“Wear Pants to Church” Sunday Brings Attention to Women’s Issues
At a time when LDS leaders affirm that God created men and women with “complementary relationships and functions” (Ensign, Oct 2004, 84), a new wave of Mormon feminists seem ready to challenge LDS traditions and policies that they interpret as signs of institutional inequality.
Last December, Stephanie Lauritzen, a 26-year-old Mormon woman from Salt Lake City, organized a “Wear Pants to Church” event to be carried out on Sunday, 16 December 2012. According to Catherine Jeppsen, a BYU sociology instructor who supported the action, the purpose of the event was “to challenge cultural expectations and start a conversation about gender equality in the Mormon Church.”
The idea was first announced at All Enlisted, a closed Facebook group describing itself as “a place of action where active LDS men and women can engage in acts of peaceful resistance to gender inequality in the LDS church.”
“Logically and doctrinally, it stands to reason that women are equal to men in the eyes of our Heavenly Parents,” the All Enlisted Facebook page affirms. “Thus, women’s realm of influence is, and ought to be, much broader than those defined and promulgated by existing church policy.”
The event sparked strong, even enraged, reactions. Lauritzen receive threats on her personal Facebook account. The Facebook event page was shut down after Travis James Richardson, a BYU philosophy major, posted, “every single person who is a minority activist, should be shot.. in the face… point blank… GET OVER YOURSELVES.” Event organizers contacted BYU Police, who referred the threat to the BYU Honor Code Office.
“What is wrong with all you women???” JoEllen Swarts of Las Vegas wrote on one All Enlisted page. “If you’re not happy with the LDS church, move on, find another place of worship. You will not change Mormon Doctrine.”
“I think wearing pants is not liberating,” Michael Durham, an LDS bishop in Green Valley, Nevada, told Timothy Pratt for a story that was published in the New York Times. “Liberation comes from inside. I’m not sure they have a clear understanding of the church’s position on gender.”
LDS author and blogger Joanna Brooks described the event as “the largest concerted Mormon feminist action in history.”
“It’s not pants or the right to wear pants that tops the list of Mormon feminist priorities,” Brooks wrote in Religion Dispatches. “It’s the need for thoughtful conversation about how traditional gender inequalities—like the gender segregation of non-priesthood Church administrative responsibilities, or the fact that in some congregations young men’s programming receives more resources than young women’s programming, or the unwritten rule against talk about Heavenly Mother—shape the spiritual lives of Mormon men and women.”
Partially because of the controversy generated, the Wear Pants to Church event received media attention from the New York Times, the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, and many blogs and electronic media outlets.
On 15 January, General Young Women President Elaine Dalton made a statement that some interpreted as a direct response to the action.
“Young women, you will be the ones who will provide the example of virtuous womanhood and motherhood,” Dalton said at a BYU devotional. “You will continue to be virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy and of good report. You will also be the ones to provide an example of family life in a time when families are under attack, being redefined and disintegrating. You will understand your roles and your responsibilities and thus will see no need to lobby for rights.”
Dalton’s statements produced hundreds of comments on LDS feminist online groups and blogs.
“We call our sisters to join with us in writing to President Dalton and request clarification as to what she meant about lobbying for rights,” the Board of LDS WAVE (Women Advocating for Voice and Equality) wrote in a 30 January call to action. “Through the gentle power of our voices, experiences and stories, we can share with her why women’s rights are so important to us and attempt to resolve the contention around her comments. As the hymn says, we are sisters in Zion and we have the divine instruction to all work together to build the kingdom where all may be edified (D&C 84:110).”
A Larger Movement
The Wear Pants to Church action is part of a larger movement promoted by LDS women who use blogs, Facebook groups, and other social networks to discuss issues and organize actions. These groups include Feminist Mormon Housewives, LDS WAVE, Zelophehad’s Daughters, and the-exponent.com, a blog associated with the longstanding Mormon women’s publication Exponent II. The Mormon Women’s Forum, another longstanding organization dedicated to discussing women’s issues, organizes the Counterpoint conference in Salt Lake City every fall.
Some women associated with these forums contributed to the March 2012 issue of Sunstone magazine, which focused on women’s roles and experiences, as well as scriptural perspectives on women and reflections on the Mormon concept of a Heavenly Mother.
“None of us will ever be whole as long as the divine mother remains so silent and invisible that what we consider ‘salvation’ can be achieved without knowledge of her,” guest editor Holly Welker reflects in an afterword to the issue. “We need her explicit presence in our sermons, our theology, and above all, in our prayers and in our lives” (Sunstone, March 2012, 80).
On a 26 February blog entry at Feminist Mormons Housewives, Nat Kelly argues that even though Mormon feminists are united in the kind of change they would like to see in the Church, “we have more difficulty in finding agreement when it comes to deciding how to go about creating that change.”
Kelly believes that strategic principles can be successfully applied to build “a strong, comprehensive campaign for change,” and she credits the “Wear Pants to Church” Sunday initiative for channeling women’s desire for change into effective action.
“‘Pants’ was hugely successful,” Kelly writes. “It challenged thinking, but in a way that was safe enough for many, many fence-sitters to come over to our side. It was simple and direct and very high ground. It had thousands of supporters the world over.”
Emboldened by the success of “Wear Pants to Church” Sunday, All Enlisted launched an initiative on 11 January called Let Women Pray in General Conference. The letter-writing campaign asks Church leaders to do something unprecedented: invite a woman to pray during the April 2013 General Conference. (All general conference prayers are currently assigned to general authorities and therefore to men)
The campaign quotes a 1978 statement from then-President Spencer W. Kimball, who said that “there is no scriptural prohibition against sisters offering prayers” and that it is “permissible for sisters to offer prayers in any meetings they attend.”
“Since 1984, women have been regularly asked to speak in General Conference,” All Enlisted explained on its Facebook page. “We applaud that change, and now ask for President Kimball’s words to be reconsidered and more broadly applied. In 2013, we hope to see a woman offer a prayer in General Conference. We appeal to the leadership of our Church to show their support for greater gender equality by recognizing the ability and worthiness of LDS women to represent their church in prayer.”
New Edition of LDS Scriptures Brings Changes, Big and Small
On 1 March, the LDS Church announced a new edition of the English scriptures with changes in some headings in the Doctrine and Covenants, to the introduction to the Pearl of Great Price, and to the spelling and punctuation of all the Standard Works. Changes were made in such a way that they don’t affect page numbers.
“With the advances that have occurred in historical research and printing technologies, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have approved the incorporation of various adjustments in this new edition,” explains a First Presidency letter to all English-language Church units.
Observers have commented particularly on changes made to the headings of Section 132 and Official Declaration Two. Section 132’s reference to “plurality of wives” has been changed to “the principle of plural marriage.” The new heading to Official Declaration 2 explains that “during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood,” but that after the ban was imposed “Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance.”
Darius Gray, former president of the Genesis group, a support organization for black Mormons, praised the new heading to Official Declaration Two. “The language is more forthcoming than anything we’ve previously had on the past priesthood restriction,” he said, “so I take great pleasure in seeing the changes.”
The introduction to the Pearl of Great Price, which previously called the Book of Abraham “a translation of the writings of Abraham,” now calls it “an inspired translation of the writings of Abraham.”
Since the 1960s, scholars have said that extant portions of the Joseph Smith Papyri bear no relation to the Book of Abraham text. This has led some Latter-day Saints to argue that the book is the product of prophetic inspiration rather than a literal translation of an ancient text.
Missionary Age Lowered to 18 for Males, 19 for Females
“all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of eighteen, instead of age nineteen,” President Thomas S. Monson said as he opened general conference last October. “I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available.”
Monson explained that the minimum age requirement is country-specific, and Church leaders are pleased with the results of having allowed male missionaries to serve at age eighteen in other countries.
For women, the age requirement was lowered from twenty-one to nineteen. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Jeffery R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained that there is still a difference between the age for men and women because “there needs to be at least some separation.” When asked why Church leaders didn’t extend the service by women from eighteen months to two years, Holland quipped, “One miracle at a time.”
“He did note that officials had considered doing so,” Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote for the Salt Lake Tribune, “but wanted to see how this change played out.”
Two weeks after the announcement was made, applications for missionary service had jumped from 700 to 4,000 a week.
Because of this dramatic increase in the size of its missionary force, the LDS Church announced on 1 March the creation of 58 new missions, including 23 in Latin America, 17 in the U.S., and five in Africa. Six of the new missions will cover areas where missions had been recently closed, including Australia Sidney North, Georgia Macon, and Japan Tokyo South. Angola, Botswana, and Liberia are receiving their first missions.
In order to accommodate the training of more missionaries, the Church announced the closure of Benemérito de las Américas, the high school the LDS Church has been operating in Mexico City since 1964. The building will be transformed into the Church’s second largest Missionary Training Center, accommodating missionaries called to serve in Mexico and other Latin American countries.
“This hallowed ground where we sit tonight will become more and more sacred with each passing year,” Elder Holland said at a special meeting held at Benemérito last January. “Better, higher, and holier purposes will be fulfilled here that will bless the lives of generations yet unborn and help them become what God intends that we become.”
The change is also having significant consequences in the Utah college system, where a Utah Board of Regents report suggested an enrollment decline could translate into the State university system losing 10 percent of its revenue. Responding to the projected drop in enrollment and revenue, the Utah Legislature passed a law in February allowing more out-of-state students to pay in-state Utah tuition.
Some observers, including parents of prospective missionaries, question whether an 18-year-old is mature enough to serve a mission. David Stewart, a Mormon physician from Las Vegas who tracks LDS growth, told the Salt Lake Tribune that the change is a “two-edged sword.”
“Yes, we can send young men out there before they engage in some bad behaviors,” Stewart said. “But there is a big difference in maturity between 18 and 19 years old. Eighteen-year-olds haven’t been independent, haven’t learned to get along with roommates, and haven’t yet functioned in society.”