Over the last five months, Mormon feminist activism has been on the rise. Wear Pants to Church Day in December garnered national press coverage, and the Ordain Women movement, launched in March, boldly called for Mormon leaders to change Church policy against ordaining women. Another activist project launched in January, Let Women Pray, gathered 300 letters from Mormons asking Church leaders to invite a woman to pray for the first time in LDS General Conference. This was a strategic request: organizers of the project deliberately targeted breaking down a traditional practice that excluded women, not a formal rule. There is no policy stating that women can’t pray in General Conference – it’s simply been the tradition throughout the Mormonism’s history that men give these prayers.
I was skeptical of the Let Women Pray project, I admit. Grassroots agitation does not often lead to quick changes in the LDS Church. There is also something about writing to ask for change (begging?) that makes me feel uncomfortable and powerless. But raising my voice to agitate, no matter the form, ultimately seemed preferable to remaining silent, so in February I sat down to write my letter.
While I initially was hyper aware of my institutional powerlessness when I thought about writing this letter, the actual writing of it felt empowering. In this letter I told my leaders all that I loved about my tradition’s teachings – Heavenly Mother, eternal progression, personal revelation, and divine potential – and that I was proud to pass these ideas on to my children. What I was not proud to pass on was Mormonism’s structural erasure of women. I told them that the lack of women’s visibility in Mormon leadership was disturbing to me, and that I hoped for the day when women as well as men were held up equally as spiritual authorities in Mormon lessons, sermons, and conferences. Inviting a woman to pray in General Conference would, I said, be an important symbolic gesture indicating that Church leaders value women’s voices and spiritual leadership.
In making my request for the inclusion of women in General Conference prayers, perhaps I was in some sense playing into and acknowledging my own powerlessness. Yet by the end of that letter, I felt good about it. I had been honest about my feelings. I had taken the risk of revealing myself to my leaders. I had articulated my vision of all that my tradition could and should be. I had given them insight into ways they could further include women. Writing that letter for me was an act of hope that my leaders just might actually listen to us.
In the daunting quest for gender equality in Mormonism, this step forward was tiny, I know. But to us Mormon feminists it felt bigger than that. We spoke up, we acted collectively, and we helped to bring about change. When the next Mormon feminist letter campaign arises, I’ll be much quicker to pick up my pen.
Caroline is completing her coursework for her Ph.D. in religion with a focus on women’s studies in religion. Her areas of interest revolve around the intersections of Mormon and feminist theology and the study of contemporary Mormon feminist communities. She is the co-founder of the Mormon feminist blog, The Exponent.