On Kate Kelly’s Summons to a Church Court: An Epistle to the Saints

butterflyThis morning, I awoke in our cabin, nestled in the piney woods of east Texas, and found, on the floor, the same beautiful black and blue butterfly that had, only yesterday, fluttered by me each time I stepped outside to enjoy the natural world. Somehow, she is trapped inside this morning, motionless, with her wings outspread in the attempt to camouflage against a maple-colored plank floor that will have none of it. I know from the experience of capturing butterflies in my childhood that if I touch her wings, I condemn her. Instead, I find a piece of paper and lay it before her. Although it doesn’t seem natural to her, the butterfly steps onto the paper and  I carry her outside, where she flutters back into the trees.

I love symbols. I look for them all the time. As I have struggled to come to terms with the pending disciplinary action against leading LDS feminist Kate Kelly, I couldn’t help but find an imperfect symbol of her predicament in this butterfly. Kelly had been in her element, struggling to give voice to an under-represented demographic, but this disciplinary council has her confined. The only way back to her world, back to advocating for LDS women, seems to be to accept the terms placed in front of her–to dissolve Ordain Women, assuming she has that power, or resign from it, though I suspect resigning will do little more than land others in front of similar courts. Still, I hope she is able to find a meaningful way to come out of this difficulty without losing her membership and its inherent blessings, perhaps reborn or re-branded in a way that still feels, to use her word, “authentic.”

I do not know Kate Kelly at all, except as an online presence. In fact, the closest I’ve come to meeting her has been on a day when she and I were responding to a Facebook thread at approximately the same time. That isn’t exactly a bonding experience. Nor do I know any of the Ordain Women leadership. I’ve never conversed with them. I’m simply one of the many who has watched the movement from afar. I’ve never joined OW by putting up a profile and have a public record of both praising and criticizing the movement. I know the basic church history that includes examples of women performing priesthood acts, including things done outside the temple, and have long wondered why these practices slipped from Mormon life. Like Ordain Women, I would like these things to be addressed in specific terms through official revelation, but I have not been comfortable with OW’s agitation or with the assertion I sometimes hear coming from supporters that our cultural problems will be resolved through the dissolution of the patriarchy. In other words, I am more moderate in my approach to feminist issues within the LDS culture. I’m not alone.

And yet I am deeply disturbed that the official church might remove Kelly from its records, might nullify the saving ordinances we all hold so dear, on the claim that she is leading people away from the gospel. Many women are standing up to tell their stories, relating to us that it is precisely because Kelly has given voice to their concerns, that they remain in the church. Here is only one such story, lifted from a popular feminist Facebook page:

“I’ve never read the scriptures or prayed a lot. I was drifting into inactivity. I just didn’t care. Then I discovered OW. And suddenly I was interested in the Church and its doctrine again. During my search to understand OW, I read my scriptures and prayed more than I had in years. I tried to get more involved in church again. I’ve continued reading and praying as I’ve discovered new topics. OW brought me an interest in the church that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. OW is a major reason why I try to stay in this Church. But now I’m being called apostate for being part of it … I’m so confused.”

This story is typical. Kelly may be an unorthodox missionary and you may think she is “converting” people to the wrong things, but let me share with you the official objectives of the Six Discussions program, butterfly1currently in progress, though likely seriously interrupted by the news of the disciplinary action. Those objectives are: “1) To foster conversations that help people reflect on their own thoughts and experiences, 2) To reaffirm our faith in God and testimony of continuing revelation, and 3) To encourage continued membership and full fellowship in the LDS Church as we explore the topic of women’s ordination.” The fourth objective is a call to faithful agitation. While I part with OW there, I cannot ignore the fact that OW, again and again, directs its followers toward the Church, toward increased testimony, and toward full fellowship. At issue is the agitation.

Over the last couple days, I’ve encountered many voices who assert that Kelly has attempted to shame the church publicly, an accusation her supporters object to, suggesting the reverse has been occurring–that the Church has been attempting to shame her publicly, as well as all of LDS feminism. A little tit for tat on both sides seems both likely and understandable. Regardless, her walk to the Conference doors at the Priesthood Session has subtle subconscious linkage to Sonja Johnson and the way she chained herself to the Seattle temple. But Sonja Johnson wasn’t asking the like-minded to reaffirm their testimonies, to remain not only active members, but to participate fully. As much as the claim can be leveled that agitation shamed the church, so can the claim be made that agitation brought marginalized people to the church. If the sin of apostasy is a charge that Kelly is leading people away from the accepted doctrines of the Church, then that charge has a deep, ironic stain. Yes, Ordain Women, as an organization, has an expectation of what the answer to prophetic prayer will be. And yes, many mainstream LDS see in the recent conference talk by Elder Oaks an end to all debate on the matter, but Ordain Women heard something very different in the language of Elder Oaks’ message. I invite you to read their official response here.

I realize the Church has its methods, its protocol and tradition. Church courts have been the way we address controversy. But in this instance, in this world of easy-access communication and knowledge, I don’t understand why Elder Oaks, or any other member of the Brethren, couldn’t have found a way to sit down with Sister Kelly and talk these things out, see her as a valuable daughter of God who represents many others who are hurting and together help one another understand the present dilemma each finds itself in. I don’t understand why threatening removal from the Book of Life–having her name erased from the records of the church–is the default action. Certainly unusual circumstances allow for unusual remedies. Certainly an apostle of the Lord can find a way to personally reach out to Sister Kelly, recognizing that in doing this–no matter his message–he will signal to many women who desperately want to hang on to their testimonies and their membership that they are valued in the eyes of God and the Church.

I’m not speaking of negotiation. I’m not speaking of Elder Oaks or any other member of the Brethren giving in or giving sway or giving out special privileges. I’ve heard the argument that the Brethren won’t meet with Kelly because they can’t meet with all who have complaints or questions. I understand not wanting to set that precedent. But Kelly is not just Sister Kelly. She represents so much more to so many more. She is both an individual daughter of God and a symbol of those who work hard to resolve their struggles with faith. In meeting with her, potentially thousands upon thousands of marginalized people will take hope and carry on. These souls are worth the effort. They are worth the time. They are worth the consideration. They are not a problem; they are human beings.

In addition, I feel obligated to point out that the counsel Latter-day Saints receive is to resolve differences in understanding in person, and with the person or persons, with whom the misunderstanding exists. In this case, Kelly’s misunderstanding is with the Brethren, not with her bishop, who will preside at her church court. Her bishop is, in essence, as powerless to receive revelation for the church as Kelly is herself. Go ahead with the disciplinary action. But between now and the date of that action, Sister Kelly will be living approximately one hour from the Church headquarters. Can’t some single member of the Brethren find the time to personally reach out to our sister? To comfort her? And, by proxy, so many others, including people like me who may not agree with her, but who identify with her faithful struggle?

“Oh, that I were an angel and could have the wish of mine heart!” These are the words of Alma, a man who had been called to repentance by an angel and a man who longed to bring salvation to his fellow men in the same way. We often hear the hymn “Oh, That I Were an Angel” sung in our Sacrament meetings and our meetings with missionaries. Yet, ironically, immediately after Alma expresses this deepest desire of his heart, he proclaims, “But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish.”  (Alma 29:1-3) The hymn bears no trace of this admission. We sing Alma’s opening lines with devotion even though the context in which these lines appears clearly delineates that his desire is wrong. Why do we do this? Why is the admission of sinfulness omitted? Why are we okay with that?

I believe the answer is that we sing it this way because we celebrate and admire Alma’s ambition to do good. My hope today is that we all remember this song when we read of Sister Kate Kelly and the disciplinary action she faces. I want us to remember that we have all felt uplifted by this song, by this passage, this sentiment of Alma’s even though we are told his desire is sinful.  I hope we realize that, even if aspects of what Sister Kelly has been doing are deemed incorrect through official disciplinary action, her desire has been to unite marginalized women with Christ. And that is a beautiful desire. It is a desire to sing about.

I need to step away from my computer. I have been overwhelmed by the chatter surrounding these events, the anger, hurt, sadness, judgmentalism–the controversy. Fortunately, I am in a beautiful place. Outside my cabin, the sky is an elegant Texas blue and the leaves on the trees that tower seventy feet overhead flirt with the breeze. I step outside and look for that black and blue butterfly. It’s here, just like it was yesterday, flitting among the deciduous trees that line the path. I pause . . . and then I see not only the one, but two and three butterflies. Its that time of year, after all. And I think how, even if I hadn’t noticed this particular butterfly trapped in my cabin, even if it had been destroyed because I had overlooked it, these others would still be out here, going about the work of beautifying the natural world. I take a deep breath as I stand just beyond the threshold, wondering if I should leave the cabin door open or close it.

Ultimately, I decide to leave it open. The risk of another butterfly becoming trapped inside is far outweighed by the fresh air I feel blowing past me, whispering its way inside. But for right now, I’m going to follow the path and sit awhile among the trees, feeling the breeze as I keep these things in my heart.

O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people! (Alma 29:1)






20 thoughts on “On Kate Kelly’s Summons to a Church Court: An Epistle to the Saints

  1. Words invariably have different meanings to different groups. Often evangelists accuse Mormons of meaning different things than they do when we use shared vocabulary. In all fairness, they are often correct in this assertion. It is in this same vein that I question whether the stated goals of the OW Discussions have the same meaning as they would if a mainstream member of the Church were the author.

    Their second stated goal is “[to] reaffirm our faith in God and testimony of continuing revelation,” but my reading of the discussions and the rest of the material put out by OW and Kate Kelly generally leads me to believe that the “testimony of continuing revelation” is less of a pledge of fidelity to the idea that the Church is led by revelation generally, and more of an allegiance to the idea that a specific response to revelation will be given if only the right question is asked and if only the brethren are willing to listen to that answer. OW already knows what is acceptable to them, and the only place for continuing revelation is to ratify their position. So, when they say that they want to reaffirm [their] testimony of continuing revelation, they are not being dishonest at all, but the meaning of their words are not entirely consistent with how the lay members of the Church would understand them.

    In other words, they are called “Ordain Women,” not “Ask God Please.” In one of her podcast appearances, Kate Kelly discusses why the name was chosen and she stated that OW was chosen simply because that is the only acceptable outcome. This isn’t someone who wants the brethren to ask and get the Lord’s answer. This is someone who has already decided what the only answer she will accept and will press onward until that answer comes.

    This is precisely why she is not getting an audience with the brethren. If she was someone merely with questions, this might happen. However, any of the Twelve will likely tell her precisely what she has already been told by her Stake President, and is there any reason to think that she would react any differently?

    The third objective is something far trickier. “To encourage continued membership and full fellowship in the LDS Church as we explore the topic of women’s ordination.” When I read this for the first time a few weeks ago I was struck that these two objectives were joined into one objective. Some of the comments this week from Kate leave me wondering if the more important objective is to maximize the number of OW supporters in the Church rather than the maximize the number of people in the Church who are OW supporters. This is a subtle difference, but Kelly expressed dismay today that there apparently wasn’t safety in numbers. I wonder if she expected that the bigger her following got the less likely she would be excommunicated. This is counter intuitive. She is asking for testimonies from as many people as possible this week to show to her bishop that she can’t be apostate because so many of her followers are in the Church. However, there is a logical fallacy there that should be apparent to any lawyer. Simply having a lot of followers does not mean that you are not teaching heretical ideas. It simply doesn’t follow.

    In fact, the size of her following is not helping her on this point. The more influence she demonstrates, the more dangerous her heresy becomes.


    1. I’m actually pleased you brought this matters to the forefront. I try to be a “sensitive guy” so I didn’t want to use this initial post about the disciplinary action to bring up problems that OW supporters probably don’t want to deal with right now. Emotions are raw. This post is challenging enough for today, considering I align her actions with sin in the “O that I were an angel” paragraph. You are correct, I’m certain, that what they perceive their words mean is not what mainstream LDS hear. But here we have a group of people who genuinely don’t hear the same things mainstreamers hear. Consider the reaction to the Oaks talk from conference. To be honest, when I plugged in to fMh after that talk, I was stunned to hear them championing the same talk I thought would upset them. They found optimism in it.

      You have a keen grasp of rhetoric, its strengths and weaknesses. It is a poor tool to convey what is in our hearts and minds and yet it is all we have. This is why we must make a concentrated effort to master each other’s maps of the world. Not an easy thing, but if we can get just a little bit closer to where each of us is on our own maps, we can begin to get past the words and their fallibility. Not only do I not agree with the concept of direct action or agitation as element of faith practice, I also sense that OW will only accept a revelation that meets their requirement.

      But we don’t know that. And we can’t know that until we see it happen, precisely because the words they hear and use don’t match up with the meaning of the words the Brethren are using. In the effort to “save” some souls, I lean toward the notion that maybe, just maybe, if the two (OW and Brethren) sat together to converse some of the meanings and words may be cleared up. We shouldn’t assume it is a sin to understand words and meanings differently than they were intended. This is why the disciplinary council is bothersome to me. Can the bishop clear this up? Well, to you and me, probably. But this sister wants to speak to a person with real power to be sure that he understands her. Right now, it seems most mainstreamers only value her understanding the Brethren correctly. Is there value in having the Brethren rightly understand her, particularly since she represents a decent sized demographic? I do. But I also understand that sometimes Jesus just had to get on a boat and get away from the people who wanted wanted wanted from him. But he also got off that boat and fed the people, one at a time, through his apostles.

      As to your last point about Kelly thinking numbers would protect her from official discipline, I understood her to mean not so much that numbers would protect her, but that the amount of information and the visibility of her mission to the wider (and particularly non-LDS) world might offer some shelter. In the final analysis, I choose to believe Kelly when she says she has faith in the Brethren. Perhaps she does have some insight that some day women will have equal authority and perhaps she needs to accept that the progress toward that day (if it is to happen) will come slower than she hoped. I can conceive of such a day, to be honest, but as I’ve said elsewhere, IF it is to happen, the culture has some serious changing to do first. The Lord won’t give blessings to those who do not want them. Its perfectly reasonable to think she may be inspired, that this entire OW experiment is altering our culture in a way Heavenly Father wants, even if the result will not be what OW expects.

      Last night, a friend brought 3 Nephi 8:4 to my attention: “And there began to be great doubtings and disputations among the people, notwithstanding so many signs had been given,” implying OW is causing contention and this is a sign of the times. I answered “opposition in all things.” Which is it? If Kelly has had some inspiration to produce and follow through with the OW movement, then its the second. If she hasn’t, then perhaps it is the first.

      Once this broke, the ladies in my private OW Six Discussions group and I were discussing the name Ordain Women. Well, okay, I was discussing it. It strikes me that choosing a name that was an imperative damned the organization from the outset. This is why I wonder in this post if she will be able to escape excommunication and re-brand in a way that demonstrates more humility and willingness to wait on the Lord. And maybe on the right man to reach his foreordained spot as prophet. We shall see.

      Tomorrow (maybe) I’ll proof read this (and the post) and try to root out typos and other issues. I posted it and then began traveling. So overlook any weirdness pls. 🙂


      1. davidsonlaw

        I’m not one to make someone an offender for a misplaced comma or the incorrect your/you’re in comments on the internet. It’s the nature of the beast that comments are usually a first draft and I make plenty of mistakes that would never remain in something I do for work or even in emails, so no need to make any apologies.

        In my discussion above, I focused mainly on Kate Kelly on purpose, as she’s the one I’ve heard speak over and over and over during the last year. I do not doubt that a majority of the women in OW would be completely satisfied if a member of the 12 came out and had the discussion that you describe above. I have gone out on a precarious limb in making predictions about Kate’s potential response above simply because I’ve heard and seen and read a lot of her thoughts, and the times she speaks on the podcasts are particularly telling as she is much less likely to adhere to the script in those situations and much more like to be her “authentic” self.

        I also believe that Kate means it when she says that she has faith in the brethren. What’s unstated, though, is that she has faith that the brethren will eventually come around to her way of seeing things, and have the capacity to do so. Again, this is something that needs to be clarified.


  2. Deborah C. Moffitt

    Do you mind if I share your post? This drama is playing out even here in my little corner of TN. You have put into words, much better than I could, many of my feelings surrounding all this.


    1. Please do share it! Bottom line is, we are all sisters and brothers, and no matter what position we have on the ordination of women or what it means to be a faithful follower, we must remember the human side of all this. Thanks for reading and passing it on.


  3. Sterling Ashley Ingram

    KK is looking for money, a book deal, praise of the world, and a raise at her law firm for standing-up to those conservative Mormons. Don’t let her sucker you; this whole thing was about money.

    She was not pushed out of the Church. Rather than taking a step back and talking with her priesthood leaders, she called them cowards. She is the one who ran from them. As an attorney, I guess it is legal to shop for a judge. As a member of the Church, it is not acceptable to run from one bishop to another and then whine to the world that your “old” bishop or “old” stake president is holding court on the other side of the country.

    KK is not genuine. She is a whiner who loves to say things like, “hey look over here, look over here; please everybody gather around with your cameras and microphones so I can tell you how I’m being abused by these men…”

    If you want to feel sorry for someone, feel sorry for all those who look up to her and follow her. Where will she lead them? I think the path she is on gets dark from here on. I sincerely hope she turns back and follows the prophet(s).

    And for those of you who want to have it both ways, those who want to support OW but in the same sentence make clear that you don’t really support them, those like sister Downing, be careful. You can’t have it both ways. Either you sustain the leaders or you don’t. It’s not complicated.


    1. I understand the whole “Judge not, lest ye be judged” thing to suggest that we will be judged in the same manner we judge others. If that is the case, you may be in trouble. I’m afraid, when you reach the pearly gates, you may very well be protesting, “Wait! It’s… It’s complicated! You don’t understand.” I suggest you adopt a more understanding (and complicated) view of life, of human behavior, and of love long before that great and dreadful day.


      1. Sterling Ashley Ingram

        “I am deeply disturbed that the official church might remove Kelly from its records
        …”- Lisa Torcasso Downing, Friday 13th, 2014

        I suggest you choose sides and stop trying to have a foot on either side of the fence. Perhaps then you will not feel disturbed when priesthood leaders do their assigned jobs. Either you support the leaders of the Church or you support OW. Which is it?

        As for those standing-up for Kate Kelly who said that she was only questioning and that she was not demanding, perhaps now you can explain her post-excommunication comment. Her position now is that she will not seek readmission into the Church until women hold the priesthood. Is she still just questioning or is she demanding the prophet bend to her will?

        Her position all along was that she was going to teach the elderly prophets a lesson on how to do their jobs. She has attracted thousands of followers and has done significant damage to the Church. No, her priesthood leaders did not cause the damage; she did. She is leading people away from Christ. MoFems are at a crossroads; be careful whom you make a pact with. And please stop pretending you are a member in good standing and then in the same blog you take sides with those who seek to drag the Church into the mud.

        Sister Downing, you have a great gift. Please use your gift to further the Lord’s work and stop using it to sympathize with the likes of Kate Kelly. She does not want pity. She wants exactly what she is getting – power and money. She wants book deals. She wants a following. Please tell me where she is leading her flock? Please tell me you are not going to follow her- even if you are only following her has an asterisk attached.

        If you side with her by writing “An Epistle” wherein you declare her priesthood leaders have “disturbed” you (for trying to do their duty), are you not guilty of having the flaxen cord placed around your neck?

        2 Nephi chapter 26 verse 22: “…and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.”

        Sister Downing, you can make this whole OW thing out to be complicated if it makes you feel better, but it is not complicated. She was wrong and the living prophets were right. She is leading people astray. Yes, I am guilty of judging her. It is my duty to do that. Perhaps MoFems should study the duties of that priesthood they seek to obtain. Doctrine and Covenants section 20 is a good place to learn basic priesthood duties. Kate Kelly said her bishop was a coward and her stake president was vile. I can judge that she is guilty of evil speaking, lying, and backbiting. It is my job to do my best to stop her- even if what I do offends some Luke-warm members along the way.

        As for your warning me to fear that great and dreadful day, I am comfortable that using my straightforward plain language while standing up for my religion and defending the leaders of the Church will be a defendable position. I’m certain there are many things in my life that could keep me out of heaven, but standing-up for the living prophets against the likes of Kate Kelly is one that I don’t worry about.

        Please keep-up you good work sister Downing and use you gift to defend the leaders. They need our support.


        1. I am honestly a bit baffled here Sister Ingram. I don’t think that Lisa is doing anything here that would necessitate your rebuke. I am not an OW supporter and have little positive to say about what Kate Kelly has done. While Lisa has been kinder in her words than I, she has been pretty critical of the activities of Kate Kelly which precipitated her excommunication.

          It’s OK to disagree with OW and KK and still be sad that she was excommunicated. I think that it was necessary, but I am still a bit sad about it. In viewing her interviews this week, I saw someone who was bitter, angry and broken spiritually, and that made me sad. I can envision a future in which she rejoins the Church after a repentance, but she first needs to come to a realization of what she’s done before that will ever happen.


          1. Scott Standage

            Kate Kelly lost the companionship of the Spirit a long time ago. She has no clue how revelation works and takes scriptures out of context for her own gain.

            She’s a charlatan. If one actually read her comments for the past few years and then after her excommunication it’s not difficult to understand that she was proclaiming that she received revelation for the church that women were supposed to be ordained to the priesthood now and it was happening because Pres. Monson dared not pray about it.

            Arrogant. Obtuse. Ignorant. Childish. Foolish.

            She got what she wanted…15 min of fame.

            Did any of you read her letters to her priesthood leaders? Did you read the legal brief put together by another OW director?

            Those women have lost the Spirit and it is clear in everything they say and write.

            There is no difference in them than what Dehlin did. You can’t claim the church is true and then sit there and rip it apart. They have been deceived by Lucifer and I don’t think either one of them will ever hit bottom. Too many supporters keep egging them on.

            Sister Downing seems to be hung up on loving others in the majority of her posts. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t want to love others, but i’m sure there are people out there who don’t.

            We live in a fallen world and not every member of the church will do what Christ would do.

            BTW, you shouldn’t be singing Oh that I were an Angel in Sacrament Meeting any longer. That direction came out a long time ago, even to the saints in Texas.


  4. Pingback: The Angry God, The Excommunication, and The Rest of Us | Life Outside The Book of Mormon Belt

  5. Ruby

    It’s hard for me to take some of your commentators seriously. Not even 50 years ago, I couldn’t have gone through the temple because of a lineage thing. Clearly they haven’t faced trials or tribulations dealing with equality. Or maybe they have. In any case, I was very sad that we lost someone of our flock. We are all brothers and sisters in the gospel. Who am I to cast the first stone if I sin, too? Members of the church act as if they are so entitled. I wish they could live abroad and realize that they are such a small speck, they should really just start loving people left and right because that’s all we have to give. Didn’t Christ go back for the lost sheep? I often wonder if Jesus would hang out with the Mormons when he comes back? Or will he be so mad at their Pharasitical ways that he chooses to go elsewhere (sorry for the typos, my keyboard is in spanish and I don’t know how to change the language).


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