Sunday in Outer Blogness: Let’s talk about excommunication edition!

Now that it’s been more than a week since the bomb dropped, the whole excommunication thing has gone into the discussion phase — and (as Andrew S noted) everybody has something to say about it!!! Even this week’s Old Testament lesson has some (tangentially related) points about how prophetic authority works.

Kate Kelly won’t be attending her excommunication trial tonight because she lives in Provo and the trial will be held in Virginia, but if you’re in Virginia or Salt Lake City, maybe you can attend a vigil. Or just read her letter of defense:

Please keep in mind that if you choose to punish me today, you are not only punishing me. You are punishing hundreds of women and men who have questions about female ordination, and have publicly stated them. You are punishing thousands of Mormons who have questions and concerns with gender inequality in the church and want a place to voice those concerns in safety. You are punishing anyone with a question in their heart who wants to ask that question vocally, openly and publicly.

Over 1,000 of my fellow saints have submitted letters to you on my behalf. Some are attached and some were sent directly. Please consider each one of their thoughts with due respect.

It looks like she’s right. And lots of people are standing with her. My thoughts are with her too.

Nadine Hansen’s brief in Kate’s behalf illustrates the problem right from the start:

In this Statement, references will be made to the Church Handbook of Instructions, 2010 version. I do not know whether that version is the version currently in use, or whether there have been any updates, because of the extremely limited access to the book, but that version is being used because a downloadable version exists on the internet. Lacking any authorized access to the book as a woman, I am forced to use this “bootlegged” version to review the rules

Both Kate Kelly and the CoJCoL-dS are being tried simultaneously in the court of public opinion, and it looks like the church picked the wrong enemy. Not because Kate Kelly is such a vicious adversary, but quite the opposite — since her actions and intentions are good, the church makes it clear that it is the villain. Even those who don’t agree with her can see that she has had a positive impact on the discussion of women in the church. How many members will follow the church’s instructions no matter what?

A lot of people took issue with the claim that this round of excommunications is entirely the responsibility of the local leaders (as if that would make it better). As Denver Snuffer explained in a detailed post, that is not true at all. (BTW, Denver Snuffer will be speaking at the upcoming Sunstone Symposium.) Plus, it’s not the only recent blatant lie from church headquarters. Alan Rock Waterman’s tale showed the same sort of evidence that the orders came from the top, and he brought up a question that a lot of us have been asking:

what do we need with a prophet of God when we can heed the words of someone whose name appears on the corporate flow chart in the box right under “Marketing Dept.”?

Which brings us back to that question: where the heck was the prophet while this controversy has been brewing? Why has he pushed a bunch of PR flacks up front as a buffer to protect him from having to do his job?

I know a lot of you reading this are non-believers, so it’s natural to think “So what if they take away their magic beans?” But aside from the supernatural punishment inflicted by excommunication, it means ostracism from your community, loss of reputation, and often public humiliation. Not to mention punishing family members for siding with family over church.

By coincidence, the Pope just started a round of excommunications, but his target was a little bit different.

The point I most wanted to highlight was judicial fairness. Karen H covered it well, but I have my own story I’d like to share:

Back when Maxine Hanks (of the infamous September 6) got rebaptized, I attended her talk about her excommunication and rebaptism at Sunstone. At the end of it she emphasized that she had not been required to renounce or repent of any of the works she’d been X’d for. She presented it as some sort of victory, that she could continue to write on feminist topics and remain a member in good standing. For me, though, it was a big WTF?

So, in a nutshell, the First Presidency of the CoJCoL-dS determined that the crimes for which she was excommunicated were not, in fact, excommunicatable offenses. And she didn’t give any indication that they’d apologized for unjustly excluding her from her community (and Mormon heaven). And more to the point, they didn’t give any indication that they were planning to review their policies in order to avoid erroneously excommunicating innocent people in the future.

The excommunication of Kate Kelly is particularly egregious considering she’s apparently being X’d over her tone:

So, I was listening to church PR spokesperson Ally Isom’s RadioWest interview with Doug Fabrizio, and I was intrigued by her suggestion that the problem with “Ordain Women” is that it was in the imperative mood, as if Kate Kelly and her colleagues were dictating to the Brethren what the church should do. Apparently, things would have gone much differently for Ms. Kelly had she used a different grammatical construction. Perhaps, “It might possibly be a good idea to ordain women, maybe. I don’t know. I could be wrong, Whatever you want to do. I’m good.” Or maybe like Jeopardy it could have been put in the form of a question: “What is, Ordaining Women?”

It would appear that the power to excommunicate people at whimwithout any pretense of objective standards — is more a feature than a bug, as far as the leaders are concerned. That way people know to keep their heads down and not do anything that might call attention to themselves. This is particularly useful because the thing that the leaders seem to fear most is any kind of rival leaders. This isn’t new, BTW — excommunicating rivals is a technique that traces back to Joseph Smith. Even my own great-grandfather was forcibly removed from his influential calling (though not disciplined) for having too large a personal following. And lots of people posted about others who were excommunicated for talking about their ideas — plus a new survey to see how widespread this is.

Attacking faithful members for their leadership skills (instead of, say, giving them official leadership roles) is incredibly foolish since these are the folks who could bring new vitality into this decaying organization. But Brooke W.’s personal experience perhaps sheds some light on it:

He perceived a non-threatening situation as a threat. He thought that by offering a solution, I was trying to suggest that I knew better than him and thereby, I should be in charge. This, in fact, could not be further from the truth. I did not mean to suggest that I could manage a restaurant better than he could. I didn’t want to manage his restaurant. His position was very secure as he was near the top of the company that operated this particular chain of restaurants and literally nothing I did could remove him from his position.

All in all, I’d say it’s a very exciting time to be an ex-Mormon!

I don’t want to ignore the people who didn’t post about excommunication this week, so here’s rumors about Mitt Romney’s next run, Joseph Broom’s resignation, and Heather’s smokey beans!

And I’d like to close with a plug for my own project Camp Quest!! It won’t be like this one — it’s a fun Science-and-Humanism Summer Camp here in Switzerland that I’ll be participating in! So if you know any kids in the Switzerland area who would like to join up, spread the word!

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chanson

C. L. Hanson is the friendly American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! See "letters from a broad" and the novel ExMormon for further adventures!!

4 thoughts on “Sunday in Outer Blogness: Let’s talk about excommunication edition!

  1. So Kelly’s excommunication is not for apostasy, but “conduct”…

    Kristine Haglund makes a very good point that b/c the Church responds frantically to bad press, what might seem like bad conduct on the part of members, in a digital age is just a mirror of the Church’s ugly image amplified by affected parties talking (obviously Haglund didn’t word it this way). This makes it so that there’s no way to ask the hard questions in a public forum without it seeming like you’re intentionally creating a cult of personality. Then they punish you not for your beliefs, which are shared with others, but for holding up the mirror.

    Haglund:

    No matter how politely we’d like to speak, there is no way to do so.

    I’ll keep this in mind next time I talk about “quieter” feminisms.

    Still, it raises a question in my mind…what is the difference b/w the feminism of Kelly, and that of, say, Joanna Brooks? Brooks, with a much larger soapbox, routinely talks about how Joseph Smith spoke of women holding the priesthood…or about how women should make decisions at all levels… but is the saving grace that she doesn’t then say, “therefore, we should ask God about it”…? I’m trying to put my finger on what precisely Kelly did wrong from the Church’s perspective…their explanation is just so vague. If her local leaders (or the Church HQ) thinks she’s the head of a snake, and that Ordain Women will wither up and dry, [I’m hoping] they’ll be disappointed.

  2. @1 I’m actually kind of surprised that Brooks isn’t facing discipline, considering that she has a large following and doesn’t always agree with the leaders — they hate that. But I think perhaps the difference is that Kate Kelly is actively requesting a response from the leadership, and they can’t just pretend she isn’t there without it looking really strange.

  3. I noticed with the First Presidency letter that Kelly’s conduct is indeed being defined as apostasy, and not just conduct. In fact, from what I can see, the only difference between the FP letter and the ones who did the excommunication is a clarification of the offense from one of mere “conduct” to “apostasy.”

    Kelly reads the letter as “Well, I didn’t commit apostasy, so maybe this means they’ll reverse the decision.” Not gonna happen…

    Maybe the tipping point for the Church (e.g., what makes Kelly different from Brooks) was the Temple Square scene, and the “trespass” of the Church’s private property.

  4. So much for the Mormon Spring.
    You can’t know the tipping point for the church hierarchy without knowing who is running the church.
    Is it the figurehead at the top? What will be of interest to me is when Monson bodily dies, will his counselors be retained? Maybe Bednar will secure a spot, and maybe he doesn’t have to. Will the SCMC get even more power? Will Whitney Clayton get promoted? And who does Public Relations work for?
    How’s that joke go–Three guys are prison. The first says he is is in there for supporting Deng Xiaoping, the second says he was in for opposing Deng Xiaoping. And the third says–I am Deng Xiaoping.

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