In the Madrid, Spain, Missionary Training Center while preparing for my LDS mission, I was taught one way to reach out to people about the gospel was to build on common beliefs.
I talked with thousands of people during that 18-month period, many of them with very, very different ideas than mine. However, I always managed to find common ground and see the good in each person’s perspective and struggle to reach their divine potential. It made more sense to come together on points of agreement and common purpose than to “Bible bash” and condemn.
In every movement, religious or otherwise, there are different groups of people with different methods and practices. Take the women’s suffrage movement. For decades, first-wave suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton doggedly and measuredly advocated for the vote. Younger suffragists like Alice Paul learned from British suffragists new and bolder ways of advocating for equality, and started implementing new tactics.
As a result, with the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment, women got the vote. No one person’s contribution or style affected the change. All of these courageous pioneers for equality contributed to this historic event.
So, too, it is with the movement for gender equality in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many Mormons see the naked truth: Men and women are not equal in our church.
Some seek incremental policy changes that could be easily implemented, such as lifting the prohibition on women’s participation in the blessing of their children. A number of these changes were included in a document called “All Are Alike Unto God” written in September 2012 by Lorie Winder, one of the founding mothers of Ordain Women, and several other Mormon feminists. I signed it, anxious for change, and it has since been signed by thousands of others. In addition to being posted online, the “All Are Alike unto God” document was individually mailed to all general authorities and auxiliary leaders of the church.
Disheartened by the lack of substantive change and open dialogue on gender equality in the church, Ordain Women was launched in 2013 in order to directly communicate our hope for parity.
One of my favorite LDS hymns is “As Sisters in Zion.” It is a beautiful rallying call for all women to dive in with our whole hearts in the building up of Zion here on earth. “As sisters in Zion, we’ll all work together; The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek.”
For Ordain Women, our purpose is vast, but our mission is not broad. It is simple, specific and stereotype-shattering. We dream of the day when women not only say a prayer in front of a congregation, but can conduct the meeting, speak as authorities and receive revelation on behalf of the entire church. We seek these blessings for ourselves, for our sisters and for our daughters. We are doing this work because all benefit when the full range of humanity’s talents and gifts are enlisted for the common good.
Seeking fundamental change to the present policy that bans women from ordination in the LDS Church does not mean we do not desire and applaud every incremental move for inclusion as advocated by others, like LDS WAVE in 2010, “All Are Alike unto God” in 2012 and now Neylan McBaine in Peggy Fletcher Stack’s Tribune article (“Forget priesthood — some Mormon feminists seek a middle way,” August 25).
But how can we “forget the priesthood,” as Helen Claire Seivers advises? As clearly stated in “All Are Alike unto God,” which begins by calling on LDS Church leaders to “thoughtfully consider and earnestly pray about … the question of women’s ordination,” our efforts to achieve the greater inclusion of women cannot ignore the primary source of our exclusion. In any movement the work of one person or group does not cancel out the other. This is not a zero-sum game, and there is no reason to treat it like one.
Our common goal as Mormon feminists is to strive to make our church a more open and inclusive place for all women. While we may have different asks, methods and priorities, we can build on our common belief that we are all children of our Heavenly Parents, and son and daughter alike deserve to be treated as such.
As BYU Ancient Scripture Department Chair Camille Fronk Olson stated, “I would say Kate Kelly and Ordain Women, the questions they have asked, the courage they have exhibited, the discomfort they have created, have all contributed to greater discussion.”
We are proud of the ways in which we have contributed to the conversation and moved the church forward. We anxiously await the “many great and important things” that our heavenly parents have in store for the women of the church.
This movement for equality needs the Susan B. Anthonys and the Alice Pauls. We are all of one heart in our desire for women to be placed, not on a pedestal — which, realistically speaking, puts us in a cage — but in a place of respect equal with our brothers.
I embrace any person who advocates for Mormon women “with earnest endeavor” and honor the work we are all doing to build up Zion.
Kate Kelly is an international human rights attorney based in Nairobi, Kenya, and founder of Ordain Women.