An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘gender equality in LDS Church’

Confession–Not So Good for the Soul

Mitt Romney’s famous apology for the bullying incident, “And if anyone was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that,” sounds like a speech from Fast & Testimony meeting. Public confession of sins has long been part of Mormon tradition.

The Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants both command confession as a necessary step in repentance. The 42nd section of the D&C lists fornication, adultery, stealing, and lying as sins needing public confession. “And if any one offend openly, he or she shall be rebuked openly, that he or she may be ashamed. And if he or she confess not, he or she shall be delivered up unto the law of God.” (D&C 42:91) And don’t you love the way the only Mormon scriptures that include feminine pronouns are for negative behavior?

The Bible also demands confession of sins to God and/or others. James 5:16 tells church members, “Confess your faults one to another.” Most Protestant religions believe sins should be confessed directly to God. Catholics confess to a priest who assigns penance. Mormons confess serious sins to their bishop—an untrained lay person who may be released from his calling and replaced the following week. Mormons generally don’t do public confessions other than the, “If I’ve offended any of you, please forgive me” rhetoric. (In most cases I suspect this phrase is code for “If I’ve said or done something you don’t like, tough sh__.”)

 In Fast & Testimony meeting, I have seen unwed pregnant girls make public confession and even a woman in her thirties confess sexual transgressions from her teen years. I don’t understand the point of public confession. Is there any evidence that it deters people from repeating the transgression? I also miss the point of confessing trespasses from years ago.

Some parts of the past are best left buried. In Levi Peterson’s novel, Aspen Marooney, the protagonist marries a returned missionary in the temple, not telling him she is pregnant with a former boy friend’s child. Somehow, she manages to carry off the deception and the child is raised as her husband’s own. Years later she meets the old boy friend and wonders if she should tell the truth.

Of course, she should not tell the truth. Her conscience might be temporarily relieved, but her confession would destroy her husband and the son he has raised. God could surely not be pleased at causing so much harm.

Our youngest son joined an evangelical church several years ago. He got a lot of mileage with his new friends by telling stories of his youthful escapades—prefacing with, “Before I became a Christian.” A pastor’s wife in our son’s church uses her past to teach young people about faith and repentance. She describes pulling herself from a spiral of sexual promiscuity by accepting Jesus as her Savior and receiving His help in rebuilding her life.

Somehow, I can’t imagine a Mormon leader’s wife encouraging sinners to reform by telling about a past shoplifting offense—let alone rehashing a drunken episode that resulted in waking up in bed with a strange man. Mormons may no longer make the analogy of repentance to pulling a misplaced nail from a board—“The nail has been removed, but the hole is still there.” Still, the feeling persists among Mormons—those who have sinned and repented are not equal to those who never sinned.

Confessing to God may be good for the soul. In most cases, confessing to humans is not.

Separate But Not Equal

When a friend’s ward duns him for the Boy Scout drive, he tells them he will contribute to the Scouts as soon as the Church has an equivalent program for his daughter.  He’ll probably save a lot of money waiting for that to happen. An LDS woman recently expressed a wish for LDS girls to have the kind of “coming of age” event a mission is for LDS boys. But she missed the point. Gender inequality in Church programs starts well before missionary age. At age 8 boys go into Cub Scouts with varied educational activities. Dens take field trips to learn about nature, visit museums and places of business such as newspaper offices. The boys complete merit badges which teach them about nature and history as well as useful survival and everyday skills. Girls have Primary activities such as “Bride’s Day” where they dress up as brides and plan their weddings.

My daughter wishes the Church supported the Girl Scout program. Our granddaughter will soon be 7 and would benefit from Brownie Scouts. Of course, some LDS families do enroll their daughters in Girl Scouts, but Lolly feels she has no time to add a non-Church activity to all their Church obligations. For me the obvious answer is to skip Primary activities if Girl Scouts is more beneficial. But I would not have done that 30 years ago and Lolly will not do that now. The reward for trying to bridge two cultures is rejection by both.

From the time they enter Primary, Mormon boys are groomed to hold the priesthood, to serve a mission, to preside in the Church. Mormon girls are groomed to land a husband and produce a family. Now, which role model looks more appealing to a kid, the bishopric presiding from the stand or their pregnant wives wrestling noisy children alone throughout Sacrament Meeting?

The strangest thing about the lack of gender equity in Church programs is the puzzlement Church leaders express over the loss of activity of women in the 18-30 age group. I’ve heard speculation that it may be as high as 50%.  If young LDS women are dropping from Church activity, why doesn’t someone look at the cause? I suspect that many young LDS women cannot limit themselves to the narrow roles allotted them in Mormon culture.

Now I’m not opposed to marriage and motherhood—it’s just that these are goals over which women don’t have total control. A woman who doesn’t attain marriage and motherhood has not failed. Even without the blessing of children, women can lead rich, full lives. And the child-bearing and rearing years are a relatively brief period of a modern woman’s life.

 I don’t understand why Church leaders have the idea that if girls aren’t bombarded with messages about motherhood all the time they’re growing up, they will reject the opportunity as adults. I have loved and raised five children wholeheartedly although that was never my childhood vocational goal. Likewise, my daughter who is raising four lovely children now. Most women have a nurturing instinct and take to the role quite naturally when they are ready for it. Women without the nurturing instinct will not develop it from hearing sermons.

Can we give girls the same kinds of Church opportunities boys have without extending the priesthood to worthy female members? Maybe not. But we should at least offer our girls a broader goal in life than a wedding dress followed by a maternity dress.

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