The unavoidable consequences of OW participation

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.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

23 thoughts on “The unavoidable consequences of OW participation

  1. Your last paragraph is a perfect description of the fruits of this movement. All it is going to lead to is broken hearts, betrayed faith, and lost testimonies. Kind of makes me wonder who’s ultimately behind the movement. Hint: it ain’t the Lord or His Spirit.

  2. Thank you for posting with us today. I am so glad you wrote this post and I think you are 100% with your words.

    I think every member of the Church has gone thru periods of time where they fell out of place or that their prayers are not being answered *the way they think* they should be answered. The key at these times is to doubt our doubts and hold on to our faith, and the iron rod, until the storm passes. That galvanizes us, that is what makes us stronger, not acting intentionally to cause contention, or to willfully disobey and rebel against the leaders of the Church.

    I am so glad you referenced 2 N 7:11 too … I think this scripture is good warning to follow the prophet and to avoid stepping into our own echo chamber.

    I will end my thoughts by encouraging ALL women to study Elder Oaks’ April 2014 Conference Talk. He explains perfectly how women have access to the priesthood and how we can use this power to bless the lives of others. Sisters, the Lord has not forgotten us. He loves us, everyone. We are important to the work. The continued agitations of OW distract from the Work of God. Please, please, please distance yourselves from OW, as this post so rightly has taught us, OW is setting you up for failure and heartbreak.

  3. I have been pondering this topic for a long time now, and just this morning I woke up from a very profound and, I belive, inspired dream about the nature and origin of the OW movement – and as Michael said above, it’s not from the Lord.

    I have my personal answer now, but I fear the damage that this will do to many in the church who are vunerable and confused. My only solice is that we are dealing with this now. It will be rough for a while, but I hope that we are buying time for our children so they won’t have to address this issue for another couple of decades, and by then the game may have changed completly.

  4. I wrote a post recently that addresses the problems of why claiming to cause retention while undermining the teachings isn’t a net positive for the Gospel message and therefore won’t be a net positive for the LDS church in the long run. The Fluke and Snail example is specifically relevant to this post.

    Also, Kate Kelly’s beliefs are relevant to her motiviations, so this post is relevant too:

  5. Jesus warned us that in the end times even the very elect would be deceived… But the more I learn about these OW folk, the more I think it’s not the elect being deceived… It’s the highly emotional, spiritually immature. And while that doesn’t make it any less sad, it does make it more understandable.

  6. It seems to me that mortal life ha been deliberately planned as a sort of boot camp for potential gods. The most cursory examination of the lives of prophets and our Savior illustrate that those with more potential get more difficult obstacle courses to overcome. Even for the least of us there are plenty of excuses to whine and complain about difficulties. If we don’t always have a public record of the struggles our current leadership have faced, that simply means that they have suffered and worked to overcome without recording it for everyone to access. If OW members decide that the way God has organized his kingdom is a personal affront, then I am sorry for them, perhaps they don’t have enough real challenge in their lives that makes the comfort offered by the Holy Spirit worth any sacrifice of ego or convenience. Either you accept that the church restored by Joseph Smith is the Kingdom of God and his rules obtain, or you don’t. God long ago demonstrated that ‘steadying the ark’ has negative consequences.

  7. The solution to feeling abused by anyone, including the church, is not to change that thing, but to change yourself, either by leaving, or cultivating the Stockholm Syndrome, or just being humble about the possibility you are wrong, or that even if you are right, that God lets his prophets do what they think is right.

  8. This is a tangent, but when the OP was recounting the podcast, I was reminded of my initial reaction to the demonstration last fall: it’s “Marianne Dashwoodism.” (That’s a term I made up. Patent pending.) Marianne Dashwood is a character from Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” She spends most of the book crying, but it isn’t enough for her to cry, she wants everyone to see her cry, so that they can all know that she really feels deeply about things all the time. And according to Marianne, if you don’t cry a lot yourself, it’s because you’re heartless.

    The women were told beforehand they weren’t going to get in, but then walked over anyway, and were predictably told they weren’t going to get in. What amazed me is that many of them cried publicly, as if the denial was a surprise (or at least I saw several pictures of women crying). And I couldn’t help wondering, cynical as I am, if the goal here was, like Marianne Dashwood, to force everyone to watch them cry so that everyone would know just how deeply they felt about this. Which is fine as a strategy, I suppose, except that sort action naturally brings up three possibilities to my mind, only one of which seems genuine: (a) that they really were that surprised and moved by the denial; (b) that this is just for show–i.e., good political theater; or (c) that the person crying just naturally cries a lot, in which case, how big a deal is it anyway?

  9. Thanks for all of the comments so far.

    Bruce, I agreed with the posts you referenced by and large. I was attempting to look a little more closely at the micro, individual level than at the big picture. As for Kate Kelly, I remain convinced that she is not entirely who she claims to be. If nothing else, her idea of what it means to be a “faithful” member of the Church varies markedly from what is generally accepted in the Church. I have further questions about what she is faithful to in the end, and everything points that her faith is in “her truth” which does not include the Church as presently constituted.

    Pat Chiu, your comment reminds me of the classic Brigham Young quote:

    “The worst fear that I have about [members of this Church] is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches.”

    I think when everything is said and done, some of us might look at the early members of the Church and think they had the easier road, and some of those early members of the Church might just agree.

  10. It’s too bad all the links were removed. I’m too lazy to look the links up myself…

    Lots of early members of the Church apostatized. So mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution isn’t a sure-fire recipe for building faithful members.

    There’s an interesting point when John C. Bennett comes back to Nauvoo, after all he’d done to trash Joseph and the Church. We don’t know what Bennett said to Joseph. After Bennett left, he went to Boston and began to confess his wrongs. But the crowd turned on Bennett, who barely escaped with his life.

    If at some point various OW individuals attempt to reconnect with the Church in a meaningful way, they will find they are not able to access the high-profile media channels for a contrite apology. I trust they would not actually be physically attacked, as happened to Bennett before the Boston crowd, but it will be very hard for them.

    On a tangent, that is why I like the idea of a penitent Eliza Snow. The Eliza I read in her poetry realized her mistake, bore the consequence, and then realigned her life with the gospel. Eliza then went on to become the most powerful woman in all of Mormon history. If Eliza could fall so far and become so great, then any of us could do so as well.

  11. Jimbob, you make some good observations. For what it’s worth, Allison of FMH podcast fame did make a point of saying that she wasn’t doing her crying for public consumption and that it was a completely personal moment. She also admits that she knew beforehand what would happen and wasn’t surprised by any of it. She says that she just needed to do it and feel it physically so that she could say goodbye. I’m reminded of a time I broke up with a girl friend in college who wanted one last kiss after we broke up.

    Allison did say that the only thing that would have made a difference would have been if she had been met at the door by a member (or members) of the Twelve (seriously!) and had been personally invited into the meeting and told that she could get ordained. Since this obviously wasn’t going to happen, the only reasonable reason for her to go to the protest in the first place is to do precisely what she said that she was doing … and that was to say goodbye.

  12. Meg, feel free to get my email from Geoff (or Geoff, feel free to give it to Meg) and I’ll be happy to send whatever links I can.

    Also, I believe that part of the reason why OW has asked their supporters to attend these actions in person and in public is to make it harder for them to back down if they later feel to do so.

  13. “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.

    I see a parallel with Dehlin and Mormon Matters/Stories.

  14. Hi Michael,

    I did bestir myself to find the OW website that has the description of their proposed discussions and such. I’m vaguely reminded of the Expositor. But it isn’t “done” to destroy presses these days. I’ll decided later this month if I’ve got bandwidth and interest to bother perusing the actual discussions.


  15. In the old days, everyone in the camp was thirsty and hungry — some murmured, and some complained aloud trying to lead others to follow them. Why did Moses take us from Egypt? Remember the fleshpots of Egypt? I hope that if I was with them in those days, even as thirsty and hungry as I might have been along with everyone else, I hope that I would have been faithful to Moses and faithful to the Lord. It’s so easy to murmur, to point the finger, to find fault — but it’s worse to purposefully damage the faith of others.

    To me, the OW crowd look a lot like Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Consider the following, and make the OW substitutions yourself–

    Korah, one of the rich leaders of the Levites, and a cousin of Moses and Aaron, felt that he had been slighted and overlooked in the distribution of the highest priestly honors and leadership. He envied Moses and Aaron, and also his cousin Elzaphan, who had been put in charge of the Levites, after Aaron’s family had become elevated to the rank of Kohanim (Priests). Realizing that despite his riches and influence he alone could do very little to shake the people’s faith and confidence in Moses and Aaron, Korah looked for associates in his campaign against them.
    Korah went to the people of the tribe of Reuben, his neighbors in the camping order. Being daily in close contact with them, Korah easily swayed the opinions of their leaders and drew them into his conspiracy. Amongst the Reubenites were two men, Dathan and Abiram, who since their early days in Egypt had been trouble-makers and the ringleaders of disaffection and rebellion. They were the first to rally to the party of Korah, and they were his most eager agents among their tribesmen. Their experienced and clever campaigning, aided by Korah’s riches, influence, and knowledge, induced as many as 250 respected leaders of the Jewish camp to join the rebellion. They now felt bold enough to go out into the open and speak up against Moses’ leadership of the people. Adopting the mantle of piety and justice, and pretending to be a champion of his people, Korah accused Moses and Aaron of imposing their leadership upon the community. “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” said Korah (Numbers 16:3) and his men to Moses and Aaron. (from

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