Last week the threat of excommunication for Kate Kelly became a reality. Ms. Kelly is the founder of Ordain Women, a Mormon group advocating for gender equality in the Mormon priesthood. She was found guilty of apostasy. Her bishop explained:
“. . . our determination is that you be excommunicated for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church. This means that you may not wear temple garments or contribute tithes and offerings. You may not take the sacrament, hold a Church calling, give a talk in Church, offer a public prayer in behalf of the class or congregation in a Church meeting, or vote in the sustaining of Church officers. These conditions almost always last at least one year. If you show true repentance and satisfy the conditions imposed below while you are no longer a member, you may be readmitted by baptism and confirmation.
“In order to be considered for readmission to the Church, you will need to demonstrate over a period of time that you have stopped teachings and actions that undermine the Church, its leaders, and the doctrine of the priesthood. You must be truthful in your communications with others regarding matters that involve your priesthood leaders, including the administration of Church discipline, and you must stop trying to gain a following for yourself or your cause and taking actions that could lead others away from the Church.”
Ms. Kelly plans to appeal her excommunication within the next thirty days, according to the Church’s procedural policy.
Mormon bloggers John Dehlin (Mormon Stories Podcast) and Alan Rock Waterman (Pure Mormonism) are among additional Latter-day Saints that are currently facing Church discipline for apostasy. As I noted in “Mormon Church Kicks the Beehive” (June 16, 2014), many Latter-day Saints were upset and frustrated by what they saw as an effort by the Church to silence its critics. While the Church hoped the media interest and frustration of members would “de-escalate,” so far that hope has been nothing more than wishful thinking.
In an unprecedented move, an assembly of Latter-day Saints has begun organizing under the banner “Strangers in Zion”:
“Strangers In Zion is a grass roots movement for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are requesting to subject themselves to church discipline in solidarity for other wrongfully excommunicated and otherwise disciplined Latter-day Saints.” (“About“)
Strangers in Zion is calling for like-minded Mormons to contact their Church leaders with requests for disciplinary hearings based on each individual’s “beliefs that are contrary to the teachings, doctrines, and leaders of the Church.” In a letter template available on the website, participants are encouraged to list specific contrary beliefs they hold (e.g., “I find Joseph Smith’s fundamental character flaws, pathological dishonesty, and moral relativism not in harmony with an individual who should be speaking for God.”) as well as ways in which they have publicly promoted (and intend to continue promoting) those beliefs (e.g., “I have published numerous blog posts with wide circulation amongst the online Mormon community publicly opposing the Church’s stance on…”). The letter template concludes:
“All this being considered, I humbly request assistance from the Church in the form of a Church court to determine the best course of action for myself and my membership in the Church. If you have any questions I would be happy to address them at my disciplinary court.”
Strangers in Zion plans to post a list of participants along with information related to the participants’ individual experiences as the movement progresses.
As far as I’m aware, the modern LDS Church has never seen this sort of widespread uprising of members (though the early Mormon Church experienced rife dissention in Kirtland, Ohio and Nauvoo, Illinois). Certainly the majority of Latter-day Saints supports the Church in this situation and opposes those members accused of apostasy. Yet according to one of the accused, Mormon blogger Rock Waterman,
“There’s going to be a lot of fallout resulting from this needless debacle. And absolutely none of it is going to benefit the church.
“Already countless members on the fence have declared this nonsense to be the last straw for them, and they’re throwing in the towel. I’ve come to know a number of these people; two former bishops, several bishopric members, Relief Society presidents, counselors, ward clerks, stake High Council members, one former stake president, a stake patriarch, you name it — all of them believers in the gospel of the Restoration, and all of them have had their fill of the shenanigans the structural Church has been up to in recent years. This final malfeasance has done them in. They embrace the gospel, but they tell me this is it; they’re done supporting the corporate Church.
“And those are the devout believers. A whole lot more members who are not so devoted, but whose testimonies of the gospel have been shaken by the Magisterium’s transparent hypocrisy, have weighed in online declaring their intentions to resign. These people number in the tens of thousands.” (“Who Is Changing the Doctrine?”)
If this actually comes to pass, what will these “devout believers” do? Will they join the swelling ranks of atheistic ex-Mormons? Will they form a new Mormon denomination/splinter group just as hundreds of Mormon dissenters have done before them? What they do will affect them into eternity.
…we often hear from members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are struggling in the aftermath of betrayal. Realization that their church has not been wholly truthful about Mormon Church history and the doctrinal teachings of Mormon leaders, many Latter-day Saints respond with hurt and anger and a myriad of questions. “Why did the church deceive me?” “Why couldn’t my bishop be honest with me?” “How could I have been so easily fooled?”
Anger is a natural reaction in this situation. Unfortunately, many become so disgusted that they throw the baby out with the bathwater. Feeling vulnerable, they may think, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” The idea of finding another church and religion is daunting – and scary. If Mormonism is false, they reason, why trust religion at all?…
Traditional Christian teachings are often never even considered or given a chance; for if the “only true church” isn’t true, that leaves no spiritual truth at all. Giving traditional Christianity a fair hearing, then, is prevented by pain and fear.
Hopefully, the confusion you are experiencing will not cause you to drift unnecessarily into agnosticism or atheism. To throw all faith away because Mormonism proved to be false is like abandoning all health care because you were once the victim of medical malpractice…
Struggling with faith issues can be a very emotional experience. While it may be easier and less threatening for you to dismiss the truth claims of the Christian faith outright, our prayer is that you would take the time to understand what traditional Christianity really is, and what it has to offer.
To that end, if you are a struggling Mormon please visit MRM’s Struggling with your Mormonism page to find resources that will help you make intentional and wise decisions about your eternal future – there’s a lot riding on it.