Friday, May 30, 2014

LDS Public Affairs Czar Michael Otterson Releases Five-Page Letter Identifying Context Missing From Discussions Of Mormon Women's Issues

On May 29th, 2014, LDS Public Affairs Managing Director Michael Otterson sent a five-page letter to several prominent LDS blogs to offer context specifically to online discussions about women in the church. Mainstream media outlets quickly picked up the story and weighed in. One interesting variation in mainstream media coverage; while the Salt Lake Tribune reported that By Common Consent had published the letter, KSL Channel 5 noted that the letter was published in its entirety on Millennial Star.

-- PDF copy of Elder Otterson's letter

The variety of comments published on various blogs about Mormon women's issues during recent months prompted Elder Otterson to provide an insider's perspective on context he believes has been missing from these discussions. Specifically, Elder Otterson addressed three points:

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. Elder Otterson says this is patently untrue, and that the senior leadership is actively engaged, meeting with rank-and-file members as they travel worldwide. He freely acknowledged that since we are all human, we occasionally say things clumsily or lack sufficient sensitivity or language skills or experience.

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. Elder Otterson acknowledges that this is a serious question and believes the Brethren welcome this type of discussion as they seek to understand the concerns of the members. He also advised women that matters of personal concern, as long as they are not "worthiness" issues, can be voiced privately to faithful Relief Society Presidency members and other local leaders, who in turn could not only offer counsel, but could be invited to accompany a sister to see a bishop or a stake president in some circumstances. There are some exceptional circumstances in which a sister might feel awkward about discussing a personal concern one-on-one with a male bishop or stake president without another female present.

Criticism 3: By not engaging with the more extreme groups, the Church –- and Public Affairs in particular -- is not acting as Christ would. Elder Otterson addresses two separate issues here:

-- First, in response to doubters and skeptics who think LDS Public Affairs goes off the reservation at times, he clearly states that Public Affairs does not "freelance", noting that for Public Affairs to initiate or take a position inconsistent with the views of those who preside over the Church is simply unthinkable. He explains that as managing director of Public Affairs, he works under the direct supervision of two members of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles, two members of the Presidency of the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishop.

-- Second, he responded to criticism by some progressive Mormons and Mormon feminists who were upset because LDS Church public affairs representatives recently conducted a 90-minute video conference with leaders of Mormon Women Stand, an online group supporting the church’s priesthood stance, while rejecting similar talks with Ordain Women, the grass-roots organization pushing for female ordination. Elder Otterson effectively addressed this issue without mentioning either group by name, stating "there are a few people with whom Public Affairs and general authorities do not engage, such as individuals or groups who make nonnegotiable 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". Ordain Women have repeatedly stated they will be satisfied with only one outcome -- women's ordination, so the LDS Church would be foolish to parley with those whose minds are made up in advance.

Besides, how do you talk to someone like Gina Colvin who says "It is a given that women aren’t equal to men in the Church -- and any argument that brawls with this fact is a nonsense."? She's shut down dialog before it can even begin. Elder Otterson decries this lack of civility:

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 crosshairs 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.

Reaction: Some of the more prominent sources have posted their responses (after the jump):

-- Mormon Women Stand: On their Facebook page, they posted "Mormon Women Stand represents one of the groups voiced in this broad conversation. We welcomed the opportunity to be heard as a collective voice representing tens of thousands of faithful LDS women around the globe, and invite you to join in these future conversations on the Mormon Women Stand Blog, and this page,"

-- Ordain Women: Since this post was published, OW issued a surprisingly moderate statement in which they commended Michael Otterson for taking the time to specifically respond to questions many LDS women have, and expressed appreciation for the fact that the Public Affairs Department is interacting with LDS blogs. OW remains proud of the women and male allies of Ordain Women who have continued this conversation on gender equality in the Church forward.

-- Times & Seasons: Julie Smith says it does a lot to heal the immense pain and anger that many people -- especially those who do not support Ordain Women -- have felt in recent weeks as a result of how Church PR has handled Ordain Women. But she thinks Elder Otterson's statement about how we do not know all the reasons why Christ did not ordain women as apostles is faulty justification to deny ordaining women

-- Wheat & Tares: Puts out four hypothetical questions for discussion.

-- Expert Textperts: Published a parody of Elder Otterson's letter which clearly doesn't go over very well. This subject is too emotionally-charged to be parodying the Church leaders.

1 comment:

Sterling Ashley Ingram said...

When I first heard of OW and their movement from within the ranks of the Church to kick against the leaders, I was confused. I did some homework and I’m no longer confused. Kate Kelly is a paid Washington DC attorney. She travels the world to litigate against the worst thing on earth- men. OW has their wikipedia page, a Facebook page, a large website, and several blogs. Sister Kelly’s name is printed all over the world as the official organizer of a group that stands against the elderly male leaders of the Church who don’t know what they are doing. She is David and in her mind she is twirling her stone around and around and will soon be heralded by all the anti-Mormons as the giant slayer.

Has her resume has been enhanced and her pocketbook filled with lucre? OW and all who support it are on a strange path. The Church used the apostate word in their letter this week, but many who support this group remain on the rolls of the Church.

Many of their supporters are members of record who put their name out to the world as being members in good standing. This harms the good name of the Church. I expect anti garbage from non-members but with OW having supporters within the Church it seems worse than the normal anti crowd.

Sister Kelly wrote on her OW blog yesterday, “…we look forward to the day when we can sit down with our leaders and discuss these issues with those we sustain to do God’s work.” Who, I wonder, does she sustain to do God’s work? Sister Kelly, sustaining is more than holding your arm up for three seconds twice a year.
Sustaining requires that you support the leaders and stand-up for them. You say you want the priesthood.

One of the basic duties of those who are ordained is found in D&C 20:54. If you are ordained, the first thing you will need to do is advise all of your followers to repent. The last thing one who sustains the leaders would do is encourage other members to join a group laced with anti-Mormons and broadcast to the world that the Church is wrong and you are right.

I hope you see the light and stop dragging good members away from the Church. I hope you stop dragging the Church’s good name down into the mud. I hope you return any money you have made from your seemingly litigious quest.