Ordain Women (History and Analysis)

 When a religious activist group rises to the main stage, it is nothing new or all that surprising. Internal theological activism however is surprising and worthy of examination. This is especially true when the activist group is able to break through the ceiling of obscurity and garner national attention. Thus is the case with the enigmatic Mormon activist group called, “Ordain Women.”

The group was formed in 2013 in Washington DC by Kate Kelly, a civil rights attorney in the District. Kelly was an accomplished law student having been named to several fellowships and worked in at least two different countries. Her connection to the LDS church is self-admitted and includes an education at BYU and a mission to Spain. Kelly formed “Ordain Women” along with several other women, some of whom have well-documented altercations with the LDS church.

Ordain Women’s first public action took place on April 6, 2013 in Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City, UT. The original purpose of the gathering was to persuade the LDS church to allow the all-woman delegation to enter a lecture hall where male members of the church were holding a meeting. After the action failed, the group’s real purpose emerged; force a change in LDS theology. Ordain Women believe, as their name suggests, that female members of the LDS church should hold the Priesthood and serve in high clergy positions within the church. The group followed up with a similar action in October 2013, only to be rebuffed once again. As of 3/18/14, the group was planning yet another foray into the very same conference.

The first law of activism is “Gain the sympathy of your public.” When groups form and then act within and against their target audience, they tend to die out. A great example of this was “No Labels.” Ordain Women unabashedly acts within and against the LDS church while simultaneously trying to recruit members. Thus far they have been moderately successful through what can only be described as a bifurcated strategy. On the outside they are a soft worded, humble movement seeking equal blessings within the LDS church. This very soft, progressive, yet theologically comfortable argument resonates with some women, especially those who are disaffected with the church. The problem however with using such a soft approach is eventually it is going to come up against ideology. At that moment the true intentions of the group will need to take center stage and engage in a public ideological battle, which is where the second tier of their strategy comes into play.

Ordain Women, when distilled down to its base element, is a feminist anti-Mormon movement led by seasoned activists. Among the most influential are Lorie Winder Stromberg, Mary Ellen Robertson, and Margaret Toscano. Stromberg is a highly educated, ardent feminist, and former member of the Sunstone Education Foundation. Stromberg’s essays and speeches show she holds a great deal of animosity towards male members of the LDS church. He affiliation with Sunstone cannot be overlooked as the SEF has been dedicated to undermining the LDS church for many decades. Margaret Toscano is an anti-Mormon activist affiliated with the “September Six.” Toscano, her husband, and five other members directly challenged the church in 1993 through a series of lectures and publications. Six of the members were removed from the church through an internal removal process known as excommunication. It does not appear Margaret was removed. Toscano is a stalwart member of the Sunstone Education Foundation. Mary Ellen Robertson is the executive director of the Sunstone Education Foundation. She is also part of an interfaith activist group comprised of female activists seeking the ordination of female clergy. According to one of her bios, she became an ardent feminist while attending BYU.

The future of Ordain Women will be interesting. Many activist groups never see the type of attention they’ve received. With their plans of a third attempt at attending the Priesthood meeting in April, they have created a potential watershed moment. If they are denied entry they must evolve quickly to stay relevant. If they are allowed entry in April, they will experience a tremendous boost in popularity and will need to shift the focus to ordination. Either way, feminists and anti-Mormon groups will undoubtedly be watching the gates of Temple Square for signs of what is to come.


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