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.