SALT LAKE CITY — LDS mothers with children at home are now eligible for full-time employment as teachers in the church's seminary and institute programs.
The policy adjustment was presented to staff on Friday, said Chad Webb, the administrator of LDS Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. It quickly generated buzz and excitement among women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"We previously had not employed women who have minor children at home, in consideration of their important role as mothers," Webb said. "While we continue to recognize that contribution that they make in their homes, we also recognize that sometimes their personal and family circumstances require them to work."
The church employs more than 2,000 full-time seminary and institute teachers around the world.
Full-time, paid seminary teachers work in areas with large LDS populations such as Utah and Idaho, where the church offers release-time seminary classes in buildings next to public high schools. More than 400,000 Mormon teens attend seminary classes worldwide, though most are taught outside school hours by 44,000 volunteer teachers serving in church callings or as missionaries.
The institute program serves nearly 400,000 college-age Latter-day Saints in institutes near more than 500 colleges and universities around the world.
The first woman to serve as an area director of Institutes of Religion expressed excitement about the policy change.
"It's been a concern that if I ever had children I would have to leave Seminaries and Institutes," said Barbara Morgan, who oversees LDS Institutes in the Greater Boston Area, including those at Harvard and MIT. "This decision is great. I love it. I think it's the right time. I would have been surprised if it hadn't changed soon."
"I'm honestly very excited," she added, "No. 1, for my future and for other women, and No. 2, I'm really excited for the students, both male and female students, that have the possibility of having women with children who are experienced raising families as teachers in the classroom."
Webb said the adjustment has been considered for years now and was discussed with senior church leaders with responsibility for church education.
He also asked for advice from the women who lead the church's general auxiliary organizations.
"We specifically sought their counsel and found that they were united in their feelings that this was the right thing to do," he said. "But ultimately this was an employment decision made by the Seminaries and Institutes Administration."
The decision comes at a time when other changes for women have happened in the church. In the past 25 months, the church has among other things lowered the age when women can serve full-time missions, created new leadership positions for missionaries, added prayers by women at the faith's semiannual general conferences and made the semiannual General Women's Meeting an official session of general conferences.
Morgan has known Webb and other members of the Seminaries and Institutes administration for 15 years. She confirmed that they have been talking about and considering the policy at least that long.
Morgan knows women with children who decided not to enter teacher training because they knew they couldn't be hired. She knows women who married men with children from a previous relationship and had to leave Seminaries and Institutes.
She's also known teachers who married, as she eventually hopes to, and then had children and had to leave Seminaries and Institutes.
"I remember thinking when I entered the program originally, maybe this isn't the right profession for me because if my husband dies and I have children and I need a job, I'll be trained to do this but ineligible for a job."
That's a reason Morgan, who earned bachelor's and master's degrees at BYU, completed a Ph.D. at Utah State University while she was teaching church history at BYU after teaching seminary for six years.
Webb said those all of those considerations played a role in the decision.
“These decisions are important and so we've given them a lot of thought. I’m excited that the time is now. We recognize and value the essential role of mothers and families. We also realize that many women are fantastic teachers and role models for our students. We trust that our teachers will make the right decision for their individual and family circumstances.”
The only female seminary principal in the Salt Lake Valley also applauded the policy adjustment.
"I knew once I had children I'd be done," said Lori Newbold, who works at the seminary near Alta High School in Sandy, "but that's OK with me because my dream job and my No. 1 goal has been to be a stay-at-home mom. I tell my students all the time, 'I love you, but I'd rather be hanging out with my own babies.' The strong feeling among the women I've associated with in Seminaries and Institutes is motherhood is the greatest and most noble role we can have in this life."
Newbold was 11 when her parents divorced. She said as she watched her mother work three jobs to support the family, she learned the value of a woman working. While her ideal is to become a stay-at-home mom, she said if circumstances required her to be a working mother, she is grateful she now could remain with Seminaries and Institutes.
"I love that I'd be able to continue to do what I do. That's a sweet feeling inside. It's an amazing job."
Webb said students will benefit "as these wonderful women teach the gospel and work as role models for the youth of the church."
Neither Webb nor Morgan expect a large immediate influx of women, but Morgan said she is confident women in college now will now see seminary teaching as a more viable option and that there will be a steady increase of women in the field.
"Frankly, the job is phenomenal," Morgan said. "I couldn't work for a better place. Seminaries and Institutes treats women very, very well. I've always been treated with great civility and thoughtfulness and been encouraged to express my thoughts and opinions. I've been respected for my doctrinal knowledge and my insights. And I think also they've appreciated my gender and my experiences that they only can get from a woman."
She said she is paid equally, and that she was given time, money and opportunities to further her own education.
"It's exciting," she said. "I think it's a good move on the part of Seminaries and Institutes. I'm proud of them for making this decision."
Webb said administrators also deleted a policy that made divorcees 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," Webb said. "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. While there is an adjustment to this policy, our core beliefs and values continue to be the same."
Full-time employees must receive annual endorsements from an ecclesiastical leader that they are active church members and hold an LDS temple recommend.
"Our programs exist to help our students in their efforts to follow Jesus Christ," Webb said. "We do that by providing excellent teachers who love young people and love the Lord and the scriptures, and so our goal, as has always been the case, is to hire the very finest teachers, male and female, that we can find for our students."
Webb acknowledged the unique nature of the jobs and the policies.
"As we're instructors of religion, of the scriptures and the principles taught in the gospel, it's important that our teachers are examples of the principles they're teaching. So the teachers we place in front of the youth of the church not only teach them through their words but through their examples."