If you're a Mormon, your Facebook feed has probably seen a flurry of activity regarding the news of disciplinary councils to take place in the near future for several high-profile members of the Church, including Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women.
Let me be up front about my biases. I am a liberal-leaning Mormon. I am a feminist. Many church members do not see things my way, and I accept that. Disagree with me? I'm cool with that. Disagree with Ordain Women? I'm okay with that too. In fact, though I share the broader goal of greater opportunities and authority for women, I'm not part of the Ordain Women movement, and I am uncomfortable with some of their tactics.
But I have been wringing my hands over some of the blog posts, Facebook posts and other comments that members of my church are writing. I'm generally in favor of clear, reasonable dialogue between people with different viewpoints — dialogue that includes disagreement. But so much of what I see is not dialogue. It's as if we've forgotten the ground rules for discussing a disagreement: Attempt to understand what the other person is saying. Lay out your arguments cleanly. Look for common ground. Respectfully state your convictions. Don't misrepresent the viewpoints of those you disagree with.
Some writers are mixing their well-thought-out positions and heartfelt expressions of faith with totally inappropriate misrepresentations and exaggerations of the viewpoints with which they disagree. The author of one popular blog post beautifully describes her faith in God, her testimony that He has a plan for her, and her belief that God's plan does not include priesthood for women at the present time. She is able to articulate her views on the complementary roles of women and men in a way that resonates with a lot of people. I respect that. I think that feminists need to listen more closely to people like her and try to empathize with feelings like hers, even when we don't agree on every point. But in the same post, she claims that those who seek female ordination are accusing God of oppressing women (they're not), and she uses the word "whining" to describe what I believe are sincere expressions of real feelings held by real people. By obscuring what Mormon feminists actually believe, she misses an opportunity for real conversation. Instead, she paints a caricature of those she disagrees with, using her words to further polarize the members of the Church.
Divisive words are not, of course, the exclusive domain of conservative Mormon bloggers: I see them coming from liberal feminists as much as from anyone else. But I also see members of the Church who come from various perspectives writing thoughtful pieces that attempt to move us toward healing and understanding. We need more of that. As a people, we are prolific bloggers, and we can use our talents to write for peace.
And peace is sorely needed. Many of the feminists who have been described as "whining" are, in fact, heartbroken over recent events. People close to me are wondering whether there is a place for them in the Church anymore. People who have been clinging to thin testimonies are losing their last little bit of will to hang on. People feel alienated and afraid. Some of these men and women are "less active," and some are very active. Most have donated tithing money and countless service hours to the Church, many have gone on missions, held demanding callings, and raised faithful families. They are hurting right now. And even if you think they're dead wrong, even if you think they're sinners, even if you don't want to empathize with them or try to understand their point of view, now is not the time to use language as a weapon or a wedge.
I don't know how we are going to bridge the divide between Mormons who are "conservative" and those who are "liberal," between orthodox and heterodox, or feminist and traditionalist. I am worried that the feeling of "us vs. them" is growing, when we so desperately need to be unified in love and faith. Perhaps church spokeswoman Ally Isom's words are appropriate here:
The church is a family made up of millions of individuals with diverse backgrounds and opinions. There is room for questions and we welcome sincere conversations.If we are really going to have sincere conversations with each other, we have to do better. We must say, "Enough," to the sarcasm, smugness, and meanness that we see in all ideological corners of our community. We can be bold about stating our beliefs, but we can do so with respect. We can pray for inspiration and for charity. We can approach each topic with humility; we can be open to new insights. We can frankly disagree with each other, but in so doing we can attempt to see all sides of the issue more clearly. Rather than repeating the sentiment, "I just don't see how anyone can think that [fill in the blank]," we can try to understand the reasons why someone might hold that view.
We can be instruments of peace by seeking first to understand, then to be understood. At the very least, we have to try.