Pink Cadillac

March_2008_pink-issue-coverOf the various articles in the Spring 2008 Dialogue, Bushman’s essay, “Should Mormon Women Speak Out? Thoughts on Our Place in the World,” is available free to nonsubscribers.

There, Claudia Bushman, as professor, historian, and consummately-involved church member, briefly reviews the history of women’s roles in the church and the development of the Summer 1971 “pink” issue of Dialogue (dedicated to women’s themes). And, almost 40 years after she wrote the introductory essay to that issue, she asks herself and the rest of us for a status report and issues a call for involvement:

“…Mormon women were among the first and best at learning to stand and speak…. But where have we gone since then? Somehow in our liberated society, we have remained as dutiful and quiet daughters and wives. In our Church society where women are valued as daughters of God, as noble followers in the pathway of Eve, we still do not speak out. We know that there are dangers. People don’t always understand. Some take umbrage. Instead of being embraced as sisters, we can be shut out. So I propose a practical program of action for Mormon women to encourage them to speak up and out….”

She suggests 4 specific actions women take to shape their involvement in the church community. As a husband and as a father of daughters I appreciated both the historical summary and the practice pointers. For me it initiated (anew) a discussion of whether my daughters receive and internalize messages that as females their organizational input may be less needed, valued, or solicited. That’s not a unique or new conversation, and neither was the next step: I found the essay inviting ideas on how the church as an institution how male leaders, and how I could more efficiently seek and absorb wisdom from women (for other instances of this discussion, of course, see various stake and ward meetings, study groups, conferences, magazines, and blogs).

The table of contents listing all the articles, fiction, book reviews, and poetry in the Spring 2008 issue is here. Note that from this issue Sam MB has also discussed Jane Barnes’ personal essay, “Joseph Smith: Lost and Found.”
Stirling Adams is one of the volunteer directors of the Dialogue Foundation, publisher of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. For the latest in Mormon Studies articles, essays, fiction, and poetry, visit the Dialogue website.


  1. I really enjoyed this article from Dialogue. And while I appreciate her opinions, I must wonder how effective they will be when, in our ward, women still are not allowed to give the opening prayer in sacrament meeting.

    While her recommendations are good for all members of the church, they will certainly allow women to feel more a part of their local units and develop good working relationships with local leaders. Unfortunately, I am pessimistic that they will have any significant effect upon ingrained/institutional attitudes. Men will still be the leaders, women will be recognized as having good ideas, and will be allowed to lead other women and children, but the inherent power structure will remain unchanged. And that’s unfortunate.

  2. Stirling, thanks for highlighting that article and for the image of the “pink issue.”

    Kari, the opening prayer in sacrament meeting is one of those persistent non-doctrinal policies that are perpetuated in some areas as tradition. And that is unfortunate. I think here suggestions, however, have a tremendous potential for change. You are correct that the priesthood structure of Church hierarchy will unlikely be dissolved, but that isn’t her aim.

  3. Thomas Parkin says:

    I wish there had been a greater emphasis on women accessing spiritual gifts and ‘speaking out’ by the use of them. All the spiritual gifts – with the temporary exception of healing (apparently) – are 100% as accesible to women as they are to men: prophecy, knowledge, wisdom, tongues, the rest. I think both men and women should live as to access them – speaking out from one’s personal passions and sensibilities and talent is all well and good -and I don’t mean to disparage that. But we need to be the Lord’s chuch, constantly coming closer to Him. We don’t need to be the PTA, or the law firm, or the city council meeting, or whathaveyou. I remember that Moroni says that if any (wo)man doeth good (s)he will act by the gifts and power of God.

    My grumpy 2 cents.


  4. I enjoyed that article very much to a certain extent- I enjoyed the first half. I begin by saying that I agree with Claudia 100%, but this particular portrayal had me turned off 1/2 way through. I felt “grumpiness” and a kind of pessimism in what she was saying in the latter part of the article, whereas I felt she could have continued exploring the potential and power of women, it would have been an entirely beneficial read.

  5. Claudia’s description of wanting to speak out and yet not compromise our standing in the church really resonated with me. I have been walking this wire for the past few months and I found her thoughts encouraging. I am grateful to have stake leaders who rely very heavily on the counsel of women, yet the old ways still creep in here and there. At one point my stake president told me to look for ways outside the church in which to have a voice. Not so much because he thought what I had to say wasn’t beneficial within the church, but because he recognizes how often the voices of women are stifled, ignored, or seen as heretical. While I appreciate that he sees it, I would have appreciated more his support in having a voice within the church. Especially after he told me he could understand my feelings only because his own wife has wept so many times over feeling she can have no voice as a woman in the church. How sad he does not see a way to action, but I understand only too well the fear of compromising church standing by standing up at all.

  6. You are correct that the priesthood structure of Church hierarchy will unlikely be dissolved, but that isn’t her aim.

    J., I’m not sure if this is a particularly universal goal among Mormon feminists in any case; nor is it clear to me that Kari had Mormon anarchy in mind in her comment. Gender equity is at least potentially compatible with the current priesthood organization; there is nothing that I can think of that priesthood-holding men do as priesthood holders which inherently requires male anatomy.

    That said, isn’t hierarchy an idea that stands in some tension with the idea of equality of all believers in our scriptures? It’s a tension we probably don’t want to resolve entirely in either direction, at least not in our lives, but it’s real nonetheless. I think Bushman has spoken to that tension before, but seems to now be working toward a sort of minimum agenda rather than the full change she believes in. That seems pragmatic and reasonable — yet still tragic.

  7. Opening prayer in Sacrament meeting?
    I grew up in CA and have lived in 7 wards in Davis, Utah and Salt Lake Counties and haven’t heard that one.

    Now on my mission however…

  8. J. (#2),

    I am well aware of the non-doctrinal/traditional nature of not having a woman open sacrament meeting with prayer. That’s why I specifically chose it as my example. As long as traditions as silly as this are allowed to persist on a local level, the suggestions of Sister Bushman’s are not likely to lead to any form of gender equity in the church. We just had a letter read this past Sunday that emphatically stated that the notion of the current youth being “generals in heaven” is not doctrinal; I’d love to see a letter just as emphatically state that it doesn’t matter who says what prayer in a meeting.

    While many feminists feel that priesthood should be open for women, JNR makes a good point that gender equity doesn’t necessitate this. There are a number of areas in the church where women could serve in traditionally male roles and vice versa. I just don’t have much hope that there will be any significant changes in my lifetime, despite the pragmatic nature of Sister Bushman’s recommendations.

  9. David Knowlton says:

    I heard Claudia Bushman give this paper as a talk at UVSC and it was to a packed hall, standing room only. The audience was moved by her remarks, although some of the younger women had trouble understanding the issues that motivated the older LDS women.

    On the issue of women saying the sacrament meeting prayer: When I was young I remember women saying the prayer. However in the early 80s I was in a bishopric in Austin, Texas. We received instructions from the Brethren, I believe the First Presidency, instructing us that it was not appropriate for women to offer the prayer in sacrament meeting. I believe the argument was that this was a priesthood responsibility.

    Unless my memory fails me, which is unfortunately possible, this custom is not simply a matter of tradition, although it may have become such. As instructions from above it occupied an interesting place in relationship with doctrine. It was an instruction from above.

  10. #1
    In our stake women are not allowed to pray last or speak last. When a friend asked why she was told because the preisthood would better usher people into the rest of their church services. I am in the south and the word “feminism” is a very ugly word here.

  11. According to a J. Stapley comment in a previous BCC post:

    “That prayer rule actually appeared in the 1968 version of the CHI (no. 20). It wasn’t there in the 1963 (no. 19) edition. I understand that it actually started with the Priesthood Bulletin (July/August 1967)…. …just checked the recent Kimball bio. President Kimball formally rescinded the policy in 1978 as not being doctrinal/scriptural.”

    The only item in the 1998 Church Handbook of Instructions on sacrament meetings and prayer is: “Members of the bishopric plan sacrament meetings and conduct them in a reverent and dignified manner. They oversee the administration of the sacrament, select topics for talks and music, select and orient participants, and invite members to give opening and closing prayers.” (1998 CHI, Book 1, 54).

  12. That was an amazing article, thank you for posting it.

  13. Thanks Stirling, I was going to refer to that post of Jonathan’s. Does anyone know what the new CHI states?

  14. Thanks for the article–I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t get the impression that Bushman was talking necessarily about institutional change, though. In fact, my impression was that she wanted to encourage women individually to act in a more assertive manner; to speak up (and feel free to speak up) in church without fear of condemnation; to look for opportunities to contribute to church and to local communities that are not officially sanctioned, and in so doing develop our own talents and interests. I really thought she was putting the burden of developing ourselves back on each of us individually, essentially saying don’t wait for the Church to provide developmental and service opportunities for you–go out and find them!

  15. Kari, # 13, I don’t have a copy myself, but in discussions at our HC meeting, this has come up, and the wording is pretty much the same as Stapley’s quotation above. No official restrictions apart from being a member in good standing exists.

  16. Within the last year I asked a member of our bishopric why we never had a woman offer the opening prayer in Sacrament meeting. His reply was that this is what the bishopric had been taught by the stake with the explanation that Sacrament meeting is an ordinance and therefore a priesthood responsibility (and I suppose a right) to open the meeting with prayer.
    We do have women speak last in Sacrament meeting, something I’d rather NOT do!:)

  17. #15 is correct. The most recent CHI states that “both men and women” are to be asked to give prayers in church meetings with no restrictions. There is further instruction that encourage leaders not overlook single members when asking for prayers.

  18. I was a little bit disappointed with the article. I suppose I was hoping it would be more extreme.

    But when I ponder on it a bit more, I think it makes good sense. If women want a voice, they can only depend on themselves to speak out. I often find myself thinking that if women who lived in violently oppressive regimes would all resist, the rulers surely would not be able to kill all of them. Not to compare the church with a violently oppressive regime, but I think a similar principle applies…

    And of course I can attempt to teach my darling Beehives that they have a voice… Of course they have no problem speaking in class, in fact sometimes I can barely get a word in edgewise. Now if only they could take that enthusiasm and apply it.

  19. David Knowlton, are you at all related to Thaynan Knowlton of Wa.?

    *sorry for the personal aside*

  20. sister blah 2 says:

    #4 Be sure to have a life outside the Church. A life outside the Church gives you experience and credibility.

    This one really, really resonated with me. There is a palpable, astonishing change in how men in church treat me when they find out about my educational and career achievements. Suddenly I go from being dismissed as meek Sis. Blah2 to getting that “one of the boys” treatment.

    If you haven’t been on the receiving end of this, don’t assume I’m exaggerating.

  21. Our old ward still won’t let women give the opening prayer for sacrament meeting–stake policy. They are the only ward I’ve been in who spoke to my husband privately to get his permission prior to giving me a calling. It was creepy. They also constantly referred to me as “Dear Sister.” Ew.

    We were recently asked to give the O&C prayers and my man mentioned that I like to give the opening prayer because I’m not always in the meeting at the end (what with my children being angel-monkeys and all). The bishopric member wrote me down for the opening prayer. Not an issue here. Thank goodness.

  22. Geraldine says:

    The first time I was asked to give the opening prayer in a meeting was in Mutual, many years ago. I didn’t want to because I was shy so I used that excuse that women weren’t supposed to give the opening prayer. This was some 55 years or so ago. The powers that be did not let me get away with that. I have been asked to give the opening prayer in Sacrament meeting many times and have done so, but always felt it shouldn’t be that way. Now that I have read your blogs I will no longer even give it a thought. As a 73 year old woman I cannot remember any time in any meeting where I was not allowed to give my opinion to men.I have served in presidencies of organizations and still gave my opinions. I don’t understand all this feminist whining and carrying on over everything. None of the women I know personally have ever felt this way either. I remember that many years ago my aunt on her mission in Independence, and her companion were the only members in the branch who could offer the sacrament prayers, and so they did. There were no priesthood holders. I still know the Lord knows best in His church, and I do not feel put upon in any way!And I do not feel women are in any way put down because they do not hold the priesthood!

  23. Geraldine says:

    And furthermore, when I was called to any position they always asked me first, and when I accepted they always asked my husband if he would support me in this calling. And likewise, when my husband was called to any position they first asked him if he would accept the call, and then asked me if I would support him. But since I have only had a year of college, possibly I am not intelligent enough to comment on a blog such as this.

  24. Grandma G kicks a little butt! *grin*

    Seriously, the sacrament meeting prayer issue needs to be thrown out and stomped into oblivion. It (and other things like it) drive me crazy – not a long drive sometimes. Local leaders need to know and follow the actual CHI, not what they remember from the past or feel it should be.

    There are so many more things women can and should do than they are allowed to do by priesthood leaders who act outside the proper guidelines. Women need to be proactive, but they shouldn’t have to be. I see this more as an issue for men than for women, and I hope and pray it is addressed by the men in the church in the proper spirit of repentance.

  25. Following up on #11, here is the relevant text from Ed Kimball’s biography, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball.

    It appears in chapter 17, “Issue of Concern to Women,” in a section entitled “Bolstering Women’s Standing in the Church.”  Kimball writes:

    “During President Kimball’s administration, the church also began publicly honoring young women in order to balance the attention given young men who received priesthood advancements and Scouting awards.  Wards were instructed to announce the presidencies of Young Women classes, recognized the graduation of girls from one age group to another, and present girls’ achievement awards in sacrament meeting.
    As chair of the Board of Trustees for BYU, Spencer encouraged more recognition for women there as well.  In 1975, BYU’s most prestigious academic scholarships (always named after the current Church President) were extended to women in numbers equal to mail recipients….
    In September 1978, President Kimball, his counselors, and the Quorum of the 12 explained that a Church policy (set in 1967) allowing only Melchizedek or Aaronic priesthood holders to pray in sacrament meetings had no scriptural basis and should be abandoned.”  Footnote 16  (citing Priesthood Bulletin 3, no. 3 (July/August 1967); “Sisters Can Pray in All Meetings,”  Church News, October 7, 1978, 6.)

    In the hard copy book, this shows up on pages 165 and 166, but the footnote is only included in the electronic version included on the CD distributed with the book. The manuscript version, also on the CD, has notably different content in this chapter. For example, only in that version are there sections discussing the Women and Priesthood Ordination and the changing role of the Relief Society. Towards the end of the latter section he writes, “This pattern of a diminishing role for the women’s organization distressed many Mormon women, both traditionalists and feminists. Many of these changes occurred before the Kimball presidency, but the trend continued during his time.”

  26. Re: 22 & 23, I think it’s highly inappropriate to invalidate the experiences of others just because you don’t share them. Seriously, “feminist whining and carrying on”? I would be inclined to think that dear Geraldine is a troll!

  27. #26 – Gentle question, SAP. How does your comment not do exactly what you accuse Geraldine’s of doing? (“invalidate the experiences of others just because you don’t share them”)

    That’s a rhetorical question, btw.

  28. Some rhetorical questions require response! I’m not invalidating her experiences, I am merely suggesting that her experiences don’t represent those of all women in the church. The fact that this post and the article it discusses exist indicates that there are women in the church who feel their voices aren’t heard. It’s one thing to say that you don’t share someone’s experiences, but it’s another thing entirely to categorize other people’s discussion of their experiences as “whining and carrying on”. I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to say that this sort of reaction is precisely what many women fear when they question whether they should voice their concerns.

    But I will admit that the troll comment may have gone too far…

  29. and it was the troll comment I was addressing. I guess we agree. :-)

  30. Kristine says:

    Stirling, David–there are two different episodes of restricting women’s praying. The first is the one that J. and Stirling are documenting. The second occurred sometime in the mid-80s. There was, apparently, a letter that went out from somewhere below the FP or Q12 level–Area Presidencies, perhaps. instructing that MP holders were to offer the opening prayer in Sacrament Mtg. This letter never made it into the Bulletin updating the CHI, and the policy was variously implemented in different regions. I’ve been trying for years to get my hands on a copy of the letter, as I think there’s a nifty article about the hazards of an unwritten order in there, but I haven’t found one yet. I’m not even certain that there was only one letter–some conversations I’ve had with folks who were bishops/SPs at the time suggest that there may have been multiple letters from farther down the food chain, perhaps from Regional Reps. (were they still RR’s then, rather than AAs?)

  31. Kristine, your 1980s event may be what Dave remembers in #9. If there were letters, surely some pack-rat (a positive term to my mind) has kept a copy for historical use?

  32. If the Summer 1971 issue referred to in the post was the first “women’s issue” of Dialogue, when were the others?

  33. I lived in Cambridge in the 80s. I still have the “Beginner’s Boston” book that we used as a guide for local activies. Now, reading through Ms. Bushman’s essay in the 71 Dialogue, I see that she, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, et al were the ones who put the book together. How cool is that?

  34. The term “area authority” came into use in 1995.

  35. Mary L. Bradford says:

    I puboished the second women’s issue, the”red” issue, in the early 80’s. Since then there have been at least two others with a real attempt to have parity, equal voices with men and women. It hasn’t always worked, but we are still trying. More and more, woemn are writing dep historial and doctrinal works.
    Mary Bradford

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