Calibrating Apostasy

The Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles released a short three-paragraph statement on Saturday June 28, 2014, posted at the Office of the First Presidency page at It seems like a helpful and timely statement responding to issues raised in the wake of Kate Kelly’s excommunication on June 23, 2014. In particular:

Office of the First Presidency. Statements from Public Affairs are helpful but not definitive, as it is never quite clear what authority PA statements carry. I have heard several variations on the comment “It would be nice to hear what Church leaders have to say on this issue” over the last week. Now we know.

Only men are ordained … for now. Some people are reading the statement as a definitive rejection of the announced mission of Ordain Women, as if it read, “Only men are ordained, forever and ever.” But you can never really say that in a church founded on continuing revelation, and the statement doesn’t say that. It appears to simply be stating current LDS doctrine, although one could read the expansive first sentence as hinting that a male-only priesthood is part of God’s Eternal and Unchanging Plan of Happiness. Here are the first two sentences:

In God’s plan for the happiness and eternal progression of His children, the blessings of His priesthood are equally available to men and women. Only men are ordained to serve in priesthood offices.

No, you won’t get exed for blogging or Facebooking. That seems to be the upshot of this sentence in the second paragraph: “Members are always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding.” However, I have read a number of credible accounts from members who share questions or doubts with their bishop, only to get involuntarily released from callings and even have their temple recommend cancelled. Others in the same situation receive support and encouragement from their bishop to work through such questions. The sad fact of the matter is that it is safer to ask questions of FARMS, FAIR, and your favorite online forum than to ask your bishop. If leaders want to encourage members to bring questions and doubts to their bishop, they first need to discourage bishops from overreacting to disclosures and prematurely shifting from pastoral to disciplinary mode.

This statement only refers to asking questions, but earlier statements gave a broader view of the process. Here’s from a Church statement posted at the LDS Newsroom on June 11, 2014:

There is room for questions and we welcome sincere conversations.

And here is part of a statement from an LDS Church Spokesperson in a June 20, 2014 Deseret News article:

[T]here is no effort to tell local leaders to keep members from blogging or discussing questions online. On the contrary, Church leaders have encouraged civil online dialogue, and recognize that today it’s how we communicate and discuss ideas with one another.

So the most recent FP statement, along with the earlier statements, appears to be an attempt to counter the understandable idea that that recent actions are part of a larger campaign to shut down online discussions by members. They are saying that no one is trying to shut down online discussion.

A public definition of apostasy. The definition of apostasy that local leaders are given to guide their local disciplinary actions is contained in Handbook 1. In most cases someone charged with apostasy does not have access to the relevant material in Handbook 1, although the bishop is supposed to summarize that material in the letter to the accused. Bishops don’t always do a great job of sharing that information. For example the June 8, 2014 letter to Kate Kelly told her the time, date, and place of her church court and that it was called “on the grounds of apostasy,” but did not bother to give the definition of apostasy (!) or identify which ground of apostasy (there are several) was being applied to her case (!!!). So yes, publicly posting a reliable definition of apostasy is a real step forward. Here it is, from the third paragraph of the FP statement:

Apostasy is repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.

A narrow definition of apostasy. Furthermore, the definition of apostasy (which is now public, so we can actually talk about it) is narrow, not broad. I titled this post “calibrating apostasy,” and that is what the wording of this definition appears to do, narrowing the expansive popular LDS understanding of the term. Not just public statements or criticism: it has to be “public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders.” And not just any old public opposition, but public opposition that is “clear, open, and deliberate.” The second clause is likewise rather limited. Just teaching false doctrine is not apostasy (heck, that happens every Sunday at church). You’ve got to be persistent about it.

So this short statement does a lot of good things. Let’s hope local leaders take it to heart.

71 comments for “Calibrating Apostasy

  1. James Olsen
    June 30, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Dave, I think this is a nice, balanced read.

    I’ll admit, however, that I’m not quite as optimistic as you are that this definition really will – or should be – applied by local leaders. That is, I think that this definition does send the sort of signals you note, but that it will be pulled out and used only in certain cases – hot-button type cases. If a Bishop is seriously annoyed with one of his flock, or if one is in clear, open, and deliberate opposition on a hot-button item, then one will be in trouble. Thus, while I think that bloggers and those who are active Facebookers who advocate a certain position (e.g., down with the three hour block!) absolutely qualify as apostate under this definition, they’re not going to be prosecuted for it. On the other hand, advocate for polygamy or start writing op-eds critical of the church on a substantive issue like women’s ordination, and you’re bound to draw your local leader’s authoritative ire.

    This has always been the case, however. A moderate social competence – and not legalistic definitions – alert us to where the boundaries are. And when the boundaries start to look a little fuzzy – like two decades into the heady age of online Mormonism – then the lines get drawn more distinctly via excommunication. We all now have a much clearer sense of where that boundary is than we did before Sister Kelly. This definition might help to formalize that sense, though it was the excommunication itself, in the wake of Sister Kelly’s actions, that sends the message and serves to socialize the rest of us.

  2. Martin James
    July 1, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    “We feel special concern, however, for members who distance themselves from Church doctrine or practice and, by advocacy, encourage others to follow them.”

    What does this mean? What does one do when one “feels a special concern for members”?

    I’m not sure but it seems to mean excommunication as a form of concern which makes sense to some people but seems passive aggressive at best and abusive at worst to others.

  3. IDIAT
    July 1, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    Is blog support of SSM acting in clear open and deliberate public opposition to the church in light of the policy statements on SSM in Handbook 2?

  4. July 1, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    IDIAT, following my reading of the definition, no. First, that would be opposing a position on SSM, not opposing the Church of its leaders. Second, that is an instance of speaking, not “acting.”

    But following the thinking of James (#1), that is more of an open question. If a person was exed for a blog post supporting SSM, that would clarify that fuzzy boundary a little more. That’s assuming there was a clear public statement of the facts and holding of a particular disciplinary action. One problem with this signalling approach is we rarely get clear statements, even with a very public case like Kate Kelly’s. Noisy signalling doesn’t do much to clarify fuzzy boundaries.

  5. anonymous
    July 1, 2014 at 10:48 pm

    If they really mean that narrow definition of apostasy, then they need to reverse on appeal

  6. July 1, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    I really like how they explicitly mention how members are encouraged to ask questions, but I would have liked some expounding on whom they can ask those questions to. If you pray and study out a question for a year or so, and then go to your Bishop and he doesn’t have anything insightful to add, neither does your Stake President, what does one do?

  7. Nate W.
    July 1, 2014 at 11:03 pm

    I thought the addition of the word “faithful” in defining apostasy was an interesting change. That is the only difference between the definition of apostasy in the handbook and the definition in the letter, and it’s hard to imagine the addition is not meaningful (what the meaning, is however, is up for debate…).

  8. Mephibosheth
    July 2, 2014 at 1:00 am


    FYI Kate Kelly’s May 5 letter from her stake president did contain the handbook’s definition of apostasy as the reason why she was being disciplined:

    …you were placed on informal probation as a matter of Church discipline for your activities relating to Ordain Women, for openly, repeatedly and deliberately acting in public opposition to the Church and its leaders after having been counseled not to do so, for continuing to teach as doctrine information that is not doctrine after having been counseled regarding the doctrine of the priesthood, and for leading others to do the same.

  9. July 2, 2014 at 1:36 am

    Still haven’t figured out what false doctrine they were said to have been teaching. I haven’t followed Kelly or OW über closely, but I never saw it and whenever I ask someone what it was, I get either misquotes or crickets. What was it?

  10. Geoff -Aus
    July 2, 2014 at 1:56 am

    A few years ago I had a Bishop try to ex me for apostasy. When I went to the interview/court, he said “do you agree with me that you have committed apostasy, and if you don’t agree with me thats apostasy” His definition was to disagree with him.

    At church there are probably 20 to 30% of members who don’t agree with the obedient/ consevative line, and apart for occasionally, agreeing on an answer in SS, there is no way we can support each other. If for example you had a fireside for this group it would be very difficult to defend yourself against leading them astray, even though your intention was to offer support to like minded people.

    I think KK sees herself as helping a group of like minded people to make themselves heard. Not as converting them to her point of view.

  11. July 2, 2014 at 6:38 am

    That is a difficult perception to support when discussions are created to convert people to her way of thinking.

    Alison, I suspect most people have a difficult time pinning down exactly where the teachings of Ordain Women shade from scriptures to false doctrine. The discussions are very well crafted, designed to make it difficult. I am certain I could analyze the discussions and other works to parse the subtleties, but I’m not sure that is the best use of my rather limited time. Just because people aren’t inclined to elaborate, however, doesn’t mean they haven’t received a witness from the Spirit that the teachings of OW are not in line with God’s will.

    It is clear that their interpretation of Scripture and of Church History is not what is taught by the prophets and apostles. If it were, there would have been no need for the discussions.

  12. Dexter Ambrose
    July 2, 2014 at 7:26 am

    Re: #9 I put it more in the “acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders” definition of apostasy — showing up at Temple Square with an oh-so-Mormon non-protest protest after explicitly and publicly being told not to do so, for example.

  13. Peter LLC
    July 2, 2014 at 8:01 am

    Just because people aren’t inclined to elaborate, however, doesn’t mean they haven’t received a witness from the Spirit that the teachings of OW are not in line with God’s will.

    What you or any other member of the church feels or how you use your limited time is totally irrelevant with regard to the definition of apostasy; what matters is whether God’s authorized servants can articulate, through the power of the Holy Ghost if need be, the charge of apostasy in a way that the one threatened by it can understand the issue at hand, provide clarification and/or repent for the edification of all involved.

  14. Nathan Whilk
    July 2, 2014 at 8:08 am

    The definition of apostasy given in the latest joint FP&Q12 statement appears to be no different than the definition given by Elder Faust over the pulpit in GC and the definition given in a previous joint FP&Q12 statement. It’s not like this definition has been kept secret until now.

  15. July 2, 2014 at 8:55 am

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Meph (#8), the SP letter is dated May 22.

    Alison (#9), I agree. None of the letters actually state that “teaching false doctrine” is what the specific charge was within the general definition of “apostasy” nor identify exactly what, in the eyes of the bishop, constituted false doctrine. The closest statement I can find is in the bishop’s June 23 letter to Kate Kelly, in which he states:

    The diffrculty, Sister Kelly, is not that you say you have questions or even that you
    believe that women should receive the priesthood. The problem is that you have persisted in an
    aggressive effort to persuade other Church members to your point of view and that your course
    of action has threatened to erode the faith of others. You are entitled to your views, but you are
    not entitled to promote them and proselyte others to them while remaining in full fellowship in
    the Church.

    The bishop appears to be saying that “women should have the priesthood” is the false doctrine she is persisting in teaching and that has threatened to erode the faith of others. Except that it is certainly LDS doctrine that women DO NOT have the priesthood (part of a claim that they should have it) and it is certainly LDS doctrine that they COULD have the priesthood (that’s a consequence of continuous revelation and the 1978 revelation). So the bishop appears to be implying that it is established LDS doctrine that women SHOULD NOT have the priesthood and that anyone claiming that they SHOULD have the priesthood is teaching false doctrine.

    If the FP statement had stated that it is now established LDS doctrine that women SHOULD NOT have the priesthood and that any woman expressing hope that women might get the priesthood at some point is teaching false doctrine, that would have at least clarified the Kate Kelly result. As it stands, the FP statement clarifies the public definition of apostasy but not how it was applied to Kate Kelly.

  16. Skeptical Steve
    July 2, 2014 at 9:00 am

    “They are saying that no one is trying to shut down online discussion.”

    I think this interpretation is too broad. The statement refers to “blogging or discussing questions online,” *questions* being the operative word in my mind. As long as you are literally asking questions you may be on solid ground. Opining answers, not so much. See for examples Alan Rock Waterman, Will Carter, and Brent Larsen.

  17. Jared vdH
    July 2, 2014 at 9:24 am

    With regards to the question about a SSM blog post, here’s my guess at the line:

    If you’re saying that you disagree with the political position of the Church on SSM and its place in the American legal system, then I think you’re going to be fine apostasy-wise.

    If instead your blog post says you disagree with the the leaders of the Church in their interpretation of the doctrine of marriage, that SSM should be included as a facet of faithful marriage, and then organize a group of same sex couples to gather together and walk hand-in-hand together to a temple, knock on the door and ask to be sealed, then you’re probably going to be excommunicated.

    That’s only my interpretation though.

  18. Jax
    July 2, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Dave, perhaps her false doctrince was saying that she couldn’t spiritually progress without the priesthood, that is certainly not doctrine. Or perhaps telling others that public agitation will facilitate revelation among the Brethren, that isn’t doctrine either.

    The bishop appears to be saying that “women should have the priesthood” is the false doctrine she is persisting in teaching and that has threatened to erode the faith of others. Except that it is certainly LDS doctrine that women DO NOT have the priesthood (part of a claim that they should have it) and it is certainly LDS doctrine that they COULD have the priesthood (that’s a consequence of continuous revelation and the 1978 revelation). So the bishop appears to be implying that it is established LDS doctrine that women SHOULD NOT have the priesthood and that anyone claiming that they SHOULD have the priesthood is teaching false doctrine.

    While it is LDS doctrine that women ‘could’ get the priesthood (because of continuing revelation and open canon), saying that they ‘should’ is not. Saying we ‘could’ practice polygamy again is fine, saying we “should” practice polygamy “should” get you ex-ed! Saying women “should” is much different from saying “could.”

    Her argument about “should” also suggests a lack of faith in the revelatory process, the authority of the Apostles/FP, and the validity of the church structure in general because the message is “all these men aren’t doing what they “should” be doing.” Because if women SHOULD have the priesthood, but all those men won’t let them, then those men must be doing things wrong, they are standing in the way of what SHOULD happen, they are the problem – and so it questions their role as prophets/seer/revelators, their priesthood authority, and even whether this church is led by Christ at all, because why would He let men like that do such a thing. And the open and public nature of her demonstrations lead others to lose faith in the church and its leaders as well and to question it’s doctrines (Does Christ lead this church? etc). And that all qualifies as Apostasy.

  19. July 2, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Jax (#18), it’s harder than you think to draw your apostasy line between could (which you allow) and should (which you label Apostasy). Saying “should” is more or less equivalent to “it would be a good thing if women had the priesthood,” which is essentially what OW is claiming. So let me restate your view of the allowable and proper LDS position:

    Women don’t presently have the priesthood, but they could have the priesthood, but it would be a bad thing for women to have the priesthood.

    Now here is what OW is saying, which you define as Apostasy:

    Women don’t presently have the priesthood, but they could have the priesthood, and it would be a good thing for women to have the priesthood.

    I think it is certainly the case that Jax doesn’t think it would be a good thing for women to have the priesthood. I’m not sure how that is relevant to the larger discussion.

  20. July 2, 2014 at 11:03 am

    “What you or any other member of the church feels or how you use your limited time is totally irrelevant with regard to the definition of apostasy;”

    Exactly…but if you truly believed that, you’d not be participating in this discussion. Because the Church has every right to define whether or not someone is no longer able to participate in it. This entire thread and conversation presupposes that my feelings and use of time regarding the definition of apostasy is relevant.

    You can’t simply define the public conversation on apostasy by discounting the feelings of those who disagree with yours. You can try on this blog, of course, but it severely delegitimizes your own feelings on the subject. Whether or not Kate Kelly’s leadership has sufficiently articulated the matter to her is between her and the leadership, even though Kate Kelly is leveraging her perspective. The matter is either public or it is not. If it is up for public debate, my perspective (feelings and use of time) have just as much legitimacy as yours.

    The parts of the conversation which Kate Kelly has chosen to publish certainly make it seem to me as if they were quite specific as to which of her actions constitute apostasy, and what it would take for her to repent. Arguing otherwise is kind of farcical.

    If Kate Kelly has a problem with her leadership, she can go to her leadership to sort it out. She has, instead, essentially made an action of no confidence, refusing to discuss it with them. Unfortunately, she is choosing to discuss it with the world instead, which only supports the leadership’s choices. The more she persists, the more right the leadership were to act as they have. One can’t refuse to communicate with someone, and then complain that they are communicating well enough.

    It is telling that it isn’t until she 1) persisted in public demonstration after being asked not to and 2) published discussions to promote her paradigm that she was brought under disciplinary council. It wasn’t until she 1) absolutely refused to participate in that council despite having several opportunities given to her to do so, 2) reacted with defiance, and 3) eagerly published the entire situation to be chewed over by those with no connection and little understanding that she was finally excommunicated. The line seems pretty clear to me.

    As things develop, I find it increasingly baffling that anyone claims she was “merely asking questions,” or “merely expressing her perspective.” But, hey…if someone wants to throw their chips in that pot, that is certainly their choice. Ironically, that very action is partially what concerns her leadership: that she is persuading others.

  21. July 2, 2014 at 11:04 am

    *are NOT communicating well enough…

  22. Jax
    July 2, 2014 at 11:24 am


    You restated poorly. I said nothing about good or bad, simply should or could. Correctly restating the positions would be like this:

    Women don’t presently have the priesthood, but revelation COULD be given to have them ordained.

    while OW says

    Women don’t presently have the priesthood, but they SHOULD be ordained.

    That claim of SHOULD is what causes all the loss of faith among the people she attacts/recruits/(better phrase?) You didn’t address that problem at all though did you? About how her position creates doubts among members and destroys their faith in the church and its leaders. Saying that women SHOULD be ordained makes it almost seem like God’s will have been revealed about this, and that the Apostles/Church are standing in the way. It have not been revealed, nor is it self-evident, that women SHOULD be ordained.

    And just because YOU (or others) think that something would be “good” doesn’t mean God sees it that way. He is smarter than us. We would call burning people and scriptures “bad.” But Alma was told he shouldn’t stop it because God wanted it to happen. Our thoughts/feelings on whether it is good/bad are kind of irrelevant. What is relevant is if GOD thinks something SHOULD happen or not.

  23. July 2, 2014 at 11:48 am

    Jax, “it would be a good thing if women had the priesthood” is probably a better summary of the OW position than “women should have the priesthood.” Which side of your Apostasy line does “it would be a good thing if women had the priesthood” fall on?

  24. Jared vdH
    July 2, 2014 at 12:07 pm


    Your example from Alma is not particularly relevant to whether or not women should hold the priesthood.

    I think we’re pretty clear that God did not “want” the people of Ammonihah to burn the believers, nor did He think is “should” happen. Otherwise He wouldn’t have held their actions in witness against them.

    What we learn from Alma 14 is that God will allow the wicked to be wicked, even if their actions harm the righteous.

    I generally agree with your original sentiment, but I feel your analogy is misplaced. The better analogy is Christ commanding the apostles and seventy in his time to preach and minister only to Jews during his lifetime. He refused to even speak to Herod. We know that obviously the gospel is universal, but at least according to the precedent of scripture, sometimes the scope of the gospel is limited for reasons we don’t understand.

  25. Jared vdH
    July 2, 2014 at 12:14 pm


    Except that “it would be a good thing if women had the priesthood” is not the Ordain Women position. Their official position is “Ordain Women believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.” (Taken from That “must” seems a lot stronger to me than your interpretation.

  26. thor
    July 2, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    Response to #9 Allison Moore Smith:

    For me, it was reading the (not yet complete) “6 discussions” on OW’s webpage. I had an acute “I know it when I see it” moment, and I saw apostasy. I felt like I was being recruited using a very careful twisting and mingling of scriptures and Church leaders’ words. Not to mention the blatant formatting rip-off.

    Disappointing, because I think a lot of the inequities in Church practice can,and still need to be corrected.

  27. Jax
    July 2, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    #23 is laughable Dave. The name “Ordain Women” is a demand statement, their mission says “Ordain Women believes women must be ordained …” which is demanding, as well as “call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women” which is very SHOULDish. They don’t use the word “good” they use the words “must” and “need”. They aren’t saying how good it would be if it happened, but that it should happen and they are committed to their cause until it does. You don’t use the words ‘must’ and ‘need’ because you think ordaining women would be beneficial, but because you think it is required and that it SHOULD be done. They think it is unfair they aren’t ordained and that it SHOULD be remedied. “good” arguments would be “these are all the benefits that would come from ordaining us” rather than “we’ve been wronged, having our potential curtailed, and it needs to be fixed.”

  28. Naismith
    July 2, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Well, part of the “acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition” may have been ignoring the request not to march on temple square in April. Thus it may not be mere coincidence that church disciplinary action was not initiated until after that step was taken.

    And that might help define a boundary: If the church asks you not to do something, don’t push forward.

    I wonder if there had been any less media coverage if they had met in the park and marched around temple square?

  29. Jax
    July 2, 2014 at 12:39 pm


    That would be a good example as well. My point was simply that we don’t have His knowledge and can’t adequately judge or determine what should or should not happen. We would all have wanted to stop the burnings, as Amulek did, but the prophet discerned that it needed to happen, that it was what ought to happen.

    I readily admit I don’t know much about priesthood, priesthood power, gender roles in God’s plan now or in eternity, … and myriad other things. But I trust that God does. And I trust He loves my wife and daughters and that He wants what is best for them. And I trust that He knows what IS best for them much better than I do. And I trust thHim to judge what should and should not happen. And I trust that since He hasn’t given the priesthood to women then their is a good reason, something we probably don’t understand at all. Maybe it is because they don’t “need” it, or because for some reason they “can’t” have it, or because of some failure of Eve, or because they need to learn something, … etc. I don’t know, you don’t know, but unlike OW I trust God to do the right thing.

  30. Mephibosheth
    July 2, 2014 at 12:44 pm


    My guess is the false doctrine charge refers to the six discussions released by OW shortly after April conference. I mostly liked them, actually, but you can definitely argue that they teach and promote false doctrine. The main things that stand out to me are 1) The idea that the ban on female ordination isn’t scriptural, and 2) that female ordination is necessary for eternal progression.

    Other things in there don’t exactly constitute false doctrine but seem designed to promote dissension like “Patriarchy Bingo” or promote doubt (“I don’t know what I think about God these days, but this much I know: God is not the author of inequality. I don’t care who claims otherwise. I’m not buying what you’re selling.”)

  31. Jared vdH
    July 2, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    Jax, I still think the example with Alma and Amulek is off. Alma does not say that “it needed to happen”. All Alma says is that he was constrained to not intervene.

    The people of Ammonihah did not “need to” burn the believers of their city alive. However Alma was constrained by the Lord to allow it to happen so that Alma, and by extension the Lord since Alma would be using His power, did not infringe upon the agency of the wicked.

    The need for something to happen and the need to not intervene in something already happening are two very different things in my mind because of their connection to agency.

    I apologize if this seems pedantic, but it feels like an important distinction to me.

  32. Jax
    July 2, 2014 at 1:02 pm


    Fair enough. Though I wasn’t saying the Ammonihahites ‘needed’ to burn anyone. I was saying that given the burning was happening, a mortal’s idea of what should happen and God’s idea of what should happen were different (Should Alma interfere or should he not?).

  33. Amanda
    July 2, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Naismaith, re #28, it is my understanding that Public Affairs asked that OW not line up on Temple Square in April? If that is erroneous, I welcome the correction.
    Also from my understanding KK informed her bishop ahead of time about the April action and he said nothing. I think it is problematic that the April OW gathering is seen as going against her leaders (you didn’t say that but I have seen it phrased that way elsewhere). Public Affairs is nobody’s leaders. They do not have stewardship. While (according to Ally Isom) their work gets the stamp of approval from the Brethren I still think it is very unsettling that the PR arm of the Church is viewed as so authoritative.

  34. July 2, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Public Affairs has the stewardship to communicate to the media on behalf of the Brethren.

  35. Nate W.
    July 2, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    “Public Affairs has the stewardship to communicate to the media on behalf of the Brethren.”

    How many degrees of separation before “whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants” no longer applies?

  36. BJohnson
    July 2, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    The voice was from PR because OW chose to engage the church in that domain. Whether OW felt they had no other option does not change the analysis. OW leadership showed considerable media sophistication as they proceeded. They brought a message to the Church on the media’s playing field and felt that leveraging such resources would aid their cause. The Church, realizing that OW desired to conduct the engagement on those terms, responded in the same language.

    OW initially couched their message in the form of a deferential question, but then began (along with their supporters online and elsewhere) to outline to the Church the nature of the responses they would consider legitimate (e.g. direct meetings with Q15-level brethren, specific accounts of specific prayers offered for revelation, a detailed account of any answer, and (presumably) a fully developed argument justifying any position except an unequivocal “Yes” on women’s ordination).

    When PR responded during the conference incidents and just afterward, the blogs lit up with calls of “Illegitimate response! The Church is using its media people! We don’t sustain the media people. Hey Church, stop talking to us in the language of the media and give us the pastoral, revelatory message we have demanded in the language of the media!”

    When the Q15-level brethren finally issued a joint statement saying that only men are ordained to Priesthood offices, OW and KK responded that they interpreted the message to mean that the continuation of their mission was more important now than ever. Again, the Church’s response did not follow their rules–thus reinforcing to them that much more work needs to be done leveraging media resources to win member’s hearts and minds round to their position. Is it really God’s position? I don’t presume to know. But to say that OW can maintain perfect fidelity to the duly ordained leaders of the Church while still rejecting the requests of those same leaders to stand down strains all credulity.

    As James E. Faust (a good Democrat) once said, “there is no such thing as a loyal opposition in the Church.”

  37. JDH105-
    July 2, 2014 at 4:54 pm

    It reads like damage control from the PR department.

    “after receiving counsel” seems innocent to non members, but to many members it’s code for “after being told to shut up.”

  38. July 2, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Nate W.—I think if you’re trying to parse the “degrees of separation” of authority, you’re missing the point. I prefer to rely to spiritual confirmation and the lines of stewardship.

  39. July 2, 2014 at 5:05 pm


  40. Nate W.
    July 2, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    SilverRain, I’m just thinking about it in terms of the Telephone Game. I can get “whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants,” but how about “the voice of my servants’ servants”? How far can we reliably delegate speaking for the Church and its leaders, especially when it is delegated to a person or entity outside of established priesthood channels (which the PA department most definitely is)?

  41. Jared vdH
    July 2, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    #40 Nate W., the problem I see with your argument is that OW were the ones that went outside of the established priesthood channels in the first place. Why does OW get to break those rules, but the leadership must follow them?

    Also, who are you to say that the established priesthood channels weren’t also used? If they were the established priesthood channels wouldn’t have communicated through the media. Just because KK says that she her bishop didn’t explicitly tell her to not do the April action, doesn’t mean he didn’t tell her to stop altogether.

  42. July 2, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Again, Nate W., you’re operating on a paradigm that has nothing to do with Priesthood authority, revelation, or the Spirit of God.

    Let me try to back up a bit. Did you ever teach or hear the old first discussion?

    It was the one about the 1st Vision, and how God speaks to prophets who speak to us, then we speak to God who confirms to us.

    In that structure, it doesn’t matter whether or not the prophet is the Prophet, the Apostles, the Bishop, or random guy on the street. We have two tools to judge revelation: 1) the Spirit and 2) stewardship. “Degrees of separation” only matters if you don’t have a relationship of your own with the Spirit of God.

  43. July 2, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    Jax (#27), there is nothing laughable about trying to understand where different views of this suddenly pressing issue fall on the approved-discourage-apostasy spectrum as defined (or as not defined — that’s the whole problem) by the Church. “Women could have the priesthood” versus “I hope women have the priesthood someday, maybe someday soon” versus “women should have the priesthood, maybe now” — the difference matters for the many LDS women who are quietly hoping but not affiliated with OW and for the many OW-affiliated women (there are several hundred profiles) who are now wondering if they are, as you suggest, branded as apostates and subject to a church court.

    Ironically, I have read no accounts of any LDS member who has lost faith or left the Church because of OW activities, as you suggest is the case in comment #22, where you say OW “creates doubts among members and destroys their faith in the church and its leaders.” On the other hand, I have read many accounts of individuals who have had that reaction to LDS members like you who take the recent action as a green light to classify those who take the possibility of women getting the priesthood seriously as apostates. It’s the “hate your neighbor” Mormons eager to identify apostates (generally anyone whose views differ from their own) and make the Church better by making it smaller that are the biggest danger here, particularly those who see the Kate Kelly action as a signal to start their own search. The FP statement, by restating a narrow definition of apostasy (as I read it) works against that approach.

  44. July 2, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Silver Rain (#20), I understand your concern. Yes, the Church can use whatever rules it wants to ex people or could simply allow bishops to do so arbitrarily, without any set of procedures to guide them. But the Church has published procedures in the Handbook and states that principles of fairness should guide the proceeding. The FP statement publicly states the definition of apostasy. Recent statements (quoted in the opening post) seem designed to inform the membership that there is no campaign afoot to shut down public discussion of questions and issues and that such activity does not constitute apostasy. So the topic of this post is certainly a topic worth discussing. It’s already a public discussion (it was the Deseret News, not Ordain Women, that published the bishop’s June 23 letter).

    Naismith (#28), it’s still not clear how asking for tickets is opposition to the Church. If, as you suggest, the rule for apostasy should include “If the church asks you not to do something, don’t push forward” — well, if that’s part of the definition, they would have put that in the definition they just published.

    The fact that no one is clear whether Kelly was exed for teaching false doctrine or for public opposition (or for just disagreeing with the bishop) is itself indicative of a problem.

  45. July 2, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    Dave, I think you entirely missed my point.

    But I think your problem is not one. It’s a feature, not a bug….

  46. July 2, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    SR, I think there were several points in your comment. As a sincere and lengthy comment, I thought it deserved a response, so I tried to pick one and respond.

  47. Mephibosheth
    July 2, 2014 at 9:10 pm


    My guess is Ordain Women’s repeated, open, public, and deliberate opposition to the church had less to do with their “asking for tickets” and more to do with this:

    If you feel you must come and demonstrate, we ask that you do so in the free speech zones adjacent to Temple Square

    and then this:

    Despite polite and respectful requests from church leaders not to make Temple Square a place of protest, a mixed group of men and women ignored that request and staged a demonstration outside the Tabernacle on General Conference weekend, refusing to accept ushers’ directions and refusing to leave when asked

  48. July 2, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    A “demonstration”? I think PA would have been happier if OW women had carried signs, thrown eggs, kicked trees, and shouted insults at ushers. In pants. “Heck no, we will go. To priesthood meeting!” It was very inconvenient for them to be so polite. If a real demonstration appeared at Temple Square, you would know it from the SWAT teams and police squads.

    Look, they could have handed cookies out at the front gate and it would have been called a “demonstration.” The people who wrote that were not describing events, they were creating a narrative.

  49. Mephibosheth
    July 2, 2014 at 9:54 pm


    You may want to consult a dictionary regarding the definition of the word “demonstration.” Nothing about signs, eggs, etc.

    Look, they could have handed cookies out at the front gate and it would have been called a “demonstration.”

    If so, then it would have been an accurate use of the term. But then again, if they’d remained outside the gate I doubt we’d even be having this conversation. A line was drawn, she crossed it, and here we are. It’s almost as if she was trying to tick the boxes of the handbook definition of apostasy.

    The people who wrote that were not describing events, they were creating a narrative.

    There are pictures attached to the article. Feel free to look through them and then explain to the rest of us where the “narrative” begins to deviate from a description of the events.

  50. JimD
    July 2, 2014 at 11:31 pm

    Amanda #33, Kelly’s May 22 letter from her Stake President explaining her informal probation asserted that he and/or her bishop had discussed the matter with her in December of 2013, and then in March/April of 2014, and had counseled her to desist. Kelly has published an alternate version of the December 2013 meeting and, I believe, has denied that those March/April 2014 meetings ever happened.

    Dave #44, I also thought it was odd that the DesNews published the June 23 letter without its being published on the OW site. But I dug a little more and found that (as I recall) the DesNews’ article itself said that the letter was provided to them by Kelly.

    And re #48: What was OW trying to accomplish in going to the Tabernacle to request admission to a meeting they had already been told they wouldn’t be admitted to? They couldn’t possibly have been hoping to be directly greeted, or even seen, by the GAs–who were all a block away in the Conference Center and who move about Temple Square at conference time via a network of subterranean tunnels.

    The participants had zero possibility of getting into the Tabernacle–and they knew it. They had zero possibility of initiating a dialogue with Church leadership right then and there–and they knew it. So if it wasn’t a good-faith effort to attend a meeting, and wasn’t a sincere effort to start a dialogue with Church leadership right then and there, and it wasn’t a “demonstration”–then I’m sort of scratching my head as to what it actually was.

  51. Mark B.
    July 3, 2014 at 12:15 am

    Dave’s blinders have kept him, conveniently for himself, from remembering the sit-ins at lunch counters in the Jim Crow South. Because they wouldn’t fit his crabbed definition of demonstration either.

  52. Naismith
    July 3, 2014 at 7:12 am

    Re. 33 OW sent their own letter requesting tickets to the church public affairs department, and public affairs responded. So why is that response not valid? If PA were not empowered to speak for the church, why did OW write to them in the first place?

    I wonder what conversation we would be having today and what a different message it would have sent if OW had complied with that request?

    47, 49, 50 pretty much reflect my view. I am not sure what message they were trying to send by insisting on entering Temple Square.

    I am also reflecting back to the 1980s and how my pro-ERA brothers and sisters behaved, which allowed them to express their views and yet retain their church leadership positions. Another datapoint in defining the boundaries.

  53. Peter LLC
    July 3, 2014 at 8:48 am

    Re: 20

    “The matter is either public or it is not. If it is up for public debate, my perspective (feelings and use of time) have just as much legitimacy as yours.”

    Indeed; however, the issue is not whether the conversation about apostasy is public, which it of course is, but whether the private feelings of third parties are a valid means of determining whether someone has committed apostasy. My view is that they are not (even if, as a practical matter, apostasy is frequently a foregone conclusion in the eye of the beholder) simply because it would be a violation of what you term lines of stewardship for anyone other than the relevant priesthood holder to make that call.

  54. Jax
    July 3, 2014 at 9:20 am

    Ironically, I have read no accounts of any LDS member who has lost faith or left the Church because of OW activities, as you suggest is the case in comment #22, where you say OW “creates doubts among members and destroys their faith in the church and its leaders.”

    Funny, I’ve heard accounts of them… from you:

    the difference matters for the many LDS women who are quietly hoping but not affiliated with OW and for the many OW-affiliated women (there are several hundred profiles) who are now wondering if they are, as you suggest, branded as apostates and subject to a church court.

    There’s several hundred profiles of people who have had their doubts strengthened and their faith weakened, plus the uncounted women (and men) who listened/read about KK’s protests and thought, “Are the Apostles mysoginists?” or “Is Christ leading this church? Why would He have THEM in charge?” or “She’s right, I DO need the priesthood to progress.”

  55. Jax
    July 3, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Peter LLC,

    I don’t think third party feelins are relevant. KK and OW preach some poor doctrine and try to get others to buy in; to put their trust in it. I think whether or not they are successful in recruiting (which is where other peoples feelings come in) is not nearly as important as the fact they were intentionally trying to recruit people into believing poor doctrine and opposing the church. I think if you were to publicly be trying to recruit like that, that you’d be ex-ed even if you were unsuccessful in changing any third-party’s feelings.


  56. Brittany
    July 3, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Recognizing that church leaders are not infallible is not the same thing as having weak in the gospel weakened. The assumption that they are the same thing is problematic.

  57. Brittany
    July 3, 2014 at 10:26 am

    That was supposed to say “faith in the gospel” not “weak in the gospel.”

  58. Sal
    July 3, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Mormon friends:

    It’s very easy to avoid the apostate label. Don’t embarrass the church and don’t go on a mission to change doctrine or policy. What president Hinckley said regarding agitation and ordaining women was clearly wrong. The church is sovereign when it comes to doctrine and policy and doesn’t like challenges to their authority. Nevertheless such challenges and agitation are the only way to change the church as we have seen with polygamy and priesthood in the past. What this means is that those who feel strongly about change, whether right or wrong, must risk their membership when pursuing a course of change. A review of religious history shows that this was always the case and likely will always be the case.

  59. Peter LLC
    July 3, 2014 at 10:42 am

    I’m not saying apostasy only occurs when the apostate is persuasive; I’m saying that a third party’s feelings (even if they result from personal revelation) can’t be the standard for defining apostates. So while someone may feel inspired to ignore someone’s false doctrines, and be justified in doing so, they would be crossing a line in presuming to stand in judgment of that person’s status with the Lord.

  60. July 3, 2014 at 10:54 am

    “The issue is not whether the conversation about apostasy is public, which it of course is, but whether the private feelings of third parties are a valid means of determining whether someone has committed apostasy.”

    I think we may be saying the same thing, but from different grounds.

    I think there are two ways you can approach this: either in the sense that you want to evaluate whether or not such actions in YOU would lead to apostasy (a la “liken the scriptures,) or to judge whether or not the bishop should have made the decision he did.

    Like you, my point is that the second way is an invalid realm to judge. I find great value in the first realm, but there is no possible way we could have enough information to judge the second. If you’re trying to understand well enough to judge the judges, you’re playing an unwinnable game.

    To elaborate to those who might disagree: The process of excommunication, as with all things in the Church, may have some guidelines, but the only immovable rule is the Spirit. That is precisely, I feel, why Handbook 1 is not published except on a need-to-know basis. People are too prone to see them as rules, and then judge the Church according to those rules. But they aren’t. They are guidelines. You can’t replicate exactly what happened with Kate Kelly and change up controlled variables to test the “laws” of the Church. It just doesn’t happen that way.

    Under another bishop, Kate Kelly may well still be a member. But she wasn’t under another bishop. And the only ones who can judge whether or not the bishop was judging righteously is the stake, and so forth up the chain. Because none of us have stewardship, and therefore none of us have access to the Spiritual Gift of revelation on this matter. Not to mention we don’t (and cannot) have all the facts.

    That is not a bug of the Church, it is a feature. It is designed that way. There is no secular governmental structure quite like it, and there cannot be one. Applying the principles of law to it is fruitless.

    Now, Peter (and Jax) personal feelings and time discussing whether or not Kate Kelly committed apostasy is VERY relevant in the first realm. Because Kate Kelly has made the proceedings rather public, she has given us the opportunity to look at her story and apply it to ourselves, to judge where we feel the line of apostasy is for us. Naturally, in that process we begin to form an opinion about the second realm, but it’s irrelevant. Nonetheless, there is great value in applying our personal feelings and thoughts to the first realm because it can help us develop our relationship to the Spirit.

    However, it seems Alison is asking for people to, essentially, prove that Kate Kelly and OW were committing apostasy by preaching false doctrine. Because I agree with you that spending time judging whether or not she should have been excommunicated is a waste, I’m not going to spend my time picking apart what OW teaches. Either an individual sees it for themselves, or they don’t. Either they are seeking to understand or to disprove. I’ve spent enough time proving it to myself for my own development, whether or not any one else gets it is not worth my time. Especially when it’s being demanded in such a manner of automatic rejection.

    That doesn’t mean, however, that it is unprovable. The evidence is clear as day for anyone with a mind to find it.

  61. Jax
    July 3, 2014 at 10:58 am


    Just trying to get this straight. You’re saying a person can’t call another person an apostate just becuase they don’t like their beliefs, right? So person X in SS says they think women should be ordained, person Y can’t stand and call her an Apostate. Yes? (they COULD do it, but shouldn’t and would be wrong)

    I think I agree with that. Now, I did say earlier that somone publicly (as in OW fashion) teaching that the church SHOULD practice polygamy should be ex-ed. I don’t think I’m wrong, but should I not say that either?? You aren’t an “apostate” until the church officially identifies you as such IMO. This would be in line with my not being able to judge whether someone is going to Heaven or Hell… it’s just not my call no matter my opinion of the person.

    However, in line with the command to judge between good and evil, I could justly say, “that isn’t good doctrine” and encourage others to ignore it. Do you agree with that?

  62. Old Man
    July 3, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    Just last Sunday in a neighboring ward, we had a sacrament meeting hijacked by an OW supporter. She pretty much seized the pulpit and went on a rant. The Bishop asked her to sit down and she refused. She called the local leaders who excommunicated KK and the First Presidency “sexists” and told the congregation that they should petition the First Presidency to overturn KK’s excommunication. The Bishop stood up and corrected her on several points after she finally sat down. But the members were upset and I suspect a disciplinary hearing is in the works.

    I have a hard time taking anyone seriously who claims that the OW has not done some damage. There were suspicions when Nadine Hansen was identified as one of the leaders. She targeted LDS people because she disagreed with their political views. In the days since KK’s excommunication and since the tirade on Sunday, OW is now viewed by most of the Saints in this area as a truly apostate organization. I was around during the Sonia Johnson/ERA mess. This is worse.

    At what point do activists believe that their issue is so important that they abandon their duties to the church community and seek to divide rather than unite? How do they justify ridiculing the Lord’s anointed? I have a hard time not seeing the actions of KK and OW as the actions of an apostate movement.

  63. July 3, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Jax (#54), your argument doesn’t make sense. Those who sign up at OW are the ones who *want to stay*. See also comment #56.

    Peter (#59), I agree. I have read accounts where people are charged with *hypothetically* hurting someone’s feelings, even more bizarre. “No, I can’t name any particular person, but what you wrote might have offended someone.”

    Old Man (#62), thanks for the info. “A neighboring ward” … so you got the story second-hand?

  64. Old Man
    July 3, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    Yes, secondhand from the members. One Bishop told me if it happened in his ward, he would just dismiss the meeting. Why deal with the contention?

  65. July 3, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    Maybe you ought to phone her up and have a friendly chat or a friendly listen. There is always an “other side of the story.”

  66. Kurt J
    July 3, 2014 at 9:18 pm

    Dave, you misspelled “celebrating” in the title of this post.

  67. Jax
    July 3, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    Dave, KK wanted to stay so much that she disregarded her Bishop when he told what she needed to do/not do?? Compelling argument there!

  68. CRW
    July 4, 2014 at 1:19 am

    Well you know, better (for us Mofems and especially for the church apparently) to shut up and be thought apostate than to open our mouths and remove all doubt.

    I remember at age 19 thinking “they really just don’t want a woman like me in the church.” That was the ERA/International Womens Year fiasco. September 1993 same thing. Prop 8 nearly killed me, but I stayed by the skin of my teeth.

    I’m an extremely slow learner I guess. The cost to my soul of staying may have finally become too much. I keep telling myself to leave the damn blogs alone, I know I’ve lost all credibility among the faithful by deciding to leave, but you must forgive me. Three weeks ago I was in the temple, struggling as usual but determined to power through. Now it’s like I woke up this morning and I’m in a different universe. One step I was a believer, the next step I had lost all hope.

    I guess what’s most painful about threads like this is the smug attention to jot and tittle while I’m still crying myself to sleep at night over the loss of my spiritual home.

  69. ji
    July 4, 2014 at 5:27 am

    I’ve also thought about leaving the blogging scene — then, I could maybe actually live the gospel instead of just blogging about it. I have found so much happiness in.the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I learned long ago that I cannot expect the church to conform to me — it has a life of its own, and will proceed with or without me. But I want to stay on the bus, so to speak, so I content myself with my role of passenger among other passengers. I participate in the discussions, but I generally don’t concern myself with the driver’s business and other passenger’s arguments or the condition of the highway and so forth. I just share with others that I’m glad to be on the bus and that we’ll make it to our destination soon enough. It does bother me somewhat when fellow passengers try to distract redirect the driver or establish dominance over the conversation of other passengers. Anyway, that’s an illustration explaining why I no longer care about making the church conform to my expectations. But still, I am so very glad to call myself a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The most important matters for me, and what helps make everything fall into place for me: faith, hope, and charity, all focused on our Savior. It works for me.

  70. Peter LLC
    July 4, 2014 at 7:55 am

    “You aren’t an “apostate” until the church officially identifies you as such IMO. […] However, in line with the command to judge between good and evil, I could justly say, “that isn’t good doctrine” and encourage others to ignore it. Do you agree with that?”

    That sounds about right.

  71. July 4, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Jax (#67), the whole point of the discussion is to understand the definition of apostasy (which the FP has restated or clarified in the statement linked in the opening post), in particular that there is one. It is simply not that case that “she disregarded her Bishop when he told what she needed to do” and therefore she was exed. Go and read comment #10 — that is not how we define apostasy.

    CRW (#68), I think we want to keep all women in the Church, and not with the caveat “as long as you do exactly what you’re told.” Slow progress.

    Peter (#70), it is worth emphasizing that the word “apostate” can be used in two different senses. One is a person who has been exed for a finding of apostasy in the church court. A second definition is someone who fits some objective definition of being in apostasy. These are *not* equivalent definitions! There are people in a state of apostasy who are members of the Church in full fellowship. There are individuals who have been exed who do not fit the definition of apostasy. Many Mormons will, upon reading of someone who is exed for apostasy (the first sense), just assume facts that put them within the definition (the second sense). It is convenient for the Church that so many Mormons think this way, but it seems like mistaken thinking. We don’t even profess prophetic infallibility, much less infallibility for the thousands of bishops who run wards.

    I am leaving town for the long weekend, so I am going to close comments now. Maybe I will come back around to this interesting topic in a couple of weeks.

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