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.
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 â€œbootleggedâ€ 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.
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.
So, I was listening to church PR spokesperson Ally Isomâ€™s RadioWest interview with Doug Fabrizio, and I was intrigued by her suggestion that the problem with â€œOrdain Womenâ€ 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, â€œIt might possibly be a good idea to ordain women, maybe. I donâ€™t know. I could be wrong, Whatever you want to do. Iâ€™m good.â€ Or maybe like Jeopardy it could have been put in the form of a question: â€œWhat is, Ordaining Women?â€
It would appear that the power to excommunicate people at whim — without 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.
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!