Top Mormon officials are listening to many members — including feminists — on women’s issues but are not willing to engage with “more extreme groups,” which “make nonnegotiable demands for doctrinal changes that the church can’t possibly accept,” LDS public affairs director Michael Otterson said Thursday in a five-page open letter sent to several Mormon blogs.
“No matter what the intent,” Otterson wrote, “such demands come across as divisive and suggestive of apostasy rather than encouraging conversation through love and inclusion.”
Otterson didn’t name any group in particular, but many inferred he was talking about Ordain Women, an LDS movement pushing for women to be admitted into the church’s all-male priesthood.
On Friday, Ordain Women responded to Otterson’s letter, saying in a statement posted on its website, “we are encouraged that there is continued sincere interest in more deeply discussing women’s opportunities and service in our church.”
It praised the Utah-based faith’s Public Affairs Department for “interacting with LDS blogs” and lauded “the women and male allies of Ordain Women who have courageously moved this conversation on gender equality in the church forward.”
The group also pointed out that most supporters of Ordain Women “are faithful, active members of the church, [who] 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.”
This exchange comes after The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported that church P.R. representatives conducted a 90-minute video conference with leaders of Mormon Women Stand, an online group backing the church’s priesthood stance, while LDS higher-ups have repeatedly rejected similar talks with Ordain Women.
Other commenters took issue with some of Otterson’s theological pronouncements, particularly his presumptions about Jesus and priesthood ordination.
“I suppose we do not know all the reasons why Christ did not ordain women as apostles, either in the New Testament or the Book of Mormon, or when the church was restored in modern times,” Otterson wrote. “We only know that he did not, that his leaders today regard this as a doctrinal issue that cannot be compromised.”
Though she does not support Ordain Women, Julie Smith, writing for the Mormon blog Times & Seasons, said Otterson’s statement is “not a good way for Mormons to argue against ordaining women.”
For one thing, the modern LDS Church “does all sorts of things that we have no evidence for from Jesus’ day, such as sending out female missionaries or authorizing women to teach in church, lead organizations, participate in the [temple] endowment, and pray publicly,” Smith writes. “Jesus did not ordain anyone who wasn’t an adult, but we ordain 12-year-old boys. Jesus didn’t ordain anyone who was well-educated, but we do. Jesus didn’t ordain anyone of Asian ancestry, but we do.”
It is unclear, she says, “whether Jesus’ (apparent) lack of female ordinations represent an eternal principle or cultural expediency or temporary policy.”
Besides, Mormons believes in “continuing revelation,” she says, and “a change to current practice is entirely possible — despite what did or did not happen in Jesus’ time — and would only happen based on revelation.”
Peggy Fletcher Stack