Mormon leaders released a statement on Saturday clearly indicating that while both men and women may receive church “blessings,” the priesthood offices are the provinces of men and men alone. They also issued what some believe to be a dire warning to those who criticize the church online.
In what The Salt Lake Tribune called a “rare” joint statement on the part of the Mormon church’s two governing entities, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles declared that “[o]nly men are ordained to serve in priesthood offices.”
The statement was a response to the uproar that followed the excommunication of Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women, an online group that campaigned to create more prominent roles for women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Kelly’s former ecclesiastical leader in Virginia wrote, via email, that she had been “excommunicated for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church,” in particular her attempt to “gain a following for yourself or your cause and taking actions that could lead others away from the church.”
The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles agreed with that assessment, noting its statement that asking questions of the Mormon faith as Kelly did “has never constituted apostasy,” which refers only to “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.”
Kelly herself was happy with the statement, telling the Tribune that “[w]e’ve been asking for a response from church leaders and they responded.”
She added that the statement about the Latter-day Saints’ priesthood offices being reserved for men is “an accurate reflection of current practice, but it doesn’t say women will never be ordained or anything about women’s roles or connection to the priesthood.”
Kelly also stated that she believes the statement exonerated her. “Given that I have always sustained leaders of church, and Ordain Women doesn’t teach any doctrine — let alone false doctrine — this clearly exonerates me,” she said. “I am not guilty of either of those charges.”
Moreover, she said, she believes that the statement’s explicit support for questioning church policy means that the issue of women’s ordination “can be asked in every ward and every branch in every place in the world.”
“The prophet of the church,” she noted, “said it’s OK.”
Others familiar with the Latter-day Saints are less sanguine about the statement’s potential to create a more progressive church.
Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University, told the Tribune that the fact that the statement was made by both of the church’s governing bodies instead of its public affairs department was “significant,” as was the fact that the leaders included a “more explicit and complete operational definition than we have seen before of what constitutes ‘apostasy’ in controversial episodes.”
The redefining of “apostasy” is especially worrisome to Mormons who author blogs and produce podcasts about their faith. One prominent blogger, Rock Waterman, told KUTV that “[e]xcommunication should be reserved for the most egregious of sins. But they’re not telling us what our sins are. If I’ve erred in doctrine, I would like the chance to correct it, because I don’t like to cling to falsehoods.”
The clarified definition of “apostasy,” with its emphasis on the “repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its faithful leaders,” would seem to indicate that the church is interested in shutting up those, like Kelly, who attempt to “gain a following for yourself or your cause” online.
[Screen capture of First Presidency and Quorum via KUTV]