Saturday, March 31, 2018

Notes on the Saturday Evening Session

The big news at the beginning of tonight's general conference session was the announcement that membership statistics would not be read from the pulpit.  Instead, Oaks explained, they'd be posted online at the end of the session and published in the Conference issue of the Ensign.  As of this posting, I'm still waiting for their website to update...which means I still have to speculate about how anemic the church growth may have been during 2017.

So I'll just dive right into the quotes.

...we now have 116 general authorities.  Nearly forty percent of them were born outside of the United States.
Dallin H. Oaks
He spent a lot of time making this point.  I think he read off every single country of origin for the foreign general authorities.  He did also include American Samoa and Puerto Rico in his list, which are both US territories, but maybe that's splitting hairs.

And while it's great that the "nearly forty percent" mark is closing in on an accurate reflection of the international makeup of the membership, Oaks bludgeoned us over the head with this point during the same conference in which two new apostles were selected—one from California and the other (to correct an apparently false assertion I made in my Saturday morning post) from Brazil.  So the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve are now almost 87% American.  It's great that we're making an effort to tap talent outside of the Morridor, but considering who actually has the power to dictate church policy, let's not pat ourselves on the back just yet.  Especially since a few months ago, we demoted poor German Uchtdorf from the First Presidency back to the Quorum of the Twelve—not that it's really supposed to be termed as a "demotion."

It may be less obvious to young women, parents, and their leaders that, from the time they are baptized, young women have covenant responsibilities to "mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death."
 —Bonnie L. Oscarson
It may indeed be less obvious that young women have responsibilities and things to do in the church.  I wonder why that is.  Maybe it's because young women have very few substantive roles in the church and everybody knows it.

I mean, as Oscarson points out, young women can be in Beehive, Mia Maid, and Laurel class presidencies and sit on Bishop's Youth Councils and everything.  But that's nothing compared to the mantle of power a Mormon boy of twelve years old has.  Even if you're not in the Deacons Quorum presidency, you still have the Priesthood.  You can still help perform ordinances.  You're visible in Sacrament Meeting every week doing important things like passing, preparing, and blessing the sacrament.  Young women don't have that, and Oscarson speaks from a kind of plaintive stance as she tells a story of how valued she felt as a 16-year-old when she was tasked with conducting the hymns every Sunday.  Which is great.  But as soon as a boy turns twelve, he gets to feel important every Sunday whether he has a specific calling or not.

And even more telling is that, as Oscarson lays out the important responsibilities young women have, everything she quotes is part of the basic baptismal covenant in the book of Mosiah.  Everybody over the age of 8 has these jobs, so no wonder young women may not feel valued.  There's no special responsibility for them that exists as part of the doctrinal framework of the church, which kind of helps instill the sense that men are more important—a sense that the church continually insists isn't accurate.

In Handbook 2, we learn that the work of salvation within our wards includes member missionary work, convert retention, activation of less active members, temple and family history work, and teaching the gospel.  This work is directed by our faithful bishops who hold priesthood keys for their ward.  For many years our presidency has been asking, "which of these areas mentioned should our young women NOT be involved in?"  The answer is that they have something to contribute in all areas of this work.
Bonnie L. Oscarson
Why...the fuck...would anybody be asking that?  Why would they not be able to contribute in all areas of the work?  Which of these jobs should we exclude women from?  What year is this?

Even from a doctrinal standpoint, nothing she listed from the handbook requires Priesthood authority to assist with.  Was this just bizarre phrasing, or is church culture really so devastating to the feminist ideals that she honestly thought she needed to look for things from which to exclude the women under her stewardship?

We are grateful for bishops who take the time to visit young women classes and who provide opportunities for young women to be more than mere spectators of the work.
Bonnie L. Oscarson 
This speech made me so sad.  I felt terrible for Sister Oscarson.  Her tone throughout her address was almost desperate as she implored the church to provide some kind of spiritual or even administrative offering to an entire generation of bored, underappreciated young Mormon women. With this line, describing her constituency as at risk of being "mere spectators," she fleshed out her point fully.  She is essentially genuflecting before the church leadership with a nearly empty bowl of gruel, begging, "please, sir, may my organization have some more?"

And she has to beg.  Because, as a woman, she only has as much power in the Mormon church as the men in charge deign to allot her.

After one such battle, Dad looked me in the eye and said, "You have strong hands, son.  I hope you always have the strength to never touch a young lady inappropriately."  He then invited me to stay morally clean and help others do the same. 
—Devin G. Durrant

By "battle," Durrant is referring to a game his family used to play.  They would grasp hands and the object was to inflict pain on your opponent with your vice-like grip. At no point in my childhood did my dad finish a game of chess with me and comment, "You have a sharp mind.  I hope you always have the intelligence to never touch a young lady inappropriately."  You want to talk about inappropriate, I think we can slap that label on Durrant Senior's segue from family bonding moment to gospel teaching moment.

I mean, sure, it's good to teach your children to respect others and not be rapey.  But I think this is one of those there's-a-time-and-a-place things.  If you're not teaching this stuff in Family Home Evenings or Sunday night what-did-you-learn-in-church-today dinner table discussions like a good parent might under normal circumstances, that doesn't mean the solution is to spring it on your kid suddenly and be all creepy about it.

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