not in Primary anymore

muzzle me*

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

 

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
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137 Responses to “muzzle me*”

  1. buzzard

    Dear Hannah-and others who agree with her:
    I’m sure you are a wonderful person with many fine attributes. The fact that you graduated from BYU endears me to you in many ways.
    However, there really is a bright line, and OW crossed it a few months ago. We are free in the church to question, to even disagree, and we can do it openly. That is why you, Sister Kelly, and OW were not disciplined or challenged for quite some time.
    But when we come out and say that the Brethren, those that we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators, are “full of it” (my phrase, not yours), then we cross a line that will not be tolerated. Sonia Johnson was free to endorse the ERA a few decades back, but when she referred to the Brethren as a “savage misogyny”, that was the end of that as far as her membership. When I saw your first discussion, and that little parlor game you called “Patriarchy Bingo”, I said to myself that OW had just crossed that line.
    I sincerely hope that you consider crossing back over. Is it more important to tell the Brethren where to go and how to get there, or to have your place in God’s kingdom along with your faithful brothers and sisters, even if things are not being run the way you think they should?

    Reply
  2. jeanikins

    If you still love Jesus and recognize him as your savior, you have done nothing to warrant the church excluding you from partaking of the emblems of his body. Go ahead and do it. What kind of feminist allows a man to dictate her relationship to God?
    Don’t ask, just do.

    Reply
  3. Signature Books » Mormon News, Week 25, June 16–20

    […] Hannah Wheelwright, a key member of the Ordain Women movement, was called in by her stake president at the same time Kate Kelly was being contacted by her bishop. She was put on informal probation and told she could not take the sacrament in her new ward. Wheelwright recorded her experience on her blog, Young Mormon Feminists. […]

    Reply
  4. Clark

    I find your tone to be tainted by anger and disrespect..and yet you hold yourself out to be a disciple of Christ, a good devout Mormon who has been wronged by a stake president. Back when I was your age I still had a idealized view of local church leaders and held them above the rest of us. Over the past 3 decades I have had interactions with bishops and stake presidents where I found myself needing to forgive them for what I perceived were offenses, some with serious implications regarding my church membership. In the end I feel that releasing my anger was the higher road and while I no longer view local church leaders the same way, I recognize the importance of their office and provide them the appropriate respect.

    I wonder if your openness in writing about this experience isn’t paving the road to excommunication as you attempt to obey the letter of the law (informal probation) while seemingly violating the spirit of it with these type of posts. Cuz it’s not like your new bishop and stake president can’t find these; so I’m assuming that you are speaking directly to them as well as the rest of us.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    LDS Church Spokesperson Jessica Moody issued the following statement Thursday in response to media inquiries concerning the ability of church members to raise questions and seek answers in the church:

    First, there is no effort to tell local leaders to keep members from blogging or discussing questions online. On the contrary, Church leaders have encouraged civil online dialogue, and recognize that today it’s how we communicate and discuss ideas with one another. Our whole Church was founded on the basis of sincere questions asked by a 14-year-old boy. Having questions and seeking answers is normal. Within those earnest questions may lie the seeds of faith.

    The scriptures are full of examples of how to receive answers to our questions — to find truth and align our will with God’s — and that process includes studying, praying, learning and discussing Church doctrines. Millions of people do this throughout their lives. How and why one asks is as important as the questions we’re asking. What causes concern for Church leaders is when personal motivations drive those conversations beyond discussion, and a person or group begins recruiting others to insist on changes in Church doctrines or structure. When it goes so far as creating organized groups, staging public events to further a cause or creating literature for members to share in their local congregations, the Church has to protect the integrity of its doctrine as well as other members from being misled.

    At the heart of the conversation are matters of faith and doctrine. We believe these doctrines are given to us by God in simple ways: through scripture and through living prophets and apostles. If our personal goals go beyond what has been provided from those sources, we must ask ourselves whether we are we trying to change His Church to match our own perspective.

    As a Church, we’ve been looking for several years on what we can improve and change — cultural elements that are not tied to doctrine. We’ve had and will continue to have dozens of meaningful, helpful conversations with a variety of voices and perspectives about cultural changes. From my perspective, it’s a very exciting time to be a member!

    It would be completely inappropriate for me to comment on any of the individual cases you’ve heard about recently, as those are personal matters dealt with at a local level. But I can provide some principles. In dealing with all of these issues and questions, a local lay leader is the one who determines how they apply to those he serves. If he becomes troubled by a member’s actions, he can rely on his own spiritual insights, personal prayer, guidance from handbooks and his training to determine how best to address the members circumstances. For instance, their standard procedural handbook says: “Local presiding officers should not expect General Authorities to tell them how to decide difficult matters. Decisions on Church discipline are within the discretion and authority of local presiding officers as they prayerfully seek guidance from the Lord.”

    Reply
  6. Roobah Fox

    For starters, the name Ally Isom should let you know that God does indeed have a sense of humor, I can’t help but roll over laughing knowing personally how powerfully wrong of a person has been selected to preside over this activity. So for starters, hold your head high and unless you are actively engaging in committing felonies, just know that you are certainly a better person to make decisions about how to handle your own situation. The day the many, many, many members of the Mormon church are exposed for the actual crimes they do directly upon their own flock, especially outside of the Church, is the day when any trivial “misbehavior” you may have done or not done will be seen as so innocent when compared to well….

    No, I am not a Mormon. I doubt I ever will be. I have been directly affected by oh so many with intent to commit crimes against me and my family who claim to be “upstanding members of the Mormon church” AND continue to be allowed to remain members without challenge. Apparently, committing “crimes” outside of church is “okay,” especially if it is committed against a non-member. (How many of you out there are nodding your head knowing this is something that is painfully true about many Mormons and this fact is one reason why you aren’t able to convince more persons to join the Church.)

    I have attended church sessions as an observer, or “an investigator” as you like to call it. I do not partake of sacrament, I do not speak, I don’t say a word to anyone. I do my best not to speak to ANYONE, yet, three times now, I’ve been told I make others uncomfortable by my presence and have been asked not to come back to church. Okay, good. I won’t. I didn’t really want to be there anyway. I cannot understand, though, how not even opening my mouth or looking at anyone could create this effect on people. (Imagine, a number of different bishops asking you to please not come back to Church because your very presence is causing spiritual stress on some members.)

    Wait! Yes, I do know how that “stress” happens. Those same persons who ask their bishop to ask me not to return have all been guilty of committing some kind of abuse against me in some other context outside of church and it must be horridly disconcerting to know that someone you quite abused is sitting behind you in church and they are not even a MEMBER of the church! One might almost have a heart attack thinking about such a thought. (Yes, I could stare a hole through the back of your head, but I’m not. You just think I am because your own evil is more than you can handle — I cannot imagine what is going on in your brain. Just know that I am quite fine with my own innocent thoughts… smile.)

    (Sorry to digress, but this is digression applies in your case and I don’t even know you.)

    You have no idea how many times I’ve thought about giving testimony about why I am NOT a Mormon. I can assure you, the members listening would just die of embarrassment and I would be very confident and sure in what I have to say, for reasons I don’t care to say here. I would be kind enough not to name any names, just tell the stories. It would start with, “I’ve been asked why I’m not a Mormon. Of course the answer is, same as Garrison Keillor says,

    I would suggest some things. Face your punishers head on. If you have any “friends” who might join you, try any of these with your friends. Of course, invite visitors to just be present, but not participate unless they, too, are Mormon. A) Plan to speak at testimony by physically muzzling yourself and standing at the podium for a solid 5 minutes, perhaps passing the time reading from the Book of Mormon, silently. B) Engage the children with your best kindness efforts and do indeed ignore adults. C) Spend your time in the chapel instead of Sunday School and Relief Society meeting. D) Clean up the garbage in the Church during classes and after everyone is on their way home. Make sure you head out to the parking lot to clean up garbage, and don’t say anything, but accept any help you receive. (I promise you, if you don’t feel guilty watching someone else clean up YOUR garbage from YOUR church and you will not help, how can you not feel like an spiritual idiot?) E) File complaints with your church leaders against anyone who really should have had discipline for real criminal behaviors, whether punished or alleged in a court of law, especially if those person(s) are male. (How on earth some persons can get away with real criminal events that harm real people with church leaders turning a blind eye is some journey you should really take on. You need only look at the daily news or court rosters to find just how many persons are quite deserving of their own ex-communication. You might very well find the likes of your accusers WAY at the top of your list. F) Explain to an interested non-Mormon why you still want to be Mormon.

    He (She) who is not guilty of sin can cast that first stone. LOL!!! Ally Isom. OH MY, God indeed has a very wicked sense of humor!

    My dear girl, you have nothing to worry about. Be good, truthful, and do what you know is right in your heart and everything will fall into place right where it should be.

    Reply
  7. Rachel

    The fact that people are getting threatened and disciplined for expressing their opinions and asking questions is manipulative, childish, and gross. I’m so sorry about what has happened to you, Hannah. Please don’t let these church leaders silence your strong, beautiful voice.

    Reply
  8. Rebekah

    You are a hero. Please keep writing and questioning according to your conscience, not according to the convenience of reinforcing the group-speke.

    Reply
  9. Bookofgenesis@imail.com

    There is nothing heroic in creating and distributing “6 discussions” that teach doctrine contrary to the doctrine if the true church of Christ. Which is it, do. You support the church or do you support teaching your false doctrine pushed on the OW website that meets your political agenda and tears down the Lord’s church? Whose side are you on? Hopefully, you will choose the side of these Lord and sustain his leaders as prophets, seers, and revelators. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/print/2014/04/the-keys-and-authority-of-the-priesthood?lang=eng&clang=eng

    Reply
  10. Really?

    Hannah, you know that membership is optional, right? If you don’t believe in the direction the church has been/is taking then start your own. It’s happened a lot throughout history. You could probably even get an apostate Priesthood holder to finally ordain you. Problem solved. Unless getting attention and creating discord is what you’re really after…

    Reply
  11. Rob Cooper

    There’s certainly room for improvement in the Church. (I love Elder Jensen’s candid remarks on that topic: http://mormon-chronicles.blogspot.com/2012/01/rescue-plan-to-address-difficulties-of.html) As we think on how to contribute, this thought given at the founding of the Church may be helpful to keep in mind: “For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.” Patience: working within the Church structure certainly requires it.

    Reply
    • Rob Cooper

      An addendum to this: I feel there is so much more that I need to express to put this in proper context. Commenting on your post probably isn’t the best way to do that. Misunderstanding is too easy. Anyhow, sustaining leaders while also recognizing weakness can be so tricky. I wish you *all the best navigating this period with Bishop Young. He’s a meek and godly man, and I hope you’ll regain a voice both in and out of church, as well as full participation in the ward. Good luck!

      Reply
  12. Why?

    Good riddance to bad rubbish. Why would we be given the example of Korihor in the Book of Mormon if we were not able to discern wickedness like it in modern times? It’s so simple as to be a copy/paste of his deceitful actions.

    Stop being bad rubbish and become a good humble member again. If Apostles who have the ability to walk with Christ and are trusted with his Church can turn off their natural desire to be snide about their real superiority, you can turn your self imposed sense of superiority off.

    Reply
    • perlo68

      It’s heartbreaking to read how members talk to each other. Especially if they don’t agree with someone on their views. I just don’t imagine Christ or Elder Uchtdorf or Holland speaking to one of their friends, family members, fellow brothers and sisters this way. Did you ever stop to think that your words may appear superior and snide? Here’s a suggestion (since you were so direct in giving that to Hannah): stop being a judgmental member and become a tender, compassionate, kind one. Doesn’t feel too good when someone does that, right? So don’t. You may not agree with Hannah, but would it hurt to stop name calling (bad rubbish) and assuming you know her heart, intent, and testimony?? Would it hurt if we were more tender, dear, and kind with each other, despite our differences? It just might actually make this a better place, and us, better people. 🙂 https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/04/the-merciful-obtain-mercy?lang=eng

      Reply
  13. Shelley Koch

    I am so sorry, Hannah! I am so sad about Kate. Thanks for what you are doing!

    Reply

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