Michelle Quist: A feminist’s hope for LDS General Conference

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Surrounded by paintings and photographs of past Relief Society presidents, Mormon historians Matthew Grow, Carol Cornwall Madsen Jill Mulvay Derr and Kate Holbrook talk about their new volume, The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, at the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City, Monday, February 22, 2016.

This weekend is General Conference for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Rumors are racing about church leaders tweaking the prohibition against drinking coffee and tea currently laid out in the Word of Wisdom.

There is precedent, of course. During the last few General Conferences, the church implemented some pretty drastic changes, including cutting Sunday services to two hours, reimagining the church-wide fellowship program and eliminating weekly meetings and quorum identifiers of an entire priesthood office classification.

The media has reported that there has also been recent changes to the temple ceremony. These changes were very poignant to me personally, as well as many other women close to me.

So what changes will the church make this weekend? I doubt there will be any changes to the Word of Wisdom, as rumored, and that’s fine with me.

I recognize that the Word of Wisdom was not a prerequisite for temple attendance until the 1920s, and that early members did not similarly abstain from tobacco and alcohol. A shift would certainly be reasonable.

But I’ve been grateful for the nudge toward a healthier lifestyle, and am glad the church’s policy helped me avoid certain addictions in my life. Of course, I’ve had other addictions, including ingesting a copious amount of daily Excedrin for most of my 20s and 30s. And it’s not my business whether other members abstain or not.

Continuing along the vein of the reported changes to the temple ceremony, I would love to see some new policies directed at helping women feel more valued and heard. Of course, many may dismiss this idea as another over-sensitive, radical, feminist rant from Michelle. Go ahead.

But as we approach Easter season, it’s always helpful to remember that at least one man was pretty radical in His teachings and policy-shifts. That man’s own apostles abandoned him multiple times. His female-followers never did, and, as I wrote last year, ushered in the gospel of Christ at every opportunity.

At a minimum it would be nice to see a request made of the men to abstain from social media for two weeks. The church requested a similar fast of women last conference, and the disparity didn’t make much sense. The implication was that silly women don’t know how to control their social media habits but men don’t have similar problems. (I mean, can anyone say March Madness?)

Other innocuous changes could be:

• More female speakers at General Conference.

• Young Women presidents conducting, or at least attending, temple interviews for young women.

• Using “Heavenly Parents” in the Young Women’s theme (“We are daughters of our Heavenly Parents”).

• Wives of mission presidents being a co-president, because she really is. Why can’t they both be called Mission Presidents?

• Lifting the ban on women in local leadership positions like Sunday School President, Ward Mission Leader, Ward Clerk, etc.

• A larger role for young women during sacrament meetings.

• An official recognition that the temple ceremony changed to eliminate references to a subservient role for women.

One other “radical” idea: Why can’t mothers hold their infants during a baby blessing? There is nothing doctrinal about a mother sitting in the middle of a circle of men. No chain is broken. No “authority” is being abused. And oh, how mothers would love such inclusion.

I asked my bishop if I could hold my baby during a baby blessing once. I was nervous and embarrassed to even ask. He said no. Instead, he offered me time to share my testimony after the blessing, which was fine. That particular baby blessing, though, was sidelined by something else that was deeply hurtful, and I was left feeling completely left out of the entire experience. And this was my special baby. It was a difficult day.

The admonition to mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those in need of comfort, is real. And oftentimes applies where we least imagine it. Some will scoff at my vulnerability, but my apprehension about sharing such hopes is only strengthened by my knowledge that I am not alone.

I don’t suggest these ideas as a critic, but as a faithful member who hopes for things that may come from a loving Father. And Mother.

Michelle Quist

Michelle Quist is a columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune.