Excommunication and Ordain Women

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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.

Church Disciplinary Councils

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I’m going to again interrupt my posts on fasting to include some information about Church disciplinary councils. While searching the LDS website for a completely unrelated topic, I ran across a link to an article by Elder Ballard that was published in the September 1990 Ensign. I believe this article is a must-read for all Church members. Elder Ballard explains clearly why the Church has disciplinary councils, what happens in them, and what happens as the result of them.

Here are some highlights from the article:

“When members need to have certain blessings withheld, the Lord’s object is to teach as well as to discipline. So probation, disfellowshipment, and excommunication, when they become necessary, are ideally accompanied by eventual reinstatement and restoration of blessings.”

“Informal Church discipline [by a bishop] may negate the need for formal disciplinary action. Since repentance and reformation are the primary objectives of any Church disciplinary action, the bishop may feel that the person has done or is doing everything necessary to repent and that a disciplinary council would serve no useful purpose.”

“On the other hand, the spirit of inspiration may move the Church leader to convene a disciplinary council, particularly if the member holds a prominent position in the Church. In the scriptures, the Lord has given direction concerning Church disciplinary councils. (See D&C; 102.) The word council brings to mind a helpful proceeding—one of love and concern, with the salvation and blessing of the transgressor being the foremost consideration. Members sometimes ask why Church disciplinary councils are held. The purpose is threefold: to save the soul of the transgressor, to protect the innocent, and to safeguard the Church’s purity, integrity, and good name” (emphasis added).

“The First Presidency has instructed that disciplinary councils must be held in cases of murder, incest, or apostasy. A disciplinary council must also be held when a prominent Church leader commits a serious transgression, when the transgressor is a predator who may be a threat to other persons, when the person shows a pattern of repeated serious transgressions, when a serious transgression is widely known, and when the transgressor is guilty of serious deceptive practices and false representations or other terms of fraud or dishonesty in business transactions.”

“The bishopric, in consultation with the stake president, has the responsibility and authority to hold disciplinary councils for all ward members. However, if excommunication of a Melchizedek Priesthood holder is thought to be a possibility, the matter is transferred to the stake presidency, who, with the assistance of the high council, may convene a stake disciplinary council. An appeal of a decision of a ward disciplinary council goes to the stake presidency and high council. Any further appeals go to the First Presidency.”

“Those who sit on the council are to keep everything strictly confidential and to handle the matter in a spirit of love. Their objective is not retribution; rather, it is to help the member make the changes necessary to stand clean before God once more.”

“Decisions of the council are to be made with inspiration. A council can reach one of four decisions: (1) no action, (2) formal probation, (3) disfellowshipment, or (4) excommunication.”

“After the rebaptism of a person who has not been endowed in the temple, his or her membership record shows the original baptism date, with no reference to the excommunication. A man who previously held the priesthood but was not endowed should generally be ordained to his former priesthood office. Again, his membership record will show his original ordination date, with no reference to excommunication. A person who was endowed in the temple before being excommunicated may regain priesthood and/or temple blessings only through the ordinance of restoration of blessings. This is a special ordinance performed by a General Authority as directed by the First Presidency. Afterwards, a new membership record is created, showing the original dates of baptism, endowment, sealing, and (if applicable) priesthood ordinations—with no reference to excommunication.”

The trauma of being disfellowshipped or excommunicated from the Church will likely never be fully understood by those who have never experienced it” (emphasis added).

To members and leaders of the Church who know of a brother or a sister who has been disfellowshipped or excommunicated: Love him or her without judging. Be sensitive and thoughtful without prying.”

To you who have come back into full fellowship in the Church: Welcome home!”

To you who have not yet returned, who may still be struggling with the hurt and haven’t yet felt the healing: please allow yourself to feel the love that the Lord, his presiding authorities, and your friends in the Church feel for you. We are aware of your pain, and we pray for your healing and your return.”

Here is the link again to the article. All disciplinary action should be done with love and concern for the transgressor. The return to full fellowship and membership should be encouraged and supported. Disciplinary councils can be and are fearful things for most people undergoing the disciplinary action. The Lord knows this and loves those who have strayed. He wants them to return to the fold. I think that most (or all) Church leaders try to be as the shepherd who left his 99 to carry the 1 back to the fold when dealing with those who have sinned. With sincere repentance, all the blessings they had – and more! – before will be theirs.

Again, I urge all church members (and anyone else who is interested) to read Elder Ballard’s wonderful article explaining the process of Church disciplinary councils.