John Dehlin and Kate Kelly reportedly face Church disciplinary councils

I post this story from the NY Times with some highlights.

Two Mormons who have gained national attention for pushing their church to ordain women to the priesthood and to accept openly gay members have been notified this week that they face excommunication for apostasy.

The two are Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer who founded the Ordain Women movement, and John P. Dehlin, the creator of a popular online forum for Mormons and a doctoral candidate in psychology who has published his research into the problems faced by gay church members.

It is the first time since 1993, when the church ejected a handful of intellectuals known as the “September Six,” that it has moved so forcefully to quash such prominent critical voices.

The church’s public affairs office did not have an immediate response.

Disciplinary actions are typically initiated by local bishops and church authorities, but Ms. Kelly and Mr. Dehlin were notified of the action against them on two consecutive days, leading them to suspect that the move was coordinated by officials in church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

Mr. Dehlin was sent a letter on June 7 by the president of his stake, or church region, who he said he has never met, calling on him to either resign from the church or face a hearing before a disciplinary council. The letter, which Mr. Dehlin provided to The New York Times, said, “Because of the love I have for you, I have become concerned about some of your recent statements and actions regarding this church and your place in it.” It cited an Internet posting in which Mr. Dehlin wrote that he no longer believes many fundamental “truth claims” the church makes.

And this on Kate Kelly of the Ordain Women movement:

Ms. Kelly received an email on June 8 from her local bishop in Virginia informing her that she faces “disfellowshipment or excommunication, on the grounds of apostasy,” and calling her to a disciplinary council hearing on June 22. Disfellowshipment means limiting the participation of a church member, while excommunication is removing someone from membership.

Ms. Kelly’s stake president had warned her in a letter in May that if she did not shut down the Ordain Women website, dissociate herself from it and repent, she faced excommunication for “openly, repeatedly and deliberately acting in public opposition to the church and its leaders after having been counseled not to do so.”

The letter said, “you are not required to change your thinking or the questions you may have in your own mind,” but that she must keep her questions private and resolve them by talking to her bishop.

“I’m just really, really, really heartbroken,” Ms. Kelly said.

She said she told the stake president and bishop, “What you’re asking me to do is to live inauthentically, and that’s not something I’m willing to do. Because then I would have to go to church every week, but I would never be able to say what I really think.”

REMINDER: The Church does not comment on disciplinary actions against Church members because the process is confidential. If the disciplinary action becomes public it is because the person involved has chosen to take it public. You will only hear one side of the Church disciplinary process, the person who has decided to take it public. Church disciplinary work is intended to help a person repent and come back to the Church and is not “punishment.” It is an act of Christ-like love.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

45 thoughts on “John Dehlin and Kate Kelly reportedly face Church disciplinary councils

  1. The Times has described John Dehlin as a “prominent critical voice.”

    At last, the truth is out.

  2. I have served on a high council and seen a Church disciplinary council. These councils are kept strictly confidential (I have not even told my wife any of the details involved 8 years later). The disciplinary council process is about helping somebody repent who has gone astray. The Spirit is one of love and concern for the person who is lost. This is not punishment: it is an opportunity.

  3. To follow up on my comment above: there will be a lot of misunderstanding about the disciplinary process, so here are some points that are important:

    According to the report above, neither John Dehlin nor Kate Kelly has been disfellowshipped or excommunicated. They have been called to a disciplinary council. Many things can happen at a disciplinary council. They can repent and not face discipline. They can explain themselves and not face discipline. They can be disfellowshipped for a short amount of time with a follow up council. They can be excommunicated for a short amount of time with a follow up council. There could be several councils to consider the situation.

    The Church will not comment on what goes on — all information will be from the people involved so will naturally be one-sided. But I want to emphasize that there are many possible outcomes here.

  4. Very sad, indeed.

    I hope that they choose to do what their leadership asks of them. I hope that people give them the space to change and come back.

  5. I disagree that it’s an act of love to excommunicate someone. It’s a violent act done out of fear that the person could threaten the church and challenge it’s leaders. And it’s a cowardly act. The only reason you only hear one side of the story is that the church doesn’t want the proceedings of each kangaroo court to be made public.

  6. @Josh: Speaking as someone who has actually participated in several disciplinary councils, I could not disagree with you more strongly.

  7. Josh, the Church is a voluntary organization that very, very rarely has disciplinary councils for members. Nobody is forcing you to be a member. But a private, voluntary organization is allowed to set standards for membership. Just to help you understand this, let’s say you had a atheist’s club and all of the sudden members wanted to try to change the club so it was a “let’s believe in God club.” The answer to them would be: you can go form you own club but in our club we set the terms of membership so that the members are atheists. It is not cowardly to do this; it is simply setting up terms of membership.

  8. I would like to say that as somebody who has actually been in disciplinary councils, it definitely is not a “violent act” for anybody involved. It is indeed an act of love and charity, and most people who participate in such councils say they strongly feel the love of the Savior.

  9. Just a technicality point of order (that someone should pass on to Kelly’s previous Bishop). The Bishop who sent (the currently) Sister Kelly a letter is not actually *her* Bishop, and as such he is not authorized to hold such a council by Church policy – obviously though he is ignoring that fact. The Handbook is very clear that one’s Bishop is determined by your geographic residence unless authorized otherwise by request. (And a Bishop is not one who can grant such authorization.) Her membership should be transferred to her Utah ward where she now lives. Her previous Bishop (and Stake President if he so chooses) are free to add a note to her records to pass along his (their) concerns to her new ward and stake.

    In general if disciplinary councils are held for people engaged in the repentance process they are “acts of love”, but the Handbook is very clear that in certain cases the actions are undertaken to protect the Church or the saints. In such cases they are acts of defense first, and love second.

    I suspect the result of these councils (if the results are excommunication) will be to increase the level of antagonism with Dehlin, and not have much effect on Kelly. Just my opinion.

  10. JSH, it is true that KK says she is moving or has moved, but there are a lot of details here that you are not privy to. I advise caution when making assumptions where information is incomplete.

    Whether or not the council will have an effect on Dehlin or KK is up to them and their response.

  11. This talk is over 40 years old, but still bears review in the present circumstances. The terms have changed–a bishop’s court is now a “disciplinary council”–but the principles are the same as expressed by Bishop Simpson.

  12. Taking a page from forty-year-old playbook, I assumed that OW’s next General Conference “action” will be during the Saturday afternoon session. These disciplinary councils add a wrinkle to that.

  13. The Bishop who sent (the currently) Sister Kelly a letter is not actually *her* Bishop, and as such he is not authorized to hold such a council by Church policy – obviously though he is ignoring that fact.

    John Swenson Harvey,

    Actually, her bishop is the bishop of the ward in which her _records_ are held. He has stewardship over her until the records are transferred to another ward. And I believe that it is not unheard of for the church to freeze the records of a member in a specific ward so that they cannot be transferred. It makes sense to have the Bishop who knows her and has interacted with her over the last few years be involved with her council. And if the church has frozen the records in her ward, then the stewardship remains there too.

  14. This has been inevitable for some time — the process repeats itself over and over, and anyone familiar with history could tell how this sad story would end. I saw on another website an article titled “Mourning with those who mourn,” and I couldn’t help but note the irony — the mourning should be for the spiritual suicide that is being committed (the disciplinary council is just the autopsy confirming the death that has already taken place).

    We hope that Kate Kelly comes back, or John Dehlin comes back. History, on the other hand, suggests that rather than come back they will instead take as many people with them as they can. It is a tragedy any way that you look at it. The one consolation is that this is His work, and it cannot be stopped.

  15. I disagree that these people constitute “prominent critical voices”. They are not prominent in any but dissident circles. Most Church members have heard little of them, nor are many even familiar with their advocacy.

    The news media has worked hard to lend them prominence, but most Church members show very little interest.

    In my view, there is an otherwise unremarkable crowd of people who are never happy. The Church would satisfy their needs, if it was permitted. But they apparently have other priorities.

  16. Here is the Church’s statement on the disciplinary process:

    Again, a reminder that we are only seeing one side, the side that KK has chosen to give the media, and they will twist it and play it for all it’s worth.

    What is more loving Josh, a parent that has to correct his child to teach and guide them, or the parent that lets his child run wild? The former. KK was given many opportunities to change, repent and to back down. I think as well, there are many people that would be happy to help her along her path back to full fellowship and to give her the room she needs to repent. She is clearly not interested.

  17. It would seem that excommunication is far easier than debating Dehlin on the substance of his criticisms. Many things in church history are very difficult, if not impossible, to defend. Kicking him out will remove any credibility his podcast has with members.

  18. Bishops can freeze records, and not transfer them if there are concerns. Stakes could do the same. In such a case, the stake presidents would probably confer, and decide where to have the records (and thus keys and jurisdiction) reside.

    Thus, one cannot escape a council called in one area by moving. The decision might be to have the council and THEN transfer the records. Or, it could be to transfer and THEN have the council.

    Either way can and does happen.

    And, they are some of the best meetings in the Church–even when excommunication is the decision. They are powerful, spirit-filled events. (All that I have seen have involved those who were repentant, however. There could be a difference, I guess, if the member called to the council was completely unrepentant, or whatnot.) But, they are very moving experiences.

  19. John Dehlin has helped many, many Mormons retain their connection with the Church and their heritage. He is an honourable man. I have never seriously considered leaving the Church I love (although a non-believer for many years) but the excommunication of Dehlin, if it happens, would be a huge blow from which the Church will take a long time to recover, I predict. People like me might just find this one step too far, feeling they now are left with little choice but to follow suit. On the positive side, I suppose, this might however hasten the emergence of a formal, rational alternative to the ‘mainstream’ Church: a Progressive Mormonism with parallels to Progressive Judaism. But I wish, how I wish, this need not become a necessity.

  20. I am on a high council. I sat in on two councils just a couple weeks ago. I’ve known both people for several years, and it brought tears to my eyes – though I know the decisions were inspired of God. I can tell you that after much discussion with the individuals, discussion between the high council and stake presidency, and then the stake presidency excusing themselves to pray, the decisions occur with God’s approval. None of us take these lightly. We seek the minimum level of discipline to help the person repent. In the 4 years I’ve been on this council, we’ve only excommunicated one person. I’m amazed at the compassion and patience the Lord and the disciplinary councils extend to people.

    I am saddened by John Dehlin and Kate Kelley. This should not come as a surprise to them, however. They’ve both had discussions with leaders and others, who have felt they are crowding the apostate boundary much too closely with their public statements. I pray the two of them will repent, humble themselves and return. If Kate feels that to do so would be to be “inauthentic” then it clearly shows that she’s out of step. Having heard Maxine Hanks’ story as part of the September 6 and her return, I am afraid that Kate is choosing that same path. I hope it doesn’t take her 20 years to come back.

    Whether they remain in the church or not, I wish them peace.

  21. I have no idea what this says about me, but my first thought was “M* hasn’t had any activity for 4-5 days now. This is guaranteed to drive traffic up for a few days.”

    My thought after that was that I’m actually surprised. I expected this might happen eventually, but that it would take a few more years.

    I expect lots of predictions about the harm this will do the church, etc. The September Six debacle didn’t do any lasting harm, and I doubt this will either – if we even get excommunications. I think Grant Palmer only got disfellowshiped, and there was a lot of hand wringing and much of the same rhetoric I expect to see this time around.

  22. @ John Mansfield:

    It’s interesting. I had heard stories about the *one* conference where some protestors crashed during the sustaining; but I’ve spent my commute the last month or so listening to LDS conferences from 1979 onwards. Audible “nos” can be heard in at least three sustainings in the 1980-1981 period.

  23. I think it is important to remember that when we are dealing with belief in religion and a higher power- God, it seems inherent that we understand that we do not know everything. I have read/listened to work from both these individuals and others who have been disillusioned by the LDS church for one reason or another. Cases can be made for why and how certain things don’t fit together and don’t make sense. Frankly, there are things that I don’t understand. But, the very nature of faith in God means that we don’t have to understand everything right away. I believe that sometimes it takes a lot of searching of the scriptures and the soul to understand the truth. However, even when certain things don’t completely make sense, I cannot deny the feelings I have had about core doctrines in our church being true. I also feel I can’t deny the blessings and peace that have come to my life from being obedient. I know it isn’t “in vogue” to be obedient anymore. Many liken it to being subservient or victimized. I feel that as I have been obedient, I have obtained more truth and comfort that even when things happen beyond my control, The Lord has a plan for me and my family.
    I think we don’t and most likely won’t have the whole story on the disciplinary actions upon these individuals. It’s not really my business anyway. It seems to me though, if they were really interested in being a part of the church, they wouldn’t say so many things publicly that tends to make the church look bad. Personally, I hope we don’t hear much more about it.

  24. It may be helpful to identify a bit of the timeline with respect to Kate Kelly before anyone comes to the conclusion that the Virginia bishop lacks jurisdiction. I take these dates from the letters from the Virginia priesthood leaders and Kate’s blog post on the OW website.

    May 5, 2014 – Kelly met with her Stake President and a “President Kenneth Lee” (I’m guessing a counselor). She was placed on “informal probation as a matter of Church discipline for [her] activities related to Ordain Women.” The conditions of her probation were that she could not identify herself as a member in good standing, participate in temple or sacrament ordinances, pray or speak in church, etc. The conditions for lifting the probation was to disassociate with OW, take down the OW website (or do all she could to take down the site) and several other things.

    Between May 5, 2014 and May 22, 2014 – Kate Kelly moves to Utah. (She states on the OW blog that she received the Stake President’s letter of May 22, 2014 after she moved, and received her bishop’s June 8 letter three weeks after moving to Utah.)

    May 22, 2014 – She receives an emailed letter from Stake President reminding her that she is on probation, reminding her of the terms, and inviting her to repent. This letter is here.

    June 8, 2014 – Kelly receives an emailed letter from her Virginia based bishop regarding disciplinary proceedings. Kate Kelly posted this letter here.

    June 11, 2014 – Kelly posts both letters, calls the leaders in Virginia “cowardly and unchristlike,” and promises to continue her actions despite (or in spite?) of the guidance she received to desist.

  25. IMO, it was the OW “discussions” and in-house proselyting that OW engaged in that more or less forced the church’s hand.

    I think John kept going as long as he did because his words were mostly in podcasts without transcripts. When he finally got around to making definitive statements in text, he made himself too hard to ignore.

    I disagree with those who think John D has been trying to keep people in the church. I think that more or less has been a cover.

  26. ” have never seriously considered leaving the Church I love (although a non-believer for many years) but the excommunication of Dehlin, if it happens, would be a huge blow from which the Church will take a long time to recover, I predict. People like me might just find this one step too far, feeling they now are left with little choice but to follow suit. ”

    I don’t see the problem with a non-believe leaving. Religion is for believers or it might as well be a social club with no significance.

    ” I suppose, this might however hasten the emergence of a formal, rational alternative to the ‘mainstream’ Church: a Progressive Mormonism”

    There already is a progressive Mormonism based church that supplies all the liberal talking points. Its called the Community of Christ, once called the RLDS Church. Seriously, not recognizing this fact and joining it instead of forcing a change on a Church that doesn’t want to be liberal evidences a malicious intention. Especially from someone who doesn’t believe.

  27. My heart is heavy and I am saddened by this news. I remain hopeful that both John and Kate will take advantage of the Savior’s atonement and find a pathway back to full fellowship.

  28. Coming from the perspective of an addict who needed some tough love from my Father in Heaven in order to finally be ready to turn my life over to Him and let Him heal me, I believe with all my heart that church disciplinary counsels are very loving and are intended to help the person, not to punish them. Many of us would be happy to hold on to our apostate actions and beliefs and merrily dig our souls down to hell without the intervention of a loving God and His servants here on earth. I hope that John and Kate (and their followers) will choose to humble themselves and return to the loving arms of their Creator. Living as a bitter, angry person is no fun.

  29. “I disagree that these people constitute “prominent critical voices”. They are not prominent in any but dissident circles. Most Church members have heard little of them, nor are many even familiar with their advocacy.

    The news media has worked hard to lend them prominence, but most Church members show very little interest.”

    I think this is a good reminder from Jim Cobabe. There are probably fewer than 10 people in my stake who have even heard of John Dehlin and Kate Kelly. I was at a ward social event recently with 50 or so members of my ward and not a one of them had heard of the OW movement and Kate Kelly. A lot of the things that many bloggernacle types think are important don’t make it onto the radar of ordinary members, who are busy taking care of their kids or grandkids and going to the temple, doing their home teaching, helping people move and working.

  30. As touching Dehlin, the Salt Lake Tribune posted a copy of his letter from his stake president which makes some details known. I found it interesting that Dehlin sent an email to his bishop in January 2014 in which he apparently asked to not be contacted by any ward leaders or members, that his family not be assigned home and visiting teachers and the he not be considered a member of the ward. These details have not been reported, because they don’t serve to further the story most of these outlets, and Dehlin himself, wish to emphasize, but it adds important context.

    For the record, I wouldn’t have much interest in this were it not for Dehlin making it public and being less than truthful in how he addresses it.

  31. Question: Have any of you who have been directly involved in disciplinary councils been involved in actions where someone was being disciplined for apostasy?

    Support for these disciplinary actions reminds me of my family story of my great-great-great grandfather who was a bishop in Utah. He was supposed to sit on a disciplinary council, but told the church President at the time that he didn’t want to sit in judgment on his friends, even knowing that they had done something wrong. The President told him he didn’t have to. There would be plenty who would be willing to judge. Whether my family story is completely accurate or not (I don’t doubt it), I share my grandfather’s feelings.

  32. Jonathan, speaking for myself I haven’t been in a council in which apostasy was the issue. Also, it is clear that none of us, to my knowledge, had any particular interest in being a part of such councils in the first place. There are things that I would just rather not know about some members of my ward. However, as has been addressed here a few times, someone has to do it and every council I have been a part of has been convened with the sole purpose and intent to help the individual involved to find and take advantage of the cleansing atonement of Christ. I’ve never had any other motivation in such matters.

    In terms of apostasy, there is also the need to protect other members from wolves in sheeps’ clothing, but I suspect that the primary focus in such things are also with the individual and taking the steps to help them repent. In the case of KK, and here I can only speculate given the limited and one-sided facts we have been presented, I expect that KK will be excommunicated. She clearly sees nothing wrong with what she has done and is doing. In fact, she glories in it. She’s likely never been confronted with the requirement to examine her beliefs and actions in the terms and circumstances in which she is now placed. It is a sad fact that often people don’t know what they have to lose until they lose it, and often don’t have the motivation to make appropriate changes and repent of misdeeds until they are in the position where they are on the outside looking in, and have a chance to reflect on what they have lost and whether they have chosen the right path. Her public actions and statements all point to an excommunication later this month, which is sad and could be avoided.

    KK complains that she needs to be her authentic self, but each of our authentic selves are the “natural man” until such time as we put off our worldly, carnal natures and are born again. Most people can do that without being excommunicated, and KK can as well. The signs are not hopeful right now though. Or, the fact that there is any signs at all means that it is not hopeful.

    An interesting question will be whether or not KK retains a leadership role in OW as a result of this, or whether she’ll become a shadowy figure on the sideline ala Margaret Toscano.

  33. I cannot help but hear the dog that isn’t barking….

    For those unaware, a classic Sherlock Holmes mystery is ultimately solved by the fact that the dog didn’t bark (thus telling Holmes that the villain was known to the dog). Sometimes what doesn’t happen is far more telling than what does happen. And here is what isn’t happening:

    Dehlin and Kelly aren’t telling their followers to stay in the Church.

    I have seen countless posts from people talking about how Dehlin saved their membership in the Church, or how Kelly creates a safe space for them to be a member with doubts. I read frequently in these posts that if Dehlin or Kelly were to leave or be excommunicated, they would resign their membership as well and follow them out of the Church.

    If I were put through a disciplinary council (and, as my father who sat through a number of them as a High Councilor stated, you never hear about a disciplinary council without thinking in the back of your mind ‘there but by the Grace of God go I’), then I would hate to see someone saying that they would leave the Church because of me being disciplined. Even if I was brought up on false charges, and even if I was disciplined in the ‘kangaroo court manner’ that some carelessly accuse, I wouldn’t want anyone else to leave.

    If my children asked what happened, I would say that the Church is still true and they should continue to go every week and serve in their callings — and that I would hope to rejoin them someday. I would say the same to my neighbors and friends. Because if I understood and believed that the Priesthood ordinances mattered, I wouldn’t want anyone separated from them because of what happened to me — even if what happened to me was an injustice.

    Dehlin and Kelly could do a great deal of good by very publicly putting out a statement condemning the thought that their discipline was a reason for leaving. They could say that, regardless of what happened to them, the ordinances of salvation can only be found in the Church (Dehlin, to my understanding, disputes this now but I think Kelly still claims to believe it is true). Rather than acquire publicity to embarrass the Church, they could acquire publicity to build the Church (even if they feel wronged).

    If discipline is enacted, a number of people will separate from the Church as a result. They have the opportunity to keep a percentage of that number in the Church. That they seem to be choosing an opposite path is telling.

    Their silence is the dog that isn’t barking…

  34. Friends, I think it is important not to speculate or assume that we know what will happen in these disciplinary councils. We do not have the authority to judge. Personally, I think, based on their actions and their statements, that John Dehlin and Kate Kelly are on dangerous paths that will lead them farther from God. Does that mean they should be disciplined by the Church? Personally I have no idea, and I don’t want to assume that I or anybody else in the blog world knows either.

  35. Kate Kelly keeps speaking and new details continue to emerge. She appeared on a TribTalk google hangout today to discuss her upcoming disciplinary hearing. She acknowledged in that talk that there have been a variety of OW members and supporters who are under various levels of discipline right now and even revealed that her parents have had their temple recommends taken away as a result of their involvement in OW.

  36. “And my biggest worry, one of my biggest worries from this action, is that the message that the church sends to others, is that they’re not wanted in the church, if they have serious doubts, if they have problems with church history, if they support LGBT people, or are allies. Or if they support same-sex marriage or are feminists, or intellectuals, or scientists. I feel like the church will send the message to all those people that they are not wanted.

    I don’t believe that, you know, I’m not calling for mass resignations, I don’t want anyone to do that, but I just fear it’s going to harm the church in very significant ways. And I just say please talk to me, please let’s meet, let’s reason together, and let’s avoid this train wreck if we can.”

    John Dehlin in UPR interview. There’s the barking dog. 🙂

  37. Jonathan Cannon., knowing JD a little bit, I can see how the statement you just quoted can be nuanced several ways.

    The way I parse it, is that he wants his disciplining council to avoid the train-wreck, not his followers to avoid the train wreck.

    The phrase : “…but I just fear it’s going to harm the church in very significant ways.” Hinges on what he is refering to as “it”. Is “it” the disciplinary council? Is “it” his possible excommunication? Based on the previous paragraph, it’s the disciplinary action. So to me, the second paragraph is not directed at his followers, but at the church council.

    A couple years ago I had the thought that JD was only going to “keep people in the church” until he himself left, and then he would ultimately take them with him in a huff. I’m now more confident in that previous assessment.

    The way i parse that quote, is exactly that. He’s threatening the council that if they ex him, his followers will resign en masse, “even though” he doesn’t want (or so he claims) that to happen, and that’s how “it” (the action against him) “will harm the church in very serious ways.”

    IMO, that’s a passive-agressive threat against the church or against his disciplinary council.

    So, no, Jonathan Cannon, that isn’t quite the barking dog that Jonathan Cavender wanted to hear.

    I pray that KK’s and JD’s councils act with the wisdom of Solomon.

    The GA’s will speak in the generic, but I fully believe this issue to be addressed in the next Gen Conf.

    I think the “sifting” is happening right now before our eyes.

  38. Kate Kelly was on the FMH podcast today and had this to say in connection with a question about what people should do who are upset about her pending discipline and whether they should stay away from Church:

    “I don’t want anybody to do anything on my behalf, but if you feel harm, if you feel sorrow, if you feel unable to attend church then you shouldn’t, and that’s just a self-preservation, mental health perspective, but don’t do anything on my behalf. Don’t not go because of me, in fact I would encourage you to stay if at all possible, but stay and raise hell.”

    There was a pause and then she says:

    “No, I’m at the hell point, I’m being excommunicated here.” (Everybody then laughs.)

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