Yesterday, President Oscarson announced on her Facebook page that she was now assigned to be a member of the Missionary Executive Council. President Burton is now a member of the Priesthood Executive Council (which has been renamed the Priesthood and Family Executive Council) and President Wixom is now on the Temple and Family History Executive Council. In an article in the Deseret News, former General RS Presidency member Sheri Dew said that “This is yet another important step forward in the restoration of the gospel.” A few remarks about this change:
1. First, I think the history here is interesting. In a 2005 interview with Greg Prince, former General RS Presidency member Chieko Okazaki, who served from 1990-1997, said:
We asked one time if we could be on the building committee and the temple committee, because sometimes we think, “Why did they build it this way?”—because it doesn’t work very well for the women’s needs. And we wanted to be on the temple committee, because there are many things that affect women in the temple. But we were never allowed to be a part of those committees. I think we could help a great deal, but you have to have leaders in the Church who are willing to make that possible.
So it is interesting to see this change come about.
2. I love Sister Dew’s framing that this is not a mere administrative change but rather part of the Restoration.
3. Note that the title of one of the council was changed from “Priesthood Executive Council” to “Priesthood and Family Executive Council.” I suppose there are various ways of looking at this change. Perhaps some will complain that the change signals a desire to distance women from the priesthood. Maybe. But in light of Elder Oaks’ significant talk on the ways in which women exercise priesthood authority, I don’t know that that is the only way to look at it. It might also suggest that the Real Business of the church is not just “priesthood” but also “family,” which naturally leads to a greater role for women. (And I’m not ignoring the fact that recent teachings/emphasis/rhetoric about the family is highly fraught, but that’s a topic for another post.)
4. This change is one of many in recent years which increases the sphere of women; these changes include having women pray in general conference, the missionary age change, missionary leadership roles for women, etc. Michael Otterson (Managing Director of Church Public Affairs) recently stated that there is “momentum inside the church organization” to “address inequities.” Not only is this a good in itself, but I think it has had (and will continue to have) another really important effect as well: I can remember the days when people would make up theological justifications for the fact that women were not allowed to pray in General Conference (something about needing the priesthood to invite the Spirit, if I recall correctly). But I’ve noticed recently that much less folklore is being generated in defense of current church policies, perhaps because folks realize in the wake of these changes that creating folklore to sustain past practices creates problems when policies change. I think these changes also help members to realize that, while the church is certainly inspired in many ways, it shows a lack of historical awareness to suggest that every single policy and practice in the church reflects the express will of God. It gets harder and harder for apologists to argue that the status quo is perfect in this environment of frequent changes. (Hint: no one who believes in continuing revelation and/or a fallen world should ever argue that the status quo is perfect.)
5. Looking at the long game: Primary children are being raised in a church where they hear women pray during “church on TV” (do all little kids call General Conference this?), where female leaders are regularly quoted by high church leaders and in church magazines, and where there are lots and lots of sister missionaries. This is their normal. That is a good thing.
6. According to the Deseret News, this announcement was made on President Oscarson’s Facebook page, not through the Newsroom. I am one of many who has expressed deep concerns about the role of the Newsroom (long story short: in a church that makes a huge deal about proper authority, unsigned and sometimes-conflicting missives are going to create problems). Perhaps having President Oscarson make the announcement was about having a woman’s voice be primary, but–whether intentionally or otherwise–it also showed a model for how the Church can function with a Newsroom with a smaller footprint.
7. I am a little disheartened by how often the idea of “hearing women’s voices” came up in the various statements related to this announcement. It should go without saying that listening to women is a good thing. However, the model of listening to women conveys–intentionally or otherwise–that men are still making all of the decisions. It would be nice if we could eventually move beyond that to a model where women shared in decision-making. Now that I’ve complained about that, here’s the glass-half-full part: the more we hear how important it is that women have a voice on church councils, the harder it becomes to justify women’s exclusion from all of the councils upon which they currently do not have a voice–the most important of which to my mind are disciplinary councils. Not to mention all the others. But, echoing Sister Dew and President Uchtdorf, the restoration is ongoing. I’m looking forward to the next change.