What will happen to Ordain Women’s Kate Kelly?

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Kate Kelly, the founder of the activist group Ordain Women, has been called into a LDS Church disciplinary council. (Photo courtesy Ordain Women website)

Kate Kelly, the founder of the activist group Ordain Women, has been called into a LDS Church disciplinary council. (Photo courtesy Ordain Women website)

Ordain Women founder Kate Kelly and John P. Dehlin, creator of Mormon Stories Podcast, received letters this past week from LDS Church leaders calling them to disciplinary councils.

Kelly and Dehlin, both who have expressed being brokenhearted by the possibilities of their futures with the Church, have gone to media outlets with their letters on a matter that is typically private in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church leaders involved in disciplinary councils are prohibited from sharing any information about what happens in the closed-door events.

The LDS Church released a statement Wednesday night concerning the news about the two activists:

“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.”

Kelly has stated that she doesn’t plan on attending her disciplinary hearing, but is writing a letter in place of her attendance. She has also requested that her followers write a letter explaining how Ordain Women has helped them strengthen their testimony of the LDS Church.

The general public has exerted that Kelly and Dehlin’s hearings mean they will be excommunicated, but that is only one of four possible rulings that could result from their council.

What will these two face if they choose to attend their disciplinary councils? Here are four possible outcomes as outlined on the Church’s website

1. No action

According to a description for “church discipline” on Mormon Newsroom, “The purpose of Church discipline is not to punish but to facilitate full repentance and fellowship for a person who has made serious mistakes.”

The topic also states the goal of a disciplinary council is three-fold: (1) to help the individual repent and return, (2) to protect the innocent and (3) to protect the integrity of the Church.

“It is also used to address apostasy — the repeated, clear and open public opposition to the Church, its leaders and its doctrine. If someone seeks to teach as doctrine something that is contrary to the Church’s beliefs, attempts to persuade other Church members to their point of view or publicly insists the Church change its doctrine to align with their personal views, they would be counseled by a local Church leader and asked to cease that practice. If they fail to do so, Church discipline may follow.”

When a person is brought to the council and isn’t found guilty of these offenses, the leaders determine that no action is needed. The church member can continue with all church activities as they were before.

2. Formal probation

This ruling puts temporary restrictions on the member. Some of these restrictions include refraining from taking the sacrament, holding Church positions, participating in meetings and/or engaging in temple worship. Part of the formal probation is frequent meetings with ecclesiastical leaders, such as the ward bishop. 

Kelly has openly shared her letter from her stake president which reminded her that she was put on informal probation, where she could “no longer represent (to be) a member in good standing with the church.”

As Kelly has already undergone the first two steps, she will face either disfellowship or loss of membership, as outlined in the letter she received from her bishop in Virginia on June 8.

Richie T. Steadman, one of the hosts on The Cultural Hall, went through two disciplinary councils with the LDS Church. (Photo courtesy The Cultural Hall)

Richie T. Steadman, one of the hosts on The Cultural Hall, went through two disciplinary councils with the LDS Church. (Photo courtesy The Cultural Hall)

3. Disfellowship

Disfellowship is an extended probationary period that typically lasts a year. On the Church’s website, it says disfellowshipped members are “still a member of the Church, and they are encouraged to attend meetings, though they are not permitted to pray, teach, take the sacrament, attend the temple or give sermons in public settings.”

Disfellowship is a heartbreaking experience according to Richie T. Steadman, a host for The Cultural Hall — an online podcast discussing Mormon issues and news — who underwent two disciplinary councils before being reinstated in the Church.

While Steadman went through a disciplinary hearing like Kelly and Dehlin will go through, his wasn’t under the same pretenses — he was there because of confessing to sexual indiscretions, not apostasy. However, the process is the same for the two offenses.

Following some behavior deemed inappropriate for unmarried couples in the Church, Steadman confessed to his bishop. His bishop called a ward disciplinary council, which included his bishop and two ward counselors.

Steadman’s church leaders discussed the situation with him, asking questions pertinent to the offense, before they asked him to leave the room so they could make a decision.

“It was a pretty long 15-20 minutes (waiting) because I had just come home from my mission and I really wanted to do what was right,” Steadman said.

In the end, Steadman received 8 months of disfellowshipment, a temporary probation that restricts the member’s participation in church activities. Steadman didn’t expect this level of discipline because he didn’t think what he was doing was that serious, but he still said the experience was positive.

“It was an amazing experience for the overwhelming love I felt, which I think was the Spirit telling me it was right,” Steadman said.

That was Steadman’s first encounter with a disciplinary council.

4. Loss of membership (excommunication)

Steadman was reinstated to full-status as a member after his eight-month probationary period, but a few years later he once again found himself in front of a disciplinary council. This time, though, it was at the stake level.

Members of the stake high council and presidency participated in the council, and Steadman was instructed to invite witnesses of his character to the meeting, as Kelly has been. However, once again Steadman didn’t realize the extremity of his situation and opted not to bring witnesses on his behalf.

“They want to make sure that the name of the church is protected. I really do believe they have the person’s best interest in mind as well, because the covenants you are making in the temple are very serious. …”

After answering pointed questions to clarify the situation by the council, Steadman was asked to leave the room. The verdict this time around? Steadman was excommunicated, meaning his membership in the LDS Church was revoked.

“I didn’t have an overwhelming spiritual experience, but I didn’t have a ‘I hate you experience,'” Steadman said about that stake council meeting.

“They want to make sure that the name of the church is protected. I really do believe they have the person’s best interest in mind as well, because the covenants you are making in the temple are very serious. …”

As a excommunicated member, Steadman’s membership in the LDS Church was revoked. It takes time, repentance and rebaptism in order to become a member in full standing again according to the Church’s explanation of discipline.

That night Steadman wrote in his journal that he would do whatever it took to get back into the Church within the year. It took nearly nine years for Steadman to be rebaptized into the Church.

“In retrospect, for me it was a pretty valuable experience,” Steadman said. “I don’t know even at this point if I understand all of why it (excommunication) needed to happen. I think I learn more and more why that it is what it needed to be for me.”

What this means for Kelly and Dehlin?

While the disciplinary council will decide Kelly and Dehlin’s fate with the Church in the near future, Kelly and Dehlin have control of what their final standing in the LDS Church will be with time.

For now, they can prepare their defense for the council and gather their witnesses. Or they can choose not to.

If they are excommunicated, they will need time, humility and repentance to align themselves with LDS doctrine in order to be reinstated in the Church.

“Discipline at any level, from personal repentance and self-discipline to formal discipline in a Church setting, is intended to make us better, to help us overcome weakness and sin and to lift us as we seek to become true followers of Jesus Christ,” the Church’s website states.

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Rebecca Lane

While her first language is sarcasm, Rebecca dabbles in English and Russian to achieve her lifelong dream of being a journalist. A BYU sports fan, reading enthusiast and wannabe world traveler, Rebecca is a Colorado transplant that is convinced Colorado's mountains are much larger than the many Utah County peaks. Rebecca manages UtahValley360.com for Bennett Communications. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccalane.

3 Comments

  1. naksuthin Reply

    The Mormon church need to realize that in America is a free country
    where people are encouraged to have a different opinions…where freedom
    of speech and freedom of expression and freedom of religion….are the
    birthright of every American.

    Education teaches you to QUESTION authority…not just accept it blindly.

    When a person challenges authority (as blacks did during the civil
    rights movement, as Leonardo da Vinci did with the Catholic church,
    as the founders of our country did with King George of England,
    as Jesus Christ did with the Pharisees, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn did with the Russians) the world is made a better place.
    Challenging authorities puts a spotlight on customs, beliefs and traditions that have survived way past their useful time.

    When Galileo stood up to the Catholic church and declared that the world
    was NOT the center of the universe but was just one of many planets
    that revolved around the sun, he was accused of heresy. The church
    threatened him. “After all,” the Church claimed “the Bible clearly
    states that the earth is the center of the universe and that the sun,
    moon and stars revolve around the earth”. Like Kate, the Church put him
    on trial. He refused to recant. Galileo was tried, threatened with
    torture, and forced to recant his perfectly correct position about the
    solar system being centered around the sun, instead of around the earth.

    Sadly he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

    But the moral of his story is not lost. The Catholic Church later came to the
    conclusion that he was right after all. That they were wrong. And that
    the incident was forever a blight on the Catholic church’s scientific
    claims and on the infallibility of the Pope.

    A democracy cannot survive when people are made to “toe the line and
    obey without question”. Blind obedience and punishments for dissent is
    fuel that energizes totalitarian dictatorships.

    The Mormon church is acting more like North Korean and behaving like the Taliban in Afghanistan. If you toe the line, obey their edicts, follow heir
    rules, and keep your mouth shut they’ll leave you alone. If you
    don’t…they call you apostate or traitor and dish out punishments.

    If the Mormon church wants to act like a totalitarian organization
    maybe it should forgo it’s tax exempt status and file as a terrorist
    organization.
    Or Perhaps move to a country where the custom is to
    tell people what they can and can’t say, what they can and can’t
    believe, what they can and can’t do…North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran
    for example would be an ideal place for the Mormon Church.

    I’m sure the Mormon church would be more comfortable in a society
    where it is acceptable to persecute and punish people for daring to
    express an independent thought that doesn’t fit their dogma.

    1. Adrian Reply

      Yes your right she has the rights of Freedom of Speech, but being a Member of the Church, there s a standard to set to work out truthfully your faith. Kelly was a member of the church and she needed to be counciled with the leaders of the church for her to help herself to repent and back on church doctrine. She has the Freedom of speech against the church if she was not a member of the Subject..

  2. Sue Ellen Cutler Reply

    Being a member of any church requires faith. I attended many churches trying to find the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. When I was taught by missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I felt like I had returned home. I was so thankful to find the true Gospel. If I had not believed what the missionaries taught, I would not have joined the Church. By the same token, if I had discovered later on that there were doctrines being taught that in some way offended me, I would have quit going to Church meetings and insisted that my name be removed from the Church rolls. I would NOT have insisted that the Church change it’s policies to suit me. If the Church would change to suit me, it would change to suit others with whom I might disagree. The best part about the LDS Church is that it is led by Prophets who are under the direct supervision of Jesus Christ. Jesus will not change to suit the whims of mankind. Rather, in order to be considered true disciples of Jesus Christ–Christians–mankind must do the will of Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father.

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