Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Kicking your children out of the house: The excommunications of John Dehlin and Kate Kelly

I have been a proud and devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints almost my entire life.   There were so many things I loved about being Mormon.   Among them was the huge emphasis on family.   I am not just talking about the supremely important focus on eternal families either.   The Church itself was a family.  We call one another brother and sister.   We looked out for one another.   We were friends beyond Church.   There is such a tight knit community in a local ward, that many ward members genuinely look upon one another as family.  

I was raised by a single mother.   I can’t begin to tell you what a great support the Church, our ward especially, was for her and for us.   Lots of men stepped in as surrogate fathers to take me to father’s and sons outings or to Priesthood activities.  When my grandmother fell seriously ill and my mom needed to go out of the country to help care for her, the ward looked over her three young children as if we were their own.   The Church was my life 24/7.  

The two episodes regarding the excommunication of John Dehlin and Kate Kelly has brought out the best and worst in many people associated with the LDS world, both among devout Mormons and former Mormons and every shade of belief & membership in between.   What strikes me about the discourse by some devout members is how glad many of them are that Kate and John are no longer members of the Church.  They not only defend the action of the Church in excommunicating them, they applaud it.  Some have truly wished them well and have respected their decision while disagreeing with their views.  But others have gone so far as to call them the anti-Christ, they've compared them to Satan, or definitely at least one of Satan’s minions (although without the yellow skin color).  They have not only cheered their excommunications, but have basically commented that they were glad they were gone…”don’t let the door hit you on the way out!”     

One image that recently come to mind as I have considered their excommunications is Christ’s parable of the prodigal son.   Most certainly, from the perspective of a devout member of the Church, both John and Kate would be considered prodigals.   They did not want to wait for answers.  They wanted them now.   They see John and Kate as people who have taken their share of the Father’s estate (the blessings of the restored Gospel) and gone and wasted it.    I would not be surprised if some of them now expect John and Kate to engage in riotous living now that they have left their Father’s home.   As one interviewer asked John, “Will you drink coffee now?”     

But something about that parable and every single one of Christ’s teachings hit me as I pondered that analogy.   The Father of the prodigal son never kicks his son out of the house.  He actually gave his prodigal son what he asked.   The prodigal decides to leave on his own and sure enough, off he goes.   There is no possible image in my mind, no scenario where I can hear Christ’s voice chainging the parable to where it is the Father kicking the prodigal son out of his home.   I cannot see the Father of the prodigal son going back into his house proclaiming  “good riddance!”   Yet that is exactly what many of John and Kate’s former family members, former brother and sisters are saying today.  Good riddance!

I keep hearing that if they don’t like the Church they should leave.   Problem is, for John and Kate and many others like them…the Church was always more than just a religious organization to them.   It was their family.  Have you ever disagreed with your spouse? With your brother and sister?   Have you ever tried to change your spouse, brother or sister?   Have you ever been critical of your spouse, brother, or sister?   Who are the people with whom you should be most transparent and vulnerable?  -- your family.   John and Kate love the Church and still do.  It has been their family for their whole lives.   And now, their family has kicked them out of the house for doing what we all do in our families – disagree and want to talk about it openly.           

But rather than the New Testament parable of love and forgiveness, there appears to be an Old Testament analogy that is more fitting here.   John and Kate have reached out in their hearts just simply with an attempt to “steady the ark”, something that they both love dearly and deeply.  The Old Testament God instead has struck them down as Uzzah of old.   They may not be literally dead as Uzzah was in the Old Testament, but with every eternal blessing known in the LDS heavens revoked, from an LDS perspective, they might as well be. A not so uncommon saying by some LDS parents is that they would rather see their kids dead than leave the Church.     

Many years ago, I interviewed at a company in Utah.  The guy that picked me up at the airport seemed obviously LDS to me.   It wasn't long before we started talking about the Church.  His feelings were hard and bitter.   It was inconceivable to me, but years previously, he was scared and nervous about going on a mission, very hesitant about committing to it.   His father walked into his room three months after his 19th birthday and asked him, “are you going on a mission?”  When he said he still wasn't sure…the father kicked him out of the house.   I have no doubt that there is more to the story than what he shared, but sadly his is not the only story with a similar theme.  Since then I have heard of many and documented hundreds of stories of Mormons who have been kicked out of their homes because of their doubts or lack of belief in the Church, marriages that have ended up in divorce as one spouse loses their testimony and the other kicks them out of the house and away from their children for no longer believing, some whose depression at being kicked out by their loved ones has led to deep depression and suicide.   Those are some of the people that John was fighting for.  Some of the women whose voice Kate carried.  

I can understand why so many devout members defend and applaud the excommunication of both John and Kate.  Yet, somehow, I can’t help but think that Christ would have handled things somewhat differently.  In full view of his disciples, Christ answered the questions of Thomas, the famous doubter, and showed him the evidence of his death and resurrection.…Christ told him that he was blessed for his questioning spirit.    Christ, as the Father of the prodigal son, would have never kicked his children out of the house.   Yes, John and Kate disagreed and were critical of the Church and its doctrine, but what is always left out, is that they loved the Church, the Church was their family.  And their family has just kicked them out.   


  1. "John and Kate love the Church and still do. It has been their family for their whole lives. And now, their family has kicked them out of the house for doing what we all do in our families – disagree and want to talk about it openly"
    I do take a little bit of an exception to this...that put it too simply. Dehlin, at the least, has stated he does not believe in the Church, has stopped going to church, has asked not to be contacted by anyone in the church, and is working with some vigor to help people leave the church.
    They may both love parts of the church, but they certainly have a very funny way of showing it. Kate Kelly has resorted to calling all remaining members of the church small minded and easily controlled. Dehlin has stated that he will continue to help people “transition out of the church”
    If your son was living under your roof, eating your food, getting his laundry done, and enjoying the shelter from the weather, but was at the same time causing great strife in your family, you would have to do something. If he stated that he loves your family, but disagrees with most of what your family believes in, and then works actively to make others in your family want to leave your family, that is a major problem.
    If you asked your son to stop, and he did – or at least tried – then that is one thing. But if you ask him again and again to please stop trying to tear your family apart, and he refuses…even doubles down on his efforts…you have not choice as a father and leader of your home to protect as many of your family members as you can. You kick him out of your home, and then ask him to please repent and come back when he is ready to be a contributing member of your family.
    You still love him, you still pray for him…but there are rules in your family and in your home, and they must be followed to enjoy the benefits of living there.
    I hope the John and Kate (plus 8??) both feel the desire to return in FULL fellowship…not just to come take what they like from the church. I hope all who have left will feel the same.

  2. Nathan, I think you raise a good analogy. I want to see if you will follow it to the logical conclusion and apply your example, to what the church has done.
    If your son is doing these actions you mention, if he is causing strife, disagreeing with what the family believes in, and working actively to make other want to leave, would you...
    Kick him out of the house. You say that you would. I can see scenarios that follow this.
    Would you make him change his last name, no longer be able to call himself "Nathan's son". When he calls home, or wants to stop by, would you refuse to let him get a bite to eat out of the fridge.
    I was faced with some of these choices with a daughter about a year ago. I was about 15 minutes away from booting her out the door.
    I stopped, thought about her as a person, as a daughter, as an adult, and I put my arms around her and pulled her close. I told her I was wrong, and I was not going to do any action that could have long term impacts on our relationship.
    John and Kate wanted to stay and be part of the conversation. They just wanted a voice at the dinner table, for which the answer came back very clearly, "You are the lost sheep, stay that way".

  3. "You are the lost sheep, stay that way". This is what many are trying to force as the narrative - but this is just not true. The process, the leaders involved, etc. they want them to come back. I want them to come back. There is a way and a process back - but there have to be rules and guidelines, and the process is there for a reason. True, much of the "public" sentiment is 'good riddance'. And that is wrong.

    I am glad you did what you did with your daughter. That is hard to do. I hope that things have improved for both of you. Did you set any conditions or rules or guidelines for living under your roof? Or does anything go? Would you allow her to fill your other children’s heads with untruths about you and your wife? At what point do you say “I love you, but this is not acceptable. You cannot take the rest of the family down with you”? I don't see a scenario here where 'the church' can turn to Dehlin or Kelly (or many others) and say "I was wrong". The church is not wrong in this case.

    I keep hearing this phrase "they just want a seat at the table". What does that even mean? Does Dehlin or Kelly deserve a special consideration because they have been very loud and vocal about their disagreements with the church? Are their desires to fundamentally change the doctrines of the church so much more valid than those who believe otherwise? Should they church poll every member and change doctrine based on popular sentiment?

    The church is, in fact, the Lord's church. It's not a democratic society or social club (though many seem to treat it that way). It is divinely led. Kate and John seem to want the benefits (social, family, emotional) the church provides while fighting against the laws and guidelines that it espouses and requires. Dehlin walked away from the church in most every respect. He doesn't attend, he believes the Book of Mormon to be fictional, he has requested that he not be contacted in any way, and he is intent on helping others do the same. That does not sound to me like the actions of someone who wants a seat at the table. It sounds like someone is pulling the seat out from under from those who want to stay seated.

    I believe both John and Kate (and others who have gone through this process outside of the public eye) started with good intentions. But their recent comments to the media (and their rush TO the media at every turn) have shown what their true colors have become. They have been disingenuous at best, twisting the issues in a way as to make the church look bad. Again, not something someone does if they simply want “as seat at the table”.

    I hope they come back. It’s not an easy road. But their desire for the blessings of the Gospel and their covenants must be greater than their desire to make their opinions into doctrine. As is stands right now, they have given up some eternal blessings. But, they are STILL children of God. He still loves them. They are no less part of his family than any other person on this earth. They just need to do what any other must now do to receive the full blessings of the Gospel.