Who tops the status ladder in an LDS ward? Certainly ward leaders like the bishop and Relief Society president, stake presidency members—and wives of male leaders occupy top rungs. Husbands do not receive status from a wife’s position. In Utah where wards have a homogenous socio-economic makeup, financial well-being plays a minor role. In more diverse wards, worldly success factors into ward status. Mormons like to believe that prosperity is the result of church activity although that may be a chicken/egg riddle. Is it, perhaps, easier to be active in a ward that recognizes your outside achievements?
Large, active families fill the middle rungs of the ward status ladder for good reason. They provide two adults to serve in callings and bright-eyed children to fill Primary and youth classes and eventually missions (boys). Older couples who raised their families in the ward retain the status they earned during younger years. Empty-nesters who move into a ward are a boon if young and healthy enough to lend a hand in the auxiliaries. Retirees lacking the energy for active ward service at least help fill the benches on Sundays and may boost the genealogy and temple attendance statistics.
Single moms occupy the lowest rung on the ward social ladder. Even reasonably charitable brothers see SMs as a ward liability—they generally need help with moves, household repairs, yard work, and even a male influence for their sons. Divorcees bring no husband to share ward priesthood labor and their chances of remarrying are relatively slim. If they’re attractive, married sisters may perceive them as potential threats. And the stigma of “She couldn’t keep her husband” persists on many levels.
Divorced men face little stigma as long as they maintain church activity. Mormon men generally don’t stay single for long. Even if his wife left for good reason, a male with a temple recommend attracts Mormon girls like Sarah Palin attracts Conservatives.
Unmarried women over 30 are a step above single moms on the status ladder. They are often the most dedicated auxiliary workers. But an element of pity separates them from their married sisters. In our ward two single women in their 30s with excellent jobs were included with the widows on the Christmas gift basket list.
Unmarried males over 30 have less status than their single sisters, but more than single moms. They are faulted for not marrying and assuming family responsibilities. If bachelorhood persists, the suspicion of being a closet gay arises.
When we moved into our present ward a year and a half ago, we informed the bishop and RS president on their initial visits that we weren’t regular church attenders, and we’ve kept our promise. We do attend socials when invited and participate in service projects. While we can’t commit to three hours of tedium every Sunday, at least we don’t make demands on busy ward members’ time and energy. I think the biggest problem our ward members have with us is that we don’t appear to be missing any great blessings from our minimal church activity. I see us as a 2—other ward members might lower that a couple of notches.