“The Mormon feminist protest: And why I won’t be there” has been passed around Facebook lately. The author talks about how hearing about the action of women standing in line for the Priesthood session infuriated her; however, her post infuriated and frustrated me. It is problematic in many ways, and some of those ways are what I’ll be addressing.
I will be focusing on how best to communicate in this conversation on ordaining women. This is aimed at Mormon men and women who don’t consider themselves feminists and who disagree with feminists in the church. It is inspired by comments I’ve seen on blog posts (including the Lemmony Things one) and Facebook pages.
The Lemmony Things post concludes with the biting remark, “Because I’m a woman. And I’m proud of that. You should be too.” Thinking that wanting to be ordained is the same thing as not being proud of one’s gender is a humongous assumption! Rejecting gender roles does not mean someone is not proud to be his or her gender. Femininity and what it means to be a woman is not universal. Being a woman doesn’t have to include (e.g. motherhood) or exclude (e.g. Priesthood) the same things that you think it does. Also, wanting the same rights and privileges as men have is not the same thing as wanting to be men.
make straw-man claims
People often argue against claims that no one in the conversation is making: perhaps they heard one person make it at another time, but they apply it to the present dialogue. This is called a straw-man argument–when someone spends time discounting an argument that no one is actually making. The post includes the tired straw-man argument that feminists think that they’re better than, not equal to, men. There are probably feminists who say that, but they are the fringe extremists, and it’s unfair to represent their opinions as the opinions of the majority of feminists.
There is a woeful habit to automatically discount someone else’s opinion on the grounds that it must not be inspired, because it doesn’t line up with yours. People will advise others to just pray/read scriptures/etc. more to better understand the Gospel because then they’ll obviously see the light. This is really arrogant–who are you to claim that you’re the one with the right answer? Two people can be equally prayerful, humble, and thoughtful and receive different answers to the same question–I’ve seen it happen many times. It’s arrogant to look down on people with a differing opinion.
tell people to just leave the church
I’ve seen people say that those with dissenting views should just leave. How uncharitable! How unchristlike! I don’t believe that unity is forged by all believing the same thing–it is in mutually supporting each other. We don’t all think the exact same things, and that’s OK. It’s not fair to try and kick someone out instead of engage with them and try to better understand.
accuse them of being lead astray by Satan
I think this is really arrogant too and very insulting. You do not speak for God, and you do not speak for Satan, either. Telling your brother or sister that Satan is leading them is rude and not your place at all.
make this argument:
“But ladies, do you really want the Priesthood? Are you prepared to put away the chairs after church meetings?” This is insulting because it assumes the ladies haven’t thought this through (and have perhaps just focused on public leadership roles) and that the ladies will turn up their noses at the thought of a simple task like putting away chairs. Putting away chairs is not even a Priesthood responsibility, and it isn’t difficult.
keep an open mind
Discussions whose participants don’t have open minds are just arguments. If both sides (why do we even have to divide people up into sides and label things black and white?) keep open minds, then it remains a discussion.
I think a lot of straw-man claims come from people not clarifying by asking questions. The adage “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” really applies here. Before you decide what someone else believes, you could ask him or her (nicely) to explain more about his or her position and ask him or her (non-argumentatively) about specific things he or she has said.
treat people kindly
Difference of opinion brings out some real nastiness in the LDS community, at least as far as I’ve seen. We should be Christlike (i.e. kind) but also remember that we are not actually Christ: He may have called out the money changers in the temple, but it’s not our place to call out someone for being unrighteous/unworthy/ignorant. Some people act like they have the authority to act as prophets and call people to repentance.
Ordaining women to the Priesthood is not a black-and-white issue. Please remember that those advocating it are your brothers and sisters and fellow members of your church. Please be kind and fair.