Rules for Feminist Mormon Radicals – Moving the Overton Window

feministOver the last few years we’ve seen that Feminist Mormon Activists have encouraged a kind of civil disobedience to the prophets and apostles.

They have used self-referential echo chambers to amplify propaganda and magnify the perception of support based on demonstrably faulty data and unfounded claims.

They’ve organized protests for women to break LDS cultural norms during worship services by wearing pants to church and run media campaigns and petitions to pressure the church to allow women to give prayers in the LDS Church’s General Conference.

And they have blatantly misrepresented facts in order to stir up outrage at church leaders.

But now they have taken things to a whole new level.

Back in 2010, when the LDS WAVE (Women Advocating for Voice and Equality) was launched by feminist bloggers they were very careful to say that they were not agitating for the priesthood to be extended to women.

In September of 2010, the spokeswoman for the group, Tresa Edmunds (who also goes by the pseudonym Reese Dixon) explained in an interview for the Salt Lake City Weekly:

“We’re trying very hard to be viewed as faithful members trying to contribute, rather than some evil feminists,” Edmunds says. The key to avoiding such confrontations will mean primarily avoiding contentious issues such as reclaiming female ownership of priesthood authority. This authority is given only to male members of the church, but was granted to women in the early years of the church’s history, between 1830 and the 1850s. While restoring that authority has been a battle cry for many Mormon feminists, it’s not on WAVE’s agenda.

“There’s no mention of priesthood on our website,” Edmunds says. “We think there’s a lot that can happen before that ever becomes an argument.” Edmunds says possible future campaigns range from asking the church to make budget funding equal for Young Women and Young Men groups to something as simple as putting changing tables in the men’s bathrooms in chapels.

Edmunds sees the organization less as a lobby group and more as a think tank. “As devout members, we sustain and affirm our leaders as prophets and revelators, and we long to give them the information they may not have since they are not women.”

In response to the article, Jonathan Stapley, who has done research on the topic, wrote a blog post debunking the false notion in the article that the priesthood had been given to women in the early days of the church and was then taken away.

In the comments of his blog post, Sister Edmunds further explained that WAVE was not lobbying for priesthood ordination for women:

Yeah, I know WAY better than to make such a ridiculous claim. My statement ended with the quotation mark, the rest was all the very nice reporter […] You might also notice that the next quote from me mentions that we’re specifically NOT advocating for the priesthood, so it would be a bit weird for me to talk about some alleged return to a priesthood we’re not actually advocating for.

Oh and, I never would have used the word “lobbied” that appeared in the headline, and since the author said in his article that we’re NOT lobbyists, I’m thinking that was an editorial decision.

And she reiterated in additional comments:

I wouldn’t say that WAVE doesn’t intend to lobby ever, but I don’t think that as a characterization of our efforts is accurate. Especially right now. We’re not talking petitions or protests. We’re wanting to honestly communicate our feelings with our leaders. Even when we’ve talked about doing a letter writing campaign, there would be no form letter or position to take, it would be up to each person to write their own experiences, whatever those might be.


So a lot of our early efforts will encourage women to work locally. But all of it coming from a place of faithfulness.

I think the suggestion of lobbying assumes a method of doing business that doesn’t really fit inside a religious model, particularly this religious model.

Now fast forward two and half years to the present (the spring of 2013). Most of the things mentioned at the outset of this post have happened within the last few months to a year. This represents a clear shift away from that original idea that lobbying assumes a method that is particularly inapt or inappropriate for use in the LDS Church. It also is a clear shift away from encouraging women to work quietly with local leaders to a focus on media attention and public pressure on the church as a whole.

Until this week the actual changes for which they have been agitating were not very controversial. The backlash that they have received has been mostly in reaction to their activist methods, not so much the specific changes they are requesting.

But that changed this week. This week a new website launched specifically agitating for the church to extend priesthood ordination to women. And who is prominently featured on the the site? Tresa Edmunds. She is now openly lobbying the church for exactly what she said they would not. And she has been consulting with professional activists and decided that the time has come for “large scale demonstrations”. In case there is any question, she is still listed on the board of LDS WAVE.

One of the tactics used by political activists is called “Moving the Overton Window“.  They intentionally promote ideas even less acceptable than the fringe ideas they are currently working toward with the intention of making the current fringe ideas acceptable by comparison. It’s a form of reverse-psychology. The movement has both a radical arm and a less radical arm. The radical arm acts as a foil to make the less radical arm more palatable by juxtaposition, and over time they shift the norm until what was previously far outside acceptable norms can be achieved.

While it is impossible to know for sure, there is some evidence that this devious tactic is being knowingly embraced by at least some of the participants in the Feminist Mormon movement. Just weeks before the Ordain Women website appeared, the originator of the wear-pants-to-church protest wrote on her blog:

“People who are scared by the more radical stuff will often become more sympathetic to the moderate view-point in response. I can’t take absolute credit for this idea, one of those great Mo Fem friends pointed it out to me. Essentially, every movement needs a radical fringe to make the moderate viewpoint sympathetic.

Worried that the “crazy” feminists with their radical demonstrations will make you look bad? They might. But they also might make you look really good and reasonable. Plus, everything that was once radical eventually becomes the new normal. We need the radical “fringe” people to help normalize the “moderate” stuff we are doing now.”

Whether intentional or not, the Ordain Women arm of the Feminist Mormon Activist movement has the potential to play the functional role of the radical arm. It has the right amount of contrast and the right timing. It manipulates our normal desire to compromise by giving the impression that the less extreme demands are reasonable in contrast.

Many LDS church members find this kind of political activism directed at a church we believe to be guided by real prophets, seers, and revelators to be very troubling. And combined with the misinformation tactics cited at the beginning of this article and the clear contradiction between 2010 assurances and current actions, we have good cause for alarm.

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15 Responses to Rules for Feminist Mormon Radicals – Moving the Overton Window

  1. SilverRain

    I felt I should point out that this tactic is exactly the same as one used by abusers. They are methods to exert control.

    I’m sure those in the feminist movement who condone these tactics when they work in their favor also protest them strongly when used to control in abusive situations. But I believe they are deplorable, no matter to what end they are employed.

    It is tactics like these—not the lies perpetuated by shaming from the other side—which has caused me to distance myself from the feminist label.

  2. Thank you for putting this out. I think it’s vital that these folks get exposed for who and what they are — apostates.

  3. Great post JMax. I am one who is troubled by the “agitation” tactics that have been used, and that no doubt will be used in the future. Contention is of the devil, that is made very clear in the scriptures. I hope that these sisters will soften their hearts and realize that the Lord does love them and is aware of their concerns, but that they need to have faith that HE is in charge and the way the Church is set up is the right way.

  4. richalger

    The principle to remember is to advocate for the truth and the good. Do not use manipulative tactics. If the cause is good and true, it will come out as we use straight forward clarity and persuasion.

  5. MpClarke

    I think that its interesting that the movement somehow believes that if they hold the priesthood they will get the 50/50 say in the church they are requesting. Callings in the church are extended by revelation. There are many brethren in the church who will never hold the title “bishop.” So even if they receive the priesthood it doesn’t guarantee a 50/50 say in the church. Would the movement then begin a campaign to do away with revelation because God is not inspiring the leaders to call males and females to leadership positions in equal amounts? I don’t say this to be attackive in any way. I just find it a bit funny that they believe holding the priesthood will magically turn things into the gender equality they are fighting for.

  6. ““We’re trying very hard to be viewed as faithful members trying to contribute, rather than some evil feminists,” Edmunds says.”

    Interesting that she says trying very to *appear* to be faithful, rather than trying very hard to BE faithful. This is a common thing with radicals–if you can read between the lines, they have a an amusing habit of revealing who they really are, and what their real objectives are.

    Faithfulness is not just obeying the outward commandments; it is remaining true to the invisible things; a change of heart, a contrite spirit, an attitude of meekness and humility. A person who believe that the Church should embrace the World’s view of “Equality” and “Justice” is lacking in those invisible markers of faith.

  7. Excellent post. I especially enjoyed the investigative journalism aspect of it, ie, Jmax actually shows very clearly that (some) of the people behind this movement are trying to hide their motives. I would also point out that, having watched the same-sex marriage movement, the tactics are exactly the same. 10 years ago there was never discussion of the Church actually endorsing same-sex marriage, it was just “equality” for gays. Now the exact same people are pushing for the Church to changes its position. Frankly, I never believe them when they said their motives were limited (instead of broad) and I don’t believe (some) of the feminist activists who are claiming their motives are limited today.

  8. StacyMRA

    I share a similar concern about the hysteria they are creating by making claims that “women are leaving the church in droves” and then attributing it to their belief that women are often treated as second class citizens. They want everyone to believe that TONS of women feel the way that they do to justify their public criticism of the church and our leaders.

    If equality with men is truly their motivation, mormon feminists would need to do one of two things:

    1. Lobby for all women to be REQUIRED to have the priesthood, starting at age 12 along with all the obligations that come with the priesthood such as the commandment to serve a 2-year mission.
    2. If feminists insist on having the CHOICE to receive the priesthood, they must first lobby for men to have that same choice.

    Equality doesn’t mean that they can cast the priesthood as a “right” that women can CHOOSE to have or not as they see fit.

  9. Many hands make for light work, yet when it comes to steadying the ark, it is no less perilous now as it was in Uzzah’s day. The only difference, perhaps, is the punishment God may mete out on those who feel justified and in reaching out steady the ark.

    President David O. McKay taught:

    “It is a little dangerous for us to go out of our own sphere and try unauthoritatively to direct the efforts of a brother. You remember the case of Uzzah who stretched forth his hand to steady the ark. He seemed justified when the oxen stumbled in putting forth his hand to steady that symbol of the covenant. We today think his punishment was very severe. Be that as it may, the incident conveys a lesson of life. Let us look around us and see how quickly men who attempt unauthoritatively to steady the ark die spiritually. Their souls become embittered, their minds distorted, their judgment faulty, and their spirit depressed. Such is the pitiable condition of men who, neglecting their own responsibilities, spend their time in finding fault with others.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1936, p. 60.)

    While I can empathize with these women and their varied experiences in the Church and society, agitating for change in such a public way will not bring about the change for which they seek. Rather, this public agitation serves only to widen the gulf between them and the Lord’s Church. Instead of appearing to be faithful to God and His Prophet, they appear as wanton usurpers of God’s authority, intent upon promoting personal pride and vainglory for the feminist cause, instead of seeking to build up the Kingdom of God on Earth.

  10. Interesting set of claims, Max. You’ve pointed to three facts:

    -In 2010, Tresa stated that WAVE was not lobbying for priesthood.
    -In 2013, Stephanie wrote on her own personal blog that movements need a fringe.
    -In 2013, Tresa posted a personal profile at Ordain Women.

    From these facts, you’ve constructed a narrative in which a coordinated set of Mormon feminists is being “devious” and using “misinformation.”

    I’d suggest that there are multiple readings of these facts.

    Let’s start with the obvious point: You’re certainly relying a lot on an amorphous “they” which apparently encompasses all Mormon feminists and their dastardly machinations.

    But if you follow Mormon feminism at all, you see that there is a great degree of variation in views. Tresa is not Stephanie, Stephanie is not Lisa, Lisa is not Joanna, and so on. And in fact, these bloggers disagree about many different things.

    Should I attribute to you personally everything that is ever said on the internet by Dan Peterson, or Lou Midgley, or Adam Greenwood? Probably not.

    And similarly, Mormon feminists are not a monolith. There are a wide variety of views, and no matter how much you use an amorphous “they” the elide this, the fact remains that Stephanie != Tresa.

    On a related note, Tresa != WAVE. Yes, Tresa is on the WAVE board, and is a valued member of the community. This does not mean that her personal views always reflect WAVE’s position, any more than (for instance) Kevin Barney’s personal views were always identical to FAIR’s position. WAVE has not taken any position on ordination, which is no change from 2010.

    (Of course, organizations sometimes _do_ change their position on matters. This is also a normal part of organizational action — certainly the LDS church has changed its position from time to time. I don’t think there’s an inconsistency in saying “our position used to be X, and it is now Y.” However, WAVE _has not_ changed its position.)

    And finally, let’s address the idea that this is all a coordinated years-long campaign by a cadre of highly organized and secretive feminist third columnists. Have you ever _met_ any Mormon feminists? If anything,the movement is highly diffuse, not particularly well organized much of the time, and not coordinated in any hierarchical structure. And definitely _not_ in agreement all the time with each other.

    Honestly, it sounds pretty silly to suggest that Tresa and Stephanie and the Secret Cabal of Mormon Feminists have built a coordinated strategy of misinformation over a three-year period (which you were fortunate enough to unmask). I mean, let’s look at what that would entail. Tresa and Stephanie and other Mormon feminists (Joanna? Kristine?) meet in secret in 2010 to plan a strategy of misinformation using WAVE to prepare for Ordain Women. (They don’t even _know_ each other at this point in time.) They set up WAVE, but for some reason decide to delay their ordination campaign for three years. (Why would such a cabal choose not to discuss ordination during the Romney campaign, for instance?) Suddenly, in 2013, their veil of secrecy falls apart and they suddenly decide to talk about this all on the internet, allowing you to sleuth out their true motives and expose them as instruments of the Illuminati, using clues hidden in the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci. Is that about it? Oh, yes, and Tresa was on the grassy knoll. And she would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids.

    Alternatively, WAVE is what it says it is, an organization working for incremental change. Some WAVE members personally believe that broader changes would also be a good idea. And some other feminists, not associated with WAVE, have their own views on feminist strategy.

    (Please note: This comment is from me as an individual, and should not be seen as representing the views of Tresa, WAVE, T&S, Adam Greenwood, the LDS church, or the International Conspiracy of Sneaky Feminists.)

  11. J. Max Wilson

    Thanks for your comments, Kaimi.

    I think you are oversimplifying the issue and reading too much into what I have claimed.

    Let me try to address your objections:

    Yes, I am well aware of the great variety of different views. But it is the Mormon Feminists themselves who have cultivated and promoted an amorphous feminist “we” to which I am forced to refer.

    As I explained in a previous post, this is a form of asymmetrical spiritual warfare:

    Some definitions of feminist are completely compatible with the church while others are completely incompatible. Those whose definitions of feminism are incompatible with the church’s truth claims benefit from the confusion of the term because it allows them to lump themselves with those whose idiosyncratic definitions are in harmony with the church. Muddling the definitions allows those who seek to tear down the church to mingle among the faithful women under the illusion of a superficially shared title, while sniping at the church.

    Those who are apostate leverage the kindness of those who are not apostates to give themselves cover to undermine the church by blurring lines and mixing their voices with those who truly believe. Then like terrorists who build their bases in hospitals, schools, and churches, when they get attacked for their apostasy they paint the attackers as monsters attacking the innocent sheep who have legitimate concerns.

    So dealing with Mormon Feminists is like being at the store with a little kid that calls all animals ‘dogs’, and then gets upset when you’re trying to buy her a toy animal at the store and she keeps saying she wants the ‘dog’, and all you can do is point at each animal and say “this dog?” “that dog?” In the end what she wants is the porpoise.

    So if I lump all Mormon Feminists into an amorphous “they” it is because they have done so themselves.

    Mormon Feminists want it both ways. They want to group themselves under a single label, but whenever someone levels criticism they try to deflect it by pointing out that the criticism only applies to certain individual Mormon Feminists.

    But they don’t get to have it both ways.

    If I call myself a libertarian, I am voluntarily associating myself with the popular understanding of that word. It doesn’t matter if I have my own idiosyncratic meaning for the word. By using the label, I have chosen the associated connotations as well as the commonly understood definition.

    You can’t pick up only one end of a stick. If you pick up the dull end you also pick up the sharp end. You can’t complain when people express concern about the sharp end. So, it is the responsibility of Mormon Feminists who don’t want to be lumped together with the apostate elements of the movement to distance themselves from the shared label by adding qualifying adjectives, or by choosing a new label altogether, or by expelling those whose definition is sufficiently incompatible with their own.

    The most radical and apostate elements of the movement are the ones who benefit from the ambiguity, so of course they want to cast the widest net possible for their own protection.

    Tresa Edmunds was functionally, and (based on her ubiquity in the news about the organization), perhaps officially the spokeswoman for WAVE. If her public views and actions are inconsistent with their organizational beliefs and objectives, then they have the responsibility to publicly distance themselves from her and clarify their position. If they do not distance themselves, then that is tacit admission that they find her actions acceptable.

    Contrary to your assertion, I do not think and have not claimed that Mormon Feminism is any kind of highly organized conspiratorial organization. That is where you are reading too much into my words.

    They haven’t planned misinformation campaigns and I never claimed that they did. There is no cabal and I never said that there was. They are simply victims of their own echo chamber and propaganda. They spread misinformation because the false narratives reinforce their preconceived feminist worldview, in which they have placed their faith.

    If there is a conspiracy, it is a conspiracy of convenience, not of premeditation:

    They have unfortunately demonstrated more dedication to their cause than they have to accuracy. I have outlined this thoroughly in the examination of Sister McBain’s FAIR presentation and it is also evident in the Breastfeeding Fiasco (both linked in the original post). Have they rebutted my claims of what I think are clear cases of misinformation? No. Have they walked back their claims and apologized? Not that I have seen. That suggests that they are willing to be inaccurate in the service of their cause.

    Misrepresenting your intentions is an opportunistic conspiracy of one.

    That is why in my post I was careful to say that there was some indication that at least a number of the women involved are knowingly employing professional activist techniques meant to “Move the Overton Window”. If their colleagues under the label Mormon Feminists do not distance themselves from these approaches, then their protests that they disagree will seem disingenuous at best.

  12. J. Max Wilson

    [As an aside, in watching the referrer logs of my blog, I noticed that someone with access to the wordpress administration panel for the website visited this post by linking from the private stats page of their site. The IP address of this presumed website administrator curiously belongs to the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights located in Woodbridge, Virginia.

    So someone working for a professional, international liberal political activist organization that provides training and tools for creating change for “oppressed communities” is directly involved in the Ordain Women website.

    So the idea that Mormon Feminism is employing political activist techniques, like Moving the Overton Window, under the guidance of professional activists is certainly plausible, even if their influence is not widely known among many of those who self-identify with the movement.]

  13. StacyMRA

    Typical feminist strategy by Kaimipono: keep the focus not on feminism, but on individual feminists. This renders the concept of feminism so murky that it can’t even be defined making it unassailable. Attacking it becomes, what some in the men’s movement have described, like sword fighting a fart.

    The “ordain women” movement is just the obvious solution that comes from their identification of “the problem”, which is, men are in power and women are not. This belief comes from feminist scripture: patriarchy theory. They believe that the patriarchal structure of the church mostly privileges men and is hurtful and even oppressive towards women.

    Patriarchy theory is the seed from which the idea of female ordination has sprouted. They believe that men in power won’t change it because it benefits them. Therefore, it only makes sense for them to rise up against those who they believe are responsible for all their woes in the church, and target that which (they feel) gives men power over women: the priesthood.

  14. “The “ordain women” movement is just the obvious solution that comes from their identification of “the problem”, which is, men are in power and women are not.”

    That’s the succinct description of the issue. This is really all it comes down to.

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