Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Kate Kelly, Ordain Women, and Foxconn: The Importance of Asking Questions

Kate Kelly's story as presented in the media is a compelling one, stirring and resonating with the emotions of many. A lone woman stands up to a big male-dominated organization, daring to prod and just ask questions, for which she is cruelly punished by being excommunicated from the Church she loves. Indeed, this brave woman is apparently treated so poorly as she is tossed out that the only words she can use to describe the actions of her bishop and others is "abuse" and "cruelty." How dare they excommunicate her for "apostasy" when she has not been teaching any doctrine, just asking questions?

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:
  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
I was hopeful that Kate Kelly would take a more respectful and moderate approach in her influential efforts. I am more than merely pained to see her urging her followers inside the Church to "raise hell" from within. I am worried that a lot of people are letting their emotions get the better of them and not asking a few questions of their own now about Kate's agenda and the spinning of her arguments about the Church.

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.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very well said. From my point of view, it would be difficult for a lawyer to ever "just ask a question", given the vocation.

Jared said...

I think the words of James E. Faust from Oct 1989 General Conference apply to this discussion.


"I do not believe members of this church can be in full harmony with the Savior without sustaining his living prophet on the earth, the President of the Church. If we do not sustain the living prophet, whoever he may be, we die spiritually. Ironically, some have died spiritually by exclusively following prophets who have long been dead. Others equivocate in their support of living prophets, trying to lift themselves up by putting down the living prophets, however subtly."

Quantumleap42 said...

I don't think that there is much else that can be said on the matter that already hasn't been said. Whenever I read about cases like this where someone (it really seems to be mostly lawyers recently) is insisting that the Church should do something, be it ordain women, teach "the correct history of the church", or stop doing whatever they currently object to, I find that those that insist that the Church needs to change are so immersed in their current societal or political paradigm that they can't understand that God and His kingdom operate in a fundamentally different way.

We are only beginning to understand the fundamentals of the kingdom and to insist that we know how things should be at this stage of our development is rather presumptuous.

Imagine trying to explain to an ancient Roman, Greek or Chinese how the internet works and what it on it (and the social and political conditions that make it possible, there is a reason why Silicon Valley isn't in Somalia). There is an incredible amount of scientific knowledge, social acumen and culture traits that allow for something like the internet. It seems obvious to us because we are immersed in that culture but it would be very difficult to explain our society to just about anyone from an ancient culture.

So if you imagine that "distance" or difference in understanding, from ancient Athens to us. Now multiply that distance of understanding by a very large number and you are approaching the distance in understanding, culture, morals, organization and comprehension between us and God. And they what to tell God how to run His kingdom? We don't know enough to do that.

Brandon said...

There is something very meta about encouraging others to ask questions of the lawyers, who are asking questions of church leaders, who are asking God for instructions. :)

That aside, thanks for sharing a new perspective on the KK episode.

symphonyofdissent said...

Great article. As a lawyer in training, I constantly have to remind myself the the cynicism and the skills of the trade should not be imported directly into the church, but instead must be refined by the spirit of God to be fit for the kingdom. Mrs. Kelley has obviously forgotten to do that.

Jeff G said...

-is the present king of France bald?
-are you still beating your wife?
-should the church continue to alienate women?

All such innocent questions.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Symphony of dissent writes, "As a lawyer in training, I constantly have to remind myself th[at] the cynicism and the skills of the trade should not be imported directly into the church."

But the "skills of the trade" have been imported into the Church. Heck, they've been part of Mormon discourse ever since the inauguration of Mormon apologetics in the publication of testimonies of the eleven witnesses.

One sees the "skills of the trade" on display in any number of other apologetic exercises, including probably hundreds of Jeff's posts, and maybe that's not such a bad thing. Maybe those lawyerly skills (and the adversial system of which they are a part) are actually a good way to get at the truth. We'd all like to think that the pursuit of truth ought to be a collegial effort of sober, disinterested, good-hearted folks (folks like us, of course, not like them). But in practice that doesn't seem to work as well as a more adversarial system.

We all know the downsides of an adversarial system (as Bob Dylan wrote about the Ruben Carter case, "I couldn't help but feel ashamed / to live in a land where justice is a game"). But that system has an upside as well: it channels the passions into productive activity. It energizes debate. It brings all the human passions into play. All of our loves and hatreds, our competitiveness and greed, all of our human self-interest, and all of our strongest spiritual commitments serve to motivate us to work much harder than we otherwise would to make sure that nothing favorable to our cause is ignored. When the other side does the same, the result is a much more thorough examination of the question under dispute.

This motivating power is not unlike that which drives capitalism, a system which, despite its evident flaws, no one on this blog seems disposed to lament. Yet here on Mormanity I keep seeing this utopian longing for the search for truth to become some warm and fuzzy version of communism.

So to Kate Kelly and the Church (and to Daniel Peterson and Sandra Tanner and the legions they represent) I say, "Have at it!" And to Jeff (a lawyer by disposition if not be training) I say this: accusing one's opponents of playing "a lawyer's game, not that of a seeker for truth" is itself a lawyer's game.

And yes, I think a little more vigorous, lawyerly dissent would be a good thing even within the Church. Would it not have been a good thing had there been a little more tolerance of open dissent, a little less respect for ecclesial authority, prior to Mountain Meadows? Would it not have been a good thing for a little less collegial tolerance of the racist and anti-Catholic publications of Bruce McConkie?

Quantumleap42 said...

When I first read this post my first thought was, "I wonder how many comments it will take before someone accuses Jeff of sophistry." Well now we know. It took 7 comments. I didn't expect the charge of communism though, that was a new one.

There is a general rule that when ever someone points out that someone else is participating in sophistry then there will always be someone who responds that everyone participates in sophistry. It is simply a manifestation of something fundamental in human nature I guess. To a thief, everyone is a thief. To the greedy, everyone is greedy. To the kind, everyone is kind. To the sophists, everyone is a sophist.

Orbiting Kolob said...

Quantum, you seem to be equating the marketplace of ideas with sophism. But it's not. I'm not accusing Jeff of sophistry; I'm suggesting he underestimates the value of vigorous dissent, even within an organization like the Church. Nor did I accuse Jeff of communism; rather I made an analogy: the marketplace of ideas is to capitalism as the "follow the prophet" model is to communism (even if only the communism of the United Order).

Anyway, the danger of the "follow the leader" model is a kind of groupthink that has led the Church astray in ways sometimes tragic (MMM) and sometimes merely embarrassing (BRM). To endorse one model of truth-seeking over the other does not make one a sophist. (Need I add that ad hominem attacks are sophistical?)

Anonymous said...

I'm a lawyer and judge and, for a while, a judge in Israel. It's tough getting the truth without a bunch of adverbs and adjectives being thrown in for good measure.
IDIAT

Rusty Southwick said...

I noticed that Orbiting Kolob left out one salient point (whether intentionally or not) — that a) if there is a God and b) if that God does speak to His prophets and c) that authority does reside in the LDS church, then everything else is a moot point. In reference to church doctrine, such arguments only work if this is not the true gospel. So what's really in dispute here is the divine authority of the LDS church. This is thus reduced to no more than a theological argument under the guise of a legal one.

Jeff Lindsay said...

Questions need to be asked sometimes, including within the Church. That's a fair point. May all our questions be sincere ones in search of answers, not devious ones in search of blood.

Anonymous said...

Jeff- That last comment is genuinely offensive if it's meant to further undermine a sincere woman who just had her membership wrenched from her.

If anyone was devious it was the brethren who hid behind the PA dept and local leaders pulling strings with passive-aggressive glee threatening and hurting nearly a dozen members.

I think this is the lowest I've seen you go. You should be as genuine as Kate Kelly, John Dehlin, Rock Waterman and some of the others being bullied from SLC.

Om said...

Should we not (metaphorically) go for blood though?

The church was once wrong about black priesthood--perhaps we should research some of the rhetoric surrounding that case. Pre-black priesthood, the rhetoric was very strongly worded as "this is the church's law".

What if Kate's on to something, and the truth is triggered by "raising hell"?

I am certain, after reading many a Brigham Young Journal of Discourse entry, that "raising hell" was a Mormon trait at some point in its history.

Anonymous said...

Women are told they will be priestesses to their husbands, not to God. Any thoughts as to why that is?

Jeff Lindsay said...

Anon @ 5:02 PM. There's no need to take my comment so offensively, though I'm sure the whole post will be offensive to some. The hope that questions will be asked in search of truth rather than as a concealed weapon for attack was responding to Orbiting Kolob's call for more questioning, though it's also a reasonable wish for all those who dissent. Yes, questioning can be healthy, when the intent is real. But questions can insincere and designed to hurt, as illustrated in the original post (e.g., the scene at Ammonihah). That said, I am skeptical of the intent and tactics behind recent events by some highly praised dissidents. Asking questions about their intent is fair and hoping that it is genuine need not be offensive. Wasn't meant to be, anyway. Sorry that it came across so poorly!

Illuminated said...

Right on, Jeff.

I see this subterfuge tactic used so often by people who are really interested in bringing down the church, it's boggling how many good Mormons fall for it.

One good example of someone using this tactic is Bridget Jack Jeffries. She recently responded to the Kate Kelly excommunication in an Op-Ed on the SL Tribune: http://tinyurl.com/nf968ps

I pointed it out once to her on her blog, that she was being insincere in her "question asking" and I was quickly banned. You often find with these people that as soon as someone points out what their motives truly are, they will quickly run and hide from the accusation. Like Zeezrom, the metaphorical "cat" has to be firmly in the "bag" for their credibility to remain intact.

Listening to the Spirit will help you quickly discern between sincere questions and people who simply want to grind an axe.

Jeremiah said...

According to Lawyer Oaks, there is a "divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood." Decreed when and by whom? What is he talking about? At best, one can make an argument from silence, that because the scriptures don't explicitly say that women can be ordained to offices in the priesthood, they cannot. Kate Kelly, whatever her intent, is asking for more than an argument from silence. Because banning Africans from holding the priesthood turned out to be some sort of big misunderstanding (according to the apologists), and what prophets and apostles thought and taught about this ban for several decades turned out to be wrong and unenlightened (according to the church website), Kate Kelly can be forgiven for asking for more than an argument from silence and seeking further clarification from prophets and apostles, whom we hope would take the question to the Lord rather than fall back on a tradition that can't be traced to a specific authoritative source. We saw what happened last time they did that.

How about if instead of impugning Kate Kelly's motives for asking a question, we try to answer her question? And if we can't answer her question, how about if we take a humbler approach than subtly impugning her motives?

Halibut said...

Your standing up for the excommunicated girl was a "unique" and hopefully singular experience. You were up against an extremely abusive leadership that has left terror in its in its wake. Psychiatrists have made a great deal of money picking up pieces from that episode.

HouseCallDaily said...

Amen, brother!!!

Pierce said...

Jeremiah says:

"According to Lawyer Oaks, there is a 'divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood.' Decreed when and by whom? What is he talking about?"

Your point is useful when discussing the possible future of women holding offices in the priesthood, but not really for looking at the past paradigm. There is more to the "silence" explanation then you are giving Elder Oaks credit for. Is there really any doubt that priesthood keys/authority was only given to men in the OT? Is there any doubt that it was so at the time of Christ? Is there any doubt that Joseph Smith organized the church the same way? If you believe in divine interactions in the scriptures, and if you believe that Joseph organized the church under the Lord's instructions, then it logically follows that this has been the divinely decreed pattern.

What it does not mean is that it cannot change, or that everything surrounding offices in the church is based on "the divine decree." Much of it is policy.

But what Elder Oaks said is reasonable.

Jeremiah said...

Obviously we are talking about the possible future of women holding offices in the priesthood. Note the future tense of the phrase "will hold" in Elder Oaks' statement.

It's true that Joseph Smith didn't ordain any women that we know of, although you have to wonder. His journal entry for Sept 28, 1843, says he was “anointed and ordained to the highest and holiest order of the priesthood (and companion).” His companion at the time was Emma. Nevertheless, if we grant that JS didn't ordain any women, it's not clear that he wouldn't have if he had lived longer. Hence the request for further revelation. As for whether the actions of prophets and apostles since Joseph Smith can be used to determine whom God is willing to have ordained to the priesthood, see my earlier post.

The Bible itself is a poor source for determining whether women should be ordained to the priesthood. It only mentions male Levites as having priesthood. Nothing is ever said about keys. The New Testament doesn't say anything about Jesus conferring priesthood on anybody. It isn't clear whether or not there was a female apostle named Junia. Obviously we don't restrict ourselves to precedents explicitly spelled out in the Bible.

It's also not clear whether Elder Oaks is asserting the existence of a divine decree based only on historical precedent and an argument from silence as you do (only Elder Oaks can clarify that), but this would be a poor method for establishing what is divinely decreed. Women were not set apart as missionaries during the life of Joseph Smith. By your logic, I could assert that there must have been a divine decree that women shouldn't be set apart as missionaries. On the other hand, women were encouraged by Joseph Smith to bless the sick by the laying on of hands. So there must be a divine decree that women can bless the sick by the laying on of hands.

Pierce said...

I think I read Elder Oak's quote differently than you, though both ways are valid. I read "will hold" has a present tense based on what has been established previously.

Would Joseph have ordained women had he stayed longer? I suppose it's possible, but I think it would have happened already when the priesthood was restored or when the relief society was organized. As to your last point, that to me is a matter of policy, and those can be changed at will.

Personally, I think his statement is arguing from a historical perspective, as there has not been a revelation about it lately (I'm in favor of any revelation). He is saying that it was set up this way historically by divine decree (again, if you believe that Joseph was acting under God's instruction, then it follows that only men were to be ordained at the time).

I think what we would agree that a historical precedent is not good enough to base an absolute statement on concerning the future. I have just heard quite a few people argue that it is not explicitly stated in a revelation that women are not to hold priesthood, therefore Oak's statements are wrong. I think the argument is weak, and that's how I took your statement. Sorry if I'm off.

Jeremiah said...

Nearly all of Joseph's revelations were motivated by a specific question that Joseph had. We likely wouldn't have a word of wisdom if he hadn't asked about it. It's possible that he never asked about women being ordained and so had no revelation on the subject.

Orbiting Kolob said...

I wonder what "specific question Joseph had" that motivated God to say, "And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph." Must have been some interesting pillow talk in there somewhere; maybe Joseph never asked about ordaining women because he was too concerned with keeping one particular woman in line.

It seems that when push comes to shove, it's a man's church and very much intends to remain so. It's ingenious, really. First Joseph invents this fantastic post-mortal treasure, this inestimable boon, and then gives the power to grant or withhold it...to himself. Oh, wait, I mean, um, er, to God. Speaking through him, never through Emma. And later speaking through men, never through women.

I sympathize with Kate Kelly, but she really needs to wake up, smell the cappuccino, and leave the Church.

Pierce said...

"I wonder what "specific question Joseph had" that motivated God to say..."

The question was in regards to why polygamy was practiced by the Lord's servants in the Bible.
See D&C 132:1-2

"And later speaking through men, never through women."

I'd like to see you justify how God never spoke through, or more accurately TO, women. Holding the mantle of apostle simply means that you are authorized ensure that the gospel is taught and the ordinances are distributed. It has nothing to do with a non-apostle's ability to commune with God, receive revelation, etc.

It's true that men are in many of those administrative positions, but that does not make it a church for men, and there are plenty of intelligent women who understand or accept he economy of the church as it stands.

Orbiting Kolob said...

"The question was in regards to why polygamy was practiced by the Lord's servants in the Bible."

I suspect that the real question Joseph was addressing came from Emma, and that it went something like this: "What the bleepin' bleep bleep bleep do you think you're doing?" The woman was human, after all.

As for the question of God "speaking through men, never through women," I have yet to read the canonized revelation delivered through a woman. Of course we can imagine God speaking to women on an individual level, but not in a way that gives her authority over the body of the Church--not in any way that even remotely compromises the essentially patriarchal nature of the Church.

And with the phrase "It's a man's church," I meant to express something like what James Brown did in It's a Man's World.

The point I was trying to make is simple: the LDS Church is obviously a patriarchal church, at least if the term "patriarchal" has any meaning at all. For Kate Kelly to ask it to adopt her feminist reforms is like asking a snake to wear shoes.

Pierce said...

Perhaps for the changes she wants to make or the time frame that she wants it in, yes. But if she believes as she says she does, it would be ashame to leave the church. I hope that she can receive her own revelation about the economy of the priesthoodand then work within it to advocate for policy changes that can be made.

Anonymous said...

For persons who struggle with this episode, I would invite them to review Valerie Hudson's testimony about how Mormonism and Feminism are not antithetical.

http://mormonscholarstestify.org/1718/valerie-hudson-cassler