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Mormon P.R. point man answers critics in debate about women

Published May 30, 2014 5:08 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The LDS Church's chief spokesman argues that the push by some Mormon feminists for ordination to the all-male priesthood is "hindering" discussions about the "voice, value and visibility of women" in the Utah-based faith.

"LDS women who describe themselves as feminists don't necessarily seek ordination," writes Michael Otterson, head of the LDS Church's Public Affairs Department, "but rather to be genuinely valued and given a voice that is respected and welcomed."

In a five-page open letter, posted Thursday on the popular Mormon blog By Common Consent, Otterson answers criticisms that have emerged in the so-called Bloggernacle about women's roles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

For starters, Otterson denies that the LDS Church is interested in hearing only from "blindly obedient" women and not from those who have endured "painful experiences" within the faith.

"I can say with certainty," he writes, "that not one of the senior leaders of the church would ever want any Latter-day Saint to feel demeaned or marginalized."

Otterson concedes, however, that such put-downs do occur, especially since the religion relies largely on a lay clergy.

"We are all human, and occasionally we say things clumsily or we lack sufficient sensitivity or language skills or experience," says Otterson, noting the need for better training of leaders and members. "The church is a place where we make mistakes and then hopefully learn to do better. It is also a place where we allow others to make mistakes and improve."

Otterson also tackled the criticism that top Mormon officials — and public-relations personnel — have refused to meet with "the more extreme groups" about their concerns.

The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported that church P.R. representatives conducted a 90-minute video conference with leaders of Mormon Women Stand, an online group supporting the church's priesthood stance, while LDS higher-ups have repeatedly rejected similar talks with Ordain Women, the grass-roots organization pushing for female ordination.

"Readiness to meet with many different groups is … basic to public affairs work for the church, and we do it all the time," Otterson states. "Yet there are a few people with whom Public Affairs and general authorities do not engage, such as individuals or groups who make nonnegotiable demands for doctrinal changes that the church can't possibly accept. No matter what the intent, such demands come across as divisive and suggestive of apostasy rather than encouraging conversation through love and inclusion."

His letter referred to no group by name.

Otterson defended his P.R. staffers, crediting their devotion and professionalism while emphasizing that he works under direct supervision of two apostles and other high-level LDS leaders.