The Real Mormon Moment

The real Mormon moment is now.

Now that the New York Times is confirming that at least a dozen Mormons nationwide have faced or are facing discipline for criticizing Church practices or policies or voicing support for same-sex marriage or women’s ordination on-line, on Facebook, on Twitter. Even in anonymous chat rooms.

That the LDS Church supports what must be a substantial enterprise monitoring the on-line communications of its members—this is not a surprise to progressive Mormons who have populated those Facbook groups and web forums.

And we have been waiting for this moment—waiting to see whether our religion could survive the insularity, militancy, and suspiciousness engendered by its nineteenth-century persecutions, and outgrow as well the highly centralized and controlling corporate-bureaucratic style of the twentieth-century LDS Church, to adapt to the new realities of the internet era, including greater openness among Mormons with doubts or concerns about controversial aspects of our history and doctrine.

Excommunication is a nineteenth-century Mormon solution to twenty-first century Mormon problems.

We were so hopeful it wouldn’t turn out this way. Maybe it still won’t. Maybe the highest profile excommunication court—that scheduled this Sunday in Virginia for Kate Kelly, a believing Mormon woman and one of the founders of the web-based Ordain Women campaign—will end without Sister Kelly having her baptism and marriage nullified, her membership in a Church she served as a full-time missionary expunged.

[Editor’s note: Laurie Goodstein reports that Kate Kelly was in fact excommunicated yesterday.]

Mormon progressives have found reason for hope in the fact that after a wave of excommunications directed at high profile feminists in the 1990s, there were no such courts for more than a decade. We used the internet to regroup and grow in numbers. The Church even developed its own web-based resources to acknowledge and address its own controversies—historic and contemporary.

This, we thought, was a good sign. A sign that might not need to fear losing our membership, our place, in a cherished tradition, just for having and voicing questions, doubts, and differences. We told ourselves to not to be afraid.

And even when we were afraid, many of us, we just kept on writing.

Even though we knew we were being monitored.

And knowing made it no less shameful to see the facts in print.

Nor does it diminish the pain of seeing a religion characterized by beautiful audacity in its doctrines and daring in its difference subject its heterodox members to conduct betraying a smallness of spirit and a fearful rigidity.

Nor does it diminish the fear and despair this new wave of disciplinary actions is inciting among progressive Mormons who have anxiously wondered over this past week whether a letter or a meeting request might be on the way for them too.

Over the past few days, I have been getting Facebook messages and phone calls from rank-and-file Mormons not interviewed by the Times relaying that they too have been accosted or called in by their bishops for voicing support for greater equality for women in the church, or same-sex civil marriage rights.

“I’m really a nobody,” wrote one woman. “Just a stay at home mom who doesn’t particularly go out of her way to take up too much space on the internet.”

Whether or not these formal and informal disciplinary actions have been ordered by Church headquarters in Salt Lake City has been the subject of speculation; Church officials deny high-level coordination.

But it’s also being reported that the stage may have been set for Kelly’s excommunication court when one high-ranking LDS official remarked at a regional leadership meeting in Virginia that support for women’s ordination should be considered a form of apostasy.

That instruction and the news of the pending courts seems to have created a climate wherein local ecclesiastical leaders may now feel obliged or empowered to take action towards less orthodox members of their congregations.

I dream tonight of a signal from Salt Lake City, or an even higher place, will empower a different kind of action, a standing down on all sides, a putting away of defensiveness and fearfulness, a putting to rest of Mormonism’s nineteenth-century ghosts and twentieth-century control issues.

A signal to the men tasked with the burden of convening an excommunication court this Sunday in Virginia, and to the Mormon men and women who will convene simultaneously at candlelight vigils scheduled nationwide. I dream that a voice from somewhere will say, in the words of a cherished Mormon hymn, “All is well. All is well”—not because it is right now, but because faith means holding to the hope that it will be. A signal of peace for every one of us who agonizes—while the outside world watches mutely or wonders aloud why we even bother—over how our beloved faith will respond to the pressures of the twenty-first century.

Forget Mitt Romney. Forget the Book of Mormon musical. Forget—yes, forget—the LDS Church’s multi-million dollar “I’m a Mormon” campaign designed to rebrand contemporary Mormonism as diverse and welcoming.

This painful, pivotal time is the real Mormon moment.

This piece was previously published on Joanna’s personal blog. Thanks to Joanna for permission to post here.