“I’m a Mormon. I’m a wife. I’m a daughter. I’m an aunt. I’m an international human rights lawyer. I’m a returned missionary and Brigham Young University grad. And - I think Mormon women should be ordained.”
With these words, a bold, idealistic activist named Kate Kelly launches Ordain Women, a movement asking for equal power for women in the religion to which she belongs.
Born and raised in the Mormon religion, Kate served as an overseas missionary, attended a Mormon university, and married in the Mormon temple. Devout, she believed the Church to be an institution that valued her inquisitive mind and leadership potential. It taught her to “knock”, and to “ask questions”. She obeyed, and asked: why are only men able to hold the priesthood?
An Unruly Faith opens in 2014 as Kate asks this question and launches Ordain Women, a small group of Mormon women unified in an appeal to permit female priests. The film follows the group over the subsequent year, as they organize, form a board, and stage a series of creatively mischievous and assertive public actions. These actions attract hundreds of followers from around the world, amplify whispered conversations about power and equality in the Mormon faith, and bring the divisive issue of female ordination squarely into the public eye. As a Mormon feminist imagines in the film, the women want “…a faith where women don’t have to leave when they ask hard questions.” They hoped the Church would concur.
They were wrong. A year after founding Ordain Women, Kate is excommunicated. Devastated, she retreats to Kenya with her husband. Over the coming months, she suffers the emotional and spiritual upheaval historically experienced by excommunicated Mormon women: she is marginalized, her family is ostracized, her marriage unravels, and she experiences emotional collapse. Ordain Women loses its charismatic leader and is left trembling. From the outside, it appears the Church has successfully disposed of a perceived outlier, and resumed order.
But there are cracks.
The expectation was that Kate and Ordain Women would repent, or disappear. In this case the Church misjudged both the movement and its leader. Ordain Women regrouped, remains active, and was recently cited on a leaked Church document as one of the most prevalent threats to the Mormon Church, alongside false prophets and pornography. Kate has left the faith but has not stopped working on behalf of women. It is not likely that the question of female ordination will be buried for long.
An Unruly Faith is the story of a woman who challenges a Goliath and loses, only to return to find she has fractured the ground on which the behemoth stood. By following Kate’s story through the creation and controversial actions of Ordain Women, through her personal excommunication, exile and emotional upheaval, and finally her return to the public eye, the film explores what it means to question a formidable authority, at great personal risk. It is a story of a unique woman fighting an institution, and the choir that grows when one voice is silenced.