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New change allows young moms, divorced members to teach Mormon seminary

First Published      Last Updated Nov 14 2014 10:18 pm

Mormon feminists applaud the move for offering women more opportunities.

Before today, if you were a Mormon woman hired to teach at an LDS seminary or institute, the moment your first child showed up, you lost your job.

If you were divorced but happily married a second time — even for decades — you could not be considered for either position.

Both those policies have been reversed.

Mormon mothers with children in the home as well as members who have been previously divorced now can be hired to teach in one of the LDS Church's seminaries or institutes of religion.

"This change makes it possible for families to decide what best meets their needs as it relates to mothers working while raising children," the Utah-based faith announced Friday in a memo regarding hiring policies. "This policy is consistent with other church departments."

Nearly 800,000 students are enrolled in LDS seminary (junior high and high school) or institute (college) courses across the globe.

This change affects only those 2,200 employees who teach full or part time for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, most of whom are in Utah and Idaho, with released-time classes.

The vast majority of the church's seminary teachers — some 44,000 — are volunteers, drawn from local congregations, many of whom are women with young children.

LDS officials have discussed the move for some time, says Chad Webb, administrator of the faith's seminaries and institutes.

Believing that the family is a vital part of Mormon theology, he says, officials wrestled with how best to present that in the classroom.

They sought input from top church officials, from women's auxiliary leaders and from teachers in the system, Webb says. "They unitedly felt this was the right thing to do at this time ... to trust our teachers to make the right decisions for their personal and family circumstances."

For Heidi Weed, teaching seminary has been a fulfilling profession, but she came to it after her four children had left for college.

Weed, who has taught seminary for four years at Murray's Cottonwood High, worked as one of those volunteer teachers in Idaho and Kansas while her children were young. Then, when a friend suggested she take it up as a career, she jumped at the chance. She's glad more women will have that opportunity.

"Half of our students are female," Weed says. "Now they will be able to receive an invitation to come unto Christ from someone who represents their point of view."

Female teachers also may help better prepare young women to serve Mormon missions, she says. "They will see modeled in seminary what they will emulate in their missionary labors and in future families — teaching the gospel."

Lori Newbold, principal at Alta High's seminary in Sandy, is single and always thought she would quit when she married and became a mother.

"I was OK with that because my personal desire was to be a stay-at-home mom," Newbold says. "But, until then, this is my perfect dream job."

She also earned a master's degree in mental-health counseling, she says, in case she ever had to go back to work as a married woman or mother.

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