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By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times

Kate Kelly, the face of the latest wave of feminist demands on the Mormon church, said she is unlikely to seek rebaptism in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints any time soon, after she was formally excommunicated on Monday.

“I’ve done nothing wrong and have nothing to repent,” Kelly said in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, published in Utah, where the church is based. “Once the church changes to be a more inclusive place and once women are ordained, that’s a place I’d feel welcome.”

Kelly said she will likely seek to appeal her ouster to a higher church authority, but the issue she represents — inclusion of women on an equal clerical standing with men — is one with which the Mormon church and other religions have long grappled.

Her case also highlights the issue of excommunication itself — essentially separating the individual from the body of her society. It sounds like a harsh penalty, but it has a long and glorious history in the annals of religion as well as in secular society.

All societies define their membership and operating rules, including those for separating individuals from the pack. If you think this is a phenomenon reserved for religions, just visit any office cooler after a big sporting event and watch the person who rooted for the wrong side being ostracized. American society has even developed a genre of reality television around one’s peers voting someone off of the island. It is no accident one show is called Survivor.

When it comes to religions, however, many have institutionalized ways of defining and including their members and casting out those who fail to make the grade or have thumbed their noses at the prevailing dogma.

Some Protestants sects call it shunning, barring all social contact with the miscreant. Judaism had a form of such censure as well, though the practice has gone by the wayside as Jews were allowed to move out of legal ghettos and the religion divided among different branches. Roman Catholics have a history of excommunication going back to the first century and include a whole slew of kings before, during and after the Protestant Reformation: One side’s excommunicated heretics are another side’s revered leaders.

Over the weekend, Pope Francis declared organized crime in Italy to be excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church: “Those who in their life have gone along the evil ways, as in the case of the Mafia, they are not with God, they are excommunicated,” he said on a visit to Calabria. But that proclamation lacked the formal heft of the leader of the church speaking about doctrine and probably was meant to be more of a warning to hoodlums.

Like all religions, Mormon excommunications, especially for apostasy, or the abandoning of a religious belief, can be complicated.

Last year, Kelly helped found Ordain Women, a group that seeks gender equality and women’s ordination to the priesthood. A former Mormon missionary, she rose to national prominence leading demonstrations at the church’s semiannual conferences at Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

Women do hold leadership positions in the church, which has about 15 million members worldwide, but the priesthood is closed to females, spokesman Eric Hawkins said in an email to the Los Angeles Times. “The pattern of ordaining men to the priesthood was established by Christ in His Church, and is followed in His restored Church today,” he stated.

The national church does not have statistics on how many people have been excommunicated, Hawkins said, since discipline is usually initiated at the local organizational level known as stakes. It was a stake in Virginia that met on Sunday on Kelly’s case and decided to excommunicate her.

AFP Photo / George Frey

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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