Salt Lake City - A group of Mormon women is asking church leaders to let women lead the opening and closing prayer at the church's general conference as a symbol of gender equality.
The "Let Women Pray" campaign comes from a subset of the same group that drew national attention last month by urging women to wear pants to church to raise awareness about what they perceive as gender inequality within Mormon culture. Though women hold many leadership positions in the church, only men are allowed to be priests.
Women regularly give speeches during the general conference and can pray in the audience but have never led the opening and closing prayers. On the group's Facebook page, it says, "In General Conference, we've heard women speak to us. Now we hope to hear them speak to God."
"We're faithful members with real, heartfelt concerns and we're asking our church leaders to consider our plea," said Amber Whiteley, 22, of St. Louis.
This can be another example of changes in the church being triggered by members bringing ideas and concerns to church leaders for consideration, she said. There is no doctrine that prohibits women from leading prayers at general conference, said Whitely, who has a 10-month-old daughter.
"I never want her to feel unequal in the Mormon church," Whiteley said. "I want my daughter to see Mormon women being able to not only speak, but pray in general conference, and aspire to be like them."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is scheduled to hold its next general conference April 6 to 7 in Salt Lake City.
Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said decisions on people leading prayers were made several weeks ago but haven't been made public. "Customarily, details of the conference programs are not announced until General Conference," Hawkins said in a statement.
Scott Gordon, president of the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research, or FAIR, a volunteer Mormon anti-defamation group, said it never hurts for church members to respectfully question traditions.
"It's a good thing to have people once in a while question what polices and practices are cultural and what things are important or inspired of God," said Gordon.
He thinks this campaign has more merit than the "wear pants to church" campaign the group All Enlisted launched last month. He called that idea silly, but said it wouldn't hurt to let women lead prayers at general conference.
In regard to the gender inequality the group speaks of, Gordon said the church should certainly look for ways to make women feel more inclusive, but not at the expense of diminishing the role of men in the Mormon faith.
"Women benefit when men are actively involved in church," Gordon said.
The "Let Women Pray" group is asking people to send in hand-written letters, emails or sign a cover letter at www.change.org. That page has more than 500 signatures and the Facebook page promoting the event has more than 900 "likes" as of Monday morning.