Note: The following outlines my current (6/18/14) thoughts on Ordain Women, which will undoubtedly evolve as events continue to unfold and I consider these matters more deeply.
C., Sorry for the delayed reply. Finals week and all. Thanks for taking the time to write a thoughtful response. I appreciate your perspective, and I appreciate that in your support for OW, you’ve always been respectful and civil. You bring up some good points. Here are some of my thoughts:
1. “I don’t believe the size of the group should have any bearing on the virtue of their position.”
I agree that the size of the group doesn’t matter, and I wouldn’t make this an argument against female ordination itself at all. There were a lot of women who weren’t in favor of women’s suffrage and quite content to give up their voice in political matters to their husbands and fathers. Their contentment with the status quo didn’t make the status quo ideal. The idea that you don’t have to be in the majority to be in the right is something Mormons in particular are known for—rather vigorously—subscribing to.
I do think it’s useful to consider how the majority of Mormon women feel about OW, however, because (1) any change in Church policy and/or doctrine would affect these women disproportionately; and (2) OW claim to want to improve the situation of all Mormon women; also, their public actions impact Mormon women beyond their own group. It’s actually these last two points in particular that has made me puzzled by aspects of OW’s and Kate Kelly’s messaging (see below).
2. “OW isn’t making the church look bad, the church is making the church look bad. OW is trying to fix it.”
I’ve listened to a number of interviews with Kate Kelly to try to understand her and the OW movement better. Initially, I thought Kate Kelly came across as quite sincere, even though I was wary of her approach. (I feel pretty wary of any group that publicly dismisses written proclamations by apostles and prophets as products of cultural bias; but that doesn’t find the same critique applicable to feminist and activist writings that are influenced by an increasingly individualistic culture of self-affirmation.)
The moment I felt like she wasn’t speaking to “mainstream” Mormon women—and perhaps didn’t have much regard for them—was during one interview when she related an anecdote that her husband told her about an investigator on his mission. She said the woman was hesitant to join the Church because, as she put it, “I don’t want my daughters to grow up to be what Mormon Women are.” Kate said she thought this anecdote was “interesting.” Interesting? That’s a pretty big slap in the face to generations of faithful Mormon women, and she didn’t particularly seem to notice. Kate Kelly has said that many Mormon women don’t agree with her position because it’s difficult to take a hard look in the mirror and not like what you see. This could be correct; it’s also fairly condescending and presumptuous.
Kate Kelly also publicly accused specific moderate Mormon feminists—people who have worked for years to promote women’s voices in the Church—of benevolent sexism and mercenary motivations because they weren’t on the same page with her regarding ordination. She’s stated that the only sins she’s guilty of are being authentic, speaking the truth, and standing up for her sisters. From my perspective, she stood up for one group of sisters by painting the rest as naïve at best; mercenary at worst. In other words, she hasn’t merely “shed light” on what people already believe about Mormon women; she’s actively encouraged those stereotypes. Perhaps it wasn’t malicious, but it certainly seemed an intentional part of her rhetoric.
3. “The prophet has made no indication that he’s been praying and seeking revelation on this issue.”
The point that the prophet hasn’t said the words, “I prayed about this and the answer is no” is wearing thinner and thinner. Elder Oaks said, “The Lord has directed that only men will be ordained to offices in the priesthood.” I can see how pressing and pressing for “revelation” would make sense if you firmly believe that female ordination is God’s will AND if you believe it’s your place to tell apostles/prophets it’s God’s will. But if you’re actually seeking to know God’s will above all else—including above desiring female ordination—then it seems recent General Conference talks would at least give you pause. Most people didn’t give Elder Hales’s last October GC talk a second thought. It was, significantly, the opening talk of GC, and his entire point was stressing that Church leaders pray about the topics they speak about. I didn’t hear a single Mormon blogger mention this. To believe that Church leaders haven’t prayed about this matter is making a pretty big assumption and to me seems to be coming from a place of confirmation bias rather than an earnest desire to know God’s will on this matter. [Note: I’m well aware that I’m highly prone to confirmation bias myself, on this matter as on any other.]
I also find it significant that OW put more stock in what Gordon B. Hinckley said in an interview with a journalist than in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” document he signed his name to. Or in what apostles and prophets currently say in conference talks when speaking to the general membership. It seems at least likely that more thought and prayer goes into a public proclamation signed by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or a GC talk specifically about priesthood than into an impromptu response to a journalist.
If OW actually believed in priesthood keys and authority, they would respect those who have the priesthood keys and authority to interpret scripture and teach doctrine to the Church. They would also respect the calling and agency of an apostle/prophet enough to, after hearing the request that he pray about female ordination, let him act with the Spirit in deciding what to do with that request. I have no problem with anyone asking questions (see Rachael Givens Johnson’s article on Patheos “I’ts Not About Questions–and it is”). I think these are valid, provocative questions OW is considering. I think there are a lot of possibilities for women in the Church that can be explored. But I don’t believe OW’s approach is faithful to scriptures or prophetic counsel. And, more tellingly, I don’t think their approach is even consistent with their proposed aims (i.e. they’re undermining the authority they’re asking to be a part of).
4. “Bottom-up policy changes have occurred consistently throughout church history, giving us the Word of Wisdom, the Relief Society, each of the auxiliaries, and the three-hour block just to name a few. Not to mention the lifting of the priesthood bad on men of African descent in 1978 which also serves as a good precedent.”
This is a valid point. OW’s methods have been very different from the methods of that movement (at least of those who were truly effective.) If you have more questions about that, you can look up articles on the topic by Russell Stevenson and Margaret Young (see Margaret Young’s article on Patheos “Priesthood Restrictions–Shall we Protest?”). I do think if the Church is responding to OW differently from black Mormons, then that indicates they perceive OW’s intentions differently. You could blame the Church for that; you could also acknowledge that OW have chosen to communicate its message in a way that Church leaders find difficult to engage with. Church PR was criticized by OW for saying they take a “non-negotiable” position. But what else can you make of Kate Kelly’s assertion, “The ordination of women would put us on equal spiritual footing with our brethren, and nothing less will suffice” or “‘Well, I’m in an institution and I can see it needs to be improved. It needs to change; I don’t need to leave.’” This sounds non-negotiable to me. That isn’t to say, of course, that Church PR couldn’t have engaged with OW differently or that channels for “bottom-up” questions can’t be put in place.
Re: the Canaanite woman:
The woman came and knelt before Him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
I’m not convinced that kneeling before Jesus is the same as (1) publicly dismissing a proclamation signed by prophets/apostes, (2) interviewing with the press after demonstrating on Temple Square to craft a narrative of victim-aggressor, (3) disseminating 6 “discussions” that mimic missionary discussions and are designed to influence members to favor doctrine that Church leaders have not said is doctrine (and have indicated might actually not be doctrine), (4) granting interview after interview, writing article after article to continue carefully crafting the narrative of victim-aggressor after you’ve been admonished by local leaders. I mean, maybe the Canaanite woman would have written the article Kate Kelly recently published in the Guardian (“Jesus called me a dog for asking for equal rights”). Maybe she would have given the interview with the Huffington Post Kate Kelly recently gave. Maybe she would have found thin excuses to not take accountability for her actions and try to engage with her Church leaders by attending her disciplinary council. I’m highly skeptical. But this is obviously a matter of opinion.
5. “I do not believe for a second that God has determined that it’s right for all women to play one role and for all men to play another, but let’s assume that it’s true for the sake of discussion. There’s still gender inequality in the church. This gender inequality has made membership difficult for a large number of people, whether they be prospective, current, or erstwhile members.”
It’s true that there are positive changes that can be made within the Church for women. I for one was really grateful that the recent change in missionary age has opened up opportunities for young women that I never had. The decision I had to make about whether or not to serve a mission when I was 21 was fraught with anxiety in a way that I don’t think it would have been if I’d been making that decision today. And I fervently hope this will dispel a lot of the negative stereotypes about sister missionaries—something that I’ve called people out on before. This was definitely one of the main areas of sexism I’ve personally witnessed in the Church. I’m not going to say, though, that the policy that was in place when I was 21 was wrong because it contributed to some very acute anxiety.
The drop in missionary age, women praying in GC–these are great opportunities that I’m excited about. However, does nurturing women’s voices and opportunities for service in the Church necessitate female ordination? Possibly. OW say it does, that anything else would be unequal. But in general, I’m wary to critique the gospel and the Church, even, with contemporary notions of “gender equality.” What does equality mean? And is it—as modern Americans understand it—a fundamental principle of the gospel? If all are alike unto God, why did he, for example, make men so that they have larger muscles than women so that they run faster and can protect themselves better? Why did God make it so that women have a unique opportunity to bond with their children through gestation, childbirth, and nursing? This is unequal. It could even be considered sexist. But is it?
“Male and female created he them.” If God made us biologically different (gave us different biological roles and responsibilities) and designed the fundamental unit of exaltation to be a male-female unit (“…neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord”), is it at least conceivable, for the sake of argument—that he may have given men and women different but equally-valued, equally-important, complementary spiritual roles? We can debate all day about what those roles are—and I honestly think it’s going to look different for every person. But is it at least conceivable? I’m not saying that biology prescribes or justifies current gender roles—I’m just asking, is it conceivable that God doesn’t see differences in gender roles as inherently unequal?
I’ve been reading a lot in Mosiah and Alma in the Book of Mormon recently. I think it’s somewhat useful (although, considering it’s a translation into English, any close word analysis is going to have its limitations) to see how “equality” is mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Alma 1:26 says, “And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength.” In this instance, equality doesn’t necessarily mean that people have the same roles: it means that each person labors in his/her role and each role is esteemed equally important. If we see inequality in the Church, it may be because there’s something wrong with the lens we’re using. How much of this inequality exists in the Church—and how much exists in our attitudes toward different roles? If we’re currently lacking respect or undervaluing the roles that women have—if we’re not taking their voices seriously—we need to dramatically change our attitudes.
I’m not saying hearing more women’s voices in Church governance wouldn’t be a positive thing. I’m not even saying that women will never be ordained to the priesthood, or some kind of priesthood. I’m saying that we can’t always assume that we know what God’s design for his people will look like—and it may challenge our current culturally-influenced paradigms, whether those paradigms be more traditional or more conservative. I do think it’s interesting that every Church member I’ve talked to about female ordination who takes issue with OW’s approach has nonetheless said if the prophet declared women were to be ordained to the priesthood, they’d be fine with it. I would be more convinced of OW’s sincerity if I sensed the same kind of openness to receiving revelation that these more “conservative” members demonstrate.
6. “Kate Kelly has prevented hundreds of good, faithful latter-day saints from leaving the church…”
I hope that’s the case. However, first, we don’t have a lot of data on that; although I’ve been interested in the stats OW have been putting out about their membership. Second, as Maxine Hanks said in her recent interview with Dan Wotherspoon, I think it’s fair to question what that actually means. Are these women staying only because they think the Church will change its “policy?” What if the answer is “no?”—AND that answer is God’s will (at least for the time being)? What if (and I don’t know that this is the case), it’s not a matter of policy for women to not be ordained to priesthood offices (as they currently function) in this dispensation, or on the earth, or even in the eternities? If these women are only staying because they anticipate the Church will change, are they really “staying”? Are they staying because they want to sincerely follow Jesus Christ; or are they staying because they will follow Jesus Christ as long as following him doesn’t challenge their worldview?
For the record, I believe a lot of women in OW would stick around if the prophet said, “I prayed about this, and the answer is no,” but not all would. What I worry about is that OW’s actions and rhetoric—and the theology they implicitly teach—makes is MORE difficult for these good, faithful Latter-day Saint women to stay, not less. And I find that incredibly painful to consider.
Lastly, I just want to say that I believe this is Jesus Christ’s church. (Which isn’t to imply that anyone who disagrees with me doesn’t.) One of the many reasons is that when I’ve dealt generously with my Church leaders who have given me counsel and even admonishment–that was within their stewardship (or “priesthood authority”) to give–I’ve been incredibly blessed. And incredibly empowered. FWIW.
Note: I hope all the above comes across as thoughtful and maybe direct, but not condescending or dismissive or argumentative. I don’t believe I have all the answers on this. No one does–because no one has all the information. But I do hope to represent a perspective that I think is common and valid–and that because of recent backlash, some feel too timid to voice. I realize anyone who disagrees with my perspective is taking a risk of backlash themselves. I’m praying that if anything, we will all come out of this less entrenched in our views, more committed to Jesus Christ, and more equipped to have open but respectful discussions.