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Op-ed: Ordain Women distorts quotes to make its case

By Ashley Isaacson Woolley

First Published Aug 01 2014 05:11 pm • Last Updated Aug 02 2014 04:11 pm

The dust may have settled on Ordain Women’s latest public actions, but the story is not over. As Mormons continue to discuss issues such as women’s roles and the boundaries of church membership, they should recognize and reject intellectual dishonesty and manipulation.

Unfortunately, Ordain Women continues to provide misinformation and distorts reality to fit its own agenda. This is evident to anyone who examines the sources and context of Ordain Women’s materials, and readers should approach their claims with suspicion. I generally believe in honest motives on the part of individuals, but the materials themselves are intellectually dishonest.

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For example, Ordain Women edits quotes to suggest that people said things they didn’t actually say. One of Ordain Women’s "Six Discussions"—designed to teach Mormons how oppressed or sexist they are—quotes Sherri Dew as saying, "Within the Church…men ultimately control everything." How convenient — a highly respected former church leader making their point!

But in the original context of the quote, Dew does no such thing. Ordain Women conveniently omits all the context showing that Dew is not stating her own perspective, but paraphrasing someone else’s. This is the more complete quote:

"[T]here are those who feel that the participation and visibility of women need to increase. Others have had unfortunate experiences with priesthood leaders or priesthood bearers. Still others are troubled because within the Church’s hierarchical structure, men ultimately control everything. ‘Men make the rules and they enforce the rules,’ is how some express it."

Dew goes on to state her own perspective, refuting the notion that men control the church: "When all is said and done, it is the Lord—not man—who ultimately controls everything." What a contrast to the quote Ordain Women provided!

My point is not that Dew is right, but that it is unfair to edit her words and take them out of context to make a point very different than the one she intended.

Another example of omitting crucial information is the Ordain Women founder’s appeal of her excommunication, which argues that her local church leaders violated scripture:

"[A]ccording to Doctrine & Covenants 121: 37 when any priesthood holder attempts to ‘exercise control or … or [sic] compulsion’ we are instructed that, ‘the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.’"

This severely edited version of the scripture omits the critical phrase "in any degree of unrighteousness." This edit tries to make the scripture say what the author wants it to say — that her leaders’ actions had no possible justification — instead of what it actually says.

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In addition to omissions like these, Ordain Women distorts reality to suit their purposes. For example, Ordain Women’s website claims that "the challenge to advocate for women’s ordination was articulated by former Church President Gordon B. Hinckley," citing an interview in which Hinckley was asked whether the Church could ordain women someday. His response was, "Yes, but there’s no agitation for that."

That is a statement of fact, not a "challenge." He did not say agitation was desirable, necessary, or sufficient for women’s ordination. Calling his statement a "challenge" is stretching it to the point of absurdity. It is dishonest to lead others to believe that Hinckley encouraged agitation for women’s ordination when he did not.

As methods of addressing important issues and convincing others, misinformation and distortion like this should be unacceptable to people on all sides. They cast doubt on everything Ordain Women says and does, and I hope no one falls for this kind of manipulation.

Ashley Isaacson Woolley has a master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a J.D. from Stanford Law School. She is a scholar, editor, wife, mother and Mormon. She lives in Switzerland.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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