World history is so full of brave women who have led the charge in the fight to make life better for their gender. Some of these feminist leaders have taken steady, patient approaches and worked within the current system to find ways to improve. They don’t make a big splash, but they contribute steady progress to equality. Some of these feminists have been bold leaders in more aggressive ways and there were a lot of people–men and women–who really hated them for it. But their broad, bold strokes have brought attention to the issues, and started conversations that led to progress.
This history applies to us. Ordain Women, Mormon Feminists, and the Church need to be aware of two things. One lesson is that there is a role that bold, unapologetic activism plays in any movement. We need it. Sometimes we need someone to rattle the cage, or throw open the gate. We also need more methodical and subtle approaches. We need those who will gently point out the problem to others who can’t see it. But, most especially, we need to stop treating either approach with derision.
The second lesson is that no one leader is the center of the story. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone say something like, “I like the idea of giving women the priesthood, but I don’t want to align myself with that Kate Kelly,” I’d at least be able to treat myself to dinner in a nice restaurant. Kate Kelly is a bold, unapologetic voice for Ordain Women and sometimes that rubs some people the wrong way. But she has most definitely played an important role in getting the issue on the table. Though we Mormons are drawn to charismatic leaders, we need to remember that the issues at hand are the center of this story, and not Kate Kelly. The story isn’t that one time she said a thing that you didn’t like. The story isn’t that you think she should or should not be doing interviews with the New York Times. The story isn’t that you don’t like her tone or even her glasses.
By the same token, the story also isn’t whether she is your hero. The story isn’t that you want your daughter to be just like her when she grows up. The story isn’t that you have a t-shirt with her face or catchphrase on it. History will, no doubt, look kindly upon Kate Kelly. But that is because she is a leader in a movement that is much bigger and more important than how anyone feels about her. In the long run, the movement for gender parity is the story.
And the story has a panoply of leaders, like Kate, who have shown courage and fortitude in standing for what they believe. Nadine McCombs Hansen wrote her first public piece about female ordination in 1980. After dealing with the disappointment of not being able to be a part of her daughters’ blessings, Kristy Money has been a public and vocal voice for equal participation for women. Tinesha Zandamela has publicly spoken out for women’s equality in the church, even though she is a current student at BYU and risks academic sanctions. These courageous sisters are just the tip of the iceberg.
Ordain Women is a coalition of supporters from across the spectrum. Some of us have quiet conversations with our ward and stake leaders about incremental changes that give women a greater voice and power in the church. Some of us take our megaphones to the internet and the media to raise awareness of the issue far and wide. Kate Kelly is not Ordain Women. We are Ordain Women. Kate Kelly is a person with feelings and shouldn’t be used as a prop. It also does a disservice to the incredible success of the movement to make it about a single, solitary individual. A single person can be easily disciplined or deified. A robust movement of women all around the world has the staying power we need to realize fundamental change. Ordain Women will be a stronger, healthier, more sustainable movement if gender justice is always the center of the story.
If you support ordaining women to the priesthood, please join us in the fight. If you don’t like the way it has been approached thus far, come tell us about it and work with us. Don’t let disagreement or dissonance with any one person or idea be your excuse for inaction. Come be a part of something bigger and more important. We need your approach and we need your voice. Let’s no longer leave the change we want to see to the most outspoken of the leaders, requiring them to pay the price while we stand by. Let’s liberate ourselves. We are the ones we have been waiting for.
Honoring our past,
Envisioning our future.