-- 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, www.mormonwomenstand.com and this page, www.facebook.com/mormonwomenstand."
-- 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.