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Women’s group founder excommunicated by Mormon Church

Founder of group Ordain Women was excommunicated from the Mormon Church Monday.
Founder of group Ordain Women was excommunicated from the Mormon Church Monday.
Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women, a Mormon organization that wants equal standing for women in Mormon Church, was formally excommunicated Monday, June 23, 2014. USA Today reports a trial was held Sunday by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where Kelly was convicted of apostasy for publicly advocating policies contrary to the Church’s teachings. The all-male panel of judges said she would be able to return, but only if she abandons her cause.

Bishop Mark Harrison explained in an email to Kelly that she was being excommunicated due to her persistent and aggressive attempts to persuade other Church members to accept her point of view on female ordination. The Church felt these actions were a threat to the faith of others and thus cause for excommunication. He stated the fact that she has questions about women entering the priesthood itself was not the concern.

In Mormon excommunication ties to a spouse and other family members “sealed together in temple rituals’ are broken. Disciplinary hearings are considered loving correctives for bad behavior. All excommunicated members may return if they repent. Excommunication is rare and considered the harshest punishment.

Kate Kelly, an international human rights lawyer, she burst into tears when she received the Bishop’s email, which informed her of the punishment for her gender-equality activism. She said, "I couldn’t really read all the words because I was crying and sobbing, but my eyes focused on, 'We have chosen to excommunicate you.' I guess I'm a delusional optimist because to the end I thought they would do the right thing."

The Mormon Church reserves all top leadership positions for men and does not permit female lay clergy. Kelly was told in order to be considered for readmission to the Church she will need to show, over a period of time, that she has stopped teaching ideas that undermine the Church, the leaders, and their doctrine of priesthood.

Bishop Harrison’s email said, "You must be truthful in your communications with others regarding matters that involve your priesthood leaders, including the administration of Church discipline, and you must stop trying to gain a following for yourself or your cause and taking actions that could lead others away from the Church.”

Church leaders in Virginia notified her of their decision after contemplating overnight. Kelly did not attend the hearing Sunday. She was at a vigil with about 200 supporters in Salt Lake City. According to Ordain Women similar vigils were held in 17 countries. "I'm overwhelmed by the positive support, and I think it really demonstrates that this isn't just happening to one person. This isn't just happening to me, but it feels like the entire Mormon feminist community is being put on trial,” Kelly said before the vigil started.

Kelly is one of two current Mormon excommunications. John Dehlin is an outspoken advocate for gays. He created a website which provides a forum for Church members questioning their faith. He is scheduled to meet with his stake president on June 29 to discuss his case. Kelly and Dehlin are considered to be the most high-profile examples of Mormon excommunication proceedings since 1993, when the church disciplined six Mormon writers who questioned church doctrine. Five were ousted and a sixth was kicked out temporarily.

The Church is using Kelly and Dehlin as examples to show people how far they can question church practices. Kelly said she will always be Mormon saying, "I don't feel like Mormonism is something that washes off. That identity is not something that they can take from me."

Kelly insists that she has not spoken out against church leaders or church doctrine and she stands behind everything she has done since forming the organization in 2013. Ordain Women advocates for gender equality within the Church. Their ultimate goal is allowing women in the lay clergy. "I have acted with complete candor and integrity at every step of the way," Kelly said.

Trouble first began for Kelly’s group in April when they marched on Church property in downtown Salt Lake City's Temple Square and tried to get access to a meeting reserved for members of the priesthood, which includes males in the church who are 12 and older. Warned by Church leaders not to disturb the faith's biannual general conference that weekend, her group went anyway.

In the Mormon faith, women may hold some leadership positions in Church, but are not allowed to be Bishops of congregations or Presidents of Stakes. Stakes are groups of up to a dozen congregations, which are known as wards. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are the Church's highest leaders, they are all men.

Church officials aren't discussing Kate Kelly's case but released a statement, "In the Church, we want everyone to feel welcome, safe and valued, and of course, there is room to ask questions. But how we ask is just as important as what we ask. We should not try to dictate to God what is right for his Church."

Melissa Mayhew, 31, Kelly supporter traveled about 40 to attend Sunday's vigil. "We are, all of us, people who see things that we would love to improve about the church that we love deeply and dearly. And we want to be able to actually have these conversations, even with people with whom we disagree."

Mormons have lined up on both sides of this argument, viewing her as either a saint or savior. Kelly feels the church’s treatment of her has energized Mormon feminists, even those not in support of female ordination. She sees the ecclesiastical abuse of women and the different ways men and women are treated in the church as having a galvanizing effect. Kelly said the entire process felt extremely abusive. She said, "The language of Church discipline is classic abuse...Abusive, manipulative and patriarchal."

Kelly responded to the tribunal, "Please keep in mind that if you choose to punish me today, you are not only punishing me. You are punishing hundreds of women and men who have questions about female ordination, and have publicly stated them. You are punishing thousands of Mormons who have questions and concerns with gender inequality in the church and want a place to voice those concerns in safety. You are punishing anyone with a question in their heart who wants to ask that question vocally, openly and publicly."

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