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Kate Kelly: If staying in LDS Church doesn’t ‘spark joy,’ it’s OK to leave

In a letter dated July 23, 2014, excommunicated Mormon Kate Kelly appealed her sentence to Scott Wheatley, the president of her former stake in Virginia. Creative Commons image by Maralise Petersen.
In a letter dated July 23, 2014, excommunicated Mormon Kate Kelly appealed her sentence to Scott Wheatley, the president of her former stake in Virginia. Creative Commons image by Maralise Petersen.

Creative Commons image by Maralise Petersen

In a letter dated July 23, 2014, excommunicated Mormon Kate Kelly appealed her sentence to Scott Wheatley, the president of her former stake in Virginia. Creative Commons image by Maralise Petersen.

When I was excommunicated from the Mormon church just over a year ago, I was widely quoted as saying, “Don’t leave. Stay, and make things better.”

Many felt that asking women to stay in a church that doesn’t value them as equals was confusing and dangerous. While probably true, at the time I was torn. I didn’t want them to succeed in forcing us out of a space we had fought so hard to claim.

Just this past week a young woman, heartsick and exhausted over the treatment of LDS women, contacted me for advice. She remembered my thoughts to “stay and make things better,” and was determined to do just that. However, when I originally made that statement, I, too, was hurting and exhausted. I hadn’t had time to experience the wonderful resolution and beauty that exist outside of Mormonism.

It is a refreshing discovery to experience the easy peace that comes when you stop struggling to reconcile your heart with a faith community that devalues you.

I let her know that staying is not the only honorable choice.

The decision for a person to stay active in the Mormon church should be based on an honest evaluation of its benefits, and not fear.

The popular home-organizing guru Marie Kondo offers some tips that seem applicable to organizing your spiritual life as well as your shelves. In every quest to de-clutter your living spaces, she encourages people to take out every possession they own and examine it. When deciding to keep or get rid of any given item, Kondo encourages the aspiring de-clutterer to ask themselves: “Does it spark joy?” If the item does not spark joy, it should be discarded to free up space.

I encourage Mormon women to ask themselves a similar question: does my participation in Mormonism spark joy?

I’ve had a year since my excommunication to reflect on my personal answer to this question, but embracing the result has been empowering.

READ; My daughter isn’t a Mormon anymore


While serving a Mormon mission in Barcelona, Spain, I bought a puffed-sleeve T-shirt with the words in swirly cursive “Stop believing things that are not true” across the chest. At the time, I arrogantly thought of it as funny because I was proselyting that Mormonism was the one true church with a monopoly on truth and goodness. My affinity for that saying has changed over my journey, as it now inspires me to be honest about whether Mormonism sparks joy for me.

It is like discovering air in your lungs for the first time, to let go of the heavy burden of dogma and injustices that act like ritual in Mormonism’s charade to assure us that all are equal. The price of agony needn’t be paid to a church that isn’t willing to hear you and hold you in that pain. They don’t deserve your anguish.

It has been indescribably freeing for me to stop believing that men have control over whether or not I go to heaven. They don’t. In excommunicating me and continuing to punish others, male leaders of the church are gambling on a future of controlled obedience.

It won’t work. We tried to make a middle space where authenticity and orthodoxy could co-exist. Church leaders rejected that. Therefore, it’s not a sign of defeat or weakness to leave an institution that causes you pain. It’s quite the opposite.

READ: “Despicable Me” creator on Mormonism, Minions, and “the best calling in the church”


I don’t wish for Mormon women to follow me — or to follow anyone. I want them to follow their own hearts, aspirations and dreams. Sometimes the culmination of that journey will lead them out of the church — and that’s O.K.! There is hope and joy to be found in abundance outside of Mormonism. There is calm and rest for your soul, and equal opportunities for your daughters. For many women the safer and more peaceful choice is to leave the church.

Give yourself permission to make the best choice for you and your own wellbeing. Put your faith in yourself and in women.

Always remember, you have power. You can exercise that power by sending a message to the church and voting with your feet. You can remove your name from the records of the church as a way to communicate to male church leaders why they can’t keep you or others like you. This has been my husband’s choice, and for many, many people I respect and admire.

A mass resignation event is scheduled in Salt Lake City at City Creek Park on Saturday, July 25, at 2 p.m. I think it is important to register dissent and let church leaders know the cost of their rigidity.

In the end, there is no one true way to dismantle patriarchy. It will take both people on the inside continuing to agitate and people leaving the church and marking their dissent to facilitate the necessary equality overhaul of Mormonism. But, no one should be made to unduly suffer for the cause of religious parity.

Male leaders colonized our minds to make us think we had to play by their rules to be taken seriously. But, we don’t have to stay and “endure all things” for our critiques of the patriarchal system, and the harm it causes, to be valid. Our level of orthodoxy does not determine the legitimacy of our thoughts, desires, concerns and demands.

After a year, the version of me who wants to urge people to stay has evolved.

I wish now to amend my original advice: If the church does not “spark joy” in you, leave with your head held high.

(Kate Kelly is a co-founder and former board member of Ordain Women. This commentary first appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune.)

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  • And the accounting books are closed to all but the prophet/”profit” and his all-male hierarchy

  • Added information:

    Mormonism is a business/employment/investment cult using a taxing i.e. tithing “religion” as a front and charitable donations and volunteer work to advertise said business.

  • They should leave but because they teach/preach a different Gospel and the
    Bible says if anyone comes to you and preaches/teaches something different
    they/that person will then be eternally condemned! How anyone can still follow
    teachings of the heretic Joseph Smith/mormonism is beyond my belief. All the
    “spirit bride” nonsense when there’s no sex in heaven and all the predictions
    Mr. Smith made that didn’t come true proves he was not a prophet from God!

    In beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word/Jesus
    was God then the Word/Jesus/God became flesh! He/Jesus Christ is God!

    Luke 13 says/shows works do not save us/the fruit is the fruit of Repentance
    because non-believers do good works so the only thing we can do is Repent!
    No true prophet can be revered if they’re a liar and Mr.Smith is a proven liar!
    Jesus said if you’ve seen Me you have seen the Father and plus Emmanuel
    means God with us so Jesus was God with us as part of the…

  • If your marriage no longer sparks joy, it’s OK to leave…
    Sometimes life is tough. Just because there maybe ‘joyless’ difficult moments, abandonment is not the best course.
    I’m sorry Kate, but you set yourself up to fail on this. Your motives were good, you just wanted to request that question be asked. You seemed willing at first to accept the answer received.
    It seems to me that the momentum of your website and the gushing of approval of those wanting to see a change in the LDS church made it increasingly difficult to accept – no change – as an answer. How could a self respecting attorney simply accept ‘no’ as the answer with so much publicity, ego and expectation requiring the answer to be ‘yes’ without creating the perception of failure? Instead, you now have set yourself up as the martyr.
    With such a large support group validating your victim status, how can you possibly see through the distortion? Public approval is intoxicating but is not reality.

  • As a female in the LDS church, I don’t really get all this angst over supposed female inequality. I feel perfectly valued in the church. It’s sad to me that some people feel so upset about something that doesn’t really even have to be an issue. Reminds me of all the things in my life that maybe I should just let go of and stop making un-necessary mountains out of.

  • I left the LDS religion about 12 years ago after much thought and reflection. I did research on the LDS roots and it came up as very convenient for Joe and his gang of liars and gold diggers (read One Nation Under Gods).
    Since leaving the LDS church and the state of Utah I have gained a much broader understanding of Christianity, faith, and what is perceived as God. I am much more comfortable with myself and feel like it was a good decision for me.

  • Tell us what it is like to be a woman in the Mormon church Randy. If people are not happy then they should absolutely do something about it. Life is too short.

  • I’m a member of the LDS church, and I’ve never felt undervalued as a woman. My experience (both personally and from watching my mother and other women of the church) has been more to the effect of the church putting too much responsibility on the shoulders of its sisters! My bishops have relied so heavily on the relief society! The priesthood seems to mostly serve through manual labor haha. But women take part in that too!
    That being said, no one should be afraid to leave. Fear is spiritually destructive. I’ve feared specific members of the church, as a woman, but not the church itself.

  • Thus if being friends with a toxic, abusive person brings no joy, I should just stay and “adapt” myself to that demeaning attitude. I left religion because it was a strain, it made my life both joyless and impoverished. I would go as far to say organized religion exacerbated my mental illness. No one should be forced to choose to stay within any type of relationship that is abusive, toxic, or disempowering.

  • People should be able to leave religion freely without the guilt, without the constant emotional blackmail, in the form of threats about your supposed future destination to perdition. We don’t constantly bamboozle those that choose to stop drinking alcohol with the same nonsense, in the vein of “you’ll go to an eternalized torture dimension, if you stop drinking.”

    Yes, organized religion, like anything, can actually be a very negative experience for some, and we should understand that not everyone’s religious experience will be the same. Nothing in this world is infallible, or immaculate, so why decide that a few doctrines overrule the heart of someone, or undermine their need to liberate themselves from something they found toxic, demeaning, neurotic, and only contributed to a self-loathing temperament.

    Kate Kelly is being mature about making her own decision to rediscover joy in her life. Kudos to her!

  • The Mormon church will imply that she is venturing into “outer darkness,” the Evangelical church will constantly imply that you’ll go into some

    Some religions are intrinsically anti-democratic at their heart because the chief ethical violation has nothing whatsoever to do with ethics. They tend to think disassociating yourself freely, within a democratic society, connotes that you’re disordered, deserving somehow of “eternal damnation,” a scheme of the holocaust that goes beyond the pale of mere evil. We’re talking very deep evil, for an act that hurts no one, carries no real consequences besides bringing joy, relief, and an ability to feel astoundingly human again for that one human being that decided that religion wasn’t for them.

    The only unethical thing in this scheme is the emotional blackmail, and this very neurotic, primitive, undeniably insane insistence that leaving any religion makes you deserving of death.

  • Kate Kelly found out, though,that many organized religions, nonetheless still have a very, deep festering stain of sexism at their heart. If you are a woman that wishes to have a particular role in leadership, you suddenly discover that your religious organization is more than likely very, very sexist, particularly if you don’t stay put, remain submissive in a certain contrived role.

    The church tried in vain to crush her heart and spirit by excommunicating her, for her temerity, her vitality. But nonetheless, she remains resilient,outspoken, and I for one, am very happy she is not letting them win or triumph over her.

    Preventing women from being leaders in any organization, in any sense, is sexism. And the reasons for it are even more sexist, as it implies that women are somehow spiritually inadequate to lead. That is a terrible implication to ponder, especially when we’re speaking not of a minority, but a majority of the human population.

  • Frankly Randy, I see things just the opposite – I find this article to be the best thing that has come from Kate Kelly. That’s my opinion of course, but I was never a big fan of the John Dehlin/Kate Kelly middle of the road approach. The Church isn’t “true”, as Mormon’s say, and to make things worse…it’s not even enjoyable. With those two things in mind I would say that staying LDS has no real point, and I’m glad that Kate Kelly has had the opportunity to see experience that and share her evolving perspective. Great article.

  • That. Then should apply to everithing in life. Or not? If you donot feel welcome at your job quit, at home quit. With your life quit. Really? What a bad advice to offer . we all have to grow up i bid that if someone working un der kelly’s firm if he or she feel that kellly’s firm should be operating differently he should pressure kelly to change the operati g process and if she decides that she will not abide by her em.ployee request then the employee should gather a group of people and protest for change and if the employee gets terminated he the.n Should encourage others to do the. Same right? If her employee does not feel the joy of working for her not only should he quit but ask the rest to do the same What a stubborness. On her part.lack of repentance a nd heroism brings that.

  • You are right no one should be forced to do anything against his or he own will o e should join or leave according to what one wa nts or spects in life, but just because ones marriage or church afiliation does not work does not mean that you should be asking others to follow you on this. I got divorced o ce and that did not make me hate marriage or women. But i agree if you are misserable on whateever place you are instead of complaining move on .now if. Kelly did not feel the spark of joy in the church because she feels that women should runn it and not males. I got an advice for her she should make her own church where she gets to be the president herself and soround herself with women and run it according to her desires she is an attorney she knows where to get the permits needed as sime as that

  • Great. I agree .we all know that anger can kill anyone no matter how smart may be one day the pord will replace some of us male for women because they lesd in many areas succh as temple and church attendance, geneology home visiting and many other assignments but for now e ery gender has its own responsabilities i admire my desr sisters and love them dearly thay are incredible devoted souls i guess thats why mary magdalene always was besides the lord until the last minute and beyond. Love you sisters without you the church is not the same nor are we men.

  • My wife and I enjoy our membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints very much. And so does my mother, my sisters, my brothers and their wives. My mother has born her witness to me many times of the peace and joy that membership in this church has brought her. And I know for me personally, life within the church has been much happier for me internally than life without.

  • Well said my wife a cconvert from catholicism sees how her sisters marriages fade away and her evangelical ones do not seem to get it right either , they live not different lifestyles than the world around them even when their homes are decorated with christian pictures and. Postersand attend church regularly, is that what our critics want our lds women to live like when they question lds women? And charged them as been of low value i have thaught my daughters that from all life styles around us no one i desire for them , i want to see them married to an obedient faithfull lds Man i suspect that unhappy people would like to see us. Like them selves with no direction pleasing their own selfish desires i love my wife a d honor her as such so does her to me and my kids. We have no struggle with our bank account it is ours not only mine , i found my self a job that allows my wife to stay home and raise our beloved children as the church advises. She does not desire to live other way.

  • Craig, I have seen many people saying the same things that you have said concerning the history of Joseph Smith, and it demonstrates a lack of understanding about the general research of history.
    To illustrate this, Imagine you are talking to somebody face to face. The person says they go to church because they believe its teachings. The person has clearly stated their intentions for going to church, but how are we to know if those are their real intentions? There is no way to be 100% sure despite the fact that we had a first hand interaction with this person.
    Now, you claimed that Joseph Smith was a self serving conman as if it was fact. How can you be so certain of a person’s motives almost 200 years ago when you can’t even be ceratin of a modern person’s motives? The answer: you can’t. Neither can any of the secondary sources we read. Keep this in mind when you study. Whether or not you change your stance, at least make it well-educated and reasonable.

  • Imagine there is a cliff. Children are running around nearby. A parent tells the children not to play by the cliff or else they could fall off and die. This causes the children fear. Hence, the parent is using fear tactics against the children to keep them from living their life the way they would like. This is bad, and the parent should be shamed.
    This is equivalent to the argument I have seen posed against the LDS church many many times. I know many do not believe, but let’s assume that the LDS church is true for a moment, implying that it is the only church containing Christ’s gospel in its entirety. If this is true, then distancing one’s self from the church would be putting one at risk of eternal salvation. If this is true, then a loving God would make sure we are adequately warned.
    On the other hand, if the church is not true, then these could simply be fear tactics. It all comes back to whether or not the church is true. How can we know? Search, ponder, and pray.

  • You have discovered many things that you claim to be contradictory which would indeed show that Joseph Smith is a liar. If you are more desirous to prove him wrong than to find the truth, then this will be the end of your search. However, if you truly want to find the truth, you must dig a little deeper and make sure that these are indeed contradictions and that they are not just truths that appear contradictory.

    For example, your final paragraph seems to imply that the LDS faith teaches that works save us rather than the fruit of repentance. However, all teachings of the LDS faith are centered on the atonement of Jesus Christ and how it is only through Christ’s mercy that we are saved. However, we cannot hope to be saved by His grace if we choose to remain in our sins rather than follow Him. I encourage you to research LDS teachings and seek to understand them so you can form a more educated opinion concerning this church.

  • Wow. No misunderstanding here.

    Joseph Smith was a con man. He told people he could find treasure with a magic stone, which was a lie. We know it was a lie because he never found treasure, yet continued to sell his ‘services’ to those who didn’t know any better.

    After leaving NY, he then conned people into joining his religion, which made him wildly rich and gave him immense power.

    We can’t be 100% sure that the flying spaghetti monster doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t mean we should all join a religion centered around it. That’d just be dumb.

  • Here’s your problem. You think women wanting to have half the leadership means demanding to run it.

  • Bravo Kate! I left the church almost 23 years ago and have never looked back. I was the spiritual living teacher my ward at 23 and husband was a return missionary who served as ap and set records in his area. We enjoyed a temple marriage and did all that was required of us and more to serve. All the studying and service was for naught when your spirit is crushed every Sunday by condescending male leaders and female “leaders” who look to their patriarchs for decision making. Religion should be joyful and should be a partnership and if it fails to make you happy then, really, what is the point? I am still happily married to my beloved and we have 4 beautiful children and I know in my heart that our family is an example of living a wonderfully rich life ful of love and service without the church.

  • I agree with you. Maybe Kate Kelly needs to stop blaming the church for all of her problems. She looks so unhappy and harsh, I believe there is nothing that would ” spark joy” for her. I believe she is critical about everything. I personally do not need her to tell me any thing . I can think for myself and don’t need her jabberwocky. I have been a member of the church since 1973. It has brought me nothing but happiness and peace. I am thankful for my membership. She needs to look within her self, maybe that is some of her problem and stop blaming the church.

  • Does Ordain women or people in general have a theme song? It would be cool if ya’ll adopted one.

    I would suggest Xzibit’s song titled: X

    It has a really upbeat tempo, amazing bass too 🙂

    A close second would be another song of his titled: “Get your walk on”.

  • John 15:12: This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

    I’m glad we can all pick and choose the Bible versus we choose to follow…. But don’t worry Maribeth, I cast no ill will in your direction. Instead I will pray to my Lord and Savior that you may see that, “the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” (1 John 2:6).

    May God keep you close to him in all things.

  • Wait…. You mean the flying spaghetti monster doesn’t exist? I’ve based my whole life on a lie? Woe is me!! Whatever shall I do?

    Wait, wasn’t there a one eyed, one horned flying purple people eater around here somewhere?

    And all was right with the world…. <3

    (biggest S for Sarcasm ever!)

  • I agree with you on the point that if the church doesn’t fit your thinking and lifestyle, then it would be better to leave then to stay and vent to/make others lives in the church miserable and cause trouble.

  • Yes, I agree. Reading all the lies and half truths over and over about something so dear to me and my family, I let the pettiness get to me. However, I am not perfect and it is only natural for that to happen to some of us. Phillippians 1: 17 But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. When reading these lies I should remember: Matthew 5:11 ( Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount ) Blessed are ye, When men shall revile you, and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. The scriptures always have a calming effect on me, especially Luke 23 :42-43…… Perhaps, all of us ( me included) and the one who the article is about should remember : the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk the in the same manner as He walked.

  • Your example is used on children. Of course fear tactics work on inexperienced kids. So does the proverbial “carrot on the end of a string” which all children go for and most religions use. “If you eat all your vegetables you get dessert.” “If you obey the commandments you go to heaven.” Sounds good. My actions and decisions now have purpose and meaning, whereas before the promise of reward or fear of punishment they didn’t. The problem is when this elementary system is applied to would-be rational adults. People should not need a reward or fear of punishment as motivation for spiritual matters. If Mormons are fulfilling duties simply because they are afraid of the potential eternal consequences or hope for some reward then it spiritually puts them on a child-like level. For example, hometeaching, tithing, etc. In other words, without dangling that reward in front of you or that lingering fear, people on their own would be incapable of obeying commandments and living…