Nine Ways OW Could Have Actually Protested at Conference

Since the news broke that Kate Kelly is facing Church discipline, I’ve seen a number of people argue that she must have known she had it coming after she organized those public protests at Conference. I know this has been argued before, but I think it’s pretty obvious that the Ordain Women actions at the last two Conferences don’t qualify as protests by any reasonable stretch of the term. A protest is about opposing something. The OW actions were about asking for inclusion in something. They’re actually complete opposites to protests in terms of their starting assumptions: you protest things you think are bad; you ask to be included in things you think are good. OW was affirming the goodness of priesthood session, just like they’ve affirming the authority of the Quorum of 15 by asking them to ask God about ending the female priesthood ban.

I can see how people decide that the OW actions were protests, though. The problem, I think, is that we belong to a church that emphasizes obedience, conformity, and deference to authority so much. I mean, you can get people to look at you like you’re an alien by simply voting “opposed” on someone’s calling in sacrament meeting. You can get people to gasp in Sunday School (or elders quorum, or, I’m guessing, in Relief Society) by merely starting a comment with “I disagree.” It’s understandable, in a culture such as this, for an action even as mild and respectful as OW’s to make people deeply uncomfortable. I’m not surprised, then, that they reach for an inappropriately harsh word to try to describe it.

But like I said, I think these actions absolutely were not protests. To make this point clearer, I thought it might be interesting to come up with examples of actions OW could have taken at Conference that I think would reasonably be called protests. Please note that I am not advocating or suggesting that any of these things be done. I am only listing them for contrast with the actions that OW actually took.

  1. Supporters could have parked and abandoned cars at the entrances to parking lots near the Conference Center prior to the priesthood session to make it more difficult for people to attend.
  2. A number of supporters could have sat in a row in the Conference Center during one of the general sessions and, during the intermediate hymn when cameras pan the audience, jumped up together and held up a big “Ordain Women” banner.
  3. Supporters could have gathered at the Conference Center, formed up in a phalanx, and attempted to charge over or through security people in an effort to get at least a few people in to disrupt the meeting inside.
  4. Female supporters could have disguised themselves as men to gain entry to the priesthood session, and then drawn attention to their presence by changing into stereotypically female church clothes and sitting together in a group.
  5. Female supporters could have gotten priesthood session tickets from male supporters, and then proceeded to stage loud arguments with security people at the Conference Center, wherein they said such things as “How do you know for sure I’m *not* named Peter Smith?” and “Are you actually interested in checking under my skirt to make sure I have the right equipment to get in?”
  6. OW leaders could have made up pamphlets that argue that Church leadership is in apostasy, and supporters could have passed these out in or around the Conference Center or Temple Square.
  7. Supporters could have gathered and bunched up tightly near the doors to the Conference Center before the priesthood session to try to prevent men and boys from entering.
  8. Male/female pairs of supporters could have lined up near the Conference Center, and at a prearranged time, the men could have made a show of ordaining the women.
  9. A group of supporters could have marched around Temple Square or around the Conference Center while waving signs that said “No donation without representation”, “Jesus wants me for an elder”, and the like.

By comparison with these actions, OW did not try to prevent men and boys from going to the meeting. They did not try to force their way into the meeting. They did not try to disrupt the meeting itself. They just went and stood in line for the meeting and asked to get in. When they were turned away, they left. It’s only our hyper-deferential Church (and church culture) that make this very mild, respectful action strike people in such a jarring way that they would label it a protest.


  1. Ohh – marching around the center sounds so biblical, even!. March around, blow the trumpets; march around again x7.

    They could have chained themselves to the doors so as to prevent others from getting in.

    They could have created a flash mob, perhaps with Helaman’s army staves and coordinated marching/thumping.

  2. YES. OW’s actions seemed so amazingly benign to me – standing peacefully in line in SLC and then leaving when asked, and publishing friendly, faith-affirming discussion packets. But my liberal brain isn’t attuned to the triggers that offend conservative brains (tradition, authority, sanctity). Is there *any* way for members to address these issues that isn’t going to put the Church on the defensive? Or is bringing these issues up publicly a non-starter? And where does that leave liberal or progressive Mormons who desire change?

    The problem continues to be that without sanctioned avenues to discuss large institutional issues, faithfully agitating members will have to leverage media attention to get attention. That will continue to offend conservative Mormons and leaders, which see the public dissent as disloyal.

    And it all seems so… hopeless right now.

  3. Can I just say that I want to marry everything that Ziff has written, is currently writing, or ever will write?

    Brilliant. Really, just brilliant.

  4. I think you are quite right on this point, Ziff. It certainly appears the Church picked the wrong battle (no, we won’t give you tickets to our publicly broadcast meeting!) then exaggerated accounts of the event (activists! protestors!) to such an extent that they hurt their own credibility. Having started so poorly, it is ending up even worse. It is a public relations debacle of the first order, largely self-inflicted. The June Two might end up as a bigger permanent headache than the September Six.

  5. ooh, this is fun……

    OW could have gotten a light machine that said “packer sucks!” and projected it against the side of the conference center at night (did you know that light projections do not count as vandalism or trespassing?)

    OW could have burned effigies of church leaders.

    OW could have done street theatre in front of the conference center as men were entering, portraying graphic scenes of unrighteous dominion.

    OW could have sat down in the street to block traffic, requiring the police to come and make arrests before the conference could continue on time.

    OW could have hidden people in the bathrooms of the conference center overnight and then flash mobbed the session.

    OW could have had a bikini sit-in to protest how a male leadership structure becomes oppressive of women’s bodies.

  6. So they weren’t protesting their exclusion from the Priesthood or priesthood session? Your definition strikes me as too convenient. For example, suffragettes didn’t protest voting, but exclusion from it.

    Just because it was peaceful and civil doesn’t mean it wasn’t a protest. (Listing a bunch if things that could’ve been worse? I don’t think anyone is saying they weren’t civil.) OW organized public gatherings during the Church’s most prominent public event to draw attention to something they consider unjust, and even invited the media to report on it. Pretending like this wasn’t a protest is part of the reason many people don’t trust OW. It makes them seem dishonest.

  7. OW opposes an all-male priesthood so, in contrast to your conclusion, by your definition of protest, you can easily say that they were protesting. The distinction that you try to draw is specious and, just because they could have “protested” in a more aggressive manner, doesn’t mean that what they did does not qualify as a protest.

    Whether or not protest is the correct way to describe their actions is really irrelevant though. They were asked by the Church leaders not to make another public spectacle and they did it regardless.

    Kate Kelly has deceptively described the notice of her upcoming church trial, stating that it was completely unexpected. This despite having received a letter from her stake president over a month prior asking her to disassociate herself from OW. Being deceptive to make herself look innocent, at the expense of the truth and at the expense of the church which she purports to support, indicates what kind of a person she is.

  8. Would it still have been a protest if they’d been admitted?

    I’ll grant that it was a protest in the broad sense of the term. I’m not sure “protest” accurately describes it for people who otherwise do not know what happened, since the term calls to mind sign-waving and chanting.

  9. I disagree and think this a biased view that gives every benefit of doubt to the OW movement and not the LDS church. But I wouldn’t expect anything less from the people blogging on this story.

  10. Kiskilili, if they really only wanted admission to priesthood session, why invite the media? Why go back the next time, with the media, after the Church already told them the answer would be no?

    Just call it what it is. These logical gymnastics to avoid the word “protest” just make OW look worse, not better, because it seems dishonest. They should just own it.

  11. If they were serious about watching the session they could have gone to any meetinghouse. It was just a stunt designed to embarrass the church.

  12. Zilly you got it right. It was a protest and OW is trying to force the hand of leaders to change the church and its doctrine so that it will become The Church of OW instead of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They were not “asking politely” as they were already told “no.” They love the church culture, not the church or its doctrine.I find the actions of OW and those who support what they did to be very short-sighted, narrow-minded (can only see what they want to see), and wise in the ways of world instead of truth. The attitude of OW remind me of Satan… if you are not going to give me what I want then I will get as many people as I can to support me and fight against your decision to deny my proposal. APOSTATE!

  13. This whole topic reminds me so much of the lost 116 pages. In that instance Joseph was pestered over and over again by Martin to be able to take a share the first 116 pages. The Lord said no several times, before finally telling Joseph it was his choice. We now are 116 pages less our sacred text because man tried to direct the things of God.

    The Prophet can ONLY priesthood to women if God commands it. It doesn’t matter how much people protest. It doesn’t matter if they don’t like the taste of manna. To question this is every persons divinely given right, but it the same thing as questioning whether this church is led by a man or by God. The church had to take stance on this, so that we as members would understand that it is not the Prophet’s decision, it is God’s. If you really feel strongly that the priesthood should be granted to women, pray and ask God for it. If it is his will, it will happen. But don’t tell him what his will is.

  14. So many of these were things suggested to OW by folks, but all turned down because the OW tone has always been respectful. Another thing that was suggested was that the group attend the session of conference when leaders are sustained, and then vote against the leaders. Every single OW person said “NO WAY, we support the leaders!”

  15. Revelations are always precipitated by something folks. If you don’t believe this, you haven’t read ANY church history at all. And, Gordon B Hinckley said in 1997 that women could be ordained, but there was no “agitation” for it – his word, not mine. Was President Hinckley an apostate???

  16. Name me some revelations that have come from protests and I’ll concede to you. The revelation “agitators” come from needs of the members, not formal protests. What is the difference betweening lobbying for this and lobbying for the return of polygamy?

  17. Every single OW person said “NO WAY, we support the leaders” Well, OW and those who are supporting their discention (sorry…) “inquiry”, do you or don’t you trust God’s chosen leaders have given you His answer:
    “No AND disassociate yourself for the OW group.”

  18. They love the church culture, not the church or its doctrine.

    I for one love the church’s doctrines but can’t stomach much of the culture surrounding it.

    As hard as it may seem to believe from where you stand, Sandra, some of those who organized the Priesthood action truly believed they would be allowed in.

    Certainly you can define the word “protest” broadly enough to include OW’s actions, i.e., sure, OW was in a space the church would prefer they weren’t, doing something the church would like them to not do. But I still think Ziff’s point stands. PR uses the word “protest” to evoke images of loud, disruptive crowd, doing any of the things Ziff suggests, and I think that’s a deliberate move to discredit OW. OW has preferred the word “action” for precisely this reason

    I’m not sure it matters that much whether we call it a “protest” or an “action,” in the end; I think it matters instead that the church will treat any dissenters as aggressive protesters regardless. Because we have no way to comprehend even the most civil dissent, we have to treat any expression of dissent, no matter how civil, as an aggressive, anti-authoritarian revolt.

  19. Sandra, Which of Gods chosen leaders have said the Prophet has asked the Lord if/when women can recieve the priesthood, and the answer was no? If you think Elder Oaks said that in his conference talk to the meeting the women were excluded from, perhaps you should read it; he doesn’t. If you are thinking the PR dept, are Gods chosen leaders, have you been asked to sustain them?

    OW before they did anything else asked to speak to Gods chosen leaders and were refused, having a spiritual conviction that if the Prophet were to ask God the answer would be yes, they had to find another way to communicate.

    Matt, You are on a site called Zelopehad’s daughters, they asked Moses to ask God if the law could be changed, it was.

    Do you remember how the word of wisdom revelation was precipitated?

    Did Joseph Smith go to the Lord asking which church he should join?

    For 25 years before the priesthood was extended to all worthy males, there were numerous people trying to get Gods chosen leaders to ask the Lord for approval to do that. Lowell Benion who was an institute director was one of these. Some were excommunicated.

    There was also agitation to end polygamy.

    All of these agitations were effective in changing how things were done, often after Gods chosen leaders, had given conference talks supporting the status quo, and in the vase of the priesthood even issued proclamations in 1949 and 1965.

    Do you concede? Most of these were at a time when members could communicate directly with Gods chosen leaders, now it is impossible to communicate, so if you had a spiritual conviction, you wanted Gods chosen leaders to confirm, how would you go about it?

  20. Various church entities have reiterated the status quo sort of in OW’s general direction, but no one claiming the role of prophet, seer, and revelator has said that they’ve asked God and God said no.

    “No AND disassociate yourself for the OW group.”

    Really? I didn’t see this press release! (Putting words in God’s mouth, are we?)

  21. If I were organizing a protest, and wanted it to have a real effect on the Church and the membership, I would stage it close to, if not exactly like, the way OW did it rather than anything listed in the OP. Why? Because I wouldn’t want to make myself look extreme and be easily written off. Rather I would be as passive and civil as possible so if there are actions against me, the Church might very well look like the bad guy, and would further persuade others toward my niche agenda.

    The people of OW are not ignorant nor stupid, their actions are / have been clearly calculated to best meet the self-interests of OW, imo.

    By pointing out more extreme ways to protest, the OP does nothing to show that what was done was not a protest, nor does it shed light on the underlying motivation / sincerity or lack thereof the OW movement.

  22. The people of OW are not ignorant nor stupid, their actions are / have been clearly calculated to best meet the self-interests of OW, imo.

    Well, yeah, OW is savvy. But you don’t need to make it sound quite so diabolical. I don’t think the OW leadership isn’t entirely cynical; they’re also believers who are trying to make their concerns known to a leadership that has inculcated themselves from any but public, visible action.

    What if we call it a “petition”? Could that chill everyone out?

  23. Donna,

    ” Another thing that was suggested was that the group attend the session of conference when leaders are sustained, and then vote against the leaders.”

    Who suggested that?

    “Gordon B Hinckley said in 1997 that women could be ordained…”

    No, he didn’t.

  24. God directs this church, not man. What is so hard to understand about that? Raising a question is fine. SHOWING UP TO PRIESTHOOD SESSION WITH A LARGE GROUP OF WOMEN WHEN THE CHURCH SPECIFICALLY ASKED THEM NOT TO IS NOT RESPECTING CHURCH LEADERS. Some are wolves in sheeps clothing, some are simply being deceived. The “philosophies of men, mingled with scripture” is Satan’s way of leading a group of people, remember? Trying to force changed to the way Christ himself has organized his church is apostasy. That’s all this really is. I’m sick of hearing about this. If God ever wants his priesthood to be given to women, he will command it, and I’ll be totally fine with that if that were to happen. But he hasn’t. And until then, people should stop claiming to support God’s chosen leaders while purposefully trying to bring bad publicity to the church by making Kate Kelly appear as a martyr. She brought this upon herself by not accepting the response that leaders have given to her “questions.” She only will only accept God’s answer if is what she wants to her.


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