The following is an excerpt from a letter I sent to my ward and stake leaders after hearing the news about the possible disciplinary councils against Kate Kelly and John Dehlin. I’m only using the first letter of last names for people specifically mentioned.
Almost two months ago, I met with Bishop B to discuss some of the issues that challenge my faith and belief. I appreciated Bishop B’s willingness to listen to my concerns. I felt no judgment or condemnation, but rather sensed sincere concern and a desire to understand. Towards the end of our discussion, Bishop B motioned to the painting on his wall, Christus Consolator by Carl Bloch. He noted that he first saw this painting when he was visiting Utah over Christmas, just before he was called to be Bishop. While this painting really spoke to him then, he observed that it does so even more now as a bishop. He said that in the few months he’s been bishop, he’s found everyone who has come through his office is represented in the picture: the widow, the blind, the lame, the fatherless, the captive, the beggar. He told me that I’m the guy in the back, with his hand to his beard contemplating and puzzling through the words of Christ: the Skeptic.
Bishop B was exactly right. Faith does not come easy for me. The scriptures teach that some are given the gift to believe through the Holy Ghost, while others have the gift to believe their words. These are not my gifts. I struggle with belief Every. Single. Day. The story of Doubting Thomas resonates with me; I need to see to believe.
Despite this, I’ve chosen to continue practicing my Mormon faith. It is my heritage, my culture, my history. Mormons are my people. For much of my life, Mormonism helped draw me closer to God.
Mormonism caused me to shed tears twice in the past week. The first was last Sunday during our Sacrament Meeting celebrating the 30th anniversary of the founding of our ward. In that meeting, Bishop D, our previous bishop, reminded me of the uniqueness of the ward in welcoming diversity of (among other things) belief, thought, and culture. Bishop D’s talk reassured me (as he has done personally in the past) that there is a place in the church for me.
Tears came again yesterday when I read the news that Kate Kelly, founder of Ordain Women, and John Dehlin, founder of Mormon Stories, are facing disciplinary councils for apostasy (see http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/12/us/two-activists-within-mormon-church-threatened-with-excommunication.html). The changes I yearn for most in the church (improving opportunities for women and LGBT acceptance), are championed by Kate and John. John and his podcast have been invaluable to me in my faith journey. I would have left the church years ago had he not introduced me to thoughtful church members, who struggle as I do, but who have found a way to make Mormonism work for them.
My lived Mormon experience in the ward has been (mostly) one of love, acceptance, and compassion as I’ve worked through and expressed my doubt and concerns. Similar to Bishop D, in October 2013 Dieter Uchtdorf assured me and my fellow doubters that “regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!”
The threatened excommunication of Kate and John sends a different message. Whether intentional or not, the institutional church is telling those of us who see problems in the church and have been willing to agitate for change, that they have no use for us. Kate and John represent the part of me that wishes I were more brave and could speak up more without fear of retaliation and rejection. Thus their threatened excommunication becomes personal.
It is going to take me a while to process this news and my emotions, and decide how I’ll proceed from here. Shelving my doubts and keeping quiet is what nearly led me out of the church. That isn’t an option for me. At a minimum, for now, I’ve decided that I can write this letter expressing my concern about what is happening. I understand that many of you may not be able to do anything about Kate and John, but perhaps others of you can pass my concerns along the leadership chain. I also ask that you continue your work to make the ward and the stake a safe place for those with doubts and questions, and those troubled by these events. I ask that you join your prayers with mine for Kate, John, and their families that they may feel God’s love and peace. Pray for Kate and John’s church leaders that they’ll act in a Christ-like way. Pray to understand why these issues are so important to many of us.
I pray that each of you will have compassion in your hearts as you will no doubt hear from other ward and stake members struggling with the church’s recent actions.