The future female leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints looks a little brighter after Sister Jean A. Stevens took to the dais at the church's semiannual General Conference in Salt Lake City to offer a benediction. It marked the first time in the memory of the church's leaders that a woman led millions of Mormons in prayer at an important church shindig.
Stevens' high-profile benediction comes at a time when Mormon feminists are growing more vocal about women's marginalized role in church affairs. Although church doctrine says that men and women are "equal in the eyes of God," they serve different leadership functions in the church's lay clergy.
That leadership inequity, according Amber Whiteley, the woman who helped organize Let Women Pray, isn't born out of church doctrine so much as institutionalized sexism. "There are a lot of gender inequalities that aren't rooted in doctrine," Whiteley told the Wall Street Journal. "They are just born out of tradition and culture."
Although Mormons have a long and storied history of advocating for women's rights causes, the church has grown increasingly persnickety at Mormon feminists' call for equality in the lay clergy. A "Wear Pants to Church Day" organized by blogger Lindsay Park aimed to challenge the generally accepted (but not required) dress code for female Mormon church goers: dresses or skirts. That event was followed closely by a stern redress from Sister Elaine Dalton, general president of the Church's Young Women's Association, who angered Mormon feminists when she said in a speech at Brigham Young University that women who understood their "roles" had no need to "lobby for rights."
Mormons may be struggling with gender inequality, but they can at least take heart that tomorrow is a latter day, and that they have a hit Broadway show to help them spread the good word about Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the Great Platypus in the Sky we bowed and obsequious humans call "God."