Jason Cronin has an exclusive interview with Kate Kelly, one of the founders of the Ordain Women organization.
First, tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Kate Kelly (view her Ordain Women profile here). I grew up in Oregon and was one of very few Mormon kids in my school. I always considered being Mormon as something that was really special about me, because we were so few and far between. In grade school they called me “BYU girl” because all of my school supplies—pencils, folders, erasers, supply box, etc.—were BYU themed. I was baptized by my dad when I was 8, and as predicted by my school supplies, I did go to BYU for college. Go, Cougars!
I had an absolute blast at BYU. It was a really wonderful time for me because after swimming upstream growing up, I was awash in a sea of really enthusiastic young Mormons like me. It was so delightful to be among my people. I sang hymns in the tunnels, hiked the Y, went on creative group dates and had a generally fabulous experience. (I also studied, on occasion.)
After a few years at BYU I served a mission for the church in Barcelona, Spain. My mission was such a positive eye-opener for me. For the first time I learned a new language and was able to reach out to total strangers and a wide variety of people that were really different from me. The people of Spain taught me what true hope is. They helped me learn the living, breathing definition of charity.
In May 2012 I graduated from law school at American University’s Washington College of Law, the only law school in the world founded by women. I’m now an international human rights law attorney and I help human rights defenders around the world bring their cases before international human rights bodies. The work is fascinating and my clients are truly inspirational people.
So this is about equality in the Church. Some say that women receive the same exact blessings as men. What’s your response to that?
Women are blessed by their church membership and service in countless ways. I simply want women to be able to have the full range of opportunity of service open to them. I want women to be given the mantle of God, and the chance to take their turn serving and directing others.
Was there a definitive moment in your life when you realized that women should be ordained, and that this was a cause that you should lead?
I was raised in a very egalitarian home. My dad called himself the “Laundry King” and shared equally in all parental duties and my mom worked as an attorney. This model of parity always resonated with me, and in some ways ordination and equality have always made some intuitive sense to me. However, the messages I received in church created some dissonance with what my parents taught me by example. This dissonance became more and more irksome to me over the years.
Taking my new job and being able to interact with such courageous human rights defenders who risk brutal beatings, imprisonment and total ostracization from their communities for standing up for themselves gave me pause. They helped me see that to be my authentic self I need to speak about what was true to me, even at great cost. Before I kept thinking that ordination was an issue that “somebody needed to do something about” and finally I realized: I am somebody.
This experience has been an act of faith for me. I have faith in the church, and that the institution can change and improve to be a more inclusive community. I have faith that our message will be respectfully received, even by those who disagree. I have faith that others will join us, and end their silence on the issue of female ordination.
As far as you know, has anything like this ever been done before, in such a large scale?
The cry for female ordination is by no means a new cry. Mormon women have been talking about ordination since the 1950s, and probably the 1850s. Many have paved the way for our group by laying the theological groundwork. I am certainly not alone in this effort.
All Are Alike unto God is a carefully crafted document in support of female ordination, and that recently gathered signatures online. It was also sent to all General Authorities of the church. There have also been many sympathetic voices within groups like Exponent II, The Mormon Women’s Forum, and the original Women’s Exponent, to name a few. Those groups have made great strides at discussing and articulating the issues around the question of female ordination.
I think the moment now is ripe for a full “coming out” process for many Mormon women over the issue of ordination, myself included. A widespread, coordinated, action-oriented movement that is inclusive of all voices has never existed. We at Ordain Women intend to create a space for all to publicly make their honest, respectful calls for ordination from the Relief Society president to the radical.
Is there a limit to what you want to do here? I mean, we’re talking about female bishops, stake presidents, how about a prophet?
The ordination of women would put us on completely equal spiritual footing with our brethren, and nothing less will suffice.
You served a mission. Should women serve 2-year missions? Why or why not?
There is no reason to treat young women, eager to serve, any differently.
Sister missionary zone leaders and assistants?
In some missions, sisters do serve in leadership roles already. For example, in the Temple Square mission, where there are no elders currently serving. Priesthood holders, men and women, will enter the field on equal ground.
For you, why didn’t Joseph Smith’s original plan to “make of this Society a kingdom of Priests . . .” realized? Where did things go astray?
Not everything that Joseph Smith originally envisioned for the church has come to fruition yet. For example, we are not currently living the law of consecration. I don’t know how or why the priesthood has not been extended to women. But, I do know that we are ready and willing to receive it. We are a church keenly invested in the concept of restoration—we want to see the church restore women to their rightful place as leaders and priesthood holders.
How has the overall reaction been so far?
The overall reaction has been largely positive. People have joined us who I was pleasantly shocked to see join. We have had profile submissions on www.ordainwomen.org from a woman currently serving in her stake’s Relief Society presidency. We have had a submission from a currently serving bishop. We have a profile from a brave girl named Emma who is a high school student. I am really moved by their courage and willingness to use their stories to support the cause of ordination.
Most of the negative reactions have been ad hominem attacks about perceived “activity” in the church, or “apostasy.” We have already been called “pawns in Lucifer’s hands” quite a few times, but I have found in life, generally, that when the best response to your argument your opponent has is to attack you personally, you’ve got a pretty solid argument. So, I take those personal attacks as a good sign. I encourage everyone to read our FAQ section before making a snap judgment about who we are.
Has the opposition that you’ve personally encountered been more from men or women, or about equal?
I think the proportion is about the same, but so far the arguments from women tend to be of the “I’m too busy to have added responsibilities,” or “how dare you disrupt the status quo” variety, and not the “I demand you repent of your sins and apostasy” variety.
Any direct reactions from the Church?
My local leaders have thus far been very understanding and supportive, but some members of our group have been called into their individual bishop’s offices to discuss their involvement with the group and their profiles. Thus far, some leaders have expressed concern, but no disciplinary action has taken place.
We’ve not heard anything official from Church Headquarters.
Despite this opposition, what is it that keeps you going?
What keeps me going is my faith. I think about myself as a 12-year-old girl and about my nieces. I want things to be different for them. I want them to see themselves as having equal roles in God’s kingdom and equal access to his power. I want them to be valued and utilized. I want them to grow up thinking anything is possible for them. I have faith that they will.
You must have a role model.
My historical hero is Susan B. Anthony. She was a steadfast and conservative Quaker woman and also a ferocious fighter for universal suffrage. Like me, in many ways she was prim and proper and an unlikely agitator. Her unwavering devotion to an idea that so few thought was possible when her work began encourages me. She said, “I pray every single second of my life; not on my knees but with my work. My prayer is to lift women to equality with men. Work and worship are one with me.”
Aside from making a profile on your website, what are some things you’d like sympathizers to the cause to do?
The website is the very first step for Ordain Women. We started this group as one committed to thoughtful, faith-affirming strategic action. We invite everyone to submit a profile, send us an email if you’d like to volunteer and to stay tuned for action announcements. We’d like everyone to join us in person for our actions, especially BYU students!
Anything else you’d like the BYU community to hear from you, Kate?
We ask the BYU community to really think about why women don’t currently have the priesthood and ask themselves: Why? We understand that for some it is extremely difficult to separate the concept of the priesthood from maleness, but please try. Try thinking about a church where women can participate fully: giving blessings, teaching with authority, and leading. Try seeing this image of the church, not as intimidating or threatening, but as one filled with promise and exhilarating possibility. At the bare minimum, try seeing those of us that advocate for ordination as sisters in Zion who are trying to faithfully invest in our beloved community. Because that is what we are.
Matthew 7:7 teaches us, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” And so we ask. And we seek. And we stand at the door and knock.