Free Saints

Freedom Power Women

Apparently, LDS President Gordon Hinckley and Elder Boyd Packer have taken the occasion of the latest multicast stake conference on Sunday, October 21 to rally around Relief Society President Julie Beck whose conference address has been widely discussed on the ‘nacle and the Damu.

While I admire Hinckley’s and Packer’s fortitude in defending a subordinate, the substance of their defense is troubling.

Hinckley and Packer relied on their usual good cop, bad cop routine. Reportedly, Hinckley advised unhappy Mormon women to put on a smile and to improve their personal appearance. Citing D&C 121:13-14, Packer threatened the critics with divine punishment:

Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, saith the Lord, and cry they have sinned when they have not sinned before me, saith the Lord, but have done that which was meet in mine eyes, and which I commanded them.

But those who cry transgression do it because they are the servants of sin, and are the children of disobedience themselves.

Instead of engaging the critics substantively, Hinckley had to resort to jocular remarks that require a moment of reflection before one recognizes the actual meaning of his words. According to Hinckley, Mormon women are depressed and feel constrained because they are not pretty enough. Hinckley’s solution is to become more adept at pretense and denial: Put on a smile and you’ll be alright.

Curiously, only yesterday, Barbara Held, Barry N. Wish Professor of Psychology and Social Studies, explained on This I Believe that demands for positive thinking impose a substantial burden on human beings and tend to exacerbate stress while prolonging mental disorientation.

Rather than denying their state of mind, Held argues, people will be better off when they acknowledge their feelings, determine their causes and adapt appropriately. It is unfortunate that Hinckley would blame women for their feelings instead of contributing to finding a solution that renders Mormonism more humane and palatable for women.

As for Packer’s threats, they are squarely aimed at our friends at the ‘nacle, who have dared to allow for a diversity of opinions about Julie Beck’s talk. Packer’s language reminds me of Apostle Delbert Stapley who threatened a sitting governor with the wrath of God for supporting civil rights.

Although the civil rights movement has had its share of martyrs, in part because the Stapley doctrine, whether advocated among Mormons or Southern Baptists, has all the properties of a self-fulfilling prophesy, I am happy to report that George Romney died peacefully in his bed. I hope that Boyd Packer will refrain from becoming the ‘nacle’s plague but even if he were to continue to undermine free speech among the Saints, no Mormon, whatever the stage of our faith may be, should allow Mormon authorities to marginalize the role of our daughters any longer.

There is just too much at stake to allow appeals to authority to intimidate us. Just like their brothers, our daughters have been blessed with a multitude of talents that are essential aspects of their personalities. Denying talents because they do not fit within the narrow confines of Mormon orthodoxy will only contribute to frustration, depression, dependency, victimization, suicide, and child and spousal abuse.

Besides, Jesus Christ taught us not to bury our talents (Matthew 25:14-30). The labor market plays an important role in developing a woman’s potential.

Given that the regions of the country that are predominantly settled by Mormons are leading the nation in indicators of mental health problems, one cannot rationally dismiss our concern for the well being of our daughters. Mormonism would benefit from an open discussion of gender roles.

LDS leaders are free to assert their authority but whether the audience accepts such claims is a matter of conscience. Therefore it would not be appropriate to apply Church discipline to those of us who express our questions. Conscience should only be compelled by the power of the argument among equals.

Besides, Mormons are not fools and only a fool would fail to question the verifiable implications of leaders’ statements.

In light of the consequences for our daughters, the least that parents can do is to submit their opinions to logic and evidence. Recommendations of denial and appeals to authority may succeed in bringing about conformity (and satisfy the vanity of leaders) but they rarely strengthen organizations.

The LDS Church is as strong as its people. Mormon authorities should realize that the better Mormon girls and women are doing, the stronger the LDS Church.

Reason can find a win-win solution to this conflict that benefits both the Church and its women. Suppressing speech without rational reasons might preserve officers’ prestige in the short run but it will neither strengthen the Church nor afford our families a healthier way of life. The question is whether Mormon leaders possess the humility to reap the price and whether Mormon parents have the fortitude to defend their daughters against the imposition of power and prejudice.

37 thoughts on “Free Saints

  1. “Reportedly, Hinckley advised unhappy Mormon women to put on a smile and to improve their personal appearance”

    I think we need to read the actual talk before we can decide on what was said and what was meant. Hearsay like this is inherently unreliable, especially because we don’t know who the reporter is or how they feel about the speakers.

    “The labor market plays an important role in developing a woman’s potential.”

    Capitalism cares nothing for the people it chews up and spits out. Why is it that a job somehow develops talents? I love to play the guitar, but I have yet to use it in the courtroom. I really like philosophy, but it doesn’t help me to advise my corporate clients in business matters. I believe the labor market plays a limited, insignificant role in developing talents. There are a lucky few who get to do the job they really enjoy, but most are only there for the paycheck. Besides, who enjoys hanging out with a person who only talks about work?

    Still, although I disagree with some of your ‘remedies’ (for lack of a better term), I agree with your conclusion that strong, educated women make for a better society.

  2. Thanks, dpc. I am sorry that you are not having a good time at work. Your Marxist perception of the work place is interesting, especially for a Mormon. What do you think should be done about those problems?

  3. I was at BYU during the whole “September Six” kerfuffle, the purge of professors, Janice Alred, and the myriad bizaro things that Bateman was doing as Pres. of the “university.” To me, all i can do is shrug at this news. It is utterly predictable. From a sociological point of view, starting with Pres. Harold B. Lee, the church has moved implacably toward tighter and tighter top-down social control. In a pluralistic, democratic world, it will probably never die, but eventually most of the members of the organization, even the legacy members (like I was), will grow tired of feeling guilty and ashamed and controlled and treated like children, told what to think and feel, and micromanaged to death. This kind of religious culture will always appeal to a few, but most will be unable to stomach it and will exit stage left.

    It’s their loss, to put it sophomorically. What can members do, other than leave?

  4. The auxiliaries were apparently more independent in the past. This debate in the Bloggernacle over Beck’s talk may be an indication that the organization of the auxiliaries needs to start moving back in that direction, and start getting more bottom-up input from the larger community of Mormon women. The lively discussion from intelligent women (for, against, and in-between, on this issue and others) demonstrates that the potential is there. Even if the gospel doesn’t change, the external situation does change, and women themselves are in a position to demonstrate how their faith can be applied (in their own lives and to serve others) in today’s world.

    It’s unfortunate that the bretheren’s first reaction upon seeing thoughtful criticism from faithful members was to try to squash it. Has the organization become this brittle? I think the biggest problem here is the pure-seniority hierarchy — even with divine inspiration on their side, it’s clear that the higher-ups have difficulty dealing with anything that’s new. It’s true that with the Internet there’s an explosion of discussion — including critical discussion and new ideas — and that can be scary. But if you succeed in silencing thoughtful dissent within your ranks in order to present a unified face, it just makes the sources outside the church look more honest by comparison. Perhaps in thirty years there will be a General Authority who knows how to respond to the choir on the Internet, but by then there will be entirely new situations that will need to be dealt with.

    Note that this problem (an older generation of leaders who aren’t ready to listen to legitimate, thoughtful concerns from younger people) isn’t exclusively an LDS problem. Christianity in general is alienating quite a lot of young Christians (see articles here and here), and the problem is not so much a question of doctrine as it is disgust at the obsessive focus on issues like suppressing gays at the expense of serving the community on issues that are very important to young people such as the environment.

  5. Chanson, your post reminds me of Jeffrey Nielsen’s book about leadership. Nielsen argues that information management and decision making will be most efficient when subordinates become entrepreneurial.

    Todd, unfortunately that’s only too true. However, it is a lot easier for people to connect today. While it was possible to squelch debate in chapels and neighborhoods and to create the illusion of an orthodox consensus, people can now speak out on the Internet and find that many Mormons agree with them.

    In the process, the boundaries of acceptable behavior are rearranged. It seems to me that Hinckley’s and Packer’s talk may be the beginning of an effort to push back.

    Although I consider it inappropriate to call people who disagree with authority figures sinners, Hinckley and Packer have every right to assert their interests verbally. So do we.

  6. While I agree with Helmut for the most part, I think Julie Beck’s Colbertesque caricature of the female perspective circa 1950, and the Mormon leadership support of same, should be encouraged. It will increase the cognitive dissonance thinking Mormons experience, and perhaps turn some Mormons sentient who would otherwise have continued to sleep. Let them find bottom. Don’t help them to pull up too soon.

    best,
    bob

  7. I’m not so sure it’s an attempt to control people. I think what most people dislike is the paternalist attitude. And that’s a lot different than trying to control someone. For whatever reason, people don’t like being told what to do, even if it is for their own good. I don’t think that thoughtful dissent has been squashed (or is being squashed). I doubt this website has been warned to shut down or face the ‘consequences.’ It’s been my experience that people tend to do what they want regardless of what any leadership has said and that peer pressure is more controlling than the advice of distant leaders.

    I enjoy my job, Hellmut, but I do pro bono work for Hispanic immigrants, so I see first hand some of the so-called evils of capitalism and the immigration policies that keep wages low for such individuals. There’s nothing worse than seeing some poor mother cleaning the houses and businesses of the well-to-do just to help put food on the table, instead of being able to enjoy time with her own children.

  8. Bob, perhaps the discussion occurring in Mormon forums evidences the cognitive dissonance in Mormonism reaching a critical stage. Most historic struggles have unlikely beginnings (i.e., Rosa Park’s refusal to move to the back of the bus). Perhaps Julie Beck’s conference talk HAS ignited the powder keg already.

    Additionally, since when has the LDS Church ever listened to dissidents? Some religions encourage (or quietly tolerate) a loyal opposition. The LDS church historically has rejected such a role.

    Lastly, my heart goes out to the many Mormon feminists who have sought to make changes in LDS male perceptions of LDS women’s roles. What a set back the Beck talk must have represented.

  9. qdc, sure there is a lot of exploitation. On the other hand, I know of a mother who scheduled her forty hours as a library attendant into four days and cleaned the fourth fifth day to afford her mortgage after her husband left her. She takes a lot of pride in raising a learning disabled child and maintaining her standard of living on her own. Cleaning houses was the option that allowed her to defend her status as a property owner in spite of a divorce from an abusive spouse.

    The point is that many poor people in difficult working environments still take pride in their labor.

    The way to address exploitation is to allow working people to organize. Telling them not to work seems to be a cure that’s worse than the disease.

    If the LDS Church were really concerned about parental care then we should deploy our considerable influence to help parents to spend more time with their children. For example, it would help a lot if it were possible to obtain health insurance on part time work.

    Every western democracy affords that option to parents. As a result, many more European parents take leave while their children are little. They can afford it.

    Instead of assisting parents with those practical concerns, our leaders are obsessing about identity issues that fail to meet the needs of most of us. If we had invested into health care reform or other bread and butter issues instead of going after gay marriage, may be, some parents could have afforded to forgo work like their European counterparts.

  10. dpc — I agree that thoughtful dissent has not been squashed. However, I think the bretheren would like to squash it, and they would if they could. You’re right that peer pressure is the big motivator — and this talk gives G.A. backing to all of the many people who want to chastize all critical voices on the Bloggernacle.

  11. Bob, chanson:

    I doubt that Sister Beck’s talk will have the impact that you think it will. The Mormon (and ex-Mormon) intelligentsia may take umbrage with it, but your rank and file member is unlikely to be influenced by it to the extent that they leave the church.

    It’s also been my experience that the only people who use GA quotes to browbeat others are the youth, stake presidents and old men. And nobody really listens to what they say anyways.

  12. I am sure that is true for many Mormons, dpc. On the other hand, I have seen how old ladies quit solving the crossword puzzle because some missionary from Idaho told them that they were wasting their time.

    I have also seen families fall apart because they had too many children following the advice of President Spencer Kimball.

    Words have consequences, especially if they are bolstered with claims to divine authority.

  13. I am enjoying following this discussion. I’ve selected Main Street Plaza as my “Recommended Site of the Week” at my blog, Equality Time.

  14. chanson — Well, there’s a difference between quoting, “I think this because Apostle X said this” as opposed to browbeating, “You should think (act, say, do) what I think (act, say, do )because Prophets X through Z said this is how things are!!!!!” 🙂

    Plus I don’t see must chastising going on. How much meaningful dialogue would there be if after every post, some ninny posted something like this:

    “chanson

    Are you unaware that you are inviting the wrath of God on yourself??!! Didn’t you hear what Boyd K. Packer, an APOSTLE OF THE LORD, said about criticizing leaders???!! I guess you’ve just proved that you are a servant of sin and child of disobedience!! You’d better REPENT OF YOUR SINS before you curse yourself and your posterity down to the third and fourth generations like it says in the Book of Exodus!!”

    Any curmudgeon who goes around making those kinds of ridiculous, highly inflammatory (although highly amusing)statements is not going to be taken very seriously by his or her fellow bloggers.

  15. I have read most of the sites with posts about Sis Beck’s talk, and some of them are for and some are against, but things seem to divide into two camps. One being that it is always wrong to say anything to anyone except God, that might possibly be construed as critical of “God’s annointed” and that if we have a problem with it, the problem is us and we need to repent. The other being that if it bothers us, talking about it can help us resolve our feelings, determine if it is “us” or if others feel the same way, and figure out what it is that bothers us and why and what we want to do with the talk as to how it pertains to our life. How do we solve problems we have if we can’t talk to anyone about it? Praying helps, but if I can “study it out in my mind” before I pray about it and decide exactly why it bothered me, then I know more what to ask for help with. Part of studying it out in our minds is to seek sources of information outside of ourselves—talk to others.

    When a talk bothers us, what do we do about it. Do we stuff our feelings? We can’t just decide to not let the talk bother us, too late for that because we are already bothered. Or is it permisible to talk about our feelings and work through them? I see a problem in the attitude that it is not permissible to even talk about things that may be wrong. That is the perfect way to let things continue to BE wrong. The “All is well in Zion” attitude was supposed to be a dangerous attitude for that very reason. When we insist that everything that comes from our leaders is perfect, then we never examine problems and cannot solve problems.

    The talk bothered me. It was all about being the best. Well, I was raised in a way that whatever I did was not good enough because it was not perfect. Very damaging emotionally. If I got a 99% on a test, it wasn’t about all the answers I got right, even if it was the highest score in the whole school. It was always about the ONE thing that was less than perfect. I never felt love and I never felt like my efforts were appreciated, and I never felt good enough. My best was not good enough.

    That is a significant idea right there that pertains to the talk that has been so blogged about. If we feel that our best is never good enough, then this talk hurts because we feel we cannot live up to expectations and that our best efforts to do so are not good enough, no matter what the evidence to the contrary we may see—like my 99% on a test was still not good enough

    Now there are LOTS of women out there like me. Raised with very high standards and a drive toward perfection. My grandmother even stated that if you ever tell a child they did a good job, they would become satisfied and stop trying. So, we became discouraged and stopped trying. Opps.

    There HAS to be a ballance between praise and the kick in the butt to do better. The praise can’t be empty praise. One of the objections to past talks that were all about “women are doing a wonderful job” was that it was empty worthless praise. Not everyone of us was doing a wonderful job and we all knew it. So, praise that it general doesn’t help. It has to be specific. Things like, the women of the church donated X thousand hygene kits to Humanitarian services is specific praise. We can feel good about that if we helped contribute to that number. But the general, “You are doing a good job ladies.” means nothing at all.

    If all we get is empty praise, and kicks in the butt to do better, our butts get very sore and our ego dies of starvation. This is what has been happening in the church. We get general meaningless praise, and then we get reminded of how imperfect we are and how a good mother never raises her voice unless the house is on fire. This is too close to how many of us were raised with all kinds of “you can do better” no matter how well we did. It was NEVER good enough to even be noticed with anything except criticism.

    Gee, and we treat each other the same way. We hear a talk given in GC by a woman and we don’t point out all the good she said, we rip it to shreds. We get criticized if we take fussy children into the foyer, and we get criticized if we allow our children to distrub those around us. We get critised if we take time off from caring for other to care for ourselves, and we get criticized if we don’t take time selfishly away from our children and have a nervous breakdown or end up on anti depressants. The standards of self sacrifice and conformity and “good mothering” and looking good for the neighbors are impossibly high because it is no less than perfection.

    Now some women are not going to be bothered by a kick in the butt because they have recieved enough honest praise over the years to feel good about themselves and realize that no one is perfect and it is something good to work toward, but not demanded NOW. But those of us who were raised with too mcu criticism and too little honest praise are going to feel like this talk was just more “You are not good enough and never will be.” Women are going to hear different things in this talk, depending on where their self worth is. But those of us who hear more demands for perfection and feel we can never attain it, need to figure out where our feelings are coming from and realize that WE are not falling short of expectations and that our best is good enough.

  16. dpc — lol, well, you know, that commenter who inspired my “raising the bar” post accused me of wearing multiple earrings and generally being a bad Mormon, which is kind of funny, considering… 😉

  17. Thanks for your heartfelt reply, Alas. I agree with you that openness is usually the best course.

    The other day, I talked to a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher. Apparently, their system is to minimize not only criticism but also praise. Her reasoning was that children are supposed to follow their own interests rather than pursuing more praise.

    I am not sure that I entirely agree with her but it does make sense if one is interested in children who pursue their own interests.

  18. I like the Waldorf philosophy. We wish there was a Waldorf school here in Dallas, but alas, the nearest one is in Austin…

    Regarding the “verifiable implications” you allude to, I think there are verifiable implications regarding what LDS church leaders mean on both sides of the belief fence. By which I mean that some people don’t see the rhetoric coming from Hinckley/Packer as particularly stifling.

    I liked Alas’s comment- it expressed a lot of the angst I too often see both in the church and out of it.

  19. dpc- it’s not like only poor people have to work a lot of hours. Aren’t you a corporate lawyer? How much time do you get to spend with your kids?

  20. I like the Waldorf schools as well, Jordan, although I do not buy into the underlying philosophy entirely, they do educate children well, especially if you value creativity and intellectual independence.

    If you want a Waldorf school really bad, I can introduce you to people who can tell you what it takes to establish one in Dallas.

  21. Kullervo:

    My wife always tells me that we have kids, but I’ll believe it when I see them! 🙂 I work in-house, so I’m one of the lucky few who gets to go home by 5:30 most days

    My own personal opinion is that making money does not equal developing talents. I believe it important to have a life outside work. That’s where your true talents are developed. Most companies would prefer you work than have a life though.

  22. Hellmut- one more note and then I will stop this digression: I think public education saps children’s creative capacity and teaches them to conform without thinking. Waldorf does none of these.

    Hellmut, man, I have enough to do between my job, church work, raising four kids and keeping my wife happy to go through the effort I imagine it would take to start such a school in Dallas. It would be easier to just move to Austin. In fact, that is a pretty good idea, moving to Austin…

  23. I know that the comments for this post have gone in different directions, just wanted to note that I heard that This I Believe essay and thought it was stunning and thought-provoking. I was going to blog about it myself (and I still might, who knows).

    I will say, I think with every person, LDS, non LDS, of various belief systems – there is a time where you have to really examine just what you believe in. Maybe most members really don’t care or listen to what the GAs say – or what stake presidents say. I disagree – that doesn’t fit with my experience.

    Most of the faithful LDS (and other religions) I know/knew cherished the words that GAs said in conference or in individual stake type meetings. If the prophet said we need to stop being so worldly and listening to evil rock music, then we’ve got to go through our music to make sure it’s all faith-promoting. While not all faithful would do this – I think a majority would. A majority did make life decisions based on their personal study of mormonism/LDS faith and prayer. I think even the PBS documentary could back that up with examples of faithful members who followed that policy.

    I’m certainly glad that so far, the arguments in this thread and others haven’t reached ad hominem attacks (where you attack the poster, not the argument) – what dpc suggested.

  24. That essay was marvelous, wasn’t it, Aerin?

    With respect to what members believe, that’s hard to tell. Talking to people privately, I find that a lot of members are a lot more independent minded than they let on in public. Mormons are definitely a diverse group of people.

    Unfortunately, many of those people do not share their concerns with other members. The result is that orthodoxy dominates the conversation in Mormon chapels and communities.

    That can be quite disorienting if members take the language of LDS leaders literally as prophetic advice. It is especially difficult for children and converts to figure out how to relate to suboptimal but authoritative language when nobody publicly models independent judgement.

  25. The church’s effort to “help” people is increasingly to emphasize conformity and obedience. Uncorrelated sources of information are bad, and unsupervised discussions (whether online or in the hallway of the church) are worse. There is no need for variety if The One True Path is already paved. Just pay the toll at the gate, and begin your journey. Be sure to stop at the other tollbooths, too. Look straight ahead, and keep your hands at the 10 and 3 o’clock positions.

    I watched perhaps 30 seconds of conference, and it happened to be that I stumbled upon it during this infamous talk. The snippet I heard reflected the negative things that were said in the blogosphere. That GAs might feel a need to stifle the discussion reflects on how out of touch they are from the faithful readers commenting at the desnews.com site, or FMH.

  26. Marc:

    But what difference does it make what the general authorities say if people don’t really take it to heart? The Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants could all be used to show how little people actually pay attention to prophets who don’t tell them what they want to hear. If Sister Beck had gotten up and said “You women in the church are doing fine, keep doing what you’re doing”, I doubt there would be so much as a peep about what she said. But because she spoke about an ideal, and now the complaints come out. We only want to hear that God loves us ‘no matter what’. What does it matter if God loves us unconditionally? What difference does that make in the world? I can go out and rob, kill, steal, rape, but feel accepted who I am as a person because God loves me regardless of what I do, what impact does that have? I’ve never understood the idea of the unconditionality of God’s love. It doesn’t make sense. The term always seems to stand in for another word. If unconditional love means that God loves us and will do whatever it takes for us to be happy, even if that entails bad things happening to us to make us change our lives, then maybe that’s the definition. But isn’t that the same thing as saying that God knows what will make us happy and is patient to wait and be there when we decide that we want to take that route. But that’s not unconditional love, that’s patience.

    Another example of people who don’t listen. How many times have you sat in Priesthood meeting and they chant the mantra of 100% hometeaching and the statistics stay the same? People only do what they want to do. Sure they may put on a face at church and pay lip service to obedience and all that, but I think that most people struggle to live a good Christian life and most are decidedly disobedient. Are there hypocrites at church? You bet. Maybe they should distribute scorecards to all the self-righteous people so that they can keep track of them? It’s not easy to be what God wants us to be. It’s not always fun. It’s not always entertaining and it is definitely no sure thing that there is even any benefit if we follow the commandments anyway.

    The real power of religion is that it motivates us to be better people. A person who has truly felt the love of God is motivated to help other people feel that intense wonderful feeling. If you go to a church and you don’t feel that it is motivating you to be better, you should go to a different church or get involved in something that you feel does motivate you to be better.

    Maybe even something that motivates you to be the *best* person you can be.

    …(noise of DPC getting off of his soapbox and returning to normal)…

  27. once again we see the ‘Grand Division’:

    Those that listen & follow, Those that don’t give a rip, and those who sit on a fence trying to figure things out with facts, reasoning-logic, and a sense of What Works and What Doesn’t.
    Momism ONLY appeals to the First group, IMHO

  28. Thanks for writing this. I think we need to recognize the role fear plays. Fear from the leaders on what will happen if they don’t try to exert control and fear from the members on what will happen if they do speak up. This kind of fear is not a positive thing, but it plays an important role just the same.

  29. Those that listen & follow, Those that don’t give a rip, and those who sit on a fence trying to figure things out with facts, reasoning-logic, and a sense of What Works and What Doesn’t.
    Momism ONLY appeals to the First group, IMHO

    As a devoted Mom, I resent that remark.

  30. Dear Madhousewife:

    (from my POV) Sometimes It appears that an opinion may be Overstated when I (others?) attempt to reduce-simplify.

    I apologize to-if Any were offended, I didn’t intend such at all…

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