SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — As Kate Kelly's former church leaders met in Virginia on Sunday night to decide if she'll be ousted from her church, more than 100 supporters of the founder of a prominent Mormon women's group held a vigil in Salt Lake City.
Kelly has decided not attend the disciplinary hearing in her former congregation. Instead, she has sent in a letter she wrote and about 1,000 letters from supporters.
It's unknown when Kelly will be notified of the decision, but she could find out by email Sunday night.
Whatever the outcome, Kelly said she will always be Mormon.
"I don't feel like Mormonism is something that washes off," She said. "That identity is not something that they can take from me."
She was shocked to find out earlier this month from her bishop that she is facing excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which she is a lifelong member. The leader of Ordain Women is accused of apostasy, defined as repeated and public advocacy of positions that oppose church teachings.
Similar vigils were held in 17 countries, according to Ordain Women.
"I'm overwhelmed by the positive support and I think it really demonstrates that this isn't just happening to one person. This isn't just happening to me, but it feels like the entire Mormon feminist community is being put on trial," Kelly said before the vigil started.
Kelly, an international human rights lawyer, said she stands behind everything she has done since forming Ordain Women in 2013. The group advocates for gender equality in the faith with the ultimate goal of allowing women in the lay clergy. Kelly insists that she has not spoken out against church leaders or church doctrine.
Women can hold many leadership positions in church, but aren't allowed to be bishops of congregations or presidents of stakes. Stakes are made up of up to a dozen congregations, known as wards. The church's highest leaders, called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, are also all men.
The church says only men serve in the lay clergy as prescribed in "the pattern set by the Savior when it comes to priesthood ordination."
Mormon officials aren't discussing Kelly's case specifically. They say that there is room for questions and sincere conversations about the faith, but that some members' actions "contradict church doctrine and lead others astray."
Mormon church spokeswoman Ally Isom said recently on KUER's radio program "Radio West" that the church is open to discussing gender equality in appropriate venues.
"It is not what is being said — it is how it is being said that becomes problematic," Isom said. "When you use a grammatical ultimatum — Ordain Women — that presents a problem. ... It's really a matter of intent, a matter of method."
Kelly's group drew rebukes from church leaders in April when they marched on church property in downtown Salt Lake City's Temple Square. The women asked to be allowed in a meeting reserved for members of the priesthood, which includes most males in the church who are 12 and older. Church leaders had previously told the group they wouldn't be let in and warned them not to disturb the faith's biannual general conference that weekend.
Kelly is one of two well-known Mormons facing excommunication. John Dehlin, an outspoken advocate for gays and the creator of a website that provides a forum for church members questioning their faith, has a meeting with his stake president in Logan on June 29 to discuss his case.
Scholars who study the Mormon religion say Kelly and Dehlin are the most high-profile examples of excommunication proceedings since 1993. That year, the church disciplined six Mormon writers who questioned church doctrine, ousting five and kicking out a sixth temporarily.
Jan Shipps, a retired religion professor from Indiana who is a non-Mormon expert on the church, said church leaders are practicing "boundary maintenance," using Kelly and Dehlin as examples to show people how far they can go in questioning church practices.
Melissa Mayhew, 31, traveled about 40 miles from Orem to attend Sunday's vigil and to support Kelly's right to advocate.
"We are all of us people who see things that we would love to improve about the church that we love deeply and dearly," Mayhew said. "And we want to be able to actually have these conversations, even with people with whom we disagree."