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|The Boundaries of Conversation|
Jun. 21st, 2014 at 12:27 am
I don’t particularly care for Ordain Women. I say that not to disparage the organization or Kate Kelly, its founder, but to provide some context for what I am about to present, and I admit I come to this topic prejudiced.
For as long as I can remember LDS feminists have been attempting to spur a conversation about the role of women in the Church. With a few notable exceptions those conversations have not broken into the mainstream to become conversations amongst the membership of the Church.
Not only that, but many of the conversations have actually leaned towards the academic and historical, often highly focused on a particular issue. So the number of people even equipped to participate has been relatively small and the topics focused.
I don’t say this to disparage anyone that has been fighting the good fight for decades. In fact I have enormous respect for them.
Ordain Women has been exceptional on a number of fronts. One is that they have agitated for something that is both easy to understand and at the same time outrageous to many: They are asking that President Monson ask the Lord if the priesthood should be extended to women.
This alone would be enough to spark some talk on blogs, but wouldn’t really get your average Mormon talking.
But in seeking a response they have found ways to ask more and more vocally. This includes leveraging social media including the profiles on their own website. This raises the profile of the group by showing that it isn’t simply one person making this request.
Additionally as their requests have gone unanswered they’ve found ways of attracting media attention, principally with their attempts to gain admittance to Priesthood Session during General Conference. This sort of made for TV tactic makes sure that their message is amplified by both traditional media and new media.
By making an easily understood request that is also on one extreme of Mormon thinking and having that request amplified by the media they’ve extended the boundaries of the conversation in multiple dimensions.
For one thing they’ve taken the boundary of topics from things such as who can pray where all the way to ordination to the same offices held by men. By discussing this request the public extends the boundary of acceptable discussion to encompass everything from advocating the status quo, to urging smaller reforms, to ordination itself. Suddenly more modest suggestions no longer appear to be radical.
By making a simple request and getting media attention they’ve broadened the boundaries of participation in the conversation. You don’t have to have an Exponent II subscription or have a background in feminist theory to have an opinion on this topic.
What I am trying, somewhat inartfully I fear, to say, is that there is a conversation going on now that is much larger than I recall during my lifetime. Lots of people are talking about the role of women in the Church that otherwise would not be. And while most of them don’t involve 100% support for the goals of Ordain Women the conversations often involve something like, “I don’t think women should get the priesthood, but there are a lot of ways in which the Church could improve…”
So while I don’t support Kate Kelly’s tactics and ideas directly, I applaud their effects. There is a conversation going on that is key to the ongoing vitality of the Church. It is a bigger conversation that involves more people and more possibilities because of her.
Somebody else probably could have come up with better talking points and better tactics. But Kate Kelly is the one whose goals and tactics have opened up this huge space. So despite actions on her part that I would consider to be mistakes I still applaud her and recognize that we are all imperfect. I don’t see her efforts as a harm done to the Church. The Church has not been undermined. On the contrary this broad conversation strengthens us.
I fear for what will happen to these conversations and others if she is removed from the body of the saints. I have already witnessed in person the beginning Cynthia L.’s prediction of microaggressions filling our chapels. I fear what might happen after Sunday. Already the discussion of women’s role in the Church has been harmed, and the wound appears to be self-inflicted.