Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Prayer of the Righteous

"The song of the righteous is a prayer unto me..." Doctrine and Covenants 25:12
Sometimes I think Mormons like to make problems for themselves. There's always something they like to protest, and sometimes they like to raise a fuss over themselves. And apparently I can't stop myself from adding my 2 cents.
A few months ago it was whether or not women should wear pants in church. Now it is the rumor that a woman might pray in our general conference next week.
Here is some history for my non-Mormon friends (and for my Mormon friends who are lost as to why is this even a thing).
First, twice a year the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds an annual/semi-annual general conference, the first weekend in April, and the first weekend in October. It is a 2-ish day event, with several sessions. It is broadcasted around the world via satellite, and streamed on radio and internet. The week before the October session there is a "Relief Society General Conference," (the Relief Society being the women's auxiliary of the church, that just by virtue of being a woman over 18 you are automatically made a member of), and the week before the April session there is a Young Women's General Meeting (that will happen this Saturday night). These 2 meetings are considered to be portions of the actual General Conference itself, just held a week earlier. There are 4 sessions of the main conference, and 1 session (held on Saturday night) called Priesthood session (for the men, as only men hold the priesthood). Nothing said or held in these sessions is a secret. Like I said, they are broadcasted via satellite (you can probably pick it up in your local community on a public access channel, or even on BYU-TV if you have the right cable provider), and they are even printed in a magazine for anyone to buy and read in May/November.
This general conference has been taking place since the 1800s. In the early days of the conference, prayers were usually offered by the general authorities of the church, and occasionally by local priesthood leaders. Later the tradition turned to returned presidents of LDS missions and visiting stake (congregation) presidents. These are all positions held by priesthood leaders, and therefore, are all held by men. (If you want to have the "why don't women get to have the priesthood" conversation, we can discuss it. But honestly, it's a subject I am passionate about (why women do NOT have it, and don't need it), and really, I don't care to discuss it.) More recently general conference prayers have been offered by members of the church’s expanding Quorums of the Seventy.  Women do speak in these conference meetings. Women are by no means excluded from leadership positions.
There was, in past years, a common belief/misbelief in the Church that women could not pray in certain church meetings. In the church handbook that is distributed to every congregational leader (the bishop), there is a line that says women are not to open or conduct priesthood meetings. Now to me this makes perfect sense. Let's compare it to something not as confusing as what may appear to be mystical and secretive as the priesthood. (Which it isn't, it just may seem that way to some people.)
If you were going to have a meeting of let's say accountants, where you would conduct business pertaining to accountants, and it was a meeting of the Official Association of Official Accountants, and you had to be a certified official accountant to be in that meeting, would you invite a doctor to come in and open and conduct the meeting? Or would you ask a member of the official association of official accountants to open and conduct the meeting? Probably not. Especially not if there was a rule in the handbook that said that meeting had to be opened and conducted by an official accountant, right?
So going back to priesthood meetings. If you were to hold a meeting of priesthood holders, would you invite a non-priesthood holder to open and/or conduct the meeting for you? Probably not.

Now there is no rule that says an accountant/priesthood holder can't close the meeting. (It wasn't a secret meeting and anyone could be there. So there were plenty of doctors sitting in your meeting of accountants.) And so it wasn't a big deal to invite a non-accountant to close the meeting. This was a normal and regular thing to do. After all, there were plenty of doctors available, and there wasn't a reason not to.
Mormon sacrament meetings are the equivalent of Catholic mass services. It is the most important meeting on Sunday and the one where we partake of the sacrament service (equivalent of weekly communion, but that was probably already obvious). We have a song, a prayer, quick church business, the partaking of the sacrament, 1-3 speakers, another song, and a prayer. It's about a one hour service, give or take some long-winded speakers.
For years this meeting was considered to be a "priesthood meeting," and therefore, women did not say the opening prayer. (However, they said plenty of closing prayers.) Honestly, I can say I never noticed this. Not once. I never noticed once in my entire life that women did not say the opening prayer in church. Not until about 3 years ago when Sherpa (Joy) commented on it on her blog.
It seemed incredibly strange to me that I had never noticed this practice. In fact, it seemed to me that I had offered the opening prayer in church. Actually, I could have sworn that I had. As fate would have it, I was asked to say the prayer in church the very next Sunday. But the man who assigned it didn't say opening or closing, so I clarified it with him. He said, "Closing, obviously!" So I asked, "Is it true women don't say the opening prayer?" His response was actually a little bit rude and I don't remember how he said it, but it was along the lines of, "never!"
So I went to my dad who has been a congregational leader for the bulk of the last 20 years and asked if this was true. Because, again, I KNOW I have said the opening prayer. He explained the rule in the handbook to me, and then explained it a little further. Not all people considered sacrament meeting to be a priesthood meeting. Some did, some did not. Therefore, some congregations don't do it, some do it. And some men ask people based on what they have always done, and probably don't even realize there is a practice or a rule in play here.
However, three years ago the Church did make an official clarification on the rule, and said women can offer the opening prayer. For some people this was a big deal, for others, it was an absolute nothing. As for me, I've just paid attention to see if and when women do ever say the opening prayer now.  There's a 50/50 chance of it happening, and my accounting says it happens about 50% of the time in my local congregation.
So back to general conference. There is a rumor afoot that a woman will pray in the general conference for the first time ever. For some people this appears to be a really big deal. It hasn't happened yet, and even if it does happen, I really don't get what the big deal is.
Elder L. Tom Perry, a senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, “While we make assignments and plan ahead for our meetings, there is always the option in the church for the presiding authority to make changes as led by the Spirit. We rely on heaven’s guidance in our meetings. General conference is no different. That’s why we do not typically publish a program in advance.”
In other words, no one knows who is speaking or praying yet.
I guess I am glad to see that if a women does pray that it can be a message that women don't get to pray. (Does that make sense?) For me it isn't a big deal that they can pray, but it would be a very big deal if the message was that women are not allowed to pray. If a woman does not pray at this conference it won't bother me, mostly because I don't think the Church should (or does) kowtow to peer pressure. But if a women does pray, who cares? Exactly what did that accomplish, other than the public acknowledgement that it was always just a historical tradition or habit, and not actual doctrine? (Exactly like pants in church.)

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  1. Anonymous3:52 PM

    I totally get what you're saying and I had never even thought to consider it before the last couple years as well , BUT if I really deconstruct my understanding I do think I grew up with the impression that what women had to say in church might be slightly less important than what men had to say. So, while it might not be a change in doctrine, if 50/50 prayer (AND more importantly in my mind 50/50 CLOSING speaking assignments in local wards) makes it so my daughter never gets this impression than awesome.

  2. Anonymous6:25 AM

    This is the same as "Ignoring 50 percent of the population." It is a different fifty percent. They just want to participate more in the church functions. My friends actually enjoyed the pants in church day because they found other feminists to identify with. For them, that was a joyous occasion.


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