The “Divine Potential” of Young Women in the LDS Church

Poor Wayfaring Man

In the previous post, I asserted that young women in the LDS Church receive messages that essentially accord them second-class status to young men.  It is clear, based on the words of Church leaders and the contents of the YW and YM curriculum, that the Church understands that these messages are there, and that they are psychologically harmful to girls.  Instead of repudiating and changing these messages, however, the Church reaffirms them as divine truth.

As an example of this, I will use Lesson No. 5 in the current YW Lesson Manual 1, titled “Finding Joy in our Divine Potential“.  Here is the stated objective of Lesson 5:

OBJECTIVE:  Each young woman will understand her divine potential and learn how to find joy in it. (emphasis added)

Clearly, a young woman’s “divine potential” (whatever that happens to be) is not something she would be happy with naturally.  The Church recognizes that she needs to be persuaded and taught, from a young age, how she can adjust her thinking to eventually feel okay about it.  

What is this “divine potential”?  Amazingly, despite the clear lesson objective stating that each young woman will understand it by the end of the lesson, the “divine potential” is not actually explained or defined in the lesson materials.   The only way for a young woman to understand her divine potential is to draw inferences from whatever is presented to her during the course of the lesson.   Here are some clues from the manual:


1. Invite an exemplary sister (preferably one who has married in the temple and has a family), who has been approved by priesthood advisers, to speak to the young women about the joy of being a woman.

2. You may invite a grandmother, mother, and young married woman, who have been approved by priesthood advisers, to briefly express the joys of womanhood they are presently experiencing.

3. If it is possible and you wish to do so, prepare a copy of the message from the Young Women general presidency [comprised of four women appointed and supervised by the President of the Church] for each class member and guest.

(emphasis and bracketed explanation added)

Note that the messages above are supposed to be delivered by women (i) who are married in the temple and/or have children, and (ii) who have been specifically approved by the priesthood (i.e., male) leaders.  Apparently, in the Church’s view, the only people qualified to teach about the “divine potential” of young women are married mothers who say what the local male church leaders want them to say.  So perhaps it’s fair to infer that a young woman’s “divine potential” is related to being temple married, having children, and being approved by the priesthood.

The message from the Young Women general presidency referred to in Item 3 above provides clues about how to obtain this elusive “divine potential”:

Our Heavenly Father knows…you. He has confidence and faith that you will use these years of preparation in being an obedient child of God who can be molded and shaped for the special mission and destiny he would have you fill. Pray always, know your Savior Jesus Christ, study the scriptures, and think of specific ways you can apply the teachings in your life. Live to be worthy of the blessings of the priesthood, be happy, and walk tall with joy and thanksgiving in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (emphasis added)

So, a young woman’s “divine potential” is achieved through learning how to be an obedient child of God who is molded and shaped for whatever purpose God would have her fill.  To do this she should obey the teachings of Jesus Christ and “be worthy of the blessings of the priesthood.”  Of course, in practice, all of these things (i.e., God’s special purposes, Christ’s teachings, and her personal worthiness) are delivered, interpreted, and judged within the Church by male priesthood authorities.  Thus, a young woman will be on the path to realizing her “divine potential” when she obeys and defers to the men of the Church and is joyful and thankful in doing so.

It is no wonder that finding joy in being a young woman in the Church is an acquired skill.  The confidence and will that she was born with must be broken (i.e., “molded and shaped”) somehow, so the men of the Church can take control.

And that’s the end of this lesson.  The concept of a young woman’s “divine potential” is not analyzed or explained, but the means of reaching it (obedience and subservience), and the results of reaching it (joy) are directly spoon-fed to the girls.  As a result, they may walk away from the lesson not really knowing their “divine potential”, but they certainly do know that the Church expects them to be submissive and happy.

Note that there is no similar lesson in the YM curriculum.


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