Thursday, June 19, 2014

Excommunication, Kate Kelly, and John Dehlin

All right, I'm back from Indiana (a post for another time, perhaps).  I had said I wished to talk about excommunication, both my own and the possible excommunications of Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly and Mormon Stories founder John Dehlin.

As far as Kate Kelly goes, these two posts at Thinking Mormon Woman and Neylan McBaine's blog pretty much sum up many of the thoughts I have on Sister Kelly's future disciplinary proceedings.  Kate Kelly, upon receiving an email from her bishop informing her of disciplinary council said she was "totally, totally floored."  While she may have been surprised, I think she must have her head in the sand a bit to not know that this might be a possibility.

As far as what Kate Kelly believes, I have no problem with her feminist views or the fact that she thinks women in the LDS Church should have a more prominent voice.  I have no problem with her desire that women be given the priesthood.  Frankly, I have no strong views either way about whether women have the priesthood or not.  It's not an issue about which I am particularly passionate.

I certainly do have feminist views.  I think women in the church should have more of a voice and presence since decisions and policies affect them.  So you might think I'd be more supportive of her not facing disciplinary proceedings.  I don't know that excommunication is warranted or not, but I do understand why her local leaders might be concerned.

Look, to me Kate Kelly's beliefs are not the problem; it's her tactics that are the problem.  She's agitating for change (which is understandable), but seems surprised that there will be consequences for doing so.

People whose opinions I like and respect, including Jana Reiss and Johanna Brooks, have run to Kelly's defense and wonder why members can't ask hard questions without having to worry that their membership is in danger.  That's a valid concern.  But to me, I don't feel that church leaders are bringing up disciplinary proceedings because Kate Kelly or John Dehlin are asking hard questions; they are bringing them up because Kate Kelly and John Dehlin are "preaching" contrary to the current doctrine of the church and others are following them rather than toeing the church line.

I've met John Dehlin.  I like him.  I like what he preaches.  I think he's given disenfranchised members a place to belong.  I think he's done a lot to help LGBT members and former members find love and acceptance that maybe they didn't always find in their church membership.  I think he's a man who has honest questions.  I think he's sincere.  I think he's a good person.  I don't think he desires to lead anyone away from the LDS Church.  I think he just wants to give voice to people within the church who don't feel they have one.  And I think that's admirable.  We could use more of that in the church.

However, some of the ideas and voices that are being propagated by John Dehlin and his Mormon Stories podcast are leading people away from the organized church whether that is John's intention or not (and I don't think it is).

The issue may be that people like Kate Kelly and John Dehlin would like the LDS Church to change.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  There are changes I would like to see the LDS Church make.  But if the church is really run by God, as its leaders and members believe it is, then the church will change when God says it should change, not when individual members feel it should change.

I don't know Kate Kelly or really much about her.  I don't doubt that she's a well-intentioned and good person, but the problem I see that church leaders might have with her is that she is agitating church leaders to do things on her time table rather than on the Lord's.

In The Guardian Kate Kelly says, "I face potential excommunication for the simple act of opening my mouth and starting a conversation about gender equality in the church and the deep roots of this institutional inequality."

No, Kate, that isn't why you're facing excommunication.  You're facing excommunication because you're pretty much demanding that church leaders adopt your beliefs that women should be ordained and you're disobeying the counsel that both they and your local leaders have given you to take down the Ordain Women website, break ties with the group, to not disrupt General Conference proceedings with your cause, and to "stop trying to gain a following for yourself or your cause and lead others away from the church" (Salt Lake Tribune article).

You're facing excommunication because your pride is causing you to think that you know more about what God wants than the ordained leaders of the church do.

I'm not judging Kate Kelly.  She says she is unwilling to do what her leaders have asked because she couldn't do so and still be "authentic" to who she feels she is and what she has to fight for.  I totally get that.  I feel the same way about being gay and being with my husband.  And that's exactly why I was excommunicated.

Just like Kate Kelly feels she was inspired to start the Ordain Women movement, I felt inspired to make my life with Jonah.  But whether we were inspired to do so, whether that was a personal revelation from the Lord or not, it does not negate the fact that what either of us believe or preach may not be in line with official church doctrine.

Would it be great if the LDS Church recognized my relationship and marriage as acceptable and non-sinful?  Sure.

But they don't.  That doesn't mean they won't some day, but they don't now and they didn't at the time I made a choice to have a commitment ceremony with my partner and have a sexual relationship with him.  And I refused to step away from Jonah and our relationship in order to remain a member in good standing.  And that was why I was excommunicated - because I was unwilling to follow the LDS Church's doctrine as it was currently laid out.  Because I thought I knew better about the choices that would make me happy than the church did. 

Being excommunicated is hard.  It's painful.  It's not fun.  One certainly does feel a loss when it happens.  But I am undoubtedly happier now than I was when I was an active member of the church.  I did what was best for me.  I have no regrets about it.  It's easier to live my life now because I don't have to try to be in harmony with an organization where I couldn't find full alignment without sacrificing my own emotional well-being.  And maybe people like Kate Kelly and John Dehlin can't do so either.

It's too bad.  I think the church loses a lot of good people to excommunication, and while I understand intellectually that excommunication is designed to both protect the church and the member being excommunicated, I think excommunication often drives people farther away from the church rather than helping them to return.

Kate Kelly often talks about how faithful she and other members like her are.  Maybe she feels she is a good member of the church.  She probably is.  But is it really showing faithfulness to the leaders of the church to defy them because you think you know better than they do?  She urges the leaders to pray about the issues that are important to her and presupposes that they haven't.  Maybe they have.  Maybe they have asked God if it's okay for women to have the priesthood.  Maybe God has answered no.  But because it's an answer Kate Kelly doesn't like and because it doesn't match what she believes God's will is, she fights against it.  And that's her right and maybe even her duty.  But don't pretend that action isn't going to have a consequence when it goes against current doctrine.

I wasn't surprised when I was excommunicated.  I hoped I wouldn't be.  But I wasn't surprised I was.  I was going against established doctrine.  I faced the consequences of my actions and accepted it.  I wasn't a martyr.  I did what was right for me, but went against the church in doing so.  And like Kate Kelly and John Dehlin, I continue to advocate and fight for the things I believe are right.

If the LDS Church really is true and God doesn't want women to have the priesthood or for people in gay relationships to get married, and there are those of us who don't agree with that, we can leave the church and try to find our truth somewhere else.  If Kate Kelly wants the priesthood, she can either find a church that will give it to her or wait until the one she believes is true deems it time to do so.  She can ask all the hard questions she wants; she can refuse to be silenced; but if what she wants is not currently God's will and if the leaders of the LDS Church are really who they say they are, then they have every right to discipline her for agitating and promoting a change in doctrine that is not ready to be changed.

The church does change.  The church can change.  Look at things like polygamy or blacks and the priesthood.  And I'm not saying that society doesn't have an impact on church policy.  Women having the priesthood may be an eternal doctrine.  I actually believe it is.  Some people think polygamy is, too, but any member of the church who were to practice polygamy right now would likely be excommunicated if their leaders found out about it.  There is much we don't understand, and things have to be done on the Lord's timetable, not our own.  The bottom line is if one really believes the LDS Church is God's true church on earth, then one has to decide whether he or she will truly follow the men God has appointed as his spokesmen.  If you're not willing to do, as I was not, there will be consequences.

I've never claimed I knew better than the leaders of the church; I just did what I felt I had to do for my own emotional well-being.  A church can excommunicate you from itself, but nobody but God can excommunicate you from God.

I don't always know if excommunication is inspired or helpful or why some people are excommunicated and others are not.  I also don't necessarily think excommunication affects one's standing with the Lord.  For example, I look at someone like Lavina Fielding Anderson and think her standing is probably okay even though she's been excommunicated for 20 years.  I feel good about my own standing with my Heavenly Father.

Should people like Kate Kelly or John Dehlin or Lavina Anderson or me be excommunicated?  I don't know.  But I won't pretend to be surprised when we are.


Trevor - INSIDE gay Mormon said...

A. MEN. This is the most succinct, and closely aligned statement to my own belief on this whole situation. Thank you for expressing in words what resides only in my head.

Anonymous said...

What a very powerful post, and blog! As someone who recently came out of the closet to his wife, is still married and "active" in the church, most of what you said resonated with me. It is refreshing to read that someone understands that there are consequences to our actions, and that we must be fully prepared to accept those if we choose to follow the course we are on...whether we agree with the consequences or not.

One of the most poignant realizations to me was how excommunication is being used, maybe too literally. When Christ was ministering to the adulteress woman, he didn't say to her to go away and then come back, rather to come closer to him. There are several other examples that when someone sins they need to be closer to Christ, not pushed away. However, how can homosexuality be seen as a sin, it is a core belief amongst many that needs to change, but if it doesn't, then we still should be taking what we consider to be the sinner by the hand and embracing them, not expelling them from our midst. Excommunication should not be used as a punitive measure, but rather an extremely last resort action that both sides fully understand the issues and ramifications that this course will take.

With that in mind I have gone through my own personal excommunication, even though I can answer all the interview questions correctly, I think it is only because it is a technicality (my still being married to my wife.) I honor that commitment I have made to her, but know that if she were to die or she were to divorce me that I would never marry a woman again, nor would I wish to be single and alone the rest of my life, for that isn't where I will find a full measure of happiness. In my heart I know that if circumstances were different I would be with a man, and so in good conscience and fully understanding the stance of the church, I know that I cannot participate fully, even though I haven't "done anything wrong." Maybe I do this out of some sense of solidarity with my LGBT brothers and sisters, but I think that we are judged according to what we know and where our hearts are, and why should I be "rewarded" when I know my heart is not there.

You have mentioned in a previous post that further revelation will probably come out, and I hope that it does. Not so that I can justify leaving my wife, but rather so that I can know that in my heart if circumstances were to change that I would continue to be in accordance with the teachings and principles of the gospel. Why should I get "blessings" because I committed to someone under false pretenses, when someone like you has followed their conscience and heart and has gone through something so huge. (I hope I am making sense...this is rather new and raw to me, but very close to my heart.)

Anonymous said...

I agree completely with Trevor. GREAT post.

Trev said...

I honestly don't understand your opinion of Kate Kelly:

"Kate Kelly often talks about how faithful she and other members like her are. Maybe she feels she is a good member of the church. She probably is. But is it really showing faithfulness to the leaders of the church to defy them because you think you know better than they do?"

What exactly do you mean by "defy" in this case? She's not done anything that goes against Church teachings or ever claimed anything contrary to Church teachings.

"She urges the leaders to pray about the issues that are important to her and presupposes that they haven't. Maybe they have. Maybe they have asked God if it's okay for women to have the priesthood. Maybe God has answered no."

I there something wrong with that? It would appear that nobody has taken the question seriously to begin with. You get things like Elder Oaks's recent conference talk, but that does not really address Kelly, specifically. How hard would it be for Church leaders to say, "We have prayed about it. Stop what you're doing." They don't. There's no doctrinal authority behind Public Affairs statements.

"But because it's an answer Kate Kelly doesn't like and because it doesn't match what she believes God's will is, she fights against it."

The answer has not directly been given. The tactic seems to be just ignore and excommunicate, with indirect responses through Conference and other official channels to convey to other members that whatever it is that is represented by Ordain Women is wrong but without saying so directly without doctrinal authority. Any direct response explicitly carries no doctrinal authority (i.e. Public Affairs). In all I've read about Ordain Women, they just want clarity with authority behind it. None has been given.

Anonymous said...

I would like to remain somewhat neutral about both Kate Kelly and John Dehlin. However, thank you for opening up my head/perspective about the idea of taking responsibility for excommunication. I am going to have to say I partially agree with many of the statements on this post. I wish LGBT issues could be isolated from the current excommunication crisis, and I hope that divine Providence will intervene. I can only see this making people step back into the negative psychological ramifications of being closeted and inauthentic. This whole process will add confusion to what we're really about. I feel that it will be assumed that in order to be gay you have to walk outside of your testimony when you know it's true. Perhaps even, that true disbelief in itself is causative of homosexuality or being a straight ally.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Trev, my opinion of Kate Kelly is just that: an opinion. I'm sorry if you don't understand it, but as I see it based on what I know (and really, the only ones who know Kate Kelly's situation as far as her disciplinary council is concerned are her local leaders, herself, and God - there are discrepancies in her accounts vs. her leaders accounts, so someone (or both) isn't telling the whole truth), but based on what I observe, it seems to me that Kate Kelly's Bishop and Stake President gave her counsel to shut the Ordain Women website down, cut ties with the group, and stop trying to convert other members to her way of thinking. She was also directed by church leaders not to demonstrate at the last General Conference, but she did anyway. She chose to not heed any of that counsel. That's what I mean by "defy."

I'm not saying Kate Kelly is right or wrong to stand for what she believes in. I, myself, am not a conformist. However, if Kate Kelly truly believes the leaders of the church are called of God to direct the affairs of the church, whether worldwide or locally, and if she believes the priesthood is conferred on those men as she wishes it were conferred on her, it seems to me that ignoring the counsel of those who hold priesthood authority and stewardship is cause for concern to church leaders, and even more so if her actions are causing others to follow her ways of thinking.

I'm not implying church leaders are right or wrong about their course of action; in fact, I think it may come back to bite them in the butt. What I am saying is that as it currently stands, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is organized in a certain way, and women getting the priesthood is not on the agenda. Whether it's doctrine or not, it seems to me that Church leaders feel that Sister Kelly's advocating for women's ordination to the priesthood is inappropriate and that creating media that propagates and encourages that line of thinking or which causes others to follow it is not in line with where the Brethren currently stand.

Maybe she's not going against what she feels Church teachings entail, but she has gone against what the Brethren and her local leaders have requested of her, and she has gone about it with an attitude that it's non-negotiable, and so I think church leaders feel she has strayed from what they have advised and feel she is leading others away from what is accepted as current teachings, and that, I guess, is why they consider her apostate.

Gay LDS Actor said...


There is nothing wrong with asking leaders to pray, and maybe it would have been wise for the leaders of the church to flat out say, "We have prayed about this; the answer is no," but maybe, too, Heavenly Father has prompted the leaders to take the actions they have instead because God can see the whole picture better than any of us.

You say "There's no doctrinal authority behind Public Affairs statements." I can't imagine anything is allowed through PR without the First Presidency's approval, and so I think what has been said is with the First Presidency's blessing.

To me, it's clear what Sister Kelly has been asked to do. Like you, I wish they were more clear, but I don't need to read between the lines to know what they've asked of Sister Kelly, and I think even if she got a direct answer, I don't think any other answer than what she wants would satisfy her.

I don't necessarily know that church leaders have handled this issue in the best way. I also do think it was odd that her leaders in Virginia wouldn't let her transfer her records to Utah. On the other hand, her leaders in Virginia have been dealing with her and her issues for some time, so maybe they felt it was best.

I also feel Sister Kelly was unwise to not participate via video or possibly even reschedule so she could be there in person. Instead, she was at a vigil designed to draw more publicity to her cause and garnish more sympathy.

Truth be told, I think neither church leaders nor Sister Kelly have handled this situation well. There really are no winners in this. I think both church leaders and Sister Kelly have made mistakes and neither is guiltless. But I don't see Sister Kelly as a guiltless victim in this. I know you'll disagree, but that's just my opinion.

Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks, everyone, for your posts. Sorry for my slow response. My week has been rather hectic.

C O'Dell, I'm happy to know my blog resonates with you. I wish you luck and happiness on your life's journey, wherever it may take you.

Thanks, Trevor, Trev, Trys Bell, and BYU Gay, for your comments as well.

Victoria Rafael said...

My heart is filled with sorrow after reading this article. I am no returned missionary of the church nor a leader. I am 14 years of age and a young woman of the Youth organization. I am truly blessed because of the church and been so grateful for being a member. I understand the point of view of Sister Kate Kelly, she's a lawyer and equality between men and women is really a big deal. But I just think that in church, if men and women must needs be have a priesthood.. I think that's not good. I mean, even in the creation, women are created after the manner of men. If we, women must have priesthood too, then I guess we're more likely to be saying that we can live our lives alone like "We don't need men, I mean we have priesthood, we're equal now, what are they in our lives?" Im sure that Same sex marriage will also be promoted. There will be a whole lot of changes. I know that if we seek for the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, we will be guided. And we must not do anything that could make that spirit depart from us. Satan's becoming very powerful unto the children of men.
And to the author, I feel so sad because of thee. There are lots of women all over the world and there's always that one person or even a woman that will fill the bottle of your love. And to all who have doubts in their hearts, I encourage you to read James 1:5 and ponder in your hearts and give what was asked.. the Lord will give you answers.. as He give answers to my prayers.. I love thee, my dear brethren and sisters. And I'm pleading for your come back.. And lots of members all over the world will rejoice just as we did when we rejoice in the presence of our Heavenly Father when we heard of this great Plan of Salvation/Happiness.. There's always a purpose in everything and I know, that in those purposes, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are always at the center. We can still change.. :)

Victoria Rafael said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gay LDS Actor said...

Thanks so much for posting, Victoria. I appreciate your thoughts. No need to feel sad for me, though. I'm doing just fine.