SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Ignoring rebukes from church leaders, members of a Mormon women’s group for the first time joined men at regional church buildings across the U.S. to watch a live broadcast of the male priesthood meeting.
Members of the group Ordain Women watched the session Saturday night at locations in Utah, Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Texas and the Washington, D.C. area, according to its Facebook page.
The meeting, which coincides with the faith’s semiannual general conference, is held at the church Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City’s Temple Square and broadcast to regional sites around the world.
At the last two general conferences, the women marched to the meeting but were turned away at the door. The demonstrations caused a stir and led to rebukes from church leaders.
This time, Ordain Women supporters focused on gaining entry to regional church buildings where the session was being broadcast live on television. The priesthood sessions traditionally are attended only by males 12 and older.
Ordain Women is pushing for gender equality and for the church to lift its ban on women holding the priesthood.
Laura Pennock of Bountiful called the attendance of the women a historic moment. She was among seven Ordain Women members who attended the broadcast at a church building in Ogden.
“We’re showing up and we’re stepping into forbidden territory that they have said, ‘You’re not welcome here, we do not want you here,'” she told the Standard Examiner of Ogden. “But what it does is it puts a face — a human face — on the people that they are vilifying.”
In Provo, 20 women attended the broadcast of the session at Brigham Young University’s Marriott Center, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Volunteer ushers at the door discouraged, but did not prevent the group from entering. The group also was reminded that it could watch the broadcast of the meeting online.
“We know that we can and we appreciate that,” Abby Hansen of Lehi told an usher there, according to KUTV-TV. “But we want to be here with our husbands, our fathers, our brothers. We want to be a part of it. We want to be here together with them.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in a statement issued Saturday, expressed disapproval of the women’s actions.
“Church leaders have taught that attendance at the General Priesthood Session is for men and boys, while the General Women’s Meeting is specifically for women and girls,” the statement says. “Church members must choose for themselves whether or not they will follow this counsel.”
Women were able to watch the broadcast of the priesthood meeting in Logan; Ogden; Provo; San Francisco; Los Angeles; Dallas; Tempe, Arizona; Lakewood, Colorado; Medford, Oregon; and the Washington, D.C. area, according to Ordain Women’s Facebook page.
But they were turned away at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City and in an Atlanta suburb.
In June, Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly was excommunicated for “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church.”
“It really hurt us when Kate got excommunicated,” said Stephens Nielson, who attended the satellite session in Provo. “It felt like if the church doesn’t want Kate, then maybe it doesn’t want us. But we’re just not going to go away.”