My Reaction to the Disciplinary Councils

I spent most of the day yesterday refreshingly offline thinking all was right in the world.  The news of Kate Kelly’s and John Dehlin’s disciplinary councils finally hit me with full force a couple hours late, as I haphazardly glanced at my phone while stirring noodles for dinner.  Somehow dinner made it off the stove and into my kid’s mouths.  From there my ability to fulfill anymore household duties waned as my kids ran amuck outside and I sat at my computer in shock at what had happened.

Earlier in the day, my girls and I were listening to the new Frozen CD that had come in the mail.  I watched as they danced around the living room singing, “Let it Go.”  Even my two-year-old twirled along with them singing, “Go, Go, Go.”  As I watched them, I marveled at the beauty they exhibited by dancing freely and singing a song of empowerment.  Then I was saddened by a thought.  Disney has done more to empower my girls lately than my church has.  Disney has given them the right to openly be who they are and embrace their power, not to conceal it or to be afraid of it.

I think that’s why the news of Kate Kelly and John Dehlin hit me so hard.  Here in essence, the church was telling them to stop being so vocal about their questions.  It’s not wrong to have questions, but keep them to yourself or discuss them only with your bishop.  Conceal don’t feel, right?  Or if you have to feel, at least keep it to yourself.  The euphoria I felt earlier from watching my daughters dance around the room was definitely gone.

As I was mulling over all of this, a message popped up on facebook.  A distant friend had heard the news and was reaching out to me because he knew that I was involved with Ordain Women.  We had a good, long discussion about it and he told me that he had harbored a lot of deep questions for years.  I was the only one he felt that he could talk to about it.  I knew that feeling well.  I thought back to a time when I felt like my faith and my whole existence were crashing down around me.  It was John Dehlin and Dan Wotherspoon from Mormon Stories and Mormon Matters who had caught me in their safety net and helped me to put the shattered pieces of my faith back together.  I pointed my friend toward their podcasts, knowing full-well the irony of what was happening.

Because Kate Kelly spoke loudly about her questions and her truth, I was able to do so as well.  Because I did, my friend was reaching out to me with a lonely struggle he had dealt with for years.  Because I’ve been in that lonely place myself, I knew where to direct him.  I knew about a community started by John Dehlin that embraced me with open arms and helped my faith to blossom and expand.  But because of the work of these two people, they are branded as apostates.  If that is apostasy, then I feel more comfortable around apostates than I do in a church that fears people who speak out.  If it weren’t for them, I would never have known that I wasn’t alone in my own feelings and thoughts.  If it weren’t for them, I would not have connected last night with a distant friend from my past who also thought he was alone in his feelings.  Kate Kelly and John Dehlin are part of the solution, not the problem.  I will echo many voices I heard throughout last evening: I am still part of this church because of people like them.


Jenny graduated from BYU with a bachelor degree in humanities. she teaches yoga classes and spends her time hanging out with her four kids, reading, writing, and running.

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15 Responses

  1. Em says:

    I also turned to the podcasts in crushing moments. A big part of what their visible presence meant to me was the thought that you can love the Gospel, and also have questions. You could be an ally to LGBTQ friends and family, and also be a faithful Mormon. This wasn’t the nineties, things had changed. The attack on them feels like an attack at home as well. I do not have as many people who know me or listen to me, but I have thought or said many of the exact same things. If they are heretics, what am I?

    • Olea says:

      I think a lot of us are there, em. It’s not a nice place to be.

      • Suzanne says:

        I feel the same way also. I know there are so many of us who in fear sit in silence. I don’t want to be afraid and silent anymore. It has been a long process but I have found my voice.

  2. Pepper S. says:

    This kind of disciplinary action in the absence of any real support or outreach for questioners is really going to blow up in their faces.

    I think it would be fair of the Church to ask questioners to keep it to themselves if they had some kind of system in place to genuinely help us and support us through faith crises (and not in the “this is for your own good” disciplinary way). If there had been something like that available to me, I would have never turned to the bloggernacle for support. But there is no other place for us to go, so here we are.

    • Ziff says:

      A thousand amens, Pepper!

    • Tessa says:

      Does anyone have an idea of what such a church sponsored forum/support system would look like? I too turned to the bloggernacle for support about my questions in part because I didn’t feel safe raising those concerns at church or with family.

      I’m trying to think of ways the church could structure a safe space for discussion, and I’m not coming up with much. I think a lot would need to change in church culture for something like a 2nd hour Sunday School discussion group/class to work.

      • Pepper S. says:

        You know, I was thinking more along the lines of better training for ward leaders to prepare them to productively handle members who are struggling… but I love the idea of an alternative sunday school class! Or maybe a stake-level support group or fireside that meets regularly. Kind of like a Genesis group, just for people experiencing doubt. The focus of any meeting should be helping the members feel heard and supported, and helping them to feel the Spirit and stay close to the Lord. I don’t see why that would be such a deviation from current church operations. Heck, I’d head it up myself if anyone would let me. I might even run it past my stake pres. to see what he thinks.

      • Erin Whitney says:

        I was a student at the University of Utah back in the early ’90’s (before the September Six). I had just been through a horrible, spiritually traumatizing experience that lasted many, many months. To say I was experiencing spiritual PTSD would be correct, and the response I got from the church, my family, my friends (all LDS) was to blame me–the victim. This was before the internet, so I had literally nowhere to go and for awhile contemplated leaving the church.

        I found a schedule of classes for the LDS Institute and listed that very quarter was a class geared for people who were questioning their LDS faith. I took the class and was very impressed. Every class session opened and closed with prayer and the instructor genuinely seemed interested in our concerns. He was completely nonjudgmental and validating. All of the students were in the same spiritual boat I was in. One woman said she hoped this class would help answer her questions because otherwise she was out of the church. There was no set course outline, we just discussed students’ questions and the instructor attempted to answer them. The class size was small, we (students and instructor) gathered around a conference table with our scriptures or notebooks, we listened respectfully to each other, and there was a strong sense of family and respect for each other’s spiritual journey. No one was out to convert anyone or bash or anything like that.

        I had to drop the class because it conflicted with a work or college class conflict or something, but I don’t see why something like that couldn’t work in any LDS Institute. I think it would be a spiritual lifesaver.

      • Ziff says:

        Wow, Erin, that sounds *wonderful*!

  3. Heather says:

    This is so lovely and lonely. I spoke recently at a womens conference and found myself quoting Elsa. There is such spiritual power in her anthem.

  4. Liz says:

    That’s exactly it – conceal, don’t feel. Don’t let it show. And I worry that this action is sending many, many people off to build beautiful ice castles on mountains elsewhere, when we could be using that power to beautify our current kingdom, instead. It makes me so sad. And mad.

    (I have also been watching and listening to a lot of “Frozen” lately!)

  5. Amy says:

    For my entire life I could see that there was inequality in the way men and women are treated in the church. I still see it today. However, despite this, I do have a testimony of Jesus Christ and that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His church on the earth today which provides us the ordinances and teachings we need to return to live with Him someday. I believe in His prophets and his leaders He has provided locally. I have not always agreed with the leaders, but realize the Lord’s ways are not my ways, nor is his timing my timing.
    Something I read in Arrington’s biography of Brigham Young has really resonated with me throughout the years. I don’t have exact quotes right now, but basically, in Ohio when things were going financially haywire, Brigham basically felt like he wouldn’t do things the way Joseph was doing things. But, Brigham said that Joseph was the prophet and if he was wrong, he would have to answer to God for it, and that was between God and Joseph. It was Brigham’s work to follow the prophet and to expect the blessings from that obedience.
    This gave me comfort because I was able to reconcile my feelings with a leader being wrong, but still being able to support him as a leader. It was still difficult at times. As time has passed, I have developed some ideas of why things were perpetuated that I didn’t see as right. I later had affirmation that what I thought was correct, but because of certain situations, things were allowed to happen which ultimately helped to bring about needed change
    Now, to be crystal clear, I am not talking about allowing any abuse or mistreatment of any kind.
    But, I went through questioning “how can this church be true when this is what ‘inspired’ leaders are doing?” Finding that experience of Brigham Young really helped me see how my feelings and the leadership of the church could, in fact, coexist.
    I don’t pretend to think I know what The Lord has in mind for women having the priesthood ultimately. I know that many polygamists never thought that would end. Many felt blacks would never receive the priesthood.
    I have learned in my years, that my pride in thinking I know best, has always come out in me having to admit I didn’t know it all. Inherent in the belief in God or a higher power is the understanding that He knows more than I do.
    I believe that for those who believe strongly in their hearts that women should have the priesthood or some other change, I believe that it is OK to express those feelings and concerns to friends, ask questions of local leaders, and perhaps write to express your concern to the Brethren. I do believe that demanding change or to say that nothing short of women receiving the priesthood is acceptable is to show a lack of faith in our Father in Heaven’s plan and His timing. I believe, as I think many here believe, that the culture of our church has some imperfections associated with living in a culture of imperfect people. That God allows some of those imperfections to continue, does not mean that He or His doctrine is imperfect.
    This church has the truth and the ordinances we need to be with our Father in Heaven and our families again. When we publicly focus on it’s perceived imperfections, I think it can endanger us and many others into giving up much good in the name of trying to be right (which in eternal time, perhaps we may be)
    I am grateful for the bloggernacle, as it has expanded my horizons and through the years I have been able to answer some questions and eventually find that some things that appeared to be mutually exclusive could actually both fit into the realm of truth and I am continuing to study to find how all the truths fit together. I find it beautiful.

  6. Tom P says:

    The news about pending church disciplinary councils is troubling. I think it is very difficult to ask local church leaders to deal with the issue of apostasy. The Book of Mormon recounts the story of Nehor, a clear anti-Christ who was trying to lead the people astray. The local leaders didn’t know what to do with Nehor so they brought him to Alma. Alma 1:17 makes it clear that Nehor would not have been punished for his beliefs, he was only subject to judgement because he killed Gideon. Of course this was a civil punishment but it is unclear of how much of a difference there was at that time between civil and ecclesiastical issues.

    I participated in a number of disciplinary councils as an Assistant to the President during my mission, as a member of a High Council, and as member of a Bishopric. In the 20+ councils I participated in three were for sisters (two for adultery and one for an abortion). The others were for brethren engaged in some form of sexual transgression. None of the sisters were excommunicated but a majority of the brethren were. (In retrospect, this harsher result for the men may have been another form of sexism.) And, at the ward and stake level, each of these members had come forward voluntarily, and the council was at the end of a process they had gone through with their Bishop or Stake President. None was summonsed to a council.

    In any event, these were always heart-wrenching experiences. The magnitude of the decision to be made weighs heavily upon you, particularly because it is easy to appreciate that “but for the grace of God” you could be in the same situation. As a general rule I have found these councils to motivated by love for the member, as they are supposed to be, with a larger focus on the “why” than the “what” and on the path forward. However, this depends entirely upon the make up of the council and the general spirit of the body. I’m sure that in at least one stake I lived in there would have been a much harsher spirit in the room.

    But my experience was dealing with issues that are relatively easy to determine where the line is. Where is the line with apostasy? We have to accept that most members will have some doubts or questions about doctrine or practices. How can they resolve these problems if they can’t speak about them with anyone but their bishop? I’ve had many wonderful Bishops who would have been totally incapable of answering many questions other than with the admonition to pray, study scriptures, and keep the commandments.

    How can we expect regular church members to know what is and is not apostasy? How can we punish someone for their beliefs, particularly where the individual continues to acknowledge the authority of church leadership to direct the church through revelation? Where do we enforce this standard? For example, when I raise my hand in Sunday School to share a different theory about Lucifer’s “plan” does that make me a heretic, subject to church discipline? Who can say, because we don’t know the answer to that question. Similarly, we don’t know the answer to why some of our brothers and sisters have a same sex attraction. We don’t know when the promise in the temple about “queens and priestesses” will be fulfilled. We don’t the answer to many questions so how can we draw a line in the sand and say to people, “do not cross”?

    I don’t envy the men who will be called upon to consider these issues in the near future, but I hope that they are motivated by a spirt of love and a desire to understand. If not, the consequences for the church could be dire for many years to come.

  7. Cruelest Month says:

    Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.
    J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

    Kate and John are not the cliff, they are catchers in the rye.

  8. CassieK says:

    Maybe I’m a little late to the party… seeing that I was a toddler during the September Six, and did not know there were other people out there with the same thoughts and questions as me… but what I find most hurtful is the reactions of the other members. No matter what the outcome, these disciplinary courts have done much already to divide and alienate members. There have been SO MANY hurtful comments, both in congregations and online about their lack of testimony and joy that they are getting what they deserve… Do they not realize they are not only attacking humans that are trying to do good, but also their own friends and family? Not to mention encouraging a negative church culture where people are afraid to ask questions and have ideas?! I don’t feel like there is a place in the church for me if there’s not a place for Kelly and John, which saddens me greatly.

    Ps… Do we really believe church headquarters isn’t behind this? If they really aren’t, maybe they should be. This is a huge issue that will set precedence. You’d think the leadership would want to have a say in the matter.

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