Leaders of the Mormon Church have excommunicated Kate Kelly, a well-known Mormon activist who was previously a missionary in Barcelona, Spain, after she spoke out in favor of the ordination of women. Leaders of the Church say that she was expelled because she committed apostasy by violating the law of the Church. The Mormon Church is based in Utah, U.S., and claims a following of 15 million people across the world.
Kelly, previously a human rights attorney in Washington, established a group called Ordain Women in 2013 to advocate for gender equality within the Mormon Church. She has led demonstrations at church conferences in which Mormon women stood outside of priesthood meetings to highlight the fact that they, as women, would not be allowed inside. Ordained priests within the Church have the power to perform baptisms, blessings and confirmations as well as other religious rites. The only leadership roles available for Mormon women are in auxiliary groups. The Mormon Church defends its denial of the priesthood to women by saying that Jesus had only male apostles.
A disciplinary panel consisting of Kelly’s bishop as well as two of his counselors met on Sunday in Virginia where, until recently, Kelly had made her home. Upon reaching their verdict, Bishop Mark Harrison, who had been Kelly’s ecclesiastical leader, emailed their decision to Kelly, saying the panel found Kelly should be excommunicated for violating Church “law and order.” The email also stated that if Kelly would truly repent her actions and cease her advocacy, she could be allowed back into the Church after one year. Most excommunications “almost always” are in effect for a minimum of one year, according to Harrison’s email. While excommunicated, Kelly is not allowed to receive the sacrament, speak or volunteer in the church, tithe, vote in church elections or wear the undergarments deemed to be sacred by the Church.
Kelly is currently preparing to move out of the country and chose not to attend the hearing, also known as a church court, because she was not allowed to have somebody accompany her. In lieu of her attendance, she defended herself in a letter to the court and asked that she be allowed to continue her membership in the Mormon Church.
Kelly stated that the excommunication forced her from her community and her Church. She called the day “tragic” for both herself and her family in a statement released Monday. Kelly’s parents have also undergone strife for supporting their daughter’s efforts. Not only were they stripped of their volunteer positions in their Provo, Utah, congregation, but they have also been forbidden from going into Mormon temples. Kelly’s father, Jim Kelly, is a former bishop and has himself been a part of disciplinary actions, but even he was shocked by the decision. Nonetheless, he vows that Church leaders may ban his daughter from their buildings, but they cannot prevent her from practicing her faith.
Supporters of Kelly sent thousands of letters to the panel and held a vigil for her in Salt Lake City during the hearing. Ordain Women reports that supporters gathered in 17 different countries at 50 distinct locations.
Throughout her advocacy for extending the Mormon priesthood to women, Kelly has said that her faith remains strong and that her belief in the leaders of the Mormon Church remains strong. She states that her role as leader of Ordain Women does not mean that her faith has lessened; only that she is questioning the policies within the Church regarding women and the priesthood. The leaders of the Mormon Church believe that it is their duty to adhere to the fundamental ideals on which the Church was founded, but have declined to comment further on this issue.
By Jennifer Pfalz