On the same day news broke that Sudanese Christian Meriam Ibrahim had been cleared of apostasy charges, the Mormon Church excommunicated Kate Kelly for the same offense. The church’s obsession with controlling its image amounts to short-sighted censorship.

Kate Kelly, founder of the Ordain Women movement, has been excommunicated for her views on gender inequality in the Mormon Church.

Kate Kelly, founder of the Ordain Women movement, has been excommunicated for her views on gender inequality in the Mormon Church. Photo by Katrina Barker Anderson via Flicker

On Monday a panel of Mormon judges excommunicated Kate Kelly, an international human rights lawyer and advocate for women clergy, on the grounds that her conduct ran “contrary to the laws and order of the LDS Church.” In short, she was kicked out of the church for apostasy.

I’ve always marveled at the Mormon Church’s ability to control its image and message online and in the streets. Whenever I so much as mention the church in a blog post or tweet, I’m overwhelmed with friendly messages from folks at ldschurch.org. I doubt this post will be met with the same reaction.

In obsessive attempts to to control its message, the Mormon Church seems to have lost the plot.

A church leader told Kelly by email, “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.”

So she might be allowed back in if she obediently shuts her mouth and closes her eyes to what she sees as systematic inequalities within her faith community and hierarchy. If she and other critics choose to self-censor. If they blindly go along with the idea that women are somehow inferior to men and that gay marriage is anathema to God’s will. Then maybe they’ll be forgiven.

When talk of an impending Mormon purge emerged two weeks ago, my fellow RNS blogger Jana Riess and more than 60 Mormon bloggers and podcasters drafted a statement calling for “a more creative, constructive solution” than excommunication. The statement, titled “Room for All in this Church,” said:

“…we believe that excommunication is not the best way to address conflict over doctrine, policy, or tradition. We ask our leaders to consider other ways of maintaining boundaries, strengthening Church members, and encouraging them to grow spiritually within Mormonism’s large and embracing community without the fear and despair the threat of excommunication sows…”

Their message seems to have been ignored. The threat of excommunication has become reality. Fear of speaking freely and questioning church doctrine has only been heightened.

In a separate post written before Kelly’s excommunication, Jana wrote:

“If the point of these pending excommunications is to strike fear in the hearts of other Latter-day Saints who love the Church but do not always agree with it on matters of social justice, then it has already failed. For Zion’s sake, and for my own, I will not keep silent.”

The Mormon Church’s obsession with silencing critics is short-sighted and surely a sign of weakness. How else are we to interpret a situation in which leaders fear criticism, questions and demands?

The church must realize that the more critics it purges from within, the more it will gain from without.

41 Comments

  1. It is interesting that you are the “religious freedom editor” yet state:

    “If they blindly go along with the idea that women are somehow inferior to men and that gay marriage is anathema to God’s will.”

    No freedom to have an opinion or policy different than yours without being labeled “blind?” And the judgment that women are inferior is yours, not an opinion held by the vast majority of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Your comparison of a criminal conviction and sentence to death of a woman for marrying a Christian man in Sudan and the case of Kate Kelley losing her membership in a church for protesting it, organizing efforts to convince others to reject policies and teachings of the church in favor of her own, and incorrectly portraying church doctrine is quite revealing.

    • Apparently, the Internet Trolls have moved from posting comments on major news sites to authoring their own news articles on obscure ones and giving themselves regal titles like “director of global strategy and religious freedom editor”

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet) troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people

  2. Brian Pellot

    Brian Pellot

    Post author

    My use of “blindly” here is very intentional, Jim. If people actually believe these things, that’s a completely different matter, but if they just “blindly” go along with them to avoid excommunication or to gain readmission, they’re self-censoring their beliefs, or at least their questions and criticism. As to your other points, women are barred from the priesthood. And the Sudan comparison is a) timely and b) relevant because of the fear that apostasy claims instill.

    • The relevance of comparing the two apostasy situations is a real stretch. I doubt that the fear of apostasy and its penalties in the case of Ms. Kelly equates at all with the fear of apostasy in the Sudanese case and it’s potential penalties (death). You used it to inflame rather than to inform.

      • The comparison of the two apostasy cases in the Earthly realm is indeed a stretch. But surely the intention of excommunication is to cut members off from reaching the highest spiritual realm, the proportion of their total existence will surely be the major part?
        This is not about how outsiders view the situation but how it affects those who believe the doctrines. If they are put in fear of their very salvation this is a serious threat indeed. Both to their current mental and spiritual wellbeing and their future non-earthly existence.

    • How in the world are you the “Religious Freedom Editor” when you criticize the Mormon Church for taking actions entirely within its rights?

      You also seem to be short on the facts, when you say “The Mormon Church’s obsession with silencing critics is short-sighted and surely a sign of weakness.” The Church has regularly excommunicated apostates for speaking against church leaders for the past 180 years and during that time has grown from 6 members to over 15 million members and continues to grow.

  3. Concerned.calvin

    A few questions, seriously. Why does any women participate in any religion (not just LDS) that treats them as inferior to men? Would you put up with that kind of discrimination at your place of employment? Why does anyone need a man or a woman to tell them how to practice their faith? Why do you need a special building to worship in? Does your god only reveal himself to men? Just asking..

    • For some answers to your questions from an LDS prospective see the 8 minute video, “What Do LDS Women Get?” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QYlDLChzig . Just answering . . .

    • If you want to know how lds women feel about
      where we stand and how we feel about our roles not just in the church but in the much bigger picture, go to the source, ask me, watch the interview below with Sheri Dew. We do not stand in front of men, or in back: we stand at their side. After you do your research, then go to the source. Free agency is what this mortality is all about. If you believe in God, ask Him what he thinks. If we are talking about Religion and Church it is His Truth that matters, not ours. It is His Church, not ours. We can not make His Gospel fit our requirements, If we are doing what Our Father in Heaven wants, nothing else matters. It is hard to Stand in Holy Places, but the Lord never said it would be easy, just that it would be worth it.

      http://youtu.be/-QYlDLChzig

  4. The church leaders in Salt Lake are frightened men who are afraid of truth and honest public debate. They encourage discrimination of members, individuals and certain groups of targeted people in our diverse society. These so called religious leaders have a lot to hide about their private privileges as leaders and also about disturbing church history.
    The Mormon church continues to closely monitor and discipline their gay membership and punish them if they are found to be in a loving relationship.
    Many young gay members of the church are humiliated, thrown out of their family homes and some have committed suicide.
    Women in the church, who seek justice and equality within the Mormon church are now being targeted and judged to be Apostates. Agile and abusive term and punishment, you associate more with radical Islamic religions.
    The public should be made fully aware of the social gangsters who lead the Mormon church in Salt Lake and who are desperate to hold onto their unrighteous power and control over their brainwashed followers.

    • A nice critique of a religion that you obviously do not understand. As for homosexuality, it has been judeo-christian doctrine for thousands of years that homosexuality conduct is wrong. You may not like it – but that is Christianity.

      Who are you to claim that women are viewed as inferior? Ms. Kelly may believe that not having the priesthood makes her inferior, but that is not church doctrine. I would bet that women have more leadership positions in the LOS church than most religions.

      Any religion has to have some limits of what it will tolerate. While open discussions of many topics happens at any given Sunday. However, what is not acceptable is leading protests of decisions when you do not get your way. Mormons believe that God speaks to the prophet. If the prophet says this is they way it is – that is the way it is.

      If Ms. Kelly wants to be a member of the LDS church she is welcome. If she wants to preach her own doctrine – she should start her own church. But please, stop throwing a tantrum because the prophet and most of the church disagrees with you.

      • Your blanket statements about homosexuality and Judeo-Christian doctrine are in error. Numerous Christian denominations not only accept and support LGBT members, they perform same-sex marriages and have openly gay ministers. The same is true for all Jewish denominations except the Orthodox. Those same denominations also have female clergy. What was the case a thousand years ago is not relevant to our contemporary world. Do we still stone people for violating the Sabbath? No. No Christian or Jew practices their religion the way it was practiced a thousand years ago. Religions either evolve or they die. The real underlying issue is power politics hiding behind theology: those who have the power do not want to share it.

      • Re: “As for homosexuality, it has been judeo-christian doctrine for thousands of years that homosexuality conduct is wrong. You may not like it – but that is Christianity.”

        … except for one very small but also very salient fact: Jesus, the founder of Christianity, never once uttered a single word about homosexuality … pro or con. There isn’t one recorded mention of the term ever having crossed his lips. Not once.

        (Of course, you’re free to cite chapter & verse from the gospels to the contrary. If you can do so, I invite you to try.)

        If it’s something that didn’t bother Jesus enough to condemn it, then why do modern Christians obsess about it? He did condemn other things … like hypocrisy, public piety, the amassing of wealth, and many other things that modern Christians absolutely love to engage in, themselves.

        I have to wonder whose religion they’re really practicing … ?

        • PsiCop- you say “Jesus, the founder of Christianity, never once uttered a single word about homosexuality” — have you read the Bible? You do know that Jesus is also the same God of the Old Testament that spoke to Adam, Moses, Isaiah, etc., right? And that he said things like:

          Thou shalt not lie with mankind … it is abomination: Lev. 18:22. (Lev. 20:13.)

          There shall be no … sodomite of the sons of Israel: Deut. 23:17.

          But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly. . . And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them. Gen. 13:13; 19:5.

          Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. Gen 2:24.

  5. The central controversy over Sudanese Christian Meriam Ibrahim was Not that she may have apostatized from or left the Muslim faith, but that there were plans to execute her for doing so as soon as her baby was born and weened.

    Sister Kate Kelly was excommunicated for teaching doctrine contrary to the LDS faith AND encouraging others in the faith to join her. She is welcome to continue to believe that women should be ordained to the priesthood and to discuss those ideas with Church leaders. She went to far in organizing public protests and to try to convince and recruit other to follow her individual beliefs. Excommunication is viewed as very serious in the LDS faith. The consequences are loss of membership for at least a year, but Sister Kelly is encouraged to prepare to be rebaptized after she has ceased teaching false doctrine for a time. She is Not allowed to pay tithing or perform official acts at LDS Church services while excommunicated but she is still welcome to attend (See See http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58075419-78/church-mormon-lds-women.html.csp ). Church members are officially and sincerely encouraged to treat her with respect, warmth and love and without condescension and to greet her with open hearts and arms (See https://www.lds.org/ensign/1990/09/a-chance-to-start-over-church-disciplinary-councils-and-the-restoration-of-blessings?lang=eng )

    I do see some linkage in time and religious topic, but certainly Not in degree of danger. Meriam Ibrahim was in peril of her life for Not renouncing her Christian faith, while Kate Kelly has lost official membership for publicly teaching doctrines contrary to her chosen faith (See also Doctrine and Covenants 134 especially verse 10 at https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/134?lang=eng ).

    • It might be wise for you and the brethren to read your own book.

      Prior to Section 134 you reference is Section 121:Verse 39:

      “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”

      We, meaning all of us who are not of the LDS faith now know what this means when it comes to respectful dialogue on difficult issues.

      • Thanks for quoting one of my favorite passages of scripture. I made a hand calligraphied copy of D&C 121:34-46 (See https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/121?lang=eng ) for my wife on our first wedding anniversary and it hangs in our house so I will review it often. I do and it is often quoted and taught at church.

        That said, neither of us were present at the December 12, 2013 meeting between Sister Kelly, Bishop Harrison, and President Wheatley. We weren’t at the May 5, 2014 meeting between Sister Kelly, President Wheatley and President Lee. We do Not know all that was said in those dialogues, or how it was said. We do know what has been said by Kate Kelly and what she has published of the 3 letters she was sent including the one June 23.2014 (See http://www.scribd.com/doc/231051936/Kate-Kelly-Excommunication-Decision ). As letters, they are Not dialogue, but we are all free to draw our own conclusions about the intent and tone. Because of the purpose of each letter they are assertive, but Not aggressive. They do Not sound to me like unrighteous dominion.

        Thank you again for your reply.

      • You are free to consider me anything you like, and we are both free to express our own opinions on the internet. I made 3 statements to which you could be referring:

        1, “Sister Kate Kelly was excommunicated for teaching doctrine contrary to the LDS faith AND encouraging others in the faith to join her.”

        2. “She went to far in organizing public protests and to try to convince and recruit other to follow her individual beliefs.”

        3. “Kate Kelly has lost official membership for publicly teaching doctrines contrary to her chosen faith.”

        If I could now edit my comment I would remove #3 which is certainly an overstatement. I acknowledge and apologize for this error and if that is what you are calling me on, I thank you for calling me on it.

        However, here is your quotation:

        1. “Subsequently, under your leadership and with your direct involvement, Ordain Women announced ‘Six Discussions’ which were intended to proselyte others and to persuade them to support your particular interpretation of Church doctrine. You reached out to others to persuade them to join your movement.” This quotation comes from the letter from Bishop Harrison to Sister Kelly explaining why she has been excommunicated which she published (http://www.deseretnews.com/media/pdf/1365030.pdf ).

        2. To my knowledge Kate Kelly has Not said this statement is false.

        3. Additionally that letter along with the two other she has published from the Bishop and Stake President call into question her candor and accuracy her characterization of the lack of opportunity to discuss her actions with her local leaders and their lack of direction before convening a disciplinary council. Of course lawyers are trained to be pretty skillful as parsing words. I believe she, her bishop and stake president are all lawyers.

        Thank you for your reply which has caused me re-read and rethink my remarks.

  6. I believe that sister Kelly is in danger of her eternal life, never mind her mortal life, according to corrupt Mormon doctrine.
    Section 132 in Mormon scriptures also states that Mormon men can have countless eternal wives, but Mormon women can only have one husband.
    Although a twisted example of warped Mormon beliefs, equality for women clearly does not exist in the male dominated Mormon empire.

    • Andrew,

      If Mormon doctrine is “corrupt” as you say, than Kate Kelly is o.k. as far as her eternal life goes, and she is certainly in No danger from the Mormons in this life. She has certainly done nothing wrong from a secular legal and social context.

      It is only if the LDS priesthood is Not the only religious authority instituted and recognized by God that this matters for no more than social convenience. For instance, the Community of Christ, has similar roots and many of the same beliefs as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They have 250,000 members and they ordain women, have women apostles, etc. Section 132 is Not part of their Scriptures. They even have branches in Provo, Utah and Kenya for the Kelly family. This would make good sense if all churches are basically the same.

      However, if the LDS priesthood is the uniquely divinely-instituted and recognized one, then LDS baptismal and temple covenants become much more than ritual. Then we can certainly ask and reason, but ultimately we wait upon the Lord and His chosen prophets. For example see 1 Samuel 9-15 especially chapters 13 and 15. In 1 Samuel 12: 22-23, Samuel gives severe council to even a king of Israel which only makes sense from that religious context (See https://www.lds.org/scriptures/ot/1-sam/15?lang=eng ).

      P.S. We respect the faiths of all people (See D&C 134: 4, 7 at https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/134?lang=eng and http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/respect-for-diversity-of-faiths )

  7. Excommunication, apostate. Words that serve to humiliate, abuse and demonise fellow members of the Mormon church.
    When will the brainwashed followers of this cult break out of their trance and realise that they are supporting and financing a massive fraud.
    The truth about the Mormon church and its history can be found at Mormonthink.com.

  8. You’re cute, Brian.
    The end.

    Oh, about Kate! Ya, she’s got some interested opinions. I don’t think she should have rallied such a large group of people and march at Temple Square, because it is irreverent and shows irreverence to the church. Show me a leader trying to demonstrate a peaceable approach to bringing forth new doctrine, i. e. by sending a letter to the church president, not asking for followers, and I’ll say they might be a humble hero.

  9. So let me ask those who are having heartburn over the LDS Church’s decision this; if I was Catholic and gathered together other Catholics to protest inside the Vatican how the Pope and the Popes before him were absolutely wrong about abortion, I shouldn’t face any consequences? How about if me and my evangelical friends tried to walk into Billy Graham’s tent revival to say that sexual promiscuity was now alright for his congregation? Could I go into a temple and tell a Rabi that Hanukkah is now passé?

    Folks, if you don’t like it go start your Mormon Church II (it’s been tried and as a commenter said before me it’s about 1/60th the size of the LDS Church), but the vast majority of us understand the Church’s decision.

    • Actually Mormon Church II already exists. It use to be called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but is now called the Community of Christ. With 250,000 members they ordain women and even have a couple of female apostles. They split off with the death of Joseph Smith, never sanctioned polygamy, were always willing to ordain blacks, and now bless same-sex marriages. They were not involved in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The members I’ve met are nice people. That accept but do not stress the Book of Mormon and their version of the Doctrine and Covenants. It is a matter of who’s authority and priesthood claims you believe. Of course if some dissenting Mormons or former Mormons joined this alternative faith they might lose their favorite complaints and causes. Personally, I will stay with the LDS faith because it is spiritually fulfilling and enlightening to me. I feel the Spirit of God most every day and see my life changing for the better. I don’t believe that the Church is perfect (after all we members aren’t perfect), but I see it unfolding as the Spirit assures me God intends. However, there are alternatives for those who strongly disagree.

  10. To those apologists commenting on this thread. You are free to believe anything you wish to believe….even if the preponderance of the factual evidence suggest it’s all a fraud and a farce. More power to you. But in these United States, in 2014, excommunicating a women for refusing to censor herself and for offering like-minded women refuge is considered dickish and deserving of ridicule.

    • Ah! It’s wrong to excommunicate a woman for trying to change church doctrine? I guaranty that if a man had started “Ordain Women” and proceeded to gather a following of malcontents, designed a series of lessons to persuade others that church doctrine was in error, then deliberately, with the press at his side, defied a specific request from church leaders (Please don’t march on Temple Square.”), it would send a clear signal that he didn’t really want to be an observant member, but was using his membership as a platform to gather a following, acting like M.L. King in 1963. That man’s church membership would not last either.

      This is not about men v. women. It is about the source of doctrine and who is authorized to receive revelation to change it. The revelation to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 12) came to the apostle Peter, who then conferenced with his fellow apostles about how to implement it. It wasn’t some well-meaning Jewish/Christian member who knocked on Peter’s door and told him what to do.

      Kate Kelly’s group claimed that all they really wanted was for Thomas S. Monson, church president and prophet, to “pray about it.” Are they naive enough to think that he has not done so or that he is obligated to report to an outside group the substance of every prayer he offers? I think not.

  11. “Panel of Mormon judges”

    “ldschurch.org”

    “‘contrary to the laws and order of the LDS Church.'” [what are you quoting?]

    You don’t have to get the lingo 100% right, but it at least should look like you’ve made an effort to understand the Church and its members. You might have helped your case by mentioning, even in passing, that the stated reason for excommunication was that Kelly “persisted in an aggressive effort to persuade other Church members to [her] point of view and that [her] course of action has threatened to erode the faith of others.” and that she is “entitled to her views, but [not] to promote them and proselyte others to them while remaining in full fellowship in the Church.”

    • Re: Church Lingo
      Ditto that. The “panel of Mormon judges” would actually be her bishop and his two counselors. You can be sure that THEY didn’t want to see this end in excommunication, which she turned into a media event. Did you notice that all correspondence over this was divulged by Ms Kelly? The bishop is silent due to the sensitive and confidential nature of this. If Kelly is embarrassed, it at her own hand.
      BTW, What’s wrong with asking a member to repent? Have churches degenerated so far into social issues and political correctness that they are no longer willing to teach the difference between truth and error? Right and wrong?

  12. It’s really amazing how people are actually dumb enough to defend the impulse to silence dissent. The bottom line of such a tactic is that it reminds me of a small child who plugs his ears and yammers loudly, hoping not to hear something s/he would rather not hear.

    In other words, at its core, it’s juvenile.

    That one woman’s dissent endangers her life (i.e. Ms Ibrahim in Sudan) while another has only been silenced within her religion (i.e. Ms Kelly & the LDS church), largely doesn’t change the basic fact that what we’re dealing with is immaturity; the difference is only in the extremes to which the childishness is being carried.

    Any attempt to silence dissent … whether it’s arrest and (potential) execution, or church trials and excommunication … is usually counter-productive. Such exercises tend to draw attention to the very ideas that an institution is trying to prevent people from hearing. This is especially true in the Internet age, where there’s a name for this phenomenon: the Streisand Effect.

    History shows the most effective approaches to dissent are … … silence and inaction. You read that right. No matter how much someone’s dissent angers a group, on average the best way to handle dissent is just to let it go. If a dissenter is truly foolish and misguided, that will become evident in short order, and both dissenter and dissent will wither away. If the dissenter has a valid point, there may be value in letting him/her have his/her say, even if one dislikes hearing it, and the dissent may make the larger group better for having endured it.

    Lastly, to be clear, all the people praising the LDS Church because all it did was “excommunicate” Ms Kelly, rather than arrest and (maybe) execute her, is not something they ought to be proud of. Again, the only difference the two approaches is of degree, not of quality. The basic impulse behind both actions is the same: Childishness. Fortunately, childishness has a cure, and that is, to freaking grow up. It’s time people did that, both Sudanese and Mormon. I don’t know about the Sudanese, but 21st century American adults don’t really have much excuse for refusing to act their ages and be mature.

    • Dude, you say “Any attempt to silence dissent …is usually counter-productive. Such exercises tend to draw attention to the very ideas that an institution is trying to prevent people from hearing.” But the Church was not trying to silence her, it was saying you can’t talk like that and hold yourself out to be a member of the church in good standing, as that will mislead others into thinking the church approves of what you are saying.

    • “The bottom line” of what you think of something is your opinion, to which you are welcome. However it does not necessarily describe the bottom line of things as they really are.

    • Excommunication isn’t an attempt to silence dissent, because it doesn’t silence anybody. Kate Kelly is just as free now to speak her mind as she was before. She just can’t claim to be a loyal Mormon now (until she decides to change).

  1. […] Brian Pellot from Religion News Services writes a scathing review of the LDS Church’s handling of the Kelly excommunication: “So she might be allowed back in if she obediently shuts her mouth and closes her eyes to what she sees as systematic inequalities within her faith community and hierarchy. If she and other critics choose to self-censor. If they blindly go along with the idea that women are somehow inferior to men and that gay marriage is anathema to God’s will. Then maybe they’ll be forgiven.” […]

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