To be honest, I never noticed that women hadn’t prayed in LDS General Conference. I guess that is in part due to my lack of ovaries. In part, however, it’s the result of seeing women speak in General Conference all of my life. I just assumed they prayed in them as well. That, and I’ve never paid a whole lot of attention to any prayers in conference, other than to their running time.
Besides, I close my eyes during prayer. How am I supposed to know who is giving it? (And don’t tell me I should have noticed from the low voices…heaven only knows what hormone therapy is doing to the middle-aged woman these days).
So I was a little surprised at the hoopla prior to Conference over why women haven’t been asked to pray at a session. Seemed like a fair question to me, and it appears that the First Presidency agreed, since two of the people offering prayers this past weekend were definitely of the female persuasion. LDS feminists everywhere were fist-bumping each other and putting another notch in their pantsuits.
I just don’t understand why.
There are all kinds of reasons that this is not a big deal.
First, as I already mentioned, women have been speaking in conference forever (usually with the same annoying vocal patterns–soft spoken, hard-Rs, overly sincere–but that is the subject for another day). Those talks get printed up and circulated just like General Authority talks, in about a bajillion languages, and they can be used for lessons just like any other Conference talk. To me, talking in Conference is a much more impressive gig than praying. You get your picture in the Ensign and everything.
Think about it: What is the last General Conference prayer you really remember? If you aren’t trying to grab some snacks in the kitchen during opening prayer, or dashing to the bathroom during closing prayer, about the only reaction they elicit is “Amen” or “Geez, that went on forever.” (For the record, of the two fem-prayers offered this weekend, one was masterfully short; the other was long enough to count as the opening prayer for October Conference). No one shows up the next week at Sacrament meeting and stops their buddies in the foyer to say: “Did you hear the Saturday afternoon closing prayer? That dude knocked it out of the park!”
It just seems goofy to see this as some major victory for women. It is, however, a minor victory for common sense. It reminds (or should remind) all of us that it is insufficient in the Church to justify anything with the lame excuse of “That’s how we’ve always done it.” I imagined the issue being discussed among the First Presidency and the Twelve:
“Did you hear that women want to pray in General Conference.”
“Why? That’s a no-win assignment.”
“Regardless, they really want to.”
“Have we ever done that before?”
“Beats me, I’m usually getting snacks during the prayers.”
“Well, we probably haven’t, since they are complaining about it. I mean, we could look it up, but…”
“Too much work. We’ll take their word for it. Why haven’t we let them pray?”
“Don’t look at me. Wasn’t my call.”
“Me, either. I’m supposed to be in charge of spicing up the audit report. By the way, President Monson, how do you feel about dancing bears?”
“We’re drifting here. Does anyone know why we don’t do this?”
“Well, didn’t Brigham Young say something about women praying in Church on the Moon, or am I getting this confused?”
“Seriously? We have no idea why we’re doing this?”
“Well, I mean…it just hasn’t been done. We’d need a revelation or something, right? Maybe a proclamation? Official Declaration? A really good letter to the Bishops?”
“No, I think that’s only the case if you had a revelation saying you couldn’t do it first. Then you would need a revelation to go the other way.”
“Well, what if we did it?”
“What do you mean ‘did it?'”
“You know. Just do it. Let a sister pray. Heck, we could let two of them pray.”
“For all I care, they can give all of the prayers. The 70s drone on too long, and I can’t understand a word from some of them. Why did we ever let Hispanics have the Priesthood?”
“They’ve always had the Priesthood. In a way, they kind of wrote the book on it.”
“Book? Oh, THAT book. Good point. Lehi and whatnot.”
“So, do we let them pray?”
“As long as they bring cookies.”
“We can’t ask them to bring cookies. That’s sexist!”
“No! No baked goods. They would get to pray for free!”
“Fine, but don’t blame me when we run out of snacks.”
“Let’s put it to a vote. All in favor of women praying in Conference, signify by shrugging.”
I’m certain it was something very close to that. But the point is, in a living Church we have to have sufficient flexibility on non-doctrinal matters to consider the reasonableness of doing things that we might not have done before. The traditions of the Church are just that: Traditions. When somebody raises their hand and asks, “Well, sure we’ve always done it that way, but does it make sense?” our response should not be to assume apostasy, but to consider whether there might be a better way of doing things. Something that will make people feel more included, more comfortable?
Praying in General Conference is not a big deal. Not letting someone pray because we just traditionally haven’t is. The First Presidency set a good example for all of us by listening to a valid concern, not bristling at it as if it were a challenge to authority, and making a small change that made a lot of women in the Church feel better.
Nothing wrong with that.