This is a guest post by Michael Davidson, who is a father, husband, attorney and active member of the Church.
In a recent Facebook exchange, I was asked to share what in my life would be damaged if women were ordained to the Priesthood. My response was that his question missed the mark. I haven’t opposed Ordain Women (OW) because I think that female ordination would be such a terrible thing. Rather, my opposition to OW is that it is a trap that will lead people out of the Church. A friend responded and insisted that “Mormons are not being led out of the church by OW.… For me and many other Mormons OW and FMH has provided a profound place of comfort and solace within the church.”
This refrain has been repeated many times and in many places by folks from the OW crowd. OW founder Kate Kelly has repeatedly stated that OW is perhaps the greatest retention effort in the Church right now. Most recently, in the “Getting Started” handout related to OW’s new six discussions, OW claims “we have already seen this organization serve as an LDS retention effort for women who left, or were considering leaving, the Church due to their feelings on gender inequality.” OW actively promotes itself as a group who provides a “profound place of comfort and solace within the Church” as observed by my friend. But this is a false claim. In fact, I propose that there is nothing about participation in the OW movement that will strengthen someone’s commitment to the Church. Instead, the natural consequence of participation will be to lead women and men out of the Church.
OW must realize the course they are setting will lead people to have difficult conversations with their Bishops and Stake Presidents. From the very beginning OW has a “Productive Conversations Toolkit” available on their website. The purpose of this document is to prepare OW acolytes to “effectively and confidently engage in conversations with leaders and peers about Ordain Women and the ordination of LDS women.” The document begins by introducing the hypothetical that the reader has “just got called in to meet with your church leaders.” It then gives specific advice for, among other things, avoiding discipline. Why would such a thing be necessary if it weren’t for the fact that it was entirely foreseeable and expected that activity in OW would lead to potential Church discipline or other problems?
It is my contention that the actions that OW has planned and executed to this date do not lead the participants to activity and commitment to the Church if you judge them by the fruits that they produce. Before looking at specific examples, is it reasonable to expect that any of OW’s “actions” will bring the participants closer to the Church? Those people participating in these actions already feel marginalized and disrespected. It is entirely irrelevant whether they are justified in feeling that way; it’s the way they feel. However, the actions were designed from the outset to force the Church to turn the OW crowd away from the Priesthood session, one by one. By inviting those people to attempt to gain admission to a meeting to which they haven’t been invited, and to which they have advance notice that they won’t be admitted, OW is merely putting people who already feel rejected into a position in which they will be rejected again in a very public setting. The unavoidable result of the two Priesthood Session actions is the exact opposite of comfort and solace. Instead, the inevitable moment in which each individual member of the OW crowd is turned away merely affirms their preexisting feelings and bias and galvanizes whatever hostile or antagonistic thoughts or feelings that they have in that moment. If anything, these actions do not create or strengthen any loyalty to the Church, but merely creates or strengthens loyalty to OW and the proposition that the Church should change to fit their truth. Because they are focused on “their truth” rather than revealed truth, the result are also predictable. (See 2 Nephi 7:11)
I have seen this repeated over and over again in the responses of women involved in the April OW action. I have yet to see someone claim that their involvement in OW has strengthened their desire to follow the Brethren or to be more supportive of the Church and its doctrine and policies. Instead, the participants leave more committed to the OW goals (which are in opposition to the Church). This, to me, is so obvious that I can’t believe that it isn’t intentional. In fact, Kate Kelly (in her earlier FMH podcast) talked extensively about how she feels that in person actions are important specifically because it forces women to go through this galvanizing process.
Two examples illustrate my thesis particularly well. Hannah Wheelwright, who is a spokeswomen for OW, wrote a blog post about her experiences at the April 2014 action. The bitterness is palpable as you read it, there is no hope expressed, there is no loyalty or fidelity to the Church expressed. She talks about how she is excluded from the role she wants in the Church because she is a woman. She says that the message she gets from the Church is “this is not for you.” In the process she makes some of the tired and silly arguments that have been raised in the comments here, but mostly she is hurt and mad. I get it. She feels as if the Church has wronged her, and she was placed in a position in which that perceived wrong was unavoidably repeated. How else would you expect her to react?
Another example was found in a recent FMH podcast: “Feelings from the April 5th Ordain Women Experience.” In it, Lindsay, who is the host of the podcast, says that her experience at the action left her “heartbroken.” She admits that her neighbors and family feel that she is an enemy to the Church, and that she went to the action because she “needed to feel with [her] body what [she] had known, and that is that they didn’t want [her] there.” She went knowing what would happen, but she “needed to feel and see [herself] shut out … and [she] did.” She says that she didn’t want to say goodbye, but “honestly, the action, to [her], felt like saying goodbye.” She concludes by saying of the Church and its leadership, “I can’t look to them ever again or ask them for anything again…. There’s no God for me in that.” She hesitated to talk about it because she didn’t think that her experience was “helpful,” which is illuminating in itself.
At the end of the podcast, Kate Kelly admitted that she left the action with nothing positive to say and that she just sat there and experienced sadness. This is not entirely the fruits of the Spirit. In further discussing the upcoming OW discussions, Kate said that these conversations are unavoidable. Women who feel this gender inequality have to have these discussions with the people in their circles in order to be authentic, and while it is foreseeable that the result will be tears and pain and the possibility of destroying relationships, she views the relationships that would be destroyed as not worth preserving in the first place.
As I noted above, the results of these actions are not surprising and are entirely predictable. OW, through the two priesthood session actions, placed these vulnerable women in a position tailor made to crush them. Now, they are going to be encouraging people to go into the homes of their family and friends to teach six discussions where most of them will be forced to go through this experience again on a more personal level. The results will be just as tragic, and just as predictable.