God, Mormon

Dehlin, Kelly, Cantor and Peculiar People

My calm little world was shaken Wednesday when I saw the NY Times story that John Dehlin, founder of Mormon Stories, and Kate Kelly, organizer of Ordain Women, had been charged with apostasy by their local church leaders within a day of one another. This is the first public apostasy charge in a generation of fairly prominent liberal progressive members (that label should not be controversial).

I’ve spoken to a few LDS friends today who, though their opinions on the matter vary, are all unanimously shocked. A few are pleased, others are sad, while some fear future disciplinary action for having published their faith struggles on the Web.

Then there was this — a political shake up that occurred the night before the LDS dust up when I learned that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) had been “excommunicated” from congress by a majority of his constituents in the kind of electoral upset that only occurs once or twice in a generation.

I talked to friends on both sides of the aisle who were thrilled, saddened, fearful for the future of the Republican Party, or had no opinion since they had never heard of Eric Cantor.

(It is very likely that many Mormons have never heard of John Dehlin or Kate Kelly.)

If a generation is about twenty years (oh my, am I almost two generations old? I only feel a generation and a half old), check out the timing of the last significant publicly known LDS excommunication and also a congressional electoral upset of a prominent political figure.

  • In September 1993, six members of the church were excommunicated or disfellowshipped under similar apostasy charges as Kelly and Dehlin.
  • A major surprise political loss occurred in November 1994, when Speaker Tom Foley (D-WA) lost the general election.

What makes these religious and political events of the early ‘90s very different from those that occurred this week, is first, the “September Six” were relatively unknown by most of the church membership. John Dehlin and Kate Kelly both have a broad audience and have received a lot of attention from mostly liberal Mormons in the blogosphere and national media. On the political side, Speaker Foley lost in the general election along with many others from his party in the historic Gingrich-led Republican takeover, while Leader Cantor lost in a PRIMARY to a fellow Republican. In other words, what happened this week is rare, unique, and crazy.

All these comparisons aside, if we throw in the full moon tomorrow on Friday the 13th it becomes clear that something is up.

The Book of Mormon phrase “mourn with those that mourn” is being repeated on social media by those who are saddened by the church’s action. No Book of Mormon verses have been cited for the mourning of Eric Cantor’s loss by more mainstream Republicans who worry about the future of their party.

Peculiar People

The thought that comes to mind is a scripture from the Bible that the Lord has a peculiar people. In the Bible, the Lord describes his people or the people that follow him as “peculiar” six times.

Dehlin, Kelly, Cantor and the word “peculiar.” How does all this fit together?

Okay, let’s drop Cantor from the mix. I just added that in the title to get more people to read this post.

[80% drop in readership begins here.]

Peculiarity is a defining characteristic of one who is on the fringes. Someone who is not mainstream. Someone who doesn’t quite fit in to societal norms. One who is possibly consciously or unconsciously rebellious to those social norms.

In that sense, we could describe a lot of people as peculiar. Kate Kelly with her hundreds of public followers and John Dehlin with his thousands of public followers (I’m sure both have many more than that who quietly follow along) could be labeled “peculiar.”

But what does the Lord mean by peculiar? Would he define Kate Kelly or John Dehlin as his peculiar people, or peculiar “treasures?” They are on the fringes of LDS norms, which norms have been on the fringes since the church was established (e.g. additional scripture, modern prophet, law of health, temples, etc.).

So Kelly and Dehlin are on the fringes of the fringes. My question is, and the question that their church leaders will need to answer, are Kelly and Dehlin within the bounds of acceptable church behavior, or are they in a completely different camp, one that opposes the church?

Are they helping or are they hurting the church?

As I’ve bounced from site to site reading more about this, I’ve found many comments from people saying how much John Dehlin has helped them. Many of these identify as gay Mormons. Kate Kelly is admired for her courage in standing up to the male hierarchy. There are very few on Twitter or in the comments on the more liberal Mormon blogs (by liberal I mean more progressive in their religiosity) who are supportive of the church’s action. The only one I’ve seen so far is from the more conservative and well known Daniel Peterson who has had run-ins with Dehlin in the past (like allegedly losing his job at the Maxwell Institute because of Dehlin).

No one is rejoicing over this. It is sad. When you look at the individual’s lives and their families, sad doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s more like tragic, especially when you hear Kelly and Dehlin describe how they do not want to leave the church.

I do not envy John Dehlin and Kate Kelly’s leaders who now must deal with this in a very public way. Many eyes are on them. They will get it right for one side and get it wrong for another. And their judgement will be public, their names released for all to see (their Stake Presidents’ names already are published far and wide). This could be the OJ trial for Mormons.

Dehlin no longer believes in the historicity of the Book of Mormon and isn’t sure about God, but he loves cultural Mormonism and believes it is a good path for his family. Kelly has no problems with the foundational tenets of Mormonism but feels it is her cause to agitate to allow women to hold the priesthood and participate in leadership decisions that are currently made only by men.

Dehlin provides a forum for anyone to ask questions with a particular appeal to the LGBT community. Kelly is an activist who hasn’t taken the church’s many “no’s” for an answer.

There is so much tension at play in both their cases. What they both share is a distrust in church leadership. They both can cite examples of when church leaders were wrong or erred or changed their minds based on outside pressure. Fundamentally, these two believe that God is on their side and that through them, the church will eventually make changes to fit their agendas and they will someday be looked at as “pioneers” who were on the right side of history.

I’ve rambled on and on without saying anything. Now let me say something.

Try the Spirits

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. –1 John 4:1

Since the mourning verse in the Book of Mormon is being used by Kelly and Dehlin sympathizers, and since that isn’t the only Book of Mormon verse that fits, and since this is a very real issue that matters and will affect many peoples’ lives, it’s probably appropriate to use the Book of Mormon to apply the Bible’s “try the spirits” test on where they stand.

Could we classify these two as false prophets? As those led by spirits that are not of God?

Regulations

I’m not going to quote Book of Mormon verses on the narrow path to salvation, or the scriptures about the wise and the learned, or the scriptures about antichrists Sherem, Nehor and Korihor and compare them with the methods and tactics of Dehlin and Kelly to see if there are any similarities or patterns. Any believer whose faith might be shaken by recent events would do good to give the Book of Mormon diligent study in all these and more areas to “try the spirits.”

I instead look to the Book of Mormon’s verses on “regulations”  and “contentions.” As a result, I’m going to have faith in church leadership and support them in whatever they decide.

The prophet Alma the younger, who had his very own faith crisis and conversion, became High Priest overseeing the church after King Mosiah’s passing. In Alma 6:7, he made “regulations” for the church in Zarahemla. The entire chapter is amazingly appropriate, actually. Those who belonged to the church who did not repent and “humble themselves before God…were rejected” (v.3). Just two verses later, it says that the word of God was, “liberal unto all, that none were deprived of the privilege of assembling themselves together to hear the word of God” (v.5).

Liberal unto all yet people had been rejected who weren’t repentant and humble? Things to think about here.

In Alma chapters 45 and 62 regulations are again made in the church.

Hold on! Wasn’t the church perfect in chapter 6, the events of which took place in 83 B.C.? Why did a new regulation need to be made just ten years later in chapter 45? And again less than a decade later in chapter 62?

What were these regulations, anyway?

Were the regulations enforced by the male hierarchy of the church?

Did the Lord sanction their regulations? Does the Lord sanction the modern church’s regulations, even if imperfect?

These are good questions to ask. We will all have to judge for ourselves whether today’s church leaders have followed the church regulations. We will have to decide whether to have faith in today’s church regulations.

We will have to know for ourselves whether John Dehlin and Kate Kelly are helping or harming the church.

I’m leaving my opinion out of it because I think it’s better that way. If you want to know my opinion, I’m happy to share it with you in person.

I want to end with several verses in Paul’s epistle to Titus about what it means to be one of the Lord’s peculiar people.

Peculiar People

Titus 2:11 – 15

11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,

12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;

13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;

14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

15 These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.

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2 thoughts on “Dehlin, Kelly, Cantor and Peculiar People

  1. Natalie says:

    I would love to talk to you about this. I have purposely stayed far away from both of these controversies because I wrestle with some of the same questions. At several points in my life I have chosen to put my personal feelings aside and have faith that my church leaders see and know things I do not. This can be a difficult choice.

    On one occasion I feel very strongly that local leaders (good men who I respected-years ago former leaders different stake) made a big mistake that profoundly affected my family and I seriously considered leaving the church. After much prayer and contemplation I decided that the commandment to sustain church leaders did not mean I had to personally agree with them, but that I had to respect their stewardship. Stewardship always comes with accountability. My job is to act within my stewardship (myself and my family). I am accountable for the choices and decisions I make within my stewardship. Leaders are accountable to our Father for their actions and only our Father sees the whole picture.

    I know the hardest thing I have ever done in my life was to sustain decisions by leaders that I believed were wrong. But the greatest blessings in my life have come from that decision also. The Lord rewarded me in ways I could not imagine for being obedient.

    I have rambled too long. Just one question for you. Have you ever read Eugene England’s essay “why the churchnis as true as the gospel”? I really recommend it.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Natalie. I can certainly empathize, having gone through similar bouts in my church career.

      I thought of Eugene England’s piece as I assigned the liberal label in the post — he would not have approved. But yes, it is right on in many ways.

      And we should definitely talk!

Your thoughts?