I am on “informal probation” because a stake president, in whose ward I no longer reside (1), felt that articles on this blog were inappropriate and my involvement with Ordain Women demonstrates that I am “in open rebellion before God.” He assigned me to take down the offending articles and pray about disassociating myself entirely from Ordain Women (2), warning that depending on the outcome of those assignments, a church court may be in order. After I left the meeting with him shaking, I realized he hadn’t said specifically what my informal discipline meant. I emailed him to ask him to clarify- he never responded. He had called me to request to meet on the exact same day that Kate Kelly’s leaders emailed her. I am not the only one besides Kate Kelly and John Dehlin to have received some form of discipline for being open about their beliefs and questions.
A few days later, I was offered a job in Washington D.C., moved across the country to start it, and let my stake president know I had moved. I requested my membership records again in my current ward, and after messages back and forth between bishops and then between stake presidents, they were transferred. The stake president told my new leaders that my restrictions were to refrain from taking the sacrament and speaking publicly in church. He also stipulated that I am not to hold a calling. My new bishop says he does not anticipate changing the probation until he has had a chance to meet with me privately.
When I walk in the chapel this Sunday, I will essentially have a muzzle over my mouth.
I cannot take the bread and water in my right hand and eat and drink in remembrance of Jesus Christ as I have done for almost every Sunday of my entire life. I still remember the Sunbeams lesson where I learned that it was not just a snack because I had honestly thought that the church knew how hard it was to make it through sacrament meeting and gave us a little something to eat part way through. Instead my mouth will be blocked from that most important ordinance of our weekly worship. This restriction is particularly biting for me because in my meeting with my old stake president, he asked me about my relationship with Jesus Christ, and I shared a very personal spiritual experience I had had while taking the sacrament earlier that day that deepened my testimony of the Savior. His declaration that I cannot take the sacrament, which he did not have the courtesy to tell me directly but instead sent to follow me across the country, seems almost incomprehensibly snide in light of what I shared with him.
I cannot “speak publicly” in church. This is the restriction that moves me beyond stunned grief into anger. Will I be speaking publicly if I say hello to the women I have made friends with in the past two weeks in my new ward? Will I be speaking publicly if I say “Amen” at the end of the prayers and talks? Because I did not know the specifics of what “informal probation” meant until today, I had been taking the sacrament and making comments in Sunday School and Relief Society each week since I met with my stake president. I frequently participate in lessons and occasionally bear my testimony in sacrament meeting. I have deliberately avoided bringing up controversial topics in church and have instead focused on online efforts where people who want to engage can choose to do so with more flexibility than people in a room with me. I had assumed that people would appreciate me not bringing “contention” into church. But apparently this choice has utterly backfired on me, because while Senior Manager of Public Affairs for the Church Ally Isom stated yesterday
that those with questions should just bring them up in church, I am now not allowed to do that because I talked about my questions outside of church.
My old stake president took care to emphasize that I do not have to change my mind- he even assured me that he agrees with me on “more than you think!” I just can’t talk about what I think publicly.
I understand that it would be easier for the church if I did not exist, if anyone who has ever thought that maybe there’s room for improvement in Zion didn’t exist, and many church leaders on every level wish we would just go away. Of course it would be easier if we all agreed on everything and we already had all the revelation we need and the Ninth Article of Faith
didn’t exist so we could pretend we don’t have to wrestle with that pesky doctrine we have of the heavens being opened and it’d be easier if there was nothing that needed to be done to make the church better. And to be fair, many local church leaders vary from being supportive of Ordain Women to simply not considering it an issue they need to address in their congregations. But this merely demonstrates the unevenness of the application of church discipline and highlights its arbitrary nature in response to members who express thoughts divergent from mainstream orthodoxy. Saying that discipline is a local matter is a cop out for acknowledging the structural inequalities and leadership roulette that plague all Mormons but most harm Mormon women.
The assumption with keeping it local is usually that leaders are disciplining based on personal information they have of the member or their ascertainment of where the member’s heart is. But that meeting with my stake president was literally the first time I ever met him in my life, and the questions he asked about my testimony were such that I faced the daunting task of proving myself to someone who already thought I was apostate and down a wicked path.
I have presented no new doctrine, nor have I ever “recruited” people for Ordain Women. My worst crime appears to be that the discussion packets
we put together look too nice, too put together, and contain too many conference talks and lessons from church manuals such that they apparently look like we are attempting to replace the manuals and recruit people to our “new doctrine” – hogwash. If I had written a blog post and linked to all the same material and stated the same questions, no one would have batted an eye. But because we put it all into a packet for easy hard-copy access, we are “recruiting,” and because I am part of that “we,” I am disciplined- informally, which essentially means my leaders can do what they want without having to do a church court with a specific due process for participation.
Often when I write blog posts, people express dismay that I did not lay out my entire testimony for them to judge along with my article. While it is no one’s business but mine and my Heavenly Parents, I will say that my experiences have only confirmed my desire to participate in church, to talk about ways we can progress together, and to ask my leaders to honestly pray about issues that further revelation could address. If my leaders really do not want me, they will have to do their own dirty work of cutting me off from the body of Christ. But I am hopeful that we can address our misunderstandings, talk about our common ground and potential areas for collaboration, and move forward with stronger bonds as siblings in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The reason I spend so much time writing and thinking about and trying to build community within Mormonism is because I care so deeply about it; it is my home, my native tongue, my people, my family. I don’t decide to go to church each Sunday because I’m looking for ammo to bash the church with; I go because I want to for myself. I think Mormonism is infused with immense potential woven throughout its doctrine, and I look forward to continuing my participation and helping facilitate improvement.
In the meantime, the pain of finally knowing what my “informal probation” means is stinging. I spoke up about women being denied an institutional, administrative, and ecclesiastical voice, and for that I am not allowed to speak in my church. I am muzzled.
* the grammatical imperative of my title was originally not intentional, but then I decided to keep it.
“If we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph [Smith] asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. … How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know, but couldn’t get past the massive, iron gate of what we thought we already knew?”
— President Dieter F. Uchtdorf
- I moved out of his stake boundaries on April 29th. He called me on May 3rd. Despite my informing him that I no longer lived in his boundaries, he stated that he would “sure love to talk with me.” He assured me I was under no obligation to meet with him. When I requested my records be moved to my new ward, they were held, and I was told the old stake president would not allow them to be moved unless I met with him. I did so on May 18th. His first question was if I was recording anything (I wasn’t).
- During the meeting, he started telling me the story of Abinadi and Alma the Elder. I was confused what his point was as it took him a long time to slowly relate the story of how the Alma the Elder was one of King Noah’s priests and close advisors, but he still chose to turn away from wickedness leave King Noah after seeing Abinadi executed. My old stake president, when I didn’t seem to be getting where he was going with this, slowed down further and asked me if it wouldn’t have been hard for Alma to leave all his friends and admit what he had been doing was wicked. He told me that I could be like Alma the Elder since I am in the leadership of Ordain Women.