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The Third Option

As a follow-up to my non-Catholic post, allow me to share with you a statement made by John Dehlin as posted over at The Millennial Star:

Being active and in full fellowship with the church (i.e., temple recommend holding, attending meetings weekly, paying tithing, holding a calling, etc.) is not likely going to work for me (as I’ve mentioned before — I’m not comfortable supporting the church financially, and they have sent me the message that they don’t want me as a vocal semi-believer).

But leaving the church completely has the potential to negatively impact the reach of Mormon Stories podcast, since possibly some TBMs are willing to listen to Mormon Stories because I remain active (I get this feedback from time to time). In essence, active church participation isn’t working for me, but I don’t want to harm the good that Mormon Stories can do. For those of you who are genuine supporters of Mormon Stories…what should I do? I’d love your perspective here…again…especially from those who are financial supporters…

To sum up, then, Dehlin refuses to participate in the church in any significant way, but he won’t stop going completely because it might hurt his website and alienate his financial supporters. Make of that what you will.

Let me then turn my focus to Kate Kelly’s case.

Kate Kelly, as near as I can tell, is not as far gone as John Dehlin seems to be. She has not openly rejected the central claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the way Dehlin has. Her circumstances, therefore, don’t seem anywhere near as clear-cut to me as those of Dehlin, who essentially left the church himself a long time ago and is now aghast that the church is going to formally acknowledge that. But Kelly doesn’t think the church is a fraud; she just wants women to be able to hold the priesthood, too.

For my part, I would welcome the ordaining of women to the priesthood should revelation be received to implement such a change. At the same time, I think lobbying for such revelation is inherently problematic.  Lobbying is an effective means to influence democratic institutions, but the church is not a democracy. Our doctrines are not the product of a majority vote.

It’s true that we frequently vote in church, but those are sustaining votes, not election votes. Nobody’s running for Sunday School President. The Bishopric decides who’s going to fill which office, and then they put those names forward to the congregation, which then chooses whether they will sustain those choices or not. If someone opposes a bishop’s choice for Nursery Leader, they are not given the option of another candidate.

It’s therefore difficult for me to reconcile this reality with the public behavior of Ordain Women, which has often seemed designed to embarrass the church into taking action that meets their goals. That’s usually a counterproductive approach in a church that prides itself on its unwillingness to accommodate the shifting standards of the world at large. The more likely outcome of lobbying church leaders is that those leaders will dig in their heels rather than appear to cave in to a lobbyist’s demands.

OK, fine. But does that mean Kate Kelly deserves to be excommunicated?

I honestly don’t know. I’m not in a position to answer that. And many in the blogosphere are too willing to draw sweeping conclusion about the very few people who are.

Over at patheos.com, a blogger named Gina Colvin posed a series of pointed questions to Kate Kelly’s bishop that make it clear where she stands on this issue:

Firstly, I wonder if you could confirm whether or not you initiated this action. It would be nice to know if we are dealing with another case of local ecclesiastical idiocy, or if these orders are from those in high places.

Note the unstated assumptions here. Either this is “local ecclesiastical idiocy,” or this bishop is acting on orders from the Brethren. He’s either an idiot or a puppet. To Colvin, and many other bloggers like her, there is no third option.

So let’s consider the two options we’re given. The Church has explicitly stated that discipline in Kelly’s case has not been “directed or coordinated by Church headquarters.” If you take the Brethren at their word, and I do, that puts the “puppet” option off the table. So what about the “idiot” option?

In her post, Colvin tells this bishop that even if he is a puppet, he’s an idiot, too:

You had a faithful member of your congregation sharing and confiding, inviting you to ask questions, to correct and counsel. You did none of these while you were with her in your office, your ward.

Really?

“Actions to address a person’s membership and standing in their congregation are convened after lengthy periods of counseling and encouragement to reconsider behavior.” So reads the next-to-last sentence in the church’s statement on this subject. If the bishop truly did “none of these,” as Colvin maintains, his inaction would constitute flagrant negligence of his responsibilities. Such flagrant negligence would likely be grounds, at the very least, to have this bishop released from his office and perhaps subject to church discipline himself.

Yet bishops do not function in an ecclesiastical vacuum. If a disciplinary council is going to be held, the steps leading up to that eventuality would be discussed with the stake president, too. If this bishop had truly not made any other attempt to correct Kelly and is launching a banzai attack from out of the ether, any remotely competent stake president would have put the kibosh on it before it got this far. So to believe that this bishop is a rogue imbecile requires you to believe this stake president is in on it, too.

OK, fine. If you believe that this church is run by corrupt and clueless men, then you should have no difficulty accepting either option one or two. (I don’t particularly understand why you would want to stay in a church led by the clueless and the corrupt, but that’s another story.) For my part, I don’t think the Brethren are lying, and I don’t think this bishop and stake president are in cahoots to boot people out of the church in defiance of clearly defined procedures.

That leaves me with Option #3: Kate Kelly, at least in part, is misrepresenting how the church has handled this situation.

I don’t wish to pile insult onto Kelly’s injuries, but this is easily the most plausible of the three possibilities. I think it likely that this bishop did more – much more – to correct and counsel Kate Kelly than she admits. Again, the caveats I outline in my last post on this all apply here. I don’t know Kate Kelly personally, and I don’t know her heart. I hope every effort is made on both sides to keep her in full fellowship with the Saints. I wish her and her family well, and I hope the church will not cease its efforts to minister to her and work for the welfare of her soul.

All I ask is that we all consider the possibility that the church is not the bad guy here. This bishop’s stewardship requires him to maintain complete confidentiality on the subject. So while Kate Kelly has a direct line to the New York Times to tell her side of the story, this bishop has no outlet to tell his.

Thoughts from a Non-Catholic
Ordain Women: A Royalist's Perspective

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