In the Summer 2011 issue of SquareTwo, we reported on the first-ever appointment of a female department chair in the College of Religious Education at Brigham Young University. We were all pretty excited about that precedent-setting and paradigm-shattering event. Well now something new has happened at the College that makes that appointment seem humdrum—and just two years later! Indeed, we think you should be sitting down for this . . .
The Department of Ancient Scripture in the College of Religious Education at Brigham Young University has hired . . . drum roll . . . a married women with children ages 2 years old and 6 months old who plans to have additional children! Yes, it’s true! Her name is Amy Easton-Flake, and she holds a Ph.D. in American Literature and Women’s Studies from Brandeis University. And her husband is moving to Provo, too, putting her career first and sharing child care responsibilities with her (not to worry, he does have a job, folks! ☺).
Those outside the Church are probably raising an eyebrow at this point (this is big news?). Those inside the Church understand this development should have been on the front page of the Deseret News. This has literally never happened before. No married woman with small children has ever, ever been hired in a tenure track appointment in the College of Religious Education at BYU. Indeed, it was widely understood that there was a prohibition against this, for a “righteous” LDS mother of small children would not be working outside of the home--and only “righteous” LDS women would be welcome to teach and thus serve as a role model in the College of Religious Education, which supplies religious instruction to every single BYU student.
Now, let’s admit that there have always been ironies surrounding this practice. You could be a married mother with small children and work as a secretary in the College of Religious Education—and that has certainly happened many times over the years. But you could never work as a tenure track professor. Why? You would be giving your students the wrong idea about appropriate public roles for mothers.
So all of us who are happily stunned at this development are now asking a number of questions:
First, so does that mean there really never WAS a rule about this? After all, the department did not ask permission to make this hire. They just did it. So was this a “tradition of the fathers” which was quietly discarded as no longer being in step with Church doctrine? And was this process catalyzed by having that first female department chair in place? Did female leadership see the disconnect more plainly than previous generations of male leadership? (And if so, we see that as a argument for appointing the first female Academic Vice President (AVP) at BYU. Just think of all the weeds a female AVP could see campus-wide at the Y . . . )
Second, if this can happen at the College of Religious Education at BYU, what does this say about the Seminary and Institute programs, which have likewise “let go” any married woman teacher who becomes pregnant, or, indeed, refused to hire young married women in the first place with the rationale that they would eventually become pregnant and would have to be terminated? Surely those programs cannot now justify maintaining a different standard than that of BYU, can they? Doesn’t BYU set the standard? (A important tangent here—you can be a mother with young children and be called to be an unpaid volunteer seminary teacher as your ward calling. But if you are interested in a paid position, those are reserved for men whether or not they have children, and for women without children. Please see this poignant letter, reprinted with permission below this article, to the General Relief Society President in 2011 from a young LDS married woman seeking to become a seminary teacher, about her conversation with the higher-ups at CES about this issue.)
Third, what does shift this say about a changing view within the Church about what constitutes a righteous mother? And about what the appropriate public roles for LDS mothers are? And about what types of female role models the Church wishes to provide for BYU students? Frankly, we are getting positively giddy thinking about the possible answers to these questions.
Hang on to your hats, folks, we foresee more paradigm-shattering events taking place for women in the LDS Church in the near future. The appointment of Amy Easton-Flake is but a harbinger of wonderful things yet to come . . . Welcome, Professor Easton-Flake! Thank you for being the right woman at the right time with the right credentials to step into this pioneering role! Even if a BYU student never takes one of your courses, they will know you exist—and that will mean something important to them. May you have lots more children and get tenure at BYU!
And, by the way, kudos to the Department of Ancient Scripture and its chair Camille Fronk for leading out in this direction!
November 13, 2011
Dear President Julie B. Beck,
I have contemplated for six months on whether this letter should be written or not. In sincere prayer I have sought guidance from the Spirit to know if this letter was important and worthy of voice. I feel that in recent studies I have received an answer to my prayers and that is why I am writing you this day. I have immeasurable gratitude in my heart for the strong women of the Relief Society who have blessed my life through avenues of religious devotion, education, and example. These women are my friends, family members, and the sisters of our Relief Society history. I feel their voices have enlightened my life and helped strengthen my personal relationship with Christ. Because of their talents and gifts I feel compelled to express my belief that their voices are worthy of being heard. This is why I write to you with a personal experience that broke my heart, but not my conviction in Christ and His love for the sisters of the Church.
This spring I felt the overwhelming inspiration from the Spirit to call my high school seminary teacher and ask him how I could become a seminary teacher myself. I have previously never considered teaching seminary and the impression came to me by total surprise; yet I felt it powerfully. My seminary teacher expressed full support in my ability to teach and to teach with the Spirit. He warned me of the competitive nature of job placement and how women were not permitted to work until their children entered full-time school. Through our interaction he remained supportive and excited about the prospect of my teaching the gospel to the youth.To gain more details about the training and job application process I looked to the Church's website: http://seminary.lds.org/careers/. While this information was helpful, there was no information regarding female teachers. I then called the Seminary and Institute Preservice Training Office in Salt Lake City to find out my teaching options as a married woman who would likely have children soon. The gentleman I spoke with identified himself as the person in charge of hiring all seminary teachers trained in Utah. Our conversation was one in which he expressed total unfamiliarity with my questions and insight—it was very discouraging.
Most of my questions focused on my options as a woman in teaching seminary. My questions and his responses included:
- I asked if, as a female, I would be able to work full-time once my children entered grade school. He responded that women were not to work in full-time paid positions as seminary or institute teachers if they had any children in the home under the age of 18. He also mentioned that once all of their children entered grade school they could work part-time but that there were "very, very, very few part-time positions available."
- Then I asked if there were exceptions to the rule if a woman had to provide for her family as a result of her husband not having a job or choosing to stay home. He then asked if I was married and responded with, "why would your husband want to stay home?" I felt this was beside the point. He then made it clear that no exceptions, under his hiring, were made.
- I asked if these policies might somehow limit the seminary and institute experience for the youth of the church and explained that many women offer genuine spiritual insight that could help youth in developing testimonies of Christ. He explained that women should share those gifts with their own children and leaving the home to teach would be at the detriment of their family. "Even when their children are in school?" I asked. He replied with, "Yes".
- My final questions regarded the training and hiring process. I asked about the likelihood of a married woman being hired as a seminary or institute teacher if she planned on having children. This I found to be the most discouraging response because it made clear that, in practice, within the seminary and institute programs there is no room for hiring women with children. The gentleman replied that, "If it came down to hiring a man and a woman of equal teaching abilities, I would hire the brother because he could always work full-time to provide for his family." Also, he commented that sisters, as long as they were not married or were widowed and had no children, were welcome to the seminary and institute training process.
At the end of our conversation he made it clear to me that the seminary and institutes policies came "directly from the First Presidency". I thanked him for this information and said something to the effect of: "it is helpful to cope with such limitations when I know who the policies come from." He promptly remarked, "Are you threatening to write a letter or contact the First Presidency? Because if you do, they or their secretary will give the letter to me and I will tell you the same thing." This response caught me completely off guard. He quite literally told me that my concerns were of no concern to Church leadership. I was disheartened.
Since this conversation I have learned that many seminary teachers throughout the worldwide Church are women, most of whom are volunteers. I know of three women who teach seminary on a volunteer basis that have children under the age of 18. The message I received from this occurrence is that the Church does believe that women have the ability and spiritual tools necessary to teach the rising generation on gospel and spiritual matters, but that their work is unnecessary of pay. If a woman wants to teach seminary or institute for pay, children must not be an option to her. Indeed, if the choice came down to a teaching position or children, many women (myself included) would pick motherhood and a job outside the Church. This to me seems like a tragedy—for here the Church has the opportunity to provide flexibility to the mother who must work and instead there stands many roadblocks for mothers who desire to work for the seminary and institute programs. In the April 2011 General Conference Elder Quentin L. Cook said, "I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents." For mothers who must work, CES employees consciously choosing to not hire women, because they have children, forces mothers to work for organizations that do not hold sacred the calling of motherhood as the Church does.
This interaction with the Brother from CES, for me, went far beyond a disappointment in the limitations these policies placed on hiring mothers. It made clear that there are many women who would make amazing instructors whose voices are never heard. I felt and feel stronger than ever that the influence of mothers teaching the gospel is valuable to the youth in seminary and institute, to the children of the seminary and institute instructors, and to the teachers themselves. Women have a vital and integral role to play in raising the youth and this role is not limited to their own children, but includes influencing all the young men and women of our day. My female friend, a professor of religion at BYU, told me that, according to her supervisor, what "got her the job" was a comment she made in her interview. She said, "I think you should hire me because students need to hear the doctrines of the gospel taught from the mouths of women." I echo her conviction.
Although I may never work as a seminary teacher for pay, I know that my Heavenly Father sent me a piece of personal revelation that I will someday (and perhaps every day) teach the gospel to others. I write to express my disappointment in what I believe are harmful policies and practices that could be adjusted to better meet the needs of families all over the world. I am deeply grateful for your time, as I know your schedule is extremely busy! You and your counselors are ever in my prayers as you lead the women of the Church.
Alixandra Lewis Adams
* * * * Adams received the following response to her letter on February 14, 2012:
Dear Sister Adams:
Thank you so much for your sensitive and heartfelt letter. I value your willingness to share your story and am grateful for the testimony you expressed. I have forwarded your letter to the Commissioner of Church Education, Elder Paul Johnson.
May our Heavenly Father bless you in all your righteous efforts.
Julie B. Beck
Relief Society General President
Full Citation for this Article: Hudson, Valerie M. (2013) "A Revolutionary Hire at BYU's College of Religious Education," SquareTwo, Vol. 6 No. 2 (Summer), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHudsonAncientScripture.html, <give access date>
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