Loss of Temple Recommends

A Philadelphia Inquirer article questioning if it was possible to support the ERA and remain a member of the LDS Church [Click image to enlarge.]
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Collection MSS 225, Box 7, Folder 22.)

The vast majority of Mormon ERA supporters did not face excommunication but faced other institutional consequences such as the loss of church positions (referred to as callings) and access to the LDS temple. LDS Church members believe they are called by God to serve in specific capacities in the Church. Priesthood leaders issue callings to ward members and ask them to serve as Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, and in other capacities necessary to the functioning of a ward.[1] Generally, most members of a ward hold callings and serve in the functioning of the ward. Several ERA supporters reported that after expressing their views on the ERA, they were prematurely released from callings, signaling that the Church did not want these women in positions of authority or to regularly teach Church congregations. Wanda Scott reported being released from her Relief Society teaching calling after expressing her support for the Equal Rights Amendment.[2] Another described her removal from her calling working with young women in a 1980 Philadelphia Inquirer article.[3] Both of these women held positions of authority in their wards and regularly taught other women in the Church. Local leaders might have perceived them as a threat and feared they would spread feminist ideas through their lessons to the congregation.

Other women in the LDS Church received warnings from their local leaders and some faced increased scrutiny when seeking a temple recommend, which allows worthy LDS members to enter the temple. Sonia Johnson recounts the difficulties her mother faced after she signed a letter to all U.S. Legislators asking for additional time to ratify the ERA. Sonia’s mother recalls that her bishop warned her that her church membership was in danger. Several months later, her mother and father applied for temple recommends. During the interview, the bishop insinuated that Johnson’s mother was not worthy to attend the LDS temple based on her support for ERA and suggested she think it over. Her mother replied, “I don’t need to think it over.”[4] Ultimately, Johnson’s mother received her temple recommend, but it came at the price of additional scrutiny, feelings of embarrassment, and doubts about her commitment to the LDS Church. Another woman shared a similar experience in a September 1980 meeting of the Alice Louise Reynolds forum, a group named after a BYU professor. They regularly met to discuss feminist issues, specifically the Equal Rights Amendment. In this woman’s case, she initially received a temple recommend and, a short time later, had it revoked due to her support of the ERA.[5] For many women, full participation in the LDS Church and support for the ERA were not possible. The newspaper headline, “Mormonism and ERA: Is it either/or?” encapsulates this idea.[6] ERA supporters quickly learned of the institutional consequences and the difficulties of remaining a Mormon in good standing while also supporting the ERA. Some women were preemptively released from callings or denied access to the temple based on their political beliefs.

[1] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Handbook 2: Administering the Church (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2010), 19.1.1.
[2]  Neil J. Young, “The ERA Is a Moral Issue: The Mormon Church, LDS Women, and the Defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment,” American Quarterly 59, no. 3 (2007): 638.
[3] Vera Glaser, “Mormonism and ERA: Is it either/or?” Philadelphia Inquirer, January 14, 1980. MERA MSS 225, Box 7, Folder 22, USUSCA.
[4] Sonia Johnson, From Housewife to Heretic, (New York City: Doubleday & Company Inc., 1981), 203.
[5] Amy L. Bentley, “Comforting the Motherless Children: The Alice Louise Reynolds Women’s Forum,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 23, no. 3 (Fall 1990): 55.
[6] Glaser, “Mormonism and ERA: Is it either/or?”