Are Mormon Women Allowed to Ask Questions?

To echo Neylan McBaine's advice, observers must, in spite of Kelly's simplified assessments, distinguish the "tactics that drove this tragic situation" from the conversation itself, especially to prevent our own unwarranted chilling effect.

4) Kate Kelly isn't asking questions. And lastly, I don't think it's about questions because Kate Kelly isn't asking them. Rather, she is making assertions and requests. Assertions or requests aren't categorically wrong, but they aren't questions. In fact, the certainty with which Kelly has staked her claims (i.e. "the ordination of women would put us on equal spiritual footing with our brethren, and nothing less will suffice") not only stifles other points of view—including those of other feminists—but represents the opposite of a question.

Otterson's recent letter about Church discussions with women explains the reticence to meet with "individuals or groups who make non-negotiable demands for doctrinal changes that the Church can't possibly accept. No matter what the intent, such demands come across as divisive and suggestive of apostasy rather than encouraging conversation through love and inclusion." Whether or not local leaders were justified in applying this to Kelly, it's clear that asking questions wasn't the problem; it was, rather, the absence of questions, or of epistemic humility, necessary for conversations to happen.

It's likely, however, that at one point for Kate Kelly and many others, it was about questions—and the frustration of having no structural mechanism for their acknowledgement by those in a position to do anything about them. I don't think, per the advice of Kelly's stake president, that making institutional concerns or hefty doctrinal questions a "private matter" to "work through" with local leaders who can offer only pastoral comfort is sufficient for those straining to stay or questioning the goodness of God or their own spiritual worth.

What emerges most saliently for me is the need to open up communication channels between members and the leadership in charge of doctrinal and structural decisions in order to overcome the unsurprising distance that grows between them in a church far larger and more global than the one Joseph Smith founded. Church leadership could "welcome sincere conversations" more directly, such as offering an email address where leaders could read the questions submitted by members, or incorporating time in their travels for more informal, frequent interactions with lay members, and so on.

Such direct conversations could bear important fruits, if not always in the form of an accord; they could foster familiarity with questions and doubts in gentle, non-antagonistic ways, produce a mutual sense of compassion and respect, and at the very least, enable the healing that comes from being heard and understood.

7/10/2014 4:00:00 AM
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