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On Being Asked for My Opinion

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 02, 2013

About six weeks ago I had a brief appointment with my bishop. Aside from the point of our meeting, Bishop O. told me about some half-formed ideas he was working on concerning a ward goal. He asked if I thought such-and-such was valuable? Did I think so-and-so would work? How would I suggest handling thus-and-such?

Just a brief, passing conversation … but it rocked my world.

It was the first time – The Very First Time Ever In My Whole Entire Life – when anyone in ward/stake/mission hierarchy asked me for my opinion. On anything. Ever.

I’ve never been in an auxiliary presidency. Never even in the presidency of an MIA class. I’ve never been in a council meeting, ward or otherwise. Never conducted a meeting. Never planned a program. Never been asked to help solve a problem or meet a need or design a solution. Never organized an activity. Never worked with a budget or set a schedule. Never, until that moment six weeks ago, been asked for input or advice or opinion.

Well, at church, anyway. I’ve done all that, and more, in my personal life and in business life. Librarians from California to Connecticut used to fly me to their institutions to teach them highly technical skills, in a training program I designed myself. I’ve been in demand by some of the most well-known names in Mormon history because of my creative research designs and ability to produce on schedule and according to specification. Even something as purely optional as Keepapitchinin requires some executive exercise. I am not without talent and skill and drive. But you wouldn’t know that from my Church resumé.

Oh, I don’t discount the importance of Sunday School teaching, or visiting teaching. Even with the constant harangue of “Stick to the manual!” there is great room for creativity in the classroom, and a good visiting teacher can have a greater, longer impact on a woman’s life than any member of a ward council.

I also believe in being “anxiously engaged” and in doing “many things of my own free will.” There are some reading this who could – but please don’t – confirm that. You see a need, and, if it’s within your resources, you fill it — without waiting for a formal assignment. You don’t need a seat in any church council to “bring to pass much righteousness.”

But I want to serve my Church, too, as an institution and within its formal organization. To do that, I have to be invited. Called. And to be called there have to be callings available to me, callings that allow me to solve problems and meet needs and design solutions. I can’t “counsel with my councils” if I’m never part of a council.

This far I can be a sister-traveler with the Ordain Women movement – but beyond this point I cannot go. To want to serve, to be available for service, even to identify a problem that inhibits service and to suggest solutions, is one thing. But to insist that your problem be addressed in the way you prescribe, and to declare that you will not be satisfied until your problem is addressed in the way you prescribe, is something else entirely.

Not that anybody asked my opinion on Ordain Women – but what’s the point of blogging if I don’t bloviate from time to time?

I’ll put up something more history-ish later in the morning. Also, watch for Chapter 2 of a pretty good serial this afternoon.



30 Comments

  1. Can’t even fathom what they have forgone in not consulting the resource that is you.

    Comment by Ellen — October 2, 2013 @ 8:01 am

  2. Thanks.

    Comment by David Y. — October 2, 2013 @ 8:06 am

  3. As always your opinions are thoughtful, concise and noteworthy. Thanks.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — October 2, 2013 @ 8:49 am

  4. Over the years, have you volunteered to chaperone a youth dance or girls camp or otherwise indicated a desire to work with youth, shepherd a girl struggling with personal progress, help out with an activity? The same kind of questions about primary, and Relief Society. I don’t mean volunteering in a creepy sort of way, but shown an interest and willingness to serve in some capacity or another? I don’t think it’s wrong to indicate a willingness to serve (I don’t mean over the top aspirations for the wrong reasons) and, in the course of small talk, tell bishopric/stake presidency types that you are available to help out. I recently had an older sister who, for years, had indicated she didn’t really want to do anything. She said now she’s ready to get involved with the ward again because of some changes in her personal life. We are actively looking for a way for her to serve. Sometimes leaders just need to know you are available and willing. Final note – my guess is that if you moved away from SLC valley into the mission field, they would make great use of your talents and abilities. Second final note: Planning and problem solving within church ward or stake administration isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. While I am capable of administering, I am much happier ministering.

    Comment by IDIAT — October 2, 2013 @ 8:49 am

  5. Good to know that you Bishop has realized and now knows (hopefully) what many of us have known for a very long time: you have so much to offer to the spiritual and temporal affairs of your ward (and the entire church)!

    I personally do not think anyone should be defined or judged by their ‘Church’ resume. That you have never served in an auxiliary presidency should not limit what you do in the Church now, or in the future, nor should it serve as a mark against you.

    Recent changes to ward and missionary councils are a good first step in ensuring that the women of the Church have a voice in the administration of temporal and spiritual affairs in their wards and missions. I welcome these changes and remain hopeful that there is more yet to come.

    I am hopeful that your voice will be added to the councils of your ward and stake.

    Comment by Brian D. — October 2, 2013 @ 9:00 am

  6. Local wards and stakes are sorely in need of a feedback loop, ESPECIALLY when it involves the children or youth; parents have so many constructive ideas if they’d only be asked.

    Comment by queuno — October 2, 2013 @ 9:15 am

  7. “a good visiting teacher can have a greater, longer impact on a woman’s life than any member of a ward council”

    Very true. I have a clear memory of one visit. I was eight months pregnant with my third child and feeling exhausted and blue. One of my other children had shredded a bunch of papers and spread them evenly over every surface of the house just minutes before my visiting teachers arrived.

    They thought the paper mess was amusing and it was a fairly formulaic visit, until right before they were to go, when one of the women, a young unmarried university student, began to speak in an inspired manner about my situation, giving me a loving and positive and personal message that I very much needed at the time. I felt her words deeply. For all I know, she may never have thought about that experience again, but it’s been a precious memory for me.

    Manifestations of spiritual gifts can happen even in the routine duties of church service, and if you asked the identity of the ward leadership at that point in my life, I would not remember.

    “Not that anybody asked my opinion on Ordain Women”

    So, Ardis, please tell us your opinion on Ordain Women. (There. Now someone’s asked. : )

    Comment by Amy T — October 2, 2013 @ 9:18 am

  8. Ardis, you are a treasure. I don’t know how we will get to Zion, but I do know that when we’re there, your abundant gifts will be appreciated. Maybe my favorite verse of all the hymns is from “Sweet is the Work”:

    “Then shall I see and hear and know
    All I desired and wished below,
    And every pow’r find sweet employ
    In that eternal world of joy.”

    Comment by Kristine — October 2, 2013 @ 9:29 am

  9. Ardis, this a fantastic post and is a clear reminder that there is a great deal that can be done within our current theology to utilize the gifts of all of our members.

    Comment by Aaron R. — October 2, 2013 @ 9:30 am

  10. Oh, and what Kristine said.

    Comment by Aaron R. — October 2, 2013 @ 9:30 am

  11. Wow. This powerfully shows that while people argue over the solution, there’s no denying there’s a problem.

    Comment by EmJen — October 2, 2013 @ 9:30 am

  12. Even with the constant harangue of “Stick to the manual!” there is great room for creativity in the classroom, and a good visiting teacher can have a greater, longer impact on a woman’s life than any member of a ward council.

    Amen.

    I’m glad your bishop was wise enough to seek your counsel. I actually feel quite similarly to what you’ve shared here.

    Comment by Tracy M — October 2, 2013 @ 9:33 am

  13. And grr, while I’m happy that inspiration placed you in a teaching position for awhile, I’m annoyed that your family history talents and skills aren’t, at the least, being tapped FOR THE ENTIRE CHURCH!

    Comment by EmJen — October 2, 2013 @ 9:35 am

  14. Wonderful.

    Comment by Ben P — October 2, 2013 @ 9:38 am

  15. ‘Is it?…is it?’ I whispered to my guide.

    ‘Not at all,’ said he. ‘It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on Earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.’

    ‘She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?’

    ‘Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country [Heaven] and fame on Earth are two quite different things.’

    – C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

    Comment by bfwebster — October 2, 2013 @ 10:20 am

  16. Sheesh! I turn my back for a minute and everybody comes to the party! Thanks.

    IDIAT, I want to respond to your suggestions,and I hope this doesn’t come out the wrong way:

    There was a time when I volunteered for everything and anything, in the ward and in the community: Amnesty International. Girl Scouts. Adult literacy. Ronald McDonald House. Tutoring. Young Women. Primary. Family history. The community groups all wanted my money but not my personal service. The ward came up with a calling as third assistant Primary librarian, but otherwise nothing. A lot of that then and for many years afterward was, I know, tied up in my being single — we all know that at best singles are temporary residents of wards so we can’t give them any responsibility needing continuity, and at worst we’re selfish overgrown children, except when we’re vixens who can’t be allowed any contact with married men because we might invade their marriages. But that’s another matter.

    In any case, as I’ve said, I’ve always been active in what you might call ministering, but always in a private do-what-you-see-needs-doing kind of way. I’ve also always done what I was called to do in Church … but carrying out somebody else’s plans because you’ve been delegated to bring the green beans or distribute the flyers or put the toothpaste into the humanitarian aid kids doesn’t allow you to contribute other kinds of skills. Cheerful hearts and busy hands are needed and appreciated — that doesn’t exhaust the gifts many women would like to bring to the altar.

    And finally, moving across the country is hardly practical, and I wish people would stop suggesting it. You’re probably right that a ward outside of the West could make more use of me. But when earning your living is tied to a very narrow niche — as it is for me, a non-academic, non-credentialed Mormon historian whose knowledge doesn’t transfer to anything else — suggesting that I move somewhere else, where I know no one, have no personal network, and have no means of supporting myself, even if I wanted to start over somewhere else, is no solution to any problem.

    But I sincerely appreciate your wanting to help me find ways to contribute.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 2, 2013 @ 10:21 am

  17. Wow! This is an important post. Thank you.

    Comment by john f. — October 2, 2013 @ 10:22 am

  18. No offense intended, and none taken. Was just throwing some things around that tend to place members in the vicinity of administrative type callings. I think most of us like to feel accepted and validated, especially by the Lord. And sometimes it feels as if that validation is tied to serving in certain callings, or in having our opinions asked and considered. I can’t solve the greater issue of creating more ways for women to serve. Like many, I think there are several things a woman could do that are not a function of priesthood. But that is a larger issue. I, of course, knew that moving would be impractical for you. Was merely pointing out that your talents and abilities would probably have been used greatly had life’s circumstances landed you out of the valley. Thanks for looking — and seeing — all the things that need to be done, and for then doing them. That’s the way my Mama raised me.

    Comment by IDIAT — October 2, 2013 @ 11:37 am

  19. I was stunned by this post. I don’t know you personally , but from what you bring to the table here every day, I assumed your ward/stake callings had been many and frequent. I hope this invitation for feedback and opinion will be the beginning of something great for you, and those that could be influenced by your service.

    Comment by Carl C. — October 2, 2013 @ 11:50 am

  20. Had you lived some place farther from Utah, you probably would have been asked to serve in many more, different capacities. I felt that there was an element of desperation as well as inspiration in many of my callings. But that doesn’t mean that you were under any obligation to move, or that your services would have been more appreciated. The one time I was president of an organization, I presided over the Primary of a very small inner city branch. I later realized that most of the branch members probably assumed I was paid, since that is how all of the other churches in the area handled ‘child care provided.’ That would explain why people interacted with me more as a minimum wage babysitter than a president or teacher of their children. It does seem that some people are destined to be the pillars of the church, and others the walls and floors, but God does promise to value all of the parts, even if some of the people just passing through do not.

    Comment by LauraN — October 2, 2013 @ 12:21 pm

  21. I was similarly shocked that both our recent Bishops have asked me for general feedback on what we can do to improve the ward. Being asked for opinions about specific ideas is still something I’ve never experienced, though. Good for Bishop O. for seeking your opinion.

    “But to insist that your problem be addressed in the way you prescribe, and to declare that you will not be satisfied until your problem is addressed in the way you prescribe, is something else entirely”: I’m not sure I’d characterize OW this way. I’m sure there are people like this, but I haven’t met them — the bulk of people I’m familiar with, and the impression I get from Kate Kelly in particular is that they’re focused on asking for what they want, not insisting on what they want. They want the Prophet to take the issue to God, not to insist that the Prophet act in the manner they prescribe. They strongly believe it’s right to ordain women, so they’ll insist on asking repeatedly, which may be irritating if you don’t agree, but doesn’t seem problematic to me.

    After all, I recall that Jane Manning James asked several prophets if she could receive the endowment. It didn’t happen in her life, but I don’t fault her for believing it was right, being dissatisfied, and asking repeatedly. (I could have the history wrong. You know best, and I’m not enough of a historian to find a source, but I heard it from Susan Easton Black, who I believe to be reliable.) History aside, I believe the parable of the unjust judge also suggests asking repeatedly. Of course, the parable suggests asking God, and I suspect many people in OW pray regularly for ordination, but when the prophet is the only one who can take the matter to God and get an answer that’s binding on the church, why not also petition him?

    As an example, I look to the attempt to attend priesthood session. They want to attend in person to be seen as prospective elders, so they asked for tickets. That request was denied, so they’ll ask again by waiting in the standby line. However, if not admitted, they’re going to return to city creek park, not chain themselves to the conference center. Seems more like asking than prescribing to me.

    “To identify a problem that inhibits service and to suggest solutions” is actually how I’d characterize the OW movement. They identify the problem that valuable feedback such as yours is easily ignored when men hold almost all the administrative authority in the church, and suggest a direct solution: extend that authority to women, too. Many people are uncomfortable with that suggestion, but the church is still run from above; it won’t change unless or until God reveals it to His prophets. So what’s the harm in making the suggestion?

    Of course, I can only characterize OW based on my own experience. Maybe you’ve met a different cross-section of the movement than I have.

    Comment by Mike Rasmussen — October 2, 2013 @ 1:08 pm

  22. Ardis once again you show why you are one of my favorite Mormons!

    As to your statement, “to insist that your problem be addressed in the way you prescribe, and to declare that you will not be satisfied until your problem is addressed in the way you prescribe, is something else entirely” I would suggest that this is not just a problem with the OW movement/conference protest or in the Church but in our society at large as demonstrated by our current government shutdown.

    Comment by andrew h — October 2, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

  23. Mike, from OW’s website: “Since leadership and positional authority in Mormonism is inextricably tied to priesthood ordination, it is clear that Mormon women must be ordained in order to be full and equal participants in their Church.”

    It is this statement that elicited my comment you quoted. They’ve identified a problem (women need to contribute in leadership roles), and while there could be a myriad of possible solutions to that problem, as is being discussed on several blogs and in other forums, Ordain Women has identified the one they will accept: “Mormon women must be ordained.” That is a narrowly focused demand, not a request that a prophet take a question to God for whatever answer God might give: they are not asking but telling, as if they are waiting only for God to ratify their decision.

    I part company with them well before they reach that point.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 2, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

  24. I very much appreciated this post; thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — October 2, 2013 @ 3:53 pm

  25. Ardis, I think you ignore the second half of the phrase in question. “Mormon women must be ordained” would indeed be a narrowly focused demand, but the phrase doesn’t end there. “Mormon women must be ordained *in order to be full and equal participants in their Church*” is not a demand, but a statement about what equality looks like: A church where women are “full and equal participants,” is not administered primarily by ordained men, supported by unordained women, no matter how enthusiastic the support may be. (If that was equality, someone might have asked your opinion before now).

    Maybe equality isn’t important in that strict sense. And of course, in an even stricter sense, no two people can ever be equal — e.g., we are unequal because you are, and always will be, a better historian than me — so the real question is: how much equality is really important? Currently, church leaders seem satisfied to define separate spheres for men and women, and assert that we do (or should) equally value those separate roles, and that’s all the equality that matters. I respect the keys that they have to direct the church, so I accept that that’s how it is in the church for now. However, I also respectfully disagree — I see too many fundamental inequalities in the prescribed spheres, and I believe, with OW, that inequality or equality in the ability to exercise the Lord’s authority matters, in administering the church and in other roles tied to priesthood ordination.

    Now my/their/your beliefs might not matter much; they’re personal beliefs, not tenets of the Church. But put yourself in their shoes — what else should they advocate for? If you believed, as they do, that we can’t enjoy meaningful equality in the church without ordaining women, wouldn’t you advocate for that one thing above anything else? From that point of view, it’d be great to implement the myriad things suggested elsewhere to reduce the effects of inequality in the church, but all those suggestions taken together still couldn’t do what women’s ordination would.

    And what else would they be doing but requesting that the prophet take the issue to God? That’s been explicit in plenty of interviews I’ve seen with Kate Kelly and other OW participants, and while it may not be explicit on their website, I believe it to be unavoidably implied: people who think that priesthood ordination in the Mormon church is worth seeking must understand that the prophet holds the keys to direct the church and that they don’t control the prophet. Otherwise, why not just get a rogue elder to perform an unauthorized ordination? It’s been done before.

    So, I still see this as parallel to the Jane Manning James situation. If there’s one blessing you believe it’s right for you to seek (Priesthood for OW, temple blessings for JMJ), of course you’re going to ask, repeatedly, and insistently for what you feel is right — and you’re going to keep asking, even if the answer is no for your whole lifetime, and might never be yes.

    Well, that was long. I respect that you don’t share OW’s beliefs to the point of feeling the need to ask for women’s ordination, but I bristle when my friends are accused of hijacking the legitimate church authorities by prescribing the way forward for the church themselves. They want women to be *in* the line of authority the Lord has established; they won’t knowingly diminish its value.

    Comment by Mike Rasmussen — October 2, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

  26. I didn’t ignore the last words of that statement, Mike; I acknowledged their goal by identifying the problem they are addressing (“women need to contribute in leadership roles”). Nothing is changed by typing out the full sentence: Ordain Women has settled on the only road they recognize to achieving the goal, i.e., ordination. None of the other possibilities suggested in, say, Rosalynde’s thought experiment on Thinkable Priesthoods, Usable Pasts or Neylan McBaine’s Moderate Mormon’s Manifesto or her extensive list of suggestions on Examining Gendered Participation, or EmJen’s reproduction of Dialogue’s suggestions for Increasing Opportunity for Women and Girls in the Church or any views expressed on countless Facebook discussions, is under consideration by Ordain Women. It’s ordination, period.

    Ordain Women participants have been very vocal — polite, courteous, professional, unambiguous, and vocal — in explaining themselves on their website, on Facebook, in media interviews of all kinds. I think they don’t need Keepapitchinin as a further platform for explaining themselves, either directly or through a supporter. They have expressed their views; I have now expressed mine. There’s an end to it, as far as Keepa goes. Further advocacy for their point of view belongs on their platform, not mine.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 2, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

  27. Even if women were ordained tomorrow, that would not change the fact that in church culture as it currently exists, being a single woman makes it more likely (how much more, I do not know) that your bishop will never ask about your opinion on anything, ever.

    I have found, sadly, that even being IN a council does not mean that you will be listened to; on the contrary, it can lead to feelings of impotent rage as he-who-conducts or she-who-thinks-she-must-lead ignores, denigrates, steals, or mocks your ideas. (I LOVE it when my ideas are used; I mind it when people self-congratulate themselves on having thought of an idea that came from my brain, not theirs, thank you very much.)

    You might say, “then do something about it!” but I wasn’t raised that way. There are, however, people who do feel confident enough to object, and it seems to me that at least a few of them have found their way into the OW movement. And thus– I hope this won’t be too horrifyingly controversial (but Ardis can delete it if she thinks it is), but it seems to me that many of the OW sorts are privileged in one way or another: economically stable, married, and often they have been in the “women’s leadership positions”. In other words, they are in a position to smack their heads against the glass ceiling, and it hurts, and they are trying to do something about that fact.

    If my bishop came to me tomorrow and said, “Hey, you wanna be ordained an Eldress? President Monson just sent a letter…” I’d say: “Sure! That sounds great!” But that wouldn’t solve or even more than very partially ameliorate the pain I have experienced from being excluded by the people who thought they deserved to be in the church more than I do, or who just thought they deserved to be more important within the church than I do. It also wouldn’t (necessarily) make me more likely to recognize it when I exhibit the same behavior to my brothers and sisters.

    Nobody really thinks they treat others unequally in the church, but as far as I can tell, we all do to one extent or another. And I can’t think of a way to NOT do it other than to embrace as fully as we can the teaching that each calling is as important as the other. Ordaining new and heretofore unexpected classes of persons to the priesthood might shake this up a bit and help some; but the unless we eliminate all patterns of thought that make us respect some callings more than others, we are going to have problems with equality no matter what. It sounds like Ardis’ bishop was choosing to respect her in whatever her current calling is (Visiting Teacher, is that right?) and that seems to me like a much bigger step in the right direction than maybe others think it is.

    Comment by S — October 2, 2013 @ 10:44 pm

  28. Pretty sure Jane Manning James never had a press conference to spread the word on how she was asking for sealing, nor did Zelophead’s daughters in asking about settling their fathers estate. Yes, they did have more direct access, but what work did thay have to do to get this access?

    Having women priests, or even a new Priestesshood, would be wonderful, and I do find many of the arguments put forward by OW to be well thought out and convincing, but I have trouble with the manner in which it is being pursued at this time.

    Comment by Frank Pellett — October 4, 2013 @ 10:15 am

  29. S, I agree with your premise. I’ve always felt that progressive in our church (the OW folks and others) are missing the mark by insisting that women infiltrate the hierarchy. We should be much more concerned with making the hierarchy horizontal, shifting it to a servant-leader model in a much more authentic way. The temporary disruption of ordaining women would shake up the hierarchy for now, but in the long run we all need to participate in rooting out the politics and power structure and aim for something more equal.

    As a side note, I’m sorry your experience in the church has been negative. I wish I could extend a virtual hug.

    Comment by Magpielovely — October 5, 2013 @ 9:58 am

  30. I am closing comments on this thread. If anyone strongly wants to comment, please email your comment to me at AEParshall atAoldotcom. Only comments that are tightly related to the narrow focus of the original post will be added, though.

    Thanks for your participation.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 5, 2013 @ 11:02 am