Updated — June 13, 1:20 p.m. ET
A pair of prominent Mormon activists may be tried for apostasy and excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The action was apparently prompted by their advocacy of greater gender equality and LGBT support, among other things.
Kate Kelly ran afoul of church leadership for her efforts to get women ordained to the religion's lay priesthood. She announced in a letter posted Wednesday that church leaders from a local congregation in Washington, D.C., will hold a "disciplinary council" June 22. The council will be held in absentia, Kelly writes, because she has since moved away from the D.C. area and cannot make it back.
Kelly founded Ordain Women, a group of Mormons who have petitioned the LDS Church for greater gender equality, including female ordination. She told BuzzFeed on Wednesday the disciplinary process against her has been "opaque" and difficult to understand because she saw her leaders regularly while in Washington D.C., but they waited until she moved away to take action. Kelly also said it appears the church is intentionally sending a message to members who are asking questions.
The news was first reported Wednesday in the New York Times.
The church has also threatened Mormon writer and LGBT advocate John Dehlin with excommunication.
Dehlin's work on LGBT issues, as well as on topics like doubt, are apparently what landed him in hot water. Dehlin — who founded a podcast dedicated to "challenging Mormon culture in constructive ways" — said he received a letter Monday inviting him to resign from the church. Dehlin said he has no plans to resign, but called the letter "devastating."
Dehlin's work has grown in popularity, especially among the church's small but increasingly prominent moderate and liberal contingents. His podcasts have been downloaded 50,000 times or more, according to the Times. Dehlin told BuzzFeed he was "trying to be a part of the solution" with his work. "I've tried to spend the past nine years helping people who were in crisis, helping save marriages, helping people who feel like their lives are falling apart, helping people who are suicidal who are gay and lesbian," he said.
Dehlin has spoken out frequently about Mormon-related LGBT issues. Among other things, Dehlin started the Gay Mormon Stories Podcast in 2013 and helped organize a conference that delved into Mormon LGBT issues.
Excommunication in the Mormon church is the most extreme penalty members can face.
The process of excommunicating a Mormon is usually initiated by local church leaders, who hold a kind of trial where both leaders and the accused can call witnesses and present evidence. Once excommunicated, a person may not enter the church's temples or participate in various ceremonies.
More significantly for the faithful, excommunication in Mormon theology means a person is cut off from their family in the afterlife. Kelly told BuzzFeed that this aspect of excommunication has left her feeling like she is in mourning. In her letter on the process, she added that learning of the disciplinary council was like "being invited to my own funeral."
Excommunication in our church is akin to spiritual death. The life-saving ordinances you have participated in like baptism, confirmation, and temple sealing are moot. In effect, you are being forcibly evicted from your forever family.
Kelly told BuzzFeed that she will send written evidence to her disciplinary council because she cannot attend in person. Dehlin said he has not decided yet if he will participate in his council.
The church issued a statement Wednesday saying local leaders have to "prevent other members from being misled."
The Church is a family made up of millions of individuals with diverse backgrounds and opinions. There is room for questions and we welcome sincere conversations. We hope those seeking answers will find them and happiness through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes members' actions contradict Church doctrine and lead others astray. While uncommon, some members in effect choose to take themselves out of the Church by actively teaching and publicly attempting to change doctrine to comply with their personal beliefs. This saddens leaders and fellow members. In these rare cases, local leaders have the responsibility to clarify false teachings and prevent other members from being misled. Decisions are made by local leaders and not directed or coordinated by Church headquarters.
Actions to address a person's membership and standing in their congregation are convened after lengthy periods of counseling and encouragement to reconsider behavior. Ultimately, the door is always open for people to return to the Church.
The church did not specifically comment on Kelly and Dehlin's cases, or clarify exactly what prompted the disciplinary action.
By late Wednesday, the prospect of the excommunications had prompted a social media response from supporters.
The threat of the excommunications comes at a culturally tumultuous time within Mormonism.
Since its controversial involvement in California's Proposition 8, the church has seemed to adopt a more inclusive attitude. The "I'm a Mormon" campaign highlighted members from various cultural backgrounds, and the church's flagship university has gradually become more accepting of LBGT students. The group Mormons Building Bridges — an organization of Mormon LGBT members and allies — has become a fixture in Utah, the faith's home state. And as recently as October, a top church leader publicly called doubts "natural."
Both Kelly and Dehlin worried that the church's move against them may undermine what they believed was a trend toward greater acceptance. Both mentioned the "September Six," a group of intellectual Mormons excommunicated in the 1990s, and said the church seemed to be saying it only wants certain kinds of members. "I just worry that the church is sending a message that they don't want people who have doubts or questions," Dehlin said.
Mormon blogger Rock Waterman also has been informed that he is facing excommunication for his writing. Waterman runs the blog Pure Mormonism. He told BuzzFeed Friday that shortly after his most recent post went live in late May, his LDS bishop — a local leader equivalent to a pastor in other churches — told him a regional church official had found the blog and was not pleased. As a result, Waterman said he was given three options: stop blogging, resign voluntarily from the church, or face excommunication.
Waterman said that he has no intention of resigning or quitting his blog. Unlike Kelly and Dehlin, Waterman also is not devastated by the prospect of excommunication. "My position on excommunication is it won’t change my life one bit," he said Friday morning. However, Waterman has not been given a date or timeline for any disciplinary action.
In addition to Waterman, Kelly, and Dehlin, the church has penalized Kelly's parents, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. A week before Kelly was threatened with excommunication, a local church leader ordered her parents to remove their profiles from the Ordain Women website. When they refused, the leader revoked their temple recommends — literally a physical card granting access to Mormonism's most important rituals and sites.