A Female General Board Member is a What?

By: Stephen Marsh
October 21, 2011

A friend of mine used to sometimes start discussions with the turn of phrase “…” “is a what?” — Kind of a way to approach the question of just what something meant beyond what people were thinking.

So, I thought I would approach the issue of female General Board members the way she would have.

The general boards of the Church remind me, in many ways, of the assistants to the quorum of the twelve that the Church had as a step between the quorum of 70 and the modern quorum of 70 or the bridge between regional representatives and area seventies.  They are an authoritative group with some sort of authority.  Men and women serve on them.

The only criticism that has leaked out about women on the general boards is those who have been chastised for not being aggressive enough.  I should note that very little leaks out.

From interactions with stake presidents at regional training events, we do know that the apostles at least consider them general authorities of some sort that definitely outrank stake presidents and are not shy about explaining where things fit to stake presidents who have a different idea.

But, just what are they?  What kind of authority do they have?  Other than “by inspiration” how are they called?  Just what is a general board (like the one for the Sunday School)?  What does it mean that in the hierarchy that we have women who outrank stake presidents?  Where do they sit vis a vis area authority 70s?

And, in case you are wondering, I’m asking these questions because I don’t know the answers.

But I do think that it gives interesting meaning to the modern Church.  President Gordon B. Hinckley was known to communicate that he and the brethren felt it was important that there be more leadership in the Church from the women in it.  Obviously an increased role in general boards (vs. the old, pre- correlation auxiliary limited entities — which had a great deal of autonomy but no authority outside of their own lines) appears to be a part of that.  But what does it mean?

Anyone have answers?

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28 Responses to A Female General Board Member is a What?

  1. Paul on October 21, 2011 at 4:17 PM

    Hmmm. I’m trying to think of examples I’ve seen.

    In our area in Michigan, we’ve received very limited visits from sisters who lead general auxiliaires — most recently a counselor from each of the RS, YW and Primary presidencies came and conducted regional training for Stake Presidencies, Bishoprics and stake and unit presidencies of those organizations.

    My wife (who attended because of her calling) said they spoke about functioning in councils as well as in their own organizations.

    When I attended such a training meeting a number of years ago, the meeting was presided over by an area 70 and he spoke in a general session and the sisters led sessions with their organizations. My counselors and I (I was a bishop at the time) each attended one of the auxilliary sessions with our ward’s presidencies.

    I think in the most recent one, they did not divide into auxilliaries, but met in one meeting in which the area 70 and each of the visiting sisters spoke (in what order I do not know).

    I don’t think in either setting the sisters would have assumed they had authority beyond their auxilliary and their specific charge to provide training; they did not offer specific counsel to priesthood leaders and made multiple references to priesthood leaders with whom they worked in an official capacity.

    Sister Cook of the YW presidency attended our ward the day after the most recent training and spoke in sacrament meeting at our bishop’s invitation. (The other two sisters each attended another ward close to the airport and at the right time to allow them to reach their flight; I do not know if they spoke.) Sister Cook also attended YW, but I don’t know what she did there since I don’t have any YW in my family.

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  2. Ray on October 21, 2011 at 4:33 PM

    anomaly?

    I see them as General Authorities, regardless of what their official designation might be.

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  3. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 21, 2011 at 4:55 PM

    Paul, thank you for your perspective which is much more current than mine.

    Ray, I think we have a transitional status that is likely to evolve into something formal as seventies did. It is really to bad Nibley is not around to midwife the process.

    We are not likely to see his like again.

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  4. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 21, 2011 at 4:58 PM

    Paul, I had not thought of auxiliary presidents when I wrote this, they fit in the process at a different place it seems. I need to think about that.

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  5. Jake on October 21, 2011 at 5:58 PM

    I think the answer is that they are ambiguous and that’s the way the church wants to keep it.

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  6. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 21, 2011 at 11:01 PM

    Jake, what drives your conclusion?

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  7. hawkgrrrl on October 22, 2011 at 2:29 AM

    Once we truly cross the female representation barrier, we still have the groupthink barrier.

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  8. Jake on October 22, 2011 at 5:24 AM

    The reason is however they define it they’ll encounter problems. If they say they have greater ecclesiastical authority then a stake president then they are above a priesthood office so does that mean they either have the priesthood or some authority that trumps it. Which obviously is a minefield. If they say they have no authority then it just makes them into a token gesture to appease claims of sexism.

    Its an issue of women and priesthood generally though it’s a grey area that they want to keep grey. I’ve yet to read an clear statement as to why and how women can perform priesthood ordinances in the temple, this is for the same reason whatever they say will be problematic. If they don’t have priesthood then how can they perform them? If they do then why don’t women hold priesthood offices? It’s catch 22 so silence and ambiguity is easier.

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  9. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 22, 2011 at 10:08 AM

    Hawk and Jake, the new Daughters book on the Relief Society seems to brush up against those issues as well.

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  10. Jeff Spector on October 22, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    I’d be willing to venture a guess that the leadership at the top is much more open to the opinions and advice of the Sisters in Auxiliaries (both Presidencies and Board members) than most members realize. I think that the problem is at the local unit level where the male leadership THINK they are emulating General Church Leadership, when in fact, they are not.

    Why do you think Elder Ballard and the recent training and new handbook has stressed the work of councils and listening to the Sisters? Because they just thought it up?

    I attended a training years ago for Stake Presidencies and High councilors given by Sister Nadauld when she was YW General President. She was introduced by our area Authority and then she trained the SPs and HCs. She was both engaging, knowledgeable and had important training for us at the time. I didn’t treat her training any different than that of the training I had received from the Priesthood. She was much more knowledgeable on the YW Program.

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  11. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 22, 2011 at 10:33 AM

    Jeff, I love that line: “Why do you think Elder Ballard and the recent training and new handbook has stressed the work of councils and listening to the Sisters? Because they just thought it up?”

    BTW, I like this one too: “Smith was a “prophet of God — not in the cheap and triumphant manner of [an LDS] Church video, but in a hard-won, Old Testament way, where a frustrated God chooses one who is willing to serve despite personality flaws and limited understanding.”” — from http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/lifestyle/52745310-80/riess-says-mormon-church.html.csp?page=2

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  12. Jeff Spector on October 22, 2011 at 11:09 AM

    I like that line as well. Jana hits a homer on that line. Though, I typically agree with little else….

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  13. Ray on October 22, 2011 at 11:30 AM

    In the November 2010 CHI worldwide training, Pres. Julie Beck interrupted Elder Holland and Elder Bednar at one point to make a particular point – and neither of them batted an eye or seemed surprised in any way. It appeared that they were used to being interrupted by her – or, to be more precise, it appeared that they were used to a free flowing conversation in which she was not seen as “interrupting” them.

    Generally speaking, I also believe the global male leadership listens to and values their female counterparts MUCH more than too many local male leaders do – and I also believe the male global leadership sees the female global AND local leadership as truly “in charge” within their callings more than too many of the local male leaders do.

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  14. Miri on October 22, 2011 at 11:36 AM

    “I’d be willing to venture a guess that the leadership at the top is much more open to the opinions and advice of the Sisters in Auxiliaries (both Presidencies and Board members) than most members realize. I think that the problem is at the local unit level where the male leadership THINK they are emulating General Church Leadership, when in fact, they are not.”

    If this is the case, why do you think church leadership hasn’t made a point of letting local leadership know about it? Considering the prominence of the issue, don’t you think it seems kind of secretive to let it go on being most prominent than most members realize? Shouldn’t members be made to realize it?

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  15. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 22, 2011 at 11:59 AM

    Miri, see Jeff Spector’s comments, above.

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  16. el oso on October 23, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    The general auxiliary presidencies are sustained and speak in general conference. There should be no doubt that they have global authority to teach and train. You can get a short biography on each of them from the Church News or Ensign. The general membership can feel some connection with them before they show up in your area.
    Obviously, Sister Beck and her counselors cannot be the sole general relief society officers and expect the global relief society to function well. They must have additional help at the global and/or regional level. Unfortunately, all of the helpers (board members) are virtually anonymous Utah people until they happen to visit you. If you knew that Sister Smith was stake RS president in West Valley for 8 years or maybe the YW board member, Sister Young, has 5 adult daughters in their 20′s you might be inclined to listen to their wisdom respectfully.

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  17. Paul on October 24, 2011 at 8:16 AM

    #14, Miri, in addition to Jeff’s comments, I’d mention that Elder Ballard has been speaking on this subjevct since the 1990s — he gave two consecutive conference talks on the subject of listening to the sisters in councils, and he wrote a whole book about it (Counseling With Our Councils — gifted to me from one of my counselors when I became a bishop in 1999). And, as Jeff pointed out, it’s been modeled in the most recent worldwide leadership training. It’s not as if they’re not teaching it!

    I will say this: in my stake, the message is getting through. Our stake president actively seeks (and follows) counsel from his stake RS presidency (I only know because my wife is a counselor in that presidency); I assume he does from the other sisters on the stake council as well. And I know he tries to teach that same principle to the bishops in the stake.

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  18. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 24, 2011 at 11:48 AM

    Paul, that is an excellent point.

    Some places people are getting it, but I wonder if some places the message is just not getting through.

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  19. Jeff Spector on October 24, 2011 at 12:14 PM

    I suspect, in some places, not much gets through….. Especially, if they are still not having Sisters say opening or closing prayers in Sacrament meeting….

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  20. Ray on October 24, 2011 at 12:51 PM

    Yeah, Jeff, there is that. *sigh*

    Fwiw, there are lots of issues where it’s the water not getting to the end of the row – because local leaders are building (or refuse to tear down) dams, not because the water isn’t flowing from the fountain.

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  21. Paul on October 24, 2011 at 1:35 PM

    Ray & Jeff, I agree. I suspect that visiting authorities rarely discuss this sort of thing even privately with stake presidents unless they’ve been asked to. And if you ask the SP if he has any trouble listening to the sisters in his stake, he’ll probably say no regardless of the local circumstance, not because he is trying to hide something, but because he just doesn’t see it (because if he did, he’d change!).

    Change comes slowly…

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  22. Paul on October 24, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    In this connection I remember a stake PH leadaership meeting a number of years ago to which our SP at the time invited the stake RS president. She spoke for about 15 or 20 minutes about the sisters of the stake and made some very specific recommendations about things PH leaders could do to serve them better. It was pretty bold and enlightening.

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  23. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 24, 2011 at 2:34 PM

    Paul, your number 21 is so true.

    I’m at a loss at how to deal with that, btw.

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  24. Ryan on October 26, 2011 at 12:04 PM

    >>From interactions with stake presidents at regional training events, we do know that the apostles at least consider them general authorities of some sort that definitely outrank stake presidents…<<

    This is interesting. Can you point to anything specific, particularly anything written, to support the idea that they "outrank" stake presidents?

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  25. Stephen M (Ethesis) on October 26, 2011 at 5:51 PM

    Well Ryan, in the example I was thinking of, when the stake president in question attempted to assert primacy, the apostle present handed him his head …

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  26. Ryan on October 29, 2011 at 12:44 AM

    Stephen,

    To me that would suggest that the apostle present did not consider the board member as a general authority outranking a stake president, since if that were true why would he need to intervene? Of course without knowing the example you’re speaking of it’s hard for me to comment with any specificity. My thought would be that if the board members aren’t called or sustained as general authorities, and no authoritative document states that they are GAs, it seems inaccurate to assume that’s what they are. If you had anything to the contrary I’d be very interested to see it.

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  27. Stephen Marsh on October 29, 2011 at 7:51 AM

    Ryan, your argument speaks for itself, both ways, though it points out that the female board members (sustained “as presently constituted” every conference) are more tabula rasa than carte blanche.

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  28. Ryan on October 29, 2011 at 10:44 AM

    Stephen,

    Your comment is intriguing. I will review the “as presently constituted” language and see how that exactly applies to board members. I seem to remember some “or other authorities” language that I assumed applied to board members, but I would like to clarify the issue.

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