Women At Church: A Review


To start off it probably needs to be stated for those who don’t know: I fall squarely in the camp of what is laughably considered a “radical feminist” by Mormon standards. Thus going in to this book there was no small amount of worry that I was dealing with. However, I had thoroughly reconciled myself to the notion that different people have different approaches and as long as we don’t busy ourselves selling each other down the river we can peacefully coexist.

In my reading of this book I understand the overarching theme to be three-fold and I will address each portion separately, marking what I found interesting as well as where I agreed and disagreed. In that way it will differ from a standard book review. These are my thoughts on the book, your mileage may vary.

Local wards/branches are where the rubber meets the road for every single member.

Yes, absolutely yes this times one million. Your local Church experience is what defines your Church experience, not a worldwide conference held once every six months. It is far more important that the people with whom you most closely engage Mormonism with are the people who treat you well and respect your contributions. It is also incredibly important that these people are your spiritual cheerleaders (as well as you for them); they are your family. It is hard to talk about a woman’s Church experience though without engaging the Worldwide Church. In many ways I felt the book was too soft on this front. In order for there to be a problem (which Sister McBaine readily admits), someone somewhere doing something has to be broken. While rallying for local change it is important to remember where correlation trickles down from in the first place. I know this book was written for the most Orthodox members, but I think we are all a little better off when we admit that our leaders are in fact fallible; that the ways that women are often treated or spoken about is not from God.

We should all love each other enough to mourn with each other whether or not we see/feel the pain being described.

Again, yes yes yes! The book in fact starts off hammering this notion home. Why? Because it is _that_ important! Perception is reality, and what right do we have to tell another what is real for them? Their experiences with spiritual pain or discomfort are valid, and it is both our duty and our privilege to rally around the suffering soul. Practical solutions that allow local leadership to offer balm to those in pain is nearly a God-send. Being innovative where there is room to be so can alleviate so much unnecessary woe and trial that it seems almost cruel that the idea was never this widespread before. Bishops, like the rest of us, are admonished to lift where we stand. There is no greater place where he can have more of an opportunity to do real good in the world than in doing his best to hear and implement these changes. In doing good to even one woman, a good is done to us all.

Following these suggestions will make women more equal in The Church.

This (predictably) was where I definitely parted ways with the book. There is no such thing as more equal—one is either equal or they are not. It’s cliché, but I couldn’t help being reminded of Animal Farm. “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” That line is brilliant for the mere fact that it shows that there is no “more than”; that when it comes to equality, it is or it isn’t. Women in The Church are not equal. That is a fact. This fact is not changed by Neylan’s suggestions precisely because they are on the local level. A Church-wide change is necessary. Whether one agrees that Ordination is that change or not isn’t relevant, what is clear is that we need a miracle. Every time women are told to follow the “For The Strength of Youth” pamphlet The Church tells on itself. Every time we are told we are incredible The Church tells on itself. Every lesson about virtue, every lesson about gate-keepers, every lesson about modesty, marriage, motherhood, “the world” The Church is _telling on itself_!

Some people believe that we can achieve equality one brick at a time. I respect that, I do. My back is tired though. I am completely over building the house again and again to have it knocked down at every turn. Local change is exactly that—we can spend 5 years getting a Bishop to include women meaningfully and then have to start all over once he is replaced. A Church-wide change would eliminate that need. I am loathe to be commanded in all things, but if no one bats an eye when it comes time to command over my reproductive organs then I can handle a little bit of commanding that helps me feel like I belong.

I greatly enjoyed this book; I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Any time we are talking about a better place for Women in The Church I am all about it. My fear is that too many will seek to institute these changes and then fall all over themselves patting their own backs that they forget this is just the first step of a marathon. There is work to be done in Zion, the good work of loving The Lord and loving each other. While we may have different paths to take us there I am hopeful that one day we will all sit in harmony.

1 reply »

  1. I think that it is a very valid concern that people will think that making local changes with one stake, or one ward, will be enough. I grew up in a stake with pretty progressive leadership, but it didn’t change the fact that 2 bishops were able to do a huge amount of damage. For the youth whose teenage experiences with unrighteousness dominion, started with their bishop, leaving the church was often the choice that became the most safe one. I have watched most of my cohort leave the church, for a variety of reasons, but as I have had the time to talk with them or their parents, I can see 5-10 activities that reinforced the idea that you have to conform, or you should leave the church. As a church, we don’t often admit how much damage a bishop or stake president can do to their “flock.” So working with local leaders to not damage people is good, but creating church wide policies and direction, about expectations of local leaders, is the only way I see to change what behaviors members will accept from their leaders.

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