Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly will have to wait at least one more day to learn whether she can still rightly call herself a Mormon.
Kelly’s bishop told her late Sunday — and an LDS Church statement affirmed — that her lay leaders in Virginia did not decide her fate during a disciplinary council Sunday evening on charges that her advocacy for women’s ordination to the faith’s all-male priesthood constitutes apostasy.
“After having given intense and careful consideration this evening to your membership status, and after carefully reviewing the materials you sent to us, we have decided that we want to prayerfully consider this matter overnight,” Kelly quoted her bishop as telling her by email. “I will notify you once we have a final decision, probably tomorrow [Monday] or Tuesday.”
The news came two hours after a vigil in downtown Salt Lake City, where some 250 men, women and children gathered to pray, sing hymns, exchange hugs and wait with Kelly.
“I strangely enough feel a lot of hope,” Kelly told the crowd, “ …. because it’s not too late for them to the do the right thing.”
Kelly faces potential excommunication or lesser penalties of disfellowshipment or formal probation from the Virginia bishopric.
The Salt Lake City vigil — one of dozens taking place in more than 50 U.S. cities and 17 countries — began at City Creek Park, where supporters listened to speeches from Ordain Women leaders and others for nearly an hour.
The throng then marched across the street to the LDS Church Office Building, where participants took turns walking up to the high-rise’s revolving doors on the south side, laying down a handkerchief and repeating the phrase, “I will not be silenced,” followed by their own thoughts.
“I will not be silenced because it’s not in my divine nature to be silent,” said one woman.
“I will not be silenced because you fear my voice,” said another.
“I will not be silenced because my daughter, Kate Kelly, is a renaissance daughter of the restoration, has committed no sin and has done nothing wrong,” said Jim Kelly before dropping a handkerchief into the pile.
Many made their statements and then hugged Kelly.
Her husband, Neil Ransom, walked with his wife at the front of the crowd and laid down a photograph from their wedding day.
Kelly placed a copy of her Salt Lake County marriage certificate, an emblem, she said, of what she stood to lose.
Mormons who are excommunicated lose all their ordinances, such as the one in which she and her husband were sealed for eternity in the Salt Lake LDS Temple in 2006. She previously described excommunication as a kind of spiritual death. “You are being forcibly evicted from your eternal family.”
Earlier on Sunday, in the park, the Ordain Woman founder said she felt “very sad and very hurt.”
“But I also feel a lot of hope and a lot of faith,” Kelly said. “... It’s not too late for them [her Virginia LDS leaders] to send a message that questions are welcomed.”
Kelly recalled a story from her Mormon mission in Spain, where her fellow proselytizers once joked that she had been asked to join an LDS branch presidency. (All Mormon congregations — from wards to smaller branches — are led by members of the faith’s all-male priesthood.)
At the time, she laughed at the prank. But Kelly turned serious Sunday, remarking that “it shouldn’t be a joke in this church that women have the potential to lead.”
One vigil participant, South Jordan resident Maren Jensen, said her heart breaks for Kelly, whose example inspired her to attend her first Ordain Women event Sunday.
“She is a beacon for all women like me,” she said. “I’m grateful for her sacrifice. It’s a personal sacrifice for the church.”
According to Ordain Women’s website, supporters across the globe met in private homes or outside Mormon meetinghouses Sunday evening. Some were solitary vigils, with just one attendee.
Several posted photos on the group’s Facebook page. The group advocates the ordination of women to the priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
One vigil — which organizers said drew about 100 people — took place outside the Oakton, Va., Stake Center, where the three members of the Vienna Ward bishopric met to discuss Kelly’s case.
She chose not to attend — instead sending a personal letter and a brief written by a lawyer friend in Ordain Women. The group said that more than 1,100 messages were sent from Kelly supporters.
Kelly believes it’s unfair that her Virginia church leaders are disciplining her, since she moved and asked that her records be transferred to a ward in Provo before the Virginia leaders began the disciplinary process last month. She and her husband are living in Utah while they await their visas to move to Kenya later this summer.
A Virginia stake (regional) president put Kelly on “informal probation” in May, but she refused to comply with the requirements that she take down the Ordain Women website and dissociate from the organization.
That prompted a June 8 letter from her bishop, Mark Harrison, summoning Kelly to Sunday’s disciplinary council and telling her that he and his two counselors loved her and are concerned about her spiritual welfare.
“We encourage you to take the steps necessary to return to and stay on the path that will lead to eternal blessings and happiness,” Harrison wrote. “Our hope is to assist you in this effort.”
Serving with Harrison on the disciplinary council were first counselor Steve Moffitt and a former member of the Vienna Ward bishopric, Kent Stevenson, who stepped in because second counselor Lance Walker recused himself. Walker works full time for the LDS Church as director of public and international affairs in Washington, D.C.
“Our prayers are with those who have to decide these difficult personal matters,” LDS Church spokeswoman Ally Isom said Sunday evening in an emailed statement. “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.”
LDS officials note that local lay leaders decide who and when to discipline, all with the motivation to restore the member to full participation in the faith.
Kelly’s letter to the bishopric, posted Saturday on the OrdainWomen.org website, has personal anecdotes describing her love for the church and some pointed criticism of her Virginia leaders.
“I was in your ward for over three years and faithfully served in callings for that entire period. While we interacted frequently in passing, none of you know me well. I am saddened by the fact that you never took the time to ask me questions or get to know my heart while I was living in your ward,” Kelly wrote. “Despite the fact that I emailed you in March 2013, August 2013, October 2013 & again in April 2014 regarding my Ordain Women activities, you never bothered to respond or follow up on my repeated invitation to engage in an open dialogue in person.”
Kelly also told the lay leaders that if they punish her, they’re punishing hundreds of men and women in the church who have questions about female ordination and “thousands of Mormons who have questions and concerns with gender inequality in the church and want a place to voice those concerns in safety. You are punishing anyone with a question in their heart who wants to ask that question vocally, openly and publicly.”
LDS public affairs officials have said several times this spring that asking questions is not a problem, but recruiting others to question doctrine is not OK.
The move to discipline Kelly is apparently part of a wider crackdown on progressive and conservative Mormons. Many are bloggers, authors, speakers and activists who encourage members to reconsider what is and is not doctrine.
In her letter, Kelly asks that the bishopric exonerate her and lift the informal probation and “move restriction” on her church records so that she can participate in the Provo ward.
At Sunday’s vigil in Salt Lake City, Kelly’s mother, Donna Kelly, vowed to stand with her daughter no matter what discipline she faces.
As for women entering the Mormon priesthood, Donna Kelly said, “It may be too late for me and it may be too late for Kate, but maybe not for my granddaughters.”