Op-ed: Ordain Women supporters are worthy of their congregations’ love

April Young Bennett. Courtesy photo

I am concerned about Ordain Women supporters who have been ostracized by their Mormon families and congregations. I hope that improving understanding of the Ordain Women movement will ease tension among loved ones.

As a returned missionary who married in the temple, holds a calling and is raising four children in the LDS Church, I am a typical Ordain Women supporter. While Ordain Women does not recruit or retain members, surveys from Ordain Women events show that most supporters — more than 70 percent — are active members of the church like me.

A smaller proportion of supporters are not presently participating in the LDS Church but "might return to the church but for gender inequality" or "care deeply about the church and its members and are concerned about how gender inequality affects all of us." As an active member of the church, I find their feedback to be invaluable. How can we help people stay in the church if we don't find out why some leave?

In spite of our name, Ordain Women does not ordain women. We do not encourage women to perform ordinances without priesthood authority, either. While we hope for a future in which men and women alike hold the priesthood, we sustain the brethren and comply with present-day church policy. We are requesting that church leaders prayerfully consider the ordination of women and ascertain the will of God about this matter. We do not seek to undermine the authority of church leadership.

Some Mormons have chided us for expressing concerns about inequity in public, saying that investigators will not want to join the church if they know that women are unsatisfied with the status quo. We also want to see the church grow. We believe that confronting and resolving gender issues in the church will ultimately enhance the missionary effort.

Compelling us to hide our opinions only confirms our concerns about the status of women in the church. After men in Virginia punished Kate Kelly, a surge of people were motivated to share their concerns publicly by posting profiles at ordainwomen.org, increasing the number of profiles from about 350 to nearly 600 today. The increasing hostility toward feminists among church members since Kelly's ordeal began has pushed some people out of the church. In spite of Kelly's plea for fellow supporters to "stay and make things better," a survey of self-identified feminist Mormons revealed a decline in church activity among previously active members after Kelly was punished.

We love and support our friend and fellow advocate Kate Kelly, but please do not call us "Kate Kelly's followers." We are followers of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, not Sister Kelly. It is also an inaccurate description of the collaborative and egalitarian work of Ordain Women volunteers. Without paid employees or regular funding streams, we operate exclusively on the unpaid efforts of ever-rotating volunteers who lead in different capacities at different times depending on their interests, talents and availability.

Many Ordain Women supporters have been working to eliminate inequality in the church for years; some were advocating for women's ordination before Kelly was born. It is our shared faith and our hope that women will someday participate in the gospel more fully as priesthood holders that unites us, not one charismatic person.

As Mormons with differing opinions worship together, I hope we can apply the counsel of Elder Dallin H. Oaks within our own families and congregations: "We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs. Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable."

April Young Bennett is an active member of the LDS Church. She served on the board of Ordain Women when this commentary was submitted to The Tribune in December, but she has since resigned that position.