Unless you live under a rock, you are no doubt aware of the high-profile movement that has been urging Church leaders to pray to ask God for new revelation regarding the hanging of pictures of female leaders in prominent church buildings. Led by Washington, D.C.-based human rights attorney Sherri Shelley, this movement has been making waves in the media, including the New York Times, Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post, and even the Provo Daily Herald, pushing their “non-negotiable” agenda.
The Joseph Smith Papers Project has brought to light historical documents proving that Joseph Smith espoused the then-radical egalitarian belief that pictures of female church leaders should hang side-by-side with pictures of male leaders in church buildings. He even told Emma and other prominent sisters in the first meeting of the Relief Society that its meetinghouse walls, “…would one day be a veritable kingdom of tastefully-framed photographs of well-coiffed women in a kaleidoscope of pastel colors.”
The Church, not surprisingly, pushed back at first, stating in a letter from the Public Affairs Department that the Movement to Hang Pictures of Female Leaders in Church Buildings represents only a tiny minority of LDS women. Spokesperson Jessica Rooney explained:
A 2011 Pew Research Survey found that only 8% of Mormon women wanted to see pictures of female leaders hung in church buildings.
Nevertheless, we are having wonderful discussions with LDS women about appropriate locations for pictures of female leaders that do not contradict the long-standing doctrine that the walls of church buildings are for pictures of male church leaders only, in accordance with the structure and organization of the walls of churches established by Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
The Church’s response implicitly acknowledged, however, the growing strength of the Movement, which has now posted more than 300 profiles on its website, highlighting faithful church members sharing poignant testimonies of their desire to one day see the walls of church buildings adorned with pictures of female church leaders. The Movement’s Facebook page also boasts nearly 2,500 likes.
In one of the profiles, active member Mary Runnels explained:
I desire for our prophet to seek revelation about hanging pictures of female leaders in church buildings because so many women endure this inequality silently. My mom, who is the most faithful Mormon I know, agrees with me that male and female leaders’ pictures are hung unequally in the church, but is waiting for the Lord to fix it in the next life. My aunt, who is completely devoted to the gospel, confessed her greatest fear is getting to heaven and discovering that the buildings only have pictures of men on the walls.
Even so, the Movement has provoked a backlash from more orthodox members. For example, within three days of its creation, the Facebook page of Mormon Women Sit Down and Shut Up garnered more than 10,000 likes. Founder Karen Braggs reiterated her group’s values when she stated:
We unequivocally sustain the Church leaders and support how the Lord has delegated authority to organize and administer the interior decorations of church buildings among all of His children. LDS women are endowed with the divine ability to decorate interiors, but our role is to only give style suggestions if asked by men. Questioning, debating, and doubting decisions about who or what will hang on the walls of church buildings does little to build up the buildings of the Kingdom of God.
But then in a surprise move on April 1st, the Church announced that it would begin hanging pictures of female leaders on the walls of the Conference Center. Once again, Church spokesperson Jessica Rooney:
Conversations about giving more visibility to women have been going on for some years. The decision to have the sister leaders of the church be more visible in the Conference Center is just one outcome of those conversations.
The Church denies that this move was in response to outside pressures from groups such as the Movement to Hang Pictures of Female Leaders in Church Buildings.
In a speech to CES educators, Church apostle Luce R. McMurry proclaimed:
Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation about hanging pictures of female leaders in church buildings. We spoke with a limited understanding of interior decorating and without the light and Feng Shui that now has come into the world.
We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now added a new flood of intelligence and light on interior decorating, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past about which pictures could be hung. They don’t matter any more.
Furthermore, the Church recently released an unsigned essay on its website titled, “Women and the Divine Hanging of Pictures,” noting that:
Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that being female is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that hanging pictures of female leaders in church buildings is a sin; or that pictures of women are inferior in any way to pictures of men. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all picture-sexism, past and present, in any form.
In response, Movement leader Sherri Shelley joyfully responded:
I knew this day would come. I had utter faith in my leaders, that as they sought revelation on the matter they would receive an answer from God that all pictures–both of males and females–are alike unto God.
This is truly a stunning example of the Mormon belief that the heavens are open, there is continuing revelation, and the 9th article of faith–that God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to his Kingdom–is still in force.
The reaction of Mormons around the world has been overwhelmingly positive. One reporter caught up with prominent Mormon and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who said:
I can remember when I heard about the change being made. I was driving home — with my dog on the roof — when I heard the announcement on the radio that the Church would now be hanging pictures of female church leaders on the walls of church buildings. I pulled over and literally wept. Even to this day, it’s emotional.