Got Gender?: A Modest Proposal

John NilssonCulture, feminism, LDS, Mormon, women 54 Comments

Men don’t understand women very well.

I understand them even less because I grew up with brothers. No sisters. This may have contributed to my girl-craziness in high school and college. Getting to know my wife better has helped me to begin to understand women and their motivations, but I’m still learning.

I work with women. My boss is a woman. The majority of my co-workers are women. Such is a career in education. I really like it, because I’ve been able to see that women are no different from men in very fundamental ways. We are all capable of hiring, firing, managing budgets, motivating colleagues, and getting the job done. That’s my life Monday to Friday. Saturday is family day, and then Sunday rolls around…and women are not my equals anymore, at least for 3 hours, and I really don’t understand why.

I’ll give you an example: Until recently, women auxiliary leaders were not invited to participate in pre-church bishopric meetings like Ward Council and PEC. Heck, ward councils weren’t invented until the 1980’s or so, if I know my organizational history. This means that including women in ward decision-making is usually still an after-thought. It also means that men have few opportunities to interact with women in Church settings when decisions are being made.

Here’s my theory, and feel free to shoot it full of holes: today’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, and perhaps most General Authorities, had secular careers (or Church employment careers) where they associated primarily, if not exclusively, with men. If they associated with women, it was as secretaries, nurses, paralegals, etc. Someone who executes the decisions the men make. The resulting Church culture is therefore shaped by men who have had limited experiences of women in positions of power. (Their mommies don’t count, although mommies are powerful in their own way.)

The rising generation (as Churchspeak and John Dehlin call some of us, I’m not sure where the age cut-off is) is comfortable working for and with women. I know my personal example is a little extreme, but in talking with my friends in law, medicine, and business, I hear that there are a lot of women in positions of influence now.

Any positive change in Church culture opening spaces for women to demonstrate their leadership skill is often unnoticed by men because we are busy in our own “spheres”. For men to understand women better and vice-versa, here is my modest proposal:

Bishops and branch presidents immediately begin calling women into Sunday School presidencies, men into Primary presidencies, and women as membership or financial clerks. This will create three mixed-gender spaces on the ward level where men and women will make decisions together and (horror of horrors!) SOCIALIZE together. I see all kinds of positives coming out of this, to me, relatively minor first step in giving women and men a chance to work together to build the kingdom of God.

Would this scenario require a First Presidency letter to kick-start, or could progressive-minded individuals start this as a pilot program, so to speak? Also, is there something fundamentally male and female about the callings I’ve mentioned, which in the mind of God render them unsuitable for both genders? Is mixing genders in itself a bad idea, leading to affairs, etc? Can we not trust men in the Primary? Can we not trust women with sensitive information, including finances, in the clerk’s office? Is this, like so much else, part of the “unwritten order of things” (tradition)?

I know what some of you are thinking, first you call women into the clerk’s office, next thing you know it, you have riots in the streets, human sacrifice, Beehives passing the sacrament, dogs and cats living together, total anarchy!

Discuss, my friends:

Comments 54


    Can I just add a disclaimer saying that “anarchy” defined as chaos is not what I am about as a Christian Anarchosyndicalist. 🙂 I dont want you to think I am Johnny Rotten incarnate! lol

    Personally I only see intermingling as a good thing. I recently spoke to my bishop saying that I dont want to have any callings teaching adults but would enjoy teaching the children. I find with the children I have more common ground where we can talk about love, Jesus, peace…the adults are too pontific… My bishop looked at me like I was some sort of paedophile…lol

    I wont tell you what he said when I told him I enjoy the political philosophies of Christian Anarchism!!! lol

    But I think this story is characteristic of the people in positions of church authority. In my mind they are conditioned…to put it bluntly….brainwashed….to see the world a certain way.

    As an Anarchist I feel we must challenge authority where ever it is to determine whether it is justified in its form. Accountability, transparency and equality are important. Personally I dont think gender “roles” within the church have been rationally justified and I hope that they change as you have positively pointed out.

  2. I think this is a valid point and I would like to see positive change in this direction. I think one of the reasons we haven’t seen mixed auxillary presidencies is the fear of adultery resulting from the unbridled socialization. I am not kidding. I think there is an underlying fear that mixing the genders will result in impropriety. It is most likely unfounded, but it will be tough to overcome our basic puritanical fears (and FORBIDDEN DESIRES). :0

  3. Yes, it would take top-level involvement to implement, because it goes directly against the current handbook, which reserves Primary presidencies to women, and which requires a priesthood holder as clerk (even membership and financial) — my aunt was her ward’s membership clerk for part of the ’90s, and probably the best they ever had in straightening out the new computerized membership records, figuring out who was actually in the ward and what names they went by, and all that. New handbook = instant release, because of the insertion of the word “priesthood” as a qualification for those positions, which had not been part of the earlier handbook.

    Besides, we all know what would happen in too many places if Primary presidencies weren’t reserved for women. Men would migrate to the leadership roles because that’s the church model, and women would still do virtually all the direct work with the children.

  4. Is there anything in the handbook specifying that a SS Pres must be male, or a PP necessarily female? If not, I think this would be a fantastic idea! Probably starting with a SS Presidency member or a ward clerk would be less shocking move for the ward. I don’t know if everyone is ready for a male Primary President. Although I can think of some men right now who would be wonderful in this position.

  5. I think Bishopric callings like ward clerks and assistant ward clerks have always been considered Priesthood callings as is SS. EVen if they were not totally enforced.

    I do agree with John’s ultimate premise that women should have a greater role in the ward leadership and that a newer generation will be more open to that. I remember when we first invited the Relief Society President to PEC. We found out things we had no idea about! It was a great thing.

    I don’t know about a male Primary President. Males cannot even teach a primary class by themselves anymore because of the potential abuse situation.

  6. Oh good–so I can relax knowing I won’t ever be called as the primary president? Whew. I teach the 11 year-olds in primary, but I do not envy the Primary President. That being said, I agree with Ardis in the sense that the “men would migrate to the leadership roles because that’s the church model, and women would still do virtually all the direct work with the children.” This is a topic that needs a lot of thought and discussion. Other than the basic fact that (most) women are capable of bearing children, I don’t understand why gender is so important in the church.

  7. I’m pretty sure Sunday School Presidency requires M. Priesthood. The Sunday School secretary does not (we had an aaronic priesthood secretary for a while). That’s not much of a concession, is it?

  8. I never comment on any of these church-related blogs, but I love this post. It makes me feel hopeful that there is someone else out there who thinks we need to make these kinds of changes! On a sad note, however, my husband was once SS president and tried to call a woman (coincidentally, my cousin) as one of his counselors and it caused quite a stir. The dreaded handbook was consulted. At that point (10-12 years ago?), I don’t think it said anything about not allowing women in the SS presidency, so our relatively progressive bishop was stumped. However, tradition trumped progressivism and the female counselor was shot down. Lame!

    I have very similar life experiences as the person who wrote this post. I am also in education and feel like in life, work, and family, I am equal to my male peers/colleagues/spouse. So it is ONLY at church that I feel less-than, and that disturbs me at a fundamental level. The church is a huge part of my being, but it makes me very uncomfortable to be part of something that makes me feel less worthy and less able. Seems like that’s not good for my soul. And no amount of talks and/or Ensign articles about how wonderful women are convinces me otherwise. It actually insults me. OK, enough. These issues will certainly not be resolved by a blog-post. Thanks for “listening!”

  9. Post

    I actually remember reading about a BYU campus ward bishop who called a woman as his ward’s Sunday School President. He went ahead with the calling, sustaining, and setting apart. Later the stake presidency found out about it and nixed the deal, revoking the call. This was in the 1990s, I believe, and may have led to a change in the HANDBOOK. (I’ll put the HANDBOOK in all caps in all my communications from now on since it is the I Ching, the ultimate answer to all questions.)

    Ardis, how would men migrate to leadership roles in the Primary unless they were called to them? Men would angle to be the president? Right now there are men teachers who submit to the female presidency’s authority without complaint as far as I know.

    I share your concern, but I’m not sure it would be a possibility in my scenario. Plus, I’m advocating mixing the genders anyway. There would usually be at least one person from both genders in the presidency, which tend to make decisions collectively.

    I just don’t see that these roles as they are set forth now can be rationally justified, given the stay-at-home dads and bread-winning wives I know in the Church and elsewhere.

  10. John, I think men would migrate to those leadership positions because of habit — men are used to being in leadership positions, and calling other men to leadership positions, and women are used to seeing things that way. Nobody has to “angle” for the position — it’s only “natural” (i.e., familiar) for men to be in leadership positions, and for men to supervise women but not the other way around, and when a bishop is looking at his ward and finds that Brother Smith and Sister Jones are available to fill the Primary vacancies, the tendency would be for him to call Brother Smith as the president and Sister Jones as the teacher. That’s comfortable, that’s familiar, and nearly everybody — including Sister Jones — would accept it without a second thought. If you doubt that, consider how widespread is the practice of a man giving the opening prayer in Sacrament Meeting, and giving the closing talk, with local leaders insisting that this pattern is required, citing all kinds of pseudo-doctrine in support.

    You may not be old enough to remember the switch to block meetings in 1980 and the temporary confusion as wrinkles were ironed out. Men were being called to Primary presidencies because they were suddenly available during Primary (previously held on a weekday afternoon) — it took no time at all for men to migrate to the newly available leadership positions and to displace women who had filled those roles for nearly a century!

    The only way you would ever have widespread mixed gender presidencies, even if the policy were changed to make them possible, would be to mandate the mixing in a type of affirmative action (“the president shall always choose one male and one female counselor”).

  11. I think if you were to ask any member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve whether women are as spiritually and administratively gifted as men, they would sincerely answer “yes” in a heartbeat. I think the current policy that avoids mixed-gender presidencies is to avoid putting men and women in a position where they develop close emotional bonds while serving together. In situations like these where true ideals (e.g., women are equal to men) confront practical risks, I see the Brethren usually siding with avoiding practical risks.

  12. Post

    Ardis and others,

    Thanks for your historical perspective. I was unaware that women had ever served as ward clerks, or that the transition to the meeting block system meant men served in Primary Presidencies. I will say that my relative youth has something to do with my ignorance of those facts, as it does with my modest proposal itself.

    I assume there is a widespread assumption in the Church, reinforced by the Proclamation on the Family, that taking care of children is women’s work, whether it’s as a teacher or as a presidency member. I resent that as a male who enjoys taking care of his son, and as a member of the Church who values the self-esteem and equal standing of his wife, mother, cousins and friends who happen to be female.

    Elder Holland has said that the days are long gone when men are the scriptorians and women are the exemplars of righteous living in their families, yet I see this false expectation perpetuated in the two ward organizations I mentioned above: men are scriptorians and so are in charge of Sunday School, while women take care of the kiddies and so are in charge of Primary. I could go on to note that this division of labor is further reinforced by the addresses given by women and men in General Conference, women’s addresses focusing on cultural issues, and men’s on doctrine, etc.

    Andrew, you and FooBoyX both note that the danger of men and women developing close emotional bonds is the likely reason for not going in the direction I have pointed to. There are lots of examples we could give of men and women serving together in the church, running the risk of developing close emotional bonds which don’t reinforce Elder Holland’s dichotomy. No one cares if men and women plan the ward party together as members of the activity committee, etc, or if General Authorities themselves have women secretaries for the most part. It’s men and women making important decisions together that is truly refreshing, and dare I say it for Stephen’s benefit, revolutionary!

  13. John N., for the record, allow me to clarify that I was speculating about what I thought might be the main reason behind the policy, but I did not express my personal opinion about the policy itself or the reasons behind it. 🙂

  14. John,

    I went back to the proclaimation, this is what is written there:

    “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.”

    I don’t see any absolutes or “must” associated with those words. It even allows for individual adaptation, which is a wide open gate for whatever arrangement best suits the family.

    We all know what the tradition is both in and out of the church. Women not working outside the home is mainly a post-WWII, 1950s thing. Many woman did work outside the home prior but typically had extended family around to care for the children. That is a totally different situation than today’s trend of warehousing children in day care. In some cases, it is necessary, but in some it is not. If the Dad is available to watch and nurture his children, that is a good thing.

  15. I highly agree that men and women should be allowed to serve together in the different presidencies. Nevertheless, I don’t think it will happen any time soon regardless of tolerance. This would be a fundamental change in policy that hasn’t been seen since allowing the Blacks to receive the priesthood. The difference is that society could care less about the church standard for gender when most religions hold women as less authoritative. There is little outside pressure and nearly no internal pressure for such a change.

    Ultimately, I feel that the gender issue is a matter of dogma and the continuation of the patriarchal tradition. The Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price do not have many females in the leadership roles; they are nearly always subjected to the will of a male, which includes a Heavenly Father. The only notable exception I can think of is the prophetess Deborah. So, in essences, this gender mixing inherently goes against the basic views of scripture.

    I, likewise, have to agree with FooBoyX and Andrew on the church’s fear of adultery or impropriety, regardless of the fact that general authorities may have female secretaries or committees have mixed gendered meeting. I think the reason is the nature of the working relationship. It is more likely that a presidency meeting casually could lead to this “inappropriate behavior” if only a male and a female happen to show up. There seems to be this conclusion that adultery will ensue if the two are left alone, that we just cannot be trusted to mix seems to be the mindset. I, as a male, cannot pick up two sister missionaries by myself, nor my wife the elders. I could not solo home teach a single woman. It is considered inappropriate for me to be in nursery with my child if there is only one woman in the room, at least in the wards I have attended.

  16. Great questions! First, I think that even if it is the “unwritten order of things” that we would still have to see direction from on high to see changes. I peronally find very few things that are, in fact, limited to gender. Bearing a child is one of those, fertilzing an egg is another.

    I think that younger generations are more open to working for women and seem to more easily grasp that working together does not equal fornication. There seems to be this fear that by men and women working together something innapropriate would happen. Many of us work with members of the opposite sex day in and day out and never have romantic feelings or physical relationships.

    I would give just about anything to see women being in more of a position to have a voice and influence decisions. Not just the “subtle” ways my former Stake President talked about-like influencing your husband…

  17. Post


    I think you’re right. The longer women go without having much of a voice in local ward matters, to say nothing of the larger institution, the more attrition we will see, and I think we are already seeing, of the “rising generation” for whom the old gender roles no longer work. Besides which, as Jeff says above, men learn a lot from the other half of the human race when we invite them to “our” meetings.

    I asked one of my mission presidents why, since we were holding mission leadership meetings to make decisions for the entire mission (which included many female missionaries) we couldn’t have a companionship of sisters represent the concerns of the sister missionaries. He smiled his benign smile and moved to the next question. I’ve always been a rabble-rouser I guess, but the dead hand of tradition has never seemed to me like a good reason to do anything.

  18. I think the proposal is interesting (although I agree with what is being said about the church’s fear of adultery which I think is founded & children’s safety which seems silly to me), but I can honestly say I have never in any way felt inferior at church because of positions I can and can’t hold (or because of ones I haven’t held). I hold a pretty high leadership position in my company, and I work with both sexes in my career.

    Church isn’t like the workforce for many reasons. Most importantly in my opinion, at work people are chosen for jobs based on a set of skills and how well the hiring leader thinks they will do; callings often seem to go to the person who needs spiritual development, not the person who is the most righteous or has the best leadership skills. Seriously – look around at some of the leaders you’ve seen. I’m just sayin’.

    I think the idea that leadership positions are somehow better than other positions is a secular notion with little to do with how God views things. I like to imagine leadership positions are humbling and teach the person holding them more about love through service, and I’ll share the sexist notion that I think most women are already pretty good at that. So, no one above said that leadership positions are somehow cooler or better, but I think that’s implied when people talk about women feeling dismissed or inferior at church.

    As to the clerk positions, in some of the wards I’ve been in, they were viewed as part of the bishopric and were included in some of the bishopric meetings, so again it could be a sex issue like several other posters mentioned. “As I handed him the membership roll, his fingers grazed mine, and our eyes locked briefly . . .” Ick. I’m all for avoiding that at church. Imagine the LDS fiction that would result (shudder!).

  19. Hawkgrrl says:
    “callings often seem to go to the person who needs spiritual development, not the person who is the most righteous or has the best leadership skills.”

    This may be true in some cases, but it may or may not surprise you to know that callings are often given simply based on the practicality (or necessity) of the situation. Who has callings, who is the stake president going to snatch away, who would have time, who will do the calling, who is “worthy”, and so on. I’ve known some good people who were lousy leaders. I also knew a bishop who accepted his calling because it was expected of him, but two years later had to be released because he nearly had a nervous breakdown due to his job, family, and inability to manage his time with the demands of being a bishop.

    Hawkgrrl says:
    ‘“As I handed him the membership roll, his fingers grazed mine, and our eyes locked briefly . . .” Ick. I’m all for avoiding that at church. Imagine the LDS fiction that would result (shudder!).’

    lol. Yep, I can imagine it, unfortunately. :0)

  20. NMT – Good point. I was oversimplifying, to be sure, on why people get callings. Surely I was thinking of myself (I always get called to stuff I suck at) and the leaders in my mission (’nuff said). But, that’s true that it is often just practicality.

  21. Interesting discussion, everyone.

    Two quick comments. First, when my wife was primary president a few years ago, she recommended a man in the ward as primary chorister. He was a consultant for one of the big accounting firms and a high-powered kind of guy; he had also been High Priest group leader in the ward. The Bishop went for it and followed through on the calling. The gentleman filled the calling honorably and with enthusiasm, and everyone thought it was a riot, a genuinely original and entertaining idea. He would go out of his way to visit sick kids at home to teach them the songs they had missed. He had some trouble with the lyrics, but he didn’t lack anything in spirit.

    Second comment — I like the passage in Ephesians 2 (verses 19-20) about the foundation of the Church consisting of apostles and prophets and about Christ as the chief corner stone. It reminds me that true leaders in the Church are below, not above the rank and file of the Church. And Christ “descended below them all” (D&C 122:8).

    Love to you all.

  22. Post

    Umm, if we’re afraid that men and women will accidentally graze each other’s fingers at church, we’ve got deeper issues as a culture than I thought. Based on the comments I see here, I see that fear is, as I suspected, the driving force in many of the decisions made in the Church. I wish, like Stephen, for more transparency in the decisions made and in laying out the justifications for them.

    So let me shift the discussion from the merits of my proposal to the merits of having the Church publish the rationales you all have given above for not implementing my proposal:

    A line in the HANDBOOK or a letter from the First Presidency on the unseemly mixing of the sexes in the Sunday School Presidency or the fears that men will molest children as Primary presidents. Put it up front and center so we can have a discussion as a church about it. Otherwise we have a bunch of arbitrary rules, right? Maybe that’s the way we like it. The rest of the world makes too much sense, so we look forward to a respite from cold, impersonal rationality on Sunday?

  23. I don’t think it is that Church leaders are afraid it (adultry and abuse) will happen on a large scale basis. But the fact is, this kind of stuff happens all the time without any help from the church. I think that they are just being cautious because the potential abuse problems have much greater financial and publicity rammifications. Also, the Church would never want itself to be known as an unsafe place for husbands or wives to let their spouses serve in.

  24. Jeff Spector is probably more correct. The legal and social liability could create an atmosphere that would decrease the attractiveness of service rather than increase it.

  25. Post

    Sure, but why not publicize this as the reason for gendered segregation in church? To say nothing creates the impression that there is men’s work and there is women’s work!

  26. I agree with Jeff, and it seems to me that the power of suggestion is a dangerous thing. I’m thinking here of the paranoid spouses & parents out there who are looking for reasons to worry. If your spouse had previously had an affair or if you had been sexually abused as a child, you would have a heightened sense of awareness and fear about these things; putting the suggestion out there could create paranoia and even opportunism. Suddenly a harmless meeting between a man and woman is sexually charged because someone said it might be.

    Saying nothing makes it seem more like a harmless outdated tradition. I honestly never really thought of it as men’s/women’s work. Maybe I’m the kook, tho.

  27. Ok, I am preparing to be shot for this statement.

    Let’s not discount that some men would leave the church rather than serve under a woman. Of my last 5 bishops, only 1 or maybe 2 would serve under a woman. Woman have always served under men (church, business and often family)-they are used to it. Men in the church are used to being in charge and enough of them are sexist for it to matter.

    My former singles ward bishop got up every week and talked about the importance of dating. He stressed it every chance he got. My friend was date raped. Was that the church’s fault? Should we discourage people from dating because of what has happened and what might happen? No. Why? Because we, as a religion, believes in marrige. We believe that it is the greater good. I don’t see how this is different. If serving is for the greater good then we have to stop using what MIGHT happen as an excuse.

    I am having some struggles with my testimony. I have always had some doubts but have managed to have faith despite them. When I trace back what has gotten me into the place of wondering how long I should fight these doubts, it goes back to bad a experience with a priesthood leader. The problem wasn’t completely the bad experience. My stake president witheld my temple reccomend because I have an illness that left me too sick to stay for all three hours-I could only do two hours. He wouldn’t even meet with me until several men talked to him about it. Then he accused me of lying about it. The final blow was that I had no one I could have go to bat for me.

    As a single woman, I have literally no voice in the church. I don’t have a husband, father or brother to talk to the “priesthood” for me. That was what it finally took-a friend who was bishop of another ward. I called him crying and asked how this was inspiration if the Stake President wouldn’t even talk to me. In this case I honestly don’t believe this would have happened to a man in this situation for many reasons. First, the stake president would have met with a man-if only to chastise him and tell him to honor his priesthood. Second, this stake president is a “good old boy” who only tends to respect other men. He respected women in their capacity as wives and mothers, but not in any other way.

    We are in a church of lay clergy. We recognize that our leaders are not perfect, or even close to it. None of us are. Yet as we acknoweldge that, and we acknowledge that men and women are different,we even say their eternal roles are different, how can we expect men to represent women or vice-versa? We can’t. We will keep having issues and frustrations. Women like me will continue to feel like we have no voice as women because no one represents us and with fallible leaders we cannot count on revelation to provide the insight required to meet women’s needs.

  28. Post


    Thanks for sharing your experience. You are not alone in the Church. I remember a Gospel Doctrine lesson on the priesthood line of authority where a very accomplished single woman asked, “Whom do I report to?” (in the hereafter, supposedly). It was a very poignant moment and I hope there were those in attendance who had their minds and hearts changed as a result of considering her legitimate confusion.

    Your situation was not envisaged by early leaders of the church and we have subsequently painted ourselves into a cultural and theological corner with arbitrary restrictions on women’s and men’s participation like the ones I have mentioned.

    I don’t buy these legal arguments for a second as the real reasons Church leaders act as they do. Tradition is dearer to these men than legalism. The Church carries on with Boy Scouts despite spending lots of money fighting legal battles over culpability for pedophile Scoutmasters, the Church carries on with home teaching despite lawsuits which result from activities resulting from the “emotional bonds” created by the home teacher relationship with the family, and the Church carries on encouraging members of the ward to confess certain sins to bishops despite the legal risks such disclosures create. Some things are worth taking risks for. When the greater good of allowing women to have a voice is clearly seen (maybe not until our generation comes into positions of greater Church influence), this will happen.

    Until then, as you say Tanya, women without a voice will need men to speak up!

  29. Post
  30. Tanya, your post breaks my heart, and I could never take a shot at someone who’s been through what you have.

    “some men would leave the church rather than serve under a woman.” If so, they obviously don’t get it anyway. Such arrogance is surely not in keeping with the humility advocated by the gospel. Sounds like “unrighteous dominion” mindset to me.

    I can honestly say that the environment you describe is not typical in my experience, and I have been in dozens of wards. I have found most men to be reasonable human beings capable of compassion, especially most of the leaders. I have occasionally encountered the other varieties, too, from well-meaning dunderheads to self-righteous oppressors, but very seldom the type of misogynists you describe.

    Maybe your RS pres would be a helpful ally. When I have dealt with this kind of person, I have found that laying low and enduring to the end is better than “kicking against the pricks.” It’s too easy to let their sin become justification for your own sins (in my case anyway). Bishes have an expiration date of 5 years for a reason.

  31. John-Thanks. Yes, good men need to speak up until the church starts giving women a voice. All women a voice. You are right though, women like me create a dilemma. I am also a little different in the sense that I refuse to be sad or cry over the fact I am not dating someone (and potentially getting married).

    Hawkgrrrl-Unfortuneately that is what a great deal of my experience has been. Not all. Some of the men that would never work under women are actually good men, just sexist that way. Also, it is not most men-for some reason just the leaders.

    There is more to the story, but I have determined that I simply cannot attend church right now. I get too angry and upset, and then get depressed. I am hoping that some day I can make enough peace with everything to go back, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Until then I will continue to work to be a good person and grow closer to God and the Savior. Oh and bishes may have an expiration date of 5 years…until they are your singles ward bishop and then when you are 30 and they boot you out, only to be in the family ward where he is now serving as bishop. I love the man (I really do), but not good for me as far as leaders go.

  32. I’ve been following this thread and didn’t intend on commenting, but I feel there is another side to these issues that isn’t being expressed.

    But before I get to that, let me say to Tanya that I don’t at all endorse the way she was treated. I’ve also been at the receiving end of imperfect leadership (although not to that level), so I’m fully aware that sometimes leaders are far from perfect. You say your faith has been shaken. I hope that you will not judge the truthfulness of the gospel by a few men who abuse their power. I’d also like to say (not in judgment of your view, but just for the record) that I served as a primary teacher under a female presidency and never thought twice about it until I read your comment. So, at least some men don’t have a problem serving under female leadership.

    There are 2 points I want to make:

    1) It seams to be assumed by many here that the reason for not allowing women to serve in certain positions is to avoid mixing men and women. There may be something to this view, but shouldn’t we at least consider the possibility that the reason the church requires the priesthood for certain positions is for exactly the reason that they state: those callings require the priesthood. For the same reason being the Bishop requires the priesthood. Perhaps it has nothing to do with gender except for the fact that men are the priesthood holders. Now, we can argue whether women should be able to hold the priesthood, but that’s a separate issue that I doubt we want to get into here. Let me be clear that I’m not dismissing the argument that the reason women aren’t allowed in the SS presidency is to avoid mixing genders, but I just wanted to insert some balance into the discussion.

    2) I think twice now the issue of men teaching primary has been brought up, and assumed that the reason they are not supposed to be alone with children is because of the fear that they will abuse the children. Actually, the real reason they are not supposed to be alone with the children is the fear that they will be accused of abusing the children. I was a missionary about the time the church issued its new policy that missionaries were to be very careful with their interaction with children so as not to give even the slight impression that they might be behaving inappropriately. This change in policy was the result of real cases where young men’s lives were ruined because people took exception to the way missionaries were behaving with their children, even if it was really completely innocent. Unfortunately, the reality of today’s world is that men are looked at very critically when it comes to contact with children. Men are much more likely to be accused of abuse than women. I don’t like that about our society, but I support the church’s policy as an attempt to protect men from being victims of false accusations.

  33. To continue my first thought from #36. My wife serves on a mixed-gender activities committee. If the church is conspiring to separate the genders by excluding women from presidencies, how do we explain the activities committee?

    Yes, I understand that the activities committee is not a leadership position, but that’s not my point. There are 2 questions: Should women be in leadership positions? And: Should men and women serve in callings that require them to interact? I’m only addressing the second question, since many people here assume that the church is against it.

  34. Post


    Thanks for your perspective. One of my comments on this thread mentioned mixed-gender activities committees, so that’s part of my question to discuss with you all. That’s an argument against the Church being afraid of men and women mixing. My post states I think that the reason the Church does some of the things it does, does NOT have a reason, and is therefore irrational. Pure tradition, unexamined and unexplored. And if it has been examined and explored, no one has shared that decision-making process with us, so we are left to scratch our heads, as with so much else.

    No one has told me why men and not women run ward Sunday School organizations. You are the first to suggest this is tied into the priesthood. Let’s develop this theme. Why is holding the Melchizedek priesthood necessary to teach administer an organization ministering to adults and teenagers but not to administering an organization ministering to children? My answer is the one in my post. My solution (mixing the genders) is designed to show that in the three ward spaces I mentioned, the involvement of men and women is equally necessary and interchangeable. Implementing it would likely reveal the equal abilities of both priesthood and non-priesthood holders in fulfilling those particular callings.

  35. Thanks the compassion/understanding. I think it is just what made me become so vocal and so set on things changing. Before that, I could get past it and be patient.

    John-Great points. Thanks for making them. Can you make them at church too?

  36. Post

    I was born in LA but grew up in Hesperia. Most folks have no idea where that is!

    And I do make similar points to the above at church, when the topic comes up. I try to pick my battles and follow John Dehlin’s advice to build up “credit” in my ward.

  37. I know where Hesperia is. My brother and his wife lived in Apple Valley like 20 years ago when they first got marrried. But it is in the middle of nowhere…

    Building “credit” is good.

  38. Mixed presidencies sound like a recipe for problems. I know that this goes counter to what most are saying here, but hear me out.

    I’ve heard to many second-hand (I won’t bother counting anything that is beyond that, that’s just hearsay) accounts of Bishops that spend too many hours working closely with a RS president and then having an affair with her. The resulting excommunications are always messy, damaging and heartbreaking. They also leave a ward and stake damaged for years to come.

    Now its been a while since I read the HANDBOOK, and it was in Portuguese when I did (my mission companion was Branch President and I acted as his counselor), so my direct knowledge of this is a bit rusty, so bear with me. I think, however, that there is some justification for what the church is doing. First there is the very real issue of avoiding temptation and the appearance of evil. Something that the church tries to do. Some members don’t do so hot at this, but the church seems to try for this. Recently, men have been discouraged from primary–so much so that when I was last teaching primary I couldn’t be in the room alone with the children without either another priesthold bearer or my wife. Not an adult female, but my wife. Think about that for a moment. That means that what the church is essentially stating is that there are no church meetings behind closed doors of opposing genders with only two adults (children or no children present) unless it is the Bishop or one of his counselors (Stake Presidency or designee also applies) interviewing for a calling, temple recommend, or the Bishop/Stake President hearing a matter of personal worthiness or counseling, in which case the executive secretary should be aware of the meeting. The idea then is to eliminate all potential for seeming inpropriety, I suppose. Does the method bear this goal out? Perhaps.

    Is there an additional priesthood reasoning for certain callings and a known scriptural basis for that? I don’t know, and unless someone has the HANDBOOK handy, none of us do, and so it’s rather academic.

    Oh to Tanya Sue, I’m terribly sorry about your plight. There is very little that makes me more angry than a Bishop or Stake President who refuses to properly tend to the problems in his ward, and that especially counts towards those who are single women. A person who can’t stay for all three hours due to a legitimate illness should simply state that they are doing their best to attend their church meetings, and leave it at that. If the priesthood leader has a problem with that, then it becomes a matter of stating, “I have taken this matter up with the Lord, and with my medical doctor, and I am doing my very best. Perhaps we should talk to your preisthood leader about it too?” If it becomes a real problem, then I strongly suggest that going to his priesthood leader and stating your position. The church line of authority exists for a reason. We don’t hear about it often because it there is usually little reason to go beyond a stake president’s authority, but it is possible, and it can be done. Writing letters to SLC can be helpful, but it must be done with the proper tone and in all humility.

    I hope for the best for you, and I can only say that you should never give up. I understand that a testimony can be difficult to maintain at times, but it is absolutely worthwhile.

  39. Post
  40. John,

    Yes, I understand that you were not necessarily suggesting that the reason women aren’t allowed in some presidencies is because of fear of mixing genders. I was mainly responding to a pattern I was seeing in the comments. And I don’t criticize you for wanting to explore these issues.

    No one has told me why men and not women run ward Sunday School organizations. You are the first to suggest this is tied into the priesthood.

    I think you’re misunderstanding me. I don’t think I’m the first to suggest this. Isn’t that what you implied in comment #10 regarding a change in the handbook? Here’s what I’m trying to say: The handbook apparently says that you have to be a priesthood holder to be in the SS presidency. I don’t have access to a handbook so I can’t verify that, but according to comment #8, it appears that’s true and others have apparently accepted it as well. So assuming that’s true, shouldn’t we consider that it means exactly what it says it means: Being a member of the SS Presidency requires the priesthood. Why are some many assuming it has to do with mixed gender issues? Now, I’m not sure that’s right, I’m just saying we should at least consider it instead of jumping to conclusions. But you raise a good point about why the priesthood is apparently required of the SS Presidency and not of the Primary presidency, when the responsibilities are somewhat analogous.

    As an argument against your idea that it’s simply tradition and has never really been explored, that doesn’t quite jive with the fact (or apparent fact) that the handbook was changed to insert the requirement that the SS Presidency should hold the priesthood. Clearly somewhat thought about it and came to a conscious decision that it required the priesthood. But maybe your arguing that it was inserted just to enforce what had already been enforced by tradition, so really no one has really explored other options. Fair enough. My purpose for commenting was mainly to add balance to what I felt was becoming a one-sided conversation, not necessarily to disagree with your post.

  41. Post


    Thanks for your comments. They reoriented our discussion nicely.

    And yes, I suspect the conscious decision made was a reinforcement of tradition, especially given that General Authorities, until a change in the last few years, were the ones directly presiding over the Sunday School at a Church-wide level.

  42. All, Thank you all for a great read. This is one of the two issues that sent me out the front door of the church. I left lovingly, peacefully and quietly although I did slam the door. I miss it but would have to tape my mouth shut to continue to hear why women are 2nd class and Blacks are lucky that they were finally accepted. While I am waiting for something to change, I follow a few blogs and follow the Tao.

  43. Re: #44,

    I’ve heard to many second-hand (I won’t bother counting anything that is beyond that, that’s just hearsay) accounts of Bishops that spend too many hours working closely with a RS president and then having an affair with her. The resulting excommunications are always messy, damaging and heartbreaking. They also leave a ward and stake damaged for years to come.

    I realize that I’m coming in late here, and I confess that I haven’t read all of the comments in this thread, but I wonder if this fear is not a tad overblown. Not that innocent or even ecclesiastical intermingling of the sexes cannot or does not occasionally culminate in adultery, but generally, I think that adult men and women can work together and even socialize without running a serious risk of marital infidelity. Of course, it may be helpful if we taught men and women that this is possible, rather than implying that mere interaction with a member of the opposite sex who is not your spouse is the first step down a slippery slope of debauchery.

    Perhaps those seemingly innocent interactions that have led to adultery are more complicated than we tend to appreciate. There may have been other circumstances in the individuals’ lives that created the real risk of such indiscretion. In other words, while the adultery may have been causally related to the initial interactions in a “but-for” sense, I would not be surprised if other factors were primarily to blame. And perhaps it is those other factors that should warrant our attention and worry, as opposed to ordinary interactions between the sexes.

    Let’s face it–in this day and age, men and women who are not spouses need to get used to working and otherwise interacting with one another. Such situations are an inevitability. Therefore, we should focus on encouraging and empowering people to handle themselves when in such circumstances, rather than engendering fear or asking them to simply avoid them.

  44. Post

    Steve M,

    Maybe even an optional Sunday School class,”Preparing for Platonic Relationships with Members of the Opposite Sex?” 🙂 I sometimes think we need something on the official level to legitimate a culture change!

  45. I loved these suggestions and expect to see them implemented – in about 80 years – when the changes in society have forced such changes in the church also. That is the typical pattern of change in the church – re polygamy, priesthood/blacks, gays,etc. However, I am willing to admit that there at least IS change – hopefully I will be able to be patient and understanding enough to maintain my church activity while waiting for these changes – although I don’t expect to be alive to see them! One thing that is encouraging to me is that we have all these online blog sites where we can hash out ideas and frustrations! Very liberating.

    As far as bishops and Rs presidents having affairs – I just finished a stint as RS pres – managed not to have an affair with the bishop despite being single. But will admit to some temptation there. I agree that it is not proximity that causes affairs, but other issues in people’s lives (relationship issues, etc.).

  46. # 44 Benjamin Orchard — I’ve also seen the same problem with Young Women’s presidents who got too close to Bishops and had to deal with the fringes of one of those.

    An activities committee doesn’t meet for hours every week in intense emotional situations (or if it does, it just has too much drama). A Bishopric does.

    working mother — thanks for your comments. managed not to have an affair with the bishop despite being single. But will admit to some temptation there. I agree that it is not proximity that causes affairs, but other issues .

  47. OK, here I go.

    I realize that I am about six weeks late on this conversation, but I feel the need to chime in anyway. By way of full disclosure, I am an early forty-something HP who has served in various ward leadership callings, and as a counselor in a Bishopric. I have a passing familiarity with the HANDBOOK as well as the “unwritten order of things.”

    That said, my take on the SS prez being reserved for the MP is that SS is ultimately a missionary tool. All the auxiliaries are just that, missionary tools and as such come under the direction of the Bishop as the WARD Mission President, so it falls under the great umbrella of historic inertia. My current Bishop is one of those guys who, while serving as a young Branch President called a sister to be the Sunday School Prez. A member of the District presidency happened to be there and put the kibosh on it pretty quick, but there is a feeling out there that some Auxiliaries, SS especially would be well served with Sisters at the helm.

    Tanya-Sue, your Bish and Stake prez have a bit to answer for when the time comes, but that is their problem and hopefully you will be able to forgive them their failings and maintain your activity. Sustaining them is a commitment we make to help them in their callings, not to always agree with them. A letter to the Area Authority in your area would not be inappropriate if you dispassionately and prayerfully laid out the facts of your situation. I won’t say that you will get any satisfaction, but your will have done what your could to give the leadership the opportunity to counsel your stake prez (and they do get counseled, believe you me).

    Men in Primary and mixed gender committees: the sad fact is that today the most influential force in the Church today is the Church legal department. The majority of instructions received from the 1st Presidency are designed by Church Legal to protect the assets of the Church and thereby protect the ability of the Church to fulfill it’s mission to Proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the wake of the scandals plaguing the Catholic Church with regard to abuse, it is a sad fact that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is recognized to have “deep-pockets” and is a prime target for a lawsuit.

    Ever wonder where the angled dividers in the cultural hall went? There was a lawsuit. Do you know why you can’t bring cleaning products from home to use in cleaning the Chapel and you have to use the weak stuff that really doesn’t do a good job? Somebody sued when the bleach they brought and didn’t use properly hurt them. Don’t ever say the word “mold,” but always say “mildew” or you will drive across the county to go to church because your building will be shut down and decontaminated.

    But with all that said, remember we are a Church that is lead by the Savior Jesus Christ through a divinely inspired Prophet of God. And while none of the men and women with whom we come into contact are perfect, the Savior is and he is who counts.

    BTW I stumbled on this thread while searching for some support for a “girlpower” segment of a fireside I am giving this weekend. How do you like that?

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