Yesterday after church, and after I ascended from my morning playing the piano for the Primary downstairs, a crowd of men was chatting with my husband. I had my 8-year-old in tow. As we joined the men, one said to me, "We just had our Elders Quorum lesson on the roles of women ["The Work of Latter-day Saint Women" from Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith]. It dawned on us that we should have invited you to teach our lesson!" (And as if on cue, my daughter said, "A room full of men talking about the roles of women? That's silly!")
As I learned more about the Elders Quorum lesson yesterday, it seemed like it produced a remarkable conversation among the men of my ward. The teacher, who I do not know personally and is unlikely to know I'm involved in the women's conversation in the Church, had printed out a copy of Ordain Women's Patriarchy Bingo and invited members of the class to discuss each item on it, deciding whether or not the item required doctrinal change or simply a change of policy or culture. According to my husband, the men decided all but one item was only a policy change. They reviewed the changes in policy that have occurred for women over the past two years and discussed how these changes have affected women's responsibilities in the Church.
When our home teachers visited later in the afternoon, I quized them some more about the response to the lesson -- thought-provoking and resulting in good conversation -- and I asked them about what conversation their wives had had in Relief Society on the same topic. (I have not yet had a chance to ask some of my non-Primary female friends in the ward their recollections.) They both said their wives had a reported a well-taught lesson on the importance of motherhood and what it means to be daughters of Heavenly Father.
These conversations caused me to reflect on two questions that I think are interesting enough to pose here. First of all, what are the policy changes that we've seen regarding women in the Church over the past couple of years? With last week's announcement of the new Church Educational System policy regarding employed mothers, we were all prompted, I think, to reflect on how quickly things are happening. With the help of a friend, I compiled the following list of changes that have occured since President Monson announced the missionary age change in October 2012.
(1) Lowering the mission age for women to 19
(2) Creating Mission Councils that include training sisters and an increased role for Mission Presidents' wives
(3) Female general officers praying in General Conference
(4) Female general officers sitting in the center section of Conference Center seating (instead of off to the side)
(5) Introduction of apostles' wives onto the Conference Center stand
(6) Female general officers' photos in the Conference Center
(7) Female general officers' photos in leadership spread in Conference Ensign
(8) New Young Women General Board selected from international women
(9) Female general officers speak on doctrinal topics, rather than to particular constituencies
(10) General Women's Session of Conference added to General Conference meetings
(11) General Women's Session includes girls aged 8 and up
(12) CES allowing young mothers to be paid CES employees for seminary and Institute, with Barbara Morgan being the first female Institute director in Cambridge, MA.
Are there any I have missed? What else has been important to you over the past two years?
The second question that arose for me this weekend was whether or not my Relief Society, or any Relief Society, would have felt comfortable structuring the lesson in the same way the Elders Quorum structured theirs. In other words, how many of our women would feel comfortable reviewing point by point our practices and policies regarding women, in the way the men did? I feel confident that the answer is not many.
As women in the Church, we have more at risk by straying from the traditional discussions of our roles. Exploring questions like the men did is not a hypothetical exercise for us. It is a pointed exploration of our very identities, identities which in many cases have been crafted through a lifetime of sitting in Young Women and Relief Society lessons where roles are not just talked about but demonstrated by peers and mentors. When we broaden our public conversation about what it means to be a Mormon woman, some sisters feel their foundational pillars are challenged. This often results in judgment, which is a byproduct of fear: feat that those pillars on which we've built our identities are not as secure as we thought they were, or else fear that others are telling us our pillars have been wrong all along and that we are therefore frauds.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about why women, in my anecdotal experience, have been less enthusiastic about these changes than men have been, and these thoughts only skim the surface.
Have you had this lesson in your Priesthood/Relief Society lessons yet? How did it go? If not, how will you teach it?
Have you noticed that women are less inclined to celebrate these changes than men? Or has it been the opposite in your experience?
What I Am Reading:
The History of Rain by Niall Williams. At a book signing event a month or so ago, a dear woman suggested I read this book after we talked about our shared love of The Goldfinch. I'm only half way through, having enjoyed the first half during my quick trip to Seattle to speak at Sunstone Northwest on Saturday, but so far I am loving this book that is itself a love letter to reading. I'll give a full review when I'm done, but suffice it to say here that my Irish roots have been tingling all along the way, and not just because I actually share my name with a minor character in the book! Even though I've actually never been to Ireland, this book reminds me that it's home to my people.