Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Heartfelt suggestions from a Mormon Feminist


     In the church, there are things that are doctrinal and things that are temporal. I freely admit that doctrine shouldn’t be up for debate or suggestions from the masses. I do, however, feel that temporal things only stand to benefit by being adaptable and open to review. Here are many things that could be changed without altering current doctrine to help make things more equal and I truly believe the church would benefit from:
  •     Encourage truly equal partnership in marriage and redefine the concept that husbands preside over their wives. Men and women should always be held as equal partners, without one presiding over the other.
  •      Give women in leadership more autonomy over their callings and/or require men in leadership positions to seek counsel and approval from women in all affairs of the church. For instance, the Relief Society president must request permission and approval to change many aspects of Relief Society; yet there is not any auxiliary in the church in which men need to get permission from the women to implement a lasting change.
  • Allow women in leadership to read and have access to all of the books of administration and official handbooks.
  •     Allow women to manage and audit financial resources in the church. Women in the RS handled the majority of the church's finances historically, but over time this aspect of governance was given exclusively to men. (see here)
  •     Allow an executive board of women to write and develop the manuals and lesson content that will be taught in the women auxiliaries of the church. Additionally, women should be invited to participate equally with men in the creation of manuals for combined classes. Currently, manuals for the women’s auxiliaries are created and developed by the brethren without any female input at all quite often. Honestly, listen to this podcast here and you will see what a huge issue this is. Also, read page 134-135 here. It is an interview with Chieko Okazaki, 1st counselor of the RS from 1990-1997. She points out that the RS presidency had already started on a new manual that would speak to the current needs of the women and address the things they are facing in their day to day lives. When they brought their outline to the brethren, they were informed a new manual had already been made without their input or consent and it was already on its way to the printing press. She was shocked and saddened that the women were not even asked or notified about it.
  •    Create true equality in the Young Women and Young Men organizations through equivalent budgets, educational programs (leadership, career, and spiritual training), and activities (sports, service, and outdoor events). There is no reason why the integration of scouting in the men’s programs should enable the boys to have more resources and funding/fundraising than the women do. It is up to the organization of the church to create a similarly funded and resourced program for young women.
  •     Balance the stories and images of boys and men in church publications, talks, and other media with stories and images of girls and women.
  •     Reduce the focus of stories and lessons based off of Priesthood holders in our history, manuals, and cultural stories and make an effort to include and highlight the amazing stories and contributions women have made to further the gospel. These stories should not be taught solely in women’s auxiliaries but in the general organizations of the church as a whole.
  •     Invite women in Church leadership positions to speak and pray during General Conference in numbers equal to the participation of men. Also, it would mean TONS if women were more encouraged to speak on gospel topics that cover the breadth of our religion and doctrine rather than those that solely pertain to the role of home-making and women's roles when speaking in conference.
  •     Encourage leaders to use gender-inclusive language whenever possible.
  •     Recognize that girls and boys, women and men are equally responsible for appropriate sexual behavior and taming of thoughts. We should teach our boys and girls equally that it is up to them as individuals to dress themselves responsibly and also to master their thoughts when faced with tempting images or manners of dress. This is not something that should be more heavily discussed or guilted to one gender more than the other. For example, I know many youth who have been taught that it is the responsibility of young women to garner the chastity of the young men and make sure they are worthy to serve missions and take them to the temple. This logic causes unnecessary shame on women when chastity boundaries are crossed. Every individual should be taught that it is up to themselves to muster and reign their temptations. Yes we should help others by leading by example, but in no way are girls to be made to feel liable for the thoughts or actions of boys and visa versa. Boys and girls both should be taught to see past what a person is wearing or doing and control their thoughts rather than to blame someone else for tempting them. Personal accountability for both sexes should be the bottom line and never weighted more heavily to one gender than the other.
  •     Enforce equal rules for both sexes at boys and girls exclusive camps. If girls at girls camp are supposed to wear shirts or shorts over their suits while swimming (which is a growing trend mandated in many stakes nationwide), so should the boys at their respective scout camps. If boys are allowed to hike shirtless or in tank tops on their scouting activities, the girls should be allowed to hike in sports bras or tank tops and weather/activity appropriate shorts as well. Do not pretend that only boys are attracted to partially clothed women. Girls have eyes too and a guy with his shirt off is “a threat to pure thoughts” for some girls as much as a girl in a tank top would be for some guys. The more important thing here is that we should just teach people to manage their thoughts rather than forcing clothing quotas. If clothing standards are placed, they should not be more restrictive for women or be enforced in any way that could cause a sense of innate body shame.
  •     Instruct bishops to refrain from asking church members probing questions about sexual practices and experiences. Allow parents the right to be the first to introduce or talk about certain aspects of sexuality, rather than any child ever learning about things from a bishop during an interview due to the questions they are being asked. More freedom should be given to people to choose to confess sins rather than being asked probing questions that may or may not apply to them in any way, shape, or form. This is uncomfortable, inappropriate, and demeaning in many instances. If you don't know what I'm talking about or agree that this is needed, I suggest you read this.
  •     The choice to speak to either a man or a women when seeking pastoral counsel should become the norm. This is particularly important and needed for women and girls who have been sexually abused; right now they have no choice but to discuss their trials with a male and this can be very limiting and demeaning. If women aren't extended the priesthood, a calling could be made where a woman acts as a mediator between a confessor/victim and the bishop.
  •      Change the official handbooks to include women implicitly in equal numbers to the men in all councils, with equal say and leadership roles.
  •     Create more administrative and council callings in general for the women so that their input and numbers match that of the men in all councils in all levels of the church.
  •     Increase visibility of women as a whole on the stand of congregations and General Conference. Invite more women in leadership to sit up front or allow more men to sit with their families.
  •     Delegate more expansive supervisory authority to the Stake and Ward Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary presidencies, including approval of personnel, programs, funds, and activities.
  •     Include women among stake and ward leaders who hear evidence and offer judgment in church disciplinary councils.
  •     Include the local Relief Society president (and any newly-created women's counsel roles) in all bishopric meetings and rotate the planning of Sacrament services among the Relief Society president and members of the bishopric.
  •     Examine all Church positions to determine whether they can be filled without regard to gender. Why are only men Sunday School presidents and only women Primary presidents? We both have SO much to offer in these areas and it would not diminish our divine roles to branch out.
  •     Appoint qualified women as presidents of Church universities and heads of administrative departments. Teach girls from a young age that being qualified for these positions and holding them is a worthy, encouraged pursuit.
  •     Expand hiring practices in the Seminaries and Institutes of Religion and within the religion departments at church universities. Woman should be given the same placement, advancement, and tenure opportunities as men.
  •     Remove from the handbook that women should only work outside of the home in circumstances of emergency.
  •     Call young women as well as young men to serve missions at the same age and for the same length of time. Afford women the same opportunity as men to function as district leaders, zone leaders, and assistants to the president.
  •     Lift the prohibition on women's participation in the blessing of their children. Allow women to hold their infants while their children are receiving baby blessings in sacrament meeting. Allow them to be witnesses and to be part of the prayer circle. Stop making women feel like their mere presence is an ungodly request or would ruin the sanctity or efficacy of blessings and settings apart. Just because they cannot perform the ordinance does not mean they cannot be an integral, visible, important part.
  •     Consider changing temple marriage policies so that men and women have equal opportunity to be sealed to their second spouses after they are widowed or divorced.
  •     Recognize women as witnesses for baptisms and marriage sealings.
  •     Restore the former institutionally-accepted practice of women giving blessings of healing and comfort.
  •     Create a true parallel in meetings intended for men and women. Why is Priesthood session considered a session of conference (it is one of the five official sessions of every conference) and held bi-yearly whereas the YW session and RS sessions rotate every conference and are not deemed "conference sessions" by definition? Why are so many of the keynote speakers at the women’s sessions men? And yet women are not only never invited to speak at men’s sessions; they are not permitted in the conference center when they take place. Men are always allowed to attend women’s sessions, but not vice versa.
  •     Allow parallel structure between boy and girl programs. For instance, scouts are advised to meet weekly while activity day girls are directed to meet NO MORE than twice a month.
  •     Create parallel advancement within achievement programs in youth and primary auxiliaries for girls and boys. Hold the awards merited in these programs with equal emphasis and regard. The activities and certifications do not have to be the same, but the overall structure and stages of merit should be. Give more opportunities to girls to learn autonomy, self-reliance, and real-world practices like the scouting program currently emphasizes for boys. Additionally, it wouldn’t hurt to add in more about parental responsibility and nurturing children into the young men’s program.

     As for an aspect of doctrine that is very troubling, I feel the need to ask for further clarification or revelation. Many women are hurt to their core upon finishing their temple marriage and realizing that they covenanted to give themselves to their husbands (but not husbands to wives), to hearken their husband's counsel as he hearkens to the Lord, and then see that their husband then goes on to covenant to the Lord on both of their behalf. *I* wanted to covenant to the Lord on my own behalf, and I anticipated my husband giving himself to me equally as I gave myself to him. If this is an unchanging aspect of our doctrine, I would hope that further explanation can be given on the place of women in exaltation. Upon study and reflection, I cannot find where we are equal in the current wording.
     Additionally if we could all urge the prophet to beseech the Lord for further knowledge on heavenly mother. So many of us are dying to know more about her; please expound more on this amazing woman after whose likeness and purpose we are created.
     One of the most important things to realize is that SO MANY of the things I mentioned above were originally part of the roles of Relief Society and women in the administration of the church (again, see here). This isn't asking to do something new and crazy with the roles of women in the church, but more so to have back what was originally ours.
     I want to point out that I really do not feel that taking on these additional responsibilities and creating a parallel structure for males and females of all ages in the church would diminish our current divine roles. These are not to be new mandates that REQUIRE anything more of women, but solely gives them the opportunity for more if that is what they feel God wants for them. For instance, women who have young children at home would be spared from being asked to fill time-consuming callings. Their priority will remain in the rearing of children. Women starting to fulfill callings previously solely occupied by men will allow more men to be able to devote more time to their family. Being a father is a divine calling and role every bit as much as being a mother is; these are ways to help men fulfill that calling even better. Sharing the responsibilities within the church will allow men the free time to share more in the responsibilities of the home. Each family would never be asked to have both parents in time-intensive roles at the same time to ensure that all families are still able to act as whole units and that one parent is always available to sit with the children during meetings. Also, for women who chose to not pursue careers or go to college so they could be full-time stay at home moms, being administrators and counselors in the breadth of the church could be a wonderful way for women to fill their years after their children leave home.

    In closing, there are just so many ways that we can help men have an opportunity to be more involved nurturers at home and for women to get a chance to have more of a voice, influence, presence, and visible role in the church. It is not a sin to ask for these changes and it is not a show of a lack of faith in our current leadership. It is simply a plea to consider change; to bring these items to the Lord and ask if such changes would improve his kingdom on earth.

Here are additional helpful links on the topic of feminism and mormonism:


Aaron said...

May I respectfully ask, what will your response be if the brethren sincerely ask the Lord to implement all or some of the changes you recommend and the answer is "no"? Do you continue to plead with Him until you receive the 116 pages?

The Bonhams said...

Hi Lori, thanks for sharing these links. They articulate so well what I never seem to be able to explain. Good luck polishing your post!

Katrina said...

I always enjoy your writing Lori - keep it up! :-)