Last week, The Salt Lake Tribune ran an article by Peggy Fletcher Stack that brought attention to the president of the North America West Area’s directive ending a decadeslong tradition in some Bay Area stakes that allowed female leaders to sit on the stand during sacrament meetings with other male leaders.
As a born and raised member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I felt two reactions. First, when I heard women were sitting on the stand, I reacted the same way I do whenever I see a good idea — I want to try that! What an easy and clever use of the ward leadership. Stack quoted a church member as saying, “It helps the bishopric immensely as (women) could identify members’ needs the men might miss.” Imagine that type of awareness across different ages, races, socioeconomic status, and physical or mental ability. Besides, it’s not like we’re using all those chairs up there anyway.
My second, more permanent, reaction to hearing women would be removed from the stand was deep weariness. It seems the church is not interested in more efficient ward management or meaningful representation of diversity. Despite what leaders say to the contrary, these actions speak much louder. They are interested in keeping men in charge, plain and simple.
To the area president and the men he represents: We get it. We women know how little we matter in this church. We try so hard to keep our spirits up, to pretend like we’re just as important as the men (“the Young Women can pass out towels in the temple now!”), but we know.
The church’s official stance is that “men and women are equal — one is not superior to the other” but it’s also “fathers are to preside over their families.” Church doctrine asserts that a Heavenly Mother does exist but a “sacred silence” is maintained around her, preventing any further elaboration on what an eternal female power might look like. We don’t even know her name.
Sister missionaries serve less time than male elders. There are more male speakers than female ones. There are more male leaders in the church than female leaders, even in callings where the all-male priesthood is not required. Despite being told that women have equal access to the priesthood, men are the holders of that power so our access to priesthood power is only equal to our access to men. Even in the eternities, men may be able to have many wives whereas we women may be left in rotation literally forever.
So we know. We do a lot of mental gymnastics to make ourselves OK with being a part of this church in order to maintain both our sanity and our membership. Our continued presence in the church demonstrates that we’ll tolerate being treated as less than, so there’s no need to bring the hammer down so hard.
We also know this church runs on women. Women organize the Christmas parties, ward socials, dinner sign-ups, refreshments and funeral luncheons. We chauffeur children to church activities during the week. We notice when someone is gone or looking sad. We bring extra pens, scissors, diaper wipes and snacks just in case. The male leaders in the stands wouldn’t even have people to look at if the women didn’t feed, clothe and corral members into the pews every Sunday.
The difference is that in the Bay Area, when women were able to sit on the stands with the male leaders, all that work was represented and respected as equal. But the church would like to “remind us” that it is not.
To my fellow sisters, here’s what I’m thinking. If the church would like us to be less visible, let’s help them out.
Let’s just not show up.
What would it look like if women declined to participate for one Sunday? Would the ward council be able to meet beforehand? Would the sacrament get passed? What would happen in the children’s Primary, a jungle on the best of days? We women may not be able to demonstrate our power by sitting in the stands, but we can surely demonstrate our power by sitting out for one day.
I don’t expect such an action would bring much change from our general church leadership. But it could make the difference in the life of an overworked mom who is feeling inconsequential or an impressionable young woman who feels hemmed in by her future in the faith.
In honor of Women’s History Month and the Relief Society’s 182nd birthday, I propose Sunday, March 17, 2024. Who wants to organize it?
I’ll bring the refreshments.
Kierstyn Kremer Howes, LMHC, is a licensed therapist specializing in women’s issues. She is a member of the Utah Mormon Diaspora, having been raised in Taylorsville and currently living in Seattle.
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