Mormon Feminists Work for Change—One Pant Leg at a Time

Jonathan Griffith may be a man—and a Mormon—but he’s proud to call himself a feminist spokesperson.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings during the Church’s semi-annual General Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Will this be the year for a woman LDS to lead a prayer from this gobal stage? (Photo: George Frey/Reuters)

Feb 5, 2013· 3 MIN READ
Sara Benincasa is a blogger, comedian, and author of 'Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom.'

Granted, the Mormon Church might not be the first institution that pops into mind when one hears the term feminist, but that may be about to change.

Led by Jonathan Griffith and four of his friends (two female, one male), the new Let Women Pray movement within the Church of Latter-Day Saints has decided that women deserve more of a role in the Church’s semi-annual General Conference. This year’s General Conference will take place April 6 and 7 in Salt Lake City and will be broadcast to the faithful around the world.

“I hope Mormonism can be a place that is comfortable for people of all political persuasions,” Griffith, 28, tells TakePart. “I want to be a part of a community that puts our sermons into action.”

Griffith, who works in sales in the outdoor industry, says that he and his four cohorts divide spokesperson duties equally, despite some Facebook comments that the organization’s core group comprises “a bunch of bored women” who “would be happy if [they] could just find a husband.”

However, Let Women Pray has had some vocal support from male and female bloggers in the “Bloggernacle”—a term for the Mormon blogosphere.

While LDS women are not permitted to become priests, they do sometimes give speeches on spiritual topics at General Conference. However, the activists in Griffith’s group feel that women have not been allowed sufficient rights within the Church. The organization’s blog explains its mission:

As far back as there is documentation, a woman has not said a prayer at the General Conference of the church. In 1978 church president Spencer W. Kimball said it is “permissible for sisters to offer prayers in any meetings they attend.” We would like to see this happen in our General Conference as a sign that “God is no respecter of persons” and that “all are alike unto God,” “male and female.” We ask all who would also like to see a woman pray in the meeting all members attend, the General Conference of the church, to write our leaders and express this desire.

As for the Church’s response, well—it hasn’t really been fleshed out with regard to the Let Women Pray movement. But other Mormon activist groups certainly have opinions on Jonathan Griffith and his cohorts. From Utah’s Herald Extra:

Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said decisions on people leading prayers were made several weeks ago but haven’t been made public. “Customarily, details of the conference programs are not announced until General Conference,” Hawkins said in a statement.

Scott Gordon, president of the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research, or FAIR, a volunteer Mormon anti-defamation group, said it never hurts for church members to respectfully question traditions.

“It’s a good thing to have people once in a while question what polices and practices are cultural and what things are important or inspired of God,” said Gordon.

Griffith and his co-activists are affiliated with the LDS organization All Enlisted. Griffith, a lifelong Mormon, describes All Enlisted as “an action-oriented organization that seeks to enable LDS men and women to engage in acts of peaceful resistance to gender inequality in the LDS Church.”

Griffith emphasizes that he and his fellow activists aren’t troublemakers: “From the get go we knew we wanted to make this as respectful as possible.”

All Enlisted was behind a recent event, Wear Pants to Church, that attracted quite a bit of media attention, all the way out to the New York Times. Activists encouraged LDS women to wear pants to services in order to demonstrate the gap in power between men and women in the Church. Church law does not formally forbid pants on women, but it is customary for women to attend services in skirts or dresses. Griffith says he considers Let Women Pray to be “a sister” to Wear Pants to Church, though the two movements are not the same.

Like so many other grassroots movements in the digital age, Let Women Pray began online. What started as a discussion on the All Enlisted Facebook page branched off into a few members messaging one another privately. It has since spawned the Let Women Pray blog as well as its own Facebook presence.

Griffith says the Let Women Pray movement can be categorized as either a feminist or women’s rights organization—no small thing in a faith not ordinarily known as being at the forefront of women’s activism. But he emphasizes that he and his fellow activists aren’t troublemakers: “From the get go we knew we wanted to make this as respectful as possible.”

Griffith cites Mitt Romney’s presidential run as a key element in changing old stereotypes in the general public’s view of Mormons and women.

“The reality is, we are not homogenous,” Griffith says. “We are a diverse set of people with various levels of political thinking, interests, orthopraxy, etc.” (In case you were wondering—as was this writer—orthopraxy is commonly translated from the Greek as “correct behavior.”)

Griffith says that he loves his Church, and adds, “I especially love the principles it espouses… It is Church doctrine that men and women are equal in the eyes of God. Certainly, men and women have different roles to play, but they are equal. Unfortunately, there are a number of policies, practices, and traditions within the Church that do not reflect that teaching.”

Are there inherent conflicts in being a feminist and also devoutly religious? Explain any apparent contradictions in COMMENTS.