Friday, September 12, 2014

Sexism is in the LDS Church. And everywhere. Calm down.

I went to St Antoine, a french catholic PreK-8 school as a child. This was a time of my life filled with interesting, eye-opening experiences for an irish mormon kid. I was glad for the opportunity to learn another language and religion -- I still remember when I was chosen to play Christ in the Easter production and the principal chewed out the rest of our class for a 'Mormon' being chosen over them, all catholics except for one atheist.

We had music class, but I guess the Southern Ontario diocese (?) didn't have enough money for a real Quebecois music teacher, because what we got instead was Madame My-Sole-Obsession-In-Life-Is-Celene-Dione. We studied where Celene Dione was born, where she first performed, her discography, with very few mentions of clefs or notes. When we were given our first 'music' test, the first question was 'How many brothers and sisters does Celene Dione have?'

Frustrated, 13-year old me voiced loudly that I would not take this test, as it was silly. Madame asked me if I wanted to see the Principal, and I replied that I absolutely did. Surely he would see reason.

I sat in M. LaFontaine's office and explained that I was taking private piano lessons, that I suspected I knew more music than our music teacher, and that I didn't think music lessons about Celene Dione were worth much of anything. After a brief silence, he asked what I would do with my time if I was not in music class. I told him I would rather do more math, my favorite subject. And so, for the rest of the year when all the other kids went to music I sat in our homeroom and did extra math for fun, like a nerd.

They gave me an A in music.

And that's when I realized my authorities weren't always right.

Don't get me wrong, I care very much about authority. In fact, I'm big on authority, one of the issues in which my Canadian side wins out. In my life I have always had plenty of authority figures and they have generally, but not always, done the job delegated to them. But no, as people with individual faults and problems and strengths and weaknesses, I have no more respect for any of them than I do for my colleagues, each of whom deserves respect and esteem equivalent to their experience and efforts.

Madame Can't-Remember-Her-Name was a poor music teacher, by my estimate. This doesn't mean the school is bad or the structure is bad. It just means that I think she was a poor music teacher. Heck, maybe she turned out to be a good one, I didn't stick around to find out.

And so goes my opinion on Sexism in Church Leadership.

It is so well-known at this point that Africans and African-Americans weren't allowed to hold the priesthood in the Mormon (LDS) Church until the late 70s that it seems silly to me when people act like it's a taboo topic. On occasion people inside or outside of the Church will ask why it took so long for a Church I believe to be led by God to allow people of a certain race to hold the priesthood, or why it was ever disallowed. My answer is as simple as it is short.

The leadership was racist.
The Church membership was racist.
We were all racist.
And we still are.

I don't mean to equate racism to sexism, as I believe they are fundamentally different issues, but the similarity is enough for this example. The important thing is that ultimately any organization is lead by people, but we do not belong to the organization FOR those people.

So, when it comes to sexism, I believe that our leadership is sexist, the church membership is sexist, the nation is sexist, we are all sexist. It's not good, it's something we're doing poorly, and it's worth discussing and working on.

But before you start calling out authority, you'd better check yourself.

If the measure of whether a person is 'good' is the amount of their personal time that they devote to selfless, charitable acts, helping others, and self-improvement, while denying themselves the opulence of worldly gains, then you would be hard pressed to find people doing better on that chain than people like the Mormon Quorum of the Twelve, Pope Benedict, the Dhali Llama, and a long list of other virtuous leaders.

If your goal is a simple, progress-driven discussion of social justice, then speak on. But if your plan is to take one aspect of the preposterously complex task of leading groups of people, say someone is doing just as poorly as a large portion of our society in that single task, and use that one perspective to defame them and paint them as foolish, unqualified, or a 'bad' person, then you have no place in intelligent discussion.

At the risk of sounding overly conservative, I would quote from scripture, that these people belong to those 'That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.'

The joke goes "Catholic doctrine says that the Pope is infallible but Catholics won't believe it. Mormon doctrine says that the Prophet is fallible but Mormons won't believe it."

By my estimate, I am sexist, racist, bigoted, and all other negative attributes, to a certain extent.

The leadership of the Church is much less of all of these things than am I, but still have them all to their own extent.

And ultimately, I'm not looking for leaders who don't have these things. My faith doesn't rest in my leaders, it rests in Christ. My leaders are other people whose faith rests in the same place, and I'm confident that with that in mind, we'll get where we're going together.

That is, so long as we all don't rip each other apart on the way.

1 comment:

  1. "If your goal is a simple, progress-driven discussion of social justice, then speak on. But if your plan is to take one aspect of the preposterously complex task of leading groups of people, say someone is doing just as poorly as a large portion of our society in that single task, and use that one perspective to defame them and paint them as foolish, unqualified, or a 'bad' person, then you have no place in intelligent discussion."

    This is the part that I love in what you said. It feels like most of these issues are more just whining about our fallible leaders who are only in that position because they were called to be there. In other words, they didn't apply for the position. The local leaders aren't being paid for any of their work. It seems backward to just gripe and gripe and gripe about our leaders, especially when someone is projecting their experience with one person onto the whole of the church or the whole of the leadership of the church.

    That being said, the discussion about sexism in the church is healthy to a degree because it does bring up aspects that many people haven't really thought about. It can and has changed perspectives and behavior. I know that I've had experiences with my leaders where I actually feel like they have thought about the issue and realized directly how their phraseology might affect the message. I actually have seen some progress in leaders and their treatment of members of the ward. And I have been in attendance at some meetings where I felt like women were degraded or disrespected. These are usually the people who refuse to admit that there is a problem in the first place. I think it changes for the better as the whole body of the church improves in that area.

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