August 28, 2015

Mormon Women Salute Church’s Historic Step Envision Even Greater Strides Toward Equity

 ©2015 Salt Lake Tribune

Mormons across the globe praised LDS leaders for adding the faith’s top female officers to three high-level councils, calling the historic move a moment to savor.

“This allows women to join their brothers — and to include their perspective, talents, spiritual gifts, and leadership abilities — in church governance,” said Suzette Smith, a Mormon feminist in the Washington, D.C., area. “A real positive. Decisions like this make me feel valued and heard.”

Indeed, installing Linda K. Burton, Bonnie L. Oscarson, and Rosemary M. Wixom, to leadership councils could have far-reaching consequences in a denomination led exclusively by men.

When asked whether women are members of other key committees in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spokeswoman Kristen Howey said, “there are literally dozens of church committees. Women serve on many of them but we have no way of knowing that number without counting each of them.”

The three principal, formerly male-only councils helping to run the 15 million-member faith, include “four or five (male) general authorities,” Howey said, plus the new female officers.

These three committees “are immensely important in deciding how budgets are delegated, how programs and products are prioritized, and how church business moves forward,” explained Neylan McBaine, author of “Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact.”

Having Burton, Oscarson, and Wixom on these councils, McBaine said, “means that, even though still small in representation, women’s interests and perspectives are going to start being interwoven into administrative decisions that affect the whole organization — not just specialties traditionally under women’s purview. ”

In a statement on August 19, Mormonism’s governing three-man First Presidency, welcomed the women to the table.

“We are confident that the wisdom and judgment of these general auxiliary presidents will provide a valuable dimension to the important work accomplished by these councils,” LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor Henry B. Eyring and second counselor Dieter F. Uchtdorf wrote in a letter to Mormon general authorities and general auxiliary presidencies.

Despite the enthusiasm, some Latter-day Saints are looking for further steps toward equity.

“It should go without saying that listening to women is a good thing,” wrote Julie M. Smith on the Mormon blog Times and Seasons. “However, the model of listening to women conveys — intentionally or otherwise — that men are still making all of the decisions. It would be nice if we could eventually move beyond that to a model where women shared in decision-making.”

Angela Clayton, a Scottsdale, Ariz., Latter-day Saint who blogs at Wheat & Tares, said the development “signals to local leadership councils the need to include women in decision-making bodies.”

“There are many stakes and wards (LDS congregations) in which both sexes sit in decision-making councils together, but there are other wards and stakes in which women are only nominally included to the minimum required by the handbook,” Clayton writes. “This move makes it clear that church leadership expects more input from women on decisions that affect the direction of the church.”