Each week, Hannah and Asriel will discuss the Young Women’s and Young Men’s lessons for the coming week from a feminist perspective. This week is lesson 40.
The Young Women
By Hannah Wheelwright:
Another bizarre topic. This lesson covers caring for the elderly, babysitting tips, and first aid—none of which seem like a normal Sunday/Gospel/Christ-centered lesson, much less three of them shoved together. It’s also a unique lesson in that I vividly remember two of the times this lesson was taught to me, once in Beehives and once in Miamaids. I guess my Laurel’s advisor must have done a good job of tweaking the lesson so that it wasn’t so blatantly weird. Or maybe I just missed that Sunday. Anyways, I remember this lesson because it was such a radical departure from our normal spiritual discussions—usually we would be reading awkward quotes from General Authorities about the importance of being sexually pure, but here we are in this lesson learning the right number for poison control!
Part of me wants to love the lesson for this exact reason; how awesome to teach the young women something so practical for their future lives! Even if it is couched in terms of “teach the young women good childcare practices since they will be doing babysitting and taking care of the own children someday,” first aid and how to care for people physically are still important lessons.
However, I also cannot help but note that it’s just another checklist: “DO put out fires on people’s clothing by rolling the victim up in a carpet or blanket and rolling them around on the ground.” “DO NOT leave a child unattended in a closed car, especially in hot weather.” The young men are learning how to prepare to make serious covenants in the temple, how to be worthy of promised blessings, and how they can live with their families forever; the young women are being taught never to give an unconscious person food or water.
I like the first story about the importance of taking care of the elderly—I wish that the lesson had focused more on caring for other people, attending to needs, and how this relates to the teachings of Christ. As it stands, the lesson is better suited for a Mutual or a special activity some other day of the week.
The Aaronic Priesthood
Lesson 40 for the Aaronic Priesthood, The House of the Lord, is about “the purpose of temples and why [each young man] should keep himself worthy to enter the temple.” The lesson seemed to stick to its intent fairly consistently, but my feminist reading of the text produced three particular points that I’ll talk about here.
The eternal role of the temple sealing is nearly always a controversial issue, and the quote from the late church president Spencer W. Kimball highlights a part of the controversy. In his explanation that a temple sealing is essential to exaltation, Kimball says, “Every boy and girl … should know that the ordinance of sealing is an absolute.” I won’t get into whether the church should perform sealings for same-sex couples, but at the very least we need to acknowledge that this can be a painful concept for the gay young men in our wards and branches. If they have decided to be celibate, this statement seems to imply that their tremendous faithful sacrifice isn’t good enough, and for some gay young men it might even make them feel pressured to marry a woman. I’m not saying that mixed orientation marriages can’t work, but I definitely do not think that it should be a standard or expectation on our gay young men. There is also the issue that not everyone will get married, and young men that take Kimball’s remarks too literally may feel that they are not living the gospel as righteously as they should if they don’t get married.
There were some really great factors in the story of the convert family getting sealed in the temple. First, the mother did not decide to get baptized at the same time as her husband. She didn’t get baptized until four years later. As small as that seems, I do like that it provides a picture for the young men of when spouses might not agree, and that spouses, as individuals, may take separate paths on things such as religious beliefs. In making the decision of how and when to get sealed, the story explains that the parents prayed together as equals, and there was no trace of the father of the family having any kind of final or ultimate say in this major family decision. I’ll add that I found the story of the convert family’s sealing humorous at one point. As I read the passage, I chuckled at what I now call the father’s “feminist awakening.” The couple had five kids together prior to the sealing, and the father said that as he was looking at his wife from across the altar in the temple, he realized that she was the mother of their children. A good realization, I must say.
Asriel: I thought it was pretty weird that the manual suggests that Young Women leaders should get priesthood approval before having first aid instruction at the church at a weeknight activity.
Hannah: I don’t like that. I had awesome Young Women leaders who were totally capable of making decisions like that for themselves, and I don’t like that the lesson is encouraging them to run to the bishop to ask permission for everything.
Asriel: Although, is it really surprising? In one YSA group I attended, the Relief Society movie night had to have a priesthood chaperone.
Hannah: No it’s not really surprising. It just seems like there’s this never ending list of things the female leaders of the church have to ask permission for.
Asriel: Hmm. Yeah that’s frustrating. I also want to respond to just the lesson overall. The main thing that I kept thinking as I read the Young Women’s lesson is that I learned all of the stuff in that lesson, too, but I learned it in Boy Scouts at weeknight activities. The Young Women are going to end up learning all of these same principles at a weeknight activity, too, so it seems less effective to teach about it on Sunday, but not be able to practice any of the skills, but then to practice the skills on a weeknight when they will probably have to go over the principles all over again. I just never had a lesson like that in church, and I don’t really see why it would be necessary for the young women to talk about it in church when they are just going to relearn it all at a weeknight activity.
Hannah: Something that stood out to me in the Young Men’s lesson was the reference to spirit children. Did you notice that?
Asriel: Are you talking about the part where it said that, “We also have the promise of increasing our family by having spirit children”?
Hannah: Yes! I don’t remember EVER being taught about spirit children in Young Women’s. In fact, I can’t personally recall ever being taught about what I’d be doing in the eternities, even though since leaving Young Women’s, I’ve learned a lot more about church doctrine concerning women producing spirit children in the eternities.
Asriel: Yeah, even that passing comment in the Aaronic Priesthood manual doesn’t give much clarity to the role of the sexes in the eternities. Honestly, I think that is probably just because nobody really knows what they will be, and so there isn’t much else to say.
Hannah: A valid possibility… Or maybe talking about being eternally pregnant just wouldn’t go over so well with the young ladies…