Kate Kelly and John Dehlin

I’ve debated weighing in on yesterday’s article in the New York Times about the possible disciplinary councils for Kate Kelly and John Dehlin, but it has given me an opportunity to reflect on some things. I should note that the church has also sent a similar letter to Rock Waterman, a blogger with whom I am not very familiar, so I won’t comment on his situation.

I’ve known John for many years, and I like him and know him to be a good and kind man, even though I have to admit I’ve never quite understood what he is trying to accomplish. I will just say that he has helped a lot of people I know with their decisions about Mormonism (perhaps I’ve just answered my own question). When I was still trying to hold on to my faith, he encouraged me to find my own place in the church, a place that worked for me. That I wasn’t able to do so is no reflection on John or any of the other people who supported me. I don’t know what he has done that his leaders consider apostasy, but I suppose he’ll find out when he gets to the disciplinary council.

I do not know Kate Kelly personally, though obviously I am aware of her efforts with the Ordain Women movement. Generally speaking, I support people in all walks of life who try to effect positive change in their communities, governments, and religions. Mormonism has a long history of prophets receiving revelation in response to conditions in the world and in the church, from the Word of Wisdom being received after Emma Smith complained about having to clean up tobacco juice and the extension of priesthood rights to all worthy males in response to the construction of a temple in Brazil, a nation where relatively few people would have been eligible to attend. Although Ordain Women’s tactics have been more vocal and public than many Mormons believe they should have been, I take Ms. Kelly and her colleagues at their word that they were simply asking for consideration of new ideas in response to a growing feeling that women are marginalized in the church.

John’s work has been quite different from Ordain Women’s approach, as he has sought to stake out a place in the church for people like him who recognize that the foundational claims of the church may not add up, but they stay because they love the church and find in it a spiritual home and a context in which they can serve God. The change that John has advocated is a more tolerant and open Mormonism, but he hasn’t overtly challenged the leadership as Ms. Kelly and her colleagues have. What I have found amusing over the years is that John seems to be hated as much by a lot of ex-Mormons as he is by a lot of believing Mormons. I think that speaks to his middle-ground approach. Ex-Mormons hate him because he doesn’t pull people out of the church, and Mormons hate him because he won’t leave.

In the past, I would have thought that John’s position was the safer approach, as I’ve known a lot of liberal Mormons who have been welcomed in the church despite their unorthodox views, provided that they aren’t openly opposing the church or its leaders. I don’t see John as having opposed the church at all, and for that matter, I don’t believe Ordain Women has done that, either. That said, I have long felt that Ordain Women has been fighting a hopeless cause. The reality is that the LDS church does not change in response to overt agitation from the membership. Having a prophet and apostles who receive revelation from God means that change comes from above, and as Boyd K. Packer put it, the church functions only when members “face the right way” and take direction from their leaders. Trouble arises when members lacking authority turn around and face the wrong way.

When members are hurting, it is so easy to convince ourselves that we are justified, even duty bound, to use the influence of our appointment or our calling to somehow represent them. We then become their advocates — sympathize with their complaints against the Church, and perhaps even soften the commandments to comfort them. Unwittingly we may turn about and face the wrong way. Then the channels of revelation are reversed. Let me say that again. Then the channels of revelation are reversed. In our efforts to comfort them, we lose our bearings and leave that segment of the line to which we are assigned unprotected. (Address to the All-Church Coordinating Council, May 18, 1993.)

I do not know if the Ordain Women leaders believed they might find an advocate among the leadership, but it seems pretty clear they thought they would at least get a sympathetic hearing. However, the leaders of the church rejected their aims and expressed repeated disapproval of the movement and its members. What I think led to the disciplinary council is that Kate Kelly kept going, anyway.

A lot of people seem to be shocked that Kelly and Dehlin have been summoned for church discipline, but I’m not surprised. The church’s foundational claims and institutional practices are coming under much greater scrutiny than in the past, and more people are walking away. It seems to me that the church has to decide whether it wants to become more open both in terms of its history but also in terms of who is welcome in the church. The alternative is to circle the wagons, double-down on orthodoxy, and push out those whose approach to the gospel doesn’t match correlated homogeneity. President Uchtdorf’s statements and the recent essays about doctrinal and historical issues, flawed as they are, gave me a little hope that the church was cautiously moving toward the more open path, but this action at the very least shows that the wagons are still circled.

The danger for the church is that the shock so many feel at the moment will become disappointment and a recognition that the church isn’t as open and inclusive as they hoped it was. After all the “I’m a Mormon” profiles full of free-thinking, nonconformist Mormons, the reality is that this is a church in which “you are not required to change your way of thinking” but are required to silently make your beliefs “a private matter.”  It is still the same church Gordon B. Hinckley described:

People think in a very critical way before they come into this Church. When they come into this Church they’re expected to conform. And they find happiness in that conformity.

I can’t imagine the hurt and pain the three of them are feeling, and I wish them well. The church will go on without them, but in my view, it is a lesser institution without them and people like them.


21 Responses to Kate Kelly and John Dehlin

  1. Camille Biexei says:

    “…they’re expected to conform. And they find happiness in that conformity”.
    WOW!! That is the Church, so succinctly put. Hinckley was good at saying it for what it was. He did that often. The problem was that no one seemed to be paying much attention to what he said. He was seen as such a kindly, loving man. My favorite is still his telling Larry King that he did not receive prophetic revelation, nor did the rest of the brethren. My second favorite is when challenged on the excomunication of the Sept 9, he basically said, “who cares?”

  2. skepticalalways says:

    John. Your blog mentions them having been excommunicated. As of yet neither of them have been excommunicated, just summoned.

    I think a fourth person may have also received an invitation to resign in lieu of being excommunicated. I will try to find her information.

    Surprisingly, the church’s fiercest recent critic. Tom Phillips, who actually brought a criminal complaint against Monson in the UK, has yet to be summoned. I guess membership has it privileges, especially with the club is the Second Anointing Association. I can hear Packer now: “Damn the Calling and Election made sure promise.”

    I guess the leadership is feeling challenged and need to remind everyone they call the shots. Too bad they don’t see the harm in re-trenching after a short lived detente. The Cold War has resumed.

    • robinobishop says:

      “I guess the leadership … need to remind everyone they call the shots.”

      You mean her Bishop, right. The Bishop has been told that the little lady cares so little about the disciplinary meeting, she will not attend. She’s good with softball interviews, there are harsh realities that need to be explained at this meeting. So throws her skirt over her head and runs half way around the world perhaps for the purpose of subterfuge.

  3. runtu says:

    I don’t think I’ve said they have been excommunicated, but if I’ve been unclear, let me know where, and I’ll fix it.

    • robinobishop says:

      “What I think led to the disciplinary council is that Kate Kelly kept going, anyway.” Past tense. Vowing not to attend, Kelly seals it. As for some of the others, their heads are starting to clear.

  4. skepticalalways says:

    “A lot of people seem to be shocked that Kelly and Dehlin have been excommunicated, but I’m not surprised.”

    • runtu says:

      Thanks. Will fix it.

    • robinobishop says:

      Also me.With the previous serious warnings she received in trying to break into Priesthood sessions and her seminar postings on UTube teaching how to openly, defiantly protesting. One need not wonder what would be next to establish equality among the LDS. Perhaps a quota system for architects of Temples, all the way down to string bikini style garments. You think???

  5. Donna says:

    Great post, runtu. LDS Church leaders are so concerned about the opinion of outsiders that they fund a huge PR effort, but they show far less interest in the opinions of their own members.

    • robinobishop says:

      I think that a person who refuses to go to a disciplinary council where excommunication is a definite possibility reveals a great deal. It is who has stopped listening some time ago.

      I mean, if she wants to be excommunicated, not showing up is a priceless way to ensure it.

  6. robinobishop says:

    I enjoyed reading your coverage and reflections. Where you admit Kelly was fighting a battle she couldn’t win….I suspect she knew that all along.

    Where Susan B. Anthony was her role model, one would expect her leaving the Mormon Church. My take.

    Anthony left the Quakers because it was not going to reform as she had hoped. She membered with the Unitarians. Anthony and Kelly part ways in forcing a reformation on the Quakers vs. Mormons. Instead, Anthony made her mark in civil life (suffrage) through pressing public equality. Kelly would be wise to find a civil law related cause now that she realizes the LDS are not for her. After all, this is a nice leap for her women’s rights Law practice. In spite of the frequent warnings she received from the church, her open rebellion and defiance from the Leadership, I am surprised she reports being surprised. I suspect she knew all along and set a goal for excommunication, as a career decision for becoming a niche attorney.

    When I asked my wife for her take on this, she asked in return, “How does she get along with strong male leadership? I suspect not well at all.” My wife also had the sentiment of wondering of what use having the priesthood would be for a woman married to a worthy Priesthood hold for so many years?

    What I find conspicuous and therefore suspicious is the lack of any in-depth personal bio. Then I would like an in-depth explanation of her capacity to work with strong male figures. As it played a role in Anthony’s departure from the Quakers, it would be interesting to see Kelly’s relationships with men, as my wife would be interested as well. Curious that Ordain Women has a Wiki but Kelley has nothing. Wouldn’t it be honest to have the full story out there to read?

  7. Jean Bodie says:

    John; great blog again. I feel that there is a general purging going on from the top down – well let’s face it this whole story forces one to realize that there is NO bottom up process.

    Rock Waterman as you mentioned has been warned and so has the writer of this blog. http://in200wordsorless.blogspot.ca/2014/05/going-dark.html

    There is another person by the name of Dana who keeps a blog who has also been warned.

    Don’t look now but Big Brother is watching you – good thing you resigned my friend.

    So much for Dieter Uchtdorf’s invitation to come to the banquet. You may do so, but ‘only as a servant’.

  8. I’m not a Mormon, but it is clear that this news has caused a lot of people pain. Despite that, everyone seems to be handling it with a tremendous amount of grace. You’re to be commended.

  9. aerin says:

    Great post as always. The LDS church has every right to perform boundary maintenance, to specify exactly who is and is not a mormon. They have every right, just like any organization, to allow or reject members.

    But one would question whether or not a loving God or Heavenly parents would treat their sincere, faithful children in this way. These actions show exactly how accepting that LDS God is, and whether or not the LDS church is led by a God who loves all his children unconditionally.

    This action shows that clearly, there is no room in the LDS church for those who question or respectfully disagree. I heard Kate’s testimony on the fmh podcast, and she sounded pretty true believing mormon to me, with the exception of asking LDS leaders to pray about the treatment of women.

    • runtu says:

      They pushed the boundaries, no question, and the church obviously has the right to decided who is welcome. But you’re exactly right: this is about control, nothing more.

  10. Camille Biexei says:

    Kate Kelly’s personal life is no business of the idly curious–or those with a bone to pick. It is not as if she is running for president of the United States.

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