SALT LAKE CITY — Standing up for traditional marriage when chosen to appear before the New Zealand Parliament late last year was one of the hardest things Angela Fallentine, a Mormon, has ever done.
Members of Parliament sat in the front, other presenters said little on behalf of families or religion, and news cameras bored in on her. The presentations by Fallentine and her husband earned no obvious support from the audience.
But Fallentine also felt standing up for traditional marriage was one of the easiest things she's done because she and her husband were defending their beliefs and relying on "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," the 1995 proclamation made by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A few months later, Fallentine became a co-founder of a new LDS women's Facebook group called "Mormon Women Stand," a social media haven for "LDS women who, without hesitation, sustain the Lord's prophet, the Family Proclamation as doctrine and our divine role as covenant women for Christ," according to its mission statement.
The group quickly gained traction, earning an average of nearly 500 Facebook likes a day in the three weeks since the page launched March 10. Now the women behind the Facebook page are gearing up to provide their take on the church's 184th Annual General Conference, with sessions Saturday and Sunday.
In a phone interview Wednesday from her home in Tauranga, N.Z., Fallentine said her experience with the New Zealand Parliament "solidified for me the need for people to be able to feel safe in standing for what they believe in, in this case for the doctrine and leaders of the LDS Church. I've had so many people say: 'Your story has given me courage. If you can speak to many, I can speak to maybe a few and defend my standards and my values.' "
She said that was a catalyst for starting Mormon Women Stand.
"I think people are afraid," said Fallentine, who is from Sterling, Alberta, Canada, studied at BYU and Utah State University and has worked for the church. "There's a fear to speak publicly because there is so much negativity and backlash on the Internet for those who do. So this provides a safe place that's very positive, where we can talk about social issues in line with the doctrine of the LDS Church and defending the prophets and apostles."
Fallentine and others among the more than a dozen women from around the world who work together on the Facebook page say they celebrate the role of women in the church.
Jelaire Richardson, a Mormon mother of three young children and a ward missionary, said she and her husband, who is their congregation's mission leader, visit a different church nearly every Sunday as a way to meet others in their Yuma, Ariz., community. "Steeple-chasing," as they call it, has added fresh context for her about the inclusion of women in preaching and decision-making in her own faith.
"We've been with everyone from Mennonites to Jehovah's Witnesses and from Jews to Muslims," said Richardson, who has a master's degree in social work and creates memes and does graphic design for Mormon Women Stand. "One thing I've learned is that in the LDS Church, women have a great voice and say in what is going on. Each week, Mormon women give talks, work in ward councils, preside over auxiliary organizations, organize ward activities and preach on Sunday."
Fallentine, Richardson and others with Mormon Women Stand also embrace recent policy changes in the church that have added to the visibility and participation of women, which include lowering the eligibility age for women serving missions from 21 to 19, new leadership opportunities and responsibilities for female missionaries and prayers by women at the faith's general conference sessions.
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