A History of Women?s Excommunication

By June 12, 2014

This post was originally supposed to be about the women?s history panels at the Mormon History Association last week. It was supposed to be a celebration of the work that has been done and an outline of what remains to be done. The letter that was sent to Kate Kelly on June 8th ? the anniversary of the extension of the priesthood to all worthy men regardless of their race ? changed all of that. We felt that the Juvenile Instructor could not be the only blog not to post something. Ultimately, Amanda HK, Kris, and Andrea decided that an appropriate response would be to write a history of women?s excommunication in the LDS Church and then to offer their own thoughts.

Although other women were excommunicated before her, Sonia Johnson?s trial in the 1970s was the first disciplinary action taken against a Mormon woman for her political activism and commitment to the feminist movement. Johnson had become infamous by her 1979 trial for her vocal support of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which attempted to guarantee the economic, political, and social equality of women. It do so by attempting to insert a clause into the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing that congress would not pass any laws abridging an individual?s rights because of their sex. Church leaders like Barbara Smith and Boyd K. Packer had openly opposed the movement. In a 1976 issue of the Ensign, the former dismissed the amendment as a ?confused step backward in time.? She believed that its passage would dissolve any protective legislation concerning the family, endorse abortion, and lead to the creation of unisex bathrooms. Ultimately, any differences between men and women would be undone. Johnson did not become interested in the ERA until 1977, more than five years after the initial drive to obtain state ratifications. She became, however, the most vocal Mormon proponent of the amendment. In one speech, she accused the LDS Church of engaging in a ?savage misogyny? that put women into ?gilded cage[s]? that made it impossible for them to develop ?physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.? She also famously chained herself to the Seattle temple with twenty of her followers in a demonstration in support of the ERA.

On December 1, 1979, Johnson was excommunicated for apostasy. She was told that she had been excommunicated for accusing the church of misogyny when it taught that ?exaltation can be gained only through the love that results in the eternal bonding of man and woman? and for telling investigators not to listen to Mormon missionaries until the church changed its position on the ERA.

Unfortunately, she was not the last woman to be excommunicated. The excommunications of feminists, gay rights activists, and academics that occurred in 1993 have been equally as resonant for people saddened by the disciplinary courts convened against Kelly. Although Johnson?s excommunication cast a pall over Mormon feminism, women continued to speak about feminism at BYU and groups met to discuss their history and feminist issues on campus and in private groups across the country. In 1984, Margaret Toscano presented her watershed piece, “The Missing Rib: The Forgotten Place of Queens and Priestesses in the Establishment of Zion” at Sunstone. The years 1984-1992 were marked by an explosion of works by Mormon women academics and writers including Linda Newell and Val Avery’s Mormon Enigma, Beecher and Anderson’s Sisters in Spirit, the debut of Carol Lynn Pearson’s Mother Wove the Morning, Terry Tempest William?s Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, Jill Derr, Jannath Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher’s Women of Covenant as well as Maxine Hank’s Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism. The sesquicentennial of the founding of the Relief Society in 1992 energized Mormon women who saw its history as a model upon which to base their own advocacy for women?s rights and religious faith.

At the same time, there was a sense that church leadership was becoming increasingly concerned about the potential effects that feminism and public activism might have on the church as a whole. During this time period, the church confirmed the existence of a committee called “Strengthening the Members? which conducted surveillance of Mormon intellectuals, feminists and other progressives. Church leaders began to retrench in their public statements, President Ezra Taft Benson delivered an address entitled, ?To the Mothers in Zion? and Gordon B. Hinckley began to address the issue of praying to Heavenly Mother. In 1993 Elder Boyd K. Packer spoke out about the dangers posed to the church by feminists, intellectuals as well as gays and lesbians. Cecelia Konchar Farr was fired from BYU, long-time BYU Women?s Conference organizer Carol Lee Hawkins was removed from her position and in September, six Mormon feminists and intellectuals were excommunicated including D. Michael Quinn, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Maxine Hanks, Lynn Whitesides Kanavel, Paul Toscano and Avraham Gileadi.  Janice Allred was excommunicated in 1995 for her writings on feminist theology and Heavenly Mother and Margaret Toscano was excommunicated in 2000.

While the Church insisted that there was not a concerted ?purge? associated with the September 6 excommunications and disfellowships, certainly the Mormon intellectual community saw it that way, and continues to read that meaning into it.   Whatever the roots of the excommunications, they certainly had their desired effect:  For all intents and purposes, Mormon feminist thought and agitation basically entered a silent period following 1993, so much so that in 2004, Peggy Fletcher Stack asked in a Salt Lake Tribune piece, ?Where have all the Mormon Feminists gone??  Then in the mid-2000s, the internet helped to embolden a new generation of younger and more technologically savvy feminists.   Still, the dangers lurk beneath the surface, as the possibility of church censure remains a line of discussion for many Mormon intellectuals.  Even Jan Shipps, who is not LDS, has said it is ?dangerous? to do Mormon women?s history because of the feminist theology that flows from it.  She even told one of us recently that she refuses to ?do? Mormon women?s history.  That is a startling caution for a non-member who doesn?t experience the same risk factors as Mormon scholars face constantly.

Although the case of Kate Kelly is different from the ERA or the excommunications of 1993 in its particulars, it has brought many Mormon historians, scholars, and believers back to those moments. To many, Kelly?s case seems to be just another casualty in a long line of men and women who have been disciplined by the church for their feminist activism.

Amanda: When I first received an e-mail telling me that Kate Kelly had received a letter calling her to a church disciplinary council, my response was one of shock. Calling Kelly to a disciplinary council was a public relations nightmare. It would alienate members of the church who considered themselves feminists, push the church away from mainline Christianity and closer to evangelicalism, and promote the idea that the church is anti-woman and anti-feminist. The only reason that I could come up with for the church to act in that way came from Andrea?s comment to a paper that I gave on the ERA last week at the annual conference of the Mormon History Association. She had said that the ERA had remained in the mind of church leaders as a ?specter of public feminist dissent.? When Kate Kelly marched on temple square and asked for tickets to the priesthood session, she argued, it brought back memories of women chaining themselves to temple square and refusing to be moved until the church agreed to support women?s equal rights. Kate Kelly?s trial, in other words, is not solely a reaction to her work and her efforts. It?s a reaction to the history of feminist agitation in the church and the sense of men like Boyd K. Packer and others that failure to contain Mormon feminism will lead to another woman testifying before congress and publicly calling them ?misogynists.?

As a woman and scholar, the church?s decision to publicly indict Kate Kelly also made me feel as though all of the progress that had been made over the years had been undone. I had believed that the Mormon Church was going to be more and more open about its history. I had believed that it would eventually make positive changes to the way that it treated women. I had believed that no one would be excommunicated for being a feminist again. I was wrong.

Kris:  I was shocked when I heard the news of Kate Kelly?s impending disciplinary council.  I am a convert to the church and I like to tell people the story of how I became a Mormon and a feminist in the same year; it didn?t seem incongruous to me.  That being said, although I studied history, I fled from the Mormon past because I didn?t have the tools to grapple with the difficulties presented by polygamy.  Despite my best efforts to avoid it, Mormon history came and found me in 1997, during the sesquicentennial celebration of the entry into the Salt Lake Valley.  It came and found me through a woman who tidied her house and left her Nauvoo home forever.  It found me through the woman who lay down to die beside her husband when he was too sick to go on, through the young girl who had her toes amputated  when she reached Zion and through the women who gave birth in rude wagons.  It found me through Claudia Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Women of Covenant.  It found me through Maxine Hanks, Margaret Toscano and Lavina Fielding Anderson. Most of all it found me through women who healed; that priestess of the temple who laid her hands on the sick who were brought to the St. George temple on their beds, those who administered to their children during the lonely night of illness or anointed their sisters for death. I firmly believe we need to come to understand the history of Mormon women, including their priestly roles and what it means for the future.  I appreciate how Kate Kelly is asking us to face the difficult questions.  Bathsheba Smith wrote as she left her Nauvoo home, “Then with emotions in my heart ? I gently closed the door and faced an unknown future, faced it with faith in God.?  The body of Christ is suffering – God help us to face our unknown future together with compassion and love.

Andrea:  This is difficult for me to do, because I have not yet expressed my opinions about Ordain Women, at least not publicly.  My job as historian is to unpack the complicated nest that we call Mormon women?s history, with all of its layers, holes, contradictions, and mess.  But in doing so, it?s hard to stay detached from the currency of Mormon women?s history on feminist feeling in the church.  I am invested.  And as a member of the Mormon feminist community, who range the whole spectrum of ?radical? to ?moderate,? I have tried to be part of the conversation that has pushed at the limits of those boundaries for women in the Church.  Many of us have argued for or drawn attention to structural and policy changes that needed to happen, well . . .  yesterday.  Still, while most of us were inching along at 20 mph in the last few years, Kate Kelly blew through our ranks and ripped past us at 180 mph, leaving many of us?perhaps even including Church leaders?ill-equipped to deal with the conversations and push back that came from her very public and perceptibly adversarial actions.

So I have kept myself consciously unaligned with Ordain Women, in part because I was not comfortable with the methods, but also because of sheer terror.  As a historian, I have taught historical non-violent movements to much celebratory aplomb.  We talk of the Civil Rights-era sit-ins, and the students and myself are practically weeping at our desks.  I am more than inspired by Gandhi?s Salt March.  And yet watching Ordain Women, arguably another brilliantly conceived and carefully executed non-violent action, I haven’t had the same reaction, although my OW friends have earnestly sought my voice of support.  Instead, I have silently rejoiced and sorrowed with them.  But I have also felt fear, caution, and the realistic assessment of my church culture, which rejects adversarial confrontation of leadership.  Frankly, I have felt resentment toward Kate for prematurely putting me in a position to have to publicly confront these feminist/anti-feminist tensions with my local church, professional and personal circles. It was too soon for me:  I wasn?t ready to be ?outed.?

But I was just as unready for Kate to face excommunication.  So many of us on the whole spectrum of Mormon feminist circles have engaged in these discussions for so long, and so openly, that it is hard not to see this disciplinary action as being directed against all of us:  against our exchange of ideas, the movement, the whole conversation.  But, since Ordain Women and the feminist percolation of the Bloggernacle have been so much a part of our internal discourse, however you feel about Kate and OW, it?s difficult not to see this trouble as coming to ?one of our own.?  Kate is one of our own.  And we feel legitimately surprised and personally assaulted, whether we should or not.

So many moderate Mormon feminists, including myself, have found ourselves secretly cheering things that Kate has articulated, or even defending her and OW within our personal and church circles.  Not by expressing outright agreement with the public actions, but because she was forcing conversations that needed to happen; she was challenging and debunking and unraveling myths about gendered priesthood restrictions that many of us have tried to unpack for years. But because so many who disagreed with her were trotting out the same old tired folkloric and pseudo-doctrinal reasons against women?s ordination, it was somewhat easy to ?take sides,? as it were, against those who critiqued both her methods and her ideas.  It was an interesting and uncomfortable place to be in?not joining OW because of some practical disagreement, while also defending them against general anti-feminist prejudice.  So, as I sit here with all of you, watching Kate face this devastating action, I feel raw and crippling sadness for her and for all involved, but I also feel for myself, my community, and those who wonder how this has the potential to prolong the silencing of any productive conversation about gender in the church.  Will ?that guy? in my ward (and yours– you know the one) now use Kate?s disciplinary action as the ?last word? about the roles of women in general?  Will this become another self-fulfilling warning about what happens to women in the Church who publicly question the effects of patriarchy?  I will sit here and watch and listen and think and pray and grieve and hope, and now, probably do so mostly in silence.


Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Thank you, all. The historical perspective is valuable; your perspectives are even more valuable.

    Comment by J Stuart — June 12, 2014 @ 1:42 pm

  2. Thank you, Amanda, Kris, and Andrea, for bringing your historical expertise and personal experience to bear on this crisis in our community.

    Comment by ZD Eve — June 12, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

  3. When I was beginning my graduate studies years ago, I consciously and deliberately made the choice not to study Mormon history, especially not women’s history even though it interested me intensely. Some of the things I had learned rattled me, but more than that, I knew that it would put me in the dangerous position of looking over my shoulder all the time in my scholarship. It’s hard enough studying Mormon women’s history as a personal hobby while grappling with the effects that knowledge has on my relationship with the church today. In light of this deeply troubling news, I am so thankful that I kept my professional life separate.

    Comment by A scholar in something completely different — June 12, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

  4. Amanda, Kris, and Andrea, Thank you for your thoughts. Faulkner was right: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” I find myself wondering today, as back in 1993, when silence equals assent.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — June 12, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

  5. Great post. So much to think about on the drive to utah.

    Comment by Natalie r — June 12, 2014 @ 3:01 pm

  6. Wow, this was pitch perfect.

    Comment by EmJen — June 12, 2014 @ 3:09 pm

  7. ” I will sit here and watch and listen and think and pray and hope, and now, probably do so mostly in silence.”

    This makes me so, so sad. ARM is one of the greatest mofem voices of reason I’ve ever read. This is probably exactly what they were hoping for.

    Comment by Kristine A — June 12, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

  8. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I was raised in the Church and served a mission, but I have always had questions and doubts. And when I was in college (at BYU) I often felt like an outcast because I was entirely too vocal about my doubts. It took me a while to realize that not everyone shared my perspective and that many found my questions shocking and scandalous. At that time, I concluded that doubts were not ok.

    But since then (20 years ago) I thought that things had changed. Kate gave me great hope that someone could be honest and express her feelings and try to open a discussion without fear. I realize today that I looked to her as proof that diverse opinions, etc. are finally ok in the church.

    I never became involved with Ordain Women, but I watched the movement from the sidelines, and found myself trying to explain it to other LDS women I know who were horrified by it. But I didn’t feel like it was my battle.

    But since reading the news about Kate yesterday, I’ve felt like the church stabbed me in the back. This feels so inexplicably personal to me. It feels like I could just as easily be Kate. This action reminds me that to be accepted, I have to sit quietly. It tells me that all the doubts and questions I have are not ok–or are only ok if I’m silent about them.

    I don’t know if any of this makes any sense. I’m still confused by how utterly upsetting this news has been to me and how personally I’ve taken it. I’ve never even met Kate. I just feel completely betrayed by the church right now.

    Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts here. I don’t have anyone to openly discuss this issue with, so I appreciate this forum.

    Comment by Elaine — June 12, 2014 @ 3:40 pm

  9. To everyone blindsided by this action, welcome. I lived through all of the accounts of history you’ve listed above. When I saw the website I knew it was only a matter of time that the excommunication council convene.

    It is unfortunate that simple minds continue to prevail upon women. I have sat quietly in meetings governed by ignorant men as well as brilliant men. I question where exactly the order was handed down regarding Kate’s excommunication council. It is wrong that she is being tried in absentia. If it is Salt Lake that wants her answers then she should be given that forum, not tried in a place she no longer lives.

    What I find more disturbing than anything is the inability to ask questions. Not stupid questions, but real questions on why certain things matter and others don’t. No one asks when a bishop withholds a temple recommend from a righteous woman because her husband doesn’t pay tithing. Mind you she doesn’t work, but there is no reason that she should be held accountable because her husband doesn’t pay his tithing. But these types of things happen all the time. The woman I speak of questioned her bishops reluctancy to allow the recommend and she was then put on probation for three years until such a time as he was released. Just for asking why. This bishop was not called into question ever. The answer to her after the fact is that it will all be sorted out in the eternities.

    All I can say is thank goodness its an eternity, it will take that long to sort all of these wrong doings out. We also need to be mindful and pray for each other continually. Until then I will sit silently as always.

    Comment by Sitting Silently — June 12, 2014 @ 3:42 pm

  10. Thank you for this. And Andrea, I think you put so beautifully exactly how myself and so many of my friends are feeling.

    Comment by Katie Blakesley — June 12, 2014 @ 3:53 pm

  11. Does anyone else find it curious that these directives came down the day after the MHA conference concluded? Last week I sat in the audience as panelists discussed just how far Mormon women’s history has come in the past few years. Today, I think these same panelists would ask to amend their words.

    Comment by Curious Timing — June 12, 2014 @ 5:02 pm

  12. Thank you.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — June 12, 2014 @ 5:28 pm

  13. Very well written. Thank you for your honest words.

    Comment by Saskia — June 12, 2014 @ 6:25 pm

  14. Thanks very much for this invaluable history.

    Comment by Max — June 12, 2014 @ 7:16 pm

  15. Thank you to everyone for your kind words and support. Many of the female bloggers at JI are taking a few days to recuperate and be kind to themselves. I’m sure in the coming days they will express their thanks and gratitude. I just wanted to step in and extend a thank you in the meantime.

    Curious Timing – I didn’t make the comments at MHA about women’s history improving and being increasingly thought of as legitimate, but I certainly said that in other circumstances, and if I could, I would amend my words.

    Comment by Amanda HK — June 12, 2014 @ 7:28 pm

  16. This is the perfect post for this moment. I treasure your perspectives and hope many will hear your words. They certainly resonate with me!

    Comment by Elizabeth Hammond — June 12, 2014 @ 7:45 pm

  17. Thank you all for this important, heartfelt post. We need the perspectives of Mormon women historians in times like this to help us understand our place in Mormon history. This is important work.

    I would offer a soft amendment to the post above. Sonia Johnson did not accuse the LDS Church or its leaders of a “savage misogyny.” This was a major point of contention at her trial. A UPI reporter misrepresented her speech, the transcript of which is in the archive of the U of U. Sonia recounted the misrepresentation in _From Housewife to Heretic_:

    “The second offense I was charged with from the pretrial planning session was supposedly saying, in my ?Uppity Sisters? speech in Salt Lake, that ?Mormon culture, specifically including church leaders, has a savage misogyny,? which was the quote the UPI stringer mistakenly credited me with. Again I referred them to my speech, which they had a copy of, in which I say instead that ?the pedestal, more than any other symbol, reveals our savage misogyny . . . . It reveals society’s attempt to render [women] nonhuman . . .? I pointed out that I had read this straight from the paper, that it had been taped by several people, and that it was inexplicable to me why they persisted in believing their misquote of the UPI misquote over evidence that proved without doubt that I had never attributed ?savage misogyny? to either church leaders or Mormon culture.”

    Sonia argued in her speech that “savage misogyny” was a feature of western culture, not a property specifically of MOrmonism or its leaders.

    Love to all.

    Comment by Joanna Brooks — June 12, 2014 @ 10:18 pm

  18. I am an admirer of every woman mentioned here–including, the authors of the post itself. Thank you for this absolutely brilliant, heartfelt and expansive perspective.

    Comment by Aimee — June 12, 2014 @ 10:44 pm

  19. Wonderful response!

    Comment by Ziff — June 12, 2014 @ 10:54 pm

  20. Andrea, through all of this I’ve been wondering what your reaction would be and your last sentence confirmed my worst fears. Please, please, please don’t be silent. I look up to you. You’re one of the voices that I feel like my conservative family and friends won’t simply ignore.

    Comment by Diana J — June 12, 2014 @ 11:00 pm

  21. You’re not at risk based on what you think, so much as what you do. How is that hard to see. Having questions, doubts is fine. Asking and writing on it is fine. Encouraging others to share those doubts and demanding change in a way that suggests leadership is wrong, no matter what they say (unless it agrees with your outcome) is wrong.

    Not so hard to grasp the difference?

    Comment by DQ — June 12, 2014 @ 11:12 pm

  22. I appreciate every entry in the post, but Andrea, your words perfectly express how I feel. I am grateful for OW. I am grateful for the conversations Sister Kelly as forced out into the open. I too am quietly cheering her on and quietly grieving for her and quietly hoping for something better than this recent action promises.

    Comment by Rachel — June 12, 2014 @ 11:14 pm

  23. Ditto to DQ, #21. The Church seems to respect and welcome genuine and sincere efforts at dialogue. It doesn’t cow to those who choose not to respect those principles. Kate Kelly made an ultimatum. Out of one side of her mouth, she said that she was knocking and asking, and on the other side, she dug in and said “my way or the highway.” She purposely put the Church in the position of creating David and Goliath type of sentimental media moments that told much less than the whole story of male-female relationships in the Church. That’s not acting like an insider, no matter how many times you state that you are one. That’s the kind of politicking that I don’t want in my religious community. To see Kate as an emblem of feminism is to miss the reality of the censure. Kate is, rather, an emblem of a certain type of political warfare.

    Comment by sp — June 12, 2014 @ 11:28 pm

  24. This is among the most important and relevant pieces of bloglit I’ve ever read. Thank you. A million times thank you!

    The three of you together have created the equivalent of state-of-the art dressing for the wounds of Mormon feminists. (I’m a nurse. Medical metaphors-R-us) Anyway, I’m ending my night here, in the company of others who were also taken by surprise with the intensity of pain and heartbreak. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t expect to hurt like I do. For all the reasons you articulate here. God bless us, every one.

    Comment by melodynew — June 13, 2014 @ 12:06 am

  25. This is perfect. Thank you.

    Comment by Cynthia L. — June 13, 2014 @ 1:06 am

  26. Ahh, yes, this is how I feel. Thank you all. Thank you, Andrea.

    Comment by Carina — June 13, 2014 @ 1:57 am

  27. Perfect.

    Comment by fMhLisa — June 13, 2014 @ 3:13 am

  28. A nice piece, Andrea, Kris, Amanda, thank you, very much. I noted my name was left off of W&A 😉 (a credit earned from 5 years’ researching, compiling, commissioning, editing, writing and stress, plus 1 year of exing and 2 years of media appearances…) [editor’s note: fixed. It was originally on there but was inadvertently taken off during an edit that involved copying and pasting. We would like to apologize profusely.]

    I’d start the modern exed feminist list with Fawn Brodie (No Man Knows My History) in 1946, which reflects a feminist approach, eye, critique, and tone, along with a feminist pioneering of psycho-biography. Then I’d add Annalee Skarin, exed in 1953 for Ye Are Gods, although she’s “out there,” her work reflected women’s spirituality and feminist theological qualities.

    Also, along with IWY & MERA in 1977-83, there was a new wave of feminist work launching in 1979-80, a watershed moment or major turning point. I talked about this in a recent podcast. The turn of that decade set the stage for the feminist work of the ’80s, which included many voices, the first Pilgrimage in 1982, and the mini-purge of 1983, which foreshadowed the 1993 event.

    In 1980-81, we at BYU and 7EP were engaging feminism and feminist theology, b/c feminists had been writing in Dialogue, EXII, Sunstone during the 70s — all of which gave rise to the work and excommunication of 1993. They were grounded in that work of the 70s, the rise of feminism in 1980, and found momentum in 1988 with the MWF & Quarterly where all four of us worked together (myself, Lavina, Margaret, Lynne, and Janice)

    I’m glad Joanna caught the “savage misogyny” ref., since Sonia worked hard to live that down. I just revisited that last week, while writing my MHA session response, which made comparisons of OW and MERA, as history repeating itself, and suggests that OW has more in common with MERA than with 1993.

    Comment by Maxine H. — June 13, 2014 @ 5:20 am

  29. DQ, a few points:

    1. “You?re not at risk based on what you think, so much as what you do.” What you are advocating is that women may hold views and may recognize injustice but may not act on it. You may not like her methods but they are reflective of a feminist Mormon perspective in which people had been asking and waiting through third channels for decades. Kate saw what she saw as an injustice, saw hundreds and thousands of her sisters in pain, and decided to act.

    2. You misunderstand the personal reflections, especially Andrea’s. Andrea explicitly says that she wasn’t willing to go as far as Kate. She was never a member of OW. Yet, she recognized Kate’s actions as brave and cheered her from the sidelines… because Kate was addressing a pain that she too had felt.

    3. I am a bit disturbed by your response. You see pain and respond with venom and hate?

    Comment by Amanda — June 13, 2014 @ 5:55 am

  30. Joanna – Thanks for the gentle correction. I meant to thank you before responding to DQ but got distracted.

    Comment by Amanda — June 13, 2014 @ 6:14 am

  31. Thanks for all the comments and especially to Maxine and Joanna for the historical insights. We were all really struck by the impossibility of doing justice to this in a blog post and I am glad that people have brought up its limitations in the comments.

    Also, I appreciate the comments by DQ and SP who so ably demonstrate the difficulties faced by Mormon feminists in these type of conversations.

    Curious timing alludes to the problems of doing Mormon women’s history and the optimism that has surrounded it. I think this optimism has also been tempered by hesitancy as Andrea’s comments alludes to. Such freedom applies to certain topics, while other historical issues still fall into the dangerous category. And of course, Mormon women’s history is still struggling to be incorporated into the dominant narrative – we haven’t moved too much beyond the “great woman” stage/add women and stir. I often think about an interview I did with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in 2005 at FMH. She said:

    Good history is almost always ?dangerous?. In the 1990s, ?history wars? broke out all over the United States ? and in some places that continues. Think of the Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings debate, for example, or the argument of the Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian ? or the arguments of slave reparations. Women?s History was assaulted on many sides during this period. At one point, a Congressman from the Midwest even attacked funding for the PBS documentary on my book A Midwife?s Tale. Women?s history is dangerous. That is why it is important. But if it is serious history ? not slapdash research in the service of a cause, Mormon or otherwise ? it can make a difference.

    Finally, I have been thinking about the limits of historical writing and once again the importance of the lived experience. Mere facts and timelines can never capture the feelings of people. As Andrea said, Kate is one of our own and many feel personally assaulted. The emotions are visceral and as historians we all need to work to capture it.

    Comment by Kris — June 13, 2014 @ 8:55 am

  32. You can submit a testimony to help Kate Kelly here:


    Comment by Rachel — June 13, 2014 @ 10:58 am

  33. As a male and non-Mormon historian, I hesitated entering this deeply felt in-house LDS dialogue.
    But I am thankful to these three scholars, so admirably honest in presenting their different views.
    All three have helped their fellow Saints make sense of their pain and puzzlement.
    And they have done so from the perspective of their own craft.

    Comment by Mario S. De Pillis, Sr. — June 13, 2014 @ 11:28 am

  34. God’s government on earth consists of apostles and prophets according to the King James Bible and modern revelation, and it is their responsibility to advance God’s purposes on earth and to provide His salvation to the human family. In this sacred office they hold they have and will do more to advance the happiness and exaltation of women than all the so called feminists organizations that have or will exist. Be still and see the plan of salvation move among the nations.. A proposal: I am a priesthood holder in the church, and suppose I felt like I would like to have these apostolic keys that the 12 have and I began an organization of fellow high priests, complete with our own web site and name to petition the 12 to give us a share in the governing the church and we went to their offices and ask for admission to their council, and for the opportunity to speak at conference and direct with them the affairs of the kingdom. What confusion and nonsense, I’m thankful that the burden of the kingdom rests upon their capable shoulders and would advise others to allow them to discharge their god given responsibilities.

    Comment by bart — June 13, 2014 @ 11:41 am

  35. It’s a good thing I read the NRSV.

    Comment by Eleanor K. — June 13, 2014 @ 11:51 am

  36. To DQ–I think part of what the historians in this post and in the comments are getting at is that the line between scholarship and activism isn’t always so evident. My understanding is that scholars get called into their bishops’ offices for their academic work on Mormonism or the Bible regularly since their research sometimes does contradict or complicate “revealed truth” and accepted practice. For scholars, it’s not entirely clear whether doing their jobs well will or will not lead to church discipline. In the past, it has. From what I’ve been hearing, this is a large part of the reason so many BYU professors have disengaged from doing Mormon women’s history and even Biblical criticism. It’s hard to do quality scholarship when your job and your church membership are both on the line. In the last few years, with the JSPP, the new gospel topics essays, and other developments, the scholarly community, I think, was breathing a huge sigh of relief that maybe those days were over. Now, we’re not sure exactly what’s going to happen next, but this action against Kelly and Dehlin has understandably had a chilling effect.

    Comment by Chilled — June 13, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

  37. All 3 lost all credibility when they said they were shocked. KK is publicly opposing the religion she claims to love. Odd way to show love. Anyone shocked by this needs some help with observation.

    Comment by dave — June 13, 2014 @ 2:30 pm

  38. Forgive me if others have mentioned this, but to me the biggest indicator that Kate Kelly’s action is being directed from SLC comes not from timing or coincidence, but from the public record. Below are statements from Otterson’s public letter sent last week. This letter echoes sentiments previously expressed by the PR department, specifically that the PR department speaks for the FP/Q12 and that OW is treading close to apostacy.

    Put yourself in the shoes of Sister Kelly’s bishop. How do you not read these PR pieces and conclude that your leadership intends for you to convene a court? Moreover, the Otterson letter implies that the result of the court will be “disappointment and heartache.” No inuendo is needed to believe that Sister’s Kelly’s action did not originate with local leadership. The instruction from SLC was announced through the media.

    **** Excerpts from May 29, 2014 Otterson Open Letter ****

    First, it?s important to understand that the Public Affairs Department of the Church does not freelance. For Public Affairs to initiate or take a position inconsistent with the views of those who preside over the Church is simply unthinkable, as anyone who has ever worked for the Church will attest.

    As managing director of the Public Affairs Department, I work under the direct supervision of two members of the Twelve apostles, two members of the Presidency of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishop, and alongside a remarkable and devoted staff of men and women.

    Yet there are a few people with whom Public Affairs and General Authorities do not engage, such as individuals or groups who make non-negotiable demands for doctrinal changes that the Church can?t possibly accept. No matter what the intent, such demands come across as divisive and suggestive of apostasy rather than encouraging conversation through love and inclusion. Ultimately, those kinds of actions can only result in disappointment and heartache for those involved.

    Comment by Dave K — June 13, 2014 @ 2:38 pm

  39. To “dave” (Comment 37): Normally, we allow a pretty long leash on comments here at JI, but for you, I’m going to draw a careful and distinct line. In commenting on this post, you may, in fact, suggest your own lack of surprise by Kate’s disciplinary action. But for you to question whether myself or my fellow authors were sincerely surprised by this action, you may NOT do. Nor may you, in any shape or form, question our credibility, especially based upon the legitimacy of our personal feelings and reactions, which you are absolutely not privy to, nor will you ever be.

    So, let’s play this game right. If you choose to reword your comment, do so carefully, playing by our rules. If you, or any other commenters, choose to repeat any disrespectful and inaccurate rudeness, you will be promptly deleted, or, excommunicated, as it were.

    Comment by Andrea R-M — June 13, 2014 @ 3:05 pm

  40. […] i have said this?that i believe mormonism is outgrowing the urge to purge?even when i have been afraid. i have said this almost as a dare, willing, hopefully willing, that the religion i love is capable of moving beyond its historic repression of mormon feminists. […]

    Pingback by let it be different this time | Well-Behaved Mormon Woman — June 13, 2014 @ 11:53 pm

  41. All very thought provoking and, I think, appropriately toned discussion.
    There is in LDS thought and practice the paradox of sustaining certain men as God’s duly authorized spokesmen on earth, while simultaneously harboring doubts or even disagreement over policy and/or doctrine. For example, as a faithful Mormon, I may concurrently hold firm to the notion that Joseph Smith was indeed a true prophet of God, while also failing to comprehend or even agree with his teachings on say, polygamy. But my personal disagreement or opinions that run contrary to the prophet would never justify an outright critique or confrontation with the very man whom I otherwise believe to be divinely inspired. It is one thing to humbly and privately harbor doubts or concerns. It is quite another to openly and very publicly allow those concerns to morph into criticisms or a personal mission to recruit others to the cause.
    Could it be that the real conceit lies not with the Goliaths in power, but with the Davids who, in the absence of apostolic authority or keys, openly and flagrantly challenge it? In a very real sense, we have to ask whether or not the very concept of priesthood authority and keys hold any meaning whatsoever, or whether they only apply at the times and issues with which we agree.

    So to be clear, I’m all for free and flowing discourse and the open exchange of ideas. But I personally think we cross a line the moment we seek to force or impose our personal views on others, be they Church leaders or fellow citizens. After all, wasn’t that the “other guy’s” plan in the premortal council?

    I also feel as though the Church has a sacred obligation to protect itself from critics and self-appointed saviors who are sure they alone know the better way, and who actively seek to recruit and evangelize others to join them in their cause. At what point does criticism become apostasy? My sense is the line is whenever the individual actively seeks to promote or advocate their alternative ideas in such a way that others begin to lose confidence and faith.

    Finally, as a matter of personal experience in over 35 years of Church service, and having participated in dozens of disciplinary councils, I can recall but one council where a sister’s membership was called into question. In fact, priesthood holders are always held to a higher standard, and their membership far more frequently removed than sisters who have engaged in the same behavior. Just sayin’…

    Comment by kirk — June 14, 2014 @ 9:59 pm

  42. Terrific post. Thank you for your insights as I prepare to teach today’s lesson about the Oath & Covenant of the priesthood to my sisters in Relief Society.

    Comment by Kathryn Pritchett — June 15, 2014 @ 9:17 am

  43. Misogyny and feminism are men’s issues. Just as racism was/is a white issue. We are the perpetrators therefore men must have the conversations with other men. We men must become the feminists.
    How can we possibly imagine ourselves “glorified” “exalted” or even “saved” if engaged in or even quietly condoning any kind of demeaning behavior?
    The history of state ordained misogyny has its roots in conquest. It’s perpetration is merely a continuation of that premise and pattern.
    Kate may be “burned at the stake“ but her legacy will grow into normalcy and our descendants will wonder at our meanness, cowardice and superstition.

    Comment by Robert Higgin — June 16, 2014 @ 12:39 am

  44. Kris, Andrea, Amanda —
    thank you, for taking the time and effort to research and write this piece (and thanks for fixing my typo, no apologies!).

    Historical context is so needed for this current controversy — it’s the only way to make sense of it. We need much more of that.

    Your work encourages me to share more context. I was especially impressed by your honesty and balance. We need much more of that, too.

    Comment by Maxine H. — June 18, 2014 @ 2:37 am

  45. As a total newcomer to the “Blogernacle,” I have to say I’m surprised and discouraged by some of the responses to commenters here. When well-reasoned and respectful counterpoints are shouted down as being “venom and hate,” or when someone is condescendingly berated for questioning the authors’ viewpoints, in my mind it plays directly into a certain stereotype of feminism that I have always consciously tried to resist… one I certainly didn’t expect to find in the church.

    Comment by TR — June 20, 2014 @ 8:50 am

  46. TR – Part of it is a reflection of a longer history of women being called unfaithful for having questions about the role of gender within the church. The bloggernacle has a much longer history of men and women whose beliefs don’t quite fit into standard TBM understandings of Mormonism being constantly ignored, blindsided, and belittled. As a result, there is little tolerance for such things on most blogs. People are not always responding to the individual comment. They are often responding to a much larger and longer history.

    “Not so hard to grasp the difference?” This sentence, which came off as condescending is the one that set off my condescension alert is what led me to accuse them of venom and hate. You might not see it this way but I read a tone within that last sentence that sounded disrespectful and rude, and I responded, I thought, with a measure of respect.

    I would also like to note that accusations of “tone” are frequently made against women. Women when being assertive are often accused of being “rude” or “aggressive,” whereas men are called leaders. I think most women are quite frankly tired of being told to watch their tone.

    Comment by Amanda HK — June 20, 2014 @ 10:41 am

  47. […] Amanda HK: A History of Women?s […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » MSWR: Church Courts Edition — June 22, 2014 @ 6:35 am

  48. […] A History of Women’s Excommunication (Juvenile Instructor) […]

    Pingback by Volume 3.24 (June 9-15) | The Nightstand @ Weightier Matters of the Law — July 8, 2014 @ 9:20 pm

  49. […] or whose marriages might be at risk if they are too vocal ? who will decide to stay quiet. In her reflections on a post I helped to co-author at the Juvenile Instructor, a professor at Brigham Young University?Idaho […]

    Pingback by Excommunicating Feminism in the Mormon Church | Nursing Clio — July 10, 2014 @ 8:47 am


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