By Cal Robinson and Juliann Reynolds
The internet is buzzing in response to the March 17th news release written by Jessica Moody of Public Affairs to the leaders of Ordain Women (OW) on “behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”:
Women in the Church, by a very large majority, do not share your advocacy for priesthood ordination for women and consider that position to be extreme. Declaring such an objective to be non-negotiable, as you have done, actually detracts from the helpful discussions that Church leaders have held as they seek to listen to the thoughts, concerns, and hopes of women inside and outside of Church leadership. Ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of doctrine that is contrary to the Lord’s revealed organization for His Church.
The point here is not to reiterate the Church’s position. It is made very clear in the statement above. Rather, the purpose is to address how best to help members have a more respectful dialogue. A recent Trib Talk provides an excellent discussion by three dynamic women with differing viewpoints. Jennifer Napier-Pearce questioned Kate Kelly (the spokesperson for Ordain Women ), Neylan McBaine (editor of the Mormon Women Project ), and Julie Smith (blogger on Times and Season ).
McBaine and Smith take issue with the need for priesthood ordination and the methods being used by Ordain Women to achieve it. However, all three women look forward to more inclusion and recognition of women, echoing a sentiment of President Linda K. Burton of the General Relief Society that the church would benefit as “men’s vision of the capacity of women becomes more complete.”  But most striking was that all three were in complete agreement that the insults and ridicule directed at OW and its members from some of those defending the Church is “horrific.” 
Rather than engaging in a respectful and compassionate discussion of what is obviously an extremely divisive topic, many participants have responded with derogatory and dismissive remarks. Often we are unaware of how our comments are viewed by others. By always responding with kindness in our disagreement, we will be better able to create a safe space for all, without pushing those who feel marginalized to the more extreme positions. President Uchtdorf explains, “[W]hen it comes to our own prejudices and grievances, we too often justify our anger as righteous and our judgment as reliable and exclusively appropriate. Though we cannot look into another’s heart, we assume that we know a bad motive or even a bad person when we see one. We make exceptions when it comes to our own bitterness because we feel that, in our case, we have all the information we need to hold someone else in contempt.” 
Of equal concern are those well-intentioned counter arguments to women’s ordination that not only diminish women in general, but the priesthood itself. Any defense that involves a refusal of the priesthood as if it was just one more thing to add to an already full schedule is no defense. Likewise, declaring that its primary purpose is to force men to be responsible is not consistent with statements by church leaders that describe the role of the Priesthood with utmost reverence. For example, Elder John H. Groberg said in the April 2001 Priesthood Session, “I hope we appreciate the priceless privilege of holding the priesthood of God. Its value is unfathomable. ”  Comparing the authority and power of God to everyday tasks in an effort to convince women they shouldn’t want the priesthood certainly does not elevate or show respect for such a priceless privilege.
Actual comments found on blogs and message boards, such as those shown below, provide examples of what not to say when discussing the priesthood:
1. Questioning or dismissing women’s worthiness or faithfulness.
“[H]ow tainted by the “philosophies of men” have some women become.”
“These are not faithful women in our church! If so, you would not be questioning The Lord.”
2. Questioning women’s motives.
“If I trusted that these agitating sisters were approaching things out of sincere and pure motives, I’d be the first to sympathize…I see no indication that they are seeking it, wanting it, or even expecting it. They really are living beneath their privileges.”
“Why would women want the priesthood other than mortal pride or self satisfaction?”
3. Questioning women’s knowledge or understanding.
“What I believe is happening is a group of uninformed women are fighting for something that they don’t even understand completely…They do not even understand what they are asking for!”
“I think that women who are seeking for the Priesthood, do not fully understand the nature of men, and how the Priesthood helps them.”
4. Discounting men and/or the priesthood.
“[W]hy do you want the priesthood?…I feel like I have enough responsibilities in the church already. And I have never felt oppressed in those responsibilities.”
“Honestly, what earthly need would we have for men if the women should be ordained? Why would a father need to bless his children with the priesthood? Why have men run the organization of the church?”
5. Misrepresenting and mischaracterizing.
“Giving women the priesthood outside of their connection to the priesthood through their husbands would be the same as removing men altogether from the plan of salvation. At least it would be equivalent to removing women’s role as child bearers and nurturers.”
“If women received the priesthood, relief society would need to be disbanded and all would be in the elder’s quorum.”
6. Inviting them to leave the church.
“If these women are so unhappy there are plenty of other churches out there that [might] be more in line with [their] views about ordaining women into the priesthood…why would a person want to worship in a church they don’t agree with? Other than to advance some modern feminist agenda.”
“May I suggest that it would be a simple thing to find a church who ordains women to the priesthood?”
7. Calling out Satan to finish the job.
“I have seen many parallels to anti-Christs in the Book of Mormon. That does not mean that I am judging all of these individuals as anti-Christ; but, they indeed appear to be pawns in Lucifer’s hands.”
These are only a few examples of common sentiments and may leave some wondering what would be a better response. Church leadership has provided a number of examples of Christlike approaches, particularly that of Ruth M. Todd (Church Public Affairs) in her interaction with OW last October as they attempted to gain admission to the Priesthood session of General Conference. 
First, Sister Todd was clear in stating the Church’s position. She said, “This meeting is all about strengthening the men of our church, so this is no surprise to you, that we won’t be able to offer you a ticket or a place to see it…Millions of women in this church do not share the views of this small group that has come and organized this
protest today…And some of the members feel this is very divisive as well.”
Sister Todd then reached out with charity, saying, “Even so, these are our sisters, and we want them in our church. And we hope they find the peace and joy we all seek in the gospel of Jesus Christ.” She spoke directly with everyone she could, going down the line and taking them by the hand. She engaged them as individuals rather than as opponents or outsiders with the assurance, “I am so happy to know you…”
Why does the way we speak to each other matter? The gospel is supposed to be a refuge for all. It welcomes all, and so must we as church members. A quick look at the Mormon Women Project website or the member profiles on mormon.org shows the dazzling array of cultures, opinions and personalities that have found a haven in the church. It’s completely acceptable to voice disagreement with OW’s purpose; what is not acceptable is to deny these women, our sisters in the church, the same attempt at love and reconciliation that we would extend to others whose viewpoints are more in line with our own.
If Neylan McBaine, Julie Smith, and Kate Kelly can have a heartfelt discussion despite their fundamental disagreement over the ordination of women, so can we. For those of us who reject the belief that ordination is a necessary step in spiritual progression for women and for the church, and as we support our leaders, we should remember President Uchtdorf’s counsel against contributing to a soul-breaking rift in our Church family when he said, “If you are tempted to give up: Stay yet a little longer. There is room for you here.” 
We can share his message not only those who have left the faith, but also with members who may wonder if they are even still welcome. We can stop the rejection, insults, and condemnation and make a place on the pew for all who want to follow Christ.
Note: “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following:
It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children. God is our Father. We are His children. We are all brothers and sisters. I don’t know exactly how to articulate this point of not judging others with sufficient eloquence, passion, and persuasion to make it stick. I can quote scripture, I can try to expound doctrine, and I will even quote a bumper sticker I recently saw. It was attached to the back of a car whose driver appeared to be a little rough around the edges, but the words on the sticker taught an insightful lesson. It read, ‘Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.’” “The Merciful Obtain Mercy”, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor of the First Presidency, April 2012 General Conference, https://www.lds.org/…-mercy?lang=eng
1: http://ordainwomen.org/ Kate Kelly is also an international human rights attorney. Kelly has stated that the goal of OrdainWomen is “[t]o improve the situation of women in the church and to achieve fundamental equality. . . we want to not only be consulted about decisions but we want to be part of the decision making process. We want to bless the lives of others and we want to be transformed by what we know is the power of God.” She adds, “We believe in the priesthood and we believe it is the power of God. Otherwise, none of this would be worth it.” See http://www.sltrib.co…church.html.csp
2: http://www.mormonwomen.com/ Neylan McBaine works for Bonneville Communications as a brand strategist, including on the “I am a Mormon” project. McBaine states her stance on women’s roles in the Church as “There are many things that we could be and should be doing in the church to increase the way we see, hear, and use women in our local administration and the general administration. I think where we diverge is the root cause of the problem…I don’t believe that the doctrine of the priesthood is the root cause of that.” See http://www.sltrib.co…church.html.csp
3: http://www.timesands…JulieIntro.html Julie M. Smith is also the author of the book Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels. Smith sees the core of the contention to be “[t]he methods OW uses [which] are alienating to a lot of people, I think they provoke a backlash and I think they are fundamentally foreign to Mormonism.” See http://www.sltrib.co…church.html.csp
5: Julie M. Smith: “I have to say I find it largely disheartening, while I don’t support OW, a lot of the response has been horrible. I have heard comments about being burned at the stake and vitriol along those lines.”
Neylan McBaine: “The response has been horrific. One of the things I hope that we are modeling here, and what I have tried to do throughout my entire time in this conversation, is model the Christlike respectful conversation that makes our points very clear but also is understanding and respectful of the other point of view. So I would just add my plea to all of us to bridge the conversations that are happening online with what we know is right and with what we are enacting in our Sunday experiences.”
6: “The Merciful Obtain Mercy”, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor of the First Presidency, April 2012 General Conference, https://www.lds.org/…-mercy?lang=eng
7: “Priesthood Power”, Elder John H. Groberg, April 2001 General Conference, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/sessions/2001/04?lang=eng
8: Ruth Todd’s comments were reported in numerous articles and videos. In our opinion, the fullest treatment with all the included quotes is available in the video at: http://fox13now.com/…for-that-right/
9: “Come, Join with Us”, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, October 2013 General Conference, https://www.lds.org/…ith-us?lang=eng