Metrics of Value

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Recently, I’ve heard more and more members of the church wonder at why women don’t hold the priesthood, or why there are no women apostles. I’ve heard more and more members of the church express that they feel less valued as women because of these policies. I want to contribute some thoughts that I’ve had recently—but I do so reluctantly, as they are only partially formed. I don’t necessary have them organized in a logical way, but here they are. I also want to stress that I don’t know why these policies exist. I don’t pretend to know the mind of God. I just want to venture forth one possibility.

(1) Children often adopt the values of their parents—often even if those values aren’t explicitly expressed. This is particularly true if the parents express their values in making opportunities available to their children. For example, the child of a mother takes meticulous care to make sure each of her children has a chance to go to college may learn to value education. A child of a father who meticulously makes sure every child has their own bedroom may learn to value privacy. Etc.

(2) Conversely, parents can communicate what they don’t value by not meticulously making it available to all of their children. For example, a father who gives one child his own room and two others a shared room communicates to his children that privacy is not his highest concern.

(3) The western world defines value in terms of visibility. It is the names that appear on the front of the DVD cover that are valued by society—not the ones that show up at the end of the credits. It is the individuals who history remembers that are valued by society—not the ones whose names never even get a Wikipedia entry. The striving to have value to society is thus conflated almost entirely with the striving to become known to society. Visibility is the currency of value in the world. Here’s a brief clip from The Emperor’s Club that illustrates precisely what I mean.

(4) As Westerners, we have a habit of adopting those values. We do seem to place more value on Bishops than nursery leaders. Particularly on those callings that are visible. (And, since administrative callings are often the most visible, we place particular value on them.) In short, because visibility is the metric of value in the world, we often adopt that same metric for measuring value within the church.

(5) We may be surprised in the end how different God’s values are from the values of Western society. We may be surprised when we return to God and realize how little value He really places on visibility (well, we cognitively acknowledge this, but we rarely believe it with all our hearts). When we realize, for example, that (metaphorically speaking) the names at the end of the credits were valued just as much as the names on the front cover. That it honestly doesn’t matter to Him whether someone was a bishop or a nursery leader. We will probably agree that a nameless (at least in history books) nursery leader is just as valued by God as Brigham Young. In short, God uses a different metric of value than the world does.

(6) What does God value? Each of us returning to Him with a pure heart and mind, cleansed by Jesus Christ. Interestingly… that is what He meticulously ensures that every one of His children has access to (see point #1).

(7) Making sure that every one of His children has an equal chance of becoming a Bishop, or Seventy, or a Prophet, would communicate to us that He does care whether or not we have those callings (also see point #1).

(8) So maybe he deliberately makes such callings arbitrary. Sometimes he seemingly “plucks” administrative leaders from the crowd—picking people who are “slow of speech,” etc. (as Enoch was, for example). Of course, He’s been preparing them, but to us it can seem awfully random. In fact, maybe He deliberately makes it so whole swathes of His children are not in the “pool of applicants”, so to speak, for the specific purpose of communicating to us what is not important to Him (see point #2).

(9) In addition, it may be a test for all parties involved. If, for example, those who don’t have visible positions in the church feel less valued—they are defining value by visibility.  If those who do have visibility feel more valued, they are defining value in terms of visibility. If those without visible administrative callings covet those with them, they value visibility. If those with visible administrative callings feel superior to those without them, they value visibility. All of these things are symptoms of valuing something that God doesn’t value. All of these things are symptoms of using the world’s metric of value, rather than God’s.

(10) Part of this life is a process of revealing to us our weaknesses, so that we can turn them over to Christ to fix them. Valuing something God doesn’t value could be a weakness that needs to be revealed to us. So is using a different metric of value than God does. It is only when we are given occasion to covet those who are more visible or have administrative callings, or feel slighted when we are told we can never be in that same boat, that we discover whether we value visibility, or define value in terms of visibility. If we are in a position where all individuals are given equal chances and possibility to obtain visible administrative positions in the church—we are less likely to have such weaknesses revealed to us.

(11) It may be wise and prudent for us to express how much we value others in a language they can understand, and many of us know no other metric of value than visibility. There is nothing wrong, for example, in a Bishop making sure that young women and young men in his ward are acknowledged equally for their achievements, and that women are placed (where allowed by policy) in visible leadership positions as frequently as men.

(12) However, I don’t think we should sow seeds of discontent by teaching women that they are less valued because there are no women apostles or bishops, or amplify the voices of those who measure value in terms of visible leadership positions. I see this as a distraction from the Lord’s metric of value, and an effort to replace the Lord’s metric of value with a more worldly measure.

Anyways, I’m not committed to this paradigm—just some thought percolating in my head at the moment.


  1. What if the perceived value of leadership positions is not so much visibility as the ability to enact change? I think many people (though certainly not all) have genuinely good intentions. Still, this desire does reflect a degree of mistrust that the Lord is able to do His own work. And as such, most of your other points are still applicable and very insightful.

  2. Orson Scott Card painted a fantastic metaphor of this real-but-unapparent-value for members of society in his book Red Prophet. The main character, Alvin, sees a Fates-like character weaving the story of humanity on a loom. Every thread is a person, and its length as it is woven up the cloth is their lifespan.

    In the cloth, Alvin sees several golden, sparkly, bright-colored threads that represent famous people in history. They catch the eye quickly, but he also notices that they tend to lie along the surface of the cloth, not really penetrating it or connecting as much with the other threads.

    In contrast, he notices that the duller colored threads plunge up and down through the weave, crossing and re-crossing with hundreds of other threads. These dull threads, he realizes, are the ones that actually lend strength and warmth to the cloth. They build bonds with other threads and are the ones you actually rely on.

    The bright threads are more memorable and recognizable, but the dull threads are frequently much more substantial and vital. Isn’t that an awesome image?

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