Otterson: Context Missing from Discussion about Women

May 29, 2014 | 23 comments
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Below is a letter from Michael Otterson, Managing Director of Public Affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that the Mormon Newsroom asked Times & Seasons to consider publishing.

Comments on various blogs over recent months about what Church leaders should or should not think and do about women’s roles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prompt me to provide some context from an insider perspective that may be helpful.

Recently a woman posted this comment on a blog:

Please understand that not [all] women who wish to be seen in all their worth are seeking to be ordained to the priesthood…. What I am finding…. is that most of these women have been demeaned and marginalized by one (and usually many more) of the brothers of our faith. They have been told their ideas won’t work. They have been told they are not important. They have been told they are lesser.

The point is a noteworthy one, namely that LDS women who describe themselves as feminists don’t necessarily seek ordination, but rather to be genuinely valued and given a voice that is respected and welcomed.

There are three specific criticisms that have been raised on various blogs that will be addressed here:

Criticism 1: The Church doesn’t want to hear from women about painful experiences, doesn’t talk to them or only wants to hear from women who are “blindly obedient.”

This is untrue. I can say with certainty that not one of the senior leaders of the Church would ever want any Latter-day Saint to feel demeaned or marginalized. Does it happen? Yes, of course.  In 30,000 congregations led by lay leaders, it would be extraordinary if it didn’t.  Serving as a stake president or bishop is demanding and exhausting, and by and large they do a remarkable job of it. Likewise the countless men and women who serve at various levels in wards and branches. But we are all human, and occasionally we say things clumsily or we lack sufficient sensitivity or language skills or experience. The Church is a place where we make mistakes and then hopefully learn to do better. It is also a place where we allow others to make mistakes and improve.

What this argues for is better training of leaders and members, and more patience, more long-suffering, more sensitivity and Christlike behavior on the part of all of us. Bishops are extraordinarily busy, but like local leaders, should be particularly aware of how easy it is to come across as patronizing or dismissive when a woman wants more than anything to be listened to and feel as if she has truly been heard.

But this is quite a different conversation from one about ordaining women to every office, from bishop to apostle, thereby radically redefining how Jesus structured His Church. Those of the Twelve apostles whose responsibilities include leadership and training are acutely aware of these training challenges and expend much energy addressing them.

If there is one thing that my lifetime of working with Church leaders has taught me, it is that they care deeply about Church members and their feelings. In our remarkable system of Church governance, no man or woman can rise to high office without first serving for decades in responsibilities that bring them up-close-and-personal with a mind-boggling array of human problems.  In the course of their lives, apostles have spent countless hours in such counseling situations, struggling and sharing tears and helping members work the miracle of the Atonement of Jesus Christ into their lives. While their work as apostles is largely accomplished through local leaders ministering to their congregations around the world, they remain crucially aware of issues that concern the members of the Church.

Many members do not understand this. Even as the Church has grown much larger, the First Presidency and the Twelve are widely read on current issues and continue to travel and engage with the body of the saints. Such assignments invariably bring them into contact with rank-and-file members of diverse thought and backgrounds, not just leadership. I have heard members of the First Presidency and the Twelve speak many times of those experiences, and what they learn from such engagements. When they return, those interactions are often shared and a formidable knowledge base develops over time, especially given the lifetime of experiences of the senior Brethren.  The same is true for the women leaders of the Church, who meet one-on-one in the homes of members, hold focus groups and have countless conversations with women and men as they travel the world.

Neither are General Authorities immune from challenges that can arise in their own families, with children or grandchildren, nieces and nephews. One of the great blessings of the Church is that we have leaders who experience the same burdens as the rest of us. They are not aloof.

Additionally, various Church bodies such as the Missionary and Priesthood departments constantly channel information to Church leaders through more formal channels such as the councils on which the apostles sit.  Some Church entities such as Public Affairs and the Church’s Research and Information Division specifically seek out opinions from members.

An example:  some years ago Public Affairs invited three groups of women, all active Latter-day Saints and including feminists, to come for several hours each to discuss concerns. I use the term “feminist” here not to imply political activism or campaigning, but simply as a term to describe those who want to further the interests of women in a variety of ways. The first two groups included single and married women, working mothers and stay-at home moms. Several in the groups had earned PhDs. The third group consisted mostly of members of stake Relief Society and Young Women’s presidencies, and we were particularly interested to learn if there were differences in perceptions between these groups.

In order to build an environment of trust, we do not disclose whom we meet with or what is discussed, although we do sometimes ask for permission to record the conversations so we don’t miss anything important. We find that this creates a safe place for transparent conversation. For several hours, a woman staffer facilitated the conversations, and I sat in and mostly listened for a major part of the time.  I assure you that these women were not wallflowers. We learned a lot, and those findings have long since been shared with members of the Twelve individually and in appropriate council settings. Those kinds of conversations are continuing under similar guidelines to promote honest discussions.

Criticism 2: There is nowhere for women who don’t feel safe in their wards to have a conversation about some of their negative experiences that isn’t seen as subversive.

This is a serious question and I think is the kind of discussion that the Brethren welcome as they seek to understand the concerns of the members. My advice is to be patient, and trust in those whom we sustain as apostles and prophets and the revelatory process.

As we have said, most bishops, stake presidents and local leaders do a remarkable job. Sometimes, men and women in wards take offense when counsel is given. And, yes, sometimes we don’t handle things well.

First, local leaders should always be given a chance to listen. If approached prayerfully and sincerely, most will.

Second, every member, whether man or woman, should initiate such an interview with a willingness to take counsel as well as deliver a message.

Third, every ward also has a Relief Society presidency.  While matters of personal worthiness must remain a matter between the member and the bishop who is a “common judge,” other matters of personal concern to a woman can be voiced privately to faithful Relief Society Presidency members and other local leaders.  Without becoming an advocate, such a confidante could not only offer counsel but could be invited to accompany a sister to see a bishop or a stake president in some circumstances.

Criticism 3:  By not engaging with the more extreme groups, the Church – and Public Affairs in particular – is not acting as Christ would.

First, it’s important to understand that the Public Affairs Department of the Church does not freelance. For Public Affairs to initiate or take a position inconsistent with the views of those who preside over the Church is simply unthinkable, as anyone who has ever worked for the Church will attest.

As managing director of the Public Affairs Department, I work under the direct supervision of two members of the Twelve apostles, two members of the Presidency of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishop, and alongside a remarkable and devoted staff of men and women.

This group of senior General Authorities often refers matters of particular importance to other councils of men and women leaders, to the full Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and to the First Presidency for further discussion or decision.

The dedicated men and women who work for Public Affairs reflect diverse backgrounds and experiences. Some are native Utahns. Others grew up elsewhere in the United States and some, like me, were born in other countries or are converts to the Church. Young and older, single and married, they have worked through their own challenging life experiences and learned and grown from them, as we all do.

Occasionally, as we have seen in recent weeks on some feminist blogs, those who are spokespeople for the Church and therefore are required to put their names out in the public square find themselves in the cross-hairs of critics. Sometimes those critics are highly cynical and make things personal. In recent weeks, I have seen some of our staff ridiculed by some feminist commentators, called disingenuous or, worse, accused of lying.

Our people are professionals and they have borne this with charity, good grace and without the slightest complaint. I don’t believe for a minute that these strident voices represent a significant proportion of LDS women, or even of those Church members who describe themselves as feminists.

Certainly all the staff understand that public relations is best understood as a bridging activity to build relationships, not a set of messaging activities designed to buffer an organization from others. Readiness to meet with many different groups is therefore basic to public affairs work for the Church, and we do it all the time.

Yet there are a few people with whom Public Affairs and General Authorities do not engage, such as individuals or groups who make non-negotiable demands for doctrinal changes that the Church can’t possibly accept. No matter what the intent, such demands come across as divisive and suggestive of apostasy rather than encouraging conversation through love and inclusion. Ultimately, those kinds of actions can only result in disappointment and heartache for those involved.

We might wonder what the Savior’s reaction would have been had the many prominent women in his life taken such a course. If Mary Magdalene, or Mary, his mother, or Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, had demanded ordination to the Twelve, had spoken publicly about their insistence and made demands such as we hear today, how would Jesus have felt, who loved them every bit as much as he loved the Twelve? Some of these women were closest to him in life and in death. One was the first mortal to witness a resurrected Being. There was nothing “lesser” about these women in his eyes.

I suppose we do not know all the reasons why Christ did not ordain women as apostles, either in the New Testament or the Book of Mormon, or when the Church was restored in modern times. We only know that he did not, that his leaders today regard this as a doctrinal issue that cannot be compromised, and that agitation from a few Church members is hindering the broader and more productive conversation about the voice, value and visibility of women in the Church that has been going on for years and will certainly continue (the lowering of the age requirement for female missionary service was consistent with this conversation).

Few can doubt that the Internet has transformed our society for the better in many ways, notably in providing a voice for everyone with a keyboard or mobile device.  The problem with the Internet, as we all know, is that it has also become a place for angry venting, cynical put-downs and the circulating of misinformation. What we read there is often anonymous and unverifiable. People are now apt to quote any blog as a legitimate source, no matter how extreme or cynical or how few people it represents, especially if it happens to comport with their personal view. There is an old quote, attributed to Mark Twain, suggesting that a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. Never has that been truer than today, and it can make civil gospel conversations on some topics difficult.

Inevitably, some will respond to a lengthy post like this with animosity or will attempt to parse words or misinterpret what I have said, “straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.” Nevertheless, I hope that we will see less cynicism and criticism, more respectful dialogue, more kindness and civility and more generosity of spirit as those members who are prone to use the Internet engage with each other. As Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson said recently: “May we realize just how much we need each other, and may we all love one another better,” no matter which chair we’re sitting in.

Michael Otterson
Managing Director
Public Affairs
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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23 Responses to Otterson: Context Missing from Discussion about Women

  1. hear me roar on May 29, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    “We might wonder what the Savior’s reaction would have been had the many prominent women in his life taken such a course. If Mary Magdalene, or Mary, his mother, or Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, had demanded ordination to the Twelve, had spoken publicly about their insistence and made demands such as we hear today, how would Jesus have felt, who loved them every bit as much as he loved the Twelve? Some of these women were closest to him in life and in death. One was the first mortal to witness a resurrected Being. There was nothing “lesser” about these women in his eyes.”

    We also might wonder if the Savior would approve of how this was all handled, or not handled as the case may be, and if this is still happening in our church today (warning, may be triggering):

    http://www.cougarguard.com/forum/archive/index.php/t-593.html

  2. Logan on May 29, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    This is all great Michael. How about some top leaders teach it in General Conference, or in the Ensign, or in Priesthood Leadership training? How about public statements from the top on this? You guys at the top get to decide what training to give out, what to teach leaders, not us. I don’t think it’s fair to say “hey we need better training of leaders” and then not do it.This is a totally lopsided organization and we at the bottom can do virtually nothing about people above us.

  3. Davey on May 29, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    My main question surrounding the official response to Ordain Women (which we can only assume is the most prominent of the unnamed “individuals or groups”), is how asking our leadership to ask God these questions, relay us the direction they feel they have received, and let us know that this is what has happened constitutes “non-negotiable demands for doctrinal changes that the Church an’t possibly accept.” I feel that Ordain Women has approached their questions from within an incredibly faithful, orthodox framework, and it saddens me that they have not been dignified with a response that’s even willing to address the organization by its name.

    “I hope that we will see less cynicism and criticism, more respectful dialogue, more kindness and civility and more generosity of spirit as those members who are prone to use the Internet engage with each other.”

    This is my hope as well. From where I stand, as a member of the Church who sympathizes with a good deal of Ordain Women’s questions and concerns, but also has enough reservations surrounding it not to officially participate myself, it still feels to me as if they have been doing a lot to try and create more respectful dialogue, and that their efforts have been met with a lot of disrespect. I believe the women who believe and have invested in this church deserve more of a voice than as occasional panelists in meetings that are relayed secondhand to the Brethren. This letter doesn’t make me angry, it doesn’t make me cynical, but it does make me very sad.

  4. Logan on May 29, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    A few more thoughts: It’s easy to dictate the terms of the discussion if you hold all the power. It’s easy to say people aren’t acting Christlike when they act out of frustration. I don’t think many leader in the church have really been marginalized, excluded, or ignored. I didn’t understand it until it happened to me. Before then, I couldn’t understand what all the complaining was about.

    I think there’s not much worse than messing with someone’s spiritual identity or their perceived standing before God. It can be soul-crushing when your church (local leaders with seemingly support from higher ups) make you feel like you just exist to make the organization function, with no regard for your inout or well-being. The church can fill pretty much a family’s entire social sphere, and yet you might not almost not influence on what happens. No consultation of scheduling, activities, or goals. And you may never get a turn in any leadership. So you raise your kids in an environment where other people all the decisions. They may even break policy and tell you to not challenge them. That was my experience for year until I finally took my family out of Utah.

    I think many women want the priesthood as a way of power-sharing, so that they have some say over what happens with their church and so that they are less likily to be marginalized or abused. If women aren’t going to get the priesthood, here’s how I’d handle it: I’d say, even though men have the priesthood and women don’t, we ought to make sure that we don’t start thinking that men are better than women or that that women can’t or shouldn’t be leaders. We need to make sure that we listen to women who claim abuse or marginalization, and not shame them for speaking out. We need to check ourselves and learn how to make everyone feel wanted and appreciated.

    Priesthood seems to be all about “presiding” with “power” and “authority.” No much service and love. But the ones that will be in the worse state at the final day or those who have hurt the little ones, who think they can be sloppy or negligent with wielding God’s power, who think whiner should just shut up.

    And if the church is going to be so hierarchical, then the guys at the top, not the bottom, bear the responsibility for how the organization operates. If one’s local leaders are “following counsel” and it is damaging to members below them, it’s not the members below them that have the problem. The sin is on their heads.

  5. Jonathan Cavender on May 29, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Davey:

    “how asking our leadership to ask God these questions, relay us the direction they feel they have received, and let us know that this is what has happened constitutes “non-negotiable demands for doctrinal changes that the Church an’t possibly accept.””

    There are any number of examples. Among countless others, http://thestudentreview.org/exclusive-interview-with-kate-kelly-from-ordain-women/

    Key pull quote:

    Q: “Is there a limit to what you want to do here? I mean, we’re talking about female bishops, stake presidents, how about a prophet?
    A: “The ordination of women would put us on completely equal spiritual footing with our brethren, and NOTHING LESS WILL SUFFICE.” (Emphasis added).

  6. Old Man on May 29, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    Logan: “Priesthood seems to be all about ‘presiding’ with ‘power’ and ‘authority.’ No (sic) much service and love.”

    I have seen bad examples of leadership in the Church, but largely, from my perspective, your criticism is unwarranted.

    But also in my experience, the church does not even begin to replace the family. And I live in one of those Utah wards with hordes of devout individuals with pioneer ancestors and a traditional outlook on the Church. Church is simply a means of providing additional instruction, opportunities for service (both of which are largely provided by/within families in my area) and keys for ordinances. A ward supplements the respective families.

    I have traveled throughout the U.S. and I have never met or heard a member claiming they have no or little input in raising or instructing their own children. Do you teach your children the scriptures? Do lead them in service opportunities? Do you take your children to the temple and perform baptisms for the dead? Volunteers work with the Boy Scouts in a variety of capacities. Are you a merit badge counselor? Fathers are always asked to accompany scouts on trips, the YW on their trips require chaperones. These are almost always filled by volunteers. Are you there?

    I have never presided over a ward. I don’t want to be a Bishop. But my wife and I preside over our family. We hold the two most vital callings in the Church.

  7. Glo on May 29, 2014 at 8:57 pm

    As for mistreated women, there really is not any recourse for most members if their bishop mistreats them. There’s no recourse unless you go to the news or police. But if it’s not to that level, then you are out of luck because you are suppose to support your inspired leaders.

    But hey let’s chastise and shame the women who say they’ve experienced mistreatment. Let’s tell them to forgive, not be offended, and realize its hard being a bishop.

    Male leaders have decision-making power in the church, but all women have is nagging-power.

  8. Kristine A on May 29, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    I feel this letter is defensive. The bulk of marginalization I have felt is not from rogue local leaders, it is from the Church organization, from leadership, from Ensign articles, from handbook policies, from cultural traditions, and from skype meetings. I still feel that this letter is being subtly divisive — it creates an “other” and us vs. them. And if they don’t want that narrative then it’s up to them to change it. That they don’t see MWS as divisive is evidence of their tone deafness and lack of empathy.

    I agree with Neylan McBaine, women aren’t in a power struggle, they are in a purpose struggle. And can my purpose and ability to build the kingdom and serve God be seen in more than one narrow and defined way?

  9. Jonathan Cavender on May 29, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    Kristine A:

    Forgive the question, but don’t you do the same thing (“us vs. them”) with your presentation of MWS? They are clearly ‘other’ in your book — so very ‘other’ that no non-tone deaf, empathetic observer wouldn’t see them as divisive in your view.

  10. Kristine A on May 29, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    I went to their page when I had a friend invite me. I read their standards: unequivocally no one is welcome there that has questions or doubts. Questions and doubts are not permitted. Well, if someone creates a group and sets parameters, and I don’t fit in those parameters, I am the other. Regardless of my years of service, faith, diligence, and sustaining my leaders – I am not welcome there. I’m not sure how that is inclusive and not exclusive. I am not a member of OW, nor will I ever be. I pretty much fit the bill of a moderate through and through – hoping for changes to come via policy that would bring about greater equity (not sameness) . . .

    I most certainly have been excluded there.

    YMMV, obviously

  11. Brad Hawkins on May 29, 2014 at 10:58 pm

    Nice letter. Mr. Otterson betrays his message by defining feminists as including those who are not fighting for ordination, and then lazily lumps them all together later. Oh and by the way Mr. Otterson, many of us believe that Mary and Martha were ordained, among us are Eliza Snow, Orson Hyde, and other progressive theologians.

  12. DQ on May 29, 2014 at 11:56 pm

    Brad,
    Do you also believe as Snow and Hyde did that Mary and Martha were plural wives of Jesus? Personally, I’m not really sure and I could go both ways on the issue.

  13. Geoff -Aus on May 30, 2014 at 1:56 am

    Isn’t it nice that T&S is acceptable enough that Mike O will communicate with yo/us?

    Are the problems as he defines them the real problems?

    “THE CHURCH DOESN’T WANT TO HEAR FROM WOMEN WHO HAVE PAINFULL EXPERIENCES ONLY THE UNQUESTIONINGLY OBEDIENT”

    I think the problem is that there is no opportunity to communicate with the15in SLC,for any ordinary member, male or female. There would be no need for OW if there was an opportunity to communicate meaningfully. Perhaps it would be more constructive if the” Research and Information Dept.” were to be used to deal with OW if someone in a position of power won’t.

    It’s not that we think the 15 don’t care, we cant access them.Blaiming the lower down leaders lack of training…. They are chosen for their conformity, until they are told from above, they will not change.

    Research and information dept. Sound like a recieving and passing upward dept, whereas the PR dept is there to defend,and spin the percieved acceptable position.Perhaps the Research and Information dept. could have a department that conveyed concerns from members, without feeling it necessary to respond so passive, agressively.

    The above applies to question 2.

    I believe that yes the way the PR dept has responded to OW has not been at all Christlike, and has not been justified, or explained. The PR dept. Are not the victims here, the women who have no other way to communicate their desires to the 15 are.

    The Church must open up a way that ordinary members can communicate with and recieve responses from the top leaders! Not through the PR dept.whose job is to defend the Church, and doesn’t seem to realise that defending is not the apropriate response, when good members raise concerns.

  14. Steve Smith on May 30, 2014 at 3:39 am

    This letter conveniently ignores the major question at hand. Why can’t women serve in any authoritative administrative functions at the local and general levels of the church? There’s no gender equality in the LDS church. That’s a fact that should be as clear as the sun. Of course, I don’t think LDS authorities necessarily disagree about that. The disagreement is about whether or not this is right.

    This letter also ignores the main reason why the LDS church is not changing its policy towards women: tradition. The church’s legitimacy is built on tradition, as well as the the semblance of adhering to continuity of doctrinal and ritual practice. The leaders fear that any abrupt changes might alienate and cause a rupture within the core membership. At the same time, however, they realize that they have to adapt to changing social circumstances. The LDS church would be in major decline by now if they had continued to adhere to polygamy and policies of racial discrimination. Hence, they are taking ever so subtle steps towards liberalizing their policies in relation to women. Leaders don’t know what the prevailing attitudes will be of LDS women, particularly younger women (and also men), over the next few decades towards the question of women and the priesthood. They have to brace themselves for a potential increase of demands from members that women play an increasing administrative role in the church. Of course, the PR department wants to give off the impression that everything is well in Zion and that the LDS church is attentive to women’s voices. They go around parading these meetings with yes-women Mormon groups who formed in response to OW in a desperate attempt to placate inquisitive members. All the while they brush off Ordain Women as some sort of insignificant extreme ‘activist’ group (which is hardly the case since all they’re doing is going to temple square and asking for tickets to priesthood session in an organized collective fashion). Of course, Ordain Women is the very reason that yes-women Mormon groups have formed and the LDS church has taken the time to write letters and undertake subtle changes. So, yeah, I think they’re pretty significant.

  15. Jane on May 30, 2014 at 9:12 am

    This comment of mine was apparently deleted on Millenial Star. I really hope Michael Otterson gets the chance to read it, censorship is really not good. We have issues that need to be addressed, pretending there are not is only going to make things worse. Remember 2 Nephi 28:21-25? 24 Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion! 25 Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well! Here is my censored comment:

    He has acknowledged that leaders are sometimes wrong, then we as members need recourse and not to our bishop who we have issue with nor the stake president who placed him there. And we need transparency from the church, how is my hard earned 10% of my increase/ income being spent exactly? What exactly do our leaders do besides say sometimes good and sometimes dumb things in conference? Transparency. More emphasis on the scriptures, being kind and nice and less prideful would be welcome over modesty, pornography and homosexuality. Love heals, acceptance and tolerance bridge gaps, we members deserve your love and compassion and forgiveness as much if not more than you deserve ours. The issues that we are dealing with today are a result of LEADER’S failings, not members. Many faithful strong members have just had it and will no longer be held hostage doing whatever their leaders say and following blindly, because they have a testimony of the Book of Mormon. We gave the leaders the benefit of the doubt, and you gave us a PR campaign of “I’m a Mormon” and a $2 billion mall. We aren’t allowed to use our own buildings which are often too small and cramped anyway, really it is our duty to stand up to leadership and demand change!

  16. Ray on May 30, 2014 at 10:52 am

    “The Church doesn’t want to hear from women who have painful experiences only the unquestioningly obedient”

    There are plenty of legitimate issues with the letter, but, those issues aside, when we misrepresent what it says we are contributing to the problem. The quote above is a terrible distortion of the letter – and so many statements and actions to the contrary.

    I understand this is a highly emotional topic and a very real and important issue. I know how brutally hard it is to not let emotion get in the way of understanding, but making claims about this letter that simply don’t match what it says and misrepresenting the wording only exacerbates the problem.

  17. Natalie Neal on May 30, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    There is a strong emphasis on the unimportance of listening to or meeting with Ordain Women because they are a small group that is not representative of how most women feel. That statement does not fall in line with the theory that the Church PR department and General Authorities “care deeply about Church members and their feelings.”
    If there is real intent to listen to those who have been marginalized within the Church, then there would be no belittling of their experiences simply because many do not agree with them.
    For anyone who has been trained to identify logical fallacies and contradictions within an argument, it will be difficult to feel satisfied with the answers Otterson gives in this address.

  18. Ray on May 30, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    Natalie, please quote the part of the letter that you believe says OW’s size is related to not meeting with them. I can’t find it. The only part that references numerical size is the part that talks about critics who call PA personnel liars and who are highly cynical. That is NOT directed at OW or even the blogs where those people commented. It is limited explicitly to individuals only.

  19. Natalie Neal on May 30, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Ray:
    1. Under Criticism 3 section in regards to those “feminist blogs” who “ridicule” the Church PR staff:

    “I don’t believe for a minute that these strident voices represent a significant proportion of LDS women, or even of those Church members who describe themselves as feminists.”

    2. And in regards to how the internet is playing a role in feminists speaking out to raise awareness of women’s issues:

    “People are now apt to quote any blog as a legitimate source, no matter how extreme or cynical or how few people it represents, especially if it happens to comport with their personal view.”

    Now to address your point that this statement is only addressing the needs of individuals (never mind the fact that all organizations are comprised of individuals).
    Although at the beginning of the statement he infers that these answers are in response to “LDS women who describe themselves as feminists don’t necessarily seek ordination, but rather to be genuinely valued and given a voice that is respected and welcomed,” I think it is foolish to ignore the fact that maybe 80 or 90 percent of the rising concern in LDS women’s interests, dialogue online (on personal blogs and through comment threads in response to official press releases from Church headquarters) and within the Church, and changes within the Church regarding women (i.e. Primary and Relief Society Presidencies’ portraits being moved, the Priesthood session being broadcast, the formation of Mormon Women Stand, LDS PR Skype conference with MWS, Elder Oak’s talk, and the Church’s press release concerning both OW’s Priesthood Session actions, and more) are coinciding–if not directly in response to– the launch of OrdainWomen.org.
    Of course it would be ineffective for Otterson to come right out and say this, considering the Church leadership has been explicit about their refusal to engage with OW or respond to their requests and questions. The staff in the PR department and their supervisors are smart and calculated about the statements they release, as any PR department would be; that is their job. This leaves it up to the reader to understand what’s really going on by reading between the lines in addition to scrutinizing literally what it is they are saying. To take what anyone says at face value is a mistake if your goal is to gain understanding.

    There is further inference to the OW women organization in the release when Otterson says “Certainly all the staff understand that public relations is best understood as a bridging activity to build relationships, not a set of messaging activities designed to buffer an organization from others. ”
    It seems pretty obvious that Otterson strays from focusing only on “individuals” in this section.

  20. Ray on May 30, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    So, you are reading into the words. That’s fine. I get that.

    However, contrary to your claim in the comment I referenced, there simply isn’t a “strong emphasis” on ignoring OW because of its size in the letter itself. In fact, he states clearly that the PA department has met and continues to meet with others who have widely varying viewpoints. His reference to OW is as explicit as it can get without naming the organization, and the reference has absolutely nothing to do with size. It has to do with tactic and focus only.

    Anything else is reading between the lines – and, again, I’m fine with that as long as it is explicitly stated that is what is happening.

  21. Mat Price on May 31, 2014 at 2:58 am

    Question: Name one successful business model that has achieved highest standards or excellence, by excluding half of its resources?

    Historically, your premise is unfounded. You state the doctrine of women not holding the priesthood is because Jesus did it, even though your not sure why, and so we will do it too. That means you don’t know why, either. Perhaps it boils down to this: Pure SEXISM, without the ability to accept and see that is what it is. Since you can’t see it, let me give you a simple hint to try to help. If your argument for something is, ‘not sure why’ or that’s just how it is’ or there’s nothing we can do about it’ or ‘it is seen as doctrinal and unchangeable’, then you have what is called an excuse. When you have an excuse, it is usually because you have done something wrong, and aren’t willing to admit or change it.

    The bottom line is: the doctrine is wrong. It is naive and, frankly, disgusting to hide behind the excuse that you still ‘love the women in the Church’. You don’t respect the women; you respect the rules against the women more than you respect the women. Rules that you don’t even know why or if they legitimately exist, for that matter. Let’s discuss that.

    Doctrine and Revelation: Change it. That is what is so special about your Church. You can change your minds on things because you can say you have modern revelation. So use it. Use it to equalize all people in your congregation. You used it for Polygamy. You used it for the evil black people, to make them not evil. So use it again. Never say your doctrine cannot change on this, because that is hypocritical, and historically inaccurate. You have had prophets in the past that have condemned women for speaking out, and even fighting for the opportunity to vote. That has changed. So use it. Stop alienating 50% of your finance-givers. If you go to a hospital for a heart attack, and your surgeon is a woman, do you use her to save your life? Sure you do. Would you have 60 years ago? Absolutely not. You would have thought women incapable of such skills. It turns out, that over time, we have discovered that not only are women capable of things, they are our equals. So make them equal; and stop hiding behind inexcusable excuses. Frankly, they are shameful and really don’t even make sense.

    I don’t care if you don’t even apologize for your mistakes. Heck, even come up with a reason that takes the heat off of you; or at least makes it seem to yourselves that it does. Just do the right thing, because you are going to have to eventually. That is the way it is trending. So why not make it look like revelation actually works, and do it before it is forced upon you?

    That would be good PR.

  22. Logan on May 31, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    You know, “Public Affairs” is for dealing with the public. Why is the PA Director talking to the members? We are not the public. We are the fellow saints. Why can’t the president or apostles talk to us themselves? This doesn’t help foster trust or build confidence that they care but rather makes it like the peasants trying to petition their king.

  23. Josh Smith on June 20, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Michael Otterson,

    I’m arriving a bit late to the conversation. Hopefully you’re receiving email updates as posters make comments.

    Just a few thoughts …

    1. It’s a mistake to assume that the conversation about the role of women in the Church involves “extreme groups.” Maybe that’s an issue that the Church perceives as important because of its public nature, but temple-recommend-holding-tithe-paying members are concerned about the treatment of women in the church. I’m a father of two daughters. I’m thoughtful about preparing my daughters to enter a world where they will be decision-makers and leaders–economically, politically, and in their family relationships. I’m probably not an “extreme” fellow, and I’m concerned that women in our Church are given nearly no meaningful decision-making power.

    2. The treatment of women in our faith isn’t an issue that can be solved with additional training. For example, my bishop is caring, thoughtful, and Christ-like in every way. He’s incredibly generous with his time and talents. I trust his judgment. I would trust him to counsel my daughters in spiritual matters. Notwithstanding an exemplary bishop, I still have concerns about raising my daughters in the LDS Church.

    My concerns about my daughters’ future as members of the LDS faith is NOT about whether my daughters will “feel listened to” or whether those in authority are patient and caring and say the right things. My concern is that my daughters will be capable, moral, independent adults who are treated as equals in every aspect of their lives EXCEPT at church. Even with well-trained bishops, I’m still concerned about my daughters’ futures in this faith.

    3. I love that I can raise my sons and daughters in this faith. I’m excited about their participation in the youth programs in a few years. However, it is my sincere belief that as a parent I will have to mitigate a bit of harm the church will unintentionally cause my daughters because of the structural disparity in how women and men are stewards in this Church. I see so much goodness in raising my children in this faith, but I’m concerned about raising daughters as members of an organization where women are given no meaningful decision-making power. I’m hopeful about my daughters’ futures and the opportunities they will have open to them in their lives. I’m concerned about the role of women in the Church.

    Hopefully you can see that rhetoric or training isn’t going to ease this father’s concerns. The problem is structural.

    (Sometimes it is difficult to convey tone in a post. My tone is one of sincere concern, no disrespect is intended in any way.)

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