Mormon church opens up opportunities for mothers

SALT LAKE CITY — Mormon women with children and church members who remarry after divorce now are eligible for full-time teaching jobs in the faith’s seminaries and institutes for young members.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says the policy change announced Friday was based on input from top church officials, women’s auxiliary leaders and teachers.

“This change makes it possible for families to decide what best meets their needs as it relates to mothers working while raising children,” the church said in a memo regarding hiring practices.

The shift comes amid increased efforts over the last two years to enhance the visibility and roles of women in the church.

Among other moves, the church lowered the age when women can serve as missionaries from 21 to 19 and allowed women for the first time to offer prayers during the faith’s semiannual general conferences. A drive to ordain women to the all-male priesthood has proven unsuccessful so far.

Mormon feminists praised the latest policy reversal.

“This change is the latest in a series of policy changes that indicate our leadership’s willingness to consider and embrace best practices for the inclusion of women and incorporate them into our own institution,” Neylan McBaine, a Mormon author, told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Andrea Radke-Moss, a history professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho, agreed.

“(It) gives great hope that the church can and should be leading the way in encouraging educational and professional choices for women that will empower couples,” she said.

The shift also signals an end to “the old dichotomy between either motherhood or a profession,” allowing women to seek “more options for spiritual growth, financial need and professional ambition as part of their life’s plan,” Radke-Moss told The Tribune.

Barbara Morgan, who oversees institutes of religion in the Boston area, welcomed the latest policy change for another reason.

“It’s been a concern that if I ever had children I would have to leave … This decision is great. I love it. I think it’s the right time,” she told the Deseret News ( ).

Chad Webb, administrator of the faith’s seminaries and institutes, said the church also dropped a policy that made members who divorce ineligible for employment as full-time teachers. Now, those who remarry after a divorce may be considered for employment.

“Candidates must have exemplary marriages to be considered for full-time employment as instructors,” he told the Deseret News. “We expect our teachers around the world to represent the standards they’re teaching, including standards of family and marriage, and that will never change.”

The church employs more than 2,000 full-time seminary and institute teachers around the world.

More than 400,000 Mormon teens worldwide attend seminary classes outside school hours in buildings next to public high schools, while some 400,000 college-age Mormons attend institutes near over 500 colleges worldwide.

Full-time, paid seminary teachers work in areas with large Mormon populations such as Utah and Idaho. The vast majority of seminary teachers — some 44,000 — are volunteers mostly from local congregations.

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