After seeing gender inequities in the Church, Bryndis Roberts decided to join Ordain Women. But even before that, she pointed out gender problems within the Church.
Roberts: [I was] very proactive in raising questions and wondering why things were done this way. Whether it was questioning why we had to have a priesthood holder there when we had Relief Society events; whether it was raising the question as to why the little girls only met every other week; whether it was raising a question about why don’t we affiliate with the Girl Scouts? Whether it was advocating for a class called Strengthening Single Mothers. So, I continued to do things in my church role that were, at least in my mind, trying to address some of the disparities and the inequities, but I did not do them from the context of being part of Ordain Women. I did them for from the context of just being a woman in the ward who sees these things.
GT : Were people receptive to your admonitions?
Roberts: I think I made some of the men in my ward probably as uncomfortable as I made my missionaries when I was raising some of the questions. Because when I raised the question, for instance, about why? I have never been one to accept that something is a rule. If it’s a rule, then it needs to be written down, and I want to see that rule because it often has been my experience that people will read words and think that words say things that words do not say. So, when I raised the question about why do we have to have a priesthood holder? Show me the rule. I felt that then people went off and had to come and look to find the rule. Of course, it was in handbook number one.
GT: The secret one.
Roberts: The handbook that I don’t get to see. But then they came back and said, and I think the language said something to the effect of, “Priesthood holders should instruct members of the church, particularly women and children, not to be alone in an unlocked building.” Well, I mean, I don’t know, you can read that sentence backwards, you can switch the words around, you can do whatever you want to with that sentence. That sentence simply does not say that a priesthood holder has to be present, when a bunch of grown women are holding a Relief Society event at the church, it simply does not say that. So I pointed that out that this rule does not say that.
Kate Kelly was the founder of Ordain Women until her excommunication. What happened next? Bryndis Roberts discusses the aftermath, and the new structure of Ordain Women Leadership.
GT: Okay, and so how did you go from, “Hey, I’ve just got my profile on the web page,” to now you’re in charge?
Roberts: Probably, because if I’m going to do something, I just believe in jumping in with both feet. So, I put up a profile maybe in September 2014. I was invited to join the executive board in December 2014. I helped with a number of projects, and then as time rolled on, and we needed to elect a chair-elect, I was nominated as Chair-elect and served four years chair-elect and then moved into the position of Chair of the Executive Board.
Kate Kelly was excommunicated, and several women reported losing their temple recommends due to their association with Ordain Women. I asked Bryndis Roberts if she felt members of the group were being targeted.
Roberts: I don’t know if I would go so far as to call it a purge. I think, for some of us, as more and more questions were raised in our minds about things that the Church was doing, or even the Church’s response to our requests that the church do things differently or consider doing things differently. I think some women left the church as a result of those actions. For me, I was released from being Relief Society president in June of 2015, and in July of 2017, my temple recommend was taken away. Now, I’m trying to see the actions that I participated in prior to being released from being Relief Society president in 2015. My name was carried as a proxy in the second priesthood action, which would have been in, I think, that would have been in April of 2014. Then in October of 2014, we had what we called a local priesthood action, where we encouraged people to try to go and get admitted into the priesthood meeting in their local areas, and I joined two other women in Georgia. We went to one of their stakes, the stake of one of those women to try to, to the stake meeting house or wherever they were having that the priesthood meeting, to try to get admitted into that meeting. We were not allowed to join, we were turned away at the door. But other women were allowed to come in, people out in California, actually, and some places here in Utah.
GT: Okay, so, alright, wow. So, let me just give you kind of my perception and tell me if you think this is a legitimate perception. After Kate was excommunicated, in my eyes, it seemed like the profile of Ordain Women went down. But it sounds like you were still doing actions. Was there a purposeful lowering of the profile, if you will, so that you wouldn’t be quite as confrontational?
Roberts: I don’t accept that were ever confrontation. I mean..
GT: And I agree with you, but can you see that the brethren felt that Kate especially was confrontational?
Roberts: I can’t speak to what the brethren felt, okay? Certainly, we have not had since April of 2014, an in-person action that had the amount of participation that the first two priesthood actions had. I think there are a lot of reasons for that. Part of that is that the Mormon moment has passed. You know, the Mormon moment that sort of grew out of Mitt Romney running for president and all of that. Then I think, people were very hopeful before Kate was excommunicated. A lot of people were very hopeful, there had been signs, albeit small ones from the church, that perhaps church leaders were willing to listen, and were willing to make some changes. I mean, the Let Women Pray campaign has been held and a woman had actually prayed. I mean, we had at least somewhat of a history of seeing that our concerns had at least been listened to, and perhaps, while our leaders might not be be willing to acknowledge that there was a direct cause and effect between us raising our concerns, and the change being made, changes had been made. So, I think there was a hope, an expectation, a prayer, that there would be a very different response from the church to the two priesthood actions. When the response was to excommunicate Kate, I think a number of people did have to say, “Okay, maybe I was wrong about how the church is going to react to this.”
Roberts: But I don’t think it was so much fear that led people to maybe not be as much involved, maybe it was more of a recognition or a change from having a hope that the church would change to recognizing, “Oh, they’re digging their heels in. they’re not going to change,” and deciding that energies would be better spent elsewhere. So, you know, I reject the notion that women were filled with a spirit of fear. The women with whom I work are not fearful. They’re brave, their courageous and so I don’t think that there was ever a spirit of fear.
GT: But it does sound like there was, for some women at least, a spirit of resignation, that this isn’t going to help?
Roberts: I think there were for some women and for some men, but I think there was also, maybe a regrouping and saying that we will do actions that maybe won’t put people in the limelight so much, but, they will let the brethren know that people are still concerned and that we still have these questions, but I just reject and I bristle at the notion of thinking that a spirit of fear entered into the discussion.
Do you think Ordain Women’s profile has dropped? Has the issue decreased in importance since 2014?