A darn shame: On l’affaire Kelly et al.
(That’s right, I’m mixing several languages in my post title. flex)
About a year and a half ago, By Common Consent published an interesting post entitled “A darn shame“. The gist of the post is that the author firmly believes that the church is the way to God, and the instrument to build the kingdom of God on the earth, but:
I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that my gay friends investigate the church. This sickens me. As far as I can tell (a very limited distance), to join the church as a member of the LGBT community is to consign yourself to misery. Since we are, that we might have joy, I cannot suggest it.
This seems to be the seed around which my thoughts on the excommunication of Kate Kelly have crystallized. Even if I were a believing Mormon once more (I’m not, for a variety of reasons, but I don’t count myself among the bitter exmo crowd), I would be unable, in good conscience, to recommend the church to many of the friends I’ve made in graduate school. They ask questions and want good answers that have good reasons besides “because I said so,” and recent events indicate that the church climate is once more growing colder for questioners.
Recently, it looked like the church was taking steps to distance itself from the Proposition 8 fiasco (though contra this narrative, see here for an example of local leaders involving themselves in the fray in their official capacities), grapple with its views on gay people, extend a welcoming hand toward those who doubt, and frankly address sensitive issues in church history. I and others saw these developments as steps toward greater glasnost and willingness to engage with the murky business of life in a pluralistic, evidence-based society. I was hopeful.
To see why this looked like a pivot toward glasnost, it’s useful to look a little further back in the church’s recent history. Starting in, say, the early 1980’s (or maybe earlier, perhaps as a result of the correlation program beginning in earnest in 1972), there seemed to be a trend toward anti-intellectualism, and in my reading, Boyd Packer was at the center of this movement. In 1981, he gave an address to church educators entitled “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater than the Intellect“, in which he said that “some things that are true are not very useful.” Many have read this as a shot across the bow of Mormon historians who feel it is important to develop the most factual accounts of church history possible. Another address, given by Boyd Packer in May of 1993, is even more direct:
There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away. … The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement… and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.
(Speaking as someone who’s all three of those things, back when I was struggling with how much I wanted to be involved with the church, it wounded me more than a little to hear that I was considered a danger to the church.) This period of strong anti-intellectualism culminated in September 1993 with formal church discipline of six intellectuals who had spoken publicly to express their doubts about the status quo. With this history in mind, it’s more evident why the recent actions of the church looked like an opening up to hard questions on thorny issues, and why I was hopeful.
Imagine my surprise (and dismay), then, when news came that disciplinary proceedings had been initiated against Kate Kelly, John Dehlin, and Rock Waterman. (And if you think that the timing is a coincidence and that local leaders didn’t have marching orders from Salt Lake, then would you like to buy this neat bridge?) I had hoped that the church was more willing to substantively address questions, even difficult ones. I had hoped that well-meaning doubt, backed by the spirit of inquiry, would no longer be stigmatized. I had hoped that we had left 1993 behind us. It looks, though, like I was wrong. And that’s a darn shame.