Discussion Five Critique

Discussion5Given all the furor over the pending disciplinary council being held to discuss Kate Kelly’s future standing with respect to the LDS Church, I was intrigued to again see the promised discussion regarding “Visualize Our Potential!” be delayed.

An Emotional Appeal: The Soft Challenge

The cover of this discussion is an adorable picture of a light-haired, white/hispanic girl gazing up into heaven, her chin poised pensively on clasped hands. The first blurb tells the story of a three-year-old girl playing at preparing and passing the “sac-a-ment” after seeing a woman in another denomination officiating.

An activity follows, showing staged images where women appear to be blessing others. One is a baby blessing where only one man appears to be standing in the circle. The other is a woman with female hands on her head. How, we are asked, would the optics of the Church be different if women were ordained?

No mention is made here of the scholarly consensus that female ordination is correlated with declining membership. As one female PhD concluded, “none of the groups that have dramatically increased in influence between 1960-2005, including the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, have opted to ordain women… both groups who have opted to ordain women during this time frame have shown a noticeable drop in membership.” 1 For an older but more official-looking publication, see Leon Podles’ The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity. 2

We are then treated to a page of soundbites from LDS Church leaders, where we are encouraged to imagine our eternal potential, hope that the Lord will fulfill His promise to us, prepare [to]…become more like our God. One presumes these soundbites have been selected to provide reassurance that male leaders do approve of female ordination.

The Commitment Dialogue

This is followed by another activity, were we are supposed to draw a river on which images of the moments when female ordination seemed desirable and even compelling would be drawn. The prior activities were appealing, but this is the activity where a woman who has felt unsatisfied commits herself. It is personal now.

Another activity is conducted, where participants are asked to envision hearing Official Declaration 3 (hypothetically granting women the priesthood) read from the pulpit. Alternately, we are asked to imagine a Conference Address where Thomas S. Monson declares that women have been granted the priesthood. These fictional constructs are well-crafted, they feel authentic. Surely, the participants might think, this is the only appropriate outcome. Insignificant bishops may call councils, but these women have experienced the revelation as though it has already happened. Female ordination is obviously inevitable, they now feel. The painful experiences they drew in the river activity will be subsumed in a bright future where women are positioned throughout the Church, a future where the optics are fully aligned with the staged photos at the beginning of the discussion.

After all these activities, intended to build to a crescendo of desire for female ordination and even complete confidence that this is the only reasonable outcome, we are given three articles to read talking about women who are ordained ministers: the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton assuming the office of presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran church in America (ELCA) in November 2013, the Right Reverend Mary Glasspool of the Episcopal Church talking about her role as assistant bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles since 2010, and the 50th anniversary of the 1956 general conference of the Methodist church approving full clergy rights for women.

Again, none of these articles speak to the precipitous decline in membership in these denominations.

The Persecution Narrative

A column of scripture passages concludes this discussion, with eschatological promises of a joyous end despite sorrow and hardship in the now.

Those participating in the discussion rejoice in the certainty that they are doing God’s will. Any sacrifice is warranted, to bring to pass the female empowerment visualized in this discussion.

Would Eliza Approve?

This past Sunday it is likely any Mormon who attended Sacrament Meeting heard the final stanzas of Eliza Snow’s most famous song, Oh My Father:

I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.

When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?
Then, at length, when I’ve completed
All you sent me forth to do,
With your mutual approbation
Let me come and dwell with you.

Besides teaching us of a Mother in Heaven, Eliza was the one who wrote up the first proposed constitution for the female organization that eventually became Relief Society. She founded the youth ministry, including a young women’s ministry. She organized the children’s ministry. She was presiding over the Relief Society when Utah woman were granted the vote in 1870.

Eliza presided with power, performing blessings on all as requested and required.

And yet I somehow doubt Eliza would appreciate the way these discussions create a fictive environment that eliminates the possibility of a divine “No.”

My Potential

I am a woman of God, able to minister with power to those I have been called to serve. I am a mother of children, able to nurture them to become great in their own way. I am a wife, able to cherish the soul of my husband. I am a sister, able to gather my age-peers in my heart. I am a friend and a mentor and a teacher. I preside when my duties so require. I lead when so assigned. And I follow those with stewardship over me.

I’ve laid blessing hands on my son’s head when he was ill. I’ve keened when my only hope to hold him was relegated to the resurrection. I’ve played thumb war with my autistic daughter. I’ve listened with aching sadness as she declared her aspiration to be a wife and mother. I’ve sung to my eldest of hickies after finding her neck festooned with evidence of an enjoyable date.

I am able to comfort those whose heads are bowed. I am able to greet all I encounter with an honest love derived from a faith in a shared eternity in which I loved them as myself.

If at some point I am asked to bear priesthood keys by those in authority to grant such to me, I will do so. But I will not allow the lust for such keys to canker my soul against the God I love and the Church He has given me.

Notes:

  1. http://donnawelles.blogspot.com/2014/02/relationship-bw-ordination-of-women.html
  2. Podles, The Church Impotent, available online at http://www.podles.org/files/Church-Impotent/ChurchImpotent_Chapter1.pdf, retrieved June 17, 2014.
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the LDS church for over four decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation, and is working on a midrashic treatment of the events in Nauvoo associated with early polygamy.

15 thoughts on “Discussion Five Critique

  1. I just replied to my youngest daughter who e-mailed me after reading part of your series on Joseph Smith and polygamy. She asked if I had experienced washing and anointing of pregnant sisters by other women. Only in the temple as a set apart temple worker, and then not particularly for the pregnant. I have also experienced a variety of spiritual gifts, including prophecy, which I guess makes me a prophetess but certainly not in the sense that those in authority by virtue of the keys they hold are Prophets. Those writing these discussions betray their contempt for the insight and intelligence of their audience. It’s the same PR mentality that assures us that ‘you deserve a break today’ in order to sell us a substance that is harmful.

  2. Meg, thanks again for doing this series. I earlier postulated that this series of discussions would have a call to action, a call to join, just as the old missionary discussions. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the next (and last) discussion is “Be the Change.” I find it somewhat interesting that this discussion is currently slated to come out after Kate’s disciplinary hearing, because I fully expect that the point of that discussion will be to get the OW crowd to go into their wards and stakes, where they are still members, and “raise hell” as Ms. Kelly so eloquently stated it in her last appearance on the FMH podcast.

  3. Hi Pat,

    Given that the letter from Joseph Fielding Smith et al. to Sister Belle Spafford requesting the sisters refrain from performing washings and anointings for prospective mothers was in the mid 1940s, I would hope you’d not experienced that. Though I suppose we who have known you for lo these many years are aware of your views on the historic tactic where men accuse women of “witchcraft” for acting as healers and midwives. And Joseph Fielding Smith did allow that the practice was permitted, merely discouraged.

    Your youngest also e-mailed me with a few suggested grammatical improvements and a request that I include a timeline and a scorecard of the good guys and the bad guys. That’s actually a really great idea. I mean, I have a bright and precise timeline and scorecard in my head, but that doesn’t help those who don’t live in my head.

    Hi Michael,

    I was interested in the cunning progression of activities in this discussion. I also imagined the statistical male response to this. It was not intended for men. It is not intended to persuade men. It obviously doesn’t care that there are centuries of combined experience in other denominations showing that congregations do *not* thrive when women are admitted to the ranks of the ordained. The Church of England has twenty years experience with this. There was to have been a revitalization of the faith. That is what the advocates of female ordination promised. But you can’t even see the impact of female ordination in their statistics, which have steadily declined to the point where a mere 2-3% of the population attends the state church.

    I find the arguments of those advocating ordination of women in the Mormon faith to be focused on the ego and emotions of the women involved, with no serious attempt to evaluate the wealth of data our unfortunate fellow Christians have collected for us on the actual impact of female ordination.

    They may argue that the decline in membership in these denominations is merely correlated with, not necessarily caused by, ordination of women. And yet they proclaim that the Mormon practice of restricting priesthood keys to men is somehow responsible for a great exodus that otherwise wouldn’t be happening. We have data that correlates. They have aspirations based on fiction – fiction with respect to how the Church functions, fiction with respect to human nature, and fiction with respect to the allegedly harmless nature of their campaign.

  4. The more I think about this, the more I think that we are getting on the other side’s turf when we start debating issues of gender equity as a factor of retention and/or recruitment. The Church was true with six members and it could be true with six members again. The fact that people may* be leaving for reasons of perceived gender inequity is not a reason to change the Church. It is perhaps a reason to clarify some things, and reach out to some people in ways that doesn’t constitute a change in established doctrine, but not a reason to change the doctrine. The only reason to change the doctrine is if God tells the Prophet to do it. It is not an issue of activities rates or membership numbers or positive references in the NY Times. Instead, it is an issue of being right, because without that we are all wrong.

    * If we began ordaining women, there would be plenty of other excuses people would make for not coming to Church … you can’t “fix” them all.

  5. I’m not arguing that doctrine should depend on popularity.

    However I am pointing out that those attempting to use activist means to sway doctrine are making arguments that aren’t supported by the experience of the many other Christian denominations that have decided to ordain women.

  6. Meg, just an ocd/aspergerish technicality here… your two indented paragraphs confused me. At first i thought the indentation meant that they are quotes from the source or other material. But i think you meant them as commentary in your own voice. Since your article is written in first person, it’s my opinion that they don’t need to be indented, even if you intended it as an aside. If they are quotes from source material or elsewhere, some indication is needed.

    I’m not enough of an editor to properly describe a more correct style, but this is mainly let to let you know that i am confused about who “says” those two paragraphs, and why they are indented if you are the one saying them.

  7. For some reason I felt those particular comments were sufficiently other that I wanted to set them off in some manner.

    Sorry for confusing you!

  8. Meg,
    I liked that you addressed the fallacy reasoning that OW seems to be using. This is the fallacy that if someone feels any sort of inequity because she is a woman from any person in authority in our church, the ONLY way to redress and change that is to ordain women.

    I have seen a number of responses to the OW movement from women who say that the men in our church have never made them feel unequal. They are lucky. But, that doesn’t mean that we either feel like there is no problem or that we think women should be ordained. That is a fallacy. Those of us in leadership positions (or not) would do well to recognize that, in fact, there are times women are not treated with the intellectual respect and dignity we deserve, but that we are imperfect and striving to do better.
    I think that I would like to hear less from the people who have had no problems and more ideas of how we, as a church, can do better without changing doctrine or speaking against the prophets

  9. Hi Amy,

    I agree that there are some inequities. But I feel the most lasting and expeditious way to effect meaningful change is in an atmosphere of respect.

    Over at BCC, I posted a few suggestions related to the Church Handbook and Church discipline. In fact, someone quoted me out of context and wondered how I could say such things and not risk my good standing in the Church, given what is happening to Kate.

    The difference, I submit, is that I put my suggestions in the subjunctive case, and made it clear that I wasn’t making demands. Similarly, even in the absence of being told why my ideas are wrong, I will seek to understand the good reasons behind the current practice. Not that all the reasons are good, and not that current practice couldn’t be changed, but there are always good reasons underlying any existing pattern of behavior.

    It has been fascinating for me sitting in the youth classes with my autistic daughter. I find this new youth curriculum extremely agile. Here we have Ms. Kelly facing a disciplinary council tonight, and this month’s lessons for the youth are talking about priesthood and priesthood keys. One of the suggested topics is How do women and priesthood holders work together to build the kingdom of God? It’s been fascinating to hear these young people learn more about this topic, knowing that their teachers and youth leaders are extremely aware of what is going on with Ms. Kelly and her supporters. One of the youth even specifically mentioned Ordain Women (the bishop’s daughter) and the mention was respectful, but also stating that their representation of how women feel or should feel does not represent her own experience.

    My husband and I talked about a variety of issues and possible solutions a couple of months ago, in a post titled Ordain Women: A Husband and Wife Respond. But having made my observations about past events, I am happy to return to the now and simply enjoy. In my experience, the vast majority of my Church interactions are marvelous and filled with joy.

  10. Meg,
    “The most lasting and expeditious way to effect meaningful change is in an atmosphere of respect”

    I couldn’t agree more! And if my response suggested otherwise, I did not express myself well. I think the point of my response was that when I only hear responses from individuals who haven’t had reason to complain about their treatment as a woman in the church, it can also be a reason for those who feel they have been mistreated to feel more closely aligned with OW. I think a real benefit of some of these discussions is that it presents another option. Perhaps women have been treated less than equal by certain male leaders in the church. We can acknowledge that without having to disrespect anyone, without having to change doctrine and give the Brethren ultimatums. I have appreciated this forum where we can acknowledge these types of things and have respectful discourse with each other as well as respectful towards the church and it’s leaders.

  11. Hi Amy,

    It’s hard to convey and interpret nuances when comments are only written.

    Looking back at what each of us wrote, I intended my comment on lasting and expedition change as a comment to those who are attempting to effect change using antagonistic activist techniques.

    Tonight I was writing up the post about William Law. Slightly scary the parallels between William Law and current events.

  12. Discussion 6 is delayed as well. They must not have been all written ahead of time, or else they are busy amending this one as a result of recent events. I will make some bold predictions:

    - There will be a quote from Audre Lorde.
    - There will be references to Mormon Feminist Foremothers, and honor given to those seen as trailblazers. This will include praise for KK, which may be not so veiled.
    - There will be a call to action to preach the gospel of Gender Equity.

  13. Hi Michael Davidson,

    At this point I don’t know that Ordain Women has to do anything. The 6th discussion is titled “Be the Change.”

    At this point, with what they’ve posted in the 1st 5 discussions, your average intelligent feminist ought to be able to figure out what to do.

    Of course, lack of the 6th discussion is frustrating for people, like me, who hate to leave things undone.Hi Michael Davidson,

    At this point I don’t know that ordain women has to do anything. The 6th discussion is titled be the change.

    At this point, with what they’ve posted in the 1st 5 discussions, your average intelligent feminist ought to be able to figure out what to do. It appears that those seeking female ordination are retrenching. It will be sad if we do have a mass exodus of individuals who feel wounded by this week’s events. Such an exodus, I believe, would be counterproductive to the public image of the movement seeking female ordination.

    Of course, lack of the 6th discussion is frustrating for people, like me, who hate to leave things undone.

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