Women Praying in General Conference

Posted by on January 16, 2013 in Mormon Life, Mormon women, women | 17 comments

Letwomenpray.jpb

What is the recent history of women praying in public in the LDS church?

In July 1967, the church issued a “Priesthood Bulletin,” a newsletter to the leadership of the church. It said, among other things “The First Presidency recommends that only those who bear the Melchizedek Priesthood or Aaronic Priesthood be invited to offer the opening and closing prayers in sacrament meetings, including fast meetings.” In 1967, women were banned from praying in Sacrament Meetings.

In 1968, the General Handbook of Instruction said “Prayers in Church Meetings Prayers in all Church meetings should be brief, simple, and given as led by the spirit by the one who is voice. Their content should pertain to the particular matter at hand. Brethren holding the Melchizedek or Aaronic Priesthood should offer the prayers in sacrament meetings, including fast and testimony meetings.”–p. 44.

In 1975, the rule about prayers only being offered by priesthood holders was reiterated in The Ensign.

This policy stayed in place until 1978, when 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, including sacrament meetings, Sunday School meetings, and stake conferences.”

Women praying in public have come a long way from the ban on praying in Sacrament Meeting. The Church Handbook of Instruction published in 2010, the one currently in use, says “Men and women may offer both opening and closing prayers in Church meetings.” This is wonderful progress; women have been granted the right to pray in any meeting they attend. There is just one step left; a women praying during General Conference.*

There is currently a letter writing campaign to church leaders, started by a group called Let Women Pray, asking that this final step be taken. (This event is not sponsored by the Exponent.) To our knowledge, women have not prayed in a General Conference session** ever, and certainly not within the last several decades. While women have been told they can pray in any meeting, that has not held up in the most public meeting of the LDS church. Many church members would like to see that change and are writing to ask that this change be made. Letters are being send to President Linda Burton, President Elaine Dalton and President Rosemary Wixom, as well as Elder Holland and Elders Perkins and Evans of the Quorum of the Seventy.

If you would like to see women pray in General Conference, send letters to the address below by February 22.
Let Women Pray
P.O. Box 3833
Salt Lake City, UT 84110

If you can, include 6 copies, one for each recipient. For more information about the campaign and the group, find Let Women Pray on Facebook or read our blog.

Here are letters composed by Exponent bloggers explaining why the feel this is important. Emily writes:

Dear General Authority,

I am writing regarding women praying in General Conference. This is not an easy letter for me to write because I have, I think, a healthy awareness of my ignorance of the magnitude, both in scale and gravity, of the things the Apostles of the Church deal with. I don’t presume to advise you, only to engage in what I think is a long-standing means of communication between God’s people and His prophets: letter writing. The scriptures have many examples of letters written by prophets to their people: Jeremiah, Paul, and Joseph Smith did this. I think the letters written by these prophets must often have been prompted by questions from their people, probably received in the form of letters. So it is in this spirit of seeking to communicate that I write.

 

I live in a very diverse suburb of Chicago. My neighbors to the north and south are Orthodox Jews and Assyrian Catholics, respectively. My son’s elementary school is the most racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse school I have ever observed. He is the only Mormon, and already he is noticing that Mormons are different. I explain to him how beautiful the diversity of God’s creation is, and how the diversity around us enriches our lives. I tell him it’s good to be different, and that he is not the only child in his class with a unique background. He is noticing not only that he is the only Mormon in his class, but also that people who look like his classmates are rare in his church. Recently after attending a party in a church member’s home he asked, “Mama, why are there no black people at the Mormon parties?” He has also asked me, although we have barely discussed this issue, why I do not have the priesthood.

 

These are important questions, that while difficult, I feel I can answer while holding both the truth of the gospel and the pain of not having all the answers as daily realities. But those realities and my son’s observant questions are also the reason that things like women not praying in General Conference matter so much to me. I did not notice that women don’t pray in Conference until I was in my 20s. But he lives in a different world than I grew up in. I worry that the contrast between his church life and his daily life may at times be jarring, and that the Church will often be the thing that appears in the less flattering light. Yet I believe within the realm of the current light and knowledge we have in the gospel, there is room to appreciate and expand the role of those who are less visible. It would be a balm to my soul to hear a woman pray in General Conference. It would be one more thing I could point to for my son and daughter to say, look: women are visible in this church, their spiritual gifts are just as important as the men’s. I could more confidently say, you see women in your life leading, teaching, working, and contributing, and they do those things in the Mormon Church, too.

 

To be honest, I’d love to see many other changes which would open the arms of the institutional church a little wider to honor the diversity within us: general auxiliary board members sitting on the stand in General Conference, female Sunday School presidents, and a revised hymnal to include African American spirituals, for example. But as you have said, one miracle at a time. I love the gospel and I hope I am raising my children to love it, too. I sincerely thank you for taking time to read this letter, and for considering what it would mean to me and many others to allow women to pray in General Conference.

 

With warmest regards,

Emily U

And here is a letter from April:

Dear Brethren and Sisters,
I hope you will invite women to pray at the April 2013 General Conference. Excluding women from prayer at General Conference gives the impression that female prayers are somehow inferior to those offered by males and that God is more apt to listen to men than women. I have heard many General Conference talks that emphasize that God loves men and women equally; I do not like to see such important verbal messages contradicted at the very meeting where they are given by the choice to exclude women from voicing prayers.

 

Also, in spite of changes in written policy that clarify that female prayers are welcome in Sacrament Meeting, local leaders in some wards, branches and stakes continue to invite only men to offer certain congregational prayers. General Conference is an excellent venue to set an example for local leaders across the globe and demonstrate that women are welcome to pray on behalf of LDS congregations.

 

I have not composed my letter yet. But I got involved with this event because I believe that women praying in General Conference would show the women of the church that their prayers are just as powerful as men’s are. I have been told on by several people, including a commenter on this forum, that men’s prayers are stronger because they hold the Priesthood. I do not believe that is true, nor do I believe that is what the church teaches. But if women don’t pray in the largest and most important meetings the church holds, meetings where new revelation is given, it leaves members free to believe that men’s prayers matter more. No women should feel she is less important then the men in her life, and no man should feel his prayers are stronger. There is no policy demanding women be excluded from praying in General Conference. In fact, the opposite is true. I’d like to see the current policy of allowing women to pray anywhere be acting upon.

 

*This research was done by Jonathan Griffith and can be seen on this blog post.

**I realize that women regularly pray in the General Relief Society and Young Women’s Meetings. These meetings are not called sessions by church leaders, nor are the counted as general sessions. When the leader conducting the last session welcomes the congregation, he calls that session the fifth and final session of Conference, which excludes the women’s meetings. These meetings are also held a week before the rest of Conference. So the argument can be make that the women’s meetings do not count as session of Conference.

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17 Comments

  1. Thank you for providing sample letters!

  2. Alliegator on fMh said it best in some recent comments: “I don’t think it matters who says the prayer. I think it matters who NEVER says the prayer.”

    Dh and I will be sending in our letters. Thank you for posting this.

    • Oh, I like that quote! Nicely said!

  3. Terrific letters. Thanks so much for posting this.

  4. This is excellent. Thanks for putting this here. I hope this will make a difference and enlist change in such an obtuse policy/practice.

  5. I love both letters, in their different voices and styles, and I love the truth that women’s voices and women’s prayers are powerful, and may be representative.

  6. I support the letter writing for women praying in general conference as well. I did some basic research into the conference reports to see if a woman had prayed in GC in the past but couldn’t find anything obvious to the contrary. I remember when my mother told me about women not praying in sacrament meeting. I am shocked that this went on. Glad to see people spearheading this.

    • Martin, I personally appreciate your support, and your mother in general. :)

      Thanks for chiming in here, and for taking time to research the church’s past.

  7. What is next? Pants.. prayer.. Revelation for the Church? Give someone an inch and they want a mile. Is no one happy?

    So much for storing treasures in heaven when everyone is so concerned about what is happening here on Earth.

    Let’s show the world that all we have to do is write our Congressman.. and things will change in the Church. Or is that write the Church and things will change in Congress? No.. write the Church and complain so they will bend their will to the people. No wonder the critics of the Church say.. all we have to do is complain and all of a sudden God sends down a new revelation bending to the will of the complainers.

    I suppose when 50% of Mormons complain that they think gay marriage should be allowed in the Church.. God will just change his mind and comply. Oh.. the parable of the 10 virgins comes to mind.

    • Thanks, DG, April, and EmilyU for sharing this info. I also love this post for its simplicity in showing the problem of not having women pray in GC: http://bycommonconsent.com/2013/01/15/why-id-like-to-hear-a-woman-pray-in-conference/

    • All the major changes to Church policy that have been made were the result, at least in part, of pressure from the lay membership and of society at large: extending the Priesthood to all worthy males, the repeal of Polygamy, the Word of Wisdom, changing the cut of the Garment several times… I can’t think of any major changes in the Church that occurred in the absence of outside pressure. I have no doubt that the Church would change its policy with regards to homosexuality if enough pressure were to build up from within and without, and as a member in good standing, that doesn’t bother me. The Savior knows the Church exists as part of the world, and that it must continually bend and change in order to continue to provide maximum blessings to the maximum number of souls. These women aren’t intending to “write the Church and complain so they will bend their will to the people”. The Church is MADE UP OF people. Even our leaders are people. If enough lay members share a concern, what Church leader wouldn’t want to be aware of it? They love us and care about us. Our leaders may pray about the issue and change policy or convention as a result. If we truly have a testimony of the Restored Gospel the way it is currently structured, then we must assume that such changes come from God, because we believe our leaders speak for Him.

      • Shauna, I love your comment.

      • I love it, too. Especially the lines, “The Church is MADE UP OF people,” and “Even our leaders are people.” We are allowed to critique/strengthen/build the church because we ARE the church.

        I also love your idea that leaders who are real leaders will Want to know how the people they are serving truly feel. And what better way to share our feelings than in a letter?

      • The end of polygamy was not the result of pressure from the members of the Church. If it was the result of pressure it was pressure from outside government officials. If it had been left to the members of the Church themselves, polygamy would probably have remained much longer.

        I am not sure what you mean by the Word of Wisdom, but I do not think anything along those lines was a result of “pressure from the Church”.

      • “The Savior knows the Church exists as part of the world, and that it must continually bend and change in order to continue to provide maximum blessings to the maximum number of souls.”

        Wow, you need to do some serious study on the nature of God.

    • This makes me very very sad. We all have different experiences, but I can honestly say I have NEVER felt women were valued less wthin the Church. NEVER. It seems that the letters given here as examples are more a plea for the Church to resemble the world so that these sisters can feel less different. In reality it sees you’ve missed the divine worth you have. A woman praying in General Conference does not impact my feelings even a little. As Sister Dalton said, I know who I am and know whose I am. I hope this prayer gives you some comfort and helps you to fnd whatever it is you are missing.

  8. In my ward a few years back we had an awesome gospel doctrine teacher who taught really interesting, stimulating lessons. I’ll never forget a statement he made when we were on the D&C/church history year. He said that if we were to go back to the early days of the restored church that we wouldn’t recognize it. That really made me think for a while and of course he is right. There is so much that has evolved culturally in the church and I believe that some things can and should change.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. FMH PODCAST BONUS EPISODE: Equal Pray For Women! | Feminist Mormon Housewives Podcast - [...] “Women Praying in General Conference” by the Exponent [...]
  2. Separate but Equal | The Exponent - [...] I mentioned in a previous post, I’m currently involved in the Let Women Pray event. As I’ve watched the …
  3. Why I haven’t written a letter | The Exponent - [...] women have never prayed in general conference (see DefyGravity’s introductory post here), I think the fact that men praying …
  4. Why does it matter who prayed? | experimentalcriticism - [...] History of Women Praying (the-exponent.com) [...]
  5. Why does it matter who prayed? | Experimental Criticism - [...] History of Women Praying (the-exponent.com) [...]

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