Just over one year ago Neylan McBaine published Women at Church. A few notes about the book. First of all, it is a timely publication that reached Mormonism at a high-point of the Kate Kelley ordain women movement. Neylan provided an alternate voice enlisting recommendations to heighten the status of women in the Church but doing son while working with the framework of the hierarchy. Her approach is cooperative and conciliatory and her tone is constructive and removed from the “we’re recovering from the Ezra Taft Benson” position that is frequently voiced in certain camps.
I appreciated the fact that she introduced Latter-day Saints, some for the first time, to foundational texts in the Church that are essential reading in order to savor the rich history of Mormon women. Such as:
*Beginning of Better Days: Divine Instruction to Women from the Prophet Joseph Smith
*Relief Society Minutes—Joseph Smith Papers
*Women of the Covenant: The Story of Relief Society
*Women of Faith in the Latter Days
These books have not been adequately marketed and disseminated in my estimation. Neylan is to be commended in her work to introduce and explore these texts with women and men of Mormonism.
Additionally, she recommends crossover teaching and learning opportunities between men and women of the Church. Relief Society sisters teaching the High Priest group is encouraged to foster greater understanding and appreciation for the similarities and differences between men and women at the local level. High priests teaching the Relief Society with similar ends in mind.
McBaine recommends changes to the scaffolding of Mormonism and not the foundation. She works entirely within the parameters of the Church Handbook of Instruction. In other words, what can be appropriately changed in practices at the local level that would not cross policies and directives handed down by the general leadership of the Church. For example, there is no policy that prohibits young women ages 14-18 from serving as the visiting teaching companions to their mothers or other adult women in the ward family. Since it is not forbidden, why not move in a direction that provides an experience for young women that is commensurate with that of young men in the Church that home teach with their father or other priesthood holder in the ward? Neylan determined that some local leaders are already doing this with success. Could the practice expand? As a father of young women I certainly hope so and I appreciate the recommendation. Frankly, I had not considered it a viable option before.
In the end, I strongly recommend this book. And the read is not intended for a female readership only. Men will find Women at Church engaging and likely mind opening. Manifestations of cultural Mormonism relative to gender issues in the Church abound. McBaine’s book gently and effectively recommends many paths that would likely curb bias and foster unity.