Her Ordain Women movement, at least in its earlier incarnation, can be said to raise issues worthy of discussion. But for a story about a woman just asking questions, I fear that many people are forgetting to ask some questions of their own.
This lack of questioning and the ready acceptance of a stance that plays well with the media and with our emotions, reminds me of another seemingly brave lone individual, Mike Daisey, who dared to stand up against another so-called bully, Foxconn, the gargantuan Asian company that makes most of Apple's products in massive factories in China. (My purpose in pointing to Daisey's story is to highlight the tendency of the media to not ask too many questions when they like the story and dislike the big entity being criticized. I am not suggesting that Kate is another Mike Daisey.)
Daisey became famous for telling and retelling a gripping story of his personal encounters with Foxconn in China in 2010 where he allegedly saw evidence of child labor and abuse of employees. His story was told dramatically in a theatrical performance he did for many audiences, "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs." This was a hit with the media. In 2012, he was interviewed in a lengthy program for NPR's popular This American Life, where he again told his story and levied many charges of abuse against Foxconn. That broadcast would become the most downloaded podcast in the rich history of This American Life so far. It resonated with audiences, pulled at their heartstrings, and confirmed many concerns they had about China and big companies.
The story was vetted by NPR's team before going on the air, but there was a little glitch in the process. The journalists there, like just about every Western journalist that repeated Daisey's story, failed to ask some basic questions. Questions like, "What, there are armed guards at Foxconn in China? I thought guns are completely banned in China except for the police and the army. How can there be armed guards?" Or perhaps, "Really? The poor local workers at Foxconn have their union meetings at Starbucks? That's an elite, expensive place in China. Are you sure?"
As far as I know, the first journalist who stood up to ask some tough questions of his own was an American in Shanghai, Robert Schmitz, an outstanding journalist that I met in 2012 after a lecture here in Shanghai where I live. He recognized that many parts of Daisey's story didn't fit reality, so he tracked down the translator Daisey had used and asked her what they saw and experienced. Turns out that much of what Daisey reported was made up. Schmitz did the work of a real journalist and let Ira Glass of NPR know. Embarrassed, Glass brought Daisey back on the show, and then introduced him to Schmitz, to asked tough questions live on the air. It was a devastating moment. Daisey's story did not fairly reflect reality, but was driven by an agenda and was shaped as the fruit of his craft. Even the true parts of it were crafted and spun to play upon our emotions and manipulate audiences into disliking Foxconn.
Craft. That's a word we don't consider very often when we are hearing stories we like in the media. But it's fair to recognize that some people have an agenda and a craft to pursue, and that craft and craftiness can be used to manipulate us, our emotions, and our reasoning. It is especially hard to ask these questions when what we are hearing confirms our own biases (and yes, this cuts both ways!). It is also hard when we are convinced that the source of a highly biased story is completely sincere, as Kate probably is. But craft can be a dangerous thing, even in the hands of sincere people. (The craft need not be hers or hers alone. It can also be particularly powerful in the hands of activists in the media or other parts of society who have an agenda to pursue and find Kate useful.)
The craft of lawyers, for example, can turn mere questions into a powerful tool to attack and destroy. A few minutes of cross-examination with suitable craft can discredit and shame some witnesses, even truthful ones, scoring far more points than a lengthy speech haranguing them.
The power of "mere questions" is illustrated in the scriptures. Questions were a tool of choice of the lawyerly Pharisees that opposed Christ. They were the tool of choice of the actual lawyers in Ammonihah that sought to discredit Alma and Amulek. "Will ye answer me a few questions which I shall ask you?" (Alma 11:21) was the opening query from a lawyer in a group of lawyers in Ammonihah that would be part of an unmistakable attack on the Nephite faith, hell-bent on destruction.
Alma and Amulek would eventually be freed from prison, but scores of believers would perish in the flames ignited by those once just posing questions (see Alma 14). For any lawyer to suggest there is no agenda, no attack, no malice involved because they are "just asking questions" is disingenuous. The questions don't have to be of the overt, "Are you still abusing children or not?" kind to be pointed attacks nonetheless. Kate may sincerely fail to see that what she is doing constitutes an attack on the Church and its leadership, but I feel it's a genuine attack nonetheless.
Lawyers can do a lot of good for the world, but at times, lawyers can spin coherent tales via questions, websites, rallies, and other teachings--yes, teachings--to achieve their objectives, sometimes at the cost of fairness. Lawyer Kate Kelly's story will be told and retold by sympathetic journalists without doing the digging and questioning that used to characterize journalism. While Kate can publicly criticize her bishop for not meeting with her, for not seeking to understand her, and for being cruel and abusive in how he handled her Church court, the bishop's side of the story is not going to be told. Bishops tend to keep those things confidential. We are only left with Kelly's words (see, for example, the video interview associated with an article at the Salt Lake Tribune). But her words raise some important questions.
Here are some questions that you may wish to ask:
- Kate, if you have tried to be supportive of the Church and Church leaders rather than opposing them, what do you mean when you ask your supporters still in the Church to "raise hell" in the Church?
- Kate, if you are pained that your actions would be viewed as apostasy because you aren't teaching any kind of doctrine or making statement contrary to Church policies, what do you think about Ordain Women's mission statement, which insists that "women must be ordained." That seems like more than just a question, but a bold statement directly contradicting Church teachings. Or does that somehow not qualify as a teaching, doctrine, or policy?
- Could you be overlooking some efforts of your Church leaders to meet with you or reach out to you in the past? Are you sure that it's fair to call them cruel and abusive?
Kate has said that almost no one in the Church is in the middle. She's either viewed as a hero or as the "devil incarnate." I think that fails to recognize how many people are open to discussion. There are many who might have been in the middle, at least initially, and interested in the dialog, though not with the current demands and accusations. Latter-day Saints generally recognize that we don't have all truth and that much remains to be revealed. We recognize that some things can change and change dramatically. We recognize that the LDS temple, which I believe to be inspired of God, makes reference to the future role of men and women in heaven as "priests and priestesses," with intriguing implications about Priesthood. But many of us also recognize that it is not for us to dictate what changes happen when, or what will be revealed and how. We are uncomfortable with the tactics of confrontation and accusation, even if initially dressed as merely asking questions. Some of us worry that behind the emotionally appealing media messages, there might be a bit too much craft.
Could this be another case of lawyers versus faith? That's one of the tough questions that we should at least be willing to consider as we look at the evidence and digest what's happening.
Kate, if you have been misunderstood, if you do have sincere intent to strengthen the Church and not fight against it or weaken the faith of others, and if your excommunication was in error, then I hope you will succeed in having your membership restored and being an active and supportive part of the Church in the future.
Yes, errors can happen in excommunication. I once took up the case of a woman I felt was excommunicated in error and guided her and testified in her behalf during her appeal, and we prevailed. It was a difficult case, a controversial one unfortunately, but I have often felt that standing up for her was one of the more important moments in my life. Church leaders can recognize error and listen, and if that is the case here, may the Lord bless all of you in resolving this matter. But at the risk of possibly sounding like her bishop, I'll add this: It would help allay my fears if Kate would retract or soften the in-your-face statements, tone down the accusations of abuse and cruelty against her bishop and the Church, and encourage her followers to build up the Kingdom of God rather than raise hell. There's just something about raising hell that I find inconsistent with what we're trying to do in the Church.
Before people reject the Church and its leaders because of the apparent injustice to Kate Kelly, I suggest asking whether there might be other ways of looking at this matter. A touch of additional faith and patience might help you keep that which is precious and find better ways to cope with that which may be painful.