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Monday, January 26, 2015

AS IN ENOCH'S DAY, AS IN PAUL'S DAY: My Support for Female Ordination



Note: Many thanks to my wife Anne Stewart, whose wide research on this subject bolstered my own efforts. Her assistance with this article was essential and invaluable. It is her beautiful, informed and spiritual example that has been an inspiration to me in seeking Wisdom. This post was originally published 11/15/2013. 


KINGDOM OF PRIESTS
“The [Relief] Society should move according to the ancient Priesthood, hence there should be a select Society separate from all the evils of the world, choice, virtuous and holy— Said he was going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day— as in Paul’s day.”[1]

 The context of this remarkable statement was Joseph Smith speaking at the third meeting of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ female organization Relief Society on March 30, 1842 (although in those days the Relief Society was an autonomous organization that was yet still connected to the Church in its purpose). Joseph Smith was a guest speaker nine times to the Relief Society before it was disbanded right before his death (and reinstated a decade later when Eliza R. Snow urged Brigham Young to give the organization a second chance). The Minutes were recorded in the official Relief Society Minutes Book in Secretary Eliza R. Snow’s own hand,[2] which are now available online from the LDS Church’s official Joseph Smith papers.

The above statement by Joseph Smith is one of the many pieces of evidence that have made me side with faithful Mormon feminists in the recent brouhaha over the issue of women’s ordination in the LDS Church. To me, this shows that Joseph Smith was considering an expanded priesthood role for women, specifically through the mechanism of an autonomous Relief Society. Unfortunately, conflicts with Joseph’s wife Emma and other women over polygamy, his martyrdom in Carthage Jail, and Brigham Young’s retrenchment tendencies when he felt his authority was being challenged, derailed this possibility of female priesthood being enforced in its fullness (although the Mormon temple endowment, especially the Second Anointing, was indeed a partial fulfillment, which I will briefly and respectfully discuss later). 

Women’s roles in the Church are not an issue of “doubt” for me, although there have been times in my life where doubts have certainly raised their unsettling concerns, as they have for most honest inquirers. In the end, however, investigating an expanded role for women in the Church has rather had the opposite effect. I am filled with faith and the Spirit when I’ve prayerfully studied the issue and realize that statements from Joseph Smith (like the one above) and LDS scriptures show that gender issues are not so cut and dry as many Mormons would have us believe, and that revelation still has to come line upon line, precept upon precept to the Latter-day Saints. We are not an “unchanging” Church, but rather an eternally progressing Church that is still striving to live up to its potential of building Zion upon the Earth.   

Rather, doubts have come when I’ve considered the confusing “separate but equal” rhetoric issued to defend the lack of priesthood authority given to women. I feel nothing but alienation, confusion, and darkness when I prayerfully consider such justifications of gender inequalities. Trying to adopt such attitudes in the past have NEVER brought me peace, but rather a repressed unease. I feel farther from our Heavenly Parents when I consider such a constricted view of my mother, my sisters, my friends, my nieces, my in-laws, my aunts, my wife, my daughter, my Heavenly Mother. I not only feel farther from my Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, but nearly as tragically, I also feel more distant from those beautiful women in my life. Whether I throw women on a pedestal or in a pit, we are not, at that point, on equal footing. That distance is created. 

And I don’t want distance—I long for closeness, friendship, kinship, and fellowship with the women in my life. I have had a long, personal history with women. I have seven sisters. The majority of my friends in Jr. High and High School were female. My mother was a vitally important influence in my life. Many of my historical and literary heroes are women, from Joan of Arc, to Emma Smith, to Charlotte Bronte, to Lorraine Hansberry. My wife is my best friend, and I long for a beautiful, empowering future for my 3 year old daughter. As a general rule, I tend to feel closer and more connection to women than I do with men. Some may not think that I have much “skin in the game,” because I am a privileged, white male in an equal rights struggle. Yet this issue is quite personal to me, and it is spiritually urgent.

Then Leave

NOTE: This post was originally part of my essay "As In Enoch's Day, As In Paul's Day: My Support for Female Ordination." These comments were really a somewhat unrelated tangent in that essay, so I excised them from that piece, but felt that they were still important, so I have moved them here as its own post. That is why the footnotes are numbered as they are. Originally published on  11/15/2013.


I feel distance from certain members of the Church I love when I discover there are those who have a rather un-Christian “if you don’t like it, then leave” attitude. There are some who I have seen similarly say, “Well, go join the Community of Christ, their women have the priesthood” (formerly The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or RLDS, a separate faction of the Mormon tradition). I’m sure the good people of the Community of Christ would welcome folks like me with loving, open arms. Yet, as I currently am, I can’t join them, not in good conscience.
Joseph Smith III, early RLDS President

I’ve studied Community of Christ/RLDS history, I’ve attended their meetings, and I even wrote a play about the early days of the RLDS Church. The lives of Joseph Smith III, Emma Smith, David Hyrum Smith, and other leaders in their movement are familiar to me.  As much as I admire their faith, inclusiveness, progressive intelligence, and commitment, I can’t join their Church because they have rejected Joseph Smith, Jr.’s later teachings from the body of their Church and practice: the sealing power, The King Follett Sermon,  the ordinances of the temple, proxy baptism and ordinances for and in behalf our deceased ancestors, Heavenly Mother. Rather, they have clung to what I consider to be false, Trinitarian ideals. They have downplayed the First Vision and, to a much lesser extent, even the Book of Mormon (for a good insight into the strengths and shortcomings of the current relationship of the Community of Christ to Joseph Smith, see Community of Christ historian Roger Launius’s essay “Is Joseph Smith Relevant to the Community of Christ?” ).

And despite later retroactive admissions made by Community of Christ historians about Joseph Smith’s polygamy (although those concessions are not always made by their general membership, as evidenced by some of the comments I heard in their Sunday School), I can’t accept the Community of Christ’s earlier denials of the importance of Joseph Smith’s history of polygamy in the Mormon narrative, as complicated, contradicting, heartbreaking, and messy as that scenario was.

Joseph claimed that angels taught him the principle of plural sealing, which we call Eternal Marriage. Whether he understood those principles correctly or deployed those principles correctly, to me, is a matter of debate. The evidence of under aged marriages and elements of unrighteous dominion in implementing those principles, tends to make me believe that there were, indeed, some egregious errors made in sincere zeal and human folly, which I’m willing to accept. Yet the whole Mormon narrative falls apart if Joseph was lying concerning that angel with a flaming sword who commanded him to teach about those unpopular principles.[3] And the Community of Christ’s dismissals concerning that widely documented history, I certainly don’t believe, despite the Community of Christ’s other victories and insights. 

Aesthetically and theologically, the Community of Christ have become more Protestant/Evangelical than Mormon and, if I have certain issues with the current LDS status quo, my issues with the Community of Christ would be manifold. I cannot betray my understanding of the work that Joseph Smith accomplished, and the spiritually confirmed truths I believe he taught, even though I do find the Community of Christ’s ordination of women admirable and appealing (not to mention their lack of institutional, racial prejudice that my own LDS community eventually had to come to terms with in 1978).
 
 It was those who were historically loyal to Joseph Smith, even when he was unpopular and controversial, who earned my trust in the Mormon Narrative, even when I occasionally disagree with certain positions or actions of theirs that I have found in their histories (just as they often disagreed with each other). Yet they were the ones who braved the storms, faced the mobs, took the bullets, were thrown into prison, and were willing to commit to unpopular teachings, sometimes at the risk or ultimate cost of their lives. John Taylor. Jane Manning James. Lorenzo Snow. Wilford Woodruff.  Brigham Young. Eliza R. Snow. Parley Pratt. Zina Huntington.  Helen Mar Kimball. Mary Elizabeth Lightner. David W. Patten. Elijah Abel.  Heber and Vilate Kimball. These are names that have meaning to me because of the sacrifice and faith they employed while others took the easier path.

My great-great-grandfather Alvin Franklin Stewart joined the Church in the 1840s and moved to its headquarters which were then stationed Nauvoo, Illinois. He was one of the body guards that accompanied Joseph Smith down to Carthage Jail, and he guarded over them on the journey there as they slept. Joseph Smith dismissed Alvin and the other guards to go home before Joseph Smith was gunned down by a mob in that jail. Although Joseph Smith had told those with him that he knew those at Carthage were going to kill him, he probably saved my great-great-grandfather’s life from that mob, and my whole family line, by telling Alvin, and the others who had offered him their protection, even at the risk of their own lives, to go home. Alvin viewed Joseph and Hyrum’s bodies after their assassination, perhaps very aware how easily it could have been him sharing those caskets.

 I literally owe my life, my father’s life, my 10 siblings’ lives, my children’s lives, and the lives of our associated ancestors and relatives, to Joseph Smith’s bravery and willing self-sacrifice in facing that mob without the assistance he could have easily commanded. [4] Instead of clinging to what physical protections that were being offered him by guards like my great-great grandfather (not to mention the Nauvoo Legion), Joseph chose to brave the storm with only a few select individuals[5] and saved the lives of his friends.

Alvin Franklin Stewart was also at the meeting where Brigham Young and Sidney Rigdon were vying for the leadership of the Church after Joseph Smith’s martyrdom. Although my great-great-grandfather’s journal (which I’m assuming contained the account) was destroyed in a flood, my family’s oral history says that he claimed that he was one of the individuals who saw the “mantle” of Joseph Smith fall on Brigham Young. For those unaware of that period of Mormon history, that means, if the report is accurate, that he was one of the many people who claimed a vision in which he saw the actual countenance of Joseph Smith come upon Brigham Young, indicating the leadership the Lord wanted the Latter-day Saints to adopt.

Instead of immediately settling into the “promised land” of Utah, my great-grandfather Alvin and great-grandmother Camera Olga Owen Stewart (who were both married by Heber C. Kimball in the Nauvoo Temple), stayed behind in Winter’s Quarters to assist in the transportation of others to Utah.
So when I am confronted with the option of leaving the Church that my forefathers and foremothers sacrificed so much for, and which I owe so much to, even over an issue of conscience, I just can’t bring myself to that possibility. The spiritual witnesses I have experienced in connection to my faith, which are many, have been nothing short of miraculous. So when people on both sides of the divide ask, because of my concerns with gender in the Church, “Why do you even stay then?” I think of the words that Peter gave Jesus when asked, “Will you also go away?” Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life.” [6]
 
I have nowhere else to go but this Church. This is where I have found peace, this is where I have found Christ, and this is where I have found a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who speak to me and listen to me and understand me, despite my imperfections. It is here that I have found Grace beyond my inadequate comprehension. I respect all other sincere faiths, and find much that is good and much that is inspired when I study them, but my beliefs and conscience keep bringing me back here, my Mother Faith. It’s like when Robert Bolt has his protagonist Thomas More say in A Man For All Seasons: “But what matters to me is not whether it’s true or not, but that I believe it to be true, or rather not that I believe it, but that I believe it.”[7]

Thankfully, a number of the current leaders of the Church have proven to be more charitable and welcoming than some of its members. I can’t sufficiently say how very impressed I was with the frankness, the honesty, and the charity in President Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s message for the LDS General Conference this last October. His comments were timely considering much of the persecution I have seen feminists and other intellectuals receive from fellow members of the Church:
One might ask, “If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?”

Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations. Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church.
In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves…

To those who have separated themselves from the Church, I say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here.Come and add your talents, gifts, and energies to ours. We will all become better as a result.
Some might ask, “But what about my doubts?” It’s natural to have questions—the acorn of honest inquiry has often sprouted and matured into a great oak of understanding. There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions.[8]

It was satisfying to see the Mormon blogosphere light up in joy after this talk. Scholars, feminists, and other religious misfits finally felt some vindication, recognition, and compassion from their religious leaders.  Despite what may have been said by others, with President Uchtdorf there was none of the old distrust against “intellectuals” nor any dismissiveness against “discordant voices.” Instead of sending supposed “apostates” out into the cold, he validated their concerns. He recognized human imperfection in the leadership (“And, to be perfectly frank,” he said, “there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine”[9]). He opened his arms to all the supposed black sheep and said, “There is yet a place for you here.”

In his statements, President Uchtdorf completely rejected the cruel and condescending dismissals I’ve seen presented by some members of the Church who do not want to invest the time or mental/spiritual energy required to address the concerns of the questioning or the disaffected, and therefore simply write them off. Instead of taking the shortcut of the cutoff, President Uchtdorf truly believes in Christ’s injunction to leave the 99 and seek after the one. And I’m certain, especially considering the context of what was happening with the Ordain Women movement during last Conference, that the good under-shepherd President Uchtdorf also meant to include the Mormon feminists in his welcoming invitation.

_______________________________________________________________________________


[3] Not only Joseph Smith’s polygamous marriages, but also his polyandrous marriages, as well as the New Testament bestowal from Christ to Peter, “Whatsoever ye shall seal on earth, shall be sealed in heaven,” all make me wonder if we truly understand the sealing power, even today. We strive to defend traditional marriage so vehemently in the Church, yet Joseph seemed to be overthrowing the entire concept (at least as an earthly institution) and replacing it with revelations about the sealing power. How far did this sealing power extend? Is it related item for item to what we consider as marriage, or does it go beyond those boundaries? When Christ says that in Matthew 22:30 that in the resurrection we neither marry, nor are given in marriage, yet then also says in Mark 10:8 that men and women, although “ twain” (separated) yet “shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh,” is he referring to a completely different process than what we call “marriage”? Those are obviously very complicated questions, with no easy answers. To address them adequately in this essay would derail the topic at hand, but it’s a question I may explore further in the future.      
[4] Alvin’s son, my great-grandfather and namesake, Mahonri Alma Stewart was born in Utah in 1861. Thus, if Alvin Franklin Stewart had stayed and died at the hands at the same mob that killed Joseph, yes, I literally would not be here (at least not in my current body and form).
[5] John Taylor, and Willard Richards were with Joseph and Hyrum Smith when they died. Taylor and Richards survived, Taylor just barely with grave wounds, and Willard miraculously (and through a fulfilled prophesy) just got a nick under his ear.
[6] John 6:67-68
[7] P. 91, Vintage Books, New York, 1960
[8] “Come, Join With Us,” October Conference 2013,  http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/10/come-join-with-us?lang=eng (accessed October 15, 2013).
[9] Ibid.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Discussing the Renaissance Over at _I'll Drown My Book_

I write on my arts blog about teaching the Renaissance in my Humanities class and one particular student's negative reaction to the movement:

http://mahonrimackaystewart.blogspot.com/2015/01/renaissance-reject-or-respect.html

Feel free to let me know your own thoughts, positive or negative, about the Renaissance in the site's comment section!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Raising the Book

NOTE: I just posted this at my new arts blog I'll Drown My Book. I am also posting it here because it explains this site's temporary hiatus for the last several months. But, no worries, we are now up and running again:

In William Shakespeare's The Tempest the protagonist-wizard Prospero gives a memorable and stirring speech. After a long exile on a desert island (where he has mastered his magic, raised a daughter, befriended/enslaved/mistreated a monster and a fairy, and lived a painful, imperfect, turbulent, yet enchanted life), Prospero is about to find the freedom from the island he has so long been drifting on and go back to the outside world.

In the speech, Prospero vividly describes the power his magical art gave him, but then declares his intent to give up that same magic before setting on his way home to Naples:
...But this rough magic
I here abjure, and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I'll drown my book.
(Act V, Scene I)

Playing Prospero at Utah Valley University
In my undergrad years at Utah Valley University, I played Prospero in a unique and creative production directed at UVU by Christopher Clark. Taking a cue from Jacobean Theatre, Clark separated the bodies and voices of the characters (I played Prospero's body), making it similar to a human enacted puppet show. Due to this fact, as I played out Prospero's movement every night, I was able to listen to the words I was acting out, rather than focus on reciting them. The above speech stuck with me particularly and even before I had been cast in the play. I had long connected with the role of Prospero, despite some of the character's problematic flaws. So these words stuck out to me at this particular juncture of my life, and when I contemplated what I was going to name this new blog.

William Shakespeare wrote this play at the very end of his life (the general consensus is that either The Tempest or A Winter's Tale was his last play), so many read this speech as the great Bard retiring his playwriting and "breaking the staff" of his enchanted words. So I connected with that idea when I have contemplated the last several months of my life, which led away from my blog writing for a period. I took a sabbatical from online writing until recently for a few reasons:

Sunday, April 6, 2014

True Myths and Spiritual Words: The Development of my Dramatic Voice, Part One



Note: This is the first draft of an essay I have to write to accompany my thesis play for my MFA program in Dramatic Writing at Arizona State University. It will change due to feedback I have received, and thus I will probably update it as I go along. I am posting it in two parts. The essay is meant to focus on my journey as a playwright, the development of my work at ASU, as well as the ideas and authors that have influenced my work (so pardon the navel gazing. It was part of the assignment...honest!). Here's part one:


True Myths and Spiritual Words:
The Development of my Dramatic Voice
The Essay for my MFA Thesis Play and my Body of Work at ASU
By Mahonri Stewart
PART ONE: MY DRAMATIC INFLUENCES AND WRITER’S PHILOSOPHY
C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia and perhaps the most influential theologian of Christianity in the 20th century, was once an avowed atheist. Not long after the death of his mother when he was eight years old, until his early thirties, his beliefs flatly contradicted the positions he would passionately take up later in his life.
Lewis was a great lover of mythology, of the Norse legends and the Greek tales, of all sorts of ancient stories. But he certainly didn’t believe they were real stories. He saw religion as another extension of just such a mythology. Despite his great love for magical stories and monumental myths, and the “joy” they brought him, he told his Catholic friend J.R.R. Tolkien, who would become the author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, that these myths were “lies and therefore worthless, even though breathed through silver.”[1]
Furthermore, when it came to Christianity, it wasn’t even original! It was the Johnny Come Lately of world religion, relying on the “dying god myths” of the past—the Greek Prometheus, the Egyptian Osiris, and C.S. Lewis’s favorite myth about the death of the Norse god Balder. Lewis saw the myth of Jesus Christ as a direct plagiarism of that which had come before it. A dying god made alive again? That story had already been told.[2]
In a late night conversation with his friend and fellow Oxford educator Tolkien, as well as their friend Hugo Dyson, a Shakespearean scholar who taught at Reading University, Lewis had gotten to the point of his spiritual journey in recognizing the possibility of God. He had become a theist. But Christianity was still incomprehensible to him, for the above stated reasons. As these three friends walked in the woods together, after dinner one evening, the old argument came out of Lewis, but J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson countered it.
I dramatized that conversation in my published play, Swallow the Sun: 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

We Would Have to Get a Revelation: Continuing Revelation and the Mormon Feminism Crisis



On November 9, 1997, then President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) Gordon B. Hinckley gave an interview with Compass, an Australian television program. Within the interview with President Hinckley (who was accompanied by his beloved wife Marjorie), interviewer David Ransom brought up the topic of female ordination, over a decade before the recent, heart breaking debate came to fore recently about the Ordain Women movement among the Church's members and leadership. President Hinckley's reply is revealing in the context of the recent Mormon Feminist Moment the Church is now experiencing and the crisis it has caused many of its members (on both sides of the argument) to go through:

RB: At present women are not allowed to be priests in your Church. Why is that?
GBH: That’s right, because the Lord has put it that way. Now women have a very prominent place in this Church. They have there own organisation. Probably the largest women’s organisation in the world of 3.7 million members.  And the women of that organisation sit on Boards. Our Board of Education things of that kind. They counsel with us. We counsel together. They bring in insight that we very much appreciate and they have this tremendous organisation of the world where they grow and if you ask them they’ll say we’re happy and we’re satisfied.
RB: They all say that?
GBH: Yes. All except a oh you’ll find a little handful one or two here and there, but in 10 million members you expect that.
RB: You say the Lord has put it that way. What do you mean by that?
GBH: I mean that’s a part of His programme. Of course it is, yes.
RB: Is it possible that the rules could change in the future as the rules are on Blacks ?
GBH: He could change them, yes. If He were to change them that’s the only way it would happen.
RB: So you’d have to get a revelation?
GBH: Yes. But there’s no agitation for that. We don’t find it. Our women are happy. They’re satisfied. These bright, able, wonderful women who administer their own organisation are very happy. Ask them. Ask my wife.
GBH: Are you happy? (to his wife...)
Mrs. H: Very happy! (laughs) 
 A few very revealing things are contained in the interview which shed a good deal of light on the current crisis:

1) President Hinckley says that the policy of ordaining the women to the priesthood could change. He never says "that's not possible," as I've heard some people say, or that it is some sort of eternal principle or doctrine. He said, "[God] could change them, yes." So much of the discussion I've been hearing from the anti-Ordain Women side of things revolve around how that's just not possible, that this is how it's always been in the Church, and how it will always be, falls flat on the floor with that statement from President Hinckley. The possibility exists, he admits, but...  

2) ... It would require a revelation. "If He were to change them, that’s the only way it would happen." This, I believe, is the heart of the matter, and what my major focus will be in my thoughts here. The need for revelation from God (not a statement from the PR Department) on this matter. Continuing revelation is one of the key principles of Mormonism. If we feel we cannot ask for it in a time of crisis like this one, then I believe we are living far below the privileges the Gospel affords us. But President Hinckley explained why there was no such revelation on the books. He said...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Importunate Women: Faithful Activism and Questioning in a Gospel Context



The past couple of years seemed to have been the agony and the ecstasy for Mormon feminists. Never have there been such so many consecutive, positive changes (incremental as they are) in the way the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints treats and engages with the female half of its membership. The missionary age change. Prayers in General Conference by women. A push for more inclusion in ward councils. There is evidence that the Church is listening to the dialogue created by the events created by Mormon feminists seeking for more equality in the Church. Yet it often seems as if the Church makes three steps forward, only to take two steps back. 

A case in point is the recent statement made by the Church’s efforts against the feminist Mormon group Ordain Women, who wanted to sit and listen peacefully to the priesthood session of the LDS General Conference. Ordain Women collected a group of Mormon women and men together to go to the LDS Temple Square in Salt Lake City and peacefully and calmly request to be admitted, so that they could listen to the session in person. Despite the fact that one does not really have to hold the priesthood, nor does one even have to be a member of the Church to be admitted into this session…yet it does appear that one does have to be a man. On those grounds, after a personal request from the couple of hundred people who had gathered, the Church representative guarding the door declined each request and then a garbage truck was parked in front of the door to make sure that the Mormon women who were making the request could not get in once the meeting had started.

That was in 2013. Now in the Spring 2014 Conference, Ordain Women is going to attempt the same action. The Church PR Departmentrecently put out a statement which, on the one hand seemed to be pleading Ordain Women to re-consider as fellow members of the faith, and on the other hand, seemed to be doing its best to stigmatize and alienate those who were acting on their consciences in this way. When the PR department used words such as “extreme” and  “small” to describe a group that has made concentrated efforts to demonstrate that they want to remain faithful to the Church and active in their faith, while maintaining their dignity and integrity of belief, then I believe the Church’s PR department is making a great mistake in demeaning peaceful and calm activism. When it suggests that the group is “detracting from the dialogue,” when it actually appears that Ordain Women are the ones who are instigating that dialogue (many of the Church’s recent changes have occurred after Ordain Women’s related demonstrations), then that makes it appear as spin doctoring, not revelation.
  
I can understand why the Church would want to tone down the pressure that is being put on them by Mormon feminists. No one likes to look bad, especially when you are seeking unity among a large group of diverse people. But the Church’s PR department compounds the supposed problem by seeming dismissive and insensitive to their own fellow Church members. Many of these feminist women and men have temple recommends and hold callings and are active in their faith. I know this because I know some of them and have been impressed with their spirituality, their intelligence, their diplomacy, and their kindness. Minority as they are, Ordain Women are a growing group and when representatives of the Church treat them in an Un-Christian like manner (like the indignity of parking a garbage truck in front of them!), then that makes the Ordain Women group seem like the hurt party, and makes them all the more appealing to those like me who have sat on the fence about officially joining them (although I have not made asecret of my support for female ordination, and have admired the group’s sincere efforts, including those of OW founder Kate Kelly).    

I have read/heard many members of the Church attack the Mormon feminists in unkind and distorting ways, especially targeting those feminists who make a public “spectacle” and use activism as a way to make themselves heard among a people who would rather not listen. And, in a way, I understand the impulse to resent disruptions like these. After all, General Conference is generally seen as a time of great spirituality, healing, and renewal for most Latter-day Saints. It seems unseemly to use that time to stage a protest.

But let’s forget that emotional impulse for a moment and step back and ask the “big picture” question that this situation demands. Is it good for religious members to “protest,” question, and ask things of their own Church? Must a good Mormon/Latter-day Saint (or Catholic, or Protestant, or Muslim, or Orthodox Jew, or Quaker, etc.) defer to the judgment of their leaders in all things, never asking, never questioning, never searching deeper than the latest PR release or the sound bites related in Church approved manuals? Is inquiry a dirty word among the religious faithful? And, further still, is there ever an appropriate time when a peaceful and orderly demonstration of those questions and concerns can be held, even during very public and prominent places and times?

As a Mormon and a Christian, my mind first goes to the Gospels and the example of the Savior. As our exemplar, was there ever a time where he challenged the religious authority of his day? The question is barely asked before numerous examples of his “demonstrations” comes to mind. Jesus grappled in the public sphere against the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. Prominently, I think of Jesus “cleansing” the temple in Matthew 21:12-16: