Decision pending for activist in conflict with LDS Church

By Whitney Evans, Deseret News

Published: Sun, June 22, 2014, 10:20 p.m. MDT

 Kate Kelly and her husband Neil Ransom lead others during an Ordain Women vigil outside the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City Sunday, June 22, 2014.

Kate Kelly and her husband Neil Ransom lead others during an Ordain Women vigil outside the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City Sunday, June 22, 2014.

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Faith, doctrine and how questions are raised by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are all part of a mainstream and social media conversation that culminated in vigils in Salt Lake City and Virginia Sunday.

The vigils were in support of a woman facing a church disciplinary council for actions related to seeking the ordination of women to the faith’s priesthood, and were timed to take place while the council was in session.

Kate Kelly, who describes herself as a faithful, believing member of the faith, is refusing counsel from her local priesthood leaders to cease her now one-year effort to recruit support and followers for Ordain Women, the name given to her movement and website.

The local church officials charged with both strengthening church members and protecting the faith were trying to determine if her actions constitute apostasy — acting in opposition to the church and its leaders — and asked Kelly to attend or otherwise participate in the disciplinary council in Virginia, her former home.

Kelly chose not to attend the disciplinary council and was instead in Salt Lake City Sunday with about 300 to 350 people at a vigil held outside the LDS Church Office Building and at a nearby park. Kelly's bishop emailed her at about 8:40 p.m. noting the decision would not come Sunday night.

"He and the council have given intense and prayerful consideration regarding her membership status. He has made a thorough review of her response and other materials and wishes to prayerfully consider the matter overnight. He will notify her of a decision, probably (Monday)," said LDS Church spokeswoman Laurie Turner, who was on site in Virginia.

Sunday vigil

Kelly, who was placed on informal church probation in May, said she recently moved from Virginia to Provo and could not attend. But she sent a four-page defense of her actions to the bishopric, and in media interviews during the past two weeks repeatedly said she needed to be true to her "authentic self."

Ally Isom, spokeswoman for the church in Salt Lake City, issued a statement Sunday night:

"Tonight, our prayers are with those who have to decide these difficult personal matters. We also pray for those whose choices may place them outside our congregation," she said.

"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."

In Kelly's letter to the Vienna Ward bishopric of the Oakton Stake, publicly posted on the Ordain Women website, she asks not to be disciplined and recounts her time in the church, including her baptism, time at BYU and as an LDS missionary in Spain. Where she appears to part ways with the church is in its teachings of equal, yet uniquely divine roles for men and women.

"I will not stop speaking out publicly on the issue of gender inequality in the church," she wrote to the bishopric.

In an interview with the Deseret News last week, she was equally emphatic about her desire to continue her movement:

"I told (my bishop and stake president) point blank in person, 'I am not going to take down the website and I'm not going to disassociate myself from the group and those are not negotiable,'" she said.

Kelly said church services were "bittersweet" for her Sunday. She said she enjoyed participating in the music and service but was sad thinking it might be her last week as a member, which she described as "very sobering."

Vigil supporters

The Ordain Women website this past week encouraged supporters to write letters in support of Kelly, listing dozens of entries, and provided instructions for silent vigils to be held Sunday at the prescribed time of the disciplinary hearing in Oakton, Virginia.

Those gathered at the vigil took turns stating their name and why they refused to remain silent.

A pile of handkerchiefs, pictures of supporters and their families and a binder full of letters on Kelly's behalf were place outside the South doors of the Church Office Building during the vigil. The items were collected by the group; the letters will be delivered to the church during regular business hours and the handkerchiefs will be made into a quilt.

About a third of those who originally gathered met again at the park, where members of the leadership in Ordain Women read the names of women in LDS Church and biblical history along with a summary of their accomplishments. After each name the crowd repeated "May your memory move us forward."

Kelly was joined by John Dehlin at the vigil Sunday. Dehlin, of Logan, runs a website called Mormon Stories and has written that he has "serious doubts about, or no longer believe many of the fundamental LDS church truth claims" He said he was at the rally to support Kelly.

"I think there is dialogue now. I think it will continue. I think sometimes some people have to get out in front to create space behind for others to have dialogue. It may be the church isn't comfortable dialoguing with Kate, but I think Kate has created space for them to dialogue with other, more moderate voices," Dehlin said.

Others see Kelly's actions in a different light:

"I think there are a lot of possibilities for women in the Church that can be explored. But I don’t believe OW’s approach is faithful to scriptures or prophetic counsel," wrote Katherine Morris, an LDS member who writes the "Sacred Quotidian" blog. "And, more tellingly, I don’t think their approach is even consistent with their proposed aims (i.e. they’re undermining the authority they’re asking to be a part of)," she said.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com, Twitter: whitevs7

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1. lib1
Provo, UT,
June 22, 2014

Is being "true to [your] authentic self" something that Latter-day Saints should strive for? What does that even mean, anyway? And what do you do if your "authentic self" is leading you to raise opposition and dissatisfaction against the church you profess to love?

Personally, I think it is more important to be true to The Lord and his church than to be true to oneself. I recall a line from C.S. Lewis' novel, The Great Divorce, where nearly all the souls who choose hell over Heaven say, "At least we were true to ourselves."

2. Suburbs of SLC
Cottonwood Heights, UT,
June 22, 2014

Some 1,000 letters were forwarded to Kelly's bishop by individual members of the church expressing the ways in which Ordain Women had either strengthened their testimonies or helped them feel safe in an environment in which they no longer felt safe. So I would not be so quick to say she has caused harm to herself or others. For many, she has been a great comfort.

Moreover, when someone has made it clear they are an active, believing member of the church, I would hope church leaders would be very slow to remove them, even if they dislike something they have done. If you don't like what she stands for, seek to persuade her of the fallacy of her actions - and do so with love and long-suffering, as the D&C commands. Even those who think she is wrong should acknowledge that nothing about this has been handled with love, and it certainly hasn't been handled with long-suffering.

3. MurrayGuy
Murray, UT,
June 23, 2014

Ignore it, she wants an audience.

4. Dadof5sons
Montesano, WA,
June 23, 2014

This is what boggles my mind. If I were unhappy with a organization that I was a part of and disagreed with. That made me unhappy why would I want to belong to it? This person seams to me to be very unhappy with the church and want it to change to fit her ideas. Sorry that is not how things work. Want to belong to a organization? you agree to the rules set forth. the same is true to the doctrine of the church. don't agree to it your welcome to leave. you have your free will. there are many other churches out there that will fit your ideology.

5. p3406
Salt Lake, UT,
June 23, 2014

I wonder if Kelly has looked into the Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). That church has ordained women since 1984 and women apostles since 1998. Perhaps that church would be a better fit for her and her band of followers.