The Mormon Church excommunicated Kate Kelly today for asking questions about a non-doctrine. Church spokesperson Ally Isom said there is no Mormon doctrine that forbids women from holding the Priesthood, and historically Mormon women did hold the Priesthood. Kate Kelly asked why that changed and the LDS Church excommunicated her. I’ve said it a million times before and I’ll say it again, the LDS Church is a toxic place for anyone who thinks. It will hurt you emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. The “I’m a Mormon” campaign the Church has run for the past few years is nothing more than window-dressing. You are to fall in line, ask no questions, and do as you’re told. If you are a thinking female, if you are gay, if you advocate for inclusion and love of all people, you will be in trouble with the Church leadership. Today, the Church has set the boundary of acceptable behavior and thought by making Kate Kelly an example of what not to do.
Yesterday, Michael and I went to the Ordain Women vigil at City Creek Park, then walked over to the Church Office Building with the crowd. Kate Kelly and a number of other women from Ordain Women who have been threatened with some form of disciplinary action spoke to the crowd, we sang hymns, and asked questions about equality’s relationship to gender within the Mormon Church.
For asking a question about female ordination, Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women, has been charged with apostasy. The question she is asking is this: In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Mormon women held the Priesthood, ministered to the sick, and gave blessings. Mormon women still hold the Priesthood in the temple today, yet they are forbidden to hold it outside the temple and forbidden from talking about it. Why? For even asking such a question, the Mormon Church excommunicated Kate Kelly not for apostasy but for “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church.”
Church spokesperson, Ally Isom, said in a recent interview with Doug Fabrizio on Radio West that it was the “tone” of Kate Kelly and Ordain Women that was the problem that has led to disciplinary action. When Doug asked her where Mormon doctrine forbade women from holding the Priesthood, Ally Isom replied after a few awkward moments of fumbling for an answer, “it doesn’t.”
This means that the Mormon Church excommunicated Kate Kelly for questioning a non-doctrine. Let that sink in and let that be a warning to any thoughtful Mormon who has questions about Mormon history, doctrine, or practice.
The Church sent Ally Isom to talk on the radio because the Church knows how to pit women against each other. They did it during the 1970s when men and women tried to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The Mormon Church vociferously opposed the ERA and worked tirelessly to stop it from passing. Sonia Johnson, a Mormon housewife, had her feminist awaking during the ERA and became an outspoken advocate and champion of the ERA, and in 1977 with three other women founded Mormons for ERA. The Mormon Church brutalized her, they vilified her, they hated her. The Church bussed in Mormon women to rallies and conferences to oppose the ERA but Sonia knew her fight wasn’t with the powerless women of the Mormon Church who followed orders from men. Her fight was with the men who hid behind the women. She said, “I am never going to meet publicly against another Mormon woman. I have no quarrel with Mormon women or any other women, and I am not going to let the men make it appear as if I do…No, my quarrel is not with my sisters, who are only following orders, it is with the policy makers of the church, those who are issuing the orders the women are obeying… I will not make this look like a fight among the women – it would please the men too much.” (From Housewife to Heretic, 362-363) The Church eventually excommunicated Sonia for “apostasy.” What exactly does apostasy mean? It’s one of those tricky words because it’s always left up to the person who’s using it to define it. (Also, Sonia’s trial was highly irregular, as was Kate Kelly’s.)
On Sunday, in the tiny grove of trees in City Creek Park in the shadow of the overtly phallic Church Office Building we sang “The Spirit of God.”
I wondered if my Mormon ancestors felt the same way when they sang this hymn. I thought of us and them as a small group of people, persecuted for asking questions, vilified for being different, people pushing back against a dominant paradigm of privilege and tradition, asking for change, a change towards a more inclusive and less divided world. THAT to me is what Mormonism is and can be. It’s what Mormonism was and should be again. Mormon history is replete with prophets and apostles calling on Mormon people to think for themselves, to act in accordance with what they know is right, and to question authority when it seeks to oppose orthodoxy or shut down critical thought.
“If a faith will not bear to be investigated; if its preachers and professors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak.” George Albert Smith, Journal of Discourses vol. 14, pg. 216
“I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds, which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.” Joseph Smith: History of the Church, 5:340
During the hymn a dear friend of mine broke into tears and Michael and I put our arms around her, not because she needed a “strong man to take care of her” but because she’s my friend and she was hurting. She, like so many other women in the Mormon Church, have suffered under the tradition of gender inequality that we are told is eternal. It is not. Even within early Mormonism, such a system of division did not exist. A doctrine that bans female ordination does not exist, even according to the official Mormon Church spokesperson.
Kate Kelly spoke for a few minutes as well. The mic wasn’t very loud so the audio isn’t the best… but it’s better than nothing.
We then walked across the street to the Church Office Building.
We gathered in front of the plaza where people shared their stories about their faith, their hurt, and their hope that the Church would not punish those who ask questions with a sincere heart and with faith. Many in attendance brought photos of their families and handkerchiefs that organizers collected, I think to make a quilt. (I could be wrong about that.)
I hope that someday the Mormon Church will come back to it’s original understanding that individual worth and capacity to lead are not related to a person’s genitals. I also hope the Mormon Church remembers that prophets don’t come from office buildings and hierarchies, but rather from obscurity. They come to challenge oppressive traditions and to call to repentance those in positions of authority who use their power unjustly. The Church may have excommunicated Kate Kelly today but they have not silenced her or thousands of others who have been asking and will continue to ask these questions. The mob at Carthage thought that by killing Joseph they could stop Mormonism, but they were wrong just as the so-called leaders of the Mormon Church today think that excommunicating Kate Kelly will stop questions about reinstitution of female ordination.