Saturday Morning Session: Elder Quentin L. Cook

Kristine Haglund has pointed out that talks about women by men are always a bit awkward. This is always going to be true as long as LDS men have ecclesiastical power and women do not. Many women across the internet have hailed the conference talk by Elder Quentin L. Cook as progressive, but my final analysis will have to name it awkward.

Elder Cook made three statements in his talk regarding the equality of men and women:

  • “Wives are equal to their husbands.”
  • “Marriage requires a full partnership where wives and husbands work side by side to meet the needs of the family.”
  • “The most important organization on earth is the family where fathers and mothers are equal partners.”

But there were three statements which made the talk awkward and pointed up some problems with the assertion that women have full equality in the Church.

  • “A recent United States study asserts that women of all faiths believe more fervently in God and attend more religious services. By virtually every measure, they are more religious.”
  • “Women by divine nature have the greater gift & responsibility for home and children and nurturing…”
  • “From our earliest history, both men and women pray, perform the music, give the sermons, and sing in the choir, even in sacrament meeting, our most sacred meeting.”

The heavy emphasis on traditional gender roles as the best and most righteous choice for females, which continues to dominate in the Church, is a barrier to all Mormons in being able to fully embrace the strength and equality of women. In a recent post at ZD, Ziff wrote about the subtext of Conference talks. To me, the subtext of Elder Cook’s talk was Women are equal to men, except they are more righteous and need to get out of the board room and go play with their children; or maybe Women have powerful roles in the church, except that they are receiving instead of performing all ordinances and have to get approval for all leadership actions.

Elder Cook sought to validate a range of women with his remonstrances. For the stay-at-home mother he taught, “No woman should ever feel the need to apologize or to feel that her contribution is less significant because she is devoting her primary efforts to raising and nurturing children. Nothing could be more significant in our father in heaven’s plan.” And for the working woman he urged, “We should all be careful not to be judgmental or assume that sisters are less valiant if the decision is made to work outside the home. We rarely understand or fully appreciate people’s circumstances. Husbands and wives should prayerfully counsel together, understanding that they are accountable to God for their decisions.” And yes, Elder Cook threw out the typical bone to the single sister: “many hands stand ready to help you.”

I think that by-and-large his talk will satisfy all three demographics. (After all, “LDS women are unique in being overwhelmingly satisfied with their role in church leadership,” he quoted from American Grace.) I also applaud his attempt to encourage Latter-day Saints to be at the forefront in “creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive to women and men in their responsibilities in the home.” But the advances made by Elder Cook’s talk were immediately diluted when Elder Packer fondly stated that the man is the head of the home and the woman is the heart of the home. And when Elder Oaks critically observed that “there are some young women whose desires for a worthy marriage and children rank far below their [implied: unrighteous] desires for a career or other mortal distinctions. Both men and women need righteous desires that will lead them to eternal life.”

Indeed, there remain problems with the way the leadership of the Church speaks about gender. When, for example, do we ever hear talks about the sweet brethren of the church, and their innate ability to lead and administer?