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.