On Sunday, an all-male panel of church judges convicted Mormon activist Kate Kelly of apostasy and punished her with excommunication from the Mormon church. Kelly founded the group Ordain Women in 2013, which advocates opening the male-only priesthood to women.

Before the verdict was handed down, Kelly actively defended herself, telling The New York Times, "I am not an apostate, unless every single person who has questions to ask out loud is an apostate. I am a faithful, active Mormon woman who has never spoken anything against the leaders of the church, and that's not my definition of an apostate." In a letter to the judges who decided her fate, she wrote, "I was raised in a home with parents who loved the gospel and also taught me that men and women are equal."

Despite Kelly's excommunication, Ordain Women is not backing down. The group has been posting on its website throughout Kelly's ordeal. On Monday, communications chair Debra Jenson wrote, "We are deeply saddened by this news. As Mormons we recognize the gravity of this action. ... We regret that there is no way to predict how local leaders will react to conversations about gender inequality in the Church — many have been supportive in these discussions, others have not. Ordain Women will continue." Mormons believe that excommunication breaks eternal ties with one's spouse and family.

The church has insisted that the excommunication was done out of love, and that if Kelly repents, she may eventually rejoin the community. Kelly, a human rights lawyer, told the Times, "That's classic language of an abusive relationship, where a person abusing and hurting you says that they're doing it out of love."

Another Ordain Women member, "Dana," voluntarily resigned from the church this month to avoid dealing with church leaders. She's remained anonymous because she still has family members in the faith.

Ordain Women's leaders explain their mission this way:

The fundamental tenets of Mormonism support gender equality: God is male and female, father and mother, and all of us can progress to be like them someday. Priesthood, we are taught, is essential to this process. Ordain Women believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.

[Image via AP]