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“…A council of this sort is akin to…my own funeral”
June 11, 2014 5:15 PM   Subscribe

High-profile progressive Mormons Kate Kelly, the founder of the Ordain Women movement (previously), and John Dehlin, most well-known as founder of Mormon Stories Podcast (previously and previouslier), have been invited by the LDS Church to disciplinary councils that will most likely result in their excommunication from the church.

The LDS Church has not commented (and typically does not) on these specific cases, but the representative Mormon Newsroom has published a post responding generally to questions regarding disciplinary procedures.

Kate Kelly has posted the invitation to her disciplinary council from her Bishop (similar to a pastor or parish priest in scope) as well as an earlier letter from her Stake President (who is the ecclesiastical head of a stake, which is similar to a Catholic deanery or a small diocese) advising her of her informal probation from the church on the Ordain Women site. Also on the Ordain Women site, Kelly has written her thoughts, of which a snippet is provided below:
Excommunication in our church is akin to spiritual death. The life-saving ordinances you have participated in like baptism, confirmation, and temple sealing are moot. In effect, you are being forcibly evicted from your forever family.

Given the gravity of the situation, I feel like being invited to a council of this sort is akin to being invited to my own funeral. Reading stories like this one in the New York Times are like reading my own obituary.

When all is said and done, and the deep mourning process for me and for thousands of Mormon women has passed, I feel confident that the joy I have experienced for participating in Ordain Women will vastly outweigh my sorrows.
(John Dehlin has not shared the full text of any letters received from ecclesiastical leaders, but he has written a short statement on Mormon Stories, speaking to the impact to his family.)

For some progressive and feminist Mormons, the disciplinary councils for these two echo back to the "September Six", where six prominent Mormon intellectuals writing on topics such as (but not limited to) the feminine divine, women and authority within the Mormon church, and the legacy of polygamy and folk magic in the early church, were disfellowshipped or excommunicated from the church in 1993. Earlier that year, the LDS Church's then-Elder Boyd K. Packer (who is currently the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest governing body within the LDS Church) gave an internal talk discussing the threat to the church from LGBT, feminist, and scholarly Mormons, establishing the tension with which many progressive members still grapple to this day.
posted by subversiveasset (76 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I dated a Mormon in college. The prejudicial treatment and "less than" status that she received as a woman left a foul taste in my mouth for the religion.
posted by starvingartist at 5:19 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


This could be a good step for them. You know, intellectual enlightenment and all.
posted by ReeMonster at 5:20 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


Don't know if I should ask a mod if this can be added to the post, but the Salt Lake Tribune does have the full text of John's letter.

In this, the Stake President reveals that Dehlin had previously requested not to be contacted by fellow ward members or church leaders. The Stake President offers that John may either voluntarily resign from the church by requesting to have his name removed, but if he does not, then the disciplinary council will continue.

This suggests that Dehlin at least was in the process of distancing himself from the church.
posted by subversiveasset at 5:25 PM on June 11


Thanks for this post. Very interesting stuff about which I know very little. In my experience with friends and loved ones in more established religions like the Catholic Church, there is a lot more pretending to agree with official doctrine, while just going ahead and living your life and privately saying whatever you want. As a Christian its refreshing to see people standing up for what they believe in and trying to make changes within their church rather than basically ignoring whatever bits of your religion you don't find relevant. I wish it worked and the Mormon mainstream would be swayed by this kind of thoughtful passion, but I'm not surprised it didn't.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:27 PM on June 11 [9 favorites]


> discussing the threat to the church from LGBT, feminist, and scholarly Mormons

Once any sort of temple of any organized religion has gone far enough down the "threat to the organization" path, it probably can't be dragged back onto its original message. Let it go, man, 'cause it's gone.
posted by jfuller at 5:28 PM on June 11 [13 favorites]


This suggests that Dehlin at least was in the process of distancing himself from the church.

Yes, he has been, very much so. Nevertheless, it's troubling that there are those in church leadership - at the local or higher level, since it's not clear what's driving these two actions or whether they're related - who think formal church discipline is a good idea in anything but very rare cases like crimes against children and things like that.
posted by The World Famous at 5:33 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]


> discussing the threat to the church from LGBT, feminist, and scholarly Mormons

To be clear, the LDS church is hostile to scholars of Mormonism, not to Mormons who are scholars of whatever topic. It's terrible that the church is hostile to scholars of Mormonism, but I think it's important not to get people thinking that the church is generally hostile to scholarship.
posted by The World Famous at 5:35 PM on June 11 [7 favorites]


I keep hoping that, as this issue has been pressed, the Church could pull off a repeat of the trick they pulled in 1978 when they (with rather convenient timing) prayed really really hard about the problem and were visited by the divine word that God changed his mind about black people (black people!) and allowed people of African descent into the priesthood. Unfortunately, I suspect this is largely false hope.
posted by zachlipton at 5:37 PM on June 11 [10 favorites]


Oh, no. I love John Dehlin and the Mormon Stories podcasts. What a thoughtful reasonable man.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:45 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


The more schisms the better.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:47 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


I have tremendous respect for people who do this kind of work from inside (even when I don't necessarily respect the institution they're trying to change). It's very difficult, lonely work.

Thanks for the post.
posted by rtha at 5:48 PM on June 11 [20 favorites]


The World Famous: "It's terrible that the church is hostile to scholars of Mormonism, but I think it's important not to get people thinking that the church is generally hostile to scholarship."

It's kind of a paradox, though, isn't it? They're basically saying that Mormons can study and write about nearly whatever they want, but only things that have nothing to do with their own religion. The elders don't want intelligent people to delve too deeply into the history and philosophy of LDS because they know in their hearts that Joseph Smith's long, awful con doesn't stand up to any kind of independently informed scrutiny.

Sometimes I think that Mormonism (and to a greater extent its cousin Scientology) exists solely to demonstrate how easy it is to build a seemingly full-fledged religion on totally made-up bullshit that takes advantage of people's good nature.
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:52 PM on June 11 [45 favorites]


God changed his mind about black people

I wish people wouldn't characterize the 1978 policy change that way. We don't believe God changed his mind. We believe the church, which had been guided by cultural biases, chose to finally turn to God for guidance. I hope that will happen with regard to other issues, as well. I think it will take a long time, though.

Mormonism is an extremely orthodox religion that is in denial about just how orthodox it is. Its doctrines and policies are shaped primarily by cultural bias combined with the sincere efforts of dedicated individuals who, most of the time, really think they're doing the right thing. But it is slow to change and makes a lot of huge mistakes because of the nasty combination of a) a belief that existing policies and beliefs cannot change without an earth-shaking divine mandate, and b) a belief that, because of delegated divine authority, church leaders' administrative decisions and doctrinal teachings have an automatic divine stamp of approval.
posted by The World Famous at 5:56 PM on June 11 [17 favorites]


The elders don't want intelligent people to delve too deeply into the history and philosophy of LDS because they know in their hearts that Joseph Smith's long, awful con doesn't stand up to any kind of independently informed scrutiny.

No, I don't think that's it. The church pays people to delve deeply into it, and has a respected university department dedicated to that. What they won't tolerate is people teaching members of the church that the church is a fraud or wrong or whatever. So they're intolerant not of Mormon scholarship generally, but of that Mormon scholarship that openly opposes the church or seeks to lead people away from the church. I'm not sure how unreasonable it is for an organization to oppose efforts to hurt the organization, frankly - even though I often agree with those whom the church opposes on those grounds.
posted by The World Famous at 5:58 PM on June 11 [5 favorites]


Here's hoping that Kelly and Dehlin give the council a big, fat, well-deserved Hasa Diga Eebowai.
posted by delfin at 6:04 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]


They're basically saying that Mormons can study and write about nearly whatever they want, but only things that have nothing to do with their own religion. The elders don't want intelligent people to delve too deeply into the history and philosophy of LDS because they know in their hearts that Joseph Smith's long, awful con doesn't stand up to any kind of independently informed scrutiny.

Things are a little more complicated than this. There are several folks who are very well-informed with the issues of LDS history, theology, etc., and yet do not have their testimonies shaken by it. For example, the Mormon historian (as well as a historian of Mormonism) Richard Bushman writes:
...During my first semester in the School of Religion at Claremont Graduate University, one of my new colleagues invited me to lunch. We had barely given our orders when he asked quite kindly: how is it that you believe in Mormonism? He did not elaborate but I could imagine him thinking of our belief in angels, revelation to ordinary men, gold plates and ancient records, and all the other extraordinary parts of Mormon history and religion. As a Catholic theologian and philosopher of religion, he probably was looking for an answer along the lines a Thomist would give–something reasoned and philosophical. Not stopping to think, I told him I remained a Mormon because when I followed my religion I became the kind of man I want to be. No philosophy, no evidence, nothing elaborate. Simply the personal reality that my religion helps me get better. That’s what it comes down to in the crunch.
Or consider Davis Bitton, a charter member and President of the Mormon History Association in addition to being a former Assistant Church Historian to the church, who wrote this:
A number of years ago, I was asked to speak to a combined priesthood group in the Federal Heights Ward. At the conclusion of my remarks, someone asked the following question: “What effect has your extensive study of Church history had on your testimony?” I wasn’t really prepared for the question. The first words out of my mouth were: “I never had a testimony of Church history. My testimony is in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
There is certainly a tension that the church faces on the historical front...namely, the way the church prepares its members to relate to history, truth, etc., (in terms of emphasizing literal truth, etc.,) are a setup for disaffection.

But I think that the greater issue is that even without getting into historical issues, if we look at the practical effects, Richard Bushman's statement isn't necessarily going to be true for everyone. It simply isn't going to be true for a lot of members that "when [they] follow their religion [they] become the kind of [person they] want to be." In other words, for women in the church, the status quo on women is completely out of step with what those same women live on the job, in their education, etc., For LGBT folks, the status quo position on sexuality is completely out of step with the lived experience of being LGBT.
posted by subversiveasset at 6:07 PM on June 11 [17 favorites]


Sometimes I think that Mormonism (and to a greater extent its cousin Scientology) and every religion and multi level marketing scheme ever exist solely to demonstrate how easy it is to build a seemingly full-fledged religion on totally made-up bullshit that takes advantage of people's good nature.
posted by cccorlew at 6:07 PM on June 11 [7 favorites]


its cousin Scientology

Oh, come on. Mormonism's cousins are the other religions of the Second Great Awakening, as much as people would love to pretend that Mormonism is the only significant American religious movement. Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, Advent Christians, Baptists, Shakers, Alexander Campbell, etc. are Mormonism's cousins, not Scientology, no matter how linked you may think the two are by way of how stupid you think their teachings are or how much of a huckster you think their respective founders were.
posted by The World Famous at 6:14 PM on June 11 [75 favorites]


Sometimes I think that Mormonism (and to a greater extent its cousin Scientology) exists solely to demonstrate how easy it is to build a seemingly full-fledged religion on totally made-up bullshit that takes advantage of people's good nature.

It seems weird to signal out Mormonism that way, seeing as very similar things could be said about most religions. I also think that dismissing a religion (or religion in general) on the basis of believability is missing a lot of what people get from religion-- community, comfort in difficult times, joy, a sense of the sacred.
posted by bookish at 6:20 PM on June 11 [4 favorites]


and to a greater extent its cousin Scientology

No.

The Mormons came from a very different era. They're cousins to the Shakers, the Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Science, and all the other offshoots of the Protestant Christian Churches that occurred in the US in the 19th Century -- the same era that produced the Adventists and brought the Methodists to the fore, and at a time when the Catholic Church was very much looked down upon in the US, other than in dense European immigrant communities.

(On preview, The World Famous beat me to it -- though, TWF, the Baptists have been in the US in prominent numbers since before the Revolution, though many of the offshoot Baptist churches have been modified by the Advent/Methodist tradition that occurred here.)
posted by eriko at 6:33 PM on June 11 [15 favorites]


One is a recently founded largely American religion that doesn't accept gays and ostracizes members who leave.
posted by Benjy at 6:37 PM on June 11 [6 favorites]


my heart sank as i read this post. i'm removed from the church for quite some time now, but both of those voices have been nice to follow from afar. i will say that i'm loving how in depth and detailed this conversation is. it'd be awesome if it veered away from a rehash of the scientology conversation from another thread.

who think formal church discipline is a good idea in anything but very rare cases like crimes against children and things like that.
if only they used church court in that way. it's been my experience that the victims are often ostracized for accusing a member of the priesthood of such an awful crime and frustratingly, with my molester, his excommunication only happened after consensual sex and only because it produced a child (not pulling you up on anything TWF - we've discussed this particular issue at length - and we're in total agreement - church discipline is wholly misdirected here when bigger issues face the church internally).
posted by nadawi at 6:37 PM on June 11 [9 favorites]


To be clear, the LDS church is hostile to scholars of Mormonism, not to Mormons who are scholars of whatever topic. It's terrible that the church is hostile to scholars of Mormonism, but I think it's important not to get people thinking that the church is generally hostile to scholarship.

I think the church's hostility to that particular scholarship maybe says more about the LDS church's character vis-a-vis scholarship itself than its ostensible indifference to scholarship on other topics, though.
posted by clockzero at 6:40 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]


My understanding is that almost no one in Mormon theology goes to hell. The exceptions include people who leave the church and those who are excommunicated. This is pretty heavy stuff for a believer.
posted by vorpal bunny at 6:43 PM on June 11


From that noxious epistle from Kathleen Kelly's so-called "bishop":

"We love you and are concerned about your spiritual welfare. We encourage you to take the steps necessary to return to and stay on the path that will lead to eternal blessings and happiness. Our hope is to assist you in this effort."

That's the poison, right there. Turn or burn. What a disgusting threat to throw around a believer's neck. I hope he is confronted with precisely these words when he stands before the throne of glory at the apocalypse of his own life. Petty religious tyrant.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:44 PM on June 11 [14 favorites]


yeah, you gotta "know god and deny him" to go to actual hell. i've seen some theorizing, for instance, that no women can go to hell since they never receive the priesthood.
posted by nadawi at 6:45 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


My understanding is that almost no one in Mormon theology goes to hell. The exceptions include people who leave the church and those who are excommunicated. This is pretty heavy stuff for a believer.

No. The only people who Mormonism believes go to hell are those who gain a perfect, no-faith-necessary knowledge of Christ's divinity in this life by actually witnessing Christ firsthand, in the flesh, and who then "deny the Holy Ghost" by turning away from that perfect knowledge.

Merely being an excommunicated Mormon won't get you there.
posted by The World Famous at 6:52 PM on June 11 [7 favorites]


the exmormon sub on reddit is, obviously, blowing up with this news.
posted by nadawi at 6:55 PM on June 11


I didn't believe in hell until I tried to find a cup of coffee in the Salt Lake City airport at 3:45 AM on a Sunday.
posted by Benjy at 6:56 PM on June 11 [10 favorites]


My understanding is that almost no one in Mormon theology goes to hell. The exceptions include people who leave the church and those who are excommunicated. This is pretty heavy stuff for a believer.

This gets into very speculative territory. As nadawi alludes, the basic concept for the closest LDS equivalent of hell is something like "know God and deny him." But this is talked about in pretty high threshhold terms (on preview, what The World Famous has said). For example, scriptures talk about having those who have received the "fulness of the Gospel" vs those who were honorable, but "blinded by the craftiness of men" and as a result "receive the presence of the Son, but not the fulness of the Father."

So, how can someone define who has received the "fulness of the Gospel"?

Likewise, it's very easy to say (although many would think it's also pretty condescending) that people who got caught up in feminism were just "blinded by the craftiness of men" in which case they may not be in the highest kingdom of heaven, but they certainly wouldn't be cast out.
posted by subversiveasset at 6:56 PM on June 11


That's the poison, right there. Turn or burn. What a disgusting threat to throw around a believer's neck.

Long ago, one of the few things Jack Chick ever wrote that rang true about organized religion sang much the same tune.

Of course, Chick was so devoid of light that he didn't even know if he was the pot or the kettle.
posted by delfin at 6:57 PM on June 11 [6 favorites]


I keep hoping that, as this issue has been pressed, the Church could pull off a repeat of the trick they pulled in 1978 when they (with rather convenient timing) prayed really really hard about the problem and were visited by the divine word that God changed his mind about black people

As the Dialogue article linked in your comment alludes too, it's hard to characterize the timing as convenient (at least in the "Oh, hey Mormons, nice of you to join the civil rights movement more than a decade late" sense that people often mean) when it was actually the culmination of decades of looking at the doctrine/practice that had coalesced around institutional racial discrimination and thinking that something didn't seem right, particularly where the quasi-theological rubber met the practical road of the increasing numbers of black members of the church.

I think that similarly, it's likely enough that something like this will yet happen with women and positions of institutional/numinous authority (based on my knowledge of LDS theology and history, my money would be on a specific priestess-hood, but that's just a guess). It will probably happen later rather than sooner. Additionally, like the racial issues I'd guess that a lot of the groundwork and discussion will probably happen in a less than public manner.

And I think that's really the fundamental culture clash going on here -- less feminism vs patriarchy, less scholars vs administrators, and more how change works inside the LDS Church vs how it often works in public debate in your typical first world democracy, particularly agitated activist debate. This is going to be particularly troubling to activists. But I suspect Kelley is running less afoul of a complete resistance to reshaping women's roles than she is running up against a combination of slow-change workings and the church's allergy to explicitly fighting things out in the court of public opinion. And I'm nearly certain that whatever the discussion of Kelley's membership status represents, there's a *lot* of discussion of change going on under the surface along with it.

I also suspect that however difficult she may find her review to be, and despite her words about spiritual death and losing her family, she's familiar with cases from Helmuth Hübener to Maxine Hanks that would indicate this is hardly the end of the story even from within a believing LDS narrative.
posted by weston at 7:07 PM on June 11 [4 favorites]


Oh no, this breaks my heart a little. You'd think it wouldn't, I haven't been Mormon for a good thirteen years. And I'm still mad about that galling City Creek Mall business.

But I didn't even have to get all the way down before "not another September Six" was echoing in my head. I might not be Mormon (or even a theist) anymore but I didn't want to see the progressive activism I've been seeing pop up more and more for the past five or so years get kneecapped again. Like zachlipton, I'd been hoping that maybe in another ten years or so there'd maybe be some convenient revelation: graceless and hobbled but moving forward at least. I was hoping that the lack of excommunication so far said something, something positive about how the church was relating with dissatisfied members.

I've loved the Mormon Stories podcast, and being an apostate I guess it figures. I remember listening to Daymon Smith on some long dark country car ride and thinking, yes, yes, yes, why couldn't I have experienced this before? Daymon felt more like a prophet to me than the ones I'd grown up to: calling out the rich and powerful and proud, just like prophets of old in the Book of Mormon. Of course, those prophets sometimes got burned at the stake...

It was hard to tell my parents I wasn't going to be a Mormon but it was very easy to leave. Nobody had really mistreated me: there just wasn't a place for me there. I wonder if it would have been different if back then I'd felt like I had the ability to agitate for what I had been missing, or if I would have just ducked out anyway. I don't feel like John Dehlin or Ordain Women were any more damaging the church than the metaphorical abscess that needs to be lanced and drained if it's going to be healed.

Feminist Mormon Housewives is already reeling from the blow.
posted by foxfirefey at 7:10 PM on June 11 [12 favorites]


I was really moved by the raw emotional honesty that came through in Kelly's note, even within such brevity. Her ability to admit how completely gutted she feels by the church's action despite her immense pride in what she and her movement have accomplished.
posted by threeants at 7:13 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


I went to the excommunication hearings for Tom Murphy. He's an anthropologist, a friend of a friend, and he studied DNA evidence that suggested that Native Americans descended from people of northeastern Siberia. That's not at all a controversial position among anthropologists - it's actually the standard model - but it completely contradicts Mormon theology, which, if I'm not mistaken, asserts that Native Americans are one of the lost tribes of Israel.

Anyway, Tom is a Mormon through and through, born and raised. A very nice guy. I remember going to a party at his house where he cheerfully announced that he had non-alcoholic beer for everybody! That's the way I think of Mormons... nice people with a kind of "Leave It To Beaver" sensibility about how the modern world should work.

And he got caught on the wrong side of the doctrine. Because, well, the DNA evidence simply didn't support the whole "Native Americans as Israelites" theory.

We showed up for the excommunication hearing. Lots of us. They wouldn't let us in the church. But we showed up and took over the parking lot with our cars and we stayed there and we wouldn't leave. Eventually they decided not to excommunicate him.

I think Mormons can be reasonable people, if you pressure them enough, but they have a handful of ideas that they think define their beliefs, and they're very scared to let those ideas go.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:13 PM on June 11 [20 favorites]


The church pays people to delve deeply into it, and has a respected university department dedicated to that. What they won't tolerate is people teaching members of the church that the church is a fraud or wrong or whatever.

I have a lot of time for you, The World Famous, and you are remarkably patient in these Momonism threads, but come on. The Church will only accept the scholarly findings that they find advantageous? That is the very definition of intellectual bankruptcy.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:17 PM on June 11 [23 favorites]


The excommunication documents are supposed to be quite private, and so that she published this, is an integerous model of transparency.

i am also going to push back a bit on TWF (good to have the mormon thread crew back together.) I think that the church has a history of congreationalism, and individual liberty, and it has also had a quite magesterial model. The tension between the congreational and the magesterial is what makes church authority so tricky. Toscano's work on Mother's Blessings, or Quinn's work on folk magic, were ways of recentering the lds discourse, into its history of personal revelation and small community buiilding (moving in with the shaker cousins) The LDS church itself, really after Kimball, and esp. with the guidance of Packer have moved away from that context.

I have an opinon--that the conserative right is doubling down, becoming tighter and more insular, as a way of perserving power--and as a way of finding paths for their way of life in places outside the lower 48. The church has moved from being American to being Mexican or Brazillian or Ugandan, but has to maintain an aspirtional american quality (it is a problem that the Adventists are having in Burundi right now), and so to sell that message seamlessly, they have to assume a consistency of message. Kelly prevents them from doing that (though her using the language of "forver family" and her general middle of the road message is an elegant way of pushing Packer et al's rhetoric against itself).

I know less about Dohelin, but how both sides are playing this game has a lot to teach us about how religion is discussed.
posted by PinkMoose at 7:18 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


i feel like TWF's point was more about how scholarly things unrelated to the church weren't discouraged. there's just this area of cognitive dissonance in pretty much exactly the place you'd expect it to be.
posted by nadawi at 7:20 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. it is simply too painful to acknowledge -- even to ourselves -- that we've been so credulous.
posted by basicchannel at 7:26 PM on June 11 [8 favorites]


I have a lot of time for you, The World Famous, and you are remarkably patient in these Momonism threads, but come on. The Church will only accept the scholarly findings that they find advantageous? That is the very definition of intellectual bankruptcy.

I absolutely agree.
posted by The World Famous at 7:44 PM on June 11 [14 favorites]


This is extremely unfortunate and unpleasant news, but not at all surprising.

I suspect that news of Kelly's "court of love" (to borrow an extremely outdated phrase) will have a chilling effect for many, and not just for the outright supporters of Ordain Woman. It will embolden the kinds of folks who already enjoy wielding church policies as Ultimate Doctrine and the more thoughtful folks will be far less encouraged to push back on that.
posted by Doleful Creature at 7:53 PM on June 11


We don't believe God changed his mind. We believe the church, which had been guided by cultural biases, chose to finally turn to God for guidance.
It doesn't sound like you're using the royal "we" or the "my social circle" "we", but if you're not, could you provide a reference to a more official statement of the above?
posted by roystgnr at 7:53 PM on June 11


For those who have not read it, Teresa Nielsen Hayden's "God and I" is a fascinating account of her own excommunication from the Mormon church in 1980 (and the lengths she had to go to in order to arrange it).
posted by McCoy Pauley at 7:57 PM on June 11 [5 favorites]


Roystngr: trouble is that all the official statements are so carefully worded so as not to tip the church's hand, so to speak. Textually you'll probably find, in the only canonized statement regarding the Piresthood change, that there is a lot of support for TWF's interpretation of the matter, and just enough ambiguity to allow the opposite impression to remain.

Last time I checked it that was my impression. Here's the wiki link on it.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:00 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


It doesn't sound like you're using the royal "we" or the "my social circle" "we", but if you're not, could you provide a reference to a more official statement of the above?

Here you go.
posted by The World Famous at 8:05 PM on June 11 [3 favorites]


My heart bleeds for Kate Kelly. While her challenge is fundamental, she has been so respectful, faith-affirming, and graceful in her fierce and smart activism. She must feel absolutely devastated and betrayed.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:15 PM on June 11 [4 favorites]


Pink Moose: I have an opinon--that the conserative right is doubling down, becoming tighter and more insular, as a way of perserving power--and as a way of finding paths for their way of life in places outside the lower 48. The church has moved from being American to being Mexican or Brazillian or Ugandan, but has to maintain an aspirtional american quality (it is a problem that the Adventists are having in Burundi right now), and so to sell that message seamlessly, they have to assume a consistency of message.

Can you expand on this, with the twin assumptions that I am completely fascinated but also fairly ignorant of the LDS outside the U.S.? I will pay you in favorites!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:18 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


My understanding is that almost no one in Mormon theology goes to hell.

Yeah, bad, dead people just get a shitty planet; like Hoth, or that one where Captain Kirk had to fight a lizard dude on a rock pile.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:45 PM on June 11 [12 favorites]


FYI, the church made an official statement about the matter of church discipline.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:50 PM on June 11


I feel personally bad for these two individuals in the same way that I feel bad for anyone who feels distanced from their faith or from the church specifically. That being said, I tend to have a sympathetic view for local church leaders on issues like this. I admit that I am likely biased since I am Mormon and fully believe all the teachings and I view the leaders of the church quite positively. However, I do think that the perspective of the church on issues relating to church history is actually quite forthright. The topics page on blacks and the priesthood that The World Famous linked to is a good example. Here are some other topics pages that are relevant to some issues that people have brought up above.

The Book of Mormon and DNA Evidence

Peace and Violence among 19th Century Latter-day Saints.

I have also linked before to the Joseph Smith Papers project, whose goal is to publish every piece of paper or correspondence by or to Joseph Smith. Everything is freely available. So I just do not think it is fair to think that the church is trying to hide the past.
posted by bove at 8:56 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


there's lots that they aren't on the up&up (pdf) about.
posted by nadawi at 9:01 PM on June 11 [4 favorites]


As an aside: This potentially contentious discussion so far appears to be going really well. It has given me plenty to think about. Thank you all for the polite and reasoned discourse on both sides. I think this is the sort of thing Metafilter is best at, and an ideal we don't always live up to, and I am especially glad to see it here and now. It cheers me up.
posted by seasparrow at 9:02 PM on June 11 [5 favorites]


five things, and i will find links later:

a) the lds church has always been quite upper middle class. It exports a kind of American exceptionalism tied to that middle class existience. Most of its new members in Mexico and Brazil esp. are fairly well off. (David Knowlton, who has been excommed for fairly similar reasons, is one of the more vital scholars about this, as is Marcus Martins, who is the present mission president of Sao Paulo, and therefore more orthodox) There has been some minor work done in Affirmaiton branches in Chile in the 1980s, but again not al ot of information floating around.
b) the LDS church within the united states as a result of their protestant mainstreaming, has a population that is deeply divided--you can see it for example in Kelly's work, in recent work with Affirmation, the increased marginalization of Evergreen, the documentary Nobody Knows, about black mormons, and others.)
c) However among LDS populaitons outside of the United STates, priortize heterosexual family units, and a seamless, optimisitc American lifestyle, and the LDS realize this, and create (a mostly online digital culture) that reinforces this sunny diversity in race and culture, without acknowledging either the exceptions in LDS practice outside this North AMerican context (the Maoris may have been practicing plural marriage until the 1990s, and no-one talks about Samoan practice of fairfines in LDS contexts, or the Zuni's in Arizona, etc). Also remember the LDS has a wide reach in American intelligence communities and in federal governments)
d) The LDS have been in the pacific for more than a century, have been in England and in Denmark for about that amount of time.
e) so you have four things happening
1) Communities outside of NA chose historically sometimes to be close to the LDS because of social practices that are no longer extant.
2) Communites w/i NA since 1978 have been fractured and opened quite widely socially. Those who do not, consider this openness part of an ongoing conspiracy, and move much further to the right. The LDS' rship to the John Birch society, Packer's obsession against sex, the fear of women, Brother Beck etc.
3) Outside the NA, they see the combo of magesterial power and soft congreational models as a third way (do not have academic cites on this--but look at these videos---http://www.mormon.org/people and how they emphasize the permance of family, and look at the proclamaiton on the family, and what you see is a profound anexity about the stability of the family, an anexity the church seems willing to exploit https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation?lang=eng
4) The lds churches numbers have claimed that for the first time there are more mormons outside NA than inside NA, but this assumes LDS keeps accurate numbers (and they mostly don't they are notorious for overstating rentention rates for one) and the LDS outside of the NA have to maintain a consistent brand for those numbers to retain, and that brand has become family--but family as constructed w/i an american socio-political context. (so not family as Maori's would recognize it)

(though she was a member, Majorie Newton's --From Tolerance to "House Cleaning": LDS Leadership Response to Maori Marriage Customs,. 1890-1990 is a useful case study, as is Meadow and Martin's New Slants on the Slippery Slope: The Politics of Polygamy and Gay Family Rights in South Africa and the United States, though suffering from the exact opposite problem as Newton)
posted by PinkMoose at 9:02 PM on June 11 [6 favorites]


"...the lds church has always been quite upper middle class."

I would counter that is the perception since the end of WWII at the latest. Historically, for more than 150 years mainstream Americans regarded the church as neo-socialists and sexual perverts.

And personally, I'll be honest, I wish they still did. There is something personally troubling to me about the perception that the Church is full of young happy well educated Republican families, when I am none of those things. In my mind, there is a place in the church for scientific rigor and varying political views. But then again so many times when I go to Church I feel like I don't fit in. But there is definitely something there. I don't know exactly what it is, but I haven't given up on it yet. The older I get the more I feel that these types of discussions are all trending towards meaninglessness, and the only important thing is my own relationship with God. But that is just me.
posted by seasparrow at 9:10 PM on June 11 [5 favorites]


I have a lot of time for you, The World Famous, and you are remarkably patient in these Momonism threads, but come on. The Church will only accept the scholarly findings that they find advantageous? That is the very definition of intellectual bankruptcy.

I absolutely agree.
posted by The World Famous at 2:44 PM on June 12 [4 favorites +] [!]


Then I misinterpreted your position; my apologies.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:18 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]


seasparrow, that's fair, and growing up working class i have to be careful, and i mean the socialist history is well founded, but considering the cousins metaphor, they seemed solidly in the middle--somewhere between the wealth of the onedia and the poverty found in some of the holiness revival movements. i mean Smith wasn't rich, but from the beginning there was a popularity of technocratic professions (Rigdon was a tanner, David Whitmer a cobbler, Cowdry a store clerk, Martin Harris did well enough on his farm to fund publication of the BoM, John C Bennet was a phyisican, as was Fredrick Williams, Sarah Cleavend's husband was a judge, Newel Whitney had a general store that would eventually become the Bishop's storehouse,)
posted by PinkMoose at 9:45 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]


All I can say is at least there is no more option of "burning at the stake." I think humanity is making real progress here. (As long as you don't sell alcohol to the public or let the gays marry. After all, we do have our limits.)
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:13 PM on June 11


>>God changed his mind about black people

>>I wish people wouldn't characterize the 1978 policy change that way. We don't believe God changed his mind. We believe the church, which had been guided by cultural biases, chose to finally turn to God for guidance. I hope that will happen with regard to other issues, as well. I think it will take a long time, though.


It's worth pointing out, though, that this explanation of the issue is a huge retcon. Similarly, the summary of the Book of Mormon and DNA Evidence mentioned above and on the official LDS web site, is a massive retcon of the entire issue.

Or let me put it another way: If, say, in 1923 Utah (or 1883 or 1953, for that matter) you had gone about as a Mormon preaching to your fellow Mormons that withholding the priesthood from blacks was not God's will, that it was simply a cultural bias held by LDS Church members and leaders and the God had not really spoken on that topic at all, and if you had further gone on to preach that the Book of Mormon people were but a small number of folks who had come over to North America to join a much, much larger pre-existing population with which they soon blended and merged, and that the events of the Book of Mormon happened in just one small restricted area of the Americas rather than representing a sweeping history of all peoples of both North and South America--well, you would have first been laughed out of your local ward as a completely insane lunatic and later on, if you persisting in your nuttery, you would have been treated to the same type of Church discipline that we're now seeing applied to Kelly and Dehlin.

Yet those very ideas, which would have gotten you laughed out and then kicked out of the LDS Church at one point in time are now officially endorsed by the LDS Church.

I mean, we can be cognizant of the fact that people and organizations who make major changes in their beliefs most often create a story for themselves about what they believed before, why the belief was changed, what they believe now, and how those two beliefs are somehow harmonious on a higher level.

But we can also recognize that their new story of what they believed before and what they actually did believe before, are more often than not two quite different things.
posted by flug at 11:07 PM on June 11 [13 favorites]


"I think Mormons can be reasonable people, if you pressure them enough, but they have a handful of ideas that they think define their beliefs, and they're very scared to let those ideas go."

Give this a few more centuries and a whole lot more power and you could be describing the Catholic Church. Then there's no way to apply pressure and no need to be reasonable. It has taken decades but one thing is completely settled in my mind. These patriarchal religions were set up in the beginning to privilege men and deny women equality. The older I get, the less able I am to see past this fundamental fact. Nothing else is relevant to me about the religion if, from the outset, I am not equal in the eyes of your deity.
posted by Anitanola at 12:25 AM on June 12 [7 favorites]


PinkMoose, the numbers are a bit whacked. The LDS church claims about 110,000 Mormons in New Zealand, but in the most recent censuses, the numbers reported are closer to 30-40,000. That would put the LDS' claim that 60% of their members are Maori group at 24,000 which is about 3% of the total Maori population in New Zealand.

The disconnect between Majorie Newton's view and how many Maori are Mormon seems quite a stretch - the Ratana church and other variations are more influential.
posted by viggorlijah at 12:43 AM on June 12


Sorry, that came off as "your numbers are wrong!" when what I meant is to highlight that the Mormon statistics are very unreliable and thus the official presentation of the church's success outside NA is likely also suspect, which I think is what you were also including.
posted by viggorlijah at 12:45 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


I don't think any hierarchical church takes well to changes in culture that directly contradict the stated bases of its hierarchy, and that's not necessarily a reactionary force that originates in or is controlled by the hierarchy itself. It was only 150 years ago - the time of Darwin - that people like John Colenso started to seriously stress-test the basically inerrantist assumptions of the Church of England, and Episcopalianism is barely out of those woods even today despite the wholesale adoption of modern approaches to scholarship in its official theology and priestly training for at least two generations.

The tragedy is that you cannot have a revolution, slow or fast, where nobody pays a price.
posted by Devonian at 12:45 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]


I have posted this before, but the notion that enforcing orthodoxy through discipline is somehow a last gasp of a religion is wrong to the point of absurdity. It is, instead a primary instinct of self-preservation. Denominations which do not do this, or which actually develop a tendency to embrace heterodoxy, quickly (in culutural terms) disappear. This doesn't mean that religions don't change in dogma or practice over time, but that such change is mediated by and through the means of the established hierarchy and thus orthodoxy and orthopraxy are unchanged in principle even if their particular forms actually evolve to suit the conditions of the era.
posted by MattD at 4:13 AM on June 12 [4 favorites]


I think that the numbers are suspect, but not suspect enough to be completely discounted.
posted by PinkMoose at 8:34 AM on June 12


A very thoughtful, well-written piece was posted this morning on By Common Consent addressing these developments. I'm not sure there's a whole lot I could say that's not said better there than I would say it here.
posted by The World Famous at 8:44 AM on June 12 [3 favorites]


People criticize religion a lot for its reactionary ways, especially around here.

But, uh, religious institutions are, culturally, reflections of the wider society. And due to their very nature as complex organizations they can take a long time to adjust to cultural changes.

I don't know tons about the LDS but I would imagine that they will be one of the first large, conservative Christian churches to embrace gay rights, since (if I understand correctly) it is relatively easy for a small group at the top of the leadership to execute a ship change.

Compare this to a much more decentralized organization like the Southern Baptists or independent Evangelical associations or moderately centralized organizations like the Presbyterians and the Lutherans. In those situations, it is precisely the somewhat democratic and more diffused ways in which power is exercised that will delay any change that is opposed by a significant minority. It is very easy for a small but vocal group to shout down any reforms (whether in a parish/congregational meeting or at a wider governing assembly).

Churches tend to operate on pretty consensus-minded, informal governance structures, even nominally strict hierarchies such as the Episcopal or Methodist churches. And while that is frustrating and often results in issues getting shoved under the table for a lot longer than they should, it is also very much a result of Protestant commitment to democratic consensus that is admirable. There are not a lot of other places in our society where you can show up a few times, get involved and be able to participate directly in decisions about what the organization will do and how it will accomplish those goals. I can't think of any, really, beyond maybe some small community organizations or non-profits that really value community participation and volunteerism.

I think the Roman Catholic Church and the LDS are the biggest exceptions to that rule. But somewhat ironically it means that the more monolithic groups have the potential to change more rapidly.
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:06 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Very good piece, The World Famous, thanks for sharing. I had been trying to think about how often Christians (namely the "brand" I'm familiar with, Protestants) excommunicate and it didn't seem like that was something we really do. Although I suppose individual churches kick people out in faux-excommunications all the time.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:06 AM on June 12


tivalasvegas,

I'm not sure if I would agree with your analysis. Even if in the LDS church there is a "small group at the top of the leadership to execute a ship change," there are several considerations at play:

1) That small group has to anticipate what the reaction would be from the membership across the world. (and for the LDS church in particular, it would probably be looking at mainline or liberal denominations, or even the Community of Christ [formerly the Reorganized LDS Church]...where when these groups implemented progressive measures, their memberships suffered greatly.)

2) Because of how leadership rises through the ranks, that "small group" is going to be much older than the rest of the membership, or even the population at whole. So, the small group is not necessarily attuned to millennial cultural attitudes, but the attitudes of previous generations. (And as most data shows, support for things like gay rights, etc., isn't as high for the older generations.)

3) There is an interplay between 1 and 2. You can have diversity among, say, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, but typically, they want to act with the appearance of unity. So, the 1978 revelation about black people and the priesthood illustrates this. I am not an expert on this, so if I get anything wrong, hopefully The World Famous or someone else can correct me, but the prophet couldn't just say by fiat, "This is how this is going to go." Rather, there was disagreement among other people in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, and the prophet had to work with other folks in the Quorum of the Twelve to make sure that no one would lose face. Why did the revelation come in 1978? Well, there are all sorts of speculations one could make about this, but the issue was that the two prophets *preceding* Spencer W. Kimball (who was prophet for the revelation) were extremely conservative, so it couldn't have happened during those two. The third prophet preceding Kimball (David O. McKay, who served from 1951 through 1970, so he was right in the thick of the Civil Rights movement) was definitely troubled by the ban and began the ground work to changing the discussion about why the ban existed, but he certainly did not have full support to change the ban itself.

In contrast, i think that for more decentralized denominations, you get more of the "laboratories of democracy" effect. If one congregation wants to do something, they will do it. It *might* lead to a schism, but that's OK.

In Mormonism, schism typically isn't seen as a valid option because the narrative emphasizes things like priesthood succession, authorization, etc.,. So, for example, many people ask Kate Kelly and Ordain Women why they don't just leave the church and join a more feminist-friendly church (like the Community of Christ, which is splinter group from the early LDS church). Kate Kelly and Ordain Women don't quit the LDS church and move to the feminist-friendly church for many reasons, but one of those reasons is that the LDS church is the one they believe to be authorized by God.
posted by subversiveasset at 10:15 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


Just came in to recommend the By Common Consent article, but naturally TWF has beaten me to it :)

Instead I'll just add this pull-quote from that article as something I found mildly though-provoking:
And can someone please tell me how a Mormon man can organise what looks like an armed insurrection against his government and avoid any church action whatsoever, while Kate Kelly faces being cut off from the church she so obviously loves?
As a less-than-orthodox Mormon I'm finding this episode very challenging to process. I'm not really looking forward to my Sunday meetings this week, and my heart goes out to both Dehlin and Kelly.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:40 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]


subversiveasset, I think you're spot on in describing a lot of how the *decision* to make changes (particularly big changes) works in the church, and why it's often slow. But I think tivalasvegas is also correct in his assessment of how fast the institutional ship can turn once the decision has actually been arrived at, particularly relative a more distributed congregational model.

I have posted this before, but the notion that enforcing orthodoxy through discipline is somehow a last gasp of a religion is wrong to the point of absurdity. It is, instead a primary instinct of self-preservation. Denominations which do not do this, or which actually develop a tendency to embrace heterodoxy, quickly (in culutural terms) disappear. This doesn't mean that religions don't change in dogma or practice over time, but that such change is mediated by and through the means of the established hierarchy and thus orthodoxy and orthopraxy are unchanged in principle even if their particular forms actually evolve to suit the conditions of the era.

People who are interested in this concept (either in how it relates to the LDS church or generally) may be interested in the work of Mormon scholar Armand Mauss:
...for a religious organization to grow and prosper it must find the “optimum” location on that continuum between total rejection and total acceptance of the surrounding culture. If the organization remains too close to the rejection end, it will continue to be stigmatized, persecuted, and (in extreme cases) stamped out. On the other hand, if the organization travels too far down the continuum toward acceptance, then it will eventually be absorbed into the mainstream culture. In either case, it loses its identity as a separate institution. Just what is the “optimum” level, however, of cultural tension will change with time, circumstances, and location...
posted by weston at 12:52 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]


Oh oh oh I have so many FEELS about this whole subject. I'm really happy that this discussion has been so civil (and erudite!) here.

weston, your reference to Mauss reminds me of some conversations I've had with a close friend who was once a member but was excommunicated several years ago (for "homosexuality"). Interestingly enough, despite having all sorts of reasons, he isn't caustically bitter about the church or his time in it. Certainly he's moved on in his life but still keeps up with the news and still has an interest in discussing it. Like many folks here, I suspect*

One thing that he and I have discussed many times over the years touches on Mauss's statement:

On the other hand, if the organization travels too far down the continuum toward acceptance, then it will eventually be absorbed into the mainstream culture.


Until recently I sincerely thought that the Church's concerted efforts to appear as "regular 'ol Christian folk" while downplaying the weirdo details of our actual history was putting us dangerously close to the absorption end. Now, I'm not so sure. It is a tricky subject from an administrative point of view.

I do think there was probably a turning point, some time in the 1960s, where the church had an opportunity to either "join" the counter-culture or fold into the mainstream. Dialogue and Sunstone are artifacts of that moment, I think, but the main body has clearly chosen the mainstream and now here we are reaping its bitter, common fruit.

*He actually has an account here but I don't think he visits very often
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:36 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


Mormons Say Critical Online Comments Draw Threats From Church: "[Dana] said that soon after she posted comments anonymously in an online chat room, her bishop sent her emails quoting what she had written and questioning her about her beliefs. On June 1, she said, her bishop phoned and told her to stop posting or face a church disciplinary hearing. Instead, four days later, she and her family resigned their church membership."
posted by dirigibleman at 9:31 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Apparently the decision on whether she will be excommunicated will be announced today.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:56 AM on June 23


According to KSL NewsRadio, the decision has come down, and Kate has been excommunicated.

Awful, but not surprisingly so.
posted by The World Famous at 1:21 PM on June 23


It's on the AP as well.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:47 AM on June 24


Brilliant analysis and concise but detailed historical context by Kristine Haglund. Some excerpts from her article:
All of these episodes mark points of tension between an authoritative religion and a liberal democratic society. The questions of who has the right to interpret Scripture, what role women ought to play in the faith, and how to confront scientific evidence that complicates or contradicts dogma have vexed many religions for many decades. What is interesting about the Mormon example is the imposition of governance models derived from American business practices, and the similarity of the church’s growing pains to those of a multinational corporation.
. . .
This model is not, however, especially good for working out theological subtleties or coping with doctrinal questions that arise as Mormons make their way through the political and cultural world that surrounds them. Because Mormons also have no paid clergy and no seminaries or institutions for training ministers and administrators, doctrinal questions tend to be either subsumed by practical problems or answered in an ad hoc way by authorities who happen to be interested. Early in the church’s history, authorities regularly and publicly disagreed. If this was not a particularly satisfying way to resolve doctrinal conflicts, it did at least have the virtue of making questions and disagreement licit.
. . .
The center is still held mostly by white, middle-class, politically conservative American men. This is slowly changing, but not without resistance, as Kate Kelly and others have painfully discovered. There is still no mechanism for communicating from the periphery to the center, as Mormon feminists have noted with frustration for decades. Kate Kelly’s founding of Ordain Women was the nearly inevitable response to the unidirectional discourse that characterizes post-Correlation Mormonism. With no system for allowing support or reinforcement from outside the center, the spokes extending from the hub become weaker the farther one moves from the lived experience and perceptions of the men working to administer an ever-growing church from its less and less geographically and demographically relevant center. When confrontations occur at the edges where Mormonism reaches into unfamiliar ideological and cultural territory, thin doctrinal agreement can be pulled beyond the breaking point. The resulting fractures send shards and debris flying, and the resulting mess is called “apostasy.” Fixing the blame for apostasy on individual members may temporarily reassure those who are working to maintain stability, but it does nothing to reinforce the structure or tend to the wounds of those who are pierced when its pieces splinter.
posted by The World Famous at 11:22 AM on June 26 [2 favorites]


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