In August 2012, the Salt Lake Tribune published what it described as a compilation of suggestions from Mormon feminists as to how the LDS Church could raise the profile of women in the Church. The link to the full article is here. The suggestions include having a female leader present when young women must talk to their bishop about sexual matters, having mothers hold their babies during the baby blessing, having Brigham Young University appoint its first female president, and several others. The full list is given below. We'd like our readers to tell us their reaction to these suggestions. Are there some you especially endorse? Others you aren't so enthusiastic about? Are there other actions that you would like to see on this list? Let us know, and we'll publish your responses!


Full Citation for this Article: Editorial Board, SquareTwo Journal (2012) "Readers' Puzzle for Summer 2012: Reaction to the Nine Suggestions for How the LDS Church Could Raise Women's Profile?" SquareTwo, Vol. 5 No. 2 (Summer), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleReadersPuzzleNineSuggestions.html , [give access date]

Would you like to comment on this article? Thoughtful, faithful comments of at least 200 words are welcome. Please submit to SquareTwo.

COMMENTS: 3 Comments

1) Julie Ford Brenning

I’d like to give my response in the context of the “Two Trees” as presented by V.H. Cassler (http://www.fairlds.org/fair-conferences/2010-fair-conference/2010-the-two-trees).  I find this a suitable and appropriate analogy to understanding how males and females contribute to the human hope and realization of eternal life. The first tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, is under the stewardship of Eve. She eats first, knowing how important it is to begin brining life into the world. Mothers across the earth usher in new spirits and are the child’s first teacher of what is “good” and what is “evil”. The second tree’s fruit is plucked by the hand of Adam, and provides the ordinances and covenants of salvation.  The people of the earth can accept the gifts from these trees by the hand of Eve and the hand of Adam. So below, as suggested by LDS feminists, is a list of possible “gifts” that Eve can give. Are they appropriate to her tree? Does it even matter? Will it actually raise women’s profile? Let’s look at each one and assess, according to doctrine, the importance (or unimportance) of each “gift”. I will mostly be referencing the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) and Handbook 2: Administering the Church, as these documents lay out the Latter-day functions and daily performances of the Church.

We know in the D&C that Bishops are given the responsibility to be “Judges in Israel” (D&C 17:72). This responsibility lies clearly in the giving of the fruit of the second tree. Bishops hold the power of opening and closing the gate to receiving the fruit of salvation. If the meaning of “pastoral authority” is to judge the young women’s worthiness, then I would say this does not fall under Eve’s tree, but Adams. If the meaning of “pastoral authority” is to be a guide or comfort for the young women, then I could definitely see this being acceptable.

I believe the answer to this question lies in the meaning of “witnesses”. In the Doctrine and Covenants women can be witnesses of an excommunication council (D&C 42:80), as missionaries proclaiming the Gospel, of the records of the church (such as the plates of the Book of Mormon), and many other activities that bear testimony of truth. The question lies in whether women can be witnesses to ordinances and covenants that are solely performed by Priesthood holders. Does it require that another man be a witness of the giving of these gifts? In D&C 128:3-4, we learn that the Lord has called men who hold and honor the Priesthood as “recorders” for the Church. These recorders write down and record the ordinances and covenants of all Church members, and must be present to witness the performances. When he records, “naming also some three individuals that are present, if there be any present, who can at any time when called upon certify to the same, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (D&C 128:3, emphasis added). It seems clear to me that these “three” or “two” witnesses can be any individual present, male or female. The main responsibility is that the Priesthood holder must record the ordinance, but not necessarily be the two witnesses. This is also reiterated in D&C 127:6-7 in reference to witnesses of baptisms for the dead. It only requires that there be “two witnesses” and does not stipulate that they must be male Priesthood holders.  But alas, perhaps tradition of recorder has been mulled into a tradition of witnesses as well. In the “Handbook 2: Administering the Church,” under “Priesthood Ordinances and Blessings,” in 20.3 Baptism and Confirmation, 20.3.7, it reads, “Two priests or Melchizedek Priesthood holders witness each baptism to make sure it is performed properly.” The reference gives no justification, no scripture, and no further information. I believe that the practice of witnesses can be part of the giving of the gift of Eve’s tree, as she witnesses Adam give his fruit and witnesses her children be blessed. 

In D&C 20:70 it reads that, “Every member of the church of Christ having children is to bring them unto the elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name.” What are the requirements for a baby blessing? 1. Elders, or Priesthood holders, perform the blessing, 2. They lay their hands upon the baby, and 3, Bless him/her in the name of Christ. The physical touch in ordinances seems to be very important in all blessings. So, in answer to this question, if the Mother holds the baby and as long as the Priesthood holders giving the blessing can physically lay hands upon the baby simultaneously, I see no problems in the Mother holding her baby. Is this important? In my opinion, I find it simply inconvenient for the mother and all the priesthood holders to hold the baby at once (for simple purposes of breathing room), but if the mother wants to be a part of it, then she can.

In most instances, the idea of blessing girls along with the boys lays within the bounds of the home, not the Bishop. The father gives the gift of blessings to his children, and as stated above, when a young boy turns 12, 14, and 16 he receives special Priesthood blessings. Therefore, the father can simply turn to his daughters and also give them a blessing at the same age. In my home, my father gave blessings to all his children whenever it was needed. In fact, when I became a beehive (age 12), mia-maid (age 14), and laurel (age 16) he gave me a blessing. I see no reason for the Bishop to be giving this blessing, as this clearly lies under the father’s jurisdiction. If the father is unworthy or not present, the mother or daughter can simply request a blessing from her home teacher or Bishop when her daughters reach these ages. Formalizing these blessings in the Church for young women at these particular ages, in my eyes, would serve no purpose and would only be redundant.

This is a more serious and important “gift” that needs some detailed analysis. If women were to preside and conduct at these meetings, I believe it would send strong messages to both members and non-members alike. When these meetings ought to be held will be discussed at the end of this section.
Before we get into the doctrinal definition of “preside,” let us look back at the analogy of the “two trees.” Adam and his male posterity gives the gifts (the preaching of the Gospel, the ordinances and covenants) of this tree to all mankind, both male and female. Male Priesthood holders “preside” at male, female and mixed gendered meetings (there is no discrimination). Therefore, it begs the question, is the responsibility of “presiding” at church meetings a gift of Adam’s tree or can it be shared? Also, can women conduct a meeting?
I believe that the word “preside” connotes two meanings depending on the context, so let’s make sure we are discussing the same meaning. In the home, “With his wife as an equal partner, he presides in righteousness and love, serving as the family’s spiritual leader” (Handbook 2: Administering the Church, 2.3 The Priesthood and the Family). What about presiding in General Church meetings, such as the General Relief Society meeting? A General Church meeting falls under the jurisdiction of the Prophet. In D&C 107:91-92, revelation tells us that the “…duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church…” Therefore, if a general meeting of the Church is held, it is the Prophet’s duty to preside. Can he delegate this power to a Relief Society General President? There is actually nothing that says he can’t, but from what I could find, the “presiding” at official church meetings is done by one who holds the keys and authority to do so. Sister Julie B. Beck, the current General Relief Society President clarifies:
            “We work in partnership with priesthood leaders, who hold keys which give them authority to preside in the name of the Lord. We operate in the manner of the priesthood—which means that we seek, receive, and act on revelation;  make decisions in councils; and concern ourselves with caring for individuals one by one. Ours is the priesthood purpose to prepare ourselves for the blessings of eternal life by making and keeping covenants. Therefore, like our brethren who hold the priesthood, ours is a work of salvation, service, and becoming a holy people” (General Conference, October 2009, Relief Society: a Sacred Work).

From this statement, it seems clear that the Prophet or one he delegates (no where that says it can’t be a women leader) must be present at all general church meetings.

But can the Relief Society President conduct the meeting? In the Relief Society meetings held in the local wards and branches, Relief Society sisters conduct the meetings. I have witnessed these meetings where a Bishop was presiding at the RS meeting, but indeed, he did not conduct the meeting. From what I can see, it is therefore not a requirement that the one presiding need necessarily conduct the meeting. The Handbook 2: Administering the Church, Meetings in the Church states, “The presiding officer may conduct a meeting or ask a counselor or someone else to conduct it under his or her direction” (emphasis added). Therefore when the Prophet presides at a General Relief Society or Young Women’s meeting, the women leaders can conduct and “operate in the manner of the priesthood—which means that we seek, receive, and act on revelation” in these meetings (Julie B. Beck, General Conference, October 2009, Relief Society: a Sacred Work).

As far as I can tell, there is no doctrine stipulating on what weekend these meetings ought to be held. I believe they – meaning the General Priesthood meeting and the General Relief Society meeting – have been split up for convenience purposes. The parking spaces at the Conference Center and having that many people in one place in one weekend may be a security and fire code issue. Another issue is that General Authorities strive to be present at General Conference and doing it the same weekend as the Priesthood meeting is simply convenient for them. To resolve this issue, simply switch every other year: the General Priesthood meeting can be the week before, and the General Relief Society can be the weekend of General Conference, and then switch the next year.

Knowing that the Priesthood’s main responsibility is the administering of the Gospel and its ordinances and covenants, and knowing that the Humanitarian and Welfare department doesn’t actually perform any of these duties directly, I see no reason why women should not head this department. The Presiding Bishop oversees this department, and “… counsel(s) with other Church leaders regarding … temporal matters such as tithing and fast offerings, welfare programs, humanitarian service, building projects, and much more.” (http://www.lds.org/church/leaders/presiding-bishopric?lang=eng). Relief Society and Young Women leaders are included under “Church leaders,” therefore there is no doctrinal or even Church policies stipulating that it must be a male priesthood holder that heads this department (that I am able to find).

On the Humanitarian and Welfare website it reads, “In addition to small, personal acts of service, Mormons give large, organized assistance to areas in need. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has donated more than $1 billion in cash and material assistance to 167 different countries in need of humanitarian aid since it started keeping track in 1985” (http://mormon.org/humanitarian-aid?gclid=CNmL7JHtj7ICFeeDQgodhSIAPA). The Relief Society theme is “Charity Never Faileth” and what better way to manifest charity than to head the humanitarian and welfare department?

This “gift” of Eve seems very superficial, yet oddly important to me. When I was little, I liked to look at the pictures of the Twelve Apostles and General Authorities in the Ensigns. I remember asking my parents, “Where are the women leaders of the church?” and they didn’t really have a sufficient answer. I’m not even going to look, as I know there is no doctrinal or policy reason why the women leaders of the church should not also be with the Brethren in these photos. We can easily change this and it should be changed, showing that indeed, within the LDS Church, men and women lead together as equal partners.

Ward and Stake Callings - I was actually called in 2010 in my BYU Singles ward as the “Ward Mission Leader Co-chair.” There were co-chairs (male and female) for Sunday School President, Ward Mission Leaders, etc. The policy of the church is that it is up to the Bishop how and who he wants to call people to callings. So, let’s start spreading the word that this can easily be changed! But, unfortunately I was not allowed to attend the Mission Leader Training Meeting as it was for Priesthood Brethren only (I think this should gradually be changed as we make callings more in line with parity). And also as a side note, Clerks are officially the “record keepers” of the Church (see D&C 128:3-4) and falls under the giving and recording of the fruit of the second tree.

Checking Temple Recommends – This is not an ordinance or a covenant, but simply a check that the person is worthy to receive the ordinances and covenants by a Priesthood holder. I actually cannot find anything on the lds.org website or scriptures as to why it is the Brethren who performs this function. I asked my husband and he believes Priesthood holders check recommends at the Temple to serve as a symbol of a Judge in Israel, who holds the power to close and open the gates to partaking of the fruit. This makes sense to me, but because it is only a symbol, it may perhaps be more flexible to allowing women to check the recommends as well.

Women as Presidents of BYU – BYU Administration is under the jurisdiction of the Church Board of Education and BYU Board of Trustees. Who actually sits on this board? Aside from the First Presidency, some Apostles, and other General Authorities, the General Relief Society and General Young Women’s Presidents also sits on the board. This board exists “…as the highest authoritative body of the Brigham Young University” (https://lib.byu.edu/byuorg/index.php/Brigham_Young_University._Board_of_Trustees). So women actually lead BYU in the highest forms, but not in the symbolic position as President (I think the board should be parity in numbers though). It was only in 1996, when Merrill J. Bateman was called as President, that they began the pattern of calling General Authorities. Before that, they were simply worthy men who were called to serve. Elder L. Tom Perry explains in this piece (http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=519) how the leaders of Church choose a President of BYU. He states, “We set up appointments for the most promising candidates, both men and women, to have an interview with the Search Committee. We were narrowing the field down to just a few good candidates” (emphasis added). Then they made three categories or qualifications: talented people inside BYU, outside BYU, and within the General Authorities. But from what I could read, the President did not need to be a General Authority, and as shown above, they interviewed women as well. From this I can perceived that perhaps the reason women have not been made President is either 1. Because of a lack of qualifications and/or 2. A tradition of appointing men into CES/Education positions within the church. I think it is most likely number 2, and as such, in order to change this, no doctrine or policy needs changing, but culture. I think this would be a great step in the right direction and show the students of BYU and the world that LDS women can lead in academia.

The official position of the church: “Missionaries can be single men between the ages of 19 and 25, single women over the age of 21 or retired couples. Missionaries work with a companion of the same gender during their mission, with the exception of couples, who work with their spouse. Single men serve missions for two years and single women serve missions for 18 months (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/topic/missionary-program)”
Surprise, surprise there is no where I can find in any Church material or website that explains why women serve at 21 and for only 18 months. So let us dump all of the following speculation into the trash: Women serve at 21 so they can get married first, women only serve 18 months so they can come home and get married and start having babies, women only serve 18 months as it is a Priesthood responsibility, men and women serve at different ages so they won’t flirt on the mission (which by the way, still happens no matter what age), etc, etc. There simply is no doctrine or policy explaining why these stipulations exist (please inform me if there is).  So, in my view, these can be changed! And I think they should be changed. The following are some exceptions why I can see this changing. First, if the Mission President has a daughter who wants to serve, she can begin her mission at age 19. Second, sisters can extend their missions (I have a friend who extended hers for 6 more months).

Now, as far as Mission leadership goes, I will turn to the most definitive source that explains the roles of the leaders – Preach My Gospel. Here are a few duties of the Mission Leaders:

Correct me if I am wrong, but most of these responsibilities fall squarely on the responsibilities of the giving of the fruit of the second tree. When giving a baptismal interview, the Elder is playing the role of a Judge in Israel, and this is an important responsibility of the Priesthood holders. That being said, I can see how all of these responsibilities (except for the baptismal interview) could be delegated and given to the sisters. Reporting numbers, leading meetings, etc. can fall into strengthening the children of God on the earth and as Sister Beck said, “Therefore, like our brethren who hold the priesthood, ours is a work of salvation, service, and becoming a holy people.” But I think Mission Leadership is given to the Elders because it is a special responsibility they have. President Thomas S. Monson explains, “Sisters, while you do not have the same priesthood responsibility as do the young men to serve as full-time missionaries, you also make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome your service (http://www.lds.org/liahona/2011/01/the-lord-needs-missionaries?lang=eng&query=sisters+serving+missions).”


2) Evis Farka Haake

The gospel in the LDS church is a gospel of equality and visibility. The way we conduct the church affairs and the hierarchy of it needs to reflect this. I do believe that it is time for women in the church to be more visible as leaders and active administrators of church affairs.

I fully agree with the first point. I believe that Young Womens' leaders need to be present in bishops interviews. This is to protect both and also to help both sides understand each other and communicate better. It is very intimidating as a young woman to have to speak about certain private aspects of one's life with a man who is not your friend, much older and has authority over you in the status of your membership. In this category, I would also like to see more money and better activities being planned for young women. They too can be prepared for leadership in the church and outside of it. Especially now that more and more women are pursuing higher education. We as a church and community need to use this potential and create opportunities for people to use their talents.

The second point is important too. I cannot see a logical reason why women cannot be a witness.

I agree with the third point since it is the mother in our current culture who makes the sacrifices of raising the children. However, I would prefer baby blessings not to be done during sacrament. I think they are important ceremonies that are better at being celebrated in private settings. The bishop can acknowledge the new baby and parents in the ward during sacrament. That should be enough for welcoming the new baby in the ward.

I disagree with the suggestion of having the bishop give special blessings to girls. What would the special blessing be needed for? I would rather see a revamp in the program of Young Women's. Young women should play a more active role in the ward and be involved in callings such as going to visit teach with their mothers and assisting the bishop and other leaders with activity planing and such.

I agree with the sixth point. I also would add that the RS conference meeting should not have a concluding speaker someone from the Presidency. On the opposite, it should be the RS president to conclude the conference. It just makes more sense this way and it gives importance to the role and status of the RS president in the church. When we continue to allow men to have the final say, we are treating women as children.

I think both genders should have the opportunity to serve as the head of the Humanitarian and Welfare department. If they have the education and experience for the responsibility, they should be taken into consideration. Gender should not be a prerequisite for such positions.

I agree with the eighth point. All people called in the hierarchy of the church are important to be acknowledged as leaders.

I completely agree with the nineth one.

The last point is important too because it allows girls to be on their own and learn about themselves and built confidence before they commit to other projects such as education and marriage. A woman who has had experience in developing herself always does better in life and knows where she is going.

Something that is crucial in creating visibility for the women in the church is for the RS to have more autonomy and for its president to work closely with the bishop in conducting church affairs. If this happens, all the other pieces will fall in place too.

These are some of my thoughts on the subject. I think it is an important subject and it needs to be addressed.


3) V. H. Cassler

Our readers have offered terrific suggestions. Here are some of my own. When I ponder what I think will happen with men and women as we move closer to Zion, these are the things that come into my mind--

Temple Ceremony—

--I think we will see in the endowment ceremony that Eve actually has something to say after the Fall.  Right now, she turns into a potted plant after the depiction of the Fall.  Women (and men) have read into her complete silence things that are not true.

--I think we will see a greater indication that Eve did not sin in partaking of the fruit of the First Tree, as our doctrine asserts.

--I think we will see a greater indication that in partaking of the fruit that Eve gave him, Adam is hearkening unto Eve in righteousness.  In that way, women (and men) will see that there were two hearkenings in the Garden of Eden story: men are to hearken to women, and women are to hearken to men.

Sealing Practice—

--Currently, a dead woman may be sealed to more than one man.  A living woman may not.  A widow with children who remarries faces a very hurtful situation along with her new husband.  She cannot be sealed to her second husband, even if she has children with him.  The husband cannot be sealed to his own children.  The children cannot be sealed to their father.  One day, women—whether living or dead—will be able to be sealed to more than one man.

General Conference—

--As we move closer towards Zion, one of the Twelve will give a talk focused on Heavenly Mother.  He will give us all permission to speak of Her, even if we are not permitted to pray to Her.

--We will see a talk by one of the Twelve that plainly states that education is not Plan B for girls, but it is Plan A, and young women will be encouraged to finish their degrees, and young men will be asked to facilitate their wives’ graduation from college even after marriage.

Relief Society General Presidency—

--I think we will see a working woman who has children and who is no doubt retired, appointed to the Relief Society General Presidency, thus indicating to the membership that working mothers can be as righteous as mother who have not worked.

Walking the Walk on the Importance of Family—

--I think we will see the LDS Church and its units, including BYU, lead out in developing the most innovative family-friendly workplace policies ever seen, in accordance with Elder Cook’s injunction that, “I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be at the forefront in creating an environment in the workplace that is more receptive and accommodating to both women and men in their responsibilities as parents.”

--I think we will see over time that men are only considered for high positions in the Church if they have not lived their lives in such a way that they have basically left their wives and children while they pursued their careers.

Teaching Our Youth—

--I think we will see that the Personal Progress Program for Young Women will be revamped to include preparation in real-world life skills that they will need.  Just as the Young Men (in Scouts) are taught merit badges such as communication, citizenship, and so forth, so we will begin to see that our Young Women need such important skills as well.  Furthermore, we will back up this commitment by expending resources for the Young Women’s Program that are on a par with the resources we expend on our Young Men’s/Scouting Programs.

--Our Young Men’s and Young Women’s lessons will be based on the most modern revelations, and not, for example, suggest that a righteous woman’s only possible path is that of stay-at-home mom unless she never marries.  We will teach our Young Women that they should counsel with the Lord about the path He has planned for their individual lives, and that God will provide divine assistance for any woman He calls to play a role in the world as well as the role of a mother.  We will teach our Young Men that the women they love may be called upon by the Lord to play a role in the world, and that they should support the women they love in these divine callings.

--We will see that our Young Women are not taught that modesty is about protecting men who cannot control their urges, but is rather about equal standards for temple worthiness for both Young Men and Young Women.

--We will speak more plainly to our youth about the myths of rape, such as the dress of a woman can justify a rape, or that men are less to blame for their actions than women.

Our Councils—

--We will see in the future that all the many ward councils, such as PEC, Welfare, Missionary, Correlation, etc. will be combined in one meeting, and people will think it utterly natural that women must be there for the councils to work properly.  After having been advised by the men and women in this grand council, the bishopric will meet together and design follow-through actions.

--There will come a time when the Elder’s Quorum and the High Priests Group will begin to share in the large responsibility for care that currently lies at the feet of the Relief Society.

Counselling with Young Women—

--As we move forward, bishops will receive special gender sensitivity training in order to more appropriately guide our young women as they talk to their bishops, especially about sexual matters.  I think we are all aware of horror stories of young women who counseled with untrained bishops and were permanently scarred as a result.

Explication of Doctrine—

--As we move closer to Zion we will realize that when we say, “The blessings of the priesthood are available to all,” we also need to add, “And the blessings of the motherhood are available to all.”

--As we move towards Zion, we will realize that when we say, “The priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God on earth,” what we really mean is, “The priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God the Father on earth, and the motherhood is the authority to act in the name of God the Mother on earth.”  This will help us to see that both God’s sons and God’s daughters possess heavenly power given them from on high, and that they stand as spiritual equals, each giving important gifts to the human family.


--We will see the Church make some small, but incredibly important choices.  For example, the choice to figure some working mothers on Mormon.org was much more revolutionary for LDS persons than it could ever be for non-members.  It spoke volumes in a way nothing else could.  I believe as we move closer to Zion that we will see the Church appoint a woman to be president of one of the three Church-owned universities, BYU, BYU-I, or BYU-H.