In our current callings, my wife and I spend a lot of time digging through Church instruction manuals. I teach both the 12/13 year old Sunday School class (weekly) as well as Elders’ Quorum (once a month). My wife serves as the Laurels adviser, and is responsible for teaching at least a couple of lessons per month. Nearly everybody who has served in a teaching capacity can point to some instance in which they have viewed the correlated manual as lacking in some respect, be it too bland, too overly positive in its historical view, or just plain out of date (ever try getting kids to relate to John Taylor’s days as a woodcrafter?)
Last week, my wife ran across something in the Young Women manual that really caused us both to pause. The lesson, entitled “Growing and Maturing In Self-Reliance (Part 1),” is centered around the notion that we, as Latter Day Saints, have a responsibility to become independent human beings. That’s all well and good, but buried in the discussion points is the following “Note to teacher”:
Be sure that the young women understand clearly that assuming responsibility and becoming self-reliant is desirable and is what our Father in Heaven hopes for and expects. But this does not mean that we become independent of his direction in our lives or the sound counsel of parents or priesthood leaders.
Can you figure out the source of our consternation? Go back and read that second sentence again, and remember that this is a lesson being taught by a YW leader to a group of young women. Who is left out as a potential source of direction and “sound counsel?” The YW leader herself!
To be clear, the purpose of this thread is not to bash priesthood leaders or ring the “do/should women have the priesthood” bell again. Rather, I want to raise for discussion two issues I see resulting from this teaching:
- First, this notion undermines the ability of our YW leaders to help guide the lives of those young girls for whom they are called to be stewards. YW is one the few places where women are given the opportunity to occupy a prominent leadership role. Just like in any other calling, those who put in the time and effort can have a major impact on the lives of those they lead. But if we tell our YW leaders that their counsel is always (and necessarily) secondary to that of any random priesthood leader, we are cutting their legs out from under them. Simply put, a leader cannot lead without authority. And if we leave our YW leaders powerless, they will devolve into nothing more than figureheads.
- Second, and more troubling for me, a diminished role for YW leaders sends (reinforces?) the message to our girls that they will always play a backseat role in the Church affairs. I have served in Ward Council-type positions myself and, thus, I am aware of the wide scope of authority Relief Society presidents often have and wield. But the MIA Maids, for example, aren’t privy to that example, leaving their YW adviser as the foremost non-parent example of how women can and do lead in the Church.
You may be thinking to yourself, “geez, Larsen is making too much out of this.” You may be right, but here’s why it gets under my skin. I am not one who believes the Church is a patriarchal system designed to keep women down. Indeed, I have written elsewhere about my wife having the opportunity to counsel a grieving friend in tandem with the Bishop. But I am the father of three young daughters, all of whom will be entering the Young Women’s program in the next few years. I want the Church to be a part of their life that brings them happiness and compels them to be better people. I want them to have strong female role models within the Church, so that they know their voice matters, too. Setting up a puppet YW leadership, for my money, sends the exact opposite message.
So tell me, am I reading too much into this? Are our YW leaders, in practice, made to play secondary roles? Are we sending our girls the message that the only Church authorities from whom they can and should receive ‘sound counsel’ wear suits and ties? How do we correct the problem (or is not a problem at all?)