(RNS) The Mormon Church insists that excommunication threats targeting activists Kate Kelly and John Dehlin were generated by their respective LDS leaders in Virginia and northern Utah.

Kate Kelly, founder of the Ordain Women movement, is facing possible excommunication for her views on gender inequality in the Mormon Church.

Kate Kelly, founder of the Ordain Women movement, is facing possible excommunication for her views on gender inequality in the Mormon Church.Creative Commons image by Katrina Barker Anderson

Others see the timing as evidence that the two disciplinary hearings are being coordinated from the faith’s Salt Lake City headquarters.

But this much is certain: If Mormon higher-ups want these actions to stop, they could do so.

They have done so before. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint’s authorities — presumably then-President Gordon B. Hinckley —  stepped in to halt church disciplinary hearings in several high-profile cases of writers and scholars in the mid- to late 1990s, according to Mormon sociologist Armand Mauss.

Elbert Peck, former editor of Sunstone, a magazine for Mormon intellectuals, faced possible church sanction for providing a forum on controversial LDS topics. He was told that Hinckley had the hearing canceled.

“There is a chance they would call off these, too,” Mauss said Tuesday (June 17) from Irvine, Calif. “Or they could limit the outcome to disfellowshipment rather than excommunication.”

If Kelly and Dehlin are disfellowshipped (a less-severe punishment), for instance, they would no longer be able to take the sacrament (communion), speak in church, hold a position or attend LDS temples.

That’s not too dissimilar from the conditions Kelly’s regional president already imposed on her May 5 as part of an “informal probation” before she moved from Virginia to Utah last month.

John Dehlin

John Dehlin, creator of MormonStories.org, is facing possible excommunication for his stance on LGBT Mormons.Creative Commons image by Tom Caswell

But Kelly and Dehlin still would be considered members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

If they were excommunicated, their memberships would be nullified. They still could attend services in their congregations, but would have to be rebaptized to rejoin the faith.

“Mormon leaders are attempting to draw a line between public commentary and even criticism on the part of church members, on the one hand,” Mauss said, “and organizing a pressure group, on the other hand.

“It seems clear to me that Kate crossed this line,” the sociologist said, “but a verdict of excommunication would be a harsher outcome than is necessary or useful in this case.”

Kelly is the founder of Ordain Women, which has been asking the LDS prophet to seek divine approval of female admittance into the faith’s all-male priesthood.

Philip Barlow, head of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, characterizes the relationship between LDS authorities and local lay leaders as a kind of counseling.

“It is my impression from previous cases that the church is sincere when it says these decisions are adjudicated by local authorities,” Barlow said, “but (higher) authorities can certainly counsel with local leaders to remind them of principles and concerns.”

Local Mormon leaders might initiate a disciplinary council, he said, “when the good name of the church needs protecting.”

That can happen “if a member goes over some line that authorities construe as dangerous,” Barlow said, “but the good name of church can also be sullied if it’s wrongly perceived as disallowing honest questions or free thought.”

Sometimes, he said, it’s all a question of tone.

That was the argument LDS spokeswoman Ally Isom offered Tuesday (June 17) in an hourlong interview with Doug Fabrizio on KUER’s “Radio West.”

The conversation about ordaining women “is not the problem,” Isom said. “It is not what is being said — it is how it is being said that becomes problematic.”

Though declining to speak specifically about Kelly’s case, Isom did say conversations about women’s ordination to the priesthood are taking place everywhere, including in the church’s weekly women’s Relief Society meetings.

Isom said she was “not saying there is no information provided from church headquarters” to lay bishops and stake presidents across the globe. But that comes more in the form of “standard leadership training,” she said, including “how to conduct their stewardship. It is more of a technical direction and guidance.”

Kelly believes it is her right to choose how she wants to approach her bishop’s council set for Sunday and has decided not to travel 2,000 miles to make her case in person.

“My bishop told me in his letter that I could engage by written record,” she said Tuesday, “and that he considered that to be a legitimate way.”

The human-rights attorney, who is living with her parents in Provo until she moves to Kenya with her husband, repeatedly suggested discussing her Ordain Women efforts with her Virginia bishop, Mark Harrison, but “he never took me up on it.”

Kelly said. “It’s not about listening to me or hearing what I have to say. Otherwise he would have asked me while he was in the same neighborhood.”

Kelly has written a long brief in her defense and has invited others to testify about how the drive toward female ordination has helped them stay in the Utah-based faith.

More than 800 people already have.

Plus, there are more than 50 vigils planned in 17 countries during her disciplinary hearing.

LDS leaders “are claiming that I am recruiting people,” Kelly said. “An important part of the record is to show that is not the case; this is engaging them in the gospel, bringing them back to the church.”

It is “vital,” she said, “to show that side of the story.”

(Peggy Fletcher Stack writes for The Salt Lake Tribune.)



  1. Don’t cry for these people. As I understand it, they are DC lobbyists whoee entire day job is ti engage in spin and propaganda.

    So if they have a problem with church doctrine, it means they no longer fit into the church. Big deal. Leave and find a new group aligned with their views. Don’t attempt to make everyone change reluctantly and in bitterness to conform to you.

    Actions like that just reflect how spoiled the mindset of american adults actually is.

  2. Ms Kelly clearly does not understand her own religious because if she did she would realize that the church is run from heavenly revelation, as in Jesus Christ through his prophet on earth, and not by popular demand or bullying/lobbying. She is an embarrassment to lds women. We women have enough to do with mothering, callings to serve in church, and community service. We don’t need to be greedy and grasping for ambition and trying to over power or steal power given by Him for his kingdom. I know a being who acted that way in heaven before time. One can not force the will of God. Even men who behave such a way are told “amen to the priesthood of that man”. She just does not understand her own religion and is blinded by her vain ambition.

    • I agree that Kate Kelly does not understand how tight the control of the “Brethren” is. My observations are that when one is a member of an organization that is very controlling, one either has to be willing to totally change to the organization’s way of thinking or be miserable.
      When one has been raised within the dogma of the LDS church all of their lives, the debriefing time to realize that there are alternative churches that can be more fulfilling takes a long time to accept and believe. It took me five years to shake off the fear of leaving the LDS church after 40 years of being an active very supportive member.
      Personally, I feel sorry for Kate. She has taken on a giant. She seems to want to be able to have an open discussion about several things related to being a woman within the Mormon tradition. Technically there should be nothing wrong with that, but obviously it is offensive to many. Why is she an embarrassment to LDS women? Because she wants things to change?
      Really, everything out of the general authorities’ mouths is revelation? I disagree. When I realized I could not raise my had to the square and support President Monson as a prophet, I knew it was time to leave. So I walked away. Kate has to do what she feels in her heart is right. Most men I ever met in the LDS church had a definite problem with their own egos. There is a lot of hypocrisy within the LDS church and I think Kate was just trying to open things up a bit. good luck, but I don’t think it will happen. I was around for the LDS ban on the equal rights amendment, and things have not changed that much since. Mostly I hope she can find peace and know that many great people have been excommunicated. god is not excommunicating her. A bunch of men who may or may not have the ability to receive divine revelation will do the deed. She doesn’t show understanding of the fact that she is a member of a church that believes in a lie. I disagree that it is vain ambition. I believe she is trying to make life better for all women within the LDS church. How sad that once again there has to be contention in the name of Christianity.

  3. “Kelly has written a long brief in her defense and has invited others to testify about how the drive toward female ordination has helped them stay in the Utah-based faith.”

    If her ability to gain followers by preaching doctrine contrary to the established doctrine of the Church were a valid defense to the charge of apostasy, then Lucifer would still be in Heaven. Helping people stay active in the Church is good. Helping people stay active in the church by encouraging them to join a group to pressure the Church to change core doctrine is bad.

  4. One, two three and they’re out, I guess. If anyone has any doubts about the hateful, exclusionary and judgmental nature of Mormonism, I offer the first three comments here. BTW, Mormonism is no more reflective of Jesus’ teachings than Exxon is.

    • The Easter Bunny

      I second that comment. Mormons with at least a three-digit IQ, an ounce of intellectual, and the ability to think critically/independently are running for the door, or about to get booted out.

      • Actually, “Studies of Mormons in the US show that Mormons with higher education attend church more regularly than uneducated Mormons. . . . 78 percent of Mormons who went beyond their college degrees to do graduate study attend[] church regularly.”

        • And “The more educated a Mormon is, the more likely they are to be wholehearted in their commitment to the church and its teachings.” Pew Research Center officials. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700215244/LDS-religious-commitment-high-Pew-survey-finds.html?pg=all

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