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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, speaks during the morning session of the 184th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Saturday April 5, 2014. On Saturday, June 28, 2014, the church's top leaders issued a rare joint statement reaffirming that priesthod offices are reserved for men.
Top Mormon leaders repeat ‘only men’ qualify for priesthood

A joint statement identifies ‘‘special concern’’ for those who ‘‘distance themselves’’ from church doctrine.

First Published Jun 28 2014 11:54 am • Last Updated Jun 29 2014 03:17 pm

For months, LDS feminists have been asking top Mormon leaders to address directly the question of female ordination.

On Saturday, church leaders finally did, and the answer was no.

At a glance

Blogger faces Sunday meeting about his status

Cache County resident John Dehlin, who created a popular website and podcast series called “Mormon Stories,” will meet with his regional LDS lay leader Sunday to discuss the researcher/blogger’s status in the LDS Church.

Dehlin previously had been told in a letter from North Logan LDS Stake President Bryan C. King that the two needed to talk by June 18 or the Mormon leader would have to launch a church disciplinary hearing to consider some kind of sanction.

Later, King postponed the date of their meeting to June 29 and expressed a “desire for de-escalation,” said Dehlin, who describes himself as a churchgoer with serious doubts about LDS history and teachings.

Dehlin and his wife will meet with King and one of his counselors at 11 a.m. at an LDS chapel.

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Though the "blessings of [God’s] priesthood" in the LDS Church are available to both men and women, priesthood offices are reserved only for men, the church’s all-male ruling councils reaffirmed in a rare joint statement posted on the church’s website.

The statement, signed by the Utah-based faith’s governing First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, went on to define "apostasy" as "repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine."

The 15 men were clearly responding to this week’s disciplining of Mormon feminist and Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly, who was excommunicated by her lay leaders in Vienna, Va., for pushing to open up the faith’s priesthood to women.

But Kelly cheered Saturday’s statement, calling it "monumental" and "an extremely positive step."

"We’ve been asking for a response from church leaders and they responded," Kelly said Saturday.

The fact that LDS priesthood offices are reserved for men, Kelly said, is "an accurate reflection of current practice, but it doesn’t say women will never be ordained or anything about women’s roles or connection to the priesthood."

The officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she said, "left that wide open for the future."

Moreover, they defined apostasy as "people who speak out against leaders of the church, or those who teach false doctrine," she said. "Given that I have always sustained leaders of church, and Ordain Women doesn’t teach any doctrine — let alone false doctrine — this clearly exonerates me. I am not guilty of either of those charges."

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Kelly led hundreds of women as they walked to Salt Lake City’s Temple Square in October 2013, and again in April, asking for tickets to the all-male priesthood session of the church’s semiannual General Conference. Each time, they were turned away. She also had helped set up a website, ordainwomen.org, where others could tell their stories and show support for the movement.

The word "apostasy" does not appear in the letter Kelly’s LDS bishop, Mark Harrison, emailed to her, although it was the charge lodged against Kelly when he called for Sunday’s disciplinary council.

Instead, the letter said she was being disciplined for "conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church."

Saturday’s statement, Kelly said, gives her reason to hope that when she appeals her case to the First Presidency, her bishop’s decision might be reversed.

Kelly was also encouraged by what the leaders said about questions.

Church members "are always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding," the leaders reiterated, but they added, "we feel special concern, however, for members who distance themselves from Church doctrine or practice and, by advocacy, encourage others to follow them."

That’s a "great step in the right direction," Kelly said. "Now questions [about women’s ordination] can be asked in every ward and every branch in every place in the world.

"The prophet of the church," she pointed out, "said it’s OK."

Few other Mormons read the statement in the same way.

LDS sociologist Armand Mauss sees it as significant that the statement was made by high officials and not by the church’s public affairs department. He also thought the leaders provided a "more explicit and complete operational definition than we have seen before of what constitutes ‘apostasy’ in controversial episodes."

But Mauss, of Irvine, Calif., thinks not many Mormon feminists will be satisfied by distinctions between the "blessings" and "offices" of the priesthood.

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