Update: LDS Church addresses unauthorized actions, efforts to change church doctine

Posted at 5:07 PM, Jun 11, 2014

The spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jessica Moody, is responding to backlash after the church recently made threats to excommunicate members.

Moody said, “What causes concern for Church leaders is when personal motivations drive those conversations beyond discussion and a person or group begins recruiting others to insist on changes in Church doctrines or structure. When it goes so far as creating organized groups, staging public events to further a cause or creating literature for members to share in their local congregations, the Church has to protect the integrity of its doctrine as well as other members from being misled.”

More: LDS blogger and podcaster faces church discipline

Moody sent out this response:

Church leaders have encouraged civil online dialogue, and recognize that today it’s how we communicate and discuss ideas with one another. Our whole Church was founded on the basis of sincere questions asked by a 14-year-old boy. Having questions and seeking answers is normal. Within those earnest questions may lie the seeds of faith.
The scriptures are full of examples of how to receive answers to our questions—to find truth and align our will with God’s—and that process includes studying, praying, learning and discussing Church doctrines. Millions of people do this throughout their lives. How and why one asks is as important as the questions we’re asking. What causes concern for Church leaders is when personal motivations drive those conversations beyond discussion, and a person or group begins recruiting others to insist on changes in Church doctrines or structure. When it goes so far as creating organized groups, staging public events to further a cause or creating literature for members to share in their local congregations, the Church has to protect the integrity of its doctrine as well as other members from being misled.
At the heart of the conversation are matters of faith and doctrine. We believe these doctrines are given to us by God in simple ways: through scripture and through living prophets and apostles. If our personal goals go beyond what has been provided from those sources, we must ask ourselves whether we are we trying to change His Church to match our own perspective.
As a Church, we’ve been looking for several years on what we can improve and change—cultural elements that are not tied to doctrine. We’ve had and will continue to have dozens of meaningful, helpful conversations with a variety of voices and perspectives about cultural changes. From my perspective, it’s a very exciting time to be a member!
It would be completely inappropriate for me to comment on any of the individual cases you’ve heard about recently, as those are personal matters dealt with at a local level. But I can provide some principles. In dealing with all of these issues and questions, a local lay leader is the one who determines how they apply to those he serves. If he becomes troubled by a member’s actions, he can rely on his own spiritual insights, personal prayer, guidance from handbooks and his training to determine how best to address the member’s circumstances. For instance, their standard procedural handbook says: “Local presiding officers should not expect General Authorities to tell them how to decide difficult matters. Decisions on Church discipline are within the discretion and authority of local presiding officers as they prayerfully seek guidance from the Lord.”

SALT LAKE CITY – The founder of Ordain Women, a group of individuals advocating for changes to what they call gender inequality in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, says she is facing the possibility of excommunication from the LDS Church and was told of a disciplinary council.

According to a post on, Founder Kate Kelly said she was told on June 8 that there is a disciplinary council scheduled to be held in the LDS Church stake in the Washington D.C. area where she used to live. Kelly has been the face of an effort that wants the LDS Church to ordain women to the church's priesthood, among other things. In 2014 and 2013, Kelly led a group of women who were seeking entry to the male-only session of the LDS Church's semi-annual General Conference.

"To think that Mormonism is no longer going to be a part of my life or I am no longer welcome in my community, my faith community, it's devastating," Kelly told FOX 13 News.

The New York Times reports that Kelly is not the only activist to be notified by LDS Church officials that they are facing discipline this week. John P. Dehlin, founder of the website "Mormon Stories", told the New York Times he received a letter calling on him to resign from the LDS Church or face a disciplinary council.

Kelly posted a letter she said came from LDS Church officials, and the letter states: “The bishopric is considering formal disciplinary action on your behalf, including the possibility of disfellowshipment or excommunication, on the grounds of apostasy."

The full letter is available as a PDF at this link, and the letter states that Kelly is invited to attend the disciplinary council in person or send a written statement. Kelly states in the posting that she has relocated to Utah and cannot return for the event, and she said she was surprised by the letter she received. She said she thinks it is unfair to hold the council so far away from where she now resides.

She stated: “I was open and honest with my bishop from the day we launched on March 17, 2013. I communicated with him each and every time Ordain Women did an action and asked that he come to me if he had any questions. While I was living in his ward, he never once personally called me in to meet with him. Nor did he email or call me with any questions regarding Ordain Women. Three weeks after I had moved out of his ward, and he sent me this letter.  Convening a council in my absence, after I have moved, is both cowardly and unchristlike.”

Kelly told FOX 13 News she was put on formal probation prior to the notice regarding the disciplinary council. She said she believes she only sought to share the truth.

"I never said anything bad about church leaders," she said. "I never preached any doctrine, let alone false doctrine, I just attributed what was a true fact, a factual assertion, that men and women are not equal in our church. That's not a sin; that's just telling the truth."

The letter states that the council is tentatively scheduled for June 22 at 7 p.m. ET at the Oakton Virginia Stake Center and Bishop Mark M. Harrison said in the letter, “I am willing to work with you to make a reasonable adjustment in the scheduled date and time of the council.”

Kelly called excommunication an action akin to “spiritual death” for members of the LDS Church, and she said she is saddened by the action. Click here to read her entire post.

Kimberly Baptista, public relations director of Ordain Women, stated in an email to FOX 13 News that they have two actions in response. The first is that they are asking supporters to submit a letter describing, “how the group has improved their relationships with the Church or strengthened their testimonies. Representatives from Ordain Women will deliver these letters to the Church Office Building and will also send them to the men who will sit in judgment of Kelly at her trial.” The letters are being collected here.

The group is also planning to hold a candlelight vigil on June 22 at 5 p.m. MT, the same time as the disciplinary council. The vigil will be held outside the LDS Church Office Building, 100 S. State Street in Salt Lake City, and those who gather will do so to show their support of Kelly.

LDS Church Spokeswoman Kristen Howey issued the following statement on behalf of the LDS Church in response to media inquiries about this issue.

"The Church is a family made up of millions of individuals with diverse backgrounds and opinions. There is room for questions and we welcome sincere conversations. We hope those seeking answers will find them and happiness through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

"Sometimes members’ actions contradict Church doctrine and lead others astray. While uncommon, some members in effect choose to take themselves out of the Church by actively teaching and publicly attempting to change doctrine to comply with their personal beliefs. This saddens leaders and fellow members. In these rare cases, local leaders have the responsibility to clarify false teachings and prevent other members from being misled. Decisions are made by local leaders and not directed or coordinated by Church headquarters.

"Actions to address a person’s membership and standing in their congregation are convened after lengthy periods of counseling and encouragement to reconsider behavior. Ultimately, the door is always open for people to return to the Church."

Baptista stated in her email that disciplinary councils are conducted only by male leaders and that means Kelly will be questioned only by males.

She also outlined the possible consequences: "The possible consequences of these courts are disfellowshipment or excommunication from the Church. Members who are disfellowshipped may not pray in meetings, give talks, hold callings, receive temple recommends, sustain Church officers, or partake of the sacrament. They are encouraged to continue paying tithing, however. Excommunication is the most extreme action that may be taken. Those who are excommunicated are no longer considered members of the Church, are denied all privileges related to membership, and must be rebaptized to regain those privileges.”

The LDS Church also provided a link to an article on titled "Church Discipline" that offers details about the process.