The real Mormon moment is now.

The real Mormon moment is now.

The facts are now established: at least a dozen Mormons in the U.S. have faced or are facing discipline for expressing criticisms of the Church or support for same-sex marriage or women’s ordination on-line, on Facebook, on Twitter, even in anonymous chat rooms.

The implications of the facts are even more troubling. They suggest that the LDS Church supports what must be a substantial enterprise monitoring the on-line activity of its members in the United States, if not worldwide.

Of course, this is not a surprise to progressive Mormons who have populated those Facbook groups and web forums.

We have in fact been waiting for this moment—waiting to see whether our religion could survive the insularity, militancy, and suspiciousness engendered by its nineteenth-century persecutions, and outgrow as well the highly centralized and controlling corporate-bureaucratic style of the twentieth-century LDS Church, to adapt to the new realities of the internet era, including greater openness among Mormons with doubts or concerns about controversial aspects of our history and doctrine.

We hoped this day would not come. Because we know that excommunication courts are a nineteenth-century Mormon solution to twenty-first century Mormon problems. Exiling and shaming a dozen, two dozen, one hundred, one thousand heterdox Mormons won’t close the book on women’s issues, or LGBT issues, or historical controversies in Mormonism. You could rid the church of an entire generation of querulous bloggers and grassroots organizers and another will rise and take its place. Because these controversies are not private and individual. They are not personal problems. They are the product of Mormon history, Mormon doctrine, and Mormon culture. We didn’t invent them. We inherited them, as will the generations to follow, each taking its turn in the search for truth. Because that is what Mormonism means.

We had hoped it wouldn’t turn out this way. Maybe it still won’t. Maybe the highest profile excommunication court—that scheduled this Sunday in Virginia for Kate Kelly, a believing Mormon woman and one of the founders of the web-based Ordain Women campaign—will end without Sister Kelly having her baptism and marriage nullified, her membership in a Church she served as a full-time missionary expunged.

Over the last decade of on-line blogging and organizing, Mormon progressives have found many reasons to hope for more openness in our Church. We noted every year we put between us and the high-profile excommunications of Mormon feminists and historians in the 1990s. We noted that the hunger for excommunication on doctrinal controversy seemed to have ceased. We used the internet to regroup and grow in numbers. The Church even developed its own web-based resources to acknowledge and address its own controversies—historic and contemporary.

This, we thought, was a good sign. A sign that we might not need to fear losing our membership, our place, in a cherished tradition, just for having and voicing questions, doubts, and differences, even sharing them with others, even organizing on-line forums where other Mormons who could not speak their questions at church could find support, answers, resolution, a reason to keep trying, and a way to express their continuing fidelity to a religion that asks so much of them.

We told ourselves to not to be afraid. Even when we were. We just kept on writing. Even when we knew we were being monitored.

But already knowing that we were being monitored makes it no less shameful to see the facts in print.

Nor does it diminish the pain of seeing a religion characterized by beautiful audacity in its doctrines and daring in its difference manifest such a want of courage, a smallness of spirit, and fearful rigidity when it comes to its own heterodox members.

Nor does it diminish the fear and despair this new wave of disciplinary actions is inciting among progressive Mormons who have anxiously wondered over this past week whether a letter or a meeting request might be on the way for them too.

Over the past few days, I have been getting Facebook messages and phone calls from rank-and-file Mormons not interviewed by the New York Times relaying that they too have been accosted or called in by their bishops for voicing support for greater equality for women in the church, or same-sex civil marriage rights.

“I’m really a nobody,” wrote one woman. “Just a stay at home mom who doesn’t particularly go out of her way to take up too much space on the internet.”

Church officials deny high-level coordination of the pushback against progressive and heterodox Mormons. But it is also being reported that at least one high-ranking leader has instructed local LDS clergy that support for women’s ordination should be viewed as apostasy—a serious charge in Mormonism. Without question, that instruction and the national news of Kate Kelly’s court has created a climate wherein local Church leaders now feel obliged or empowered to call in and even take disciplinary action against less orthodox members of their own congregations.

It is Friday. Kate Kelly’s court is scheduled for Sunday, as are many more informal disciplinary conversations between local leaders and heterodox Mormons. There is still time for a different kind of signal to go out, from Salt Lake City—a signal that could empower a different kind of action, a standing down on all sides, a putting away of defensiveness and fearfulness, a putting to rest of Mormonism’s nineteenth-century ghosts and twentieth-century control issues.

It is Friday and we hear nothing from our religious leaders in Salt Lake City. We hear only from the Public Relations department, which seems to be doing the best it can to get grips on a situation that has outgrown its control, a situation that makes Mormons appear once again in the public eye as the insular, suspicious, dogmatic, simple-minded, intolerant, and spiritually violent Mormon caricatures that once populated nineteenth-century magazines.

It is Friday. We talk amongst ourselves: the men tasked with the heavy burden of convening an excommunication court this Sunday in Virginia, and the Mormon men and women who will convene simultaneously at candlelight vigils scheduled nationwide.

I dream that a voice from Salt Lake City (if not somewhere even more exalted) will say, in the words of a cherished Mormon hymn, “All is well. All is well”—not because it is right now, but because faith means holding to the hope that it will be. A signal of peace for every one of us who agonizes—while the outside world watches mutely or wonders aloud why we even bother—over how our beloved faith will respond to the pressures of the twenty-first century.

Forget Mitt Romney. Forget the Book of Mormon musical. Forget—yes, forget—the LDS Church’s multi-million dollar “I’m a Mormon” campaign designed to rebrand contemporary Mormonism as diverse and welcoming.

This painful, pivotal time is the real Mormon moment.

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27 Comments

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27 responses to “The real Mormon moment is now.

  1. Dawn

    I don’t understand. Either you believe that Pres. Monson is a prophet of God or you don’t. The church is not a “majority rules” type church. We have a prophet that we follow. Also, a disciplinary council (yes, council, not “court”) is a loving process. I went through one many years ago and I felt nothing but love and concern from the members that participated. The gospel is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

  2. Carrie Ann

    I dream of a church where a person can go to grow closer to divine parents. Where safety and learning are more important than homogeneity. I hope for these courts to find what I feel is true. That Kate and the rest should be encouraged, listened to, and they keep all rights and privileges they desire.

  3. Bradley Thomas

    So what specifically should be done Sister Brooks? Should the LDS church continue to allow groups to dictate policy and doctrinal changes? Do we not have specific instruction from prophets, seers, and revelators in the most recent General Confernece? Would you prefer the Prophet make an official statement when the public relations department releases detailed statements on behalf of the church? Are you saying the Public Relations department doesn’t speak for the church?

    This is the real Mormon moment, this is the wheat and the tares moment, the good and bad fruit in the vineyard moment. Pivotal moments happen everyday when we choose to follow the commandments or not. This is not; however, a pivotal moment for the Church of Jesua Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  4. Killer post Joanna. I truly loved it.

  5. Sasha

    I for one am pretty sure gay people and not ordaining women were as much as reality in the 20th century as in the 21st. People have always disagreed with and/or left the church, the only difference is that now Facebook makes it seem dramatic and public.

    Choose you this day whom ye will serve, but as for me and my followers/friends, we will make a soap opera out of my faithlessness.

  6. Jonathan Smith

    Thanks for this, Joanna. Going through the refiner’s fire is the real moment. We want to believe that the moments when everyone seems to be loving us and our lives seem pretty great are the real moments. But opposition is in all things and the field remains white and ready to harvest, even among the membership where conversion remains a constant process. That means work and toil and pain. No one should be surprised it came to this. The thing to do is humbly place our faith in God and go about our work. The consequences will be what they are, but, when we remain true to our faith, peace and comfort through adversity is promised to us from on high, and with it comes joy amidst sorrow.

  7. Carole

    This real Mormon moment hurts all of us in the church, whether fully active or not.

  8. Ben

    The church is paying attention to things people have posted publicly online with the intention of being seen, and you’re insinuating that it is a bad thing?

  9. A chilling and painful piece. Thank you for your courage, Joanna.

  10. Captain Curmudgeon

    I’m maybe coming from another direction. I have been a skeptic since the age (5) when I busted Santa Claus but I’m still a member. For one thing, all the time I was active, no one ever asked me if I believed any of it (which I didn’t), just if I was practicing it (which I was).

    Since getting back from VN, I’ve got by by telling people in the church that I’m not a Mormon and people out of it that I am. Hard time trying to explain that I’m not just a skeptic; I’m a *Mormon* skeptic.

    I’ve been waiting and hoping for the church to grow up to where it can be big enough to contain people like me. Judaism has — I have friends who understand exactly where I’m coming from. Hoping we could do it in less than 2,000 years, but maybe not.

    Best wishes to you people coming the other direction. I think we both want the same thing: a *bigger* church.

  11. Josh

    “They suggest that the LDS Church supports what must be a substantial enterprise monitoring the on-line activity of its members in the United States, if not worldwide.”

    I don’t think that is the case. I think it suggests that because of how connected we are now, on sites like Facebook, that bishops see what you like and what you post, and if they don’t see it themselves, maybe neighbors do and feel the need to express concern to the bishop.

    That doesn’t make it much better, but I really don’t think the LDS Church is running some giant online monitoring effort.

  12. Steve

    I think you need to read the church statement. I have questions and doubts, but never felt threatened to ask questions. And as a believing member, we inherent difficult questions and history but that’s because man is not perfect and neither is our understanding.

  13. Steve

    And I don’t think you know what “same sex” marriage civil rights mean for religious freedom of churches, I would look at Denmark laws and the new “McCarthyism” that tries to shut up people that think marriage is ordained of god between a man and a woman and kid needs a mom and dad, I also find it interesting that so many “women activist” think that the church would be better if woman were in leadership roles, but don’t think it’s important for the gov’t (and in many cass the church) to express the need for a woman in a child’s life

  14. It seems as if sometimes you hold back what you’re really thinking. Please tell us what’s really on your mind next time ;)

  15. Steve

    So in your eyes, I can do whatever I want, not believe in any if the claims of Mormonism, and actively try to get others to believe as I do… And they should remain in the church? Some(not all) want to be called Mormon so as to change an organization they do not believe in…. And the “pr department” works for the first presidency and quorum of the 12 and I found their statement loving and reasonable…

    No one wants anyone excommunicated, but this is an overreaction… Nothing will happen to Kate Kelly if she just says that “I’m glad I brought about reform in the church. The brethren has prayed over this issue and I accept the current answers they received, deep in my heart I believe woman will be ordained, but I will wait until The Lord servants receive that revelation. Until that time, I uphold President Monson and the quorum of the 12 apostles.”

    And as someone who struggles and continue to struggle with some matters of history and doctrine… I never once ran into any disciplinarian counsel or anything else, or anybody trying to hide something… Just love and understanding

    Maybe some people shouldn’t run to the NYT

  16. Carla Hoffman

    Thank you, Joanna. You write the truth, and you speak my heart.

  17. Mit

    If you find yourself numbered among the Mormon progressives, who are hoping to change the church, you really owe it to yourself to study the real / complete history. Not just someone else’s opinion about it, but the actual documents, many written in Joseph’s / Oliver’s own handwriting. The Book of Commandments would be an excellent place to start. You might be surprised by what you find; in any event, your knowledge will increase.

  18. Greg Pearson

    This issue is quite simple. Membership in the church is largely for those that believe in the church. If you think it is your prerogative to change the church, membership is not for you.

  19. I really like the way Joanna writes. And regarding this situation, it is troubling to me. One of my favorite things about the church has always been not simply that the Gospel of Jesus Christ answers so many of my questions, but that the doctrine of the church wants me, even demands of me, to keep asking them; to keep searching for answers. One of the most hopeful things about the gospel is simply that the heavens are not closed. Nor have they ever been. That we are merely sophomoric teenagers, children, of a loving Heavenly Father who have left home and are struggling to grasp what this universe is (in all of it’s myriad disciplines and varieties) and what our part is within it.
    I hope, like Joanna pleads, that the leaders of our church look at these people as those who are searching. The fact is, I don’t know any of these people personally. I can’t possibly know their specific situations or how or why exactly they have arrived at possible disciplinary actions (no matter how much I might read on blogs and such). Perhaps they are rebelling… perhaps they are ‘apostatizing'(renouncing a particular belief or principle)… I don’t know.
    I do know that everything that I have experienced in the church regarding discipline has been positive in terms of my leaders. Perhaps I am lucky. Perhaps I am the odd one out. Perhaps I look on the bright side of things more than less. Many who know me might say different, however. Still, I find that, though individual leaders may be just plain wrong with some things…hard headed, prideful…etc…as a rule, they have, in their capacity as leaders always tried to understand me and always tried leading/counseling/etc with the love of the Savior.
    All this being said makes what is happening even more troubling for me. I am an insider, standing on the outside, looking in.

  20. Shaw said it best. “All great truths begin as blasphemies.” Your point that excommunicating Mormons for heresy is a twentieth century response to a twenty-first century issue is well made. A “One True Church” shouldn’t have such malleable doctrine, but this one does – and it should utilize this feature to level up and ‘do some good in the world today’.

  21. vigils not just nationwide- around the globe! over 50 vigils in 17 different countries.

  22. Joshua

    Joanna

    I just finished your book this week.

    For that, and for this post, thank you. Thank you for helping us who feel hurt or betrayed by our mother faith know these feelings are real and can be addressed.

    Just, thank you

  23. Heidi

    I think you need to get over yourself. Since none of us are privy to ALL the details of Kate Kelly’s life, it is really hard to say whether this church court is just about her Ordain Women obsession or whether there are other details in there that we haven’t seen. My family was called in by the Bishop once upon a time for homeschooling–because someone being excommunicated, in a neighboring town, had been written about in the local paper. According to the news media their membership was called into question because they were homeschoolers, among other things. BIG controversy about homeschooling! Oh those Mormons that homeschool…..Turns out, they weren’t reprimanded b/c of homeshooling but b/c of some other serious offences that may or may not have been made so public. Our bishop was very kind, very apologetic, very assuring that he was doing as asked but was not in any way condemning us. Thus my point, you probably don’t know, nor ever will, know the nitty-gritty details. You will only know what Kate Kelly wants you to know. And from what I’ve seen, she knows just how to say it to raise the roof–however biased.

  24. nobody important

    Joanna, please stop in the misrepresentation of LDS excommunication.
    It is not “exiling and shaming”. Most of the excommunications I’m familiar with occurred without their fellow church-goers ever knowing about it til their re-baptism.

  25. Paul

    I’ve learned through the years that it is a capital mistake to theorize without having accurate and factual data. It is also a capital mistake to deduce based on one or many unreliable sources of information. The Church of Jesus Christ has many obstacles that it must go through, this being just one, before the glory of God will be crowned with victory.
    I think it is more important that we “Don’t forget” about Mitt Romney, for I look at him as a great role model especially when it comes to his family, his job and his religion, even a role model worthy of emulation.
    I find it so interesting that members of the Church of Jesus Christ question the leadership, our apostles and prophet especially. Now I Know that these are the last days and that something big but wonderful is going to happen especially for those who will listen and follow our prophet Thomas S Monson. Amen to those who persecute the saints.

  26. Kevin

    What an articulate, impassioned voice, Joanna. Thank you for speaking so. Your clear, reasoned words are so unlike those of another lovely female member of the Church representing the PR department on the radio the other day. It pained me that it was a woman shucking a jiving the company line regarding the conspiracy to show Kate Kelly the door. To a hopeful future for all.

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