By Michael Davidson
Michael Davidson no longer lives in Newfoundland, though he misses it terribly, and thanks to a change in ward boundaries this week is now living in his fourth ward this calendar year, which for him is a record. Having only been in his new ward for a week, he has no calling.
We’re nearing another General Conference and that can mean only one thing: the spark kindlers at Ordain Women (see 2 Nephi 7:11) have decided to bring the drama back to the Priesthood Session. Only this time, they are going about it more subtlety and diffusely. In spite of this, I believe that this “action” will more efficiently achieve Ordain Women’s unstated, but obvious, goal of hastening the separation of Ordain Women supporters from the main body of the Church.
You will recall that during the past two General Priesthood Sessions the Founding Mothers of Ordain Women have marched onto Temple Square with a train of acolytes and made a spectacle of themselves getting turned away from the Tabernacle. This time is different. Rather than stage a demonstration on the relatively easily controlled grounds of Temple Square, they are planning on descending on stake centers throughout the world and making a spectacle of themselves.
In their announcement of this Action, Ordain Women says that they “trust that women will be welcome at their stake centers, as they have been previously.” However, if they want to be honest about this, they should have acknowledged that they’ve not been welcome to attend Priesthood Session at their stake centers previously. Last year (and I give a hat tip to Peggy Fletcher Stack for actually including this in her article today) a letter went out to local leadership instructing them to remind any women that seek admission to Priesthood Session that “the meeting is for men and that mean are invited to attend” and to point out that Ordain Women’s “presence would be disruptive.” The letter gave instructions that if the women seeking admission were insistent after being told that they weren’t invited and that their presence wouldn’t be appreciated, that they would then be allowed to enter.
Clearly, Ordain Women followers are not welcome at the Church’s stake centers for Priesthood Session. By suggesting that they are, Ordain Women’s lie does two really terrible things. First, they have set their followers up to be unwittingly challenged as they attempt to enter their stake centers. Many of their followers will read Ordain Women’s announcement and take the assertion that they will be welcome to attend at their stake center at face value. When they are met at the door by a member of their Bishopric or Stake Presidency and told that they are not really welcome, it’ll be a like a cold bucket of water has been dumped on their head.
Compare this to the last two Priesthood Session “actions.” At those demonstrations, 99% of the women participating were functionally anonymous. They went to the door of a building that they never, or rarely, entered and were turned away by someone they had never met previously, and who they would likely never see again. This action will be different. They will be seeking admission to a building that they (perhaps) enter on a weekly basis, and will be met by someone who they interact with just as regularly. Plus, these buildings and people will be there every week going forward. Instead of being told that they aren’t welcome by the institutional Church; it will be their local leaders; it will be people who know their names and their families; it will be people who sign their temple recommends; it will be people who will have to field calls from other members of the ward asking why their daughter’s Sunday School teacher or Mia Maid advisor was publicly supporting Ordain Women on Church property.
Ordain Women states that it is their hope that “this action will strengthen bonds within our Mormon faith communities.” This is where the second really terrible thing comes in. As should be abundantly clear to all reading this, local bishops and stake presidents will be placed in the situation of policing this situation. They will be expected to follow the direction from the Church and remind those women seeking admission that they are not invited or welcome. In so doing, they will strengthen their own bonds to the Church and its faithful membership. However, in so doing the unavoidable consequence will be to weaken the bonds between the OW demonstrators and these local leaders.
The unavoidable outcome is the strengthening of the bonds within the Ordain Women “faith community” with the weakening of the bonds with the Church as a whole. This is, of course, Ordain Women’s unstated goal. They are trying to build a coalition of as many people as they can and put them through crucibles such as these to galvanize their feelings and sentiments. They feel that if they can get a critical mass of followers, that they can force action by the Church. But they misunderstand.