When Mormonism Sounds Like Gender Complementarian Christianity – Also: Man Shortage in Mormonism Just Like Christianity
It is creepy how much Mormonism sounds like Christian gender complementarianism. Also, it sounds like a lot of the same problems that befall Baptist, Reformed, fundamentalist, and evangelical Christian adult singles are some of the same issues that are faced by Mormons.
- By JODI KANTOR and LAURIE GOODSTEINMARCH 1, 2014
DAEJEON, South Korea — Ashley Farr, once Miss North Salt Lake Teen USA, is the first in her family’s long line of Mormon women to become a missionary, and in December she embarked on her new life in this gray corner of Asia.
She packed her bag according to the church’s precise instructions: skirts that cover the knee, only one pair of pants, earrings that dangle no longer than one inch, and subtle but flattering makeup, modeled in photos on the church’s website.
… In the coming years, these women are expected to fundamentally alter this most American of churches, whose ruling patriarchs not long ago excommunicated feminist scholars and warned women not to hold jobs while raising children.
[Mormon] Church leaders have been forced to reassess their views because Mormon women are increasingly supporting households, marrying later and less frequently, and having fewer children. And for the first time, waves of women like Ms. Farr are taking part in the church’s crucial coming-of-age ritual, returning home from their missions with unprecedented scriptural fluency, new confidence and new ideas about themselves.
Already the church has made small adjustments, inviting women to weigh in on local councils and introducing the first leadership roles for female missionaries. When a band of Mormon feminists staged a demonstration last year in Salt Lake City calling for women to be ordained as priests, their demands were felt in church headquarters — in part because the church’s own surveys also reveal streaks of female dissatisfaction.
… To revise female roles in the church threatens what many see as the very foundations of the faith, which dictate that men are ordained as priests at the tender age of 18, taking the title “Elder,” while women, who can never progress beyond “Sister,” are considered holiest and most fulfilled as wives and mothers.
Many Mormon women embrace their traditional roles and flinch at the word “feminism”; a small movement to encourage women to wear pants instead of skirts to Sunday services was met with an angry backlash. Even younger Mormon men are often uncomfortable with the ambitions of their female peers, some women report, creating a chasm of expectations between the sexes.
But if the church, which keenly polishes its image, does not update its ideas about gender, it may be seen as out of step with contemporary life, an untenable home for women who are leaders in their workplaces and breadwinners in their households.
“The great unfinished business in the church is gender equality,” said Joanna Brooks, an English professor at San Diego State University who often writes about her experiences as a Mormon woman. “An increasing number of young Mormon women are growing up in a world where they not only can work, but have to work, and they are operating 12 hours a day in contexts where gender is irrelevant, but in a church structure where all financial and theological decisions are made by men. This will just stop making sense.”
…. “Maybe in the past, homemakers didn’t get that chance” to do missions, said Mrs. Christensen, her eyes welling.
“It used to be that mission was the rite of passage for men, and marriage was the rite of passage for women,” said Ms. Hanks, the feminist scholar who returned to the church. Now, she said, “the church has officially established the mission as an equal rite of passage for women.”
A picture in the lobby of the Seoul mission depicts a male missionary preparing to go out tracting, or canvassing for converts, as a knight in shining armor. On a recent trip home, Mrs. Christensen bought a matching image of a sword-wielding sister missionary, so the women would be able to see an inspirational portrait, too.
… But some former female missionaries said their 18 months of proselytizing planted new questions about inequality.
“We couldn’t even baptize the people we taught,” said Melissa Ovard, who served a mission in South Korea in 1997. Back then, she was filled with the certainty of the young and pious, she said, but years later, she stopped attending church because it did not square with her life as a single, professional woman.
Before Ms. Ensign and Ms. Scott head back to the United States, each will have a private meeting with Mr. Shin, the mission president, who gives the same instructions to every missionary. Their next job in the church, he will tell them, is to find a faithful Mormon spouse, “so that they can be sealed for a time and eternity as a husband and a wife,” as he put it, and “experience the joy of having their own family in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The Scramble to Find a Match
Goofy icebreakers are customary even for cosmopolitan Mormons like Ms. Sagers, 23, who was then applying to a bioscience doctoral program at Harvard. It was a Saturday “date night” in her singles ward, the church’s answer to bars and nightclubs. At the age of 18, Mormons typically join a ward, or singles congregation, where those of marrying age gather for worship and social events. Without alcohol or coffee to lubricate the socializing (both are prohibited by the church’s Word of Wisdom), there are bowling outings, pie-eating contests, ballroom dancing lessons and, in traditional Mormon fashion, lots and lots of sweets.
The scramble to find a match is intense because marriage is the church’s most important sacrament and families remain together forever. Mormons believe that only married couples who have been ritually bound together for eternity can reach the highest tier of heaven. (Singles who are worthy may marry in the afterlife, according to the church’s prophets.)
The emphasis on marriage starts young. Some Mormon women say that when they were 16, adult leaders guided them through activities like writing letters to their fantasy future husbands, choosing colors for their wedding receptions, cutting out pictures of bridal gowns and choosing the temple where they would like to be “sealed” to their spouses.
The odds make it increasingly difficult for Mormon women to find a Mormon mate as they get older. In Utah, the heart of Mormonism, among Mormons 40 and older who attend church at least once a month, there are 10 unmarried women for every 4 unmarried men. Many single women say the church is at something of a loss about how to address the issue. While the church teaches that marrying within the faith is ideal, some older single women say their bishops have advised them that it would be acceptable to date non-Mormons.
A Changing Church, to a Point
Years after returning from her mission to South Korea — a logical placement, since she was adopted as a baby from South Korea by a Mormon family in Utah — Ms. Ovard found that being a single woman in the church undermined her faith. Like most women in the church, she had been groomed for leadership in the church’s female organizations, even speaking to a crowd of 800 at age 16.
… “I started meeting so many incredible older women in their 30s who were still single,” she said. At the time, she felt, “I don’t understand, because if marriage is a reward for being obedient and being righteous, why are these women still single?”
… Now 37 and living in Washington, Ms. Ovard is no longer active in the Mormon Church.
“Marriage is so tied up in your individual worth with the church, which is great if you end up being in the norm,” she said, “But for those of us that aren’t, you have to go through a time of working out that there was nothing you did wrong.”
More and more, the church is being forced to consider the demands of women who question the guidance of their male religious leaders. The women say they love their church, but share their frustrations on blogs like Feminist Mormon Housewives.
- By JODI KANTOR and LAURIE GOODSTEIN MARCH 6, 2014
…The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose priests and governing authorities form an entirely male gallery of leaders, is facing a geyser of questions from women who want more participation and visibility in virtually every aspect of Mormon life.
While many Mormon women say they are satisfied with the way things are, others want to hold the priesthood along with men, essentially erasing the faith’s long-held idea that God wants men and women to perform different roles. A third contingent argues for leaving the priesthood to men but raises questions: Why may male religious authorities ask women intimate details about their sex lives in meetings in which no other women can be present? Is there a reason why women cannot handle bookkeeping or finances for congregations?
…. “My husband’s group of young men recently trained to climb Mount Rainier together,” Jennifer McDonald, a 36-year-old clinical psychologist in DuPont, Wash., who supports women’s ordination, wrote in an email. The corresponding activities for young women were “quilting, making friendship bracelets, and hair styling,” she said.
Many [Mormon women] asked that church authorities stop trying to inculcate chastity by comparing women who have had sex outside of marriage to “pieces of chewed gum, boards with holes nailed into them, muffins that someone else had already tasted,” said Elisa Koler, 29, a teacher and former missionary who stopped attending church because of concerns about how women are treated.
…. One of the most common requests from women is for other females to be present when discussing personal matters with male authorities — at interviews for admission to the temple, confessions of sin and disciplinary hearings, and discussions of traumatic events like rape or domestic violence.
“It is inappropriate under the best circumstances and dangerous under the worst circumstances to place a girl or woman alone in a room with an unrelated man to describe these personal and vulnerable situations,” wrote Julia Jarrett, a 28-year-old lawyer in Salt Lake City.
Several years ago, Allison Shiffler, a former missionary, confessed to church authorities in Provo, Utah, that she had had sex with her boyfriend, a transgression of the Mormon prohibition against premarital sex. Her bishop asked if she was on birth control, how many times she had sex, and if she had a history of masturbating, which is also against church rules.
“Talking to a middle-aged man about these things and being asked those questions made me not want to come back to church,” she said. Ms. Shiffler, 23 at the time, was disciplined by an all-male council, which she found equally upsetting. “It’s like being the harlot in the Bible,” said Ms. Shiffler, who has since been reinstated.
Other women described relating instances of domestic violence or sexual abuse to male authorities. Some of the women said the authorities had handled the situations well, encouraging them to contact law enforcement officials, but others said the experience would have been entirely different had a trained counselor, or at least another woman, been present. Rena Lesue-Smithey of Springville, Utah, now 32, recalled telling her bishop two decades ago that a teenaged boy had molested her. Because she had been wearing tight shorts, she believed the fault was hers and confessed it as a sin, which her bishop treated as such. He agreed with her request at the time not to tell her parents, and the older boy was never held accountable.
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(Link): Christian Single Women: Another Example of Why You Should Abandon the “Be Equally Yoked” Teaching: 21-Y-O Christianity Student, Children’s Minister Charged With Murdering Fiancée He Was to Wed in August; Made It Look Like Suicide