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| Courtesy Hannah Wheelwright Hannah Wheelwright, an officer in Ordain Women, waits with other members seeking tickets to the October 2013 priesthood meeting of the LDS Church.She says she was placed on informal probationin May 2014 for her involvement in a feminism blog and for advocating women's ordination to the Mormon priesthood.
Conservative Mormons, like progressives, in church cross hairs

More members are facing scrutiny

for online comments and activism.

First Published Jun 19 2014 08:03 pm • Last Updated Jun 21 2014 06:22 pm

The LDS Church apparently is cracking down on outspoken conservatives as well as progressives.

Two men have been excommunicated since February and at least three more are being questioned by their local lay leaders, in part because they are sympathetic to the views of Denver Snuffer, a Utah lawyer excommunicated last year for teaching that the church has strayed from true doctrine.

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Meanwhile, two more women affiliated with Ordain Women say they’ve been disciplined. A disciplinary council for the group’s founder, Kate Kelly, is scheduled for Sunday in Virginia, where Kelly formerly lived.

Another officer of the group, Hannah Wheelwright, reported Thursday that she has been placed on informal probation, and a central Virginia woman who posted a profile on the Ordain Women website said she resigned this month rather than submit to a disciplinary council.

Whether the upswing in reports of church discipline signifies a clampdown by top Mormon leaders is unclear.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints insists that local leaders — bishops and stake (regional) presidents — decide who and when to discipline, all with the motivation to restore the member to full participation in the faith.

"There is no effort to tell local leaders to keep members from blogging or discussing questions online," church spokeswoman Jessica Moody said Thursday in an emailed statement. "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."

Moreover, she said, it’s up to a local lay leader to apply church principles in shepherding his congregants. "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 member’s circumstances." (See accompanying statement.)

Kelly said that about a dozen women associated with Ordain Women — out of 400 members with profiles on the group’s website — have been released from church assignments or had their temple recommends revoked or not renewed.

"The increasingly harsh rhetoric is making local leaders feel like they are obliged [to take action]," Kelly said Thursday.

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Wheelwright — chairwoman of long-term strategy for Ordain Women, which is seeking female admission into the all-male Mormon priesthood — said she suspects it is a matter of local church leaders acting on statements from higher-ups rather than an orchestrated attempt to root out dissent.

"There are specific statements from up top, carefully worded so that the letter-of-the-law bishops carry them out," Wheelwright said. "It’s completely leadership roulette. It depends on who your local leaders are and whether they care whether you differ in your views."

Wheelwright hopes the next spin of the wheel in her case will be in her favor.

The recent Brigham Young University graduate was called in by her former stake president in Provo shortly after she moved out of his stake and before she moved to Washington, D.C., last month. Wheelwright said he grilled her on articles she did not write but which were posted on the Young Mormon Feminists blog she created.

It wasn’t until she asked her new bishop in Washington about the conditions of her informal probation that she learned she is not able to speak at services, hold church callings or take the sacrament (communion).

Wheelwright does not expect her case to end up in a disciplinary council.

"I trust the bishop to be fair," she said. "He is a thoughtful and cautious man, and he really just wants to listen and understand."

But Rock Waterman, a retired innkeeper near Sacramento, Calif., expects to receive a letter scheduling a disciplinary hearing after two meetings with his bishop.

He believes that "one or two rogue apostles" are behind the crackdown. "It’s not an institutional pogrom."

In his case, Waterman asserts that an area seventy — a layer of LDS leadership above stakes (groups of congregations) — told his bishop to take action because Waterman’s blog, Pure Mormonism, challenges as nondoctrinal common church practices involving tithing and temple marriage. "My poor bishop. He hasn’t even read my blog. He told me he was just relaying a message."

"I’m not afraid of this process," Waterman said. "They can boot me out of their corporation, but ... I’m a member of the Lord’s church unless I’ve committed an egregious sin."

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