Mormon gay activist may be next in line for excommunication

A man who is well-known in the Mormon for advocating for gay rights and questioning church policies was set to meet Sunday with a church leader in Utah to discuss whether he still faces charges of excommunication.

John Dehlin enters the meeting fearful that church leaders have already made their decision to oust him. Now, he expects to find out if he will face a disciplinary hearing or be forgiven.

Dehlin has operated a website for years that provides a forum for church members questioning their faith and he said that he was ultimately hopeful that he and the church could engage in constructive dialogue.

This is the third time in the last decade that he has faced discipline from the church. He has so far been allowed to stay a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Nothing has changed in my beliefs or behavior since then. It’s really frustrating that these inquiries continue to happen,” said Dehlin. “It feels a little bit like harassment, although I believe they are well-intended.”

This meeting comes six days after Kate Kelly, the founder of a Mormon women’s group called Ordain Women, was excommunicated in a case that sent ripples throughout the country. Kelly is now focusing on appealing.

Scholars say that Kelly and Dehlin are the most high-profile examples of excommunication proceedings since 1993. The church disciplined six Mormon writers who questioned church doctrine that year, ultimately ousting five and kicking out a sixth temporarily.

Jan Shipps, a retired religion professor from Indiana who is an expert on the church, said that church leaders were practicing their maintenance of boundaries and uses Dehlin and Kelly as an example to show how far they can go.

Dehlin and Kelly both received letters from local leaders within days of each other in early June.

Dehlin’s letter informed him that he needed to resign as a church member or face a committee. The letter further said that church leaders were deeply concerned about his recent comments about no longer believing some of the teachings of the faith.

Mormon officials haven’t yet discussed Dehlin or Kelly’s cases but they have said the church welcomes questions and sincere conversations about the faith. In a message posted Saturday online, the church’s leaders said that “members are always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding. We feel special concern, however, for members who distance themselves from church doctrine or practice and, by advocacy, encourage others to follow them.”

They clarified that 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.”

Dehlin’s believes he is in fact being targeted not only for the website he started nine years ago, but also for his outspoken support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community and his support of Kelly’s group as well. Kelly’s group is pushing for gender equality with the ultimate goal of women being allowed into the faith’s clergy. Delhin remains strong to his faith.

“I stay in the church as an expression of faith and hope that the church can mature to the point of being able to accept doubt, criticism and the open discussion of difficult matters,” Dehlin stated. “So many people are suffering in silence in the Mormon church, it’s a fight worth fighting.”

Excommunication is not common in the church and reserved for cases where members violate the religion’s moral code by having affairs, being charged criminally, or committing sexual abuse.

If Dehlin is kicked out of the church, the door will remain open to repent and return someday. Excommunication is not a lifelong ban in the Mormon Church. There are lesser forms of punishment that will allow people to remain members but limit forms of participation. This is similar to the Catholic Church and other churches.

The church has some 15 million members worldwide. it is estimated that between 10 and 20 thousand are excommunicated each year.