01 October 2007

The Church's Rhetorical Dilemma

I was quite refreshed by the tone of the General Relief Society meeting this year. Just naming the hymns alone will make quite a statement: "Redeemer of Israel," "High on the Mountain Top," "The Lord is My Light," and one more that I can't remember of similar active vein. It was nice, for once, to actually have to think during a GenRS meeting

Not that the talks were stunning. I could feel the list of three things in Sister Beck's talk coming from a mile away--but it had good moments too. I confess that I found Sister Allred's talk slightly boring, although I did enjoy listening to her accent a lot. Sister Thompson carried that day with an interesting hybridization of gospel truths and worldly experience.

But in spite of their flaws, the talks had real substance. They weren't the pat on the head talks that have become the butt of so many GenRS vs. GenPriesthood meeting jokes.

Apparently though, the Church just can't win when talking to women. Katherine wrote a post complaining how either it's patronizing us with how great we are, telling us not to be depressed, or it's how we need to be the best, telling us to do better. Neither mode is satisfactory. But is there a point in the middle? After reading Katherine's post, I was left asking, "Well then, if they can't tell us we're good enough and they can't tell us to be better, how can the Church talk to women?"

If we have to pick between the two, I'd personally pick the latter--like Sister Beck said in her talk, the best cure for loneliness and depression is the get out and do something. It seems to me that the reason for the first, conciliatory mode of speaking is solved by the second--action. It seems to me that the recent move towards coddling has been mostly due to increased awareness of depression in the Church (and perhaps the Church's hyper-reaction to the problem--it has the same flavor of over-correction as affirmative action). Maybe this is just because I've found ways to deal with my own feelings of inadequacy through moving forward.

But in actuality, both the conciliatory and the active roles are parts of the gospel. The repentance process can be distracted by a perversion of either. Satan tries to convince us that we are flawed beyond hope or that we can perform our own salvation. But actual salvation needs the true nature of both. And perhaps so does the attitude of Church speakers toward their audience. Too much condemnation or acceptance is stifling to eternal progress. We must make the gospel something within reach, which is perhaps why President Hinckley's "small steps," "stand a little taller" motif works so well--it promotes action, but makes it reachable rather than hopeless.

1 comment:

Katherine said...

Liz, I don't think we fundamentally disagree. Balancing acceptance and admonishment in a way that puts things within realistic reach is ideal. I just wish the actual messages didn't seem to fall so far to one side.

You ask: "Well then, if they can't tell us we're good enough and they can't tell us to be better, how can the Church talk to women?" Key here is that I never said they can't tell us to be better. On the contrary, I think they should. But as I wrote in my post, there ought to be a distinction between being your best and being the best. Because as far as I can tell, the latter primarily denigrates and discourages.