an equal partner, contributing equally but in a different way through my baby production and homemaking.

    And these were women who were at home full-time for a season. I know many more women who would love to be at home more, but can’t because their husband doesn’t value any contribution but a paycheck, like men do (never mind if they spend twice as much money on food and clothing than if someone had more time to cook and sew).

    So I am not seeing the worldly way as being a panacea that will be better for all women. I realize that my view might be different if I lived in Utah.

    I admit that mothers are particularly advantaged in the church since much of the rhetoric is aimed at mothers not women….but since women without children are advantaged in their lives outside of church, that seems like a balance.

    The benefits of male priesthood in keeping men engaged in church and family were first pointed out to me during grad school, by a classmate who is a baptist minister, and was intrigued with our ideas of home teaching and dads baptizing their own kids. And it is a theme that has been repeated in conversations with women of other faiths, who were at first delighted with the ability to lead, then concerned at the disengagement of men. I am not predicting this would automatically happen with Mormon men, but there is a substantial body of research regarding men in other faiths, that should at least be considered.

    So I am not strongly “resisting” ordination, but I do think there would be costs and benefits either way. Whereas proponents tend to point out only the benefits, not acknowledging any costs.

  90. I appreciated your approach Julie. I think you are right that so much of the rhetoric of any issue fails to follow through on explaining claims or definitions. I appreciated that you simply pointed that out and showed that it was possible to give such some content! We’d all be much more productive conversationalists if we followed that pattern and also genuinely asked those opposed to us to do likewise!

    In addition, I appreciated the gesture for other reasons. In every program or meeting I think we are (99% of the time) stuck in a rut and have such a hard time seeing what else could be done within the very sparse parameters we’ve been given.

    In fact, I was tickled by this comment in a worldwide leadership broadcast: “A good reason to have a ward activity or a stake activity is because we need it and it will strengthen our families and individuals. A bad reason to have an activity is because it’s a tradition or there’s a certain holiday we have to celebrate.” That person had been in many ward council meetings, I think. :) And this extends far beyond ward activities. A lot of how we organize ourselves is tradition, and there’s a lot of give-and-take allowed for in our current handbooks that we’re not exploring nearly enough. So, thanks for helping me think outside the box tonight.

  91. Martin James (#86): I very much enjoyed the thought experiment. Basically, how does one distill out points of doctrine from culture and tradition, assuming it’s possible?

    John f. (#95): Underutilization of a significant percentage of an organization is tied to atrophy. I’m uncertain how that would apply (or if it applies?) in the LDS church. One would expect to find symptoms if underutilization is occurring.

    Regarding “equality” in the legal context, it’s most often used to suggest that a rule apply equally to all, not that all are equal. Brown v. Board didn’t rule that all students were the same, just that the all deserved the same access to public education. Very few people argue that little boys and little girls are the same. Many people have a deep conviction that both deserve equal opportunities to use their talents to serve, and lead, in their future families and in the church.

  92. Naismith, I think you’ve been lucky in your experience. I am also far from Utah, and I’m certainly feeling the atrophy Josh mentions… But I think this lies at the crux of most of the difficulties I seem to have with a lot of your comments:
    “I admit that mothers are particularly advantaged in the church since much of the rhetoric is aimed at mothers not women….but since women without children are advantaged in their lives outside of church, that seems like a balance.”
    To me, it doesn’t feel like balance, it feels like two extremes pulling in the opposite direction. What I’d like to hear and experience at church is a real balance, instead of a reactionary response to an outside extreme view.

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