Church PR Spokesman: Context Missing From the Discussion About Women

15465In a letter released late May 29th, Managing Director of Church Public Affairs Michael Otterson addresses "Context missing from discussion about women."

The 5-page document is structured around responding to three specific criticisms leveled at the Church in recent online discussions: 

Criticism 1: The Church doesn’t want to hear from women about painful experiences, doesn’t talk to them or only wants to hear from women who are “blindly obedient.”

Otterson very firmly declares: "This is untrue." In a Church with 30,000 volunteer leaders, he explains, some friction is bound to occur. He talks about the difficulties associated with lay leadership, stating, "We are all human, and occasionally we say things clumsily or we lack sufficient sensitivity or language skills or experience." And he also assures, "I can say with certainty that not one of the senior leaders of the Church would ever want any Latter-day Saint to feel demeaned or marginalized."

Otterson then goes on to explain that members of the Twelve and other Church leaders spend large portions of their time engaging with members, trying to connect with their needs. He also assures, "One of the great blessings of the Church is that we have leaders who experience the same burdens as the rest of us. They are not aloof."

Criticism 2: There is nowhere for women who don’t feel safe in their wards to have a conversation about some of their negative experiences that isn’t seen as subversive. 

As a solution to this, Otterson proposes a three-step process: 

  1. Give your leadership a chance to listen. 
  2. Be willing to accept counsel.
  3. In the event that members don't feel heard talking to their Bishop, they can also approach the ward Relief Society President who can offer counsel and in appropriate circumstances, accompany the member to meetings with Bishops and Stake Presidents as a support.

Criticism 3: By not engaging with the more extreme groups, the Church – and Public Affairs in particular – is not acting as Christ would. 

In response to this criticism, Otterson says, "Public relations is best understood as a bridging activity to build relationships, not a set of messaging activities designed to buffer an organization from others. Readiness to meet with many different groups is therefore basic to public affairs work for the Church, and we do it all the time." However, he qualifies, "There are a few people with whom Public Affairs and General Authorities do not engage, such as individuals or groups who make non-negotiable demands for doctrinal changes that the Church can’t possibly accept."

He concludes the letter by saying:

Inevitably, some will respond to a lengthy post like this with animosity or will attempt to parse words or misinterpret what I have said, “straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.” Nevertheless, I hope that we will see less cynicism and criticism, more respectful dialogue, more kindness and civility and more generosity of spirit as those members who are prone to use the Internet engage with each other. As Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson said recently: “May we realize just how much we need each other, and may we all love one another better,” no matter which chair we’re sitting in.

You can view a PDF file of the complete letter online here.

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