Author’s Note: I wrote this post before Kate Kelly received a recent letter from her former Stake President, Scott M. Wheatley, outlining why he has chosen to deny her appeal of her excommunication. I believe Wheatley’s letter confirms the concerns I raised in the post. -April Young Bennett
April Young Bennett is a member of the Ordain Women board. She has a profile at Ordain Women.
I was driving about 60 miles per hour on a desert highway. It was dark and I didn’t notice when I passed through a rural town with a much lower speed limit. A police officer pulled me over and I apologized profusely. Speeding is dangerous! I should drive slowly through towns so I don’t hit people! He let me go without giving me a ticket, although I was clearly guilty of speeding.
On another occasion, I was riding my bike and stopped at an intersection at about the same time as a driver in a van. The driver waved me through and I continued across the street, only to be stopped by a police officer who accused me of running the stop sign. I hadn’t seen the officer when I stopped because he was on the other side of the van. I don’t think the officer could see me either, for the same reason. I defended my innocence and received a ticket.
Reflecting on these experiences, I wonder if a guilty but penitent person is less likely to be punished than a person who is innocent and therefore unrepentant. If it is human nature to trust your own judgement over the testimony of someone else, would an enforcer feel more kindly toward someone who confirms their perceptions over someone who challenges them?
In the end, I did not have to pay that ticket. An impartial traffic court judge ruled in my favor. In contrast, in LDS church disciplinary proceedings, the accuser is also the judge. Janice Allred, who was excommunicated by her bishop in 1995, related this conversation:
At my disciplinary council, I presented a long statement defending myself against the charge of apostasy, which I gave to the press and people attending the vigil. Later, a man in my ward, a lawyer who had participated in many disciplinary council proceedings, said to me, “Janice, you misunderstand the purpose of the church court. It is not about establishing guilt or innocence. They won’t hold a court unless they have already decided you’re guilty. The purpose of the court is to get you to repent, to understand the seriousness of what you’ve done, to understand the consequences of refusing to repent.” (Sunstone 2014 Salt Lake Symposium, Session 336)
If Allred’s friend is correct, wouldn’t a guilty, penitent person fare better than someone who doesn’t repent because they haven’t sinned?
Yesterday our sister, Kate Kelly, received a Supplemental Letter from her former Stake President, Scott Wheatley, detailing the reasoning behind denying the appeal of her excommunication. Ordain Women is sharing that letter here for two reasons: first, we want to show what the disciplinary process looks like for Kate and other women in the Church who have no access to authority; and second, we want to be clear that we wholeheartedly disagree with the characterization of Ordain Women that is being used.
Though President Wheatley claims “the process was fair” we could not disagree more. Once again, we must point out that Kate was tried and judged by her accuser and two other men (one of whom is not her sustained leader and had never even met her). He also assured Kate that the process has been “consistent with Church policy.” As only nine women in the Church are allowed to read the handbook that details this process—while more than 100,000 men, including Kate’s accusers have access to the handbook—Kate and millions of other women in the Church must simply take his word for that.
Questions of process and fairness must be left, largely, in the hands of the men who have been given authority, but the accusation of apostasy is not hidden from the women of the Church. The LDS Church defines apostasy as to “turn away from the principles of the gospel.” Kate’s actions as part of Ordain Women are an effort to participate more fully in the Church and partake more fully in the gospel. She has repeatedly expressed a desire to stay in, and operate as a full member of, the Church. She has asked her questions publicly, but always faithfully.
This is a painful experience that impacts Kate in the most personal way and she has been open and honest with her experience. We support that decision and stand with her as she shares each step of this process. Though she was not notified of when her appeal would be considered, thus denying us the chance to plan a fast to our Heavenly Parents on her behalf at the time of the council, we will continue to pray that the First Presidency will restore our sister to the body of the Church.
Debra Jenson, Chair, Ordain Women
Today I received this pro forma letter via email from Scott Wheatley, my former Stake President in the Oakton, Virginia Stake, informing me that my appeal at the stake level was denied.
This email was the first notification I received with any information regarding my appeal, despite repeated inquiries over a period of several months. I was not informed when the council would convene, nor given any details about the procedure at all. Thus, I was not adequately prepared or even given the opportunity specifically to fast and pray that the hearts of those on the council would be softened and for a positive result in my case.
The following men participated in the council to consider my appeal. I met the stake president in person twice before I moved, once with Bishop Mark Harrison and once with his counselor Ken Lee. I do not know any of the rest personally.
- Scott Wheatley
- Ken Lee
- Richard Hatch
- Mike Baird
- Mario Perez
- Jon Borrowman
- Greg Daines
- Troy Dow
- David Glenn
- Brad Keck
- Mike Neville
- John Voelkel
- Michael Snarr
- Scott Vanatter
- Joel White
President Wheatley was my initial accuser and initiated the excommunication process against me. Therefore the notice that my appeal to him was unsuccessful does not come as a shock. However, I will admit, it is tremendously disappointing to see it on paper.
As indicated in the notice of an unsuccessful appeal, it is now my right to appeal straight to the First Presidency of the Church, comprised of the Prophet Thomas S. Monson and his two counselors Henry B. Eyring and Dieter F. Uchtdorf.
I maintain to this day that I am not guilty of apostasy. I intend to pursue an appeal to the First Presidency of the Church and hope that they will be able to rectify this egregious error. I have love for the gospel and its people. I have encouraged others to stay inside the Church, if they are able. As provided for in the Church’s own appeals process, it is not too late for my leaders to declare my innocence and restore me to full fellowship.
I implore the First Presidency to find that I was erroneously excommunicated, dismiss with prejudice the case against me, and reinstate my church membership. I hope and pray they will have the wisdom and courage to do so, if not for my sake, for the sake of the thousands of women this disciplinary process has deeply hurt.
Kristy from OW’s Executive Board shares her thoughts and feelings on the new plural marriage essay:
I am pleased by the Church’s efforts toward greater transparency in the lds.org series of essays on difficult topics. The Church’s new essay on Kirtland and Nauvoo polygamy is welcome progress for women like me who have struggled with the issue of plural marriage and have been praying for more light and knowledge on women’s issues from our leaders.
When I married the love of my life in the Salt Lake Temple, I started to worry a lot about polygamy. I put myself in Emma’s shoes and wept when I imagined how I’d feel if my husband were marrying other women without my knowledge. I found myself seeing current policies I knew about but hadn’t thought of much: that a living man can be sealed for eternity to more than one woman, living (if civilly divorced) or dead (if she passed away before he did). However, a woman can only be sealed to one man. I clung to my husband in bed at night and prayed we’d die of old age together, so I wouldn’t have to share him with other women in eternity. Explanations from well-meaning family and friends that I’d be a better sharer in heaven because I’d be perfected only made me feel worse.
So today, reading the new essay on polygamy strengthened my faith in continual greater transparency from the Church on issues that affect women directly, and hopefully more conversations about them in church policies, past and present.
You can read the essay for yourself here, so I won’t summarize, but I will say it was interesting to read the essay’s speculation that perhaps other men’s wives wanted to marry Joseph because people died earlier in that time period, and so being sealed to someone with the priesthood was something they wanted to receive before they passed away. To me, this confirmed my desire for women’s ordination, because I have even heard similar thoughts from single women and women with non-member or inactive husbands today: that is, they worry about the effects of not being married to a priesthood holder. If women were ordained, they could use priesthood authority at home and eternity, whether single, divorced, or widowed.
The essay ends by confirming that men today are indeed sealed to more than one woman (through divorce or death) in line with Joseph’s teachings. I appreciate that the authors have faith that God will sort out these issues in the eternities. I have faith in our Heavenly Parents’ love and ability to make everything right in the next life as well. At the same time, since this life is the time to prepare to meet God (Alma 34:32), I yearn to know more about why living men can be sealed to more than one woman, but not vice versa. I yearn to know more about my Heavenly Parents’ relationship and how I can pattern my own marriage after Their example. I feel a deeper theology about women is much needed and I pray we will be ready to receive it when God, through the President of the Church or Quorum of the Twelve, reveals it.
To try and understand more about those who participated in the October priesthood session action, I surveyed participants online and received 76 responses. Survey participation is voluntary, so it is unclear how many women and male allies attended the priesthood session.
Generally speaking, who participated in the Ordain Women October Priesthood Session Action?
- Members of the LDS Church, who make up 95% of respondents
- People who attend church regularly, with 73% of respondents attending church regularly–just 8% report that they do not attend church
- Mostly young people, with 67% being age 40 or under
- Mostly women, but 15% are men
- Predominantly US residents, with 91% of respondents currently living in the US
Have participants experienced any difficulty with Church leaders as a result of supporting Ordain Women?
70% of respondents answered “No”
How did respondents participate in the event?
- 55% attended/attempted to attend the priesthood session at a ward or stake building
- 38% watched the session from home
What made respondents want to participate in this event?
The following are selected responses:
“I see myself as a prospective priesthood holder. I want to prepare for that responsibility and I want to show my local leaders and fellow Church members that I am sincere and ready to do the work.”
“I wanted to join with my fellow saints at the priesthood session and take the conversation to the community in which I live.”
“Well, I was taught in church growing up to have the courage to stand up for what you know is right, even if you stand alone.”
How did the participants feel about their participation?
71% of respondents rated their experience as “Positive” or “Very Positive”
Account from Colorado
I watched General Conference at my mother-in-law’s and debated whether to attend the priesthood session. An unexpected change of plans, however, made things more complicated. The prompting to attend was so strong–and it only intensified when I tried to ignore it–that I managed to arrange transportation, despite the complexity, and went to the session.
I arrived about 20 minutes late, so no one was in the foyer when I entered. I stepped into the chapel and was welcomed by the one other woman who attended and a bishop friendly to our hope for ordination. I enjoyed all the talks I heard, and I made sure to belt out the alto part during the congregational hymn. I was glad to get to listen to President Monson speak, and overall the session was a good experience.
After President Monson concluded his talk and the choir began singing the closing song, one of the ushers asked us to step outside with him to talk. I was a little uncomfortable, but I felt that as representatives of OW, we should show that we were reasonable and agreeable, so we went with him. He assured us we were totally welcome to attend any session but then asked us why we were there. He asked if we were trying to cause contention and if we knew we could watch it on the Internet. I told him that we had come to worship and hear the words of the prophet and that the feeling of conference was much different when you are in a room full of believers versus hanging out at home on the couch with your kids.
He bore his testimony that President Monson was a prophet and that he received the direction needed to run the Church. He also bore testimony of the appropriateness of an all-male priesthood. He asserted that it wasn’t exclusionary but reflected the belief that men and women have different roles. Another usher joined him. They both told us they had daughters and that they loved serving in the Church. They explained to us that we could get to the Celestial Kingdom without the priesthood, and wondered why we worried about it. They concluded by telling us that we should ask our bishops about these things, because they had the keys necessary to deal with members’ questions.
Before we left, they also asked us about our callings in the Church and whether we were part of OW. We were honest with them and said we were. They then asked which stakes and wards we attended. I told them, but I kind of regret doing so …
As we left the building and headed out to the parking lot, the friendly bishop we’d met inside caught up with us and assured us that we had done nothing wrong. He wanted to make sure we were okay after our experience. The other woman was more shaken than I was and a bit teary. The bishop asked if we needed anything. We said, “No,” but I was super grateful for a male ally after what felt like an interrogation.
Reflections from Los Angeles:
Traci from Nevada
Dressed in purple, my husband and I headed out to meet an OW supporter for dinner before the priesthood session started. To our surprise, he brought his 11- year-old daughter with him. I was overjoyed and wished that we had brought our daughter too. We had a lovely time talking and getting to know each other. As we left to head over to the church, we came upon our car and a very flat tire. We hitched a ride with the friend we had just met.
The parking lot at the church was pretty full. I wasn’t expecting that. As we walked in, I noticed a few other men wearing purple. Soon I was greeted with a very warm smile and a handshake. All I could think was, “This is so wonderful. I’m being welcomed with open arms.” Not so. The handshake turned into a hand on my back pulling me in closer to a man who happened to be a counselor in the stake presidency. He said, “Oh, honey, this is a meeting just for the boys.” I pulled away from him, and I said, “Yes, I am well aware of that. However, I’d like to hear what’s said today too.” He then said, “Uh, well, um …” I didn’t wait for him to finish. I walked by him with my husband and friends and took my seat.
A participant from Oregon
I had a lot of anxiety leading up to Priesthood Session.
We had a gentleman who greeted us in the hall and seemed genuinely confused at our attendance. He thought we were there to be disruptive. Another gentleman seemed more inclined to “put us in our place” and preach to us, but we were able … eventually [to]take our seats. If anyone else paid any attention to us, it was not obvious.
I felt the Spirit envelop me at the meeting. I heard the speakers talking to me. I felt like I did at Zone Conferences on my mission. I knew I was in the right place but did feel the sting of powerlessness in my community. I may have equal spiritual power, equal understanding of the scriptures, and equal love from my God, but my voice is not equal to my brethren.
An Ordain Women supporter from Canada
I have a wonderful husband who completely supports me and watched the session by my side.
Debra’s Reflections from Ogden
I was 12 years old when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints built a new stake center in my area. I had just started attending LDS services, and I was moderately interested in what this new building would mean. Over the years, I enjoyed countless firesides, seminary socials, Young Women activities, and more in that place. Eventually, I moved away and got married. Two years later, my husband and I bought a house in the same stake I had grown up in, and the stake center became my ward building as well. For more than 15 years, I spent more time in that building—for callings and activities and regular Sunday worship—than anywhere else except my own home. But there was always one meeting I was never allowed to attend: the General Priesthood Session. And from the age of 12, the reasoning behind it had bothered me. But I prayed about it, and I was patient. Then, on October 4, 2014, I was determined to walk through those doors so I could hear the words of the general authorities to current and prospective priesthood holders. I fasted the whole day and prayed continually leading up to that 20-yard trip to the front entrance. It was not an easy walk. I had to pass the disapproving looks of some members of the stake high council, and I was met with a reproachful message from women in my stake (some of whom I have known for 25 years). But that walk was worth it.
The messages of this meeting were addressed to “brethren,” but they resonated with my soul and touched my heart more than any words I had heard in the General Women’s Meeting. When Elder Cook discussed the importance of decisions we make today to reach goals tomorrow, and he included a focus on college and careers, I thought of how my daughters would not hear that counsel in the women’s meeting. When President Eyring tearfully described his preparatory experiences as an Aaronic Priesthood holder, I realized that my son would have these same opportunities to serve, but his sisters would not.
But most notable for me, though many people might not have felt it, was the stark contrast in tone at this meeting compared to the General Women’s Meeting. The mutual respect between the speakers and the audience was clear, and it was built on common experiences and shared responsibilities. The admiration given to the men and boys in attendance felt genuine: There was praise, but no pedestal.
Though the messages were not meant for me, they were meaningful to me. Though my leaders spoke to the brethren, I felt spoken to. And though attending that meeting may have cost me everything—including fellowship I have cherished for decades—the Spirit I gained from that meeting gave me comfort and strength that will see me through.
For the first time in years, I feel more optimistic for the blessings that may be shared, and I feel more prepared for the duties that I pray will come. This is the meeting for me, because I believe that women will be ordained.
Mark’s Reflections from Provo
Before heading down to Provo for the local General Priesthood Session action, I stopped in Centerville to pick up an Ordain Women Supporter from Montreal, Canada, who was the first active, full-time LDS missionary to submit a profile to Ordain Women. She just recently returned from her mission to Madagascar and was in Utah visiting family. She had requested a ride, so that she could publicly demonstrate her support for the ordination of women. As we drove, she told me stories of her adventures in Madagascar–of her efforts to implement programs to better the lives of the people–and she explained how gender inequality damaged the lives of the women she worked with during her mission. Listening to her talk, I could tell that I was listening to a person of exceptional courage and commitment. We drove on to American Fork, where we picked up three more Ordain Women supporters, one of whom was the organizer of our local group. She worked tirelessly to put our Utah/Salt Lake County group together for this action. The plan was to hold a short devotional in front of the Marriott Center at BYU and then enter the building to watch the broadcast of the General Priesthood Session. She is a wonderful leader. She has a very Mormon demeanor, and is one of the toughest people I know. She has sacrificed a great deal for her commitment to equality and to the ordination of women in the Mormon Church.
We pulled into the Marriott Center parking lot at 5:00 p.m., just as the press began to arrive. We quickly gathered and casually conversed with OW supporters and reporters, as we waited for the time to start our short devotional. At approximately 5:35 p.m., we began. A male OW supporter lead us in singing “Do What is Right.” Another spoke and gave us words of encouragement. He pointed out that our local group had more than twice the number of people who attended the organizing meeting of the Church in 1830. A female OW supporter said a prayer for success, and we were on our way.
The group headed toward the Marriott Center doors, where a female usher and her husband greeted us. Our spokeswoman told her she was sure they knew who we were. She replied, “Yes,” and asked if we knew that the General Priesthood Session was available online. Our spokeswoman explained that we knew but that it was important that women be allowed to attend in person. The back and forth had a ring of familiarity from our prior actions on Temple Square. I was sure that, once again, the women of OW were being turned away. I was surprised to hear her say: “We will not stop you.” Our spokeswoman gave her a big hug, and into the Marriott Center we went.
My seat turned out to be just behind an OW leader from Boston and her baby daughter, who, at 2 months old, was the youngest Ordain Women supporter in attendance. A few more supporters arrived, making twenty-one supporters in all. For the most part, the men attending the meeting were polite. We watched the talks, sang “We Thank Thee Oh God for a Prophet,” and rejoiced in the thought that women had been allowed to openly attend the General Priesthood Session of conference at Brigham Young University.After the meeting, we drove to an OW supporter’s home for ice cream and cake. We were all euphoric after our experience. For me personally, this was my most spiritual priesthood meeting experience. I felt the warm embrace of our Heavenly Parents, who let me know that Ordain Women is making a positive difference in Their Church.
An Ordain Women supporter from Utah
I participated in the last April [Ordain Women] action by proxy card. I have not “gone public.” … So even though I considered it, I did not go to the Marriott Center today.
…I was troubled and depressed throughout the day about women and the priesthood. … I prayed several times … asking that the male leaders’ hearts would be softened. I checked media frequently to try to find out if the women had gained admittance to the priesthood session. I was overjoyed at 7:30 pm when I saw the photos in the Salt Lake Tribune [of] the very first woman to gain admittance to the Marriott Center priesthood session! [She was being hugged by a LDS woman who had been asked to be an usher] in anticipation of women trying to get in.
…To me, the photo symbolizes the union of these two kinds of faithful LDS sisters—the older, traditional, unquestioningly obedient woman, hugging and warmly welcoming the younger, feminist-and-faithful sister to a priesthood meeting! I want to print this photo and hang it on the wall! I acutely feel the historicity of this moment …
Eve from Arizona
As we approached the door, two men were standing on either side and one said that the session was available on TV. We were encouraged to watch it at home. I said, “It’s my understanding that it’s also available for us to watch here, and we’d like to attend at the building.” He basically said he guessed that was okay and opened the door for us.
We sat about 3/4 of the way up in the chapel. A man, who turned out to be a counselor in the stake presidency, came down from the stand and asked our names. He also asked about another woman he thought was going to attend. He told me we were welcome there and went back to his seat.
The session was uneventful. Afterward several men shook our hands and said they were glad we were there. One introduced himself as a bishop of one of the wards. A counselor in the stake presidency spoke with us for a few minutes, and we shared why we had attended. He told us he could tell that we were nice women with testimonies and encouraged me to talk about my concerns with my bishop. Then we left.
Reflections on the October, 2014, Ordain Women Priesthood Session Action
On Saturday, October 4, 2014, Mormon women throughout the world gathered as individuals and in groups at their local stake centers to attend the broadcast of the LDS General Priesthood Session. Some were admitted. Others were not. This week we will post the first-hand stories and experiences of women who in various ways participated in the Ordain Woman priesthood session action. We will begin with Roswell, Georgia (an Atlanta suburb):
Joanna Wallace writes from Georgia
My bishop and stake president have been very understanding and loving toward me from the day I moved here. I’ve been open and honest with them about my support of Ordain Women, and they expressed their desire that everyone, “Listen more, judge less and love more.” Their words have been my mantra—a constant reminder to see things from both sides.
The week before conference, my bishop stood up in Sacrament Meeting to make a special announcement. “If anyone not invited to attend priesthood session is still planning on attending, please see me.” I debated for an hour before I decided to text my bishop. I wrote, “Sounds like we need to talk. I am planning on reverently and respectfully attending priesthood session on Saturday.” I was in his office less then 15 minutes later.
I was told that I would not be turned away but the stake president asked him to remind me that I was not invited. “This is a meeting for the men and boys,” he said. I smiled and responded, “Bishop, you know me. I will be there.” He smiled and told me he’d been praying for me all week and wanted to propose a solution. He was worried that, though I might still be let in at the stake center, I would just be tolerated. He didn’t want me listening to the words of our leaders in such an environment, “… because tolerated is a lot different then welcomed.” He invited me to attend with him at the local ward building. He offered to pick me up so that everyone knew I was there as his guest. He even texted me later in the week to let me know that the Elders Quorum usually planned an ice cream social beforehand. He wanted to move the time up so we could participate in that as well.
Later in the week, when I received a few texts from my bishop asking to meet with me as soon as possible, I knew it was too good to be true. We met that afternoon, and I was told that the stake president was not comfortable with the bishop’s offer. Instead, they both offered to watch the priesthood session with me, at my home or theirs, and said I could invite anyone I’d like. We could watch it together. I politely declined. I explained that I respected their views, but I didn’t feel it was appropriate to worship hidden in a closet or somehow ashamed of my faith. I told them I didn’t want to disobey them, so I would attend at another stake building. “No,” he said, “that seems like the least desirable option. You can come to the stake center or ward building. We’ll leave the decision up to you, but please let us know what you decide.”
I texted my Bishop Saturday morning and told him I was planning on going to the stake center that night. His response was beautiful: “Okay. Whatever the results, you’re in my thoughts and prayers. I love conference weekend and hope … that you have a great conference weekend too. If you need a change of scenery, we’d love to have you join us at our place for any of the sessions.”
Last night, I put on my Sunday best and went to my local stake center with other faithful LDS women. We watched a short Ordain Women video and then prayed before entering. The sign on the building said, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Visitors Welcome.” The stake president was pacing the halls as we opened the door. “You are not invited here,” he told us. He then explained that he’d asked his priesthood leaders if we could attend, and they said, “No.” He told us he hoped someday we could watch the session together as brothers and sisters in Christ and that he would be thankful for that day, but “only after his leaders tell him that it is okay.” He then suggested we watch the priesthood session at home or online. He told me he loved me, but he turned me away. The kind, Christlike man I’d come to trust seemed nervous and scripted. I walked away feeling that trust betrayed and mourning its loss. I can’t shake the feeling that at that moment my stake president chose obedience over integrity.
Despite this experience, I will try to remember the multiple personal answers to prayers I received leading up to attending this event. I will remember the spiritual confirmation I had when writing my Ordain Women profile. I will remember the advice I received from past temple matrons who told me that the Lord has too much work to be done in the Kingdom to have only half of his saints administering it. Though my leaders are human and make mistakes, I will love them and try to have faith in them. I will pray for continued understanding that everyone is at a different point on this journey and that this is the plan my Heavenly Parents have for me.
Kristy Money writes from Georgia:
Three Ordain Women leaders prayed together under a stake center’s parking lot lamp on Georgia’s coldest night of the season–two of us on the Executive Board. My hands, clasped in supplication, were shivering. For inspiration, we watched Ordain Women’s newest video, hearing our own voices along with Elder Ballard’s lovely counsel and the melody to “As Sisters in Zion.” I was ready to walk into the Roswell stake’s priesthood session with my sisters. Joanna’s stake president was waiting for us. We each shook his hand and introduced ourselves. Joanna began speaking to her long-time family friend,
“Hi President. We are here to attend the priesthood session.” He responded,
“I knew what you were going to say before you arrived, just as I’m sure it will be no surprise to you what I’m about to say, that this session is for men and boys only. You are not invited to this meeting. But you are free to watch it online or in your homes.” Joanna respectfully and enthusiastically replied:
“Yes, but we want to attend this session, here. Women all over the country are being admitted into chapels, even at BYU’s Marriott Center. If even BYU, a church-owned school, won’t stop women from going inside, we can come in here.”
“I’m sorry, but I was directed not to. I even brought it up the line, but the answer was still no.”
I followed up, “Excuse me, but can you tell me what you meant by ‘brought it up the line?’”
“I mean I asked my priesthood leaders. Even I have priesthood leaders, just as you have priesthood leaders: I’m Joanna’s stake president and I need to lead and guide her as Christ would, and this is what those who speak in behalf of our Savior have directed that we do. It is important that we all obey, even when we don’t understand.”
I kept close track of Joanna’s responses, because if she didn’t say something, I would. But Joanna did what I would have: she didn’t back down. She said,
“I read the letter from your leaders. It was published in the Salt Lake Tribune. It said we could be admitted. I feel this is very un-Christlike behavior to forbid women from coming in to listen to conference. If He were here, He would let us in. I know it.” She started to cry when she mentioned the Savior. I put my arm around her shoulder.
“Well, who knows what might happen in the future. Maybe someday women will be allowed to watch the session with the men and boys, and when that day happens, I will rejoice with you and sit down with you to watch it in this very building. But that day is not tonight. And in the meantime, we need to follow the counsel of our leaders and be patient.”
“He [the Savior] already does want us in that room.” Through the tears, her voice remained strong and steadfast.
“I’m sorry I cannot give you what you want tonight. I know how much it means to you, Joanna. And I don’t know you two (gesturing at Bryndis and me) but I can see how much you want this as well, and I would urge you to be patient. Where are you traveling from?”
“Georgia.” Bryndis replied shortly and sweetly with her melodic Southern accent. I smiled, and I also replied, “Me too. I drove almost 2 hours.”
Bryndis clarified, “Just to be sure I heard you correctly, you’re saying you won’t let us in, even though this meeting is being broadcast everywhere, and you know women are being let in around the world?”
“Yes, and I’m sorry you’ve traveled so far tonight and that I can’t give you what you want. I wish you the very best.”
“Well, we disagree with you, but we can disagree and still be respectful to each other.”
“Yes, that’s true, and I’m so glad I got to meet you two ladies, and to see Joanna again. She is such a strong spirit and a strength to our ward. I really appreciate her testimony.” He then held the door open for us to leave, adding, “Please drive safely tonight!”
The uncommonly cold air shocked me into reality. I left Athens at 6pm. We entered the building at 7:57pm. We spent 5 minutes trying with every piece of information and heartfelt desires we had. But still, the answer was no. While Joanna and I organized this action worldwide, we knew there would be risks, and that some women might not be admitted. But the idealist in me was hoping for 100% success among our supporters. We needed some sunshine after such a rough six months. And all three of us were thrilled to see updates from our sisters getting into the session all over the world—our friends Abby, Cally, Steffi, Shannon, Debra, Chelsea, Hannah—all were eventually welcomed in.
“You know, we’re in good company tonight,” Bryndis observed. “Joseph and Mary were turned away from the inn, too.”
My thoughts turned again to Mary on the long drive home, after whom I named my second daughter. As I held her for her baby blessing (our story is referenced here), my husband blessed that she would have courage like her namesake, who brought the Savior into the world in spite of being rejected and misunderstood by her community. I realized that night I was truly blessed to be surrounded by such courageous women here in Georgia. And so many women I knew also bravely asked their leaders, most of whom were granted the desires of their hearts to attend with their husbands, fathers, and sons. And so, I will continue to be strong for my daughters and rely on the Spirit. Like Mary in Bethlehem. And Joanna and Bryndis in Georgia.
Bryndis Roberts in Georgia
This weekend has been a roller coaster of feelings and emotions. I am so excited that members and supporters of Ordain Women were able to attend the Priesthood meeting/session in so many areas. I am devastated that Joanna and Kristy and I were turned away from the Roswell Stake Building. When I decided to participate in this action, I knew that there might be men in the meeting who did not want us there. I also knew that there was a chance we would not be able to gain entrance into the Priesthood meeting. I just never really expected that three faithful sisters seeking to enter the House of God to hear present-day revelations from God would be told that we were not invited to the meeting and would be turned away at the door. When we parked our cars in a corner of the parking lot so we could find each other, watched the Ordain Women video, joined hands to pray to Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, and walked through the cold and dark Georgia night, I clung to the belief that our attendance would be at least tolerated. Alas, it was not to be! My heart aches at receiving additional evidence that the Church I love does not feel the same way about me. My heart aches for my dear sister and friend, Kristy, who drove almost two hours one way to be told, in essence, that there was no place for her at the meeting. My heart aches even more for my dear sister and friend, Joanna, who was turned away by a Priesthood leader she loved and and trusted. Tonight, I will cry to soothe the aching in my heart. Tomorrow, I will join hands with my sisters and brothers to continue the fight.