The issue of women’s roles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been bubbling for a while, and it’s back in the news this week.
As Religion News Service reported, the Ordain Women advocacy group will be denied access to the Mormons’ all-male general priesthood session next month.
That latest news reminds me that we need to pull an important item out of our GetReligion guilt file — those stories that we want to cover but for whatever reason haven’t.
I’m referring to The New York Times’ 5,000-word, front-page Sunday story from a few weeks ago on the sea change brought by the Mormon church lowering its age requirement for female missionaries to 19 from 21:
DAEJEON, South Korea — Ashley Farr, once Miss North Salt Lake Teen USA, is the first in her family’s long line of Mormon women to become a missionary, and in December she embarked on her new life in this gray corner of Asia. She packed her bag according to the church’s precise instructions: skirts that cover the knee, only one pair of pants, earrings that dangle no longer than one inch, and subtle but flattering makeup, modeled in photos on the church’s website.
Sister Farr, as she now is called, had left behind the student entrepreneurship competitions she was helping to run in Utah and paused her relationship with her boyfriend, far away in the Philippines, as they served his-and-her missions. Ms. Farr, a finance student at Brigham Young University in Utah, believed proselytizing would not only please God but also give her the organizational and persuasive skills to succeed professionally. She rattled off all the things she wants to become: Intern at Goldman Sachs. Wife of a mission president. Chief executive of a fashion or technology company.
“A mother and a businesswoman,” she said in an interview on her first day, neatly summarizing the two worlds, Mormon and secular, in which she hopes to thrive.
On the surface, it’s a fantastic story filled with revealing details about the experiences of the female missionaries featured, and it’s bolstered by an excellent multimedia presentation — including photos and videos.
But while the Times story certainly is an important addition to the national conversation on Mormon women’s roles, the piece seems overly broad and scattered.
“The story of female missionaries is an interesting one, and though the age of service has changed, the rest of the story is similar to what it has been for some time,” a Mormon reader said in an email to GetReligion. “That story is a different story than the issue of women’s ordination, which is another issue altogether than dating rituals in the LDS Church.”
That same reader complained that the story contains an underlying assumption that Mormon women lack standing in their own faith and that it needs to change.
Yet the Times fails to take a close look at Mormon doctrine or history — both factors that would seem crucial to providing a grounding for such an assumption.
The story includes only one quote from anyone in the Mormon leadership structure:
However, the church will go only so far: Ordaining women as priests is out of the question because it is a matter of doctrine, leaders in Salt Lake City said in an interview.
“Culturally there’s an understanding that women’s roles are going to be more and more important, but doctrine is not going to be changing,” said Michael Otterson, who directs the church’s public affairs efforts worldwide. The new wave of returning female missionaries, he added, would amount to an “injection of really theologically well-trained women” and enrich the church “if they can make the transition back.”
While the story makes repeated references to the term “priest,” the Times doesn’t bother to elaborate on what that role encompasses in the Mormon church.
“That would have put everything in context,” the GetReligion reader suggested. “But they just came at it from a set of unexamined liberal elite assumptions.”