LDS disciplinary council in Virginia considers case of women’s activist


Kate Kelly speaks with reporters during her vigil on Sunday in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer/AP)
June 22

Whatever happens, Kate Kelly says, she’ll always consider herself a Mormon.

A disciplinary council of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints met Sunday to decide whether to oust Kelly. She is a lifelong Mormon and former resident of Northern Virginia who founded a group that seeks the ordination of women — contrary to church doctrine.

“I don’t think they can take away that identity,” Kelly said. “The gravity of this situation for a faithful, believing person is incomparable. . . . It’s the worst thing that can happen to you. There’s still hope for a good outcome. I’m still holding out hope.”

Late in the evening, a church member announced that the council’s decision, expected on Sunday, likely would come Monday.

Kelly, a human rights lawyer who now lives in Provo, Utah, was accused of apostasy, or turning away from the principles of the gospel, because of her role in the organization Ordain Women. As markers of her faith, she noted that she had participated in a mission, attended Brigham Young University and was married in the church.

Kelly, 33, said in an interview that she has been serving an informal probation for about a month. That meant that her church privileges, such as taking a sacrament and being considered an active member of the congregation, were revoked, although she could continue to attend church and tithe.

Kelly’s supporters, of varied faiths, staged a vigil Sunday evening outside the Oakton Virginia Stake Center, where the disciplinary council convened. Members of the group sang hymns and spoke of the effects of the church’s policies on women.

Ally Isom, a spokeswoman for the LDS Church, said it was praying for those who were deciding Kelly’s fate.

“In the church, we want everyone to feel welcome, safe and valued, and of course, there is room to ask questions,” Isom said. “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.”

Greg Prince, 66, a retired scientist and a self-described liberal Mormon and historian of the faith, said he spoke to Kelly and cautioned her not to be too aggressive in her activism. He said he is ambivalent as to whether women should be ordained but strongly believes that Mormon women should have more of a voice in the faith than they do.

“Frankly, I think women should be allowed to make the decision for themselves,” Prince said. “Part of our problem is we’ve had men make all binding decisions.”

A 2012 Pew Research Center poll of Mormons found little support for women in the priesthood. Only 11 percent said they believed women should be ordained, and 87 percent thought that priesthood should be reserved for men. The poll also found that women were more likely to say that only men should be ordained.

“The conversation has totally changed,” Kelly said Sunday. “Many are coming out to publicly support’’ the ordination of women.

Kelly also pointed out that even the disciplinary council for men is different than that for women. Her council consisted of three men from the local church, whereas a council for men would consist of 15 higher-ranked church officials.

James Patterson, 32, a member of the LDS Church in Fairfax County who wrote a blog post questioning the church’s disciplinary councils for women, said he thinks Kelly is being treated unfairly. “She has no way of knowing if her leaders are following the handbook,” he said.

Patterson added that the church has made changes because of internal activism, and he thinks that is what Kelly is trying to accomplish.

“What Kate and Ordain Women are doing is faithfully agitating the church,” Patterson said.

Kelly is one of at least two high-profile Mormons currently subject to disciplinary councils. John Dehlin, of Logan, Utah, was described in an Associated Press story as an outspoken advocate for gays and the creator of a Web forum for those questioning their faith. He is to face a disciplinary council next week.

Prince likened the current climate to excommunication proceedings in 1993 known as “the September Six.” In those cases, six LDS members were ousted or disciplined for beliefs that diverged from accepted doctrine.

Kelly said she and Dehlin have different concerns, but she stands in solidarity with Dehlin’s efforts and believes the church would suffer a profound loss if Dehlin was ousted.

“If we’re guilty of apostasy for having questions and doubts, then every single person is guilty,” Kelly said. “There’s no person that doesn’t have doubts; we’re just speaking them out loud.”

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