your sunday heresy

Last week, Dan invited the missionaries over to dinner. Generally, I am fine with missionaries. But one has to admit, some are better than others. Last time we fed the missionaries, the Elders ignored me, but had no problem looking over my DVD collection and asking my husband which movies were good.*

Like most human interactions, though, I find that if I keep my expectations low, I am generally not disappointed.

Monday rolled around, and the new missionaries came on time (bonus points,) and were polite and gracious. I've noticed that missionaries tend to get paired with an opposite. For every gregarious Type A Elder, there is a Type B.

Elder A was charming and funny, he made us answer doctrinal questions over dinner, which I obliged because I was feeling kind, and I understand that in his world, it is the DOCTRINE OF GOD 24/7.

Elder B was quiet. He mentioned that it was hard for him to introduce himself to others. He was shy in a lovable way that suggests he would never want to deliberately offend. He takes deep breaths before he speaks.

I liked him. I remember when I first went away from home on Study Abroad, that I prayed that my roommates would like me. I suspect he might have done the same. While Elder A and my husband talked shop (THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST.) Elder B and I discussed our mutual interest in World War I.

At the end of the meal, however, Elder B ended the conversation, turned to my Spouse, and said "As head of the household, would you please call on someone to say the closing prayer?"

Pulling the "male presiding as head of the household" card is like Kryptonite to me.

Normally, I would have informed Elder B that my spouse and I were equal partners in leading our home. If I were feeling particularly vindictive, I may have mentioned that when my husband and I pay our bills, I pay the mortgage on our home. Financially, this household exists because of me. (And all our other amenities exist, including our business, because of my Spouse. Due credit.)

But I didn't. Because I liked Elder B. Because he was kind and sweet and smart, and I knew that he would never deliberately hurt my feelings, or offend me.

He simply thought that because my husband and I were obviously righteous missionary-feeding Mormons living in Zion, that we must abide by the very traditional gender roles of many church members. Perhaps he was raised in a home where loving parents taught this example.

He didn't know, and his reality was different than mine, so I refrained from my usual feminist beat-down, and my husband called on Elder B to say the prayer, and the missionaries went home.

I've been thinking about Elder B all week, because as obvious as it may be to some of you, I learned something not so obvious to me.

Not every male, traditional, gender-is-essential-Proclamation-hanging-in-every-room Mormon is an enemy to me, or my beliefs. We can co-exist. Elder B didn't change my mind, or make me less enthusiastic about gender equality in the LDS Church, but he did help me become a tiny bit kinder, and a tiny bit more Christ-like.

Wonderfully enough, he treated me with more respect, perhaps, than some of his more liberally minded peers.

He saw me as a person, with valuable opinions (on World War I weaponry, to say the least,) and a voice worth hearing.

Isn't that what I've wanted all along?

*Boo. No one log on to tell me that the Elders were just unsure of how to talk to me because I have lady parts. Elders are perfectly capable of speaking respectfully to women without having lustful thoughts. Politeness is not something one gives up when serving a mission. (DVDs, however, are.)


Tristin said...

It's difficult for me to put even a smidgeon of blame on Elder B for what he did. Not because he's right, but because he is doing what he has seen others do, and also what he has likely been taught to do. Most of the people I know in the church believe the priesthood holder presides even over assigning the prayer, and I did the same thing until a few years ago. Like most people in the church I never even questioned whether it was right.

I've got hope for the boy. All he needs is to meet a strong feminist woman after his mission and he'll be corrected right quick.

Rynell said...

I loved this post. I disagree with a lot of people on a lot of things, but (like you) have found that they don't usually deserve my special feminist throw-down.

Rachel said...

I've had several experiences like that recently, where I realize that people who have really different opinions to what I believe (but more than that -- people who believe things I kind of thought were offensive) have been really kind and clearly non-offensive. It really makes me feel so much better about the world in general. Thanks for this post.

Michemily said...

This would be a perfect post for Manuary over at Feminist Mormon Housewives. Enter it!

JustMe said...

I spent many, many years being a missionary "mom". I've fed more elders than I could begin to count. When I was a young newly wed, the Elders lived about 3 walking minutes from us. One day they dropped by for a visit. When I didn't answer the door, they went around to the back yard - where they found me sunbathing - topless.

This story had nothing to do with your story, I just laugh when I remember it and I thought it would make you laugh.

Colt said...

After three years in our Sugarhouse Ward my wife and I were asked to speak as a couple for the first time.

I did the "Telling Our Story" portion of the talks and she did the more gospel heavy of the two (though she quoted Motley Crue and I quoted KISS so how gospel heavy they both were is debatable). It was a small flip on gender roles, but one we felt was important.

Stephanie said...

@Just me. That did make me laugh. You know those Elders are STILL telling that story, right?


@Colt. I feel like it is important to do the subtle gender-switcharoo too. Like when my husband made dinner instead of myself. I think that rocked Elder A's world.

Karina Marie said...

As a child my parents were equal in most things, but I would have to say that my mom ran our household in all ways. My dad was a convert to the church and didn't really ever enact the "priesthood holder is the head of the household" thing. My mom almost always won every argument, and got her way in everything.
I, on the other hand, found it really frustrating when, for example, our evening family prayers always started with a 30 min, "its your turn, no its your turn, no i don't want to, no you do it" (between my parents) fighting match. (there were only 3 people in my family, chances of it being your turn a lot were high.
In contrast, my grandpa was very traditional and it was never discussed or pointed out, everyone knew he picked who said the prayer. And, I found it refreshing.
I appreciated that when it was more than just the two of them (like the summers I spent with them) he kept a chart under his placemat and made sure he knew whose turn it was. I know that's cheesy, but my Grandpa was really into making sure things were always fair.
Now, I get that goes against every feminist sentiment, but the one thing I've never understood about this debate is why just because one person has the priesthood, this means one is OVER the other person. Obviously this is my opinion, but I tend to view having a priesthood holder in my home similar to a lot of relationships which are not unequal, but a deciding factor is sometimes needed. For example, I imagine the First Presidency operates in pretty general equality. I assume not one person's thoughts or opinions are valued over the other, and doctrine states they all have the same keys. However, there is one person, the prophet, who presides. Why is that bad? Does that make the other members of the First Presidency or Twelve inferior? I don't see how.

Referring back to these two examples, my grandparents always ran their home together, made their decisions together, and of course had conflict, but I'm pretty sure my Grandpa never pulled the "I'm the priesthood holder card" to enact something my Grandma would not have done or approved of. Mainly because I know my Grandma and that so would have never worked. And they were married for 40 years, until they both died.
On the other hand, my parents pretty much always bickered, never really agreed on much, and divorced after 15 years.
Were there other issues besides just bickering about who prays that caused my parents divorce? Of course.
But, I've just never understood why someone using their priesthood righteously was a bad thing. Using it unrighteously? Oh yah, something I can definitely oppose.

PS. I myself am not married, and don't have to have the priesthood holder debate in my relationships. If I do get married, maybe I will feel differently, but as I've been completely self sufficient and living my life how I choose for the last 10 years, I can't imagine I would ever concede anything to a future partner. At the same time, I would never consent to marry someone who wasn't a priesthood holder, because I value the presence of the priesthood in my life and in my home.

SammyStewart said...

This post makes me very happy. I am actually just fine with patriarchy (unless the patriarch is a power-hungry, arrogant sillyhead, in which case I become a knee-jerk feminist). I feel that when patriarchy is done right, husband and wife are still equal partners. That my husband chooses who prays doesn't make me feel like any less of a leader in our household...anyway...

What I loved about this post was that you expressed an open mindedness of which there is a shortage on both the Left and the Right. I don't agree with you at least half the time, but I read your blog because it makes me think. It makes me think about why you feel the way you do, why I feel the way I do, and which commonalities and differences matter and which ones don't. My best friend (outside of my husband) is a Mormon, a democrat, and decidedly more liberal than I am. That she has different feelings about politics and social order don't change the fact that we have too much common ground to be anything but best friends...I suspect that a willingness to focus on commonality and to be accepting of others' differences might ultimately end up mattering more than the differences themselves...

Stephanie said...

@ Karina Marie

Thanks for your comment. Without thread-jacking my own post, I'd like to respond to some of your thoughts.

(that doesn't mean you should feel any need to respond,)

Growing up with President Hinckley as the prophet, I was endowed with a lot of pro-woman language. Get an education, find a spouse who is your equal, be equal partners in marriage.

Yes, there was language about presiding and patriarchy, but it wasn't the emphasis (in my mind,) and certainly not in my home, where my parents were co-leaders.

When I got married, my world was turned upside down by language in the temple, which places my husband as an intermediary between me and God. As a married person, I found more and more people referring to my husband and the head of our household, and turing to him for answers about, and even for me. Where had my divine nature gone?

It was upsetting. I feel like I have been given mixed messages. The Proclamation to the family is very difficult for me since it says I am an equal partner, and yet my husband presides.

While it would be nice to think that "just because one person has the priesthood, this means one is OVER the other person" that is what our current church doctrine teaches. Men have the priesthood, and therefore, preside. The definition of preside is
1. To hold the position of authority; act as chairperson or president.
2. To possess or exercise authority or control.

If I believed this doctrine was correct, I would have to believe that because my husband presides, he is "over me."

Lastly, and interestingly enough, I just read an interesting talk by Elder Oaks entitled “Priesthood Authority in the Family and the Church." He states a very important idea, "Men are not the priesthood." You can have the priesthood in your home without a male. The priesthood enters your home when you make and keep covenants with God, regardless of gender.

To me this suggests that we, as a church, may be a bit confused about our own doctrinal practices. If men are not the priesthood, then why do they preside?

Stephanie said...

@Sammy Stewart (and yes, internet, I am thread-jacking myself. Oh well.)

I have a hard time accepting the idea that something is okay (patriarchy,) as long as bad guys don't do it. i.e. I am okay with my husband presiding because he is nice. What about women with not so nice husbands?

Plus, that logic, when extended, could be very dangerous.

It is okay to take away a person's rights, as long as the person doing it does it kindly.

It is okay to remove free agency, as long as everyone gets to go to heaven.

I guess that is why I am a feminist, and not a knee-jerk feminist. I am lucky to have a kind husband, who would not be abusive in a patriarchial setting.That cannot stop me from wanting equality for myself, and others not so blessed.

There but for the grace of God, you know?

That said, thank you for kindly expressing your thoughts. I agree, we all have more in common then not, and the dialogue we have is important.

Jean said...

I read this the other day and came back to read the new comments, and now I have a comment to make.

One time very early into my marriage, I was talking to my mom about something my husband and I disagreed on. As I was explaining it to my mother she said to me, "Now, is he saying this as your husband, or as your Priesthood holder?"
I've been thinking about that ever since.

Because my husband and I disagree on just about everything. He's never controlling - more passive than I would like, actually - and I definitely have more control in our home and our relationship.
But sometimes I think it would be nice to say, YOU figure this out/ make sure it happens/choose the right, it's your responsibility as a Priesthood holder. And then I would do what he says.

That never happens.
Anyway, I love your blog.

Carley A. T. said...

Just a note to say that if I were ever expected to take spiritual "leadership" and "direction" from my husband, or Priesthood holder, I would potentially stab him in the face.
Spirituality is so personal, and Alex and I talk about it all the time, but in no way does he tell me what I should believe or think.
ugh. just wanted to say that.

Julie said...

I applaude you for holding back the we-are-an-equal-partnership-so-don't-get-me-started-on-your-male-centered-mind-set lecture. Well done! Can't say I would have had such self control. But then again, as you say, Elder B seems like a sweet guy. Maybe you can break the concept to him a little easier at church sometime ( ;

Mrs. Clark said...

Thanks for such a thought-provoking post, and for the equally thought-provoking comments. I love your blog!

She said...

Unfortunately, Elder B's perspective is likely correct, if you're going by the book. You will find confirmation for it in your temple covenants. Fortunately, the LDS church has a history of changing, so maybe if enough people become disatified with the existing gender hierarchy, it will change one day.

Stephanie said...


Thats kind of the point. Right now it is the "standard."

I think some of the temple covenants are remnant of a very hierarchial gendered societies (19th and early 20th century.)

So no, I don't go by the book, and yes, I believe it will change.

kelli christine case said...

i just got home from my mission. elder b just said that because that's what every missionary says at the end of every appointment whether they are serving in utah or africa. i promise. it is drilled into every missionaries head from the mtc to the mission home to the stickers on the walls of the apartments you live in. clearly you didn't serve a mission yourself or otherwise you would have much more accurate insight to the missionary world.

Stephanie said...

@ Sister Case:

Clearly, you didn't read the title of my blog, or you would have much more insight on how it would have been impossible for me to serve a mission.

Unless girls can serve when they are 18 now. That would have given me enough time to serve a mission and get married by 20.

But like you said, I wouldn't know.

tomiannie said...

I just found your blog, and I really appreciate everything I've read! I wish that more people could separate the culture from the beliefs, and do so with humor and respect. I am a pretty typical Mormon mommy (at least people assume that about me because I'm a stay-at-home/crafty lady), but I'm really trying to promote being REAL instead of trying to be what we expect of each other. Wow, that didn't even make much sense. And you're much funnier than I am, so kudos to you. :)

Sweet Pea said...

A friend referred me to your blog, after reading a few posts, I have to say that you remind me a lot of myself after first getting married holding dear to many feminist, "I can hold my own," type ideas.

4 children later at 27 years of age, I'm thinking slightly different.

Maybe with your perspective, we should start holding doors for men, let men bare the children and raise them, and let them take on the role of the "under privileged, under appreciated" woman. Perhaps you could take it up with the leadership of the church that we too should be extended the priesthood?

I guess I finally realized that the Lord is not trying to burden and abuse women with how his church is run. I feel it more of a protection and making sure the men of the church care for his daughters. Our roles are equal... just DIFFERENT. It's okay for your husband to decide who says the prayer in your home as long as he is following the covenants he made in the temple. The question is I guess, do you value the same covenants that you made?

Stephanie said...

@Sweet Pea

I've talked a lot about how I don't believe being equal mean necessitating "sameness."

Do I think it would be nice if we all opened doors for one another? Sure.

Do I think we need to all have the same exact lives and responsibilities? No.

Do I think women might have the Priesthood someday? Maybe, President Hinckley said that women currently do not hold the Priesthood because there is no agitation for it. If you are interested in that idea, check out the "Agitating Faithfully" link on my sidebar.

And you know what, I usually handle the "You must not value your covenants," comment with a little more tact, but I don't think you would get that. So here it is:

Telling me that I must not value my temple covenants because I have a different perspective than you is unchristilike and arrogant, two qualities the Savior didn't think highly of.

In fact, unless you are the Savior, you have no idea what my temple covenants mean to me. But I don't recall making a covenant that my husband gets to decide who says the prayer. If you think "hearkening" unto your Spouse means that, that is your business. I do not.

I do know that while the Proclamation to the Family tells me men "preside," it also tells me that I am to be an "equal partner." I believe God wants me and my Spouse to figure out how to navigate that territory.

So I guess the question is, Do you believe in a God who gives his children pesonal revelation on how to best live gospel teachings? I do.

Oh, wait, I totally see why you did that whole-you-obviously-don't-get-the-gospel-thing. It's FUN. It makes me feel superior to you, and validates my life choices.

But at age 24, my good sense tells me it isn't kind. I didn't need 3 extra years on the planet/4 kids to tell me that.

kallie said...

Um, Sweet Pea, Did you get to this post in your reading?

Sweet Pea said...


I apologize for coming across as brash to the point where "because I have more kids," I must know more than you. I don't, and it was too critical of me to say anything about how you feel about your temple covenants. I truly am sorry and hope that you'll forgive me for being so forward.

I think I put a wall up as I read your SAHM post and each following entry continuing in the theme of slanted gospel views, put up my defenses. Probably, if I'm honest, because you were vocalizing things that people tend to push back, things that aren't spoken of.

I hate conflict, (except the inner, soul-searching kind I guess, because there always tends to be plenty of that). I get so defensive about the gospel. Truly because it is everything to me. To hear anything negative makes me uptight, thus the inconsiderate and thoughtless comment. Anyway, after reading your invites to us, "your readers", to tell you how we feel on some of your posts, I did. Now I regret it. So I'll be more thoughtful in the future unless I WANT to get my as* chewed again in response :).

Take care...

Stephanie said...

@Sweet Pea

I was brash too. It wasn't kind. I apologize.

If you look at the comments on the SAHM post, you will see that there were people who disagreed with me very strongly on that post. We hashed it out in the comments, and we came to a positive conclusion. We didn't necessarily agree on all points, but we had a meaningful discussion, and I actually had the opportunity to clarify my thoughts.

That is what I hope for when I ask for readers to contribute their thoughts.

I just don't think I deserve anyone telling me that because we disagree, I must be a bad Mormon.

Like you, the church is meaningful to me, but it has been a struggle. It will always be a struggle. I am very protective of any progress I have made in that struggle, and that protectiveness obviously came out in my last comment.

I think we have that in common, we want to stand up for things that are important to us. Hopefully we can both do better next time.

Rachael said...

Hi there! I'm new, and by the way I love your blog. It's enlightening to me to discover that some women in the church feel that the men "rule" over the women. Is this common, and I"ve just been blind for twenty-seven years? In my very extensive and most likely very traditional Mormon family (thus the very extensive, lol) I have only observed the partnership of equals in the marriages of my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Is the aforementioned inequality a condition of the church or a lingering prejudice attached to traditional morals from older generations?

Juanique said...

OOOOO! Reading that elder's comment made me sweat a little (out of frustration). Hearing words like that is like nails on a chalkboard.

With that being said...
A few months ago I wanted to fly to Africa (where I was born) to visit friends and family. My parentals thought that was a terrible idea (South Africa having the 2nd highest crime rate in the world and all). My mother wrote an email to me saying "Tristin is the head of your household so you should ask him if it's ok that you go".
I was like what the ^%$#! As if I cant get that answers myself! Luckily for me, my husband is just as much a feminist as I am and we both laughed at the email. Unluckily, there are many women out there who have husbands that think that way. I think this "male presiding over females" nonsense is largely residual from our religious, and world history (equal right for women, etc). I think we are caught in a battle where our culture is louder than our fundamental beliefs (all men -and women- are equal in the eyes of God. all men -and women- have the right to personal revelation). I don't blame Elder B at all for what he said...It's not entirely his fault that he said that. He's just spewing out the verbal diarrhea we've all heard our entire lives. but Someday fundamental beliefs/truth with triumph over outdated cultural habits. I look forward to that day!

PS:Your blog rocks my socks!

ChristyLove said...

I'm not Mormon, and all my experience with your church comes from having close friends for many years, some of whom I've lived with, that are. I'm not exactly qualified to comment on the situation with elders you posted about, but from what I've gleaned from some of these comments - having your husband become your intermediary between God and yourself seems like a deterant(sp?) to marriage. I hold my relationship with God very close to my heart, and would take it pretty offensively if anyone, even my Husband, tried to get in the middle of it.

I'm not sure I'm saying this right - I'm crashing from my caffiene overdose and the attention span is suffering. I pray with the Hubs, we read scripture together, etc. But I feel like my faith is "mine."