Head of Mormon feminists is excommunicated

Former missionary Kate Kelly unsettled church by founding Ordain Women group

Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women, and her husband, Neil Ransom, outside the offices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. Photograph: Jim McAuley/The New York Times

Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women, and her husband, Neil Ransom, outside the offices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. Photograph: Jim McAuley/The New York Times

 

Kate Kelly, who unsettled the Mormon Church by founding a movement to advocate opening the male-only priesthood to women, was excommunicated by her bishop and his two counsellors in Virginia on Monday.

Ms Kelly, who once served as a Mormon missionary in Spain, organised the group Ordain Women in 2013 and quickly became the face of a new feminist uprising in the church.

She gained wide attention leading demonstrations at the church’s semiannual conferences in Salt Lake City, lining up with Mormon women of all ages outside priesthood meetings, aware that they would be barred from entering.

“I am not an apostate, unless every single person who has questions to ask out loud is an apostate,” said Ms Kelly, just before her disciplinary council met. “I am a faithful, active Mormon woman who has never spoken anything against the leaders of the church, and that’s not my definition of an apostate.”

Excommunication

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon Church is formally known, depends on women to hold many leadership roles, but does not ordain women to its lay priesthood or as bishops because, it says, Jesus had only male apostles.

Bishop Mark Harrison informed Ms Kelly by email that she had been excommunicated “for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church”, according to a partial text of the decision shared by an Ordain Women spokeswoman.

The bishop said in the email that Ms Kelly may not take the sacrament, hold a voluntary position or give a talk in the church, vote for church offices, contribute tithes or wear the sacred Mormon undergarments.

To be considered for readmission: “You will need to demonstrate . . . that you have stopped teachings and actions that undermine the Church, its leaders, and the doctrine of the priesthood,” the email to Ms Kelly said. “You must stop trying to gain a following for yourself or your cause and taking actions that could lead others away from the Church.”

Ms Kelly (33) is among the largest wave of Mormons to face excommunication since 1993, when half a dozen dissident intellectuals (the “September Six”) were disciplined.

John P Dehlin, founder of Mormon Stories, a blog for those questioning their faith, received notice of his excommunication hearing the day before Ms Kelly. But his bishop postponed his hearing, saying he hoped to de-escalate the conflict, Mr Dehlin said.

The Mormon Church says all disciplinary actions are initiated and conducted by local leaders but acknowledged that these leaders receive guidance from more senior church authorities in training sessions where concerns about members promoting women’s ordination and gay rights have been discussed.

Ms Kelly, a human rights lawyer, said she was put on notice in May that she faced consequences if she did not remove the Ordain Women website and disaffiliate from the group. She refused. On June 8th, after she moved to Utah, she got an email from her former bishop in Virginia, Mr Harrison, saying that she was charged with apostasy and faced excommunication.

She did not attend the hearing or participate by Skype from church headquarters in Salt Lake City because, she said, she was told she must be alone in the room. She sent a letter to the disciplinary council with pictures from childhood to marriage testifying to her love for her faith, and begging the judges to “allow me to continue to worship in peace”.

Repent

Mormons believe excommunication breaks eternal ties to a spouse and other family members “sealed” together in temple rituals. The church says disciplinary hearings are “loving” correctives for bad behaviour, and excommunicated people can return if they repent.

More than 1,000 Mormons sent letters of support for Ms Kelly to the bishop and two of his counsellors. Hundreds went to a vigil in Salt Lake City while the hearing was under way, and smaller groups of supporters gathered at 50 sites in 17 countries, said Ordain Women.

Chelsea Shields Strayer, a member of the executive board of Ordain Women, said, “You can get rid of Kate, but something else is going to crop up.” – (New York Times)