Last year I wrote a post covering the European Women’s Meeting headed “Show Me Don’t Tell Me”. The title was a part inspired by my dislike of the pedestalisation of women within the church, and the lack of actual authority. I commented then “I find it hard to fathom how having GA wives, nice as that is, address an area-wide meeting specifically for sisters, in which the General RS Presidency appears to have no involvement, doesn’t somehow undermine the role of the general auxiliary presidencies and their boards.”
Both the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune reported yesterday our female General Auxuilliary presidents have been assigned permanent places on committees to which they had been previously been only sometimes invited: Linda Burton, RS General President to the Priesthood Executive Council; Bonnie Oscarson, YW General President to the Missionary Executive Council; and Rosemary Wixom, Primary General President to the Temple and Family History Executive Council. That’s great news.
I was reminded of Chieko Okazaki’s interview with Greg Prince for Dialogue where she describes how the General RS presidency were frequently not consulted, even on matters that affected the RS directly, whilst discussing the role of women in the church. She described how they had known nothing about the new Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manuals to be used for teaching in both RS and Priesthood and the conversation continued:
“Greg Prince: Do you see that as perhaps coming from beneath? That as you have new generations of women who are the wives of bishops and stake presidents, and who are ward and stake Relief Society and Young Women leaders, that they are going to grasp the reins a little bit stronger than their predecessors?
“Chieko Okazaki: I have to say that, in my sixty-four years in the Church, I sometimes see a little bit of a change that the women themselves prompt, but most of the time, I haven’t seen women who would make that change possible. Wherever I go, I think that they already know their place. Maybe they’d be able to be more open if there were open-minded bishops or stake presidents who would listen to some of the feelings and the ideas of the women. But when women get the message that their job is to be supportive and just agree with the decisions of the bishop, they become clams.
“Greg Prince: Should the Relief Society president sit in on bishopric meetings?
“Chieko Okazaki: It would be a great idea. They are in the council meetings, but in many council meetings the person who is in charge is the only one who is talking. I’m on several community boards, and sometimes I’m the only woman there or one of two or three women. I’m on the YWCA advisory board; I’m on the advisory board for the University of Utah Graduate School of Social Work; and I’m on the Belle Spafford Chair board. If I got the message that I was supposed to just sit there and listen to the men, I’d quit that board. I’d say, “What am I here for?” I speak up a lot in all of these board meetings.
“In contrast, in 1995 when “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” was written, the Relief Society presidency was asked to come to a meeting. We did, and they read this proclamation. It was all finished. The only question was whether they should present it at the priesthood meeting or at the Relief Society meeting. It didn’t matter to me where it was presented. What I wanted to know was, “How come we weren’t consulted?”
“Greg Prince: You didn’t even know it was in the works?
“Chieko Okazaki: No. They just asked us which meeting to present it in, and we said, “Whatever President Hinckley decides is fine with us.” He decided to do it at the Relief Society meeting. The apostle who was our liaison said, “Isn’t it wonderful that he made the choice to present it at the Relief Society meeting?” Well, that was fine, but as I read it I thought that we could have made a few changes in it.
“Sometimes I think they get so busy that they forget that we are there.” [emphasis mine]
These new appointments are progress. These committees look to be concerned with what has been described as the three-fold mission of the church. I hope these sisters will speak up and be full participants in these committees.
I have two concerns however. Firstly, whilst both Salt Lake newspapers feature this wonderful news, as of writing the Church Newsroom, the lds.org news page, and the lds.org home page are silent. I haven’t been able to find even a whisper of the news on these sites. Secondly, the inclusion of the auxilliary leaders on these committees is being described as something that will bless families, and support the priesthood role of men:
“We met regularly with our priesthood advisers, who were members of the Quorum of the Twelve,” she said. “We met with the First Presidency. They gave us a vision of what they wanted accomplished.
“But with this change I sense something larger. I sense that this expanded role for the auxiliary presidencies will affect not just the women of the church, but that this will be a blessing to families, that there is going to be much more integration, that this will be supportive of the priesthood role for men in their callings because of the increased perspective of all that is entailed in these committees.” (Mary N Cook, former YW General counsellor)
“I was also very pleased to learn that the First Presidency has approved renaming the Priesthood Executive Council to the ‘Priesthood and Family Executive Council.’ We know Sister Burton will give valuable insight in this new position as she represents women of the Church around the world.” (Dallin H Oaks, Quorum of the 12)
I also hope that these women will be listened to on more than their perspective of how a particular policy or suggestion could affect families. I hope it will be more than being supportive. I hope they will be free to contribute more broadly. It’s a big plus that Elder Oaks describes Sister Burton as representing the women of the church on this committee.
And I did like the following:
“But to now have the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary general presidents assigned as standing members of these three major committees signals how invaluable women are at all levels of church government on matters affecting all members.” (Sheri Dew, former RS General presidency counsellor)