Earlier this week Kate Kelly, the founder of a group advocating for women to be ordained into the Mormon priesthood, was excommunicated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for apostasy.
“For Mormons it’s really the equivalent of spiritual death,” said Natalie Kelly, a Seattle-based member of that group, Ordain Women. She is not related to Kate Kelly.
She explained to KUOW’s David Hyde on The Record that to be excommunicated from the church means that a person is stripped of the blessings of the church and the sealing covenant that Mormons believe allow a person to live with his or her family after death – a central tenant of the religion.
Apostasy, Natalie Kelly said, is believing in false teachings or falling away from the church. In the case of Kate Kelly’s excommunication, she said the decision about whether a woman seeking equality was apostasy was made entirely by a group of men. Women are never allowed into the disciplinary process of the church because they do not have priesthood.
Priesthood is essential for taking part in the administration of the church, including budget decisions, rituals such as baptisms and blessings, and speaking at church.
“So when women are excluded from the priesthood that means they are excluded from the entire decision-making of the church from the very top, down to the bottom. Every woman’s decision is always subject to a man’s approval,” Natalie Kelly said.
Ordained men of the church also influence the curriculum taught.
"You might have lessons for teenage girls about chastity teaching that a girl that has been sexually assaulted is ‘like a licked cupcake,’" Natalie Kelly explained.
“There’s an incredible emphasis on women’s modesty, covering women’s bodies, that women’s bodies are a source of temptation for men – and it’s all driven around a male-centric view of the world because men are the people in charge making all of these decisions.”
Natalie Kelly said that the role of women in the Mormon religion has decreased since the church’s founding in the early 19th century, when women had more ritual authority. She said even in Seattle, where Mormons are often more progressive about issues such as female ordination and gay marriage, the church leadership still receives instructions from Salt Lake City.
But she thinks that the church, which until 1978 would not allow the ordination of blacks, will evolve to include women more.
“I absolutely believe that women will be ordained into the priesthood someday,” she said. “There’s no way my children’s generation is going to pass without that happening. And I think that when that day comes, the excommunication of Kate Kelly and other feminists in previous generations that have been excommunicated is going to haunt the church in the same way that previous priesthood restrictions currently haunt the church.”
Produced for the Web by Kara McDermott.
This segment originally aired June 26, 2014.