Ashley Isaacson Woolley: Ordain Women is not the answer on Mormon women’s equality

By Ashley Isaacson Woolley

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, June 20 2014 9:11 p.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, June 20 2014 9:11 p.m. MDT

Views of Temple Square, the Tabernacle, The Conference Center, Church Office Building, Assembly Hall on March 31, 2007.

Ravell Call, Deseret Morning

As an LDS woman who welcomes efforts to address women’s concerns in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I find Ordain Women counterproductive. Whatever its original intent, it ironically demeans Mormon women as well as men and hinders progress on women’s issues.

One example is Ordain Women's upcoming “Sisters in Silence” candlelight vigils, staged outside LDS meetinghouses, at which Ordain Women instructs individuals to repeat phrases like, “For my sisters who have no voice in the church, I will not be silent.”

I am not voiceless in the LDS Church, I do not need them to speak for me, and I personally find demeaning the implication that Mormon women are oppressed and cowardly if they do not share Ordain Women’s views or choose to deal with concerns by other means. Ordain Women also invites a caricature of Mormon men and leaders as sexist and oppressive, or as their founder put it, “cowardly and un-Christlike.” Even if many supporters of Ordain Women understand and respect their fellow Mormons, the national media whose spotlight they have sought does not, and draws an inaccurate and unfavorable picture.

Beyond the threat to Mormon dignity is the harm done by Ordain Women to the very cause it claims to support — women’s well-being in the church. The church seems to have begun a deliberate process of addressing gender issues long before Ordain Women appeared, with changes to certain policies regarding missionary service and women’s visibility, but now this group puts the church between a rock and a hard place.

On one hand, any change on gender issues will be credited to Ordain Women, which would be inaccurate and set the devastating precedent that controversial publicity-seeking interest groups are an effective way to make the church conform to one’s personal views (Ordain Women draws a false parallel with events leading to past changes in the church, a discussion for another time). On the other hand, the church may hesitate to make changes to avoid appearing bullied or shamed by Ordain Women.

Ordain Women has created a similar conundrum on the issue of church discipline by nurturing the narrative that they are singled out and victimized for questioning the church. If Ordain Women leaders are disciplined, the message some take away is that any discussion of difficult issues in the church is unwelcome. That interpretation fails to recognize the nuances of the situation (for example, Ordain Women seems not to want to discuss but to impose, does not ask questions as much as claim to have answers), but that is how it will be perceived by those who paint with a broad brush. On the other hand, if the church does nothing to identify boundaries, then Ordain Women continues to undermine the church’s efforts in these areas.

Ordain Women also counterproductively makes ordination synonymous with equality. This unfairly casts the church’s doctrinal stance on ordination for women as an overall rejection of women’s value and needs, discouraging engagement on issues that might be of more importance to other Mormon women.

I cannot logically reconcile these harmful effects with Ordain Women's claim of love for and fidelity to the church, unless I believe that Ordain Women didn’t anticipate and still doesn’t recognize the damage it does. My life has overflowed with intelligent, forward-thinking Mormons (men and women) who manage to think, question, discuss, and even differ in ways that help, rather than harm, the church.

I have no opinion about whether anyone should be disciplined and find it unproductive and uncharitable to speculate. I do hope that Ordain Women will acknowledge where its approach has failed and stop abusing the church in the name of love, and that Mormon women will see what Ordain Women is really doing and avoid it.

Ashley Isaacson Woolley has a degree summa cum laude from Harvard, a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School, and a J.D. from Stanford Law School. She lives in Switzerland.

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