Mormon Church Officials Announce Plans to Decrease Male General Conference Speakers by 50%

After a recent pilot program in which the total number of sermons by women in general sessions of General Conference was reduced by 50%, the Public Affairs office of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced plans for a similar reduction in sermons by men, beginning in October 2017.

“Since the Women’s Session became a real session of General Conference, instead of just a Relief Society thingy we could all feel comfortable skipping, General Conference has become way too long,” explained Church spokesperson Emma Sorensen.

LDS General Conference traditionally contains six sessions spanning over eleven hours—to the chagrin of many of its more fidgety members. Since women are the most expendable members of the church, and the least respected as leaders and theologians, the number of female speakers was an obvious target for cuts.

Only one woman was invited to speak by the male leadership of the LDS church during the general sessions of the April 2017 General Conference, instead of the much higher number—two—that has characterized most LDS General Conferences since the 1990s. Men were represented at the usual rate, with 26 men addressing the four general sessions, five addressing the priesthood session, and one addressing the women’s session, totaling 32 male speakers.

“They still decided to let three women talk at the women’s session, but as always, a man presided over the women,” added Sorensen. “Fortunately, in spite of allowing three women to come to the pulpit in a row prior to the more important talk for women given by a man, the women’s session concluded early.”

The women’s session timed in at only 73 minutes.

Some church members have expressed concerns about the change. “It bothered me that I didn’t get to hear a woman speak from the pulpit all day,” said Barbara Fields, of the Pocatello Idaho 21st Ward, after watching live broadcasts of the three General Conference sessions held on Saturday, April 1, in which 18 men and 0 women gave sermons.

Her local bishop, Ammon J. Bingham, defended the move. “I came to hear the word of God. It makes no difference if it comes from a man or a woman,” he stated. Moreover, the effects of having no female speakers during three consecutive sessions of General Conference were negligible to him. “I had to wait until the rest hymn to take a bathroom break, instead of doing it during that one lady talk like I usually do, but it was no big deal.”

However, after evaluating the April 2017 pilot program, church staff found that reducing the number of female speakers by 50% proved ineffective at significantly reducing the total length of General Conference.

“We forgot to check average talk length when we made our projections,” said LDS Church Research Statistician Jonathan Smith. An average LDS Conference talk by a woman is about eleven minutes, while an average talk by a man is over thirteen minutes. “I should have realized that women were giving shorter talks. I mean, who wants to hear a woman drone on in Primary voice for twelve whole minutes?” he added.

In the end, cutting half of the two female speakers saved less than ten minutes of time, which was compensated for with a few extra panoramic shots of tulips on Temple Square. Smith projects that reducing male speakers by 50% will result in a much more dramatically abbreviated General Conference, possibly even eliminating the need for general sessions on Saturday altogether. Such a change would still allow adequate time for about 10-15 men and one woman to give sermons on Sunday.

General Conference sermons form the basis for modern Mormon theology and are the primary source of LDS Church curricula.  For example, the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church is a series of 15 books based primarily on General Conference addresses by men and has served as the manual for both men’s and women’s church classes since 1998.  One book of similar addresses by women, At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women, was published last month, but will not be used as curriculum for either men’s nor women’s classes.

LDS Public Affairs concluded its briefing by reading a prepared statement: “Some people mistakenly assume that Mormon men and women are unequal. However, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, both men and women preach from the pulpit. This is one of the reasons the LDS Church is such a great place for women.”

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is an advocate, mother, professional, lover of the arts, hater (but doer) of housework and seeker of truth. Twitter: @aprilyoungb

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13 Responses

  1. April Carlson says:

    I was disappointed to read the “humor” tag. For a giddy moment, I thought I was reading a transparently honest press release from LDS Public Affairs. I’m going to roll over and go back to sleep. I was having the best dream about being an eternal incubator with my sisters in the polygamous kingdom of heaven!

  2. Dani Addante says:

    April, I really like your satire piece. It also makes me sad reading this, knowing that the church has so much to work on in regards to gender equality. They keep saying that men and women are equal in the church, but they don’t act on this. I was disappointed that only one woman spoke in the general sessions of conference, and I’m glad that this was addressed on this blog. This is not something that people can just forget about. A church spokesman had responded by saying that the gen conf speakers were chosen by the first presidency and that they’re not trying to fill quotas. He seemed to shrug it off as if it didn’t matter! If we need to fill quotas until we reach true gender equality, then I’m all for it!

  3. Ziff says:

    This is awesome, April! Trying to shorten Conference by cutting how many women speak is like trying to balance the US federal budget by cutting the National Endowment for the Arts.

  4. Pablo says:

    Fantastic satire piece! But you did notice that the women are now sitting on the highest row below the pulpit in the center, where the larger pan out shots can show how important women are, right?

    Also, someone from PR finally got the new presidencies to dress in non primary colors/pastels for their official portraits. They look like they’ve got power now, at least!

    • These changes seem frivolous to me–the seating arrangement change almost feels manipulative, as if trying to create the impression that more women were included by placing them closer to the camera, instead of actually including more women.

      A change I would prefer would be to eliminate the non-scriptural rule limiting the pool of potential female Conference speakers to only nine women, and instead having as large and diverse a pool of female speakers as exists for male speakers.

  5. Kevin K Rex says:

    Thank you for the laughs; I wish I weren’t so angry now, though.

  6. Andrew R. says:

    Whilst this is very humorous, it really misses the point of why women are not half the speakers at general conference.

    Women are not half the speakers because women are not half the leaders. Now, yes, there is an argument for changing that – and that argument is being made by many here. But members come to conference to hear their leaders.

    Every member of the Quorum of the Twelve speaks at GC – unless their health prevents them. That’s twelve of the available talks already. The first presidency members usually speak in at least one general session, often two, together with the priesthood session – and one in the women’s session.

    Then a member of the Presiding Bishopric, a member of the presidency of the seventy. And then a mix of GA Seventies – bringing in ethnic, and background, diversity.

    That doesn’t leave a lot of time for General Officers. There are 15 general officers, 9 are women. If two or three women were to speak at every conference we would never hear from either, ethnic/background diversity or Sunday School and Young Men general officers.

    So, where are women’s voices heard. In our units and stakes. I organise the stake conferences in my stake – I do not directly choose who speaks (I do have an influence), but I do help to ensure the mix. As part of this role I have recently been discussing our upcoming Stake Conference with the visiting authority. He specifically wants to hear from the sisters. The temple matron, in preference to the temple president. The wife of the mission president, in preference to the mission president. Other sisters in the stake. From a time at the pulpit perspective they will not be the majority – but that is because he is taking nearly half the time. However, there will be more sisters speaking than men. But at stake conferences we are not limited to stake officers – we have the entire membership to call on.

    So women’s voices are heard, at least where I come from – but it appears, all to often here, that I come from a different church than the rest of you.

    General conference is a moment in time – our weekly sacrament meetings, testimony meetings and lessons are where we need to hear the voices of women living the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and I do.

    • Kevin Winters says:

      Andrew,

      Your attempt to justify the numbers more than proves the issue: it is important for people to see others like them in positions of authority. Furthermore, for a Church that goes out of its way to tell the women how important they are and how their voices need to be heard, not giving them voices in the single (ok, double) most important teaching moment of the Church, the time when people are instructed to take what is said as scripture for the next 6 months, is starkly conspicuous. It is inarguably true that the words spoken at Conference are used again and again and remembered in ways that Stake Conference is not. That is important and trying to point to SC as if it somehow balances out is disingenuous.

  7. Violadiva says:

    Way to channel The Onion with your well-placed snark, April 🙂
    It wouldn’t hurt so bad if it weren’t true….

  8. ElleK says:

    PREACH.

    I was deeply wounded by the halving of female participants in the general sessions this year. I keep thinking it can’t get worse, but then it does.

  9. Jenny says:

    Awesome! Great satire.

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