Kate Kelly and John Dehlin Write About Excommunication

John Dehlin and Kate Kelly resurface to talk about excommunication or the lack thereof.

John_Dehlin_Kate_Kelly_ExcommunicationSince her excommunication in June 2014, Kate Kelly – and perhaps by the transitive property, Ordain Women – has been pretty quiet. Surely much of this coincides with a move to Kenya, but it’s also easy to surmise that many parties involved in the early summer drama took a step back and cooled off in the aftermath of Kelly’s excommunication.

John Dehlin has also been reasonably quiet, though he’s questioned claims that this is due to some sort of gag order from his stake president.

But this week, both John and Kate have chimed in about excommunication, with Dehlin first publishing a piece entitled, “Why was Kate Kelly Excommunicated, but You Have Not Yet Been?” , examining his thoughts on why he was spared the ax.

Not to be outdone, Kelly responds with her own reasons why Dehlin’s situation remains in limbo while hers went the fatal distance. Both parties stress their allegiance to each other, so it’s not like these are shots fired across the proverbial bows, but their rationales and approaches couldn’t be more distinct.

John Dehlin argues that the following eight reasons are why he has yet to be excommunicated:

1. Kate Kelly and Ordain Women reached more people both within and outside of Mormonism in a more visible way than the Mormon Stories podcast has.

John makes fair points here. The more effective one is at grabbing attention, the more risky that attention can be. Even here on our humble podcast we’ve realized that the more attention you have, the more varied that attention is.

Also – sidenote – Dehlin touts the strong following of his podcast, thinking now it’s reached in the hundreds of thousands? We won’t divulge our own numbers, but in an effort to be as Bill O’Reilly-esque as possible, let’s just say that cracking 100,000 over the course of many years isn’t really that hard. Also, analytics, John. Analytics. You don’t need to guess.

2. Ordain Women’s actions on Temple Square embarrassed the Church.

Yup. It sent a message of hostility and even superiority, even if Ordain Women repeatedly stated that it just wants Church leaders to ask about female ordination. Perception is everything.

Moreover, those engaged in the Mormon Stories community have always been on the fringe, no matter their cause, and would likely stay there. This is not a judgment one way or the other on the merits of John’s followers, but Ordain Women brought stuff front and center in a way Mormon Stories never has or will.

3. John believes that discussions on gender equality strike fear in the hearts of a patriarchy.

Now this merits plenty of discussion, and your comments below are quite welcome. First, one has to believe that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, indeed, a patriarchy. I can understand John and Kate’s reasons for believing so, but I also feel that the word “patriarchy” has been thrown around a in a very intentionally pejorative context here. Either way, any system that feels threatened has the potential to react or overreact.

John does make a good point here that faith-based claims, like those of Mormon Stories, can’t really be proven. But railing LGBT issues and gender equality involves genuine evidence.

4. He benefited from timing.

Totally true. The response to Kelly’s excommunication ranged from sadness to outright hostility, and I doubt the Church was eager to go all-in on Dehlin. In the grand scheme of things, he’s small potatoes.

5. John Dehlin’s situation was different in that Kate Kelly met with her leaders on numerous occasions, whereas Dehlin claims he had never met his stake president when he received his letter.

Assuming that’s all true, John makes a point that calling out President King forced the stake president’s hand and “shamed him” into overtures of due process.

6. Male privilege.

This one is very much up to one’s own personal feelings, and it is a big part of Kate’s letter, which we’ll get to in a minute. He says:

Perhaps President King feels more respectful towards, or more threatened by, or more fearful of me than Kate Kelly‘s bishop did of her — at least in part because of my gender. Or maybe Kate’s leaders felt more fearful/scared/disrespectful of her because she is a woman.  I don’t know…I’d only be guessing here.   But I’d be a fool/blind to think that gender doesn’t matter int his regard.

Bottom line, John argues that he was treated differently or at least as a peer because he is a male dealing with males. None of us can know for certain the veracity of such claims, but women being treated differently is nothing new, and many authors, male and female of myriad ages and levels of church involvement have attested to the unfortunate reality that, as humans, local leaders sometimes fail in their charge to involve all parties in the governance of a ward or stake.

7. He’s got friends in low powerful places

Dehlin admits he’s had plenty of insider help in at least having his voice heard by top LDS brass, which likely forced his local leaders to take a step back and reassess.

8. He’s got friends in local places

Similar to the point above, but on a local level, plenty of people have vouched for John and spoken directly with his stake leaders in an effort to stay his sentence.

Now let’s break down Kate Kelly’s perceived reasons behind why John Dehlin is still on the records of the LDS Church and Kate is not.

For her part, Kate Kelly hits the ground running, as she is wont to do, saying,

In a recent Slate article it was speculated, “Around the same time that Kelly was excommunicated, the host of the popular Mormon Stories podcast, John Dehlin, was threatened with disciplinary action as well. Unlike Kelly, he was not excommunicated, perhaps in part because he agreed to media silence about his interactions with his priesthood leaders.” This speculation is patently false, for many of the reasons that John Dehlin pointed out himself, including that he did not agree to be silent about his discipline. In fact, he shared the direct text from the letter the Stake President sent him threatening discipline with the New York Times.

Kelly then itemizes the reasons:

1. He is a man.

Kelly argues that it’s just easier for men to excommunicate women than men because men and women are not peers in the Church. Now, unlike Dehlin, Kelly does not leave her allegations in the realm of uncertainty or possibility. She states clearly and defiantly, going as far as to know the mind of a stake president:

Mormon men in positions of power do not feel (and are correct) that women are their peers. I felt this very acutely in my two meetings with my Stake President before I was excommunicated. I saw him as a peer, and equal. He saw me as … less than. Despite the fact that he is an attorney by profession and undoubtedly he interacts with female legal professionals as peers  on the job, that magically disappears in any ecclesiastical context. The same has been said of Mitt Romney: he treats non-Mormon women better than Mormon women. No matter what hot water John, or any other Melchizedek priesthood holder, gets into he is still a peer of his leaders. Something no woman will ever be until women are ordained… hence my activism.

2. He is a man.

Next, Kelly argues that “uppity” women have been “public enemy #1” since the early days of the Church. Honestly, I’m curious as to how much water this really does hold. There are two sides to every coin. Undoubtedly, women were silenced in the early days of the Church, but other scholars, like Neylan McBaine and Julie M. Smith might also point out the great victories of Mormon women in the early days of the Church.

3. He is a man.

I’m not trying to slam Kate Kelly, but it isn’t like we really needed that third “He is a man” bullet point when her supporting text isn’t that different from the ones that precede it. I understand doing it for the sake of emphasis and argument. Completely. But this one basically says that giving women the priesthood would change the structure of the Church, which threatens men.

4. He is a man.

This goes back to one of John’s points about having some inside help. Kelly argues that it is gender-based, not connection-based.

I know for a fact that leaders in direct contact with the Quorum of the Twelve knew about my discipline before it became public and chose not to intervene saying that it was impossible to intervene in what is entirely a “local matter.” This contradiction (saving the man, and letting the female face the firing squad) is an act of blatant sexism.

5. John’s issues are easier to circumvent.

Yup. Again. John Dehlin goes after truth claims. Kate Kelly goes after “institutional sexism,” and that’s not as easy to ignore.

6. Mormon stories is not an activist organization.

Again, back to one of John’s points. Although part of the allegations against John Dehlin have been that he is leading people into apostasy via Mormon Stories, those efforts are not nearly as global or as public as Ordain Women marching on Temple Square and protesting. (Let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?) This is a valid point.

7. John’s discipline reflects solely on his personal decisions and behavior.

At first glance, I thought, “Um, John’s actions were quite public and professional – hardly the definition of personal.”

But what Kelly refers to here is that John’s discipline comes back to him and him alone. Kelly has been on the record with her parents losing temple recommends for supporting her and her husband avoiding any sort of discipline even though he built the Ordain Women website and actively supports it. But he’s a man so he’s avoided punishment.

Admittedly, the actions taken against Kelly’s parents and lack of action on her husband are troubling. I won’t lie about the awkwardness I feel about that. I’m not the one in charge, but in my eyes, there was some overstepping involved and it is unfortunate that certain individuals were targeted for affiliation with Kate Kelly while others weren’t. And not that I want people to be targeted, but the lack of consistency here either way was deeply troubling for many people.

It’s interesting to hear from both of these individuals after things have been relatively quiet for the past few months. What I also find interesting is the language used. John Dehlin, love him or loathe him, leaves plenty of wiggle room for his interpretation of things, using tons of conditional language, even ending his essay with, “I could be wrong … but that’s my impression.”

Kate Kelly, for her part, can’t resist stirring the pot. Her thoughts on the matter are perfectly valid, but she also presents them as objective truth, leaving little room for discussion. It’s been her trademark style since all of this started, but I can’t help but see the same belligerence that got her into hot water in the first place. And I don’t say that as a criticism of Ordain Women’s objectives, but my longstanding thesis has been that Kate Kelly’s overall approach has been more confrontational than necessary, and that was never going to be an effective means to an end. Either way, Kate Kelly is a compelling figure and I would be afraid to fight her in an MMA ring.

What are your thoughts on the thoughts of these two titans of Mormon “agitation”?

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