Will No One Rid Me of This Turbulent Priest?

Thomas-Becket-006“Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”

According to popular tradition, this is the line that King Henry II blurted out after repeated disagreements with Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. (There are several variations, such as “who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”) Four of Henry’s knights interpreted this as a royal command and set off for Canterbury, where they slew Becket while he prayed at the altar.

How should we understand the knights’ actions? Should we view them as following orders, or as acting on their own initiative? There are multiple possible interpretations. For instance, if we take an approach that “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same,” we might attribute the knights’ actions to Henry, whose actions set the events in motion.

However, an official press release states that all decisions were made by local knights and not directed or coordinated by King Henry.

And who are we to question an official press release?



A few folks have asked for clarification. So, let’s clarify what I’m saying, and not saying, in this post.

First, as hopefully an obvious point, I don’t think that church leaders are murderers. I’m making a historical comparison to elements of the history of Henry, but that doesn’t include the entire history. We can (and regularly do) compare people with historical figures without including all aspects of the figure in question. I can say someone is like Ammon without implying that they chop people’s arms off. And I think we can bring up the Becket case without suggesting that church leaders are murderers. I hope this is clear from the outset, but I’m happy to explicitly state it as well.

Second, the timing of the joint excommunication letters is highly suspicious, to say the least. John Dehlin has been doing his thing for ten years. Kate Kelly has been going for over a year. For the hammer to drop RightNow on both of them, independently, seems vanishingly improbable. However, the official Newsroom statement is that “Decisions are made by local leaders and not directed or coordinated by Church headquarters.” I don’t think I’m the only one who finds that stretches credulity.

Does this mean that there was some conspiracy at the church office building, dead drops at midnight, messages transmitted in code? Actually, I’m saying the _opposite_ in this post. I don’t see any reason to think this was a cabal of masked conspirators. I do think it’s quite possible that someone’s off-the-record comments were interpreted as an order. That would explain the timing. And hey, isn’t that kind of like Becket? (Or for that matter, like claims regarding recent IRS investigations — that President Obama made statements about conservative groups, and then IRS officials decided to aggressively investigate those groups.)

Finally, some folks have suggested in conversations that the Newsroom statement is technically accurate, as a precisely worded non-denial. For instance, it doesn’t say that actions weren’t initiated centrally, just that they weren’t “directed or coordinated” centrally.

That may indeed be the case. I don’t know.

But if we’re really dealing in carefully worded not-quite-denials that barely skirt the border between “it depends on what the meaning of is is” and outright lies, then isn’t that really part of the problem?

37 comments for “Will No One Rid Me of This Turbulent Priest?

  1. Great post, Kaimi. More and more, church members are forced to more deeply engage the issue of the nature of God. If God is leading the LDS church, how is that so? Which words of the leaders must we consider divine, unquestionable revelation, and which words and actions are the leaders’ own? What exactly is a revelation? Is it God’s direct words to leaders, or is it just a merely some human utterance of words whilst feeling some whim of inspiration that the inspired interprets to be from God?

    I personally find the letters threatening Kate Kelly and John Dehlin very troubling. It is an indication of the LDS church’s own insecurity with regard to the questions of women’s administrative roles in the church and the treatment of gays. If recent social trends are any indication, these issues will not go away. In fact it could very well be that the discipline of Kelly and Dehlin elicits a greater outcry from within the LDS church. I guess time will tell.

  2. Great response, Kaimi.

    “But if we’re really dealing in carefully worded not-quite-denials that barely skirt the border between “it depends on what the meaning of is is” and outright lies, then isn’t that really part of the problem?”

    Amen to that.

  3. I’m surprised that someone objected to this post. It seemed clear to me. Though an excommunication has been compared to a kind of death by more than one person.

  4. “I do think it’s quite possible that someone’s off-the-record comments were interpreted as an order. That would explain the timing.”

    Or perhaps an open-letter from church PR that ran on these very pages, just a short time ago, calling people out for apostasy.

  5. “I’m surprised that someone objected to this post. It seemed clear to me. Though an excommunication has been compared to a kind of death by more than one person.”

    Someone almost always objects to metaphors/comparisons. One’s propensity to find a metaphor offensive is strongly correlated with whether or not one agrees with the point being communicated.

  6. I think you have turned the story upside down. The priest was the authority of God. The King was the secular power.

  7. Or the spirit moved on both and when those went these went, quote Ezekiel. For people that don’t really believe in inspiration, I understand that’s hard to grasp, so we invite and dissemble.

  8. I have some relics from the blessed martyrs if anyone is interested, For sale cheap.

    I have Saint Dehlin’s autographed copy of an Atheism Plus conference schedule and a splinter from the door of Saint Kelly’s True Unisex Bathroom. Even though both are associated with ideas that have been intellectually dead for decades, the relics are still miraculously preserved! Praise the divine feminine!

    Unfortunately, I will probably pay tithing on the sale. Let me know if this is a dealbreaker; maybe we can work out a compensatory carbon swap.

  9. But if we’re really dealing in carefully worded not-quite-denials that barely skirt the border between “it depends on what the meaning of is is” and outright lies, then isn’t that really part of the problem?

    Yea, verily, its the *source* of the problem.

  10. Adam G.

    What I’m looking for is an Adam = G. relic.

    Its not yet well-know that Adam G. means that Adam is God and I’m hoping to make it big on the appreciation when the truth comes out.

  11. If by some strange chance Adam does turn out to be G., you’ll get yours, I promise. You’ll be the first one mentioned in the ‘remember the little people’ portion of my acceptance speech.

  12. I disagree that this is a great post. I am not offended by it. Nor do I find it clever or thought-provoking. I think it’s a (very) thinly-veiled attack on the church with no basis in anything other than blatant supposition.

    Whenever you see any post containing the below, you should be very cautious of the author’s intent:

    “I do think it’s quite possible”

    “That would explain the timing”

    “I don’t think I’m the only one who finds that stretches credulity”

    “timing of the joint excommunication letters is highly suspicious”

    “seems vanishingly improbable”

    “That may indeed be the case. I don’t know.”

    There are few facts in this post and none that support the author’s points, which he carefully avoids actually making by asking leading questions. The questions posed in this post are rhetorical and are not designed in any way to help anyone, to promote understanding, or to resolve concerns. They are there to cast doubt, assign blame, to undermine, and to obfuscate.

    Following the line of thought introduced in this post leads to nothing of value. Be wary.

  13. Hi there Adam G., it’s good to see you around these parts. It’s always nice when you join the conversation here, since I’m prohibited from commenting at your own blogs myself. It’s encouraging to note how, although people may leave T&S, they don’t leave T&S alone.

  14. Who really cares, Kaimi? If there is grounds for disciplinary action (so far, just a council, which is where one assesses if anything further is needed), and the local leaders are the ones actually making that judgment, I don’t see that the timing plus or minus a few days or weeks matters, unless one is looking for straws to start hanging grievances on.

  15. I’m pretty sure you aren’t prohibited, KW. You might be on the moderation queue. You aren’t a martyr, just a beatus.
    But in sympathy for your pain your lesser status must cause you, I offer you a 5% discount on aforesaid holy relics, plus a genuine Wiccan crushed aluminum soda can absolutely gratis.

  16. Here’s what Adam G. had to say about Kaimi on one of the links that he posted on comment 9: “The context is that my former coblogger Kaimipono Wenger said something I disagreed with, implying that Church teachings on the family were tantamount to racism, and in my courteous way I gently remonstrated with him in the comments by calling him a low-down skunk, a boil on a spavined horse’s ass, and someone I wouldn’t cross the street to spit on if he were dying of thirst.”

    He sounds like a real charitable guy.

  17. Steve Smith,
    I do donate a minimum of 10% of my income towards the oppression of gays, women, and John Dehlin, so the sound of things hasn’t deceived you.

  18. The implication that the leaders of the church are murderers isn’t the one that I’m concerned with. It’s the implication that Kelly and Dehlin are cast as the truth-telling, honorable priest and that the leaders of the church are cast as the despot who wants to change the church to sate his lusts.

  19. “http://www.millennialstar.org/what-john-dehlin-really-thinks/

    Took the time to read through these. Ya gotta love inquisitionist Mormons. When they disagree with your point of view, instead of actually engaging the argument at hand, like a real scholar, they simply question your commitment to the LDS church and accuse you of being insufficiently blind in your obedience. “How dare you use evil reason,” they’ll say. Oh, and if you read the last of above-posted links, be sure to bring several boxes of Kleenexes, for there is a heck of a lot of crying. It’s a real tearjerker.

  20. Steve,
    I do not think that analyzing what public figures think about their chosen issues is the same as an inquisitional hearing. I am fully confident that several members in my congregation are as unorthodox as they are, yet they are not preaching their alternate interpretation for all to hear. Since the church does not comment on any disciplinary hearings, there is no way to know if there is any more coordination than the public statements in conference and later PR statements that initiated this.
    There may be some coordination, in that several local leaders have independently started the discipline process, but kicked the issue higher due to the public nature of the individuals and issues involved. The answer came back and then the local leaders acted.

  21. el oso, comment 20 was more of a jab at Adam G. and his legendary crusading, which he is apparently continuing against Kaimi, not necessarily the disciplinary councils.

  22. I’ve been watching the Bloggernacle light up over the last couple of days with a moderate curiosity. However, tonight was the first time I saw John’s MormonStories post asking for messages for his family. I did not read all 968 (and counting) responses. The majority of those I did read were thanking John for helping them ease their transition out of the Church. I wonder if any of those people considered the hollow irony of that “comfort.”

  23. It’s interesting because I think the only way these two are happening at the same time is precisely because they weren’t coordinated.

    It’s terribly bad press for these two actions to happen nearly simultaneously. If one had happened without the other, the other would have likely waited for a decent period of time before proceeding.

    I think it is more likely that after General Conference and the public statement from Brother Otterson, it took a certain amount of time for local leaders to get around to making the decision to discipline Kate Kelley.

    Though I don’t recall anything about General Conference and Brother Otterson’s statement that would have spoken to Brother Dehlin’s situation, Brother Dehlin has made no secret of the fact here recently that he pretty much no longer believes and has toyed with keeping his lack of belief silent to avoid hurting Mormon Stories and its financial prospects. So ecclesiastical leaders responsible for Dehlin, seeing the progress of the matters related to Kate Kelly, were possibly inspired to get around to counseling with their own wayward sheep.

    I recall the time my zone leader decided I needed to face a disciplinary council. I had told two female teenaged investigators that they might want to be careful about flirting with the elders. I hadn’t told the girls that their “handle” among the elders was “the lipstick sisters” nor did I tell them to stop coming to church or taking the discussions.

    My zone leader, noticing that he and the others were no longer the subject of open flirtation and adoration, decided I had acted badly. All kinds of rumors started floating around about me, and my zone leader informed me that he would be holding a disciplinary council with all the local missionaries sitting around the table. For what it’s worth, we were in a foreign land on an island in the days when phone communications weren’t easily arranged. So I’m pretty sure the zone leader acted without consulting our Mission President.

    I attended the hearing, and in short order the zone leader in question had made a complete fool of himself, standing up in the face of my meek responses and screaming at me.

    Since he had no idea what a disciplinary council actually was supposed to be or how to proceed from there, nothing happened except his humiliation and a bit of private amusement on my part.

    I think I read somewhere that tens of thousands of disciplinary hearings are held every year. And yet we’ve heard nothing about any of them except from a tiny minority called in for discipline who publicized the events themselves.

  24. If these 2 had quietly held their beliefs, and not shared them, there would probably not be a problem. So particularly in the case of Kate Kelly,the problem the church has trouble dealing with, is that she is not following their playbook. She is not being an individual, who can bequietly picked off, se is an organization.

    If she is diciplined, what does that achieve? Do we expect to hear the result in the NYT? Wouldn’t that just confirm for those who have concerns about the treatment of women in the church that everything she said is true?

    I think the only way this can end well for the church, would be if someone from the first presidency intervenes, and then treats Sis Kelly like she is a valued member of christs church, and talks to her.

    If she is excommunicated, will that be the end of OW? I expect it would strengthen them.

    Sis Kelly and many others, believe the church is where the Gospel is to be found, but also believe some of the teachings are more influenced by the conservative politics of some of the leaders, than by the Gospel of Christ. The opposition to gay marriage, and equality for women are the present manifestations of this, as was the priesthood for all worthy males until 1978.

    Perhaps if this is not being orchestrated from SLC someone there needs to considder the ramifications and, think what is best for the future of the church.

    Many of us have been encouraged to think there is a place for us in this church by talks like those by Elder Uchtdorf, now is the time to put that into action or the message will be clear that, only obedient conservatives are welcome here.

  25. I agree with Meg. It is quite unlike that these actions were coordinated. It would be – well it is – really bad PR for the church. Of course one can think, that church somehow wants to send a message with this kind of purge, but I personally do not believe it. They must understand that it just backfires them. Anyhow, it is possible that SCMC is involved in the process. SCMC has certainly followed these highly influential people. Nevertheless, I’m inclined to believe, that Dehlin’s process really is just an response to his email to the bishop, as the SP states in his letter (http://www.scribd.com/doc/229280355/Stake-president-letter-to-John-Dehlin ). It is totally possible, that it took few months for his leaders to act. (The SP refers also to some “recent actions and statements”, I haven’t been following Dehlin’s dealings that closely, that I could comment if he has done or said something he hadn’t done or said before, that would cause the SP to act right now.)
    If Kelly’s process was initiated from above, I do not know and won’t speculate on.

  26. It appears there was more co-ordination between Kate Kelly and John Dehlin than between their church leaders. The first public knowledge of their most recent letters came from the New York Times article that discussed both of them together. Kelly’s more recent of two letters regarding church discipline followed being placed on informal probation a month ago less than a month after her action at Temple Square. There’s nothing much mysterious about the timing of her communications. In the Trib Talk interview, Dehlin says he’s been through three previous rounds of meetings with his church leaders. I suppose he has a file full of letters such as his latest. When they each received letters within a day of each other on separate on-going matters, and knew of each others’ letters somehow, the timing was right for some more New York Times attention.

  27. Soon these apostates will be out of the Church, and they will be free to start their own church or to unite with one of the many Protestant denominations that subscribe to contemporary philosophy, mingled with scripture. The Ordain Women movement will fade into obscurity, like all of the other apostate factions, and the Church will move forward like always. But like always, there will be a small number of malcontents that blame the Church for everything. But at least these two will not have to be troubled by belonging to a church run by a bunch of old men. They will finally have what they really desire — freedom from the male-dominated church establishment.

  28. Perhaps the precedent of the September Six is one of the reasons people suspect that Salt Lake may be involved in some fashion with these two disciplinary actions. For years, church headquarters denied any such involvement in the proceedings against the September Six, but gradually evidence surfaced suggesting otherwise. See: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2012/11/d_michael_quinn_and_mormon_excommunication_the_complicated_life_of_a_mormon.html

  29. “They will finally have what they really desire — freedom from the male-dominated church establishment.”

    Freedom is easy. What they want seems more like religious S&M. The high of being dominated.

  30. According to several sources in the Virginia area, “disciplinary action against Kate Kelly…was not influenced by leaders in her former LDS congregation in that state, but rather church leaders in Salt Lake City.”

  31. You keep saying that the ‘church’ (ooh pleaasseee, call a spade a spade, and racist misogynist white supremacist cult a racist misogynist white supremacist cult) leaders
    are not guilty of murder. BUT YOU KNOW THAT THEY ARE!
    So the real purpose of this lying rambling rant of yours is to deny the mass murder directed by cult leader and infamously racist pig Brigham Young?

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