Two members of the Mormon Church are being threatened with excommunication after rallying their church to ordain women to the priesthood and accept openly gay members to the church.
Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer, founded the group Ordain Women, which advocates gender equality within the Mormon Church. According to its website, the group’s goal is to “call for the ordination of women and their full integration into the governance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Kelly was informed of the disciplinary hearing shortly after she had moved to another city, and will be unable to attend her hearing on June 22.
“Convening a council in my absence, after I have moved, is both cowardly and unchristlike,” Kelly said in a letter online.
Activist John P. Dehlin was also facing excommunication from the church after creating an online forum addressing issues for Mormons questioning their faith, including dealing with homosexuality. Dehlin received a letter from the president of his church region whom he had not met calling on him to either resign from the church or face a disciplinary council.
“It feels awful to be told that your church wants to reject you,” Dehlin told ABC News. “It makes me feel sick to my stomach.”
Both members were being charged with “apostasy,” meaning a total desertion or departure from the religion.
The church released a statement about the situation to ABC News.
“When some members attempt to change clear Church teachings to fit their personal preferences, and encourage others to follow them, doctrine needs to be clarified so that others are not misled,” the statement reads.
Although Kelly and Dehlin were contacted by the local leaders of their church region, one in Virginia and the other in Utah, each received their letter within days of the other.
“I don’t believe it’s a coincidence,” said Dehlin. “I believe it’s an orchestrated effort coming from the leadership of the church.”
The church states online, “Local leaders have the responsibility to clarify false teachings and prevent other members from being misled. Decisions are made by local leaders and not directed or coordinated by church headquarters.”
Although Kelly has moved from Virginia, the church placed a restriction on her records, meaning she was unable to handle her excommunication from her current location in Utah and was only able to submit a written response.
“For me, it’s just devastating,” said Kelly. “I’ve compared it to being invited to your own funeral.
“They are trying to force me out of my faith and it’s excruciatingly painful.”
This is the first time since 1993 that the church has taken such drastic measures to silence members of the congregation. Dehlin said the church’s actions reflect a lack of understanding and progress.
“The church is experiencing a wave of members leaving, and I don’t think they know how to deal with it,” said Dehlin. It’s a desperate act of shooting the messenger.”