Sexism and Ordination

April 12, 2014 | 81 comments
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I recently participated in a TribTalk about Ordain Women. Pretty much the first words out of Neylan McBaine’s mouth were something along the lines of “ordaining women won’t end sexism.”

That surprised me and got me thinking–I hadn’t framed the issue in those terms before. But she’s right.

Think about this: in your experience, what percentage of your Gospel Doctrine teachers have been female? I’m sure answers to that question will vary based on the fact that all of us are dealing with really small sample sizes and anecdotal evidence, but I think for most people, it is going to be in the neighborhood of 20-30%.

Now stop and think about that for a moment. There are no institutional barriers to women being called as Gospel Doctrine teachers. Rather, wards tend to have more active women than men, which means that you might expect more women to be called than men. And there are many callings that only men can hold, which should further increase the likelihood that a woman is the teacher. I called upon the talents of Ziff, bloggernacle number cruncher extraordinaire, who did some fancy math stuff for me that I don’t entirely understand.[1] But Ziff reports that the odds of a female Sunday School teacher are going to depend on the number of adults in the ward, the percentage of active adults who are female, and the number of wards in the stake (since so many stake callings are male-only). But the end result is that the odds of having a female Gospel Doctrine teacher should be between 64% and 100%, with an average of 85% of GD teachers being female. Is that your experience? It isn’t mine, or that of anyone else that I have asked.

Why are so many Gospel Doctrine teachers men, when it appears that they should, in a random universe, be almost all women? There are several potential reasons, many of which stem from what guides the choice of a Sunday School President to choose a particular teacher. It may be that some of them have a hard time imagining a woman in that position because they aren’t used to hearing women teach men. It may be that they observe men teaching in EQ/HP/YM/HT and so are more familiar with those men as potential teachers. It may be that they associate with the men of the ward more in informal settings and therefore have a longer list of “spiritual and with interesting insights to share” men than they do of women. It may be that they prefer the (stereotypical) teaching styles of men to women. It may be that men are more likely to be RMs and therefore more mature in the gospel. It may be that they see the calling as a way to develop inadequate teachers into good teachers and so they pick people who are (stereotypically) less likely to be professional teachers. It may be that most of the potential pool of female teachers are in Primary, so the issue is more in the perceptions of who should teach Primary than of who should teach Sunday School. There may be other reasons. But no other reason changes the basics of the situation, which are: in a situation with no institutional barriers to female participation (with, instead, several indicators that make it far more likely than average), female teachers are quite rare.

So now extrapolate to the ordination of women. Let’s say that Ordain Women wave their hypothetical magic wand and all of a sudden, anyone can be in any calling with no gender barriers. I suspect that, even in ten or fifteen years, 90% of bishops and stake presidents would still be male. After all, if we aren’t anywhere near the statistically probable numbers of Sunday School teachers, given that teaching is a stereotypically female endeavor, why would we do any better with callings that had a leadership component to them?

[1] Here’s Ziff’s explanation: “This analysis uses the calling list from MLS at http://tech.lds.org/wiki/Callings to count male-only and female-only callings. Making some assumptions about which callings are typically filled and left vacant (e.g., Sunday School presidency second counselors are rare), there are 31 male-only and 25 female-only callings at the ward level. There are 29 male-only and 12 female-only stake callings (of which a typical ward would contribute 4 men and 2 women). The percentage of available women and men after all gender-specific callings are filled was calculated by taking a range of values for active ward members (125-200), for percentage of active members that are adults (50-70), and for percentage of active adults that are male (40-50), and subtracting the number of gender-specific callings from the resulting number of active men and women. Note that this analysis assumes a maximum of one calling per person.”

81 Responses to Sexism and Ordination

  1. Matt W. on April 12, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Ziff: are you factoring in the probability that 90% of primary teachers are female? This would be because of the fact that it takes only one female but two males to staff a primary room.

    Julie: When you say most GD teachers are male, are you including the Youth SS classes? Do you include factors like verifiable training as a factor? (Religious educators and RMs getting preference over non-RMs for Teaching callings)

    Of GD teachers I can name from my life, the break down is:

    Male:
    3 ex-Bishop/RM
    3 RMs
    1 Professor of Religious Studies
    1 Institute Teacher
    2 late life converts (1 was awesome, the other….)

    Female:
    4 RMs
    2 Institute Teachers

  2. anita on April 12, 2014 at 10:09 am

    For anecdotal evidence to add to this study, our ward in Sandy Utah has, for the past thirteen years we’ve been in it, had two Gospel Doctrine teachers who alternate weeks teaching, and one is always female and the other male. (Since I was one of the female teachers for four years, I’ve paid close attention to the position and who has filled it.)

  3. Dave on April 12, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Yes, my sense is that once upon a time there was a single Gospel Doctrine teacher, but increasingly two or even three are called to that position. I see it about 50/50 male/female. Also, my sense is that bishoprics (or just the bishop) choose a person to call as GD teacher, not the Sunday School President. That doesn’t eliminate the problem you note that men see other men teach a lot but rarely see women teach (in RS, YW, or Primary). Another calling you might consider: early morning seminary teacher. I think that is at least 50/50 too, in notable contrast to the full-time CES model.

  4. Kristine on April 12, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Yup. Ordination is probably neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for women’s equality in the Church. If ordination happens, it seems (to me) more likely to as the result of a long process of evolutionary change, rather than being the catalyst for that change.

  5. Ben S on April 12, 2014 at 11:23 am

    All of my early-morning teachers were women, though one team-taught with her husband.
    Our two Gospel Doctrine teachers were 50/50 for a while, but now two men.

    I think this post dovetails well with this post, that culture may turn out to be more determinative than revelation, in some ways.
    http://outsidethebookofmormonbelt.com/2014/03/31/headline-ordain-women-shoots-self-in-foot/

  6. Jim Cobabe on April 12, 2014 at 11:55 am

    How then should we reconcile such questions with Elder Oaks observation at the recent conference?

    In this rotation—so familiar in the Church—we do not “step down” when we are released, and we do not “step up” when we are called. There is no “up or down” in the service of the Lord. There is only “forward or backward,” and that difference depends on how we accept and act upon our releases and our callings. I once presided at the release of a young stake president who had given fine service for nine years and was now rejoicing in his release and in the new calling he and his wife had just received. They were called to be the nursery leaders in their ward. Only in this Church would that be seen as equally honorable!

  7. TMJ on April 12, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    “ordaining women won’t end sexism.”

    Of course, that’s also not an argument anyone in the mainstream of this conversation is making, not as far as I’ve heard. So, it’s a bit of a red herring. And it’s not like it wouldn’t help, like A Lot.

    All that said, the implication of that statement, rightly, is that more ground work is needed to combat the deeply seated sexism in more incremental ways, and that’s just fine. And that’s something that would help get us better prepared for women’s ordination. Still, when I heard that statement, I cringed a little.

    Though historical analogues are not perfect, I do think there’s a lot of similarity with the black ordination issue. And I think it’s a good thing the voices that may have said, “Ordination won’t end racism,” didn’t bear out. I’m glad we didn’t decide that we needed to “end racism” before we should ordain (not that a lot of the subtle racism-fighting wasn’t going on along the way). As a result, of course, we are still fighting racism within the Church, but because of the power of institutional authority, many Members who otherwise would have carried their prejudices to their graves forced themselves to wrestle with them and align themselves (even if half-heartedly in some casees) to the institution. Of course, more than 30+ years later there are still reports of areas of the US South and South Africa (most notably, but elsewhere also), where open discrimination is still practiced, but we have powerful institutional norms that came with ordination which otherwise would be unavailable to combat this. And yes, we’ve made a lot of progress (though a great deal of that , I would hold is owed as much to wider societal changes).

    So, no. Ordination isn’t a magic wand, but I don’t think anyone serious was implying that it was. And I hold that ordination would be a powerful means to combat sexism, and as an aggregate we’d make better and quicker progress with it than without it. This argument that ordination isn’t a magic wand falls totally flat for me.

  8. JimD on April 12, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    As long as males are required to teach primary in twos whereas females are not subjected to such the same requirement, efficiency-minded bishops and primary presidencies will ensure that primary teachers skew heavily female. That will in turn cause males to be over-represented in the rest of the available, theoretically gender-neutral ward callings.

  9. Cameron N. on April 12, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    My experience is close to 40-50% women. Every teacher in that calling I’ve observed, I had a strong sense that it was the Lord’s call. Even the guy who taught false doctrine when it came to Priesthood and gender, he needed teaching practice.

  10. Kristine on April 12, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    I love how these discussions go:

    Woman: In my experience, there’s a problem with sexism in the church.
    Man: Well, in my experience, there’s no problem. You must be mistaken.

    QED

  11. queuno on April 12, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    As long as you can give two men callings and cover one class, bishoprics focused on giving everyone a calling will call as many men as they can to the primary.

  12. Angela C on April 12, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    queno – except in wards that are struggling to fill all the callings in the first place, in which almost no men can be “wasted” on a two-deep rule in Primary. However, most of the wards I’ve been in like that turn a blind eye on this incredibly stupid rule.

  13. Ziff on April 12, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    Matt W., the analysis only considered callings that *must* be filled by men or *must* be filled by women, so I could figure how many men and women would be left over to fill those that can be filled by either, including GD teacher and primary teacher.

  14. Nathan Whilk on April 12, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    My current GD teacher is female. Throughout my youth, the GD teacher in my ward was female. My sister is currently a GD teacher. According to LDS Tools, 58% of the GD teachers in my stake are female.

  15. whizzbang on April 12, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    yeah, our smallish ward has only one GD teacher and currently it’s a female and she’s terrible. But I know other wards have females as GD teachers and they seem to be decent enough. I think that there is no difference between genders as to who is a better teacher. I personally would love to have Ann Madsen, or Sis. Okazaki or someone like that as my GD teacher.

  16. Kevin Barney on April 12, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Julie, my anecdotal experience meshes with yours. I would guess that the percentage of female GD teachers I have had in the course of my life is something on the order of 20% max, possibly closer to 10%.

    One footnote: In my experience the SSP has nothing to do with selecting teachers; that is something the Bishop does. At least when I was a SSP I had no input whatsoever into who was called as teachers.

    I completely agree with the thrust of this post that female ordination is by no means a sufficient condition to creating equality in the Church. But personally I do believe it is ultimately going to be a necessary one. We make such a big friggin’ deal about priesthood that I don’t see how there could possibly be real equality between men and women in the economy of the Church without female ordination.

  17. Julie M. Smith on April 12, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    I find the comments re the bishop choosing teachers interesting. Per the handbook:

    “The Sunday School president . . . submits recommendations to the bishopric for ward members to be called to serve as Sunday School teachers.”

    Is this new? Or do wards generally not follow it?

  18. Amira on April 12, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Neylan’s statement is why, even though I support Ordain Women in asking questions and making people more aware of sexism in the church, I don’t support women’s ordination. If women were ordained, I think callings would probably even out fairly quickly on a ward level and possibly on a stake level, but higher up? It would take a very long time. I think it would be easier and more effective (not to mention less doctrinally abrupt) to organize “quorums” of women under the general RS presidency who serve all over the world and have real understanding of women everywhere; to call women to serve in meaningful leadership roles in stakes and areas; to authorize women to act as witnesses in the temple (there are temples that are limited in the number of ordinances that can be performed because of a lack of male temple workers); and to authorize isolated women to bless the sacrament for themselves.

  19. Kevin Barney on April 12, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    That’s interesting, Julie. I don’t recall ever being asked. Of course, even if a SSP submits recommendations, it is still ultimately the bishop making the call.

  20. Alex T. Valencic on April 12, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    Regarding men teaching in Primary, it is not required that two men teach together. It is preferred. But one man can teach alone provided a member of the Presidency checks in regularly. Hence the reason we have two men in my primary (me being one of them for over two years) teaching classes solo.

    Anyway, our ward has two GD teachers who rotate, one male and one female. But I’ve seen many wards with one teacher who was male. The points in this post are valid and worthy of consideration, especially by those in positions to prayerfully consider and call members to such callings.

  21. Ziff on April 12, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Following Nathan (#14), I looked at my stake on lds.org, and 27% (3/11) of GD teachers are women. Unfortunately, not all the units in my stake label GD teachers separately from youth Sunday School teachers, so this is based only on those that do.

    Thanks for the post, Julie (and for asking me to crunch a few numbers for you). I think you make an excellent point. It’s unfortunate that ending the female priesthood ban likely won’t be the final step toward full equality for women in the institution. That’s a sad thing to consider, given that it seems like such a gigantic hurdle. At least it would be a big step forward, but I like your point that it’s far from the last step that would be needed.

  22. Ryan on April 12, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    This has been referenced by others, but as long as it is suggested that men not teach primary alone, a disproportionate number of women will be called to primary, leaving few for other callings.

  23. Jim Cobabe on April 12, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Would it be naive or irrelevant to observe that implicit in what we can legitimately assume about “calling” in the Church, it is still ultimately the Lord making the call?

  24. Ziff on April 12, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    Well, since you asked, my vote is that it would be relevant, but naive. Unless you believe in a perfect communication line from God to each bishop.

  25. Chris on April 12, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    So sexism is the reason for more male GD teachers on average? Inspiration got nothing to do with it? Curious how you sustain a call when you think it’s sexist and of men and not God.

    More to the point, if you assume God wants men only in priesthood leadership roles, perhaps that extends to more calls be good extended to men for related reasons.

    Only had one GD woman teacher I am the wards I’ve been in and she was one of the best. I don’t offer up “whys” but I don’t dismiss priesthood leaders who represent the Lord as biased and sexist

  26. el oso on April 12, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    We live in a large ward with many capable adults available for callings. The SS and Primary are 50/50 on men and women. The gospel doctrine calling has been shared between a man and a woman for years. The last time it was not shared, there was a former SP who taught every week. I have been enjoying a break in a ward calling for some time. I am sure this will change in the near future, but I have not complained in the least and there are many new move-ins who may feel left out if they do not get one.

    Ziff #21,
    I do not know if the current state could be called a “female priesthood ban”. Women may never be ordained to the priesthood. They may have a different priestesshood??? to which they are ordained, either at some point in mortality or in eternity.

  27. Old Man on April 12, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    The GD teacher is the LEAST important teaching position in the Sunday School. The teachers over the youth are MUCH more important. Most of the better teachers in my ward tend to be women. And that (with the youth) is where they have been called. Give the GD class to a burned-out HP!

    I am tiring of the gender and race “affirmative action” approach to callings. There really is NOT a career ladder in the Gospel. I would not care if the entire Q of 12 were genderless Martians… as long as the Martian- to- English translators were good at General Conference. Exaltation is the goal. As long as we offer that to every soul, I’m good.

  28. Alex T. Valencic on April 12, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    Chris – the general teaching in the church is that there are always many who are qualified for any given calling. The question is rarely, “Who should serve?” but rather, “Should this person serve?” That means that if the only individuals considered are men, and the SSP or bishop prayerfully asks, “Should this man serve?” the answer will probably turn out to be yes. There is inspiration, but we are also directed by revelation to search, ponder, pray, and then act. Callings are not given via a Batphone to God.

  29. Jacob J on April 12, 2014 at 9:56 pm

    I just got done being SSP for about one year, I was definitely asked to submit names for teaching positions in SS. We had quite a lot of turn over in GD during that year so I got to submit a name 3 or 4 times. I pulled aside the member of the bishopric over SS (twice) and explained that in my opinion we have not had enough female teachers and that I would like to get a female in the rotation along with the male teacher. In every case I submitted only female names, wonderful teachers who could reasonably be called (not the current RS president etc.). Sadly, none of those names was ever accepted and males were called instead. Probably I am not very inspired, but I have always been frustrated at how often bishoprics try to run everything without delegating actual power to the leaders over the areas they have been called to lead.

    Three of our four youth SS teachers are women, however, for what its worth.

  30. Jim Cobabe on April 12, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    If the initial premise is that there is no inspiration involved in deciding who gets the celebrity assignments and who gets consigned to the crummy jobs, what difference does it make if we use any and all means to win a competitive advantage?

  31. Matt w. on April 12, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Following Ziff and Nathan’s lead, 6/12 wards had female GD teachers. Interestingly, two wards had 2 female GD teachers, but no wards had 1 and 1 or two male GD teachers. So I guess that puts it at 8/14 GD teachers as female in my stake. This is fun!

  32. Murray on April 12, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    Referring back for TMJ at # 7. From a non-US perspective, I am not sure what you mean by “deeply seated sexism”. I am not sure what this is or if this attitude exists among a significant number of members outside the US. (I am guessing you are in the US – apologies if you are not.)

    And with regards to racism – try going to Church outside the US (or even outside the Mountain West) where there are members of various races in wards. Here in Australia (in a predominantly white society) we have wards where the majority of members are Polynesian. Does institutional racism exist? I don’t think so, but there is racism from one individual to another at times. Most often from Polynesians towards “whites” in my experience, and mostly involving youth, not mature members.

    In regards to callings in the Church and what would happen if sisters were to be ordained, I have never heard or read of how the OW sisters would actually like to see the Church re-organized if they were to be ordained. I have listed some questions here http://mormonaussiebloke.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/open-letter-to-ordain-women.html which I would be happy to hear answers from someone about.

    I am not against the ordination of women. If the revelation came and it was announced by the prophet, I would sustain it. But I cannot understand how it would operate and who it would benefit at this time.

    Is there really a need for it? I think there was a need for the Priesthood to be extended to all worthy males, in order for the Church to grow in Africa and for many individuals to receive saving ordinances. I don’t see a similar need anywhere with regards to ordaining women. How would God’s Kingdom on earth benefit from it? Is there more to lose, particularly by women, than there is to gain?

  33. theoldadam on April 13, 2014 at 1:02 am

    I just think that it is an odd notion that the Living God can only work His Word (His power to create and sustain faith) when certain genitalia is present.

    To me…that sort of god would be a smaller god.

  34. Murray on April 13, 2014 at 3:04 am

    theoldadam, I think there are more differences between men and women than just genitalia.

  35. Julie M. Smith on April 13, 2014 at 7:49 am

    Several comments seem to imply that if we believed that bishops (or SS presidents) are inspired by God, there is no problem. That would be the case only if they were infallible. If they are fallible, then their biases come into play into making decisions about who gets which calling.

  36. Chris T on April 13, 2014 at 8:16 am

    Interesting post, Julie. Curiously, in my experience, my Gospel Doctrine teachers have probably skewed AT LEAST 50% female, including the ward that you and I were in together where you were our Gospel Doctrine teacher for a portion of the time. But as I think back on the resumes (both “church resume” and “professional resume”) of the women who have taught in those wards I’ve been in, it would be hard to make the case that these were not just “no-brainers” of a calling, and thus according to your methodology, perhaps not explainable by the bias/no bias criteria you’ve laid out.

    I realize the survey data you had for this were somewhat generic and limited, but if it WERE possible to do a more robust analysis, some additional “orthogonal” elements that it might be interesting to look at would be: Mountain West wards vs. non-, ex-US wards vs. US, English-speaking vs. non-, university-town wards vs. non-, socio-economically diverse vs. homogenous, and urban wards vs. suburban/rural. Maybe it’s just been the case that I’ve lived in a series of more “progressive” wards, at least doctrinally or culturally speaking (though not so much politically), but I’d suspect that several others of the above-listed dichotomies is at least partially explanatory for my experience being atypical.

  37. Mark Brown on April 13, 2014 at 8:38 am

    Julie, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn’t end racism in America, but it was an important first step.

    But there is really nothing to worry about anyway. Many of the commenters here assure me there is no sexism in the church, so I am probably just imagining things. All is well in Zion.

  38. lawguy on April 13, 2014 at 8:56 am

    Offhand, I would have guessed that there had been a fairly equal male/female GD divide in the adults wards I’ve been in since I was married. My wife disagrees, and pegs it as closer to 60/40 male/female. But if there has been a difference, it hasn’t been overwhelming.

    As for the reason for the seemingly general trend (judging by the comments to this post, anyway), I’ve got to think the mission disparity has played a HUGE part. IOW, I think that being an RM would matter a lot on both ends of the equation (who the bishopric would be likely to think about in terms of a good potential GD teacher, and who would be likely to accept it [I know offhand of several women who openly tried getting out of that calling, precisely b/c they felt uncomfortable teaching it without the RM experience to draw from]).

    But now that that disparity has been largely undone, I’ve got to think that–female ordination or no female ordination– the GD disparity will largely go away as well as this generation gets older and we suddenly have wards full of female RM’s.

  39. Julie M. Smith on April 13, 2014 at 9:23 am

    lawguy adds another important reason: maybe women refuse the calling at higher rates over feelings of inadequacy.

    It is hard to judge tone/intentions on blog comments, but it seems like a lot of you are saying something like “but my experience is roughly 50-50 so there is no problem” Remember that the point of the original post is that 85-15 (on average) would mean that there is no problem.

  40. Jim Cobabe on April 13, 2014 at 9:43 am

    Julie asserts that since no bishop is perfect, bishop bigotry will necessarily “…come into play into making decisions about who gets which calling.” It might be wondered if the nominations of these “bishop bigots” are always skewed toward favoring men, or if perhaps a few of them might have other private biases.

    If only bishops were women, no such problem could ever be imagined…

  41. SSP in VA on April 13, 2014 at 9:43 am

    For whatever my anecdotal evidence is worth, as my ward’s SSP I would like to call more women to teach the youth classes. But the very women I would choose to be teachers are already called as Young Women and Primary leaders. Not much I can do until they get released, and I don’t want to suggest the names of other women to the Bishopric merely to get token female representation in what I view as the most important role under my stewardship. I’ll change my tune the moment I’m prompted otherwise.

  42. Ziff on April 13, 2014 at 10:04 am

    Jim Cobabe, thanks for illustrating a straw person argument so well. Not to mention a big tangent.

    But to follow your tangent, nobody is ever arguing that women as bishops would be wonderful and bias-free in a way that male bishops aren’t. The problem is that male bishops’ biases–at least when it comes to issues where women and men reliably see things differently–tend to point in the same direction. The benefit of having some male and some female bishops is that we would get, on average, a mix of biases. If this idea causes you so much consternation, this kind of suggests that deep down, you realize how much benefit you’re getting from *always* having leaders that are on your side when it comes to sex-differentiated issues.

  43. Mark Brown on April 13, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Lewis’s Law, people. It’s as reliable as the law of gravi?????ty.

  44. Hedgehog on April 13, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Old Man, I think we got that burned out HP you mentioned – recently released from the stake presidency. Not that burned out though I think. He replaced a woman. My mother and one of my brothers are both GD teacher in their wards, and we recently visited another ward in the stake where the GD teacher is a woman. Back when I was a single in a singles ward I remeber there being a woman GD teacher for good while (that was 25 years ago).

  45. ji on April 13, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    If I had a bishop who was sexist and biased and bigoted and all else, I might choose not to sustain him at the next ward conference. That’s everyone’s choice, you know. Our bishops and Sunday School presidents and so forth are our neighbors. Our Sunday interactions are with our neighbors. Our church interactions are with real people, generally kind-hearted people.

  46. Katie on April 13, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    In my ward, I’m a primary teacher, but it’s required that there are two adults, be they men or women, in every classroom. I’ve been told this is to go along with the two deep rule in scouting, and I think it makes sense. It’s dangerous to suggest that men are more likely than women to commit abuses when left on their own.

  47. Julie M. Smith on April 13, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Just to clarify, I did not and would not use the word “bigotry” or “bigot” in this context.

  48. Ardis on April 13, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Because of so many people needing callings, the role of Gospel Doctrine teacher has been shared in all my adult wards, so far as I remember; in my current ward, we have multiple Gospel Doctrine classes, all of them being taught half the time by men and half the time by women.

    That’s not to say there is no problem, per Julie’s statement several comments up. But I don’t really think that the 85-15 split is quite what I’d expect, with all due respect to Ziff’s calculations. That is, when a bishop needs a new teacher, it isn’t like he’s reaching blindly into a bag with 85% pink marbles and 15% blue ones. Speculating from the number of us who have experienced a roughly 50-50 split, it seems as though bishops are not thinking of the numbers in their wards as a whole, but are considering the numbers of this specific calling: It seems as though they are deliberately trying to be fair, and to call half of their Gospel Doctrine teachers from each gender. That may not produce the predicted gender split based on available ward members, but it might show a conscious effort to avoid bias, no?

    But then, my wards have been so peculiar, without Primary or YM/YW, which means that there are virtually no substantial (demanding, time consuming, requiring significant preparation — not that ward greeter and nursery leader aren’t important, but they don’t call for the same substance as Gospel Doctrine teacher does) roles for women in the ward.

  49. Jim Cobabe on April 13, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    QED. :-)

  50. Julie M. Smith on April 13, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    “That may not produce the predicted gender split based on available ward members, but it might show a conscious effort to avoid bias, no?”

    I want to say that a bishop (or SSP) who deliberately aims for 50-50 has his heart in the right place, but this reminds me of conversations where people say that the boys’ and girls’ funding in their ward is exactly equal . . . as long as you don’t count the scout budget! Given that so many callings are off-limits to women, it is not equitable to have the women 50-50 in one of the (relatively) few callings open to them. Again, this isn’t to say that those bishops/SPP don’t mean well, but it is to say that a bishop in an average ward who goes 50-50 is deliberately reducing the number of women who teach GD as compared to a situation where he considers all of the people available for the calling without regard for gender. (Usual caveats, articulated in the OP, apply.)

  51. Ziff on April 13, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Ardis, I cannot *believe* you would diss my numbers! ;)

    More seriously, you’re exactly right in that all I was getting to was an estimate of how many available women and men there would be after all the gender-specific callings are filled.

  52. jader3rd on April 13, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    I think that of the Gospel Doctrine lessons I’ve been in about 85% has been by women. Gospel Principles on the other hand has been more about 85% men.

  53. Hellmut on April 13, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    If you make perfection the standard, no improvement and no reform will ever pass.

  54. Ardis on April 13, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    Julie, we’d have to get Ziff to work his magic calculator, but what you say about “so many callings off-limits to women” is especially true in a ward like mine without auxiliaries: In order to balance everything out, if that were the goal, all Gospel Doctrine teachers, all music people, and every other gender-neutral calling would probably have to go to women here. Some of the men would have to be contented with the “callings” that so many women in my ward get: e.g., one of them could be second counselor to the president of the High Priests Quorum birthday card committee. Others could be called as Elders Quorum welcome committee to shake hands with quorum members as they come into priesthood meeting. Honestly, that’s the kind of thing that is left over for women in my ward (substituting “Relief Society” in place of quorum name, of course). It may not be fair on the basis of numbers for the entire ward, but I take what crumbs of comfort there may be in having a bishop call women for 50% of the Gospel Doctrine slots, because as a practical matter I can’t see any ward giving all those slots to women and restricting men to the callings that women are limited to.

    That isn’t arguing with your post; that’s supporting it.

  55. Glen on April 13, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Julie, I’m the SS president in my ward. Yes, the manual says that the SSP provides suggestions to the bishopric regarding who should be called as teachers. The problem is that those suggestions are almost never valid. There are so many moving parts involved in extending a calling – the person must be spiritually qualified, must not already have another calling, or must be releasable, in which case there must be somebody else to step in to the vacated calling. At any given time you’ll be lucky if there are more than four or five people in the ward who qualify, and the SSP doesn’t know who those people are. Only the bishopric does. So when we try to call a new teacher, it essentially becomes a big game of “Guess what I’m thinking”. I can go through ten or fifteen names until I finally get to one of the three people the bishop knows could actually be called, and then he immediately says yes to that person.

    In most wards I suspect they just dispense with the formality, which is really what this game is, and the bishopric either chooses the teacher, or asks the SSP to pray about Brother or Sister So-and-so, which amounts to the same thing.

  56. Jim Cobabe on April 13, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    My gospel doctrine class has women and men teaching. I don’t really see any valid reason to track such numbers. Preoccupation with such and finding meaning in the insignificant effectively demonstrates how superficial these arguments tend to be.

    I don’t know of any objective way to judge the relative level of inspiration or bigotry that moves my bishop to act. And I really don’t see this as any kind of convincing argument. I have not argued that bishops are infallible, and to me a perspective that finds imperfections remarkable is missing the point. The most important consideration for me is that I am subject to at least as many imperfections. Others who serve in the Church seem to have enough charity to overlook that. Perhaps my confidence is misplaced. But my hope and faith is that the Lord forgives me too.

    Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

  57. Chris T on April 13, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Julie, my comments (#36 above) were specifically NOT intended to suggest (as maybe you were inferring in #39) that because my experience is anecdotally different, there is no problem, but rather that to suggest that in order for your analysis to be more meaningful to those people who DO have a different experience from what your hypothesis suggests is probably the expected norm, you could look at additional criteria to make your analysis more robust.

  58. Kristine on April 13, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Jim, the details may be trivial, but sexism inflicts the death of a thousand cuts. What’s particularly insidious about it is that any one of women’s attempts to contribute and be treated as equals can be met with the argument you’ve just made here. *Of course* it would be stupid to spend all of one’s time figuring out the exact percentage of gospel doctrine teachers of each gender, but the cumulative effect of seeing men always in charge and regarded as more authoritative than women sends a very powerful (and often painful) message.

    Ideally, when someone says “I hurt,” the response would be along the lines of “how can I help?” rather than “oh, it’s not that bad…”

  59. Laurie on April 13, 2014 at 7:39 pm

    I appreciate Julie’s insightful question. In my view, women’s ordination will not end sexism anymore than lifting the ban on blacks ended racism. Those are daunting goals and perhaps unachievable on a widespread basis, in this life. Perhaps ending those “-isms” is not the point of ordination. Perhaps the point is aligning ourselves institutionally with the spirit of the teachings of Jesus, of providing women the legitimate pathway to be heard, advancing of their contributions and service to the Kingdom and to their families. And much more, obviously.

  60. Ryan on April 13, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    I always enjoy reading what JMS has to say – have for years. And I also have enjoyed reading what Neylan has to say. But I have been disappointed that the above and others of whom I am also big fans, including Nathaniel Givens and Nate Oman, have made such a point to disagree with OW, and forecasting its demise. I agree with Kevin Barney above, that with the priesthood being what it is in our church, there’s just no way for the culture of sexism to end without ordination that includes both genders. It seems that everyone wants to distance themselves from OW because they seem so extreme in LDS culture, when in reality, they aren’t extreme at all. They have been very successful thus far (to wit, this post). Generally, their tactics are reasonable. I look forward to their continued success, despite the fence-sitting of some of Mormonism’s brightest minds.

  61. Diana on April 13, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    There are four GD teachers in my ward and all are retired men. Heaven help me.

  62. Cameron N. on April 13, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    How agist and sexist of you Diana. =)

  63. Gregory Taggart on April 14, 2014 at 1:04 am

    I am the SSP in my ward. We have 4GD teachers. 50/50. I submitted the names; the bishopric called them. I’ve been SSP at least three times in my life. The distribution and process has been roughly the same each time. The only time I had pushback from a bishop was when, as the bishop’s counselor over the SS, I asked if I could call a woman as SSP, given that the CHI at the time (@1989) didn’t say the position had to be held by a man. He wasn’t against it necessarily; he just couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger on that one. FWIW, I am politically conservative.

  64. rah on April 14, 2014 at 1:55 am

    Structural inequality isnt sufficient for ending sexism but it is neccesary. You can work up the ladder of better cultural equality all you want but structural inequality will still mean inequality that has significant negative consequences for men and women. I have been in a number of very progressive wards that are very sensitive tk genderbissues at every level but the structural inequaliy stiil constrained much progress. cultural and structural inequality are differEnt but mutually reinforcing. so are structural and cultural equality. The pressurenon the church for more strictural equality is coming precisely as the world around us lirches its way toward more cultural gender equality. So i think it is slightly specious to suggest that structural inequality isnt important because it wont magically end cultural sexism. It wont but it will Have a huge impact. Look at the cultural shifts happening in the wake of a small structural change to make the missionary age more equal!

  65. rah on April 14, 2014 at 2:13 am

    sorry about typos. Phone and a bus.

  66. Naismith on April 14, 2014 at 8:11 am

    While I appreciate bringing quantitative data to the table to inform such discussions, I wonder if an availability adjustment needs to be applied? For a lot of LDS women, our availability to teach GD may be shortened by months or years compared to our male counterparts, due to the demands of pregnancy, childbirth recovery, and lactation. Certainly not all women experience these biological events, and there is great variety as to whether they would impact a woman’s ability to teach GD, but the phenomenon is widespread enough to be nontrivial.

    One might argue that those months/years are offset by the shorter life expectancy of men. But the pregnancy-related loss to women occurs in the prime of their teaching ability, whereas a lot of long-lived older people may not be comfortable teaching GD due to cognitive impairment.

    I am NOT saying that pregnancy should ever be a reason for a woman to not be extended the call–it should always be up to her. I am just saying that is a factor that may impact the statistics.

  67. Julie M. Smith on April 14, 2014 at 8:38 am

    Based on the comments, it seems that some of you think that the conclusion to this post is “therefore women should not be ordained.” But if you re-read the post, you’ll see that I do not make that argument.

  68. Hedgehog on April 14, 2014 at 8:57 am

    Gosh Naismith. I’m hoping there’s a pretty big gap between the end of child-bearing and the onset of cognitive impairment. I think my mum’s doing just fine as a GD teacher in her 60s.
    I’m all for giving new mums a break though. I was released from my callings following the birth of both children. It was necessary for my peace of mind. Just telling me to take a few weeks off, until I felt up to getting back to it wasn’t sufficient. I’m far too conscientious and that would have been stress and guilt I didn’t need. And it turned out to be months anyway, not weeks. But I’d also argue that new dads would benefit from that as well.

  69. Naismith on April 14, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Okay, I’ll try again on the life expectancy thing. If your mum is 60 and lived in the US (sorry, I don’t have the figures for other countries handy) her expected life span is to age 83.9, while for the 60-year-old male sitting next to her, his life expectancy is only to 80.9 years. But the years from 80.9 to 83.9 may not be prime GD teaching years.

    And yes, hopefully there is a nice gap between childbearing and cognitive impairment since most senior missionaries are in their 60s and 70s:)

  70. Matt on April 14, 2014 at 11:28 am

    In the last 16 years that I can remember, I have never been in a ward with more than 50% men as gospel doctrine teachers. I’ve lived in Idaho Utah Boston NYC and two different wards in Germany. If there is sexism in the church, this is not the place.

  71. James Olsen on April 14, 2014 at 11:40 am

    When I was SSP I agonized over names to submit, submitted them, and never had action taken on them. More than once I found out that the matter had been resolved when I heard announced over the pulpit who the new GD or youth SS teacher was.

    As to your original post, I couldn’t help but think of our recent women’s equal pay day. We’ve got lots of examples in society where the end of formal barriers does not lead to equity. As others have noted, it’s often a pre-cursor, however.

    I can’t see anything working as well or as quickly as equal governance roles. The tricky question, then, is whether in our Church with its history, doctrine, and rhetoric could have equality in governance without ordaining women. Or if not, whether ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood is the only possible route.

  72. Ryan on April 14, 2014 at 12:41 pm

    //Based on the comments, it seems that some of you think that the conclusion to this post is “therefore women should not be ordained.” But if you re-read the post, you’ll see that I do not make that argument.//

    Julie – I appreciate your thoughtful contributions to this issue and to Mormon thought more generally. In this piece, in the TribTalk interview, and other places, you go out of your way to disagree with OW, its tactics, etc. As you did in this column, you spend considerable effort arguing why ordination wouldn’t change a culture of sexism. The reason that many here conclude that you think women should not be ordained is not because they aren’t reading your columns closely enough. I think we are all paying very close attention to what you are saying…and what you are not saying.

  73. rah on April 14, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    Julie,

    I also thought this was thoughtful. Clearly people’s anecdotal evidence didn’t match up with yours. Its hard without real data. I think you made your point fairly clearly that you weren’t taking a stand for or against any particular form of structural inequality. I think people inferred it because that was exactly Neylan’s point – that structural inequality doesn’t really matter in the face of cultural inequality so we should not dwell on it, especially when the brethren have made it clear they have no interest or motivation to seek changes to it.

    FYI I am sitting on SS data right now from about 15 different wards and about 3 class periods per ward. The question I am looking at is whether men and women take up the same amount of talk time in SS and if there are correlations that help distinguish more equitable wards from less equitable wards. This project started from my own anecdotal observations in my ward that men did a huge portion of the talking even though women made up the majority of the audience (usually). I wondered if it was just my biased observation or maybe just my ward. So I started collecting data for my ward and then offered for others to do the same in their ward. I need to analyze the data, but look for it in FMH soon! I can tell you my ward is consistently and wildly unequal in the floor time between men and women (excluding the teacher). Like mind-boggling so. I am going to run a training with the SS teachers on this here soon using the data I collected. Focusing on how to get a broader range of participation in class (not just women but other voices that may not be being heard regularly). I am not sure what the other wards’ data will look like. We will see!

  74. Julie M. Smith on April 14, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    “Clearly people’s anecdotal evidence didn’t match up with yours.”

    I’ve spent enough time on the Internet to know that 90% of the people who agree with you won’t bother with the “amen,” but pretty much everyone who disagrees feels the need to set you straight. So I wasn’t surprised.

    Your project is interesting; I look forward to it. One thing that I’ve noticed when I have taught is that a disproportionate number of comments begin with “when I was on my mission, we . . .” or “when I was a bishop, I . . . ” so my guess is that that counts for some of the disparity. I wonder if you will address the fact that, at least in my experience, 80% of testimony meeting is female. I suspect it is because the emotive/weepy/self-disclosure/humility necessary to have your testimony (=the kind you say out loud) fit the current Mormon norm is too uncomfortable for many men.

    I suspect for your training, one of the best things to do is to coach teachers to say things like, “Is there a recent convert who can tell us about . . .” or “is there a parent who can tell us how you . . .” or that kind of thing that solicits input from certain sectors. Also, I think teachers underestimate how much their responses (whether dismissive, contradictory, minimizing, etc.) can limit further contributions from people who don’t want to be treated that way, and that may disproportionately affect men and women.

  75. Hedgehog on April 15, 2014 at 2:59 am

    Apologies Naismith. I probably came across as abrupt. I was just think that in an average life span of over 80 years, a couple of years would be lost in the noise. Also it would greatly complicate the calculation, to take an average of number of children, the health of the mother following the birth of each child etc. Though I tend to think its more likely that its those who suffer less who have more, so that might even out…

    Julie, In the spirit of “pretty much everyone who disagrees feels the need to set you straight.” just wanted to chime in and say, in my ward there are a lot more men getting up in testimony meeting than women ;-). It’s is commented upon by visitors/ stake leaders however, so I think we’re aware it’s unusual.
    Anyway, it was an interesting post Julie. Thank you. I think it is a fault in my commenting that I tend to seize upon something of interest in a comment, and fly with it, that is sometimes peripheral to the post. But looking backwards, I mostly didn’t know or can’t remember who was GD teacher, I spent quite a lot of years teaching primary or youth Sunday school in the recent past, and before that I’ve mostly no idea if the teacher was male of female.

  76. Kristine N on April 15, 2014 at 6:59 am

    I hadn’t commented because I don’t have actual numbers to contribute. I think my ward has three or four rotating GD teachers, one of whom is female. That 25% seems relatively consistent among the wards I’ve been in, though I haven’t kept track well enough to say definitively what the male/female split has been. Sorry, Julie, for being one who agrees and doesn’t speak up!

  77. Ben S on April 15, 2014 at 8:09 am

    Rah, “men did a huge portion of the talking even though women made up the majority of the audience”

    I encountered this when teaching at BYU, and asked for student opinions on the final. Some of the responses were very discouraging, others thoughtful. See the last question and comment #13.

    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2011/12/gospel-doctrine-new-testament-midterm-and-final/

  78. Jim Cobabe on April 15, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Julie, in your estimation, what percentage of bishops are actually inspired?

    Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work.

    Does the imperfection of Church members limit the power of God to fulfill His purposes?

  79. Jim Cobabe on April 15, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Ardis, the emphasis in this discussion seems to be on numbers and percentages. I’m wondering how that translates into questioning the bias of my bishop, and ultimately, the power of God. The tone of rhetoric does not appear to reconcile with Elder Holland’s admonition to Church members. That’s all.

    Am I trolling, because I am so impertinent to presume to ask such questions?

    I realized during the 2012 political campaign that Ardis would prefer not to hear from people like me. Nor is she alone. I have not ventured to comment on her space since then.

    Yes, I am just another imperfect being. But I can still talk somewhere, can’t I? Should I just withdraw from public presence, because my backward foolish and unpopular ideals are such an embarrassment? I do write things on my blog, but intend this more as a personal journal. Does this forum not more represent the public square?

    FWIW, perhaps it would be instructive to review the etymology of “trolling”. I think perhaps it does not mean what you think it means. :-)

  80. Aloysius Miller (@aloysiusmiller) on April 16, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Over the last 14 years it has been about 60% female in my ward. Currently the class I attend has two rotating teachers–both female. I have never thought if this as a feminist issue before.

  81. DW on April 20, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Late to this, but I just wanted to say that in my ward we have 5 women and 0 men teaching adult gospel doctrine (they rotate among two classrooms). It is, without a doubt, the best that Gospel Doctrine has been in my life, and many, many members have expressed the same sentiment.