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Mormon Women Praying at General Conference: No Way But Up

March 20, 2013

So, if you have been around the Mormon internet (especially Facebook), you may have seen John Dehlin posting how he heard “from a friend” that there would be a woman giving a prayer at the next General Conference.

Well, apparently, that hearsay rumor got upgraded. Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote an article reporting this news for the Salt Lake Tribune. And if you weren’t fully convinced by that, PFS wrote on her Facebook page:

Dear FB friends, My sources for this story are solid. Trust me. I am a professional journalist. I do not go into print with rumors.

But seriously, Peggy Fletcher Stack is a quality reporter, so I buy it.

Furthermore, I’m truly happy for the women of the church. There is no way for them to go but up.

But that’s kinda what I wanted to comment about. Obviously, it’s not like Mormon women are barefoot and in the kitchen. But when everyone’s getting exciting about women praying in General Conference, I start to wonder what bizarro world we are in.

(Then again, we recently learned that women and pants are still a big deal in the 21st century.)

Even more, when people online suggest that this is example of the church caving in to pressure from the members…like, I don’t know why the church decided this, or how long ago it was, or what amount of time was spent thinking about this issue, but if this is the mountain that can be moved with faith…well…

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26 Comments
  1. Furthermore, the shift to women praying in conference without any sort of official doctrinal or on-the-books policy change just shows that the church is admitting there was no doctrinal reason for them not to pray in the first place.

  2. Seth R. permalink

    Andrew, I agree that these are hardly “mountains” being moved by faith. In some sense, they seem trivial?

    But doesn’t that critique of triviality also apply to the feminist activism? Is this really the only thing that women have to complain about in the LDS Church?

    Isn’t this just as much a failure of the feminist activist community as the LDS hierarchy?

    Or is it simply the case that the only problems women have in the LDS Church as opposed to other places in US society are… well… trivial?

    I’m not sure I like where any of those options are going.

  3. Syphax,

    Good point

    Seth R,

    I guess one thing that this brings up is that value vs. triviality is subjectivity. So I probably view see this as pretty trivial because to me, praying doesn’t mean much anyway.

    But if I try to look at it even from an LDS worldview, of all of the things that women could be striving for, I would think that say, priesthood ordination (or some sort of priestesshood) has more merit. (But then again, there’s also a movement to get the church to ordain women.) Or countering gender role expectations, etc., My argument isn’t this is the “only thing that women have to complain about in the LDS church,” but that of all the things to complain about in the church, this seems to me to be one of the most minor.

    …But I guess thinking about this does bring to mind the value of these “baby steps” — it seems less likely to get anywhere on priesthood for women (for example) if women can’t even pray in GC.

    Isn’t this just as much a failure of the feminist activist community as the LDS hierarchy?

    I will note that there are plenty of people who challenge feminist Mormons (and usually get banned for being annoying on the facebook groups, etc.,) precisely in this way — saying that feminist Mormons aren’t doing enough/focusing on the right htings.

  4. Seth R. permalink

    Fair enough – and incidentally, I’m not saying the concerns are trivial. After all, I think symbols matter quite a bit to people – especially in church.

    I’m rather undecided on the issue and have a lot of conflicting feelings about issues of feminism in the LDS Church. I’m pulled between a lot of different conflicting impressions of the LDS Church here:

    -The sense that women are inappropriately put on a pedestal and trivialized in some corners of the LDS patriarchy
    -Irritation at the double-standard that exists in regard to young male and female sexual conduct (for instance, a young man who reads Playboy having his recommend yanked while a young lady who reads Ninety Shades of Grey heads off to do temple baptisms) – women in the LDS Church divorce guys over visual porn, but the same doesn’t seem to apply to women and their romance novels. Not to mention all that rot about how women are “guardians of the relationship” who are responsible for the misconduct of the men in some way (which can take a real ugly turn in cases of borderline rape discipline – or marriage counseling)
    -Recognition that the LDS Church really is heavily run by women at the local level. That I’m surrounded every Sunday by women who are – quite frankly – formidable. The disconnect with popular perceptions of Mormon women as oppressed, and the reality of Mormon women calling the shots and giving the men their marching orders in large degree.
    -Lamenting a perceived decline of the place of males in modern society and marginalizing and ridicule directed toward the sex in general. The feeling that by and large, with exceptions, women are actually in the dominant position in the US, Canada and Europe – not men.
    -A general desire for equal treatment
    -A worried sense that the LDS Church is possibly one of the last major institutions in the United States that still holds a special and unique role for male involvement in the family and in the community. Everywhere else, men seem to be being told to buzz off and go play their xBoxes, so to speak.
    -A yearning to take the old theological and ritual notions of the early LDS Church and run with them. Like Heavenly Mother, women performing unique Priesthood rituals, maybe letting women pass Sacrament for instance (D&C never said they can’t). I really feel like we should be providing more for women in the RELIGION.

    Yeah – a whole mess of contradictory and competing ideas going on there. Not sure how they should be balanced, sorted, promoted, or marginalized or even discarded.

  5. Seth,

    I wanted to address a couple of ideas here:

    -Recognition that the LDS Church really is heavily run by women at the local level. That I’m surrounded every Sunday by women who are – quite frankly – formidable. The disconnect with popular perceptions of Mormon women as oppressed, and the reality of Mormon women calling the shots and giving the men their marching orders in large degree.

    -Lamenting a perceived decline of the place of males in modern society and marginalizing and ridicule directed toward the sex in general. The feeling that by and large, with exceptions, women are actually in the dominant position in the US, Canada and Europe – not men.

    Both within the church and without the church, the disparity between formidable, powerful, capable women and systems that do not publicly recognize these women is stark. In other words, “the church is heavily run by women at the local level,” but none of those women are going to be the end authority even at the local level. They have to go through the Bishop, etc., (I’m thinking of several fMh posts on this topic, but one in particular about how a Relief Society wanted to help a sister, but the RS President had to back off, saying that they would have to go through the Priesthood/Bishop/men first.)

    If you were to lament the “perceived” decline in the place of males in modern society, it wouldn’t be on the actual power and privilege that men have in society. At best, if you wanted to say that men are falling/failing, it’s not because they don’t have enough power/authority/privilege, but because they have too much and don’t have to work as a result. I won’t go much further than that, because this risks diving into the whole “men’s rights controversy,” which basically tries to analog (what I think to be) the erroneous argument that ‘affirmative action is oppresses white folks’…just with “men”, instead of “white folks”.

    Like, it seems incredible for you to say:

    -A worried sense that the LDS Church is possibly one of the last major institutions in the United States that still holds a special and unique role for male involvement in the family and in the community. Everywhere else, men seem to be being told to buzz off and go play their xBoxes, so to speak.

    When there are *plenty* of non-egalitarian (e.g., complementarian or outright chauvinist) institutions in the US (many times religions). That men *are* buzzing off and playing their XBoxes is a wholly different issue of what men *are being told/raised/expected* to do. No one is telling men to buzz off. Not even in institutions that seek to be egalitarian and which don’t have a “special and unique role for male involvement.” In those institutions, men still have to compete — alongside and with and against women, rather than above the glass ceiling that women can’t break through –regardless of if they do or do not.

    And I would say in many cases, even in supposedly egalitarian institutions, we aren’t all that egalitarian. Even in a corporate world that seems like it would be suffused with emasculating HR political correctness or whatever…you still have structural social issues where women ‘can’t have it all’ but men continue to be able to (because men are expected to defer half of it to their wives, while women generally can’t do the same without social side effects.)

  6. I have a family of activist since who knows when. In fact, even great great grandmother divorced a my gg grandfather. My mom’s grandmothers both were married four times. It’s because men cannot handle you doing something out of norm and embarrassing them. What did they think about women that era divorced 4 times? LOL, I joined the mormon church at 15 and have done nothing to be reprimanded. Yet, I come here even though I feel Mormonism has worked for me. When people come up with BS about womens lib especially in the church; I give them both barrels. What is killing me is no one reads history or seems to be aware of what has changed in my 57 yrs of existence. My great grandmother wore pants in her front lawn and her neighbors came to stone her in Dallas, Texas. Her husband left her and this was when she was pregnant with my grandmother. When I was a girl I would try to maneuver my books level while holding my skirt down in the wind. Eventually it flew over my head and all the boys laughed and pointed. I lived several states. Always one of us girls failed at it and the boys waited for it. At 16, when I made a call to my great grandmother I was allowed to wear pants in school; she broke down and cried. She never dreamed she would live to see it. It was something small but it gives you hope and strength. I’ve seen some grave situations change since then. My problem is the active LDS do not see the big deal about anything that changes in the church or why it wasn’t like that in the first place. As one LDS member that likes my liberal undertones said I have issues of the culture of Mormonism. I live the commandments with a twist of awareness and clearly show an attitude. I quit attending Relief Society because they want to live an illusiion and get real quiet when new converts or me speaks the truth.

  7. Seth R. permalink

    Oh, I think the whole notion of coercive power in church is defective in the first place. I don’t think either gender should be exercising it. Church authority wasn’t supposed to be coercive in the first place (you can read about it in the D&C). That’s the outside world’s paradigm for authority (which often bleeds into the church, of course).

    Outside the church – they’re increasingly finding that the reason you don’t see a lot of women CEOs isn’t because the opportunity is being denied to women necessarily. But rather that the women don’t want to take up the job in the first place. For instance, becoming a partner at a major law firm required you to pretty much sell your soul to the firm, accept 100 hour workweeks, and bid farewell to spouse and kids for basically forever. Few women actually want to do that. To a lesser extent this happens at all levels of the workplace.

    So maybe it’s not so much a problem of opportunity discrimination, as it is a case of setting up systems that are inherently repulsive to women in the first place (and increasingly to young men following the lead of the women).

    To apply that to the church – maybe the problem is just as much that the administrative systems are not the sort of thing women would want, as it is a problem of allowing women to join. So if there’s a glass ceiling, I think that’s where you’re going to find it.

    And for the record – no – there really aren’t any male-only organizations left in the United States – unless you count NFL Football.

  8. WhyWorryNow,

    Thanks for commenting!

    You say:

    My problem is the active LDS do not see the big deal about anything that changes in the church or why it wasn’t like that in the first place. As one LDS member that likes my liberal undertones said I have issues of the culture of Mormonism.

    I find it interesting that you have these two lines next to each other. Do you think that some active LDS may not see the big deal about anything that changes in the church because they say those are “just” cultural changes?

    Seth,

    Outside the church – they’re increasingly finding that the reason you don’t see a lot of women CEOs isn’t because the opportunity is being denied to women necessarily. But rather that the women don’t want to take up the job in the first place.

    I know that you explain this later in the comment, but I want to caveat on the danger of a statement like this. “Just don’t want to” statements can often be unpacked — why doesn’t someone want to do something? Well, it might be because of other factors that we can challenge…I’ll get to this…

    For instance, becoming a partner at a major law firm required you to pretty much sell your soul to the firm, accept 100 hour workweeks, and bid farewell to spouse and kids for basically forever. Few women actually want to do that. To a lesser extent this happens at all levels of the workplace.

    So, take this. This is exactly what I meant about women not being able to “have it all” as our discourse goes — to make it to the top, you have to be willing to sell your soul, work insane hours, and bid farewell to spouse and kids (if you can even make spouse or kids fit in there!) A lot of women end up planning/delaying kids around their schedule, and end up either never having them, having them later than they wanted, or having to dial back their involvement because of their kids. This puts a limit on them advancing even if they want to. Wanting to be promoted shouldn’t *have* to mean “wanting to work insane hours and give up family,” and yet we conflate the two.

    …ok, so then, why does it strike women more than men? Because men are socialized to be career-oriented. If the man misses the kid’s play/baseball game/concert/diaper changing/what-have-you, then that doesn’t reflect poorly on the man, because he’s expected to have a wife who will tend to all of that.

    But the woman doesn’t get those breaks. If she misses these things, then in society’s eyes, she’s a horrible mother. She doesn’t get a wife to help out either.

    So, I mean, feminism isn’t necessarily saying, “women should be allowed to sell their soul to the law firm.” Rather, it’s saying, “the law firm should be transformed so that one shouldn’t have to sell their soul to advance past a certain point.” This is something that benefits both men and women, btw.

    I guess I should’ve kept reading your comment though, because

    So maybe it’s not so much a problem of opportunity discrimination, as it is a case of setting up systems that are inherently repulsive to women in the first place (and increasingly to young men following the lead of the women).

    This is spot on. I’ll point out, however, that this is narrow-sighted. these systems aren’t just inherently repulsive to women (and “increasingly” to young men following the lead of the women.) This system is repulsive to *everyone*. *No* one should have to sell their soul to the firm! We laugh at France’s 35 hour (or whatever) work week, but on a personal level, we are popping pills or self-medicating will alcohol to cope with workaholism.

    …or, more notable for your interests, these systems are very much repulsive to families in general. Does winning the bread mean it’s worth it to miss your kids’ birthday/concert/baseball game/etc., even if you’re a man? This is where I would think your challenge should come from on the men front. Society expects less of men in the home, because men are expected to sell their souls to the firm.

    To apply that to the church – maybe the problem is just as much that the administrative systems are not the sort of thing women would want, as it is a problem of allowing women to join. So if there’s a glass ceiling, I think that’s where you’re going to find it.

    You’re missing the point here. Women are already doing the heavy lifting. You yourself admit this. It’s a matter of if they will be recognized for it, or if they will only get the “attagirl”

    And for the record – no – there really aren’t any male-only organizations left in the United States – unless you count NFL Football.

    If you’re serious about this comment, then I’ll say this rings to me similarly to someone saying, “There are no crosses burned in black people’s yards, so there is no more racism.”

    • Seth R. permalink

      I don’t know why you’d find it at all similar to cross-burning. Since I never said sexism is non-existent.

      • I guess I was just confused by your bringing up male-only organizations as if that has any bearing on male-dominated and male-privileged organizations that very much still exist. It made me think that your criteria was to find “male-only orgs”, which it is not.

        (similarly, the criteria for finding racism isn’t to find cross-burning or even “whites-only” locations.)

  9. Seth R. permalink

    Well, it’s really too vague of a dissatisfaction with society for me to have much right to rant about it. Maybe it would be more useful to simply ask “what are men good for?” in the modern social context.

  10. men. hunh. (good god, y’all), what are they good for? absolutely nothin’ SAY IT AGAIN YALL

    J/K. But what I am saying is that instead of looking at “what are men good for,” we should ask, “What are people/individuals good for”. Because any answer that you give for any given man won’t be applicable to every man, and it won’t be inapplicable to every woman. We need to move past trying to derive or assign people’s value by the parts they have between their legs…

  11. Seth R. permalink

    No, I don’t think I want to go that route. The two are different. I don’t see much use in pretending otherwise.

    Equality is something we settle for as a legal paradigm in the absence of any better way of handling things. And I’m all for it in the legal sphere. But socially, it seems out of touch with reality to claim men and women are the same.

  12. I’m saying that the uniqueness between people as individuals is going to be greater than the uniqueness between “men” as a class and “women” as a class. Of course, i do think that plenty of people are out of touch with the fact that *individuals* are different — hence why we have a limiting and malfunctioning systems of gender role expectations.

  13. Seth R. permalink

    I don’t think the point of classes is that their differences exceed that of individuals.

  14. …then it should not make sense to ask, “What are men good for?” Because if you want to hit the differences that really distinguish people, it’s not on a male or female level.

  15. Organizations move slowly. Baby steps are important; as is the symbolism behind the gesture. However, I find it ironic that the only reason women are now ‘allowed’ to pray in GC is because the ‘brethren’ say it’s ok.

    My life outside the church is immensely better than my life in the church (for several reasons). What kept me happy as a TBM was all the wordspeak about the importance of woman and the majesty of motherhood. I’m not denying the truthfulness and reality of either of these statements but what is different for me now is that I know this for myself and I don’t require validation from the important men around me telling me that oppression is freedom.

    If praying in church is a step forward for women in the LDS world then I am happy for them. I’m a bit skeptical though because it seems a lot like a bread crumb offered to women to keep them calm. I guess it can be both.

    Next up: Prophet proclaims women CAN wear pants to church.

  16. Seth R. permalink

    There likely will never be a prophetic declaration that women can wear pants in church. Because it wouldn’t be necessary.

    Women are already “allowed” to wear pants in church. All that needs to happen is for the brethren to stop giving Conference addresses and Ensign articles that comment on female dress in such a way that pants would be disapproved of. Then the disapproval for it will die a loooong, slow, natural death in the membership.

    No proclamation needed. It’s the preferred method of change in the LDS Church on a variety of small topics.

  17. Seth,

    If by “looooong, slow, natural death,” you’re talking the time span of “one generation dies and the next is raised thinking nothing was amiss,” then I agree.

    On a variety of small topics, I do think that’s the preferred method of change, but I think it also means that the older members stick to what they’ve always believed was right (because, after all, silence is not refutation), pointing to older leaders as authoritative whenever possible (because there won’t be any clear refutation to counter).

  18. Seth R. permalink

    Well, that’s kind of how old people are, isn’t it?

    In general, we only care about the outdated ideas the elderly hold when it actually influences policy and decision-making. Otherwise, we simply leave them be.

    I gave a presentation on Japan to my great-aunt’s bridge club when I came back from my mission. During my presentation, I heard one of the women in the back mutter “you know you can’t trust them.” It occurred to me she came from the “damn Japs” period of World War II. I acted like I hadn’t heard her, and cheerfully emphasized how nice and genuinely caring I found the people were in Japan and then moved on with things.

    But I know full well she wasn’t convinced one jot. And it would have been boorish of me in that context to confront her over it.

    Now, if she was in charge of the lives of actual Japanese Americans, or foreign trade with Japan, it would be another matter. So I suppose that’s what it really comes down to.

  19. Seth

    In general, we only care about the outdated ideas the elderly hold when it actually influences policy and decision-making. Otherwise, we simply leave them be.

    Is this supposed to be a freebie here???

  20. Seth R. permalink

    Sure – I knew the obvious application when I said it.

  21. “Women are already “allowed” to wear pants in church. All that needs to happen is for the brethren to stop giving Conference addresses and Ensign articles that comment on female dress in such a way that pants would be disapproved of. Then the disapproval for it will die a loooong, slow, natural death in the membership.”

    Seth, I agree; I realize there is no policy against women wearing pants. It’s a cultural ‘rule’ and expectation. Since leaving the church there are a few times I have returned to Sacrament meeting to hear one of my children give a talk or sing a song. I wore pants and proudly walked up to the front of the chapel in all my glory. I actually did feel more powerful.

    My point (besides trying to be clever) is that it would likely take a prophetic declaration to alter the attitudes and judgement around women and what they wear to church. Some people need to be told who to accept and who to judge.

    After all pants are a gateway garment to who knows what… first it’s wearing pants to church and before you know it women will be ordained into the priesthood. gasp

    Besides if women are going to be up on that pedestal wouldn’t pants be more modest.

  22. Seth R. permalink

    I don’t really think that anyone – even people opposed to females wearing pants – views it as a gateway to anything in particular (except maybe general disobedience or whatever). I think it’s more a symbolic effort to retain a declaration that the genders are still different – an act of defiance against a society that says they are not.

    • | I don’t really think that anyone – even people opposed to females wearing pants – views it as a gateway to anything in particular (except maybe general disobedience or whatever). I think it’s more a symbolic effort to retain a declaration that the genders are still different – an act of defiance against a society that says they are not. |

      I’m not sure what you mean. The more I read your statement the more confusing it is to me. I do view it as a gateway, and I am someone. Wearing pants to church symbolizes far more than a simple act of defiance. As you pointed out there is no ‘rule’ so how can it be viewed as disobedience?

      A seemingly silly argument about women wearing pants to church signifies a great deal. It shines a spot light on the fact that the Mormon Church is way behind the times and that their views and ideas about women are outdated and prejudiced.

      It’s a symbol of women taking their place along side men in every capacity; including the Priesthood if that’s what they want.

      Personally I’m glad this battle is no longer mine. Even though I am outside the church and no longer believe in it’s teachings or what it represents; I support and stand by the Mormon Feminists who choose to take on such a stance.

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