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Women can see, but not attend, Mormon priesthood session

Published September 27, 2013 9:55 am

Religion • Church to broadcast meeting live for first time, but won't let women into the Conference Center.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ordain Women sees the LDS Church's historic announcement that next week's general priesthood session will be telecast live for the first time as a step forward. But, in the end, the group is still being shut out.

For the past few months, Ordain Women, which is pushing to open the faith's all-male priesthood to females, has been asking for tickets to the Oct. 5 priesthood session of the 183rd Semiannual General Conference.

The meeting has been off-limits to women, even wives of LDS presidents and apostles. Traditionally, it has been the only one of the five sessions broadcast only to Mormon chapels and not publicly available.

On Tuesday, the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that "the priesthood session will be shown live for the first time through expanded channels, including LDS.org, the Mormon Channel and BYUtv."

When asked whether Ordain Women's plan had prompted the decision to telecast the session, church spokeswoman Ruth Todd said in a statement that "broadcasting the priesthood session ... is simply another step in reaching a worldwide audience in a way that makes sense in a global church."

In a letter directly to Ordain Women, Todd wrote: "Tickets for the priesthood session are reserved for men and young men and we are unable to honor your request for tickets or admission."

Even so, more than 200 women in the group still plan to wait in the standby line at the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City for tickets to the session.

"We will stand with men and boys who did not reserve tickets in advance of the priesthood session," said Kate Kelly, one of Ordain Women's organizers. "There may be more tickets available now that people can choose to watch the session at home."

The group sees this effort for tickets "as a continuation of us asking, seeking and knocking," Kelly, an international-rights lawyer, said from Washington, D.C. "It demonstrates our willingness to receive the priesthood and to accept the responsibilities that come with it."

Female participation falls outside the purpose of the priesthood session, Todd wrote to Ordain Women.

It is meant to "strengthen the men and young men, including fathers and sons," she wrote, "and give them the opportunity to gather and receive instructions related to priesthood duties and responsibilities."

Todd explained that the priesthood session is for men what the general Relief Society and Young Women sessions — held in October and April the week before the two-day conference — are for women.

"We welcome you to view the live priesthood session broadcast," Todd wrote.

But the two women's meetings — unlike the priesthood session — are not considered part of general conference, Kelly noted in a statement, "and male priesthood holders always preside over and speak at this meeting, whereas women have never been permitted to preside over, speak at (with one exception in 1946), or even attend the priesthood session in the Conference Center."

In the past, she said, major announcements were delivered at the priesthood session, including "the Perpetual Education Fund [which provides loans to Mormon students abroad to further their schooling], changes in temple recommend policies and availability, and announcement of new temple construction."

Kelly pointed out the letter came from the church's Public Affairs Department and not from its male authorities.

"We don't see our actions as contradicting anything that was said to us directly by leaders," Kelly said. "Our intention is to communicate a message to our leaders and to the Lord."

If they are denied in-person access to the priesthood meeting, these activists plan to return to City Creek Park a block away to "continue our call for the ordination of women."

After all, Kelly said, that is the group's ultimate goal.

pstack@sltrib.com