An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Mormon women and priesthood’

Mitt and Mormon Thinking

In an interview with Salon, Judy Dushku said something about Mitt Romeny which made me realize why I don’t enjoy spending time with most mainstream Mormons: “He’s not someone to engage people in conversation. He’s a person who comes to a conclusion, is emphatic about it, and he’s not interested in dialogue and exchange.”

Mitt’s inability to dialogue and exchange ideas with others should surprise no one. Mormons don’t discuss. Mormons don’t dialogue. Mormons quote authority. Mormons affirm each others’ faith. Discussing alternative opinions would imply that legitimate ideas exist outside approved discourse. Members who suggest ways of improving the organization are reproved as murmurers. Those who question official policies and doctrines are on the road to apostasy and are best avoided.

The closest Mormons get to religious discussion is in trying to resolve conflicting statements made by General Authorities. Even there, a pattern is followed. Prophets trump apostles who trump everyone else. Recent prophets outrank those of the past—although Joseph Smith gets some deference.

My neighborhood book group came close to having a meaningful discussion recently. After reading Irene Spencer’s memoir, Shattered Dreams, most of the group wondered how the author could have received an affirmative answer to her prayer about becoming a LeBaron plural wife. The discussion about discerning between our own wants and needs and divine inspiration ended when Sister Alwis Wright informed us that only people who keep all the commandments received authentic answers from God. Everyone else can be deceived. “Even what some people think are trivial sins like swearing will keep a person from receiving answers,” she informed us.

Well, that ended the discussion. Who was going to admit to trouble understanding answers to prayer if the problem is secret sins—maybe even swearing?

Thought-provoking questions raised in Church classes are handled much the same way. Askers who push for satisfying answers may find their worthiness questioned—or the topic will be termed a “mystery” about which lesser persons should not inquire.

Our son was asked not to return to his Institute class when he brought evidence (some from LDS sources) disputing the instructor’s insistence that all 66 chapters of Isaiah were written by one person. “Thou shalt not disagree with Church leaders” might as well be the 14th Article of Faith.

Mormons are taught from infancy to follow the prophet and that our leaders will never lead us astray. April points out in her post at Exponent  that Mormon leaders even tell us what we think—“Mormon women don’t want the priesthood.”

Black and White Mormon thinking may serve Mitt well during political campaigns where thoughtful answers to complex issues are not the norm. Would it serve him in making the kinds of decisions required of a president?


Daddy, May I Please Have a Lollipop?

Do Mormon women like being treated as little girls? I attended the Relief Society birthday dinner in my ward last week. Three women wore their hair in the double pony tails usually worn by preschoolers with uneven hair lengths. Several women had bows in their hair—and no, it wasn’t a costume party. The sister in charge of the program announced the skit by telling the bishop, who was in attendance, that they hadn’t cleared it with him, but they thought it would be all right since it came from a church manual.

Her statement, implying that grown women need male guidance in choosing appropriate entertainment for a RS program, reminded me of a General RS Conference several years ago where both President Hinckley’s wife and daughter spoke. The daughter began by noting that since her father presided, he could shut the meeting down if the women in his family got too far out with their comments. I suppose her remark was meant to be humorous, but it is curiously Mormon. I couldn’t imagine that kind of message being delivered by a daughter of George W. Bush (who was President at the time) in a public meeting.

Even in trivial manners, Mormon women seem to feel a need for male guidance. At the General Women’s Conference about a year and a half ago, Julie Beck, the General RS President, sent a ripple of amusement through the Conference Center as she announced that after much prayerful consideration and in consultation with the First Presidency, the name of RS Enrichment Meetings would be changed to, I believe, RS Extra Meetings.

Come on! Do Mormon women really want to portray the image that we are brainless little dolls who can’t possibly think and make the slightest decision on our own?

Trespassing in Priesthood Meeting

Occasionally a member of the bishopric visits Relief Society, but women never violate the male sanctuary of LDS priesthood meetings. Not that there’s anything secretive or even very interesting going on there. It’s just a well-entrenched Mormon tradition. I’d never given much thought about what goes on in priesthood classes, although, from comments made by George and our son Wort, I figured they comprised about the same blend of lessons and friendshipping as Relief Society—minus the tears.

A few years ago I was called to be ward teacher improvement leader. The bishop extended the calling personally, emphasizing the need to make sure pure doctrine was taught in all ward classes. My responsibility was to visit classes and provide support to teachers and auxiliary presidencies both informally and in quarterly inservice meetings.

With normal enthusiasm for a new calling, I contacted the Primary president, discussed her goals and concerns, and made appointments with teachers for class visits. The next month, I contacted the Young Women’s president and visited YW opening exercises and classes. YM was next on my schedule. I contacted the YM president and scheduled a class visit with the Deacon Quorum adviser. When I walked into Priesthood opening exercises and took a seat next to George, all heads turned in my direction. The bishop stared and the counselor who was conducting ignored my presence. It felt kind of like being the only person in town who took the “No Pants Day” prank seriously enough to show up in public sans trousers. Should I have informed the bishop I would be attending priesthood opening exercises when making class visits? In a perverse sort of way, the situation tickled my funny bone. Here I was fulfilling my calling and being perceived as some kind of nut, possibly a threat to the divine order of LDS life. I accompanied the deacons to class and a neighbor asked George, “Does Ann want the priesthood?”

The next Sunday the bishop conducted priesthood opening exercises and made a point of saying, “Welcome Brethren. . .  and Sister Johnson.” He gave no explanation for my visit. In fact, he seemed to enjoy the mystification of his flock. With his own perverse sense of humor, he may have been watching to see if I’d flinch under the floodlight of attention.

After visiting the YM quorums, I visited Relief Society for a month. Then back to Priesthood for the Elders Quorum and High Priests Group. The HP Group leader had been a bishop in a previous ward, knew the church programs well, and responded positively to my request to visit. Some of the gentlemen had figured out the reason for my presence by then, but others gave George a “Can’t you control your wife?” look as I sat beside him. At least no one went to sleep that hour.

The EQ instructor was a personal friend and explained the purpose of my visit . Reb led a wide-ranging discussion more or less on the lesson topic. The difference in EQ and HP discussions was equal to the difference between recess and reading groups in elementary school. Possibly the EQ discussions would have been even livelier without a woman present. As an 18-year-old prospective elder, Wort arrived home from his first EQ class thoroughly disenchanted by the honesty of the good brothers. In discussing family responsibilities, some of the brethren reached the conclusion that divorce was a way for men to give themselves a pay raise. Those remarks sounded similar to some of the gripes against husbands I’ve heard in Relief Society. LDS men and women generally go along with the church definition of gender roles, but that doesn’t mean they are blind to the disadvantages.

The men in our ward eventually got accustomed to my periodic invasion of the third hour of the block. I found I enjoyed EQ and HP classes more than RS because, although the lessons were the same, I hadn’t memorized the men’s responses to every question.  I also liked not having to carry home cutesy handouts to help me remember the lesson.

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