Ordain Women founder's recruitment efforts result in excommunication from LDS Church

Kate Kelly's 'conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church,' bishop says

Published: Monday, June 23 2014 2:20 p.m. MDT

Kate Kelly speaks with reporters during her vigil Sunday, June 22, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press) Kate Kelly speaks with reporters during her vigil Sunday, June 22, 2014, in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — The founder of Ordain Women was excommunicated from the LDS Church on Monday after she refused to stop aggressively recruiting others to her belief that women should be ordained to the church's priesthood.

Kate Kelly learned Monday afternoon about the decision through an email from Bishop Mark Harrison of the Vienna Virginia Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to a press release distributed by an Ordain Women spokeswoman.

Ordain Women provided Harrison's letter to the Deseret News.

"The difficulty, Sister Kelly, is not that you say you have questions or even that you believe that women should receive the priesthood," Harrison wrote to Kelly. "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.

"You are entitled to your views, but you are not entitled to promote them and proselyte others to them while remaining in full fellowship in the church. ... Your disregard of our advice and counsel left us no alternative but to convene last night's council."

The ward disciplinary council had three options — no action, disfellowshipment or excommunication.

Kelly, 33, an international human rights attorney who moved to Provo, Utah, in mid-May after she was placed on church probation, chose not to return to Virginia for Sunday's council. She also declined an invitation to join by phone or video conference, but she participated by supplying the three-person council with a letter from herself, what she described as a "brief" from an attorney friend and about 1,000 letters from supporters.

"The decision to force me outside my congregation and community is exceptionally painful," Kelly said in a statement made through the Ordain Women press release. "Today is a tragic day for my family and me as we process the many ways this will impact us, both in this life and in the eternities. I love the gospel and the courage of its people. Don’t leave. Stay, and make things better."

Harrison invited Kelly to return to church membership, and offered her a clear path back, which is the intent of LDS disciplinary councils. While she no longer can participate as a member in good standing, Harrison urged her to continue to attend church, read the scriptures and pray daily.

"This is an opportunity for you to begin anew," he wrote, "to take full advantage of the great gift of the Atonement, to again qualify for the blessings of the temple and to enjoy again all the blessings of the restored gospel. It is my sincere prayer and desire that you will do so."

Harrison's letter contradicted two statements Kelly has made to media outlets.

First, Kelly said previously that prior to convening the disciplinary council, Harrison declined to meet with her for more than a year. Harrison's letter said they did meet.

Second, she told the Deseret News last week that Harrison did not offer her an opportunity to attend the disciplinary council via video conferencing. Harrison's letter said he had and that he wished she had accepted his offer.

Kelly repeated the claim that Harrison had ignored her requests to engage with her in her letter to the disciplinary council, writing that she had emailed Harrison in March, August and October 2013 and again in April 2014 inviting him "to engage in an open dialogue in person" without a response.

Harrison's view of events was different, according to his letter. He said the decision to hold the disciplinary council was reached only after many months and a series of meetings and communications that involved Kelly and Harrison and/or Oakton Virginia LDS Stake President Scott Wheatley, and that included discussions about the doctrine of the priesthood.

Kelly told the Deseret News two weeks ago that Harrison and Wheatley met with her in December. Harrison confirmed that in his letter Monday. He said that during the meeting, he and Wheatley urged her then to disassociate herself from Ordain Women and stop campaigning to promote ordination for women.

He also said Wheatley reminded Kelly of that counsel again in March and April.

"Nonetheless," Harrison wrote, "you proceeded with your protest on Temple Square during general conference despite the request of church leaders that you not do so."

On May 5, Wheatley and one of his counselors met with Kelly and placed her on informal church probation for “openly, repeatedly and deliberately acting in public opposition to the church and its leaders after having been counseled not to do so, for continuing to teach as doctrine information that is not doctrine after having been counseled regarding the doctrine of the priesthood, and for leading others to do the same."

To end the probation, Wheatley said Kelly would, among other things, need to take down the Ordain Women website and disassociate herself from the group.

Kelly told the Deseret News in an interview published Sunday that she immediately defied the request.

"I told them 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," Kelly said.

Kelly and Ordain Women soon added discussions to the website that Harrison said "were intended to proselyte others and persuade them to support your particular interpretation of church doctrine."

Harrison said Kelly also continued to recruit personally.

In the letter notifying Kelly of her excommunication, Harrison told Kelly she can appeal the ward disciplinary council's decision to the Wheatley, the stake president.

It also said she can return to membership in the church in no sooner than one year, if she meets certain conditions.

"You must be truthful in your communications with others regarding matters that involve your priesthood leaders, including the administration of church discipline," Harrison wrote, "and you must stop trying to gain a following for yourself or your cause and taking actions that could lead others away from the church."

Excommunication is the most serious discipline the church levies. Harrison wrote in his letter to Kelly that it means she cannot wear temple garments, contribute tithes and offerings, take the sacrament, hold a church calling, give a talk in church, offer a public prayer in behalf of the class or congregation in a church meeting or vote in the sustaining of church officers.

Readmission to the church and restoration of temple blessings requires baptism and confirmation, but only if, Harrison wrote, Kelly shows true repentance and demonstrates "over a period of time that you have stopped teachings and actions that undermine the church, its leaders, and the doctrine of the priesthood."

Kelly declined an interview request through an Ordain Women representative, who said Kelly needed some time before she went on the record.

Ordain Women spokeswoman Debra Jenson said the organization would move ahead.

"While we are deeply saddened by this decision, Kate is a part of us, and Ordain Women will continue," Jenson said.

The LDS Church did not release a statement on Monday. Church policy is that disciplinary councils are undertaken and presided over solely by local leaders and that the actions of councils are held in strict confidence. Kelly released Harrison's letter.

Two LDS Church spokeswomen did offer generalized statements in recent days.

“Tonight, our prayers are with those who have to decide these difficult personal matters," Ally Isom said in a statement Sunday night. "We also pray for those whose choices may place them outside our congregation. 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."

On Thursday, Jessica Moody said, "How and why one asks is as important as the questions we're asking. What causes concern for church leaders is when personal motivations drive those conversations beyond discussion, and a person or group begins recruiting others to insist on changes in church doctrines or structure. When it goes so far as creating organized groups, staging public events to further a cause or creating literature for members to share in their local congregations, the church has to protect the integrity of its doctrine as well as other members from being misled."

Kelly launched Ordain Women in March 2013. They made news in October, when she and about 150 others staged a direct action activity on Temple Square during the LDS Church's semiannual general conference. They gathered outside the stand-by line for the general priesthood meeting and, one by one, approached an usher to ask for admission. They left when they were denied entry.

About 200 members of Ordain Women and their supporters repeated the action at the church's April conference.

Kelly and her husband, Neil Ransom, are living in Utah while they await visas to travel to Kenya for Ransom's research.

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com

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