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A Mormon glass ceiling shattered

Jean A. Stevens prays during the morning session of the 183rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Saturday April 6, 2013. (Chris Detrick/AP)

In recent weeks we’ve seen some grand changes in the world. A pope unexpectedly resigned, and a new one selected in record time. The U.S. Supreme Court has finally heard a case that challenges the ongoing resistance to same-sex marriage. North Korea has unsettled the world, following in the footsteps of two generations of Kims. Speaking of Kims, the Kardashian is showing more than her usual swellings.

There was one more globe-shifting event, this time in Utah. It happened this past weekend: Not one, but two women offered prayers at sessions of the annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was earth-shattering, even in its simplicity. It turned out Monday morning that the banks did not fail, cows did not stop giving milk, the lofty Rocky Mountain peaks did not crumble. Mormons did not need to tap into the five years of canned food they store the basement.

Apparently, it’s true that no girl or woman has ever said an opening or closing prayer to open or to close this biggest of all Mormon church services. When Jean A. Stevens stepped to the conference center podium to sweep aside the longstanding manifestation of God’s revealed order, there was a sudden shift in the global winds—perhaps you felt it—as the breath of 14 million Mormons around the planet caught in their lungs. Many of them were surely fearful of being hit by the falling shards of the glass ceiling. Others were dumbstruck that God has been following the Facebook campaign.

A small move like this is just another step on the sure and straight road towards the Oz in which LDS congregations ordain women pastors (Mormons use the term “bishop” in the place of “pastor”, but these are just terms for the same thing). For 18 decades, LDS Mormonism has had a male-only clergy. But women praying alongside the grand, gray men of Mormondom signals that the LDS Mormon woman-of-the-cloth is as inevitable as federally-sanctioned, same-sex marriage in the United States.

Such change is inevitable, because, in spite of the zealots who are sure that the conditions of their short 70 years on earth are the culmination of history and the measure of the future, God changes. God changes his mind, changes his voice, changes his style, changes her form. What emerges from God’s mouth sounds different every day. And the Bible’s declaration that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever hasn’t kept the Bible from changing over the centuries, either.

Most of the time God changes at the behest of people—theologians, social activists, the indignant masses, sometimes, and even half-literate farmers who dare to look at what is and imagine it differently. I can feel the umbrage bubbling even as I write this, but religious people should take comfort in the Mormon affirmation that God responds to us. The progress that we make as a human family—as incremental as it may be—charts God’s course.

Nowadays, it’s simply de rigueur to say that the lack of evidence for God undermines all religion everywhere, and the “nones” are on their way to become the largest religious denomination in America because religions have become sinkholes. But if God follows us, if the divine feels after us and suits itself to our need and understanding, then we and our changing are the evidence of God and the foundation of religion that is not at all dead.

Vernacular Mass. Celibate clergy. Same-sex marriage. Women priests. Good grief—the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. It’s not the way that religion stays the same, but the way religion changes that reveals God in the world.

David Mason is an associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis. He is the author of “Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage” and “My Mormonism: a primer for Mormons and non-Mormons, alike.” Follow him on Twitter.



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