Should Women’s Meeting be part of General Conference?

womens meetingThere was quite the kerfuffle over Women’s Meeting a couple weeks ago. Prior to the meeting, Ordain Women supporters pointed out that “the General Women’s Meetings are not considered part of general conference. They are auxiliary meetings and, as such, represent women’s secondary status in the LDS Church.”

But during General Women’s Meeting, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said that “we open another general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” and referred to the five sessions of General Conference to follow as the “remaining sessions of our worldwide general conference” as  if Women’s Meeting were the first.  The Salt Lake Tribune reported that “for the first time, the charismatic German leader described the meeting as the opening session of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 184th Semiannual General Conference. Until now, General Conference has referred only to the two-day gatherings held during the first weekends of April and October, with the women’s meeting seen as a separate event.” Some feminists rejoiced because women’s status was improving in the Church and some anti-feminists gloated that General Women’s Meeting had always been a session of General Conference and Ordain Women simply didn’t have their facts straight.

However, the following Saturday morning, President Henry B. Eyring welcomed congregants to “the first session” of General Conference, clearly not counting General Women’s Meeting as one of the sessions.  Then President Uchtdorf himself, the very person who had given some reason to hope, called the Saturday afternoon session the “second session,” confirming that General Women’s Meeting didn’t count.

Hope was renewed during the opening prayer to the Priesthood Session on Saturday night, which Elder Bruce A. Carlson referred to as “the fourth session,” apparently counting Women’s Meeting as number one. But alas! Video of the prayer was altered afterward to delete the word “fourth, ” thus preventing the intended  audience of the prayer (God) from getting the wrong impression about the status of Women’s Meeting.

At this point, it became necessary for the highest doctrinal authorities in the Church (the PR Department) to step forward and solve this tricky counting problem: “While the women’s meetings have long been an important part of General Conference week, they are not usually referred to as a session of General Conference.”

So Women’s Meeting is (still) not part of General Conference.  My question for you is, should it be?

I was not one of the people doing backflips when President Uchtdorf implied that Women’s Meeting counted as part of General Conference. To me, it seems that not numbering the Women’s Meeting could actually be a feminist gesture–if it were not numbered because it was an event completely independent of General Conference, administered by women.  Of course, that is not the case at all. I would be more encouraged if the Church changed Women’s Meeting to an independent meeting run by women, instead of presided over by men; or let a woman give the longest and final talk at Women’s Meeting instead of a man; or best of all, eliminated the completely arbitrary and nonscriptural rule that only two women may speak at the five numbered sessions and instead had about an equal number of male and female speakers.

What changes to the format of General Conference to you see as most important to elevating the status of women in the Church? (Note: A poll is embedded in this post.  If you are reading via a feed reader, you will need to link through to the original post to view and participate in the poll.)

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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6 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Great question, April. My problem is that I found it nearly impossible to only pick three. I think we need every single one of those changes!

  2. Violadiva says:

    The whole thing with the editing of the prayer after the fact, and the article the newsroom put out calling President’ Uchtdorf’s pronouncement of the Women’s meeting being the first session of conference a “notable” change in GC (and then it mysteriously disappeared from the website….) just reeks of strategies from “1984”.

  3. Ziff says:

    Your take on how not including the Women’s Meeting in Conference could be a feminist gesture is an interesting one I hadn’t considered, April. In some ways, it’s kind of parallel to the question of whether it would be better for women to be included in existing priesthood structures, or for them to be included in an entirely new and separate priestesshood organization.

    • Hmm. I don’t support the idea of a “girl priesthood’ and a “boy priesthood” for about a zillion reasons, but I can see some good that could come into occasionally dividing into demographic groups for meetings that address issues for particular target populations. I don’t think a women’s meeting should be supervised by men, and until women are ordained, all sessions of General Conference are supervised by men. (Men who apparently, based on their consistent choice of speakers, like to hear from other men like themselves 90% of the time.)

      • Of course, as I mentioned in my post, in spite of not being part of GC, Women’s Meeting is still supervised by men instead of being independent, so whether it is part of GC or not is pretty much irrelevant. That is one of the reasons I see this as a less important change. It would be nominal change only, bringing about no real improvement.

      • Ziff says:

        Oh, sure, I agree. I was just thinking I had seen the idea floated somewhere on the bloggernacle (maybe even here? my memory fails) and your point about making the meeting separate reminded me of it.

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