Recently, BuzzFeed published “Why Ann Stayed Home,” with the tagline “Mrs. Romney’s Mormon faith glorifies motherhood — and preaches the need for women to sacrifice their careers.” Contrary to what you might think by reading this headline, at no time has any LDS prophet ever said from the pulpit of General Conference to the entire Church membership that women who work are evil or making bad choices.
I’d like to take on this idea that Mormon women are oppressed because they are expected to stay home with their children while fathers are expected to provide for the family. This deliberate marginalization misses the overall point. The point is that LDS prophets teach that families are the top priority in the Mormon faith and should come first before all other pursuits.
LDS President David O. McKay said in General Conference in 1935, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” This quotation is often repeated by the General Authorities, reminding members of the continued importance of families. Church authorities do not expect blind obedience; rather they encourage individuals and families to pray and receive inspiration for how to apply principles of the gospel to their own lives. That is accomplished in different ways and each family decides how to apply this principle for themselves.
I know plenty of LDS women who work by choice, others out of necessity, others who are stay at home moms in affluence, while still more are stay at home moms in relative poverty. And, in some families, the father stays home instead of the wife.
This article and others on the left commonly quote LDS prophets as the basis for their information. These quotes are not always taken contextually, and as such, set up false premises about the Church and its members. In terms of authority, quoting a prophet is good. Quoting a prophet or other general officer of the Church speaking to the general church membership in General Conference is better, but quoting a document that all three members of the First Presidency of the Church have signed is the strongest authority of all.
An example of such a document is The Family: A Proclamation to the World. In addition to the General Authorities, the Church has authorized spokesmen through the Public Affairs Department, whom you would see identified as such in an article in which they are quoted. If you have a combination of these sorts of references, the article is likely to be quite accurate and representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Alternatively, you might see referenced mormonnewsroom.org, which is a resource specifically for media to use from which you may also trust the information published about the Church to be accurate.
Now, this Buzzfeed article does quote a couple prophets and other general authories, and also The Family: A Proclamation to the World, but the quotation selections leave out the larger context of adaptation by LDS families to suit the needs of their families.
The doctrine itself might be helpful in illustrating this further. Buzzfeed actually uses this same quotation, but stops after the second sentence. Look what a difference two more sentences make in understanding the context. From the LDS The Family: A Proclamation to the World:
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.
Particularly note the need for individual adaptation, and the obligation for LDS mothers and fathers to help each other as equals. Contrary to what Buzzfeed and the rest of old media would like you to believe, Mormon women are not only not oppressed by being forced to stay home, they choose their paths individually just as everyone else does. Agency, or the freedom to choose and make decisions, is a highly valued gift from God in the minds of the members of the Church.
Buzzfeed’s article shares a few other ambiguous quotes by General Authories of the LDS Church, but they strictly interpret them as saying moms must not work, which the LDS Church is actually careful never to say, understanding that individual circumstances require adaptation. What they are always careful to say is to repeat the ultimate priority of families, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”
Mormon women are neither oppressed nor undervalued in the Church. If anything, women are praised above the men in the Church! Elder Quentin L. Cook, an LDS apostle and general authority, gave a sermon while addressing the Church during General Conference in April 2011, called LDS Women Are Incredible. In it he praised LDS women for their faith and service and understanding of their responsibilities in caring for and teaching children and others within the Church. He continued:
The recent highly acclaimed book American Grace reported on women in many faiths. It noted that Latter-day Saint women are unique in being overwhelmingly satisfied with their role in Church leadership.9 Furthermore, Latter-day Saints as a whole, men and women, have the strongest attachment to their faith of any of the religions studied.10
Again, not oppressed. Not unappreciated. We are involved in families and sacrifice for our families by choice. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency of the Church gave a sermon in the October 2010 General Conference, called Of Things That Matter Most.
Our second key relationship is with our families. Since “no other success can compensate for failure”12 here, we must place high priority on our families. We build deep and loving family relationships by doing simple things together, like family dinner and family home evening and by just having fun together. In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e, time. Taking time for each other is the key for harmony at home. We talk with, rather than about, each other. We learn from each other, and we appreciate our differences as well as our commonalities. We establish a divine bond with each other as we approach God together through family prayer, gospel study, and Sunday worship.
Isn’t that beautiful? Who doesn’t want a peaceful, loving home? To that end, both men and women make sacrifices for their families in the LDS Church. Not only do women postpone careers or choose careers easy to balance with family responsibilities; many men consider their families while selecting careers. As one example, as late as 2007 and probably continuing until the present, the LDS-owned Brigham Young University had the largest pre-dental program in the nation, about 30% larger than the second largest program. Dentistry is well compensated, yet provides ample time for family life. Many young LDS men choose dentistry over medicine precisely because of the work/life balance.
“Why Ann Stayed Home,” with the tagline “Mrs. Romney’s Mormon faith glorifies motherhood — and preaches the need for women to sacrifice their careers” is then an incomplete interpretation of prophetic counsel. Men also sacrifice for their families; couples decide how to apply prophetic counsel and adapt it to their individual circumstances; and at no time has any prophet ever said from the pulpit of General Conference to the entire membership that women who work are evil or making bad choices.
Rather, they emphasize the overarching priority of family over any other thing. They remind members of the Church, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” These ideas the media puts forward that Mormons are different or strange for their old-fashioned values will likely fall flat. Strong families and helping hands are welcome in every community across our great nation.