Boundary Maintenance and Mormonism

The very public news that John Dehlin, Kate Kelly and Rock Waterman are facing possible church discipline has hit the Bloggernacle with a great deal of sound and fury. I must admit that while I don’t really have a dog in the fight in this particular controversy I find the topic to be fascinating. This issue has highlighted to me the benefits of having a cornucopia of options within Protestantism in which adherents can find an option which best matches their personal understanding on controversial topics. Several notable dissenting authors have enjoyed the ability to disassociate themselves from Evangelicalism entirely and no one had to hold an official trial to boot them out.

I was asked by a Mormon friend (Seth) what I thought of excommunication and whether or not a church should have the right to define itself and officially excuse dissenting members?

To be sure, I think the New Testament justification for church discipline is clearly defined. According to 1 Corinthians we are supposed to be judging other Christians based on their behavior. Paul goes on to say that Christians should cast out immoral believers who failed to repent after proper confrontation. Additionally the New Testament is replete with warnings against wolves in sheep’s clothing and false prophets. These admonitions come from no less than Jesus. Even those wishing to stick with the “red letters” can’t ignore the instruction to evaluate the content of what other believers teach.

What’s peculiar to me about this situation is that Mormons are quite distressed that Christians fail to count Mormons as one the tribe. Mormons wish to define Christianity down to a minimalist definition that few heretics would fail to qualify for. But here, at least in the case of Dehlin, we have a clear example of the LDS church attempting to define who is a true and proper Mormon based on the content of belief. Dehlin acknowledges that he doesn’t believe any of the distinctive truth claims of Mormonism or Christianity. I think he is a clear example of an apostate. To excommunicate him seems to be an unnecessary waste of time and public capital. Dehlin probably would have resigned on his own with another couple rounds of meetings with his bishop or with the next public statement against homosexuality.

In the case of Kate Kelly I think the gesture is a little bit different. Kelly claims to have a full testimony of the church and the gospel according to Mormonism. She might be defined as a heretic but most definitely not as an apostate. And even in the case of heresy I’m not sure the case is open and shut. Ally Isom, the church’s PR representative admitted that there is nowhere in the church’s scriptures or doctrine that says the priesthood is only available to men. At least in the case of the black priesthood ban there were scriptural passages that justified the practice. The restriction of the priesthood for men only appears to be a cultural practice and the official church statement on the matter appears to be “that seems about right”. So if anyone wishes to call Kelly a heretic they at least need to provide her with some scriptural counsel on where she is going wrong.

Isom claimed that the conversation that Kelly wishes to have is welcomed within the church walls. About the only thing Isom seems to pinpoint that Kelly may have done wrong is name her organization, “Ordain Women”, with an imperative noun.

The real sin Kelly (and Waterman) seemed to have committed is questioning authority in a manner in which they do not wish to be questioned. As someone else has pointed out, the church has equated a lack of deference to authority with apostasy. This makes the church appear incredibly authoritarian. It reinforces a great many stereotypes the Church should avoid. I think there are number of options available to the LDS church that are far more practical and responsive to Kelly’s particular offense than accusing her of apostasy. Educating Kelly and the general membership on WHY the priesthood is limited to only men with something other than a declarative statement might be the first step.

The LDS church is in the middle of a very painful growing experience in its history. I think keeping these sorts of disagreements with members out of the public eye would be to the organization’s benefit.

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106 thoughts on “Boundary Maintenance and Mormonism

  1. Ally Isom, the church’s PR representative admitted that there is nowhere in the church’s scriptures or doctrine that says the priesthood is only available to men

    Doug F. was wording the question such that, asking where in Mormon doctrine or scriptures does it say “women cannot hold the priesthood.” Isom was right there is no such teaching. However there are scriptures that describe the order of Mormon priesthood as patriarchal (patriarchal in the Mormon sense, meaning passing from father to son, i.e. patrilineal), such as D&C 107:40-57 and Abraham 1:1 as well as many sermons by Joseph Smith and onward. So it does go beyond culture and tradition.

    About the only thing Isom seems to pinpoint that Kelly may have done wrong is name her organization, “Ordain Women”, with an imperative noun.

    Isom does mention the need to keep doctrine pure and not lead others astray, which would imply that the church thinks Kate Kelly is guilty of both. And rightly or wrongly, deference to authority is a big part of it. As a side note, it seems there is some incongruity where Kate Kelly defers to the authority of church leaders to request a revelation, but does not defer to their authority to request she keep her protests off private church property during conference.

    Educating Kelly and the general membership on WHY the priesthood is limited to only men with something other than a declarative statement might be the first step.

    As Elder Oaks said in his conference talk, no one knows the reasons so we cannot really educate her or anyone else. We can guess (and I have heard some pretty good guesses) but I doubt she would be moved. She has repeatedly stated that female ordination is non-negotiable.

    I think keeping these sorts of disagreements with members out of the public eye would be to the organization’s benefit.

    Co-signed. Excellent post, Tim.

  2. “The real sin Kelly (and Waterman) seemed to have committed is questioning authority in a manner in which they do not wish to be questioned.”

    In addition to Tim’s excellent comment, this conclusion descends from the earlier errors in your entry.

    The conclusion that the LDS excommunicate because of the manner members ask questions is inadvertently hilarious. Personally having blogged with an evangelical minister for the better part of a decade, I have understood clearly when it comes to Mormons, evangelicals always have skin in the game.

    Likewise hilarious is an evangelical bracing against authority as unwise, although in doctrinal practice it is who seem to be.

  3. Please excuse the errant translations that my Dragon narration software sometimes interprets and my trusting it too casually. What I meant to write was:

    Likewise hilarious is an evangelical bracing against authority as unwise. “Most evangelicals believe that they are bound by the Word of God understood as a transcendent, authoritative revelation. But not all are so convinced, and therein lies a problem for the future of evangelical theology and the future of evangelicalism. ”

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/04/evangelicals-divided

  4. Thanks for the post Tim. Thoughtful take on things.

    One thing I am kind of curious about is – what do Evangelicals actually do when they have someone in their midst disrupting meetings, or proselyting anti-faith narratives?

    What if they decide not to move on to a Unitarian congregation or self-regulate in some way? Do you have a way to get rid of them?

  5. A few random comments:

    Several notable dissenting authors have enjoyed the ability to disassociate themselves from Evangelicalism entirely and no one had to hold an official trial to boot them out.

    Certainly, the fact that evangelical denominations, almost by definition, don’t claim to be the one true church allows members themselves to pick a theology and church that suits them. Evangelical denominations can and do set their theological boundaries in part by whom they hire as pastors and by setting the statements of belief for seminary professors.

    But “trials” over theological issues aren’t unheard of. The United Methodist Church (which includes evangelicals and mainliners as members) has had several over pastors performing gay marriages. And some of the more authoritarian evangelical churches, such as Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill, have been known to excommunicate members.

    To excommunicate [Dehlin] seems to be an unnecessary waste of time and public capital.

    I can’t disagree with you there, although I don’t see him resigning his membership voluntarily. If I were his bishop, I’d give him a calling as the church’s volunteer for a soup kitchen or something like that. I simply don’t see the harm of having him in the church as long as he isn’t disruptive (which, as far as I know, has never been alleged).

    [Kelly] might be defined as a heretic but most definitely not as an apostate. And even in the case of heresy I’m not sure the case is open and shut.

    Fair enough.

    At least in the case of the black priesthood ban there were scriptural passages that justified the practice.

    There were scriptural passages used to justify the practice, not the same thing.

    The restriction of the priesthood for men only appears to be a cultural practice …

    I’d call it more than cultural; certainly the fact that Jesus appointed only men as his 12 apostles could be seen as setting a precedent. But there’s also evidence on the other side, such as deaconesses and a possible female apostle in the New Testament. In any case, I’d agree that there’s nothing in the scriptures explicitly barring women from the priesthood.

    Isom claimed that the conversation that Kelly wishes to have is welcomed within the church walls.

    I haven’t heard the interview, so I don’t want to comment specifically on what Isom said. But if such a conversation is welcome within church walls, I’d like to know where. There’s nothing that I know of in the church structure to accommodate that kind of conversation, and that’s a huge part of the problem.

    The real sin Kelly (and Waterman) seemed to have committed is questioning authority in a manner in which they do not wish to be questioned. As someone else has pointed out, the church has equated a lack of deference to authority with apostasy. This makes the church appear incredibly authoritarian.

    I wish I could disagree with you. The church’s current leadership style would have worked really well in the 1950s, but the culture has changed significantly since then. Effective leadership these days requires a lot more transparency and openness than than the church headquarters is exhibiting.

    I think there are number of options available to the LDS church that are far more practical and responsive to Kelly’s particular offense than accusing her of apostasy.

    Undoubtedly. Seeing her as a sister in Christ rather than as an enemy would be a first good step.

  6. One thing I am kind of curious about is – what do Evangelicals actually do when they have someone in their midst disrupting meetings, or proselyting anti-faith narratives?

    Good lord, Seth. OW didn’t “disrupt any meetings.” We stood in a freaking line at a venue that is open to the public. We didn’t picket or run into the conference center chanting, “ORDAIN WOMEN NOW! ORDAIN WOMEN NOW!”

    This grotesque and unfair mischaracterization of the situation, brought to you by LDS Inc. PR, is really frustrating.

  7. You wrote: “This issue has highlighted to me the benefits of having a cornucopia of options within Protestantism in which adherents can find an option which best matches their personal understanding on controversial topics.”

    If only freedoms to embrace various options without recourse to boundary maintenance were the options you present them as, particularly in Evangelicalism. Consider the seminary professors who have lost positions due to their stances on evolution and Old Testament criticism, seminaries that have changed their doctrinal statements to weed out faculty that accept evolution, and debates over inerrancy where any request for open dialogue about the nature of scripture in this regard is ruled out of bounds, liberal, and a low view of scripture at the outset. No, Evangelicalism has its own boundary maintenance struggles just like other religious groups trying to negotiate their faith understandings in the late modern world.

  8. Seth said

    One thing I am kind of curious about is – what do Evangelicals actually do when they have someone in their midst disrupting meetings, or proselyting anti-faith narratives?

    What if they decide not to move on to a Unitarian congregation or self-regulate in some way? Do you have a way to get rid of them?

    I haven’t seen anything like that but the escalation of events would go something like this
    1) Talk with them
    2) Remove them from teaching and leadership
    3) Notify, inform, and teach smaller groups affected by the individual
    4) Notify, inform, and teach the congregations as a whole
    5) Recommend departure or excommunicate (if that option is available)
    6) Call the police and report trespassing.

    There are plenty of authors who no longer believe the tenets of Evangelicalism but rely on that marketplace for sales. Those situations are more similar to the Dehlin/Kelly actions. In those cases, Evangelicals can’t excommunicate anyone, instead we are forced to engage the topic and make better arguments than our dissenters. History has shown that they are successful at suckling away a certain percentage of believers but in the long run their churches aren’t able to replicate or grow.

  9. John said

    If only freedoms to embrace various options without recourse to boundary maintenance were the options you present them as, particularly in Evangelicalism.

    The freedoms do exist, they just don’t exist without consequence (they never do). It’s good and right that organizations define themselves and that their definitions are respected.

    Looking at a secular example. Anyone can start their own scouting group. But dissenters don’t just want a scouting group, they want the size and influence of the Boy Scouts of America.

    As for the Bryant College story (which I assume your referencing), I don’t know all the details, but changing your doctrinal statement in order to dismiss tenured professors has a foul stench on it. But I can also see the benefit of clarifying issues that may be vague.

  10. That’s my point, Tim. Sure, Evangelicals are free to identify with and expression various options on the issues I mentioned, but rather than having an open environment in our subculture where they can be freely discussed without our boundary police at various organizations and institutions applying negative labels to the concepts and those who hold them before conversations even begin. So the “consequences” come because the right perspectives are assumed from the beginning. We may not have the institutional hierarchy of the LDS Church, but let’s not kid ourselves that we don’t have our own boundary maintenance issues and restrictions on freedom of thought and reflection within the Evangelical tribe.

  11. Katie L.

    That was a hypothetical. I wasn’t actually thinking of OW at all when I made the comment. If anyone, I’ve been thinking more of Dehlin than OW.

    I’m fairly undecided on several points about OW, and I’m not even close to as opposed to them as a lot of the folks over on Millennial Star, Meridian Magazine and company. I have points I disagree with them, and points I’m neutral over. But by and large, I view it as an incompetently run and organized lobbying organization.

    However, I don’t buy your narrative either.

    OW, basically told the brethren point-blank.

    1. You guys are wrong on issue X
    2. Pray to God until you guys shape up and agree with our position
    3. And if you don’t, we’ll protest at General Conference (don’t even try to sell me the BS about this not being a “protest” – it was a protest)
    4. And when told by the property owner to not enter Temple Square both before the event, and at the gates – we’ll push our way past the security guards (who wisely stood aside to avoid an ugly confrontation) and go in anyway.
    5. And afterwards, we’ll milk it for all the newspaper shaming we can manage.

    Now, reasonable minds can differ on whether those actions were warranted. But don’t try to tell me that’s not exactly what happened.

  12. In all fairness, I’m told that OW leadership has been kind of feeding their followers a line about how the events at Temple Square unfolded. Namely – “no one told us not to enter Temple Square”

    Oh yes – they most certainly were told.

  13. Tim, I see your point. Definitely the disorganized nature of Evangelicalism yields a different dynamic. I suppose a better comparison would be the Catholic Church. Or some conservative Protestant organization that is known to kick out voices that run too much opposed to the core tenants they require.

  14. The LDS church is in the middle of a very painful growing experience in its history. I think keeping these sorts of disagreements with members out of the public eye would be to the organization’s benefit.

    I am sure the church would have been happy to keep it out of public eye. I think they underestimated how much media prowess Dehlin and Kelley have.

  15. I would not have thought a mere decade ago that I would be sitting through a virtual comparative Christian religious conversation inclusive of the Mormon Church in company with the evangelicals.

    We are not to be found in your traditions at so many levels.

  16. Jared, doesn’t that assume that Dehlin and Kelly’s disciplinary hearings were coordinated and pushed by the central Church in Salt Lake and not the local leaders?

  17. Jared,
    You and other speculating non-Mormons need to be tethered to the ground…as a self-revealed
    “Nietzsche/Wittgenstein/Kierkegaard/Pascal-Styled” person. You speak of the painful growing experience of the LDS while supposing all this would have been most ideally swept under the carpet. Get a grip, we are talking about a pending disciplinary council for 2 inactive members, both so insignificant that the church is holding that discipline at local levels. This stuff happens all the time.The only reason so many have taken note of this is their collective fringe following.

    The LDS (We) have excommunicated General Authorities and an Apostle in your lifetime. And tell me, what do you remember of the quaking that followed after those courts? Nothing.

    Mormons know pain. This is an itch.There is no paint by numbers passage to the future for anyone.

  18. Seth,

    Sure there is a process for removing divisive individuals or a person who promotes doctrine contrary to “vitals of true religion” that can eventually lead to excommunication. In my denomination a layman (ordained or not) cannot be charged with heresy so for the laity to come under discipline for a doctrinal dispute would be extraordinary but not unheard of.

    If you are asking if these types of cases could be brought in a Protestant setting, then I would answer yes, but probably not.

    Hypotheticals are endless, but if Mr. Dehlin wanted to bring about a confrontation that would escalate to the courts of the church I am sure he could do it. In my denomination there would also be the possibility of two very public appeals to drag out his 10 minutes of fame over a year or so.

    I tend to think Kate Kelly would have just been ignored but this may just be my apathy for organizing middleclass protest movements.

    In the Protestant sense I really don’t understand the validity in comparing Church membership and faculty status with a Seminary.

  19. Jared,

    Do you really think Dehlin and Kelly have prowess? Or have they just become the next convenient foil to Salt Lake?

  20. Jared, doesn’t that assume that Dehlin and Kelly’s disciplinary hearings were coordinated and pushed by the central Church in Salt Lake and not the local leaders?

    I am making that assumption. Do you think that the central Church in Salt Lake is not making these decisions?

  21. robinobishop,

    You speak of the painful growing experience of the LDS while supposing all this would have been most ideally swept under the carpet.

    Ideally, it would have been, yes. Publicity is not part of the excommunication process in the Church and the Church was not trying to make a public statement.

    Get a grip, we are talking about a pending disciplinary council for 2 inactive members, both so insignificant that the church is holding that discipline at local levels. This stuff happens all the time.The only reason so many have taken note of this is their collective fringe following.This stuff happens all the time.

    Hmm, all excommunications happen at local levels, significant or not. But as far as the Church is concerned, the popularity of Dehlin and Kelly in the United States is the issue here. That is the root reason they are being excommunicated. Otherwise they would simply be ignored.

  22. Jared,

    Do you really think Dehlin and Kelly have prowess? Or have they just become the next convenient foil to Salt Lake?

    Dehlin and Kelly obviously have prowess, but at the tail end of the Mormon Moment, the media was happy to pick up the story.

  23. Get a grip, we are talking about a pending disciplinary council for 2 inactive members, both so insignificant that the church is holding that discipline at local levels.

    Neither are inactive members.

  24. “Publicity is not part of the excommunication process in the Church and the Church was not trying to make a public statement.”

    Jared, Mistaken again on both counts. The local leaders involved in calling these disciplinary hearings know all too well that both apostates are combative and host a large following in their shadows. They are clearly making a public statement to all those who are like minded on the web. It is on the heads of Dehlin and Kelly to set the tone for potentially their own rehabilitation. They both have long histories of combative apostasy. Now, also, Bishops and Stake Presidents in the Mormon Church normally serve for a mere 5-10 years (so nobody is aspiring to anyone) and when calling councils have no steering from above. SLC Leadership depend on local leadership to know their own people where SLC certainly are not task.To wit, Kelly was in flight from a pending local disciplinary action wishing to exit from the Bishop and not SLC. It’s all local because they held her records.

    Eric: In your correction that neither are inactive is true, but only in the measure of their attendance. Being “active” and Mormon is an is rather like the agility it takes to leap a curb, to show up occasionally and perhaps do nothing in the way of service. It’s a foregone conclusion that both are apostate to the depth of justifying excommunication. It is a spirit of mercy and patience that has guided all leadership in these matters.

  25. Jared,

    I wish i had a quarter for every error non-Mormon telling me what I should believe and what is Mormon.

    “as far as the Church is concerned, the popularity of Dehlin and Kelly in the United States is the issue here. That is the root reason they are being excommunicated. Otherwise they would simply be ignored.”

    I had to repost this from Jared. Next we will hear the reason why both were note excommunicated (when the hearings actually occur) is because the LDS HDQ got scared. 🙂

  26. Odds are Dehlin will not be excommunicated at all….for all the blogging noise of it. And like I previously stated, the hooples will claim the church backed off because of a “public relations disasterous nightmare from beyond the outer darkness”.

  27. Speaking from a Christian evangelical relativistic perspective concerning the doctrine, You must view excommunication in the Mormon church coming from asking the wrong kinds of questions (that being the “real sin”). With thousands and thousands of independent evangelical churches, how can an evangelical think of doctrine as fundamentally vital to church integrity as Mormons do? The question isn’t rhetorical.

    A lack of deference to authority is only a CONSEQUENCE of a lack of deference to doctrine in the Mormon church.

    Evangelicalism at the time of Paul would be deemed by him as the most poisonous apostasy simply because in that day honor to doctrine was demanded.

  28. Do not misunderstand: my statement are not meant to criticize Evangelicalism. I only want to note the extent of your bias in judging what the source of the LDS disciplinary councils are all about.

  29. Katie,
    I suppose I must be from the LDS Inc. PR department to simply explain: you are politely asked not to bring your people for your nonviolent civil disobedience. Your desire for the priesthood is ill-conceived. It goes along with the advice “be careful what you wish for…” Because if you were gain the deference of our Lord in giving you the priesthood, the women then would be doing everything in church, in your great desire to be “equal”.

  30. Actually Eric, John Dehlin was most definitely inactive.

    He’d actually contacted his bishop and told him not to assign Home Teachers and put him on the do-not-contact list.

    That’s about as inactive as you can get in a Mormon ward.

  31. And Jared, I don’t really know what level of central planning went into these disciplinary hearings.

    I do not simply assume that Salt Lake coordinated it. In fact, John Dehlin himself has been on Facebook recanting and saying he no longer believes Salt Lake to be behind it, but rather that it was instigated by his old Elders Quorum president (his words).

  32. Ok, I guess that makes sense, I thought it strange that the two letters went out at around the same time. Given the inevitable fuss, if Salt Lake was not involved, it should have been.

  33. I had to repost this from Jared. Next we will hear the reason why both were note excommunicated (when the hearings actually occur) is because the LDS HDQ got scared. 🙂

    I can’t imagine LDS HQ being scared one way or another. I trust that the courts will be fair and I wouldn’t assume and outcome UNLESS Salt Lake HQ was involved.

  34. Jared’s travels over the course of 3 days over the topic of orchestration from SLC.

    June 20th: “I am sure the church would have been happy to keep it out of public eye.”
    June 20th: ” I wouldn’t assume an outcome UNLESS Salt Lake HQ was involved.”
    June 21st: “have they just become the next convenient foil to Salt Lake?”
    and now….
    Recant June 22nd; ‘Given the inevitable fuss, if Salt Lake was not involved, it should have been.

    You vacillate in lockstep with Dehlin’s changing story. Dehlin now blames his own Elder’s Quorum President who got him in trouble. Blame anybody in the church excepting himself is Typical for any apostate.

    A piece of advice: Without exception the accused in a disciplinary hearing has screwed behavior patterns that put him/her in that disciplinary hearing.

  35. Jarad; ‘Given the inevitable fuss, if Salt Lake was not involved, it should have been.

    This comment presumes an LDS disdain for publicity. Jared and most others outside, presume that the LDS Church wants to squash publicity. Given the Church is directed by Jesus Christ, in his Earthly ministry, do you recall JC typically trying to subdue public opinion…wanting to keep things quiet? Christ and his true church love all kinds of publicity because it brings the right kinds of investigators. These are people that live and work with us, know us….and see a great discrepancy between apostate fiction and the truth they already suspect. Critics push the best people to us. The convert is the lifeblood of the LDS Church.

  36. Hey, robinobishop, just a thought: maybe you might want to take a little more time to think about your comments and compose them, so you aren’t posting a series of six comments at a time every time you respond. It’s one thing to realize you had another thing to say to a different person and wind up having to post twice in a row (we all do that sometimes), but you are commenting like a runaway train. It’s not good netiquette.

  37. Ugh, Dehlin and Kelly had a vigil yesterday where their supporters were all waving white handkerchiefs for them. A Mormon practice reserved for temple dedications and welcoming prophets.

    Seriously, are these guys TRYING to force an excommunication? Or are they just plain stupid?

  38. Seth, I understand you are open to the questions Kelly and OW pose but are off-put by their methods and tactics. I’m wondering what you would propose would be a better way to engage the question? I’m not even defending OW, I just have no idea how Mormons are supposed to go about this kind of thing.

  39. That kind of depends on what they want Tim.

    Is avoiding excommunication and having full status as an LDS member the highest priority for them? Or is taking a stand on the issues and having the showdown most important?

    And even if it’s the latter, is the goal simply to foster change in LDS culture? Or is the goal to burn bridges and shame the organization on the way out?

    My answer would change depending on which it is.

  40. I think that church discipline is completely appropriate for both Kelly and Dehlin (and Waterman), but not for the reasons that the Church is disciplining them and certainly not the way the Church is doing it.

  41. This comment presumes an LDS disdain for publicity. Jared and most others outside, presume that the LDS Church wants to squash publicity.

    I don’t think all the publicity caused by the Church’s opposition of Proposition 8 in California helped the Church. It alienated plenty of good people inside and outside the church

  42. Seth R. said:

    Actually Eric, John Dehlin was most definitely inactive.

    He has said recently that has been attending (although irregularly), and specifically that he attended last Sunday. Until fairly recently, he also has had regular contact with his bishop and/or stake president. For me, that’s enough not to apply the “inactive” label. Others’ mileage may vary.

    Maybe we could call him active with an asterisk or inactive with an asterisk. Dehlin has long been one of those folks who’s hard to categorize.

    Seriously, are these guys TRYING to force an excommunication? Or are they just plain stupid?

    Sometimes activists are their own worst enemies.

  43. Kullervo said:

    I think that church discipline is completely appropriate for both Kelly and Dehlin (and Waterman), but not for the reasons that the Church is disciplining them and certainly not the way the Church is doing it.

    Tell us more!

  44. Eric, John has these deathbed conversion experiences almost every time he gets threatened with discipline. Nothing new there. I don’t really care what he’s done last-minute in the face of discipline threats. I care about what he was doing before he got the letter – he was about as inactive as they come.

    He also has a tendency toward changing his rhetoric, assertions, and actions to suit whatever audience he thinks is watching him any given moment.

    This is why he’ll brag about all the people he led OUT of the Church when talking to an ex-Mormon forum, but then tout all the people he helped stay in Church when talking to a faithful audience. I’ve kind of grown skeptical of a lot of what Dehlin is claiming about his attitude any given Sunday.

  45. Jared, doesn’t that assume that losing supporters of gay marriage was a bad thing in the long run?

  46. Can someone explain the charge of apostasy in Mormonism? As I understand apostasy it is the rejection of the Christian.

    Everything I read about Kate Kelly is that she is a true blue believer.

  47. Sorry for my phone. As I understand apostasy it is the rejection of the Christian faith by a former believer. How can someone who still believes be an apostate?

  48. Mormons define apostasy as turning away from the principles of the gospel. The church teaches that, “we must each guard against personal apostasy by keeping covenants, obeying the commandments, following Church leaders, partaking of the sacrament, and constantly strengthening our testimonies through daily scripture study, prayer, and service.” (https://www.lds.org/topics/apostasy?lang=eng)

    I think that technically she wasn’t ex’ed for apostasy, but for “an aggressive effort to persuade other church members to your point of view and that your course of action has threatened to erode the faith of others.”

  49. Jared, doesn’t that assume that losing supporters of gay marriage was a bad thing in the long run?

    Yes, absolutely, especially those supporters within the church. Believing in a certain conception of equal rights under the law has nothing to do with the LDS religion as I understand it.

  50. “I think that technically she wasn’t ex’ed for apostasy, but for “an aggressive effort to persuade other church members to your point of view and that your course of action has threatened to erode the faith of others.””

    Doesn’t that sound more like schism than apostasy? I know it is a matter of semantics but If I was in fact a believer then I could probably embrace being a schismatic.

  51. Jared,
    Prop 8 opposition is another can of worms and simply confirms my that this is a church that stands up to its doctrine for its members. We are talking excommunication of a gal with a death wish here.

  52. “Doesn’t that sound more like schism than apostasy?”

    To cause a schism in the church with 15 million members worldwide, she would need 1000 times as many members following her around and it doing her bidding.

  53. robinobishop,

    For some reason I don’t think you have much concern for those among the faithful and dedicated membership that will be disappointed in how Kelly was dealt with, most of whom would never participate in what Kelly was doing.

  54. The Deseret News posted the letter from Kelly’s bishop on the matter:

    http://www.deseretnews.com/media/pdf/1365030.pdf

    “The difficulty, Sister Kelly, is not that you say you have questions or even that you believe that women should receive the priesthood. The problem is that you have persisted in an aggressive effort to persuade other Church members to your point of view and that your course of action has threatened to erode the faith of others. You are entitled to your views, but you are not entitled to promote them and proselyte others to them while remaining in full fellowship in the Church. This is the basic point that President Wheatley has sought repeatedly to explain to you, but to no avail. You have also heard from President Lee and me on this. Your disregard of our advice and counsel left us no alternative but to convene last evening’s council.”

  55. This seems reasonable. To change a doctrine like ordaining women would require a unanimous consent of all of the apostles and the First Presidency. This is something that could happen, but to expect it to happen based on a campaign seems unrealistic. Those like Kelly who believe in the ordination of women can make it happen merely by staying in the church and teaching their children in private that it will happen someday. It will take a generation or two, tops, and the Church leadership will bend to the sincere beliefs of its members.

  56. With this one hope folks here can understand what apostasy involves behaviorally. How can this be such a mystery when it is spelled out so clearly.

  57. Honestly, Kelly’s biggest failing may be that she was an utterly incompetent lobbyist.

    For instance, she and her organization had no mid-game plan. All they had was an end-game demand – “ordain women or else we march.” This was obviously something the LDS Church was not going to agree to, so when the Church said “no” there was really nowhere else for the negotiations (if there ever were any) to go.

    There were a lot of middle-ground issues that OW could have offered to discuss that might have been actually feasible. Giving Relief Society presidents proper respect by calling them “President” instead of “Sister” (as is common practice today), opening Sunday School presidencies to females, maybe even positions like Membership Clerk. Advocating for an equalization of the Young Women’s and Young Men’s budgets (currently the Young Men have an unfair advantage because they are allowed to fundraise through Boy Scouts, while the Young Women are not). Advocating for leadership training meetings on including females in ward decision-making more and condemning heavy-handed patriarchal dismissiveness that still exists in corners of the LDS world. Maybe even getting Young Women in on being ushers or even passing the Sacrament – if you’re ambitious.

    All of these things could have been offered as mid-point discussion items short of demanding full equality in ordination. But none of it appears to have even occurred to Kelly or her supporters.

    What’s more, OW never once took advantage of the leverage that media coverage was giving them to push for talks and dialogue with LDS leadership. Why not offer to call of the planned protest if given the chance to talk with a group of Apostles and other ranking leaders? You can always go ahead with the protest later if you don’t like the result, but why not offer it?

    And why… WHY for the love of Pete, did OW associate with and include ex-Mormons in their ranks? Where they deliberately trying to self-brand as an apostate group?

    They should have taken a page out of Barak Obama’s political playbook when he denounced his “God damn America” pastor amid his campaign.

    One of the big necessities for any competent lobbying group is knowing which of your allies to throw under the bus. OW should never have allowed ex-Mormons into their ranks. Now, there are a lot of lovely ex-Mormons to be sure (hi Kullervo’s family!), but politically this was just stupid.

    So yeah – lobbying incompetence all around. Or just plain stupidity.

    But there is another option. Perhaps Kelly isn’t stupid. Maybe she did it on purpose.

    If that be the case – she never wanted a dialogue in the first place. What she wanted was a shaming session and to grandstand for concessions she knew her opponents couldn’t concede. In which case – yeah… she pretty much should have been shown the door.

  58. Trying to understand all of this and asking myself, if Kelly or Dehlin were Presbyterians how would this be handled? Assuming for the moment they chose not to just move to a Presbyterian denomination that accepted their views and hung around through the entire process I have some questions/thoughts.

    Reading on other sites Kelly was charged with apostasy and found guilty of “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church.” (thanks katyjane)

    What if any right of appeal does Kelly have? I ask this because in my denomination she could appeal this decision to the Presbytery and would probably win anther trial.

    On some LDS sites much is being made about these irregularities, while on others they are dismissed as irrelevant.

    Not wanting to intrude as a non-Mormon on these other sites I’m asking the LDS who post here if procedural irregularities matter?

  59. Katy’s comment was pretty good. But I think it is a mistake to think that Kelly was excommunicated for “apostasy.” Apostasy isn’t mentioned at all in the “verdict” letter Kelly received from her bishop, seen here:

    http://www.deseretnews.com/media/pdf/1365030.pdf

    Instead he mentions “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church.” He also is at pains to explain that believing that women should be ordained is not a problem. It’s the aggressive proselyting of that view to the rest of the Church that caused the action taken.

    As for appeal…. I would think the next possibility would be to appeal it to the Stake President. But he seems to have been heavily involved in this case already, so the next step would be to ask for review by the next level of authority – you can even appeal the case directly to the First Presidency as the final decision-maker (though they might refer it to a lower chain of command first). I’m not familiar with specifics, but I think that’s the conventional wisdom of how appeals work.

  60. Seth, other denominations generally have bylaws or canon laws setting out the procedure for church discipline and an appeals process (if there is one). I don’t know if the LDS Church does–if it does, those procedures are certainly not made public.

  61. What if any right of appeal does Kelly have? I ask this because in my denomination she could appeal this decision to the Presbytery and would probably win anther trial.

    I don’t think there is a formal appeals process.

  62. Do procedural irregularities matter?
    Like not attending? That matters.

    As I have been saying, her tactics were not meant to keep her in the Church. Now that it’s over, she must have been incompetent to explain it otherwise. With everything she did, her plea to the leaders of the church was “I’m at a point in my life and career where I choose not to obediently live the doctrines. I will act more and more outrageous until you excommunicate me. As a human rights attorney, becoming a martyr for a cause is the best thing I can do for myself, especially when I can come out of it alive.” This was all about her because her goals were completely unachievable using the tactics that she had established for the organization. In short, she did everything she needed to do to get excommunicated And she abused a lot of people to get what she wanted.

  63. The only place I can think of where such would be written down is in the Handbook of Instructions.

  64. What would have been awesome would be for the Church have called her on a mission and gave her a really challenging job to do.

  65. Kelly might not have turned it down, and then she would be out of the picture. The supporters would generally think it was cool that the church was giving Kelley such a challenging job (in Africa say) and simmer down.

    As it is, Kelly becomes more of a martyr.

  66. Seth R. said:

    Honestly, Kelly’s biggest failing may be that she was an utterly incompetent lobbyist. … One of the big necessities for any competent lobbying group is knowing which of your allies to throw under the bus. OW should never have allowed ex-Mormons into their ranks. Now, there are a lot of lovely ex-Mormons to be sure …, but politically this was just stupid.

    Speaking strictly from a PR perspective, I agree. And, speaking again strictly from a PR perspective, there are so many things she did wrong in the past few days: Not appearing for the “trial,” even by teleconference. Showing up with Dehlin at the vigil/rally on Sunday. Telling reporters after the decision that she did nothing wrong (better PR would be at least to admit to tactical mistakes). Saying she’ll appeal directly to the First Presidency rather than following the protocol of going to the stake president.

    Kelly’s PR missteps are rivaled only by those of the church.

    I find the whole situation very sad, and it points to dysfunction in all sorts of places. I’m sad at the reactions I’m seeing from people on both sides of the issue. I’m sad even that I’m analyzing PR rather than looking at the more serious issues involved.

  67. Eric, I’m not really inclined to give the LDS Church a free pass on this either.

    Excommunications like Kelly’s reveal a real power imbalance – and I’m not actually talking about patriarchal leadership being the one on top.

    Actually, the moment this went on the national stage Kate Kelly became the dominant force, and her local leadership the underdogs. Kelly had everything going for her on the national stage – a victim narrative (which the media always has a knee-jerk favorable reaction to), a fashionable cause, and the willingness to go public and raise media awareness to reporters ready to write her story. The poor local bishop had none of this. In fact, he couldn’t even talk about the case (the only reason we have his letter to Kelly is because Kelly herself released it). He was facing the prospect of facing off against a savvy national activist and having his name smeared in papers from London to Sydney.

    It was a complete unfair confrontation totally rigged in Kelly’s favor in all respects.

    Now, this is just me… but I think in really public cases like Kate Kelly’s, it isn’t fair to ask a local bishop or stake president to handle matters. The confrontation is going to be very one-sided, and the bishop is going to feel really alone squaring off against a national press offensive. All he has is a hotline to Salt Lake where he can ask procedural and legal advice.

    Personally, I think a case like Kelly’s should have been handled at the Area Authority level with consultation with and involvement of the LDS Public Affairs office and Church legal counsel handling the Church public statements regarding the case. If the person subject to discipline is becoming a national talking point – then it isn’t fair to expect a bishop to damage his own personal life over that. It should be handled at a level that has resources to deal with it.

  68. Honestly, Kelly’s biggest failing may be that she was an utterly incompetent lobbyist.

    He was facing the prospect of facing off against a savvy national activist and having his name smeared in papers from London to Sydney.

    I’d sure like to meet the walking contradiction that is both an incompetent lobbyist and a savvy national activist.

  69. I think a lot can be done to diffuse the resentment of those who reasonably ask why women should not be ordained. The question is essentially similar to whether women should serve combat roles in the military. It’s a policy decision, there is support for the opposing policy, but protesting the chain of command will not change anything. While most Americans are fine with this arrangement, some are quite put out. There are reasonable arguments from equality that this should not be. But those that are bugged to the point of protest generally don’t serve in the military.

    It’s reasonable to say that Kelly effectively did not want the priesthood, because—for better or worse—the priesthood in the LDS church monastically requires obedience over the freedom to act upon in any particular idealism or ideology. You have to toe that line to be a priesthood leader in the Church.

  70. I’d sure like to meet the walking contradiction that is both an incompetent lobbyist and a savvy national activist.

    Arguably, Malcolm X was an awful lobbyist, but was a savvy national activist.

  71. Being savvy in getting media attention is not the same thing as being effective in getting stuff done.

    Some of the most effective and influential members of Congress you hardly ever hear about.

    If you want an example of someone who was a lot more effective in petitioning the LDS Church for change, you can look at Darius Gray who headed the Genesis Group – an organization of faithful black LDS members who held private meetings with Boyd K. Packer, Gordon B. Hinckley and other apostles discussing the troubles and challenges facing black saints, and even the scriptural and doctrinal basis for the existing Priesthood ban.

    And the group never once blabbed a word of it to the media. Yet they were instrumental in getting the ban reconsidered.

  72. robinobishop,

    Yes, I think following defined procedures and conducting the work of the church “decently and in order” matters. Observing formal and open processes in the courts of the church is a check against ecclesiastical and spiritual abuses and scandals of incompetency.

    If the principal goal of discipline in is to bring about repentance and reclaim the person for Christ’s Church, I agree with you that absentia church court should probably be avoided.

  73. Dehlin is an Atheist and “stays” connected to the LDS church for cultural reasons according to Dehlin himself.
    Seth R is right, Dehlin changes his tune constantly, depending on his audience. He is manipulative, which is obvious by the starements he makes, and obvious because he has dodged excommunication for at least four years now. He plays both sides. He has a following, he wants the LDS church to change into what Dehlin wants it to change into. He refuses to give up his membership. Why? Why does an Atheist want to maintain a membership in a religion? Ego?
    Dehlin is not helping others, he is helping himself, he thrives on the notoriety. He has done far worse things than Kate Kelly.
    Rock Waterman has done nothing compared to what Dehlin and Kelly have done.

  74. I pretty much agree with everything Seth has said in this thread (especially, but not limited to, the part about my family being lovely).

    I think that church discipline, done the right way and for the right reasons, is appropriate and Biblically mandated. And I think that Kelly and Waterman both have acted in such a way as to warrant discipline. (I’m not sure about Dehlin but that’s just because I’m less clear about what Dehlin is about).

    I think it’s completely disingenuous for anyone to claim that they didn’t see this coming for Kelly from the very beginning, but frankly (and with all due respect to Katie L), I think a lot of what comes from OW is disingenuous.

    Now, all that said: even though I agree that there are good and appropriate reasons to discipline both Kelly and Waterman, I think that the real reason the church is taking action against them has a lot less to do with teachings in opposition to the church and a lot more with mounting challenges to the church’s authority. And I think that the church has engaged in the discipline process poorly, unbiblically, and sinfully.

    I think the church has completely legitimate reasons to discipline Kelly and Waterman, but I think the church did it for bad reasons and in a bad way, and as a result, the church just looks like an insecure authoritarian institution.

  75. Well, I think to an extent, “authoritarian” is part of the LDS Church’s identity and that shouldn’t be a mark of shame in every respect. The American cultural pendulum has swung a little too far in favor of “anything goes” permissiveness in my opinion, and its refreshing to have institutions that counter-weight that to an extent.

    However, like Prop 8 in California, the LDS Church’s response feels disorganized and ad hoc to me. Too much is pawned off on local leadership, and not enough clear guidance is coming down from Salt Lake.

    In particular, I’m intrigued by Gundeck’s mention of other church disciplinary processes. I’d kind of like the LDS Church to put out a more clear appeals process (one that is not simply known by conventional wisdom, but is rather provided to members in disciplinary hearings by the bishop in an appropriate fashion). It doesn’t have to be blabbed about in Sunday School – but it could at least be made available.

    I think more careful language could be crafted for what constitutes an excommunicable offense and that could also be provided to people going through lower levels of the discipline process – such as probation or disfellowship (along with explaining exactly what those things are). As appropriate.

    I don’t think Mormons have to get too touchy about arguing that Church procedures are perfect as-is. We’re only two hundred years for crying out loud. Reasonable people don’t expect us to have it all down perfectly, I think.

  76. Well no, “authority” and “authoritarianism” are not the same thing. I agree wholeheartedly that the permissive cult of the individual is a social disease, and stable institutions with authority are an incredibly valuable social good. But that’s not what I am talking about when I am referring to the church as “authoritarian.” Perhaps a different way of putting it without having to quibble about word choice (we can still quibble about the substance of course) is that the church appears to be a dysfunctional authority–not dysfunctional in the sense that it has organizational problems, but dysfunctional in the sense that it wields its authority dysfunctionally.

  77. the church just looks like an insecure authoritarian institution.

    I think this the major problem for the church in these situations—the appearance of insecurity. It shows a lack of faith, at least not the faith of Gamaliel. Not a particularly attractive look for a faith-based organization.

  78. will practice discipline in accord with its ecclesiology.

    One problem is that the Church’s ecclesiology has always been in flux. The entire question of who should have the priesthood stems from doctrines left un-spelled-out due to Joseph Smith’s death and un-thought-through since then.

  79. Having a prophet at the head of the church makes Joseph Smith’s lack of clarity irrelevant, doesn’t it? On another site an article explained that in LDS Church courts “It is not he who makes the most logical argument by stringing citations, but he speaks for the lord when moved by the holy spirit.”

    If an institution assumes a local leader’s inspiration trumps discernment in discipline, the charge of authoritarianism from anyone who disagrees is inevitable.

  80. I think it is reasonable that a Church will practice discipline in accord with its ecclesiology.

    And, unfortunately, that is what happened here.

  81. the LDS Church’s response feels disorganized and ad hoc to me. Too much is pawned off on local leadership, and not enough clear guidance is coming down from Salt Lake.

    It’s my understanding that dementia has really started to take hold of President Monson and this situation was at least created in part because “warring” factions now have equal power with the absence of a clear decision maker. everyone is now free to “help” the church how they best see fit.

  82. Tim, I’m aware that Dehlin has been spotted using the hashtag #monsonhasdemintia (sic) in the past week – but where exactly are you getting the information about Monson?

  83. The existence of “warring factions” sounds like wishful thinking on the part of the church’s critics. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just that I’m skeptical in the absence of reliable sources. I remember two years ago when the anti-Mormon crowd was claiming that Presidence Monson was all but on his deathbed, and it just wasn’t so.

    As to his having dementia, it’s certainly possible; Ronald Reagan may have been in the beginning stages while he was still U.S. president. But the most reliable source I’ve seen so far is here, and that’s still thirdhand at best. The reports are widespread enough, though, that I think the church should come out with an official statement.

  84. Unprovable conspiracy theories will proliferate exponentially in a closed hierarchy.

  85. Eric, Clean Cut is a rather excitable fellow and not the most reliable source in the world from my extensive interactions with him.

    He probably heard about the area authority statement being asserted confidently in a blog discussion by someone he likes and is now reporting it as fact.

  86. The only way we will ever know if Monson has/had dementia is if he has a relative who 1) becomes disaffected and 2) is a big enough attention seeker to regale the world with this knowledge (endlessly it seems). This of course is an indictment of both the attention seeker and the LDS church.

  87. Robino, I like that you are the standard of normalcy for which people are “reasonable”. Presumably they all agree with you, right?

  88. Hey, robinobishop, where can we look up the defined procedures?

    It is kind of odd that with a church chocked full of lawyers in every level of leadership, the LDS church has the most opaque procedures for church courts and discipline.

  89. “The Church is like a great caravan—organized, prepared, following an appointed course, with its captains of tens and captains of hundreds all in place.

    What does it matter if a few barking dogs snap at the heels of the weary travellers? Or that predators claim those few who fall by the way? The caravan moves on.

    Is there a ravine to cross, a miry mud hole to pull through, a steep grade to climb? So be it. The oxen are strong and the teamsters wise. The caravan moves on.

    Are there storms that rage along the way, floods that wash away the bridges, deserts to cross, and rivers to ford? Such is life in this fallen sphere. The caravan moves on.

    Ahead is the celestial city, the eternal Zion of our God, where all who maintain their position in the caravan shall find food and drink and rest. Thank God that the caravan moves on! [Bruce R. McConkie, “The Caravan Moves On,” Ensign, Nov. 1984, p. 85]

  90. Or that predators claim those few who fall by the way?

    Agreed! That’s exactly what Jesus meant when he talked about leaving the ninety-nine to find the one.

  91. The caravan moves on. . . its designed for those that can keep up.

    But questions remain for Mormon caravaners: What is Jesus doing for those who can’t keep up with the caravan? Are fortitude to “keep up” and intellectual submission to the leadership the appropriate way to decide who gets into Zion?

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