Julie Smith over at Times and Seasons has been re-hashing the whole “are-women-more-spiritual-than-men” question. My opinion is that they aren’t, but that’s not what I’m writing about. I’m more interested in a comment Julie made about male vs. female testimony bearing.
I had the opportunity a couple months ago to lead an Elders Quorum discussion on this in my own ward. The topic grew out of a concern expressed by our bishop that “not enough Elders were bearing testimony.” Mostly it was vastly a female forum, with one or two High Priests thrown into the mix and a healthy scattering of youth testimonies.
So I posed the question to the quorum: “We believe in testimony bearing right?” Several heads nod. “So why don’t we do it?”
A long thoughtful pause ensued. Several of the elders seemed a little puzzled and perhaps even surprised by the notion. But I could tell they at least agreed that we really weren’t testifying at all. To me, it was troubling.
Why don’t men bear testimony in our church?
I think Julie hits the nail on the head with comment #3 in the Times and Seasons discussion:
One thing that we might want to consider when faced with the easily observable discrepancy between male and female rates of religious observance is the myriad ways in which church is more friendly to women than to men. For example, most testimonies are (at best) a step removed from Oprah–they are about feelings, personal experiences, and relationships. They frequently involve public displays of emotion, often even weeping. No wonder that it seems that 80-90% of testimony-bearers are female. In this particular case, it would be silly to credit the inherently more spiritual nature of women instead of the fact that the medium is more conducive to stereotypical female behavior.
It would be interesting to see what would happen if the church started promoting a more masculine form of discourse for testimonies (less emotive, more powerful, more based on abstract belief than relationally developed experiences)–I’d predict the percentages of testimony-bearers would quickly invert.
Could it be that the guys aren’t interested in testimony bearing because it’s, frankly, just “too sissy” right now?
Well, that’s a derogatory way to put it, to be sure (though it makes for a catchy title, I admit). And I don’t want to criticize the men in the church who do tend to get emotional at the pulpit (of whom, I know several). Nor do I want to suggest, “real men don’t cry” or anything like that.
It’s just that it’s not my cup of tea. The prospect of standing in front of a mass of friends and strangers and sobbing about how special my little daughter is, is about as attractive a prospect as a root canal. I just don’t air my laundry in public. That doesn’t mean it’s good, doesn’t mean it’s bad… But it is just how I was raised. Weepy testimonies just don’t do anything for me. They don’t move or inspire me, and I have never cried at the pulpit – not even at youth camp if you can believe it.
Now, this isn’t to say that I haven’t born testimony. But looking back on it, I really do fit the pattern that Julie suggests. My testimonies are about expounding doctrine, teaching lessons, and sharing abstract spiritual insights. There’s very little Oprah Winfrey in there (incidentally, I can never take more than 5 minutes of Oprah before feeling slightly nauseated).
But why have our testimony meetings “gone Oprah?”
I have my suspicions. It seems to me that it used to be that the elders of Israel used to frequently ascend the pulpit to expound doctrine to the congregation. Think the free-form religion of Joseph Smith, and even Brigham Young. But somewhere along the line, this practice died out. Why?
In my own personal half-baked opinion, it’s correlation’s fault. We just don’t tolerate doctrinal loose cannons in our wards anymore. That is, not unless they are over 70 years of age and far past the point of caring what the bishop thinks of their opinions about Kolob. We put up with them frankly because we have no choice. But there is just a general feeling of unease that descends upon the congregation whenever someone not in the correlated teaching pipeline gets up to “tell it like it is.”
We’ve had it beaten into our brains, since we were wee little Sunbeams, that proper doctrine is supposed to be boring. If things are getting interesting in Sacrament Meeting, it probably means someone is on the verge of going to hell.
It’s like the Mormon 11th commandment is “Thou shalt not be edgey.” But the thing is, if you want more males at the pulpit, I think you’re going to have to put up with some crazy stuff.
I mean really, can it be any worse than hearing sister so-and-so tell everyone about the details of her husbands colon cancer? Release the hounds, says I!