John Dehlin and Kate Kelly: Reflections on Church Discipline
Church Discipline Not Without Scriptural Precedent
Unfortunate but necessary: Loving disciplinary action taken on behalf of Kate Kelly, Ordain Women activist, and John Dehlin, activist blogger. When is discipline ever easy?
Today, professing Christians—as well as progressive parents—are almost afraid to practice discipline out of fear of appearing uncaring. But actually choosing not to discipline, in the case of grievances of Church doctrine or behavior, is the uncaring, least merciful course, for the offender and for the body of Christ.
We can't forget that Church discipline has its scriptural precedents, as well as its spiritual promise, as in Paul's actions to excommunicate in a local church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 5:1-13) wherein one guilty of grievous offense was removed from membership for a spiritual season. Likewise, Achan, who plundered the remains of the Israelite battle and defied the Lord's command through his prophet to leave the spoils of war, infected the camp, and they were held back from moving forward until his sin was confessed and he was removed from their midst (see Joshua 7).
As with the Savior's Church then, so is it now. There is a divinely prescribed caring way for Church discipline, as in the cases of John Dehlin and Kate Kelly.
That said, excommunication is not the first step in a process of church discipline nor is it the inevitable one. Communication begins with private discussion, counsel from local leaders, and then, if the Spirit dictates and leaders determine a further need, as in the case of Kelly and Dehlin, there is a disciplinary council held. There are several possible outcomes of such a council, discussed below.
Purpose of Church Discipline in The Church of Jesus Christ: Inviting a Change of Heart
Clearly, the purpose of church discipline, anciently and now, is to help the individual to have a change of heart and keep the body of Christ free from influences that weaken others' faith in Jesus Christ and his teachings.
Hopefully, the disciplinary action of the Church is successful. It's not intended to create shame or to harm, but to edify and invite a change and/or to set up a path whereby that individual can be restored to full fellowship. Much of that hinges on the free will of the individual involved. In the case of the man in Corinth, the scriptures affirm that he did repent and that Paul encouraged his restoration to full fellowship. The Savior intends to have a purified Church, where his teachings flow unimpeded by apostate beliefs that canker the soul and still our eternal progression.
Diversity vs. Dissent in The Church of Jesus Christ
Here's a little bit of context that may help as we talk through this current disciplinary action.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a global religion, and as recently stated, we have a welcomed diversity of members from all over the world, reflective of the vast brotherhood and sisterhood of its 15 million members. As The Church of Jesus Christ has stated recently:
Karen Trifiletti is a Philadelphia-born, second-generation Italian, who describes herself as a "perfectly imperfect but graced follower of Christ." She holds a master's degree in human and organizational development, with doctoral work in the same field. Karen is a 1980-convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, mother of two, writer, and business professional.