[Note: What follows is Mormon inside baseball. If you don’t know what it refers to, I’m not stopping to catch you up.]
This began as a response to a post my friend Dave Butler made on Facebook, which has spawned a thread of ungodly lengths. My own calculus has been that the longer a thread is, the less worthwhile it is to post a lengthy response, so I decided to respond in my own venue.
His post, in part:
So I guess we’re back to excommunicating people for disagreement.
Specifically, in a subsequent comment, he references Denver Snuffer, John Dehlin, and Kate Kelly.
I love Dave like a brother, so it pains me to use a word like “disingenuous” to describe his characterization of these events.
There are plenty of people, still members of the Church, who disagree with or question any number of specific teachings or practices. What’s the difference in these cases?
Denver Snuffer wrote books and gave public speeches about how the entire leadership of the LDS Church had been apostate since Joseph Smith, and that he, Snuffer, was more qualified as an “apostle” than they were.
John Dehlin has for years been publishing tips for non-believing members to “fool” their bishop into giving them a temple recommend on his websites. He is overtly and publicly critical of apostles; when Dallin H. Oaks stated that divine influence had primacy over human reasoning (a pretty unremarkable statement, consistent with prophets since Old Testament times), Dehlin’s response was, “I swear Dallin H. Oaks is hastening the LDS church’s demise. And he is doing it with a grin.”
Kate Kelly, founder of Ordain Women, has said baldly that she isn’t going to stop until the Brethren see it her way. She orchestrated photo ops of her and her followers one-by-one asking for admittance to Priesthood Session, even though she had already been informed that they would not be admitted, in order to bring activist-style public opinion pressure on the Church. OW’s stance seems to be, “See that Priesthood whose authority and instruction we ignore? We want that.”
In all three, the problem wasn’t simply a personal disagreement with Church practice or doctrine. It is public advocacy for stances contrary to the doctrine of the Church, despite having been cautioned by those in authority to cease. The Church Handbook gives guidelines for disciplinary procedures for local leaders, and includes this as part of the definition of “apostacy”:
1. Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.
Now tell me how the actions of any of the three individuals referenced above don’t fit that definition. These were endowed members of the Church; they had covenanted to consecrate their time, talents and energy to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the building up of the Kingdom of God and the establishment of Zion. The only way they could possibly spin their actions as being a fulfillment of that covenant is to posit that they were acting as some kind of unofficial but necessary “loyal opposition,” even though that isn’t part of the program (see here and here). We’re not excommunicating people for “disagreement” (nor, for that matter, is it a foregone conclusion that Dehlin and Kelly will be excommunicated); discipline comes when people work against the Church by publicly contradicting it, gainsaying it, opposing it, and holding it up for open ridicule. That’s a very different problem.