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Two years after an excommunicated Kate Kelly sought a giant leap, Mormon feminists keep making small steps toward equity

First Published      Last Updated Mar 21 2017 09:12 pm

Ongoing conversation » The public expulsion of Ordain Women co-founder may have boosted interest of LDS members who hadn’t paid much attention before.

June 23, 2014. Surely, this would be the day the movement died.

Ordain Women co-founder Kate Kelly, who had been preaching, prodding and protesting for female entry into the all-male Mormon priesthood, had just been excommunicated.

This very public expulsion would, many reasoned, shut down the organization she led and silence its proponents.

Or so the thinking went.

While Kelly's ouster did send shock waves throughout LDS feminist circles, leaving some advocates running for cover and nursing their desires in private, the cause lives on.

The question of female ordination is now commonplace, with groups large and small within the faith discussing, debating and dissecting the possibility.

On top of that, Mormon feminist efforts — short of ordination but far beyond the status quo — are expanding.

The past two years, for instance, have seen a surge in blogs, websites and podcasts aimed at Mormon women's issues. The long-standing Exponent II, launched in the 1970s, continues to publish articles on women's topics and has come roaring back from a decline in the early 2000s.

There also has been a steady stream of books: "Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings," "Fresh Courage Take: New Directions by Mormon Women," "Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact," " Voices for Equality: Ordain Women and Resurgent Mormon Feminism" and "Girls Who Choose God: Stories of Courageous Women From the Bible."

Even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints itself has published a groundbreaking history on the first 50 years of the female Relief Society along with essays about women and their relationship to the priesthood, and the faith's distinctive belief in a Heavenly Mother.

Mormon historians have publicized women's involvement in healing blessings. The July issue of the church's official Ensign magazine includes a paragraph about Camilla Eyring Kimball, wife of the late church President Spencer W. Kimball, acting as the "official witness" for her husband's baptism of a convert. (Currently, women are not permitted to serve as witnesses to such rites.)

Beyond these writings, the Utah-based faith has enacted institutional changes in the past two years to enhance the visibility and participation of women.

Female leaders are now pictured with male general authorities in hierarchical photo spreads. They sit front and center during twice yearly General Conferences, and they are members of the church's top executive committees.

In local congregations, more women appear on speaker platforms, says Suzette Smith, a former member of OW board who still supports ordination. "I hear people calling female leaders 'president.' Women's blessings are spreading (though not yet above ground). Feminist retreats in regions across the country are bursting at the seams."

Recent public conversations and a variety of views about women and ordination, says historical researcher and editor Maxine Hanks, "have provoked more members and leaders to address, explore or process these ideas."

The conversation is "as old as Mormonism itself," Hanks says, "and is not going away."

No single approach • Soon after Ordain Women's arrival in March 2013, Naomi Watkins and others created Aspiring Mormon Women, a nonprofit that encourages women's educational and professional pursuits.

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