Crunch the Catalog

The hidden meaning of the Deseret Book Christmas Catalog.

The Deseret Book Christmas catalog came in the mail a few days ago, glossy and gladsome and as plump as you please. Books, of course, are just part of the pastry: the catalog plies creches, CDs, DVDs, board games, calendars, accessories, small sculpture, home decor, framed prints, and themed travel packages together with the eponymous books. It wasn’t such a big thing, then, to spend a few minutes at the kitchen counter with the book section of the catalog and come up with the following (note: I tabulated only paper-and-ink books with authors listed immediately under the title; for books with multiple authors, I tabulated each author once, so the “totals” refer to total authors, not total volumes):

Total female authors: 59
Total male authors (excluding GAs): 90
Total GA authors: 14

Genre Female authors Male authors
Christmas theme 13 16
Devotional 3 7
Teen devotional 0 5
Scripture (exegesis) 1 22
Scripture (creative) 1 0
Church history 5 4
General history 2 7
Motivational 5 6
Relationship 1 1
Parenting 0 2
General fiction 4 1
Historical fiction 2 10
Romance 2 0
Thriller 1 0
YA fiction 3 2
Children’s books 2 7
Gospel resource 6 0
Cooking and crafts 8 o

So what does this represent, aside from my own highly-honed capacity to avoid housework? I think it gives us a reasonably representative snapshot of popular American LDS culture along the Mormon corridor, which itself is just a fraction of our collective church culture, of course—but an influential fraction. The items in the catalog represent Deseret Book’s best estimate of what will sell this year, which may be as good a sketch of what kind of Mormon-themed books we’re consuming as anything else readily available. And perhaps we can assume without too much bombast that what we’re reading gives us a rough guide to what we Mormons think, what we expect and what we want on a number of issues. Like, for instance, gender.

Does the Deseret Book catalog tell us anything about the respective relationships of women and men to Mormon life? Two-fifths of the featured authors are women, and women produced works in all the principal categories. This suggests that women enjoy fair visibility in our cultural life, and that they participate in most aspects of popular literate culture. (A quick survey suggests that women are more prominent in recorded music, less prominent in film.) In general, female authorship follows women’s interests, and female authors seem to write principally for female consumers. Thus we see women strongly represented in genre fiction, cooking and crafts, practical resources for women’s callings, and Christmas theme. On the other hand, male authors write principally for a mixed-gender audience: a few of the motivational and historical offerings seemed groomed for a male readership, but a majority of the devotional and scriptural items were designed to appeal to women and men. (One enduring mystery is the male corner on historical fiction, the primary readers of which are, I suspect, women.)

The most striking finding, in my view, is the overwhelming preponderance of male-authored works of scriptural exegesis. The figure is slightly misleading, since several of these volumes were produced by multiple male authors, but the fact remains: Mormon men publish vastly more books about scripture than do Mormon women. I suspect that the disparity arises in part from the fact that the BYU Religion faculty works as a de facto stable of writers for DB (Richard Holzapfel alone is astonishingly prolific), and there are few women among that cohort. Still, my experience suggests that women are as interested as men in attending scripture classes, reading books about the scriptures, and understanding the scriptures—and I know from firsthand experience that there are many gifted women teachers in the church. So why aren’t they publishing more books? Is it a matter of credentials? Of confidence?

As a rule I’m not a strong proponent of parity simply for parity’s sake, and I don’t expect to be persuaded by accusations of pervasive institutional sexism leveled at a company headed by a woman. But whatever the origin of the imbalance, I think this is an arena in which we would all prosper from greater women’s participation. Although it has been my experience that women are interested in learning about and understanding the scriptures, I’ve also observed that many women feel unprepared to interpret the scriptures with confidence. Those women would benefit from seeing female models doing so in print. Furthermore, young men—and old men too, for that matter—would do well to learn doctrine from women, on occasion, and because the power of the market flows where the power of the priesthood does not, Deseret Book can do much more on this front than General Conference. There is authority in authorship, and, sisters, it’s there for the writing.

163 comments for “Crunch the Catalog

  1. October 24, 2006 at 1:18 am

    It’s there for the writing, but is it there for the publishing?

  2. Kaimi Wenger
    October 24, 2006 at 2:43 am

    The real tragedy, Ros, is the lack of male romance authors. I can’t say how disappointed I am by that imbalance. I see it as a serious threat to my ultimate plans to ditch law and become a Mormon Romance novelist.

    I will note that your list has inspired my next masterpiece, The Exegete:

    “Sparks flew when they were together. But was it really love, she wondered — or was he only interested because of her skill with epistemology and hermeneutics?”

  3. October 24, 2006 at 3:56 am

    Kaimi, stop. I’m crying!

    Perhaps the lack of female authors in scripture is related to the dirth of female teachers of scripture. Yes, I’ve had wonderful gospel doctrine teachers and I’ve held the calling four times (although not necessarily on the “wonderful” list). But all in all the female to male teacher ratio is probably about one to five. (Your mileage may vary.)

    AND most times the topic comes up, the majority of women are terribly intimidated at the thought of teaching in a mixed-gender class. Why? Is it because the men are more direct, confrontational, willing to disagree? Probably. Is it because the women don’t know the scriptures as well as they should? In many cases.

    Or maybe it’s because of the LDS tradition to make sure a man always speaks at the end of the meeting in order to “correct any doctrinal errors made” by the woman preceding him? I think we’re onto something…

    Anyway, I have a talk on tape where Neal Maxwell says something like this:

    “In the church we have many men who are gospel scholars and many women who are saints. We need more crossover.”

  4. Mark Butler
    October 24, 2006 at 4:46 am

    The thing is no one ever became a gospel scholar by attending Sunday School. Nor is it the least bit likely that one may become one by attending Seminary or Institute every week for the rest of his (or her) life.

    True gospel scholarship is the result of a life long obsession. There is no extant institution in the church that directly teaches anything close to the level of acquaintance required. That seems to come only through daily study, pondering – lots of pondering, and application.

    I read a quote from Joseph Smith today where he said we needed to dig deeply into the mysteries of God to understand these things. There aren’t that many, men or women, who seek to understand the scriptures for themselves, rather than living off borrowed light. That is a tragedy.

  5. Melanie
    October 24, 2006 at 7:37 am

    I think the disparity comes in large part from issues of name recognition. Deseret Book has a significant base of mail-order customers who are outside of Utah and rarely have opportunities to physically browse through their stores. If I can\’t pick up a potential purchase and flip through it, I\’m much more likely to take a chance on a book by a GA or BYU religion prof than on something by Sister Sally So-and-So of the Such-and-Such 3rd Ward. That doesn\’t mean Sister Sally isn\’t a brilliant scriptorian–but having never heard her teach or speak, I don\’t have any reference for her style, take on the gospel, etc., and with limited time for scripture study, I\’m usually not willing to take the risk.

    Deseret Book will publish what sells, and as long as the stable of known names–GAs, BYU profs, EFY speakers–is overwhelmingly male, I think the DB catalog will reflect that.

  6. Tona
    October 24, 2006 at 8:24 am

    I agree with Mark – good teaching does not necessarily translate into “skilled at exegesis” and vice versa. I’d be interested (when/if my catalog comes I’ll check into it for myself) how many of the “exegesis” authors are actually credentialed scholars actively working in their fields? This would then, as you originally suggested, point to disparities among the faculty pool in such places where DB tends to find their authors… and would lead back to conversations I’m sure I’ve read here, about the challenges of being an LDS female scholar, tenured or un-.

    I do totally agree with your point that women, and young women, need more in-print female role models. You’d think with a female CEO Deseret would be more aggressive in recruiting women authors, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

  7. October 24, 2006 at 8:37 am

    A thoughtful post, Rosalynde, and I don’t mean to derail it….but I was very impressed at your ability to get through the Deseret Books Christmas catalogue without taking a few potshots. I won’t resist. Among other things, the Christmas catalogue offers us the exciting new games “The Settlers of Zarahemla” (“Build Zarahemla while using your Stripling Warriors to stop the nefarious Gadianton Robbers!”), “The Celestial Companion Game” (“Newlyweds, couples with children, and even those celebrating their fiftieth anniversary will enjoy this lighthearted lurch into eternal marriage!”), and “Hold to the Rod” (“Players hum, draw, spell, unscramble, and even perform to advance their family to the Tree of Life!”). I was delighted to learn that Captain Moroni Socks are now available (but tragically, not in argyle), as well as a Families Are Forever Tealight Holder. There was a nice profile on Greg Olsen (“Art’s greatest purpose is just to make us happy”), prominently featuring his latest portrait of the Savior, “Awesome Wonder” (in which Jesus appears to be sitting on the banks of the same stream where Brad Pitt fly-fished in “A River Runs Through It”). Among the videos they offer for sale, there are several “Alfred Hitchcock Thrillers,” including “Charade” (directed by Stanley Donen). And please don’t miss the vaguely disturbing cover image (featuring a perhap overly-eager smiling and bright-eyed young woman) gracing the new illustrated version of “The Ten Virgins.”

    I know, I’m a terrible snob. I really shouldn’t look at these.

  8. October 24, 2006 at 9:21 am

    “I don’t expect to be persuaded by accusations of pervasive institutional sexism leveled at a company headed by a woman.”

    A fascinating remark, Rosalynde. Is the idea that women are incapable of holding and implementing limiting stereotypes about their own gender? Or that the equitable treatment of one woman (the CEO) precludes mistreatment or stereotyping of other women? It seems possible to me that a woman CEO might hold the opinion, for example, that it’s simply more appropriate for men to write about scriptures and theology — because they hold the priesthood, because it’s always been done that way, because it’s a “male” topic. Identifying the individual or individuals who make a decision does nothing to determine whether the decision is sexist or not.

    Can we agree that at least some of the scripture-themed books published by Deseret Book are written by men with no special academic training or credentials? If we can, then we are left with a culture of sexism as our only reasonable explanation. Either Mormon culture as a whole is so sexist that women are left believing that it would be impossible or inappropriate for them to write about the scriptures, or Deseret Book’s publishing process is so sexist that it serves as a deterrant to women. I don’t like either of these conclusions, but I can’t see a meaningful alternative. Can anyone else?

  9. WillF
    October 24, 2006 at 9:32 am

    Alison (#3),

    Why the quotes around “correct any doctrinal errors made”? Are you quoting an authority? The reason I ask is that having been a lifelong member I have never heard this reasoning, and actually have also never noticed this to be a strict tradition. I always thought that when a couple spoke that the wife generally spoke first (I have seen it reversed) because the bishopric assumed she would give a better introduction of her family.

  10. Mark B.
    October 24, 2006 at 9:38 am

    Now, Russell, go easy on the blurb writers. “Charade” may not have been directed by Hitchcock, but I think all the critics agree that Donen did a pretty good imitation of a Hitchcock film.

    What’s more, it’s a family film, so it’s a perfect fit for the target audience. I mean, how many wives/former wives did the Cary Grant character (I can’t remember all his names) claim to have?

    The real solution (other than joining Kaimi in bagging the law and churning out non-bodice rippers for the Mormon romance market) is to not look at the Deseret Book catalog at all. I don’t know if we’re on their mailing list–I think we may have slipped onto it by mistake–but I find that life is better if that catalog goes straight to the paper recycling bin with the other junk mail.

    Besides, calling it Deseret Book is a little like calling the BYU store a Bookstore. After you push past the sweatshirts and baseball caps and the candy and the kitsch, good luck finding a book.

  11. Mark B.
    October 24, 2006 at 9:40 am

    Boy, there’s no hiding from that typo, is there! [I think I fixed it, Mark–BH]

  12. Rosalynde Welch
    October 24, 2006 at 11:02 am

    LOL, Russell and Mark. As I went through the catalog I couldn’t help groaning a little at some of the copy. (I once inquired about writing copy for their catalog from home, but I was unceremoniously turned down.) As for the merchandise itself, well, sure, some of it is pretty kitschy. But the thing is, I have a few framed Old Masters prints on my wall, not far from the framed photographs of my children, and plenty of people would consider those unbearably kitschy, too. So while I agree that there is a meaningful distinction to be made between kitsch and art—and heaven knows we’ve talked about it plenty around these parts—I guess I don’t think I’m one to talk much about it.

  13. Rosalynde Welch
    October 24, 2006 at 11:23 am

    RT, no, of course not, and if somebody came forward with specific, substantiated evidence that large numbers of female-authored manuscripts on scripture topics are being rejected by DB because of the gender of the authors, I’d get pretty hot about it. But absent information of that sort, we’re left with untestable recriminations of sexism lurking in a “deterrant culture,” accusations that are particularly weak given that DB has shown itself willing to promote women and to publish female authors in substantial numbers. Frankly, I think that crying “sexism” is situations like these is counter-productive inasmuch as it undercuts the credibility of specific, concrete allegations of the same. For this reason, and because I suspect that putting publishers on the defensive is unlikely to yield positive results, I strongly prefer to frame the discussion and efforts in terms other than sexism.

    I don’t think the two analyses you suggest exhaust the possibilities. As I suggested, a proximate cause is probably the makeup of the religion faculty. The ultimate cause, I think, deep down and way back there, is probably our gender-segregated priesthood, and I’m not willing to label that “sexist”. (We’d need a control group from a denomination that ordains women to determine this, though.) I’m also open to the possibility that women are simply less interested in approaching scripture with a primarily textual method—I note that there is near parity in the number of “motivational” offerings from women and men, which tend to be more application- and inspiration-oriented—although I’m not convinced that this is so. In any case, as I argued in the post, I think this is one arena in which efforts to produce more women-authored work would be beneficial for its own sake.

  14. Matt W.
    October 24, 2006 at 11:36 am

    I’d be interested to see a similar “crunch” of a Border’s Catalog…

  15. Rosalynde Welch
    October 24, 2006 at 11:43 am

    Right, Matt, I’m lacking a control group, so we can’t determine from these numbers alone how much derives from something specific to Mormon culture. I actually looked for a comparable evangelical publisher online yesterday, but couldn’t really come up with anything. Does anybody have any suggestions?

  16. Frank McIntyre
    October 24, 2006 at 11:53 am


    This is very interesting. I’d second your comment about the BYU religion faculty. I think publishing books is considered their research, and DB is obviously going to be the place for that. If you happen to grab that flyer again, It would be interesting to know how much of that disparity can be directly tied to the fact that these are academics publishing as part of that job.

    Also, I see that men are getting massacred in the “gospel resource” and cooking categories (between the two 14-0). Cooking, once again, probably comes down to professional inclinations as many women cook as part of their jobs.

    I have no explanation for the gospel resource category. Would Julie’s book of gospel questions be a “gospel resource” rather than exegesis? In which case, the gender differences may be less important than they seem.

  17. Rosalynde Welch
    October 24, 2006 at 11:53 am

    Melanie, I just saw your comment. What you say makes some sense, but what do you make of the fact that men and women publish motivational, devotional and historical titles in much more comparable numbers? Does the scriptural subject matter, in specific, magnify the credentialism? Perhaps if more former female GAs published books, we could start that way. Sheri Dew herself, of course, has a number of titles, and few others have published as well (Chieko Okazaki, notably, and Virginia Pearce), though not specifically on scriptural topics.

  18. Kevin Barney
    October 24, 2006 at 11:59 am

    I don’t know for sure, but I believe that T&S’s own Julie Smith offered her very fine book on the NT to Deseret, and was turned down. So while not a study or anything, maybe she has some useful comments she would like to share on the imbalance of male to female authors in scripture exegesis out of that imprint, if she sees this.

    (On men speaking last at church, see here:

  19. CS Eric
    October 24, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    We don’t get the catalog, but my wife was browsing their website yesterday. Neither of us was quite sure what to make of the fact that one of their featured DVDs was the set for the first season of X-Files. Our best guess was because of the inspirational posters from the show: “The Truth is Out There,” and “I Want to Believe.”

    Why no women-authored books on parenting?

  20. October 24, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    Rosalynde, is the fact that BYU’s religion faculty (not traditionally dominated, I might note, by people with Ph.D.s) is entirely male have an explanation other than sexism?

    I disagree that the gender division of priesthood as such can be a useful explanation. Our interpretations of that gender division are what is operative. Does male priesthood inherently imply that men without positions of authority are superior interpreters of scripture? Of course not. Any such belief is instead sexist.

    Likewise, DB may be willing to publish women — but your data suggest that DB has not proven itself willing to publish women who write outside traditionally female topics. That means your defense against the idea of deterrence with respect to scripture studies has little bite.

    More generally, your desire to enforce a narrow meaning of sexism seems unhelpful. Sexism certainly has larger and smaller forms, but refusing to call the smaller forms sexism obscures their linkages (in origin and mode of legitimation) with the larger forms. Publishing only male books on scripture this year sends a message to women next year: you need not apply. That message, whether intentional or not, is sexist.

  21. October 24, 2006 at 12:05 pm

    Note: “entirely” should read “dominated by”; I don’t have time to check whether there are a few women on the BYU religion faculty.

  22. samdb
    October 24, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    The problem with cries of sexism, at least at the DB level, is that, as Rosalynde pointed out, we don’t have any data besides output. If no woman sent in a manuscript on scriptural exegisis, there may be a problem, and it may be sexism, but it’s not at the DB institutional level. And, from their catalogue, we don’t have that data. In fact, based on the catalogues I’ve received, we don’t even know how many (if any) such books they’ve published–it’s a condensed list of what they think will sell that season.

    Which is not to say that there may be institutional sexism at DB; rather, it’s to say that the data presented makes a weak, at best, showing of sexism.

  23. Margaret Young
    October 24, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    Femala GAs? Who would they be? General RS presidency? They did a lovely pictoral book on the international RS a few years back, but it was hardly scriptural exegisis. I think the credentials do indeed have a lot to do with publication, and more Mormon men have those than do Mormon women–at least in the western states. Most of BYU’s religion faculty are male. (Susan Easton Black, bright as she is, tends to write more about places and people than about scriptural interpretations.) And all of the most visible Mormon leadership is male. Sometimes you’ll get a husband/wife team like Bruce and Marie Hafen–and Marie is every bit her husband’s equal–but mostly we get the men.
    I wonder who is more likely to purchase these books, and for whom. Gene England used to say that most people buy Deseret Book products as gifts (hence the Christmas catalogue), and that many–perhaps most–of the books are summarily shelved and never looked at again. I found it very interesting that in the Parade of Homes, the most frequently displayed books were the _Work and the Glory_ series.
    I have certainly given DB some business buying books for my husband, and we both enjoyed Virginia Pearce’s _A Heart Like His_, but I am more likely to give him something from another press–often BYU Press, sometimes Oxford.
    I suspect that if somebody like, say, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich were to write some scriptural exegesis, she wouldn’t publish it with DB. And I have to say that though I really like–even love–many of the Deseret Book employees, I cannnot imagine that I’ll ever publish with them again. (Not sure they’d have me anyway.) I feel too strong a sense of “fit the box” at DB, though the individual editors are truly wonderful people. I think many of our very bright women resist fitting their thoughts into a prescribed box and so would not be likely authors for DB. Does that suggest that men fit into the DB author’s profile more easily? I think it does.
    P.S. to Kaimi–thank you for that delightful teaser. I can’t wait to read the whole book. How far along are you in its composition? Is your protagonist really based on Rosalynde (as seems so obvious in the little blurb you shared with us)?

  24. Doc
    October 24, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    Is the bloggernacle sexist because of the dearth of female scriptural exegesis, Mogget and Julie Smith notwithstanding, or could this possibly have something to do with general interest in the subject matter. New Cool Thing is not exactly a hotbed of female blogging or comment activity. FMH, segullah, ZD have a decidedly different tone and focus. It seems to me you are leaving out room for the possibility that interests and focus may simply be different.

  25. Matt W.
    October 24, 2006 at 12:29 pm

    Rosylende, I also wanted to ask if your list noted that some texts sold in the DB catalog were not published by DB. I only note this because I saw two Max Lucado books in the Catalog…

  26. Blake
    October 24, 2006 at 12:48 pm

    Interesting RT: My take is the complete feminization of Deseret Book. the male-themed doctrinal books that we used to see have been fazed out for fiction and other titles that are largely purchased by females. Have you gone into a Deseret Book lately? It has been turned into a female-friendly environment that says to males “we’re really no interested in you.” The entire catelog and the marketing of DB is directed at females. I guess we’re seeing very different things. You RT seem to be interested in counting heads — I look at the content and see a feminization of Deseret Book.

  27. Melanie
    October 24, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    Rosalynde (#17),

    Yes, I think credentialism is an issue for historical books, but it isn’t limited to just GAs. How many of the historical books in the catalog were by Susan Easton Black? I think she’s as much of a “known” name as the male religion faculty and GAs.

    For devotional/motivational books I really have no idea. I’m generally so averse to what I perceive as their mushy sentimentalism that they don’t even pop up on my radar screen. On the other hand, they do tend to be anthologies (“Thought for the Day,” “1001 Best-Loved Talks,” “100 Inspiring, Faith-Building Stories”), so the name in the catalog may more properly be called the editor rather than the author. How do we categorize a female editor compiling talks from the male GAs? Or a male editor who selects quotes from the RS general presidency?

    As far as evangelical publishers (#15), you might try Tyndale House Publishers: (Bibles, devotionals, non-fiction, fiction including the Left Behind books…)

  28. October 24, 2006 at 12:57 pm

    samdb, I noted above the second possibility: that Mormon culture is where the sexism lies. If women aren’t submitting manuscripts, and it isn’t because of a deterrent effect by Deseret Book (as Margaret Young and others have suggested it is), then our culture as a community is leading women to believe that they can’t or shouldn’t publish on the scriptures.

    Doc, the bloggernacle has more female work on scriptures than you suggest. Your comment notwithstanding, I would count Zelophehad’s Daughters as a good place to look for work on the scriptures by women. Mogget’s writings at Faith-Promoting Rumor are also a good example; Julie does great stuff, too. On the other side of the gender line, we find Geoff J., Kevin Barney, Ed Snow, and a few others — but not a huge number of others. Gender parity? Maybe, maybe not — but it’s at least a relatively close call. Zero women, well, isn’t.

    Blake, I’m not sure I know what you mean by feminization. Is there a gender-essentialist idea at work here that some topics or tones are inherently female? If so, you ought to be aware of parallel arguments that religion is an essentially female domain; perhaps you’re noting an increase of religiousity in Deseret Books publications? Anyway, I don’t really know what to make of your argument. But I do think it matters a great deal who is saying things, in addition to what is being said. If no women speak about the scriptures, that sends the message that women don’t have the right to speak about the scriptures — and we lose half or more of the voices in our community.

  29. Blake
    October 24, 2006 at 1:17 pm

    RT: Are you suggesting that there is some taboo on women speaking about scriptures in LDS culture? I don’t know what your experience is, but we’ve had far more female gospel doctrine teachers than males in my ward. Regardless, the notion that there is some taboo on females speaking about scriptures in LDS culture just seems like bunk to me. I would suggest, however, that the approaches to doctrinal discussion and scriptural discussion differ between males and females (as anyone who has attended both relief society and priesthood knows). You seem to insist on solely a male type of approach as the standard of what counts as a doctrinal book.

    This bias is demonstrated in the following non-sequitur: “If women aren’t submitting manuscripts, and it isn’t because of a deterrent effect by Deseret Book (as Margaret Young and others have suggested it is), then our culture as a community is leading women to believe that they can’t or shouldn’t publish on the scriptures.” Of course, that doesn’t follow at all. There are all kinds of other explanations – like woman just don’t meet your preconcieved notion of what a doctrinal work looks like. More probably, women just have different ways of dicussing doctrine and are also interested in different things.

    It’s beyond me how you missed my observation (I wouldn’t call it an argument, I’m far more formal in argument than that). I suggested that you look at who the books are marketed to and who buys them. Abou three fourths of works sold by DB are directed at female marketing. Females purchase by far and away more books than males at DB — and females purchase about 90% of the fiction stuff (dare I say pablum) that DB sells.

    With females now outnumbering males by nearly 2 to 1 on college campuses (including outnumbering men at BYU) are you still suggesting that women have been systematically excluded by the power hungry white males chauvinsts?

  30. judy brooks
    October 24, 2006 at 1:28 pm

    Rosalynde, you’d better watch out. This is exactly the thing that Lavinia Fielding started doing that got her in trouble with the General Authorities.

    Counting things….tisk, tisk!

  31. October 24, 2006 at 1:34 pm

    Blake, if women read so much and talk so much about the scriptures, why aren’t they represented among Deseret Book authors of scriptural studies? We’re back to the dilemma — either they feel that they shouldn’t or can’t, or they are being turned away. You’ve admitted that women speak a lot about the scriptures; why aren’t they as willing as men to put that in print? Especially if they’re the prime readers?

  32. Melissa
    October 24, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    I don’t think this disparity is rooted in sexist publishing practices at Deseret Book.

    The issue is a systematic one. The institutional structure of the church prohibits women from seeing themselves as doctrine creators. LDS women are not in an ecclesiastical position to introduce new doctrine in conference that could be binding on the church, for example. They are not in this position even on the stake or ward level. They can experience personal revelation, but I think it highly unlikely that a Mormon woman would consider making her individual scriptural insights public because of her position in the church. Why would she consider her scriptural analysis to have normative value? Have you ever heard a male GA quote a former RS president? With the exception of ERS’ canonized poetry, I’ve never heard a male authority quote a female authority.

    Exegetical interpretation of scripture necessarily shapes doctrinal understanding. Mormon women don’t see doctrine as their arena and so shy away from scripture since the two are inextricably intertwined. The rare woman who might feel qualified to interpret scripture because of her academic training knows intuitively that she faces hurdles in being taken seriously, especially if she ventures much beyond the historical. On the institutional level LDS men reveal and preach doctrine. Women don’t. It seems unsuprising that this structure influences publishing patterns.

  33. October 24, 2006 at 1:37 pm

    Also, Blake, sources would be good on your 2-1 female dominance of college campuses. Harvard, for example, is almost exactly at 50-50.

  34. Frank McIntyre
    October 24, 2006 at 1:40 pm


    “either they feel that they shouldn’t or can’t, or they are being turned away.”

    Similarly, the fact that my wife does not like to watch football is because she was told she shouldn’t, can’t, or is being turned away.

    Alternatively, perhaps she would rather do something else. Liking to talk about scriptures is not the same preference as liking to write books of exegesis. Especially when the list of exegetes is likely to be dominated by professionals whose jobs are based on said publishing.

  35. Frank McIntyre
    October 24, 2006 at 1:41 pm

    I would guess BYU is still 50-50. Women have been graduating college more for quite a while though.

  36. Ben
    October 24, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    A few thoughts from someone who has spent three summers teaching at BYU in and out of the Religion department.

    There are indeed full-time women in the religion department, and they are more than competent. There are multiple women as well who are teaching there part time between the MA and PhD stage. Two (who taught this summer) are in scriptural fields (and may opt not to continue to a PhD), but more are in American religious history. One is contributing to the Mountain Meadows Massacre book, to be followed, IIRC, by a new biography of John D. Lee.

    As to why the department is predominantly male, I think it’s largely due to demographic issues. There aren’t many women who go into relevant fields, AND continue to get a PhD, AND want to end up at BYU, AND have the family situation that allows them to do so. I know that the department or at least some of the PTB there, don’t court male grad students the way they do female grad students.

  37. Mark IV
    October 24, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    If Deseret Book thought that people would buy doctrinal or scriptural books authored by women, it would sell them. DB’s market consists of people who are somewhat wary of exegesis that doesn’t come from a safe source, either GAs or BYU religion professors. A woman might write a great book but because she lacks the GA or BYU cred, her book will be passed over in favor of one written by a “name” author. I think it really is as simple as that. So I agree with Melissa and RT, this is a problem, but I don’t blame DB. DB is simply a reflection of it’s market.

    Blake, it isn’t just Deseret Book. Smart retailers have recognized for decades now that women control 70-80% of household discretionary spending, and have made efforts to appeal to them.

  38. Mark IV
    October 24, 2006 at 1:50 pm

    professionals whose jobs are based on said publishing.

    Frank, please, please, please tell me that tenure at BYU isn’t based on getting your book sold at DB.

  39. Ben
    October 24, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    My browser crashed. One last comment.

    My impression is that the graduate student women I interacted with over the summer enjoyed teaching more than researching, with the exception of she who’s working on two books. As with all impressions, perhaps this one is completely wrong, and they were just hiding their E.J. Brill level book manuscripts from me lest I poach their ideas :)

    I suspect that the men in the department are the sole breadwinners in their family. If so, they may have financial motivation to write books. A married woman in the dept. whose husband also works would not have the same financial motive.

  40. JWL
    October 24, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    I wonder if we’re beating ourselves up over something which is much broader than Mormon culture. Throughout society it is an unfortunate truth that women will listen to male authorities but men won’t listen to female authorities. For example, I have often read that women will patronize films with male leads and themes (e.g. action films) whereas men will not patronize films with female leads and themes (e.g. “chick flicks”). While this does not excuse a lack of authoritative female authors in the Mormon community, I think Rosalynde’s count reflects social phenomena which are much more widespread and have causes far beyond Mormon culture or doctrine.

  41. Matt Evans
    October 24, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    I completely agree with Mark IV’s observation that this is a market problem, nothing more. The question is why women prefer exegetical works by men.

  42. Frank McIntyre
    October 24, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    Never fear Mark. In my department, publishing in Deseret Book would surely be the death knell for my tenure vote.

  43. Julie M. Smith
    October 24, 2006 at 2:36 pm

    I did in fact send my manuscript to DB and they did in fact turn it down. The interesting question is why:

    (1) they thought the text was awful (were they right?)
    (2) they thought no one would buy an exegetical book by a female author (were they right?)
    (3) they thought no one would buy a book by an unknown author (were they right?)
    (4) they thought no one would buy a book from an author without a PhD (were they right?)
    (5) they are sexist in their selection of authors
    (6) did I forget anything?

    I won’t comment on (1), except to say that my format is unprecedented.

    As for (2), it points to cultural issues[1].

    As for (3) and (4), the fact that I don’t have a PhD and am “unknown” is directly related to the fact that I’ve got three beautiful munchkins under foot: I have no doubt that if I hadn’t married, I would have had a PhD and a job–either at BYU or elsewhere, I don’t know–by now. According to our theology, what I have chosen is more important than (3) and (4), so there you go.

    As for (5), we don’t know.

    [1] I’m currently teaching NT as a BYU continuing education class in my stake. With extremely rare and infrequent exceptions, all of my students are female. Why is this? Do men not want to be taught by a woman? (But they turned up when I taught Gospel Doctrine and I have roughly equal enrollment in my classes at the Institute.) Do they not have 1.5 hours to spare on a Thursday night? Does my teaching style alienate men? (But as you might imagine, you get a lot more Greek than warm fuzzies when I teach. . .) What else might it be? I don’t know.

  44. Kingsley
    October 24, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    Brand leaned in closer.
    “I … I feel strange,” he whispered hoarsely.
    Heat poured into our bodies, which I knew was the fire of the Holy Ghost.
    “Oh Brand, Brand,” I murmured.
    Ever since he had come to our small Mormon town, tall, dark, muscular, unbelieving, I had known that our destinies were especially entwined. And now, as the heat of the Holy Ghost filled our entwined, soaking bodies, I uttered a silent prayer of thanksgiving that the Lord had enabled this lonesome cowboy to rescue me from the raging river — and that tatters of my clothing still remained.
    The storm beat down on us, rain, lightning. Brand’s nipples were the size of dinner plates. I reflected, then, on his tortured path to testimony.
    “Brand?” I said, shy.
    His pants and boots had washed away in the flood.

  45. Rosalynde Welch
    October 24, 2006 at 2:40 pm

    JWL, yes, you’re absolutely right: as I said, we need a control group to determine whether there is something unique to Mormon culture or structure at work here. Again, does anybody know of a comparable Protestant or Catholic publisher whose catalog we could mine?

    Mark IV: I also suspect that DB would publish woman-authored works on scripture if there were a market for such—-AND if they enjoyed a deep pool of manuscript submissions. This is something of a chicken-and-egg issue: the readership won’t trust the author until she’s prominent, but the author won’t become prominent until she’s published. EXCEPT, of course, for women who are already prominent—former general auxiliary leaders, prominent GA’s wives, famous bloggers… ;)

  46. Mark IV
    October 24, 2006 at 2:41 pm


    We can rule out 1 and 4. DB publishes plenty of books with awful texts, and it publishes plenty of books written by people without academic credentials.

  47. ECS
    October 24, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    “The question is why women prefer exegetical works by men.”

    Yes, and Melissa answered this question in #32.

  48. Rosalynde Welch
    October 24, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    Kingsley…snort! If you’ll write it, I promise to serialize it here on T&S. Walter Kirn did it on Slate, you know.

  49. Mark IV
    October 24, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    Kingsley, it’s nice to see you again.

  50. Kaimi Wenger
    October 24, 2006 at 2:46 pm

    My eyes! My eyes! Where’s the bleach?

  51. Starfoxy
    October 24, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    Well thanks Kingsley. Now we’re all going to Hell.

  52. Rosalynde Welch
    October 24, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    I’m not going to be able to keep up with comments, although I set out to try. Thanks for them all.

    I want to make two more points, though. I’d be persuaded by Melissa’s analysis in #32—and I think something like that is what’s at work in, say, General Conference talks—if it weren’t for the number of devotional/motivational works produced by women. These volumes, the best I can tell, DO deal with doctrinal issues, but do so in an applicational and personal rather than critical or technical way. So I’d be persuaded by Blake’s and Frank’s analyses—that women write what they’re interested in, and they’re not interested in textual approaches to scripture—if I weren’t so familiar with a number of very very successful local scripture classes taught and attended by women that take a textual/exegetical approach. In the end, and absent other evidence, I think the issue of credentials is the most persuasive.

  53. Eve
    October 24, 2006 at 3:53 pm

    I have two sisters who make religion the focus of their academic study, and I think it’s fantastic when a gospel doctrine teacher can talk about Greek or Hebrew or theology or bring various scholarly perspectives to bear on the discussion. Hooray for the illumination of good scholarship, I say.

    But I find much LDS doctrinal discussion and scriptural exegesis–which I think we can agree is coded as a masculine activity–so detached from lived experience as to be brain-searingly boring, and I suspect RT’s observation that religion is coded feminine may be one culprit. I don’t enjoy talks that hold the gospel at arm’s length from the contaminating messiness of the speaker’s life or lessons that attempt to wrest the standard works and the Journal of Discourses into a celestial unified field theory. (I freely confess I have no idea what’s in the scriptural exegesis put forth by DB–thinking more of church here.) I’m all for a certain amount of abstract reflection, but in the end it’s got to come back to earth. If religion doesn’t mean anything for who we are and how we live, what does?

    In the spirit fo the Neal A. Maxwell quote above, let’s find a third alternative to masculine abstraction and feminine sentimentality.

  54. Julie M. Smith
    October 24, 2006 at 3:58 pm

    Eve’s comment makes me wonder: I’d love to see sales figures for DB books. We’d have a rather different conversation if we knew if the % of books sold was 90% female–10% male, 70/30, 50/50, 10/90, etc.

  55. Rosalynde Welch
    October 24, 2006 at 3:59 pm

    Point the second, directed specifically to RT and in general to allegations of sexism: RT, you wrote: “Your data suggest that DB has not proven itself willing to publish women who write outside traditionally female topics.”

    This is absolutely not the case, RT. We can’t know that DB is deliberately suppressing female voices unless we know what their submission pool looks like. To this you respond that the data must then suggest that DB is perpetuating a culture of deterrance, which leads to a shallow submission pool from women. But we can’t know that without a control group, to see whether or not a postulated shallow submission pool is unique to DB. We don’t have either set of data—submission pool, or control group—so we simply can’t draw conclusions about sexism from the data I’ve presented here.

  56. S. P. Bailey
    October 24, 2006 at 4:56 pm

    Kingsley! (You really shouldn’t do that to people at work…)

  57. Julie M. Smith
    October 24, 2006 at 5:01 pm


    It just occurred to me that Christian Book Distributors would probably be a good control for you. But I’ll save you a trip to the website: they have, if anything, a worse gender skew than DB does.

  58. October 24, 2006 at 5:03 pm

    Rosalynde, you’ve misread my statement. I said the data show that DB hasn’t proven itself willing. You say that DB hasn’t been proven to be unwilling. These two claims are perfectly compatible.

  59. October 24, 2006 at 5:36 pm

    I agree that credentials are a big factor here.

    I think you have hit on something really, really important. My favorite kinds of books are those that get to meat of scripture and doctrine, but also have a real application to life. I would be interested to see how many books currently do that. And I would be interested to see more of them.

  60. Kaimi Wenger
    October 24, 2006 at 5:40 pm


    I’d be inclined to believe your analysis. But see, you’re a woman, and so I just can’t. Do you think you could find someone with an Y chromosome to say the same thing, so that I can accept it? That would be quite helpful.

  61. Ben H
    October 24, 2006 at 6:13 pm

    Melissa, you have described powerful factors shaping people’s sense of what they are expected or allowed to do. It is amazing how far the fact that something is simply not done can shape the sense of what is acceptable, even when there is not really any reason why it should not be acceptable. The upside of course is that one may only need a few good examples of people doing it–women with an original perspective on our doctrine–to show that it is acceptable (and desirable). Like you? We’re looking forward to it!

  62. Ryan Bell
    October 24, 2006 at 6:21 pm

    Melissa (#32) I find your assertions somewhat surprising. I can’t imagine that there’s a woman in my ward who thinks her authority to expound scripture is somehow inferior to my own. Both I and the random woman in my ward would probably defer to the Bishop, the Stake President, and others with formal authority. We would also probably defer to Julie M. Smith, Dan Peterson, or others with the experience and background in scripture that we lack. However, I can’t imagine there is a difference in the church between the self-perceived willingness/ability/’authority’ of a random woman to pronounce the meaning of scripture and that of a random man. Again, one gains such authority by virtue of a formal calling or by virtue of a wealth of earned knowledge.

    The mere fact that the vast majority of those who gain such callings are men does not mean that all men are elevated to scriptorian status, and that all women are implicitly discouraged from attaining that status.

  63. Melissa
    October 24, 2006 at 6:41 pm


    Inspirational books that try to apply doctrine on the personal or practical level are quite different from rigorous attempts at constructive theology grounded in scriptural exegesis based on novel hermeneutical strategies. For one thing, I’d bet that a lot of the authors of these motivational books assume that doctrine is either settled or not their prerogative to challenge or explore. These are not comparable genre.


    I miss you!! It’s been a terribly long day and I was so delighted to have a reason to laugh out loud sitting here at my desk. Call me sometime soon.


    Thanks for your vote of confidence. The truth is though that I can think of a number of examples of women who have tried to offer “original perspectives on our doctrine” and have been roundly criticized and worse for doing so. Their unhappy cases don’t encourage me to believe that such efforts are acceptable or desirable.

    I can’t think of any woman who would have the chutzpah to do the sort of armchair theological speculation that Blake Ostler has done, for example. The benefits seem nonexistent (who’s going to engage her in serious dialogue. All the male academic Mormon philosphers? I doubt it highly, even if she’s armed with a Ph.D.) and the costs potentially high.

  64. Melissa
    October 24, 2006 at 6:49 pm


    Certainly one can be a “scriptorian” in the sense of knowing the scriptures on the local level regardless of gender, but that is quite different from revealing, interpreting, and pronouncing doctrine.

    As you point out, you would defer to the bishop or the stake president and others with “formal authority.” This is why this problem is systemic. Women wield very little “formal authority” in the church. The bishop and stake president of any given ward or stake in the church may know precious little about either scripture or doctrine compared to some of the perpetually “lay” members and yet be the final word on doctrinal purity. Since we have no trained clergy, it is very often the case that men who have no formal training at all in scripture, ancient history or languages, philosophy, theology, etc., etc. are called as leaders to whom we are to defer on doctrinal matters. The gender differentials in this case I would think are rather obvious.

  65. October 24, 2006 at 7:15 pm

    Ryan (62)
    I agree with you.

    I really don’t see how having a few people have authority like bishop, stake pres., etc. would affect this situation at all. Frankly, most of my leaders do very little in terms of novel perspectives on scriptures, doctrine, etc. I don’t see us as really deferring to them on doctrinal issues as much as procedural issues. Any doctrine they preach is almost always the doctrine that we all preach (that from the prophets, etc.) Their authority is more for picking a focus for their flocks (seeing the needs and guiding what is taught in sacrament meeting, etc. to address those needs), not in proclaiming novel doctrine. (In fact, I would be uncomfortable if a leader were to try to get too creative with doctrine. The only ones who really have authority to do that are the prophets. Local leaders are supposed to be teaching that doctrine, not coming up with their own.) I hear probably more interpretations of scripture and such that are novel in Gospel Doctrine (most from a female teacher) than I do from local leadership.

    Local leader types usually aren’t the types of people who are writing the books at Deseret Book, either, unless they also have some other opportunity to study and teach (such as the religion professors). The ones who are writing about scripture, ancient languages, etc. are the ones who have the training, interest and drive (and recognition) in such areas, not the ones who have authority per se.

    I think the thing that may have the most impact was addressed by Julie. She and other women like her who do study these things are usually also raising families, so they haven’t had the same opportunities as men have to gain that name recognition that usually is important in selling books. Does that mean they aren’t interested in these kinds of things (either in studying or in reading)? Not necessarily. One of my best sources on scriptural and doctrinal issues is a woman in my ward for whom this is a passion. But she also has nine children, so she hasn’t been able to complete her Ph.D. — yet. Times and seasons, as they say.

    I don’t know that this discrepancy will ever fully be overcome because the gender roles simply are different. For the same reason, we don’t see as many women in the Church who have prominent positions in nearly every other field as well. This really shouldn’t be a surprise, nor should it be something to be overly concerned about. Not that I don’t love and want to hear from women, but I don’t expect that we will have the same number of voices from each sex. And I don’t think we should expect to, because the expectations for each sex really are different.

  66. Ben H
    October 24, 2006 at 7:21 pm

    Melissa, we are dealing with a small sample here of women who have spoken out in a novel way on doctrine, so I wonder if there are not other factors that account for the undesirable outcomes. One factor would be the topics, and the particular claims. One of the women I think of that seems to fit the pattern you refer to got in trouble along with her husband, and might well have gotten in less trouble if he hadn’t been involved. In their case I don’t think the fact that she is a woman had much to do with it. How many cases are we talking about?

    One reason why Blake Ostler doesn’t catch any heat is that as far as I can tell he is dealing with ideas that don’t have any direct implications for church institutional structure or policy. His work is by and large apolitical. Given that is the character of his work, his gender I suspect is pretty much immaterial. Men who do work that makes waves from an institutional standpoint catch their share of heat.

    Now, of course, for whatever reason it does seem that women tend to be less interested in purely abstract (apolitical) questions and more interested in questions that are relevant to practical questions of how to live and how our institutions should function. If their theological writing tends more to have novel implications for how the church should run, then we might find women are more likely to catch heat for their ideas, but that would be an indirect result, and avoidable.

    Now, this is not fair, Melissa: “who’s going to engage her in serious dialogue. All the male academic Mormon philosphers? I doubt it highly, even if she’s armed with a Ph.D.” There has been very lively discussion of Jennifer Lane’s papers at the SMPT conferences. Rosalynde can tell you about the response to her paper, but I thought it was well received.

  67. Melissa
    October 24, 2006 at 7:28 pm

    Jennifer Lane has a Ph.D. and is ensconced at a church university so she doesn’t remotely fit the category I was pointing to (the Blake Ostler category).

    However, if I was unfair, I apologize.

    We have canvassed this issue between us before and I don’t think we have anything new to say nor do I think we’re going to persuade the other any time soon. However, I do understand and appreciate your thoughts on this topic, Ben.

  68. October 24, 2006 at 7:38 pm

    Mark #4: “The thing is no one ever became a gospel scholar by attending Sunday School. ”

    Was this meant to counter my post? I couldn’t tell for sure. If so, I didn’t mean to imply I thought attending Sunday School would produce anything. I can tell you, however, that the responsibility to teach ANY subject has always made me a much better student. Again, your mileage may vary.

    Tona #6: “I agree with Mark – good teaching does not necessarily translate into “skilled at exegesisâ€? and vice versa.”

    If I’m reading this correctly, again, I did not intend to give the impression that good teaching magically produces gifted gospel analysis. But those who are gospel scholars tend to be those who have, well, studied the gospel. And those who teach often study.

    Often it seems in the church we are not terribly encouraging to women with regard to scholarship. sometimes assuming they can’t hack it–or at least giving that impression.

    WillF #9: “Why the quotes around “correct any doctrinal errors madeâ€?? Are you quoting an authority?”

    Depends on how you define “authority.” I’ve heard it…hmm…a half dozen times in my life from various local leaders. This hasn’t seemed as ingrained as the “only priesthood holders can invite the Spirit into a meeting” reason for having only men open with prayer, by a long shot. I’ve seen many meetings where women closed, but generally only when (1) only women speak, (2) when it’s a femal auxiliary presidency, or (3) when it’s a female missionary non-farewell/homecoming.

    As for the women giving better introductions, boy, that’s debatable! Either way, how does that apply to non-married speakers and/or those who are not new to a ward (i.e. don’t need an introduction)?

    Kevin, thanks for the link. I feel validated. ;)

    CS Eric #19: “Why no women-authored books on parenting?”

    Because we’re too busy…parenting?

  69. Ryan Bell
    October 24, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    Melissa, the differentials that you explicitly highlight are obvious. Yes, it’s clear that the vast majority of authorized explication of doctrine and scripture flows from authorities who are male. I am just not seeing why I, an uncalled and unspecialized male member of the Church would ever feel an advantage over you, an uncalled and unspecialized female member of the Church in pronouncing interpretation and exegesis. In other words, its the callings, not the gender, that give authority to hold forth on such things. You’ve made a really large leap from the fomer to the latter, and I don’t believe you’ve explained why that leap is justified.

    And I certainly would defer to Julie Smith (my example from my previous comment of a person with a good background in such things, who happens to be female). Do you believe that most in the church would expect her to defer to me? Imagine that I have a background and interest and knowledge equal to hers. Would you then surmise that most in the church would expect her defer to me? If not, I’m afraid I’m missing how your point applies to the question at hand.

  70. October 24, 2006 at 8:02 pm

    Often it seems in the church we are not terribly encouraging to women with regard to scholarship. sometimes assuming they can’t hack it–or at least giving that impression.

    It sounds like you have had different experiences than I have. I don’t feel this at all.

    As to the women-never-closing-the-meeting thing, when I spoke this year in my ward, I was the last one to speak, and none of your conditions applied. I have seen this happen on other occasions as well. FWIW.

  71. Blake
    October 24, 2006 at 8:21 pm

    Melissa: “I can’t think of any woman who would have the chutzpah to do the sort of armchair theological speculation that Blake Ostler has done…” Well, what I do isn’t really armchair speculation but interacting with a well-established body of philosophical literature in the Anglo-American analytic tradition. I don’t get flack for what I write I suspect because I am clearly coming from a perspective of faith and exploring the tradition from that perspective. If I were calling the prophet an old man caught up in patriarchy because he disagreed with me, I suspect I’d catch he__…er, flack — and I ought to. Feminist theology is an attack on existing structures and meant to be a political statement that challenges and seeks to overthrow and change. I believe that it is a political statement first and foremost and interested in doctrine or theology only second.

    Moreover, I think that the sentiments expressed by Eve are more representative of the general feeling of women that I know who find analytic philosophical theology just too dry — just like they find even just old fashioned gospel doctrine ping pong that men play in High Priest Group just too far removed from the blood and guts of real life and lived religious commitment to be meaningful. I don’t believe that there is anyone at DB who is biased against women — quite the contrary. I know that DB has gone out of its way to invite women to write. They do — but they appear not to be interested in doctrinal exposition in large numbers. I know for a fact that the Society of Mormon Philosophy and Theology has gone out of its way to include women and to — gasp — recruit them to become involved. We haven’t been very successful, but we have made a very good faith effort.

    Also RT you might want to check out this month’s Goucher online newspaper, the new stats are out for the incoming class of 2010 – incoming freshmen ratio was 33% male and 67% female. That ratio is in fact a result of insitutional bias that gives females every benefit, a much larger number of scholarships and discourages males from applying systematically. The feminists have been successful at creating women’s studies programs of every sort — and not a single college in America or elsewhere has a male studies major or program (unless you count history). So like I said — systemic wide cultural bias but in the opposite direction.

    Finally Melissa: I am a bit skeptical about your attempt to speak for all women in # 32. It just doesn’t match my (quite possibly fallible) experience.

  72. Julie M. Smith
    October 24, 2006 at 8:56 pm

    Another data point:

    I don’t know the gender of every participant, but it looks like women do a little better at the Sperry Symposium than the DB catalog.

    Nibley scholars look much better, too:

  73. Rosalynde Welch
    October 24, 2006 at 9:11 pm

    This conversation is very interesting, but it’s gone in a lot of different directions and I think we’re now discussing three or four distinct phenomena (which is fine with me). Few women do abstract theology; few women interpret scripture confidently at church; few women participate in the theological arm of Mormon studies; few women publish scripture-oriented books at DB. It’s tempting to propose a grand unified theory that would explain all of the above, but I suspect that any such attempt would be hopelessly totalizing and too flawed to be of much use. While these cognate findings may share some ultimate causes, it’s my strong suspicion that their proximate causes and their individual cultural etiologies are distinct.

    I’ll add my own few data points. I was indeed recruited to participate in SMPT, and it was a very rewarding experience; my paper and Jennifer Lane’s paper were discussed with respect and vigor by the participants.

  74. Ben H
    October 24, 2006 at 9:37 pm

    (Re: #67) Hm. I guess I thought the question there was whether a woman theologian would be taken seriously, Ph.D. or no, and Jennifer and Rosalynde (academically unaffiliated) were. I actually thought it was because they gave good papers. This year (as last year) SMPT has a theological submission from a woman with neither a PhD nor an academic position (a friend mentioned she sent one in), so maybe we’ll have another data point next March.

    But perhaps your point was not about reception so much as that Jennifer has more support/leisure to write these papers because she is employed at a church school? I certainly understand if writing on Mormon theology is not at the top of your priority list right now. Good luck with all your adventures!

  75. Eve
    October 24, 2006 at 9:53 pm

    Blake, it looks like I didn’t explain myself very well. As it turns out, I enjoy philosophy, and I like picking my sisters’ brains about Hebrew and dead languages and twentieth-century theology. But while church can properly include abstract reasoning, and scholarship, they’re not enough; devotional consideration of the scriptures isn’t less than abstraction; it’s considerably more. I’m not arguing against abstraction; I’m arguing for abstraction plus. To put it crudely.

    What I’m not at all interested in is the attenuated, spiritless calculus-in-the-sky doctrinal conversation can become when the High Priests get out their ping-pong paddles, as you put it, and we’re all treated to a round of tendentious speculation.

    Melissa’s 32 seems dead on to me. Ryan (62, 69), would that the church were as you describe it. It should be, but it does not follow that it therefore is. My lifetime experience has been that it’s an uphill battle to get the same acceptance at church–as an intellectual equal of the men in the room–that I’m automatically granted at school.

    For example, the following experience has recently been repeated, again, in my gospel doctrine class:

    (1) I raise my hand and make a point.
    (2) Silence.
    (3) A comment or two later, a man raises his hand and makes the point I have just made.
    (4) Acknowledgement follows! Others pick up the conversational thread that evidently springs into existence only when voiced by the wearer of a suit and tie.
    (5) Not particularly interested in further attempts at participation, I idly contemplate buying a suit and tie.

    You ask of Julie, “Do you believe that most in the church would expect her to defer to me? Imagine that I have a background and interest and knowledge equal to hers. Would you then surmise that most in the church would expect her defer to me?”

    All things being equal, a man and a woman aren’t. Often it’s only when the woman has more [knowledge, background, scholarship, scriptural prowess] that equaliy of consideration ensues.

  76. Ben H
    October 24, 2006 at 10:05 pm

    And oh, this year and last SMPT didn’t even have to beat the bushes to get (those particular) submissions from women! though that won’t stop us from trying : )
    They actually sent them on their own.

  77. Eve
    October 24, 2006 at 10:17 pm

    Rosalydne, I think the term for the unified field theory you aren’t seeking is patriarchy, and M&M’s final paragraph in 65, for example, pretty clearly articulates the irreducible difference that allegedly lies at the heart of these myriad phenomena.

    Rumor has it it’s divinely endorsed. ;)

  78. Melissa
    October 24, 2006 at 10:35 pm

    The conversation has veered off RW’s original post. I didn’t mean to participate in creating a threadjack. It seemed to me a fairly obvious claim that at least one of the reasons Mormon women likely don’t write doctrinal expositions is that women serve no public role as revealers or interpreters of doctrine. What women (even female leaders) say in the LDS church is not considered normative for the church has a whole. This is a descriptive comment that I’m surprised isn’t uncontroversial.


    “I am just not seeing why I, an uncalled and unspecialized male member of the Church would ever feel an advantage over you, an uncalled and unspecialized female member of the Church in pronouncing interpretation and exegesis.”

    Well, first things first. Religion actually happens to be my area of academic expertise (MA from Yale Divinity School in Hebrew Bible and Ph.D. expected this Spring in Religious Thought from Brown University).

    Whether or not you currently hold a position of authoirty, it is likely that In the course of your life as a member of the church, you will hold a position of authority, a position which, according to institutional norms, gives you the right to expound doctrine and even correct what you might perceive as heterodoxy according to your own discretion. Not only will this calling not require any special knowledge or training, it will not confer such knowledge upon you. Yet, in that moment, you will become the sort of “formal authority” that you think members ought to defer to in questions of scriptural interpration and doctrine regardless of what you may or may not know about the scriptures, church history, theology, etc., etc., etc. I find this problematic for a whole host of reasons. There are many good things about the lay structure of the LDS church, but there are also real drawbacks that have costs. This is one of them. An uncalled, unspecialized shouldn’t feel an advantage, nor should “called” but unspecialized men feel an advantage, but they do all the time. And the reason is that exegetical efforts made by males in positions of authority actually carry institutional weight (whether or not they really ought to).

    “In other words, its the callings, not the gender, that give authority to hold forth on such things.”

    As should be obvious, this argument just doesn’t hold water. since the callings in question are gendered.


    “I don’t get flack for what I write I suspect because I am clearly coming from a perspective of faith and exploring the tradition from that perspective.”

    Which perspectives are faithful and which are otherwise is not always as “clear” as you seem to think, Blake. When it comes to religious ideas about a non-creedal, non-systematic theology, faithfulness is a matter of opinion, it seems to me. I know some folks who would argue that some of your work is “false doctrine.” I suspect your work is in the realm of “acceptable” because there’s nothing in your writing that might be construed as potentially “dangerous” on the practical level. I think we should extremely wary of dividing scholarship into “faithful” and “unfaithful.” Those are slippery, subjective categories that are too easily manipulated.

    “Feminist theology is an attack on existing structures and meant to be a political statement that challenges and seeks to overthrow and change. I believe that it is a political statement first and foremost and interested in doctrine or theology only second.”

    I didn’t bring up feminist theology, but your response is a good example of the sort of bias that speaks volumes. If you come to the table with this kind of preconception about any sort of constructive theological work (whether it’s feminist theology, liberation theology, systematic theology . . . –against each of which objections could be made from a Mormon perspective) you’re shutting down the conversation before it gets started. These kinds of assumptions (feminist theology seeks overthrow . . . is first a political statement . . .) will keep Mormon theology permanently ghettoized in the academic study of Religious Thought and is one of the reasons I’ve deliberately distanced myself from SMPT.

    “I am a bit skeptical about your attempt to speak for all women in # 32. It just doesn’t match my (quite possibly fallible) experience”

    I really don’t know what you’re talking about. Nothing in my comment suggests that I was making such an attempt. I’d be the first to challenge anyone who would try to speak for all women. The very idea!

  79. Rosalynde Welch
    October 24, 2006 at 10:38 pm

    Eve, I get that you’re joking at the end, but I’m not sure whether your entire comment was intended to be humorous. If it was, please forgive a serious response. You’re right: assertions of a hegemonic patriarchy and pervasive sexism are precisely what I’m not seeking here, despite the fact that they provide an excellent platform for performative critique. I think we’re more likely to come to a productive understanding of recalcitrant problems by dialing back the rhetoric, and paying attention to small pictures and immediate causes and actual data, when it’s available. There’s world enough and time for patriarchy, hegemony and sexism. What else are the eternities for? ;)

  80. Blake
    October 24, 2006 at 11:23 pm

    Melissa: SMPT would be glad to have you — if for nothing else than to dialogue regarding your pigeon-holing of the kind of theology I do as “ghettoized.” I guess that put to bed the notion of one-up-(wo)man-ship once and for all! And or your enjoyment and I am sure your relief, I am not longer on the Board of the SMTP… just an interested observer.

    I stand by my characterization of feminist theology (with which I am somewhat familiar). You might consider this summary from an Introduction to Feminist Theology: “In the light of this brief introduction we can see that Feminist Theologians are more than just concerned with what happens in Church but, beginning from their own experience, to correct a distorted view of women in Christianity which has led to their mainstream discrimination and suppression in spiritual matters. To deal with this some feminist theologians are trying to work within the Christian tradition to bring about a change from within whilst others have abandoned the Church as being irreconcilably patriarchal. These latter ‘evangelists’ have come to be known as post-Christian feminists who reject the Christian tradition in favour of a more radical and women centred spirituality (also called the(a)logy).” The necessity of reforming from within or of rejection of the tradition is precisely what I had in mind. It is about more than philosophy or theology, it is about politics and power. Indeed, your own comments betray this primary focus.

    As for those perspectives which are faithful and those which aren’t — the line may not be sharp and bright, but it is discernable. Further, I don’t believe that any works by any males (or females) carry any weight absent revelation or the claim to come from one who knows a heck of a lot more than we do. I regard the statements of females in general conference with the same weight as by males — words of wisdom without the weight of revelation until it is otherwise stated.

  81. Eve
    October 24, 2006 at 11:25 pm

    Rosalynde, no need to ask for forgiveness for reading me straight. Quite frankly, I’m not always sure whether I’m serious or not, especially when I’m running on three hours of sleep.

    Your point about attending to the specific is very well taken. I agree. In a sense I’m trying to make the same case for bringing the sometimes excessively abstract doctrinal rhetoric of Sunday school into focus, for considering the meaning of the gospel close up. But I’m wondering about the significance of these various phenomena, these small pictures (women don’t participate in abstract theology at the same rates men do, women don’t interpret scripture in church settings with the same confidence, etc.) in terms of the church’s unapologetically endorsed kinder, gentler patriarchy (not in terms of the big bad bogeyman of hegemonic sexism, who I think should make an appearance in Kaimi’s novel, if not Kingsley’s).

    In other words, what’s the relationship between these gendered phenomena and the version of patriarchy to which we’re doctrinally committed? From the perspective of our in-house patriarhcy, are these gender differences even a problem? M&M, as I read her, seems to be suggesting they’re not.

  82. Ben H
    October 24, 2006 at 11:32 pm

    (Re: #78) These kinds of assumptions (feminist theology seeks overthrow . . . is first a political statement . . .) will keep Mormon theology permanently ghettoized in the academic study of Religious Thought and is one of the reasons I’ve deliberately distanced myself from SMPT.

    Melissa, what are you saying?

    As it happens, there have regularly been politically relevant papers presented at SMPT. In 2005 there was a paper drawing a liberation theology from the Book of Mormon, for example. ’05 and ’06 both had papers on the political dimensions of our religious epistemology. SMPT is not some sort of champion for an ivory tower approach to theology.

    I don’t expect there will be a large non-Mormon audience for, or a large base of non-Mormon participants in discussions of Mormon theology any time soon, but I don’t think that has much to do with what Blake thinks about whether feminist theology is inherently political (and isn’t one of the great insights in feminist thought how much politics often lurks behind what pretends to be impartial and “objective”?).

  83. Rosalynde Welch
    October 24, 2006 at 11:46 pm

    “What’s the relationship between these gendered phenomena and the version of patriarchy to which we’re doctrinally committed? ”

    Eve, your question is, to me, at least, endlessly compelling, and I’m almost always up for a rousing round of speculation on the matter. But I don’t think we can actually know anything about any of the individual situations without more information, including—very crucially—non-Mormon control groups. Otherwise we’re likely to attribute too much to some special quality of Mormon patriarchy.

  84. Kaimi Wenger
    October 25, 2006 at 12:14 am

    I don’t have the background to judge on the quality of work by Blake or anyone else at SMPT. (Though some people who do know these things, such as Jim, seem to think well of Blake’s work, I believe.)

    But in any case, I think we’re on a tangent here, compared to Melissa’s most interesting assertion, namely, that “The institutional structure of the church prohibits women from seeing themselves as doctrine creators.”

    I think she’s on to something. I don’t think that the structure necessarily has that effect on _all_ women, but it clearly has that effect on some significant portion of Mormon women. And I don’t really think this is a good thing, myself.

    P.S. Apologies for continuing the threadjack, Rosalynde, though I am trying to steer it away from the cliff’s edge, I think.

    You probably realize that if you were a man, no one would dare threadjack your posts.

  85. October 25, 2006 at 12:33 am

    I’m confused about Melissa’s complaints too.

    Melissa, are you complaining in #78 that because you can’t be a Bishop or Stake President or GA that no one will listen to your theological ideas? Last I checked Blake was none of those things and people listen to and discuss his ideas. Heck, I’m none of those things and a few people even listen to and engage my theological ideas… I doubt it’s because I’m a dude.

  86. Matt Evans
    October 25, 2006 at 12:58 am


    The institutional structure of the church prohibits everyone from seeing themselves as doctrine creators. Melissa and Ryan wrote above that local priesthood leaders like Bishops and Mission Presidents create doctrine, but they don’t. They’re called to preside, and they have stewardship over their members, but they aren’t authorized to create doctrine.

    More importantly, the success of women Mormon bloggers shows that Mormons engage women on the merits of their ideas. This thread, especially the comments between Rosalynde, RT, Julie, Ryan, Melissa, Blake, Eve and Ben, is perfect proof that Mormons take Mormon women seriously.

  87. October 25, 2006 at 1:04 am

    The institutional structure of the church prohibits everyone from seeing themselves as doctrine creators.

    Thanks. You made the point I was going to make.

    This thread, especially the comments between Rosalynde, RT, Julie, Ryan, Melissa, Blake, Eve and Ben, is perfect proof that Mormon men take Mormon women seriously.

    Since I’m not on that list, does that mean I’m not taken seriously? :)

  88. October 25, 2006 at 4:27 am

    Eve (75) says:
    For example, the following experience has recently been repeated, again, in my gospel doctrine class:

    (1) I raise my hand and make a point.
    (2) Silence.
    (3) A comment or two later, a man raises his hand and makes the point I have just made.
    (4) Acknowledgement follows! Others pick up the conversational thread that evidently springs into existence only when voiced by the wearer of a suit and tie.
    (5) Not particularly interested in further attempts at participation, I idly contemplate buying a suit and tie.

    I’ve seen this so often that it has become an obsession to watch, once a woman has made what I think is an interesting comment that has gone undiscussed, to see how long it is before a man restates it in a way that sparks a discussion. There is a clear pattern that signals when this is about to happen, and I believe, in my untrained but fanatical observation, that we women only think we’re raising the same point. The way we raise the point says otherwise, though, and may even be relevant to Rosalynde’s original thread: if we write the same way we speak, women’s writings are going to be classed differently from men’s, even if ultimately we’re making the same points.

    Woman raises her hand to make a point, and most commonly phrases it in one of two ways:
    (a) a question: “Have you ever considered that …” The [usually unspoken] answer is “No, I haven’t,” and no discussion ensues.
    (b) a personal application: “My husband and I were talking about how our children are affected by XYZ …” The men in the room hear that as family gossip, and no discussion ensues.

    Moments later, man raises his hand to make the same point, and most commonly phrases it in one of two ways:
    (a) authoritative pronouncement: “The gospel requires us to …” followed by supportive scriptural quotations offered by someone, or a refutation offered by someone else, and discussion ensues.
    (b) a universal application, usually stated as an authoritative pronouncement: “Bruce R. McConkie used to speak about the duties of Mormon parents to warn young people about the evils of XYZ …” and discussion ensues.

    I think the problem is not because the first speaker is wearing a dress, or has a higher pitched voice, or doesn’t currently hold a position of ward authority — it’s because she speaks a different language. Speaking as women in women’s groups does generate discussion. In mixed groups, we have to speak Manglish to get any respect, often even from other women who automatically shift gears (or ears) because we’re so used to having to speak and think as men while in mixed groups.

  89. Melanie
    October 25, 2006 at 8:10 am

    Melissa (#78),
    An uncalled, unspecialized shouldn’t feel an advantage, nor should “called� but unspecialized men feel an advantage, but they do all the time. And the reason is that exegetical efforts made by males in positions of authority actually carry institutional weight (whether or not they really ought to).

    “In other words, its the callings, not the gender, that give authority to hold forth on such things.�

    As should be obvious, this argument just doesn’t hold water. since the callings in question are gendered.

    Can you help me understand your view of callings? I understand that your academic expertise gives you an advantage in understanding the historical and linguistic context of the scriptures and their interpretation. However, if we strip called leadership positions of any presumption of authority, then what is their purpose?

    While much of what bishops (and other leaders do) is purely administrative, I don’t believe they are simply set-apart paper pushers. I do think that their calling gives them authority in the context of their specific position. That authority is different from the academic perspective you bring–and does not replace it–but it is a valuable form of specialization. And as long as I have leaders with divinely-mandated stewardships over me, I am going to assume their leadership is inspired. In a Church that puts so much emphasis on modern revelation, it doesn’t seem out of place to privilege the Spirit over academic information.

    Please don’t think I’m discounting your studies and tremendous knowledge. I wish we all had the time, resources, and opportunity to delve into religion the way you do, and I think such study is of great benefit to the Church. But do we really want a church structure that’s based on who has the most degrees in the most religiously relevant fields?

    Back to Rosalynde’s question, this brings up another unknown (and, I suspect, relatively unknowable) variable in the Deseret Book mystery: how many of those authors (of both genders) write because they enjoy it, because they have a new insight to share, want to uplift others, are seeking financial gain, or whatever, and how many write and publish because they feel personal inspiration–a personal “calling” if you will–to do so? (And when GAs write, do they consider it a requirement of their calling? Or do they publish in response to requests from DB? Or for other reasons?) Obviously a person’s own feeling of inspiration does not guarantee that DB will accept their manuscript…but it could have an impact on the pool that is available for publishing. Similarly, are there authors who write but feel personally prompted to not publish?

  90. Frank McIntyre
    October 25, 2006 at 9:44 am

    “That authority is different from the academic perspective you bring–and does not replace it–but it is a valuable form of specialization. And as long as I have leaders with divinely-mandated stewardships over me, I am going to assume their leadership is inspired. In a Church that puts so much emphasis on modern revelation, it doesn’t seem out of place to privilege the Spirit over academic information.”

    Melanie, I was going to agree wholeheartedly with you here, but I take it from your name that you are a woman, so apparently I should treat your comment with silence and possibly contempt. So I guess I agree with you contemptuously and silently.

    As for the question of doctrine creators, I would guess that a fair chunk of the Church does not see anybody outside of the prophet (or the 15 or, for some, the 70) as a doctrine creator. And that is not about gender, rather it is about the keys of revelation. If God were to decide to ordain a woman to have those keys, I’d happily accept her too. I’m a sheep. Baaa!

  91. Ryan Bell
    October 25, 2006 at 10:09 am

    Melissa, I continue to be baffled by your assertion that because people defer to bishops and stake presidents on doctrine and scripture, people automatically defer to all men. The vast majority of men in the church are not, and never will be, Bishops, Stake Presidents, or General Authorities. Those who do become such will inevitably be seen as authorities on the matters we’re discussing, whether rightly or wrongly (Matt, and Melissa, I agree that the mere calling does not give one a background in these matters, but I believe it’s true that people give this deference anyway, and I’m not positive whether it’s misplaced). I stated above that it’s not about gender, it’s about the callings. You say this is nonsense, because all people who hold such callings are male (despite the fact that those who hold such callings are a tiny minority of the male population). We both know this is a trite logical fallacy, akin to saying that because all cows are mammals, we need to be afraid of getting mad cow disease from eating any mammal.

    But lets be clear what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about the situation brought up by Eve and Ardis in which a good comment by a sister in church goes unnoticed and is then brought up by a man to wide acclaim. We’re talking about the idea that the average woman in the church that might otherwise take up and interest and gain an education in scriptural exegesis or theology passes on such an opportunity because of the feeling that she will never be heard. On the flip side a man who feels interested in getting such an education is more likely to get one because he feels he will be listened to, by virtue of the fact that he may in the future hold an authoritative calling, or that he may have held on in the past, or that others who hold authoritative callings are all of his own gender. Melissa says that this phenomenon is caused by the fact that men get these callings that confer authority, and women don’t. I am saying that it is not my experience that seeing other men hold callings that confers doctrinal authority has made me feel any more empowered to start espousing my own exegesis. I would only feel so empowered if I had the background for such, or the formal authority for such. Men just aren’t feeling the right to spout off on doctrine just because other men hold callings and get PhDs.

    (And sorry for calling you unspecialized– I should have remembered what you’re studying. Clearly, I would defer to you in matters scriptural and theological, although, apparently, by your theory, you would expect the rest of the church to defer to me.)

  92. Mark IV
    October 25, 2006 at 10:36 am

    In comment #88, Ardis makes a fascinating point, one I had never considered, but which is obvious now that I think about it.

    I would expand the definition of Manglish, though, to include several different dialects, because men speak differently in the presence of women. When I go from Sunday School to Priesthood meeting, I shift conversational gears. For instance, in quorum meeting it is permissible to make light of somebody’s baldness or fatness, or to engage in lighthearted ribbing about who didn’t show up yesterday to help move the family with 2 pianos and 6 tons of wheat in the basement, all of which would be frowned upon in GD class. I think it is safe to say that the phenomenon Ardis describes works just as well in reverse. I greatly admire RS presidents who are able to interact effectively in a welfare council meeting where everyone else in the room is male.

    Ryan Bell,

    I’m saying that it is not my experience that seeing other men hold callings that confers doctrinal authority has made me feel any more empowered to start espousing my own exegesis.

    Ryan, that speaks well of you, but I don’t think you are the norm. The church produces missionaries by the tens of thousands every year who are trained to expound doctrine to others and who feel it is their right and calling to do so. The sad fact of the matter is that many of them live out the rest of their lives and never realize that they have been released.

  93. October 25, 2006 at 10:46 am

    Ryan (91): We’re talking about the idea that the average woman in the church that might otherwise take up and interest and gain an education in scriptural exegesis or theology passes on such an opportunity because of the feeling that she will never be heard.

    Ryan, it isn’t that far-fetched. Exhibit: Me.

    I’ve always enjoyed church history as a reader and class member, and thought long ago that I should maybe take it up professionally. I didn’t, because of the very conscious awareness that I would have nothing to say that anyone would listen to. *As church history was defined in those days,* it was all about revelations and angelic visitations and priesthood and restoration of doctrine — all of which came under the purview of the priesthood (or so I wholeheartedly believed). What could I possibly teach anyone about the Restoration that would be anything but a rehash of what general authorities were already teaching? So I passed.

    Later, when I was almost accidentally exposed to New Mormon History, I finally realized how much broader church history was than explication of the Doctrine & Covenants. I took the leap and am doing what I should have started 20 years earlier.

    So it isn’t at all hard for me to believe that a bright, talented woman would miss her calling in theology because of an almost hard-wired perception that expressing doctrine and revelation belongs to men. When I recognize that, it isn’t hard to acknowledge that listeners in a Sunday School class reject theology expressed by a woman (or at least theology not heavily quoting a general authority), because of the same ingrained belief — “that is a function of the priesthood.”

  94. Frank McIntyre
    October 25, 2006 at 11:09 am


    Your description of why you didn’t take the leap seemed to center on the role of GA’s, rather than men. In other words, if you were a man you would have been happy to take the leap and “rehash what General Authorities were already teaching”?

  95. Melissa
    October 25, 2006 at 11:11 am

    “Melissa, I continue to be baffled by your assertion that because people defer to bishops and stake presidents on doctrine and scripture, people automatically defer to all men”

    This is NOT my argument. My argument is that

    1) the fact that leaders with what you call “formal authority” are men means that women defer to the men who hold these positions. Men do not defer to the institutional authority of women because they have none. In no calling or capacity do women have stewardship over men in the church. This is not remotely the same thing as saying that people “automatically defer to all men.”

    2) The institutional structure of the church necessarily shapes a woman’s self-understanding. I suggested that it’s possible (even likely) that the leadership structure of the church hinders women from developing an authoritative voice on matters of scripture and doctrine. Again, this seems to me like it would be a uncontroversial claim. While you personally might not feel “empowered to start espousing [your] own exegesis,” because you remain “uncalled” to do so at this point, a woman’s situation is vastly different because she will never be called to do so, for no other reason than her gender.

    “Clearly, I would defer to you in matters scriptural and theological, although, apparently, by your theory, you would expect the rest of the church to defer to me.”

    Until the day you became bishop of my ward (or even Sunday School president!) and decided that I was teaching “false doctrine” in Gospel Doctrine class. At that point, I should defer to your judgment on the matter because you happen to have received a particular calling, right? Even if you personally wouldn’t respond to a calling this way, many, many men do. We have learned by sad experiencwe that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men . . . .


    “This thread is perfect proof that Mormons take Mormon women seriously.” This thread is proof of nothing.
    Your comment doesn’t address the argument since a woman’s comment on a blog thread has no power to determine doctrine. And I don’t know what makes you think that bishops and stake presidents don’t interpret doctrine but I would argue that that is one of their primary roles. This can be seen in everything from the way they handle standards nights for the youth totemple recommend interviews to those terrible firesides we’ve all attended when the stake president opens the floor for doctrinal questions–as though because of a temporary calling he now has some profound insight into doctrinal mysteries!


    My comments should not be taken as an indictment of your work. You article on the Momron concept of God was extremely formative for me philosophically and spiritually meaningful to me on a personal level. I’m truly grateful for some of the work you’ve done. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that Mormon theology is ghettoized in the academy and that there are some things we could do to begin to change that.

    **I’ll be away from my computer the rest of the day so I may be slow to respond to any other comments, but I’ll try to check in again tomorrow before I leave for a conference.

  96. Kaimi Wenger
    October 25, 2006 at 11:34 am

    As a quick follow up to Melissa’s comment:

    1. Ryan, I’m in the Sunday School presidency. This means that I get to evaluate teaching in my ward.

    I like to think that I’m a reasonably intelligent person and proficient teacher, and that this calling relates to at least one of those. But I’m _not_ in the SS presidency because of any real theological training. Yet if Melissa was the GD teacher in my ward, I would be over her, sent to review her classes and make sure she’s teaching them properly.

    Now, the obvious rebuttal is that the same scenario would apply to a man as well. This is true. For example, if Richard Bushman was the GD teacher, I would also be in charge of telling him whether he was teaching properly.

    The difference is that Bushman is a former bishop, stake president, and patriarch, and so carries a certain amount of ecclesiastical cachet that Melissa will never be able to possess. Thus, it seems more likely that a GD teacher like Melissa would be prone to bullying by a Sunday School president, than a GD teacher like Bushman.

    (Yes, this is at least in part a function of age as well as gender. Age does often convey social status as well, plus it gives opportunity for ecclesiastical callings.)

    2. Matt writes, “This thread is perfect proof that Mormons take Mormon women seriously.”

    Yes. And bloggernacle threads in general are perfect proof that Mormons as a group are deeply conflicted over gay marriage; highly interested in FARMS and FAIR; as familiar with Minerva Teichert as they are with Arnold Friberg; more likely to own Rough Stone Rolling than The Work and the Glory; and almost certain to possess advanced degrees.

    Also, bloggernacle threads in general are perfect proof that most Mormons don’t actually live in Utah, but rather somewhere on the East Coast.

  97. Frank McIntyre
    October 25, 2006 at 11:36 am


    “In no calling or capacity do women have stewardship over men in the church.”

    Primary Presidents are over primary teachers.

  98. Jacob
    October 25, 2006 at 11:43 am

    Ardis makes a compelling point in #89. Another possibility to consider is that women in the church bring the Relief Society with them wherever they go and by so doing, discourage people from disagreeing with them openly.

    As to the the data presented in the post, my theory is that Deseret Book, over many years, has built up a culture of prefering bad scriptural exegesis, which leads them to choose submissions from men instead of those from women. Hey, it’s as plausible as some of the other theories out there.

  99. Ardis
    October 25, 2006 at 11:54 am

    Frank (95): No. It centers more on priesthood function, not on GA office. Pronouncing the meaning of scripture (doctrine, policy, revelation, the “way things work,” whatever) *is* most commonly a privilege exercised by GAs, but to some extent it is also exercised by local church leaders and family members — priesthood holders — who have stewardship in the matter of perfecting the saints. That’s not a role I will ever have, and everything pertaining to it feels off limits.

    Because “men” and “priesthood” and “doctrine” so often come in the same package, it shouldn’t be surprising that roles may appear indistinguishable. It can be hard for a woman to assume one of those roles (i.e., clarifying doctrine) without feeling herself and being perceived by others as trespassing. I had to redefine church history as being broader than explicating the revelations of Joseph Smith in order for me to avoid the feeling of trespass.

    To me, this discussion is not about the way things really are, or should be, objectively and logically, but the way we perceive things, which may often be distorted.

    Since typing that, I’ve caught up on comments. Melissa’s (96) second point says it better than I have, but I’m going to leave my comment in place to show that different women have had the same experiences and try independently to explain the same idea.

  100. Mark IV
    October 25, 2006 at 11:56 am


    Thanks for the link. I followed it, and came upon this link to the sugar beet.

    Note to all: Please be wiser than I was and swallow the diet coke before clicking on the link.

  101. Julie M. Smith
    October 25, 2006 at 11:56 am


    One more thing to consider: I’ve been in the position of having done advanced theological studies as a single woman, a married childless woman, and a married woman with children. I definitely sense that people perceive me as more of an authority now than they did ten years and three kids ago. Whether my teaching style or something else has changed I can’t say, but I would conclude from my own experience (and, yes, I do realize how dangerous anecdotes are) that people are more willing to accept my expertise (such as it is) because of my “Mormon credentials” of marriage and motherhood.

    Which is to say that my lived experience of orthodoxy opens the door to my unorthodox academic qualifications to be taken more seriously. My point here is to nuance your argument about women to one about married mothers. Whether this is a better or worse state of affairs is debatable; I can see good evidence in both directions.

    It is frankly shocking to me that you would think that your academic credentials should trump a bishop’s spiritual ones. While I’m obviously a huge proponent of the academic study of the scriptures, I’m an even bigger fan of the restored priesthood. (Personal experience plays in here, too: I was the one who doubted Pauline authorship of Hebrews while teaching GD with a 70 in the audience. His only comment on my lesson afterwards was that it was “good.” So it is hard for me to get irked about unrighteous dominion over academics when it doesn’t happen in my life.)

  102. October 25, 2006 at 12:01 pm

    Hey! I make a comment (#85) that goes ignored and then Ryan makes the same basic point (#95) and gets a response… Didn’t you see the last part of my comment?? I specifically mentioned “I’m a dude”!! That’s not supposed to happen to me in this church…


  103. bbell
    October 25, 2006 at 12:07 pm

    I read this thread with great interest and then as I always do wonder if I go to a different church then our liberal bloggers.

    I have never seen a woman make a point in SS School get ignored and then some 45 year old guy make the same point and get noticed and a discussion ensues.

    We also have never had a male ss school teacher in 5 years either.

    In my view the discrepency between male writers and female writers with DB is a function of SAHM and large families. Nothing more. Also the DB stores seem to market mostly to women in my experience.

  104. Matt Evans
    October 25, 2006 at 12:18 pm

    “a woman’s comment on a blog thread has no power to determine doctrine.”

    Melissa, a book published by DB has no power to determine doctrine, either. Mormons would engage a book of scriptural exegesis on its merits just as they engage Julie’s blog posts of scriptural exegesis on their merits.

    As leaders of their congregations, Bishops and Stake presidents must define appropriate behavior and set standards, and are frequently deferred to even when their thoughts are purely speculative. What they don’t do, I’ve noticed, is write exegetical books. I’d wager that not a single one of the 23 non-GA works Rosalynde identified as exegetical have dust jacket blurbs emphasizing the author’s church calling. There are too many SPs and bishops to rely on that “credential” when selling a book at DB; no one at DB would publish a book because it was written by a bishop. In fact, I’ll bet that the majority of the men who wrote exegetical works have never been a bishop or stake president.

    Ardis, why weren’t the successes of Juanita Brooks, Jan Shipps, Fawn Brodie, etc., sufficient to convince you that Mormon Studies engaged women authors on the merits of their work?

  105. Ben H
    October 25, 2006 at 12:29 pm

    In fairness to Melissa, Ryan (#91), to “preach, teach, expound, [and] exhort” is a duty of elders and priests as per D&C 20:42 & 46. So Melissa isn’t pulling this idea of doctrinal authority merely in virtue of holding the priesthood out of nowhere. Even if we don’t quote this scripture very often, I think it reflects important features of what we expect from priesthood holders. Also, the fact that someone is not currently a bishop, SP, or GA is very relevant, but as others have pointed out, the idea that he might well be some day certainly has an impact on his sense of what he should aspire to, and that includes a degree of authority regarding what doctrine is taught at church. It is more a custodial authority than an originating authority, but it is still authority.

    To put in other words what others have said, Sunday School teachers and the like are clearly called and set apart to teach! and they are entitled to the guidance of the Spirit in this, so women do regularly participate in doctrinal authority, but in a way that is still limited by those in authority over them (SS pres, bishop, etc.).

    (#95) That doesn’t change the fact, however, that Mormon theology is ghettoized in the academy and that there are some things we could do to begin to change that.

    Like get women educated at Yale, Brown, Harvard and Princeton involved? Sounds like a great idea to me! Of course, Mormon theology is only just starting to exist at all in an academic form (thanks to people like Blake and David Paulsen, though e.g. Sterling McMurrin is helpful from a few years back), and still only in fragmentary form. As a result, outsiders who try to look at what we think tend to just get very confused and make elementary errors. Some of these errors (not all elementary!) are to conclude that we are hopelessly confused ourselves, or nuts, or firmly hostile to any academic treatment of our theology–and under the circumstances they can hardly be blamed. So one of the main things we need to do to get academic Mormon theology un-ghettoized (so far as that is possible) is to do academic Mormon theology at all! The un-ghettoizing part would be nice, too.

    As Mormon theology comes to have more of an academic footprint, one dares hope that this will make it easier for women’s ideas on doctrine, etc. to be heard, since authority is less gendered there : )

  106. Ben S
    October 25, 2006 at 12:33 pm

    Just so it’s clear, Ben H. was not responsible for comments 36 & 39. I’ll start differentiating myself again via an initial.

  107. Kaimi Wenger
    October 25, 2006 at 12:34 pm

    Matt (104),

    “Ardis, why weren’t the successes of Juanita Brooks, Jan Shipps, Fawn Brodie, etc., sufficient to convince you that Mormon Studies engaged women authors on the merits of their work?”

    I can’t speak for Ardis, but I think you just made her point for her:

    An excommunicated author; an effective outcast; and a non-member. And from that sample, you’re surprised that Ardis didn’t form the impression that Mormon women are welcome to participate in Mormon studies discussions?

  108. Ryan Bell
    October 25, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    Geoff J, it’s because you suck at Manglish.

  109. Ben H
    October 25, 2006 at 12:38 pm

    Hah! Matt (#94), I hope and trust you are right about DB, but the dust jacket of a book from another Mormon-oriented publisher trumpeted the author’s experience as a seventy (remember when stake missionaries–now ward missionaries–were seventies? they hope you don’t . . .), and the fact that his mission president was Boyd J. Packer (I think that was the apostle they mentioned), as if that gave him doctrinal credibility! I didn’t know whether to think it was hilarious or just plain evil–maybe both.

  110. Mark IV
    October 25, 2006 at 12:41 pm

    Matt E., 104 –

    I’d wager that not a single one of the 23 non-GA works Rosalynde identified as exegetical have dust jacket blurbs emphasizing the author’s church calling.

    I think you are mistaken on this point, Matt. I just checked a couple of my books, and they both list the authors callings (SP, MP) and the number of years he has worked for CES.

  111. Porter
    October 25, 2006 at 12:54 pm

    Given all of the not-too-veiled references to sexism at Deseret Book, I’m suprised that nobody has mentioned that the current CEO of the company is a woman, Sheri Dew. It seems to me that, if anything, this would make the company more inclined to accept all types of works by female authors.

  112. Matt Evans
    October 25, 2006 at 12:55 pm

    Kaimi, I don’t see what connection you’re claiming the author’s genders have with their church status. Jan Shipps is a non-mormon because she’s a woman? Or that if Jan Shipps had become a member her work would not have been taken seriously? And of course Claudia Bushman and other active women were publishing 30+ years ago, too.

  113. Matt Evans
    October 25, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    Mark IV, I’m sure the blurbs mention church callings, that’s why I limited my claim to their not “emphasizing” the author’s church calling. Like Ben H’s example, I’ve seen blurbs on lots of self-published books that suggest the author has no credential at all save his church calling, but those aren’t the books DB is promoting in their catalog. Professional publishers would mention the author’s callings as part of their abbreviated bio, just like they mention where they live, the name of their spouse, and how many children and grandchildren they have. In the examples you mention, working in CES would be the determinative factor, meaning it is their CES experience and credential that led them to write the book. Having served in a SP, and living in Utah with ten kids, is icing.

  114. Ardis
    October 25, 2006 at 1:03 pm

    What Kaimi said in 107. Times — and Ardis– have changed.

    bbell (103): In case I’m classed as “liberal” because of this thread, let me say, please, that it would be one of the few times I’ve worn that label. It is my rather extreme conservatism in religious matters that made/makes me hesitate to engage men and doctrine on the same terms that men engage other men and doctrine. Since women’s hesitation and perception of being overlooked comes as such an apparent surprise, I am merely trying to demonstrate *that* it exists.

  115. Jacob
    October 25, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    Mark IV (#100),

    Thanks for the tip about the diet coke, which quite possibly saved my laptop. Nice link.

  116. bbell
    October 25, 2006 at 2:21 pm


    I was referring more to Melissa. I do not have enough exp with you to make that determination.

    Sometimes in the bloggernaccle I feel like I am in an alternative mormon universe from the one that I serve in on a daily basis.

  117. Mark Butler
    October 25, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    One comment – the only sound basis of theology is revelation. Anyone who tries to promote any doctrine that does not comport with theology as God understands it, indeed as He authored it, is wasting his or her time.

    It would be even more futile than appearing before the Supreme Court attempting to make a sophisticated legal argument that contradicts the whole body of the law of these United States. Sympathetic justices may let attorneys get away with that on occasion, but the Lord is rather more fastidious about His laws, covenants, and ordinances and the manner they are administered than the Supreme Court is in enforcing a law and constitution authored by others.

  118. October 25, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    I have never seen a woman make a point in SS School get ignored and then some 45 year old guy make the same point and get noticed and a discussion ensues.

    I have never seen this either. Let’s not make generalizations when clearly the experiences are more localized. This may happen to some people, but it’s not a problem in the Church at large.

    I also don’t see SS presidents and bishops wildly silencing anyone on what they are teaching. There’s an awful lot of live and let live in my experience – for both sexes.

  119. October 25, 2006 at 3:20 pm

    I hear ya, Geoff! Yooohoooo…

    bbell, I’m shocked…and I’m almost a right-wing whacko.

  120. October 25, 2006 at 3:21 pm

    I have never seen a woman make a point in SS School get ignored and then some 45 year old guy make the same point and get noticed and a discussion ensues.

    Me neither. I’m sad to hear that this has been the case for others.

  121. October 25, 2006 at 3:25 pm

    sorry for the sorta repeat post…things are backlogged apparently

  122. Rosalynde Welch
    October 25, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    Ryan, I’m so glad to see you commenting again! I’ve missed your contributions. Melissa, it’s always good to see you around, too.

    There are a thousand things I want to say, but in the interest of getting something done today, I’ll just say one of them.

    Ryan, you wrote, “The vast majority of men in the church are not, and never will be, Bishops, Stake Presidents, or General Authorities.” Some variation of this comment appears at some point in virtually every conversation about any aspect of the gender-and-the-priesthood question. I believe it’s made in good faith, and I think can understand the genuine puzzlement that many men feel: hey, wait, I’m not one of the big bosses, I’m an underling just like you (they think), so there’s really no difference between us, no reason to get upset. I think this line of reasoning would be more persuasive if we had a professional clergy. With our lay clergy, though, which offers and encourages priesthood ordination to every worthy man, I don’t think it works so well, and here’s why.

    Take the issue at hand: preaching doctrine. I agree with those who have said, contra Melissa, that presiding priesthood authority doesn’t confer the right to create doctrine, or propound novel interpretations of scripture. I think it’s more accurate to say that presiding priesthood authority confers the right to police doctrine, to ensure the purity of the doctrine being taught. Running with the police metaphor, then: being ordained to the priesthood is like being a sworn policeman, with all the authority to inform and enforce the law. Most of the time, of course, priesthood-policemen are off duty, not actively exercising their presiding authority. But they have the capacity to activate their latent authority anytime they’re on duty. When uncertainty arises—-quick, code heresy in the multi-puropose room!—those who don’t hold the priesthood (mostly women and children, in our lay church) will naturally defer to those who do, just as most regular citizens would defer to an off-duty policeman in uncertain situations.

    This dynamic does not obtain universally, of course. My mother holds great stature in her stake, and men and women both defer to her knowledge of the scriptures and doctrine—-as well they should, given her lifetime of intense study and tireless teaching. But she has the advantage of a charismatic personality and an unusually articulate presence, so I’m not sure it’s fair to suggest that her experience could be the norm for Mormon women.

  123. October 25, 2006 at 4:14 pm

    Rosalynde: Some variation of this comment appears at some point in virtually every conversation about any aspect of the gender-and-the-priesthood question.

    I think that is because it remains a very strong point. The “off duty cop” issue you bring up appears in virtually every conversation like this too but I just don’t believe holding the priesthood or not really makes any difference if the goal is to have people take your theological ideas scriptural exegesis seriously. Honestly, claims otherwise always strike me as a variation on the age old “the man is keeping me down” cry. Your mother is a fine counter example though. Any man or woman can earn the respect of his or her ward, stake, or ‘nacle peers on doctrinal issues by consistently demonstrating he or she has interesting and supportable things to say. Blake Ostler told me he mostly gets callings like nursery leader in his wards, yet when he speaks a lot of us perk our ears up because he has consistently shown us that he is worth listening to.

    Any complaints (explicit or veiled) that “no one listens to my novel theological ideas because I’m a woman” are misguided I think. In a regular church setting no one wants to hear novel theological ideas period (unless perhaps it is coming from a prophet). Even in the bloggernacle people only sometimes want to discuss them (and as Doc mentioned in #24 very few of us seem interested in posting on them to begin with).

    The good news is that women can post on theology all they want in the bloggernacle and they will be treated with all kinds of respect (witness Mogget, Julie, the ZD sisters, and lots of others). The great news for you and Julie is that anything you post here at T&S will be seen by thousands of people — that is probably more eyeballs than the vast majority of doctrinal books sold at Deseret Book will ever see.

  124. Kaimi Wenger
    October 25, 2006 at 4:29 pm


    Our spam filter seems to hate you lately, and I’m not sure why. It’s queued a few of your comments, though. Apologies for the delay; when I see them there, I set them free.

  125. Rosalynde Welch
    October 25, 2006 at 4:33 pm

    “The “off duty copâ€? issue you bring up appears in virtually every conversation like this too ”

    D’oh! Guess I wasn’t as original as I thought.

    I’m onboard with most of what you say, Geoff. My point is narrow: in an ecclesiastical setting, and ceteris paribus, a man’s pronouncement will be received as more authoritative than a woman’s, for the reasons I described. Most of the time, of course, ceteris is not paribus, so this dynamic does not obtain always or even often, happily. (And I can honestly say it’s never happened to me, or I haven’t been aware of it: because I have a PhD, and many ward members are aware of that, people often defer to what I say—to my chagrin, since I sometimes inadvertently intimidate other women.) And outside the ecclesiastical setting—in the nacle, say—-things can be very different.

    As I said above somewhere, I don’t think this particular issue is immediately relevant to the circumstances of the DB phenomenon I described in the OP.

  126. Rosalynde Welch
    October 25, 2006 at 4:37 pm

    Also, a propos of the discussion way upsteam somewhere re: the feminization of DB: their “Time Out” brand of book clubs, speaking tours, and themed travel is explicitly and exclusively for women, so yeah, I think it’s real.

    That their primary demographic is married women doesn’t change the facts of their authorship profile, of course.

  127. Blake
    October 25, 2006 at 4:50 pm

    Just for the record — my wife is the current Relief Society President in our ward. My sole calling is as a home teacher. Folks in my ward listen to my wife much more than me. Her statement carry much more weight — not necessarily only because she is RS Pres., but also because she is tender and honest and knows her stuff. When I speak they usually listen politely for which I am greatful. However, my wife is the authority in our ward despite the fact that I am a priesthood holder and she is not. Now our experience may not be typical, but I suspect that it is typical enough to suggest that there isn’t the overarching bias against women that I fear Melissa and others may sometimes be right to point out.

    That said — let me pull a thread jack momentarily. I really care very little about DB and its offerings because it is generally so much pablum. Maybe women ought to be glad if their stuff isn’t published by DB. (My books are sold at DB and I’d like to make an exception for them in the pablum category but it would be too self-serving).

  128. October 25, 2006 at 5:06 pm

    Rosalynde: D’oh! Guess I wasn’t as original as I thought.

    Hehe. Ok, I should have mentioned that you do deserve props for coming up with a novel way of defending that position. I’m always a sucker for a good analogy.

    to my chagrin, since I sometimes inadvertently intimidate other women

    She says after nonchalantly using “ceteris paribus” in a sentence… ;-)

  129. October 25, 2006 at 6:29 pm

    You know you shouldda kept quiet when you find yourself writing “Just let me clarify …” for the third time.

    The woman-ignored man-heard scene I described in (88) is not unique to or caused by the church setting. It can be chalked up solely to the different communications styles of men and women. You see it all the time in the boardroom, in community settings, anywhere men and women are proposing solutions or advocating positions. Successful women learn to phrase their remarks in an acceptably assertive way, or eventually we explode in frustration (I’ve done — er, I’ve seen *that* in a boardroom, too).

  130. Ben H
    October 25, 2006 at 7:09 pm

    . . . or, more intimidatingly, correctly using “ceteris” and “paribus” in a phrase that is not the boiler-plate “ceteris paribus” . . .

    bbell, I don’t want to fuss over labels because I think you know labels are slippery, but I would feel a lot of cognitive dissonance trying to fit Melissa into the category, “liberal Mormon”. From what I know of Melissa, a better approximation would be something like, “Serious, conservative Mormon who has noticed a lot of upsetting problems connected with gender in the church”.

  131. M
    October 26, 2006 at 2:04 am

    Melissa is right, plain and simple. Women aren\’t considered authorities on scripture and they never will be in our church because they can’t be priesthood holders. They can\’t ever receive revelation for anyone else, and they can never hold the church callings that seem to sort of authorize one as a doctrinal authority – even though I know for a fact that Melissa knows more about religion and scripture than most men that will hold these callings. A woman can be extensively educated in religion, but she can never be a bishope, stake president, or General authority –and Mormon culture seems to dictate that deep doctrinal analysis come from men that have held these positions of authority.
    and bbell – I just put two and two together while reading another comment. You are in my ward (sort of).

  132. Julie M. Smith
    October 26, 2006 at 10:32 am

    “They can\’t ever receive revelation for anyone else”

    Obviously false statements like this (even the most conservative Saint believes that women can receive revelation for anyone within their stewardship–family and callings) undermine the legitimacy of the rest of your comment.

    “Mormon culture seems to dictate that deep doctrinal analysis come from men that have held these positions of authority”

    You say this as if it were a bad thing. I repeat: I’m a big fan of biblical studies but I’m a bigger fan of the restored priesthood. I’ve spent enough time around liberal Protestants to see exactly what happens in a culture that “seems to dictate” that “deep doctrinal analysis” comes from those with the most letters after their name to know that I prefer the alternative.

  133. Blake
    October 26, 2006 at 10:41 am

    “M” said: “Mormon culture seems to dictate that deep doctrinal analysis come from men that have held these positions of authorityâ€?

    Well I’ve never seen a revelation that was a deep doctrinal analysis of anything! Revelation as I see it in the historical record isn’t at all like that. Nothing stops women from deep doctrinal analysis or revelation. However, your point is well taken that only a man receiving revelation could establish a revelation as normative for the entire Church (tho i believe Eliza Snow did it with the Mother in Heaven “doctrine”).

    BTW M, is James Bond your friend?

  134. Matt Evans
    October 26, 2006 at 11:39 am


    I believe the reason men are likely to be deferred to regarding the scriptures and doctrine is not because they have the priesthood but because they are assumed to better know the scriptures and doctrine, primarily because more men have served missions which required them to study and teach the gospel for several hours every day for two years. Knowledge trumps gender, as you and your mother prove. However, if people assume (whether it’s true or not) that the average active male member knows more about the scriptures and doctrine than the average active female member, people will sometimes wrongly defer to a *specific* man over a *specific* woman, because of the law of averages, even when they shouldn’t. They shouldn’t because, even if it’s true that men, on average, know more than women, there are many women, including all of those who’ve commented on this thread, who better know the scriptures and doctrine than most men. There’s probably a formal name for the error of misapplying averages, but I don’t know it. Anyone? Regardless, if men are generally taken more seriously regarding scriptures and doctrine, I think it is due to their presumed knowledge, and not to their having the priesthood.

  135. Starfoxy
    October 26, 2006 at 11:49 am

    Matt- I think the word you’re looking for is “statistics.”

  136. Matt Evans
    October 26, 2006 at 11:57 am

    Starfoxy, people can be deceived by statistics, but “statistics” isn’t a logical fallacy. I trust there is a technical term for the specific logical fallacy of wrongly applying averages to specifics. (The average 20-year-old is taller than the average 15-year-old, but its a logical fallacy to conclude from that fact that Herbert, who is 20, must be taller than Earl, who is 15.)

  137. bbell
    October 26, 2006 at 12:13 pm

    Hi M.

    What ward are you in? “Sort of” is kind of ambigous after all. I am thinking pre-split. ID yourself so I can tease you this week.

    I still am not seeing this SS scenario happening in my neck of the woods. I will look out for it and return and report.

  138. Greg Call
    October 26, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    Matt: It’s the fallacy of division (the converse of the fallacy of composition).

  139. Starfoxy
    October 26, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    *Sigh* If Kaimi had said that you would have recognized it was a joke. It’s probably just because he holds the Priesthood. Maybe I didn’t use enough winky faces… ;)
    More seriously though, a brief look though Wikipedia’s list of logical fallacies gives Fallacy of Accident or destroying the exeption as a likely candidate for name of the fallacy you are looking for (oddly enough it was the first one on the list).

  140. Mark Butler
    October 26, 2006 at 12:31 pm


    I believe it is called unrighteous judgement. Judge not, lest ye be judged – but judge righteous judgment, right?

    Do ye look on things after the outward appearance?
    If any man trust to himself that he is Christ’s,
    Let him of himself think this again,
    That, as he is Christ’s, even so are we Christ’s.
    (1 Cor 2:7)

    Nice bit of poetry there.

  141. Jonathan Green
    October 26, 2006 at 12:37 pm

    Since the discussion has focused on the 22 men and 1 woman who have published books on scriptural exegesis for the last 130 comments or so, now might be a good time to find out who these 23 people actually are. Rosalynde, I would check myself, but I don’t have the DB catalog handy. Who are these people, and what are their positions? I think we’ve explored most possible angles that can be explored knowing only the gender of the authors.

  142. Mark Butler
    October 26, 2006 at 12:49 pm

    It is quite true that women quite hold
    offices quite considered like that of Melchizedek
    But of Abraham and Sarah that has been fulfilled
    And as that of Christ his name seems prophetic.

  143. Rosalynde Welch
    October 26, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    Well, Jonathan, since you asked….

    Robert Millet (2), Lloyd Newell, Michael Wilcox, James Ferrell, Richard Holzapfel (4), Don Staheli, Dennis Leavitt, Richard O. Christensen, Kent Brown, Eric Huntsman, Thomas Wayment (3), Jay Parry, Donald Parry, Andrew Skinner, Robert Eaton, and John Bytheway

    The woman was Jeni Holzapfel, presumably a relation of Richard’s, and co-author with him of “Sisters at the Well.”

    When typed into the BYU Faculty/Staff directory, the following names yielded no results: Michael Wilcox, James Ferrell, Don Staheli, Dennis Leavitt, Richard Christensen, Thomas Wayment. The other ten out of sixteen have a BYU affiliation.

  144. Matt Evans
    October 26, 2006 at 2:09 pm

    Michael Wilcox is a popular CES instructor at the UofU Institute. If I remember right, he received his Ph.D. in English at the University of Colorado, writing a dissertation dealing with C.S. Lewis.

  145. Mark B.
    October 26, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    And Don Staheli made a freight train load of money trading wheat at Continental Grain (before serving in the Second Quorum of the Seventy for five years or so). But it was a different Don Staheli who wrote the book that shows up in the DB catalog.

    You may think that I should have deleted the first sentence, but I’d already gone to too much work writing it.

  146. October 26, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    Michael Wilcox used to be a BYU religion prof. I had him my freshman year.

  147. Frank McIntyre
    October 26, 2006 at 3:11 pm

    Thomas Wayment is also an asst. professor at BYU.

    James L. Ferrell I found as author of “The Peacegiver”. It does not look like a hard core work of exegesis to me, but rather a gospel resource, but maybe my standards are too high. In any case, he is a lawyer. Don Staheli’s books I would consider in the same category as Ferrell’s– gospel living. But I have not read either.

    So now we’re at:

    BYU faculty 11
    CES 1
    non-BYU, but perhaps not hard core exegesis: 2
    unknown 2.

    Since there are 6 female authors of gospel resource books, I guess the story pretty much is explained by the BYU religion faculty.

  148. Rosalynde Welch
    October 26, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    Frank, none of the books I classified as “exegesis” is hard-core exegesis. They’re books that take the scriptures as their primary subject matter, in a non-fiction format. I chose the term “exegesis” to distinguish them from the sort of “creative non-fiction” of Emily Freeman’s “The Ten Virgins”—-but they’re definitely exegesis-lite.

    Ferrell’s book was difficult to classify; it could plausibly be counted as “devotional,” I think. But it seemed to take the scriptures as its primary subject matter, rather than more general spiritual and personal principles.

    The “gospel resource” books are very different from Ferrell’s: they are compilations of ideas for Sharing Time, sacrament meeting activities for kids, family night activities, and the like. These are all written by women and rather explicitly for women.

  149. Julie M. Smith
    October 26, 2006 at 3:43 pm

    I’m not sure that “non-fiction” is the best description of Freeman’s book.

  150. Matt W.
    October 26, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    So is DB really just mainly a publishing arm for BYU faculty and General Authorities? Oh the shock and horrors!

  151. Jonathan Green
    October 26, 2006 at 4:05 pm

    Thanks, Rosalynde, that’s very helpful. It looks like DB believes that authors of exegesis-lite need to have a CES or BYU religion faculty position in order to have credibility with customers. Or maybe its a matter of platform; teaching institute or religion classes (and maybe at EFY and Education Week, too) gives these authors a constant stream of possible future readers. It won’t get them on Oprah, but it’s something. Long term, the obvious solution seems to be aiming for more women on the BYU religion faculty.

  152. Frank McIntyre
    October 26, 2006 at 6:36 pm


    In addition to the reasons why DB might like these people, you should also recognize that these are the people who disproportionately gain professionally from publishing at DB. This is, to a large extent, their “field journal”.


    Oof. Yes, that seems obvious now. Regardless, I’m glad you took the time to look at all those names and run them past BYU’s directory. You were right that that was a big part of the story.

  153. M
    October 26, 2006 at 6:36 pm

    bbell – I’m in PG2 when I am in Texas, which isn’t very often. I’ll tell you who I am the next time that I see you, which will be in about a month at the earliest.

    Julie – you’re right. What I should have said is that women can’t receive revelation for MEN (other than their families), which sort of does undermine their ability to write about the scriptures, doctrine, etc for the entire church. I don’t think that this prejudice this is usually on purpose, it’s just sort of ingrained, in both the minds of women and men.

    Matt makes a good point. I know I’ll never have the knowledge of the scriptures that men and that serve missions have, because I haven’t and won’t, and beyond that, I’m not even a BYU student, so no religion classes for me. If people were to assume that most men have a greater knowledge of the scriptures than I do, it wouldn’t upset me a bit, since I know that it is probably true. Since the general assumption is that most men serve missions, most women don’t, I think there is a de facto assumption that men have more doctrinal knowledge. Plus, I think LDS women are much less likely to pursue a great deal of education in religion than their male counterparts, for a variety of reasons.

    So where are all of the people upset about the fact that men didn’t write any books on cooking and crafts? Surely they are some male culinary experts in the LDS church…

    Blake – is James Bond my friend? I’m afraid I don’t understand…

  154. Edje
    October 26, 2006 at 7:37 pm

    M (153): Try this link.

  155. Mark Butler
    October 27, 2006 at 1:26 am

    Alison (#68),

    No – I was making a general point about what is required to become qualified to write (even speak) coherently about scriptural theology. An attorney must be familiar the laws pertaining to his speciality, a gospel scholar must be deeply familiar with the whole body of scripture, and incorporate his understanding into his soul.

    I like this scripture:

    Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.

    Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

    For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
    (Heb 5:8-14)

    And I must say, it seems there has yet to be published a single book in this dispensation, beyond the scriptures themselves, that covers the meat of the gospel, i.e. meat pertaining to how the doctrines of scripture and our knowledge of all other things fits together into a unified whole, which is the basic question of theology.

    Many of these things were once (millennia ago) well understood by an elite few among the Hebrews, and half understood by very many more, but the knowledge of such things among them has been heavily corrupted as well. Either that or the few with the true knowledge aren’t telling.

  156. Jonathan Green
    October 27, 2006 at 2:26 am

    Frank, that’s a good point.

  157. Ben S
    October 27, 2006 at 11:49 am

    “What I should have said is that women can’t receive revelation for MEN (other than their families), which sort of does undermine their ability to write about the scriptures, doctrine, etc for the entire church.”

    M, while I agree with parts of your comments, the work that goes in to writing a doctrine-oriented book has nothing to do with one’s ability or prerogative to receive revelation for others. Most who write these books would say that they’re not teaching revealing new revelation to the church, but simply teaching the scriptures and gospel as already revealed.

  158. bbell
    October 27, 2006 at 11:49 am

    M, or should I say MM in NJ.

    You are making good points. I am pretty sure I know who you are and you and your family are quite bit more to me then simply fellow ward members. My contention is that its hard to make generalizations about scriptural knowledge regarding gender. I appreciate your mission example as being a reason why you could make the argument. But remember that being on a mission does not guarantee intensive scriptural knowledge. It really depends on the individual missionaries efforts and if he served an English speaking mission or not.

    For some anecdotes see below.

    As you may know I was replaced as a seminary teacher after the 05 year was over by Sister C. As you probably are aware Sister C has a pretty good handle on general doctrinal knowledge and has 7 kids. I am sure that based on her general knowledge and her status she would not be ignored in SS and have say myself make the same general point and get more respect then Sister C. The icing on the cake for you and I in this regard is that generally our Bishops wife is regarded as the most serious student of the scriptures in our ward rather then any of the Men. Over the years I have seen her opinions requested and deferred to in SS many times.

  159. Rosalynde Welch
    October 27, 2006 at 12:03 pm

    By the way, Matt, re: your #134: sorry I never responded. You make an interesting hypothesis, certainly plausible. I suspect that most returned missionaries, like myself, realize that having served a mission indicates virtually nothing about a person’s knowledge of the scriptures, so I don’t think this could explain most MEN’S dismssing of women’s comments. But it certainly could explain many non-missionary WOMEN’S deferral to men. In any case, we’d have to look at a Church unit in which most of the men have not served missions—abroad, perhaps—and see what sort of dynamic applies there, in order to know whether that’s what we’re dealing with at home.

  160. Matt Evans
    October 27, 2006 at 3:49 pm


    I’m arguing that, (1) returned missionaries better know the scriptures and gospel than they would have had they not dedicated 18 to 24 months studying, teaching, debating, and discussing the gospel; and that (2) more men have served missions than women. From this I deduce that (3) active Mormon men are, on average, more familiar with the gospel and scriptures than active Mormon women, on average.

    If the average active Mormon man better knows the gospel and scriptures than the average active Mormon woman, we would expect Mormons, when hearing multiple comments based on the scriptures or gospel, to exhibit greater trust in the average Mormon man over the average Mormon woman. Your mom’s experience proves that when people have more information about the commenter than their gender, which would be the case in most settings, they don’t rely on this frequently-wrong baseline.

    I should add too that I agree with Ardis that presentation matters, and that to the degree men and women as a group vary in their presentation styles, we would expect different responses.

  161. October 28, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    Matt, I think your deduction has problems.

    I do not dispute that most men may feel that their missions provided an unprecedented (in their lives) opportunity to study scripture, but how can this lead to a conclusion that average active Mormon (and RM) man is more familiar with gospel and scriptures than active Mormon (and I guess non-RM) women?

    Anyone who has taught both elders and sisters in the MTC would probably agree that the women arrive with a superior gospel and scriptoral knowledge. Might this indicate that, without the benefit of missions, women study more or better than men? Of course, many women have a two-year advantage on men in the MTC, so that is something to be considered.

    I would contend that, mission asside, many women in fact have a very sound and personal understanding of the gospel and scritptures. Maybe missions just help men catch up.

  162. Naismith
    October 28, 2006 at 7:14 pm

    “Anyone who has taught both elders and sisters in the MTC would probably agree that the women arrive with a superior gospel and scriptoral knowledge.”

    FWIW, my daughter had already graduated from Institute by the time she went on her mission. She was only 21, but she had doubled up on seminary classes, taken religion classes during summers at BYU, etc.

    As a practical matter, I’m grateful for this topic as a reminder of last week’s DB “free shipping” offer, without which I might not have gotten my Christmas order in on time.

  163. Matt Evans
    October 29, 2006 at 4:05 am


    While I admit that we don’t know that YM and YM have an equal baseline knowledge of the gospel, I think a much more likely explanation for missionary sisters’ superior knowledge is that a smaller and more select cohort of women serve missions: missionaries aren’t a random cross-section of young active Mormons. The reasons men and women serve missions are different — all worthy men are formally called, and only men are socially pressured to serve. Because sisters are more self-selecting, a higher percentage of sisters would be highly dedicated members. This selection bias is the reason it’s hard to compare test scores between nations that test all of their students with nations that only test 20%.

Comments are closed.