183 years (to the day) since the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jean A. Stevens has become the first woman to lead public prayer at the annual General Conference.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints General Conference is an annual meeting that is just what it sounds like–Mormons from around the world come together for time spent with their faith. For almost two centuries, general convention prayer was given by a man. Jean A. Stevens broke that chain, delivering the closing prayer at this year’s General Conference.

This is a touchy and difficult issue. On one hand, clearly there is some kind of institutionalized sexism at play. We don’t know if Mormon leaders were, for the past centuries, sitting in their secret Mormon meetings consciously going, “Nah yo, a lady can’t do this” or if no woman was picked incidentally as a result of the general climate of the Mormon leading class. Either way, it is a result of sexism in the religion, and that’s super crappy. But that can be expected; the Mormons didn’t even let black people be priests until 1978, so clearly something is wrong. If I was a more ardent feminist, I’d point out that Stevens is the first counselor in the LDS Church’s Primary general presidency, which means she’s in charge of “instruction of children under age 12” – kind of delegating her to traditional gender roles, and that’s not okay.

Then again, I don’t want to criticize someone’s faith, to insult what someone holds most dear. By criticizing Mormons, I become just as much of a bigot as they, right?

Does an organization being homophobic, racist and sexist make it okay to criticize? Of course. Those are all clearly bad things. Faith does not make an organization immune to criticism. Also, it is okay to dismiss someone for their philosophical choices because they’re CHOICES – unlike sexuality, gender or race.

But here’s this: Mormonism is a good analog of America (where it was started) in that it is a relative newcomer in its respective field (religions vs. nations) and it made some horrid, horrid choices with regards to not being hateful jerks, but is open to change. I am aware that the United States has had (and has) serious problems with gender, race and sexuality, but I still consider myself a patriot because I am wowed by the change I’ve seen in my short life, and I have hope for future change.

An article on Stevens’ prayer read:

Does an organization eventually coming to its senses with regards to past bigoted behavior allow for forgiveness? Is it okay to hate an organization because it hates? Talk it out in the comments.

Featured image via NewsTimes