Response to Alison – part I

August 29, 2011 | 35 comments
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Alison has a talent for writing trenchant posts in general – posts that point to the heart of an issue – particularly as concerns women’s issues.[1] This post is a response to her latest (please read first).[2]

Let me start with a recent anecdote. My family and I underwent a multi-continental move over the course of the summer, and as part of this, we spent a month in the great Great Falls, VA ward. Wonderful place. The Bishopric was kind and shook my hand the first day, being sure to welcome me in the various meetings. But the person who really made our experience a welcome one was, as one might guess, Sister Richards – the bishop’s wife. She was incredibly kind and warm and interested in us, going out of her way to talk to us and connect us with various persons in the ward. The summer in Great Falls, like many areas, was a time of move-ins for the ward, and my wife and I watched her natural, welcoming talent with half a dozen other families, not to mention the myriad of other activities she publicly engaged in (and we all know that there were myriads more going on behind the scenes). She was in every sense the Matriarch of the ward. Except . . . well, she’s not, right?

This is very common. In fact, the same thing just happened again as we completed our move and are now living in a different ward. Not only the bishop’s, but also the stake president’s wife (who lives in our ward) were immediately on hand with a graceful, substantive and much needed welcome. This was the 17th move in 10 years, so we’ve been able to witness this a lot. Bishopric’s are great and can make a huge difference in one’s transition into and out of a ward. But there’s no question that the wives of bishops and stake presidents that we’ve known have taken upon themselves the unofficial calling of ward/stake Matriarch – or position of incredibly-useful-serving-as-much-as-their-husband-hugely-enriching-the-ward specialist, or whatever one wants to call it. My point is that it’s real. And hugely efficacious.

There’s a sense in which this fact is feather in the cap of the women of Mormonism – that they do now and I think always have stepped up in the absence of official direction or sustaining and fulfilled this and other much needed callings (like the weekly, spontaneous primary teacher fill-ins – or, more controversially, laying on of hands to heal sick oxen while crossing the plains!). This fact is very conspicuous, and leads to, among other things, the sorts of issues that Alison’s post addresses. But it’s very conspicuous nature serves to highlight a real problem. Not only are we grateful for this type of service, the flourishing of the church depends upon it. Yet there is no real recognition or prestige or official normative status that accrues to it. This is part of what makes it such remarkable service. But shouldn’t these women at least have the blessing of being set apart? Officially recognized, not through a patronizing comment, but an inspired, specific declaration and blessing? What’s problematic is not necessarily the lack of calling, title, and sustaining, but the fact that men do get these things. Can you imagine spontaneous EQ counselors being the norm?

I don’t have a simple answer here. In a busting-at-the-seems BYU ward my wife was given the calling of songbook-passer-outer and greeter: activities that need to be done (or at least, that make everything nicer); and something that’s usually just silently handled by various saints. Making it an official calling was . . . well, silly. And it turned the service from an opportunity to anonymously serve into a sort of trivial, communist-style everyone-works-even-if-your-job-is-utterly-superfluous thing. An official calling of Ward Matriarch might do something similar – changing it from the beautiful service that it is into an awkward, vague and variably effective calling. This would be especially true if the official calling didn’t also include a voice and participation in ward leadership councils.

Lacking an answer, I want to ask: how can we do more to meaningfully recognize what is already a reality – that women are a foundational and not a decorational part of the Kingdom? How can we do more to substantively (as opposed to patronizingly) recognize what women do and have been doing? How can we make their service something to which an appropriate recognition accrues without fundamentally altering or trivializing that service? Of course, this is all a subspecies of the bigger question: how can we as men and women better partner together in our service – in a way that blesses both men and women?

Again, I don’t have a list of ready-made answers for how (logistically) we ought to make a better partnership come into fruition – just the obvious suggestion that we need to. Taking my marriage as a template – which I think I ought to do, particularly in this church – I am diminished and my family collectively suffers when my wife is not a full and equal partner. I’ve no desire to be married to a lesser sort of human, no desire for a servant. I want instead to be celestially comingled with a woman whom I infinitely trust, with whom I’m equally yoked, and whose capabilities are just as immersed in the project of working for, leading, and raising an eternal family as are my own. And I’ve no desire to curtail or limit or restrict her in this project. That doesn’t mean that we have to be equally involved in working on every project in the family. But I think it does mean we both have the right to a potential full participation in anything we do.

The new local shift toward ward councils is a great start. The guiding principle is that we need much more of this sort of thing – however we logistically bring it about. Thus, in closing, I want to agree with Alison by disagreeing with her. She says:

TELL us what to do, TELL us what to work on (even collectively), TELL us how to better prepare for whatever it is our role will be.

I’m pretty sure what we as a church need is exactly not to have our current priesthood leadership TELL-ing women what to do/work on. Rather, however it gets brought about, what we need is women everywhere as part of the highest and lowest and mid-grade councils working out just what women – and men – will do.

Some of the structural change I’m hinting at probably needs to come from on high – it’s not sort of thing a bloggernacle post can touch. But there’s lots we can do that already has the full blessing of those on high. Beyond this, we all know that it is our covenant responsibility to act, to build Zion, to improve our lot and work out our collective as well as individual salvation. So, what are your thoughts on how we might better recognize women and all of us partner together?


[1] Alison kept my wife and I up half the night talking about her Do Titles Matter? post. Unbelievably difficult to try and come up with appropriate, matching titles for women.

[2] In fact, this post and the one to follow is really just a long-winded comment that could’ve been stuck in the comment thread beneath her post. But I think generating even more discussion on the matter is a good thing, and I wanted to ask a few different questions. And I don’t want to distract from the point and discussion of her OP.

35 Responses to Response to Alison – part I

  1. Kent Larsen on August 29, 2011 at 10:10 am

    “I’m pretty sure what we as a church need is exactly not to have our current priesthood leadership TELL-ing women what to do/work on.”

    Absolutely, James. This applies to men also. D&C 58: 26-27, as I tried to point out in a comment to Allison’s post, tells us to figure out our own way to serve (as long as we aren’t “steadying the ark” — or trying to do someone else’s calling).

    I don’t mean to say that there isn’t a problem with callings and titles and such. Women don’t get the responsibility and recognition that they deserve. But nothing is stopping them from serving in meaningful ways without a calling, just as nothing stops men without a meaningful calling from finding a “good cause” to work on.

    Is this a substitute for a calling? Probably not exactly. But it should help both men and women find meaning in their lives.

  2. ji on August 29, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Regarding specifically the idea of sustaining the bishop’s wife as the ward matriarch — please, please, no, no, no. The bishop’s wife is the bishop’s wife, and she is not the first-among-women in the ward. And the bishop’s 15-year-old son should not automatically be made the teachers quorum president solely because he is the bishop’s son. The office of bishop is one of service, being a minister to all — it isn’t supposed to be a promotion to the gentry.

    Having said this, I have had great respect for my bishops and also for their wives. May God bless all of them.

    Regarding the question, “How can we do more to meaningfully recognize what is already a reality – that women are a foundational and not a decorational part of the Kingdom?” As you say, it already is a reality, and has always been so in the gospel of Jesus Christ and in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Rather than focusing on what isn’t reality (anything concerning “decorational”), just focus on what is reality (“women are a foundational part of the Kingdom”).

  3. Adam Greenwood on August 29, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Not to detract from the thrust of your post, but bishops’ wives haven’t performed this kind of role in any ward I’ve been since my student wards. SP President wives even less so.

  4. Kristine on August 29, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    James, maybe you get at this in Part II, but one thing I think makes these discussions is that we fail to make the distinction between the practical and the ethical discussions that are bound up in this. At the practical level, many (most) Mormon women offer meaningful service and feel good about it. Most Mormon leaders respect women and treat them well in day-to-day practice. But there’s still an ethical problem–the fact that women (and men) find ways to work around and through an institution and set of rules that are fundamentally sexist and unjust does not ameliorate the injustice at the level of institutional ethics.

    Because the ethical problem is one that we sense we can’t influence much from the ground up, we focus on the practical, which inevitably leads to a personalization of the issue that leaves men feeling defensive about their lack of sexism, and women tired of being told to be patient and “constructive” with their criticism.

    We need to have both discussions. Zion requires not just willing and faithful Saints of both genders, but also a structure and government grounded in righteous principles.

  5. Kristine on August 29, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    gah–one thing that makes these discussions difficult and not as productive as we’d hope…

  6. James Olsen on August 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Kent: I’m on board. But I think my gung-ho, role up the sleeves and get to work attitude is facilitated by my being privileged within a “male-centric” (to use Alison’s word) community. I might well feel more deflated were the tables turned.

    ji: While I’m not in favor of the bishop’s daughter being made Maimaid (sp?) president simply because of her being the Bishop’s daughter, I feel quite different about a bishop’s wife. As we all know from experience and hear over the pulpit continually, it takes the support and sustainment of a bishop’s wife in order for a bishop to function. And our social interactions create a sort of vortex around the wife that pulls her into a matronly role – one that our communities need and benefit from. And since one’s not made a God with thrones, principalities, and dominions singly, I’m alright with the organizational structure of the church reflecting this a bit more (which is not to say that “bishop’s wife” should be the only or main female leadership position – and I’ve no intention of further alienated the ministerial potential of our unmarried saints; it’s just one that “bishop’s wife” already exists, but in-public-cognito).

    Adam: try moving more.

    Kristine: excellent distinction, and I’m at least mostly in agreement. That said, it sounds a little like you’re claiming that on a practical level, things are mostly ok, while on a structural (or ethical) level, they’re not, and we can’t do anything about the structural/ethical level, so . . . oh well. That’s a bit stark for me. The two influence each other, even if not symmetrically, and consequently I do think we can do a better job – we can make improvements, even within the confines of a structure that may be inherently imbalanced.

  7. KLC on August 29, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    James and Kent, I think you have misinterpreted what Alison meant when she said, “TELL us…”

    The context of her comment shows that she is fed up with men in the church patting the heads of women or placing them on a pedestal. She want marching orders from her leaders, not patronizing platitudes.

  8. James Olsen on August 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    KLC: Sure. This could be read *in context* more in line with what I’ve said. But it’s still a shocking quote; one that’s a useful illustration.

    She wants marching orders from her leaders, not patronizing platitudes

    I could say the same thing about this quote – I’m convinced that one thing that would improve the scenario of Alison or any of us receiving our marching orders would be a more egalitarian central command station issuing said orders.

  9. Kristine on August 29, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    “we can’t do anything about the structural/ethical level, so . . . oh well”

    Yikes. There’s almost nothing I’d be less likely to mean, so if that’s what I said, I should try again.

  10. Alison Moore Smith on August 29, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    James, I literally cried when I read your thoughtful post. I don’t have much to say (yet), but I want to tell you that I most sincerely appreciate that you listened, that you went to such lengths to think and respond. I’m excited to see what others have to say.

    BTW, is that a picture of me wringing my hands? ;)

  11. KLC on August 29, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Again James, I don’t think you’re grasping what she said or what I said. The TELL us isn’t a plea for more detailed instructions from our leaders, just as marching orders isn’t a plea for more hierarchical control. Neither is an illustration of the need for more egalitarian command.

    If something needs to get done, if something is important, you don’t find your most trusted associate and proceed to butter her up with canned compliments and obliquely angle toward what you want, you just let her know what you need and when you need it, knowing they will get it done. You save meaningless compliments and platitudes for assignments that really don’t matter or people you really don’t trust.

  12. Rameumptom on August 29, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    I think one of the problems we have in the Church, and I sort of mentioned this on Alison’s blog, is that when we talk about the sisters, it is usually only in the sense of being mothers. Yes, this is a very important aspect of who they are. But it isn’t the only thing by far. And for those sisters who never have children in this life, it currently isn’t an aspect in their mortal life.

    To mention the wives of Bishops and Stake Presidents coming forth to greet and serve new move-ins, shows an important aspect that is often overlooked. We do not have one-dimensional priesthood holders (at least I hope not), and we do not have one-dimensional sisters, either.

    I’m high councilor assigned to a spanish branch. I attend all their branch council meetings, and will be conducting one in September to show everyone involved how they should work (including the branch president, who is a good, but inexperienced, servant). I will emphasize input from the sisters as key in all the discussion, prior to any decisions made by the president and the council.

    For me, this is a major step in helping units gain the full blessings of revelation from God. Without the real input of the sisters, we often only get half a revelation on a decision. I would like to see more bishops turn to the RS president and ask her what revelation/inspiration she’s had on a certain topic, issue, or family. I would also like to see more LDS husbands turn to their wives and ask the same….

  13. Lorin on August 29, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Also not to detract, but I’m kind of with Adam on the bishop’s wife premise not totally matching my experience. Every ward we’ve been in (9 moves in 18 years) has had one or more women who fill these informal roles, but only once was it the bishop’s wife, with one or two wives of past bishops thrown in.

    Most bishop’s wives, however, do seem to support their husbands by being his unofficial eyes and mouthpiece in some way. In most cases I’ve seen, she’s done so more by being an astute-but-low-visibility non-gossipy listener who is tuned into the children and women of the ward. More often, I’ve seen them behave more as a fly on the wall who quietly slips in where she’s needed but who more often operates effectively in the background.

    (That may not contradict your experiences, as “in the background” often includes being the first person to approach someone new.)

    A bit of a threadjack. Sorry.

  14. Jax on August 29, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    You save meaningless compliments and platitudes for assignments that really don’t matter or people you really don’t trust.

    If you think this is unique to women you’d be mistaken.

  15. KLC on August 29, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    Jax, if you think I was talking only about women you’d be mistaken.

  16. Ray on August 29, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    In one of the recent CHI training sessions, Pres. Beck said that a RS Pres. doesn’t need to wait for permission from anyone to do what she needs to do to act in her calling. If she sees a need, she can take care of it and then report what she’s done.

    If we only do one thing in regard to this post, I would like it to be allowing ALL women of all ages (and men) to act in the office to which they have been called and set apart without having to seek permission – to let them “return and report” without having to have detailed “marching orders”. I’d like the marching orders for everyone to be nothing more than, “Go fulfill your calling to the best of your ability and through seeking revelation and inspiration – and feel free to ask for advice or counsel at any time” – with an additional order for Presidents of, “You are the president of your group. Act like one, always understanding the Church’s model of councils.”

    I also would like to see ALL female presidents addressed as “Pres. ______” by all people who address the male presidents in that way.

  17. Ray on August 29, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    One more thing, fwiw:

    I don’t view the Bishop’s wife as Matriarch of the ward, since I don’t view the Bishop as Patriarch of the ward.

  18. Mommie Dearest on August 29, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    While we’re putting our imaginations to work here, I’d like to point out that one of the theoretical benefits of these proverbial marching orders would be to train up the young women from the age of — say 12 or so, in some kind of official and critically important work that would get them ready to serve as adults in the church. One of the downsides of our current institutional system, regardless of the creative ways we can all find to work around it, is the infantilization of adult women who are seen by actual leaders to be serving by sitting and waiting for men to do the critically important institutional work.

  19. CatherineWO on August 29, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    For 24 of our 38 years of marriage, my husband has been either a bishop or a member of a stake presidency. Mommie Dearest described my experience precisely with the following statement:

    “One of the downsides of our current institutional system…is the infantilization of adult women who are seen by actual leaders to be serving by sitting and waiting for men to do the critically important institutional work.”

  20. ji on August 29, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    Ray (no. 16) — I’ll take your second pararaph (I like it!) and raise you one — let’s drop the return-and-report emphasis, adding to your charge something like “And let me know of anything that I should know about.”

  21. James Olsen on August 30, 2011 at 12:51 am

    Thanks everyone for the comments and suggestions.

    Kristine: you’re right – I did a poor job reading your comment. What you said is:

    the ethical problem is one that we sense we can’t influence much from the ground up, [and so] we focus on the practical

    Again, I think you’re being extremely helpful in articulating how we often spin our wheels in these discussions. I’m very glad you’ve done so. Given these two levels – am I correct that the two levels are capable of influencing one another, and consequently that there are concrete things we can do here and now that would be helpful in overcoming, as you put it,

    the accretion of hundreds of these almost-trivial insults over a Sunday, a year, a life in the Church that erode women’s spiritual confidence

    If so, what are they – what can we (i.e., those of us not on high) do?

    KLC: Thank you for patiently clarifying (tonight’s not my best night of careful reading, is it?).

    If something needs to get done, if something is important, you don’t find your most trusted associate and proceed to butter her up with canned compliments and obliquely angle toward what you want, you just let her know what you need and when you need it, knowing they will get it done.

    Very good point.

    Rameumptom: Thank you for the comment. It’s exciting to hear of your approach and commitment. I particularly appreciated this:

    For me, this is a major step in helping units gain the full blessings of revelation from God. Without the real input of the sisters, we often only get half a revelation on a decision.

    Lorin: I’ve seen the subtle approach you discuss as well. Do you think it would be helpful if we more publicly recognized and perhaps officially commissioned the wives in this role? If we at least set them apart along with their husbands (and vice versa)? What if more callings came to couples – like we do now with primary teachers and used to do with activities committees?

    Jax: I think a more helpful way to make your comment would be to say, “Great comment, KLC. This is something we can universally recognize since it happens to men too. Putting it this way ought to help men for whom the male-centric nature of our culture is transparent to better understand how patronizing and disheartening certain comments and behaviors can be.”

    Ray: I agree; but I’m also convinced that institutionally and scripturally this is how it’s already set up. The difficulty is the crapshoot you have of who you’re serving with. Checks on local authorities like the shift toward ward counsel and & Sis. Beck’s training are helpful on this end.

    And I’m fine with the terms patriarch and matriarch – even if they’ve been abused in the past and currently operate in some circles as an expletive. There’s something ennobling in them as well that’s very much a part of our tradition.

    Mommie Dearest: I think you’ve given a key insight – that YW is a place where we can do among the most good. My wife loves YW and has undergone significant struggles with how material get’s presented. I think that one of her greatest challenges has come from women of an older generation – it’ll have to be a commitment by men and women to help change the self understanding we pass on to young women.

  22. Naismith on August 30, 2011 at 1:12 am

    Well I guess I was your dud bishop’s wife who did diddley squat. Nobody told me that I was supposed to do that, it isn’t something I enjoy, and I had my hands full doing more than my share of housework and attending more than my share of school activities because he couldn’t. As well as my paid job and my own calling. I did try to catch all the wedding and baby presents but I’m sure I missed some and just hope that nobody left the church over it.

    So no, I don’t think she should be called unless she will be released from her own callings and the church pays for cleaning service. And I was never the darn matriarch.

  23. James Olsen on August 30, 2011 at 1:30 am

    Naismith – sorry to have rubbed you the wrong way! Hopefully you can abstract from the concrete example – I’m sure you can think of other more relevant examples. As a former bishop’s wife, let me ask: would you like to have been set apart along with your husband? Perhaps not with any official title or set of responsibilities, but out of recognition of the extra burden & extra effort required and that the Lord was aware of and willing to shed extra blessings upon you?

  24. Chadwick on August 30, 2011 at 4:42 am

    By and large, I’ve experienced what Adam says more often than not. Not that I cared either way.

    When I was a junior at BYU in a single’s ward in the 2002-2003 school year, our stake did an interesting experiment. We were told if it was successful the church was going to employ this new-fangled method worldwide. The ward was set up in councils. There was a missionary council, with a male chair, a female co-chair, and council members of either sex. Same with music, reverence, social functions, service, family history, and on and on. I now regret I didn’t write more of them down, because there were like 12 or 13 in all, most of them offering REAL callings. I was in the music council for a while then moved into EQ Presidency so I can’t remember the others.

    It’s possible for some the female was the chair. I can’t recall but I think so actually. I’ll ask my wife, as she was then my girlfriend and also was the family history chair or co-chair. It’s possible she was the chair, giving her a real seat at the table. And it was successful from my view. More real callings, more real interactions in the ward, etc. Yet we must have failed because it was never deployed worldwide.

    I actually suspect it wasn’t deployed worldwide because logistically it becomes harder to have such co-ed councils in married and family wards than in single’s wards. But it did offer real service options and did give the women in the ward more of a voice in things.

  25. Stephen M (Ethesis) on August 30, 2011 at 6:26 am

    Back in the day (a long time ago now) when my wife was asked to speak at the BYU womens conference by Kathy Pullins, we were talking with Kathy and she mentioned meeting with President Hinkley who brought up that it was on his mind, more ore less …

    “How can we do more to meaningfully recognize what is already a reality – that women are a foundational and not a decorational part of the Kingdom?”

    Actually, he stated that it was a concern of his and of the Church that they have more leadership from the women in the Church.

    I’ve mentioned it before. Kaimi’s response was just “ordain them.” But you are pointing out the pluses and the negatives to that sort of thing in this series of posts, and I appreciate it.

    But it remains a significant issue, how to fulfill the point Kent Larsen made above, while generating service and leadership without the negatives (I loved the comment that a call to be a bishop should not be a call to the gentry).

  26. Lorin on August 30, 2011 at 8:47 am

    James (21): “Do you think it would be helpful if we more publicly recognized and perhaps officially commissioned the wives in this role?”

    No, I do not. I believe that every member should see his or her role to extend sincere friendship and fellowship to new members, visitors, less-active, etc. As it is, too many people don’t see this as their responsibility unless they’ve been called and set apart into a ward leadership role.

    HT and VT is good for ensuring that everyone has someone who is supposed to look out for them. Calling and setting apart someone to the role of “being a friend to those who need a friend” i.e. being a “disciple of Christ” would be both redundant and would make it too easy for everyone else in the ward to think they were off the hook.

    Not counting mission, I’m in my 13th ward, and it’s the best I’ve ever seen at having multiple people who see it as their role to approach and support anyone who walks in the door. It’s bearing a lot of fruit. I’d hate to see what should be every member’s role during the 3-hour block become formalized.

  27. Ardis E. Parshall on August 30, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Do you think it would be helpful if we more publicly recognized and perhaps officially commissioned the wives in this role?

    No. The bishop’s wife is not the ward hostess, any more than President Monson’s wife is the Church hostess. How long does it take you even to recall her first name? or the names of the wives of apostles? None of them assume any official role by virtue of their marriages.

    “Commissioning” a woman for such a role would be nothing more than acknowledging her for her marriage to the bishop, after all, not extending a calling to her in her own right, drawing on her own talents and interests and ability to contribute to the Kingdom. That may be done in the political and business worlds, but not in the Church (the relatively few cases of women formally called as Temple Matrons while their husbands are Temple Presidents being the exception) — even the wives of mission presidents don’t have formal titles or responsibilities for running missions. It’s enough that a woman be the kind of person who can support her husband privately in the family context and permit him to serve effectively, without making it a requirement for calling 10,000 bishops that their wives be capable of assuming the hostess/”matriarch” role as well.

  28. Ray on August 30, 2011 at 9:34 am

    James, I have no problem at all with the terms Patriarch and Matriarch. I just don’t see the Bishop as the Patriarch / Father of the ward, so I don’t see his wife as the Matriarch / Mother of the ward. It really is that simple for me; I wasn’t trying to make any other statement.

  29. Velska on August 30, 2011 at 9:39 am

    There is no man without a woman, nor woman without a man, in the Lord.

    These words of Paul (1. Cor 11:11) are a comfort for me. They also tell me, that the Bishops and SP’s who do not co-operate with their wives, are not magnifying their calling (it’s not for me to say how to do it, nor judge it, though, so I am not speaking of specific persons).

    I guess one of the most important things for us to learn is to overcome our stereotypical roles and learn to co-operate and work out the best way to work together in synergy.

    And the family/home is more important than the Church. The Church may as well be a burden as much as a support, but it’s probably necessary for us to learn co-operation with others, too.

    Is the only real value in formally recognised positions? If so, most of us have failed to achieve any value. Service is not a “career path”, and it really doesn’t mean what our formal position is, if we do what we a) can and b) are asked to do.

    In my over 30 years as an active adult convert in the Chuch, I’ve never been a Bishop or SP or otherwise formally recognised in the Church. I’ve never been formally recognised outside my home, where we have done our best to have mutual respect that doesn’t require competition. That’s what matters.

    But if you ask anyone, who knows anything, I’m just a nerd staring at his computer display, doing nothing. I’m ovbiously the “weaker vessel”, and I’m grateful my wife has not rubbed my face into it all these years.

    It’s all in your head.

  30. James Olsen on August 30, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Well, I acknowledge I did it to myself; but I really didn’t mean for my anecdote to overshadow the post. The point is to ask this series of questions:

    how can we do more to meaningfully recognize what is already a reality – that women are a foundational and not a decorational part of the Kingdom? How can we do more to substantively (as opposed to patronizingly) recognize what women do and have been doing? How can we make their service something to which an appropriate recognition accrues without fundamentally altering or trivializing that service? Of course, this is all a subspecies of the bigger question: how can we as men and women better partner together in our service – in a way that blesses both men and women?

    And to ask it specifically in the context of the realities expressed in Alison’s post, summarized by Kristine as:

    the accretion of hundreds of these almost-trivial insults over a Sunday, a year, a life in the Church that erode women’s spiritual confidence

    I’m really not much interested in an official “ward matriarch” calling. What I am interested in, is whether – particularly the women, but also the men – think that it would be helpful to set spouses apart, both in recognition of their added burden and as a way of offering divine blessing as they take on that added burden. Or the more robust idea: I’m interested in what you all think about extending more couple callings (an idea lurking in the OP – the main thought I had with the matriarch anecdote). We already won’t call a bishop unless he’s married. What if we elevated it to a joint position? The question perhaps falls into the category of “idle speculation,” but I’m curious to know what people think of the idea generally and whether it would help elevate women generally. It strikes me a possibility that might bring the practices of the church more in line with our cosmic theology.

    Ardis, I’m especially interested in your thoughts on the latter, given that a joint appointment would be another calling to which you’re currently not eligible (on the other hand, such a change would only affect a calling to which you’re already not eligible).

  31. James Olsen on August 30, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Chadwick: fascinating story. I would love to have seen it in action. It’s heartening to hear that these sorts of things have taken place (though perhaps disheartening to not have seen any substantive changes come out of them…).

    Stephen: again, heartening to hear. And yes, if I ever get around to it, I want to talk more specifically about the pluses/negatives of female ordination. One thing I’m convinced of: it’s normally talked about in a flatly uncreative, either/or, level distinction or dogmatize it manner, and this isn’t the most fruitful way to think of it, nor do these dichotomies align well with our overall theology.

    Lorin: yeah, that’s the risk of trivializing/altering that I spoke of. You might well be right.

    Ray: no problem; glad for your input.

    Velska: thanks for the comment. As I think the comments in Alison’s post have brought out – “underused/under-recognized” is a problem with universal, as opposed to gendered potential. Nonetheless, it’s still a different animal in a context that favors one or the other gender. But as you bring out, the declaration of a divine union and complimentarity is something that I not only take comfort in, but thrills my soul.

  32. SusanS on August 30, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    When I read the description of what the Bishop’s wife was doing, my first reaction was “that’s the Relief Society President’s job.”

  33. Crick on August 30, 2011 at 8:38 pm

    One problem is the assuming that all praise of women is “patronizing”. People need to be thanked and praised. While the styles of some of this praise toward women has become cliche over the years, we should be careful not to confuse cliche with condescending.

    One online commenter even called Sister Beck’s famouse “Mother’s Who Know” talk “patronizing”. Obviously the term itself being used where it does not apply.

  34. Naismith on August 31, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Sorry to be brief–trying to comment by phone.

    No, I would not want to be called and set apart. This would just cause more pressure to perform and would cause members to wonder if information was shared inappropriately.

    Yes I do a great job of supporting him but so did he of supporting me. I’d like to see everyone who supports like that to be recognized.

    I think it is a reflection of the bigger problem in society that routinely dismisses the great contributions of wives, mothers and homemakers as “not working.”. Because when a guy is handling the homefront so that mom can teach seminary, he is filling that kind of role as well.

    It is healthy for a wife of a leader to have her own calling and identity. But she still has both jobs.

  35. Struwelpeter on August 31, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    One thing my ward has gotten very good at is having a sister serve as the concluding speaker in Sacrament Meeting. We have had sisters give the keynote talk on Easter Sunday. It is almost standard operating procedure to have the concluding talk on days when departing male missionaries speak be unrelated female ward members. The practice seems to me to have increased in frequency since the calling of a new bishopric @7-8 months ago, but even the prior bishopric did so (I am very aware of this because my wife was asked on two occasions to be the concluding speaker on Easter and felt some real pressure to be stellar). I would bet we have had 50% female concluding speakers under the new administration. It has been fun, because we had a conversation at work about how male concluding speakers was part of the unfortunate/incorrect unwritten order of things, and when I shared the example of my wife it was dismissed as an anomaly. I am now in the habit of taking my sacrament meeting programs with me to work on Monday to prove to some of my co-workers how things are running in my corner of Zion.

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