Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bandwagon Jump: The Next Round of Excommunications

 My grandmother and Waino's wife, Maria, and their children
Olavi (the older one) and my father Waino (Alfred).
I wish I had a picture of my grandfather.

My grandfather, Waino Junus, was a promising young Finnish professor at the University of Leningrad in the 1930's. He had a wife and two sons. In 1937 he was arrested by the Soviet government, imprisoned and executed days later. I am not clear on what the charges were, but it was related somehow to the work he was doing and things he said and wrote. Plus he was a professor and had access to youthful minds and as we all know, the youth are notorious for wanting to change things. My grandmother was sent north to a place like Siberia. She was only allowed to bring one child, so she left my father behind with his paternal grandmother. The news of what happened to my grandfather didn't reach his family until decades later. As far as they knew, he was in prison all that time.

The Soviet government was one of the worst in history. Children were taught to report on their parents. Care had to be taken with written and verbal opinions. The government controlled the jobs you did, where you lived, what you read, and forbade religious worship.

Fast forward to the United States 2014. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has brought charges of apostasy to three private citizens and members of the church.

John Dehlin, has expressed doubt over the claims of the church, and more importantly, has acted as a reporter, journalist and interviewer, by giving a voice to many, many Mormons through his podcasts. John has interviewed church historians, LDS leaders, critics, past Mormons, people struggling with the faith, Mormon apologists, psychologists, professors, and the faithful. He has also come out in support of women and gays, two groups that have suffered inequalities in the church.

Kate Kelly is the founder and leader of Ordain Women, an organization that sees a future where women within the church can hold the priesthood. It is a priesthood that is offered to any LDS man over the age of 12 but denied to all women, no matter their level of activity.

Alan Rock Waterman has a blog where he shares his opinion about discrepencies he sees between  the church today and the scriptures.

Kate has been asked by the church to dismantle OW. The church has no jurisdiction over OW. They have asked Kate to take away a venue where women can have a voice.

Rock has also been asked to take down his blog even though the church has asked members to share their beliefs and write in blogs. Translation - share the church's beliefs and only write what they deem appropriate.

And I'm not sure, but I think that John has also been asked many times to take down his podcasts. His podcasts give a voice to those people that might not get the opportunity to hear otherwise.

I belong to a church that tries to control what people say. If we have questions, we are to keep them to ourselves or we may discuss them with our bishop, a man who has no more understanding of church doctrine or the gospel than any other member. Openly discussing concerns, doubts or questions is discouraged. We say questions are welcome, but they generally are the surface ones, the ones that can be explained away easily, and we must accept the church answers. To question, criticize or say the emperor has no clothes will lead to accusations of apostasy. We claim that the leaders are not perfect, and then slap those who point out imperfections. Private get togethers to discuss church doctrine, or study scriptures is discouraged as well.

Now I'm not saying that what these three individuals are facing is the exact same thing as what my grandfather faced and I'm sure they would each agree that their trials do not match the horror that happened to my family. My grandfather had no choice about where he lived. Mormons can choose to leave the church. No one is going to execute them. They can continue to live full and happy lives.

But to a devout Mormon like Kate, excommunication is like spiritual death. According to the teachings you have all your saving ordinances taken away and your eternal family ties are severed. If you believe this, it's devastating and spiritually abusive.

Excommunicated members are still welcomed at church although they can't be full participants. And I suspect with the charge of apostasy, they will not be as welcomed as someone who has sinned in other ways, because having an opinion that doesn't match the church's makes you a danger to other members. You might talk to them.

If they choose to go to their trials, John and Rock will be facing their peers. Kate will be facing a group of men who will not be understanding. She is a threat to their power. Women have no peers in a "court of love" since no woman has ever been a judge in one. Women are not allowed. Kate will be facing them alone. As it is, Kate is in unable to go to her trial, so she will have no representation.

From what I understand "courts of love" are much like what my grandfather faced. It has already been decided. The trial is just a formality. It is more than likely that they will be executed - sorry, excommunicated.

I mourn. I grew up knowing my grandfather was a hero. I grew up hating book burning. I grew up believing that knowledge and truth was something to be shared. John and Rock have done nothing but do that. Demanding that their opinions and work be destroyed is akin to book burning.

In addition, the church has a "Strengthening the Church Members Committee". If that doesn't sound like a government spying and controlling people, I don't know what is. In fact, church wide we're encouraged to report on suspicious behavior to our bishops and Relief Society presidents, so that we can help those people who are going astray. Of course it's not said precisely in that way. We're to go to our leaders about concerns and for the most part it is done in spirit of love, such as if someone needs food, is moving, or needs employment. But it can quickly expand to something else. Many a person has reported on another and made accusations. In fact I've faced false accusations without knowing who the accuser was.

So I say, thank you to John, Kate and Rock for having integrity.

And I am saddened that the church that I once loved and believed in would do this and say it's of God.

It makes it so easy to justify things when you can claim that God said so and I believe THAT would be heretical.

For further reading:

*Waino Junus in Wikepedia (Finnish language)
Two Activists in Mormon Church Threatened with Excommunication
Trib Talk
Church Responds to Questions About Disciplinary Action
John Dehlin's Mormon Stories
Ordain Women
Alan Rock Waterman's Pure Mormonism

* if anyone understands Finnish I would love to know more about him. Everything I've found is in Finnish.

Blogs about this subject   
(This is by no means comprehensive. I know there's more, but this is just a quick look from posts I found today. Anyone who wants to link their blog to this post, just let me know. I will happily add you.)

Will We Be Silenced Again?
Feminist Mormon Housewives (has several blogposts about this)
The Problem with Niceness: My Excommunication from the Mormon Church - Margaret Merrill Toscano
Mormon Truth: Stranger Than Fiction

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