In a sudden move, the Mormon Church has recently announced that it will be taking disciplinary action against the founder of the organization Ordain Women. For the past year, Kate Kelly and her followers have been articulately challenging the traditional Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) view that only male members may receive the power of the priesthood, or in layman’s terms, the spiritual governing authority bestowed on its leaders.
Before I begin, let me be clear: I was born and raised Mormon. And I mean a BYU Blue, marry and have five children, casserole-baking Mormon. I grew up on horror stories of lost-virginities and girls who remained unmarried into their late 20’s. I successfully held a “leadership” position as a Relief Society president for two years while in college. I didn’t argue against any of the babble that my male, return-missionary friends spouted while arguing against homosexuality or the reasoning behind the Church’s refusal to ordain black men to the priesthood until the 1970’s. After all, they knew more than me. They were men. They had a direct line to the governing power of the Church that I did not. I feared it would be blasphemous to question the experience of these boys who had more “spiritual authority” than I did. Mormon men traditionally think of women as at best “different” and in worst cases lesser: Women not only aren’t allowed to be priests, they can’t even lead church meetings without a man present.
But the times, they are a-changin’. Early last year, D.C.-based human rights attorney Kate Kelly founded the organization Ordain Women to create a platform for other women like her who believed that “to subjugate women and deny them equal access to decision-making authority in any community–religious or otherwise–opens up a space for more extreme forms of discrimination and abuse.”
“All of us can progress to be like God someday,” their mission statement explained. “Priesthood, we are taught, is essential to this process. Ordain Women believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.”
The group has garnered quite a bit of attention over the last few months for their peaceful demonstrations, such as waiting at the gates of the Conference Center in Salt Lake City and asking to be admitted to the closed Priesthood sessions. They have encouraged discussion with Church authorities and have worked tirelessly to bring about reconsideration of women’s roles in Church leadership.
For all of this, Kate Kelly has now essentially been put on trial.
In the Mormon Church, when a member has begun to align him or herself with organizations that do not strictly follow Church doctrine, they are subject to disciplinary action. A recent example, of this is John Dehlin, an LGBTQ Mormon activist and founder of the podcast “Mormon Stories.” Dehlin was recently censured and scheduled for a council hearing to determine whether his support for the LGBTQ community undermines his good standing as a Latter Day Saint. If he’s found to be in violation of the Church’s strict rules, he may be disfellowshipped or excommunicated—in other words, disallowed to participate officially in any Church activities or be with his family after death.
Such is also the case with Kate Kelly. The possible excommunication comes as a shock, she admits. In a letter addressed on June 8th, Kelly was informed that a formal Church council would be held, in her absence, to determine whether to terminate her membership. She was heartbroken.
“I was open and honest with my bishop from the day we launched Ordain Women. . . I communicated with him each and every time [we] did an action and asked that he come to me if he had any questions,” she explains solemnly. “While I was living in his ward, he never once personally called me in to meet with him. Three weeks after I had moved out of his ward, he sent me this letter.” She maintains that to convene the council without her present to defend herself is both “cowardly” and “unchristlike”.
This is not the first time a woman in the Church has been accused of anti-Mormon behavior simply for speaking up and questioning the status quo. There is a huge problem with young, single women leaving the Church for other faiths where they feel they actually belong and can hold more responsibilities that are in line with their talents and abilities. The Mormon Church, however, refuses to address this issue head-on, instead ducking the issues with a vague responses: “The Church is a family made up of millions of individuals with diverse backgrounds and opinions. There is room for questions and we welcome sincere conversations.”
I’m not sure what constitutes their idea of a “sincere conversation”, but the process of trial, being called an apostate and subsequently ex-communicated does not seem like an open dialogue. It’s enough to make anyone nervous and truly afraid to speak out.
The fight for true equality of women in the LDS Church is often derided as pointless because many subscribe to the belief that men are the spiritual authorities and women are the mothers, the caregivers and supporters of the family. It’s not an uncommon notion in most organized religions. But Kelly and her supporters at Ordain Women disagree with it:
“Fatherhood is the appropriate parallel to motherhood. Priesthood power is separate and distinct from parenthood and gender,” they insist. “Rhetoric that uses motherhood to circumscribe women’s lives has been used throughout history to deny women access to the voting booth, political office, education, employment, and spiritual empowerment. We do not question the importance of motherhood and fatherhood. Rather, we reject the use of motherhood to justify limitations on women’s authority.”
While we wait to see what fate befalls Kate Kelly, our only remaining option is to bring these sorts of misfortunes to light and spread the word.
Hopefully the leaders will listen because it’s time.