Let Women Pray in General Conference (explained by gifs)

We are pleased to have Casey from ExpertTextperts return with another guest post.

Brad Kramer demanded politely asked that I write a post the Let Women Pray in General Conference campaign…with gifs. With the February 22 deadline for the letter-writing campaign approaching, I have duly complied. The purpose of this is educational: Most regular BCC readers will be familiar with the issues and arguments, but when your non blog reading relatives or ward members bring it up, then direct them here for a concise and hopefully accurate summary!

It all started when a group of Mormon feminists called All-Enlisted started a Facebook group for a campaign to allow women to pray in general conference. The same group was behind the recent Wear Pants to Church day, which you may have heard about. Some people hear about these campaigns and are like

Others are more

While a few are

So what’s the deal? Well, feminism has a negative image in the minds of many church members, who think of it as something like

That’s not really accurate at all, but honestly feminism is a big umbrella that covers a huge variety of opinions. The basic gist is just that men and women should be treated as equals, because very often they are not. That’s not so threatening, right? It’s helpful to remember that most self-described Mormon feminists, even the ones who criticize the church most, actually kind of like it. They just want to see men and women working together in the church as equal partners–just like the church teaches they should.

Mormon feminists are mostly fans of all sorts of things in the church, from the doctrine to the sense of community and family. They just feel that some church policies and some aspects of Mormon cultural make women second class citizens; in other words, unequal. Of course, sometimes that means challenging deeply ingrained beliefs and practices, which can be a reason for debate and legitimate disagreement.

But honestly, if you want to know what a Mormon feminist thinks, you should probably ask her (or him)! A lot of contention comes from people who think they already know everything about the other side angrily jumping into arguments, which leads to

and not enough

But really Let Women Pray in General Conference isn’t even about the Big Issues of feminism. It’s not calling for women to be ordained to the priesthood, requesting lesson manuals about Heavenly Mother, or demanding a Young Women’s equivalent to Scouting. It’s just asking, “Hey, women speak and pray in every other mixed church meeting, and there’s no doctrinal reason they can’t pray in General Conference, so…

Seriously, that’s it. If men and women really are equal partners, then why aren’t women ever asked to participate in the simple but powerfully symbolic act of approaching the Lord on behalf of His people? Wouldn’t that send a message that the church practices what it preaches? In fact, the anger and violent language that benevolent protests such as Let Women Pray have riled up shows that Mormonism actually does have some gender issues to sort through. Reading through comments left by self-styled “defenders” of the church makes you like,

and think, “there’s no way this is coming from a disciple of Jesus Christ.” Others are upset because they feel it’s wrong to send petitions or letters to General Authorities or to publicly voice concerns.

But again, there’s no doctrinal support for that argument. As members have as much responsibility to alert leaders of our concerns as they do to teach us the will of the Lord. They can’t do it all alone; after all, they’re not perfect. Let Women Pray isn’t calling for any change in doctrine, just for the church to be consistent with what it already teaches. Isn’t that exactly what we’d expect from the Lord’s church?

See, it’s because people like the church that they’re involved in this campaign. And that’s why everybody should be like,.


  1. Love it!

  2. rameumptom says:

    Brad, your gifs just do not convince me. Try this again with General Authorities of the Church in the gifs, THEN it will seem authoritative enough to sway not only me, but the most conservative persons around….

  3. The only way this could be improved is with LOLcats.

  4. This is wonderful. Clever. Honest. True. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a woman prayed in conference this year? I doubt it, but it would make my brain explode with the voracity of a cowboy riding a nuke.

  5. ram, the gifs don’t have to convince but the author misidentification hurts more.

    Also, if I had the power I’d make a rule that replies on this thread must come in the form of a gif.

  6. True this! Thanks for such a clear explanation of what Let Women Pray in General Conference is, and isn’t.

  7. CJ Douglass says:

    One of the reasons I loved this campaign in the beginning, was that it aimed so low and was so – non controversial and non threatening. It would show our more “traditional” brothers and sisters how very little we would have to change to bring us closer as equals. Boy, was I wrong!

  8. This seems highly relevant: http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=341

  9. Casey– I love your work! If there were a school to apply your rule, I would be a fool not to enrule.

  10. Well done, Casey. Brilliant post!

  11. liz johnson says:

    If a picture is worth 1000 words, a gif is probably worth around 1750, right? I mean, since it moves? And gifs featuring Buffy are worth 2000? Just trying to get my math right.

  12. Sharee Hughes says:

    Although I certainly would have no problems with women praying in conference, it also doesn’t bother me that so far they haven’t. It doesn’t make me feel inferior that no one has called me to ask me to pray in conference.

  13. lurve it ;)

  14. The problem with these sorts of campaigns is that the Brethren do not like to be perceived as swaying bending or even shifting slightly due to public pressure. They’re supposed to be prophets, remember? Only GOD can tell them what to do.

    So while I think this campaign is a fantastic way to educate members about one of MANY gender inequalities in the Church, I think its doomed to fail as a means to actually get women to pray in conference. Because after all, if they give in to public pressure on this issue it will only encourage others to mount more campaigns on other issues of inequality. Heaven forbid.

  15. I’m just glad to see that the rumor about Danny Devito being a member of the Church is finally settled.

  16. “The problem with these sorts of campaigns is that the Brethren do not like to be perceived as swaying bending or even shifting slightly due to public pressure.”

    Then they don’t understand their calling, and they don’t understand the gospel. If they don’t respond to the concerns of the members of the Church and help the membership to grow in unity with one another, what are they for?

    “They’re supposed to be prophets, remember? Only GOD can tell them what to do.”

    That sounds like the epitome of pride, that you know you’re right because you know God told you so and there’s absolutely no way you could be wrong or make a mistake. Prophets are not infallible. That’s not doctrine. If any prophet THINKS he’s infallible, we have a large problem.

  17. Porter, you’re probably right, though I figure, if you’re damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t, you might as well do. Maybe plant the seed for future change.

  18. After women start praying in Conference, let’s campaign to have gifs used in Sacrament Meeting.

  19. KIDDING! Just kidding…

  20. @17 Well said. I can’t stand idly by, even with a grim chance of change staring me in the face. Thanks for this succinct and hilarious post.

  21. CJ Douglass says:

    Porter, correction: public pressure is a proven method for revelation in the Church. It just happens a a decade or two after the fact. Be patient.

  22. Growing up my sister and I had a recurring response to parental requests that basically went, “Well, I was going to do it, but now you’ve told me to, and I don’t like being told what to do, so forget it.” We applied this to cleaning our rooms, doing the dishes, writing papers, pretty much anything a mom might tell her kids to do. I think it applies in this situation. Sure it’s prideful and a little childish, but I still think making a big deal out of this perfectly reasonable request is going to result in women not giving prayers in GC for a long, long time. Longer than it would have been without the attention? God only knows.

  23. Also, the GIFs are great!

  24. If that is the case (both #22 and #14), then we have really childish leaders. I’d like to have more faith in them. I’d like for them to care more about actually doing the right thing than a “perception” of being publicly influenced. Everyone should just face the fact that prophets ultimately are influenced (and it has always been so) because even prophets do not live in a cultural vacuum. If God really micro-manages everything than we would never have had racist prophets and thus the long delay in actually learning that God’s will did not include banning Saints from the temple/priesthood because of the color of their skin. I also suspect that he doesn’t micromanage who gives prayers in conference, and when finally a woman prays in conference I suspect God will say “It’s about time–what took you all so long?!”

  25. Hilarious.

    Porter, lots of things have changed in the Church due to the response by members – and I see absolutely no negative in that. I generally am not a big fan of public petitions for things like this, but I am a big fan of eliminating religious rabies. The response has been exponentially worse than the original effort, and the response has done far more to highlight the need for change than the original effort could have on its own.

  26. If childish means refusing to be told what to do, then I guess that makes them childish. Again and again we see the “you can’t tell me what to do” response.

  27. Fun. Thanks.

  28. Seriously, “childish” is one of the last words I would use to describe the top leadership, except in very rare instances with one or two individuals.

    I’m way more childish on a regular basis that I have seen from them.

  29. Proud and inflexible would have been my choices, not childish.

  30. Right, while I don’t care to put my faith into any fallible mortals, I’d like to have faith in the idea that our leaders care more about doing the right thing (and to be clear I think women praying is “right” and I’m astounded that anyone would disagree) rather than care more about being perceived as caving to public pressure. So yes, I really would like to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re not THAT prideful and THAT inflexible that they wouldn’t at least consider it. Let Women Pray is such an innocuous request. As Ray said, the often vitriolic response/pushback has by far been more concerning.

  31. If I can offer something of a defense of church leadership, I wouldn’t say they’re childish or even necessarily proud; I’d just say they’re human, and I regard the church as a very human institution. Being pressured (or seeming to be pressured) into doing something can be embarrassing, even if you believe it’s the right thing. Especially when you’re dealing with an institution that values tradition for tradition’s sake, including a healthy dose of unquestioned patriarcal assumptions. That doesn’t necessarily excuse it, but it does explain it without having to risk inflammatory name-calling.

  32. 14 – I disagree. The Brethren most certainly consider lots of different data points – one of which is ‘agitation’ as expressed by GBH (quote below). That’s not to say that they don’t like to be seen conforming to events and such, but to completely dismiss some ways in which information is brought forward, considered, deliberated, prayed, and acted places too much reliance upon prophetic revelation when we have been counseled to study matters out for ourselves and then determine if it conforms to God’s will.

    “Yes. But there’s no agitation for that. We don’t find it. Our women are happy. They’re satisfied. These bright, able, wonderful women who administer their own organisation are very happy. Ask them. Ask my wife.” – http://www.abc.net.au/compass/intervs/hinckley.htm

  33. I enjoyed this except for the man and woman working together to shoot something, but maybe that’s just me being overly sensitive about image of causal gun use and violence (even if it is equitable). I would rejoice to hear a woman pray in general conference, but I have jumbled up feelings about this campaign. I would love to see the brethren come to this conclusion on their own, I would love that it came from by an overwhelming influence of the Spirit. If the campaign had never happened but there was just bubbling and brooding about on this issue in our collective minds and hearts and it was in the minds and hearts of the brethren at the same time and it happened I would be overjoyed. That would be my favorite way for it to come about. Now that there has been an organized public campaign that option has been partially removed. At least for the near future. Not that I wouldn’t be happy if it still happened in this next conference or the next, but I wonder if my feelings would be different, still good just with a little bit of jumble in my rejoicing like this comment. More jumbled up stuff, even though I’m not sure what I feel about this campaign, that doesn’t mean that those involved are not acting and petitioning because they have been personally compelled to do so by the Spirit. I have not felt to personally write a letter or officially join the formal campaign, but that doesn’t mean that others haven’t. I think that the Lord’s purposes are accomplished by any means, so if He desires greater gender equity in the church it will happen and it will be despite our efforts, or because of our efforts or both. I hope that He does, and I hope that He does now, and we as the membership the body of Christ are the ones that for what ever reason are lagging, I think divine purposes can be accomplished even by the lagging. I don’t pretend to know any answers for sure. I believe that even if things are not as equitable as they should be or He desires them to be at this moment, I think that even in that less that optimal state of operation we still have individual access as men and women to the the miraculous components and revelation necessary to navigate our way back to our eternal destination. That is what I’m most grateful for. If there are ways that we can better more equitably and effectively and joyfully help each other to that glorious end, and for all of us male and female value each other more, set more right, and with more joy wend our way together, more equally and effectively yoked we should work towards that end, and not just as members of this church but for the sake of all the children here on earth. Maybe this is a small step in that direction, I pray so.

  34. CJ Douglass says:

    I would love to see the brethren come to this conclusion on their own

    With respect Dovie, this concept of modern revelation is a myth. There’s no evidence for it happening this way in the history of the Church. The D&C should teach us that – if nothing else. I don’t think people believe they’re trying to convince God, but convince his servants to simply ask the question. That’s the best way to receive an answer.

  35. Casey (#31), that’s a very reasonable (and diplomatic) comment. Well said. I find my patience at times slipping in regards to the pace of progress (and not caring so much for “tradition” (If I knew how I’d embed a youtube clip of that song from Fiddler on the Roof), so I appreciate your level headedness.

  36. Tried to embed this link but in went into comment moderation:

  37. Tried to embed a link but it went into comment moderation :)

  38. 33 – Dovie, for this issue to be bubbling and brooding in our collective minds and hearts, I think it would be another couple hundred years for it to come to the forefront (ok, call me negative). Even my feminist dh said to me when I told him about the campaign, “Huh. I never noticed that women never prayed in GC.” I’m not sure what other ways to go about a change such as this…If I start with my Bishop, as we are instructed (instead of going to our GAs first), then what is that going to accomplish? I’d love to hear more suggestions for other ways to approach this than a general campaign and letter writing. While this campaign is not ideal, I see this as a start–planting seeds, at the very least.

  39. I think a great way to think of this is to look at the functioning of a local unit. An effective Bishop doesn’t sit back and consider the cosmos and then rattle off edicts during Ward Council. Rather he solicits input and insight into the needs and concerns of the members and then counsels together and discusses various courses of action and then decides and then counsels with the Lord for confirmation. Granted this may be the exception and not the rule ;)

    Taking that example and scaling it to the entire church we can see where avenues of input and insight are visible from the general authorities and such. And just as an impromptu hallway discussion with the Bishop can instill some unknown data point into the discussion, I see this ‘movement’ as doing something similar to raise awareness and/or concern about an issue which means a great deal to some members of the church.

  40. Amen, to both Corrina and jeffc.

  41. Awesome, Casey.

  42. Corrina, I maybe overly optimistic, I have been been found guilty of that before for certain. I don’t necessarily think that the petition is wrong and that people that have felt to join this cause in this particular way may very well be guilty of not following their conscience or the Spirit or the logical conclusions that they come to after reasoning it out in their brains. I just haven’t felt that this is the course I should follow personally. I have noticed from the time I was a very young child the absence of women’s voices in general conference and in the prayers at general conference, I remember being a very young grade school child and watching and wondering where are the women were. It bothered me then, when the general authorities still wore suits other than black or navy blue and they didn’t black out the background of the stand and there was a sign language interrupter in a little circle in the corner of the screen which I found fascinating, but it bothered me that there were no women voices at a very core level. I guess I could liken it a little bit to not wanting to lay out my concerns and desires so bare except to God maybe, in such explicit terms. Like when my birthday is coming up I like that my family is thoughtful and aware of me and my wants and needs that I don’t have to give them a list and they make it a pleasant day for me. I would hope that the leadership is aware and mindful of the desires of the women in this church, and if they have been neglectful (which I think that they have been) that they would start paying attention, enough that they are willing to ask themselves why not and then ask God why not and then perhaps receiving a some revelation and insight into the experiences of the female half of this church and then taking action to make it right. So I guess that is the ideal way my brain imagines it being rectified, just noticing that there are inequities and deficits in our institutional experience in the church as far a gender is concerned. At the same time there have been times when my needs and wants were not readily discernible to those closest to me, because they were not paying attention or they were being unfair or they just had no idea what my experiences were like and I had to plead, ask, demand for things to be made right. The people around me were not bad people and were not invested in making me miserable or ignoring my needs, wants, preferences or priorities they just were not aware of them, or so absorbed in their own that they couldn’t see them until they were laid out before them. So maybe this letter writing campaign will bring redress and relief and more women’s voices and needs will be equally heard and met.

  43. 14 and 22 seem to be getting a bit of a talking down to.

    Let me just say that I’m philosophically on board with everyone who believes it’s okay to tell the brethren when we don’t think something works or when we think a change needs to be made. Y’all are completely right. But so are 14 and 22.

    This isn’t just a doctrinal and philosophical and “maturity” matter for all involved. It’s a practical and political one. I work for a non-profit in which we have thousands of heavily vested members who have great intentions and great ideas, but of course we can’t implement all the ideas at once, not even the good ones we agree with. There are fairly well-defined processes and gate-keepers for the rank and file to implement change. Some use it, some do not.

    Let me tell you, when someone decides to go public in petitioning for a change, they really put the gatekeepers and ultimate decision-makers in a real bind. Some good proposed changes have hidden consequences that are not obvious from the outside. Folks on the inside may already be working on the internal mechanisms (read: persuading and/or placating those who could be put off by it), and then someone goes public and it blows up the whole internal change process and you find yourself starting back at zero.

    When you publicly agitate for change, you may be effectively forcing the hand of the decision maker, punishing the people who were working by gentle persuasion. The decision-makers are put in a spot where if they implement a change they agree with, they may have to accept the baggage of a public protest that they don’t agree with. And if they don’t make the change immediately, their motives are publicly questioned.

    I’m not arguing against petitioning for change per se. But I am saying that easy-looking changes aren’t always as easy as they look, and PUBLIC petitioning can make them much harder than they would have been through quieter means.

    Whether the “women praying in General Conference” movement is such an instance, I don’t know. I’d be happy to see that. But I’ll give you 2-1 odds that there are plenty of GA’s that already feel the same way. If so, I’ll give you 5-1 odds that most of them are in solidarity with the protesters and know that they mean well, but wish they’d chosen a less public way to agitate.

  44. Lorin is spot on. The act of making the campaign is a power play in its own right that complicates things for the institution.

    I think you can tell your bishop things like this and ask him to pass it up the chain. Just say you were thinking of writing a letter to HQ but you know that isn’t the proper order of things. Tell him you want him to pass your concern all the way up. I think the message would at least get to the area authority level in most places, and if enough people did it, it would be certain to reach the apostles.

  45. One more thing: When an institution is met with a public protest — even a protest for something with which the institution is inclined to agree — the agitators are not only asking the institution to go along with the change, they’ve publicly demanded validation. Right now at church HQ there are probably GAs thinking, “I agree that women should be giving more prayers and more talks in general conference, but the people agitating for it publicly agitate for various feminist dogmas that I don’t entirely accept. There’s no way I’ll support changing that now, as long as the movement is associated with this particular brand of feminism.”

    If you go for quiet persuasion, institutions are more likely to be persuaded to change, because the price is lower. Go public, and you’ve raised the stakes, and essentially crippled your own cause.

    Often, it’s a matter of deciding whether we want the right thing to happen or whether we want to be right. You can generally get a lot more done if you don’t care about getting credit for the change.

  46. Lorin 42, I don’t live in the US. We have been told not to communicate with anyone above our local leaders. Is there a legitimate, low key way to communicate with the leadership. I write to politicians and companies I have dealings with to convey my concern or ideas.

    I have been on Bihoprics and made decisions,to which my wife responded, you would not have decided that if there had been a woman there.

    Many of the bretheren may not even be aware that there are people unhappy about the inequality in the church. How will they find out? There is after all no demand for women to hold the P”hood.

    Just saw the film Lincoln, and was amused by the uproar when someone said if we free the slaves, then they’ll want to vote, and then women will want to vote. Crazy ideas all.

    The pope has just announced he is retiring because he is too frail to do his job, could that apply to some of our bretheren too? Perhaps they might be inspired by his humility.

  47. But Lorin (and Porter), what about all the other things which have come about by either petitioning the prophets, or members organizing first and asking later? The Relief Society; the Word of Wisdom; Primary; Zelophahad’s daughters asking Moses for their inheritance rights, which changed the law; the people petitioning Samuel and also Jared for a king; Jethro advising Moses to create the groups of Seventy; Harold B Lee’s storehouse program becoming the churchwide welfare program, and so on.

  48. Geoff,

    Again, I’m a proponent of agitating for change. My concern isn’t with whether doing so is right, it’s with the tactics I’ve seen lately proposed on the Bloggernacle. (I also have a problem with some of the comments on the thread that presumed the only reason the brethren would balk at a public protest would be due to pride, lack of understanding, or some other failing. The default reluctance of any institutional leader to bend to protest tactics is eminently understandable and reasonable. The implied bad faith/lack of understanding projected onto the brethren really irks me.)

    We haven’t been told “not to communicate with anyone above our local leaders,” at least not as a blanket statement. But it is true that if you have questions about doctrine, practice, personality conflicts, etc., they want it understood that the local leaders have the charge and authority to resolve them, and they should not and will not get involved with such issues.

    It’s possible to get an audience with an area authority and sometimes general authority. The process isn’t unlike the process of networking for a job interview. “Women praying in General Conference” is not a matter for your stake president, so you’re not going over his head if you develop associations and friendships with those who can be persuaded up the chain until you are talking to someone in Salt Lake City. It can be a slow process to develop such relationship and find the right advocates as you get closer to the center. But in a church of 14 million, that’s necessary today. When it comes to large institutions in general, the ability to get an audience with the right people is a rare gift that takes a lot of work. (That’s why lobbyists in America can command such high pay.) But developing a network of relationships is just how things get done in large institutions.

  49. 48. See my answer in 47. All of the examples you give are ones in which people close to the leaders persuaded the change. It’s always about relationships. It’s more complex with 14 million members, but the principle is the same.

  50. Um .. 47, see my answer in 48.

  51. 42 Dovie–not a bad thing to be called too optimistic! :) I appreciated your birthday analogy. I just wish we had more indication that those of us with these concerns are actually being heard and understood. I feel I am doing all I can at the local level to thoughtfully put forth my views re: women in the church. I recently finished serving as ward RS pres, and it was a privilege to be able have a bit more voice to put forth these issues (and thankfully, I have a rockin’ Bishop). I felt so empowered by Wear Pants–it was the first time I felt unified with men and women on a global scale in saying who I am in this church. And of course, the Prayer campaign is very different as it invokes our leaders directly. I hate that I had fear in even putting my name on the petition…that there might be some “hand slapping” (although highly doubtful). But the fact that I even have such a concern after faithfully contributing so much of my time, energy, and life to this church is hugely problematic and indicative of the bigger problem. I just appreciate that I can talk to and meet people like you through the internet–it’s a lifesaver to be sure.

  52. Chris Kimball says:

    #46 Geoff-A: For what it’s worth, (I am confident about the present, and I know about the past) the general authorities receive lots of mail from lots of people. A fair interpretation of the “don’t communicate above local leaders” counsel is “don’t ask for or expect a personal and direct reply”. Who’s to stop you sending comments and suggestions to anyone? For a lot of good reasons you may never get an answer, so it may never be a “conversation”. But if you’re willing to make it a “no reply requested or expected” message, send away.

  53. Lorin, I’d say only RS, WoW, and Jethro’s advice involved someone being close to those in authority. The other examples, not really.

  54. It is so wonderful to have men tell women they are doing things wrong. Responses like Lorian’s, and everyone else who suggest that we (women who would like to have our voices heard) should simply look for those rare opportunities when a man might possibly be willing to listen to us.

    With 14 million members, most of us not in Utah, (and many with no desire to ever join the sanctimony that so many from Utah seem to adopt because they are in closer proximity to the middle of the Mormon universe) and with very little chance of having a “magic” moment where we could talk to anyone about those things that are hurtful, that could be changed without any doctrinal changes.

    I have had discussions with bishops and stake presidents, and each discussion has ended with the encouragement to do what I can in my own life, but that bishops and stake presidents are not in a position to pass along concerns about matters that do not impact their stewardships. “Feminist” concerns about equality are only the concern of a bishop or stake president if there is something in their ward or stake that is not in line with the current handbook.

    I admit, it has been several years since I have talked to a bishop or stake president about these concerns, but the last one I had was pretty frank. He couldn’t help me, but there were groups who were trying more direct actions to bring inequalities in the church out into the light. If that stake president, (who is not in Utah) did not think passing thoughts along would make a difference, why would another discussion with a local leader make a difference?

    This article seems especially appropriate to this discussion. http://m.motherjones.com/media/2012/08/problem-men-explaining-things-rebecca-solnit

  55. I agree with Lorin, there are a lot of political factors that are being brought up by this campaign that complicates the whole issue. For example, while All Enlisted has so far been picking at low fruit like women wearing pants at sacrament or women praying at general conference many of their leaders want major changes like women holding the priesthood. Many activists in their writings talk about going after low hanging fruit in order to build momentum to go after their real goals. Shifting from the pants protest (designed to get publicity within and without the church and get feminists to identify with the group) to demanding a change in prayers (designed to either get a precedent for further change or a way to leverage the church by saying its backward or sexist) shows that the group is not ignorant of activist tactics. To grant their request or would only embolden them to push for some other change.

    However, there is another key issue brought up in conjunction with the topic and that is the place of the prophets within the church. While women praying in conference is just a policy issue, that probably wouldn’t even need revelation to effect, much of the rhetoric around the debate over gender inequality insinuates that the prophets are somehow incompetent or out of touch. This issue is central to the claim that apostles are picked by God. Being a special witness of Christ isn’t something that happens to everyone it takes spiritual preparation. While they do have their problems, they are still picked by God (who btw knows about their problems and bias) and deserve a certain respect that is lacking in these online discussion. Change will come in the church because everyone of us needs to change. However, campaigns like this become divisive because they are exerting not kind persuasion but political force in order to get their own version of ‘progress’.

  56. 54. Wow, that’s quite the interesting take on my words and/or motives and attitudes. I’ll leave it at that.

  57. Liffey Banks says:

    This explanation contains BSG gifs, therefore what it says is true. When Lorin says, “… I’ll give you 2-1 odds that there are plenty of GA’s that already feel the same way. If so, I’ll give you 5-1 odds that most of them are in solidarity with the protesters and know that they mean well, but wish they’d chosen a less public way to agitate.” I completely agree with those odds. But, I also don’t know what other more politically savvy avenues there are for those of us wo want to see these (non-doctrinal, pretty tame) changes take place. We don’t have access to the political gatekeepers. We have no voice. Bishops and Stake Presidents are do not connect most of us to the top echelons of the church hierarchy; instead they function as barriers – 99% of signals sent that way are blocked. So while I agree that LWP/Pants might put some leaders on the defensive, the church PR dept. seems to be quite keen on courting public opinion. And if movements like this make the public say, “wha? women don’t pray in their biggest general meetings?” then there might be a change regular joes like us can affect change without the political capital it ordinarily requires.

  58. Buffy and Willow gif in a post about feminist issues?

    Now Casey’s just showing off! Yes, we all know you’re about to be translated to blogger heaven. Don’t rub it in!

  59. Liffey, Important point. If there is a kind of pressure that motivates change in the Church, it often seems to have come through the non-Mormon public. That’s not a critique or a swipe, just an observation of the facts.

  60. Not sure if anyone has mentioned this, but it would be great if you edited you post to add links to the Let Women Pray pages:

    There may be more I’m unaware of, you could check with Brad Kramer about that I guess.

  61. That is a great idea and a major oversight on my part…any admins who wish to add links to the FB group have my blessing.

  62. Bonnie Flint says:

    Yes, agitating in private is very productive, while agitating in public is so annoying. If only Rosa Parks had sat on her own couch to make a statement, or if MLK had “had a dream” in his livingroom. And those pesky suffragettes? Couldn’t they have just whispered sweet nothings in their super-egalitarian husbands’ ears to have achieved the vote? Thank you, men, for coming and telling us to pipe down.

  63. Bonnie (63)– hear, hear!

    Elle (3)– LOLcats make ANY argument or opinion better.

  64. BerkeleySatsuki says:

    I think Lorin makes some very good points. They are supported by my experiences with advocacy groups that go up against strong opponents. I think the real problem is that at this point there is no avenue of communication through which church members can air their grievances. If you write a letter to a GA, it is referred back to your local authority. If you complain to your local leader, it is unlikely that they will pass the message upward.

    I certainly understand that publicly agitating for women to pray in conference puts the GAs in a tricky spot. But on the other hand, the church leadership put themselves in this position by making it so difficult to ask for change in quiet, behind-the-scenes ways that the only other option to be heard is to resort to public protest. I am certain that Mormon feminists would have gone behind-the-scenes if they could have, but it has never been an option.

    In my experience, a small advocacy group going up against a strong opponent must at the first make a lot of noise by protesting, getting publicity, getting clear signs of public support, etc. before being taken seriously by the strong opponent. Once the advocacy group’s power is clear and the opponent is listening, if they are both smart, they will establish a line of communication so that grievances don’t have to be aired publicly anymore. From that point on, going behind-the-scenes is more effective.

    I see the public actions of Pants and Let Women Pray as the first step in that trajectory for Mormon feminists. Whether or not women pray in the next General Conference, if the church is smart, they will establish a more effective method of communication for members and top-level leaders, so that grievances like these don’t have to be so public in the future.

  65. Bonnie #63

    Ah, yes, now we invoke Rosa Parks. The Birmingham Bus Strike is a great template for how to deal with the Bull Connors of the world. I, on the other hand, am discussing what I believe to be the most effective way to deal with non-oppressive and reasonable people who could be persuaded see the justice of your cause.

    If you think church leadership resembles the former more than the latter, well, there’s probably little for us to discuss.

    There’s no need for bullhorns and posters when you could just figure out how to schedule an appointment.

  66. rameumptom says:

    I have to agree with Lorin over Bonnie on this. There is a big difference between women praying in GC and the bus boycott. Rosa Parks sat quietly on a bus as protest over a Constitutional right that was not allowed her. Violence was employed by government against peaceful marchers from Selma to Montgomery. I lived for many years in Montgomery, and knew some of Rosa Parks’ best friends and co-workers in getting freedom through those trials. Their attitude was very different than the militant sounds I hear from Bonnie. This is not to say that all feminists are militant, nor that some of their causes are not just. I personally think we should have women praying in GC.
    But a misreading of history, as Bonnie attempted, does not promote the good causes brought up in this post.

  67. Liffey Banks says:

    “There’s no need for bullhorns and posters when you could just figure out how to schedule an appointment.” I’d like information on how to do this. You make it seem easy-peasy. I’ve had people describe the bureaucracy involved getting anything through to the G15 the “Holy Hairball.” I’d like to be wrong.

  68. seems two camps are emerging – the “sit on your hands, the Brethren are inspired” and “visible and vocal is the only way to get the old fuddie duddies to listen and act”

  69. 68. “the G15 the “Holy Hairball.”
    Who in the world have you been listening to? “Holy Hairball?” Is that supposed to be some kind of affectionate term? Maybe you’ve been listening to the wrong people.

    69. Two camps, “sit on your hands, the Brethren are inspired”
    If I have been taken to be a member of that camp, then apparently I wasn’t very clear. To summarize:
    * Agitate: Yes.
    * Make your voice heard: Yes.
    * Try to force the hand of decision-makers so that their “yes” means accepting the public platform of people with whom they agree on some points but not others: No
    * Use change techniques that were developed for engaging with power-hungry people who refuse to be engaged: No

  70. Thanks, jeffc–it’s always helpful to strip people’s positions of all nuance and subtlety. (always=in high school debate tournaments)

  71. Liffey Banks says:

    And… yet… you still provide me with no evidence that just scheduling an appointment with a GA to voice my grievances is even possible. Because? It’s not. I’m nobody. I don’t have political capital or a media badge. My chances of getting my voice heard via a tête-à-tête with Elder Oaks is zilch. But in solidarity with all of my peers using pretty non-confrontational means? (c’mon, writing letters. seriously. it’s not like we’re burning bras in temple square or something.) Yes.

  72. 65 BerkeleySatsuki–Excellent insight.

    67 I don’t think Bonnie’s comment is representative of her overall attitude (although she can speak to that herself), and it seems a leap to compare her comment above to the attitude of Rosa Parks’ contemporaries that you knew. Most men and women agitating for this change are doing so from a place of love for the church and a desire to want to be here.

    The quiet forms of agitation have been very slow going re: women in the church. From my vantage point, I am tired of working quietly through the appropriate channels (very limited) and my quiet feminist influence in my callings in the church. I want to have a voice. I’d love to hear what some of the more prominent, elderly LDS feminist have to say about this movement. Perhaps this is a general shift that younger Mormon feminists feel ready to be vocal again despite Mormon feminist experience in the 1990’s…?

  73. Fwiw, there is a genuine “Sit on your hands, the Brethren are inspired” camp, as I discovered yesterday when a friend chatted me one of HIS friend’s responses to the this piece: basically, it’s a bunch of radical feminists agitating and I shouldn’t be encouraging them, and I’d probably like John Dehlin because he’s apostate and I’d be into that HINT HINT, and so on (and I was like DUDE, did he even READ the piece because I anticipated and responded to the “radical” accusation up-front!). However, I don’t really see anyone like that in these comments; most of the skeptics here seem to be focusing more on tactics rather than campaign’s end goals. Thus far, I think most of the opinions have been expressed in good faith, which is pretty good for a thread with over 50 comments (now, if we get past 100 without a Battle Royale flame ware breaking out I’ll be amazed because that’s just how the internet works).

  74. 72.
    “And… yet… you still provide me with no evidence that just scheduling an appointment with a GA to voice my grievances is even possible.” — See last paragraph of 48. I didn’t claim it was easy. But it happens all the time. Easier if you represent a group rather than an individual. Far easier if that group has established credibility for acting in good faith, building bridges, and displaying the charitable and open-minded attributes that they would ask of others.

    “But in solidarity with all of my peers using pretty non-confrontational means? (c’mon, writing letters. seriously.” — I see no problem with that per se. As long as the goal is to establish relationships and common ground, not to pin an “opponent” in the corner.

    73. “The quiet forms of agitation have been very slow going re: women in the church.” Yup. The church moves slowly on many things, and I don’t see that changing. I’m just saying that with public agitation, you’d better choose you battles and your spokesmen carefully, or the pace of change will slow down even more. It’s all about relationships. Groups can have relationships with institutions and get a lot done. But again, it helps if members of the group have established common ground and credibility among the members of the institution that they are petitioning.

  75. Lorin – How kind of you to reject me out of hand. I am aware that a sarcastic response may not gain your respect, but it is about what you deserve.

    To all those who do not like “some goals” of “some feminists,” does that means that no goals of any feminists should be addressed? Because there are quite a few prominent Mormons who during the last election cycle who were proposing a lot of unChristlike behaviors and public policies. Should I lump all members of my ward who share their political party together and ignore anything they say about politics and gospel subjects, because some of the people in a group they identify with dismissed victims of rape and abuse? Of course not. I am smart enough to know that not all conservative Republicans believe that a woman’s body can shut down and prevent a pregnancy after a woman has been raped.

    There are a ton of other issues that we could talk about that, where the church handbook has a clear explanation of the expectations for church members, but the platforms of both major political parties are not in line with the church’s official position. It would be disingenuous to say that ALL Republicans, ALL Democrats are not trustworthy and should not have their questions of doctrine addressed because there are elements of their party platforms that clearly to do conform with the CHI’s stance on an issue.
    If church members were asked to only join political parties or social justice organizations that confirmed with current CHI rules, then ALL Members of the church would be required to change their voter registration to become non-party affiliated voters. That isn’t required though, because the church, and I believe the gospel, is willing to let members follow the dictates of their own conscience. For me, that means being a non-affiliated voter. For example, I choose to vote for ballot measures, without obsession about what other ballot measures the group putting them forward might have done in the past, or what they might like to do in the future. If the law that is being proposed is reasonable (to me) and the benefits are worth the costs (to me) I am very likely to vote in favor of it. Most feminists I know feel similarly about feminist actions/protests. The fact that some feminists have different long term goals than others is a reality, but it is no different a reality than that different members of a political party may see different parts of a party platform differently.

    As to *this* particular Mormon feminist action/protest, I choose to support it because its goals are reasonable, and it highlights two very problematic issues in the LDS church; inequality in gender representation within General Conference, and the lack of channels for people (men or women) to have a dialogue with anyone beyond our local leaders. The “just make an appointment” rhetoric is both a straw man and a completely Utah-centric view of the church. It has no real applicability to the vast majority of men and women who are members of the church. Should I request not only an appointment but also that the GA fly to where I am, since my health does not currently allow me to travel? Should everyone who has written a letter start making these appointments, and will you help facilitate them? Choosing not to participate in and particular action/protest is a perfectly valid choice for someone who does not agree with its goals. For many feminists this IS the softer, less public way to acknowledge and highlight the reality that there currently exists no system to facilitate between women and men who have real questions for the General Authorities. If you are not going to offer realistic alternatives, forgive us if we ignore your discomfort.

  76. Liffey Banks says:

    Well Lorin, it looks like we could use your expertise on coalition building with important folks, because I really believe that having “insiders” would be an incredible benefit to the equality we’re seeking.

  77. 76. Julia, you have (twice) mistaken me for someone who is unsympathetic to the cause being espoused in the original post. Hence, my terse response in 56. And here.

  78. 75 Lorin – I agree that relationships are the key. It’s hard to know exactly how to move forward in having an official representative, though, as there is no one “President” of Mormon feminists, etc, and there probably will never be.

    “But again, it helps if members of the group have established common ground and credibility among the members of the institution that they are petitioning.” I understand the broader picture of what you’re saying here. That said, it’s just a darn pity that so many Latter-day Saints see that Mormon feminists who have given their whole life, energy, and faith to the church have no common ground or credibility.

    76 – juliathepoet – Amen.

  79. 77. This is a good example of the limitations of the written word. Your comment was heavy on the irony, I presume?

  80. “There currently exists no system to facilitate between women and men who have real questions for the General Authorities.” Agreed. And perhaps that itself is the first message that needs to get through to church leadership.

  81. Liffey Banks says:

    Nope, no irony intended. I really have a testimony of pragmatism above anything else, and the shot-gun approach to achieving equality in the church seems the most likely to succeed. And you did seem to imply that you know a lot about that, so you should join All Enlisted and help get the ball rolling.

  82. 79. While I doubt that the people involved in the “pants” or “prayers” movements deserve any of the blame, the “feminist” brand has suffered a lot of damage over the years in church contexts, and it is some self-appointed spokespeople of feminism who have done most of that damage.

    Today’s Mormon feminists are trying to surmount a lot of challenges, but the biggest challenge is the association many members and leaders have with the term “Mormon feminist.” It’s perceived in many quarters as a fringe movement of hard-left women who are all about “speaking truth to power against the oppressive patriarchy” and have one foot out of the church already. (I’m not saying that’s accurate, I’m just reporting here — please don’t shoot the messenger.)

    The agenda of today’s Mormon feminists will gain traction only as quickly as the agenda and participants nurture the perception that the homes of Mormon feminists have a picture of Jesus Christ over the mantle and not Sonia Johnson.

    Again, please don’t shoot the messenger. But this is the mentality Mormon feminists have to deal with, both among leaders and the rank and file. I don’t think I’m delivering a news flash. I’m just saying, today’s tactics and rhetoric need to speak to today’s members and leaders, and some of the ideas and rhetoric I hear on the Bloggernacle is probably going to be dismissed by many as simply a variation of ideas and attitudes they already rejected.

  83. Thanks, Lorin, for your grounded, pragmatic, and sympathetic comments. It’s also nice to have someone with relevant experience commenting on this issue. I am sorry to see some commenters (54, 76) jump so quickly to uncharitable (and hyper gender-sensitive) assumptions. Our mutual concerns about gender parity in the Church certainly don’t need any more hostility than what has already been generated, and feminism could certainly use more of a collaborative, co-gender, less-adverserial approach than what is sometimes presented.

    On another note, I would be interested in hearing more experiences of people trying to speak with local, regional, etc., authorities. I mostly have seen out-of-hand dismissals of the idea. I understand some may have had limited success with it, but I am curious to see a greater representative sample of how many have actually tried it.

  84. 83 Lorin – Of course, you are right in terms of our image. But I really think Pants and LWP can help destroy some of those images by lettings us feminists “come out” to our fellow ward members and families. (Okay, we know the backlash has been super heavy on the “those Feminists are crazy and unrighteous,” and I’m sure many view these movements as doing further damage to our image). But Pants for me was a fantastic way for me to say to my ward brothers and sisters, “I’m a Feminist, and look what form of a Feminist can be in this church.” When Pants day came, I had just completed serving as RSP in my ward, and I hope that in some small way I was able to shatter those extreme assumptions of what a Mormon feminist is. So I guess it is in these baby steps that we can help move the image forward in a healthy understanding among members (even at the cost of a general backlash). As you stated earlier, it’s all about relationships, and as I find a way to talk personally about these issues with some of my sisters and brothers in the church, they won’t find what I represent as so scary.

  85. I think technically members are encouraged to address questions of doctrine and personal matters to their Bishop, who, if he can’t answer them, takes them to the SP, and on up the latter. Handbook 2, 21.1.24. I don’t see suggestions about who could give prayers in GC as a doctrinal issue, though perhaps one exists. If so, I’m not aware of it. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that is “spiritual guidance, weighty personal problem or doctrinal question.” Therefore, presuming it is non-doctrinal, then I think you can address this kind of issue directly to church authorities. No different than commenting on some lesson in a manual or otherwise respectfully offering suggestions to curriculum and other issues. Also, GA’s often hold question and answer sessions in connection with leadership meetings and stake conferences. That is another avenue for directly engage a GA. Concerned members might also write their auxilary leader (General RS President?) to suggest the change. Like some have mentioned, I personally think “petitions and bull horns” belong in the political arena only. I don’t think organized letter writing campaigns are proper, either. We’re all baptized members of the church. There shouldn’t be any “groups” that form for quasi-political purposes. If you feel strongly enough about some policy or practice and you think it’s not a personal or spiritual or doctrinal issue, then write a letter. But don’t write it to get on a bandwagon with a bunch of other people. This is the kind of issue that, if it meant that much to you, should have engendered a letter long ago.

  86. BerkeleySatsuki says:

    I would also be interested in hearing experiences of people who felt like their complaints to local leaders were in fact passed up the chain of command and were successfully addressed by church headquarters. My first inclination is to be somewhat skeptical. If it works, it takes an enormous amount of time, and is mostly effective on very large issues. Possibilities: priesthood for all members (there were lots of letters to church headquarters on that, I believe), changing the young women / young men manuals (I also know there were letters to headquarters about that too), and….?

    I have seen local complaints lead to local change. But the only instance I know of where local complaints led to an issue being address on a church-wide level is when Chieko Okazaki took on the topic of sexual abuse as a result of hearing about the problem through stake leaders before a stake conference.

    Can anyone think of other examples of local complaints leading to church-wide policy change?

  87. “Can anyone think of other examples of local complaints leading to church-wide policy change?”

    #89 – I think many, if not most, non-doctrinal changes in the past 20 years have been generated by input at the local level, whether that be by traditional methods of sharing concerns “up the chain”, volume of letters expressing the same concern, discussion on a visible public forum like this one, feedback from question and answer sessions at local meetings, feedback from Stake President and Bishop training meetings or the polling the Church does regularly of average members.

    Sometimes, it has been the result of members simply ignoring counsel (like the decades-old attempt to discourage oral sex) and the more confident ones laughing at their local leaders when the question was asked.

  88. BerkeleySatsuki says:

    90 Ray – Then it sounds to me like Let Women Pray is doing exactly the right thing with the methods of communication over which they have control: generating lots of letters, and creating public discussion. If I ever get to be at a QA session or receive a poll from the church, I will bring the issue up.

  89. BerkeleySatsuki says:

    90 Ray – I think you are right that changes originate in input from a variety of channels. This is why I have my doubts that just telling one’s bishop to report a problem up the chain ever works. There are so many junctions on that road to church headquarters where the message can get lost…it seems like more direct routes like letter writing and generating publicity would be much more effective. And all of those methods together should be even more convincing.

  90. BerkeleySatsuki says:

    #87 – Totally agree. Well said.

  91. Women have been badly hurt by, and complaining widely (but nice and quiet as is our dutiful way) for at least 3 or 4 decades about the stupid temple baptism menstruation problem. Nothing ever changed. Utter and complete failure.

    Big noise and publicity by Mormon feminists: changed in all temples worldwide in 1 week.

    Can you explain that, Lorin?

  92. QED

  93. “seems two camps are emerging – the ‘sit on your hands, the Brethren are inspired’…”

    If we’re sitting on our hands, how can we raise our right hands to the square? Our gracious Heavenly Father didn’t give us two hands to just sit on them. He gave us two hands so that we could be anxiously engaged in a good cause.

    I grew up hearing about Sonia Johnson renting a plane to fly over temple square. One conference, my father made sure we were all listening to the conference session the time when the call to sustain President Kimball came over the airwaves, followed closely by a loud group of feminists in the tabernacle yelling, “No!”

    Yes, these are the experiences modern-day Mormon Feminists have to battle. Some of those men are still in the Quorum of the Twelve. President Monson certainly is. I look at the pants and this letter writing campaign as really very tame, not just in comparison, but by any standard. Actually, the ones who are doing a pretty admirable job of making themselves look bad are the ones who are giving the most vitriolic backlash to these movements.

    Do I think anything will actually come of this campaign? Perhaps. When I’m a grandmother (a good decade, at least–hopefully). Does that mean I shouldn’t participate? Don’t we teach our youth to speak up when they are at a party and someone shows and “R” rated movie? We are speaking up because we have been taught to speak up when we see something that is not right. When our youth speak up in certain settings, they may not change the behavior of the group, but at least they spoke. To me, it’s not about the change that will happen, if it does. It’s about speaking up about something I feel to be right, and praying for the Spirit to be with me and helping me to choose the right words.

    One last thing, I used to live in close proximity to apostles and there were many feminists right there with me. Believe me, the Brethren are not out of touch with this movement and there are probably plenty of men and women telling them in the hallways at church their opinions. There are also plenty of people in the hallway telling them the opposite point of view. If anything, let’s just pray for the Brethren. They are really in a double-bind. We can all pray for them.

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