On Excommunication and Big Tent Mormonism

big tent

John Dehlin and Kate Kelly have rocked the LDS community lately.

On the one side of the spectrum you have people who claim they are “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

On the other you have people who secretly or openly are supporters of their movements.

The fact that Dehlin of Mormon Stories podcast fame, and Kelly who started Ordain Women, are now facing disciplinarian courts reflects on their followers as much as on them personally.

The question that remains in my mind is this: Is Mormonism big enough?

Is it big enough to hold the doubters, the questioners, the feminists, the intellectuals, the homosexuals, and even—the non-believers?

Or do the rank-and-file members prefer this scripture—to me one of the saddest ever written—”it is better that one man should perish than an entire nation dwindle in unbelief.” 1 Nephi 4:12-13

“Crucify them!” Say some figuratively about Dehlin and Kelly.

That is what excommunication is—spiritual death.

It is removing what a believer feels are their most important blessings—eternal salvation. Baptism, eternal marriage, priesthood.

It is a cruel process, made crueler by calling them “courts of love.”

To a believer who wishes to remain “temple worthy” there is nothing more punitive and shameful.

The fact that it is a decision made by men who may not know you personally is even crueler. Some people believe their entire eternal life is held arbitrarily by three to fifteen men who can with one stroke of their pen eliminate everything that matters.

Yes, the subjects of the discipline can be rebaptized–

but what if the excommunicated offender were to die before that happened? What then?

A hurtful process. An extreme one.

The church can show its disapproval without severing its members and their eternal salvation from the fold. It can create boundaries without spiritual violence.

Disfellowshipment, too, smacks of shame-to-change. The word itself suggests that you have lost your friends—that you have become second class. This is not loving. This is not kind.

This doesn’t just affect the people who get excommunicated.

This is relevant to disaffected members, who don’t feel welcome and assume that the rest of the members don’t want them unless they fit the perfect mold. I have friends who fit this description. This affects the average LDS person, who even if he or she has a vision of Big Tent Mormonism, gets painted with the same broad brushstrokes of the rest of the culture which currently seems to say:

“Doubt your doubt, or we’ll kick you out!”

“Believe as you like, but don’t say it aloud or go ahead and take a hike!”

Is that really how the LDS church wishes to operate?

I am hoping that this is not true.

I am hoping for a Big Tent Mormonism, one that can hold anyone who loves the community and wishes to be a part of it. I am hoping the leaders and members will not exclude or silence those who are different, but instead choose to engage in respectful dialogue among one another.

I personally feel that this welcoming in deed and not just word will involve stopping initiating punitive measures like courts and cancelling blessings and allowing more inclusion and involvement and participation for people who don’t completely “fit in.”

I am waiting and hoping.

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 372 awesome articles for us.

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