The Church PR department’s response to Ordain Women’s request for tickets to the priesthood session of Conference makes the point that OW is a minority movement:
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.
One question this argument raises is how they know this. Are they relying on the Pew data (rah of fMh has an interesting response) or the American Grace data, or some internal survey of members’ attitudes, or perhaps just assuming that it’s true?
But I don’t want to get into that question here. Instead, I wanted to talk about another question I’ve seen raised a number of times on the Bloggernacle, namely, why would Church PR make this argument at all? After all, shouldn’t this be a question of right and wrong rather than how many people support the idea? We have all kinds of discussion in the Church of how we should do right even if it’s unpopular, so why should it matter how many women do or don’t want the priesthood? Either it’s right or it’s not; that’s what matters.
What’s particularly odd, too, is that the “it’s wrong” argument appears right alongside the “you’re a tiny minority” argument. At the end of the paragraph quoted above, the statement continues,
Ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of doctrine that is contrary to the Lord’s revealed organization for His Church.
Now that’s more of what I would expect in a Church response: You’re going against God.
Here’s what I think is going on. The Church PR statement, while nominally addressed to OW leaders, is clearly also addressed to people outside the Church. After all, it was issued by the PR department, and posted on the Mormon Newsroom website. The authors of the statement want to make arguments to both the media–who are Church outsiders–and to the OW leaders–who are Church members. They realize that different arguments will be persuasive to the different groups. The “tiny minority” argument is for outsiders. It’s to reassure the world out there that the Mormons aren’t oppressing their women1. It’s only a small fraction of them who feel wronged by not getting to hold the priesthood. The “it’s against God’s will” argument is for insiders. Media people won’t be persuaded by it, but the PR people are hoping perhaps OW people (or other Church members who sympathize with them) will be.
My conclusion might seem like a blinding flash of the obvious. If so, please indulge me while I make another obvious and oft-repeated point. It’s much harder in today’s communication environment to keep messages to outsiders and messages to insiders walled off from each other. It’s been a while, but there’s been some Bloggernacle discussion of President Hinckley’s famous “I don’t know that we teach it. I don’t know that we emphasize it.” response to a reporter’s question about Lorenzo Snow’s deification couplet. That was a perfect example of communication meant for outsiders leaking to insiders. It happened in 1997. The leakage issue is much, much bigger now. So the Church PR people respond by just throwing both insider and outsider arguments into the same document, probably figuring that it would be impossible to keep separate responses separate anyway.
I think the “tiny minority” argument has always been addressed to outsiders in the past as well. For example, last fall’s Church PR statement to the media (from Ruth Todd) included this statement:
Millions of women in the 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.
Similarly, President Hinckley’s point that there’s “no agitation” for women’s ordination was also made to a reporter and not to Church members.
An unfortunate implication of this conclusion that the “tiny minority” argument is made only to outsiders is that Church PR people (or leaders) aren’t saying that if OW gets bigger, the Church will listen to them. They’re just saying that if OW gets bigger, the Church will worry more about looking bad to outsiders in relation to how it treats them.
- Note that here I’m deliberately following the “our women” phrasing sometimes used by GAs. I’m definitely not endorsing it! [↩]
- 21 March 2014