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Kimball Lesson 20: The women of the Church

Posted by douglashunter on May 5, 2007

Lesson 20: The Women of the Church

For Mother’s Day I have been asked to teach this lesson, hopefully, others will be doing the same, and jumping forward to lesson 20 won’t be too disruptive. As usual I’ll give a brief outline of the lesson and then go into some ideas / thoughts that I hope can serve to generate some discussion. Frankly, I am looking forward to discussing this lesson because I find the material so challenging, but more on that later.

From the life of Spencer W. Kimball
– Kimball recounts a story of his mother’s great capacity for service, helping another woman with sewing, serving in the relief society, serving continuously without complaint. Kimball states that his mother “breathed service into all her actions.”

– Women play an important part in Heavenly fathers plan. Women are often instinctively sensitive to things of eternal consequence.

Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball
Having been given different responsibilities, women and men are to work together in a partnership of equality and respect.

– God “is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). We have full equality as recipients of God’s perfected love for us. Women are to walk along side men not in front of or behind.

– Men’s and women’s roles are eternally different; mother hood and sisterhood vs. fatherhood and priesthood. Men and women were given different assignments before we came here. Women should be treated well, they have work to do that is as important as men’s work.

– Women in the church want to be respected and revered as equals.

– Relief Society is the Lord’s organization for women and is a complement to the priesthood.

-Men and women are dependent upon and different from each other as complements. We are encouraged to seek what is “beautifully basic” in the differences.

God has called women to help enrich, protect, and guard the home and family

-Being a righteous woman today is especially noble, and the influence of such women is great, “ten fold what it might be” in different times. The home is society’s basic and most noble institution. Righteous women can preserve the home, even as other institutions fail.

-The messages of the media concerning women’s fulfillment and choices to marry or have children are false.

-Eve was happy to have eaten the forbidden fruit, and began the human race with gladness.

-Motherhood is a sacred partnership with God and husbands. There is the responsibility of giving birth and raising children to serve the lord -a sacred dedication to rearing, fostering, nurturing children.

– Too many women find distractions from raising children.

– It is the greatest honor for women to assist in God’s plan. Being a good woman and raising good children is the way to find greatest joy for a woman.

The Lord has promised the blessings of eternal family life to all faithful women.

– Family life does not always work out s it should here on earth, death, divorce and other things may prevent a woman from finding a righteous marriage partner, but in eternity these women will have this opportunity, and be blessed beyond their capacity to express.

-Marriage and motherhood are not necessary to keep the great commandment to love God and our fellow men.

-“Those of you who do not now experience the traditional woman’s role, not by choice, but for reasons beyond control can still do much to help others.”

Each Woman should seek to fulfill her divine potential

– Women need to appropriately develop their talents, and learn as much as they can with an eye towards marriage, motherhood and domestic responsibilities. Kimball encourages education and experience clearly towards the end of better fulfilling the role of wife and mother.

– “We want our homes to be blessed with sister scriptorians-” Women need a knowledge of the scriptures to keep the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, and because they do so much nurturing.

– The blessings, recognition and status found within the Church are the greatest a woman can receive.

– “Drink in eternal truths” concerning individual identity and the value God places upon you. The Church is the only place where women can learn the truth about who they are and their roles.

Righteous women can be great contributors to the world and to the kingdom of God.

– “There has never been a time in the world when the role of woman has been more confused.” Women in the church can do a great deal to show what the true role of women in the world is. “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”

-Other women pursue selfish interests Women in the Church are a force for love, truth and righteousness.

-Women will plan an important role in growing the Church in latter days.

Thoughts / questions about the lesson

I think its clear that the main goals of the lesson are:
To appreciate the work women do as part of their commitment to the church.
To emphasize the different roles of men and women in the church.
To encourage women and emphasize their spiritual value.
To encourage women to look to the Church’s description of freedom and the feminine ideal rather than to the larger culture.
To Reassure women that they can and will be in eternal marriage relationships.

These goals make it an interesting lesson to present to the EQ. Certainly it could be used as a lesson of praise, where we all share our appreciation for the women in our lives and the work they do but I’m not sure what kinds of questions I can use to encourage a good discussion along these lines.

When I’ve been part of these discussion in the past they have been stilted. It’s a situation in which the “correct” answers are known beforehand and we are all more than glad to give them. So I see the challenge of this direction as being how to have a good discussion about women, the women in the church, the women in our lives, that can be personal and honest without relying on clichés.

Now, if I’m being totally honest about the lesson I have to admit that my first response to the material is pretty guarded. Not for its appreciation of women but for the way it relies on certain ideas:

1) The idea that biology is destiny.
2) The lesson celebrates the totalizing of women’s experience through the roles of wife and mother.
3) Men are women are stated to be equal but there is still present a structural priority given to the masculine.
4) Domestic space as feminine space.
5) The association of the feminine with nature and intuition.

So it’s difficult for me to see the lesson outside of the challenge posed by this kind of thinking about gender. One possible use of the lesson is as a discussion of gender, the assumptions in the church about the meaning of masculine and feminine, how we feel about these teaching at this point in time. One thing I am certain of is that in broad terms the younger generations of church members do understand the meaning of gender differently than older generations.

Another point of entry into a discussion of women and gender could be to emphasize the repeated statements that men and women are equal but different. How do we conceptualize this difference / equality in our personal relationships with women? How do they play out in our relationships with wives, mothers, sisters, friends? Are the differences between men and women larger or more significant that the differences between individual human beings?

Another approach could be to start with the statement concerning the similarity between men and women.

In short the question I’m posing to myself concerning this lesson is, how to have an honest discussion about women, gender, relationships, that does not rely on gender role stereotypes and safe answers.

25 Responses to “Kimball Lesson 20: The women of the Church”

  1. robf said

    One thing that strikes me about this is that you will be having this discussion in a priesthood meeting, where women are not present. The assumption perhaps behing that they are separate (literally) but equal (literally?) off in their RS meeting. Why is it important that we spend 1/3 of our time together at church only together with those of our same gender? Is there something about the nature of men and women that we need to separate them out in these meetings to emphasize or take advantage of those differences? Will the discussion you have of this lesson be different in your class from the lesson and discussion at the same time in the RS class? How might it be different if the lesson was given in the GD class with men and women sitting together?

  2. Julie M. Smith said

    I’m not real keen on the idea of a lesson that ‘praises women.’ The idea that we would praise people for something they don’t control sounds a little odd.

    If, hypothetically, I were to teach this lesson in an EQ, I would focus the discussion on what I as an elder had to do to ensure that all of these things described in the lesson could happen for women.

    For example, there will be few to no sister scriptorians among young mothers unless their husbands get the kids out of their hair–daily, consistently. Relief Society cannot be a complement to the priesthood if the comments that the RS Pres makes in ward council are glossed over, or if the real business of the ward is done in PEC and the council is used merely to coordinate schedules, etc.

  3. joe m said

    my thoughts and reactions:

    – It is the greatest honor for women to assist in God’s plan. Being a good woman and raising good children is the way to find greatest joy for a woman.

    my reaction: I think you can easily replace ‘woman’ with ‘man’ in this statement and it remains true.

    – Men’s and women’s roles are eternally different; mother hood and sisterhood vs. fatherhood and priesthood. Men and women were given different assignments before we came here. Women should be treated well, they have work to do that is as important as men’s work.

    My reaction: Do you think that in relief society, they teach the opposite? That is, that men should be treated well, and they have work that is as important as women’s work? That’s how I would teach it, if i were teaching relief society…

    – Men and women are dependent upon and different from each other as complements. We are encouraged to seek what is “beautifully basic” in the differences.

    – Relief Society is the Lord’s organization for women and is a complement to the priesthood.

    My reaction: along the same lines as my previous reaction. can the priesthood be seen as a complement to the relief society?

    I generally think that many of the statements in this lesson can be turned on their head, partly to show irony in the statements, partly to give perspective, partly b/c i think it levels the playing field, and partly to poke fun…

  4. Cherylem said


    This reminds me of a lesson we had in RS not too long ago – it was a General Conference Priesthood talk on being a man. What a hoot. Yet I have to say the woman who taught it did a superb job of being funny, and then turning things around so that they applied to women.

    I like the comments made so far. I read this lesson briefly, and I would suggest a couple of approaches.

    1) All the comments made in this lesson were made in the 1970s. Some of the men in your EQ were probably not even born then, or were small boys. So you might review the attitudes of that time – in and out of the church. Then you might ask the guys: have we made any progress since then in the way we support the women in our lives? Additionally, some of Pres. Kimball’s comments are in reaction to fears that women were going to leave motherhood and wifehood behind. Has this happened? (I don’t think so.) But some good – probably much good – has come out of the controversies of the period.

    So I think a discussion of how things have changed for the better since the 70s in terms of gender relationships would be appropriate, especially in the early part of this lesson.

    Other ideas:
    “I marvel at the faithfulness of so many of our sisters and their unswerving devotion to the cause of righteousness,” wrote President Spencer W. Kimball.

    Me: Why is this something to marvel at? In terms of the women in your lives, do you see this kind of devotion? In what way?

    President Kimball taught the importance that all righteous women have in Heavenly Father’s plan for His children. He said: “Someday, when the whole story of this and previous dispensations is told, it will be filled with courageous stories of our women, of their wisdom and their devotion, their courage, for one senses that perhaps, just as women were the first at the sepulchre of the Lord Jesus Christ after his resurrection, our righteous women have so often been instinctively sensitive to things of eternal consequence.”

    ME: When the whole story is told, of this and previous dispensations, it will be filled with
    • Courageous stories of women
    • Their wisdom
    • Their devotion
    • Their courage

    So, do we understand that until the “whole story” is told, we are simply not seeing the whole picture? A lot of feminist argument centered around this very thing: they’d been left out of the “story.”

    Pres. Kimball says: . . . our righteous women have so . .

    So, ouch.
    • are they “ours?” In what way can this language be heard negatively? Do we own them? How can they be ours? (perhaps ours to serve? Ours to love? In the case of wives, ours to sleep with?)

    Pres. Kimball:
    . . . have so often been instinctively sensitive to things of eternal consequence.

    • Is this instinctive? To what is Kimball referring? Intuition, for example? Would the women say it is instinctive? How do we view their intution/instinctiveness? Do we view this as a gift? Do we listen when they share this with us?

    From the lesson:
    The late Elder John A. Widtsoe wrote:
    “The place of woman in the Church is to walk beside the man, not in front of him nor behind him. In the Church there is full equality between man and woman. The gospel … was devised by the Lord for men and women alike” (Improvement Era, Mar. 1942, p. 161).

    Writing in this way gives woman place in reference to the man – Elder Widtsoe’s phrasing could be read as the man being the centering place of women’s universe. Perhaps this is like a young boy might see his mother – she is visible by where she walks in his space. Is there a way this thought could be viewed negatively? Positively? How can we help ourselves, and all the women with whom we come in contact, feel the equality inherent in this idea? This respect? At work, can we demonstrate respect for women’s intellect and decision making capabilities? At home, how do we walk by the side of our wives, daughters and mothers?

    Pres. Kimball:
    Within those great assurances, however, our roles and assignments differ. These are eternal differences—with women being given many tremendous responsibilities of motherhood and sisterhood and men being given the tremendous responsibilities of fatherhood and the priesthood—but the man is not without the woman nor the woman without the man in the Lord (see 1 Cor. 11:11). Both a righteous man and a righteous woman are a blessing to all those their lives touch.

    A man cannot be a mother. A woman cannot be a father. Even though, in some circumstances, people have to make the attempt to be both father and mother. In a perfect world (treading gently here for those whose worlds are not perfect) how does having a father and mother benefit children? How does loving and respecting each other as father and mother bring a married couple closer?

    Pres. Kimball:
    Remember, in the world before we came here, faithful women were given certain assignments while faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood tasks. While we do not now remember the particulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreed to.

    Okay. Since we don’t remember this, we’ll accept it and move on.

    Pres. Kimball:
    Sometimes we hear disturbing reports about how sisters are treated. Perhaps when this happens, it is a result of insensitivity and thoughtlessness, but it should not be, brethren. The women of this Church have work to do which, though different, is equally as important as the work that we do. Their work is, in fact, the same basic work that we are asked to do—even though our roles and assignments differ. …

    What kind of insensitivity might Pres. Kimball be talking about? When was the time period for this talk (Nov. 1979)? Are we doing any better?

    Pres. Kimball:
    Our sisters do not wish to be indulged or to be treated condescendingly; they desire to be respected and revered as our sisters and our equals. I mention all these things, my brethren, not because the doctrines or the teachings of the Church regarding women are in any doubt, but because in some situations our behavior is of doubtful quality.

    Okay. Men might feel scolded here. So the emphasis is: how are we doing? Why not go home and ask our wives and daughters/mothers how we’re doing. Or even go home and just say: I hope you know how proud I am to be the husband of a thoughtful, intelligent, beautiful, nurturing, independent wife who chooses to be married to me. (now she will never think she’s all those things, but she’ll love you for saying it.) Then do something like dishes or diapers or read her a poem or discuss something intellectual.

    Pres. Kimball:
    The Relief Society is the Lord’s organization for women. It complements the priesthood training given to the brethren. There is a power in this organization that has not yet been fully exercised to strengthen the homes of Zion and build the Kingdom of God. …

    What does he mean: there is a power in this organization that has not yet been fully exercised? What power is this?

    Pres. Kimball:
    … In his wisdom and mercy, our Father made men and women dependent on each other for the full flowering of their potential. Because their natures are somewhat different, they can complement each other; because they are in many ways alike, they can understand each other. Let neither envy the other for their differences; let both discern what is superficial and what is beautifully basic in those differences, and act accordingly. And may the brotherhood of the priesthood and the sisterhood of the Relief Society be a blessing in the lives of all the members of this great Church, as we help each other along the path to perfection.

    So: flower together. Bloom together. Do what you can to make sure this happens. This takes time and patience, but the reward of a loving wife is really very wonderful. (Ask my husband.)

    Pres. Kimball:
    To be a righteous woman is a glorious thing in any age. To be a righteous woman during the winding up scenes on this earth, before the second coming of our Savior, is an especially noble calling. The righteous woman’s strength and influence today can be tenfold what it might be in more tranquil times. She has been placed here to help to enrich, to protect, and to guard the home—which is society’s basic and most noble institution. Other institutions in society may falter and even fail, but the righteous woman can help to save the home, which may be the last and only sanctuary some mortals know in the midst of storm and strife.

    How do you encourage women to be guardians of the home? (examples of those with children: speak good things about their mother. Don’t argue with her decisions. Get her back. Listen to her intuitive advice and counsel. And don’t think certain things are only hers to do . . . cooking, cleaning, etc. These tasks are not hers by divine assignment! Be a man. Share these tasks!)

    Pres. Kimball, speaking to women:
    You read the papers, you watch television, you hear the radio, you read books and magazines, and much that comes to your consciousness is designed to lead you astray. … Some of the things they are telling you these days are: it is not necessary to marry; it is not necessary to marry to have children; it is not necessary to have children; you may have all the worldly pleasures without these obligations and responsibilities. … There are [many] ways to give you this loosely held, so-called freedom. They are telling you that you are manacled [chained] to your homes, to your husbands, to your children, to your housework. They are talking and writing to you about a freedom they know nothing about. …

    Why would such teachings (in the 70s and 80s) find a response in women of that time? Do the same issues face women today? Do we tell our wives and mothers how grateful we are that they have our children, that they are good mothers? Do we pick up on their cues when they are tired? Do we partner in child rearing responsibilities? Or do we still want to be the centering space of the women in our lives, rather than being their equal? We are no longer boys, but men, walking by their side.

    Pres. Kimball:
    Eve, so recently from the eternal throne, seemed to understand the way of life, for she was happy—happy!—that they had eaten the forbidden fruit. … Our beloved mother Eve began the human race with gladness, wanting children, glad for the joy that they would bring to her, willing to assume the problems connected with a family, but also the joys. …

    So, Eve is an example of courage – of the full retelling of history that includes women.

    Pres. Kimball:
    Mothers have a sacred role. They are partners with God, as well as with their own husbands, first in giving birth to the Lord’s spirit children and then in rearing those children so they will serve the Lord and keep his commandments. … Motherhood is a holy calling, a sacred dedication for carrying out the Lord’s work, a consecration and devotion to the rearing and fostering, the nurturing of body, mind, and spirit of those who kept their first estate and who came to this earth for their second estate to learn and be tested and to work toward godhood.

    Have men talk about being there when their children were born, blessing their children. Talk about how they felt about their wives at that moment. Yet at the same time even the mice have babies, even rabbits, every animal form. So motherhood – true motherhood – is holy, as is fatherhood.

    Pres. Kimball:
    Too many women spend their time in socializing, in politicking, in public services when they should be home to teach and train and receive and love their children into security.

    This scolding applies to a few. But NOT the women we know . . .

    Pres. Kimball:
    No greater honor could be given to a woman than to assist in [God’s] divine plan. I wish to say without equivocation that a woman will find no greater satisfaction and joy and peace and make no greater contribution to mankind than in being a wise and worthy woman and raising good children.

    This is true but this is between the woman and God. This isn’t anyone else’s business to tell her this . . . only to help her reach this.

    And so on . . . it’s all I have time for. Hope this helps.

  5. m&m said

    I have a few thoughts after reading comments above:

    1. My personal opinion is that I don’t think there is a real need to filter the words based on history, because the manuals were compliled with us in mind. The words there were included because they were felt to be relevant to us today. I tend to prefer a current focus rather than looking back, but that is just my style.
    2. Given the fact that there is a special place in the gospel for the “fatherless and the widow” I think along with a discussion of motherhood, there could be consideration for the single mother and how to support them. Often, the children will need an extra measure of priesthood support and mentoring, and there might be discussions about how to appropriately seek to support all mothers in their roles (and also even extend that to helping all women magnify their callings and talents as women of God.) Home teachers, for example, can be extra tuned in to needs (welfare, spiritual needs like priesthood blessings, etc. It’s hard to ask for help, so all the more reason for help to be ready to offer.
    3. In the same vein, I think guardians of the home can include those who don’t have husbands or children. The home needs guarding in a more general sense as well, as our prophets have talked about often. The attack on the family is not just felt within one’s family life; it’s felt in our society at large. How can we support the family and protect the family in a more general way?
    4. I love the idea of discussion of how partnership can happen even as we have some differing roles and responsibilities. To me, presiding, providing, protecting, priesthood, and patriarchy are all about doing all that is possible to work side-by-side with the women (in the home and in the Church). When I see a man who really “gets it,” marriage and family life have sooo much potential and power.

  6. Searching for peace said

    Pres. Kimball:
    The Relief Society is the Lord’s organization for women. It complements the priesthood training given to the brethren. There is a power in this organization that has not yet been fully exercised to strengthen the homes of Zion and build the Kingdom of God. …
    This is a quote I would love to see expanded. What is this power and why has it not been fully exercised? I think in part, women tend to look to the priesthood for spiritual power, and have not been encouraged to learn how to tap into their own gifts of the spirit and fully utilize them.

  7. Robert C. said

    Douglas, great post, sorry I haven’t gotten to this sooner. I think that striving for an honest and non-cliche lesson is very good, though I do think there’s a danger in trying too hard for something new. That is, I think a lot of times with things in the Gospel, the trick is to actually think “afresh” (i.e. rethink) things, even if we don’t end up saying something different than what we said before. That is, to marvel each day at the miracle of faith, or at the beauty of the “same old tree that we pass every day.” Esp. with a topic that can be sensitive or controversial like this, I think there’s a real danger that efforts to avoid simply “safe answers” can misfire and turn into arguments. (I’m probably just projecting some of my own experiences here, sorry!)

    Regarding teh 1970s context, I agree that it’s important to read things in that context but also to be careful not to effectively dismiss the lesson’s content by doing so. It might be worth checking for more recent quotes on some of these issues. For example, it seems there’s been some good talks since then about single women. (But then, this might be more of a distraction from the lesson than a help….)

    Regarding Cheryl’s “our” comment, I think it’s a bit of an uncharitable reading to read possessive connotations onto this “our.” Of course, grammatically speaking, the word “our” is possessive, but I think there are many better ways to read this (and I think this itself would be a good discussion topic: “how should we read ‘our’ here?”), like Cheryl suggests—ours to love, serve, and be grateful for. In marriage, I think we must truly give ourselves to each other and belong to each other. In the Church, I think we all belong to God as well as each other (cf. Mosiah 18: “mourn with those that mourn,” etc.). I think there’s too much emphasis in our modern culture on independence when I think we are very much dependent on others (God and others). Inasmuch as it’s difficult to imagine saying “our righteous men” in the Church, esp. back then, we might again think about differences (which I think is reflected in the Proclamation’s emphasis on the man’s particular responsibility to provide—that is, it’s easy for me to imagine the servants or guards of a king or queen saying, “we must protect our king/queen” out of a sense of responsibility…).

    Also, the quote Cheryl provides above that quotes 1 Cor 11:11 interestingly mentions sisterhood, something that is independent of being a mother or wife….

    And I really like the “disturbing reports . . of insensitivity and thoughtlessness” quote as one to discuss—how can we be more sensitive and thoughtful? What are ways we are insensitive and thoughtless?

    I also really like the “let both discern what is superficial . . . in those differences” quote. I think it’s always good to debunk (esp. in our often homophobic Church culture…) stereotypes and to encourage/celebrate “masculine traits” in women and “feminine traits” in men….

    In a parenting magazine, my wife and I recently read that men in the U.S. help with the kids an average of 7 hours a week. A week!!! I would think that a man honoring his responsibilities as father and husband should be striving to be a father more like 7 hours a day!

  8. robf said

    On a sad note, we had this lesson in EQ today, and it was horrible. The teacher appeared very unprepared, and it wasn’t evident that he had even read the lesson. The quorum spent half an hour telling each other why women should stay at home and not work outside the home. Since that teaching wasn’t even in the lesson, and I for one didn’t feel the spirit at all, I would say it was a disaster. Glad not all lessons are as poorly prepared or delivered as this one was. What a waste.

  9. Cherylem said

    And I for one . . . am so grateful for this blog. When lessons go horrible, we can always talk here.

  10. douglashunter said

    Well, I had hoped that I would be able to participate in the discussion but work was deadly last week so I didn’t have a chance. There are a couple of issues that I would like to discuss but only have time to briefly say that the class went well yesterday, the direction I took the class was very different from my notes and from the discussion here. I selected about four quotes from the lesson material and came up with 4 – 10 questions for each quote. The questions were formed to encourage thinking about gender, and about how the men in the class comunicate with the women in their lives. For me this was the most important aspect of the lesson; that it provided a way trying to get the men processing how they comunicated with women in general and in context of our faith. There were a lot of comments and I didn’t get through all the quotes, which was too bad because I relly wanted to discuss reading the scriptures and supporting women in the goal of becoming sister scriptorians.

    Rob F. I sat through one of those lessons years ago when I was visiting my girlfriend, now wife, at Utah State. I could not believe what I was hearing. Lucky for me one of Michele’s roommates just happened to be the relief society president so I told here what I thought of the class. She directly confronted the EQ president and did a little bit of consciousness raising. Why didn’t I speak up myself? At that time I just didn’t have the knowledge or the temperment to be able to engage the men beyond “what?! Are you insane?” Rob, did you participate at all or try to direct the lesson one way or another?

    more later I hope.

  11. Cherylem said

    Your lesson sounds very interesting and thought provoking. I am so happy you gave this entire lesson study, effort, and creativity.

  12. robf said

    Since my wife recently started working full time again for the first time since we had kids, I was conflicted about how to question the approach of the lesson. Meanwhile, I was furiously re-reading the lesson on my Palm to see if it actually said anything that could be interpreted as supportive of the comments by the class members. By the time I confirmed that there wasn’t anything like that in the lesson, someone else had suggested a more moderate stance. Just as the discussion was moving away from it, though, another quorum member said “not to beat a dead horse, but…” and started in again about how important it is for women to stay home with the kids (even though I know that his wife struggles with huge health and other issues while wrestling kids all day as this quorum member is off all day at grad school).

    The lesson was almost over at this point–but I did want to say something, so I just said that what really struck me was the comment about how “we want our women to be well educated, for children may not recover from the ignorance of their mothers”. I wanted to add something about ignorance of fathers, but just said that while it may be too late for most of us who have already chosen mothers for our children, and hopefully we all made good choices about our children’s mothers, we should encourage our daughters to be as educated as possible, because maybe they wouldn’t be able to marry an upper-middle class husband who could earn enough so that they wouldn’t ever have to work, or that maybe they wouldn’t even have the opportunity to get married (which was another huge part of the lesson we didn’t cover).

    This provoked a comment by a quorum member about how important it was that we encourage our daughters to “marry up” so they could stay home. I gave up at that point, and just waited out the clock. Then came home to report my sad experience here! I haven’t been this annoyed at a church lesson for a long time (since 1998 to be exact)–and makes me glad that next week I’ll be out of town on business.

  13. douglashunter said

    Rob, I hear you, some times there is no good opening.

    So here is the other issue that I would like to discuss, but I should note in advance that some people will be made uncomfortable by the issue I am about to raise, so I will try to do it gently.

    The issue is how to process the structure of thought behind much of the content of the lesson? We are frequently warned against mingling the philosophies of men with scripture or doctrine(s), and I think when it comes to the discourse on women in the church we may find a rather literal union of the philosophies of men with teachings.

    I’m thinking of some of the issues that I mentioned briefly in my initial notes, or the use of “our” that Cherlyem mentioned. In the context of the lesson the “our” certainly seemed to be possessive, suggesting ownership. On this specific issue the way posters dealt with it was to offer an interpretation of the “our” suggesting that it be understood as an invitation to action on the part of men. Which is an interesting reading, a generous reading to be sure, but within the context of the lesson I have a hard time finding how that reading is suggested by the text.

    To but it more bluntly, there are many elements of patriarchal thought that have been critiqued, and convincingly described as examples of bias at least, or of misogyny or even oppression at worst in other institutional, social, and cultural settings but no such critique exists for these same elements in the church. I do not know how to navigate this difference, this void. And honestly the discussion is not just about the impact on women, its about the impact on men as well.

    I suppose that as a fist step that I could point out the two polar opposite possibilities and then work from there. The first would be that all the feminist work was either completely wrong or simply does not apply to the institution of the church or the metaphysics of Christian theology. Second, would be that the critical work I am thinking of does indeed apply to the church and there are important changes that can and should be made in the church. In any case those are merely starting points, neither of which are nuanced or fully credible, so they need a lot of work.

    In the end I write this stuff here for two reasons. First, because this lesson foregrounds for me the issue of how to talk about gender in the church; how to most effectively engage the men in the church in a discussion of how gender difference -both perceived and real- effect our relationships and spirituality. And this lesson also raises the question for me of the necessity of gender essentialism to Mormon orthodoxy. In the end the two are related because of how quickly people envoke “genetic differences” or the idea that men and women are “wired” differently, in cases when there ideas are totally bogus. yet they use such bogus thinking as a defense of doctrine, even link the two. How to uncouple these ideas, open a more honest and informed discussion of gender without causing too much trouble. Sorry if I didn’t raise the issues with much skil or tact.

  14. robf said

    Douglas, surely more here than I can adequately chew in the short term. As for the “our” in the lesson, and in the quote I gave from the lesson, it gives me pause. And while the easiest explanation might invoke some kind of ownership, as you suggest, I’m chosing to read our=Mormon, so not as individuals owned by others, but as a class of people who belong to a larger group. Maybe a misreading, maybe even a strong misreading, but the only one I can really go with at this point.

  15. douglashunter said

    Rob, I take your point, and empathize with the fact that you are making a decision to favor that reading. I think that decision leads naturally to asking if one should explore or question the “why” behind that decision. I think I see in myself a hesitation to fully explore the implication and reasons for that kind of decision, but maybe I’m projecting my own dellema on to others.

  16. m&m said

    I’m with you on that. Pres. Hinckley will often talk of “our” people. No one “owns” anyone else. I see “our” as an identifier as “Mormon” as well.

    Douglas, I’m going to share some of my thoughts here…and will ask for forgiveness in advance if I come across too blunt. I am not sure how to express myself except just to say what I’m thinking. Not that anyone else hasn’t done this, but I’ve given these topics some serious thought and pondering, especially over the past year or so as I’ve been involved in online discussions. I’m especially interested in the topics of patriarchy, gender differences in the Church, etc.. Given what I have felt and what has brought clarity to me personally, I am VERY hesitant to allow too much of feminist perspective to dominate a discussion like this. My experience is that such perspective requires dismissing too much in our teachings, ritual, etc. It’s too convenient to dismiss something that is uncomfortable, and my feeling and experience is that it’s only when we embrace repeated doctrinal teachings and our ritual that we can begin to understand and discern.

    Let me be clear that I don’t want to imply that we haven’t gained a lot from the feminist movement in a general sense; I’m not trying to dismiss it all by any means. I am grateful I have opportunities as a woman that women in the past didn’t have. I vote, I went to college and graduate school without blinking an eye (and only one man accused me of taking a man’s place!), I had a career for a while, I got good pay, etc. But I think if we push the feminist perspective too much into the structure and order of things in the Church, we will create a situation that will backfire and not provide the learning and growth and understanding that I believe patriarchy, priesthood, etc. and what is outlined in the Proclamation are here to to provide.

    I also don’t know that we can dismiss discussed differences between men and women as “bogus” — if we do, I think we will miss a lot of truth. NOT that they can be 100% generalizable all of the time, but because I do believe we have different gifts and talents and roles and expectations “by divine design.” That divine design also allows for a LOT of crossover as we work as equal partners in our homes and even in the Church. The challenge with these types of things is that I think we need to be willing to suspend the charged accusations of inequality and “gender essentialism” as defined by feminism and instead seek to really discern what is TRUTH. My experience, anyway, is that in this realm and on these topics, feminism can too easily take us away from truth.

    I agree with Robert that there is too much emphasis in our culture on independence. I think fairness and equality as defined in our culture is something that can also mislead. As the new statement on doctrine said, the church uses some terms in different ways. Therefore, rather than trying to get rid of terms and concepts that are charged, we should, as Robert said (if I understood him correctly), not be afraid to embrace and celebrate what is masculine and feminine, either by nature or by choice (i.e., roles in the Proclamation). God clearly hasn’t expected that male and female lives and roles and such should be exactly the same. “Equality” in the plan of salvation doesn’t mean what people want it to mean in our society. Ahem. IMNSHO. :)

  17. Robert C. said

    Douglas, I too am very interested in thinking about all of these issues much more carefully (check out our recent discussion here and here if you missed it).

    You talk about a void in the Church between institutional, social, and cultural practices and the critique of such. It seems to me that we hear critiques every Conference. True, the critiques are not cast in feminist language or conform to certain feminist agendas, but men in the Church have been chastised repeatedly for not respecting women as “equal partners” (to use language from the Proclamation).

    But I’m guessing you are thinking more about things like women not holding the Priesthood or being called to leadership positions like Bishop, Stake President, and so on. It is this fact that I think puts certain strands of feminist thought (not all strands, I would emphasize) in conflict with Church practice, and to a lesser extent (I think), statements by Church leaders. But to really understand what is in conflict, I think we need to get at the core of the difference between gender and sexual difference in the Church and among feminist thinkers. To articulate the conflict requires, I think, a very nuanced version of equality and difference, something that have not studied or thought about enough to understand. In other words, I’m still suspicious of what seems to be the underlying assumption of feminist criticism of the Church, that even though men and women are different, “fairness” (justice I believe is the technical term here…) requires that men and women be given equal opportunity and/or voice in official leadership positions.

    Before elaborating on why I’m suspicious of this feminist critique, I’d like to know if I’m in the ballpark of what you are thinking….

  18. cherylem said

    Robert C, you write:
    In other words, I’m still suspicious of what seems to be the underlying assumption of feminist criticism of the Church, that even though men and women are different, “fairness” (justice I believe is the technical term here…) requires that men and women be given equal opportunity and/or voice in official leadership positions.

    truly, I don’t see why women can’t be heard in official leadership positions. Whether they hold the priesthood or not (not relevant probably), women have much to offer, they are capable, and the church suffers when their voices are not heard.

    This is the deal for me regarding women and the church. This isn’t very disciplined thought, and it doesn’t fit a philosophy or intellectual discipline (such as feminism). It’s just my reality.

    I am often more comfortable with women outside than inside because women outside have never learned to be quiet. They argue forcibly and expect to be heard. They expect to be able to lead groups of people professionally, politically, and as volunteers. They even, sometimes, take leadership roles spiritually. They seem to me to be uncensored in healthy ways.

    Sometimes I invite women friends to church. Sometimes they come. But . . . asking them to join seems to me to be asking them to make themselves smaller. In the church they may have leadership opportunities, but they will lead women only, and certainly not autonomously. If they state their opinions forcibly they will be in the minority, probably an uncomfortable minority. As converts their opinions will be discounted, as cultural converts they will be seen as not understanding church culture. Their very strengths will appear as threats and weaknesses, will make others uncomfortable.

    So, in a church that is missionary oriented, my constant question is: how do we expect to attract women who have moved freely, led or supervised men and women, and who are intellectually free? (perhaps parallel questions could be asked of men, actually.)

    It is an issue for me. I speak comfortably with all my friends about being LDS, but so many of the women I know who are seeking a spiritual home have already broken with past traditions which place them in secondary, inferior positions. Do women such as these have a place in the church? How do we explain our careful gender differences/responsibilities to them? It often sounds like so much separate but equal (never equality there) to me.

    And please, I hope the blog membership does not take my comments as apostasy or as condemnation. These are honest questions, and I make myself vulnerable to you all by sharing them here.

  19. m&m said

    I think my comment is getting caught in the spam filter….


    I appreciate you being willing to be vulnerable. I think these are valid questions. The challenge that I see is that the answers require a different point of view, perhaps, than what “women on the outside” may be used to.

    I also want to say, FWIW, that my experiences as a woman in the Church appear to be quite different from yours. I feel heard, involved, cared about and valued. I am not afraid to voice thoughts and opinions. I will even share unsolicited thoughts with leaders about ideas for improvement or whatever. I also feel that leadership is about more than just position, it’s also about personality and example and infusing whatever one is doing with the characteristics of a good leader.

    And Primary leaders lead men and women. :)

    But ultimately, I think we “attract” women to the Church with the same approach we take with everyone. We teach the true doctrine, especially about restored ordinances and truths that can take us back to God and enable us to enjoy exaltation and eternal family lives. We share how the truths of the Atonement and the gospel help our lives. We teach about the doctrine of eternal families. And we teach that in the journey of coming to Christ, we are sometimes asked to “become” in ways that may sometimes be different from what the world defines for us as desirable, strong, accomplished, progressive. The Church exists to help us be humble, to help us grow and learn in spiritually-focused ways, which can complement our intellectual strengths if we let them. And it requires faith on things that we may not understand, like gender differences. Sometimes I think it’s good just to be able to say, “I don’t know why some things are the way they are, but I know this to be true.” We may not be able to explain away everything that could make someone uncomfortable. Maybe the key is not to expect that they would be uncomfortable but share in hope and faith and then address concerns as they arise. ????


  20. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, thanks for voicing these concerns so articulately and sharing this specific example which I think is a good example of the kinds of concerns that I also struggle with, or have struggled with, though most likely not as acutely as you (after all I live in Utah and work at BYU! …but I haven’t always lived here…). Clearly there are many issues at play here: an inherent conflict between the world/temporal and the Church/spiritual; very human and fallible leaders; very human and fallible members; a failure to see the big picture; a God who both intervenes in this world and, at the same time, who seems not to micro-manage; etc. I have many questions and very few answers. When I feel overwhelmed with this imbalance, I sometimes find comfort in the phrase/prayer from the hymn Lead Kindly Light: “one step enough for me” (however, the preceding line often undermines that comfort and becomes a springboard of confusion for me: “I do not ask to see the distant scene”—what’s wrong with trying to see the bigger picture?!…). Although sometimes I feel like I have some answers, or at least the inklings of answers, to some of these questions, oftentimes—more often than not—I simply do not have good answers, and if I try to pretend otherwise, conversations with others begin to feel disingenuous….

    That said, I’m anxious to try and work toward a better understanding of all of these issues and questions. So, as far as excommunicating you from the site… I tend to think of Feast as Matthew’s project (b/c he started the wiki and largely b/c I like to eschew any and all responsibility as a rule…) and I am inclined to defer to him in terms of what’s appropriate for this site. I take your comment as quite safely within the goals, aims, and scope of this site (“excommunication” was meant facetiously…), though it probably doesn’t hurt to discuss these meta-issues a bit at the outset (I’m planning to continue this discussion of gender for at least several more weeks, probably much more).

    I think that at this blog, where we are feasting on the Word of God (esp. canonized scripture…), there is a presupposition that we consider LDS scripture inspired (with the “as far as it is translated correctly caveat, although I think “translated” might be taken quite broadly…). What is very much less clear is how to consider non-canonized statements by Church leaders. At the least, I think such statements should be treated with respect and thoughtful consideration, and that disagreements should be recognized and acknowledged as . . . I don’t know, straining the boundaries of this community I guess. That said, I think this leaves quite a bit of room for honest and thoughtful discussion about Church leaders’ statements, including points of disagreement and questioning the infallibility of certain statements and practices.

    Also, perhaps the more important concern is that I think this type of discussion should be taken up ultimately with an eye toward understanding scripture better, or by looking for answers in scripture. Perhaps some brief background history of the blog will help contextualize my concern (sorry for the mini threadjack, Douglas…): We had quite a bit of discussion when we were just starting the blog as to the extent we wanted to consider statements by Church leaders as included as part of the “Word” in the Feast Upon the Word. I think Douglas and I were the two most outspoken proponents for including Church leaders statements as part of the scope of the site. Others expressed reservations about making the scope this broad, since we didn’t want to become “just another blog in the Bloggernacle,” but agreed to at least try it (I think we said we’d see how things go for 6 months, which we’re quickly approaching, and then revisit the question…).

  21. cherylem said

    Robert #20,
    You write:
    Also, perhaps the more important concern is that I think this type of discussion should be taken up ultimately with an eye toward understanding scripture better, or by looking for answers in scripture

    I reply:
    I agree completely with this goal. I let loose a little in #18 because I felt that some comments were dancing around the issue of some dissatisfaction among some women in the church, and I decided to attack it directly. Sometimes our understanding of scripture, including those things we might think of as scripture (in spite of the Approaching Mormon Doctrine discussion recently held) has unintended consequences. I believe that the church’s understanding of gender difference, speaking generally and not specifically, has the unintended consequence that I wrote about in #18. Therefore in our discussions of gender difference, including gender roles, the unintended consequence needs to be addressed. If not addressed, it will never be corrected.

    I think this is a little bit – if I am reading him correctly – what Douglas was trying to do when he taught this lesson in EQ: a little correcting of the unintended consequence.

  22. cherylem said

    #19 m&m,
    I like this:
    “We teach the true doctrine, especially about restored ordinances and truths that can take us back to God and enable us to enjoy exaltation and eternal family lives. We share how the truths of the Atonement and the gospel help our lives. We teach about the doctrine of eternal families. And we teach that in the journey of coming to Christ, we are sometimes asked to “become” in ways that may sometimes be different from what the world defines for us . . . ”

    I say to this: absolutely.

    Nevertheless I am less accepting with, again, the unintended consequence that I mention in #21. I don’t think the negative consequence (or what I perceive as such) has to be accepted without thought or attempts at change. But the discussion is probably relevant to this blog only as we continue to find scriptural answers.

  23. m&m said

    Did we ever decide if prophetic words are scriptural on this blog? :)

  24. Jim F. said

    I hope we didn’t decide.

  25. Robert C. said

    (I noticed that the Exponent II blog has some notes for the RS/MP lessons, here is Lesson 10. We don’t have a sideblog set up yet here, so I thought I’d just mention it here….)

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