In his landmark work Jesus the Christ, James E. Talmage spends several pages outlining the “high priest’s unrighteous adjuration” of the Savior. The Sanhedrin wanted so badly to not only stem the growth of Jesus’ growing disciples, but to take back control of what he continued to point out as a broken religious system of Pharisees, Sadducees, hypocrisy, judgment and adherence to outdated laws that ignored the heart of his message of love, tolerance and spiritual growth.

Before I proceed, let me make it clear with those who are looking closely for opportunities to cry foul that I am not comparing Kate Kelly to Jesus Christ in the sense that she is a savior figure, or worthy of worship. She is as mortal and flawed as any of the rest of us.

This post does seek, however, to ask important questions about how Kate Kelly’s local leaders have handled her situation, as it relates to Mormonism’s closest thing to church law – the Church Handbook of Instructions.

Talmage painstakingly outlines a host of examples of how the Sanhedrin – the governing council of Jewish law – circumvented clearly established Jewish procedure in order to hastily try and convict Jesus of blasphemy. They held proceedings on the Sabbath. They did not call the proper witnesses. They did not provide the required evidence.

It would seem that, from the 30,000 foot view most of us have of the situation, the pending trial of Kate Kelly in Vienna, Va. contains much of the same circumventing of LDS procedure in order to come to a swift and, in my personal opinion, pre-determined outcome.

I do openly acknowledge that I have not been privy to all of Kate Kelly’s private conversations with her ecclesiastical leaders. Kate has, however been very open about them herself.

Some have suggested to me privately that Kate is not being entirely forthcoming about all of her interactions with her bishop and Stake President. I, however, have no reason not to take her at her word.

Outlined below are ways in which Kate Kelly’s leaders either knowingly or unknowingly circumvented established church procedure in bringing charges of apostasy against her.

We will start with President Wheatley.

Issue #1: Jurisdiction

Shortly before leaving the Washington, D.C. area to relocate to Utah, Kate Kelly met with her Stake President, Scott Wheatley and one of his counselors, Kenneth Lee. As a result of that meeting, Kate received a letter notifying her that she had been placed on informal probation.

Said informal probation was to include not holding a calling, giving talks, praying in public, sustaining church officers or “representing that you are a member in good standing.”

A couple of things blatantly at issue here.

First, the Handbook clearly states that the bishop is the first line of defense when it comes to church discipline [1]. Stake Presidents normally get involved when it comes to formal church discipline, and then only for Melchizedek Priesthood holders.

President Wheatley’s first move was to circumvent the church’s code of jurisdiction as outlined by the Handbook by not deferring to her bishop.

Issue #2: Informal Probation Restrictions

President Wheatley outlines some rather odd restrictions to be placed on Kate as a result of an informal probation.

For informal probation [2] , the Handbook discusses things like not taking the sacrament, not attending the temple (including handing in your temple recommend) and not exercising the priesthood (obviously not in play here).

What is striking here is that the more severe restrictions President Wheatley outlines are nowhere to be found in the recommendations of restrictions on those who are going through informal probation. So where did he come up with them?

Those restrictions come from a section on the formal church discipline of Disfellowshipment. [3]

President Wheatley placed disfellowshipment restrictions on Kate Kelly under the guise of informal probation.

All without a formal church court.

President Wheatley sentenced Kate to what is effectively a church prison without a trial.

Issue #3: Impropriety of Informal Probation

The Handbook clearly states that informal probation is NOT to be used when considering some of the more serious acts that formal discipline is meant to address. [4]

On that list are things like murder and incest. Not applicable.

But also on the list is Apostasy. The charge with which Kate is accused in the letter from her bishop.

President Wheatley never should have placed Kate Kelly on informal probation. Her case should have been taken immediately to formal discipline.

Issue #4: Written and (threatened) public notification of informal probation

We all know the church is big on keeping records. Which is why the Handbook clearly states that informal probation does not require ANY sort of paperwork to be done. In fact, it discourages it. [5]

The fact that President Wheatley took the time to write and email a letter to Kate is a not in line with the Handbook’s recommendation for handling informal discipline.

Issue #5: Threatening public announcement of informal probation status

According to Kate Kelly, the reason she came forward last week with the letters was because she was told by President Wheatley that if she did not comply with the demands he placed on her in regards to her (illegal) informal probation, he would go public with it. This, in response and seemingly retaliation to her public actions in conjunction with Ordain Women.

Anyone who knows anything about church discipline – formal or informal, knows this is a big No-No. The Handbook backs this up, with language instructing bishops (again, it’s so unusual for SPs to administer informal probation that the Handbook speaks in terms of the bishop’s actions) to not announce the decision to anyone, and keep only private records that he is to destroy later.

So, now we have Kate Kelly’s Stake President circumventing church policy in five specific ways:

1. Overriding the bishop’s jurisdiction
2. Placing inappropriate restrictions on her for informal probation
3. Improperly placing informal probation on her when her charges necessitated formal church discipline.
4. Keeping a formal record of her informal probation
5. Threatening to make public her informal probation

Those are troubling enough to me. But they don’t end there.

Kate received the email notifying her of her informal probation from President Wheatley on May 22.

On June 8, after she had already left for Utah, she received a letter from her bishop, Mark Harrison, notifying her of a formal disciplinary council being called to address the charge of Apostasy against her.

Let’s take a look at the issues surrounding that letter.

Issue #1: Mode of notification

When I served as a bishop’s counselor, I knew not only from reading the Handbook, but also from participating in a few church courts myself that all notifications of church disciplinary action being taken on an individual must be delivered to the accused in person, by two Melchizedek priesthood holders.

But wait, you say. Kate had already moved to Utah by then.

Yes. Which is why the church puts an exception into the notification rule. But it’s not email. [6]

If a member being summoned before a disciplinary council cannot be reached in person, the church officer issuing the letter “may” deliver the notification via certified mail, with return receipt requested where available.

“May” implies permission given. That’s standard use throughout the Handbook.

Thus, bishops are given special permission to step outside the normal rule (hand delivery by two MP holders) by sending via certified mail.

What’s lost here is the intent of this rule. Why two MP holders? Why certified mail with return receipt?

It seems to me that the Handbook is encouraging the “in the mouths of two or three witnesses” here. Multiple priesthood holders can attest to a successful delivery of the letter.

A return receipt implies that the post office (while obviously void of priesthood authority) is acting alongside the bishop as a witness that the letter was delivered properly.

Email falls outside these bounds. There is no proof of delivery. No guarantee that the receiver opened the email and received your message.

Can you send a regular court summons via email? No, and for good reason.

Bishop Harrison goofed when he sent his notification via email.

He seems here to be following the pattern of President Wheatley, which would suggest to me that their efforts were in some way coordinated.

Issue #2: No counsel provided

The Handbook makes it clear that, before resorting to church discipline, the presiding officer should attempt to meet with the individual to counsel over the issues at hand. This, understandably, is a course of action meant to stave off formal church discipline and allow the accused to repent on their own accord. [7]

According to multiple interviews with Kate, her bishop never once expressed an ounce of concern with her involvement with Ordain Women. Not when the website went up, not at the first public demonstration, not when church PR got involved and not at the second demonstration.

Here’s what Kate told the Salt Lake Tribune:

“I said [to my bishop] if you have any questions, please come to me first, let’s have a conversation about it. And he literally never approached me. Every Sunday, week after week, I saw him, I interacted with him, I had a calling. He never called me. He never stopped by my house. He never pulled me aside on any Sunday. He personally never called me in to have a conversation about this.”

The Handbook indicates that personal interviews are an opportunity for the accused to confess and forsake sin. Even if she stood at fault for any of her actions (I don’t believe she is at fault), Kate Kelly was never given a chance to personally confess to her bishop through a personal interview. This, after multiple personal interactions between Kate and Bishop Harrison.

Issue #3: Not giving adequate time to consider implications of formal church discipline or to gather facts

The Handbook takes formal church discipline very seriously. So much so, that it counsels bishops and stake presidents to wait until the accused has had a reasonable amount of time to consider the ramifications of a formal disciplinary hearing before scheduling the hearing. [8]

Bishop Harrison’s letter gives no time. In fact, he scheduled the hearing with absolutely no warning. Notification of discipline and scheduling of the council, all within the same few paragraphs.

The presiding officer is also encouraged to gather as much information as possible before deciding on a course of action. Presumably, this would include talking to the accused if they are amenable to discussing, no?

What Bishop Harrison should have done was to either visit with Kate prior to her departure, or call her in order to inform her that he was considering formal church discipline. See, this is the part where the accused gets an opportunity to speak openly with the accuser before “charges” are formally filed.

Bishop Harrison never even gave her that chance.

Issue #4: Official Wording

This one is nitpicky to be sure, but it highlights Bishop Harrison’s sloppiness.

The Handbook clearly gives specific wording the letter of notification of formal discipline is to contain. I’m quite sure this is for legal reasons. Words you might commonly hear on the news pertaining to people who have been accused – but not convicted – of a crime. [9]

Reading his letter…er….email, Bishop Harrison clearly is writing off the cuff here.

Again, a nitpick, but it speaks to the overall bypassing of the Handbook by Bishop Harrison.

Issue #5: Kate’s Relocation

This one is pretty important.

The Handbook clearly states that if a member moves while church discipline is being considered, the presiding officers in both locations are to consult together on the best course of action. Should action be taken in the member’s old ward or new ward? That’s up to both bishops to decide. [10]

We know that Kate had not been informed by her bishop before she moved that he was considering formal discipline. In fact, she has stated repeatedly in the last week that her bishop saw her just days before she pulled out of town to leave for Utah, and never mentioned a word of it.

“I saw him before I left, I gave him a hug and that was it,” Kate has said.

Bishop Harrison makes no indication in his letter to Kate that he consulted with Kate’s new bishop in Utah and they both, together, decided to hold the council in Virginia. In fact, there is clear indication that Bishop Harrison had no intention of moving her records at all, something he should have informed Kate of before she moved.

The Handbook encourages this communication between presiding authorities for several reasons. The availability of witnesses is one. I am not keen on this information specifically, but it is my understanding that several prominent Ordain Women leaders reside in Utah. Leaders who could have acted as witnesses on either side. Obviously, Church leaders – who told Ordain Women not to hold another demonstration during April Conference could act as witnesses against Kate – reside in Utah.

It would seem to me that a church court would actually make more sense in Utah. And yet, in his wisdom, it would seem he finds it completely appropriate to not only hold the council in Virginia, but not to bother discussing the matter with Kate’s new bishop.

So, Bishop Harrison seems to have circumvented the Handbook in the following ways:

1. Improper method of notification
2. Not providing any type of pastoral counsel prior to issuing notice of formal discipline
3. Not giving adequate time for accused to consider implications, or time to gather information
4. Official wording not used
5. Improperly handling her relocation

Church leaders have a sacred obligation to treat church discipline with the seriousness and preciseness inherent with threatening to strip someone of their membership.

What’s most striking about this issue is what position this has put Kate in. She has stated multiple times over the last week that the most frustrating thing is how “opaque” the church disciplinary process is.

Most church members would never know about these procedures, because the church keeps the Handbook strictly prohibited to Stake Presidencies and bishoprics.

While it may be in the church’s best interest to keep this information under a tight lid, it also makes abuse of power not only a real possibility, but much easier to pull off.

Because when the members don’t know the rules, it’s impossible to know if their leaders aren’t following them.

 

 

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[1] Church Handbook of Instructions, 6.8

[2] CHI, 6.8.2

[3] CHI, 6.9.2

[4] CHI, 6.9.1 “Formal probation is not an option when priesthood leaders administer Church discipline for a member who has been involved in any of the serious transgressions listed in 6.12.10”

[5] CHI, 6.8.2 paragraph 4

[6] CHI, 6.10.2, paragraphs 6 and 7

[7] CHI, 6.8.1 and 6.4 paragraph 1

[8] CHI, 6.10.2 paragraph 1

[9] CHI, 6.10.2 paragraphs 3, 4 and 5

[10] CHI, 6.2.7

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James Patterson lives with his wife and two children in North Carolina. He makes no apologies for being an avid fan of both Duke basketball and Taylor Swift.

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