Excommunication All the Rage!

It's appalling. Many progressive members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint are finding themselves unified with ex-Mormons and anti-Mormons to do what they've mastered over the last few years: use national media to shame the Church. By airing personal grievances about the recent need for disciplinary actions regarding two activists’ members in sore need of rebuke the idea is to portray the male hierarchy of the Church as antiquated, uninformed and lacking compassion for its female members.

It’s no secret that to capture the attention of mainstream media all one need do is be extreme. Like bees to honey then, they come in swarms, especially if you place Mormon, women and inequality in the same space. Or like they say, if you build a good enough story they will come -- and oh my, the architects and storytellers are out in droves. So much so, that you'd think excommunication was all the rage!


But it's not -- it's very serious business and no truly faithful Mormon thinks otherwise. 

Excommunication is the most severe form of censure the Church metes out to one of its own and is never done lightly. Nor is it done as a form of member control. However, if you're anti-Mormon, apostate or simply uniformed it’s very likely you see LDS Church discipline as a negative -- the exact opposite of its intended purpose

The Lord has plainly taught, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

Sadly though, it seems like many with disgruntled feelings toward the Church, who enjoy talking about it publicly are taking advantage of this 'extended' Mormon moment, if you will, and telling their stories to anyone who will listen; members and media alike.

The strategy is employed to press for hoped cultural and/or doctrinal change within the Church reflective of a world that rejects moral absolutes and religious authority. The way it works is that by crafting a highly manipulative narrative intended to embarrass the Church you can get the leadership to act in opposition to the accusations made; so as not to prove them right. I realize this may sound ridiculous to some, even juvenile, but as one who has followed the ongoing saga for quite sometime, in my opinion, this seems to be what's happening. The pattern can be found consistently throughout the conversations they employ, broadly -- look for it at your own risk.

But here's the problem from how I see it and why this never works: the head of the Church is Jesus Christ and He makes sure His Prophets' don't fall for this type of manipulation -- ever. And to those who advocate with personal interpretations of LDS Church History to prove otherwise, from everything I can tell the Church disagrees with you. What we have then in seeing these various groups unite in opposition to the Church is a broad-scale public tantrum; it’s that simple. And this time they've made sure their reach includes the Church's core community of faithful, conservative members by judging them divisive for standing with the Church and its leaders. Their tales have taken in some members but not most – and many are finally speaking out.

Members of the Mormon faith believe that God has a prophet upon the earth today who speaks His will and directs the Church through inspiration. To those who are asking the question: What did Kate Kelly do? Or John Dehlin for that matter, understanding this might help you to put two and two together and see the bigger picture of what's currently happening within the LDS Church.

Sure, people may have whatever opinion they choose... talk about it, create social media to advocate for it and even recruit others to adhere to their personal opinions. But as any child could probably figure out, super fast, you cannot be considered in harmony with a group you intend to try and force change or disagree with their core tenets. 

When it comes to membership in the Mormon faith where we hold such a bold conviction as having a prophet upon the earth, then this type of rebellion is easily perceived as not just fighting against the Church but God Himself. Yes, the majority of Mormons, like me, see it that clearly; I’ve spoken to many of them and most don’t see how any other idea can be justified.

With the age of the Internet, social media has provided the means for all types of advocacy like nothing before in the history of the world. This shouldn’t surprise us then that that which is adversarial to the work of God would find its greatest channel to influence through its power.

From what I've observed over the last few days it's become very apparent that large numbers of supposedly ignorant Mormons hearing these stories (some for the first time), meant to broadly influence the conversation, are rejecting them as representative of what mainstream Mormons are thinking and feeling -- and they're saying so. Though not through national media as ‘our’ thoughts are not nearly as sensational (thus marketable to consumers) but among one another, through blogs, forums, Facebook pages and various other social networking platforms. 

In the case of the recent calls for disciplinary action, few that I've discussed the decision to excommunicate Kate Kelly from the LDS Church with are surprised. However, this is not a judgment of her personally but rather a clear recognition of blatant apostate-acts easily discerned by covenant members of the Church who take seriously how they live their faith and keep sacred covenants.

One thing that has come across loud and clear is that Kelly does not reflect the sentiments of mainstream Mormon women in regard to female ordination, or share her feeling that her loss of membership has to do with asking faithful questions as a woman in the Church. Rather, most see her claim that all she's doing is faithfully, and innocently, petitioning the Prophet as has been done in the past, as disingenuous. 

However, and I can assure you, that these feelings have nothing to do with gloating (currently a widespread accusation) but rather come from a deep sense of relief that from what many have been silently witnessing over the last year or so is finally being called to accountability -- as most feel it should be. The majority of LDS women whom I’ve had contact with are mourning these necessary actions, but trust that the Church had no other choice as Kelly has consistently rejected all attempts by Church authorities to cease her actions contrary to the doctrine of the Church.

Again, Kelly’s actions have nothing to do with it being okay, or not, to ask questions within the Mormon faith. But this is the story that is being perpetuated by progressive members, and others, for reasons stated above. If you've been persuaded to believe that this is the heart of the matter I beg you to do a little more research about what apostasy is and why it is imperative that it be called out wherever it is found in the Church, in order to protect the integrity of established doctrine and the tender faith of members. 

Asking questions, even uncomfortable ones, does not define apostasy. 

These things cannot be taken lightly and this is why we are observing such polarizing opinions within the religion. And really, from a faith standpoint, we believe that in the “Last Days” many will be deceived, even the very elect (the brightest) and so to suggest that there are wolves among the sheep is far from far-fetched and/or unrighteous. Elder Richard C. Edgley taught:

“There are the so-called learned people who have let their intellect undermine their spiritual moorings and who would also attempt to lead the faithful away from those who are appointed by the Lord to lead. There are those who feel that our leaders are out of touch with the realities of the day. They would attempt to lead members by substituting their own knowledge for the revelations from God to His prophets. And unfortunately, there are those who would so follow. Christ warned, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matt. 7:15.)

Let us never forget, this Church was founded on one deep and very sincere question where no answer was currently found. To those pounding the key to suggest that faithful questioning within the LDS Church is not welcome that is a blatant falsehood. What is not welcome in the Church are all advocacies contrary to the doctrine found in Holy Scripture and that taught by those whom we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators.

This month Mormons commemorate the Martyrdom of our founding Prophet, Joseph Smith Jr., 170 years ago, June 27, 1844. His life was taken for what the answer to that one vital question revealed: the declaration of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is, in my opinion, an insult to many faithful members of the Church who have had their own disconcerting questions and like Joseph have taken them to the Lord in faith, to suggest such a false accusation against the Church.

Even with all of this, and with emotions flying high, as covenant members of the Church we are challenged to seek a higher response to these chaotic times, which I am sure will increase in frequency. We are being asked to have patience with one another; not to judge individuals but actions; and to show compassion and love for the "one" who has lost their way. The point is, that excommunication is a gate to a return to Christ and His people. It is a call to repent and to become one again with the body of the Saints. What it’s not is a permanent placement into outer darkness.

I had an interesting exchange with Kate Kelly only a few weeks ago – the first and only. Following a meeting that Mormon Women Stand had with LDS Church Public Affairs, she reached out to me through the MWS Facebook page. She extended an invitation for me to participate in a public panel with her, where we could discuss our differences in hopes of modeling a positive dialogue between two people who strongly disagree. I politely declined and let her know that I would not be having a dialogue with someone whose actions were contrary to the Church.

For me, how she goes about advocating her beliefs has never been about simple differences of belief or faithful questioning; it is out and out rebellion against God. Frankly, I want to be divided from everything about Ordain Women.

With that said, during our brief encounter I was direct in sharing with her how I feel about Ordain Women. But what happened next totally surprised me when I felt genuinely impressed to invite her to “Friend” me on Facebook. I found myself sincerely caring about her and desired to develop a friendship, privately, but not to debate our differences. Rather, I told her that I was offering my hand of friendship to bring her back into the fold because right now “you're heading in the wrong direction.” Sadly, I have yet to receive her request.

I think most of us have appreciated these inspired and timely words from Sister Bonnie Oscarson, when many of us are sorting out tender feelings with a sincere desire to act in ways pleasing to God.

“All of us as sisters in the gospel have the responsibility and privilege to support and nourish one another. We have all committed to be disciples of Jesus Christ and this discipleship should be at the heart of all that we do.”

May each one of us, as reminded, open our arms to those who are confused and struggling at this time, for whatever reasons the recent events have affected them and caused pain. The gospel of Jesus Christ is more than a bandage; it is the answer to mend all of our broken hearts. That we, as children of covenant, with power, will administer it among one another is my personal prayer.

tDMg




Ordain Women Founder Kate Kelly Charged With Apostasy

At the initial launch of the Ordain Women movement (OW) I wrote a bold post that has followed me since, where I flat out called the organization's advocacy brazen and unprecedented:

Today's Mormon Feminists are bolder than ever, likely due to the support of liberal media outlets willing to exploit, at the drop of a lace hankie, the slightest negative tale to come across their inbox that could potentially convict what they perceive as the male dominant leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- in the sacred name of social justice and gender equality...

However, the most recent campaign is by far the most brazen of them all, and one that the majority of conservative and faithful members of the LDS Church will be shocked to find out (and honestly question the claims that are made) that these are, many of them, also active members of the Church... who have come together to question what they believe to be a history of withholding, and to publicly advocate for, ordination to the priesthood.


This is unprecedented: that individual female members unite online to organize a campaign against LDS Church leaders to lobby for priesthood ordination -- by utilizing the media as their advocates to both protect themselves and to put pressure on the Church in an attempt to force desired change.

Let me also point out that, contrary to some feeling that the desire for female ordination is nothing more than a faithful attempt to ask a difficult question, the focus of that post had very little to do with what OW are advocating for (not that I agree) but rather how an organized group of Mormon women (any group within the Church for that matter) planned to go about getting their demands met; not okay. 

For me personally, the issue with the OW sect has never been about members who may struggle with understanding the doctrine of the Church, question it, or might even disagree with parts of Mormonism; certainly some do, in private ways. Rather it's the ongoing, blatant disregard under the guise of faithful membership to advocate publicly and contrary to the official position/doctrine of the Church and its leaders whom we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators. In my opinion, such actions do nothing for the building up of the kingdom of God and instead serve as an attempt to publicly shame the male leadership of the Church in hopes of submission and to create division among members. 

I wrote that post in March of 2013 and since then, sadly, not one of their organized actions have proven me wrong. Rather, the group under the leadership of it's Founder has pressed forward, disregarded and even ignored all requests from official LDS sources, at many levels, to cease their protocol of advocacy considered divisive and contrary to LDS doctrine. 

In fact, on Wednesday The New York Times reported that OW Founder, Kate Kelly, and Mormon Stories Founder, John Dehlin (also whose public actions are in opposition to the Church) in two separate and non-related letters, are both being summonsed by their local Mormon authorities for Church discipline on grounds of apostasy with the possibility of excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In response to the sudden flurry of media requests about LDS Church disciplinary actions the Mormon Newsroom posted this response:

"The Church is a family made up of millions of individuals with diverse backgrounds and opinions. There is room for questions and we welcome sincere conversations. We hope those seeking answers will find them and happiness through the gospel of Jesus Christ. 
"Sometimes members’ actions contradict Church doctrine and lead others astray. While uncommon, some members in effect choose to take themselves out of the Church by actively teaching and publicly attempting to change doctrine to comply with their personal beliefs. This saddens leaders and fellow members. In these rare cases, local leaders have the responsibility to clarify false teachings and prevent other members from being misled. Decisions are made by local leaders and not directed or coordinated by Church headquarters. 
"Actions to address a person’s membership and standing in their congregation are convened after lengthy periods of counseling and encouragement to reconsider behavior. Ultimately, the door is always open for people to return to the Church." 
See also: Church Discipline
My initial reaction to hearing this news was sadness. I have great compassion for anyone walking the road of apostasy and so I find this situation unsettling. With that said, I do see that necessary steps for Church discipline in both of these cases must be pursued and hopefully the process for both of these individuals' will be a course correction -- as is the hope for all who find themselves in these circumstances. Such times, are when I find myself particularly grateful for priesthood keys, relieving all of us from personal judgement and an opportunity to trust the Lord and those whom He has called. Church discipline when enacted has many options to ultimately bring a person to full repentance.

However, I feel this is a good opportunity for each of us to observe what modern-acts of apostasy look like and so that we can be more aware in the future of what to avoid -- or perhaps even turn away from, right now. We can do this, we must do this, and it is not unbecoming of a Christian, in the least, if done with the proper spirit.

My writing that post over a year ago had nothing to do with the individuals involved -- it was not personal then nor is it now. My heart goes out to both Sister Kelly and Brother Dehlin who have placed themselves in the public eye (they, sharing this information with media for personal reasons, as the Church is silent on all individual disciplinary cases and will remain so) causing the rest of us a need to discern this sad situation, which should have remained personal, while not making ourselves their judges. I am especially saddened for their families and for those who have felt their works to be good, as clearly they would not be facing disciplinary action if it were otherwise. To feel differently, is to potentially be walking the same road.

Correctly discerning what's going on will require each of us to gain a greater understanding of what is apostasy, keys of authority, and the blessings of Church discipline in order to restore a person to full-fellowship: the goal.

Remember that discipline, disciple and discipleship are closely related. Discipline is the process of course correcting one who has gone astray by their own choices and actions to reject or rebel against what is right and/or authority. Ultimately, discipline can only be enacted by the individual as it is solely an act of personal agency to turn the key of repentance.

Church discipline is a rescue effort made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and is part of the great, covenant work of salvation. It is not necessary for us, for any reason, to feel the need to rescue a brother or sister from the process lest we unwittingly become a stumbling block to their spiritual progress -- lacking faith in the Lord's Way of governing His people. We serve each other much better when we pray the Lord's will be done.

And to those who find themselves mourning not necessarily because personal apostasy is devastating, but rather because you are convinced that Church authorities are wrong about either one of these two individuals' needing to face Church discipline, you might want to reconsider that position. We stand by one another when we stand by the Savior. If we as covenant members sustain those whom the Lord has called to exercise priesthood keys, then it behooves us to stand by whatever decisions they come to, by the Spirit, on behalf of those whom they have a very personal stewardship and trust it to be the will of God.

Lastly, in response to comments I've read online and in particular in regard to Kate Kelly... Her facing Church discipline has nothing to do with a sincere desire for female ordination, even if it is contrary to doctrine, and in no way should this be viewed as a mourning time for women in the Church thinking that this is intended to squelch or discipline the asking of difficult questions, faithfully, by women in particular. Please consider this part of the above Church statement, which clarifies why a person may face disciplinary action, which has nothing to do with gender: "In these rare cases, local leaders have the responsibility to clarify false teachings and prevent other members from being misled." 

Church disciplinary courts and subsequent actions should be viewed as a positive, not only for the individual but also for the Church and its members. Elder M. Russell Ballard explains how the process is intended to be a cleansing:

When members need to have certain blessings withheld, the Lord’s object is to teach as well as to discipline. So probation, disfellowshipment, and excommunication, when they become necessary, are ideally accompanied by eventual reinstatement and restoration of blessings. 
I remember as a child occasionally coming unkempt to the dinner table. My mother wisely sent me to clean up and then return. My parents would have been pained if I had taken offense and had run off—and I would have been foolish to do so. In the same way, the servants of the Lord occasionally find that they must, in loving concern, send some of Heavenly Father’s children out the door so they can return clean once again. 
The Lord does not want us to “miss supper.” In fact, he has a great feast prepared for those who return clean and pure through the door. He is greatly saddened when anyone decides they prefer to be unclean and miss the meal, or when they find an excuse to take offense, or when they run away. He is pleased to extend the chance to start over. 
I’ve known a few rebellious people who disregard the commandments and are influenced by the evil one or by other rebellious people to transgress God’s laws. I’ve seen their distress and pain. I’ve also seen their joy when, humbled and fully repentant, they have returned to the Church and have had all their blessings restored.

May we all take this opportunity to understand these wonderful (though seeming painful parts of spiritual progression) doctrines and principles of the gospel intended to refine us as individuals and make us one with Christ.

tDMg

Kathryn Skaggs

Deseret News: Two Mormon Activists Say they are Facing Church Discipline

Photo: Kate Kelly, founder of Ordain Women, walks through the gate onto Temple Square to the LDS Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Saturday, April 5, 2014 to ask for entrance into the priesthood session of general conference. (Ravell Call, Deseret News archives)

LDS Resources on Church Discipline and Apostasy:

Elder M. Russell Ballard: A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings

Judges in Israel: Watching over the Church Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, (2002), 406–411

Guide to the Scriptures - Apostasy LDS.org