Asking vs Advocating
Supporters of Kate Kelly love to repeat the claim that “she was only asking a question.” They consistently assert that she was a faithful member of the church and would have been satisfied if President Monson had prayed about whether women should receive the priesthood and then shared the outcome of that inquiry. All of this is meant to emphasize that her choice to agitate for change was simply an attempt to make herself heard and not an indication of her being doubtful of the person she acknowledges to be the Lord’s appointed mouthpiece today. Let’s examine that assertion.
While I will examine this assertion of supporting the prophet with a focus on the Kate Kelly situation I hope that readers can recognize that this exercise in examining the implications of what it means to sustain him and how that relates to our actual actions. I would also like to explicitly acknowledge that there are times when we must be vocal in order to affect change. The issue I am dealing with is how to recognize the boundary between advocacy and apostasy.
The first question in this examination is to ask: What does it mean to be a faithful member of the church? It is unlikely that there is a single criteria that can sufficiently define what it means to be a faithful member of the church but one criteria that is absolutely necessary must be to sustain the prophet who leads the church. The second question in this examination then becomes: What does it mean to sustain the prophet? In theory, sustaining the prophet would mean accepting his leadership, trusting his judgement, and heeding his counsel. In practice that is probably a little vague so we need to ask some followup questions.
Trusting Prophetic Judgement
- Does this include trusting who he judges worthy to be called to lead at the local levels? This directly includes each local bishop because no bishop can be called without the explicit approval of the first presidency of the church.
- Does this include trusting his judgement to allow surrogates to address an issue? This would include local leaders, general authorities, or the public affairs office of the church.
Heeding Prophetic Counsel
- Does this include heeding the counsel of those he has delegated to lead at the local levels?
- Does this include heeding the counsel to be patient with the process?
Accepting Prophetic Leadership
- Does this include accepting his leadership to not take action regarding a given issue?
The final question is: Can it be considered sustaining the prophet if we only do so in cases where we agree with him? If we only accept the answer we were hoping to get then we are clearly advocating for a position rather than simply asking a question.
Ms. Kelly supports her claim of being a faithful member by informing the world that she attends church meetings regularly and faithfully fulfilling her callings. While those things are indicative of faithful membership they aren’t sufficient if they aren’t accompanied by actively sustaining the prophet. Ms. Kelly can hardly claim to be sustaining the prophet when she has repeatedly and publicly refused to heed the counsel of those he has delegated to lead where she lived and refused to accept his apparent choice to allow others including local leaders, an apostle, and the church public affairs office address her efforts. These refusals trump the claims of her supporters that she would have accepted his leadership if only he had done what she asked.
Discussion vs Dissention
Because of the excommunication of Ms. Kelly some wonder if it is possible to ask questions without being convicted of apostasy by the leaders of the church. Doubters may doubt it but the answer is yes. Even advocacy for change is acceptable so long as it is done in a way that is consistent with faithful membership, including its necessary aspect of sustaining the prophet. Allow me to illustrate how it might be accomplished.
Again, I’ll use Ms. Kelly’s issue for the sake of discussion. I will warn readers in advance that my purpose is to illustrate faithful membership rather than to detail how any given issue should conclude.
In keeping with the declaration that “My house is a house of order, and not of confusion” (Doctrine & Covenants 132:8) questions and discussions regarding changes we might wish to see should begin at the local level. Even issues, such as ordaining women, which necessarily must be consistent throughout the church (in other words, issues where one ward or stake can’t implement the practice independent of other units) should first be addressed by bringing the issue up with local leaders.
If at any level the leaders were to agree with the position you were advocating it would then be their responsibility to advance the discussion to higher levels if necessary and carry the banner for the position they agreed with and their responsibility to return the authoritative answer back to the original discussant as well as any other church members or officers within their stewardship who might be affected by the outcome. Only when the leaders at any level are no longer willing to engage in the discussion should we advance our petition to the next level of organizational leadership – up to and including taking it to the prophet when we have exhausted all prior avenues for discussion – but even as we do so, faithful membership would require that we not act contrary to whatever counsel our local leaders might offer.
Sometimes an issue will be more widely questioned than would be encompassed by the stewardship of a single local authority. Such is the case with the idea of ordaining women to priesthood offices. In such cases the questioners who are willing from various local units should each bring the question to the leaders of their respective units and advance their questions as far up the ladder as they are individually comfortable according the the template previously detailed.
The questioners across various jurisdictions could share their experiences and coordinate their efforts but they should still work through the system and to do so faithfully they should each heed the counsel of their local leaders and any other church leaders they are working with. One thing that church leaders can’t righteously do is forbid these questioners from taking their questions to a higher level within the church organization. (And despite the way some people may feel as they read about this in the news, I see no indications that any church leaders have tried to do that.)
That is the way to question or advocate for change consistent with faithful membership. The ultimate demonstration of faithfulness is to never deviate from the prescribed process even if the prophet ultimately failed to answer the question to your satisfaction or if his final answer was opposed to you proposed change.
Having failed to demonstrate faithfulness in her method of pursuing her goal, Ms. Kelly’s excommunication leaves her with two options: 1) to continue on her course without the benefit of claiming to be a faithful member of the church or 2) to adjust her actions to be in compliance with the path of faithful church membership.