LDS Church responds to firestorm over speech about women, points to glitch for vanishing social media comments

Sermon about the faith giving more power to women than any other religious organization is drawing criticism from insiders and outsiders.

They came fast — though not furious — nearly 8,000 comments, the majority from current and former Latter-day Saint women, pushing back against what was clearly intended to be a positive message of female empowerment.

The offending post: a quote delivered by J. Anette Dennis, a worldwide leader in the faith’s women’s Relief Society organization, in a sermon broadcast to women of the church across the globe Sunday and uploaded to the faith’s official Instagram account.

“There is no other religious organization in the world,” Dennis stated, “that I know of, that has so broadly given power and authority to women.”

Thousands of social media users were not convinced, however, and by Tuesday night the Utah-based faith had penned an official response.

“The church’s social media team acknowledges the numerous comments that have emerged in response to this post,” the church said. “Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, feelings and experiences. Your comments will be shared with church leaders who follow these issues. We, like you, strive to follow the example of Jesus Christ in our interactions, including conversations online.”

‘We have tried to have our voices heard’

Not all the online comments were negative.

“I am so grateful for the testimonies shared during that night!” @cassiesturm beamed. “I am so glad to know and have a testimony of the things they shared with us!”

The overwhelming majority, however, explained that the statement felt at odds with their experience in the 17 million-member church.

“As active women,” @jentheginger wrote, “we have tried to have our voices heard. I’ve spoken in person with ward [congregational] and stake male leaders to ask for more female voices in the room to no avail.”

Words like “dismissive” and “gaslighting” peppered the comments, many of which went out of their way to avoid demonizing Latter-day Saint leaders and Dennis specifically.

“Sister Dennis and other church leaders are good people who are trying their best,” @joannataggart wrote. “But this statement doesn’t reflect my personal experience in this church. It feels like an attempted dismissal of my decadelong wrestle with this topic. It feels disingenuous because it’s not in alignment with reality. I feel really tired and sad.”

Others struck a mournful tone, pointing to the post as an example of what ultimately drove them from the fold.

“Genuinely, I could have stayed in an imperfect church,” explained @seagillicuddy. “I was there for the journey. I was willing to stay on the ship. What finally led me to leave the church was rhetoric like this post that tried to make it seem like problems didn’t exist, that I was seeing things, that I couldn’t trust my own heart and conscience.”

The church declined Wednesday to respond to Salt Lake Tribune questions about which leaders would be presented with the comments as well as what kind of response their authors might expect from them.

A glitch in the system

Sorrow and discouragement hardened into fury Wednesday morning when online responses began disappearing by the thousands.

Commenters revolted.

“How can you say thank-you for sharing our thoughts, feelings and experiences and then in the same breath silence them!” posted @kristina.mecham. “Deleting my message along with all the others is exactly what’s currently hurting women in the church. Once again being silenced and cast to the side.”

In a statement posted to Instagram Stories, however, the church said a “platform-wide issue” triggered the vanishing act.

Instagram had not yet responded to a request for comment by midday Wednesday. However, on X, formerly known as Twitter, the head of communications for Meta, which owns Instagram, acknowledged a technical issue had occurred Wednesday that “caused people to have difficulty accessing some of our services.”

A story posted Wednesday by the United Kingdom’s Mirror noted reports of issues specifically with comments on Instagram.

Meanwhile, some of the comments that came in response to the church’s post from previous days still remained visible, including one from the Latter-day Saint author and influencer Rosemary Card, who pleaded with the faith’s leaders to heed the voices found in the comments.

“We need actions,” she said, “not words.”

Priesthood authority vs. priesthood office

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) J. Anette Dennis, first counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency; President Camille N. Johnson; and Kristin M. Yee, second counselor, pose in the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City during the filming of the worldwide Relief Society devotional broadcast on March 17, 2024. Dennis' sermon is getting pushback from members and those outside the faith.

While many positions in the church — from Sunday school teacher to president of the worldwide children’s organization — are available to women, they are, in all instances, approved for those roles by male leaders.

In more recent years, Latter-day Saint apostles have begun to speak more and more about women exercising priesthood power, believed to be God’s authority given to his children. Dennis, first counselor Relief Society General Presidency, referred to this teaching in her speech Sunday.

Priesthood “offices,” however, are exclusive to men and teenage boys.

This distinction is important, said Kristine Haglund, a writer and former editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.

While “distinguishing between priesthood power and priesthood office in this way may feel empowering for many LDS women,” Haglund said, “the fact that women’s priesthood power is exercised exclusively with the permission and at the direction of men who hold priesthood office feels constraining and disempowering to many.”