Monday, March 18, 2013

LDS Church Reportedly To Allow Women To Offer Prayers At Upcoming 183rd Annual General Conference

On March 18th, 2013, the Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made the decision to allow women to offer invocations or benedictions at the four general sessions of the upcoming 183rd Annual General Conference to be held on April 6-7. This would be a first in the Church's 183-year history, even though LDS women leaders have given addresses during General Conference on a recurring basis since 1994. However, Church spokesman Scott Trotter would not confirm or deny the story, saying only that decisions on speakers and prayers at General Conference were made many weeks ago.

The decision follows in the wake of an Internet-based campaign called Let Women Pray in General Conference, in which activists urged Church members to write letters to six high-ranking LDS leaders, including Linda K. Burton, Relief Society president; Elaine S. Dalton, Young Women general president; Rosemary M. Wixom, Primary general president; Jeffrey R. Holland, Quorum of Twelve Apostles; and David F. Evans and Anthony D. Perkins, members of the First Quorum of the Seventy. The drive generated about 1,600 letters from 300 participants; activists personally delivered the letters to the various leaders or their secretaries. One of the 300 letter-writers explained herself in this Tribune comment:

gr8scot • 3 hours ago:
It's about time. My letter was one of those sent. It seems like small potatoes, but this is a big deal for women in this church. Those outside the church probably think it's a pointless endeavour, but to those who want to be believing members, but are frustrated by gender inequality (we all choose our own battles to fight), this is an important change in cultural practice within the church. There has never been an edict against women praying in GC, it's just culturally never been done, or encouraged by our male leaders. Women are a force to be reckoned with. We are no longer just "Mrs. (insert spouse's last name)" or "Sister (spouse's name)" We are finally learning to stand up against incorrect cultural practices that have become the norm in the church, and are showing that we have an identity beyond that of our men.

As expected, preliminary reaction is favorable. Analisa Estrada, a Salt Lake City graphic designer who was one of the organizers of the Let Women Pray campaign, said "I am really excited. It’s the kind of thing that came out of a lot of personal prayers on part of the organizers and the letter writers." Feminist Mormon Housewives almost breaks their arms patting themselves on the back, triumphantly crowing that it means the leaders "read and know about Mormon feminism". But true to their insurgent core, FMH says this is only a small step towards "equality", meaning that they will find something else to yap about. Zelophehad's Daughters, despite also being a feminist-themed LDS blog, has a more restrained reaction, merely posting a short excerpt to the Tribune story. Mormon Momma also expresses pleasure at the decision. The feminists need to avoid hijacking this story; allowing women to offer prayers in Conference is long overdue and is a matter of common sense. We don't need to corrupt it with divisive identity politics.

Despite the fact that women haven't offered prayers at the conference general sessions before, Ardis Parshall, who edits the Keepapitchinin historical blog, wanted to point out that women haven't exactly been silenced in Church history. She notes on Juvenile Instructor that from 1915 to 1970, the Relief Society held its own auxiliary conference for the ladies in the Tabernacle each April and October, several sessions over two days, usually on the days immediately before General Conference or, in April, sometimes in the middle of General Conference. This was not a simple meeting like today’s annual women’s meeting — it was a full conference, with reports from the stakes and instructions from the General Board, with breakout sessions for, say, secretaries or education counselors or musicians or whatever. Primary and YMMIA had their conferences, too, but not so directly tied to General Conference. She adds that while we today may not think that speaking at an even beefed-up Relief Society conference is the equivalent of speaking at General Conference, it may well be that the Saints of the mid-20th century, women and men, considered that planning, directing, speaking at, and participating in the full-scale Relief Society Conference was an adequate, equivalent, and satisfactory involvement of women in the Church’s two great annual conferences.

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