On the evening of December 12th, 2013, my Bishop and his First Counselor came to my house and told me that they had set a date the following week for an official disciplinary council, the first step toward excommunication, for my advocating for the equality for women in the LDS church and supporting Ordain Women. I could attend the court if I wished, but if I chose not to they would hold it on my behalf in my absence. I had spoken privately with my bishop about these matters and concerns prior, but it was the fact that I wrote two blog posts about it on my personal blog (here and here) and shared it where people could see it that caused him to action. I don’t even have a profile with OW, but he said just advocating for them and publicly sharing feminist views were enough to warrant disciplinary attention. He also said that the Area Authority specifically named Ordain Women as an apostate group and that my advocating for them and agreement with their goals in and of itself was grounds for an official court. He confirmed to me time and time again that evening that his hands were tied, this was coming from above him, and that it had been previously concluded by the entire Bishopric that this was the appropriate action for me.
They remained at my house for two hours, during which time I told them I had done nothing wrong and had no intent of repenting for following my conscience because that simply is not a sin. It was a very trying and disheartening conversation during which I chose to stand my ground very firmly. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was quite possibly the first woman in the world to have been given an invitation for an official disciplinary action for supporting OW; no others had been reported at that time or reached out to OW for support. Having been a life long member of the church, a returned missionary, a BYU graduate, having been married in the temple, and being in my ward’s Relief Society Presidency until just the month before our meeting–I found having my Bishop in my living room threatening my membership (and salvation) for seeking equality very confusing. There were very many hurtful, unChristlike things said to me that night; the worst of which being: “The only way you can stay in good standing in this church is if you shut your mouth, put your head down, stop being vocal about your questions and concerns, read only approved materials and scriptures, and fall in line”. I told my Bishop I had no such intentions, and that if he needed to give me a Court of Love then go right ahead; I would attend it but had no intent of repenting for speaking out for feminism and asking doctrinal questions because these actions are not a sin.
My husband was equally dumbfounded with the discourse of that night; it was incredibly bewildering and contradictory to what we thought the church was. The first person I reached out to for help was my good friend Thomas Kimball (a publicist for Mormon press in Utah) who informed me that it doesn’t matter that I’m just a girl in the Seattle area that very few people know; what my Bishop did that night was completely unprecedented and could easily be headline news in the Salt Lake Tribune and Huffington Post the next morning if I chose to speak about it. The church officially disciplining ANY feminist is a big deal. He told me to just give him the “go” and the Associated Press would be there in 20 minutes (it was midnight here). I held off because I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what the ramifications would be. I was already so hurt and just confused… adding press into the mix seemed kind of ridiculous.
The next morning, John Dehlin reached out to me. Hearing his voice on the phone saying my name, a voice I knew so well from his podcast Mormon Stories, was a really remarkable experience. He was incredibly helpful and sincere; offering me advice in any way he could to help me understand what was happening, what my options were to do next, and what this all actually meant. He let me know he was a friend I could count on and that I wasn’t alone. Just having his support and friendship was such a balm to me at the time. I thanked him for his assistance and taking time out of his busy schedule to help me and said I would let him know of any new developments.
Soon after this, Kate Kelly of Ordain Women called me. I was so incredibly impressed with her during our conversation. She was heartbroken to hear that this had happened and she reassured me that no one, on any level, at any time had made an official stance on OW as being apostate as far as she knew and that she herself worked closely with her Stake President and Bishop and that she held a current recommend. None of the other leaders of OW were in “hot water” either. She bore her testimony of the gospel to me and let me know that this was something she deeply believed in. She knows that Christ is speaking to her heart and that that firm conviction alone compels her to move this important work forward and bring these issues to light. She knows that further equality for women was just what the church needed to grow stronger and thrive. I was just so touched by her faith, bravery, and compassion.
A few hours later, I received an email from my Bishop saying he was retracting the invitation to a Court of Love; his sole explanation being that he “misspoke”. He said he inquired further and saw that an official for the church said that “Ordain Women is not an apostate group at this time”, so I was off the hook. He then told me that I should be more cautious and he wouldn’t be surprised at all if this stance changed in the near future and that I was treading on very thin ice. I responded asking who the “official for the church” he was citing was, because there was not any public official statement that matched what he was quoting. He refused to tell me, saying it was none of my business. I asked him if the Area Authority had changed his mind? Because the night before my bishop was VERY insistent that this was very official and coming from the Area Authority. He refused to answer me and said it was none of my business as to who said what; all I needed to know is that it is no longer my concern. When I pointed out that he wasn’t answering my questions, he became very curt and informed me he would not answer or explain any further. I was left to infer that I wasn’t important enough to even get a worth-while apology. One in which anyone could be held accountable for accusations made against me and false statements, or for the hurt and pain it caused my husband and myself. Don’t even get me started on the pain I caused my parents when I told them there was a very good chance I could be excommunicated; it was like I was being cut out of their eternities. The actions of my Bishop proved that the institution had to be protected at all costs and I was just not worthy of even an explanation.
I am sharing this story publicly because yesterday it was announced that both John Dehlin and Kate Kelly are officially being summoned to appear in disciplinary courts for apostasy and could be excommunicated. It is so strange this is happening exactly six months after I had the same invitation extended to me, a person of very little consequence in the big scheme of things.
I have become good friends with John Dehlin since and have helped with a number of his projects and we communicate with each other as friends weekly. I admire him as a person and value his friendship. I know him to be very caring, brave, authentic, and completely consumed with the need to help, love, and embrace Mormons; no matter where they are in their faith journey. He does not wish to create a personal following, to be seen as a leader of any kind, or even to be considered a role model. He simply wants to help people and create a loving space for them. He has dedicated his life for over a decade to creating a space where everyone can share freely without fear. His podcasts have kept thousands of people in the church, have healed mixed-faiths marriages, and have created a much needed forum for dialogue and discussion. When he has criticized aspects of leadership or stances made by the church, it has never been out of malice. He only hopes for a constructive dialogue to be opened. His letter on Mormon Stories today about the depth of pain this is causing his family made my heart ache for them. I hope that they will still be treated fairly by their Mormon community after all of this passes and know that God honors their commitment and familial bonds with or without the church’s stamp of recognition.
Kate’s heart-breaking response to this action taken against her is just so accurate to what I know of her. To have her baptism, marital and family sealings, and endowments canceled on her behalf would be like witnessing her own death! Furthermore, they are doing this in the ward from which she recently moved so she can’t even be there to personally defend herself at her court.
I have chatted online with Kate Kelly a few times in the last months. Her conviction and spirituality has amazed me. She such a devout, knowledgeable believer in the restoration. She sustains her leaders and is simply seeking a venue for her questions to be pondered and presented to the Lord anew. She brought her concerns up at the local level and was told they had no power to do anything with concerns such as those. She realized she needed to find a way to bring it to the leadership herself so she organized a forum to find like-minded sisters and started OW. They have been denied ANY admittance for conversation or dialogue of any kind with the leadership of the church. So she decided to show up at the door of the tabernacle itself.
The church has mislabeled OW’s actions as protests. But WHY is asking to be included being labeled as protest? We are told over and over again that women have equal access to the Priesthood as men do, though we cannot hold it ourselves. Knowing this, OW has asked for admission to the Priesthood session for the last two conferences. Men preside over and are also allowed to attend the women’s meetings of the church; so why can’t women attend the Priesthood session? This was her question. She also asked that the brethren ask of the Lord concerning ordination for women. At NO point in time have the brethren come out and said that they have prayed anew and the Lord has spoken directly concerning this matter and has irrevocably confirmed to the Prophet that women will not hold the Priesthood and why. Instead we have Elder Oaks inaccurately citing a nonexistant “divine decree” that hasn’t ever been divinely decreed in any part of our scriptural canon. He quoted Joseph Fielding Smith and J. Reuben Clark as his official references; both men who erroneously supported and taught of the divine nature and providence behind the ban on black people holding the Priesthood for 150 years (actions and teachings which the church now entirely disavows). No where at any time was Christ’s word or invocation mentioned by Elder Oaks or any other current leader of the church concerning the ordination of women. Until that happens, Ordain Women has every right to ask for consideration.
No matter what their intents and motives are, John Dehlin and Kate Kelly are the LAST people that should be considered for excommunication. They are people who are standing up for those who don’t have voices of their own. When bishops have no answers and aren’t able to help, Kate and John offer support and a nonjudgmental ear either personally or through communities they’ve created. They are dedicated to loving Mormons and Mormonism, to improving it, and to giving a safe place to those who feel they don’t have one. They are creating communities of dialogue and open discussion for topics that the church provides literally NO place to speak openly. They are making Mormonism BETTER and are willing to go to great lengths to ensure that everyone is treated with love and given a voice. When I was treated with cold indifference by my church leaders and ward, they were both there to tell me that I mattered and that they would help me however they could. They are doing, in short, what Christ would do.
When I saw their pending excommunications announced in the NY Times yesterday, my heart sunk. These people are heroes to me and many others. They are exactly what Mormonism needs to move forward and I just am so deeply hurt that the church would choose to humiliate and discipline them in this manner. The church doesn’t have to agree with them, that’s fine! But to threaten severing their baptismal and temple ordinances on their behalf and expel them from the church?! Why don’t we leave it to the Lord and His judgement at the final bar. While we are on earth, excommunication should never be even talked about for people like John Dehlin or Kate Kelly. They should be loved and the church should be proud to have them in their membership.
Many will insist that this is the will of Christ because it is being done by those who hold the Priesthood keys, but I see nothing Christ-like here. Christ went out of his way to show love, be inclusive, and love unconditionally. What the church is doing is a power play for control; plain and simple. It isn’t just Kate Kelly and John Dehlin who are being reprimanded and silenced, it is everyone who doesn’t fit the correlated Mormon mold. Everyone who has felt undermined and misunderstood but been too afraid to speak up. All of us who have seen a gaping dichotomy between the restored church and the current Church and asked how this happened? All of use who have questions that are irreconcilable within the current limitations of the Church Education System and who have been scorned for asking for an explanation. This is the big tent of Mormonism and Kate Kelly and John Dehlin are holding the hammers and stakes to extend the tent further. I realized today that the church is much more invested in protecting its authoritarian control than to make room for those who are seeking to expand the walls of Mormonism. Today is the day I realized that the institution of Mormonism is unrecognizable to me.