Mormon General Conference 2013: Women Pray For First Time in 183 Years
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, colloquially known as Mormons, met for their 183rd general conference in Salt Lake City and it was historic. For the first time in its 183 year history, women gave prayers.
The LDS church meets twice a year at the 21,000 seat conference center in Salt Lake City. Thousands come from all over the world to attend (as well as a large handful of protesters). This year during the Saturday morning session Jean A. Stevens gave the closing prayer, the first time a women has offered any prayer during the conference's 183-year history. Mormon feminists have seen it as a sign of a great move foreword.
Groups of Mormon feminists (yes they do exist) began a "Let Women Pray" largely through Facebook that generated over 1600 letter's to Mormon leaders asking for a change in the policy. The move has motivated women seeking further changes in church policy, which feminists view as archaic and discriminatory.
Historically the LDS church has been very progressive in its view towards women. Utah was one of the first places in the country (second to Wyoming by one year) to allow women to vote, and 19th century LDS (Latter-day Saint) women were given more privileges educationally and spiritually than their counterparts in the greater christian world. Brigham Young, the second president of the LDS church stated, "we have sisters here who, if they had the privilege of studying, would make just as good mathematicians or accountants as any man; and we think they ought to have the privilege to study these branches of knowledge that they may develop the powers with which they are endowed.
We believe that women are useful not only to sweep houses, wash dishes, make beds, and raise babies, but that they should stand behind the counter, study law or physic [medicine], or become good book-keepers and be able to do the business in any counting house, and this to enlarge their sphere of usefulness for the benefit of society at large (discourses of Brigham Young)." This was quite progressive thought for the 1860s. He has also been quoted as saying, "You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a women; you educate a generation."
However many Mormon women feel the church has become staunchly conservative and male-dominated. Most leadership roles are only open to men, and the priesthood is only given to males. Women do however hold many leadership positions in the Relief Society (the women's organization in the church), the Young Women's organization, and the Primary (the children's organization). Women also participate in many other roles, including teaching both sexes, throughout the church.
Interestingly, women have given discourses in General Conference for some time. In 1984, a woman gave a discourse the first time since 1930.
The LDS church claims that the prayers for General Conference were slated before the campaign and there was no particular reason that it had not happened before.
Whether this small change will lead to further changes in regards to gender-roles in the LDS church is yet to be seen.