The Negative Response to Ordain Women

I was not surprised to see that conservative Mormons had a negative response to the actions of Ordain Women over the weekend. But I was curious to see what specific issues would come up in the conversation about it. Toward that end, I read a 203-comment thread on a popular conservative Mormon website, created some general categories, and categorized the comments. This is a brief overview of what I found.

Top Five Responses

1. This is sad / This makes me sad. (25)

This ranged from a tone of “this makes me sad because they are hurting,” to “they are going to have to pay for their sins, and that makes me sad.”

2. Elder Oaks satisfactorily addressed the issue. (17)

The talk given by Oaks was described in highly positive terms as having resolved any questions that OW had raised.

3. This is apostasy. (15)

The most common label given to OW was that of apostate.

4. They are disrespectful. (15)

A frequently mentioned concern was that OW had acted disrespectfully.

5. I’m praying for them / We should pray for them. (13)

As is the case with #1, the tone of this varied widely.

General Approaches

I noted three general approaches to the issue:

1. A focus on what is wrong with the members of OW. (89)

This included comments along the lines of, they are apostate, disrespectful, lacking testimonies, blinded by worldly values, and lacking in understanding.

2. A focus on one’s own understanding of the issues. (82)

This included comments along the lines of, this is how the priesthood works, the value of gender roles, the importance of motherhood, and the value of women in the church.

3. A focus on one’s own feelings and intentions. (46)

This included comments about sadness, the intent to pray for them, and the need to show charity.


I was struck by the prevalence of expressions of sadness, but for the most part, a lack of explicit mentions of anger, although anger was clearly reflected in the tone of many of the comments. Several commenters said flat out: I’m not angry; I’m just sad. I see this as being in line with Mormon cultural norms.

Given the general orientation of this site, I was not surprised to find the belief that Elder Oaks had adequately addressed the issue.  In reading the reactions of OW supporters, by contrast, I found an overwhelming sense that the Oaks talk did not in fact satisfactorily address their concerns. Whether or not the talk can be seen as a success, then, depends on whom you believe to be its intended audience.

The concern that OW had acted disrespectfully generally appeared to come from the Church’s description of what had happened. The Church’s strategy of describing the event in the way that they did, then, was clearly effective in shaping people’s perceptions. Since this account differed significantly from the accounts of the people who were actually present, I find this discouraging.

I noted two major (and possibly competing) views of OW: they are apostate, and they lack understanding. The first perhaps sheds them in a more negative light, in that they are seen as deliberately rebelling against the prophet and church teachings. The second construes them as simply not grasping basic gospel principles, and being in need of enlightenment.


This includes every category that had at least five comments. (It adds up to more than 203 because some comments included multiple categories.)


Number of mentions Comment
 25  This is sad / This makes me sad
 17  Elder Oaks satisfactorily addressed the issue
 15  This is apostasy
 15  They are disrespectful
 13  I’m praying for them / We should pray for them
 12  Separate but equal roles & responsibilities
 11  They don’t understand the gospel, gender roles, etc.
 11  This is God’s decision and can’t be changed
 10  I’m happy with the current situation / Don’t want priesthood
 9  Women have motherhood
 9  They’re only a tiny group / Don’t represent the majority
 9  They don’t believe, have testimonies / Not faithful
 8  We need to follow the prophet
 8  Satan is behind this
 8  Need for charity, kindness, etc.
 7  They’re following worldly values
 7  This is a sign of the times / Last Days
 6  Women are necessary, important, valued
 6  This isn’t the way to bring about change
 6  Need to focus on responsibilities, not rights
 6  They could watch the priesthood session elsewhere
 5  Separation of wheat & tares, faithful & unfaithful, etc.
 5  They are divisive / contentious



  1. Great stuff, Lynnette! I think it’s a huge win for OW that more traditional members find themselves needing to gather to vent and reinforce to each other why the idea of priesthood for women is utterly heretical. A year or two ago, they wouldn’t have needed to do this because nobody was pushing to change the ban.

  2. I like how supporting the apostles’ and prophets’ (aka God’s) statements on priesthood automatically warrants the label “conservative Mormon.” Maybe we can all come together better by not using labels that carry certain assumptions?

  3. I agree, AQR. Saying “apostles’ and prophets’ (aka God’s) statements” doesn’t make you a conservative Mormon. It makes you downright fundamentalist!

  4. Well, I’ll say it. It makes me a bit angry. Angry because my efforts of YEARS to work with leadership are made considerably more difficult by the activism of groups such as OW. Angry because so-called believing members fail to exercise even a shred of Gospel long-suffering and patience. Angry because I defend the truth of the priesthood on one front while dealing with an insensitive bishop: men who take their priesthood so casually they refuse to exercise it.

    Disappointed because if OW had taken the request to NOT stage the event again they may have had better luck getting real dialogue going. Disappointment because of the follow-up attempts from both sides to reconcile what was said and done within a personal paradigm, rather than truly listen. Disappointment because so many of OW are allowing themselves to be used by those who don’t even believe in the legitimacy of the LDS Church’s priesthood authority to begin with.

    Sad because I feel some of the same pain and frustration of OW members. Sad because sisters and brothers are hurting on both sides of the problem, but are too busy lobbing stones to see how their own actions are contributing to the pain everyone is feeling. Sad because we ought to have better things to do than wage war among ourselves.

    Tired because I’m pointlessly trying to get both sides to see the other’s perspective. Tired because I really haven’t a clue how to do anything about any of it. Tired because what I say really makes no more difference here than it would over there.

    But I also feel at peace. Because there were some things said in conference which clarify what I am to do and who I am to be. At peace because I had confirmation of many things which had been whispered to me by the Spirit. At peace because I feel empowered to exercise the will of God on the earth. And I’ll focus on those things in this paragraph, rather than all the stuff above it.

  5. AQR, I agree that labels can be tricky. And yet I’ve found that those whom I’m describing as conservative Mormons tend to describe themselves as–conservative Mormons. I’m honestly not sure what would be better.

  6. SilverRain, you say you care what’s happening on “both sides,” but it’s pretty clear when you say things like this–

    “Disappointed because if OW had taken the request to NOT stage the event again they may have had better luck getting real dialogue going.”

    –that you’re not really interested in doing anything but criticize OW. Seriously, there is zero chance that shutting up and playing nice was going to get the issue of the treatment of women in the Church in general, and the female priesthood ban in particular, on the minds of General leadership as well as going to priesthood session did.

  7. I think that this ugly dialog is GREAT! Here’s why:
    The people who were are seeing comments from are all those who are bold enough to express their opinions openly. But what about all of those who read, but NEVER comment (like me!)? Some of us lurkers are seeing things in ways we never thought of before and maybe we aren’t brave enough to take a stand one way or the other, but we are becoming aware of this cause, and suffering in those we are covenanted to love and suffer with. We are learning. Learning leads to empathy.
    OW is not my issue and I am not a member of their group but I know many people who are and do. I am so proud of their strength and greatly admire their courage to stand up for their beliefs.
    I am sad and praying, too, for those who are not able to be empathetic and compassionate of those who are different from them. And not just OW, but also those LBGT, single, divorced, childless, etc. members, who feel like they don’t belong. This church is for everyone. Period. Stop judging and listen with an open heart, you might learn something.

  8. Oh, Ziff. Please try to read everything I wrote and not just cherry-pick. I’m hardly one to “shut up and play nice.”

    Like I said, no point venting here any more than at that other blog. People are people. None of them like their paradigms challenged.

    Don’t worry. I’ll not ripple the waters again on this thread.

  9. All right, everyone–keep it civil, so I don’t have to unleash the Bouncer.

    SilverRain, if I’m reading you correctly, you see yourself as being in the middle, someone who understands both sides and is frustrated that they refuse to understand each other. I can appreciate that being a difficult position, but I also wonder if you can see how it might come across badly when you continually construe your point of view in that way, setting yourself up as the lone person who isn’t trapped by a particular paradigm–when I’m not sure that’s possible for any of us.

  10. Here’s where I’m coming from, at least right now (I haven’t totally processed all my feelings). I was really moved by the event–unexpectedly so, in fact. It doubtless made a difference that two of my sisters and a number of good friends were involved. But seeing pictures of those women lined up, seeing the looks on their faces–it actually made me cry. In a good way.

    It was somewhat jarring, then, to read the hostility of those who saw this as the work of apostates. But I was also interested in understanding exactly what their objections were–thus this post. As I said in the OP, I see two basic issues: the perception that OW is going against the prophet, and the perception that they don’t really understand how the priesthood or the plan of salvation works.

    I’m not a member of OW, but I supported those who engaged in this action, so I won’t pretend to any sort of neutrality. That said, the reactions of many church members do make sense to me. I actually think the thing I find the most frustrating is the way in which church PR spun the event, leaving a drastically distorted impression of what happened. When I read through the comments, I honestly wondered if some of them might have been different had they actually been there.

  11. Wow, Ziff! You completely ignored most of what Silver Rain said. Why isn’t her observation that “if OW had taken the request to NOT stage the event again they may have had better luck getting real dialogue going” completely invalid? Isn’t that possible? We obviously can’t know for sure because they did stage the event again but isn’t it possible that trying another tactic would have resulted in different results? I’m thinking there’s a bit of a double-standard going on here. SilverRain was completely respectful in her initial comment on this thread and your response was totally defensive. If you can’t even allow for respectful dialogue on your own blog how could there be any with leaders of the church?
    Lynette, Lone person? Her pain reflects much of what members on both sides of the issue feel. While she certainly described her personal feelings she in no way stated that no one else felt the same way she did and i personally know of several who feel the same way she does. Perhaps Sister Farrah also has an inkling of how she feels. Unfortunately, when it comes to these types of blog posts I (and probably Silver Rain as well) have yet to see one (yours included) that doesn’t present an us against them perspective. I’m afraid you present exactly the same double standard as Ziff. Why couldn’t you both have accepted her comment as a continuation of the discussion and talked about the pain of those on both sides of the issue who are hurting? We live in an imperfect world. Both the church PR department and OW have made some mistakes. Hopefully both can learn from them and move on. However, the only way that can happen is if somebody can stand up and say, yes I can see you’re hurting. What is hurting so much? May I tell you how I am hurting also? I hoped this blog could be a place for that. It’s one of the closest I’ve seen but even you have made mistakes (as I’m sure have I). Can we please be respectful of one another and have a conversation without accusing people of criticizing or making claims that a poster didn’t state in their comment?
    Also, continually? I’ll admit that I don’t regularly read this blog but she only made two comments total on this thread so perhaps you could direct me to other comments she’s made so I can get a better understanding of what you’re talking about.

  12. JJ, I was in fact thinking of SilverRain’s comment in the context of many, many other discussions of this issue around the bloggernacle. But it looks like I wasn’t very clear. I didn’t at all mean that there aren’t others who are hurting and trying to sort this all out out. I was objecting to the rhetorical move in which one categorizes others (on both sides) as caught up in their own personal paradigms, and posits oneself as having transcended those paradigms. I do realize, however, that this may be an unfair characterization—I was simply saying that this is the way it comes across to me, and why I react badly to it.

    But you’re right that I could do a better job of ratcheting down the us vs. them, and listening. That’s a worthwhile reminder.

  13. I thought that there had to be some sort of background that I wasn’t getting.
    I will say that this is the only blog post on this subject I have felt comfortable enough to comment on so you are doing a much better job fighting the us vs. them mentality than any other posts I’ve read on the subject. I do appreciate your candour and willingness to respond.

  14. Lynette, constantly construe my point in what way? Being in the middle, and frustrated that neither side is listening to the other? I am that way. I don’t see how else I’m supposed to represent my perspective.

    The rest of your interpretation in no way represents me. I have plenty of paradigms that need changing. I’m constantly picking at them, a comparatively small portion of which happens publicly on my blog. If I didn’t think I had paradigms that needed changing, I wouldn’t read this blog for example. Especially not when I’m generally subject to overly presumptive criticism every time I have the audacity to attempt to participate in the discussion here. (Contrasted with your criticism, which I find appropriately critical and is why I’m responding to you.)

    I read dozens of posts and hundreds of comments around the blogs, commenting relatively rarely. All in an attempt to understand. Unlike those who have picked a side and constantly attack the other to shore up my own, my paradigms are picked at no matter where I go. Yet I still come, still read, and still comment everywhere I can possibly tolerate the attacks.

    So I hope you see why I don’t take your particular accusation of feeling myself above paradigm biases that seriously. I have many other criticisms far more immediate and accurate. Most of which come from within.

  15. Lynnette, great post. I wonder how many of those comments you would categorize as empathetic. I think some of the categories you list could easily have comments made in an empathetic way (I don’t agree with OW for this reason: _____ although I feel for their hurting, I can see why they feel this way, etc.).

    I realize that would be pretty subjective.

    I bring this up because it seemed distinctly lacking in the 3 approaches you mention:
    – here’s what’s wrong with them
    – here’s how I understand the issue
    – here’s how I feel

    Good communication typically takes seeking to understand the other person, often by using words like, “I hear you saying ______, do I understand you correctly?” Did you see that approach at all?
    – here’s what I am hearing from you

    As a side note, I was talking about OW with my mom and was surprised at the vehemence of her negative comments towards them. And then I realized she had never looked at the OW website, or read a single word from a woman that seeks ordination. Her view is entirely colored by reading on fb the *negative* comments towards OW, and with nothing to challenge that view, she went right along with it. I wonder how often that happens. Because I seek out these issues on the bloggernacle, I think I forget how this is still a very minority view point, and how different my experience is from someone in a conservative area, conservative ward, with conservative friends and family.

  16. SilverRain, thanks for explaining more of where you’re coming from. To share a little more of why I sometimes react the way I do–I have a really hard time with it if I get any sense that someone has set themselves up in a position of being here to enlighten the rest of us (as opposed to just being in a conversation), and I think the tone of your comments often leads me to hear them that way. But I also realize that might well be unfair, and simply arise from my own sensitivities (I kind of go ballistic if I feel like anyone is being condescending to me). In other words, I know there are reasons I’m prone to misinterpret, and there are times when I’ve doubtless been too quick to jump to conclusions. For that, I owe you an apology.

    And I am genuinely sorry that this has been so frustrating for you.

  17. That’s such a good question, Enna. Taking off from your thought about how much (or how little) there is of anyone trying to understand someone else’s point of view, I’m sure I’m guilty of the same thing on the opposite side as your mom. The opposition to OW really drives me batty, but to be fair, I haven’t tried very hard to empathize with people who hate it.

  18. It’s the “they don’t understand” comments that really get under my skin. I understand very, very well what the church’s teachings about priesthood and gender roles are. I’ve spent 36 years steeped in them. I think about them every day. It’s not that I don’t understand them, it’s that I don’t accept them.

  19. This argument will go on forever – as long as both sides raise issue. But for me it comes down to two possible ends. Either you represent the Church or you represent another.

    Articles, blogs, comments can be written all day. And the more that are written, the bigger the whirlwind becomes. OW isn’t the first to do this. In the Book of Mormon, Korihor uses the same principles. Now before I go further, I do not see OW supporters as the anti-Christ. I see them as active Latter-day Saints who have been confused by the relationship between the secular world and the Church. But Korihor says something I have heard many OW supporters say: “Behold, these things which ye call prophecies, which ye say are handed down by holy prophets, behold, they are foolish traditions of your fathers.” (Alma 30: 14)

    I am confident that if President Monson got up tomorrow and wrote a letter to Ordain Women calling for them to drop the issue, they would simply consider him out of touch. The brethren stand by the statements issued by Church PR – that what Church PR’s purpose is altogether. OW supporters find conflict in anything that doesn’t sit well for them, thus encircling them further in a flirtation with apostasy.

    So you can’t really call out those who are against OW for saying things like “apostasy” or “anti-“. It goes right down in the book (in principle) next to those very subjects.

  20. Enna, that’s a great question. To be fair to the people in this particular conversation, it was clearly a place to vent, and I’m certainly sympathetic to that need. But it was, strikingly, very much like your mom–almost no one mentioned having actually looked at the OW site, or having read anything from an OW member.

  21. Lynnette—Thank you so much. I think sometimes communicating through a medium that strips us of tone makes it difficult to communicate empathy, even when we feel it. It takes a strong, amazing woman to apologize in such a situation. (Though I already took you for one of those.) I really appreciate it.

    I process things by writing/speaking. It’s part of my expressive communication style. I sound like I’m dictating, when I’m often trying on thoughts to see if they fit. I comment and post expressly to allow people to pick me apart or tell me what works. I have no problem with criticism of my thoughts. But, especially given some of my history, I don’t react well when people attack me personally or read into what I’m trying to say.

    I often spend so much time trying to form words around my feelings, I don’t realize how they are coming across. Mostly, how I think is like clay. Very rarely are my opinions hardened. I don’t think that should happen until we are all “before the pleasing bar of God,” and all things are made known.

    I explain that because you are hardly the first to take my comments, even in person, the wrong way. It is something I have struggled with my entire life. At one point as a teenager and young adult, it even made me contemplate suicide. (I’m not saying that for pity, because that time is LONG gone, only to illustrate how seriously it impacts me.) It horrifies me to think that people feel condescended to. It is the last of my intentions. I want to understand, not dictate. I hope in the process that what I have to say might enlighten people, of course (who wouldn’t?), but I don’t expect that or wish to force it.

    It has taken the Bloggernacle and my divorce to teach me that this particular aspect of my personality is something I will never change, and that despite the pain it brings me it can even be used for good sometimes.

    And to be open, I have plenty of other stressors in my life right now that probably make me take online things more seriously than I usually do. So I really, really appreciate that you are listening to me and trying to put a face behind my comments that so often sound more abrasive than I mean them to.

  22. Ziff,

    I think the difference in seeking to understand the majority viewpoint is that it is the majority. Like Emily U said, most of us have been steeping in the majority viewpoint for decades.

    Although empathy is always good to have for someone you don’t agree with 🙂


    Thanks for the clarification on the context of the article you looked at. But if it does hold fairly true – that an “average” “conservative” member (to make use of poor labels) hasn’t really even looked at OW, that makes dialogue on the topic even more important. Even if it’s messy.

  23. Austin, I think that’s just way too black-and-white. Even the GAs aren’t always on the “side” of the Church, since they don’t always agree.

  24. I do not comment very much. I read sometimes. I admit to being curious about OW and I can say I went to their bog and read what was there.

    I do not much think about the issue that seems to grow big in everyone’s life. I read what the organizer of OW said about her life and why she decided to use her abilities to bring about the ordination of women. When she got to the part where she said she knows God wants her to have the priesthood I stopped reading.

    Maybe she does know that. All I could wonder about was why she does not know what the Doctrine and Covenants says about the organization of the church. The contents of the book were all put there by the vote of church members at a general conference. That being the case it represents the will of church members.

    Does she know the reasons why it is all right to have revelations and to know things others might not know. But one must keep them inside until things change. Then they can be said and not seen as an attempt to fix things out order.

    It always surprises me when people talk about how sad and disappointed the women who went to Temple Square to ask for tickets were when they had to leave. Surely they knew about the statement made by the public relations office. Surely they knew it was approved. I hope in the future they will find what they are looking for and it will bring them some peace and joy.

  25. In a July 19, 1946 letter from Elder Joseph Fielding Smith to the General Relief Society Presidency, the practice of women giving blessings was put on hold indefinitely. But why?

    Because there was a growing sense among women in the Church that since they themselves could give blessings, men were becoming an annoyance they could do without or at least have little to do with.

    Thus, for the sake of God’s eternal purpose to successfully meld women and men in development of eternal couples, He instructed his appointed and anointed agents to withdraw the formal blessing authority of women except when they were performing Temple ordinances. (see “Ordain Women Now” VERSUS Healing the Dark Crystal

  26. Yes, there seems to be a long-standing fear among some men that unless they monopolize power and opportunity they’ll no longer be needed—and that they have to be needed by women, and thus women have to be reliant on them, in order for them to have value. It’s too bad for everyone that we consistently choose to marginalize women to preserve the fiction that men’s value lies in their having exclusive gendered access to power (ritual and other) rather than rethinking our norms of masculinity, and that we choose to artificially make women reliant on men in a way that men have never been required to be reliant on women, and then call this imbalanced relationship the “meld[ing]” of “eternal couples.”

  27. While there are a lot of comments here I see very little interest outside of FMH and the Ordain Women website. I doubt there is enough interest or pressure here to drive change.

    I work where there are a lot of women in management about even mix men to women. Anyone who thinks the abusive nature of leadership will be fixed by putting women into leadership is gravely mistaken. I see the exact same type of women getting selected for leadership as the men they are replacing. No downside but also very little upside.

    That said I see no issue with giving women the priesthood. Personally I think it is ridiculous that every worthy member doesn’t share the same opportunity. For a church that puts little value on men that never hold priesthood leadership positions it only stands to reason women would feel less valued without some opportunity. There is no comparable options for women.

  28. Odd, from what I’ve seen during the last 70 years I would have said that in an eternal framework, it’s men that are mostly dependent on women and women who are impatient with having to put up with the dependency:

    For me the clearest illustration of the process of men AND women in mortality becoming one in eternity is found in Jim Henson’s movie, “The Dark Crystal.”

    In a series of sketches – feminine urRu (Mystics) become one with masculine Skeksis and together they become imposing and radiant Godlike urSkek.

    Functionally, the dichotomy of male/priesthood wielder AND female/nurturer is resolved when they become urSkek (ONE).

    Practically speaking — without the influence of a feminine nurturer the masculine wielder is solidly on the endangered species list.

    Without the nurturer urRu, the wielder Skeksis himself is incapable of managing his competitive and aggressive nature, which is absolutely essential for functioning urSkek.

    Without the tempering influence of urRu, Skeksis are destructive and have neither the desire nor the nature to qualify for joining with urRu as urSkek and live in an eternal family setting. (see “Ordain Women Now” VERSUS Healing the Dark Crystal

  29. What a pity I shan’t be watching that, as I have a policy against viewing films featuring “female nurturer[s].” My health can’t take the spike in blood sugar, you understand. Also, I find priesthood bearers frightening enough; a priesthood “wielder” would likely give me nightmares. What a relief it sounds like the female nurturer is at least able to provide the man with a safety lock on his priesthood so it doesn’t go off accidentally.

    Perhaps you should recommend it to Ordain Women Now (in the Lutheran Missouri Synod), as they seem as confused about gender essentialism as Ordain Women.

  30. jb, in all honesty I have no illusions that women would be more competent priesthood holders than men, and I don’t know anyone who thinks ordaining women would solve the problem that authority is abused regularly in the church; as I understand it, the problem it’s proposed to solve is that women are currently not treated as full agents whose voice, experiences, or opportunities need to be incorporated systematically into or reflected in the structure of the institution.

    I’m ridiculously radical at this point, since my current position is that the ideal would be to unordain the men. But I don’t pretend what resulted could still be called Mormonism in any meaningful way.

  31. Lloyd, just a note that your characterization of the reason for women’s practice of blessings being discontinued is not suggested by the contemporary documentation. You might be right, I suppose, but no official reason was ever given, so your explanation might fall in the category of “folklore.”

  32. Kiskilili, the rest of the story in “Mothers – Fathers – Children” ( ) and “The Nature of God Reframed in Family” ( ).

    Kristine, You’re right — my conclusion while reading correspondence asking for and receiving guidance on the subject over years preceding Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith’s July 19, 1946 letter to the General Relief Society Presidency. The correspondence was available on line and then not — wished I’d made copies. I wasn’t doing proper research, just reading everything I could find so we could incorporate into our family instruction on women giving blessings that we had received years prior from an CES Institute Director (1969 – 71). The conclusion wasn’t much of a jump — issues were clear.


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