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.
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."
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.
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