DEBORAH: Look out. April General Conference is nearly here, so out they come—the prognosticators and their prognostications. And why not? President Nelson has told us “the Restoration continues,” teasing us into setting up this figurative roulette wheel. Even the most ardent member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints isn’t afraid to give it a spin, but the sisters of Relief Society are particularly invested, realizing they may be earmarked for changes. Of course, there’s a chasm in the women’s organization, particularly at the local level, with some standing on the vocal The-Way-It-Is-Is-the-Way-of-the-Lord side and others on the hushed Ask-and-Ye-Shall-Receive-Because-(some of)-this Stinks side. The one thing I’m confident in predicting is that, if any changes come that increase the visibility and influence of women, both sides of the chasm will join in a rousing cheer.
President Nelson has already given women some things to cheer about. Relief Society sisters have rejoiced because:
- During the Solemn Assembly, women sustained the new First Presidency ahead of teen and pre-teen boys
- Visit (and Home) teaching have been replaced by a ministering program that is more concerned with human interaction than with statistics
- Female missionaries may wear pants. Sometimes.
Admittedly, that little list seems pathetic, when you see it written out, but of course there’s been the BIG change:
- Certain demeaning sexisms have been removed from the temple ceremonies
All the YAYS for that.
I can’t speak for every woman in the church, but I’d like it on record that this sister could use a little more cheering up. Some days, I have to work hard to feel enthusiasm for a church structure that continues to insist women are subjects in the domain of male priesthood holders; or to rejoice in a gospel plan that paints my Forever After as consumed by the role of eternal spirit baby machine. There has to be better Good News for me. So yes, please, let the new light and knowledge flow.
For this reason, I offer my List of Cheery Things—things that would cheer me up to hear from the General Conference pulpit, or anywhere really. I offer them not as prognostications but as some of my deepest dreams. (Don’t let it be a fantasy, don’t let it be a fantasy…)
The first thing I’ll place on the proverbial table is…
- Female ordination
…and then I’ll just leave it right there and back away slowly, groveling a bit oh-so-apologetically and using the sweetest tone I can muster because I’m really very well-behaved.
Now, back to the items from my List of Cheery Things that are acceptable to hope for out loud, without concern for repercussions. I hope the Brethren:
- Clearly establish that Heavenly Mother is as deserving of worship and discussion as is Heavenly Father and then set the example
- Shift didactic emphasis from priesthood authority to the gift of the Holy Ghost, which both women and men possess and can access in equal measure
- Emphasize to the entire church membership that priesthood is not a trump card to be used to overpower the thoughts, actions, or insights of women
- Restore acceptance of women who practice the laying on of hands
- At least, allow women to participate in the blessings of their infant children by holding them
- Allow teenage girls and adult women to prepare and pass the Sacrament
- Place women on the High Council or develop an equivalent body of women with equivalent responsibilities toward all members of the Stake (If it only serves women, it’s not equivalent.)
- Denounce modesty talk that objectifies women by broadening the definition of modesty and placing responsibility for male sexual misconduct or lust on men, not on women
- Appoint the Relief Society President or bishop’s wife to hear the confessions of women and behave as an intermediary on their behalf (or get rid of confession altogether)
- Remove gender limitations on callings where possible
- Require the Relief Society President (or a counselor in her absence) to sit on the stand with the bishopric during Sacrament meetings
- End the routine of one-on-one closed-door meetings with women and all minors
- Train bishops and other local leaders to refrain from offering marriage and mental health counseling when they are not qualified
- Keep the local priesthood leaders home more in support of their wife and children
- Improve the experience of LGBTQ+ people, regardless of identity or orientation, by retracting current harmful policies
I’ll cap my List of Cheery Things there, though I’m tempted to add more. Still and all, the implementation of any of these things would raise my spirits.
But you know, as I reread the list, I’m struck that the only item on it that could fairly be called a “restoration” (aside from female ordination, which I’m not going to risk bringing up so just move on along; you didn’t read it here) would be the sanctification of women offering blessings. Everything else would more rightly be called an advancement than a restoration.
Come to think of it, changing the sustaining order in a solemn assembly isn’t a restoration of anything, nor is the new form of sister-to-sister monthly well-being checks or female missionaries in pants. Most LDS I know think of the temple changes as modifications made for a contemporary generation, not some kind of restorative act.
Huh. I’m not at all clear why President Nelson would say, “The Restoration continues!” instead of “Modern revelation continues!” considering his changes so far haven’t been restorative. I’m not complaining. I don’t mind the imprecision of his language if its spirit improves things on a day-to-day basis.
In a couple weeks, we’ll know if the prognosticators are correct. Much more importantly, we’ll know how—or if—the experiences of women in the church will improve.
Take your vitamins, sisters. We’re going to need strength, either way.
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