A hubbub erupted recently when Relief Society leaders in the Bay Area were booted off the stand for sacrament meetings, the centerpiece Sunday worship service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Their presence was seen by an area president to be out of proper order, so he put a stop to the decade-old practice.
The stand apparently was to be reserved for male priesthood leaders. Women could sit in the elevated chairs in front of the congregation if they were leading the music or playing the organ or giving a talk, but they were disallowed from sitting alongside male presiding officers, overlooking ward members during those meetings, appearing, with the men, to be, you know, equal.
There is a simple solution to this dispute, which we’ll get to in just a minute.
It has long been the Latter-day Saint way to have ecclesiastical leaders take their place on the stand during Sunday meetings, facing the flock. It sets these men apart as authority figures, as people to be listened to, to be followed and honored. They have stewardship over the congregation, and this seating approach hammers home that point.
That’s the reason for the big cushy chairs up front during the church’s General Conferences, reminding all the faithful who’s running the show in God’s stead — who’s large and in charge. At least at those globally livestreamed services, there are prominent chairs reserved for top female leaders.
Why the lofty leadership?
Indeed, there’s a fascination, almost an obsession, in the church for male leadership to be emphasized and highlighted, to gain celebrity status, to be propped up in ways that are nothing short of overkill, in ways that run counter to heavenly humility.
In a faith that teaches that all are God’s children, all are loved and equal in the eyes of deity, the emphasis on lifting up male church leadership seems less a divine practice and more a human one.
That’s hardly unique, of course, to Latter-day Saints. Other churches feature their preachers and pastors and priests — oftentimes men — in similar fashion. But here’s the thing: Is it true or not true that God is no respecter of persons, that the Almighty does not favor men over women or, for that matter, men over other men. After all, that’s just Bishop Perkins, the guy who lives next door, whose dandelions sprout and blow seeds across your lawn every summer. A stake president is hoisted by the heavens no higher than the quiet and ever-believing widow or widower who sits in the back of the chapel.
Some may be sanctioned and set apart to serve their congregations, to organize group worship, to give help and guidance to the faithful in times of need. All good.
But what’s the deal with placing, in the Latter-day Saint tradition, these male leaders up on the stand during Sunday worship? If men are up there, then women, who are counted on in so many circumstances to execute acts of service and good deeds of all kinds, should be there, too.
There is, however, an even better way.
Taking a stand against ‘the stand’
How about if nobody sat on the stand? What would it hurt if church leaders conducted Sunday services, but then sat down in the pews with all congregants and their families? If they worshipped alongside them, sitting next to them, instead of in front of them?
Wouldn’t that send a strong message to all members? A kind of reinforcement among them that this is God’s endeavor, not man’s? God is the one to be worshipped and honored, not male priesthood leaders?
Those leaders could be recognized and acknowledged in other ways without the puffed-up presumption of presiding over anyone or anything, sitting in front of and above other worshippers. Reminding and reassuring members that they’re all in this together, joined equally in status and stature before God.
No need for the authoritative pomp evidenced at most meetings, the constant declaration that, “I’m the bishop.” “We’re the bishopric.” “I’m the stake president.” “We’re the stake presidency.” “Here we are in all our glory, as your priesthood advocates stationed between you and the Holy One.”
Get rid of all that.
Local lay leaders should know full well they’re no better than those they serve. They also should know that, in a few years, they’ll be sitting back in the pews again, where they always should have been seated, even as they were freely fulfilling their calling.
Makes sense to me. Just do all that leading King Benjamin-style, out there working shoulder to shoulder with Brother Joe and Sister Jill.
Seems like a reasonable alternative, one that the Mightiest of Mighty, the one actually meant to be worshipped, might smile upon.
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