Courts of Love: LDS Church Discipline, the Smiling Face of Spiritual Repression

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June 13, 2014 by Tariq Khan

George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 was set in the fictional dystopian country Oceania.  The apparatus of government in Oceania was divided into four ministries: the Ministry of Truth was the propaganda arm; the Ministry of Peace was concerned with waging war; the Ministry of Love enforced conformity, law, and order; and the Ministry of Plenty oversaw the country’s dismal economic affairs.  Of these four ministries, wrote Orwell, “The Ministry of Love was the really frightening one.” The Ministry of Love employed agents called the “Thought Police” who were primarily concerned with identifying “thoughtcriminals” and removing them from the body politic before such criminals were able to infect others with their heretical ideas.  The mission of the Ministry of Love was to enforce orthodoxy: it enforced orthodox behavior, but even more it enforced orthodox thought.  Its main tools for achieving conformity of thought were fear and systematic psychological manipulation.  The fear of standing out, of being different, and of being perceived by the mainstream of society as an independent thinker was enough to keep most people in line, but those few who did stray outside of the extremely narrow bounds of orthodox thought became targets of the Thought Police.  The Thought Police removed thoughtcriminals from society and took them to “the place where there is no darkness.”  There, in the name of Love, the Ministry inflicted physical and psychological torture on thoughtcriminals as a way to rehabilitate them, to purge their minds of heretical thoughts, to crush their souls, to make them into good compliant citizens who like everyone else, would unquestioningly love and obey Oceania’s leader Big Brother.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not – and cannot, even if it wants to – exercise nearly the level of control over its people as did the government of Oceania, but like Big Brother, the Church employs the concept of love as a pretext for enforcing narrow orthodoxy and to “discipline” members who stray outside of that orthodoxy.  The Church has its thoughtcriminals, and it has its Thought Police who remove such criminals from its society in order to protect its members from the corrupting influence of independent thought.  In Oceania, Big Brother did the thinking, and it was the citizens’ duty to conform their minds to the constantly changing mind of Big Brother.  They were not to think on their own.  In the Church, “the Brethren” – the General Authorities of the Church – do the thinking and they systemize that thinking into doctrines and policies, which likewise change over time.  The duty of the members of the Church is not to think about the Gospel on their own, but to conform their ideas to the ever-changing doctrines and policies that are produced by the Brethren.

Members who harbor doubts concerning Church doctrine and policy are encouraged by leaders, such as Dieter F. Uchtdorf, to “doubt your doubts.” (Uchtdorf, “Come, Join with Us”, Oct. 2013).  Church leaders instruct members to keep their doubts, questions, and criticisms private.  Dallin H. Oaks teaches that “The first principle in the gospel procedure for managing differences [in ideas about Church doctrine, policy, and leadership] is to keep our personal differences private.” (Oaks, “Criticism”, Feb. 1987).  Even truth, according to Oaks, should be sacrificed on the altars of ideological unity and deference for Church authority: “The use of truth…should be constrained by the principle of unity.” (Ibid.).  According to Oaks, criticism of secular leaders is fine, but the ideas and actions of Church leaders are above critical inquiry: “Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward Church authorities… Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is in a class by itself. It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true.” (Ibid.).  In the 2007 PBS documentary “The Mormons,” Oaks tells an interviewer, “It is wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true.”

Mormon heretics are sometimes rounded up by the Thought Police – their local priesthood leaders – and called to repentance, to renounce their heretical ideas and position themselves within the ideological safety of Church orthodoxy.  Those who refuse to do so, and instead persist in the path of independence of mind, are sometimes put on trial in Church disciplinary councils, in which the thoughtcriminals are judged by their priesthood leaders, and then disfellowshipped or excommunicated.  These disciplinary councils have been nicknamed “courts of love” based on a 1972 Church General Conference talk by Elder Robert L. Simpson who said, “Priesthood courts of the Church are not courts of retribution. They are courts of love.” (Simpson, “Courts of Love”, July 1972).  Prior to 1978, before the Church ended its racist priesthood/temple ban on black people, priesthood leaders excommunicated Church members such as John Fitzgerald and C.D. McBride for criticizing the Church’s official racism and for seeking ordination of black men.  In December 1979 the Church excommunicated Sonia Johnson for her support of the Equal Rights Amendment and her public criticism of the Church’s opposition to it.  In September 1993, Church leaders disfellowshipped or excommunicated six LDS scholars whose research and writing strayed too far outside the bounds of what the leadership considered acceptable scholarly inquiry.  Many of these thoughtcriminals explored issues of gender politics, ecclesiastical abuse, and polygamy in Mormon history.  They are still known as the “September Six.”

Two days ago (Wednesday, June 11) the news broke that Kate Kelly, founder of Ordain Women, and John Dehlin, LGBT rights advocate and founder of the Mormon Stories Podcast, have been called up by Church leaders for “Courts of Love.”  Both face possible excommunication.  Kate Kelly’s main thoughtcrime is that she tells the truth that there is gender inequality in the Church.  She and Dehlin have both been working in their own ways to help make the Church more open, honest, inclusive, and egalitarian; in short, more Christlike.

The irony is that the Church disciplinary process itself only proves Kate Kelly right.  To excommunicate John Dehlin, who like almost all men in the Church is a Melchizedek Priesthood holder, it will require a council made up of the Stake President, his two councilors, and the twelve members of the Stake High Council.  To excommunicate Kate Kelly, who cannot hold the Priesthood for no other reason than that she is a woman, it will only require a council made up of her Bishop and his two councilors.  So essentially, to excommunicate a man from the Church requires a council of at least 15 men on the Stake level, but to excommunicate a woman only requires three men at the lower Ward level.  If that does not illustrate the lower status of women than men in the Church, and the lower value the Church as an institution places on women members than men members, then I don’t know what does.  By targeting Kelly and Dehlin, the Church is only showing that it is a rotten institution that fears the truth and wants to keep its members in the darkness of groupthink, authoritarianism, and stale orthodoxy.

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “Courts of Love: LDS Church Discipline, the Smiling Face of Spiritual Repression

  1. LDSDPer says:

    There are more than two this time, as well. One is getting less coverage, because he’s not a scholar, just an ordinary person who thinks the church should take care of the ‘poor and needy’ more, etc.

    An ordinary person who has a blog.

    Several ordinary people (not scholars or lawyers, and, believe me, I am not putting down Dehlin or Kelly at all; I am weeping for them; they are GOOD, GOOD people and don’t deserve this!)–

    have been taken out suddenly and ruthlessly recently and gotten no media coverage, because they are just bloggers who ask questions.

    All of these people are treated brutally.

    They are asked to close their blogs or be out of the church. If they choose to keep their blogs going (and in many cases, they felt instructed of the Lord to do so, so they go back and check and find out they should keep that blog going, because they are actually helping a lot of people keep their faith, though that faith may be defined more as faith in Jesus Christ than the church leaders define it, so gently, as faith in a ‘church family’?)

    Dilemma. Last days. Chaos. Heartbreak. I wish I were an ancient Israelite and could wear sackcloth and ashes.

    I would do so. But I have no sackcloth, and the ashes from the winter’s fires have all been put in the garden. And I have too much to do to sit under a tree and weep.

    • LDSDPer says:

      oops, so many typos–

      that should have been–

      If they choose to keep their blogs going, they are excommunicated without anything be discussed; usually these people can’t even defend themselves)–

  2. Tariq Khan says:

    You’re absolutely right LDSDPer. There are more than two. I heard that Rock Waterman is also being targeted, and a few others. And many more have had smaller actions taken against them, like Bishop’s confiscating people’s temple recommends for supporting Ordain Women or for otherwise straying too far from orthodoxy.

  3. (According to Oaks, criticism of secular leaders is fine, but the ideas and actions of Church leaders are above critical inquiry: “Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward Church authorities… Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is in a class by itself. It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true.” (Ibid.). In the 2007 PBS documentary “The Mormons,” Oaks tells an interviewer, “It is wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true.”)

    This, as a non Mormon, is what is so disturbing. I’ve visited Mormon blogs and I’ve seen posters argue that criticizing the allocation of funds at the ward level is the equivalent of questioning the resurrection.

    I will say, many of the people who are experiencing pain as a result of this decision are acting with a great deal of grace.

    • LDSDPer says:

      Did Dallin Oaks really say, “it is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power?”

      Well.

      The problem for many LDS is that the line between corporation and ‘church’ has become extremely blurred. These men who are ‘called of God’ are acting in corporate capacity as well. No wonder it’s such a mess.

      emmasrandomthoughts–

      as you are not LDS, I don’t know how familiar with the Book of Mormon you may or may not be. But in there LDS people (gentiles) are told that they will be full of foolishness/folly and abominations–

      by those ancient writers.

      I am afraid many LDS don’t want to read those words about themselves. I have and I do, and I acknowledge my folly.

      It’s my only hope. But, in the meantime, a majority of comfortable LDS continue to take themselves seriously and think they are ‘special’, when the book that was meant to set them apart from other Christian religionists is really just a very powerful warning to them–

      but *we* have gone ahead and done all the foolish things–

      so much irony in the world–

      Thank you for what you say–

  4. mark t justice says:

    the church should welcome contrary opinion and those with different viewpoints. Let us invite all to come to the feast and enjoy the blessings of the gospel.

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