The prayer offered by Jean Stevens at the end of the Saturday morning session of the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was unprecedented – no woman has ever been asked to pray in a General Conference session.
The change could be seen as part of an effort to draw attention to the leadership roles Mormon women already serve in their church – and a way of countering pressure from some members to ordain women to the LDS priesthood.
While the church was holding its general priesthood meeting Saturday evening, about a hundred people gathered at the University of Utah to organize a new effort to give Mormon women the same ecclesiastical authority as men. Debra Jensen, a mother of three from Ogden, was among them. She’s added her personal story to the website OrdainWomen.org
“I didn’t add my name and face to this campaign lightly," said Jensen as she spoke to the group. "I pondered it. I discussed it with my husband. I believe what I said was, ‘Y’know I’m not gonna let you boss me around, but I want to do this, so what do you think?’"
“There’s nothing necessarily wrong with having men ordained to the priesthood," said Hannah Wheelwright, a 20-year-0ld student at Brigham Young University. "I think the tragedy is underutilizing the other half of the population of the church. I think that any institution that underuses over 50 percent of its population is really suffering. And so this would be a way to really invest in an institution that we love and want to contribute to.”
Perhaps anticipating this gathering, the church posted a video on its news website last week featuring three of its top women leaders. Linda Burton, the General President of the Relief Society, was asked whether women should feel they’re not equal to men when they don’t hold the priesthood.
“I don’t think women are after the authority," Burton said in the video. "I think they’re after the blessings and are happy that they can access the blessings and power of the priesthood. There are a few that would like both. But most of the women in the church are happy to have all of the blessings. That what matters most to them.”
Other speakers during the weekend conference sessions made other, indirect references to what they called the different roles of men and women in the church.
Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer from Washington DC who created the OrdainWomen website, says the response so far has been gratifying and she’s optimistic the change will occur in her lifetime.