‘Mormon Land’: Will a top LDS women’s leader ever again be seen as a ‘13th apostle’?

How to boost the profile, prestige and power of the church’s high-level female officers — and how that could affect women throughout the global faith.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Relief Society General Presidency at General Conference on Saturday, April 6, 2024. They are J. Anette Dennis, left, President Camille N. Johnson and Kristin M. Yee. This week's podcast focuses on how to elevate the church's top women's leaders.

The role of women in any patriarchal faith is always fraught. It is especially confusing in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which celebrated women who led the charge for suffrage while also practicing polygamy.

Past Latter-day Saint women like Eliza Snow and Emmeline Wells held high-profile positions in the hierarchy almost until their deaths — Susa Young Gates, an influential daughter of church prophet Brigham Young, was even dubbed a “13th apostle” — while today’s top female leaders are in and out in just five years.

Earlier general presidents of the women’s Relief Society were well known to members and wielded wide personal power, but, like the current high-level female leaders, they never held offices as “general authorities.”

Now comes word that, unlike yesteryear, today’s General Relief Society Presidencies don’t even meet weekly with an apostle “liaison” to the governing First Presidency.

On this week’s show, April Young-Bennett, a blogger and essayist for Exponent II who has seen the evolving changes for Latter-day Saint women, discusses where top female leaders stand in today’s church, what could or should be done to elevate their status, and whether women’s ordination is the only way to truly balance the gender scales in the global faith.

Listen to the podcast: