Op-ed: Mormon PR statement doesn’t fit Ordain Women facts

By April Young Bennett

Published: June 21, 2014 12:03PM
Updated: June 20, 2014 06:38PM
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In stark contrast to allegations by LDS Church public relations employees that Ordain Women has made “non-negotiable demands,” Ordain Women representatives have actively sought to initiate discussions with LDS leaders, including five written requests to LDS Church headquarters for meetings with any General Authority available and willing. These requests have been ignored. In this vacuum, we are left to interpret the will of our own ecclesiastical leaders through a hodgepodge of church PR statements.

In the most recent PR statement, an LDS Church spokesperson assured us that the church is having “meaningful, helpful conversations with a variety of voices.” Indeed, Ordain Women has received word that conversations about our own group, Ordain Women, have taken place at male-only meetings, including a men’s leadership meeting presided over by LDS apostle M. Russell Ballard in Kate Kelly’s home stake in Virginia shortly before she was unexpectedly threatened with excommunication for apostasy by her local bishop.

Church PR officials tell us that “there is no effort to tell local leaders to keep members from blogging or discussing questions online” and yet, Oakton Virginia Stake President Scott Wheatley has demanded that Kate Kelly take down ordainwomen.org as a condition of church discipline, an act that would stop “civil online dialogue” that church PR claims “church leaders have encouraged.”

In a recent interview about church disciplinary action on KUER, another church PR representative admitted that church doctrine doesn’t say that women may not be ordained, but stated that “tone is important.” Certainly, if the church wished to correct Kate Kelly’s tone or methods, such corrections could be negotiated by meeting with her and other Ordain Women advocates, instead of by casting her out of the church.

The PR representative went on to emphasize that there are not any hard guidelines as to how members of the church may communicate without censure, leaving church members susceptible to excommunication according to their local leaders’ whims.

The fact that church members live in fear of arbitrary discipline is a structural problem that needs to be addressed by church leaders at the general level. Local leaders should not be used as scapegoats when church policy and structure create conditions wherein people live in fear of punishment for failure to abide by undefined rules. But the newest PR statement extends punishable offenses to “seeking changes in church doctrines or structure” (emphasis mine) as if church officials actually hope to prevent structural problems from being identified and addressed.

April Young Bennett is an active member of the LDS Church and an advocate with Ordain Women.