≡ Menu

Church Discipline and Regular Folk

Below is a letter a friend of mine sent to his bishop and stake president. It was written after the announcement of Kate Kelly’s church disciplinary council, but before the council had convened. He shared it with some friends and I asked if I could republish it, as I feel it is a respectful reflection of the thoughts of many active members of the church.

It is republished here — with identifying information removed — with the permission of the author, his bishop, and his stake president.

Church Discipline and Regular Folk


 

Dear Bishop Jones and President Brown,

I write to express my concern about the recently publicized church disciplinary councils for Kate Kelly and John Dehlin. John’s has been postponed, but Kate’s has not. I personally think it would be wise to postpone Kate’s as well, but it appears the Church, through its local leaders, is intent on proceeding and, based on the language of her summons and in the Church press releases, that the decision may be a foregone conclusion.

Of course, I am not in a position to know all the facts nor am I called upon to make such momentous decisions. However, I can express my opinion about how those actions, and the almost certain excommunication of Kate Kelly, affect me and many of those whom I know and love.

Kate’s pending excommunication will be used by many as proof that in the Church men rule, and women only have authority at the sufferance of men. That is, Kate’s disciplinary council will be held by a panel that is exclusively male (because the Church permits women no role in decision making about discipline), and that council will be held without Kate’s being present, because she had moved before she was even contacted about such a panel.

But more importantly, to many lay members of the Church, her excommunication will signal that people concerned about the imbalance in authority between males and females in the Church may also be considered apostate—at least if they express their views in public.

A great many people whom I know, men and women, believe women should have a greater voice and authority in the Church. A number of people, including loved ones, have dropped out of activity because they believe that the Church significantly subordinates women to men—after all, a woman may be Chief Justice of the United States, yet is not permitted any role in the quasi-judicial decision making about Church discipline. The likely excommunication of Kate may well send a message to such disaffected members, and to potential members with any feminist inclinations, that they are not welcome, and should find spiritual sustenance elsewhere. And worse, it may signal the same thing to many people who are active members.

I am sure the First Presidency and the 12 are well aware of what I have written. They are inspired, capable, intelligent and wise men, who also carry the mantle of God’s priesthood. They may well have already decided, with God’s inspiration, that allowing Kate’s excommunication is necessary, and that the collateral damage to a number of active members, disaffected members, and potential members, is a regrettable but necessary result. They may even have decided that there need to be fewer feminists in the church, and fewer people fervently committed to the equality of the sexes. That may be God’s will. I defer to them.

But just as Abraham asked Jehovah if God would destroy the wicked if it would result in the destruction of a few righteous (Genesis 18), my heart cries out to ask if God really wants to destroy Ordain Women in this way if it will result in the loss to the Church of hundreds of righteous active and contributing women or men who sympathize with Kate and with Kate’s concerns. Yes, I know that the number and percentage of members who look very favorably on feminism are very small. But their souls are precious. And they include people whom I deeply love and who are close to me.

Thank you for listening. As I understand it, the general authorities prefer that all concerns about these action be expressed to local leaders, rather than directly to the general authorities. I hope you will consider passing my concerns up the chain of authority. I am forwarding a hard copy to the First Presidency and to two of the Seventy whom I personally know.

Sincerely your brother,

James Wilson

{ 13 comments… add one }

  • Brook August 3, 2014, 1:40 pm

    Thank you for publishing this letter; it was an interesting read.

    While I am sure this is not the church’s preferred venue for sharing my opinions, I feel compelled to do so and hope that I do not regret it later.

    I am neutral when it comes to the issue of ordaining women, however, I have been following your blog and subsequently a few others in the ‘Bloggernacle’ since shortly before Kate Kelly’s disciplinary counsel was held.

    Firstly, I personally know two members of the Quorum of the Twelve. I also personally know President Wheatly, as I was recently a member of Kate’s former stake (Oakton). I can tell you that these three men are such good, kind people and I could never imagine them speaking or behaving in such a way tha is malicious. Certainly, they are subject to the human condition like all of us, but they are good men of God and I have to say that I am a better person for knowing them.

    I have said before that no human being knows every fact of Kate’s road to excommunication. We do not intimately know her heart or the hearts of those on her disciplinary counsel so I am going to reserve judgment as to whether or not I feel that her sentence was just.

    However, I can agree with the author of this letter. In my heart, I have seen recent changes in the church. I have wanted to speak to my bishop about my feelings of being overwhelmed, but after seeing what happened to Kate, I am terrified to do so. I do not expect to be excommunicated for having questions but I am worried that I might be “blacklisted.”

    My concerns/questions, as I have voiced before, are regarding what is doctrine and what is policy. Is there a way to really know? Because I believe that modern day prophets are capable of relaying doctrine to us, but how do we know when it is actually doctrine and not policy?

    So many things in the church have become about numbers: Visiting teaching and home teaching statistics, indexing, callings, tithing… I get that the church needs to have a way to keep track of things but I feel that many local leaders believe that their wards must compete for perfection with other wards (I have personal experiences which have brought me to this conclusion).

    Life is getting harder in this world. this exonomy has caused people to work harder for less money. Things are becoming more wicked and now more than ever, people need to look to their faith for solace and peace. However, I feel that even in my soft blanket of church, the heat is being turned up. Responsibilities taking me from my family are increasing. I actually know a couple (who, after decades of faithful tithing payments) had their recommends revoked for being only one month behind on their payments (with full intentions of catching up the following month).

    Maybe the church is responding to the wickedness of the world by tightening its spiritual belt? I don’t know. I DO know that I am afraid that if we continue in this direction, one day it will become so difficult for many to remain recommend holders that people are going to give up. I don’t want to be pushed away because I am imperfect. I worry that might happen though.

    :-(

  • Angie Gardner August 4, 2014, 5:26 am

    Yep. (both to James and Brook)

  • Roni August 4, 2014, 9:39 am

    Brook,

    You mentioned a couple who’s recommend was revoked after missing a month of tithing. That seems so wrong to me. My husband is allowed to pay all of his tithing at the end of the year. I see what happened to this couple as a case of their Bishop not understanding what the end of the year tithing meeting is all about. That is the time when you declare whether or not you are a full tithe payer. That is also the time when you finish paying off all that you owe to the Lord. I do hope this couple which you mentioned takes this situation up with their stake president. If the situation is as you stated, it just seems that the Bishop is in error.

  • Tiffany W August 4, 2014, 11:44 am

    I cannot believe a bishop would spend time combing through tithing records to check who pays their tithing regularly and revoke a recommend if a family missed a month. Seems inappropriate and a gross misuse of one’s authority.

    It is no one’s business how often tithing is paid. It is up to individual and family how and when it will be paid-not dictated by a Bishop.

    I liked this letter. I think it really speaks to thoughts and concerns I have had. I don’t feel comfortable expressing any struggles or concerns I have with a priesthood leader at this juncture because of what has been happening. I doubt I will ever feel comfortable now.

  • Brook August 5, 2014, 10:37 am

    Tiffany W. (and everyone else),

    Yeah, I really don’t feel comfortable either and I am already regretting my statement because I think I said way too much.

    I used the tithing example to help explain why I am feeling the way that I am. I won’t go into further details because I don’t want to risk getting anyone in trouble.

    I love my Savior. I have a strong testimony of His gospel. I’m just feeling incredibly overwhelmed with the human side of things. I am afraid that one day, the future requirements (potentially set by humans, rather than God) to be 100% faithful members and perfectly temple-worthy patrons are going to become so burdensome that I just won’t be able to keep up or worse yet, keep a recommend. I am really looking forward to the second coming/millennium when the Lord himself can tell us exactly how things should be run.

    Again, I am not saying that I do not believe that our leaders cannot receive revelation for the church. I absolutely believe that they can. I do think though that in some cases, with good intentions, some leaders try to raise the bar far higher than it was ever intended to be. They think they are strengthening the members and/or making their mark on the church when what is really happening is that people are getting disheartened, discouraged, overwhelmed and frustrated… and they are (or they might be) giving up. I would imagine that the couple in my tithing example was probably thinking, “Well, if being 100% up-to-date on tithing for decades + 11 months still means I am not worthy to enter the Lord’s house if I fall behind 1 month, and the temple recommend is an indicator of my ability to one day enter the celestial kingdom, then I guess I will never be good enough and I will always fall short somewhere in my life so why am I even trying?” I do not believe a loving Heavenly Father would do that to us. He wants us to be happy and to have hope. So if things become that way everywhere, I will be of the opinion that the bar was raised by human beings rather than our Lord. This is why I am so obsessed with the details of doctrine vs. policy.

    Sorry for venting to you all, my friends.

  • Brook August 5, 2014, 10:52 am

    Quick question, Alison,

    Are you ever worried that you will one day face church discipline for your blog, especially with what has been going on with other authors?

  • Tiffany W. August 5, 2014, 6:07 pm

    Brook,

    Your tithing example was an interesting one. After my initial comment I started thinking about context. I think context matters in every single case. You mentioned an experience a couple had. I can think of a couple of scenarios.

    Scenario 1: Couple goes to renew temple recommends. At the question of being full-tithe payers, both say that they are behind a month in payments because that is how they measure being a full-tithe payer. Bishop is kind and compassionate and explains that one must be a full-tithe payer to receive a temple recommend and to return to him when they feel they are.

    In this case, the bishop isn’t seeking them out directly and they are responding to a question in a way that feels honest to them. In that case, they don’t feel worthy of a temple recommend and waiting until they are caught up probably feels right to all involved.

    Scenario 2: Bishop keeps a close eye on tithing records, notices that the couple who are generally regular in their payments has missed a payment and calls them in and revokes their recommends until they are up to date. In that case, the action feels punitive and a misuse of authority.

    Either way I don’t know the full story. I am sure there are probably other scenarios possible.

    I think it is a tough thing to be a bishop and to make judgment calls all the time. I think most bishops want to do what is right and try to do their best. Of course they all make mistakes. I don’t think the Lord holds us accountable for their mistakes. I think it is important to be charitable to our leaders. I hope people are charitable of me when I am in leadership positions and inevitably make mistakes.

    I think the disciplinary councils that have been recently convened for some bloggers and activists does call into question what is appropriate questioning and behavior online and in public. The unfortunate effect of the proceedings is that it leaves people unsure in how/when/where and why to approach a bishop when having doubts, questions about faith and doctrine.

  • Brook August 5, 2014, 6:47 pm

    I really shouldn’t comment about this any further because like I said, I don’t want to get anyone in trouble but I should probably clarify.

    It was actually not the bishop’s decision. According to the story (I’m very close to these people and have no reason to not believe them) the bishop claimed that someone at the stake level was asking him to revoke recommends of members who were not full tithe payers. I do not believe he or the stake were necessarily combing through records as this took place in December. As I understand it, it was basically a more strict version of a tithing settlement. Not only did a member report their tithing status, but if they were not technically full tithing payers up to that date (regardless of their reasons), they had to return their recommends.

    I was told that the bishop apologized profusely, which makes me think that he did not agree with the practice but was just following instruction.

    It certainly is tough to be a leader and as I have stated, I have great respect for these men and appreciate the time away from their families that they sacrifice in order to serve us. I do not believe that their perceived negative actions or words are deliberately hurtful or wrong – like I said, I believe they are humans just as we are.

    I really should not have used this example. I am sorry. I’ll try to keep it less personal in the future.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 7, 2014, 5:44 pm

    Brook:

    In my heart, I have seen recent changes in the church. I have wanted to speak to my bishop about my feelings of being overwhelmed, but after seeing what happened to Kate, I am terrified to do so. I do not expect to be excommunicated for having questions but I am worried that I might be “blacklisted.”

    Brook, I think anyone who’s honest will admit that every ward has a blacklist of sorts. There are the “stalwart” and the “troublemakers” — whatever the specific label. Unfortunately, those who ask questions — particularly questions that are difficult (or impossible) to answer with the given doctrine, are often labeled the latter. This happens, even when the person actually is sincere, faithful member.

    Most often, IMO, it’s because leaders (of all stripes, in all positions) often get very uncomfortable when they can’t answer questions. This discomfort leads to demonizing the person asking the questions rather than simple acknowledgment of the difficulty.

    When we do that, I think we lose enormous richness in our congregations — as well as truth.

    As an example, years ago I was asked to teach Gospel Doctrine to the high school juniors and seniors (Laurels and Priests). I was warned by the former teacher and a few others in the ward about a particular boy in the class who liked to stir up trouble. (Even his father warned me and begged for help in straightening the kid out.)

    To be fair, last I heard, the boy (now in his 30s) is completely disaffected from the church, so perhaps his path was enormously problematic even back then. But to be honest, he was one of the very favorite kids I’ve ever taught.

    Why? He asked great, interesting, deep questions. And once he found out I wasn’t going to brush him off or change the subject, he was very engaged in class and contributed a lot of great insights. (Frankly, much more than most of the “faithful” boys and girls in the class who gave the “Primary” answers and never thought much about the topics.)
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Scrumptious Greek SaladMy Profile

  • Jettboy August 10, 2014, 10:01 am

    Once again, its not the asking questions that was the problem for Kate Kelly, but that she and her followers were NOT asking questions. They were making demands and calling it questions. Going to the newspapers, protesting at Temple Square (what I believe was the breaking point) , publishing alternative “discussions,” and generally making a hostile political statement masquerading as religious concerns is worthy of any disciplinary actions up to excommunication. Her words always said one thing, while actions the exact opposite. She and her followers wanted the Priesthood while showing no respect for those who had it, thus putting into question why she would want it in the first place. Continuously claiming to have faith in the Church while at the same time putting down, ignoring, or straight up defying the leadership of the same. She was called to a disciplinary meeting and attended a rally instead, hardly the actions of a person concerned about their membership. She did everything correct for the attention of the world, but absolutely nothing correct to remain in good standing with the Church she claimed so much to love. If she belonged to a private company, her employment would have ended quicker.

  • Alison Moore Smith August 10, 2014, 7:28 pm

    Brook:

    I do think though that in some cases, with good intentions, some leaders try to raise the bar far higher than it was ever intended to be.

    The first thing I thought of when I read this was the Word of Wisdom. Over decades it changed from “not by commandment, or constraint” to a temple recommend requirement.

    I completely support the tenets and have been very blessed by following them, but it’s worth noting that many egregious sins are overlooked in the interview process while refusing admittance for those indulging in a cup of joe every morning.

    They think they are strengthening the members and/or making their mark on the church when what is really happening is that people are getting disheartened, discouraged, overwhelmed and frustrated… and they are (or they might be) giving up.

    Often when I read posts by young mothers, new homeschoolers, etc., I just want to tell them to chill. They are so concerned about so many things that aren’t that significant in the long run.

    I guess I see church members (myself included) as being hyper-angsty about too many things of little consequence. One of the most helpful sources to put that to rest for me was a book called Following Christ by Stephen Robinson. (It was a follow up to his wonderful book Believing Christ. If you choose to read them, I’d do so in the order published.)

    Are you ever worried that you will one day face church discipline for your blog, especially with what has been going on with other authors?

    I simply try to gauge my behavior by what I believe is right and true. That doesn’t mean I don’t mess up or later sometimes regret what I’ve done. It means I’m trying. I can’t divine what anyone else will do and I don’t try. And, actually, I don’t really know what’s been going on with other authors. Enlighten me!
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Slow Cooker Enchilada LasagneMy Profile

  • Alison Moore Smith August 10, 2014, 7:58 pm

    Once again, its not the asking questions that was the problem for Kate Kelly, but that she and her followers were NOT asking questions.

    Actually, yes, they were. Very explicitly. Duh.

    They were making demands and calling it questions.

    Jettboy, could you please point to the supposed “demands”? I’ve been round and round this issue with the likes of you, but haven’t seen the evidence produced yet. Please do.

    Going to the newspapers, protesting at Temple Square (what I believe was the breaking point) , publishing alternative “discussions,” and generally making a hostile political statement masquerading as religious concerns is worthy of any disciplinary actions up to excommunication.

    Going to newspapers is apostasy? So “Mormon Women Stand” is an apostate group?

    You have an odd definition of “protesting.” Please explain.

    Actually, I’ve never read the “discussions.” Every comment you make on a blog is a “discussion” so I assume you don’t actually think discussion is an apostate issue, right? Assuming we agree, what is is about the discussions that is apostate (given that merely existing is not so).

    I haven’t followed them to the nth degree, but everything I heard was calculably civil and respectful. What are the “hostile political statements” that OW made?

    Her words always said one thing, while actions the exact opposite.

    Wait, so she did NOT make demands, she just pantomimed them?

    She and her followers wanted the Priesthood while showing no respect for those who had it…

    And there’s the rub. Merely asking for the priesthood or, more accurately, asking those who hold the priesthood to ask God if it an be extended to other is, ipso facto, disrespectful and disqualifying. Darn.

    If she belonged to a private company, her employment would have ended quicker.

    So? (P.S. You know the church is a privately held company, right?)
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…No Squeegee, No Wipe, Self Sheeting, Streak Free Window CleanerMy Profile

  • Jen August 28, 2014, 2:09 pm

    I have to agree that it wasn’t the questions; it was the actions of OW and Kate Kelly. I did follow this closely. I believe the tipping point came when she published her “discussions” and encouraged people to form groups at the grassroots level (these are .pdf documents you can find at the OW website) . I also believe that the statement released by the Church shortly after her excommunication, while not referring to OW or KK specifically, made it clear that it was the actions taken.

    Since KK chose to publish her excommunication letter online, I was able to read it. It was clear to me her Bishop’s version of events was quite different from hers in many respects. Notably, the bishop reports a series of meetings and events leading up to her disciplinary counsel. KK says she was “ambushed”. The bishop expresses regret that she did not accept his offers to reschedule or participate via video chat. KK says she was “tried in absentia”. In the days since her excommunication, she has continued to insist she was excommunicated for asking questions. The letter makes it very clear that it was her actions that led to the decision. Who is telling the truth?

    I’m not calling anyone a liar. However, I am saying that I saw many instances where I felt that OW and KK were disingenuous about things that happened or actions that were being taken. Case in point: the publicity around the visits to the Priesthood sessions on Temple Square touted them as “respectful”. Yet I saw a screen shot of KKs Facebook page where she was encouraging others to come “stare down the patriarchy”.

    It is unfortunate it came to this. It is also unfortunate that so many are unwilling to take a hard, objective look at the information surrounding the whole affair.

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge