Kelly to Mormon leaders: Don’t punish me
Religion • Ordain Women founder insists in letter that it would be wrong to penalize her.
Published: June 22, 2014 06:51PM
Updated: June 28, 2014 11:54AM
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Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Nadine Hansen (left) and Katie Kelly lead the group Ordain Women as they walk to LDS Conference Center to stand in the standby line to try to gain admittance to the Priesthood session of the 183rd Semi-annual General Conference, Saturday, October 5, 2013.

In a personal and poignant letter to the LDS bishopric that will decide her fate Sunday evening, Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly shares anecdotes from her childhood, professing deep love for her Mormon faith.

She has always had a believing heart and a questioning mind, Kelly tells Bishop Mark Harrison, first counselor Steve Moffitt and a former member of the Vienna Ward bishopric in Virginia, Kent Stevenson, who is serving because second counselor Lance Walker recused himself. Walker works full time for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as director of public and international affairs in Washington, D.C.

“I have been asking tough, sincere questions and speaking my mind since I was knee-high,” she writes. “I couldn’t stop asking them then, and I can’t stop asking them now.”

Kelly suggests that if her bishopric punishes her, the church is penalizing “thousands of Mormons who have questions and concerns with gender inequality in the church and want a place to voice those concerns in safety.”

Kelly will not be in Virginia when her disciplinary council on charges of apostasy begins at 7 p.m. EDT. Instead, she’ll be at a vigil outside the LDS Church Office Building in downtown Salt Lake City.

She believes it’s unfair that it’s her Virginia church leaders who are disciplining her for her activism advocating the ordination of women to the all-male Mormon priesthood.

In early May, Kelly requested her church records be moved to Provo, where she is living as she and her husband await visas to move to Kenya. Her Virginia lay leaders — who she says ignored four emailed requests to sit down with her since spring 2013 — put a “move restriction” on her membership records, which gives them the right to discipline her.

Kelly launched Ordain Women in 2013 and refuses to take down the group’s website or dissociate herself, which was a condition of the informal probation imposed on her in May by her stake (regional) president in Virginia, Scott Wheatley.

The church’s public-affairs department has said that disciplinary decisions are up to a member’s ward and stake leaders — not higher-ups.

However, statements by Mormon P.R. officials this spring make it clear the church considers Ordain Women’s actions as encouraging members to stray from doctrine. The group twice sought entrance to the all-male general priesthood meetings and has a website with more than 400 profiles of Mormons supporting women’s ordination.

In an appearance on KUER’s “Radio West” program last week, church spokeswoman Ally Isom said it’s up to Kelly whether she is excommunicated or disfellowshiped (a less-severe penalty).

“She said it’s up to me,” Kelly said in an interview. “I choose no action. I think I should be fully exonerated. I should be allowed to worship in peace.”

Her letter, dated Saturday and posted on OrdainWomen.org, asks as much. She also urges that her probation be lifted and her records be transferred to her Provo ward.

A brief challenging the notion that Kelly’s activism constitutes apostasy, written by attorney Nadine Hansen of Ordain Women, also was posted Saturday.

The group said it is forwarding more than 1,100 messages — including some from LDS bishops and former bishops — to the Vienna bishopric’s council Sunday night. Some messages include the full names of the writers, others use only first names.

In her letter, Kelly includes pictures of herself at age 3, as a student at Brigham Young University, on her Mormon mission to Barcelona, Spain, and with her husband in front of the Salt Lake Temple on their wedding day in 2006. She even includes a copy of the handwritten invitations she made for her baptism at age 8, a day she remembers for more than its joy.

“While I loved that day and felt so special to become a member of the church, one of the things I remember most vividly is that the only thing to wear in my ward building was a white jumpsuit for an adult man,” Kelly writes. “Even as a small girl I was very particular about what I wore. I was very upset that no one had thought that a little girl might be getting baptized and prepared something for her to wear.

“As I look back, I realize that is just a small reflection in my memory of the way in which adult men are treated as the standard mold in the church and everyone else is an ‘other.’ ”

Kelly recalls growing up in Oregon and touting her LDS faith.

“I always thought that being Mormon was the most special thing about me,” she writes. “I always wore BYU paraphernalia to school, and even had BYU school supplies. I often told other kids about how I was a Mormon.”

And she cherished her LDS mission. “I loved reaching out to strangers on the street and saying, ‘Hi, I’m Sister Kelly, I believe in Jesus Christ, do you?’ ”

Kelly tells her bishopric it would violate her conscience to distance herself from Ordain Women. “I cannot repent of telling the truth, speaking what is in my heart and asking questions that burn in my soul.”

In past statements, church public-affairs officials have said that asking questions is fine — even encouraged — but that Mormons should not recruit others to viewpoints that contradict doctrine.

Isom conceded on the “Radio West” program that the church’s written doctrine includes no prohibition on women’s ordination.

In a statement earlier this month, church spokeswoman Kristen Howey said that when “members’ actions contradict church doctrine and lead others astray … ” they “in effect choose to take themselves out of the church by actively teaching and publicly attempting to change doctrine to comply with their personal beliefs.”

A number of Mormons, including progressives advocating for LGBT inclusion and conservatives who say the church is straying from its doctrines, are being disciplined by local LDS leaders in what some consider an Internet-age crackdown. Some conservatives already have been excommunicated in recent months.

kmoulton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @KristenMoulton