Excommunication and Ordain Women

Standard

I wrote on the topic previously but now that formal action has been taken, I wanted to share more thoughts.

The group Ordain Women posted the letter sent to Kate Kelly (the founder of Ordain Women) by her previous bishop in Virginia. This came from her previous bishop and not her bishop in Provo, UT where she currently resides because it is church policy in formal disciplinary cases to hold those councils in the area where the offense occurred and where people know the individual (although, this is left up to the former and current bishops to discuss). To use a TV cliché, it’s similar to a “Don’t leave town” statement in criminal investigations. Of course, that is not at all accurate but the policy is that those who know the individual the best should be the ones (most of the time) involved in the disciplinary council, in this case it was her bishopric in Virginia and not her new one in Utah.

I am only addressing Kate Kelly’s excommunication because all this information is public; she quickly approached the media and sat for interviews [wearing a modest, but sleeveless dress, which is an intentional statement] after she was notified of her excommunication. Ordain Women has been continuing their goal “to put [themselves] in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood.” (Mission Statement, ordain women.org). Because they are making things public, these matters that should be private are open to public discussion – for better or for worse.

As a result of my current calling, I am involved in some local cases of church discipline. Disciplinary councils are the one thing I like least (and most) about my responsibilities. I love being there to watch the Atonement in action but I do not like seeing the effects of significant transgression. The councils can be tragic events, yet they are also hopeful, loving, and cleansing. The Spirit of the Lord flows unrestrained at such councils and the room, for a time, becomes hallowed ground. Depending on the person and circumstance, they can truly be beautiful, uplifting experiences. These formal disciplinary councils must be convened for specific cases of transgression but most of the time, church discipline is informal. According to the letter from Kate Kelly’s (former) bishop, she met with local church leaders at least two times in person and had communication (it’s not clear if it was in-person or not) two other times regarding her continued actions with Ordain Women. She was counseled to cease her leadership of Ordain Women. This does not mean she had to cease her beliefs regarding women and the priesthood but she had to stop her public defiance of church leaders.

That is the issue at heart – it is not beliefs or questioning, it is willful disregard of council from church leaders – local and general. Further, with the website, protests, “6 discussions”, vigils, and other actions, Kate was and still is actively encouraging others to disobey church leaders. Her actions went beyond that of discussing with others the questions they have, she encouraged others to protest against Church leadership. That is why the charge of apostasy was given.The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints defines apostasy worthy of church discipline (pertinent to the current discussion) as 1) acting repeatedly in open opposition to the Church or its leaders; or 2) persistence in teaching information as doctrine when an individual has been corrected by local or general church leaders and asked to stop. Both of those occurred. This is why Kate’s “defense against the charge of ‘apostasy’” that she posted on the Ordain Women website is wrong; her definition of apostasy is not in accord with the Church’s and the Lord’s.

In lieu of attending the disciplinary council in person, by phone, or by secure video chat, she submitted a letter on her behalf (along with some other supporting information – most of it not directly relevant to the case including “over 1,000” letters of support from various individuals. This is a case of volume over validity, which is sometimes the practice of lawyers – if the judge and jury won’t be swayed by the facts, maybe they’ll be overwhelmed by sheer volume). In this letter, Kate covers her life as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She states that from an early age she’s asked difficult questions: “Asking questions is one of my most core parts. I couldn’t stop asking them then, and I can’t stop asking them now.” Asking questions is great – that’s not the reason for the disciplinary council. It is not the questioning but the public defiance of church leaders that led, unfortunately, to her excommunication.

She goes on to point out perceived instances of “gender inequality” in the church that she observed from a young age (read my previous post that delineates some of the issues with seeking for equality). While these might or might not be valid, they also are not central to the issue at hand – that of her repeated, public opposition to church leaders. She states she loves BYU, went on a mission, and married in the temple. Those are all wonderful but again, tangential to the issue. What Kate demonstrates repeatedly in her letter is her love of red herrings (not the fish kind). Yes, her background in the Church is relevant but not the core issue. She repeatedly throws things out there to distract from the issue of her opposition to church leaders.

Kate states, “Please keep in mind that if you choose to punish me today, you are not only punishing me. You are punishing hundreds of women and men who have questions about female ordination, and have publicly stated them. You are punishing thousands of Mormons who have questions and concerns with gender inequality in the church and want a place to voice those concerns in safety. You are punishing anyone with a question in their heart who wants to ask that question vocally, openly and publicly.”

This is an externalization of fault; in fact, her whole letter is an example of externalization of actions, particularly regarding fault, and lack of remorse. Of course she was devastated by the excommunication – most people who experience it are – but her whole defense of her actions revolves around saying, in essence, “I’m not at fault and if you say I am and punish me, you are hurting so many other people just like me.” No, that is not what’s happening. There is no punishment for asking questions, punishment (to use her word) can come from openly opposing council from church leaders, but to suggest that her excommunication damages others is self-aggrandizement (it does potentially harm her family though). The only “damage” done to others was in convincing them that protesting against the leadership of the Church was a valid path. There is a strait and narrow path but inviting others to wander on another path is not the way. Elder Oaks even responded indirectly to Kate Kelly with his most recent General Conference address; church public affairs has made repeated comments regarding Ordain Women (and there are a number of other statements available online). The excommunication of Kate Kelly is not the suppression of questioning, regardless of what some people inside and outside the Church might state, it is the natural consequence of her apostasy.

So here is the crux of Kate Kelly’s position and why her bishop, through direct revelation from the Lord, excommunicated her: “I want to communicate with perfect candor, as I have always done. As I made clear to President Wheatley [her stake president] when we met on May 5th, I will continue to lead Ordain Women, the group I founded. I will not take down the website ordainwomen.org. I will not stop speaking out publicly on the issue of gender inequality in the church. These things President Wheatley instructed me to do, I cannot do in good conscience. I cannot repent of telling the truth, speaking what is in my heart and asking questions that burn in my soul.”

In that statement there is no hint of conciliatory posturing; there is no apparent contrition and certainly no sorrow for sin. Kate Kelly, in the face of formal discipline (and already under informal discipline) stood in proud opposition to church leaders. Some will certainly cheer her courage – and it does take courage to stand up for what you believe in opposition to prevailing beliefs and practices – but her actions put her squarely in defiance to the Church and church leaders. Further, she states she “cannot repent of telling the truth”. If she is espousing truth but it contradicts the truth taught by the prophet and apostles, I’d suggest a re-examination of her truth is in order. Even if women will be ordained to priesthood offices some day, it is not proper church protocol to publicly protest and lobby for such changes to be made. We are a top-down church with Christ at the head. Changes do happen in the Church; we believe in ongoing revelation but general church-wide revelation goes to the prophet and not to individual church members. Individuals can ask the questions and meet with church leaders but to publicly oppose the prophet is not the Lord’s way. The Lord’s house is a house of order. Kate Kelly has been bringing disorder to the house.

Kate Kelly stands up for her beliefs so as not to believe herself a hypocrite. She believes something strongly and acts according to those beliefs. That is usually commendable but not always. What is not commendable and what is hypocritical on her part is her disregard for the order of the Church. She desires to remain a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in full fellowship, yet is is not willing to sustain her church leaders. She is not willing to be true to the covenants she made at baptism, in the temple, and during the sacrament. It does not appear that she is following the counsel of the Savior: “And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Behold, ye have the commandments before you, and the law is fulfilled.” (3 Nephi 12:19). I too walk imperfectly and am not seeking to judge my neighbor, for Kate is my neighbor (not physically but in the sense of the Good Samaritan). I too act with hypocrisy for any time I sin, I am a hypocrite. But what is so beautiful about the gospel is that Christ is willing to forgive us; he even forgives hypocrites. We can be cleansed of our sins, whether they be small or great.

I’m saddened by the outcome of this because Kate Kelly sounds like an intelligent woman who has strong beliefs and is not afraid to stand up for her beliefs. That tenacity is much needed in the church. However, such strength of will is deleterious when used in opposition of church leaders. It’s not opposition to the leaders that is ultimately the problem. Church leaders represent the Savior. They are not perfect but they are given keys to act officially for the Savior, who has chosen not to act in propria persona at this time. That time will come. When anyone chooses to oppose church leaders, he or she oppose the Savior. That sounds harsh; it is. Firm lines are drawn on specific matters – the support of the prophet, apostles, and the Church is one of those firm lines. The Lord is the Final Judge but He has given authority through priesthood keys for individuals to act as judges in the kingdom here on earth.

I really hope Kate returns to the Church. Sometimes fierce antagonists can become strong protagonists. I find the closing statement from her bishop to be touching: “Above all else, please know of my love and respect for you and my earnest desire that you return to good standing in the Church. I urge you to continue to attend church, read the scriptures and pray daily. I invite you to strive to come back to fulI fellowship. This is an opportunity for you to begin anew, to take full advantage of the great gift of the Atonement, to again qualify for the blessings of the temple, and to enjoy again all of the blessings of the restored gospel. It is my sincere prayer and desire that you will do so.”

The Lord wants all to return to Him. It is tragic that Kate removed herself from the Church by her past actions. I hope that her future actions return her to the Church.

Learning Discipline

Standard

During my first semester of college I was enrolled in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) with the eventual goal of being a fighter pilot for the Air Force. While this goal did not materialize because of feelings that my life needed to go in a different direction, I learned valuable lessons in ROTC; I look back on my time in it as including some of the best experiences in my life.

The military is very structured. As part of our training, we were required to learn our chain of command (link is a PDF of a sample chain of command) up to the Commander in Chief – Pres. William Clinton at that time. Knowing this information was important because it was our line of authority from us as cadets (who had no authority) to the person ultimately in charge of the military (the President). Knowing the chain of command taught us the structure of the Air Force and helped us feel part of a greater whole.

This is a part of the discipline of the military. Another component of discipline is saluting your superior officers. Anyone who holds a higher rank is to be saluted and your salute will not end until after theirs has ended. This discipline teaches respect for those with greater authority than what you have, even if the superior officer has no direct authority over you. This reminds me of an experience I had that taught me about respect and leadership. One time we as cadets visited Hill Air Force Base. We were dressed in our ROTC uniforms (which are just like standard Air Force uniforms but we have AFROCT epaulets instead of commissioned officer shoulder marks). What was a little funny to us at the time was how we were treated by enlisted airmen. Some people saluted us, not realizing we did not need to be saluted (we were dressed like officers), but most recognized that we were just ROTC members and did not yet have rank. Anyway, we were at the base early enough for breakfast. I was eating with one of the other cadets when a Colonel came and sat with us. We talked with him for a while. Then another Colonel came and sat with us. One happened to be the commander of Hill AFB and the other was in charge of part of the operations of Hill AFB. Having this experience impressed me because here were two of the top men in command of the base sitting and having breakfast with two ROTC cadets. I was slightly self-conscious during the experience because I wanted to leave a good impression but I was also moved by their concern for us as individuals. That taught me much about leadership.

To be in ROTC I had to take military science courses as well as Leadership Lab (learning about the structure and function of the Air Force) and physical education. We also spent a lot of time learning to march. We learned to march in formation and follow commands instantly – “Present, ARMS! Forward, MARCH! Right shoulder, ARMS! Column right, MARCH!” and so forth. As part of our marching for parade practice I was my squadron’s guideon bearer (I carried the squadron flag). This means that when the commander was present, my job was to be out in front with him (or her), carrying the flag. As part of our training we also learned all the proper etiquette and protocol. We had frequent inspections of our uniforms. We had to have our shirts tucked in (and held taut with shirt garters – which, by the way, were really nice to use), our shoes always shined (I spent about an hour a week shining my shoes), our clothes ironed and starched, and everything lint free. We were expected to be groomed appropriately and looking our finest. We always had to be on time and ready to go. Offenses were potentially punishable by having to drink the grog (at Brigham Young University it was usually composed of punch with a mixture of cookies, whipping cream, soy sauce, crackers, and whatever else seemed distasteful to include in the mix) at the AFROTC ball held every semester.

We had to learn to remain composed when under pressure. We had to answer questions – even ridiculous ones like, “What sound does Tarzan make?” And be able to reply, “Ohhh-ahhhhh-ohhhhh, sir!” without laughing or breaking our composure. I used to have my roommates try and see if they could get me to move or smile or laugh as practice for remaining composed while standing at attention. I learned a way to remain aware of my surroundings but not allow them to affect me. When you are at attention (and even “parade rest”) almost nothing should result in you moving your eyes or turning your head or smiling or moving at all. This was a learned skill. All of this was done as a matter of discipline.

Our exercising in the morning (early morning – 6:00 AM, which is really early in college) was intense. We ran, did pushups, did pullups, jumped, and performed other physical activities so that we would be in good condition. Some of the days were particularly difficult. I never threw up during or after any of my track and field workouts in high school but I threw up twice after ROTC workouts because of the physical strain. Was this healthy? Certainly more healthy than not exercising! I had this physical training twice a week. We trained intensely both mentally and physically so that we would have discipline under pressure. I also learned that when there were times that I thought I could not go farther, I did.

Not being content to just be part of ROTC, I joined the Honor Guard. We were a drill team that were ostensibly training as the elite of ROTC. We had special additions to our uniforms of a beret, a shoulder braid, an ascot, and taps on our shoes. This was so we would stand out in public performances. A group of 12-16 of us worked together to perfect our marching skills. In my journal from the time I wrote my first entry about Honor Guard: “Honor Guard practice was interesting. We are marching around and practicing our moves. We did some minor rifle work…. [Written at a later date] We just learned how to do some cool spin movements and a little toss thing [with our rifles]. We split into four-man teams…. We practice 5 days a week for one hour at a time. We do little throw [moves] and some other fancy moves we are learning.” It was sometimes daunting to have a 10 pound rifle flying and spinning through the air at you but we learned to trust our training and trust the other members of our team. I found a video (I’m not in it) of the type of stuff I did in Honor Guard.

Here’s another video of the AF Academy Honor Guard (ignore the heavy breathing and sniffling at the beginning of the video – it gets better; of course, by telling you to ignore those you’ll pay more attention to them. :)).

What is the point of all of this show? Is it just about doing something that looks cool? It does look cool but at it’s core, it’s an activity where you learn how to work together as a single unit. You learn trust and precision. You learn that by practicing over and over you can do things automatically. In my training I learned discipline. My group could move and think as one (well, we were at least working towards that). The things we can accomplish with discipline and unity are great.

This experience only lasted four months. After that, I felt that it wasn’t right for my life, even though making that decision was hard. I did not want to stop ROTC but I felt that I needed to. Now I’m not doing anything similar to ROTC but the experiences I had still affect my life in positive ways.

What are the spiritual parallels for all of this? Just as physical discipline can be and is learned, so is spiritual discipline. I worked for at least an hour five days a week for more than three months to learn how to march and carry and throw rifles with precision. I had other classes and practice sessions to increase my discipline. What effort do we put into training our spiritual discipline? Do we spend an hour a day studying the gospel, praying, meditating, talking about the gospel, or doing other things that can enhance our faith and faithfulness? Do we practice the gospel or do we merely attempt to go through the motions? Gaining spiritual strength occurs in the same way as gaining physical strength does – through exercise and dedication.

What about leadership? At Hill AFB the top commanders of the base took time to talk with me and ask and answer questions. If we are in positions of leadership in the church (or elsewhere), do we make time for the individual? Do we go out of our way to talk with others and let them know that we are interested in them? Are we really interested in them? Do we follow the Master and minister instead of just administer?

Discipline gives us strength when we are vulnerable. Discipline allows us to act appropriately without thinking when faced with temptation. Physical and spiritual discipline are interconnected. This is why physical commandments such as the Word of Wisdom are also spiritual. Also, principles we learn from obtaining physical discipline apply to spiritual discipline. Elder D. Todd Christofferson stated, “Moral discipline is the consistent exercise of agency to choose the right because it is right, even when it is hard.” (October 2009 General Conference). Why do we choose the right? What is the end goal of spiritual discipline? To become better disciples of Christ. Discipline is all about discipleship. If we have not chosen Christ and disciplined ourselves to Him, who have we chosen to follow instead? Whose disciples are we if we are not Christ’s?