Should Women Pray in Public?

January 13, 2013 | 119 comments
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So it looks like All Enlisted (the people who brought you “Wear Pants to Church Day”) is now starting a campaign to have a woman pray in General Conference.  It prompted this repost from BCC which references this piece from Rosalynde Welch.  I want to look at just one line from Rosalynde’s essay:

“If anything, there probably is a decent scriptural case against women’s praying in public.”

Her link takes you to 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (I’m quoting the KJV; she quoted the NIV; for purposes of this discussion, there are no significant differences between the translations.):

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

Rosalynde is absolutely right that this text has been used by some Christian traditions to limit women’s participation in public worship.  The purpose of this post is to show that the text cannot, does not, and should not perform such a function for 21st century LDS.  But note that I don’t mean to harp too much on what was probably a throw-away line from Rosalynde, and in an otherwise very good essay.  My purpose here is to preempt what I expect to be extensive use of this passage if “Let Women Pray” goes as viral as “Wear Pants to Church Day,” where I saw numerous exegetically suspect references to Deuteronomy 22:5.  So if you read this, Rosalynde, I hope you don’t feel picked on.  I do realize that you wrote “probably” and that your larger point was the near-impossibility of distinguishing doctrine from policy and that this is not a topic on which the scriptures are silent.

First, let’s begin with a text from slightly earlier in the same letter:  1 Corinthians 11:5:

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.

In that text, it is clear that women will be praying and even prophesying (although they are counseled, perhaps tepidly [see v16; I have written more on this passage here], to cover their heads while doing so).  Why, then, does Paul (and note that even those scholars who are skeptical that Paul wrote some of the letters that have been attributed to him think that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians) tell the women in chapter 14 to “keep silence”?

Well, he probably doesn’t.  And the apparent contradiction between 1 Cor 14:34-35 and 1 Cor 11:5 is the main reason that many scholars think that 1 Cor 14:34-35 is a later addition to the text.  (And it isn’t just these two that contradict:  there is ample evidence elsewhere in Paul’s letters that he saw a fairly expansive role for female disciples.)

Of course, the average saint-in-the-pew is not going to be impressed by scholarly arguments about interpolations in thinking about this passage.  Instead, they are going to consider the fact that women have been giving sermons in General Conference for a generation and in sacrament meetings for even longer than that, and realize that the literal meaning of 1 Cor 14:34-35 is simply not followed by the church today.  And the most likely reason it isn’t followed is because the Joseph Smith Translation changes “speak” to “rule.”  In the one instance I was able to find of Joseph Smith commenting (you’ll need to scroll down to the part about Johanna Southcot) on this text, he links the verse to the idea not of speaking but of “ruling” in church.  There is also a pretty fun statement from Brigham Young regarding this text:

 I am not quite so strenuous as some of the ancients were, who taught that if the women wanted to learn anything, to learn it at home from their husbands. I am willing they should come to the meetings and learn, but some of the ancients proscribed them in this privilege, and would confine them at home to learn through their husbands. I am a little more liberal than they were, but this is not liberal enough for many of the women, they must also be watching their husbands, while at the same time their children are running abroad in the streets, naked and barefooted, cursing and swearing.  Citation

In short, I disagree with Rosalynde that a “decent” case can be made against women praying or speaking in church.  You can’t make it from Paul’s writings (because of the contradiction with 1 Cor 11 and other texts), you can’t make it from Joseph Smith’s interpretation of the text (or later prophets, who haven’t done much at all with this text; there are no post-Brigham Young references to it in General Conference in the GCSCI), you can’t make it from modern scholars (who just make it worse by taking the text as an interpolation), and you can’t make it by appeal to current LDS practice.

And it will perhaps surprise no one that I can’t think of a single good reason why women shouldn’t offer prayers in General Conference.  President Kimball said, “The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve have determined that there is no scriptural prohibition against sisters offering prayers in sacrament meetings. It was therefore decided that it is permissible for sisters to offer prayers in any meetings they attend.” (Citation) (To be fair, his context was women praying in sacrament meeting, and then when he went on to list the meetings that a woman might pray in, he did not specifically mention General Conference.  But given the totality of his statement, I think there is ample groundwork to incorporate a female pray-er in General Conference.)  I think the ban on female prayers can, and probably does, do some damage by implying that there is something inferior or inadequate about women’s ability to pray. That said, I am, once again, concerned about All Enlisted’s approach to a sensitive topic and worry that they may do more harm than good.   But that’s a topic for another post.  Here, I just wanted to look at 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

119 Responses to Should Women Pray in Public?

  1. Cameron N on January 13, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    I’m pretty sure there isn’t a rule about praying in General Conference. However, as leaders probably seek to maximize opportunities for participation by all general authorities, there are fewer opportunities for any given seventy, simply because there are so many, than for an RS, YW, or Primary Presidency member, who are guaranteed to speak 1-2 times every year between the cluster of 5 meetings and the RS/YW meetings that are also part of GC?

  2. Alice in Wonderland on January 13, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    I appreciate your sharing of these thoughts. Your last few sentences indicating your concern and dissatisfaction with the approach of this topic by All Enlisted, I wonder what alternative approach you would suggest that would allow full dialogue and exposure to this issue?

  3. Kristine on January 13, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Cameron, the argument that since women are systematically discriminated against in leadership roles, they ought therefore also to be discriminated against in the public exercise of spiritual gifts that is the perquisite of those leadership roles is, as I’m sure you can see, circular and highly problematic.

  4. Nickel on January 13, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    As discussed elsewhere, the RS and YW meetings are not part of GC. They aren’t referred to as sessions in GC, which happens twice a year, whereas RS and YW meet only once a year. When GC opens in its first Saturday morning session, the presider mentions that he is opening it and in the Sunday afternoon session, the presider mentions that he is closing GC. The priesthood have their own official GC session in GC, but women do not.

  5. Julie M. Smith on January 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Alice in Wonderland, that is a fair question; I address one possibility here:

    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2007/06/how-to-dissent-like-a-general-authority/

  6. jennifer reuben on January 13, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    with all the serious issues and major concerns that need addresssing who gives the prayer in general conference seems so trite, almost as unimportant as wearing pants to church. This issue does not need full dialogue and exposure because there is no ban. It is not forbidden. No one is plotting to undermine women and prevent female prayer givers in general conference. In the natural order of things this too will come to pass and it will not make any difference to mine or your eternal salvation.

  7. Julie M. Smith on January 13, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Jennifer Reuben, when someone says to you, “X is important to me,” saying “well, it shouldn’t be” is neither productive nor kind. When the topic in question is whether their voices are being heard, refusing to acknowledge their voices is also rather unfortunately ironic and cruel.

  8. ji on January 13, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    I regret that some who make an outward show of sustaining the Church are actually trying to sow dissension among its members. The leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are some of the kindest and most Christ-like men on the face of the earth today.

    I think it is really quite simple. The responsibility for giving prayers has been given to the Presidency of the Seventy, with instruction to make the assignments within the quorum. The Presidency of the Seventy honorably carries out that instruction. We don’t want to use the prayer assignments to play favorites or to give “moments of fame” to well-placed members who are friends of general authorities. We don’t want to get trapped by any false suggestion of proportionality, such as having a handicapped prayer-giver and a ___ prayer-giver and so forth so that we check all the boxes in some false pretense of fairness. It’s far simpler, and far more fair, to simply let the Seventy handle that responsibility. At least, that’s how I see it.

    There is no ban on female prayer. Rather, it’s just that the assignment belongs to the Seventy.

    When I go to a meeting and it’s time for prayer, I want to pray. That’s all.

  9. queuno on January 13, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    Jennifer Reuben and ji have spoken. I guess that settles it.

  10. Julie M. Smith on January 13, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    ji, I’m struck by the Orwellian tone of your comments: the idea that it is “far more fair” to exclude women than to include them, that “there is no ban on female prayer” despite the fact that it never happens, that giving praying assignments to women might involve “playing favorites” (how do you think assignments are made for the YW and RS meetings?).

  11. Sam Brunson on January 13, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    ji, see Julie’s response in 7. That it is not important to you doesn’t mean it’s not important. Moreover, your justification—that the Seventy makes the assignments—doesn’t do the work you seem to think it does. There’s nothing doctrinal about the Seventy making assignments, or about members of the Seventy saying the prayers. At best, it’s administrative convenience/policy. And if that’s the underlying reason for not having women pray at GC, that’s not a terribly satisfying answer. (I don’t know what All Enlisted is doing; it’s certainly possible that tactically, it’s not a good idea—although it’s also possible that it is a good tactical idea; I just don’t know—but the problem is real and, as Julie points out, not scripturally mandated.)

  12. Sylvie on January 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    Thank you Julie. I really enjoyed your article.

    I think the issue of women not praying during General Conference is not as different as other isssues in the past. The Lord gives line upon line, precept upon precept and often, He will wait until one of his servants ask Him about an issue. Then, He gives the answer.

    Such was the case with Emma being tired of cleaning up the mess after her husband and other leaders had had a meeting. They left the room a mess with tabacco spits on the floor. The Lord gave the Word of Wisdom as an answer to Joseph Smith who thought Emma brought up a good point.

    Let us bring the issue of women not praying in GC to our leaders but with a humble and prayerful heart. The Lord is not sexist and His prophet and apostles either. The change will be made in the Lord’s own time.

  13. Naismith on January 13, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    Visiting general authorities have used Saturday night stake conference sessions for questions and answers. I think this could be asked respectfully. Wonder what kind of answer would be given?

  14. Cynthia L. on January 13, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    “…where I saw numerous exegetically suspect references to Deuteronomy 22:5.”

    Wait, whoa, hold up. Really? People said that? (other than Aaron B. ;-)) Sigh, and thank goodness I missed that.

  15. Cameron on January 13, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    Everyone commenting here should read Julie’s (5) article. Great stuff!

  16. Jonathan Green on January 13, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    Julie, mostly I’m in agreement with your post, except I don’t think it’s correct to say that you can’t find support for something in Paul’s writing simply because he makes contradictory statements about it. As often as not, it’s the later versions that eliminate original contradictions, rather than creating them. It’s better to acknowledge the contradictions, even if they’re inconvenient, rather than wishing them away. I’m also very skeptical of our ability to separate the original Paul from later additions. There are certainly arguments to be made, but there’s only a limited degree of certainty that can be reached.

    But as you say, the LDS tradition of interpretation on the verses in question certainly doesn’t support the idea that women shouldn’t pray in church meetings.

  17. palerobber on January 14, 2013 at 1:26 am

    great post, Julie.

    one thing though…

    That said, I am, once again, concerned about All Enlisted’s approach to a sensitive topic and worry that they may do more harm than good.

    i wonder for what member of the church this would be a “sensitive topic”? as your post deftly explains, the current embarrassing archaic policy is out of step with both mormon doctrine and mormon practice generally. and it’s certainly out of step with mormon culture, in which men respect women as equals, intellectually and spiritually. it’s really hard to believe it has even lasted until 2013(!). i’m certain a large majority of members and GA’s would prefer a change of policy. so who is it that would be offended by and backlash against this campaign for a no-brainer change?

  18. palerobber on January 14, 2013 at 1:55 am

    btw, that encouraging quote from Kimball is kinda interesting in that it’s directly followed by this:

    President Kimball also announced that wives of Church leaders should wear dresses, not pantsuits, while accompanying their husbands on Church assignments.

    *sigh*

  19. Steve Smith on January 14, 2013 at 8:36 am

    “I regret that some who make an outward show of sustaining the Church are actually trying to sow dissension among its members. The leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are some of the kindest and most Christ-like men on the face of the earth today.”

    Ah, yes, the infallibility hypothesis–the idea that the leaders of the LDS church are infallible and cannot be questioned–rears its head yet again. JI, You sound like you might agree with the statement, “when the prophet speaks…the debate is over.”

  20. Unknown on January 14, 2013 at 10:08 am

    I agree that once again “All Enlisted’s approach to a sensitive topic . . . may do more harm than good.” These gals’ effort to perpetually stir the pot (which I recognize is a long-standing approach of many activists) is only going to diminish their credibility and ability to address serious issues in a substantive way. Perhaps, I am wrong, but I don’t see the brethren giving into the demands of a Facebook protest, no matter how justified the substance of their concern is. That simply is not the way things have been traditionally done in the Church.

  21. jennifer reuben on January 14, 2013 at 11:19 am

    amen unknown. better statement of my feeling than my own reply.

  22. Rosalynde Welch on January 14, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Great post, Julie! I don’t feel picked on at all, and I’m happy to take correction from your much greater scriptural expertise.

    On the topic itself, as I wrote in the original piece, I’d love to see women pray in conference. Kristine makes the right point about how tragic it has been for women’s spiritual participation that administrative and the charismatic functions have been conflated under the priesthood over time, since it has foreclosed a whole realm of women’s participation. That said, I think it would make a bigger symbolic impact simply to have the entire RS General Board sit on the stand at GC, so that the visual is not so overwhelmingly male. If I had to choose btw a woman occasionally praying in GC and having more female bodies on the stand, I’d choose the latter. (No reason why there shouldn’t be both, though, as far as I can tell.)

  23. Adam G. on January 14, 2013 at 11:33 am

    First protest pants, now protest prayers. Well, at least the Rosalynde W.’s and Julie Smith’s essays weren’t devoid of interest, so the movement so far has not been a complete waste.

  24. A. Nonny Mouse on January 14, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    “If I had to choose btw a woman occasionally praying in GC and having more female bodies on the stand, I’d choose the latter. ”

    For what it’s worth, all of the auxiliary presidencies have been sitting on the stand during General Conference at least since the move to the conference center, if I recall correctly (maybe before? Don’t remember paying attention to it before that).

  25. Bryan S. on January 14, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    ANM #24 “For what it’s worth, all of the auxiliary presidencies have been sitting on the stand during General Conference at least since the move to the conference center, if I recall correctly (maybe before? Don’t remember paying attention to it before that).”

    Are you sure? I can’t find any evidence of women on the stand doing an image search of general conference. It’s all pretty monochrome below the choir.

  26. A. Nonny Mouse on January 14, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Bryan S., Rosalynde, see for example this (arbitrarily selected) general conference session at minute 1:02:

    http://www.lds.org/general-conference/watch/2010/04?lang=eng&vid=1350705845001

    The General Auxiliary presidencies (including the Young Men’s presidency and Sunday School presidency) always sit on the right side of the stand from our perspective in my experience (I guess it’s called stage left if you do that whole drama thing, according to what a cursory google said…). It’s been this way since the move to the conference center as far as I can remember. Possibly there wasn’t enough room on the stand for everybody before in the tabernacle?

    Also frequently, the wives of the First Presidency (and maybe the quorum of the twelve?) sit on the same level as the FP and Quorum of the twelve but on that same part of the stand.

  27. Publius on January 14, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    >7 “Jennifer Reuben, when someone says to you, ‘X is important to me,’ saying ‘well, it shouldn’t be’ is neither productive nor kind.”

    What if X = “The proposition that Y should not be important to you”?

  28. Raymond Takashi Swenson on January 14, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    So would a female member of the Relief Society, Young Women, or Primary presidency say something in a prayer that they would not say in one of their talks in General Conference? The sentiments expressed in prayers are very formulaic, and do not include original turns of phrase or anecdotes. If women were occasionally saying prayers at the start or end of Conference sessions, wouldn’t All Enlisted be seeking to have them actually speak as being far more important?

    The purpose of prayer at General Conference is to speak to the Lord on behalf of those participating. It is not an opportunity to speak to a congregation and criticize anyone. It is not an opportunity to announce a personal agenda. It does not confer on the person who prays any lasting power or charisma. It is not something that anyone takes special note of or preserves in the Ensign. In Mormon practice it is not a written prayer, and not a long one.

    Prayers in General Conferenc by women would benefit no more than one Mormon woman in a million. It sounds like the complainers are not actually interested in hearing faithful female leaders express themselves, or in actually benefiting any Mormon woman, but rather in just coming up with some excuse for Brethren Bashing in their news releases to the non-Mormon press. I frankly don’t see any point in it other than to engender a spirit of contention. Similarly, the pantsuit thing was telling a false story to the news media, claiming that brave women were doing something courageous in the face of certain censure by ecclesiastical leaders, when their bishop is more concerned about whether they show up at all and help run the nursery.

    There remains the possibility that the whole thing is just a practical joke on Mormon feminists, sucking them into investing emotional importance into trivialities.

  29. ji on January 14, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    And the devil laughs all the while…

  30. Orwell on January 14, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    If I understand you correctly, Raymond, a woman is not capable of speaking “to the Lord on behalf of those participating” in a meeting, but only “speak[ing] to the congregation and criticiz[ing].” A prayer by a woman cannot benefit a man and has a dismal success rate of benefiting other women. But, no worries, we aren’t sexist because the leadership still wants women to come to Church — gotta keep that nursery staffed, after all!

    So, now you’ve confused me, because if you think a prayer in GC “is not something that anyone takes special note of,” I can’t figure out why you aren’t advocating that only women pray in conference. That would seem to be a better fit for your worldview.

  31. JNR on January 14, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    They are targeting prayer because there is written official instruction that women can offer prayers in meetings. As with the pants, it hamstrings the opposition into diluting their objections by having to explain what they are objecting to isn’t prohibited. How successful this is depends on the media, as it did with the pants, so I don’t think an automatic it won’t work is warranted.

  32. EU on January 14, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    If anyone (like Cameron) is concerned about the 9 women who serve as leaders of the YW, RS, and Primary experiencing an undue burden in being asked to pray in GC 1-2x per year, let them look to the boards of those organizations. This church has no shortage of faithful women.

  33. Jim on January 15, 2013 at 12:25 am

    This topic is very simple. The Church is run by Christ. If you believe it is run by Christ and revelation you shouldn’t doubt why things happen the way they do. If you say you sustain the Prophets as Prophets you should be behind them. If you aren’t sure if these things are true you should pray and ask God. Let God tell you if these things are true. James 1:5 says God will answer your prayers.

  34. Cameron on January 15, 2013 at 12:57 am

    @EU (32)
    I don’t believe I expressed a concern about ‘undue’ burden. Rather, I shared the idea that assigning seventies to pray might maximize GC participation frequency between all general officers. Perhaps that is more important than affirmative action prayers.

    To be honest, I’m not sure Christ cares too much about who prays at GC as long as they have the Spirit and are a general officer of the church. He may, however, think that issues such as this, while relevant, may be looking beyond the mark and distracting us from the ‘best’ things to do. If someone struggles with issues such as this, perhaps there are alternatives to the proposed token political gestures that may be more beneficial for them.

    Again, I refer all who have not yet read it to Julie’s amazing post from 5 years ago in comment #5. MUST READ!

  35. Left Field on January 15, 2013 at 8:13 am

    Being a general officer isn’t a requirement for giving prayers in conference. Until the mid ’70s or so, prayers were often given by stake presidents, mission presidents, and the like. When they increased the number of general authorities and cut conference down to two days, it was no longer possible for all general authorities to speak in every conference, and they started consistently assigning prayers to seventies who weren’t speaking in that conference. That does lend some support to the idea that having seventies offer prayers was seen as a way of allowing more GAs to participate in conference, now that many of them were not speaking.

  36. sch on January 15, 2013 at 9:42 am

    As always, I appreciate Julie Smith’s post. For me this stream raises two questions. One has to do with Julie’s main point, and the other has to do with the practice of not having women provide prayers in GC.

    First, as a “traditional” Mormon, and as a non-scholar, it is troubling to me that one can discard or ignore a scriptural verse or two that we don’t like by suggesting that it was added in later by someone else. How strong is the evidence in this case? Do we have other versions wihout the disliked verse? Does the grammar change? Is there an anachronisitic use of language? Could one just as easily suggest that the earlier verse (I Corin. 11:5) is the verse that was inserted by someone else? Blog streams like this can be tricky for carrying on a conversation because a reader may not be able to detect the emotions behind questions such as these. They do not represent snark or sarcasm. They are sincerely asked. I am not attacking, rather I am asking.

    The second question for me is this: How does a faithful member express unhappiness with current church practices? Julie Smith’s post (referened repeated in this stream) gets at that same question.

    I live in a stake where women were not invited to provide the opening prayer in meetings… until the new handbook specifically allowed it. I spoke with my bishop and my stake president about this because it bothered me. My bishop was sympathetic, but I don’t think that he asked women to open with prayer. My stake president was reasonable, but expressed a “preference” to continue the policy (until it ended with the new handbook.) His reason for supporting the idea that women shouldn’t open with prayer was that on at least one occasion a visiting authority from SLC for Stake Conference (and an apostle at that) asked that a “Brother” open the meetings when he provided the SP with his outline for the conference. I don’t think that my SP necessarily agreed with or liked the policy. He didn’t feel that he ought to go contrary to the express and written recommendations by the apostle. He not only complied with the the request for those particular meetings in Stake Conference, but also recommended it for all church meetings.

    When I pushed him on it, he stated that he wouldn’t ban women from providing an opening prayer at church meetings, and that if our ward wanted to do it, he wouldn’t block it. However, he personally would continue to follow the example set by his Priesthood Leaders, and gently suggested that we do so as well.

    Thus it is difficult to make changes from below in an organization that doesn’t encourage flow of information in that direction. As alluded to by Julie Smith: this kind of campaign will not result in women providing prayers at GC. It likely will delay, not hasten, that day because (I imagine) our church leaders do not want to be seen as caving in to public pressure. Such campaigns are thus counter-productive.

    A campaign like this may be helpful, however, in that it may raise the level of sensitivity towards the need to be more expansive in the inclusion of women in prominent roles in the church. Something I believe that we really really need.

  37. Jax on January 15, 2013 at 11:25 am

    I once (and only once) saw the movie “Anna and the King” and remember very little of it. The one part that stood out to me was near the end. Anna had developed a friendship with a girl in the palace and this girl had a suitor from the local citizens/peasants (pick a word). This boy tried somehow to get the girl servant out of the palace so they could run away together. Well, he got caught and was held on trial. During the trial Anna bursts in and publicly demands of the King that he pardon the boy from his death-sentence. The King had intended to be merciful to the boy, but he must be in charge. So in order to save face after the public demand by a foreigner woman, the King had no choice but to be unmerciful and order the execution.

    I don’t know why it matters if a woman prays in GC, but if it matters to you, great. When planning your campaign to get things changed I think publicly demanding something from the Brethren is likely to get things changed. If the policy to not have women pray in GC is from the Brethren, and not the Lord, then I don’t think they’ll be willing to lose face by giving into the demands; and if the policy IS from the LORD then I think he is even less likely to be bullied into giving into the demands of people trying to control how HIS church is run.

    Let me clarify why women praying in GC doesn’t matter to me. I think as LDS people we are involved in a very real struggle against the onslaught of evil/wickedness. In this struggle I don’t view the membership being divided into men vs. women. I view any division as Disciples vs. anti-Disciples and a whole bunch of people unaffiliated. So when I see a man pray in GC I am just happy to hear a disciple pray on our behalf. I don’t get puffed up that he is like me instead of “one of them”. If that prayer was offered by a woman I would still be happy to hear a disciple pray on our behalf.

    I think the All Enlisted people perhaps think of things as a struggle of men trying to get power over women and that women need to struggle to get power from men. I’d much rather work together and struggle to increase righteousness among all people and not worry about which sex has more “power” just so long as it is held by a disciple of our Lord. I think we should view each of the GA’s as “one of us” and think that looking at a fellow disciple (man or woman) as “one of them” is a poor worldview.

  38. Jax on January 15, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Oops, That second paragraph in my previous post should say:

    When planning your campaign to get things changed, I think publicly demanding something from the Brethren ISN’T likely to get things changed.

  39. Brian on January 15, 2013 at 11:34 am

    I was a ward executive secretary for a time and asked people to give prayers in sacrament meeting. Sometimes, sisters declined to pray for a variety of reasons. One sister even declined to pray because she was having a “bad hair” day.

  40. Julie M. Smith on January 15, 2013 at 12:15 pm

    sch, you are asking some great questions there. First, you write, “it is troubling to me that one can discard or ignore a scriptural verse or two that we don’t like by suggesting that it was added in later by someone else.”

    If we are discarding it _because_ we don’t like it, that is absolutely bad interpretive practice. We need to start with the evidence of the text, and make a decision based on that, regardless of whether we like or agree with the message of the verse.

    (For example, there is near-universal agreement that John 8:1-11 was _not_ originally part of John. I happen to *love* that story, but I have to follow the evidence where it leads–not where I want it to go–and tell you that that story almost certainly was not in the first draft(s) of that gospel. I can’t permit my feelings about the content to decide a historical question.)

    The reason scholars think that parts of 1 Cor 14 were not original (as opposed to parts of 1 Cor 11) is that there are many other passages where Paul acknowledges (with no disapproval) the kind of behavior that 1 Cor 14:34-35 prohibits. So “one of these things is not like the other,” and that is 1 Cor 14:34-35. It also fits the broader trajectory of Christian history, where earlier on, women assumed larger roles and those roles shrunk as time went on.

    No one, at this distance, can absolutely prove that 1 Cor 14:34-35 was not there originally. But we look at the evidence (including the fact that the passage flows well–better!–without it there) and this seems to be the most reasonable conclusion to draw. (Although some scholars do draw other conclusions. I have seen it suggested, for example, that v34-35 represent the Corinthian’s position and that Paul quotes it to debunk it–similar to what a lot of people, including Joseph Smith, think happened in 1 Cor 7:1. And this is a possibility.)

    As LDS, understanding that neither the scriptures nor their writers are/were infallible, this shouldn’t be too hard to swallow.

  41. Cameron N on January 15, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    @35 Left Field,

    Yes, I suppose that GC is like all other meeting prayer opportunities. It is a fun hybrid of convenience and the Spirit’s ratification. I wonder how far in advance someone is invited to pray for GC? =)

  42. sch on January 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Julie: That was helpful. I simply wish that I knew more than I know about such matters.

  43. Jeremy on January 15, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Raymond Takahashi Swenson:

    Your comment is not an argument against women saying prayers in General Conference, it is an argument against humans saying prayers in General Conference. If all prayers are are impersonal rehashes of shopworn sentiments, as you suggest, we might as well forgo them altogether, or have a Speak and Spell do the prayer for us.

    If, as you say, it doesn’t matter that women don’t pray in General Conference, it would not matter if they did pray in conference. But clearly it does matter to you, you’re just unable or embarrassed to say why.

    Try this out the next time you go to a restaurant to see what I mean:

    Waitress: What would you like with that, the soup or the salad?
    Customer: It doesn’t matter at all. They’ll both fill me up. But whatever you do, don’t bring me the salad!

  44. Cynthia L. on January 15, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    Raymond, so, basically, the short version is that you’re with Paul on this one? Wow. I’m sort of perversely impressed with you for having the guts to say something that.

  45. Suleiman on January 15, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    So what is the difference between giving a prayer at General Conference and giving a talk in the same meeting? Which allows a greater expression of personality? Which denotes the greatest level of respect for one’s thoughts and experience?

    I fail to see any real symbolism or significance in a woman saying a prayer at General Conference. Men and women have shared in the most holy prayers that I know of (side-by-side)in our most sacred spaces. And they have done so since the days of Joseph Smith.

    I do agree that there are cultural practices and views that church members should examine and some of which should be completely abandoned as repressive and sexist. But this prayer issue is a “horse that won’t run.”

  46. Cynthia L. on January 15, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    *something like that

    Also, ditto to everything Jeremy said in response to Raymond. (Suleiman, you would also do well to read Jeremy’s comment since you quite unoriginally repeated the same nonsensical argument.)

  47. Kristine on January 15, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    “I fail to see any real symbolism or significance in a woman saying a prayer at General Conference.”

    Well, then. If it’s not a doctrinal problem, per President Kimball, and it’s not symbolically significant, then I think we can agree it’s a completely unproblematic change to make.

  48. Cynthia L. on January 15, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    Here you go, Raymond: http://bycommonconsent.com/2013/01/15/why-id-like-to-hear-a-woman-pray-in-conference/ Hope that answers your question.

  49. BHodges on January 15, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    Alright, y’all. Since Conference prayers are an entirely meaningless gesture which no one in their right mind should endeavor to undertake, I present the new Conference-Prayer-o-Matic 2000. Just click this link, and the prayer will begin.

    http://tts.imtranslator.net/Noe7

  50. g.wesley on January 16, 2013 at 10:44 am

    while the prayer-o-matic is not to be competed with … speaking of rooms, there is that elephant in this one. something to do with paul, and women praying, and veils. all based on his own sexist and selective reading of genesis 2:7 over genesis 1:26-27. according to which reading women must be veiled because they are not considered to be the image of god, etc. despite both male and female being created in the divine image in genesis 1:26-27. but fortunately that is not prayer in public and so would be a thread-jack, as they say.

    but i’m all for what you are doing here, julie. if we had to live by every word attributed to paul, not only would it be impossible, there would have to be a lot less emphasis on marriage and such, for example. and if pauline celibacy and asceticism were the norm, well, let’s just say people wouldn’t have as much to argue about. which would be a shame.

  51. Julie M. Smith on January 16, 2013 at 11:36 am

    g. wesley, I (well, not _I_; I cribbed it) have a different take on that passage:

    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2006/01/authority-on-her-head/

  52. Suleiman on January 16, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Cynthia,

    We have two assignments for two seperate individuals. One assignment is an opening prayer and the other is a fifteen-minute speech on a controversial doctrinal subject. A confident child can say an opening prayer. But the talk would probably go to the most articulate and thoughtful of the two individuals.

    And anyone can see that while the prayer is commanded and necessary, there is a degree of difficulty entailed with the speech assignment that also carries an expectation of maturity and greater degree of authority and respect.

  53. g.wesley on January 16, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    thanks for the link, julie. certainly paul’s stuff is complex and not systematized. more than one reading of him is viable, and i think there is a place for (re)interpretation in the service of contemporary theology and practice.

    at the same time, i am stubbornly and no doubt naively enough of a historicist to wish paul could just be allowed to be paul, even, maybe especially, when he’s wrong.

    if he selectively conflates the creation accounts such that the man is god’s image and thus ought not to be covered, whereas the woman ought to be, at least implicitly because she is not god’s image, having been created/derived second per genesis 2 rather than 1, and also because of the angels, which may or may not refer to ‘angelic gaze’ … if paul does that, might we just admit it? could we?

  54. Julie M. Smith on January 16, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    Oh, sure, g. wesley, I would have no problem with the idea of saying that Paul said stuff that was self-contradictory and/or that I didn’t like and/or was wrong. (I don’t think Paul wrote 1 Tim, but if he did, I would have no problem saying 1 Tim 2:15 is just flat-out false doctrine.)

  55. BHodges on January 16, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    #52: “A confident child can say an opening prayer.”

    If this is so, I can think of no reason why a child or a women would not be allowed, then, to pray in conference. (A not-so-confident child can give an opening prayer, too, thought!) This one’s a no-brainer for the Church.

  56. g.wesley on January 16, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    Great to know, Julie. And thanks again for the preemptive post.

  57. Brad Kramer on January 16, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    I’m just amazed that there exist grown-ups with the ability to read and write who can’t wrap their heads around the difference between the symbolism and significance of a woman praying and the symbolism and significance of not permitting women to pray.

  58. Steve Smith on January 16, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Julie, great post. But I think it would be worthwhile to perhaps write a new post in which you make a case for why this issue is important. I certainly believe it to be important, but unfortunately there appear to be a fair share on this board who believe this to be a trivial, meaningless matter that confirms their preexisting beliefs that those who are liberal Mormons or favors a stronger role for women in the church and want to make a soft case for it by having women wear pants to church or say more prayers in conference are shallow and easily offended.

    But to those of you who think that this isn’t an important issue, or who think that mentioning this issue at all is an affront to God based on the reasoning of “when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done” (i.e. Jax (37) and Jim (33)), let me remind you that at least 50% of the LDS membership is composed of women, an increasing number of whom are in the workforce and in positions of leadership. Yes, it is important that they feel increasingly included in decision-making in the church, and this can only really happen if the rank-and-file engage in subtle agitations for change such as by wearing pants to church or calling for small changes in the General Conference structure. And no, Jim (33), asking that women give prayers in GC is not challenging the prophet’s authority as you seem to believe it is.

  59. ji on January 16, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    Why do people persist in spreading untruth to make their case? Oh, I suppose that’s why — to make their case. But honesty is the best policy. As best as I can tell, for our General Conferences, the truth is simply that members of the Seventy are assigned to say the prayers. There is likely no prohibition on women saying prayers, just a practice that someone else is asked instead. It seems rather benign to me.

  60. Kristine on January 16, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    ji–I think that is what everyone is saying. There’s clearly neither a doctrinal reason nor a policy rule prohibiting women’s participation in this way, so why not allow it? It may seem benign to you, but the cumulative effect of hundreds of “benign” traditions leaves many women and girls feeling needlessly marginalized.

  61. Cameron on January 16, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    Nice word choice ji. ‘Benign.’

    My question is this: once this benign change is made, how many less women and girls will feel marginalized?

    A marginal change will have marginal benefits to the marginalized. I think that is what others have tried to say in these comments with some more and less effective word choice.

    I like the story of when ward leadership asked President Monson his thoughts on their youth program. He suggested radical changes, they were impressed, and he was called to serve in that capacity. We shouldn’t forget the examples of Jethro and Jared,etc. There is precedent for ‘inspired advice’ given by a non-presiding authority.

    A final thought: how much energy should we spend on these benign things that could also be spent on better things?

  62. Kristine on January 16, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    ” how much energy should we spend on these benign things that could also be spent on better things?”

    Better things?

    My sister (and thousands of other young women) left the church in part because she saw how differently women are treated in the church than in other contexts–school, work, family–and she thought it was wrong. There aren’t many things that seem “better” to me than making sure my daughter and the children I teach in Primary don’t feel the same…

  63. Left Field on January 16, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    The prophet gave advice on a ward youth program and they put him in charge of it? Awesome if true!

  64. Curtis Penfold on January 16, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Women couldn’t speak in conference until 1984. They couldn’t pray in sacrament meeting for a period until 1978.

    I imagine that women being unable to pray in General Conference is just an extension of those policies. Old-fashioned and sexist, somehow it’s still on the books.

    I think when little girls see only men are able to pray at General Conference, what they really see is that a man’s prayer is more powerful than a woman’s

  65. ji on January 16, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    Is it WRONG for the First Presidency to give the prayers assignment to the Seventy?

    No.

    Maybe one day they’ll change the assignment. Maybe not. It’s their conference and their decision.

    In the meantime, among those who are offended, is there any room for forgiveness?

  66. Cynthia L. on January 16, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    “It seems rather benign to me.”

    “Benign.” You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  67. Kristine on January 16, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    ji–who’s offended? I don’t think people are expressing personal outrage, more puzzlement and hurt and longing.

  68. Stephen Hardy on January 16, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    Here is what I believe about women not praying in conference:

    (I have put off writing this because the topic of this thread is the interpretation of Paul’s scripture and not the actual idea of women praying in GC.)

    Once upon a time, our GAs spoke frequently in conference. When the church was smaller, and there were fewer GA’s and when conference lasted three days, almost all GAs spoke at every conference. If you look at GC from 1880 or 1910 you will see that back then not only did all the GAs speak, but it was also the practice to have returning mission presidents give a report at GC. Imagine trying to do that now. But here is the point: I believe that speaking in GC was a treasured part of being a GA. It connected us to our leaders.

    When President Kimball decreased conference to only two days, it became clear that GAs would no longer be able to speak at every GC. Indeed today only the 12 and FP speak at every conference. President Kimball also started (finally!) the practice of having women speak in GC. This reduced those opportunities for GAs to speak in GC even further. Today a GA may serve for years and only have one occasion to speak in GC. I used to be able to identify all the GAs. Not even close now.

    I believe that the GAs really like speaking at GC, and asking them to provide the prayers is a bone thrown to them since they can’t speak regularly or even often in GC. Thus men do all the praying. The apostles and FP don’t pray in GC because they already get their twice-a-year opportunity to participate in GC.

    In other words, I believe that speaking in conference is sort of a “perk” for being a GA, and praying is seen in a similar way.

    Why, you may ask, don’t we show a similar courtesy to women who serve in world-wide positions and have them pray? Of course, I don’t know, but I can imagine a few possibilities [Keep in mind that I don't agree with or endorse any of my potential reasons. I am guessing, not apologizing]:

    1. Those who organize GC have simply never even thought about it. Whoever organizes GC has a long list of GAs to pick from, and even then the opportunity to participate in conference is only occasional. The last thing on their mind is the idea of expanding the pool.

    [This raises a number of questions for me regarding women in church-wide positions. Are they paid like GAs? Do they work full-time like GAs? Do they travel as much? Have any women been called into a full-time leadership position who live outside of Utah and thus have to move, with their familys in tow, to SLC because of their calling? Hmm, as far as I know, the answers to those questions are: don't know, don't know, no, and no.]

    2. Because of the relatively few opportunities to participate in GC, women are given a chance to speak rather than pray. It is a better platform, and thus they don’t need to pray. Keep in mind here that one of those exactly two time slots given to women to speak has included a primo Sunday morning (the most watched session) slot.

    Consider this calculation: If we take the five sessions of conference, include prayers and conducting, we find that there are approximately 45 to 50 chances for someone to participate in GC. That is 8 to 10 chances per “session” including prayers, conducting, doing business, and of course speaking. Since women have, since President Hinkley, two speaking occasions at each GC, then women make up 4 to 5% of the GC face-time. If we removed the actual Priesthood assignments of conducting and doing business, and remove the Priesthood session, then we would have 2 speakers out of about 32, or about 6%. Pretty depressing. Imagine if your ward functioned like this.

    I know that some of you may hate my “bean counting.” I can’t help it. I bean count at work, too. I find it fascinating to see how my workplace has changed over the arc of my 25 year semi-academic career to make room for women.

    I long for the day that women have a much higher profile in our church, both internally and externally. This is important for me because I believe that we cannot be a Zion society until everyone participates. In my ward it is not remarkable, or even memorable (!), to have a woman speak or pray in church. I wish it were that way at all levels.

  69. Cynthia L. on January 16, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Stephen, I made this infographic that illustrates some of the numbers you’re talking about. Hard to call anything about this state of affairs “primo,” especially since women’s slots aren’t simply few but also shorter in duration than some of the men’s time slots. I too like bean counting, goes with my job description. :-)

  70. BHodges on January 17, 2013 at 8:48 am

    ji says “Maybe one day they’ll change the assignment. Maybe not. It’s their conference and their decision.”

    That’s weird, I think Conference is the Church’s.

  71. Suleiman on January 17, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Cynthia L. and Stephen Hardy:

    IF we really want to do some bean counting, perhaps we should look at prayers said by caucasians vs. non-caucasians, or citizens of the United States vs. citizenship in other countries. We could turn church assignments into a system of quotas. It would look great, and we’ve engineered out that rather messy issue of the Church being led by revelation.

  72. Stephen Hardy on January 17, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Sulemiman, snark duly noted.

    You and I may differ on what it means to say that the church is led by revelation. Of course I believe that it is. Revelation is almost always a response to a perception of a problem. If revelation wasn’t a response to a perception of a problem, then we wouldn’t need continued, or on-going revelation. God could just tell us everything we need to know, and then close the windows of heaven. Then the thinking is done, the praying is done, the yearning for more is done, and all that is left is the obedience. But that isn’t how I perceive or understand it.

    Like I said, I know many hate the bean counting. I do take note of races and accents during GC, and am happy to see more diversity over time. It is wonderful. (A beard would be nice someday.) One of the things that I learn from the endowment ceremony is that God apparently values diversity. Possibly as an end in itself. We have learned from biology that in life lack of diversity is threatening to a species’ survival. When all the corn is exactly the same, then the corn crop can be destroyed entirely by one vulnerability to an infection or pest. I worry that our lack of diversity weakens our Zion-society, and makes us vulnerable as well.

    Since women make up 50% of the church, or perhaps more I simply believe that women ought to have a higher profile in church leadership. When I hear people say that women already participate in conference, I respond with the bean counting so that it is made clear that although there is some involvement of women at the highest levels, it appears to be quite small. For me, the disconnect between work, where women regularly are my peers or bosses, and the church is jarring.

  73. Stephen Hardy on January 17, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Let me add this: the difference isn’t only jarring, but actually a bit ridiculous.

  74. Jax on January 17, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Suleiman beat me to my question… Why look at this, or any other subject in the church, as a men v women issue? Seems just as significant to look as it along race lines, hair color, or national citizenship. I don’t understand why people divide us into men v women. We’re all trying to be saints right?

    It’s not that I don’t want women to pray in conference, or that I do want them to pray. It simply doesn’t matter at all to me who is offering the prayer. I don’t think people who are calling for this are in opposition to prophet, I just really, truly don’t know why their church view is one of division among the sexes. I read the posts saying women feel left out, but since I don’t get to pray I feel left out as well. 95%+ of the church will never participate in GC and will always be left out…

    Do Asians/Native Americans/Aussies/Latinos take offense because their isn’t a representative percentage of those races that participate? OR do red-heads feel underrepresented? What about youth? are they ever offended that everyone on stage is 40+? It seems almost everyone could make a case calling for more equality or fairness… So why does it matter so much along sex lines?

  75. Suleiman on January 17, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    I would add that personally I have no issue with women performing any service in the Church. I do have an issue with groups of individuals charging the Church with sexism in a situation that it probably doesn’t exist (the GA’s could have just as easily given the prayer duty to the General Board of the RS) in an effort to apply pressure to Church leaders in order to bring changes that THEY want and think are important. This smacks of “steadying the ark” or “dictating to the Lord.”

    The sad part of this is that I think there are instances in we could treat women better. But most of these issues will change with thoughtful and edifying dialogue within our community, not by parading a pseudo issue in the media.

  76. Steve Smith on January 17, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Asking that women pray more in church isn’t necessarily rooted in offense, much as many here would like to portray it. It is more of a question of presentation and image. And the LDS church has in the past changed its presentation as a means of keeping in members and attracting people to join, the recent ad campaign is evidence that the LDS church is very image-conscious. Consider the request to women pray in GC more of a small attempt to help improve the LDS church’s image; to help it appear to both its members and outsiders as an organization where women and men work in tandem in the leadership to build godliness and spirituality in society, instead women acting as subordinates to the will of males.

    In fact I get the sense that the ones who are taking the most offense on this board are the ones accusing Julie and others for taking offense. Heard beyond the veneer of their clever rhetoric of “this is harping on trivial matters” and “GC is already good enough as it is” is the piercing echo of shock and appallment: “how dare you suggest that the church isn’t perfect in every way shape and form and needs change.” So yes, ji (65), I certainly forgive you for taking offense, you’re just going to have to forgive yourself.

  77. Suleiman on January 17, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    Steven Smith:

    So the Church is “image conscious.” So various demographics of church members should take advantage of this to dictate what they want based on the political correctness of the present? If it truly was just a request and not more of an extortion of priesthood leaders, why did they do so in a public forum playing to the media?

  78. Suleiman on January 17, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    When should any group of members apply social and policial pressure on Church leaders to get what they want? Doesn’t this connect directly back to the Joseph Smith translation of 1 Cor 14:34-35 referred to by Julie above?

  79. Ziff on January 17, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    Why look at this, or any other subject in the church, as a men v women issue? Seems just as significant to look as it along race lines, hair color, or national citizenship.

    Because we don’t have a Proclamation of the FP and Q of the 12 telling us that “race is eternal” or “hair color is eternal” or “national citizenship is eternal.” We can’t have it both ways. If femaleness and maleness matter, which is what most of our rhetoric says, then it matters that women are barred from praying in Conference.

  80. Ziff on January 17, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Also, Steve, re: 58

    But I think it would be worthwhile to perhaps write a new post in which you make a case for why this issue is important.

    Orwell has written a great post over at Mormon Mentality responding to this and other common objections.

  81. Jax on January 17, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Ziff, that is an excellent point. We don’t have doctrine that race/haircolor/nationality are eternal.

    Can you answer though why it is good/desirable/noble to view things through a prism of men v women; why should someone view it as a power struggle? As far as I know the men of the church aren’t focused on trying to consolidate gain power/prominence in the church. As far as I know they don’t make decisions based on the goal of making sure that men stay “in power”… but try to just do what the Lord commands. But the comments on posts like this make it sound like a portion of the women in the church DO function with a goal of gaining influence/power/standing, rather than a goal of doing the Lord’s will.

    I understand that it IS important to them, and I don’t care if they do pray in GC, I just haven’t heard anyone tell me why the men v women struggle exists? to me it seems like the focus of their efforts is misplaced.

  82. Ziff on January 17, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Good question, Jax. Even if men in power in the Church aren’t consciously trying to keep women down (and I agree with you that they probably aren’t), their unthinking actions nevertheless perpetuate the idea that women are less capable and less worthy. It probably doesn’t even occur to them to include women in the list of potential prayer-givers, but this doesn’t mean that their failure to include women doesn’t harm women.

  83. Brad Kramer on January 17, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    People who want women to be permitted to pray in conference aren’t making it about power. The people not permitting women to pray in conference are the ones making it about men versus women and a power struggle.

  84. Brad Kramer on January 17, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    …whether they intend to or not.

  85. Steve Smith on January 17, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    Suleiman, this isn’t an issue of political correctness. That and the argument of “people getting offended” are straw man arguments. If the LDS church wants to gain converts and keep its members from leaving, insisting on maintaining long-held tradition can only go so far. At some point, the church may find it to its advantage to conform, even if it is slightly and subtly, to the ever evolving standards and norms of different communities where it is present, and make some minor alterations of policy, or even doctrine, to quell or preempt dissatisfaction among its core membership. With an increasing number of women in the workplace and in leadership positions, there is a greater amount of pressure coming from church members for the LDS church to change its policies with regard to women and to include them more in administrative functions. I’m not saying that whether this should or shouldn’t be, but that it simply is the case. The church, with its claim to be the kingdom of God on earth, wants to appear constant and in control, but sometimes it finds some of its policies the target of increasing criticism from its core membership (criticism coming from the peripheral membership or non-members doesn’t matter too much), and even its own leadership. I don’t think that it can hurt to make some minor adjustments such as having more women pray in GC. It may be the formula for staving off present and future female disaffection.

    As for your second question, call it what you want, it is what it is. My guess is that people have been sending letters to local leadership and high-ranking leadership for quite some time regarding the issue of women praying in GC, and they were ignored, so they made their demands more public. The question is not whether it is right or wrong but how to effectively deal with it without alienating lots of people. So on the one hand the church doesn’t want to appear to be caving in too much to social pressure. But on the other hand, excessive rigidity may play against the church as well.

  86. Suleiman on January 17, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    “…their unthinking actions nevertheless perpetuate the idea that women are less capable and less worthy.”

    Huh? Would all the priesthood-holding brethren who believe that women are less capable and less worthy please raise their hands?

    “It probably doesn’t even occur to them to include women in the list of potential prayer-givers, but this doesn’t mean that their failure to include women doesn’t harm women.”

    Yeah, because women are so fragile… do you realize how completely SEXIST that remark is? Poor, poor, poor, women… Many men will never serve in a leadership position outside of their wards, much less join the Seventy and say a prayer at GC. And what about all of the other demographics that aren’t included? Should the Saints be so fragile and helpless that at every imagined slight they melt like butter in the sun?

    C’mon people, I don’t give a flip who says a prayer at GC. This issue is completely fabricated in the minds of a few. How a daughter of God, able to attend church-supported schools and pursue degrees, head corporations and receive revelation from a member of the Godhead would feel slighted and harmed because the prayers of a meeting have been traditionally assigned to some priesthood quorums escapes me.

  87. Suleiman on January 17, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    “I don’t think that it can hurt to make some minor adjustments such as having more women pray in GC.”

    Neither do I, but that’s not for us to decide. Nor is it our role to assit in applying public pressure to the oracles of God.

  88. Ziff on January 17, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    This is only true if you believe they’re infallible.

  89. Steve Smith on January 17, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    Yes, you’re right, that’s issue is not for anyone to decide but the LDS leadership. But you’re looking at the issue from the standpoint of a member who wants to believe that the LDS apostles, first presidency, and prophet are virtually infallible, at least when it comes to policy-making and doctrinal/historical pronouncements, and are not to be questioned or told what to do. I think that if you try to look at this issue from a standpoint of the church leadership, you’ll see that it is a much different predicament. Not all of the followers are going to be unquestioningly loyal and regard all your words and actions to be inerrant. Some of these followers at the margins are dispensable. But when these attitudes start seeping into the core membership, what do you do?

  90. BHodges on January 17, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    Suleiman says: “Neither do I, but that’s not for us to decide. Nor is it our role to assit in applying public pressure to the oracles of God.”

    Many of Joseph Smith’s revelations were a direct result of discussions with and questions from regular Mormons. When did asking for further light and knowledge (or even asking for a simply procedural adjustment) become an exercise in “pressuring the oracles of God”?

  91. Brad Kramer on January 17, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    ” Many men will never serve in a leadership position outside of their wards, much less join the Seventy and say a prayer at GC. And what about all of the other demographics that aren’t included?”

    There’s an enormous difference between individuals not ever happening to have a chance to pray in general conference and knowing that you can’t pray in conference because of your gender. Are you honestly daft enough that you can’t see that your defense of the current practice (and criticism of those who want it to be different) would apply just as readilyprohibition against black people praying in conference?

  92. Kristine on January 17, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    “your defense of the current practice (and criticism of those who want it to be different) would apply just as readilyprohibition against black people praying in conference?”

    He’d be in good company there. Or would have been, a few decades ago.

  93. Brad Kramer on January 17, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    Elder Cook: “We noted that from our earliest history both men and women pray, perform the music, give the sermons, and sing in the choir, even in sacrament meeting, our most sacred meeting.”

    Defenders of the General Conference exclusion: “Whether or not women or anyone else get to pray in meetings has no meaning or significance and you shouldn’t care about it.”

  94. Suleiman on January 17, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    “Are you honestly daft enough that you can’t see that your defense of the current practice (and criticism of those who want it to be different) would apply just as readilyprohibition against black people praying in conference?”

    I must compliment you on your hypothetical. It connects the cause for women to pray in GC with the Civil Rights movement. But for that to really work in an actual arguement, we’d have to draw a line between LDS women of today with blacks suffering under Jim Crow laws. I’ll let you handle that.

    But to answer your question, yes, if Blacks were excluded from the presiding quorums of the church (and they obviously have been in the past) they also would be excluded from the assignments to those quorums. Would I be content with the situation? Hardly. But I wouldn’t utilize the media to publicly protest the decisions of the leaders or apply pressure against the Lord’a anointed. If I had the opportunity, I would privately reveal my concerns. But the most effective method is to simply pray that one day the leaders would be inspired to change the policy. Leave it to God. I’ve heard He is quite reliable.

    Now let me ask you a question: Are you “daft enough” to not realize that those who are excluded are not excluded from this opportunity for service because of their gender? They are excluded because they are not members of the Presiding Bishopric or Quorum of Seventy.

    Now for the real news…. all of us non-GA’s are excluded from many of the service opportunities assigned to the GA’s. But it doesn’t matter, because it isn’t based on a distinction that matters in the eternities. And as I already know, the really important people in the Church are serving in the nursery.

  95. Brad Kramer on January 17, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    “Are you “daft enough” to not realize that those who are excluded are not excluded from this opportunity for service because of their gender? They are excluded because they are not members of the Presiding Bishopric or Quorum of Seventy.”

    So why do members of the presiding bishopric get to pray? Which is beside the point, considering that women are excluded from both groups solely on the basis of their sex. They’re also being told that the fact that they’re now permitted to pray in sacrament meeting is evidence of how wonderful and valued they are.

  96. Brad Kramer on January 17, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    My bad, I didn’t realize that you included the PB in your original question. But the larger point still stands.

  97. Kristine on January 17, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    ” It connects the cause for women to pray in GC with the Civil Rights movement.”

    Not really. The Church was in favor of (some) civil rights legislation, while maintaining the priesthood ban.

  98. Brad Kramer on January 17, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    You could exclude women from any non priesthood function—from speaking in conference or from speaking and praying in sacrament meeting or from teaching Sunday school—and then you could just say “they’re not being excluded from anything because they’re women, they just don’t happen to be members of the quorums/groups that usually get to do those things.”

  99. Suleiman on January 17, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    No Brad, I couldn’t exclude women from any priesthood function, and not just because I would find such an act abhorrent. It isn’t my church or my priesthood. Both belong to someone else. And I’ll let Him decide. I’ll let Him direct His church through His prophets, seers and revelators.

    And no, I don’t think His prophets are infallible. But I am absolutely positive that I am not. So on what rational basis do I impose my will and direction on the Church?

  100. Ziff on January 17, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    Wait, you can only offer suggestions if *you’re* infallible? How about this as an alternative? Church leaders are fallible. We’re fallible. We’ll make suggestions to Church leaders, which will help make up for their blind spots (e.g., with regards to women). Perhaps they’ll see wisdom even in our fallible suggestions.

  101. Kristine on January 17, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    There’s a fair amount of ground between saying “this practice makes me sad” and “impos[ing] my will and direction on the Church.” A polite request from a tiny and utterly powerless minority doesn’t have a lot of coercive force.

  102. Brad Kramer on January 17, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    That was a pretty slick deflection…

  103. Suleiman on January 18, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Ziff: I guess the GA’s know nothing about women. They are husbands and fathers with extensive life experience, they are called by God, able to ask the RS Presidency and General Board and their wives and daughters, but when it comes to women, they are complete ignoramuses. And counting the various quorums of seventy, that is quite a large group of well-educated ignoramuses. They NEED your advice!

    Kristine: Far more was said than “this practice makes me sad” and you know it. The pants thing and the prayer issue were/are engineered protests staged in the media. And “tiny and utterly powerless minority?” What utter histrionic nonsense. Every critic of the Church is salivating to interview this powerless minority.

    Brad: Slick deflection? No, just my honest response. I believe that the GA’s are good men, full of life experience and often inspired (even entitled to inspiration and revelation on this issue). I also obviously believe that protesting, letter-writing campaigns and multimedia whining do absolutely nothing to promote the cause of Zion. We should save these for the political realm.

    Thanks for the dialogue.

  104. Kristine on January 18, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    Yes, they were protests engineered for media. But the message is “this practice hurts,” not “we demand change.” Because demanding change would be stupid. Structurally, feminist activists are completely powerless, no matter how media-savvy they may be–there are no instances of the church changing in response to protest from within.

  105. Bryan S. on January 18, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    “…there are no instances of the church changing in response to protest from within.”

    Honest question: Are there any instances of the church changing in response to protest without?

    The 1978 change seems to be up for debate as to what the change was in response to. Are there other examples?

  106. Demaris on January 18, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    The current church position on birth control was a response to problems within as a result of the fairly strident anti-family planning stance when relatively safe and effective birth control became more widely available. This according to an OB/GYN who spoke to our Marriage Prep class at a church university and who had advised the GAs on the issue.

  107. Ziff on January 18, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    Ziff: I guess the GA’s know nothing about women. They are husbands and fathers with extensive life experience, they are called by God, able to ask the RS Presidency and General Board and their wives and daughters, but when it comes to women, they are complete ignoramuses. And counting the various quorums of seventy, that is quite a large group of well-educated ignoramuses. They NEED your advice!

    Able to ask the women around them, but are they willing? And the women around them–including those they call to serve in general RS, Primary, and YW positions–are they representative of the women in the Church? It seems pretty unlikely. GAs are most likely to be called from among the most orthodox, the members least willing to voice even the smallest concern with the Church, and the women around them are likely to be similarly oriented.

    Now if your argument boils down to that they’re called by God, then you’re coming back to infallibility, which again, I don’t believe in. Called of God doesn’t mean you get everything right.

  108. Steve Smith on January 18, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    “And no, I don’t think His prophets are infallible. But I am absolutely positive that I am not. So on what rational basis do I impose my will and direction on the Church?”

    Suleiman, if they are fallible, as you concede, then in what capacity?

    Based on what I have gleaned from your reasoning so far, one of four explanations is possible: 1) the church leaders are capable of making errors in doctrine and policy, but should not ever be questioned, even when we believe them to be pursuing an ineffective policy, because of the position that they hold; 2) they are fallible, but more perfect than the rest of us and should therefore always be heeded and never advised; 3) they are fallible in their day-to-day lives when not acting in the capacity of a church leader, but infallible when are acting in such capacity; or 4) they are capable of doing the wrong, they just have always chosen the right.

    If you believe no. 1, then it seems like you would have essentially sided with the Catholic church against Galileo and his theory of heliocentrism (I don’t imply that you would have justified the church’s punishment of Galileo, but that you would have found Galileo’s attitude unbecoming). Sure, Galileo was right, but he shouldn’t have advocated a belief that the church leaders were uncomfortable with since he didn’t hold a position of ecclesiastical authority. (This is also kind of the position that Nate Oman seems to take in his recent posts). If it is no. 2, then you are essentially believing them to be infallible, at least relative to the rest of us underlings, who are incapable of achieving like spirituality. If it is no. 3, then you believe them to be infallible in essentially all their public talks and policy-making, even if they may occasionally commit a trivial sin of muttering a bad word under their breaths or raising their voices at their spouses from time to time. If it no. 4, then you essentially regard them to be infallible.

    My belief is that the leaders do indeed pursue ineffective policies from time to time (as all of us would be liable to do in their capacities) and that the followers do them a service by giving them feedback. Feedback isn’t necessarily always right, but at the same time, it shouldn’t be interpreted as an attempt to tear them down, but as a means to make them more effective in establishing a just and godly community.

  109. Mark Brown on January 18, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    It is so interesting when a man who is completely out of his depth and hiding behind a pseudonym accuses a woman of being histrionic. No sexism there!

  110. Jax on January 18, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    K. So I read this whole discussion to my wife and several times she stopped me and said, “really? Women in the church are that insecure and demanding?” or “Are people really this dense? They aren’t excluded in the Q 70 because of their sex, they’re excluded there because they don’t have the priesthood!!” and “Anyone who doesn’t think they are being the slave of the femi-nazis is just naive and fooling themselves.”

    I just thought I’d share the thoughts of a LDS non-leadership positioned woman. Cheers!

  111. Ziff on January 18, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    I’m sorry that your wife is so rude, Jax.

  112. Steve Smith on January 19, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Jax, you and your wife view this issue from the standpoint of members who want to believe the church leaders are virtually infallible. Try to view this from the vantage point of the church leadership.

    Has your wife advanced far in her career or been in leadership positions before? Or has she had the typical traditional Mormon lifestyle of getting married relatively young and having kids at a young age? I gather based on my readings of your posts over time that it is the case. I don’t say that to make value judgments of you and your wife, but just to point out that your wife probably doesn’t have much in common with women who have gotten married later in life, have moved forward in their careers, and have been in leadership positions in their careers. And an increasingly number of women in the church have had those experiences and want to be included more in the leadership. These women aren’t likely to conform to the traditional church culture that you and your wife appear to fit nicely into. Should they just leave the church altogether? What if many of them are making demands to be increasingly included? You can’t just tell them to shut up. Also many of these women have male allies, and I count myself as one of them. The fact of the matter is that liberal-minded folks do indeed exist in the church and you conservative traditionalists are just going to have to deal with it.

  113. Mark Brown on January 19, 2013 at 12:31 am

    It is so interesting when there is a discussion about gender and a man relays what his wife is saying,acting as the go-between between her and the conversation. Especially when his wife is saying that there are no gender problems in the church.

  114. Mark Brown on January 19, 2013 at 1:23 am

    Are people really this dense? They aren’t excluded from the Q 70 because of their sex, they’re excluded because they don’t have penises!!

  115. Quickmere Graham on January 19, 2013 at 8:23 am

    When Jax pulls a Manti Te’o…

  116. Julie M. Smith on January 19, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Jax, a question for your wife:

    Both Pres. Hinckley and Elder Cook have used women’s participation in meetings as evidence for women’s status in the church. Were they victims of “feminazis”? Were they insecure, demanding, and dense? And why is it OK to use that kind of insulting language regarding people who disagree with you when the Brethren have spoken repeatedly about the importance of civility in public discourse?

  117. Jax on January 19, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    My wife and I married when she was 20 and had our first child at 21. At 20 she had graduated Summa Cum Laude with her B.A. degree in English Literature and was on her way to England to study at Oxford when I proposed. She accepted and stayed home instead choosing to forgo career advancement because she WANTED to be a mother, and so she is – now the mother of 6 kids all 10 and under still.

    At 21 she was in our Utah RS Presidency where she stayed until we moved to AR and is now the Primary President in our small branch (mostly because 1/2 the kids are ours.

    She had more than enought qualifications and abilities to do amazing things in business, education, or any other field if she choose. She wanted to do do amazing things by raising amazing children, which she is doing marvelously (though I admit I’m biased).

    I don’t say that to make value judgments of you and your wife, but just to point out that your wife probably doesn’t have much in common with women who have gotten married later in life, have moved forward in their careers, and have been in leadership positions in their careers. And an increasingly number of women in the church have had those experiences and want to be included more in the leadership.

    I have had some great business leadership positions and advanced in my career… Do I get to complain that I don’t have more leadership roles? But then you’ll say that at least I have an opportunity because I’m a man, but women don’t even have that chance… and they feel left out because of it. Well take it up with God then because it was HE who created you female, and therefore HE who made the choice that you won’t have the priesthood.

    This whole discussion basically boils down to female’s getting the priesthood doesn’t it… if they could have the priesthood then they could be in the Qo70 and say the prayers, but since they can’t have they priesthood then they say it is because of their gender that they are discriminated against.

    These women aren’t likely to conform to the traditional church culture that you and your wife appear to fit nicely into.

    Conforming into that culture is entirely a personal choice to agree or disagree with the way things are. My wife doesn’t fit neatly into the stereotypical mormon mold by accident, she does it by choice. Women who choose to fit in differently can’t then complaing that they don’t fit in. Just because a woman doesn’t marry young or have kids (neither thing she can control on her own) doesn’t mean she doesn’t fit into the culture either. I’m sure most of us know multiple women like this who gladly participate in their units, fulfill callings, accept that they don’t have the priesthood, don’t demand they be treated differently, are happy with the life God gave to them… They fit into the culture because they want to fit it, rather than wanting the culture to fit to them. The Church doesn’t conform to any one group, club, gender, or races desires… it is up to the members to adapt to what the Lord offers through His church.

    Should they just leave the church altogether?

    My wife answered with a resounding “YES!” I wouldn’t be adamant. We definitely want them to stay, but we want them to stay and accept what it is. If they don’t like that, then they can leave if they wish.

  118. Peter LLC on January 19, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    Fortunately for the rest of us, Jax and his wife are not the arbiters of church membership they so arrogantly presume to be.

  119. Julie M. Smith on January 19, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    As you may be aware, we usually close comments at some point.

    Thanks, everyone, for participating.