This is a guest post by Beau Sorenson.
Beau Sorensen is a healthcare executive living in Provo, Utah with his wife
and four children. He is co-author of the book “Entrepreneur on Fire”
It’s taken me a few days to come up with some coherent
thoughts on the calls to disciplinary hearings for John Dehlin and Kate
Kelly. I’ve read more than is probably good and thought constantly about it.
That being said, here are the two most important thoughts I have on the
1. Excommunication isn’t a punishment. (Note: neither Bro. Dehlin or Sis. Kelly has been excommunicated. This will be decided during the disciplinary council process). We need to shift our paradigm. All I
have heard since this broke is how Bro. Dehlin and Sis. Kelly are being
punished. Mr. Dehlin is being punished for his vocal advocacy of LGBT causes
and Mormon Stories podcast and website where he openly admits that he has
serious doubts about members of the Quorum of the Twelve, the Book of
Mormon, and the LDS Church. Ms. Kelly is being punished for being an
outspoken advocate of women, for mobilizing hundreds of men and women alike
to push for the ordination of women to priesthood offices.
We are wrong to think of excommunication in this way. It certainly can come
across as a punishment. It will lessen the impact of their voices over the
long run, though it is amplifying them today. Instead, excommunication is a
merciful blessing to Bro. Dehlin and Sis. Kelly. How can taking away these
blessings be an act of mercy? It is merciful to these two because they don’t
just lose the blessings of the temple and baptism – they also lose the
covenant relationship. This allows them to work through whatever issues they
have with God, with the Church, or with the Brethren without covenants
hanging over their head. To quote Doctrine & Covenants 82:3, “For of him
unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the
greater light shall receive the greater condemnation.”
They had the greater light and knowledge at one point in time, but years of
doubts and life experience have caused that light to dissipate. That’s not
to say it can’t return. What it is to say is that as they continue down the
paths they are on right now, it is better for their souls to continue
without the covenants they have made, lest they receive greater
Excommunication isn’t the end, it’s a new beginning.
I am reminded of the
story of WW Phelps. Quoting liberally from a speech by then-BYU President
Jeffrey R. Holland:
In the early years of the Church the Prophet Joseph Smith had no more
faithful aide than William Wines Phelps…But then troubles developed…Things
became so serious that the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that if Phelps did
not repent, he would be “removed out of [his] place” (HC 2:511). He did not
repent and was excommunicated on March 10, 1838… in the fall of that violent
year W. W. Phelps, along with others, signed a deadly, damaging affidavit
against the Prophet and other leaders of the Church.
The result was quite simply that Joseph Smith was sentenced to be publicly
executed on the town square in Far West, Missouri, Friday morning, November
2, 1838. Two very difficult years later, with great anguish and remorse of
conscience, Phelps wrote to Joseph Smith in Nauvoo.
Brother Joseph: . . . I am as the prodigal son. . . .
I have seen the folly of my way, and I tremble at the gulf I have
passed. . . . [I] ask my old brethren to forgive me, and though they chasten
me to death, yet I will die with them, for their God is my God.
The least place with them is enough for me, yea, it is bigger and better
than all Babylon. . . .
I know my situation, you know it, and God knows it, and I want to be saved
if my friends will help me. . . . I have done wrong and I am sorry. . . .
I ask forgiveness. . . . I want your fellowship; if you cannot grant that,
grant me your peace and friendship, for we are brethren, and our communion
used to be sweet.
In an instant the Prophet wrote back…having been delivered from the hands of
wicked men by the mercy of our God, we say it is your privilege to be
delivered from the powers of the adversary, be brought into the liberty of
God’s dear children, and again take your stand among the Saints of the Most
High, and by diligence, humility, and love unfeigned, commend yourself to
our God, and your God, and to the Church of Jesus Christ.
Believing your confession to be real, and your repentance genuine, I shall
be happy once again to give you the right hand of fellowship, and rejoice
over the returning prodigal.
“Come on, dear brother, since the war is past,
For friends at first, are friends again at last.”
Yours as ever,
Joseph Smith, Jun. (A Robe, a Ring, and a Fatted Calf; January 31,
Brother Phelps would not returned without the tough love of excommunication.
It allowed him to get space from the situation, to see what he was missing,
and to search himself – without covenants hanging over his head. If Bro.
Dehlin and Sis. Kelly are indeed excommunicated, I would propose that that’s
precisely what the Lord believes they need.
2. Doubts aren’t the problem. I have listened to Mr. Dehlin and Ms. Kelly
say that they are being punished for their doubts. That’s not the case.
These Bishops and Stake Presidents who have convened their disciplinary
councils have certainly had their own crises of faith. Instead, the problem
is the way they have expressed those doubts. They have done so publicly, in
a way that demands everyone look at them. In this day and age we all “get
caught up in popularity contests and experience anxieties…becoming depressed
because [we] are being out-Twittered and lacking in thumbs ups.” (Bill
Davidow, The Atlantic) If they had expressed their doubts and concerns
privately, talking with their Bishops and Stake Presidents on a regular
basis, working things through with trusted friends and advisors, and praying
privately to the Lord for help and guidance (and for His help when the
answers they received weren’t what they originally thought they should be),
then none of this would have happened. It is when we put ourselves into a
position where we can lead others astray, when we cause others to question
and lose their testimonies (regardless of how well-intentioned we may be),
that our earnest seeking can become something else.
In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune yesterday, Sis. Kelly mentioned
that they just wanted an answer. That would be all well and good if that
were the case, but at some point we have to accept the answer we’ve been
given. The LDS Church has come out time and time and time again to say that
women will not be given the priesthood at this time. That’s not to say that
it won’t happen in the future – I’m not the Lord, nor do I pretend to know
His will. I know those who made a pronouncement that blacks would never
receive the priesthood in the 1950s looked like quite the fools in 1978.
What I do know is that the answer won’t change in 6 months and it won’t
change in a year. If these brothers and sisters truly feel that women should
be ordained, the course that I would recommend is to faithfully continue
with the church, to express your desires privately to your leaders, and to
sustain the leaders of the church.