The Other Half of the Circle

Clay Whipkey church, community of christ, curiosity, diversity, feminism, General Authorities, inter-faith, Jesus, Leaders, Mormon, Priesthood, prophets, women 29 Comments

I am an over-analyzer. As a musician I listen to music in a different way than a lot of folks. I pick apart each instrument and criticize the cleverness of lyrics (or lack thereof). I was briefly interested in screenwriting and read some books about it, and now I pick apart the plotlines of movies. Things that many people enjoy in a simple way become an exercise in academic frustration for me. This is the blessing and curse of humanity. We think.

Recently I heard Robert Kirby say, “Humans are the only species than can actually think themselves stupider.” Oh brother, you nailed me.

A friend of mine recently shared the following analogy:

Some people are perfectly content to sit down in front of the TV, turn it on, change the channels, and turn it off and the end of the day and not know how the TV really works. The TV works that so that is all that matters. Then there is a small minority of people that are driven to take the TV apart and figure out how it works and see what it looks like inside. We are absolutely driven to do this, we can’t stand now knowing how the TV works, the TV will be in pieces for weeks, maybe months, as we work through all the pieces. The gospel is like the TV, some people, the large majority of people are handed the gospel, it works for them, and they don’t have to take it apart to be happy. Then a certain number of people, just because of the way their brain works, they have to take the gospel apart, to look at it from all angles, in order to be happy.

I think its clear where I fall in that story. But This story is not about over-analyzing or thinking too much or deconstructing TVs. It is about the balance of complimentary personalities.

My wife is on the other side. She does not need to take the TV apart. I’m actually not much of a complainer, really, I’m not. Yet, occasionally I will get to talking about something and I’ll reveal a little about how I am perceiving things in a critical way. In some of these cases my wife has heard me and has disagreed with me. She is perfectly capable of acknowledging and even criticizing flaws or issues, so its not that she’s being apologetic or ignorant. She will just tell me I’m making a bigger deal out of it than it really is. When this has happened, I am always somewhat surprised at how I end up truly defeated. She is usually right in these cases (even though I’m right most of the rest of the time :-P).

This is the incredible beauty of relationships, and especially spanning masculinity and femininity. Chinese culture describes this beauty with the symbol of the Yin Yang. Two incomplete and oblong shapes that come together to make the symbol of perfection: a circle. In the LDS church we hear a lot about how women are more spiritual than men, yet ironically we suggest that spiritually inferior men should lead the home. Heck, not just the home, the whole church. Women are only given authority over other women, in which cases you still end up with only one part of the Yin Yang.

Just think of what kind of trouble a room full of men, without the temperance of a feminine perspective, could rile up. If I were without the influence of my wife, I can only imagine the damage I might do. In the LDS church the affairs must be guided by the priesthood, and of course women do not hold the priesthood. Perhaps we don’t really appreciate what we are missing out on. Now, perhaps, we can.

I was present for a powerful talk by Susan Skoor, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Community of Christ. This was my first encounter both with a woman who held the restored priesthood and one who was involved in church leadership at its highest level. I listened out of curiosity. Sort of a “What does that look like?” kind of thing. I walked away moved beyond description, and then other things just clicked. It changed the way I look at my wife, and the way I will see other women as well. It is really an experience in the value of diversity, and not just the expendable kind of value we find in a good day or a random act of kindness, but an essential value that you wonder how you survived without.

Since this is a Sunstone recording (2008 SLC Symposium), I can’t publish the entire talk, but it was great and I would recommend checking it out once they have it available on the website. (It was part of the perennially fantastic “Pillars of My Faith” session.) I selected a short highlight, with permission, that I hope will illustrate what I’m talking about. This clip is of Susan talking about the experience of being called as an Apostle. I should note that in her entire talk she spoke without any notes at all. Completely freestyle.

After listening, perhaps we could discuss the merits of having the balance of women in leadership, completely separate from the hurdle of doctrine or policy that exists currently. What are your feelings about the concept itself?

UPDATE: You can now purchase the full recording here.

Comments

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Comments 29

  1. “Just think of what kind of trouble a room full of men, without the temperance of a feminine perspective, could rile up.”

    My experiences at Boy Scout Camp immediately come to mind…

    I’ve thought a little about this. While tracting I met a deacon in the Community of Christ, a mother of several kids. Very kind woman, never said a cross word about what we were doing. I thought about what it means to hold the Priesthood. This is the kind of woman who could easily lead a congregation as well as a man, and give an interesting perspective at that.

    Maybe it’s hearkening back to old oft-repeated aphorisms, but I’m not sure leadership is necessarily about people leading. Christ is leading this Church. I’ve noticed that the callings I’ve received were more about God teaching me what I needed to learn than anything else.

    You might also notice that each Apostle in our Church is sealed to their chosen “Yang.” I think this is where the balance comes in. We needn’t be so naive in thinking that the wife of an Apostle or Prophet doesn’t have any influence on that man’s decisions or leadership.

    I can’t claim to know why women don’t hold the Priesthood though. It’s been on my mind for a long time.

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    You might also notice that each Apostle in our Church is sealed to their chosen “Yang.” I think this is where the balance comes in. We needn’t be so naive in thinking that the wife of an Apostle or Prophet doesn’t have any influence on that man’s decisions or leadership.

    I knew that was coming, so its good to get it out of the way. There are some things that priesthood leaders are supposed to keep confidential, even from their wives. So they have to come to a final conclusion without the input of a woman at all. Many important meetings take place in our church which are dynamic, meaning the outcome develops organically and spiritually during the course of the meeting. No opportunity to run it past your wife to get a female perspective.

    My friend Shane Claiborne said this, which I think applies to all kinds of subsets of our communities:
    Launching a movement to end poverty without poor people in critical roles is like launching a civil rights movement without Black people, or a feminist movement without women. As long as the poor are not present and intricately involved in the process, ending poverty will remain an intellectual, political concept. It will not convert us.

  3. Clay – in general, I agree with Arthur on this, and I am not looking for more work, BTW. But there are two key areas where having no female perspective in some areas of the leadership probably holds us back: 1) no females present in a church disciplinary committee, and 2) in revelation, we know that it is often colored by the perspective of the one requesting the revelation. Women might ask different questions than men would, therefore, receiving revelation for those specific questions asked.

    Exacerbating the man/woman split on the last one is the generational split. Men and women are more equal in younger couples; women have a voice they did not have in my mother’s generation. Men of this generation work with and for women. Men in my dad’s generation simply did not. Anyone yearning for the good old days should chain themselves down and watch an episode of Mad Men to remember just how far we’ve come.

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    Clay – in general, I agree with Arthur on this, and I am not looking for more work, BTW.

    Haha. My wife says the same thing. Yet, we don’t choose our callings, right? If your were called by inspiration to serve in a priesthood role, would you do it? I don’t think it has anything to do with wanting to be leaders.

    I’ve heard a couple testimonial stories of RLDS women who were among the first to receive the priesthood in 1985. The most striking to me was a woman who said when they announced the revelation she thought, “Well that is nice for those women who feel like they need that.” She had no desire for herself. Yet, when she received her call she was just willing to go where the Lord wanted her to go.

  5. I agree with you, Guy, that Mormonism has a lot to gain from sharing power among genders but I am troubled that you are founding your argument on conventional gender stereotypes that function to constrain women.

    Diversity will usually improve the quality of groups. That includes age, income, education, job and profession, and members of a sexual species like ours, of course, will feel better in the presence of the other sex.

    Gender differences are merely averages of overlapping bell curves, which means that in terms of personal characteristics many men and women have more in common with each other than with most members of their own sex.

    Even in terms of averages, some of the most popular stereotypes turn out to be wrong. While it is true that the threshold for female violence is higher, it turns out that female violence is more devastating.

    Contrary to the motherhood stereotype, dictator games demonstrate that males are more generous than females. Males tend to share more than females and males give more to females than males. I have the suspicion that our mythology about the sacrificing saintly woman is our response to a guilty conscience for exploiting women.

    Gender is a complex phenomenon. Take that the room, for example. I have seen plenty of rooms full of guys where harmony and cohesion disintegrated the moment a woman entered the room because all the males were competing for female attention.

    There are all sort of ways to be a man or a woman. We should not burden each other with gender stereotypes. It is alright to be an ambitious and aggressive woman and a peacemaking man.

  6. The most provocative series of talks I ever read were three talks in an Ensign published in 1970 / 1971 (I just checked the website, it must be in 1970). The authors were GBH, TSM and (maybe?) Brett Barlow. The topic was the evils and danger of equality in marriage, described in the article as a democratic marriage. That is the excess of yang of which you speak.

    I am happy that you don’t hear stuff like that anymore, the cultural tide will hopefully carry the Church to where it needs to be.

  7. Clay,

    I had similar thoughts about our gender imbalanced Church life after attending an RLDS service where women were administering the sacrament. I wrote a paper on it for one of my BYU religion classes.

    I later caught flak about my pro-women in leadership roles views from a very conservative and strong-willed woman in my BYU ward, recently returned from a mission. The best thing I could think of to say at the end of one of our heated discussions was, “You’d make a great bishop!” She was floored, and flattered.

  8. 5 Hawkgrrrl

    “But there are two key areas where having no female perspective in some areas of the leadership probably holds us back: 1) no females present in a church disciplinary committee, and 2) in revelation, we know that it is often colored by the perspective of the one requesting the revelation. Women might ask different questions than men would, therefore, receiving revelation for those specific questions asked.”

    Great perspective I have never thought of! I would especially like to see this happen in disciplinary councils.

    Do you think will see any of these two in our life time?

  9. Clay, couldn’t agree more. Great clip, by the way. I hope everyone clicks it on and listens to it.

    The tough thing here is that something like this needs to be experienced. As missionaries, we said the same thing about the Book of Mormon. You have to read and pray about it. You have to experience it; we can’t just tell you that it is true.

    And so it is with hearing a female apostle. I was blown away. The eyes of my stalwart Mormon mother, who was sitting beside me, were brimming over with tears. (Wish I could share the things she said on the car ride home.)

    Sometimes you don’t know what is missing until you see it. Listening to Susan Skoor, it wasn’t just that she was another witness for Christ — our apostles are just as powerful witnesses — it was the way she delivered her witness. There was an undeniable “feminine” quality that struck me in a place in my soul I hadn’t felt before. And no, I’m not just talking about “surface” feminine qualities — i.e. the tone of her voice, the way she looked, the phrases she chose, the softness of her facial expressions — it was something deeper that Clay was getting at, something spiritual feminine which is difficult to describe.

    And listening to her I was struck by just how “male” our church leadership is. Beyond the surface maleness — the stuffed shirts, the patriarchal, fatherly tone, etc. — there’s a maleness that permeates everything. Even the token female speakers at Conference deliver “male” talks in that they follow the same standard outline, cadence, topics, etc. to say nothing of the fact that every Conference talk is chosen and correlated through the Priesthood.

    I don’t know, I’m sure I’ve done a bad job of explaining what I mean by this deeply male and female “it.” I just know it when I see it, and I saw “it” in spades while listening to Susan Skoor. And we are missing out. Big time.

  10. Hellmut said, “There are all sort of ways to be a man or a woman. We should not burden each other with gender stereotypes. It is alright to be an ambitious and aggressive woman and a peacemaking man.”

    I don’t disagree. Can we talk about conventional masculine and feminine characteristics or archetypes without being guilty of stereotype, or exclusively assingning such characteristics to males or females? I have no problem saying that many males possess such feminine characteristics equal to women, and many females possess male characteristics equal to me. No doubt many LDS apostles possess such feminine characteristics.

    The point is that there is a diverse spectrum of personality, and we’ll probably have a better chance of representing that diverse spectrum, of taking advantage of the varied spiritual gifts of that diverse spectrum, if we pull our leadership from both the male and female buckets, and not just the male bucket.

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  12. I don’t have an issue with your larger point that women ought to have power, Matt. The problem with your argument is that it unintentionally reinforces the same mistaken distinctions that led to the exclusion of women in the first place.
    There is no such thing as a male or a female archetype. There are only averages that are normally distributed.
    Notice that the gender attributes that you are imagining are empirically wrong. Sometimes the presence of women among men can calm a room. At other times, it can stir all the men up.
    Philosophically that matters because men and women ought to share power not because they are different but because as members of the same species, they are equals.

  13. Clay, I love you, but I became quite angry when I read this post. A couple of weeks ago, when I read the “taking apart the TV” analogy, I strongly identified with it also. I am one who loves, no, NEEDS to take the gospel apart, to pick it apart and try to discover how everything works. I don’t see this as a particularly male or female characteristic. I can’t tell you how much it bothered me that a man would want to include female leadership mostly because of the “spiritual” or “tempering” aspect of their personalities which would complement men’s authority.

    Matt #13, it pains me when you speak of the elusive feminine quality–the “it” that you will know when you see. It makes me wonder if, when a particular woman is not particularly nurturing, or soothing, does she lack “it?” Is she less of a Yin and more of a Yang? Is she missing this “spiritual feminine?”

    Of course I believe women should be used in the Church, that their perspective should be heard, that their leadership is needed. I adore Susan Skoor and the PRESENCE that she brings to her calling. But I would hate it if men only see the power of women as a balancing force to their “masculine qualities.”

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    Philosophically that matters because men and women ought to share power not because they are different but because as members of the same species, they are equals.

    I agree with that in a sense. Certainly that humanity itself qualifies us all for equality. I’m just not sure that there isn’t an inherent different-ness about us. Not specifically between male and female, because you are right that the differences we always cite are largely social constructs… kind of a natural selection of the personality. But underneath all the social construction, humans are still drawn in different directions, even without pressure to conform. The chemistry which largely affects the personality of a human is as a rule different between male and female, in spite of the exceptions to that rule.

    Aside from that issue, the fact remains, as we are talking about a mainstream LDS framework, that gender roles do exist. So if the church is trying to design programs which are meant to serve women in their specific roles (however falsely constructed they may be), how well can a team of men be really expected to come up with the best solution? I know some faithful folks might say that God guides the men to do right by the women via the Spirit… but I argue that revelation just doesn’t work that way. In my whole LDS life, no matter how earnestly I would have desired it, no inspiration ever came in forms of dictation. I believe it is acceptable LDS doctrine that God expects us to do all we can do with the faculties and talents we possess, and then ask Him for approval.

    If that is true, then I think we’d see some incredible improvements in our programs if the recipients were able to directly influence the design phase, before it got to the request for approval. I think the Community of Christ bears the truth of that.

  15. Hellmut, I can agree that there is an infinite range or mix of characteristic/archetypic traits among human beings, regardless of gender. All such varied possibilities and combinations are equal, regardless of distribution.

    Nevertheless, to flatten this infinite range to say “there is no such thing as a male or female archetype” bleeds the life out of life. Within the male and female bell curves, certainly characteristics emerge with greater or lesser clarity or distribution that are then absorbed by poets and plebs alike as “masculine” and “feminine.” My point is we can celebrate such archetypes (whether they are manifest in males or females) without beating each other over the head with them, without using them as levers of control or clubs of abuse.

    To flatten gender to nothing seems no less abusive than strictly defining gender in black-and-white absolutes.

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    I can’t tell you how much it bothered me that a man would want to include female leadership mostly because of the “spiritual” or “tempering” aspect of their personalities which would complement men’s authority.

    Goodness, I didn’t mean that at all. I’m sorry if it came off that way. I don’t believe I said anywhere in the post that my wife’s personality represented the female and mine the male. I know couples where this is reversed. I also know couples who were nearly identical and they have all kinds of problems which come from that lack of balance. The main point of my post was that our differences (regardless of our gender) are so important to the mutual growth and good we might do, that it becomes clear (to me) that administrative decisions made without diversity, on behalf of a diverse community, are incomplete.

    I felt Susan was an example of something I have never experienced from an LDS General Conference. At GC there are women speaking, who usually fit what we would call the female temperate and spiritual archetype. That is not what I’m talking about. What I felt from Susan Skoor, which Matt rightly said can’t be describe adequately without experiencing it, was power, the kind that LDS normally associate with the priesthood… and men.

    Again, I’m sorry if it came off wrong for you. I guess I didn’t anticipate that interpretation, or I would have made that more clear.

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    BTW, its wickedly ironic that I am now in trouble with my friend BiV because I have misinterpreted femininity. SEE! Exactly what I was talking about. Here I am trying to make a point which is fairly drastically against the LDS cultural grain, and what I had intended to be in favor of the equality of women, and I still am not “getting” the needs of women! We NEED women to be in leadership more than I even thought.

  18. BiV, I confess I’m at a loss re your remarks in #17. You said, “It makes me wonder if, when a particular woman is not particularly nurturing, or soothing, does she lack “it?” Is she less of a Yin and more of a Yang? Is she missing this “spiritual feminine?”

    Huh? I’m very surprised that you think that I would think that? Absolutely not!!! I thought my comment took pains to point out that by “spiritual feminine” I was _NOT_ talking about surface nurturing or soothing qualities.

    When I talk of “masculine” and “feminine,” I’m *not* talking about gender, but refering to these symbols in the classic, romantic sense. In fact, I’m not even refering only to individuals, but to the masculine and feminine qualities in culture and society as well. As I’ve stated previously, I believe all human beings, regardless of gender, possess some mix/combination of the “masculine” and “feminine.” Males, on average, probably skew more in one direction; and females, on average, probably skew in the other direction. But each individual, regardless of masculine/feminine mix, is beautiful, and possesses “it” in his/her own way. But by limiting leadership roles in the church to males only, the “masculine” is invariably over-represented, and as such, I believe our LDS subculture is unable to acheive the full breadth of its potential.

    I don’t know if hawkgrrrl is joking or not about “pheromones,” but it reduces what for me was a very spiritual experience to something vaguely sexual. Are pheromones at work when women are touched spiritually by a male apostle? But maybe I’m reading your comment wrong…

  19. “Are pheromones at work when women are touched spiritually by a male apostle?” Ick. Plus, we’re not in person (can’t smell over the TV).

    No, I was just joking around.

    I’m not sure I really sense a difference between male and female spirituality. But the “corporate spirituality” you refer to as male is more like spirituality with a mask of corporate over it, not uniquely male or female, as you describe. The church has a specific language we use at GC and in meetings. I don’t consider it to be a type of spirituality, so much as a cultural persona. Men and women can be very spiritual and not at all like that image. The spirituality is more common between the sexes than it is uncommon IME.

  20. “the elusive feminine quality.” Pheromones?

    Absolutely, combined with the male achilles heel (testosterone) females hold the power.

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