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(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Katie Kelly, with the group Ordain Women, speaks to the group before their walk to Temple Square to stand in the standby line to try to gain admittance to the Priesthood session of the 183rd Semi-annual General Conference, Saturday, October 5, 2013.
Mormon HQ could halt Kelly, Dehlin censures, but will it?
Religion » Gordon B. Hinckley intervened in the 1990s, sources say, to stop planned disciplinary actions.
First Published Jun 17 2014 08:55 pm • Last Updated Jun 18 2014 12:31 pm

The LDS Church insists that excommunication threats targeting Mormon activists Kate Kelly and John Dehlin were generated exclusively by their respective LDS leaders in Virginia and northern Utah.

Others see the timing as evidence that the two disciplinary hearings are being coordinated from the faith’s Salt Lake City headquarters — and rumors abound about who ultimately may be behind them.

At a glance

Hearings set

Kate Kelly’s disciplinary council is scheduled for Sunday at 7 p.m. with her bishop in Virginia. The Ordain Women founder, who now lives in Utah, has said she doesn’t plan to attend.

Mormon activist John Dehlin has been invited to meet June 29 with his North Logan stake president.

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But this much is certain: If Mormon higher-ups want these actions to stop, they could do so.

After all, they have done so before. LDS authorities — presumably then-President Gordon B. Hinckley — stepped in to halt church disciplinary hearings in several high-profile cases of writers and scholars in the mid- to late 1990s, according to Mormon sociologist Armand Mauss.

Elbert Peck, former editor of Sunstone magazine for Mormon intellectuals, faced possible church sanction for providing a forum on controversial LDS topics. He was told that Hinckley had the hearing canceled.

"There is a chance they would call off these, too," Mauss said Tuesday from Irvine, Calif. "Or they could limit the outcome to disfellowshipment rather than excommunication."

If Kelly and Dehlin are disfellowshipped (a less-severe punishment), for instance, they would no longer be able to take the sacrament (communion), speak in church, hold a position or attend LDS temples.

That’s not too dissimilar from the conditions Kelly’s stake (regional) president already imposed on her May 5 as part of an "informal probation" before she moved from Virginia to Utah last month.

But Kelly and Dehlin still would be considered members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

If they were excommunicated, their memberships would be nullified. They still could attend services in their congregations, but would have to be rebaptized to rejoin the faith.

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"Mormon leaders are attempting to draw a line between public commentary and even criticism on the part of church members, on the one hand," Mauss said, "and organizing a pressure group, on the other hand.

"It seems clear to me that Kate crossed this line," the sociologist said, "but a verdict of excommunication would be a harsher outcome than is necessary or useful in this case."

Kelly is the founder of Ordain Women, which has been asking the LDS prophet to seek divine approval of female admittance into the faith’s all-male priesthood.

Philip Barlow, head of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, characterizes the relationship between LDS authorities and local lay leaders as a kind of counseling.

"It is my impression from previous cases that the church is sincere when it says these decisions are adjudicated by local authorities," Barlow said Tuesday, "but [higher] authorities can certainly counsel with local leaders to remind them of principles and concerns."

Local Mormon leaders might initiate a disciplinary council, he said, "when the good name of the church needs protecting."

That can happen "if a member goes over some line that authorities construe as dangerous," Barlow said, "but the good name of church can also be sullied if it’s wrongly perceived as disallowing honest questions or free thought."

Sometimes, he said, it’s all a question of tone.

That was the argument LDS spokeswoman Ally Isom offered Tuesday in an hourlong interview with Doug Fabrizio on KUER’s "Radio West."

The conversation about ordaining women "is not the problem," Isom said. "It is not what is being said — it is how it is being said that becomes problematic."

Though declining to speak specifically about Kelly’s case, Isom did say conversations about women’s ordination to the priesthood are taking place everywhere, including in the church’s weekly women’s Relief Society meetings.

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