A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Monday, February 3, 2014

Expounding and Exhorting

Note: January has apparently been the month for me to take a break from any New Year's resolutions or re-commitment to blogging...I'm going to try to start blogging every Monday again.

At my last work training event, part of the first day was devoted to a large group meeting of everyone in my practice group in my firm - hundreds of people. The first part of this meeting was the leader of my group talking about financial metrics. He then turned in over to one of his colleagues in the leadership group to lead a discussion of some tax technical issues. She brought two other tax partners up on stage and they had a discussion about these issues and the services our firm provides related to the issues.

Not really a remarkable discussion, except for the fact that all three participants in the conversation were women. On the flight to training, I had started reading "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg, and so I noticed this particular moment and marked it in my mind. These women were articulate, poised, and confident. I don't know all of them, but the woman leading the discussion has a few happy, well-adjusted children, whom I've met, as she works in an office near mine. Later on, this same woman would field some very demanding questions knowledgeably, and she held her ground under some tough demands by men in the audience who perhaps had more years in the firm (she was right, by the way).

I don't share this because I was surprised that women could be articulate, rather I was reminded of some of the things I learned while reading Sandberg's "Lean In." Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this meeting was that it wasn't remarkable to the people in the room. Afterwards, no one was saying, "gosh, why did they let three women lead a meeting?" No one else seemed to notice (or care) that three women in leadership were teaching a group of men and women. It wasn't unusual or abnormal to listen to women in positions of authority. One of my favorite Sandberg quotes was: "In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders."

As a lifelong church member, I've attended many meetings in church, and it's very, very rare to see a similar meeting where women are "in charge" of a group of both men and women. Women lead Relief Society and Primary meetings, but those organizations are made up primarily of women and children (some male Primary teachers, I grant you). There have been recent attempts by the church to integrate women into the decision making structure of the church (training on effective use of councils including women voices, sister missionary leaders), but for the most part, women do not play a large part in leadership in the church. This is evident by the graph below, which was put together based on the Church's 2013 General Conference (put together by the good folks at By Common Consent, a Mormon blog).

I had never thought about it, but there is a higher percentage of male speakers at the women's meeting of General Conference than there is of female participation in the General sessions of conference. Something that some men have talked about in recent General Conference talks is how wonderful women are (see here and here for recent examples). This idea holds that women are unique, with individual gifts of the spirit and a different role than men. This is troubling to me for two contradictory reasons.

First, if it is true, then why would we not want to have more women in leadership/speaking/teaching positions in the church? If we women, as a group, truly do have unique insights or talents, why would you use only 50% of the talent given to the church? If women ARE all that you say we are, wouldn't it be helpful to hear from them more often? Wouldn't men benefit from being taught by this group of people?

Two, what if it isn't true? What if women and men don't really have demonstrable differences in our characters? In my opinion it leads to the same conclusion as the first point - why would we limit ourselves to only men teachers/leaders? It seems an unfair burden to the men and a lack of opportunity for women.

Dear reader(s), don't interpret this as a jab at men. I have known many wonderful male leaders in the church, who have inspired me by word and example. However, I have likewise known many capable and wonderful women who have the ability to inspire and teach, but have done so in smaller venues. I simply feel that women and men would be blessed by hearing these inspiring women.

I'll close with a scripture that flies in the face of Paul's advice to "let your women keep silence in the churches..." (1 Corinthians 14:34). Emma Smith was told: "And thou shalt be ordained under [Joseph's] hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit." (D&C 25:7). Lest you think this a role only for a prophet's wife, the Lord reminds us "and verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my voice unto all..." (D&C 25:16). Expounding scriptures and exhorting the entire church sounds like a role for women I can get behind.

Let's hear it for the girls ladies sisters! I hope to share some more insights from "Lean In" in the coming months - I really enjoyed that book.

1 comment: