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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.