March 10, 2014

Is the Mormon Church expanding the role of women?

The number of women signing up for Mormon missions has nearly tripled since October 2012, when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lowered its age requirement for female missionaries from 21 to 19. That change brought Mormon women closer to age parity with Mormon men, who can now be missionaries at age 18.

Mormons who have served in full time proselytizing missionThe change is one sign of the “small but significant steps” that church leaders have recently taken to facilitate an expanding role for women inside the church, according to a New York Times article that followed up on an earlier extensive piece by the newspaper on Mormon women.

Interest in women’s equality issues within Mormonism has grown both inside and outside LDS circles in recent years, and the Times articles come on the heels of a number of developments indicating that gender issues are receiving more attention among the all-male church leadership.

Mormon men and women have been much more supportive of traditional gender roles than other Americans, according to a 2011 Pew Research Center survey. Nearly six-in-ten Mormons (58%) – including 56% of LDS women – say that marriage is more satisfying when the husband provides for the family and the wife takes care of the house and children. Only 30% of the U.S. general public shares this view.

Last October, about 130 Mormon women demonstrated outside of a large meeting of the church’s all-male priesthood in Salt Lake City, demanding that LDS authorities allow them to be ordained. LDS leaders did not let the women into the meeting, but one LDS leader spoke of past “mistakes” by Mormon leaders and called for greater inclusiveness. A group called Ordain Women said it will try again to attend this year’s meeting on April 5.

Women and the Mormon priesthoodThe Times’ article points out that while church leaders have made some efforts at change – for example, “inviting a woman to say a prayer at the church’s general conference, [and] revising the Sunday school curriculum so that females and males learn the same lessons” – ordaining women as priests would be altering doctrine, and is therefore unlikely.

That may be fine with most Mormons, who show little support for fundamental changes in LDS gender roles, according to our survey. We found that 87% of all Mormons oppose allowing women to be ordained to the priesthood, with only 11% in favor of changing eligibility rules to include females. Among Mormon women, opposition is even higher than among men (84%), with 90% opposed to female priests and only 8% in favor.

Topics: Mormons and Mormonism

  1. Photo of David Masci

    is a Senior Researcher at the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project.

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36 Comments

  1. Chad4 months ago

    It’s too bad that this data from 2011 is being presented as if it is current. A lot has changed in Mormonism in the past few years, and it’s quite likely that attitudes among members are also shifting. It would be great to compare the numbers from 2011 with a more recent survey. Also, among Mormons, if you ask, “should we do something against current doctrine?” you’ll get a different answer than if you ask, “if the prophet received a revelation that changes the doctrine, would you support that change?” In the Mormon faith, the details of religious practice matter less than individual obedience to what is deemed god’s will.

    Reply
  2. Hilary4 months ago

    The numbers regarding support for female ordination are very interesting. Is there a way to access more detailed info about the survey questions and samping?

    I ask in part because in a recent statement, the LDS church stated that the majority of women in the church not only oppose ordination, but also view the support of ordination as an extreme view.

    I am also very interested in seeing opinion figures regarding the barring of entrance to the priesthood session of LDS general conference.

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  3. Robert Webb4 months ago

    My opinion is quite simple – The Mormon thinking is simply wrong. It is alright to think women are HouseKeepers but not Mormon Priests. Where is the world did that come from? Is it possible that this came from the same place as the “fact” Blacks could not be a member of the Mormon church? Get a life! Women are just as capable of being Priests or Housekeeper, CEO’s or Secretaries.

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    1. slk4 months ago

      and your society, has always treated women equally??? i’m sure if women had a choice of mormon or muslim, which one would you think they’d choose??? there still are people right here, that don’t think like you!!! i have no problem, but i’m sure people could find problems with you!!!

      Reply
    2. E.N4 months ago

      Blacks has always been able to become, and have from the beginning been, LDS members. The Church was one of the few that were mixed from the beginning and Joseph Smith openly opposed racism and slavery. Also, it says in the Book of Mormon that everybody is the same to God, no matter if black or white, man or woman.

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  4. Cas4 months ago

    How interesting that the majority of comments are from Mormons either defensive or simply re-spoutng their beliefs, at time calling these “truths” that they all “know.” The truth i know, from experience is oppressed women who must live as shadow of the man and lose any sense of autonomy. Sure one has a choice, but that choice lease to a defacto, unspoken ostracism– from family and friends. I’ve seen it, lived it and continue to see it every single day in the stepford-like wives I know.

    Reply
    1. Cas4 months ago

      why do you want to “moderate” my comment? It’s nor offensive or vulgar. Do you censor what you don’t like or agree with?

      Reply
      1. slk4 months ago

        big brother is watching!!!

        Reply
  5. Kregg Bodily4 months ago

    I read only a few of the comments on this article, but along with other spun statements and uninformed guess work, perhaps other LDS members noticed this statement error: “[and] revising the Sunday school curriculum so that females and males learn the same lessons” At 70 years of age, I never attended an LDS Sunday School where the genders were separated in any class. The classes are organized according to age only with both genders self seated however they choose. Perhaps the writer was referring to the latest revision in overall curriculum where youth and adults are studying the same general themes at the same time during the year so that the subjects may be discussed in the home with everyone on the same page. For those who would like to know what the LDS church teaches its members at all ages, please go to lds.org and follow any and all links, especially the ones leading to LDS church class manuals where you may read lesson content. You will be pleased to learn what much of the world does not know about Mormon religious teachings. Remember: it is not wise to ask the fox standing at the hen house door how the hens are doing inside.

    Reply
    1. Hilary4 months ago

      I believe the author has likely included Relief Society and Priesthood under the heading of “Sunday school” (after all, he is not writing *to* an LDS audience, so it is appropriate that his choice

      Reply
      1. Hilary4 months ago

        His choice of words would reflect the understood definition of a wider audience (in this case, religious classes that are separate from the communal worship service)

        Sorry, hit “send” too soon.

        Reply
  6. Nigel Hey4 months ago

    Historically LDS church policies have changed in order to match or approximate changes in national U.S. trends and/or policy. Long ago polygamy was dropped as an accepted way of life by authorities in the mainstream church as part of Utah’s successful bid to become a state. A couple of years ago I was taken aback when I opened my New Mexico door to two young people whom I recognized as Mormon missionaries, but quite different to those I knew personally during my 15 years’ residence there in the 1950s and 1960s. One was white, the other Afro-American. Both were female. When I lived in Utah Afro-Americans were considered descendants of Cain and women ‘s work was centered on home management and the rearing of children.

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  7. Mark Smith4 months ago

    The reason that so many of us are fine with the gender roles within our church is that we understand that those roles come from revelation.We are on this earth to love and serve God, not edit his Gospel to make it more palatable to the general public.

    My only family mirrors the split described in the article, my wife is far more conservative on the respective roles of men and women in the church then I am. The rarity is that women have a a strong and clear voice in the church, and are leaders in every Ward I’ve seen – the Priesthood is a call to service, not a position of authority. I know in most churches the Priest or Pastor is a person of power, in the LDS church we have no power, except the duty to provide our blessings cheerfully whenever called upon. We all, men and women, support, sustain uphold and serve our fellow Mormons, and the wider community – we just do it in different ways.

    Reply
    1. Justin Carlson4 months ago

      “Priesthood is a call to service, not a position of authority. ” That’s just nonsense, Mark. Male priesthood authority runs the gamut from mundane building scheduling issues, collecting and spending tithes, to convening disciplinary councils against women, all the way up to administering ordinances essential to salvation.

      Restoration of that authority was crucial to the mission of Joseph Smith and exercise of that authority has been inseparable from the day to day governance of the Church since at least the Kirtland period.

      The “call to service” you mention only describes an individual male’s relationship to that authority.

      Reply
  8. Phil Ollero4 months ago

    The church did not lower the women’s age to increase their role , but to increase the number of women going on a mission and it worked. From age 22 to 19 and from 19 down to 18 for men. When it was instituted, the number of missionaries were about 58,000 and now it is over 85,000.The result of the increase is that more men and women signed up to go when the age was lowered. Please don’t spin this story into something it is not. The story is about the sense of urgency that the leaders felt about the mission of The Lord. The coming of The Lord is nearing that’s why the workers must be increase to increase the number of converts.

    Reply
    1. Chad4 months ago

      And yet church spokeswoman Jessica Moody wrote in a letter dated March 17, 2014: “The recent changes you have seen, most notably the lowering of the missionary age for sisters, serve as examples [of female contributions to the direction of the church] and were facilitated by the input of many extraordinary LDS women around the world.”

      Reply
  9. Sasha5 months ago

    I think this is less about a change in Mormonism, and more about a desire on the part of the press to portray Mormonism as 1) changing and 2) demeaning toward women (There is also probably an element of 3) journalists need something to write about, and the word “mormon” gets alot of clicks).

    Even the wording “expanding the role of women” is a loaded phrase. First, it suggests that women have a certain “role” aka “the role”, second it suggests that the church has control over that role, and finally, it implies change or attempted change on the part of the church. The reality is that each woman (or man) decides for herself how to live life, what “role” or endeavors she will take up, and when and how to change those circumstances. This is true for Mormons like it is for anyone.

    Let’s not pretend that we are mere lemmings controlled by the whims of a church or a headline; if Mormon women actually had a set “role”, it would be one of their making and choosing. I for one am of the opinion that different women choose different things, and in my experience those who choose to be Mormon are happy doing so with a variety of attitudes and lifestyles and mannerisms- they make a role for themselves. Churches teach ideals from God, and people who see God in those ideals join to them, melding their lives in some greater or lesser sense to those ideals. Each of us only has a role to the extent we want one and create it for ourselves. Be active and take charge of your role and of choosing and crafting it; that is what Mormons’ God would have you do. It’s got nothing to do with a church, a headline, or a club- it has to do with YOU.

    Reply
    1. Many Joys4 months ago

      Thank you, Sasha. I’m an old lady now, but back in the 50′s and 60′s, it was recommended that Women Not work outside the home. Nowadays , it seems like an old-fashioned idea, but as we all know, there is plenty of work for all to do to keep America from falling apart.

      Reply
  10. Dennis McKay5 months ago

    We have a recent book out listing LDS women as part of a group of tiger women that produce children that are quite progressive. It is a curiosity to me what will happen to the next generation of LDS women who return home from missions marry returned missionaries and then raise a family. In my family of eight children (6 girls, 2 boys) four of my kids served a mission. Of my 6 girls all of them married businessmen and they serve along with their husbands in the business world and they raise children (35 children between them) and they are fully engaged in homeschooling their kids, teaching them business principles and increasing their talents. Interestingly the husband spends a lot of time also raising the children. They organize their work around the children. In my opinion we have a generation of tiger women on steroids coming up. Should be interesting. All of the parents and kids are firm LDS believers and quite happy with their role as women in the church.

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  11. Fred M5 months ago

    I think that both the Pew Research survey question and Kristine’s proposed question have the same issue, and really can tell us next to nothing about how people in the church feel. It’s difficult to word a question in order to get an answer that will tell you what you want to know: maybe “Do you think it would be a good thing for female members of your church to have the priesthood?” That takes it out of the realm of supporting or opposing the prophet.

    Is there anything in the scriptures which specifically prohibits women from holding the priesthood? Everything I can find assumes only men hold the priesthood, but the question of whether women can, should, or ever will hold it is never addressed…to my knowledge.

    Reply
  12. Georgia5 months ago

    This data does present an interesting background to the recent NYT article. Noting that the cited survey dates from 2011—before the change in mission age, new curriculum, women praying in General Conference, Ordain Women efforts, and much of the other changes discussed in the NYT article—I wonder to what degree opinions about “Women and the Mormon Priesthood” have changed, or perhaps are in the process of changing. As Kristine rightly pointed out in her comment above, obedience to leaders is highly valued in the Mormon faith and culture. I would suspect that seeing institutional changes relating to the role of women in the church—albeit pretty subtle changes but significant nonetheless—would have some effect on perceptions for the future of Mormon women going forward. I also would be interested to see more data going forward.

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    1. Jane5 months ago

      I agree. I know my opinion on this matter has changed since 2011.

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    2. Tasha B4 months ago

      I’m not sure how extensive that change would be….the missionary demos will have changed in a few more years. Yes, there are those who have changed, but there are far more who haven’t. Including myself. My ideas have become more entrenched as I’ve studied this out for myself and listened to various opinions and thoughts from people. I am no closer to believing in female ordination as I did 2 years ago. I think the effect is of less magnitude than is felt and wouldn’t have major statistical impact….at least not yet.

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    3. Many Joys4 months ago

      But NOT “blind” obedience. The Glory of God is Intelligence.

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    4. slk4 months ago

      the same nyt’s investigation crew, that still says a video was at fault in benghazi???

      Reply
  13. Kristine A5 months ago

    I appreciate your analysis, but within the context of Mormon culture and doctrine , the wording of your question is problematic.

    Change on such a scale is typically preceded by a revelation by the leaders of our church, if no revelation exists, that question is easily interpreted by Mormons as “do you think your prophet is wrong and this should be changed?” Which many people would consider apostasy to answer on the affirmative.

    I would be fascinated by the results if the question posed to Mormons, “If new revelation were presented allowing the ordination of women, would you support it?”

    Reply
    1. GregNM5 months ago

      What would be so fascinating about the answer to a hypothetical question that will never be anchored in reality. And the point?

      “Fascinating Question”, if the rotation of the earth changed to 350 days to revolve around the sun, would you still prefer years to remain 365 days? We can learn a lot about people with that one. :)

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    2. Daniel5 months ago

      Your proposed question presents the exact same problem, just with the results going in the opposite direction. To answer that you would not support new revelation would probably be considered apostate to most Latter-day Saints.

      The fact of the matter is, Latter-day Saints want to follow the prophet and church leadership. If the prophet said it was ok to ordain women, Latter-day Saints would support it. Since the church leadership says it is not ok, most Latter-day Saints do not support ordaining women. The idea is that the church should follow God’s will and God expresses his will about the direction of the church through the prophet and church leadership.

      Reply
      1. Jon5 months ago

        I believe a more neutral question would be something like “Do you think the current LDS Prophet should pray for revelation regarding whether women who are dedicated members of the LDS Church should be ordained to the priesthood?”

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        1. 3GrandKeys5 months ago

          There is no point in asking faithful LDS members what they think should happen regarding women and the priesthood. They are taught that the church is always as God desires it to be at any given moment. God is in control. Who are they to question God? I’m sure most were nervous even taking the survey knowing that God was watching them voice an opinion that might seek to inform His chosen prophets rather than follow them. It’s a top-down organization. The leadership speaks and the members have the choice to sustain or be seen as radicals.

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          1. Michael Scott+Jensen4 months ago

            I’d just like to make a point 3GrandKeys. We don’t have to just take their word for it. That’s one of the great things about the Church. If we are worthy, willing, and correctly understand the principles upon which revelation is based, we can know for ourselves what God would have us understand on this matter (and on any spiritual matter), according to His will.

    3. Ally5 months ago

      I agree! The question is clearly not written by a member of the LDS church. And the research is from before this whole discussion became a part of the mainstream of the church.

      I would be much more interested in a new survey, and one where they asked, “If the president of the church received revelation to allow women’s ordination in the church, would you support it?” I am certain the numbers would be reversed, with the overwhelming majority okay with it.

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    4. Jon Smith5 months ago

      Kristine,

      A excellent thought— I totally agree. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
    5. Dave5 months ago

      I agree. It’s hard to tell God what to do, it is easier to ask if you would support Him if He added to our cannon of scripture. I have no issue with women holding the priesthood, and understand that some already do (temple workers). I have no issue with the historically accurate possibility that Smith would have given the Relief Society the priesthood at some point. The Bible even mentions prophetesses. However, the D&C remains silent on the topic. Maybe God is waiting for the world to let us practice polygamy again before He give us new commandments? Hard to say. I do find it annoying that first people come in and tell us what NOT to do, and now try to tell us what TO do. It’s our faith, so maybe they should just let us live it.

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      1. Michael Scott Jensen4 months ago

        Hey Dave,

        Sister temple workers do not hold the priesthood. They are not ordained to priesthood offices. They facilitate temple work for the sisters, which is by nature, a priesthood work. All worthy members regardless of gender may enjoy all of the blessings of the priesthood. But sisters are not ordained to the priesthood, even if they are called to be temple workers. Secondly, the gift of prophecy is not only given to men. Women too can have the gift of prophecy, and in that sense can be considered to be prophetesses. But that does not mean that they hold the priesthood. They can use that gift within the bounds of their own stewardship. There are some great examples of that in different episodes in Church history. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are called by revelation by God. God calls them(and communicates that to the President of the Church, he is the one who extends the call) and we(the members) sustain them in that calling as prophets, seers, and revelators. (For the whole Church) Hope that helps.

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    6. Phil Ollero4 months ago

      Very good point and a good survey question to ask.

      Reply