Two Mormon activists say they are facing church discipline
Ravell Call, Deseret News archives
SALT LAKE CITY — The leader of a small activist group seeking the ordination of women to the priesthood in the LDS Church is on church probation and now faces a disciplinary hearing.
Kate Kelly said a Virginia bishop scheduled a church disciplinary council for June 22 for Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women, which unsuccessfully tried to gain entry to the general priesthood meeting of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the faith's annual October and April general conferences.
A second LDS activist, John Dehlin, said he received a letter Monday from his stake president in Logan, Utah, asking if Dehlin's recent actions meant he wanted to remove his name from church records. If not, President Bryan King wrote, "then I think we are to the point where I should convene a formal disciplinary council on your behalf for apostasy."
Church leaders carry out discipline in confidence, and the church did not comment Wednesday on Kelly's or Dehlin's situations. A church spokeswoman did make a general statement.
"Sometimes members’ actions contradict church doctrine and lead others astray," spokeswoman Kristen Howey said. "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."
Both Kelly and Dehlin said Wednesday they hope to remain in the church. LDS Church disciplinary councils can end in no action, formal probation, disfellowshipment or excommunication, according to a detailed explanation on MormonNewsroom.org.
Councils are held by bishoprics in local wards or at the stake level. An LDS stake is a geographic grouping of wards or congregations. Some disciplinary councils address apostasy, as in the cases of Kelly and Dehlin.
Kelly said her bishop and stake president took no disciplinary action after a meeting in December. However, she revealed Wednesday that she has been on informal probation since May 5, a month after she led a group of just over 200 women and men in Ordain Women's second general conference action, despite receiving a request from a church spokeswoman that the group refrain.
A church spokeswoman wrote in the letter to the group that Ordain Women's actions were detracting from thoughtful discussions about women in the church.
In October, Kelly and about 150 women with Ordain Women gathered outside the general priesthood meeting for the first time and approached the stand-by line for men without tickets. One by one, the women approached an usher, then left when they were denied entry.
The church spokeswoman's letter said LDS leaders are listening to women and responding. Recent changes include lowering the missionary age for women to 19. Other changes in the past two years include new leadership roles for sister missionaries, the inclusion of more women in congregation leadership meetings known as ward councils and prayers by women at semiannual general conference meetings.
In 2011, the Pew Research Center surveyed American Latter-day Saint women and found that 90 percent opposed the ordination of women to the priesthood.
On May 5, Kelly met with President Scott M. Wheatley, president of the Oakton Virginia Stake, and one of his counselors, President Kenneth Lee.
Wheatley placed Kelly on "informal probation," according to a letter she said he sent her May 22, for “openly, repeatedly and deliberately acting in public opposition to the church and its leaders after having been counseled not to do so, for continuing to teach as doctrine information that is not doctrine after having been counseled regarding the doctrine of the priesthood, and for leading others to do the same."
To end the probation, Wheatley said Kelly would, among other things, need to take down the Ordain Women website and disassociate herself from the group.
On May 15, 10 days after that meeting, a video featuring Kelly fronted the launch of Ordain Women's latest project — a series of six discussions about priesthood in the LDS Church and the ordination of women. In the video, Kelly encourages viewers to meet with others and share the discussions with them.
On Sunday, Kelly said Bishop Mark M. Harrison of the Vienna Ward in Virginia sent her an email telling her the ward's bishopric — Harrison and his two counselors — would hold a disciplinary council June 22.
Kelly said she cannot return to Virginia for the council. Kelly left the area around May 10 and moved to Provo, Utah, while she and her husband wait for research visas for him to study in Kenya. She questioned Wednesday why the hearing is being held after she moved away, but she will submit written records for consideration in the hearing.
"I think the charge of apostasy is wholly unfounded," she said. "I've never said anything against the leaders of the church. I've never said anything negative about any of the Lord's anointed. I've never taught any doctrines, let alone false doctrines. The only sins I'm guilty of is telling the truth and living authentically and having sincere questions. If those are apostasy, I'm guilty, but I don't view those to be apostate acts."
Ordain Women announced two planned actions in support of Kelly, including a reverent vigil at the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City on June 22 during the same hour her disciplinary council is being held in Virginia.
Ordain Women also plans to deliver to Bishop Harrison and to the Church Office Building letters from supporters posted at http://bit.ly/owhelpyou.
Dehlin runs a website called Mormon Stories. He said local church leaders have had multiple hearings with him but that he has been cleared each time. Last year after a full year of weekly meetings with his stake president, he said he was found worthy to exercise his priesthood and baptize his son.
Since then, his ward in Logan got a new bishop and stake president, and he has updated his online bio.
"I consider myself to be an unorthodox, unorthoprax Mormon," he wrote, in part. "I believe in many of the central, non-distinctive moral teachings within Mormonism ... but either have serious doubts about, or no longer believe many of the fundamental LDS church truth claims..."
"I will not be resigning my membership," Dehlin said. "I love the church too much to resign from it. My biggest hope is that this goes away."
He hoped too that regardless of what happens, church members treat his wife and children with love and respect.
Dehlin said he believes Mormon Stories and other websites he created have kept thousands of people in the church: "I believe that our inability to discuss openly difficult issues in the church is our biggest issue in the church," he said.
The statement released by the church Wednesday evening addressed the idea that some members have questions:
"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."
For the past six months, the church has been addressing some of its history and doctrine in detailed essays in the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org.
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