Of all the questions we get about the church, no subject is more prevalent than the role and status of women. It is surprisingly common for curious people to have the impression that Mormonism is a male-dominated culture and theology; and even to view women as subservient, second-class citizens.
Part of this impression likely comes from misconceptions about polygamy (see earlier columns in this miniseries about answering common questions). But it goes broader and deeper than that. Many people know that the priesthood is held only by men in the church, and they assume that implies that they occupy a more important and favored position than women.
Of course, those of us who know the truth about church theology and who live as a part of the Mormon culture are familiar with the gender equality and equal-partnership marriages that prevail, and we often find it almost humorous that outsiders perceive it differently. (I, Richard, find it particularly funny that anyone would think that I have any control over Linda.) Still, clear language about the equal but different roles of men and women can make a big difference in how we are viewed by the wider public.
Here is some wording we find to be effective. Once again, this is not church-approved or official and is given just to suggest an approach and some particular language that we think may be useful and satisfying to curious acquaintances.
God created both men and women. He did not intend men and women to be alike, nor did he intend either gender to be regarded as or treated better than the other.
Mormon doctrine places women equal to and yet distinct from men. Both men and women have unique strengths, divine gifts, roles and responsibilities. The church has championed the equality and rights of women from the beginning. In fact, women living in the Utah Territory were the first in the United States to obtain the right to vote.
The church believes that fathers are to lead their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide for and protect them. We also believe that motherhood is the supreme privilege of women. In these sacred responsibilities, men and women are equal partners.
Though men are ordained to hold the priesthood, women have been integral and vital to the leadership and governance of the church from the beginning. They preside, lead, teach, preach, pray, organize and sit in council with male leaders. The church's Relief Society, which is believed to be the oldest and largest women's organization in the world, champions womanhood and mobilizes millions of women worldwide to serve in humanitarian causes.
This concludes our miniseries of articles on commonly asked questions about the church. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that curious people are not always interested people. While it is never inappropriate to ask acquaintances if they are interested in the church and would like to be visited and taught by missionaries, we should be prepared, as should our children, to accept a negative answer to the "golden question" and to go ahead and provide a clear answer to questions about the church that come from "curious but not interested" people.
Richard and Linda are the founders of Joyschools.com and New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com or at www.valuesparenting.com or read Linda's blog. Their three latest books are "The Entitlement Trap," "5 Spiritual Solutions" and "The Three Deceivers." Listen to their weekly radio show on Mondays at 4:30 at www.byuradio.org.