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About-face: Mormon women's meeting now part of General Conference

Published November 11, 2014 7:11 pm

Change comes after a flurry of mixed signals from Mormon leadership.
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The issue of what to call the LDS General Women's Meeting, held twice a year on the Saturday before General Conference, has been settled.

The Utah-based faith's governing First Presidency "has decided that the General Women's Meeting will be designated as the General Women's Session of General Conference," according to a statement Thursday by spokeswoman Jessica Moody.

The move comes amid confusion about what to label the meeting — with some Mormon authorities on one side, the church's public-affairs arm on the other and church-owned publications going back and forth between them.



The issue surfaced at the Sept. 27 gathering of Mormon women after Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, referred to that evening's meeting as the opening of the faith's semiannual General Conference.

The following weekend, though, several speakers referred to the Oct. 4 morning gathering as the first conference session. Later that evening, LDS Seventy Bruce A. Carlson said, in his prayer, that the priesthood session was the "fourth session of this special conference," implying that the Sept. 27 women's meeting was the first session, followed by the Oct. 4 morning gathering as the second session, the afternoon meeting as the third session, and the priesthood meeting as the fourth.

By Oct 10, Carlson's prayer on the official website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had been edited to remove the reference to the "fourth" session.

The reason, LDS Church spokesman Dale Jones said at the time, was that the women's meetings "are not usually referred to as a session of General Conference."

That apparently was news to the LDS Church News, which listed the 2014 announcement that "the General Women's Meeting was the first session of the semiannual General Conference" as one of its "20 Memorable Events in General Conference."

After bloggers discovered and publicized the News' statement, it, too, was edited out.

Neylan McBaine, author of the recent "Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact," said Thursday she is "absolutely thrilled" with the new designation.

"This rhetorical change is much more than just a word choice," McBaine said. "It signals an appetite at the very highest levels of church leadership to fold women's voices into the official structure more completely."

Beyond that, she said, "it also indicates our leadership's willingness to adapt and expand practices where we can, which is a lesson we can adopt even more fully at our local levels."

Andrea Radke-Moss, professor of history at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University-Idaho, lauded the move as yet another "meaningful" step toward greater female inclusion in the 15 million-member faith.

"The back-and-forth exchanges between Mormon feminist bloggers — many of whom had already been sensitive to the 'nonofficial' status of the women's meeting — and contradictory statements from various semiofficial church sources exposed great internal confusion regarding the place of the General Women's Meeting," she said. "Lacking some of the larger structural changes that many Mormon feminists have desired in recent months, many have taken hope in these perceptibly small, but actually quite symbolically meaningful changes to aspects of female inclusion in church practice."

As LDS members and leaders continue to "grapple with practices that have either advertently or inadvertently marginalized women," Radke-Moss said, "changes like these should give some hope that leaders are listening."

For her, the historian added, "it's a sign of positive things to come."

The new language is reflected on the church's official General Conference website, which now lists sermons at the fall women's meeting under the heading "General Women's Session." The tally of talks from the spring gathering still refers to the "General Women's Meeting" and, as of Thursday night, the video of the invocation at the recent priesthood session remains edited.

pstack@sltrib.com Twitter: @religiongal

 

 

 

 

 

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