“Regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church.”
-President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (a)
As a Mormon, the anxiety I have felt this past month over the possibility of disciplinary action against Kate Kelly and John Dehlin is difficult to express. Kate and John are a sister and a brother to all of us, but their efforts are especially important to me. I feel that their conscientious work on behalf of “the one” is an indispensable gift to our Church, though it is probably difficult for “the ninety and nine” to fully appreciate. This much I know, their contributions to our discourse played a major role in my decision to start going back to Church earlier this year. I invite all Latter-day Saints to sign this petition, not necessarily to endorse Kate and John’s efforts, but as a way of saying simply, “there is still room in this Church for Kate and John and the thousands of others who are inspired by their messages to remain in this Church.” Rather than criticizing anyone, this petition hopes to promote an atmosphere of greater love and understanding on all sides.
What's Going On?
Kate Kelly is the founder of the Ordain Women movement, an organized group of Latter-day Saints which has been urging Church leaders to prayerfully consider ordaining women to the priesthood. John Dehlin is best known as the host of Mormon Stories, a podcast which seeks to candidly address complicated historical, doctrinal, and cultural issues. He is also an outspoken activist for gay rights. Earlier this month, these two Latter-day Saint public figures each received notice from their local leaders to appear for Church disciplinary hearings. John’s hearing has been delayed, and hopefully he and his Stake President will be able to avoid any disciplinary action. However, Kate was excommunicated by her bishop on Monday, June 23rd. I generally take it for granted that our leaders mean well. But I confess, this action has been difficult to process. I suppose they are just trying to protect their flocks in the face of what they perceive as spiritual danger. Church leaders and public affairs representatives have expressed the concern that Kate and John have cast the Church In a negative light. On the other hand, Kate and John feel that Church public affairs representatives have mischaracterized their work. They are not fighting against the Church. They are trying to work with the Church to meet the needs of the thousands of Mormons who are, in some sense, falling through the cracks. In my opinion, greater understanding and mutual respect between Church representatives and these public figures would probably eliminate any perceived need for disciplinary action.
Some Personal Reflections:
The more I reflect on it, the Mormon experience may provide an important lesson here. Mormonism is a rather unconventional form of Christianity. Yet, we as Mormons hope to be accepted by other denominations as fellow Christians, despite our advocacy of a gospel that is in some ways markedly different from the mainstream. Similarly, I hope to see our Church embrace a broad range of people as vital members of our faith community, despite a few specific ways they might diverge from mainstream Mormonism in their privately held views or in their public statements. Church leaders may reasonably be expected to respond to unorthodox views with a restatement of orthodoxy. But this can be done effectively without expelling members from our Church family (so long as the unorthodox views are not hateful, cruel, or inhumane).
On a personal note, during the past several years, a number of factors caused me to reevaluate my traditional brand of Mormon faith, including difficult questions about Church history, doctrine, policy, and culture. I was not looking for trouble, but it found me. This process began during my full time mission for the Church, but I remained as devout a missionary as ever. It wasn’t a full blown faith crisis until a few years later. At the time I had only been married a few years, and I was serving in the Young Men’s Presidency and then as an Elders’ Quorum teacher. In my agony, I desperately searched, pondered, and prayed for answers to my questions. For some time, I felt it was necessary to withdraw from formal Church meetings. I came away from this prayerful, soul-searching, “wilderness” experience refreshed, enlightened, and liberated as our gospel promises; but I also came away with a less conventional brand of Mormon faith. I wondered if there was still a place for me in this Church, and Elder Uchtdorf’s remarks last October were encouraging (a). In time, I again began to feel drawn to Church meetings. Kate Kelly’s efforts, John Dehlin’s Open Stories Foundation, and a number of other loosely affiliated podcasts and online support groups played a major role in my decision earlier this year to start going back to Church.
But now that Kate has been excommunicated and John's fate is uncertain, it almost feels like certain leaders are saying, "there isn’t any room in the Church for Mormons like you." I don't know how I am supposed to respond to that. I remain committed to a life guided by the Spirit. And I love Mormons and Mormonism and wish to remain a part of this community, despite some significant changes in my own personal beliefs. But what am I to do if Church leaders' way of "loving" Mormons like me is to invite them out of the Church? For my own sake, and for the sake of thousands of others like me, I ask Church leaders to please, let us know there is room in the Church for John Dehlin, Kate Kelly, and other Mormons like us. Again, please note that this petition is NOT intended to criticize or coerce Church leaders, or to reflect badly on the Church. Indeed, this petition hopes to shine a light on the compassionate, inclusive side of Mormonism.
If the interest of Church leaders is to see the truth overcome error, they need not fear a more open dialogue among Church members. Joseph Smith provided this wise example:
“If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.”
-Joseph Smith Jr. (b)
Below, I refer to several similar incidents in our history when prominent Church leaders chose to forgo the option of excommunication, or other Church discipline.
(1) Joseph Smith once famously remarked:
"Elder Pelatiah Brown, one of the wisest old heads we have among us, and whom I now see before me... was hauled up for trial before the High Council.
"I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine."
-History of the Church, Vol. 5, Ch. 17, p. 340 (c)
“…in every way he was not only friendly, but affectionate in his whole attitude toward me – not a word of criticism, or reproof, or in any way disapproval …. Then he just hit me on the knee, and took a hold of my knee and said, ‘They cannot do this to you!’ I didn’t say anything. He said, ‘They cannot do this to you. They cannot put you on trial’ … I said, ‘Well, President McKay, you know better than I what they can do, but it appears to me that they are going to put me on trial.’ He said, ‘They cannot do it!’ And then, there was a rather long pause, and he said, ‘Well, all I can say is, that if they put you on trial for excommunication, I will be there as the first witness in your behalf.’
“…President McKay wasn’t even interested in raising a single question about my beliefs, but simply insisted that a man in this Church had a right to believe as he pleased. And he stressed that in several ways…”
-David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, by p. 55-58 (d)
“President Gordon B. Hinckley … stepped in to halt church disciplinary hearings in several high-profile cases of writers and scholars in the mid- to late 1990s, according to Mormon sociologist Armand Mauss.”
“Elbert Peck, former editor of Sunstone magazine for Mormon intellectuals, faced possible church sanction for providing a forum on controversial LDS topics. He was told that Hinckley had the hearing canceled.”