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Protecting Who?

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I was at a family gathering today. A cousin I'm pretty close to got back from a mission, so we attended her ward and spent the afternoon at her family's house chatting and generally being social.

Her oldest brother is a bishop in his Utah ward, and at one point the conversation turned to who could be called to what sort of position -- according to "the Handbook," he said, either a man or a woman could be called to be Sunday School Pres (though I've never seen a woman as a SSP), only a man can be Elder's Quorum Pres (surprise, surprise), and only a woman can be Primary President. And, apparently, in his stake, only women can be Primary teachers -- a man can only be called to that position if he's team-teaching with his wife.

Why? Naturally, to protect the children from possible abuse. Oh, of course, and to protect the men from false abuse accusations. Ironically, much more time was spent discussing the latter point than the former.

This led to the question: what about the bishop? What steps do we take to make sure the bishop isn't falsely accused of doing things when he has one-on-one interviews behind closed doors with the young women and other women in the ward.

Does this sound strange to anyone? That this was the discussion, rather than asking what steps ought to be taken to make sure there's no real accusations?

Or, even better, discussing what got us to the state where concerns over liability issues are more important than preserving the confidentiality of the ecclesiastical confession?

The main suggestion was that there should be a second person in the room to bear witness to what happens: to make sure there are no false accusations (and, I assume, though it went unspoken at the time, to make sure there are no grounds for real ones). Who should that be? A second bishop, with keys to hear such confessions but no authority in the ward? The executive secretary, sitting just outside? If we only trust our Primary children with women, then how about a female bishop?

Needless to say, the final suggestion was only met with laughter.

As a woman, I'm offended at the idea that we mainly need someone to oversee these interviews to make sure there's no false accusations. As a woman already disinterested in discussing my eating and sexual habits with a strange man, I'm frankly displeased at being asked to do so with two strange men instead.

As an intellectual, I'm a little worried that we play into this game without considering the overall state of society that requires us to worry about liability over letting the kids have the best teachers they can.

As an intellectual Mormon woman, I'm a little worried if (note the if; my family is hardly ever representative of mainstream anything) our greatest concern is protecting the men from accusation rather than protecting the children/women from abuse.

And I'm curious what the rest of you think.


*The grammar nazi inside of me is realizing that the title really should be "Protecting Whom?" but for the sake of not being anal, I refuse to change it. ;)

11 Responses to “Protecting Who?”

  1. Anonymous Aimee 

    eating habits? that's one i haven't heard of before.

    the whole thing really bothers me. why? because although it isn't as common, women can be abusers too... and so could a couple if they really wanted to. i think it's sad, and it's really telling the men that they are rotten, to set up callings this way.

    with men in our church getting this kind of message, why would some even bother trying to be repentant and good? or why bother at all if the church doesn't even trust you enough?? unless the bishop knew of a good reason not to call someone to a postition, i think the no men in primary rule stinks.

    i for one would love to see what a male primary president could do for the program.

  2. Anonymous D-Train 

    Good thinking, Allan. You're a bright man.

    I'll post actual thoughts when it isn't past bedtime.

  3. Anonymous Allan 

    Good points, Ar.
    On a somewhat of a side note to the topic of your post, I was interested in pursuing the alternate ideas further, but based on the response that my comment on a female bishop elicited, held my tongue. The most interesting solution to this problem, being the protection of men/women/children from the ills of our society encroaching on church leadership, that I see, is a couple as bishop. Doubtful that we would ever see this in action in the church for various reasons.

    However, if exaltation involves a couple, and, God is a couple (God being a name for the partnership having degenerated into a name for the male half), then it seems to me we that this manner of church leadership is most fitting. Otherwise, the God relationship fits traditional mormon lore/culturalism and not the doctrine as I percieve it. Scary.

    Doesn't mean that they would always have to work in tandem. Sometimes they could work complementarily. This would mean that we have to give less lip service and more real authority to women as leaders and allow for it, culturally and institutionally, outside of comparmentalized and stifled views of Relief Society and Primary leadership.

    Seeing how it can work in other spiritual settings that we have encountered shows me that it works to solve this and a myriad of other issues that we have as a culture.

    Perhaps there are reasons why it would be unmanagable or unworkable? I doubt it, other than, I can see it takes a spiritually mature and unified couple to be able to work through other people's issues while they are also working through their own. On the other hand, one person helping others while dealing with his own issues and family issues as well may not be all that much better at it, considering.

    Anyway, my thought on the matter.

    As for dealing primarily with the protection of the men instead of the women/children, I missed noticing that in the conversation, but you make an excellent point. Thanks for making a blinding statement of the obvious for me.

    I've thought on this before, and will have to again here before I make real comments on the state of this issue and society, but I think the origins of the bias in this conversation might come from the bias of point of view.

    Perhaps, as this discussion trickles through the heirarchy of the church, it comes as a message in the form of:

    'We trust that none of you would ever be guilty of this, but we have to do it for our own protection from false accusations.',

    instead of the message:

    'Our main concern is for the women/children, so we're going to add an extra measure of protection for them by watching you all very carefully with a second bishop.'

    The bishop in the room came to the conversation with this view. I hope that it is not our main concern, but it wouldn't be the first time everyone had their priorities askew. Likely, because he received it in that form, he hasn't reformulated it in his own head even as he considers the reprocussions for his ward.

  4. Anonymous Arwyn 


    By eating habits, I specifically meant the Word of Wisdom; perhaps I should have focused on imbibing, consuming, or otherwise liquid-inclusive terminology, as we focus on the liquid and tobacco elements of the WoW more than the eating bits.

    My younger sister had an excellent primary teacher who was a man -- it may scare some people to know that he had a class of seven eight-year-old girls and one boy, but I've never seen her love going to church as much before or since. He really inspired them to appreciate the Gospel, and especially their own baptisms as they took place that 7-8-year-old year.

    While I understand the necessity of making sure that no abuse happens, I'm not sure a male ban on the Primary is the best way to go about it; rather, it's probably just the easiest and best way to cover all butts as thoroughly as possible. Problem is when the baby flies out with the bathwater.

    I won't note here that it perpetuates the idea that women should be the primary (pardon the pun) raisers-of-children.


    I'm going to blame all the multisyllabic words in this comment on you. By the way. ;)

    I really like your conception of God as a couple; that's one I'd not heard before, and I hope you'll expound on it for us (or at least for me) sometime soon.

    If this is the case, it would make sense for ward leadership (stake leadership, church leadership) to follow the same paradigm. At present, we pay lipservice to the idea -- there was a thread somewhere recently on General Authorities and others talking about their dear/sweet/lovely wives, and there's the old saying that when they're looking for a bishop, they find the most faithful, strong, etc., member of the ward and then call her husband.

    But it's lipservice, really. As you mention, there would have to be a lot of paradigm shifts for that to take place, and I don't see us as anywhere near those at present. In fact, I can't imagine the majority of the Church being at all open to this idea: it would first require women to be able to hold certain keys, and that's a whole 'nother can of worms.

    On something of a tangent, I wonder if we can draw a parallel between women in the Church and the bhikkhunis at the time of the Buddha. But that may be a topic for another post.

  5. Anonymous Arwyn 

    Curse these comments -- curse them!

  6. Anonymous Arwyn 

    Er. Not the comments people are leaving. Whatever bug it is in Blogger that isn't allowing new comments to show until another has been posted. Any really smart people out there have ideas how to make it not be so annoying?

  7. Anonymous Rob 

    Yeah, I have always wondered why we don't have another person in the room while interviews are conducted, even if only to minimize liabilty. Being an adult male, I have never really thought about the problem from a woman's point of view.

    Oh, and my Dad was my primary teacher for years. That was miserable.

  8. Anonymous jjohnsen 

    When my wife and I were called as Primary teachers, they told us I couldn't teach by myself. If my wife was sick then I should call in sick too and find a sustitute. Now a year later when my wife is about to have a baby, they let me know I can teach on my own if my wife misses church. I'm not sure if the rules changed, or if they just trust me more now.

  9. Anonymous Watt Mahoun 

    I haven't heard too much about abuse in the church involving bishops, and considering the scrutiny that most go through before being ordained, I wouldn't be surprised if the only real problem was the potential for the random rogue situation or false accusation. Having said that, I still recall from my youth that the executive sec or somesuch would be right outside the bishop's door, with the official mission of handling the bishops's schedule. My impression is that this is not the case in my current ward.

    I always thought it was the scouting program that had the recurring problems with sexual abuse...not the primary...and that's where they often send the men that they don't trust with any other calling...that or the nursery (team-teaching with some other poor sap).

    What really surprises me is the fact that calls to work with the gospel doctrine class are often given to the more liberal/intellectual/questioning members, who then spend long nights alone with the internet preparation tools...I mean, this is like crazy. :)

  10. Anonymous D-Train 

    I'm still ticked off that people actually laughed at the idea of a female bishop/co-bishop. I know that this may simply be due to the culture not being used to thinking that way, but gosh.

    I agree with Watt that abuse probably isn't a huge problem numerically. It seems to me that whatever problems there are would be alleviated in large part with a woman there as well. Not only that, but two people hearing an allegation or complaint (such as the Cavalieri case) might be more likely to report than if only one had done so. I don't want to report to more than one person either, but I already assume that I'm telling the bishop's wife whatever I tell the bishop. Frankly, I also assume that I'm telling the EQ presidency, the other counselors in the bishopric, and anyone else that might "need" that information in order to minister unto me. This is one reason why I only discuss administrative matters with the bishop. He's a good man and he has the right to know the answers to the temple recommend questions, but that's all I'm really telling him. Not because I don't trust him to do what he thinks is right, but because I feel I can find more effective methods of dealing with my problems and seeking advice.

    Allan, I think a couple as bishop would be a bang-up idea. Presuming the man actually listened to his wife, this would mean a significantly greater female voice in ward leadership and would deal with a lot of the other issues with liability and abuse. Frankly, it would probably be easier for women to talk to the female "half" of the bishopric about certain things.

  11. Anonymous jjohnsen 

    "I always thought it was the scouting program that had the recurring problems with sexual abuse...not the primary...and that's where they often send the men that they don't trust with any other calling...that or the nursery (team-teaching with some other poor sap).

    OR the people that have to work two out of 4 Sundays and can't be counted on to be at church every week. And I don't appreciate you calling my wife a sap. ;)

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