As I sit down to write about my experience involving the Ordain Women Movement on Temple Square, I want to stress that this is only a collection of my thoughts and experiences. I am speaking only for myself, I have no desire to speak for anyone else. This is not a history of the Ordain Women movement or a defense/attack of Latter Day Saint beliefs or theology. I recognize my experiences are not nor are they meant to be a reflection of the larger membership of either group.
Last October a group of about 100 women gathered inside temple square to attempt to get tickets to attend the LDS Church’s Priesthood General Conference. They were turned away by church workers. This year they gathered on April 5th to attempt this action again.
Many women in my extended family are practicing Mormons who support the Ordain Women movement. This movement has been active in various incarnations since the 1970’s. My grandmother was one such member who supported those attempts. I have grown up around discussions of why women should be allowed to hold the priesthood. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I was raised Mormon but am no longer practicing. I have no animosity towards the church and when I do think of the LDS faith my feelings tend to be in the direction of respectful indifference.
Once I heard of this latest organization pushing for ordination I wanted to go and observe as well as help in a small way. To this end my brother and I went to temple square to stand in line to obtain priesthood tickets. We arrived at about 3:30 when the line was about 100 people for standby tickets. By the time we got our tickets about an hour later the line had swelled to about 600-800 people.
While in line many members were lightheartedly mocking the Ordain Women movement, as well as making general statements about why people could not just allow the church to have general conference in peace.
While I agree with the idea that people should be allowed to worship in peace and safety there seemed to be a general consensus that the Ordain Women’s movement was the same as the vehement anti-Mormon protesters outside the gates. It occurred to me as it had in the past that I and my brother were welcome and in fact encouraged to attend the priesthood session yet faithful members were discouraged from attending. The welcoming attitude seemed to depend entirely on if you possessed the required dangling bits, rather than on an attendee’s theological beliefs. At one point a church usher came by and told the man in front of me that his 6 year old daughter would have to step out of line when we got closer to where the tickets were being handed out.
After my brother and I received our tickets, we walked over to City Creek Park, across the street from the Temple grounds, where we found about 500 people gathered to listen to speakers and talk to each other.
Our intention was to simply hand the tickets to one of the organizers and to then just observe. Once we had asked who we could give the tickets to we were escorted in front of several news cameras, photographers and various documentarians and asked briefly why we were doing this.
Speaking only for myself, I told reporters that I support women having the priesthood and that I also would like to give these tickets to someone who would appreciate them. Additionally that by handing the tickets over it would remove the easy excuse of turning women away by saying there were not enough seats.
After the brief interaction there were several speakers addressing the crowd followed by a hymn and prayer. Once finished, people were organized into a line and began to walk over to Temple Square. While walking onto church property, hecklers demanded that “Women must submit to your husbands and boyfriends” as well as calls of “apostate,” and addressing the men in the group as “sissy boys” and “faggots.” One male member of the Ordain Women group responded with “I do submit to my husband” This was met with calls of “sodomite” and “abomination.”
Once the group had entered church property, several small groups of two to three men dressed in suits and appearing to be church members though not church employees continued to heckle the group, demanding to see Temple recommends and proof of church membership. There were further cries of “apostates,” “repent,” “false members,” as well as one individual again yelling “faggot.”
At this point I want to stress that these gentleman do not represent the church and I doubt that any church member would support their actions particularly while on church property.
Once reaching the East Gates of the temple ground itself, it was found that the gates had been shut. While the leading members of Ordain Women stopped to pray at the gates while surrounded by photographers, a 20-something man and woman who seemed oblivious to what was going on opened the gates from the inside to exit the temple grounds. What appeared to be a church employee attempted to close the gates, but by then the Ordain Women’s movement had begun to enter and soon both gates were opened.
Most photo and video journalists did not enter temple grounds following previous request from church leadership that they refrain from doing so. Upon approaching the Tabernacle where overflow seating for the Priesthood session of conference was being held, the Ordain Woman’s movement began lining up in front of the entrance to the Tabernacle. They were met with church workers who refused them admittance based on the fact that they did not have tickets as well as that they were women.
It should be noted that tickets had been distributed two hours prior, but that the Ordain Women members did, in fact, have the two tickets my brother and I had given them. While this was happening there were several videographers and people with professional grade still cameras capturing the scene, as well as many cell phone cameras. One videographer was approached by church security who informed them that cameras were not allowed on temple grounds. When the camera operator pointed out others with cameras, the security personnel responded that “they are credentialed.”
Soon afterwards, groups of men appeared with umbrellas and began blocking cameras from being able to record. These men did not appear to be church employees but rather church members who happened to be there.
While this was happening, many other people on the temple grounds were watching with various degrees of bemusement or simple confusion as to what was going on. After being turned away, several women broke down in tears and were comforted by those around them.
As I began to leave, I heard a group of young men in suits making mocking comments about the crying women. One of them commented, “What do they care, they should be baking.”
My overall impression is that the Ordain Women’s movement handled themselves with class and dignity. They were met by the church with respect, but a firm refusal. And as always, there are outliers who make one side or another look bad by dealing in ad-hominum attacks. In this instance, none of which (from what I observed) came from members of the Ordain Women movement.
Images from the Ordain Women’s Movement Walk on Temple Square – April 5, 2014
From The Writer’s Desk is a feature from Utah Political Capitol that gives our writers an opportunity to express their opinions on the events of the day. Writer Op-Eds do not necessarily reflect the opinions of UPC or its staff.