Mormon women don't want "authority," say the LDS Church's three top female leaders, they desire the "blessings and power" of the priesthood they can access through men in their lives.
"Most of the women, I think, in the church are happy to have all the blessings," President Linda K. Burton, head of the church's female Relief Society, said in a video interview posted on the church's newsroom website late Friday. "That's what matters most to them, and it doesn't matter who holds that umbrella. They're happy to let someone else hold the umbrella because we have different complementary roles and are happy with that."
President Elaine S. Dalton, of the LDS Young Women's organization (for girls ages 12 to 17), and President Rosemary M. Wixom, of the Primary (for children under 12), joined Burton in the interview, conducted by former TV anchor Ruth Todd, and echoed their colleague's sentiments.
"I see the priesthood blessing me through the covenants that I've made personally," Wixom said. "... And then I see it with my husband as we really complete each other and stand together as parents and counsel together. We couldn't do it alone; we need each other. And then I see it in my service in the church."
The video could be seen as a response to a recent push by devout grass-roots Mormons to ordain women to the all-male priesthood.
"I'm very enthusiastic to see women being brought to the fore to speak on behalf of the church," Kate Kelly, one of the founders of the Ordain Women campaign, said Friday, "and while we may disagree on certain points, I certainly respect and admire these women as my leaders."
Kelly, an international human rights attorney in Washington, D.C., a returned LDS missionary and devout Mormon, was in Utah for Ordain Women's public launch, planned for Saturday night.
All three LDS leaders described complementary, rather than identical, roles for men and women.
"We each have strengths that we need to bring, and we're strengthened when we bring what gifts and talents we've been given," Burton said, "and we strengthen each other so we don't necessarily have to be equal in same roles."
They described their participation on some of the Utah-based faith's leadership councils, overseeing, for example, LDS Church-owned schools, such as Brigham Young University, and its high school religious education.
They say their opinions are heard and valued, Dalton said. "If people could sit in where we've been and realize how 'in the details' our Brethren [LDS general authorities] are and how aware they are of individuals, of issues, of trends, of things that are taking place that really affect families, women and children, they would be absolutely astounded, as I am. I have to run to keep up."
Kelly said she agrees that "equality is not sameness."
"However," she added, "we do not believe that women are treated the same in the church and therein lies the problem."
While her group values the role of women "as mothers in Zion," Kelly said,"we would like to emphasize that fatherhood is the appropriate parallel to motherhood. Priesthood is separate and apart from gender."
Enhanced role for women on LDS missions
The LDS Church announced Friday it has adapted its missionary structure to better tap "the skills and abilities of all missionaries," especially thousands of young women who have been called since the church lowered their minimum mission age to 19 from 21.
From now on, said the church, each LDS mission will organize a "Leadership Council" that will "consist of the mission president and his wife, assistants to the president, zone leaders, and sister training leaders a newly created role."
Sister training leaders also "will be responsible for the training and welfare of female missionaries assigned to them," a news release said. They will "continue to proselytize and will also spend time each week training and evaluating the needs of female missionaries. They will report directly to the mission president on the needs of sister missionaries."
The wives of mission presidents will now "play an enhanced role in training and caring for sister missionaries." Missions will continue to be organized by zones and districts, with district leaders being responsible for baptismal interviews, the release said, but the "Mission Leadership Council will replace the Zone Leader Council."