Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Summary of Comments: Public Affairs Letter

I'm sensing a PA Letter response pattern here, are you?  There's a little bit of background for those of you not familiar.

Last week LDS Public Affairs met with Mormon Women Stand.  That was pretty painful for those of us who find MWS to be exclusive and divisive.  A post on a blog I read commented about how it seemed the church was more interested with boundary maintenance than keeping women in the fold.  It was very painful for sisters who are struggling and have been begging to be listened by leaders to be passed by in favor of women who already agree with everything they say -- especially a group we are excluded from. 

In response to this incident and recent disagreements between OW and PA about April's Priesthood Session events, Brother Otterson wrote an open letter that was posted directly to a handful of main blogs in the Bloggernacle.  Here are 3 main criticisms he's seen on the bloggernacle that he addressed:

Criticism 1: The Church doesn’t want to hear from women about painful experiences, doesn’t talk to them or only wants to hear from women who are “blindly obedient.”
Criticism 2: There is nowhere for women who don’t feel safe in their wards to have a conversation about some of their negative experiences that isn’t seen as subversive.
Criticism 3: By not engaging with the more extreme groups, the Church – and Public Affairs in particular – is not acting as Christ would. 

I'm going to link to a few of the blog responses to his letter that I love, as well as paste some comments on the original posting found at ByCommonConsent, of which many were mine.  I'm highlighting just a few, because you may not want to slog through all 275+ of them.   Also I want you to keep in mind that the Bloggernacle, by nature, invites feedback and response - even anonymously.  If Bro. Otterson had not been open to honest internet feedback, the letter could have easily been posted on Newsroom website instead of addressed directly to that audience.  You can tell by the time stamps on the comments that I calmed down more throughout the day :-).

By Common Consent: A Response
Times and Seasons, Otterson Letter Response, Part 1
Times and Seasons, Otterson Letter Response, Part 2**
Zelophehad's Daughters: PR, Niceness, and Exclusivity

amycartwright says:
I would also suggest any who wish to comment about the role of women in Jesus’s group of disciples revisit those scriptures with more understanding about cultural norms. Suggesting that Mary was right in sitting at Jesus’s feet (a place according to Jewish doctrine and tradition is reserved for men only. Mary was a rabbi-in-training. A spiritual leader and authority that was never to be assumed by a woman) rather than taking care of the home should be very indicative of Jesus’s teachings about the role of women in his Church. Also, The Twelve were not the same thing as apostles. An apostle is one who bears special witness of the Christ. Mary was THE apostle, the one who bore testimony of Christ’s resurrection to the Twelve. Of all of Jesus’s disciples, she was the first apostle.

“I suppose we do not know all the reasons why Christ did not ordain women as apostles, either in the New Testament or the Book of Mormon, or when the Church was restored in modern times. We only know that he did not, that his leaders today regard this as a doctrinal issue that cannot be compromised …”
What I would most love to hear is an explanation for why the omission of women from priesthood ordination is seen as doctrinal while so many other omissions are not. Christ did not send women out as missionaries. He did not invite them to teach in synagogue. He never asked a woman to pray for a congregation that included men. And he never passed the sacrament to a woman. Yet for some reason we do not impose those restrictions today. Could it be that Christ’s decision to not ordain women stemmed from the unprepared culture in which he lived rather than from some eternal decree? Could it be that that is still the reason for their exclusion?
What I would next most love to hear explained is why the church has authority to create an “exception” (quoting Elder Oaks) to allow women to perform the priesthood ordinance of the initiatory. Where does the priesthood authority for such an “exception” come from? And whatever that source, why can it not also allow women to perform other ordinances such as proxy baptisms and confirmations? If we can authorize women to perform one temple ordinance by virtue of keys held by the temple president, then why not all temple ordinances? Further, why not allow sister missionaries to baptize converts under the keys of their mission president, or laurels to administer the sacrament under the keys of their bishop? It seems to me that, regardless of the church’s authority to ordain women, the church currently possesses all the authority it needs to allow women to perform priesthood ordinances.

Criticism 1: I get that humans are imperfect. I do. I’ve had knuckleheaded bishops that I give a pass because, hey we’re not perfect. My main source of marginalization doesn’t come from lone, rogue individuals — it comes from the church organization, from the handbook that changes and says women can no longer serve in Sunday School presidencies, from articles in the Ensign, the exhaustive pushing of gender roles down my throat, from the culture that it creates, from the behavior that it encourages with skype meetings (lending positive reinforcement to exclusive behavior, instead of inclusive behavior), etc.
Criticism 3: Wow. The name of the group ‘Ordain Women’ I suppose puts out a branding message, but it seems even leaders of our church haven’t bothered to see that anything being asked for is remotely more complex than that. OW is precisely the thing causing a conversation, it caused my own personal study in and out of the temple that has been a blessing in my life. You may see them as “suggestive of apostasy” and I may see them as, in general, “seekers of answers.” Christ never had a female 12, he never had a public affairs department either.
{sigh} so much {sigh}

“Yet there are a few people with whom Public Affairs and General Authorities do not engage, such as individuals or groups who make non-negotiable demands for doctrinal changes that the Church can’t possibly accept.”
What Is A Priestess? Personally I think it means a female priest. I guess I just made a non-negotiable demand for something that already exists in the teachings of our temples. Shame on my “suggestive apostasy.”  Seriously how is this even a black or white issue?

Dave K gave an excellent response. Much better in tone than I am projecting. I’m ducking out and taking a deep breath and going to fold some laundry. Phew.
In the FMH FB group we hear over and over and over again, “I can’t say this anywhere else.” Because there is a MASSIVE cost to bringing this stuff up to anybody, especially someone in church leadership. They don’t want to lose their friends, they don’t want people to be afraid of them, they don’t want to have their children impacted, and all of those fears are so very real. I literally can’t even count the number of women who have told me their stories of being pushed out of the church once they raised their concerns. VTers saying “why don’t you just leave,” Bishops inviting people to never come back, Facebook gangups with ward members attacking and questioning righteousness. That last one alone has happened to me personally so many times it barely registers anymore.
All of that behavior is directly tied to how people see those with questions treated. Statements made about OW have deeply wounded women who have no love for OW, just because they recognize that they would be treated the same way if they opened up about their feelings.

I have a dear friend who is a former apostle’s secretary. I told her I came in contact with an inactive mofem via my blog when I wore pants. I invited her to church with me and my friend said I was wrong to do so – that the point wasn’t to have her come to Church but to have her submit to her local stake leaders. These same leaders had implemented a dress code for all church meetings: all skirts/dresses, nylons, and closed toed shoes for women. I was told I was being subversive for not teaching my fellow inactive mofem that to come to Christ she had to submit to local phood over-reach. I also told my friend I hadn’t visited with my local leaders yet, but I told her there is a culture of fear that we will be disciplined just for sharing our thoughts and ideas. My friend said if a bishop is uncomfortable with any of my ideas it is his stewardship to release me from all callings and somewhat “quarantine” me from spreading them and my challenge in this life is to submit. Submit, submit, submit to all of those decisions.

My family freaked out after I posted my blog in response to the last public affairs letter — because I said I was like Ordain Women. I do not support nor will I join them, but I am LIKE them. I have all the same questions with perhaps a different method or tone to my actions – but I am LIKE them. And everything you say to them is really close to saying it to me. And it hurts. My family thought I was apostate for identifying with them. But I, an incredibly faithful, moderate mormon feminist is not welcome at MWS (a group that eschews any faithful questioning–which is possible) — it says on their purpose: no doubts, no questions. Wow. That is so super exclusive. And 4 years ago before my faith transition I would have probably been a founding member of the group. And meeting them does send me a message, as much as you would like it not to. To me they are just as divisive as the other group, and well, you just chose sides, Bro. Otterson. And no, that really wasn’t Christlike.

WM – I agree I’d not like to derail a conversation, but for further consideration, 1/3 of the General Sunday School board are women. So, they can be general leaders but not local leaders . . . . because? Also my traditional ward had a woman serving in the SSP at the time changes were made (of course she had the gendered roll of administrative support of taking minutes and attendance as secretary, and there’s another further layer of inequality amongst that, but I’ll let that lie for now).

I see a carefully worded letter that by in large comes off defensive and subtly divisive. The fact they can’t see MWS as divisive shows deafness and lack of empathy. But then again based on the letter I’m not sure empathy was the highest priority on their list. So . . . . Which is why I continue to base my testimony on the rock, my Redeemer. I know Christ died for me and lives today. If I look deeply enough through all the layers I think I find the Gospel of Jesus Christ here. But testimony in the organization? shaky, at best.
In the end, I’m glad that Bro. Otterson reached out with this letter specifically to the Bloggernacle. This by and large is where a bulk of the discussion is taking place and is a safe space for me to share without losing my temple recommend, I’ve found a community of saints here that challenges me to be better, to question my own assumptions, and yet doesn’t dismiss me or find me wanting.
Here is what I see: the Church is going to make baby, baby steps into equitable treatment for women. In 20 years this will all be water under the bridge when we’ve disengaged from BSA (please, Lord, let this happen) and invest equitably in our daughters as we do our sons. In the meantime, the treatment I get from mainline mormons and my church organization (PA) is that I get my face ground into the pavement and called names and ostracized for advocating for things that in the future will be deemed “God’s will.” It’s this in-between time that’s so painful. I literally am trying to improve Zion with a heart full of love. This community I love and care about can wound so deeply.
My advice to PA, hire a Mormon Feminist. Please. The tone deafness aches in my bones.

I had a really hard time with this. I’m surely not OW. I’m not MWS either. I do find OW and MWS divisive. I’m just a member of the Relief Society who has questions.
I know Jesus chose 12 men. I don’t have a problem with that at all. I do wonder if we can take that as meaning something. He also drank wine and we happily revealed that away.
I wonder what power I am endowed with in the temple.
I wonder if in the temple we apply Exodus 40:12 to me-in that not only are Aaron and his sons washed…but *I* am…then am I to assume that Exodus 40:13 is an male only invitation to the priesthood? I just wonder what it means to be a priestess. And if I am meant to worship none but God what does it mean to be a priestess to my husband. What is that about? ironing his white shirts? clearly much more than that…but at this juncture…how would I know?
If we are going to pull women as examples from the scriptures, can I wonder about Deborah and Huldah?
I’m not feminist…primarily because most feminists don’t really go for women with 10 children. Maybe if I had just had 8. I don’t know. I’m also so conflicted over abortion, and that’s not acceptable in most feminist circles. I also believe men and women are different. I can’t logic my way around that one. Either our olympians have been lazy and holding out on us, or we are different. Either we have a unique voice to share…or we are NOT different.
I wonder how I am NOT supposed to wonder that a witness couple exists in some parts of the the temple, but in other parts of the temple, only men can stand as a witness. Am I not meant to notice that?
If there is nothing between me and God…why do I covenant at times to my husband-and what did it mean the first time I covenanted and had no husband ? Who did I covenant with?
I’m completely conservative. super conservative. I just have a brain and I like to use it.
I also know that “human” mistakes can be made by Bishops AND RSP’s. (hint…don’t tell a pregnant with twins mom that there will be no meals or help forthcoming, because her parent’s mission call means God thinks she can do this all on her own. )
It’s not that I want to be ordained. I just feel I already have been promised something and given something…and I want to respect that and use it properly. There is that whole parable of the talents in which if I bury my talents in the sand…they will be taken. Yet every time I take out my gifts to wonder at what to do with them I’m met with crazed stares or at best, very compassionate “I don’t know”s.
So I mostly just shelve my concerns and hope that’s not the same as burying them.
I find this PR statement hard.

Thank you, lessonNumberOne, you have articulated my own thoughts perfectly. I can add my desire to know more about our Heavenly Mother. I am 60 years old, and have been all over the map in my thoughts about “women’s issues” in the Church. I’m a life-long active member, and have served in callings ranging from the invisible pianist to RS president. My husband, a former bishop and current high councilor, has made significant (though still incomplete) progress out of his former cluelessness. I’m proud of my well-informed and faithful children. However, every time I’ve expressed my concerns here in my current ward, I’ve been met with suspicion and dismay. As a result, I rarely speak up these days. Most of the time, I feel that I can go on faith, trusting that my husband is a good man whom I love and that the covenant I made with him has not been misplaced, and especially trusting that our Heavenly Parents will help us understand everything someday and “wipe away all tears”. In the meantime, I am grateful for the opportunity to share thoughts, ideas, and concerns in this mostly anonymous way. It is hard to imagine any circumstance under which I would express these thoughts to my current bishop or stake presidency. I feel sad and isolated from my ward and stake family about this, and with you I say “So I mostly just shelve my concerns and hope that’s not the same as burying them.”

LessonNumberOne – I wish you were in my ward, too. Any question I present is met with “those poor mormon feminists, bless their hearts!! one day they might understand the plan of salvation or their glorious, exalted {pedistalized} role!” Well, if I’m lucky that’s the response.
Meanwhile, I’m wondering, what does all of this muck mean? The temple theology, the RS minutes, Elder Oaks’ address . . . I have really good, valid questions. What is this new priesthood power and authority I wield? If Mary {without priesthood} was the First Witness, why can’t women serve as witnesses, especially if they hold priesthood power and authority? There are so many painful situations in the church organization and culture (not rogue leaders); I don’t even care about female ordination, but I see why women who care about these problems see that as a possible solution. I’m told to be quiet and trust my leaders. When I do, I see my fellow sisters with the same questions I have being demoralized and shunned, while women with “no questions” walk around with their heads high sure in their higher understanding and sure footing in their favor among the Brethren. And this is what a Christlike organization looks like?
I have a super conservative non-mofem friend who admits she’s uncomfortable with a lot of how we treat women (esp around mother’s day) she said, “Well I see some problems I just have to make sure now that I see them I’m not getting caught up and start seeing them everywhere.” That caught in my throat because my husband’s response is the same – so frustrated I have to bring feminism into the Gospel every time. I understand he gets tired of it. But I get tired of just trying to go to a basic sacrament and renew my covenants and have sexist jokes told over the pulpit and have everyone laugh . . . These gender inequities, they are everywhere I turn to worship and find solace: the temple, my meetings, teaching primary songs, Sunday School, sending my daughter to activity days, my husband’s scout/auditing callings, my visiting teachers “lessons” to me, etc. The only place for me to turn is my Savior.
I feel morally obligated and bound to Do What is Right and Let the Consequences Follow, so I speak. I can’t allow my silence to make me a complicit offender in the pain and marginalization of my beloved brothers and sisters, regardless of my disagreement with them.

Fed Up Mormon Woman says:
@lessonNumberOne thank you for expressing thoughts that I believe MANY women feel. Unfortunately the women in this group remain silent and anonymous because of the fear of the consequences that might happen if they did speak from their hearts. And @Joni, I believe there is a lessonNumberOne in your ward, you just probably don’t know she is there. In fact, I’d venture to say there are many of them. @Angie, I agree it is a scary and lonely place as @howarddirkson describes as “hiding behind our skirts”. Which begs the question as to how this “hiding” has had to happen in the first place?
Wouldn’t it be a wonderful place where anyone could ask questions and be treated with respect instead of being labeled as an apostate. Although I am not brave enough to be a @ChristineA and publicly stick my head in the chopping block, I do agree that she is forging ground that will one day be realized as “inspired” change. And since she has chosen to be that voice for change, what I can do now is thank her for her efforts. I would LOVE to sit down personally with @ChristineA and talk about all the topics she has brought up in her last comment. ( You rock girlfriend!) Maybe one day we will.
I too recognize the underlying tone of divisiveness brought about by those who “unequivocally” sustain the “leaders”, relinquishing the right to question anything. IMHO this has brought more harm to the members of The Church than just questions regarding “women’s issues”. After all, asking questions is part of continued revelation. When questions stop, revelation stops as well. I have to laugh with the creators of the Facebook group “Mormon Women Stand on Rameumptoms” because it is so interesting how we sound so much like the Zoramites. Recognizing that fact is part of a change that we need.

I am looking for some middle place to stand and be heard. To me, women being ordained is not the problem, it is just a very attractive solution for a lot of problems. Women are underrepresented (in every sense and measure) in church administration and leadership. We invest more (in time, money, and sense of purpose) in our boys than in our girls. The relationship between women and the priesthood is muddled at best – church leaders have taught that women exercise priesthood authority in church callings, but those callings are extremely limited. And for that matter, if women hold and exercise the priesthood with men, why are women not a part of the priesthood session?
I see the possibility of a church where women are not ordained, but where women are called into church administration and leadership in near-parity with the brethren (whether this means creating new positions or redefining current positions). I see a church possible where girls usher and collect fast offerings, where women serve on sunday school presidencies, where disciplinary councils are composed of both men and women, where young girls can be officially counseled by their RSPs, and where RSPs attend bishopric meetings. I see the possibility of a church with more than 9 female GAs.
I see women’s ordination as a distinct and interesting possibility, just not the only viable option. We can and should address the measured inequality between genders in the meantime.
So any ideas where the middle ground can stand and be heard?

Someone who goes by “RMM” made an excellent point in the thread to which Steve linked on Times & Seasons (, and I want to expand on it a little:
I believe the Church leadership wants to get honest and open input about the letter, without fear of reprisal – and they understand that the best way to do that right now is to send the letter to the major Mormon blogs. I think they want to know better how people who participate in online forums will respond to the letter, and I think it’s an honest attempt at understanding – NOT any other negative motivation. I think they recognize, Bro. Otterson’s ideal advice notwithstanding, that many people can’t talk right now with local leaders about this, so they are giving those members an “formal” or “approved” way to express themselves in a way that the leadership can “hear”.
More than anything else, I am glad the letter was released to the blogs and not just posted on The same discussion could have followed online, but I think sending it to the blogs directly conveys respect for and acknowledgment of online discussions like these and sincere outreach to those who participate. This is a departure, and I appreciate the effort and what I believe it conveys – apart from any analysis of the words themselves.

Anonymous says:
I am someone who has been a life-long member (coming up on 50 years). I have been the wife of a Bishop, a RS President, a Stake Primary President, a temple ordinance worker and everything in between. I am (and have always been) a faithful member of the church, as well as a hard-working mother, hard-working grandmother, and hard-working community member.
It is obvious to me (from your various comments today) that you see OW in a very negative light. I would like to offer another perspective. OW has allowed me to put a name to feelings that have been a part of my experience in the Church for a very, very long time–therefore I cannot see them nearly as negatively as you and so many others do. I feel very grateful that a conversation is going forward so that many differing women’s voices can be heard. I would urge Br. Otterson, other General Authorities, or Auxiliary Presidencies to meet with some members of OW to hear what they are experiencing.  And no, I am not a part of their group, but I am watching intently how they are perceived and listened too.  I, too, will be anonymous for today because, no, it is not safe to say what you think and feel even on the internet.

I’m not going to assume they haven’t asked. We don’t and can’t know which of our leaders have asked or when or how they are asking or if they have or haven’t asked, we can assume . . . but they haven’t specifically said. I think what’s missing is that they aren’t saying. They may have asked and gotten an answer and been told “not yet” or “yes, but the people aren’t ready to hear what we have in store because seriously their minds are going to be blown away and we have to go baby steps” or it could have been “nope”.  Remember if we read the accounts of how the 1978 revelation came . . . it took years of asking for consensus to come. If we think this “struggle” for women’s rights is a quick little ask and get an answer and one and done . . . I’m not sure where you got the idea but you definitely will be disappointed. This process will take years, maybe decades, and we better be prepared to be misunderstood and frustrated and to make mistakes and move forward and hopefully — we are in this for the long haul. Be in this for the long haul with a heart full of love, committed to the Lord and the organization (as hard as that can be).

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this. It's been an incredibly frustrating couple of weeks. I feel a lot like several of those commenters. Afraid to speak up, sitting in the back stewing as members of the church call mofems "misguided." I love my Savior so much, I can't imagine my life without the church in it. But these things are so hard. -teresa