Two Mormons who have gained national attention for pushing their church to ordain women to the priesthood and to accept openly gay members were 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 Dehlin, 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.
The move is a sudden change of course for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which had been working to project an image of greater diversity and openness.
The church’s “I’m a Mormon” advertising campaign featured an ethnic rainbow of faces and some members who proudly identified as feminist, gay or liberal. In the past year, the church has been attempting to comfort members with doubts by posting essays on its website addressing sensitive historical and theological issues, such as polygamy and why blacks were mostly excluded from the priesthood until 1978.
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The church issued a statement late Wednesday: “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.”
Dehlin was sent a letter June 7 by the president of his stake, or church region, calling on him to either resign from the church or face a hearing before a disciplinary council. The letter 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 Dehlin wrote that he no longer believes many fundamental “truth claims” the church makes.
Dehlin said he considers himself a Mormon, along with his wife and four children, and loves the church, but has been open about his doubts.
He is the founder of “Mormon Stories,” a website with podcast interviews on hot-button issues for Mormons questioning their faith. His following is not insubstantial: Many podcasts were downloaded 40,000 or 50,000 times, but some twice that. He said his site tries to walk the line between advocating for the church and the hostility to the church often seen on “ex-Mormon” websites.
“Mormon Stories has always been about administering to those who have doubt and have hard questions,” Dehlin said in an interview Wednesday. “And I think Kate is doing the same thing.”
The Ordain Women movement, organized last year, has agitated church leaders by mobilizing protesters to travel to Salt Lake City for the church’s big general conference, at which the protesters stand in line and are turned away from entering the male-only priesthood meeting.
Kelly received an email June 8 from her local bishop in Virginia informing her she faces “disfellowshipment or excommunication, on the grounds of apostasy,” and calling her to a disciplinary council hearing June 22. Disfellowshipment means limiting the participation of a church member, while excommunication is removing someone from membership.
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. “I’m just really, really, really heartbroken,” Kelly said.