Our stake hosted Neylan McBaine for a fireside last night. She runs the Mormon Women Project, which is fantastic for interviews of well-known Mormon women, but more especially, for giving words to the life experiences of Mormon women who are not so well known. The site is well worth any time you can spare. I love the inclusion of international women. She also blogs, here and here, and this post is a favorite of mine.
But the reason I really like Neylan McBaine and the reason I bothered to attend a fireside on a Sunday night is this paper, which she presented at the FAIR Mormon conference in 2012. It’s a balanced approach to women’s issues at Church, and you should feel comfortable in knowing that she is a committed Mormon reaching for fairly conservative outcomes.
I don’t know if she regularly does firesides: I do know that her mother, Ariel Bybee, is serving a mission in our stake. So I suspect that the family connection was the reason for the visit. Much of her presentation was similar to her FAIR paper, and I won’t attempt to rephrase her thoughts here.
I would like to share one point that resonated with me and the other women I sat near on Sunday night. McBaine’s day job is in marketing and public relations. She leads focus groups and surveys and, obviously, she conducts interviews for The Mormon Women project, so she has learned the value of asking the right question. McBaine asserts that we have been asking the wrong question about women in the Church for far too long, essentially: “Are we telling women they are valued at Church?” Our question should not even be “Are we showing women we value them at Church?” but “Are we using women in our local congregations in a way that maximizes their value?” This is not precise, as I did not take notes, so I hope I captured her meaning properly. I like this question and it is what I think we could be aiming for as we move forward on women’s issues.
I have shared my feelings on this topic before, here, and I stand by my general conclusion that many of the feminist problems are related to the aggressively hierarchical nature of our Church. Women may struggle to be heard in ward council, but men do, too. Women may have to adjust their expectations to the opinions and whims of a male leader they don’t necessarily agree with, but men who serve in the church have to as well. There is no doubt that gender plays a more thorny role in a woman’s experience at church, but many men share common issues of relevance and power.
I share this point of view again because I really believe that it’s important to listen carefully for the marginalized voices in our congregations, both men and women. It’s easier and perhaps more effective, organizationally, to carry on doing things as they have always been done. It’s painless. But, as McBaine eloquently reminded us last night, we are covenanted to “mourn with those who mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort…” We go after the one lost sheep. We need these voices and we need these souls. We could do more to make sure we listen carefully to these voices.
The fireside left me feeling hopeful and positive. I love being surrounded by so many women and men who are striving to follow Christ and his teachings. I am grateful that so many of us are committed to moving the kingdom forward, closer to Zion.