In a new message posted Saturday online, the church’s highest leaders said members were “always free to ask such questions and earnestly seek greater understanding.”
“We feel special concern, however, for members who distance themselves from church doctrine or practice and, by advocacy, encourage others to follow them,” the church leaders said.
They clarified that apostasy, of which Kelly was accused, is “repeatedly acting in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the church or its faithful leaders, or persisting, after receiving counsel, in teaching false doctrine.”
Dehlin believes he’s being targeted not only for the website he started nine years ago, Mormonstories.org, but also for his outspoken support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community and his support of Kelly’s group, Ordain Women. That group is pushing for gender equality with the goal of women being allowed into the faith’s lay clergy.
Dehlin, a doctoral candidate in psychology who previously worked in the high-tech industry, said his desire to stay in the faith is a demonstration of his love for the religion he had belonged to his entire life.
“I stay in the church as an expression of faith and hope that the church can mature to the point of being able to accept doubt, criticism and the open discussion of difficult matters,” Dehlin said. “So many people are suffering in silence in the Mormon church, it’s a fight worth fighting.”
Excommunication is not a lifelong ban, and there are other, lesser forms of punishment that allow people to remain members but limit forms of participation.
Nobody has solid numbers on how many church members are ousted each year, but it is probably between 10,000 and 20,000, said Matt Martinich, a church member who analyzes membership numbers with the nonprofit Cumorah Foundation. The church has some 15 million members worldwide.
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