Zelophehad’s Daughters

Describing Women’s Participation in the Church

Posted by Ziff

How do we describe women’s participation in the Church to non-Mormons? There have been a few recent published statements that have all attempted this and have, in my view, all gotten it wrong in the same way.

First, there’s the Church Newsroom’s recent Mormonism 101: FAQ post, which said as part of its response to the question “Do Mormon women lead in the Church?”

While worthy men hold the priesthood, worthy women serve as leaders, counselors, missionaries, teachers, and in many other responsibilities— they routinely preach from the pulpit and lead congregational prayers in worship services.

Then, last year, in a post titled “What Mormon equality looks like” Church Public Affairs Head Michael Otterson said,

Women in the Mormon faith regularly preach from the pulpit to the congregation and lead prayers during Sunday services.

Finally, Linda and Richard Eyre, in a Deseret News column on women and men in the Church, said,

Though men are ordained to hold the priesthood, women have been integral and vital to the leadership and governance of the church from the beginning. They preside, lead, teach, preach, pray, organize and sit in council with male leaders.

All of these statements have struck me as disingenuous. While technically true, they are potentially very misleading about how much actual power and influence women have in the Church. Yes, women serve as leaders, but always under a male authority. Yes, they preside, but virtually always over children and other women. (The only exception I can think of is male primary teachers presided over by female primary presidents.) Yes, women sit in council with male leaders, but always while being presided over by them, and almost always while being vastly outnumbered by them. Yes, women preach from the pulpit, but they never preside from it, and they are typically outnumbered by male speakers (consider, for example, that bishops often speak in sacrament meeting, that ward and stake conferences are dominated by male leaders speaking, and that there is no regularly scheduled female speaker corresponding to a high councilman).

In short, my problem with these statements is that in only listing the things that women can do in the Church, they leave a reader who doesn’t know any better to incorrectly fill in the blanks. They seem designed to lead such a reader to conclude that the list of what women can do in the Church must be roughly comparable to the list of what men can do. But of course, this is false. Women can’t lead congregations or set budgets or bless babies or bless sacrament or count tithing or preside over sacrament meetings or baptize people or serve as witnesses or serve on church courts or extend callings. For a start.

All that being said, I recently thought of an alternative explanation for this kind of statement. Maybe they seem so misleading to me because the people making the statements are thinking about women’s participation using a different reference point than I am.

Think of a continuum of how much women participate in their churches. At one extreme, they cannot participate at all, other than by simply attending. At the other extreme, they participate equally with men, with all church work being equally open to women and men. (In theory, the continuum could be extended to a mirror image where at the other extreme, men can participate only by attending, but I suspect it’s the rare church that falls on that side.) Here’s a picture:

The LDS Church falls somewhere along that continuum. I’m sure there are lots of different ways we could figure out where exactly to put it. Maybe one way would be to count things people do at church and figure out what proportion are open to both women and men. I’m not concerned here, though, with exactly how that measurement would be done. And I’m also not arguing that the Church belongs exactly where I’ve put it in the figure above. You could probably persuade me that it should be moved either to the right or to the left. The one point I did want to make was that it’s definitely somewhere in the middle, and not at either of the end points. Clearly women can participate more than simply attending. And clearly women can’t do everything that men can do in the Church.

My alternative explanation for why people make statements about women’s participation like the ones I quoted above is that the people making the statements are looking at the “no participation” end as a reference point. To them, the default state of an organization is that women don’t participate at all. Therefore, any participation by women–they preside over each other, they sometimes give talks, they’re invited to some meetings–is what should be commented on. Their statements sound misleading to me because to me, the reference point is the right end of the continuum, where women participate equally with men. Therefore, what I find worth commenting on is how much women don’t get to do in comparison with men, rather than how much women do get to do in comparison with doing nothing.

If this explanation is correct, I suspect at least part of the reason is age. The tone of Church discourse on women (as on so many other things) is largely driven by General Authorities. General Authorities are mostly old. They came of age before the peak of Second Wave Feminism, when the default assumption in many organizations was probably that women should participate only by attending, if at all. It’s not surprising, then, that Church descriptions of women’s participation would focus on how much more they can do that nothing at all. By the same token, it’s not surprising that I, having grown up with Second Wave Feminism as a given, look at equal participation as a reference point, and expect deviations from that point to be what’s worth commenting on.

What’s your take on these statements about women’s participation? Are they deliberately misleading or are they just looking a different reference point? Or some combination of the two? Or did both my explanations miss the boat?

 

35 Responses to “Describing Women’s Participation in the Church”

  1. 1.

    I have to agree that those explanations are bad and are slightly confusing to me (lifetime member). They can almost be read as if men hold the priesthood while women do all these other things, which the men don’t do. I’m not sure if they are deliberately misleading, but they do come across as evasive. Also, while reading, I started wondering what positions men can’t hold. I don’t know about policy, but I’ve never heard of a male being in the Relief Society or Young Women’s organizations. Are there others?

  2. 2.

    I’m really glad you wrote this post and gave me a chance to make a comment, because now I can throw away the draft post I started ages ago to explain why I was not at all bothered by Otterson’s piece (and the other PR that spun out around it).

    I agree with the reference point explanation, but I’d take it one step further: I don’t think it’s just old GAs, I think it’s the facts of reference points in other religions, particularly other religions that use the word “priesthood.” Specifically, I think the folks using this argument are responding to the Catholic idea of the “priesthood,” where ordained priests are almost the only people doing any of the things they’ve listed that women can do, such as preaching or leading a prayer in a Catholic service. (I think it’s no coincidence that those are the only specific examples the professional PR folks listed.)

    In my view, the PR people are also coming at this whole thing from a slightly different reference point: their audience isn’t people who think that Mormon women do or don’t participate with full equality, but people who think that because Mormon women don’t have the priesthood, they don’t do anything in leadership (again, using the Catholic-and-popular-perception view). I don’t think they see themselves as speaking to members to argue that women are equal, but instead speaking to outsiders to argue that women aren’t entirely downtrodden. And hey, whatever issues I have, I can wholeheartedly agree that Mormon women don’t have zero public presence just because they don’t have the priesthood.

  3. 3.

    Thanks – Thoughtful post.

    Online LDS RSociety FAQ site re: RS sisters and YW Personal Progress Participation:

    “Most of the good work Relief Society sisters accomplish is not publicly recognized.”

    This seems oddly stated, even in the context of reminding adult women they shouldn’t expect a celebration ceremony if they choose to complete the Personal Progress goals.

    There is always the issue of the widow’s mite – To resist wanting to be noticed. I’ve never read that with a gender bias. The joy of anonymous obedience is for all genders.

    As an adult convert, this issue has me a bit confused.

    Last week I compared RS Pursuit of Excellence booklet with YW Personal Progress and YM Duty to God guides ti see what kind of goals our religion has for the members.

    I was frequently challenged by my pastor to take on something worthwhile and celebrate and be grateful for spiritual and personal growth, accomplishments and maturing.

    This is an LDS booklet goal comparison overview:

    *Couldn’t find an adult goal booklet for males.

    Pursuit of Excellence Goals: Spiritual, Intellectual, Physical, Service, Character.

    YW Goals: Faith, Divine Nature, Indiv Worth, Knowledge, Choice&Accntability, Good Works, Integrity, Virtue

    YM Duty to God Goals: 3 Sections (Pray, Live Worthily, Understand Doctrine) with these (only 3?) topics: Physical, Education, Family/Friends.

    And why is Knowledge differently categorized than Understand doctrine?

    Why isn’t there a Family/Friends color for YW?

    If there were a Virtue section for YM, would that reduce the pornography sermons?

    Seems inconsistent youth preparation to take on the adult gender structure you outline.

  4. 4.

    Even the male priesthood leaders are under other male priesthood leaders. Even the President of the Church has to go to his bishop and stake president for a temple recommend.
    In the temple, the GA’s submit to the temple workers. They don’t take over their jobs just because they are higher in Church rank.

  5. 5.

    Very insightful comments Ziff. I think I have nailed down what bothers me about the following statements that you quote.

    “While worthy men hold the priesthood, worthy women serve as leaders, counselors, missionaries, teachers, and in many other responsibilities— they routinely preach from the pulpit and lead congregational prayers in worship services.”

    “Women in the Mormon faith regularly preach from the pulpit to the congregation and lead prayers during Sunday services.”

    The problem is that we are conflating “preaching from the pulpit” and having authority over a congregation. I would imagine that to most people in the U.S, preaching from the pulpit means that you have some officially sanctioned authority over the people that you are preaching to, and that you are viewed as an authority figure by those people. The reason why these statements come across as being so misleading is that in the LDS faith, women who “preach from the pulpit” have no recognized authority over the people they are preaching to. The only exceptions I can think of is the general RS or YWs presidency speaking in the general RS or YW’s conference. Even in the case when these leaders speak in general conference, it is difficult to say whether the church membership as a whole (including men) view these women as being an authority figure over them. Since, these talks usually focus on women or children, I would imagine that even in these cases the women are not viewed as authority figures.

    Thus, I think that answering the question “Do women lead in the church?” with “Yes, women preach from the pulpit” is deeply problematic and misleading given that we don’t view the average Sunday talk as a form of leadership.

  6. 6.

    I do find it funny that the majority of things women can do are things only a woman serving as RS president can do.

  7. 7.

    [...] Describing Women's Participation in the Church – Zelophehad's … Posted in Church Tags: all-attempted, church, describe-women, few-recent, published-statements, [...]

  8. 8.

    I agree wholeheartedly that the church’s representation of what women do is rose-colored. What we actually do compared with what we could do is the real issue.

    However, I also wonder if we put too much emphasis on church service altogether. Sure, men have more positions of authority and opportunities for presiding and speaking, etc. But what if that doesn’t matter? When the church was first starting, the mantra was, “Build up Zion!” But these days the church is more family focused and church service is seen as secondary (at least it seems that way at our most recent general conference; see President Packer’s remarks).

    If the family really is the central unit and church service exists somewhere on the periphery — under the heading of “good practice,” — then what we should really be focused on is how much women can and do lead at home. This would be a much better gauge of the basic equalities of men/women in Mormonism. I am hopeful that in the future, the emphasis on priesthood meetings and speaking assignments and church positions will wane, while the focus on a balanced family, headed by jointly empowered fathers and mothers garners more respect.

  9. 9.

    meg, what is your point? Are you trying to refute Ziff’s assessment that men and women are not equal in the church? Are you trying to say men and women are equal in the church because everybody submits to somebody? I am sorry to question so aggressively, but I sincerely cannot understand whether you are being sincere or just some kind of devil’s advocate for the sake of being difficult. I know it’s rude to question someone’s sincerity, but that’s just how hard it is for me to understand a perspective that can look at this webpage: http://www.lds.org/church/leaders?lang=eng and then tell me that men and women are equal in the power structures of the church.

  10. 10.

    Misleading? I don’t believe so. Being very cautious in their approach so at to not give offense? Probably. I see it as approaching the question in a positive way(these are things women do in our church) as opposed to a negative way (women certainly can’t do these things in our church). To me, the positive approach leaves open the possibility of thoughtful, reasoned discussion on an important topic, whereas the negative approach makes it much more likely to seem exclusive and turn women away without getting more information. Of course, that’s making an assumption as to the motivation of people who I do not know, but normally when I’m in that situation I prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  11. 11.

    #9 – the chart says it all!!! That’s what we should show people who ask about women in the Mormon Church. No words needed…….

  12. 12.

    Interesting post and discussion. I found myself thinking that many men do not participate as bishops, have part in quorum leadership or are called on to preach from the pulpit. But, they are part of the brotherhood and they do have a certain status because of that. Men and women each visit ward members on a regular basis. I’m talking about home and visiting teaching. We seldom mention that. We neglect to recognize that the RS President can call visiting teachers. We also fail to acknowledge that some wives go home teaching with their husbands and do their own visiting teaching as well.

    Beatrice: while generally I think what you say is true, especially in a formal way women are not recognized as authorities. I also believe that knowledgeable women who do teach both men and women in the church are, at least during their tenure, seen as presiding in the class and that their words are treated as authoritative and accepted as inspired. Women also teach seminary. the youth consider them to be as authoritative and spiritual as male teachers.

    I like the line, I would like it better if it were parallel lines that showed the level of participation of men and women in terms of time spent doing things for the Church rather than opportunities available.

  13. 13.

    I had a friend in college – a Southern Baptist from Tennessee. She came up to Boston for college, and was looking for a church to attend. She tried to closest church that, IIRC, had the word Baptist in its title. She rejected it after one visit, and chose to travel further so she could attend a different church. I asked her why, and she replied that the first Sunday she showed up, there was a woman preaching at the front of the congregation. To her, this was a sign that something was seriously amiss in this church.

    While I agree with the OP and other commenters here that I’d like to see much, much more true equality in our church, we are at least involving women in certain ways that don’t occur in all churches, including preaching on Sundays. Sufficient? No. But not trivial.

  14. 14.

    That Mormon women regularly preach from the pulpit is pretty much the only area where Mormons are including women more than most other churches. And that’s because other churches only trust their pulpits to ordained ministers, and so many other churches won’t ordain women or have very small numbers of ordained women. Mormons, however, are willing to trust their pulpit to all members of the congregation that are old enough to give talks. They don’t allow women to perform the functions that they view as authoritative (presiding and conducting).

    That doesn’t mean that Mormons shouldn’t be given credit for allowing women to preach. They should. But this isn’t a sign that Mormons are giving women more authority than other churches. Preaching simply isn’t viewed as an authoritative function in Mormonism like it is in most other churches. It’s the right way to treat women, but for the wrong reason.

  15. 15.

    I think there’s an implicit tension in these statements and that they’re misleading. All of them tout women’s visible participation in leadership roles in the church, implying women should participate publicly and visibly and that women’s integration at all levels is an index of the church’s moral health. But if you accept that premise, where does that get you in Mormonism? These spokespeople don’t give you much in the way of resources for accounting for women’s lack of participation in leadership at every significant level. Although they don’t acknowledge it, the church fails miserably their own implicit standards.

  16. 16.

    Love this post. Very good insights.

    I generally agree with your assessment of why folks have such different descriptions, but I think it’s also true that the church regularly spins potentially problematic information.

    Look at the Teachings of the Prophets manuals. The bios in them are mostly (all?) written to give the impression that polygamy wasn’t practiced. Selective wives are listed and others erased. And most bios contain a good deal of trivial stuff that would be (one supposes) much less significant than wives and children.

  17. 17.

    Ziff, “disingenuous” indeed! Beatrice, I agree with you. Alison, you are spot on about the spin. Have any of you read an older essay about the Invisible backpack of white privilege? The issue of how patriarchy, current and past, influences our LDS cultural norms and church structure often reminds me of the invisible backpack essay… how the privileged are blinded to their status and options while the outgroup sees so clearly. I was having babies and solo parenting during DH’s med school and residency during second wave feminism and had long hoped that it would begin to influence and inform “younger” ( now under 60) GAs by now. I don’t know if it’s groupthink or what, but I only see superficial changes. I can’t watch General Conference anymore, the imbalance is too painful.

  18. 18.

    Kiskilli really nails it in describing what always bothered me most these pieces. They have accepted the rubric of equality as being equal participation, but then only discuss those areas where the participation is equal.

  19. 19.

    I’m not so sure that it’s a different reference point as much that it derives from a religious-psychological need–in order to avoid cognitive dissonance–to think about and portray one’s own religious beliefs and loyalty in as positive way as possible.

  20. 20.

    This is such an accurate description of the missing information in these PR statements and an interesting and plausible theory about where this perspective comes from.

    With regards to this comment: Even the male priesthood leaders are under other male priesthood leaders.

    I really don’t see how that is an argument for female equality, since no male (other than Primary teachers, as mentioned) ever submits to female authority. I also think it is important to consider the implicit status afforded men simply by their potential to become leaders or their experience as leaders in previous callings. People seem to put more weight into the words of a former bishop, for example, than the words of a woman, who due to her gender would never be given consideration for such a calling, even though neither person is technically in authority over the ward at that given time.

    This lower status, combined with the fact that women are the minority by design in decision-making councils, is certainly not something PR statements describe.

  21. 21.

    it’s like, you know how not all rectangles are squares, but all squares are rectangles? not all men are leaders, but all leaders are men. it doesn’t matter if men submit to other men. on the venn diagram of leadership in the church, women are waaaaay over here, ie not a part of it.

  22. 22.

    [...] discussion of how Heavenly Mother’s place in Mormonism is similar to that of other Mormon women. But look at some of the badass [...]

  23. 23.

    “(The only exception I can think of is male primary teachers presided over by female primary presidents.)”

    It is not quite that rare. Others would be music callings, family history, stake seminary supervisors, stake and regional public affairs.

    The last is particularly pertinent to this discussion because much of the criticism in the OP is of the church public affairs apparatus. While few of us may serve in public affairs at any given time, those of us who have served in that arena have seen men reporting to women all the time, and so it is sincere rather than disingenuous when they talk about women’s leadership in the church. It is their actual experience.

    “Think of a continuum of how much women participate in their churches.”

    While I love the idea of the chart, I am not sure that the labels are accurate. Is “participation” the same thing as sitting on the stand? Is not making lunch for the bereaved family “participating” just as much as blessing the grave? Both serving, albeit in different ways. What much of the essay is about actually seems to be participating “the same as men” rather participating that is equal with men. So perhaps it should be re-labeled as such.

    And do we want to dismiss the many forms of service in which women do currently engage as “not participating”? That comes off as male-normative, that the only things worth doing are those which men have traditionally done.

    Also, much of what is discussed here as “participation in the church,” is about wards and stakes and such. But the family is the basic unit of the church, not the ward. So if wives and husbands are equal partners in the home, as is taught as the ideal, then that also needs to be factored in when weighing participation.

    Also, while it is not a church calling per se, I am impressed at how many BYU department chairs nowadays are women. Camille Fronk Olsen in Ancient Scripture, Amy Petersen Jensen (mother of 11-year-old twins) over Theatre and Media Arts, Renata Forste in Sociology. A generation of male BYU students are listening to LDS women speak with authority over them.

  24. 24.

    But the family is the basic unit of the church, not the ward.

    And do we want to dismiss the many forms of service in which [black men did] . . . engage as “not participating”? That comes off as [white]-normative, that the only things worth doing are those which [whites] have traditionally done.

    Both [blacks and whites] serving, albeit in different ways.

    This is exactly why I’ve always opposed the ordination of black men. It’s white-normative to say that what black men offered the church before ordination was extended to them was any less significant than the ways white men served in the church. As long as black men participate in their families, they’re central to the church, since the family is the basic unit; their incorporation into the leadership structure is thus simply unnecessary. Rather than ordaining them and thereby ratifying and universalizing a form of white normativity, the church would have been better off by valuing black men for serving in their own special ways behind the scenes.

  25. 25.

    I really don’t understand the article and the comments. When did everyone having the exact same opportunities become the goal? I preside once, you preside once…I make a calling, you make a calling….that was never the design that God intended. Men and women are different, have different callings according to the Lord and will never have equal ‘stuff’ as far as callings and responsibilities. We know, however, that they have 100% equal responsibility as far as accomplishing the goals the Lord has for all of us. Saying that equality comes only through everyone being able to do what everyone else can do is a corrupt idea that really took hold during the feminist movement and has refused to give up. To say that there is equality with completely different roles seems somehow sacrilegious to secularism but is accomplished through the Lord’s plan.

  26. 26.

    Saying that equality comes only through everyone being able to do what everyone else can do is a corrupt idea that really took hold during the feminist movement and has refused to give up.

    Exactly, Ty. Equality is a phenomenological state. It has nothing whatever to do with sameness. It’s simply a personal feeling with no external referent. People are equal because they feel equal, not because of any external structural measure. If people (i.e., women) don’t feel equal simply because they’re excluded from power structures in the church, the problem is entirely on them: they need to do what they can to try to feel more equal. Then they will, ipso facto, be more equal.

    (This is why, incidentally, I don’t necessarily object to slavery, if it’s undertaken according to the Lord’s plan. Even masters and slaves still have equal responsibility to accomplish their goals. Masters and slaves have different roles; that doesn’t make one better than the other. The world would have you believe that equality entails sameness in status, voice, power, or opportunity; to suggest anything else is “secular sacrilege.” We in the church know better. Slaves aren’t worth any less for being enslaved—a fact that justifies, rather than undermines, the basis for their captivity.)

  27. 27.

    Amen, Lady Gaga!

  28. 28.

    [...] of the LDS Newsroom’s statements on women’s equality in the church can be read here, at Zelophehad’s Daughters.Filed Under: UncategorizedSpeak Your Mind Cancel replyName *Email [...]

  29. 29.

    Women are obviously not equal in the church and to attempt to give the impression that they are is misleading.

    As some have pointed out above our PR do try to spin things so we don’t lok too bad. Part of the culture of the church that likes to sanatise everything.

    Hopefully the statement made about racism in the church will apply to this subject as well as treatment of homosexuals, modesty and other cultural things that are part of the church but not part of the Gospel. “It is not known precisely why, how or when this restriction began in the church. but it has ended”

  30. 30.

    “As some have pointed out above our PR do try to spin things so we don’t lok too bad. Part of the culture of the church that likes to sanatise everything.”

    So, in other words, the PR department of the church is performing the same basic function of any PR department in our modern culture, period. That same culture, by the way, which has a sliding scale on such topics as race relations, sexual identity and practice, and gender relations. Sometimes the scale slides in your favor, sometimes in the other direction.

    Deciding such issues based on the current prevailing opinion is a double-edged sword. Be cautious not to cut yourself.

  31. 31.

    I tend to see the Church’s PR efforts as honest and sincere efforts to describe reality, not just to sound flowery. The LDS Church is most often viewed from the outside in the reference frame of evangelical Christianity and Catholicism, and participation among LDS in church services is considerably more leadership-oriented than among most of those denominations. The New Testament could be construed to say that women must wear hats in Church, shouldn’t speak or lead prayers, and should be submissive in everything. It’s not that way among LDS, and PR wants to emphasize that. Many people, esp in the eastern US where most don’t know Mormons, also strongly associate the word Mormon with polygamist groups that are labelled as very strict, very patriachal, and very woman-suppressing; to be accurate LDS PR must distinguish itself from those groups in the strongest terms possible. If the preconception was that Mormons were like Episcopalians or Unitarians, it might be deceptive to use the language that LDS PR uses, but within the paradigm of listeners’ preconceptions that have been demonstrated by studies and vast experience, PR’s description is very good. I don’t think it has anything to do with which decade apostles grew up in.

    While women aren’t bishops or apostles, or sunday school presidents at present (though they are on the sunday school board), I think that most LDS would agree that they have greater influence than the men in the average ward. They often heavily outnumber men, their social networks are usually more developed and efficient, and in my experience they are often more assertive about strict adherence to doctrine and “magnifying” the work of the ward. As has been said many times, if only women could be given the priesthood, the Church’s work would have been done and the 2nd coming ushered in already. I think that female participation and influence in the church equal or exceed male participation and influence; it’s just less publicized. Women would render men obsolete in the Church if priesthood functions weren’t designed as all-male.

  32. 32.

    While women aren’t bishops or apostles, or sunday school presidents at present . . . I think that most LDS would agree that they have greater influence than the men in the average ward.

    I totally disagree, Jess. The only way you can get to this conclusion is to decide that women’s soft power to influence by persuading generally trump’s men’s hard power to extend callings, make decisions about church discipline, control budgets, and the like. Women have power in the Church to the degree that the men with the real power let them.

    As has been said many times, if only women could be given the priesthood, the Church’s work would have been done and the 2nd coming ushered in already.

    This has been said many times? Where? It’s not only insulting to men, it makes God sound like a petty tyrant who delights in delaying the Second Coming so he can toy with us with silly little exercises.

    I think that female participation and influence in the church equal or exceed male participation and influence; it’s just less publicized.

    Now you’re on to something. Certainly women participate in the Church more than men do. But participation isn’t influence.

    Women would render men obsolete in the Church if priesthood functions weren’t designed as all-male.

    Again, this is just absurd. You really think so little of men? We would be completely gone from the Church if we didn’t get the priesthood as our own exclusive little boys’ club?

  33. 33.

    Women would render men obsolete in the Church if priesthood functions weren’t designed as all-male.

    There is not a single denomination that ordains women where male clergy has been rendered obsolete. Almost every single denomination that ordains women has maintained at least 50% male clergy. Most of them, it’s more like 70%-95% male clergy.

    The only denomination I’m aware of that has +50% female clergy is the Unitarian Universalist Association, and then it’s only like 51%-52% female clergy.

    Churches have definitely had a more difficult time keeping men in the pews, but that applies to churches that don’t ordain women (LDS church included) as well as churches that ordain women. It isn’t female ordination that’s driving men away.

    So there just isn’t any reason to think that, if women were given the priesthood, men wouldn’t come to church anymore.

  34. 34.

    I really can’t decide how much intent to mislead I see in it, but what I do think might not be any more flattering (though I certainly don’t intend to offend). I’m in support of your alternative explanation, Ziff—I just think people who make those arguments actually think the church is progressive in this respect. I think they offer those examples because they are proud of them, because they do see zero involvement as the reference point. And because of that, I think they probably don’t assume that others fill in those blanks with more involvement, the way we who start from the other end of that spectrum do.

    The detail I am most skeptical about is the use of the word “preach”. I just don’t think anyone hears that word and doesn’t assign some kind of authority to it that, let’s be honest, is not present in sacrament meeting speakers. And I think the deliberate choice of that word is meant to lend a lot more weight to women’s involvement there than it actually deserves.

  35. 35.

    Miri’s comment about “preaching” gets at my major complaint about PR comments re: women’s roles. It’s also why I find the defense that Jess advances–specifically that PR is speaking in the context of outside perspectives–not only inadequate, but a good explanation of why language like “preaching” is so troubling to me. In the context of mainstream Christianity, to say that women “lead” and “preach” in the church implies ordained authority far more than it does in the Mormon church.

    So I agree that when we use Ziff’s framing of this question, it’s understandable why PR might make claims about women leading and preaching in the church–LDS women do fill a lot of roles in the church. But I just cannot believe that church PR people don’t understand that the words “preach” and “lead” imply a great deal more formal authority to mainstream Christians than is actually attached to the positions women fill. And in the presence of such understanding, choosing to use that language anyway implies a certain intent to mislead. At least in my mind.

    Even with the caveats PR sometimes (but only sometimes) includes about men having the priesthood (they don’t usually actually specify that women do not hold the priesthood), their language implies women have much more hard power in the church than they actually do. And the distinction Ziff makes between hard and soft power in his comment #32 is a very real and very important one.

Leave a Reply