In a picture taken at a vigil on Sunday, a tear trickles down the face of Kate Kelly, founder of Ordain Women, and yet she appears calm and resolute. The vigil, which was attended by about 200 supporters, was in response to the disciplinary actions being taken against Kelly by leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The next day Kelly, whose actions have been embraced by many Mormon women and men working for change in the church, would learn that she had been found guilty of "conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church" and excommunicated by the all-male disciplinary council. From the outside, it appears that she has been cut out of her community of faith for bringing attention to the fact that women within the LDS community are not allowed to be equals within the Church body, that women are restricted from most decision-making authority based upon their gender.
The LDS hierarchy disputes the notion that women are called to the priesthood. According to the website Mormon.org, an official website of the LDS church, Gordon B. Hinckley, prior President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said: "Women do not hold the priesthood because the Lord has put it that way. It is part of His program." Women are called to other ministries, those who hold to LDS teachings agree, but not the sacred priesthood, a status that includes the authority to lead congregations, bless the sick, and perform baptisms. The case against Kelly underscores that for Church leaders there is to be no questioning of this policy unless or until there is a new revelation.
The LDS leadership is not the only Christian hierarchy that resists gender equality, as the Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention restrict women's ordination as well. Efforts for securing equality in these organizations have met resistance similar to that experienced by Kelly. The powerful within these strands of the Christian tradition hold in common an unwillingness to concede that God can work equally through both men and women. There is a refusal among many in power to embrace the ideal expressed by Paul when he proclaimed that in Christ's baptism there is neither "male nor female" (Gal. 3:28).
In addition, there is a seeming inability among traditions that refuse women's ordination to acknowledge fully the implications of a history which witnesses to the fact that God's power and love are manifest in women as in men. Not only did women, according to the Gospel of Luke, finance Jesus' ministry (Lk. 8:3), they were among the first to share the good news of resurrection (Lk. 24:10; Mk. 16:6). In the early Church, women played important leadership roles, including deacon (Phoebe in Rom. 16:1) and apostle (Junia in Rom. 16: 7), and worked side by side with men in spreading the Christian movement (Priscilla in Rom. 16:3). Similarly, in the early history of Mormonism, as shown in educational materials collated by Ordain Women, there is a history of women embodying priestly acts, including the laying on of hands. In other words, the Christian tradition has an early record of inclusion that challenges present misogyny.
Although not a member of the LDS church, as a Christian who desires equality for women in all strands of the tradition, I stand in solidarity with Kelly. The fight of Kelly and other LDS women is the struggle of many Christian women for an equal opportunity to be faithful. Thankfully, as Hugo Olaiz, a former editor for Sunstone magazine, notes, this is a movement of "daring resilience." The fight is not over.
For more information about how to support of Kate Kelly and Ordain Women, see "istandwithkatekellyandjohndehlin.net."
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