Women at ChurchIn the Sunday morning session of General Conference this weekend, President Eyring told the story of how he traveled to a “small city far away” to confer the sealing power on a man whose “hands showed the signs of a lifetime of tilling the soil for a meager living.” The man’s wife sat in the room, weeping, and when President Eyring asked her how she felt, “She looked up and then said timidly that she was happy but also sad. She said that she had so loved going to the temple with her husband but that now she felt that she should not go with him because God had chosen him for so glorious and sacred a trust. Then she said that her feeling of being inadequate to be his temple companion came because she could neither read nor write.” President Eyring reassured her and spoke to her about her spiritual gifts, and her great faith in the gospel.

What struck me about this exchange was not just the kindness President Eyring showed, or his ability to discern that this sister had received personal revelations which she held dear, but the fact that her husband’s new church responsibilities highlighted her own feelings of inadequacy. While I don’t know enough about this woman’s life experience to even begin to guess whether her church experiences or experiences in her culture of origin helped shape this feeling, the anecdote highlights the fact that women in the church can struggle with feeling less than their male counterparts.  We see men on the stand every Sunday. Our boys pass the sacrament. Few women have the opportunity to work in church leadership. Our religious language is often gendered. There are so few female voices and role models and leaders for us to turn to as examples. As more women work closely with men in the workplace and work toward egalitarian relationships with their male partners, church may be one of the few places where women may feel limited by their gender. I’m not saying that every woman feels this way; many women feel that their membership in the church empowers them. I just want the church to be a place where every member can feel that she belongs.

But enough about me, let’s talk about McBaine’s important book, Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact. First, I want to talk about something the book doesn’t do– in a time when the ordination of women has been a hot-button issue, Women at Church doesn’t doesn’t address female ordination. Instead it’s a primer for what leaders and everyday members can do to capitalize on the talents of women in the church. McBaine lays out the mission of the book in the opening sentence: “This book is predicated on a single belief: that there is much more we can do to see, hear, and include women at church.” She continues, “I have written this book as an inducement toward greater empathy for those who feel unseen, unheard, and unused, and a strategic guide to improving our gender cooperation in local Church governance.”

If you’re a woman who has never felt marginalized at church and can’t understand what the fuss is all about, this is the book for you. In Part One of the Women at Church McBaine talks about the history of women in the LDS Church and also explores some of the reasons why women may struggle with their roles in the church, and why women who do struggle deserve empathy, not judgment.

If you’re a church leader who wants to make sure that members in your stewardship feel comfortable in their roles at church, this is the book for you. Part two of Women at Church looks at church practices and examines how we can improve those practices without doctrinal changes.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Women at Church is that McBaine draws from all of the best sources available to her. She has interviewed hundreds of women in her role as the founder of the Mormon Women Project, and she draws on interview, official church sources (including church handbooks), quotes from church leaders, personal experience, and experts in communication, business, and organizational behavior.

When I review a book, I underline passages I might want to quote in my review. When I’m constructing the review, I go back and look at the passages, pick a couple of my favorites, and quote them. However, as I sat down to write this review, I found that I had more than seventy bookmarks in a book that’s less than 200 pages long. While you might say that means that I was playing a little fast and loose with my bookmarks, I think it’s because the book has so much information that’s useful, as well as stories and anecdotes that either resonated with me and reflected my lived experience, or helped me gain empathy by presenting me with different experiences.

McBaine comes at her subject matter as one who is offering helpful suggestions to help the church better meet the needs of its members without changing doctrines or even official policies. She spends a significant amount of time pointing out things that the church does well in regard to gender roles. I especially liked the story about a shy primary president developed leadership skills she wouldn’t have had the chance to develop in her everyday life and those about how women in other parts of the world where gender roles are very clearly delineated often find that joining the church is revolutionary and empowering. But she also doesn’t shrink from pointing out places where our culture and traditions can be limiting, even if unintentionally (which I think was the case in the story President Eyring shared in General Conference). I wholeheartedly recommend Women at Church. Read it yourself, then give a copy to your mom, your husband, your bishop, your Relief Society president, and your best girlfriends.

8 Comments

  1. Luisa Perkins

    October 8, 2014

    I look forward to reading this book. This post is a winner: one of my favorite people reviewing the work of another of my favorite people! Bliss.

  2. Julie

    October 10, 2014

    Ugh. I admit that I did not like this book. It felt like the same tenants and phrasing as Ordain Women. I don’t know if the author is a member of Ordain Women or Feminist Mormon Housewives, but it sounds like a lot of her ideas come from the same philosophies. It really raised some red flags. Just looking at the wording on the website the author has, it is strikingly similar to Ordain Women in it’s wording and tone. I know I’m not the only one who has a lot of concerns with this book. I did like that she used parts of the Church Handbook, but so many of the experiences and things she shared sounded like women looking for things wrong about the church rather than ones working to better understand and dig deeper into the church handbook. Does that make sense?

  3. Bonnie White

    October 11, 2014

    I liked the book for how it broadened my understanding of how some may feel marginalized or unable to give more. From each page, McBaine increases our awareness of what is happening around the world but particularly in North America. We could all benefit from the suggested ideas of inclusion.

    In 1976, I served in the Canada Montreal Mission where President and Sister Owens created sister districts and a sister missionary accompanied Sister Owens to visit the 40 sisters who were serving at that time. This was revolutionary but from reading this book, I see how it has become practise.

  4. Amira

    October 11, 2014

    I haven’t been able to read this book yet, but I was still surprised by Julie’s comment above after reading Neylan’s blog, various articles she’s written, listening to podcasts and other broadcasts she has been involved with, and from following the Mormon Women Project for years. I’ve always considered Neylan’s voice to be quite moderate and certainly far from representing Ordain Women.

    I think that response also highlights the importance of this book. If Neylan’s approach seems extreme to many people on either side (and I hope it doesn’t), then we have a very long way to go before we will be able to understand each other. I hope that this book can help those who have no concerns about the role of women in the church better understand why some women do have concerns, but also encourage faithful, workable solutions to those concerns.

    • Julie

      October 11, 2014

      I see what you’re saying 🙂 Having observed the dialogue on FMH and with Kate Kelly (including her interview with Kate Kelly on the Mormon Women Project), I have to say myself and others don’t find her views “extreme” but sympathetic to the Ordain Women and Feminist Mormon Housewives narrative. If you were to go back and see the dialogue in the groups, the comments and the constant complaining and pointing out and nitpicking the structure of the church, it sets the reader up to be looking and watching for things to criticize. Rather than working through inspiration and the right channels and utilizing the handbook and ward and stake councils more effectively, the commonality I find between Ordain Women, Feminist Mormon Housewives and Neylan’s book is criticizing (veiled, and at times, unveiled).

      I absolutely want to better empower our women—especially the rising generation. I want us to be better heard in ward and stake councils and find unique and better ways to be involved in leadership. I have rarely met a woman who has felt that “status quo” is the best we can do in the church. Yet that seems to be the catch phrase for those who disagree with the way in which groups advocate for policy and procedural changes. It is the manner in which it is accomplished. Do we go into sacrament meeting each week and look for examples of inequality? Or do we go into it with a worshipful heart knowing that we are about to partake of the sacrament? Do we sit and stew in a ward council, waiting to be called upon, or do we interject ourselves into the conversation? If we feel we’re not being heard, speak to the Bishop and share this concern. Share ideas, talk, serve, pray for guidance on how we can better minster to Heavenly Father’s children.

      The avenues to ask for and receive inspired direction to your specific calling are available (and have been there!) Sometimes I feel we don’t look at what we have. We have so many resources at our fingertips that we simply aren’t using or can’t be bothered to use. I’ve seen fantastic direction in the church handbook that totally empowers women. There are so many under utilized and un-utilized things in the handbook! Instead, we flock to a book that tends to borderline complain or at least get women to point out fault in their leaders managerial skills and/or the Church’s organization. Once that seed is planted of looking for fault, it is very difficult to remove. What we look for, we will always see and find. Always.

      There were a lot of things in the book that made me, a faithful woman who desires to empower women, uncomfortable because it gently but ever so subtly speaks the same language as Ordain Women. The OW group is really hitting gender equality hardcore, and they love Neylan’s book because it furthers their goals. It is the same goal, but more careful and measured.

      • Emily M.

        October 14, 2014

        Julie, a couple of thoughts: 1-many of the OW responses I’ve read have been frustrated by Neylan’s book because she does not criticize the inherent structure of the Church enough, so while I haven’t read it yet, I don’t think I’d put it in the same realm of thought. 2-I think the goal of trying to understand where the other group is coming from is a worthy one. 3-Your point about “Once that seed is planted of looking for fault, it is very difficult to remove. What we look for, we will always see and find. Always.” is really, really true. I agree.

        What I don’t know is how to balance the need to be positive and loyal to the Church and its leaders, to not find fault or steady the ark, with the very real concerns many sisters have had. I can’t dismiss their concerns because they are not my own, and yet when I get all upset over someone else’s issues, it does not help my own spirit find the centered calm I need.

  5. Katie R

    October 13, 2014

    Sounds like a book I need to pick up ASAP!

  6. Tiffany W.

    October 14, 2014

    Julie, I thought you wrote an interesting comment. Some of your points I agreed with, while others I didn’t.

    I do agree that the handbook is under-utilized. I am serving in a RS presidency in my ward and we study the handbook in our meetings. That has been so helpful.

    I also agree with you that when you go in with an attitude of criticism, you are more inclined to complain and see negative things.

    I haven’t read the book yet, but I disagreed with your assessment that Neylan McBaine must be a part of Ordain Women and that they are seeking the same goal. I have followed the talks and writings of Neylan for a while. I think she approaches women in the church in a very different way from Ordain Women. The purpose of Ordain Women has been for women to receive the priesthood–which is very much against the things McBaine has written and spoken about.

    In response to Kate Kelly’s excommunication, Neylan McBaine wrote the following in June 2014, “In September 2013, the Mormon Women Project published an interview with Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women. As it has always been, our criteria for being interviewed for the Mormon Women Project is that the woman currently identifies as active in the Church, and that she has tried to work hand in hand with God to make choices in her life. We felt that Kate fit that description. Yet we still included an editor’s note explaining that, like many of the women we feature on the MWP, publishing her interview was not an endorsement of those choices. In fact, I personally have spoken on a number of occasions in the media as the “counter” to Kate’s call for the ordination of women. She wouldn’t call me a friend, nor I her.”

    http://www.neylanmcbaine.com/2014/06/blessed-are-the-peacemakers.html

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