Opinion: Young LDS women need to see themselves in the church — and on the stand

The need for young women to see their significance in the Lord’s work validated visually and not just verbally is consistent with what I know about this generation as students and as learners.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) LDS faithful walk to the Conference Center, for the Women's session of LDS General Conference, on Saturday, April 2, 2022.

I have been vocal and public about the sadness and heartbreak caused by the North America West Area president’s dismissal of women from the stand in the Bay Area. Having women in leadership on the stand is a practice that beautifully and simply models how integral women are to the building of Zion and the exaltation of God’s children.

As a mother of three daughters, the loss of the stand was devastating, not because the stand itself is incredibly important but because it was one way to demonstrate to my girls that Latter-day Saint church culture aligns with the beautiful gospel principle of equal and united partnership.

Now, when my daughters point out that women are essential and crucial to the plan of happiness but don’t see that truth modeled for them in the same way it is modeled for young men, what am I to offer them as an explanation? Platitudes and unequal comparisons don’t work for them like they did for my generation.

There are some, like Tribune writer Gordon Monson, who have called for slimming down the stand instead of beefing it up. I can see merit in a svelte stand where only the presider sits. I certainly would have been a fan of that plan in the many years my husband sat on the stand while I tended to young children in the pews. However, I worry that this version of the stand focuses more on the importance of one man to lead and preside and less on the contributions of the many.

If everyone came down from the stand — men and women both — we would still not be addressing the questions and the hurt brought to mothers and fathers by faithful young women who come up short as they seek a place for their future selves in the church community they love.

To be clear, I love the church. My faith, my understanding, my life and my very identity are threaded together with my Mormonism in a way that makes it impossible for me to know where one strand starts and the other ends. I want desperately to weave my daughters into the truths of the gospel that have meant so much to me in my life. Regrettably, for me and so many other Latter-day Saint parents, the cultural fabric of the church is making our attempts at intertwining this generation of young people securely into the tapestry of our community increasingly difficult.

Our children are incredibly sensitive to incongruities between observed church practices and professed church doctrine, and when our children ask us why a misalignment exists, we don’t have satisfactory answers to offer them.

At the same time, society at large confirms the worth of our young girls where women lead in business, government, higher education and other respected institutions. The visual presence of women at the lectern, on the dais and in the boardroom makes the absence of women on the stand paradoxical, and they notice.

As an educator, as a mother and as a member of my stake’s young women’s presidency, my experiences have led me to understand that, in order to meet the needs of this generation of young people, minister to them and engage them in discipleship, we need to understand that they are different than any prior generation. The need for young women to see their significance in the Lord’s work validated visually and not just verbally is consistent with what I know about this generation as students and as learners.

“Digital natives” have been inundated constantly with images and information their entire lives, producing a strong preference for visual learning. Their capacity for memorization and retention of information increases by 83% with the aid of visual input. In my classroom, I offer many more visual tools to my students than I did when I first started teaching 20 years ago. My students have changed, their needs have changed and so too my ways of engaging them and teaching them had to change.

Admittedly, the stand is not the most important place to see women in the church; I would take a seat at every table where decisions are made over a seat on every stand any day. But regardless of how it happens, our young women need to see themselves and their future in the church. Words for them will never be enough; they need a strong visual tool to show them how well our community knows their worth and how desperately we need their leadership.

I believe having women on the stand is an elegant and simple acknowledgment that our wards and stakes cannot run without the work and leadership of women and communicates to our young women that we value them as highly as we value their brothers. However we choose to accomplish it, it is evident to me and so many other Latter-day Saint parents that our girls need a consistent observable indicator of united leadership and cherished partnership.

I speak for those of us who feel poignantly the weight of our responsibility to our young women: We need help. We needlessly come up against cultural stumbling blocks to our young people’s full commitment of gospel truths that, try as we might, we are unable to move without assistance.

With consideration from inspired leaders who have the power to enact change, parents like me will be better equipped to weave this generation into the ever growing, ever changing and ever more breathtaking tapestry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Amy Watkins Jensen | For The Salt Lake Tribune

Amy Watkins Jensen is a middle school humanities teacher in Oakland, California, and a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Amy manages the instagram account @womenonthestand: a space for thoughtful and respectful dialogue on the “how” and “why” of inclusion for women in the church.

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