Two years after I submitted an Ordain Women profile, this is what I’m thinking

Hotel_Dieu_in_Paris_about_1500My babies were delivered in hospitals, safely and pleasantly enough.  But delivering in a hospital was not always so safe.  Many women died in European and American lying-in hospitals in the 17th to 19th centuries from childbed fever – an infection of streptococcal bacteria in the uterus that spread to the bloodstream causing sepsis and, usually, death.  Childbed fever can occur in women who deliver at home, but it was so prevalent in lying-in hospitals because doctors unwittingly spread the bacteria from one woman to another through bad hygiene.  Mortality rates averaged around 1 in 5 to 1 in 4, with some epidemics being close to 100% mortality.  

Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor, began looking at mortality in the maternity ward at the General Hospital in Vienna in 1846.  He noted that doctors patients died at a rate 5 times higher than the midwives patients and set out to find out why.  Ahead of his time, and without knowledge of microbiology, he came up with a procedure that dropped maternal mortality by 90%.  It was washing hands in a chlorine solution.

What happened next is summed up nicely in a piece by NPR from last January:  

You’d think everyone would be thrilled. Semmelweis had solved the problem! But they weren’t thrilled.  For one thing, doctors were upset because Semmelweis’ hypothesis made it look like they were the ones giving childbed fever to the women.  And Semmelweis was not very tactful. He publicly berated people who disagreed with him and made some influential enemies.  Eventually the doctors gave up the chlorine hand-washing, and Semmelweis — he lost his job.

He not only lost his job, he lost all credibility.  He got angrier as time went by and, possibly suffering the effects of syphilis, was committed to an asylum at age 47, never to practice medicine again.  By the beginning of the 20th century it was clear that bacteria caused disease, and doctors took precautions to avoid spreading infections.  By the 1930s the first antibiotics became commercially available and streptococcal and other bacterial infections could then actually be cured.  But it was the spread of infection in hospitals was the biggest problem for new mothers in Semmelweis’ time, and that was totally preventable.

This is a story of the failure not of lack of knowledge, but of the way it was shared.  As someone who believes that Mormon feminism has truth to tell about gender inequality in Church, the story of Semmelweis gives me pause.  What would have happened if Semmelweis had been better at diplomacy?  What if he’d found a way to tell his colleagues that yes, in fact, they were the ones giving childbed fever to their patients, but they weren’t bad doctors and there was a simple way to be better?  Stroking egos seems like a small price to pay for saved lives.  If Semmelweis had been better at maintaining relationships could a half-century of death by childbed fever been largely avoided?  Or was it the fault of his proud and deaf colleagues?

Clearly, how we say things matters in addition to what we say.  In everything from talking to my boss to talking to my kids, my tone communicates as much as my words.  And maintaining good relationships goes a long way toward effective communication, for instance think of how much easier it is for the US Secretary of State to have a meeting in Great Britain than in Iran.  I notice in modern American culture (especially pop culture?) there is a lot of talk about bravely telling your truth, consequences be damned.  Sometimes speaking truth to power is exactly what’s needed, but humans also function through social connections.  Saving relationships is not weakness.

So, I am very aware of how a wrong tone can sabotage what a person intends to say, even if they’re saying something true and important.  But I’m also aware of how saying something “nicely” can also make a person ignorable.  Especially when there’s a power imbalance.  I’m aware of stated and unstated expectations about women’s place in the Church.  I know the frustration of having no voice, and wanting to scream my frustrations, because at least screaming can be cathartic in a way measured intonations are not…
 
I remember when Ordain Women was new and asking for an audience with church leaders, how the Church PR people said OW used the wrong tone.  I was exasperated by that because it seemed like an excuse to not engage with the content of what they were saying.  Although I didn’t expect the Church to open its arms and embrace the idea of ordaining women, I haven’t forgotten the contempt Church PR showed for people who think the ordination of women is a good idea, and the lack of leadership by actual leaders of the Church.  
It’s been two years since ordain women.org launched.  It feels like longer.  While Mormon feminists have been doing important work for longer than I’ve been alive, it feels like things have changed a lot in the past two years.  Specifically, I believe OW has done at least two important things.  First, from a piece Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote in the aftermath of Kate Kelly’s excommunication:
 

“I would say Kate Kelly and Ordain Women, the questions they have asked, the courage they have exhibited, the discomfort they have created, have all contributed to greater discussion,” Brigham Young University religion professor Camille Fronk Olson said at a Provo book launch, according to representatives of Greg Kofford Books, on hand to celebrate the release of “Women at Church” by Neylan McBaine. “People now realize there are some women who are hurting — and men who are hurting,” Olson said “I would say that it has contributed tremendously.”

OW started a conversation that hadn’t happened on a large scale before.  It moved the far boundaries of what’s considered radical, and raised awareness.  Second, the way the Church responded (and chose not to respond) to OW has made it clear that women will not be ordained in the foreseeable future.  From a post by RJH at BCC a few months after Kelly’s excommunication:

There is no possibility of female ordination on even the far horizon. The vehemence with which it is being rejected will not be able to be undone for a long time.”

Sadly, I think he’s absolutely right.  I remember the day Kelly was excommunicated; I’d hoped until the last that she wouldn’t be, and when I drove home from work that afternoon “Brave” by Sara Bareilles came on the radio and tears streamed down my cheeks because I’d seen so many of us be brave, and the rejection of her felt like a rejection of us all.

Did those of us who submitted OW profiles and tried to attend the Priesthood Session make a Semmelweisian mistake?  I don’t know, and I don’t think we’ll ever know because the Church is so sphinx-like when it comes to dealing with questions from it’s flock.  To be clear, I think OW uncovered the Church’s unwillingness to ordain women, I don’t think it caused it.  I recall when OW was new some critics said their actions were mistakes, that it was too much too soon.  I disagreed with them, and I’m not sorry I had a profile when the site was launched.  But what’s interesting to me now is not whether women will be ordained in the next couple decades, it’s how the Church will deal with other questions about gender.

Mormon feminism is about more than ordination.  I see no reason why women shouldn’t hold the priesthood, but I also want to see sexist content purged from the temple and the stuff about gender roles struck from the Proclamation.  I want inclusive language in our hymnal and open worship of Mother in Heaven.  I want the Church to officially repudiate polygamy in the afterlife.  It’s hard to know if our leaders have retrenched against these kinds of changes or if such changes now seem milder than before OW pressed the issue of ordination.  I think the jury is out on that, but I have reason to hope it’s the latter.

I don’t think a lot of Mormon feminists will rally around any single issue again for a quite while, and I think that’s OK.  My list above isn’t everyone’s list; Mormon feminism is too small to be anything but a big tent.  I don’t know how best to make a difference, and I struggle with summoning the energy to even try.  But what I do know is that my sisters and brothers in the gospel who believe motherhood is the answer to priesthood, that traditional gender roles are God’s will, who don’t see the temple as sexist, who think it’s irreverent to talk about Mother in Heaven, and who believe polygamy is an eternal principle, well, I can’t torch my relationships with those people like Semmelweis did with his colleagues.  That wouldn’t be right, and it doesn’t work.  It doesn’t make change, it would only isolate me.  If I want change I have to do the hard work of telling my truth without damaging relationships.  Darn it that feels exhausting, and I don’t know if I have the stamina to keep it up forever.  But this is what I’m thinking right now.

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45 Responses

  1. Markie says:

    This echoes many of my thoughts. Thanks for stating it so elequently. I, too, love Mormon feminism’s big tent and count my sisters all along its varied spectrums as friends and allies. I agree that much of Ordain Women’s actions have made other MoFem goals seem less radical and/or scary by comparison and I’m excited to see where we can move things in the next few years – there is great hope.

  2. ChristianKimball says:

    Mostly kudos, Emily. As a partial response or reflection, it seems to me that the diplomatic approach or Semmelweisian error is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. For the topic of ordination, which is revolutionary, there probably is no other way than public and confrontational. The never-to-be-settled question is more about timing than about tone. But for other changes, and there are many that may be viewed as incremental or line-by-line added upon or editorial or stylistic, a less confrontational approach might work better.

    • Emily U says:

      Hi Chris – I hear you that revolutionary ideas need to be heard in a public and confrontational way, otherwise they’re not heard at all. And if tone were the only issue we could have a thousand people line up, each asking if the church will ordain women in a slightly different way, to see which tone is the magical “open sesame” one. To me this is still a hard question though, because if I’m going to stay engaged with the Church I have to believe there is divine influence in the process of change, and divine influence is manifest in a transformation of the heart, individually and collectively, that underpins policy changes. How do we hasten a change of heart? There’s no single answer to that, but love, patience, and sincerity are part of it. To what extent public advocacy and confrontation work, I am not sure. I think OW was a necessary experiment in that, and although some have paid dearly for their involvement, it has pushed us forward.

    • Liffey Banks says:

      I agree that it’s some elusive mix of tone and timing, but it might be more than that, maybe call it “irreconcilable differences”? I may be feeling a tad cynical today, though.

      It’s obvious that OW isn’t perfect at striking the right “tone,” but I honestly can’t think of a single way to shine a light on the structural, theological, and spiritual inequity in the church in an acceptable enough way for the church leadership or mainstream members. The Neylan/Givens “Liberal Mormon” approach, as much as I like it, doesn’t appear to be actually doing anything to address those structural issues. Instead liberal Mormonism is a mindset to help people feel better about the way things currently are, by creating something acceptable within a less-acceptable system – a church within a church. (Or slightly without?)

      I’m getting to the point where I think, well, maybe that’s fine. The leadership and the majority of members don’t seem to mind the deep-seated inequity and are fine envisioning an eternity with the same pattern. And so maybe I just need to walk away. Myself 24 months ago would be deeply disappointed.

      • hkobeal says:

        Liffey Banks, this: “The leadership and the majority of members don’t seem to mind the deep-seated inequity and are fine envisioning an eternity with the same pattern. And so maybe I just need to walk away.”

        Yes. I am done dedicating my time and energy and heart and soul into an institution largely full of people who are, as you say, either:

        a) totally content with gender inequity AND even believe it is divinely designed and sanctioned
        b) too scared to say otherwise for fear of marginalization, punishment (on earth or eternal)

        And while I agree that maintaining relationships is important, I absolutely disagree with the tone argument.

        There is, quite frankly, no way for women to strike the right “tone” when advocating for equality. Ordain Women is unapologetically and directly pointing out the obvious (= there is gender inequity at every level of the church) and asking for it to be changed. I’m not sure how there’s a wrong “tone” to be struck there.

      • Emily U says:

        Liffey and Hkobeal, you’re right that the majority seem to not see the inequity, or even think it’s right and good, and I understand needing to walk away from that. I just want to say the church is/would be impoverished without you, and I’m so sorry each time a thoughtful person finds it too painful to stay. One of the reasons I’m reflecting on whether OW’s approach has been worth it is that I hate that the blowback hurt my feminist friends. I hate that it hurt me. But the alternative was to continue with previous methods, and that was painful, too. Ultimately I’m glad for OW, but it’s cost us something, and I keep that in mind as I think about future ways to agitate for change.

  3. Jenny says:

    My thoughts have been similar to yours. Sometimes I feel like I have given up too much for my support of Ordain Women. I think we all feel like that to a degree. We took such a beating. So I get really frustrated when people tell me that Ordain Women was too radical, that their approach was wrong. If it hadn’t been for the brave actions and sacrifice of Ordain Women supporters, the conversation would not be where it is today. The most common thing I hear is, “I can see how women are hurting and the church has room for progress, but ordain women was wrong in the way they tried to change things.” This comes from people who couldn’t see a problem two years ago. I think the effect of Ordain Women in my own life has divided my friends between true friends and acquaintances who really didn’t care about me and were’t secure enough in our friendship to handle a different perspective. The friends I have left (different opinion and all) are really important to me. So I love what you said here about maintaining and building those relationships. I agree that that is the way to effectively communicate our thoughts on the topic of women and the church now. Great post!

    • Emily U says:

      Yes, it really is easy to say after the fact that we see a problem clearly, only after others have done the painful work of exposing it, and remain critical of that person.

  4. Ziff says:

    I loved reading your reflections on OW, Emily. I definitely agree that OW has moved the discussion forward. Before OW, the female priesthood ban wasn’t even on Church leaders’ radar as something anyone cared about. Now, although they still seem to be largely trying to ignore it and pretend the issue doesn’t exist, it’s clearly something they’re thinking about. I think a lot of the little changes they’ve made, like broadcasting priesthood session, are clearly in response to OW, and signal that they’re willing to make small moves far short of ordination if they might help reduce how sexist the Church appears to be. I find this hopeful in that I think it could mean more short-of-ordination changes might be forthcoming. I hope you and Ronan aren’t right that ordination itself is still off the table for the foreseeable future, but I fear that you might be.

    In any case, I admire your work and your willingness to put yourself out there as an advocate for such a great cause!

  5. Marion Fust Sæternes says:

    I do not think tone was a problem. When I first discovered OW I took the time to seek out original sources, and they were ever so kind and respectful. Not everyone took that time; sigh. And not every news-outlet (Deseret ^^), (let alone commenter) has been respectful towards OW.

    I however hear you in all else. It has now been one year since my profile went up, but it feels like an eternity. (Hi, I’m Marion! :)). Since then I have been “disinvited” to be a church member several times by long-distance “friends”. (“There is no place for people like you in the LDS-church”). It is tiring. It is a sad state of affairs. But I to am grateful for those many, many friends that are kind, respectful, supportive, whether they agree with OW or not. Whether they are Mormon or not. Those that have proven to be my spiritual family in this eventful past year. I am particularly grateful for the many intelligent, earnest women and men that risk so much more than I do by supporting OW. You are my heroes.

    The road ahead I do not know, but I have never had LESS cognitive dissonance being a member than I have had this past year, so I will continue to stand to be counted. And YES, let me say loud and clear along with you: the doctrine of polygamy is not of God – not if there truly is a God that loves me and all women. I will not be presided over by my equal. It is not possible and makes no sense. It is a damaging and hurtful language and (temple-) practice.

    If women are to have joy there must be equal agency, equal stewardship, equal progression, equal “right” to (or use of) discernment. For the sake of the Church I hope it has ears to hear. All is not well in Zion. Not now, not this year, not next year. I want to give my all to give this church a fighting chance to hold on to the next generation of women. I was planted a Mormon, though somewhat tattered I still am.

    If my gifts are scorned, then so be it. Let it not be for my lack of trying to be heard. Let it not be because I chose to be silent. I am not so quiet anymore. That once so quiet girl (ok, woman) died while pondering pictures from the first OW-action. I have a voice.

  6. Davis says:

    “Did those of us who submitted OW profiles and tried to attend the Priesthood Session make a Semmelweisian mistake?”

    In my mind, yes you did… on a massive scale.

  7. Donna says:

    I agree with much that has been said here, but I absolutely disagree that “tone” is what caused a vicious backlash by many in the church. It has been caused by some individuals’ nasty petty natures. Women have been begging for the crumbs that fall to the ground at the feast for too long. What is so offensive about asking that people prayerfully consider ordaining women and including women in general leadership councils in the church – especially in light of Gordon B Hinckley’s 1997 statements saying that “agitation” – his word, not mine – could change things? OW shook things up just the way that things were shaken up in 1978 when men were denied the priesthood and temple blessings because they had dark skin.

    • Liffey Banks says:

      I totally agree. Tone is often thrown around as a substitute for “What you’re saying makes me uncomfortable and angry!” I really just don’t think there is a way to advocate for ordaining women (or really, advocate for asking god to grant permission to the church leaders to ordain women) in the church without making people uncomfortable and angry, and as a result, the accusation of getting the “tone” wrong will never, ever go away.

  8. Alisa says:

    I don’t think the overall tone of OW was a problem. I have a profile, and it just echoes that Joseph Smith sincerely told women in his first address to the entire Relief Society that he intended to make them a kingdom of priests. I linked out to the LDS Church’s own official record of JS saying this. I guess I don’t know how you can adapt the tone better when you’re speaking actual historical, verifiable truth promoted and displayed by the Church itself and quoting what the prophet said in an official church address.

    I think that if we’re going to criticize tone, we should show what it should have been instead, and then verify that no one else has tried that. I think that this conversation at Sunstone 2014 about what has been tried before is very relevant. Our own Woah-Man here at Exponent states that she was ostracized more for her participation in WAVE–which wanted to make small cultural changes and explicitly said it did not see women’s ordination as a goal–than she did for her participation in OW. Please see: Session 336: #YESALLWOMEN, #ORDAINWOMEN, #WELLBEHAVEDWOMEN: MAKING HISTORY AND CHALLENGING PATRIARCHY IN THE DIGITAL AGE here: https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/audio-files-from-the-2014-salt-lake-symposium/

    Again, for you who are criticizing the profile holders and liner-uppers (shall we just say, supporters) for our “tone,” please be more explicit about what tone would have been more effective, and how you know that this has never been tried before in LDS history, how you know that it would have been more effective.

  9. Kristine A says:

    I have a lot of the same thoughts on my own blog about what I think about female ordination:

    I used to be upset at OW that they were giving mofems a bad name by pushing for something that was so far out of the realm of possibility to even be accomplishable. But the longer I listened and heard their hearts and their stories . . . the softer my own heart became. I went from anti-ordination myself to “ordination needs to eventually happen; even if it happens decades from now or in the next life.” after studying the topic myself. And I wouldn’t have studied without OW. OW did push the conversation forward, I agree with Sis. Fronk Olson (?): OW has showed courage and I believe their voice needs to be a part of the conversation.

    Great post 🙂

  10. Pandora says:

    What I love about this post is the courage to self reflect. Any change, especially big change, happens one step forward, one step back, two steps forward, etc. If we don’t stop and assess – what is working, what is not – we lose the opportunity to respond in thoughtful ways and take more people with us on the journey. It takes tremendous effort to take that first step, but even more to think about the right next step. I so appreciate your willingness to start an internal dialogue that promotes a more unified external one.

  11. emily says:

    As a woman, I absolutely do not think that Ordain Woman realize that the tone they have struck and how many woman they have made unhappy with them. The problem for me isn’t asking about being ordained. The problem is the unwillingness to accept that the answer is no. And the truth is that the movement will never accept that the answer is no. The women I know in real life who are part of this movement do not see how unkind and nasty they have been to women who disagree with them. Their tone has been strident, ugly and rude. I told my husband to let me know if any woman showed up at priesthood session because I would be happy to go there and let her know that I didn’t appreciate her trying to ruin the spirit that I so need my teenage boys to feel to help them develop their relationship with God. I happen to be a woman who does not feel like I have been treated any less because I am a woman. I don’t want the priesthood. I don’t need one more thing to have to do. I don’t need one more place I would have to serve. I do not need the priesthood to say I have equal worth in God’s eyes. In the Eternities I hope to be doing whatever Heavenly Mother is doing. We forget that God is actually Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father together. There is no God without both of them. They each have half the power. Just because we don’t at this time know all that she does, doesn’t mean we should be reaching for Heavenly Father’s power. That is the mistake satan made. He want all of God’s glory (you can call it power). It was never meant to be held by one person. It was always meant to be held between two people who were married for eternity.

    • Emily U says:

      With respect, could you please point us to where a prophet or apostle said the answer is no to ordination? I would honestly be willing to make a sincere effort at reconciling myself to that reality, if it was the reality. But the response to OW was almost totally mediated by Public Relations, and it is an indirect rejection, not anything resembling a prophetic statement.

      Also, I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s not true that my feminist friends forget that God is Mother and Father together. I don’t think that’s true for my no-so-feminist friends, either. It’s the fact that we know they’re both there and both divine that makes it so heartbreaking that we only worship and pray to one of our Heavenly Parents.

      Finally, would it really ruin the spirit of the meeting for your sons if women were present at the priesthood meeting? Why? It’s a sincere question. I just don’t understand why it would ruin the meeting for them if women simply came in and sat down, and quietly listened like the men do.

    • Jenny says:

      Emily, You said that your friends in real life who are OW supporters had a strident, ugly, and rude tone. But then in the next sentence you said that you wanted your husband to tell you if there were any women in the session because you would go tell them off. I find that when people are speaking to me with a rude tone of voice, I have a lot of power to keep the conversation from escalating into something hateful and ugly. I don’t know you and I only know the few words you shared here, but if you’re willing to go into a spiritual meeting and tell other women off for being there, you may consider that your tone and actions aren’t helping you to have a productive and loving conversation with your friends.

    • Anarene Holt Yim says:

      Funny, Emily: Opposite from you, I hoped that my sons, husband, father, brothers, friends, etc. *would* see women come to the men’s meeting. I hope my sons would have been the ones to go sit by the women, shake their hands, and say, “We’re so glad you’re here.” In fact, I hope they would do that for any “outsider” who walked in the church door.

      I’m sorry that you think a woman sitting in the meeting would take away from any spirit the men and boys could feel. Perhaps I have more faith in the women in the church than you do, but I believe it would add positive upon positive to the church if men and women could learn, worship, and serve together as equal partners in deed as well as in word.

      The day my sons think they need and deserve an exclusive powerful position in the church is the day I have failed as a mother.

  12. Kelson Kim says:

    I wish Domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse would be addressed in the LDS Church, and it would come to an end. It continues and most men continue to rally around the abuser and not believe the victim and survivor. When will this change? Even in the first handbook of instruction, abuse of any kind is supposed to be reported regardless of age. However, too many bishops assume the survivor is a liar and as one bishop I don’t have to report abuse of an adult so why would I. When will this change?

  13. Caroline says:

    Terrific post, Emily U. I also believe that relationships matter, and I’m unwilling to torch my connections to people who disagree with me about women’s ordination. I think OW did important work in moving the conversation forward — but I hope it continues to do important work by having civil dialogue with those who don’t agree 100% with all the organization’s claims and desires. Speaking hard truth to power is important, but speaking in love, sincerity, and generosity is too. Mormons on the fence will be particularly moved by the latter (which is why those profiles on OW were so powerful!).

  14. Ryan says:

    Love for all people regardless of creed or opinion is what Christ expects and that is what is missing from BOTH sides of the OW movement…When it comes down to it we are all, men and women, asked to trust God. He has said “whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants it is the same” He has also promised us in an Official Declaration that he won’t allow His prophets to lead us astray…Trust God and trust that He is in control, just because we don’t understand our disagree with a particular revelation or doctrine doesn’t mean we need to actively and publicly say that it is wrong, it means we need to have faith that one day it will make sense…Trust God and the promises He has given us…

  15. Daniel N. says:

    one major flaw that many OW fail to see are statements such as this “I want the Church to officially repudiate polygamy in the afterlife”. Don’t you realize what you are saying when asking questions like these. You are taking a teaching that is a doctrine in the church and only giving this two options either (A) This a true doctrine and you somehow think that by voicing your opinion that it can somehow disappear because you don’t agree with it or (B) It was made of my a bunch of horny sexist men (With that thinking that would be unrighteoua dominion and they would be considered unworthy and the entire church is being led by false leaders and the entire point of modern day revelabtion, prophets, etc. is all pointless and we might as well leave everything up to a vote in that case why do t we become catholic and have brand new policies with every Pope.

    • Ziff says:

      But we do have brand new policies with every church president. Aren’t we supposed to be the ones who believe in continuing revelation?

    • Emily U says:

      Hmm, of all the things I said why did this one hit such a nerve with you? Please don’t patronize me, it’s not only A or B. Polygamy is a threadjack, but not at all clear that it’s a doctrine in the church, especially given the way the church distances itself from the current practice of polygamy and the way it’s discussed in the Book of Mormon.

  16. Kelly says:

    I have to disagree with the idea that Semmelweis did anything wrong. Tone is irrelevant. It is never okay to throw someone under the bus to protect your own ego.
    For example, Jesus. We don’t blame him for getting crucified because he was loud, confrontational, and publicly subversive. We don’t criticize him for not “preserving his relationship” with his church superiors, nor “stroking their egos”.
    Everyone places the blame squarely where it belongs: on the leaders who acted to defend their own egos and positions.

    • Alisa says:

      I agree so much. Doctors who failed to believe in sanitation were at fault: they did not look at the evidence, the failed as scientists. I believe that plenty of feminist words and conversations have happened to stroke the egos of the leaders of the church, and nothing has happened until OW stood up. And I really believe OW has had a great “tone.” Look at their chairperson last week on the conversation about what various Mormon Women Want. She handles this conversation well, with humor, self-deprecation, and generosity of spirit: http://www.sltrib.com/lifestyle/faith/2383159-155/wednesdays-trib-talk-live-town-hall

    • Emily U says:

      Jesus was certainly subversive but other than the cleansing the temple episode I can’t think of an example where I’d characterize him as loud and confrontational. Also, I don’t think Jesus had relationships to maintain in the first place with the pharisees, etc., they were not of the same community. The difference here, and it’s a critical one, is that Mormon feminists are part of the community we hope to see changed. We’re in a network of relationships, within a body that we constitute, along with people of more traditional viewpoints. Therefore to change the body means preserving relationships that hold that body together.

      Good minds can disagree, but things could have been different if Semmelweis had done things differently. Perhaps a talent for revolutionary ideas isn’t the same as a talent for spreading ideas and converting people to them. Semmelweis apparently needed a marketing department. His colleagues who didn’t listen do deserve blame, but not all of it. They’re only human and if they couldn’t hear someone’s words for the abrasive way they were being said, that’s understandable. Tone is not irrelevant if you want to remain relevant.

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think there was anything wrong with OW’s tone. But it is still a useful exercise to reflect on it, and to think about how best to go forward.

      • Kelly says:

        Hmmm… Sticking with the Jesus example, he actually cleansed the temple twice, not just once. And if you look up all the times he called Pharisees hypocrites, fools and vipers to their faces, it’s a pretty long list. Besides, starting a temple riot even once is a pretty big deal.

        Jesus was quite bold and confrontational. But where is the line between mature-confrontational and immature-contentious? Wherever you want it to be. It’s subjective. That’s just my point. If a message makes you uncomfortable, you’re going to perceive the person as fundamentally flawed and not worth listening to. It’s unfortunate that valuable messages get quashed by ego.

        Regarding relationships, if someone refuses to listen to you when you bring up an issue, do they really value the relationship? Even if you do it rudely, does that really let them off the hook? Shouldn’t they be expected to respond maturely and consider the issue?

  17. Liz says:

    I also love this reflection. For one, I think that the first people through the brick wall are going to get the most hurt, even as I recognize that people have come before OW in terms of the conversation about female ordination (and have also gotten hurt). But I think this one is a particularly big brick wall, and I think that many people have sacrificed A LOT in their work/affiliation with OW. It makes me somewhat angry to think that in 20 (or 50, or 100, or who knows how many) years, there will be women serving in priesthood functions and won’t give a second thought to the tremendous struggle and sacrifice that OW put in – they will probably just applaud the revelation/change when it happens, and move on, not giving credit to the grassroots efforts that got it there (or discounting that it had anything to do with it). There will be little acknowledgement for the bodies that were once in the rubble as they happily walk through an area where a brick wall no longer exists. I realize that this frustration is built on the presumption that women will eventually be ordained, but that’s what I believe will eventually happen.

    I, for one, am grateful that, if nothing else, the conversation about women’s issues in the church has moved more dramatically in the last two years than it has in the last ten (since I’ve been paying attention), and OW seems to be the catalyst for that. I don’t think it was all in vain, and I honor those who have sacrificed and suffered so much in the process.

  18. Me says:

    The fundamental problem with Ordain Women is the attempt to change what it already directed by God. The only logical explaination is that you believe you are receiving revelation for the whole Church that God is not giving to His prophets leading the Church. The tone of criticism towards the Church’s “unwillingness to change” makes very clear this point. Are you asking God to change?

    • Emily U says:

      Well, I don’t think any of us has the hubris to ask God to change, but clearly we have a different understanding of what God has directed. Modern revelation reminds us that we have a Mother in Heaven and a Father in Heaven (Elohim is a plural word), so isn’t it possible that male-only priesthood is a tradition that comes to us from incompletely revealed past practices? Wouldn’t Mother in Heaven have priesthood power too? Couldn’t continuing revelation mean that priesthood in this world comes closer to mirroring that?

      • Me says:

        Even if all of that is true (lesser known doctrines about Heavenly Mother and the speculative idea of women eventually having the priesthood in the next life or perhaps even in this life at some point in the future), it still doesn’t justify a campaign to change Church policies. Again, you must believe that God is giving you revelation which He is not revealing to His prophet. If this were relevant to our salvation, it would have happened already. The purpose of the Church is to teach us to obey basic doctrines, and when we have that down then maybe we’ll learn all about Kolob, Heavenly Mother, and women/priesthood.

      • JessR says:

        I don’t think that just because it hasn’t happened yet, it means that it is not necessary to our salvation ME. Think of all the people who did not have access to temple ordinances; according to church doctrine, those are necessary for salvation, but weren’t revealed until Joseph Smith, and weren’t made available to everyone until the 1970s.

    • Ziff says:

      Nah, that’s not the only logical explanation. Here’s another: The people of OW aren’t as hasty as you are to read God’s will into practices of the Church, or into vague statements made by GAs or PR people.

      • Me says:

        By “hasty to read God’s will into Church practices and vague statements by General Authorities” you really mean “having faith in and sustaining the leadership of the Church as having been called by God, who will never let the Church be run astray and will reveal to us according to His will and not our own.”

      • Ziff says:

        So it’s not that you’re reading into what they did say, it’s that you’re reading from the fact that they didn’t say anything? So in other words, it boils down to your belief in prophetic infallibility?

    • Me says:

      Jessr, notice that temple ordinances were revealed through the prophet and not through campaigns actively trying to change Church policies from the bottom up, but I’ll rephrase. If it were necessary for salvation right now, then it would come from the prophets called by God.

  19. Anarene Holt Yim says:

    Emily U,
    Interesting and important thoughts. I don’t disagree totally, but just a bit: I believe that OW has been extremely tame. Perhaps if we had a group of members doing things that even people outside the church would call protests (picketing, shouting, boycotts, heckling during meetings, public shaming of church leaders–think US civil rights movement or the Argentinian grandmothers blocking the streets and daring the soldiers to shoot them), then the church members would realize that OW has been very well-behaved. Asking leaders to pray about something shouldn’t be considered disruptive. On the contrary, it’s lining up to follow behind the leaders just as we are taught to do in primary.

    I am sorry that so many OW supporters have had repercussions, but I wonder if those would decrease if there was another group doing serious public protesting–then that group would take the heat, which would make OW look less threatening, which would then make the conservative members say, “I wish those apostates would stop picketing the stake center and just ask nicely like OW.” Anyone want to sign up for a sit-in with me? 🙂

    I do think that this discussion of methods is very important, just as it has been important in every social justice movement, and I would guess that any method we can think of will probably have both its pros and cons.

  20. Kimberly Brinkerhoff says:

    I both agree and disagree with the tone argument. Which is to say that I disagree with rejecting arguments based on tone in principle but sometimes reject arguments based on tone in practice (mostly those made by my husband and children).

    That said, when I reject an argument based on tone, if it’s a reasonable argument aside from that tone, I’m the one who’s wrong–not the person using the tone I don’t like.

    In that vein, I think tone arguments are generally a product of a false dichotomy: the assertion by your audience that he/she/they would or *might* (nothing like a vague non-promise to address social suffering) grant or at least benevolently entertain your request if only you phrased it more diplomatically.

    Cut to activists such as Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr., who were widely viewed as radicals with an unpleasant tone in their day, being just as widely honored as moderates now. Funny, their tone didn’t change. I guess the rest of us did.

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