Most organizations face a dilemma. On the one hand, too much factionalism and resistance and they break down into feuding, balkanized fragments. On the other hand, without any pushback, they turn into an echo chamber of yes men. The trick to success is to harness the power of loyal opposition.
Thus the Chinese wisdom saying: “A thousand yes-men cannot equal one honest advisor.”
Evangelicals often talk about what happened to King Ahab and yes men as false prophets. Others refer to Warburg, where Martin Luther was sheltered from Pope Leo.
And even Forbes talks often about Yes Men and the peril they represent.
I got pulled into a conversation on the topic when I tried to bring up the Ensign and Church messages with someone who had left the LDS Church. They pulled up LDS.org and started reading the August Visiting Teaching message. Next thing I knew they had thrown their iPhone across the room and told me “This is the sort of thing that is the f*cking reason I left the church!”
So I read the article, and got to talking about it with friends. It turns out that the entire 2016 year of Visiting Teaching messages were not drafted or chosen by the Relief Society Presidency but were picked for them and written by the all male correlation committee. As you might suspect, the messages often are mostly men lecturing women on things such as to how to suffer joyfully.
The August lesson consists of two lectures from men, with a small, non-substantive ornamental note in the middle by a woman. The express design for the entire year of articles is to show how the values of the Proclamation on the Family works in application. The first lecture in the August article is on not saying anything but positive things.
The core of the lesson is the story of a woman with cancer, who because of an ill guided surgery, has crippling pain. Doing the daily family ironing caused her such pain that she would have to break in the middle of it to go cry in her room.
When her family noticed her pain, what did they do that illustrates the spirit of the Proclamation?
- Take over the ironing so she was not in such pain?
- Trade lawn mowing or other services with another family in return for ironing?
- Wear wrinkled shirts?
- Pool their lunch money to pay for shirt laundry services?
- Let her suffer for a year until they could afford, by saving lunch money, a better tool for ironing shirts?
The point of the lesson is that the Proclamation’s spirit led the family and the father to pick choice 5. That story was used as an example of caring for a family in the spirit of the Proclamation. Notice that it is a story told by a man about what a man did as a lecture to women about how to live their lives. It was held up as an example about how a real man cares for his wife.
The untold part of the story includes a 13 year old Elder D. Todd Christofferson going to his grandmother. He asked her teach him how to make bread so he could start making bread for the family as a way to help his mother. He was unaware of the pain ironing caused his mother until years later or I suspect he would have also had someone teach him to iron. That part of the story wasn’t seen as worthy of publication by the committee of men.
There is a shout-out to Jacob 3:7 in the Book of Mormon, which is about how the Lamanites were more righteous than the Nephites because they had rejected polygamy, and there is an encouragement to use kind words.
The bulk of the lesson is about how if a woman is in such pain that she breaks down crying from it, the proper response is to let her suffer for a year and then do something that lets her keep suffering at a reduced rate rather than change things so she doesn’t suffer at all. If we do that, let the women suffer, but reduce their pain after a year so they don’t break down crying in their rooms so often, then we are real men.
The biggest problem with this article is that this message isn’t directed at the men; this is the Visiting Teaching message for the women of the Church. I’ve been told by a number of women that the real lesson is that the Proclamation means they should expect to suffer, weep, and iron. The message is that they would be lesser women if they could not fulfill stereotypical household tasks. The message is that the family’s cleanly pressed shirts were more important than a cancer-stricken woman’s comfort. Ultimately, the message seems to be that real women who embody the spirit of the Proclamation never complain, should expect to feel pain, and should show gratitude for new irons instead of expecting the men in their lives to stoop to this domestic task.
As one woman put it:
This message is ostensibly written for women, and yet the woman in the story is completely passive. Things happen to her. She never acts. My first question was not “Why didn’t the men in her life…?” It was, “Why didn’t she…?” Who was she helping by crying alone, in her room? Why would this be held up as an example when she did nothing but suffer??Why didn’t she teach her sons to be compassionate and take responsibility for the operation of their own household? What kind of sick pretense for womanhood is this?
I am so done with this message that women are never to act, that the only role for us to fill is to spend our lives doing menial labor and, if we’re really ambitious, to ask a priesthood holder to do something more exciting on our behalf and then support him in it by doing all the yucky parts he doesn’t want to be bothered with, if we really feel inspired to do so. Otherwise, we should just be quiet and work, and go in our rooms to cry alone if we absolutely have to.
I did get some discussion on how such a tone deaf lesson could be sent out. I got comments that asked how a group of men could write lesson after lesson like this, an entire year of them, for women who do not seem to get the same message from the lesson that the men think they are sending out.
I was told that in many of the committees, the lower level people who do the work are very afraid of offending anyone. They ruthlessly self-edit. Then, when something is proposed for publication, even something as flawed as this lesson, rather than pointing out its flaws, everyone just nods and says yes for fear of offending anyone. I asked if Elder D. Todd Christofferson was really that fearsome. I was told no. Definitely not. He is exactly what you would think of someone who started baking the family bread at age thirteen and then kept them in fresh bread until he left for college to try and make his mother’s life better.
A despot leader wasn’t the problem. It never got to Elder Christofferson ever expressing anything but love and kindness. The people below him self edit. They have created a culture of yes men so thorough that this sort of tone deaf train wreck gets into print without challenge That is the result of the lack of a loyal opposition.
I’ve since been talking with my wife’s best friend growing up. Kristine Lesperance’s dissertation chair had her gathering literature on the topic and doing specialized graduate readings on it. The bottom line: Without honesty and pushback, without a loyal opposition, a culture of yes men will go off into the weeds.
Such a culture will generate lessons like this year’s sequence wherein the topic of the Proclamation on the Family is hammered home with tone deaf lessons such as the August one. Such lessons lead to people like me getting blindsided by the anger and response of people like the person I was trying to share the gospel with.
What do you think?
- Do we need a mechanism for pushback or do we just need “yes men?”
- Was the August lesson exactly what women needed to hear?
- What is the lesson a woman should have gotten from the August lesson?
- Is there something better out there that shows how a family is nurtured other than by letting women cry in pain by themselves in their rooms while the men become heroes of the story by skipping lunch for a year?
- Is there a better lesson this year that I should have focused on rather than just wandering into this one?
- If you had to face the five options that family had, which one would you have chosen?
I looked back through some of the other messages from this year.
Daughters of Our Eternal Father.
The ‘From Our History’ section uses one of Joseph Smith’s first vision accounts to demonstrate how women are daughters of our Eternal Father. Wouldn’t it have been more relevant to include an account or testimony from an actual woman?
Talk about being tone deaf…
How hard would it have been to slip in even the tiniest mention of Heavenly Mother, now that she’s supposedly not off limits anymore?
How do we know that men are writing these lessons? How do we find anything out about who writes them?
Why do you struggle with the fact that GOD obviously wants women kept in their place and church is simply doing God’s work?
Good post and good questions. We definitely need a method for push back, but I don’t think that’s every going to happen. I think the problem is really twofold:
1. The so-called “yes men” phenomenon is, IMHO, a direct result of the top-down hierarchy we have in this church. As Mormons, at least in my limited experience, we tend to put our leaders on an unreasonably high pedestal, which means that we’ve become more about making sure we don’t offend them by being disobedient or by speaking our own minds. In other words, our fear, not our faith or hope, tends to drive our actions. So the process you describe near the end of your post makes perfect sense to me.
2. This church seems quite concerned with boundary maintenance and spends a good deal of its energy on exactly that. “Who’s in?” and “who’s out?” seem to be more important questions than “How can I show Christ-like love to everyone?” This kind of institutional paranoia means that any alternate viewpoints, even regarding rather mundane things like manuals, are viewed with not only suspicion, but also with hostility. It is the practice of both members and leaders to silence anything that they might define as dissent or apostasy. When you’ve got those kinds of institutional mechanisms in place, there really isn’t any room for pushback or alternate voices. It’s the duty of everyone to fall into lockstep. Sadly, I don’t see any possibility of this changing unless the church loses so many members it begins to really crack at its foundations.
And as far as the August lesson and the manuals in general, I think they’re designed for a specific group of people that our leadership assumes comprises the majority of the membership. It’s not my intent to belittle or insult those who get a lot out of the manuals. If you feel they lead you closer to God and Christ, more power to you and God bless you. However, most of the stuff in the manuals seems to me to vastly oversimplify and therefore diminish the real challenges that a lot of members face. The lessons seem sterile and not too well thought out. I work with young people from junior high to college and most of the seventh graders I know would find the lessons ridiculous. Again, if the manuals help lead us to Christ, then all’s well, I suppose. But a good number of members I’ve talked to about the manuals express the same frustration as I just did. What’s the solution? There isn’t one that can realistically be created given the current climate of the church.
I’m by nature a “yes man” so other than analyzing things I don’t struggle.
It was an eye opener to have a gospel discussion change into swearing and then to get some discussion going and find out just how others saw things.
So the post.
But I’ve no suggestions or solutions–just learning from reading Merrill and others on leadership and the value of wrapping all viewpoints in rather than rejecting things.
Still digesting and thinking so i really don’t have anything to add in response to the comments other than I appreciate your thinking too.
Do we need a mechanism for pushback or do we just need “yes men?”
Not sure what a “mechanism” would consist of, but I am completely in favor of developing a cultural change so people, especially in leadership councils, speak up with contrary ideas and opinions…especially women. Any such change will have to be strongly and repeatedly supported and talked about in General Conference. In my 60+ years as an adult in the church (none of it in Utah), the overwhelming (and I mean that as a pejorative) attitude has always been to look to Salt Lake and the pedestals there.
About 10 years ago I finally resigned as the clerk in my ward because it was becoming so obvious that my suggestions, ideas, and contrary opinions on processes, and decisions were making everyone uncomfortable–and having little to no impact otherwise. Retreat seemed the better course…you can’t teach a pig how to sing, it will just make him angry.
“you can’t teach a pig how to sing.” That’s awesome.
Fbisti — I don’t know the answer.
I do know that President Monson felt inspired to have leadership training for the general authorities.
I suspect they are aware of the problem and working to fix it –and expect that the solution they come to will be better than anything I would have suggested.
The future will prove out.
My training and occupation is management in a large multinational company. At work I can be frustrated by communication issues, but then when I look at the church it just seems the church’s culture along this line is like 50 years behind the times. I thought the church was only 30 years behind on most things.
I would agree with your premise and you do touch on how this dysfunctional culture can be blind to how they look, but you didn’t touch on how it emotionally affect individual member. If any issue is raised it is almost always redirected back to being a problem of the member with a healthy dose of shame to keep this from happening in the future. That can be very frustrating.
Interesting to get a professional perspective. I had not thought of that.
One other thought comes to my mind. It deals with humility.
Often people that move into management feel like they need to direct everything – just give the orders.
I have found that it is VERY hard to swallow your pride and ask those that report to you for how they would do something. But when you do, it can really unlock lots of ideas.
This parallels “differentiation” that Dr. David Schnarch talks about. It is really hard to ask your spouse, “Tell me where I really suck.” But as hard as it is, it can be one the most revealing and growth promoting actions you can take. Of course mixed in with the few nuggets you need to hear will be your spouses issues, but to honestly listen and consider each item by asking, “could this be true of me?”
I don’t get the sense that church leaders in general (there are exceptions) have the level of confidence to ask that question.
I’m a woman, and a mother, and have several children, and deeply appreciate this post, Stephen. Thank you so much for writing it!
I know too many women who have absolutely recieved the message that their role as women in the church is to suffer, and to wait on men to permit improvements.
I have met in the same wards women who are silently suffering with very heavy burdens–things like chronic pain or fatigue; mental illness; family and marital issues–and the men who lead the wards.
The men are, by and large, very nice humans who try hard. But our church has a lot of messaging about how we need to put our shoulders to the wheel, and that if we lay down a burden, that we’re selfish or lacking in faith.
So when women have confided in me about their burdens and how difficult it can be for them to meet the expectations that are placed upon them at church, and I’ve suggested that they honestly tell their leader about their burdens, they’ve disagreed, sometimes violently, recoiling in dismay. No, they can’t, they’ve told me.
I know why. I have been that sister who, after years of fragile, brittle mental health, finally confided in my bishop…and the dominant message from the church was repeated to me: that I was selfish, that I was making excuses, that my burdens were surely not that hard, that other women were doing it better than I, that I lacked faith and work ethic. After that, I turned inward in self-loathing and tried to push through, and ended up doing lasting damage to my mental and physical health that has now taken years to repair. I finally learned how to write my own permission slip, but I had to displease and defy my leaders to do so.
Part of the problem is that leaders are overwhelmingly male, and my issues were overwhelmingly female. My male leaders were utterly blank on what multiple repeated miscarriages meant, and expected me to be back to m y two callings, standing up for hours, within a few days of each loss.
I assume a female leader would have a better understanding of this.
So what I see is the intersection of several diifficult things:
-a culture where saying “no” is discouraged
-a culture that sets a standard for church activity and proper motherhood that is possible only for those in good health
-a culture where one’s worth is found in one’s work
-a culture where women’s work is valued less than men’s work, so that women toil invisibly
-a culture where women are not in the leadership/power structure, so that in the who:whom equation at church, women are always in the “whom”
What this means is women will have to meet standards for activity set by men who lead lives different from them with little mechanism for feedback.
This is not fair to anyone. I know many leaders in the church are nice men who are trying their best. I’m sure these nice men would be horrified to know they’d been complicit in binding up heavy burdens upon their sisters, wives, and mothers–but how will they know, unless we tell them? How can we tell them?
Even on the ward level, I think there can be this mechanism of leaders surrounding themselves with yes-men or women who they feel are compliant. How can we help leaders remember to care for the least of these?
Ideally, we’d use the gospel of Jesus Christ, but I think that’s too often eclipsed by the stated and unstated directives in Mormon culture to adhere to a certain standard of appearance.
And so, instead of focusing on people setting their own pace, we end up with more calls to conformity, working harder, equating resting with moral weakness, and a fondness for pressed white shirts at any cost.
The person you mentioned in your article, who said “this is why I left the f****** church”, I so relate. That person is my kindred spirit in this. It feels like activity in the church is more than just the physical demand, or believing in certain doctrines; as a woman, as a mother, it feels like I am required to inhabit this space where my pain and suffering only matter insofar as any man decides to permit it to matter, and is addressed only insofar as a man permits it to be addressed. For me to actively address my own suffering is to be abrasive, disloyal, selfish–unfeminine.
I don’t want to be in a culture where my very identity is to be forgotten and in pain as I diligently and invisibly perform service and comfort for the visible, important men. How could this possibly be how I live to my greatest potential as a daughter of divine parents? President Monson, in the past few years, told men regarding women that “God counts their tears”–but is this the only way in which women are counted and matter–by their tears?
Whether the church, like many of its leaders, is well-meaning but misinformed, or if it deliberately places divine daughters into invisible oubliettes, it seems that loyalty to the higher ideal of a church requires disloyalty to the earthly, human manifestation of the organized gospel.
This message was intended to support the Proclamation to the Family, and I feel like, in order to fully honor and care for my family, I have to ignore or leave the church. That’s a pity.
Oh we do need a mechanism for pushback so badly. I have met so many yes-men who in turn expect those below them to also be yes-men. But I have also met a few leaders who will listen to pushback as well.
The August lesson sounds appalling. I’ve pretty much given up reading the VT messages this year. They do nothing for me whatsoever, so I was pretty interested in what you appear to have discovered about the origin.
I would have chosen assign someone else the task of ironing. Growing up the ironing was my responsibility from 8 years old.
In my last ward, I worked in the YW’s program for a time. When the presidency instituted a rotation for mutual nights – cleaning one week, child care the next, and sewing the third, to be repeated over the course of the year, I gave up. That ward sent only 2 young women to the temple over the course of 10 years.
Women have other options, better education, and much more access to the wide world now than they did in the 50’s. The message that our worth lies in our ability to keep a charming, tidy house and bear well-behaved, attractive children just doesn’t fly anymore. We have many, many places to look for inspiration, and if the church doesn’t offer it, we’ll look elsewhere.
No matter how noble and pure the leadership’s intentions, if they can’t figure out that women want to create their own way, not be handed a paint-by-numbers life, the church will continue to hemorrhage bright, ambitious young women.
We know our worth, whether or not the church does.
Stumbling block, anyone?
Wow. I had no idea.
All I can say is “please don’t leave” — but I have no answers.
Momof7: “leaders are overwhelmingly male, and my issues were overwhelmingly female. . . I assume a female leader would have a better understanding of this.” Well, don’t bet on it. Unfortunately, most of the women who are likely to be in a leadership position are those who are fine with things the way they are. Will they have more experience with female issues? Sure. But they also may have made great sacrifices to get along in the current system, and therefore may be its staunchest defenders (rather than coming up with more common sense solutions such as the first 4 suggestions to the ironing dilemma Stephen posed in his article).
There is definitely a bent among leadership that “there is no such thing as loyal opposition” (a direct quote from E. Oaks). They already have 12-15 different opinions as a quorum of apostles when they sit in council.
The very real problem is that there is no input from women and that there is rampant toadyism in the ranks below church leaders. When I hear our leaders lecture women I seldom recognize my actual feelings, worries or life experience in the things they say. The portrait they paint of women is often so foreign that I simply don’t have any use for it. I’ve begun to conclude that well meaning or not, top leaders don’t have women’s best interests at heart because if they did, they would certainly understand us better than they do. When you get a room full of men together to talk about women’s problems, this is just what you get. It’s not just a church problem. It’s an all male panel problem.
For background information:
The Correlation Executive Committee is among many in the third tier of committees and includes two Mormon apostles, other LDS general authorities (males) and some male staffers. No women.
This team evaluates manuals, hymns, software and other materials disseminated to the faith’s members — basically, anything with an LDS Church logo. The Utah-based church’s Correlation Department includes staffers who are responsible for the evaluation process. These staffers — some of whom are women — submit their work and recommendations to the executive committee.”
A slightly tangential aside. I was taught as a kid that the purpose of Mormonism was to learn and learn, without limit, until, at some future point, we come into possession of ‘all truth.’ I also learned that the purpose of life was to learn by experience. These are perspectives I took to heart and have tried to live my life with them right out in front. Correlation, as it has come to be,, functions to round all information towards a limited number of principles. It has become a mechanism not of the kind of expansiveness that an eternally augmenting store of learning suggests but rather of turning everything, information and experience, back in on these handful of core ideas. It limits, by design. So that even when these core ideas are basically good and true a real, emerging understanding of them tends to be thwarted. It isn’t Mormonism as I understood it as a kid, and, really, I’m so exhausted of it …
I’m so sorry.
Yes indeed! Let’s add a push back system to the same hierarchy that brought us the policy! What an idea!
There already is a pushback mechanism, it’s called the Bloggernacle and it mostly works by shaming, a currency that is easily understood, respected and commonly traded within the church.
“What happens without a loyal opposition?”
The group becomes of one heart and one mind and then gets translated.
I really don’t think we have to worry about the current Q16 being translated, struck by lightening maybe but not translated!
I know, because of all the loyal opposition!
In your apologetic dreams! More like well intended but blind guides.
Can I offer an alternative view?
Is it possible that the story needs to be fleshed out a bit and we need to read it more charitably?
Mom refused to stop ironing and Dad worked with the situation and eventually solved it? That teenage boys dont always have a full picture of what is actually occuring?
This is exactly why I asked to be removed entirely from the visiting teaching program a few months ago. Listening to other women try to convince me how the submission, male leadership, and putting everyone else first would make me happy pushed me over the edge. The women I interacted with were loving and kind. The only pushback mechanism I had was to express my frustrations to them. To women who think conflict and disagreement are inherently wrong. Women who only want the best for me and can make zero changes. Expressing my frustrations to them would only bring pain and no solutions.
You’re free to share your totally unsupported opinions regarding how righteous the church leaders are (not).
What is perfectly clear in the scriptures, however, is that the very existence of loyal opposition is a sure sign that an organization is NOT approaching Zion. All the repeated calls for oneness of heart and mind, free from contention and disputation, is the exact opposite of essentially all modern ideologies that preach “peer review”, “free competition”, “political resistance”, and on and on.
To be sure, “loyal opposition” does need to happen at right times by (and this is the most important and anti-modern part) by the right people. Thus:
While most moderns assume that “loyal opposition” (which is unavoidable if all have, or ought to have “equal voice”) is the moral default against which God will set apart any exceptions such as Zion, the scriptures tell us that the exact opposite ought to be the case: that a lack of loyal opposition within the church ought to be the default norm and when loyal opposition is needed, God will set apart an exception to this rule.
Everything else is just commentary as far as the scriptures are concerned.
That interpretation still makes a lesson that is written for women all about how good women choose to suffer. Good women make sure that everyone else’s wants are put above their needs. A loving husband will find ways to make sure that putting everyone else first is slightly easier for women.
What is your take on Orson Pratt’s opposition to Brigham Young’s preaching of the Adam God doctrine? Is this one of those “exceptions”?
How is one to know when it is one of those exceptions?
Jeff, Hitler tried to make Germany of one heart and mind too. He could have used some loyal opposition, and instead got unloyal opposition.
Methinks there should be moderation in all things.
I might add that the Book of Mormon and Bible teach that while benevolent kings are wonderful, kings that stamp out opposition too often lead to tyranny.
Maybe ideals like Zion and translation follow resolving the concerns of the loyal opposition rather than silencing them and force feeding Kool-Aid.
I do believe our leaders are inspired.
I do believe they are making efforts to change things and that President Monson was inspired.
I believe that there is a difference between push back and rebellion. I learned a lot from Elder Packer’s talk where he was proof texting scriptures and he listened to those who told him so.
His sincerely and humility came through. As did the fear to offend him of the people he talked to — and his efforts to overcome that.
It was inspiring.
I’m not sure “loyal opposition ” is the right term. In politics it has a different meaning than it does in organizational behavior.
So the term has two completely different meanings depending on the audience.
But I know that no one intended a lesson that would cause so much adverse reaction. I assure you I didn’t see my getting sworn at coming.
I’d invite better terms perhaps.
This is the political term and it is absolutely not what I am talking about:
Compare that with:
A Happy Hubby,
I’m happy to answer your question, but it will have to be my last comment in this thread. I try to limit myself to 2 or 3 comments due to my strong inclination toward threadjacking….
Short answer: If two church leaders disagree with each other, the moral default is to go with the one with higher authority over us UNLESS a third and even higher authority (which may or may not be God Himself) says otherwise. In this way, there is simply never anything to argue about or compete over. There may sometimes be loyal deviation (when depart from a lower authority to follow a higher one), but never loyal opposition (when we position *ourselves* as an equal and competing authority).
The basic point is that we do not all have equal voice on all issues, and our authoritative voice is limited to our stewardships. Thus, only a higher authority (God being the Highest) can grant us exceptions to a standing commandment, but, again, only within our limited stewardships. For example, God will not tell me to tell Pres. Monson how things are supposed to be, for that is well outside of my stewardship. What He might tell me, however, is to teach *my family* something totally at odds with Pres. Monson. My family and I can be fully justified in leaving the church, but not opposing it.
To say that the authority of our voices is limited to the range of our stewardships is not to say, however, that we must agree will every single thing that those above us teach. Rather, it is a limit on what we can authoritatively communicate to whom. Thus, when BY placed limitations on what OP taught to the general public, the latter should have restrained himself accordingly even if he didn’t agree with BY’s teachings.
The false assumption that typically gets built into that example is that the oneness that apostles and the church in general should have is supposed to be due to the fact that God will only reveal something to anybody if it is logically consistent with what He has revealed to somebody else. This is totally false. This “oneness of mind” is not the outcome of us all understanding God’s will by some separate process. Rather, it is the means by which we collectively come to know God’s will. The boundaries of stewardship cut through the rules of logical consistency, not the other way around.
The fact that revelation is limited to our stewardships allows it to be adapted to our stewardships and nothing else. Thus, it might very well be the case that the Lord told OP to believe something logically inconsistent with BY’s teachings. This in no way entails that BY’s teachings were not also revealed by God. For this reason, the church members were all (OP included) supposed to follow or at least be limited by BY unless the Lord specifically told them to do otherwise. Even if the Lord told them to do otherwise and to transgress the moral boundaries set by BY, however, this does not mean that BY couldn’t also receive revelation to discipline such people.
Sometimes the Lord tells us to disobey church leaders while at the same time telling the church leaders to discipline us for doing so. It is for this reason that the modern use of human reason is utterly worthless when it comes to following the ways of God.
Jeff–don’t worry about thread jacking.
I could well be wrong. Blog posts are not the end of thinking, but the beginning.
Especially since I’m not talking about vocal external dissent but rather on how culture impacts the way we counsel together before the final product is created I’m not sure we are that far off.
I’m talking about meaningful councils. Much like many women on general boards have reported that the only criticism they received was for talking too little and not being vigorously engaged enough.
That tells me that leaders are not asking for silence.
Instead, to the point extent it happens people are silencing themselves in spite of being asked to participate fully.
Last comment, I promise!
Anybody thinks that I or the scriptures advocate making people into one heart and mind at gun-point (like Hitler did) is an idiot… a full-blown moron that is unworthy of serious attention since they obviously aren’t willing to give it to others.
“…modern use of human reason is utterly worthless when it comes to following the ways of God.” And then of course no human reason was used to draw your #37 conclusions.
No wait, you must have used human reasoning to arrive at those conclusions…unless you are claiming revelation for the entire church…but that would be outside your stweardship unless…no you can’t be President Monson!
Gee Jeff G, your logical efforts to exclude logic really confuse me!
I’m not going to argue any other point than to say this message is shocking. I’ll be telling the story of how my husband and son both did their own shirts daily whilst I was ill without it even being an issue, and how his boss, whose sister suffered with mental health issues, allowed him to work slightly shorter hours enabling my husband to take better care of the family. three men who supported the family as necessary.
Incidentally, I only noe iron when there is something I enjoy listening to on the radio. I’ve learnt that the family benefits from taking responsibility for itself inasmuch as they are capable.
This message tells me I’m not in the right place in RS.
Wayfarer–I think it is in the editing, not the message. Which appears to be causing the problem.
Elder Christopherson clearly cared. He pitched in and took over tasks just as your family did. For a 13 year old of his time and place to step up like that is inspiring.
The problem comes in editing that out of the story and the focus used. At least for those who are alienated by it.
So I think you belong.
I think your personal story is inspiring.
“Sometimes the Lord tells us to disobey church leaders while at the same time telling the church leaders to discipline us for doing so.”
Abraham Lincoln and Jesus both said a house divided cannot stand. Anyone who engages in such self-contradictory double speak “is an idiot… a full-blown moron that is unworthy of serious attention since they obviously aren’t willing to give it to others.”
Stephen: “Much like many women on general boards have reported that the only criticism they received was for talking too little and not being vigorously engaged enough. That tells me that leaders are not asking for silence.”
Yeah, uhm, I cry bullcrap. Let me just take a moment to explain the experience of being a woman on the receiving end of this advice to speak up. Most women speak up plenty, and we find that some men, often men in unchecked authority positions, don’t listen to things that contradict what they think or their own personal experiences. Since women in the church are never in a position of authority over men, it is particularly easy for men to ignore what women are saying. The power structure reinforces men listening to men.
So when E. Nelson says “Women need to speak up more! We want to hear from you!” plenty of us know that we aren’t heard when we speak up. If you really want men in the church to listen to women, lead by example. The VT message you describe is a perfect example. There are no women on the correlation committee creating these messages FOR women, and nearly all women I know (regardless their position or level of commitment to the church) recognize that the solution in this story is horrible. So, do we listen to women in this church? No. No, we don’t.
Many women have learned from sad experience that the only way to be heard is to get a man to say what you think. Finding male allies to speak on our behalf is the unfortunate reality for us. I’m not talking about people like me who are already persona non grata. I’m talking about the women in auxillary leadership positions who need resources in terms of people or money or who have great ideas for running programs. Great bishops do take the input of women because they have learned from the workplace that women have a lot to contribute. But the system doesn’t reinforce this, and they only have their own common sense to credit if they do listen to women. Plenty of leaders do not, and there are no consequences. The church only listens to select women as they choose. No women are in positions of equal power or represented equally on committees. Some committees have a token woman on them.
Tell me again how much this is the fault of women for not speaking up more. It’s like the teacher who asks a question and ignores the raised hands and then says nobody participates.
Jeff G said: “To say that the authority of our voices is limited to the range of our stewardships is not to say, however, that we must agree will every single thing that those above us teach. Rather, it is a limit on what we can authoritatively communicate to whom.” Right, so IOW, if as a woman I disagree with what I am told to do, I can use personal revelation to make my own contrary choice in my own life, but I can’t tell anyone else that it’s OK for them to do likewise. I am never in a position where a man has to listen to me (How humiliating for a man to ever have to take a woman’s input seriously! Quelle horreur!). Jeff S. has pointed out before that most men are also far down the totem pole in pecking order, but all women are under men and the reverse is never true. What that means is that to a man, what it means to be a woman is whatever they think it means, not what it means to us. Their opinions trump our lived experience.
By no means is this the fault of any woman. By no means.
“What that means is that to a man, what it means to be a woman is whatever they think it means, not what it means to us. Their opinions trump our lived experience.”
That illustrates the structural problems and how structure can trump intent.
Your perspective is exactly why it is not a matter of being of being of one heart or of intent but of the way structure itself creates a problem.
Regarding female leaders being just as unhelpful or more–yes, I fear you’re right, and I think I’ve had experience to confirm that. Sigh.
Also, your line here: “Tell me again how much this is the fault of women for not speaking up more. It’s like the teacher who asks a question and ignores the raised hands and then says nobody participates.”
Thank you. That perfectly articulates my feeling about that talk.
I really think Hawkgrrl nailed it when she pointed out how much credibility is at the heart of the matter. I think they think they are loving by giving lip service to want to hear from women, while also clinging to 1850s patriarchal order and biblical social structure. It’s patronizing and cringe-worthy.
My feeling is that messages from aged leadership is out of touch with those that need to hear real visiting teaching messages.
They don’t want to talk about bad things, just talk about enduring suffering as a good thing.
They aren’t teaching how to fix things, just showing character of strength by obeying.
I don’t think the church is evil. I don’t think it has an agenda to suppress groups of people.
I just think they are out of touch and naive, and the internet reveals a whole group of voices that confirm it time and again.
I seriously am puzzled why the solution in the story wasn’t to have the guy iron shirts or the boys do it. What the heck? That is the simplest solution. And even if D.Todd as a boy didn’t know what was going on…it wasn’t inspirational to focus on the dad skipping lunch instead of the mom ironing in pain. What the heck? Who is editing these ensign materials?
But I remind myself it is a story. It is being retold to make a point and try to teach and uplift. And those who approved whoever wrote it were not really thinking, they just rubber stamped it…not really had an agenda with it. And that is negligence and careless.
It shows weakness that comes from yes-men. I prefer strength and growth through opposition to mediocrity through lack of contention.
If we do not react to it (although I’m not throwing my phone across the room), we are doing the same thing. Just passively accepting it and thinking “I’m sure they didn’t mean it that way”.
No…My church experience is usually that people mean well…but sometimes do and say stupid things, and there are times to react and share disapproval and disgust. That is an appropriate reaction to this story. People need to be told not to accept this. People need to send messages to ensign editors to do their job and not be yes men. My daughters and wife need to know I don’t approve of this thinking.
The church needs to be told a woman would have picked up on this or should have picked up on this and that we are weaker when we have no diversity in our committees, and that stupid articles and things will continue to be said if we don’t elevate our women in the church to save our church from looking so out dated and mysoginstic.
If the leaders want credibility…they need to learn these things are not in harmony with the gospel teachings. They cannot give lip service, and then tell them to just suffer with a smile, the men are inspired.
There are too many VT messages that focus on being cheerful for your family and not sharing your pain or suffering. I would love to see more emphasis on how to proactively fix real problems in life.
I also see too big of an emphasis on women never hiring anything out. Until the 1950s, it was normal to hire many household tasks out. No one thought anything of it. Since the 1950s, it seems like men’s work can be hired out, but traditional women’s work has become something that must be done by a wife/mother without any outside help — except for short reprieves for child birth. We need to get past that
I’d like to repeat an excellent point made above – there is little chance that a VT message created *with* higher-level female leaders would look much different than the one we have now. Women get to higher level positions in the church because they operate well within the system. Most RS presidents I’ve had are not the type to make waves – same with Stake RS leaders.
We (men and women) absorb the message in this church that the views of the FP and Q12 are paramount. Female leaders quote those male leaders because the statements of male leaders hold more weight to both men *and* women in this church. Men and women study the lives of presidents of the church because that position makes their words applicable to all of us in the church. VT messages are predominantly filled with the words of apostles because *their* viewpoints and stories matter more than anything female church leaders have ever said.
July’s VT message has a lengthy quote from a random Christian mommy blogger telling us about motherhood. Why would her opinion matter to millions of churchmembers? Because Elder Andersen quoted it. Had curriculum writers merely quoted the original blogger and attached her name, no one would have cared. Andersen’s apostolic credentials were enough to vault a blogger’s opinion to the realm of VT message, to be taught to *every* RS sister in the church. Again, not because *she* has any authority, but because *he* has authority.
Elder Christofferson declared the ironing story with his parents an example of spousal love. The curriculum writers needed a story depicting spousal love. Ergo, (in their minds) every churchmember would interpret that story as depicting spousal love because it was *presented* that way to the church by an *apostle.* Disagreement becomes a questioning of that authority.
And that is why we have a culture of yes-men, because we are taught to trust their mantle of authority over any of our personal opinions, experiences, or revelation. Opposition becomes proof of deficient testimony.
The women who are appointed/called into board positions are well practiced in diplomacy. They don’t come up with controversial ideas and opinions. It is easy for the brethren to state that they want to hear more from them. Those women are too often the Echo Chamber Choir. Women with strong personalities and opinions might succeed well in a professional life — but they are not going to be found in the higher echelons of the LDS church.
Mary Ann, what you say is so true:
“Andersen’s apostolic credentials were enough to vault a blogger’s opinion to the realm of VT message, to be taught to *every* RS sister in the church. Again, not because *she* has any authority, but because *he* has authority.”
We wait, sometimes bored and checked-out, sometimes with bated breath, but WAIT we do…for men to tell us what is important and true.
Decades of leadership has taught me one thing. If you don’t value loyal opposition it eventually becomes resentful and not so loyal. The concerns you ignore remain.
At the head of each VT message:
Prayerfully study this material and seek to know what to share. How will understanding “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” increase your faith in God and bless those you watch over through visiting teaching?
Prayerfully study this material and seek to know what to share.
My opinion: The scriptures only.
How will understanding “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” increase your faith in God and bless those you watch over through visiting teaching?
My opinion: It wont!
A whiny, nagging wife is not building a healthy and happy marriage. She might be the problem that leads to a divorce.
Mark L: Bring on the divorce. Wasn’t it Kimball who said it was a bigger sin to stay in a lousy marriage situation. If discussion is seen as a whine, there is a problem.
An a-hole husband that abuses or neglects his family should not be tolerated. A smart wife loads up and moves on.
VT messages too often suggest that women just suffer. The old “your made your own bed” attitude. The church culture also promotes women to focus on skills that do not have real market value in the workplace. This leaves women feeling trapped. They are too fearful of economic ruin to leave. Economic fear is a horrible reason to stay in a bad marriage.
I got smart early on. Grad school allowed me the ability to financially walk away any time I want. I stay because I love and adore my partner. And he is sexy too.
Mark. Really? Really? Words fail me.
“A whiny, nagging wife is not building a healthy and happy marriage. She might be the problem that leads to a divorce.” Yes, but back before divorce was so easily accessible, rest assured, she would probably have poisoned your tea.
How do you know they were written without input from female leadership? Do to the content, it seems likely but how do you know this?
I thought I would discuss the comments I have gotten by e-mail and in other venues:
1. You are a lousy Visiting Teacher for not preparing and adapting this lesson to the needs of the sister … Heck, I’m a terrible Visiting Teacher. As a guy, I’ve never taught a visiting teaching lesson in my life. I wasn’t engaged in visiting teaching this time.
I guess I should have been clearer. The gospel came up in a discussion with an ex-member who decided to check out LDS.org and who clicked on the lesson I wrote about.
2. You are a lousy Home Teacher … Actually, my families like me. But I wasn’t home teaching this lesson either.
3. You should have framed it better. Right. “Hi, you know, I’d like to talk about the Church.” “Ok, but first let me know what you are going to look at, then I’ll need ten minutes to prepare and thirty minutes to frame it before you look at it.”
4. I should have been more charitable to Elder C. Read my post. He was a wonderful child who was proactive and caring. He has a reputation as a wonderful man who is caring and kind. This is about how the lesson was framed, not about him at all.
5. You should have realized (various things about the time, the era, etc.)… Actually, I do realize those things. The lesson leaves them out and presents the message as appropriate to our current era.
Ok. Maybe I was taken aback by how quickly a chance to talk about the
Church went sour. Maybe I should talk with anyone about the Church without getting a warning about where they are going to go and forty minutes to prepare and frame whatever they think of looking at — before they get to look at it for 2-3 minutes.
But that doesn’t seem like a reasonable thing to ask of me.
Maybe I’m wrong.
Err, maybe “I shouldn’t talk” rather than “should talk”
And it was only three different people who called me a lousy visiting teacher … and only four who called me a bad home teacher.
Well, on to writing my next post.
I agree with someone above that “loyal opposition” is not what we need in the Church. That term has a political connotation that cannot transfer to the Church. Maybe all we need is for more Saints to better understand basic principles, such as the principle that every man or woman in a council setting, for example, should be free to speak on the matter at hand, and that everyone else in that setting will allow that sharing — we must get over the notion that the presiding officer is the only one who can be right, with whom no one can differ except he or she on the path to apostasy. It isn’t true, and never has been, and yet it permeates our council and all church settings. Our scriptures tell us that priesthood power is exercised by patience, longsuffering, and so forth, not by the the fiat or prerogative of higher office. We don’t need a loyal opposition — rather, we need cooperation and patience and sustaining and listening and speaking and so forth among the loyal.
There could be another lesson that you all need to learn from the story. Perhaps the wife wants to contribute to the family, and ironing is the only thing she is able to do. The husband and children could be taking care of all the other chores, but because the mother loves her family she wants to be able to contribute. In spite of the pain. I saw no evidence of a “patriarchy” trying to make a woman suffer.
Mark, your prior post was that she she fear being divorced for being whiny.
You make my point with your latest comment.
You can’t tell without reading into the story.
I know from the real story that they cared.
But it was the edited story that caused the reaction.
Of course you can make things up or guess, but the essence of a story edited for use as an example is that the editing stands in for meaning.
My analysis was not of the facts — I even pointed out that the real facts are much better than the story (kid learns mom is sick, learns to make bread so he can make mom fresh bread every day for six years to make her life better –that is inspiring– but it is also part of what was edited out).
The analysis was of the editing. Which is very tone deaf.
When I teach, I just ignore things I don’t agree with rather than teach incorrect principles
Btw, no one should think that I know what the proper balance is or why that point is best.
That is beyond my ability.
Which is why I have discussion questions rather than a list of solutions.
I should probably do a post about the difference between tactical thinking and strategic thinking.
And I probably should have footnoted some terms rather than provided links.
In politics a “loyal opposition ” is loyal to the structure but seeks to take power. Right now the Republicans are the loyal opposition as the president is a Democrat. Everyone agrees that type of loyal opposition has no place in the Church.
In an organization it is far different. The religion faculty that Elder Boyd K. Packet praised for alerting him to when he was proof texting fit that role. Note they are not seeking power or authority.
The balance of how much push back vs how many yes men an organization thrives with is a strategic decision I haven’t the slightest on (other than 100% of one or the other usually leads to disaster).
In addition, every balance creates problems at the margins and edge cases that can obscure other values.
Which is enough to take up another post completely.
I just wanted to push for deeper understanding rather than surface glosses, so I thought I would add this comment as a footnote.
Stephen, thanks for the great post and these comments have been really interesting.
Why bother with the provided lesson? I frequently pray for what my HT families need and prepare based on that. Sometimes people don’t need me to give them a lesson in the first place. They just need me to listen. Sometimes it’s best if we leave them be if they need space. I’m no expert; just providing some personal anecdotal evidence.
I am appalled by both the idea of an all male committee telling women how to live (it’s 2016, people. Can we please leave the Victorian era in the past?) and by the specifics of this story. It hits close to home because my own mother was in and out of hospitals and bedridden or nearly so for about four years starting when I was 10 and that is not how my family responded. My grandma and the visiting teachers rallied around my mom to reduce the load as much as they could, and my siblings and I quickly learned to cook basic dinners, separate the laundry, and change the toddler’s diapers (though I will admit we may not have been the best at potty training him….). My parents installed a comfy recliner at her bedside so that we kids could pile in and chat with her about school or change mom’s IV or whatever else. My mom was severely physically limited, but her mind was firing on all cylinders, so between the phone, the walkie talkie, and the recliner that were all her room she was running the whole show via remote.
Fortunately for her and us, mom’s illness was eventually diagnosed and managed so things didn’t stay that way forever, but the correct answer then and now was for all hands to be on deck. I learned a lot of valuable life skills (and my dad can now French braid!) and our family got closer together through that experience. But we’re not extraordinary. We took care of each other because *that’s what families do.* Asking Grandma how to bake bread is a way better example, and a loyal opposition (or a more representative correlation committee) would surely have noticed that…
Can Snowden, striking as he does at the heart of our system of governance be a loyal patriot? Can he be anything else?
Doug, I don’t see the relevance.
Dustan, your story impressed me.