Supporting Gender Equality in the Church Results in Excommunication by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileIt is unnerving to think that excommunication is still a real threat in the 21st century. Within both the Catholic and Mormon Churches members continue to be bullied into submission with such threats. Today, speaking out against gender injustice seems to be a sure way for one to end up expelled from her or his community. Kate Kelly, a human rights attorney and Mormon feminist, has become the most recent in a long line to be rebuked for speaking out about gender discrimination and is waiting to learn her fate following a trial by LDS Church leaders.

Within both the Catholic and Mormon Churches, women continue to struggle for the acknowledgement of their full humanity. A primary issue that is continually recognized as one of the most divisive for both traditions is women’s ordination. Many cling to traditionalism and the teachings of the hierarchies of their Churches. Both traditions argue that women are equal but have distinct roles. In Catholicism, the Vatican has been clear that women cannot be ordained because (they say) Jesus named no women apostles and the priesthood exclusion based on gender is in accordance with God’s plan. In the Mormon Church similar beliefs stand; in addition, women are relegated to the role of mother, which is considered the counterpart to the priesthood. Thus, according to the tradition, men and women have distinct but equal roles and women are unable to hold the priesthood because it is not what God desires. To publicly support the ordination of women is punishable by excommunication within both Catholic and Mormon worlds. In fact, according to the Vatican, to support women’s ordination is to commit the gravest crime against the Church – one that compares to pedophilia.

Nevertheless, many continue to argue that the only tradition being supported by denying women the right to be ordained is the tradition of sexism. Roy Bourgeois, a former Maryknoll priest defrocked by the Vatican for his support of women’s ordination, has argued profusely that refusing women the priesthood based on their femaleness is a sin; specifically the “sin of sexism.” Likewise, according to Rosemary Radford Ruether, “Catholic Biblical studies have shown that there is no valid case to be made against the ordination of women from the Scriptures. Rather this rejection reflects fundamentally a sinful prejudice against women similar to traditions that believed that Blacks were inferior and should sit in the back pews of the church. It is the Vatican that needs to recant of this sinful prejudice and accept that it is God who is calling women to be ordained.” From the Mormon perspective, Margaret Toscano, has argued that, “In some ways this issue is even more crucial in the LDS Church than in other religious traditions because the Mormon organization is based on a lay priesthood where all active boys and men have priesthood. What this means is that grown women have less practical and religious authority than their 12-year old sons.”

Kate KellyResponding to the ongoing gender discrimination in the Mormon Church, Kate Kelly founded the Ordain Women movement. It was launched on March 17, 2013 by a few dozen women and men and since has grown to include the profiles of more than 400 Mormons ranging in age from early 20‘s to late 60‘s who are publicly calling for women priests. It has become a central hub for practicing Mormons to express their concerns and call for the ordination of women. It has also become an organizing platform for social action.

On October 5, 2013, about 150 women and their male supporters requested entrance for women to the all-male Priesthood Session of the LDS General Conference. Supporters gathered in Salt Lake City and one by one approached the general meeting, knocking on the door and requesting admittance. One by one, each woman was turned away. While supporters were hopeful, they anticipated the refusal; that said, the movement was successful in eliciting a response.

The use of the Ordain Women site allowed the energy around the movement to accumulate leading up to the Conference. This gave LDS Church leaders time to consider how or whether they should respond at all. Ultimately, Church leaders decided that while they were not ready to admit women into the meeting, women should in fact be able to see the proceedings. Thus, for the first time in history, the LDS General Conference was broadcast so that it could be viewed by women, and by anyone who was interested, over their computers or televisions. While it was not the response that was hoped for, giving access to the meeting virtually was a step in the right direction. The day immediately following the Conference, the Ordain Women site received over 100,000 hits and its traffic continues to grow giving Mormons who support women’s ordination and other issues related to gender equality a place to share their voices.

Kelly 3On April 5, 2014, Kate Kelly led a march on Temple Square again calling for the ordination of women. Just two months later, LDS Church Leaders responded calling for the excommunication of Kelly. Sadly, LDS Church leaders continue to feel so threatened by the possibility of women in leadership roles that their only recourse is to eliminate any person who attempts dialogue. Kelly’s efforts have made an incredible impact in the Mormon Church and no doubt, will continue to do so. While LDS Church leaders may be able to dismiss her, they cannot dismiss the issue of gender inequality. I wonder, when will the Mormon and Catholic Churches stop excommunicating its members and enter dialogue about their patriarchal ways? Until then, I am thankful for women and men like Kelly and Bourgeois who continue to take stand despite those who attempt to bully them into submission.

*As Kelly faces excommunication, so does John P. Dehlin, the creator of a website and podcast that offers a forum for Mormons who are questioning their faith. His local church leader has given him until today, June 18th, to resign from the faith or face an excommunication hearing.

Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D., is Dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion.  She has authored multiple articles, the book Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence (Routledge, 2014), and is co-editor (with Rosemary Radford Ruether) of the anthology, Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century (Routledge, 2014).  Her WATER Teleconference,In Search of Healing: Confronting Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence,” can be accessed here.  Gina’s research interests are theologically and ethically driven, involve a feminist and interdisciplinary approach, and are influenced by her activist roots and experience working with survivors of rape and domestic violence. She is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences, and in the national news circuit including appearances on Tavis Smiley and MSNBC.  She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the globe.  She continues to be active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing for those who have encountered gender-based violence.  Gina can be followed on Twitter @FemTheologian and her website can be accessed at

Author: Gina Messina

Gina Messina, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. She writes for the Huffington Post and is the author or editor of five books including "Faithfully Feminist" and "Jesus in the White House: Make Humanity Great Again." Her research interests are theologically and ethically driven, involve a feminist and interdisciplinary approach, and are influenced by her activist roots and experience working with survivors of rape and domestic violence. Gina is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences, and in the national news circuit including appearances on Tavis Smiley, MSNBC, NPR, and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the globe. She is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing for those who have encountered gender-based violence. Connect with Gina on Facebook, Twitter @GMessinaPhD, Instagram @GinaMessinaPhD, and her website

19 thoughts on “Supporting Gender Equality in the Church Results in Excommunication by Gina Messina-Dysert”

  1. Thanks for this update. I have read “Ordain Women” many times, very moving. And after what they do, they wonder why people leave the RC church or the Mormon faith.


    1. Hi Sarah,
      Thanks for your comment. I disagree with you. I think it is unfortunate that we often refuse to accept women’s self identification as feminist if they also remain within a patriarchal religious tradition. We define spirituality for our selves. I am a Catholic feminist, I find spirituality within my Catholic faith, and my feminist beliefs are authentic. I think we spend so much time telling each other that we cannot be feminist and religious that we forget to support each other’s feminist journeys and recognize that it is okay to have different paths.


      1. So glad to hear your reply, Gina. I find it inspiring to hear about the work of feminists in still-patriarchal faiths. Your work is a harder version of what we feminists outside of such faiths are doing, although I think both are necessary to the changes we need to make in our society.


  2. Gina, thank you for this important piece and for this blog in general. So rich and varied. At this point I’m educating myself more about my Catholic history so I can stay IN and speak up, listen well, encourage young and old to BE the church they want. For now, I am working to make whatever change can be made from within. Sara and Carol, I don’t disagree, I just know this is MY path – stay and speak and share what I understand. We have ordained a local woman through the Women Catholics and tho priests and nuns were told not to attend, a large following of Catholic men and women did and have stayed or kept one foot in each world (so far). Thanks to you all for the work and words you’ve offered.


    1. Marni – thank you so much for your thoughts here – I certainly empathize with your journey! We each have our own path and like you I chose to stay IN and speak UP – all of our journeys count and our voices matter!


  3. Considering both the history and the current actions of these two churches, why would anyone even want to be a priest and represent these churches and their god?


    1. Hi Barbara, I appreciate your spiritual path – but it feels very dismissive when you make comments like this. I think that the objective of FAR is to offer a platform for dialogue and where feminists support one another. My journey should not be less than yours because I choose to maintain a Catholic feminist identity. Rather than having my choices challenged I would much rather receive support from my community on my decision to continue my work from within the Church. My choice is not less than yours.

      Feminism is not separate from religion – they intersect and many women choose to continue the work to have their voices heard. We should support them in that rather than questioning their efforts. Too often on this site we have very negative comments that judge women and men who maintain a particular identity. That doesn’t seem feminist to me – it seems hurtful. We need a more supportive community here at FAR – that has always been the intention of this site – not to judge or challenge one for their choices because they are different from one’s own, but to offer support, friendship, and continue the path forward.


      1. I’m not sure about this interchange. For me I didn’t read Barbara’s comment as dismissive. I don’t think Barbara said she didn’t respect women who work for change within, rather she said (perhaps) that deep down she doesn’t fully understand why women would want to be part of a religion that didn’t want them as full participants in it. For me this is a more subtle issue than simple lack of respect for different paths. If that is what she meant, I think it is a point that can be expressed, with all due respect to all of our differences.


      2. Thank you, Carol for sharing your thoughts here. I did not mean to seem harsh – rather I just wanted to point out that “I affirm you in your journey” has a very different tone than “I don’t understand you.” Affirming each other on our paths I think is far more productive than continuing to pose the same question that the patriarchy poses…why stay if you don’t agree with the misogynistic perspective? Why not, I support you in working for change for the women in your community – even if that is a choice I do not make?


      3. Hi Gina —

        I can understand your response to Barbara. But I think her question can be asked in a supportive manner. It’s one of the basic questions that has been circulating in posts and responses here at FAR: Why did I leave my Calvinist birth religion? Why did you stay in your Catholic birth religion? And how can we be supportive of each other in these different contexts? I think these are emotional questions, and get to the heart of who we are as religious feminists. And I believe the more we know about each other, the better we can support each other. And from my reading of FAR, most of the time we really have been quite supportive, with a few notable exceptions.


  4. “Excommunication…” the coward’s weapon, which is effective only if people accept it–and the self-proclaimed “authority” behind it–as legitimate.


  5. WOC, the Women’s Ordination Conference, Erin Saiz Hanna, Executive Director,should receive mention for the laudable (and disruptive!) work they are doing to forward women’s ordination in the Catholic Church. They can be supported on Kickstarter.


  6. I am a former Catholic (20) and a former Mormon going on for 6 years now. I’m sorry that Kate and John are facing excommunication, but, the deeper issue is communication. As someone who has been on the outside of both communities now I can say that neither side does a good job of listening and or communicating which is essential for change.

    I can’t tell you how many of my comments on Mormon blogs have and were placed in moderation simply because they were not progressive enough in some eyes. This is problem. This is problem because both Kate, John and other people who claim to speak for those of us on the outside lost valuable support from people like me because we got put out with the trash by both sides.

    It really is true, children don’t like seeing their Parents fight: in this case, I was watching THE CHURCH and its leaders fight with Kate and John; each side saying how right they both were and are; to the exclusion of those around them who had other issues that were just as important not being addressed; and being pushed further away


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