Monday, June 23, 2014

Group Worries Leader's Excommunication Will Divide LDS Women

Posted By on June 23, 2014, 4:44 PM

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It was the excommunication heard 'round the world Monday when news broke that Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women had been excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for her advocacy in requesting that church leadership pray about granting female members priesthood authority. Current Ordain Women members say that while its a sad day, the organization will not stop its calls for dialogue on gender equality in the church.---

Ordain Women's website posted a statement from Kelly (pictured) following the news that her Virginia ward had excommunicated her for her advocacy, in which Kelly says that despite the tragic impact of the decision on her and her family she is not giving up on her faith.

“I love the gospel and the courage of its people,” Kelly's statement reads. “Don’t leave. Stay, and make things better.”

Kelly was tried by the all-male disciplinary council in absentia as she was not able to attend the June 22 council held at her home ward in Virginia. But according to a June 23 letter from Kelly's bishop, Mark Harrison, efforts were made to reschedule the meeting for when she could be there in person, or to allow her to interface with the discipline council by secure video link.

Harrison's letter, posted online by The Cultural Hall Podcast spells out the reasoning behind Kelly's excommunication and outlines the time line leading up to the discipline council that began with discussions held in December 2013, with her ecclesiastical leaders taking issue with her call for gender equality in the church that could be brought by granting priesthood authority to female members.

The letter cites warnings made by Kelly's leaders against her holding a demonstration at the LDS Church's April conference during which time Kelly and supporters for a second time attempted unsuccessfully to enter the all-male priesthood session of the church meeting. 

In the letter Harrison explains Kelly can, over the course of the upcoming year, become a member in good standing once again if she follows certain requirements including that “you must stop trying to gain a following for yourself or your cause.”

“The difficulty, Sister Kelly, is not that you say you have questions or even that you believe that women should receive the priesthood,” Harrison writes. “The problem is that you have persisted in an aggressive effort to persuade other Church members to your point of view and that your course of action has threatened to erode the faith of others.”

It's an ironic point for 21-year-old Hannah Wheelwright, a recent Brigham Young University graduate and Ordain Women member who told City Weekly in the fall of 2013 that getting involved in Ordain Women renewed her faith. She says she was drawn to the group and its call for women to be granted priesthood-like authority they had received in the church's early history from founder Joseph Smith. Ordain Women gave Wheelwright a reason to stay with her faith at a time when she was struggling with feelings of rejection from the church's patriarchal culture.

Now she sees Kelly's excommunication as another wedge the church has driven among female members who may be questioning how they fit within their own faith, just as she once had.

“There are many young people like myself who care deeply about women in the church and who are very young when they start noticing these problems and I think moving forward there is going to be a deeper divide between young women investigating the church and young women growing up in the church and the leadership of men presiding over them,” Wheelwright says. “I think more and more young women are going to really struggle with that divide.”

While it's a blow she says will affect many LDS women, it's not one that will slow down Ordain Women in calling for dialogue on the issue of asking church leadership to at least consider seeking revelation on the role of women and the priesthood.

“As much as we're saddened by Kate's local leaders not being open to that dialogue we know there are many local leaders around the world that have been very excited to talk about these issues and we're excited to continue talking with those current leaders as well as future ones,” Wheelwright says.

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Eric S. Peterson

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