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SALT LAKE CITY – A group of just more than 200 women and their male supporters entered through the gates of Temple Square Saturday seeking admission to the male gathering of priesthood holders at LDS general conference, despite requests from church officials that they not do so.
For the second consecutive conference, the women were invited to view the meeting over broadcast outlets. But group organizers rejected church requests to not use the meeting, designed to bring instruction and fellowship to priesthood holders, or Temple Square as a place to demonstrate their desire for priesthood ordination of women.
But the action did not sit well with church officials:
"Despite polite and respectful requests from church leaders not to make Temple Square a place of protest, a mixed group of men and women ignored that request and staged a demonstration outside the Tabernacle on General Conference weekend, refusing to accept ushers' directions and refusing to leave when asked," said Cody Craynor, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"While not all the protesters were members of the church, such divisive actions are not the kind of behavior that is expected from Latter-day Saints and will be as disappointing to our members as it is to church leaders," Craynor said.
Kate Kelly, founder of the group Ordain Women that staged the march, said, "I have no right to remain silent because I love this church," Kelly said to supporters before leading the march into Temple Square.
A week earlier more than 20,000 LDS women gathered in the church's conference center and millions more around the world followed the broadcast of the General Women’s Meeting, hearing messages from the presidents of some of the church’s auxiliaries — Primary, Young Women and Relief Society — and President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the church’s First Presidency, its highest governing quorum.
The LDS women leaders there instructed the faithful to remember the covenants they made with God and work toward becoming daily disciples of Jesus Christ.
The group of women demonstrating Saturday were part of an effort organized a year ago by Kelly, a Mormon who works as an international civil rights attorney in Washington, D.C., through Internet and social media appeals to women. Between late February and March, the group raised more than $11,000 to help pay for travel costs for women from New Zealand, Mexico City and Germany and throughout the country to join the effort to attend the priesthood meeting.
We feel like ordination is the only thing that will bring us to full equality with our brethren in the church. We sincerely desire and hope that we will be ordained.
–Kate Kelly, founder of the group Ordain Women
Priority in distributing the travel funds went first to "Mormon feminists of color" so they could show diversity in the group, Kelly said and present their message.
“We feel like ordination is the only thing that will bring us to full equality with our brethren in the church,” Kate Kelly, founder of the group Ordain Women, said in an interview with the Deseret News earlier this week. “We sincerely desire and hope that we will be ordained.”
Weeks earlier, a spokesperson from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asked the group to move their demonstration to the free-speech zones off Temple Square.
"Please reconsider. ... As fellow Latter-day Saints and friends of the church, we invite you to help us maintain the peaceful environment of Temple Square and ask that you please follow these details in your continued planning," LDS Church spokesperson Jessica Moody said in a letter to the group.
Men and women gathered in City Creek Park northeast of Temple Square to sing a hymn, pray and then began what they said would be their final march to Temple Square as heavy rain and hail came down in Salt Lake City.
They then passed through the closed gates on the east side of Temple Square, walked to the standby line by the Tabernacle and were met by representatives of church Public Affairs.
The march followed a Friday night "training meeting" for women in the group to discuss how to address the media and to encourage civility during Saturday's action, among other things. Reporters and photographers last week were told by LDS Church officials that they would not be allowed on Temple Square and were asked to respect the sacredness of Temple Square and the spirit of conference.
"I'm here because I love the church and love being a part of the church and it's a big part of my life," said Cally Nielson, 30, of American Fork, who said she is in support of ordaining women to the priesthood. "But I do feel like there is room for improvement and I do think Ordain Women is starting important conversations."
But not all women share the stated goal of the group. "I'm here because I love the church and I support my sisters," said Liz Fryer, 36, of Eagle Mountain, who noted she was not seeking ordination.
A 2011 poll by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that only 8 percent of Mormon women supported the ordination of women to the priesthood. And Mormon women are raising their voices in ways that differ from the group demonstrating Saturday.
Thousands of young women have swelled the church's missionary ranks around the world, which totaled 83,035 proselyting missionaries at the end of 2013.
Mormon Women Stand was created as a Facebook group last month, independent of the church, and is described as a place for "LDS women who, without hesitation, sustain the Lord's prophet, the Family Proclamation as doctrine and our divine role as covenant women for Christ," according to its mission statement.
The group now has more than 18,000 Facebook likes on the page since its launch March 10.
Women leaders also continue to directly impact the 15 million-plus members of the church. Saturday, Sister Linda S. Reeves, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, spoke in the first session of conference of the destructive nature of pornography.
She counseled leaders and parents to talk with youth about the dangers of pornography and “how it overtakes lives, causing loss of the Spirit, distorted feelings, deceit, damaged relationships, loss of self-control, and nearly total consumption of time, thought and energy.”