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June 16, 2014


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Well said, thank you! I really, really appreciate you sharing these thoughts for it better states what I've framed for myself. Let's keep the conversation going! Is your book done yet? ;) Easy peasy, right?

Erica Isom

Thank you Nylan for giving the details in a calm manner. Also thanks for the willingness to keep talking.

Grey Ghost

Thank you for a (semi-)dispassionate voice of reason in this matter, Neylan. It has been so easy to get carried away with emotion, and so many have, and so difficult to stop and look at what's actually been said and done that could have brought this on.

I think that Kate may be trying for a Birmingham Jail moment. If this were a secular organization, I might even admire that. But since it isn't, I'm more afraid, as you imply, that the backlash will cost all of us.


This approach actually makes me more nervous. As a gender scholar, much of what I do is teach my students how to recognize (and recognize the problems with) gendered institutions. A natural byproduct would be for them to see the challenges the church faces on this front. So am I recruiting my students to apostasy? That is certainly not my goal. I do my best to walk them back from that ledge, but the fact is that they have many piercing questions I cannot find comforting answers for.

What is a thoughtful and faithful educator to do?

Kristine A

And yet at any moment any local leader could project the action against Kate Kelly onto me, one who publicly advocates (via blog) mormon feminism and voices questions publicly. I was already facing hostility, and my baby steps public advocacy now walks a murky line that people on the ground in mormon land with me may not be able to differentiate.

I, as always, appreciate your voice of reason. But I've talked to enough mofems in the past week who are running scared into silence. I certainly am encouraging all of us to not lose our voices, but we can't pretend such a drastic step does not make it harder for us on the ground.


Thank you for your wonderful thoughts, Neylan-- and thank you for being such a reliable voice of compassion, reason, and clarity.

Brooke Reynolds

This is the first I've heard about these brochures and six discussions, thank you for shedding light on this.. I wish everyone following this story could read this article.


Wow, Neylan, eloquently written! I have seen a lot of articles on the internet going back and forth on this subject, and I always love your well thought out statements and your point of view. Thank you for sharing!


Neylan, there's something of a double bind at work here. Earlier, OW was criticized for using "worldly" methods, not understanding that the Church is not a democracy, etc. And now we're going to criticize them for being too Mormon?

I'd like to think that this is a problem of style or branding, but I think that's too optimistic by half. The fact is that Mormon women have been trying pretty much every possible strategy to be heard for several decades now, with very little result. Your argument would be more persuasive if there were any evidence that there is some gentle, patient, faithful and *effective* means of branding the experience of Mormon women in a way that makes it sufficiently comprehensible and important for Mormon men to listen and make reasonable changes.

I really hope that you are right and I am wrong!

Cynthia L.

The main criticism that OW faced prior to the discussions was that their approach was wrong, borrowing too much in aesthetics and approach from the secular world of political organizing.

So, in dutiful obedience to that criticism, they change course and do something borrowing less from the secular world of political organizing and more from our unique LDS way of disseminating information and education. Some simple lessons, cutely borrowing the "discussions" phrase as a name (also a very Mormon thing to do!--cutesy puns and allusions as labels for things, see as one of hundreds of examples: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/307652218265232894/).

Now you're drawing a fellow sister outside the reach of baptismal covenants for it. I know you think this is a diplomatic piece of writing, but realize the violence of what you are doing---you are justifying de-baptizing someone, de-blessing someone, de-endowing someone. Why? Because she was trying too hard to put a very Mormon woman Pinterest theme on a movement you yourself agree is otherwise engaging important issues?

Your argument that it's aesthetics subsequent to May 2014 where OW ran aground, and not starting conversations about women, is not only offensive given the gravity of what excommunication is, but is contradicted by the explicitly articulated terms of her probation. She wasn't asked to stop having educational materials labelled "Discussions," or featuring cartoons of her teaching, like some Trademark violation was really the issue. She was asked to disband the group and delete the entire website. Your analysis ignores these facts.

Hannah Wheelwright

Several times when I was little, a speaker at the podium on Sunday would smile and tell the same urban legend- that they had heard of a non-denominational Christian church making their sign outside, the kind where you can adjust the letters, say "Don't read the Book of Mormon- that's how they get you!!" This story always got a chuckle out of the ward, because of course all you have to do is read the Book of Mormon yourself to know that it's true. I can't help but feel like this applies to OW's situation. Why in the world was it more okay to walk on Temple Square and request entry to the priesthood session than it was for women to study the gospel- are educated women really so dangerous? Your complaints about the six discussions are tangential at best to their core substance, which you likely know largely quotes the church manuals you claim they attempt to replace. I hardly see how professionally styled formats for the discussions (yes they are each formatted by a professional pro bono) are too appropriative of church manuals. Was OW supposed to publish a rough cut Word document, or perhaps a scan of a type written copy?

It is absurd to me that you suggest women cannot gather materials on specific topics and study them together or else they are not trusting their leaders.

Why do you need the Mormon Women Project, if all your needs are satisfied by our leaders? The about page states "This digital library will show that among the 7 million women currently members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is stunning diversity and strength that may not always be recognized" - surely you have also gone too far and shown a lack of trust in your leaders by trying to fill a gap that surely doesn't exist. Why did you speak at FAIR two years ago suggesting things the church could do to improve the status of women- why don't you trust your leaders to have already thought about those things and had good reasons not to do them? How was your talk at FAIR and you writing about these topics on this blog so radically different from sharing the packets for the six discussions with folks? Why would we need any blogs at all when we could just rely on conference talks?

How can you critique Kate for allegedly thinking she is smarter than or above our leaders when you end by stating that you think you are three steps ahead of our leaders?

I firmly believe that Ordain Women will not be solely responsible for changes made in the church, but neither will all the behind-the-scenes meetings or the three-steps-ahead folks. It is a mixture of all those advocating for change who make the difference. I'm hopeful for the change you will be part of, because you have always struck me as a thoughtful diplomat, a role so desperately needed when there are bad feelings on both sides. But I worry that you become so concerned with these small things- like the font of the discussions, for heaven's sake- that you miss the mark.

I would love to be wrong in my assessment, and I am eager to dig deeper in this with you or at least by reading your future posts from afar. Perhaps there is more than simply the format of the discussions that you feel threatens church doctrine. Otherwise I'm afraid that a faceless cartoon with glasses on the discussions is hardly grounds for annulling eternal blessings and covenants. I imagine that you would not want to be excommunicated on such a charge.


Although I agree with most of what you said, and I understand the comparison, there is a huge difference between your client and the church... your client is selling a product... The church is the restored gospel. Women did not hold the priesthood when Christ was on the earth. I know times have changed, but the gospel remains the same. The keys of the priesthood were restored through men. Women have the divine capability to bear children. When will men have that capability?


You are so eloquent in your laying out of all of the positions here. I agree, and am reminded by your conclusion of the oft-quoted: "line upon line, precept upon precept" as a model moving forward...inching along, and not in giant leaps that are unpalateable to mainstream members, no matter what issue is under discussion. This is not to say that discussions are not to be had...only that they need to move in a way that builds, and does not threaten what we all hold dear.


Neylan, I really appreciate your voice but I think this missed the mark. The six discussions don't teach any doctrine--they teach history, share scriptures and encourage people to envision how things would be different. This isn't teaching new doctrine, it's simply bringing to light our own doctrines and history that are all but ignored by most members of the Church. As for the branding, I didn't really notice that they looked like LDS manuals at all. In fact, most LDS manuals are in double column and black and white. As for font, it's a common font choice for many documents, not just Mormons. So I feel like that's a bit of a stretch. Yes, the 6 Discussions in title mirrors that of the old 6 discussions used pre-Preach My Gospel, but I don't think that's much to quibble over.

As for methods, I would find it incredibly disheartening for someone to be excommunicated--have all of their ordinances proclaimed null and void, their participation completely closed down in a faith they have true belief in, and the heartbreak of family and loved ones--over "inappropriate approach." Last time I checked, ticking off the Church isn't actually a sin.

The greatest frustration to me is how we have tossed off our feminist foremothers, and perhaps Kate Kelly as well, as necessary casualties in expanding the conversation. We all understand that more radical voices have made way for those on the middle-ground to gain traction. I see MWP and your advocacy as very middle-ground, and that's great! But the reality is that your voice and the voice of thousands of feminist Mormons are being taken seriously largely because someone else is taking the bullet. Even women like Kathryn Skaggs have gained a voice because of Kate and Ordain Women (as her group was created as a response to OW). I just am very, very uncomfortable with the way this is following "feminism of the world." Letting our more radical sisters take the heat so we can navigate the waters more comfortably is incredibly disheartening.

obvious reasons why i am anonymous

I was disappointed with this piece because it seems to directly contradi ct the sort of charitable outlook you promoted in your previous blog post on this issue. In addition to the excellent comments by Kristine and Cynthia above, maybe you can speak more concretely about how they might have better "branded" things. I hope you will also respond to the question of why Kate Kelly should be more concerned with perception and commercial strategies in a Church which teaches that the Lord looks not on the outward appearance, but on the heart.


I do not see Neylan trying to justify anything only to explain it. I was so dismayed to hear Ms. Kelly publicly call out her bishop as unChristian and cowardly as a first response. The word "violent" is also ratcheting up the rhetoric when calm explanations and discussions such as this one are in such dire need. As one who was concerned about some OW methods and its alienation of so many women who do have concerns about their place in the church, I hope that this sad event will inspire all of us to keep the conversation going in a manner that will draw people in.


For the record, the glasses were used because the title of Discussion 1 is See the Symptoms, and a stylish/Mormony-pinteresty cartoon of *glasses* is a great visual for *seeing.* I know this for a fact. I realize I shouldn't take it personally, but in perfect candor I was heartbroken by your reading into hidden motives. Please, I beg you, believe us, and read the purposes of the discussions in the Getting Started Packet: 1) To foster conversations that help people reflect on their own thoughts and
experiences, 2) To reaffirm our faith in God and testimony of continuing revelation, 3) To encourage continued membership and full fellowship in the LDS Church as we explore the topic of women’s ordination, 4) To effect change through faithful agitation as a united group of LDS women. I have looked up to you, Neylan, ever since I read your FAIR talk years ago. Please, let us all continue to respectfully dialog and work together as sisters in the gospel. Kate's pending excommunication feels like a violent action that, since we are experiencing it in real time, is affecting women like me all over the world.


In addition to the fact that no communications Kate received from her leaders cited the discussions as a factor in her considered excommunication, the move hold was placed on her membership record on May 4th. If the discussions that were launched on the 15th are the problem, why was the hold placed before their content was available for consideration?

Your thesis is full of gaping holes, but most disappointing is your uncharitable certainty that Kate somehow deserves to be unchurched, cast out of communion and covenant, because of her advocacy.


I am saddened to see so much anger and hatred occurring within members of the church. We are not taught to act and feel this way. When I read about or take part in conversations around OW and the MoFem movement or w/e you want to call it, I do not feel the spirit, I feel contention and that is not from the Savior. Do you not think this may be one of the divisions in the church so often spoken of in the Book of Mormon... Do not pretend to tell the Lord what to do and how to run His church. This is my observation. I pray this will not be a division within the church and I feel this will draw people in, but not for what you hope. Follow the prophet, follow the prophet...


To dankrist and others who say I am doing "violence" to women: I suggest you read the post again and pay particular attention to my use of the words "I suspect" and "I suggest." The entire point of the article was to explore why Church leaders may have found Kelly's particular approach threatening, NOT for me to declare with "uncharitable certainty" that Kelly should be excommunicated. Nowhere in here do I say that I believe excommunication is the only or right outcome. The escalation of language in these comments is not helping anyone.


Neylan, I appreciate this blog very much. I wasn't aware of the discussions, and I agree that this might be the thing that caused the leaders to get really upset. I would very much like an explanation from her local leaders as to why they are trying Kate in absentia, however. This seems incredibly wrong to me. The main thing I'm feeling right now, though, is that we all need to come together and protect and care for each other more--remembering that we agree with each other far more than we disagree.

Denise Neish

I like many of your conclusions here. Tactics, I believe, were certainly a problem for Kelly. I think she may make it more difficult for many women who want sincere discussions on women's issues within the church. I have seen flippant posts by women in OW about how they no longer wear garments, then that same woman is claiming to be devastated that she, or Kate Kelly, could be ex-communicated, because it is akin to "spiritual death". Yet, isn't taking yourself out of your temple covenants doing the same thing? I also see sincere women wanting positive, respectful discussions with church leadership. Possibly that can happen easier if Kate Kelly, and others in OW, are pressured to state more clearly where they stand. (And, call me old-fashioned, but I do believe in being respectful to the prophet, whether or not you are questioning church doctrine.)

Greg Pearson

There are too many words on this blog to say something this simple.... The church is for those who believe in it. Not those who take it upon themselves to change it. Anything else is a distraction from this subject.


What seems clear to me after reading this post is (1) you are struggling with this yourself and (2) you don't want the conversations and the movement forward to stop.

Continuing to speak up is indeed an act of courage right now (as it has been, actually, since the LDS church made it obvious that speaking up could cost people their membership). Of course, there are complicated historical reasons for why things are as they are, going right back to the beginning of the LDS church, but the fact is, many leaders in the LDS church have sometimes shown a thin skin about criticism.

There are (according to some research I did recently) five kinds of power:

1. punishment (do what I say or I will hurt you somehow)
2. reward (do what I say and I will help you)
3. position (do what I say because of who I am)
4. expert (do what I say because I know what I am talking about)
5. referent (do what I say because you have love and respect for me)

Only the last three can be pursued as part of a healthy, long-term relationship, and only the last two get long-term, full support from people, although it is of course possible to support someone for all three of the last three reasons -- because they have authority, because they know what they are talking about, and because they are trustworthy people of good character.

When you punish someone, and you do it repeatedly, what happens is that people do what they can to avoid the punishment. So yes, if people think that they are likely to have their church membership taken from them, many will indeed make sure they don't say much to anyone who can hurt them. My membership matters to me, so I choose to stay fairly private. In cases where people do not value their membership, they will leave and go somewhere else; I think that is why so many younger people stop being active.

It does take a particularly strong form of dedication or stubbornness to continue to worship with people who make a habit of (figuratively, not literally) kicking and scratching sometimes, and to do the best you can to love them anyway and see the good in them.

I think sitting at the same table with people who treat you as an enemy, and being willing when you sit at that table to keep the dialog open, is a peculiarly Christian thing. I read something by Thich Nhat Hanh once where he recommended seeking people to worship with who have your respect and who you can look up to. It's a marvelous idea, and I had to really think hard about why I shouldn't take his advice. He made it sound wonderful at a time when I was really struggling with my ward. What I eventually decided was that I should certainly seek out such people, but that it did not excuse me from following Christ's counsel to love my enemies, too. And that meant continuing to go to church and to develop friendships with those I admire, and to build bridges (cautiously) with those I don't.

I really like what Lavina Fielding Anderson did when she was excommunicated it. There was a story about her in the Tribune this morning, and although it didn't really tell me anything I didn't know already, it affirmed again her wisdom and Christ-like character. She just kept going to church anyway. It talks in the scriptures about being peaceable, easy to be entreated, and so on; she is an example of that. She showed such humility. She even made sure that she gave her son a good foundation; he went on a mission, he was married in the temple. An enemy of the LDS church would not have done that. She even has an informal calling (playing the piano in Relief Society). But she has also maintained her integrity throughout. She doesn't pretend to think what she doesn't think. Yes, she can have a sharp tongue (it's all that training as someone who took an obvious natural gift and then developed it to a Ph.D. level), but she is a tremendous example of what it means to be persecuted and to rise above what has been done to her. She has shown through her meekness and her love what it means to be a true disciple, and I completely admire her for that.

You clearly want people to continue to talk about these issues. I think you are right to want that. You are also hoping, I suspect, that the whole thing with Kate Kelly can somehow be de-escalated. I want that too, although I am very afraid it won't. But I will continue to hope for an intervening hand from someone with authority to extend it. And I will continue to be sad about this happening at all.


I agree with a lot of what you said... methods vs message. However I have never had a desire for the priesthood... I've never felt left out... and I'm a pretty mouthy lady, so it's not because of a docile nature that I've never had these concerns.

I find it ironic that some of the comments posted say excommunication is SO SERIOUS, yet they don't agree with how the church is run... if they don't agree with the doctrine, then logic leads you to believe that God must not be at the head of the church and therefore all the blessings, cealings, promises etc don't really have any meaning anyway. So why are they so worried about ex-communication? They seem to defeat themselves with such comments and come across more as whiners about the statis-quo then actually taking their own logic to its full extent.

I know I've made covenants with God through the priesthood and have faith that they are REAL because we are led by a prophet with His authorization in all things. So, who exactly are women pushing to change? God? The prophet? Their message is the same...

Grey Ghost

I'm repeating myself, but:

Words matter. Language has meaning. Kate Kelly knows this; as an attorney, it’s how she makes her living.

The OW mission statement is very clear and very carefully crafted. It doesn’t really leave room for revelation, it doesn’t seek further guidance from prophetic leadership. It states that the OW movement “believes women *must* be ordained”, is “*committed to work* for equality and the ordination of Mormon women”, and they state that they “intend to put [them]selves in the public eye and call attention to the *need* for the ordination of Mormon women” [emphases added]. That is not a humble, compromise-seeking position, and it places itself in direct opposition to the current position of Church leadership. To then close with the statement “[w]e sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer,” in context of the absolute positions noted (“must,” “committed,” “need”), is not an offer to accept guidance. It’s an invitation to the Church leadership to get their thinking in line with OW. It’s an open challenge.

In effect, they’re saying, “We are in the right, and Church leaders are wrong. Take this matter to the Lord in prayer and get yourself straight.” It is difficult to believe that the language used was accidental or casual. It was intentional. It appears that this has not gone unnoticed in SLC.

I don't know if this is the right strategy or not. I think it's a measure of how polarizing an issue this is, however, that many people on both sides of the debate are unable to dispassionately see the strategy for what it is. Some of the comments above, in particular, seem to indicate surprise that anyone could find this course of action objectionable, when (seen objectively) it was meant to poke the bear. Meant with the best of intentions, but intentional nonetheless.


Thank you Neylan for your thoughtful analysis as always. I'm sure as a brand strategist you noticed more about the format of the OW discussions than most of us. I would not have chosen many of OW's early tactics but I saw how important it was for the women to feel like they had an opportunity to speak what was in their heart and hope/d that we would all have compassion and understanding. I was expecting to be somewhat uncomfortable with the "discussions" but when I read through them I was pleasantly surprised at the thoughtful content and conciliatory tone. The questions were open, the instructions expressed uncertainty and valuing differing opinions. I thought, "yes, these are great conversations to have and this is a positive way to have a conversation." So I suppose if the these discussions really were the turning point, as you suggest, that makes me more disappointed than I was before. I didn't read them as trying to replace church manuals or heaven forbid replace the missionary discussions--rather as a good resource for people who are interested in learning and discussing women's history. I can see how they would be suspect if the intent was as you suppose, but I really didn't see that intent as I read through them. I suppose we all see what we want to see and our perspectives all have some truth. Thanks again.


"I believe that our general Church leaders are committed to increasing the ways we see, hear, and include women at church, and that they are supportive of women’s participation at church as a subject for conversation."

Neylan, I consider myself a moderate Mormon feminist. I truly believe that the mission of the Church would be hastened if we better utilized the faith, intellect and talents of Mormon women in the leadership of the Church.

You talk about women's participation as a subject of conversation. Where is that conversation happening? How can I join it? Is there any forum where members can productively discuss these issues and bring them to the attention of church leadership?

I am not aware of any. OW's approach is not one I agree with, but I don't know what other alternative they had.

I wonder if Church authorities realize how many hearts would be healed if they would turn a listening ear instead of turning to excommunication. Provide a forum for women to be heard, acknowledge their concerns, and say we're working on them, in counsel with The Lord. It's not that hard, is it?


I grow tired of hearing Kate Kelly's efforts referred to as "recruiting." We Belong to a large, worldwide church. Kate recognized social media as a way for people within this large group to connect, discuss important issues, and share questions and ideas in a unified manner. OW is simultaneously criticized for numbers too small to be significant and numbers too large to be safe. There is also so much criticism for stomping on baby steps and in roads feminists are making. How long do we need to wait before we speak up? If there is no coordinated effort, how can I tell what steps are being made? A woman praying in conference? Leaders meeting with feminists privately? These are piddly steps and I don't think I'm "worldly"f for believing that. Excommunication sickens me and these actions are damaging our faith community at large. If the gospel is true, it should hold up to close inspection, difficult questions, and rigorous discussion in any forum. Are members so ignorant of their history or comfortable simply following that exploring different issues like these or hearing public discourse will lead them astray? As for criticism of the level of activity or garment wearing practices of OW members, this is really between them and God and should not invalidate their views. Why such a narrow view of us and them in fhe gospel? If it's for everyone, then we had better rethink these lines we are drawing of in and out. A woman in the ward I attended this Sunday commented about how many religions are less tolerant of people who think/believe outside of the box than "we" are. Are you kidding me? Is church a place to explore faith together, because it rarely feels like it. Can we hope for and believe in gospel truths, but wrestle with doubts and questions together, even publicly? Can we receive revelation to speak up, yes even advocate, for good within a church made up of imperfect people? Is it possible God is waiting for us to demonstrate that we are not so comfortable with what we have now, we are not prepared for further enlightenment?

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