From a Mormon (cis, white, male) perspective, Kate Kelly is a woman who is making trouble by stepping out of her gendered role and asking too many questions. From my own feminist perspective, Kelly is a champion of women’s rights.
Kate Kelly is a Mormon human rights attorney who was excommunicated from the Mormon Church this week, in a decision that’s taken headlines by storm. Her crime? Kelly has been lobbying the Church of Latter-Day Saints for women’s access to priesthood with her group Ordain Women since March 2013, actively fighting the gender inequality found within the patriarchal structure of the church’s hierarchy. Kelly gained national attention when she led demonstrations at the LDS semiannual conference with hundreds of Mormon women. Now, she has been found guilty of apostasy and forced to leave her church.
Kelly and Ordain Women want to make the LDS church more inclusive and open to discussion, but throughout her activism it was clear Kelly had no intention of leaving the church. Married in the Salt Lake City temple and a former missionary in Barcelona, Spain, Kate Kelly has done her part in spreading the knowledge of Joseph Smith’s prophecy across the globe, and now is publicly questioning how women can hold some leadership roles, but are excluded from the priesthood because Jesus’ apostles were male. Her crime amounts to nothing more than opening up a public dialogue that allows Mormons to have a community discussion about their practices and beliefs.
The only “sins” I am guilty of are: telling the truth, living authentically & standing up for myself & my sisters. #OrdainWomen
— Kate Kelly (@Kate_Kelly_Esq) June 12, 2014
Bishop Mark Harrison told Kelly of the church’s decision via email. He provided this statement:
…our determination is that you be excommunicated for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church… If you show true repentance and satisfy the conditions imposed below while you are no longer a member, you may be readmitted by baptism and confirmation. In order to be considered for readmission to the Church, you will need to demonstrate over a period of time that you have stopped teachings and actions that undermine the Church, its leaders, and the doctrine of the priesthood… 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.
Kelly was tried in absentia on Sunday in her former ward (congregation) in Virginia. Her excommunication nullifies her marriage and eternal family “sealing,” baptism, and membership within the Mormon community. She called the decision “exceptionally painful,” but has also maintained her faith and commitment to her cause. “Don’t leave,” she urged of her supporters. “Stay, and make things better.”
And they have.
The all-male church panel that excommunicated Kelly is now feeling the weight of her movement. Supporters have taken to Twitter to stand in solidarity with Kelly, calling the church elders cowards and labeling the act an outrage. The Mormon community now finds themselves involved in an ongoing online discussion on what constitutes apostasy and women’s roles within the LDS church. Even Mormon men are starting to question their elders in the midst of Ordain Women’s movements and Kelly’s excommunication. Offline, over 1,000 letters of support, from Mormons and non-Mormons alike, have been sent to the bishop on Kelly’s behalf.
Ordain Women has brought together a community of Mormon feminists, and they are standing by Kelly at all costs. She knows this, and wrote as much in her letter submitted to the disciplinary council in absentia:
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!
Though this excommunication is felt very deeply by Kelly and her family, her work – and her movement - is not over.