Gina Colvin, a theologian and scholar in Christchurch, New Zealand, sees no conflict between being a baptized Latter-day Saint and, now, a baptized Anglican.
Why, she wonders, should she have to choose between the faiths? She sees herself as a “both/and” — not an “either/or” — kind of believer.
Now, it’s up to Colvin’s local lay leaders to decide whether her approach is OK with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Her Latter-day Saint bishop, Joshua Shaw, summoned the popular podcaster (she manages “A Thoughtful Faith”) to a disciplinary council Thursday to consider whether Colvin can continue to be a member of the Utah-based faith or whether she should be excommunicated, disfellowshipped or otherwise punished.
The LDS Church’s handbook for its lay clergy does say that members cannot join another denomination and “advocate” for its teachings without risking their Mormon membership.
Her Anglican baptism in March, however, was not the “sole or even the predominant factor” in considering formal church discipline, Shaw writes in his letter to Colvin about the upcoming council.
Instead, he argues, the main issues were her “continued profession of membership in … [the LDS Church]” while actively criticizing the church and “its leaders in public forums, and public advocacy for positions which are contrary to core doctrines of the church.”
One of Colvin’s positions that runs counter to Latter-day Saint beliefs is that Russell M. Nelson, the faith’s prophet-president, does not speak for God.
The bishop’s letter, says Latter-day Saint scholar Kathleen Flake, reveals that “the bright line test for Mormon membership” is not joining another church.
Instead, she says, it “continues to be public rebellion against the authority of their prophet.”
While Latter-day Saints may “privately have their doubts and speak of them in private venues,” says Flake, head of Mormon studies at the University of Virginia, “assuming a public leadership role in attacking the authority of the prophet will lead to removal of church membership.”
She adds: “It will define you as outside the community of faith.”
Unlike the typical disciplinary proceedings for Latter-day Saint men, which include a stake president and a high council (15 men who oversee a regional group of congregations), women can be tried by a congregation’s male bishop, with his two counselors as advisers.
Colvin says she could ask for her case to be considered by the whole high council, but she won’t do that.
“I don’t think I should have to,” she says. “That’s one extra spiritual burden a woman has to bear that men don’t.”
Colvin, an avowed feminist, finds this “grossly unfair.”
In a recent blog post, the New Zealander explains her outrage.
Because she’s a woman, Colvin writes, “one man now gets to decide the future of [my family’s] eternal bonds. One man with a knee-jerk reaction to my receiving a baptism into the body of Christ (which he understands as formally joining another church). … One man who is troubled that while I believe the LDS Church to be a part of the body of Christ, I don’t believe it to be the only true church on the face of the Earth; one man who I don’t know, and who doesn’t know me can bring it all to an end.”
One man, she continues, can “collect all of the evidence against me, convene a ‘council,’ preside at that council, act as jury in that council and make a determination there and then to sever my eternal relationships with thousands.”
Why not resign?
Colvin argues that she didn’t “join” another church but rather was simply baptized into the “body of Christ” and “confirmed by the Anglican church in my continued Christian discipleship.”
She does not see her two church communities or her two baptisms in competition. “I’ve been double dipping and even triple dipping in churches for years with tremendous spiritual benefit.”
And Colvin believes that being judged by an untrained clergy “is preposterous.”
Still, she vows not to resign.
“I was baptized, raised and nurtured in this tradition,” she says. “I have loved and have served this community for most of my life. … I’m not currently pleased with it, but that’s a poverty-stricken reason to resign from it.”
On top of that, she says, her “very active, temple-going husband … loves the thought of our eternal marriage. To resign would be disrespectful to his faith and would communicate my ambivalence to his own convictions. While I don’t always agree with him or his beliefs, it sends a poor message to him that I would be willing to flush it all away because I got into a scrap with a bishop.”
Colvin has been discussing her spiritual journey with her Latter-day Saint leaders for nearly a decade.
They seemed to understand, she says, and gave her wide swath to pursue spiritual needs the best way she could. As she became more at peace with her newfound Anglican faith, the writer grew less compliant with Mormon male authorities.
“I hear you talk about Jesus,” she says they told her, “but not about President Nelson. Do you believe he is a prophet of God?”
And that, she believes, is where the objections lie. She prefers Jesus to Nelson.
Colvin paraphrases a Maori saying, “If you are going to bow down, let it be to a tall mountain,” not, she adds, “to a white man in Salt Lake City.”
Her Latter-day Saint authorities “blame me for every member in our stake who has fallen away.”
That’s the opposite of what Peter Cammock, Colvin’s former bishop, sees in his friend.
Cammock, who will be testifying at Thursday’s hearing on her behalf, writes in an email, “I don't think Gina should be subject to disciplinary action as I suspect she has influenced numerous people to stay in the church who might otherwise have left.”
He also believes “the use of excommunication as a response to voices of difference and dissent has been damaging.”
Such tactics have “hurt the church’s reputation, closed down opportunities for conversation and learning around important issues,” Cammock says, and have “challenged the testimonies of many faithful members who are uncomfortable with its use in situations like Gina’s and that of those who have preceded her.”
Colvin herself will not be anywhere near the disciplinary council.
Instead, she writes to Facebook followers, “I’ll be receiving the Eucharist [Anglican communion], spending some time in centering prayer, then enjoying a shared meal with friends. … We’ll talk about what brings us joy, hope, love and peace.”