Another One Bites the Dust: John Dehlin is Ex’d

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To anyone keeping abreast of Mormon issues, John Dehlin’s excommunication wasn’t a surprise.  John is someone who actively questions LDS faith and culture (including hot-button issues like the priesthood ordination of women and same-sex marriage).  However, in doing so he has helped provide a voice for many individuals who feel disenfranchised and disenchanted within the Mormon church. I don’t know if his excommunication was the “right” decision; in the end, I think that question is irrelevant. John’s leaders had the option to excommunicate him and they did so.  In the end, if an ecclesiastical leader wants a vocal member to be excommunicated, they can almost always find grounds to do so.

There is no doubt the popularity of his controversial Mormon Stories podcast made Church leaders uncomfortable.  In the end, it is because John found a large and sympathetic audience for these controversial views that Church leaders decided to charge him with “[leading] others away from the Church,” and thereby excommunicate him. Interestingly, the February 9 letter detailing John’s excommunication did not list (as grounds for the action) John’s support for same-sex marriage and women’s ordination; but John has alleged these were the impetus for his disciplinary proceedings.

[Here is a link to John Dehlin’s publication of his excommunication letter and transcript of his penultimate disciplinary council.  The Church’s response is here also.]

I don’t like this recent round of excommunications.  Even if Kate Kelly and John Dehlin were misguided, their goal wasn’t to lead people astray from the Mormon church.  Just the opposite.  They were trying to make the Church a more welcoming place for its members—all of its members.  The gays.  The feminists.  The non-apologist historians.  The people struggling with addiction and depression and so many other issues.   In truth, the typical LDS member is no longer the Republican, white, heterosexual prototype (from a nuclear family) that I pictured growing up; and we don’t always fall in line when a Church leader answers a question with “because I said so”.  A substantial portion of the Church membership is now forcefully telling the Church it wants change; and they are motivated, well-read and tech-savvy individuals who can easily spread their ideas/beliefs/knowledge to the public.  Will the Church listen to these groups and allow open discussion of its beliefs and practices?  Or will its refuse to examine the correctness of its policies, procedures and doctrinal beliefs, or allow its members to do likewise?

The Church has never been the forerunner of change.  It generally follows cultural trends; it does not create them. However, Elder Cristofferson (an Apostle) recently stated that members may speak out about opposing beliefs and even support groups like Ordain Women.  They would only be disciplined if “someone is out attacking the church and its leaders.  If that’s a deliberate and persistent effort and trying to get others to follow…trying to pull people, if you will, out of the church or away from its teachings and doctrines.”

Elder Cristofferson’s statement is a small concession towards freer speech and discussion among the members; but its a concession nonetheless.  And let’s not forget, that two Apostles even agreed to speak on Trib Talk and take questions from its audience is already a huge step for these men, who traditionally communicate with the public in a much more scripted, controlled manner (like General Conference).

Time will only tell if the Church will continue to silence dissenting voices, like John Dehlin, or move towards a more conciliatory approach.  I take comfort in knowing that, for every John Dehlin, there are probably a hundred others who are not excommunicated for their public discussions. And that number is growing every day.

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LDS Church Separating Temple & Civil Ceremonies?

Salt Lake City Temple

A big change is likely coming to temple sealing ceremonies this year in the United States and Canada. A posting last Saturday in The Mormon Hub discussion group caught my interest right away.  I’ve included the relevant portions of it here:

“Interesting HAPPY news today from a friend […] [his relative is] an area auditor for the church […] They shared with him that the church is getting out of the “wedding business”. They will be separating the civil marriage from the temple sealing. This is far enough along that they are disseminating this information now to regional area leadership. Basically preparing and letting leaders know it’s happening.”

While I consider this group a pretty decent resource, the Internet has been known to spread false information at times. So I decided to do some additional investigating. I quickly found a Salt Lake Tribune article from February 12, 2014, Is change coming to Mormon temple wedding policy?  The article discusses the Church “may” remove the one-year waiting period between civil marriage ceremonies and a temple marriage. Under current Church policy, if LDS couples have any type of civil ceremony outside of the temple, they cannot be sealed in a temple for a year.  After the change, faithful LDS members would now be able to have a civil wedding ceremony and their temple wedding, making it a more “inclusive” ceremony for those whose family members cannot enter the LDS temple sealing.

Putting the article in a completely different light, the LDS Church may have found it to be prudent to no longer perform civil wedding ceremonies. The obvious context is, of course, the legalization of homosexual marriage in many states, either through legislation or judicial decision. With Utah being only one of many states whose laws prohibiting  same-sex marriage are embroiled in judicial proceedings, it seems like only a matter of time before the Church took some action on this subject. Already in Canada, an area where the Church would reportedly implement its new policy, religious institutions and clerics have been charged before human rights commissions and in courts because they have refused to participate in homosexual marriages, or have expressed ideological differences with the practice. Look for a future blog post about the legal challenges that have been brought in other countries, most notably England, Denmark and Canada.

So when will this change happen? According to another posting in The Mormon Hub, a couple with a September 2014 wedding date was told the change would happen before then.

Until then, we’ll wait with bated breath.

[Update 1/22/2015: As of this posting, the LDS Church has not announced any change that would bifurcate the civil and temple ceremonies.  Hmmm.  I think I’ll have to revisit this issue with my friends at the Mormon Hub].