Recently, Ordain Women announced that it would be planning a new action surrounding the October 2014 General Conference: women will be requesting to listen to the priesthood session of General Conference…

…at their local stake centers.

Despite the fact that Ordain Women leadership announced months ago that it would not be conducting another event at the LDS Conference Center, many people have taken this new twist on their old Priesthood session event as a let-down. One Facebook group discussion on the topic that I’ve been following began with the following comment:

So that’s it for OW? All they had to do was ex Kate, and the group falls right in line? And how does doing what the male leadership tells you to do have anything to do with protesting inequality?

In the discussion, many have raised that it’s uncertain whether or not all women will be allowed to participate even at their local stake centers. Peggy Fletcher Stack addressed this back in October of 2013, but we did not see anything from it at that time because all attention was focused on the larger event in Salt Lake. Per the report:

…”We have received inquiry about whether women may be admitted to local meetinghouses to view the broadcast of the general priesthood meeting,” read a letter to all LDS area authorities and stake presidents sent days before conference. “If women ask to be admitted, please inform them that the meeting is for men and that men are invited to attend.”

That is the reverse procedure for the all-women Relief Society broadcast, a week before LDS General Conference, the letter noted. “The meeting is for women, and women are invited to attend.”

However, Mormon meetinghouses “should be places of peace, not contention,” the letter instructed LDS leaders, so if women “become insistent” about entering the priesthood session “to the point that their presence would be disruptive, please allow them to enter and view the conference.”…

As a result, some folks have commented that even if certain local leaders turn Ordain Women supporters away, there is no institutional problem for the church because the Newsroom can point to this policy. One response from supporters points to the Wear Pants to Church events. Institutionally, there isn’t necessarily a dress code policy that bans wearing pants, but the events still were effective to point out the problematic unofficial and local responses. But, the original critic was not convinced and expressed it over several comments (emphasis is mine):

…It doesn’t matter if women need to have courage to show up at local buildings for the priesthood session, because all that courage will demonstrate is their willingness to be obedient and sit in a priesthood session and listen to men explain the gospel to them. The only thing it succeeds in doing is reinforcing the status quo, and that’s a shame; it’s courage misspent…

…The last two actions were not about attending the priesthood session; it was about calling attention to the fact that women weren’t allowed to attend the priesthood session. That’s an important distinction…

…I’m not going to encourage women to stick their necks out in a situation like this when the overwhelming odds are that it will have zero impact; that’s a bad bet… What kind of press are these women going to get, exactly, when they explain that they’re simply attending a meeting church headquarters said they could attend?

I have emphasized the parts I did because of the implications they reveal about what the commenter believes about activism. Activism is to an extent about disobedience (even if it’s civil disobedience). It is about calling attention and gaining press.

Interestingly, those are some of the criticisms of Ordain Women and broader “liberal” approaches to change in the church.

Contrasting Liberal and Conservative Thinking

Several weeks ago, Times and Seasons had a discussion Women and the Church: Constructively Engaging the Arguments. This article was a way to summarize the ideological back and forth on women in the church, but my favorite part about this discussion was actually in the comments. And by “the comments,” I mean SilverRain’s comments. I do not apologize that I will take every opportunity (this post is just the latest) to encourage people to read those comments. The first part that struck me was this part in comment 10:

The reason [the anti-feminist] doesn’t have a great response to you is because you have set a battleground upon which she cannot win. Then, you assume that she has no ability to win.

In other words, participation in the Church is predicated upon faith in its basic principles (God the Father, Christ, the Spirit, personal revelation, God’s authority via the priesthood, the efficacy of priesthood ordinances, etc: ie. that the Church is true.) Without a testimony in those things, the [feminist] arguments try to persuade on the battleground of intellect. But [the anti-feminist] has no interest in fighting on that battleground. It doesn’t mean she CAN’T (after all, there are many people who do just that in apologetics, and they generally have good points even if you don’t accept them.) It means that she shouldn’t. That’s just not the battleground on which we have been asked to fight.

Thus, you get the “faithful” members of the Church who deride the “intellectuals” because THEY can’t fight on spiritual grounds, and the “intellectuals” who deride the faithful because they can’t fight on intellectual grounds.

It’s like a tree full of birds chattering about how dumb the fish are because they can’t fly, all while the fish are swimming around blurbing about how much more fun the birds would be having if they just tried swimming.

Not many of us are flying fish, or kingfishers.

Once I hit this comment, I basically zoned out the rest of the comments and asked SilverRain questions to try to get a better feel for her position. I for one do think there’s something to the claim that politically liberal or progressive Mormons often try to discuss Mormon issues from an intellectual standpoint (I think there are many bloggernacle articles advising that we should do this less, but habits die hard.) But I don’t think intellectual can be put at ends with spiritual. I think liberal spirituality may present differently from conservative spirituality, but it is not nonexistent.

But for a second, let’s assume that spiritual is distinct from intellectual. What are some ways that the “intellectual” or secular would be incompatible with the sacred, faithful, or “spiritual”?While I do think the flow of comments was insightful and thought-provoking, this next comment snippet encapsulated to me what I think the ultimate distinction is. From comment 57:

…Let me put it this way: there are many, many people who are inspired to talk to the leadership about problems they see in the Church. They are acting with patience, charity, humility, respect, and deference. You can know that because you don’t know their names. They did not choose to organize in the public eye and use that to try to force behavior from the leadership.

That is the meaningful difference, John. You don’t know their names. Of those few activists in history whose names you know, (like Darius Gray,) you know them not because they set themselves up in opposition to the Church and demanded change, but because of their efforts elsewhere.

People possessed of the Spirit of God do not garner attention to themselves. If they get attention, it is in spite of their desires, not because of them.

In SilverRain’s comments (but especially this one), I get the sense that for her, sacred advocacy is in a sense secret advocacy. Faithful activism must be humble, obedient activism. You don’t know the faithful advocate’s name (and if you do, it’s not because of that activism.)

Ordain Women at General Conference

Is public activism inherently unfaithful?

The quoted comment from SilverRain and the quoted criticism of the latest Ordain Women event are almost completely opposed to one another. In the criticism, Ordain Women is criticized for appearing too obedient, not garnering press attention, and so on. But, from another perspective, obedience (or at the very least, the humility, respect, and deference that obedience imply) and lack of attention are precisely the prerequisites for a faithful engagement.

But…do you agree?

  1. How would you define spirituality within Mormonism?
  2. Does a spiritual perspective exclude public activism?
  3. If so, is this kind of action more faithful than what OW has done previously? Is this what they should have done all along?
  4. If not, what sort of advocacy should they have done? Or does a spiritual perspective preclude any advocacy of changes within the church?
  5. If not, then how can people advocate for changes while remaining faithful?