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.”