We Spleen: The Decision to Excommunicate Kate Kelly

8253808586_93e26eb835_oAfter being tried in absentia on June 22 by an all-male panel of judges, Kate Kelly, founder of Ordain Women, has been convicted on an apostasy charge and is excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). The panel found that she has been engaging in “conduct contrary to the laws and order” of the faith and the LDS church.

According to the website for Ordain Women, Kelly was told:

In order to be considered for readmission to the Church, you will need to demonstrate over a period of time that you have stopped teachings and actions that undermine the Church, its leaders and the doctrine of the priesthood. You must be truthful in your communications with others regarding matters that involve your priesthood leaders, including the administration of Church discipline, 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.

Mormon priesthood is defined as “the authority to act in God’s name” according to mormon.org. The website also says:

All male members of the Church who are prepared receive the priesthood in order to help lead the Church and serve Heavenly Father’s children.

This decision is confusing and heartbreaking for Kelly and the other members of Ordain Women, an organization that fights for “Mormon women seeking equality and ordination to the priesthood.” In what way is seeking equality within the Church a form of undermining it? Self-defined Mormon feminist Kathryn Soper wrote in 2010:

By definition, feminists challenge male authority; and by definition, Mormons defer to it.

This, she claimed, was the core conflict in Mormon feminism. Additionally, she wrote:

This conflict causes an obvious dilemma for Mormon feminists — resist patriarchy and you’re a bad Mormon, embrace patriarchy and you’re a bad feminist. It also leads to frequent and frustrating conversational disconnects between Mormon feminists and other Mormons regarding the dynamics of authority in the Church. Non-feminists point out that all Latter-day Saints, male and female, are expected to sustain and obey priesthood leaders without resistance; therefore, this can’t be a gender issue. Feminists counter that since every Mormon authority figure is male, this can’t not be a gender issue. And round and round it goes, opposite arguments centering on the same point: in a patriarchal church, it’s impossible to separate women’s submission to man from women’s submission to God.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints didn’t allow men of black African descent to be ordained into the priesthood until 1978. It’s overdue to allow women as well. If, according to a verse in the second book of Nephi (within The Book of Mormon), “[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile,” then why are women still excluded from priesthood?

Photo courtesy of bertknot via Creative Commons 2.0




Simone Lieban Levine is a rising junior at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and an intern for Ms. Follow her on Twitter: @though_she_be.


  1. Brittany says:

    You mention that men of African descent were not allowed the priesthood until 1978, and cite the lds.org website. That’s fine and good, and accurate, but it brushes over how black men were granted it. The website will tell you that it’s because Mormon leaders were praying in the tower of the temple when God visited them and issued what is called the Revelation of the Priesthood.

    In actuality, President Carter threatened to remove the 501(c) tax-exemption status from the Mormon Church (and all other religious institutions) if they continued to practice racial discrimination.

    So… there’s that.

    If only a similar threat had been made for gender equality. And, considering that all non-white men were considered to be “of the seed of Cain” and therefore cursed (and god just, you know, decided in 1978 at the same time Carter threatened to remove their 501 status), you’d think that Mormon leaders would at least consider equality of other types…

    But no. You’re going to have to hit them where it hurts first.


  2. Barbara Mor says:

    ‘In a patriarchal church, it’s impossible to separate women’s submission to man from women’s submission to God.’ Exactly; ponder these words in the light of millennia of female experience of struggle within patriarchal systems. Rather than trying to ‘fit women in’ to a male-dominance ideology, which is what all the Abrahamic religions are in their primal assumptions about life, the world, & human history…why not take the above sentence seriously. It is impossible for females to worship a Male God without acquiring a self-identification of spiritual submission. (While males acquire the opposite: the illusion that each & all of them are authorized to ‘speak FOR God.’) And women need to ask ourselves: Is SUBMISSION the highest form of spiritual consciousness any real universal process would ask of us? Or is Submission the device dominance religions emply to acquire & maintain power OVER us? Leaving a religious community is painful & difficult; betraying your own life-given & life-giving nature is worse. Women should stop trying to ‘reform’ patriarchal religions (which cannot be ‘reformed’ without ceasing to be patriarchal, & this obliterates their original ontological purpose), & just walk out, & build their own conceptual realizations of a spiritual system of geniunely empowering definitions; otherwise we keep handing over our power to religions that exist to disempower us. I.e., No Masters No Slaves. Can 21st century women really take the leap into this larger definition of our spirit?? Scary, but increasingly more necessary: the alternative is always The Handmaid’s Tale, figure it out please!

  3. I was excommunicated ” in absentia” also 35 years ago. My crime, living in sin with a man whom I would not/could not marry. My brothers were not excommunicated and the were far more promiscuous than I. Nor was my Mormon stepfather who molested my sister and I at 8 and 10 years old. I believe to this day I was kicked out for having a vagina, nothing more, nothing less.

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