The quiet advancement of women’s voices in the Church

With all of the changes in the Church over the weekend, I am struck by how Church leaders have quietly increased the role of women in the Church.

The merging of Elder’s Quorum and the High Priests means there will be one fewer man at ward council. Women’s input will become more prominent.

The ending of Priesthood Executive Committee (usually just men) means ward council becomes even more important.

The Church has quietly signaled that more input from women is expected at the ward level.

The institution of ministering visits (rather than home and visiting teaching) also includes more involvement in ministering from young women. These young women will be trained at an earlier age how to minister in the Lord’s way. In our ward, and I would imagine most wards, visiting teaching numbers are much better than home teaching numbers, and a lot of the reason has to do with the dedication of women to ministering to the needy in the Church. Will the institution of ministering visits increase the outreach of active ward members to the less active? I would guess yes.

The Church continues to build new temples, even as membership growth stalls in the United States. Temples are the places where women are guaranteed to use the power of the priesthood to bring blessings to their ancestors, and women are more likely to go to the temple than men.

Like most active members, I welcome and embrace any changes announced by the prophets. We are living in amazing times, and it will be fascinating to see how this all plays out.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

15 thoughts on “The quiet advancement of women’s voices in the Church

  1. Here’s something interesting we heard during the between-session program on the life of President Nelson, in which President Nelson referred to comment once made by President Spencer W. Kimball: “The day will come when the strength of the Church will be largely dependent upon on Sisters of the Church.” (I had to “rewind” that a few times to make sure I heard it correctly). What does it mean? Was it heard in this manner by only Elder Nelson and a few others, or is it a somewhat “mis-remembered” October 1979 General Conference talk titled “The Role of Righteous Women.” Parts of that talk later appeared in the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manual. In that talk there was nothing said quite so provocative. Don’t know. My daughter did mention that her ward relief society discussed it for quite some time in one of their Sunday lessons.

  2. One thing that you didn’t mention was that they changed the order of voting in the solemn assembly. The Relief Society voted before the Aaronic Priesthood. This did not go unnoticed over at FMH. It has no direct effect on the day-to-day functioning of the church as the other things you mentioned do. But it appears that it has raised the morale of at least some sisters, making it more likely that they will stick around and make their influence felt.

  3. This is a matter of wise use of resources. Years ago I encountered a social theory that in cultures where men have strong extrinsic power women usually have strong intrinsic power. For example, traditional Chinese culture featured a government of male officials with women apparently having little say. However young men and women were equally constrained to follow the direction of parents, and in the home real power was in the hands of the matriarch, usually the person who made such decisions as marriage arrangements.
    Women preserve culture as they teach their children. They are seldom the ‘official’ voice in traditional cultures, but they have always had a potent role in preserving the mores and folkways that distinguish one culture from another.
    The power of the Priesthood combined with the potency of righteous women is amazing.

  4. The only downside I have noticed from these changes is that it seems to have emboled, at least on social media, the Kate Kelly types. There seems to be an undercurrent that these changes are because of their protesting–not that it’s the will of the Lord. Expect marches on Temple Square to only increase as a result.

  5. Edward Kimball noted that his father, Pres Spencer W Kimball wted a couple years before seeking the priesthood revelation, until the racial furor settled down.
    Not much furor has occurred on women and priesthood for a few years, allowing decisions based on inspiration instead of politics.

  6. Generally speaking the Aaronic priesthood is of greater significance than the YM, YW, and RS organizations. We’re talking about the power to perform the outward ordinances.

    However, functionally, since we have made the mistake of equating aaronic priesthood with young men, it makes sense to deemphasize it’s sustaining order.

    However, if the order of the voting was first the women of the church and then all the way down to the very last the priesthood organizations that’s no problem with me.

    The real bother is taking offense over the issue and making it symbolic of bigger issues.

    The AP and MP are viral and anyone who feels wrongly taking a back seat to them doesn’t get it. Those quorums can themselves take a backseat in terms of spotlight or honor but we should better honor them to have an increase in the spirit.

    When you honor the Lord’s servants you receive him. No one can have an abundance of the spirit by accusing priesthood quorums of unrighteous dominion. And certainly the members of those quorums can’t have the spirit by presuming they can just order the church or the sisters around. Only patience and long suffering… Which goes both ways.

  7. Visiting teaching numbers may be better than home teaching numbers because you only have to meet with one person per assignment, rather than finding a time to visit a whole family. Much more flexible.

  8. You’ll note that in priesthood session President Nelson started by having the Deacons stand, then the Teachers, Priests, Elders, High Priests, Seventies, Apostles, then First Presidency. So there was an instance of “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

    I see the move of Dieter Uchtdorf from the First Presidency to his position in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as tempering the way for the new priesthood practice of standing down to the Elder’s Quorum after release from a position associated with the new “actively serving” High Priests Quorum. Dieter Uchtdorf’s willingness to embrace what some characterized as a “demotion” defies anyone trying to make a fuss about returning to the Elder’s Quorum.

    I will merely quibble with the idea that there’s been anything “quiet” about this advancement of women’s voices at Church. But, then again, my daughter and I were not at all quiet in our home as we watched conference. We immediately understood the impact of each change and were “shouting joyfully” in response.

    I took a moment to review the conversation my husband and I posted on M* four years ago, during the height of the Ordain Women brouhaha, . I note that we continually used the word “minister” in that conversation for the work that we perform on behalf of others in the Church.

    I am also reminded of my critique of Conversation Six posted by those seeking female ordination. There I identified a key suggestion:

    Examining all Church positions to determine whether they can be filled without regard to gender Completely agree that this needs to be done, though I’d suggest incremental changes. Also, if possible, increase the ability for women to access the handbook of instructions (e.g., permit the presidents of stake auxiliaries to have access to this handbook)

    And a corrollary to the key suggestion:

    Where a Church position must be filled by an individual of a specific gender, determine compassionate means for dealing with sensitive matters (e.g., how to care for females who have abuse/sins/issues that might be best handled by means other than solely meeting with a male leader)

    I see this happening. The question is whether those who previously agitated for female ordination will have

    1) angrily departed and be remembered in the category of Godbe (remembered as an apostate), or

    2) remained faithful within the Church, remembered in the category of Eliza Snow (restoration of Relief Society) and Darius Gray (priesthood ordination for Blacks).

  9. I agree with the OP I think the prophets are working diligently to increase the voice and status of women in the church. I also noticed a consistent deliberate use of gender inclusive language in General Conference. Wonderful developments and I believe they will steadily continue.

  10. President Packer said this in April 2010 General Conference : “Unless we enlist the attention of the mothers and daughters and sisters—who have influence on their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers—we cannot progress. The priesthood will lose great power if the sisters are neglected.”

  11. I recall when they called me to be Sunday School president and told me to think of counselors, the first ones I thought of were women. I double-checked the handbooks just to make sure I couldn’t actually request them.

    I wont be surprised if we end up there. Wouldn’t that be an awesome shift for the Women’s Meeting to highlight in the fall? Sunday School is due for a shakeup anyway; it’s far and away the most calcified program in the organization. Mixed-sex presidencies would be pretty major.

  12. The only substantive change is allowing Young Women to minister with Relief Society women, which allows young women an opportunity to serve. Nothing more. There has been no real change in advancing women’s voice in the Church. None.

  13. Hi Jan,

    The flattening of the men’s organizational structure sets the stage for numerous happy changes.

    I saw major shifts in the past months in the “I am in charge and that makes me better” paradigm. And that is the paradigm that has made it hard for some women to feel heard and/or made it easy for some men to ignore women.

    I am reminded of President Oaks’s talk about the small movements that break rock (or concrete). These are those movements. They are perhaps so insignificant to someone like yourself that you will deny the power thereof. And that is too bad, particularly if you opt out of participating because don’t deem the changes of worth.

    The shift to ministering is awesome.

    As to changes I anticipate based on this Conference’s groundwork, I won’t mention my speculation, as to openly discuss such things would be a bit like opening Christmas presents before Christmas. If you pre-open your present, you aren’t as thrilled when Christmas comes. And if you pre-open a wrong present, you are actively disappointed when Christmas comes.

  14. “Dieter Uchtdorf’s willingness to embrace what some characterized as a “demotion” defies anyone trying to make a fuss about returning to the Elder’s Quorum.”

    The only thing I’d say to this (and I agree with you), is that we have had every tool and organization necessary to get to Zion for the last 100+ years.

    It’s because of our own failings that we need to adjust our organizations. So in that sense, while a high priest isn’t being demoted, many of them have been living beneath their responsibility, and equally the elders and relief society (collectively not individually in many cases).

    In some ways, the high priest groups became like trees without fruit, and the elders were calcifying in the same way, perhaps at a lesser height. Growing old without new growth that brings strength to the tree.

    Show me a Melchizedek priesthood quorum that was actively focused on the aaronic priesthood or prospective elders, sisters, and missionary work. Not that much of it happing other than the occasional project or activity when it should be the sum of our activities.

  15. Rgb: your comment reminded me of the parable of the olives trees. It’s not an exact fit, but the commonality may be the Lord mixing things up to refresh and strengthen the parts.

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