18 October 2007

My take on Sis. Beck's GC talk

I just got a chance to see Sister Beck's now infamous talk at General Conference a week and a half ago.
Let's get a couple of preliminary things out of the way first.

1. I really appreciate that she did not use the "Relief Society voice." (TM- the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

2. As my wife pointed out to me, if women felt like Sis. Beck was being hard on them, there was some justice in this. The men get at least two meetings a year where we get told what a bunch of lazy, porn-addicted louts we are. The women can get a stern talking to now and again as well. You'll be fine.

3. It is somewhat insensitive to speak just to the mothers. This is one of the broadest and biggest dilemmas in the Church today- how to teach the eternal principles of the Gospel when facing a room full of people for whom some portions of the counsel may not be presently applicable. If Sis. Beck failed to speak to single women, married women without children, etc., this fault is definitely not unique to her. The same unfortunate mistake is carried out by plenty of teachers and speakers in Church settings each week.

Now to the meat:

It all comes down to a matter of identity. As for myself, I am a husband (though not a father). However, I am also: a RM, law student, avid reader, blogger, video gamer, sports fan, etc. While I am all of these things, none of them (nor the sum total of them) is ME. Sometimes, husband is the role that best defines me and is dominant. However, at other times, the role of husband is subsumed beneath other roles, though it never completely disappears. As my wife knows all too well, I jealously guard a piece of me and a time for my own independence. I reserve my own right to, and respect the desire of other married people to do so as well.

Even if it was unspoken, I believe that what offended so many sisters in the Church (and some brothers on sisters' behalf) was that Sister Beck seemed to be reducing their entire identity into a single role: mother. Many of our sisters may be like me- jealously guarding a part of themselves that is neither mother nor wife (or at least not wholly so). Though she did not say it, it could have been perceived from Sister Beck's comments that we (your family/children/the Church) don't have time for your to be anything but a mother right now. For women who are maintaining a piece of themselves apart or for whom the role of mother or wife is not the one of which they are most fond, among the other roles that they embrace, such a remark could be deeply troubling or hurtful.

Another point of her talk that has been addressed is the admonition of LDS women to be the "best" homemakers. It is nice to aspire to be the best anything, but the rhetoric in such a setting is misplaced. The emphasis ought rather to be on being "better" than our past selves, to being a better homemaker, mother, father, etc. than I was when I first have kids, got married, etc. We can be our "best" selves but trying to be "better" than non-LDS people in the homemaking category (and in a number of different fields) seems stupid and petty.


  1. Re your point #3. I suspect that a talk in general conference that was aimed at all the membership in whatever status they happened to be in at the moment (happy, single, married, childless, grandparents, tired, recovering from surgery, clean, mad, etc.) would be so general as to be generally worthless, or so all encompassing everyone would sound like President Hinckley.

    How would you craft a talk that would cover all the bases in the time allotted you? Although Sister Beck may have not thought through all the points of her talk, and although she might have chosen another term rather than homemaker, I suspect she said exactly what she felt and wanted to say to exactly who she wanted to say it.

    Back to point #3. Is it somewhat insensitive to call porn addicts to repentence when not everyone in the audience has that problem? Yet it happens all the time. Is it appropriate to harp on home teaching if 3/4 of the quorom is doing their job? I think you get my drift.

    By the way, the above thoughts are mine and cannot be construed as being representative of my wife. And please don't tell her I posted!

  2. Take the RS presidency as a whole. They DID address everyone. All women were included in what they said. Sister Beck was the one who assigned Sister Thompson her topic, in fact. When considering her Conference talk, I think that should be remembered. As John said, it's a little much to expect a conference talk to always cover all bases or apply to all people. But she taught many principles that can apply to anyone, male or female, parent or not. We are all in business of nurturing God's children in one form or another.

    I also think that she has broadened the term 'homemaking' to mean so much more than what we usually associate it with - what it really needs to mean. Of primary importance is creating a environment where spiritual growth and progress can take place. If that isn't a wonderful idea, I don't know what is!

    I also think that people underestimate the power of her words for any woman. Her comment about Hannah and what should matter most to us, and the process of attaining attributes of true motherhood were profound. Our desires and what we have become will rise with us in the resurrection. Any woman can strive to have her desires and character in line with God's eternal purposes for us.

    Yeah, I have strong feelings about this! :)

  3. John,

    Your examples in paragraph 3 are inapposite to my point. My point is that a talk that focuses almost exclusively on homemaking (of the SAHM variety) makes a lot of women invisible. That kind of rhetoric excludes women that don't fit into the category. Your examples are of a completely different phenomenon. When a priesthood leader talks about pornography, I don't feel like I am invisible, even though I don't have a problem with that. It makes me feel bored, but that is another topic. I'm not saying that her talk should not have been given, only that the RS Presidency ought to represent and address all women.

    I think I admitted in #3 that it is a tough problem, and that there is no easy solution to it. And while I have not seen the other RS speakers (re: m&m's comment), I agree that one speaker does not have to address everyone. That's why we have multiple speakers. What I am trying to emphasize is that this kind of rhetoric is symptomatic of something that happens in the Church often.

    Sticking to really general gospel principles is not a bad idea, especially when you are speaking to a worldwide audience and people in a number of different countries, backgrounds, socioeconomic classes, etc. There are gospel principles that apply to everyone out there, not matter what their station in life. In a general conference, maybe that is what we ought to focus on.

    John, does your wife think "blogging people" are evil? 'Cuz I've been doing this for a while, and have no plans to stop?

  4. Why did everyone get caught up on one of my "preliminary" points, which was not even the meat of my post?

  5. You asked why everyone got caught up on a preliminary point and not the meat. Bear with me, but maybe Sister Beck is saying the same thing! We throw things out there and never know what we are going to catch! And no, my wife doesn't think bloggers are evil, I just don't want to rehash Sister Beck's talk with her again.

  6. I think that homemaking a la Sister Beck's definition is definitely not only of the SAHM variety? That is like suggesting that only SAHMs should be worried about nurturing their children and creating a sacred space at home.

    In fact, I don't think it gets much more general than that. A good majority of members are parents, and we need to hear often that nothing else matters than what we do in our homes. And it helps to get some good specific instruction on what that really means. Ahem, IMO, I should say. :)

    I honestly don't understand how, with all the 'general principles' talks that are given, why it seems that some want to make it ALL that way. We can't avoid some specific topics that need our attention. Not every talk has to be 'just for us.'

    But I still submit that there is something for everyone in Sister Beck's talk. Men included!

  7. I can completely relate to this post. Especially paragraphs 2 and 3 in the "meat". I felt uncomfortable during Sister Beck's talk and you have done a good job of putting into words what I was feeling.