By: Kersten Crate
Mormonism, also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (LDS), has seen many different portrayals of itself by members of the church and by those who are not. This dichotomy can be seen in the reporting of the excommunication of the leader of Ordain Women, Kate Kelly, and the denial of her appeal.
Kelly’s bishop wrote a letter to her after her excommunication to explain to her not only what happened and her actions that led up to it, but what she must do to be accepted back into the Mormon faith. The tone of the letter gives the impression that the council was compassionate towards Kelly. The letter said that they gave her many chances to get off of the path toward excommunication and they wish she would return. However, they were firm on the idea that Kelly cannot be LDS and aggressively recruiting other members to join her movement. This, along with the letter saying that they weighted the needs of Kelly against the needs of the congregation, gives the impression that the Church was trying to protect the other members of the LDS Church. In some parts of the letter, it uses language like ‘undermine’ to describe Kelly and her organization. This gives the impression that Kelly’s actions and Ordain Women were intentionally antagonistic towards the LDS Church. These impressions are also seen in an article put out by a Mormon news source.
In the most recent General Conference, which is a meeting intended for LDS people, Elder Oaks gave a talk about how LDS people should interact with people from outside Mormonism. As a result, this is a good example of how the LDS church wishes to be portrayed. The language of the talk suggests that people outside of the LDS Church are wicked people. Elder Oaks calls people outside the church ‘sinful’ and says that they attack LDS people for saying what they know to be true. LDS members are told that they are supposed to be kind and compassionate to those people. They are also supposed to be strong in the face of opposing opinions. They cannot condone actions that are against the LDS Church and it’s members’ values.
In some secular articles covering Kelly, they characterize her as an obedient and faithful Mormon. This impression that Kelly is a true Mormon puts the LDS church in a negative position. If the LDS church excommunicated a faithful LDS person, it suggests that there are more misogynistic or political reasons for excommunicating Kelly. This makes Kelly look almost like a martyr for standing up for her beliefs. It also gives the impression that the Church is a corrupt organization rather than a loving and accepting one. In one article, the bishop that excommunicated Kelly was identified as an ExxonMobil lawyer. With the negative reputation of this company it only intensifies the impression that the Church is corrupt.
In same the secular articles, they try to show the reasons provided by the LDS Church for excommunicating Kelly. They use the parts of the letter put out by Kelly’s bishop that give a negative impression of Kelly. These are the same articles that characterize Kelly as a faithful Mormon and that characterization comes first. The effect is the Church seems resentful or angry at Kelly. This takes away from the image that the church is compassionate. Saying that they did not wish for her to be excommunicated and wish for her to come back seems false from this light.
The biggest predictor in how the LDS church is portrayed is who the audience is. Articles that have a large Mormon audience tend to write articles with a positive or neutral portrayal of the LDS Church. Articles with a national audience will have a negative portrayal of the LDS Church. This leads to a large gap in the discussion about LDS events and tension between the two groups.
Connor, T. (2014, June 24). Mormon Women’s Group Founder Kate Kelly Excommunicated. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/mormon-womens-group-founder-kate-kelly-excommunicated-n138746
Goodstein, L. (2014, June 23). Mormons Expel Founder of Group Seeking Priesthood for Women. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/24/us/Kate-Kelly-Mormon-Church-Excommunicates-Ordain-Women-Founder.html?_r=1
Green, M. (2014, October 31). Kate Kelly plans to appeal excommunication to top LDS Church officials after initial appeal denied. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://fox13now.com/2014/10/31/kate-kelly-plans-to-appeal-excommunication-to-top-lds-church-officials-after-initial-appeal-denied/
Harrison, M. (2014, June 23). Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://www.deseretnews.com/media/pdf/1365030.pdf
Little, J. (2014, August 25). Push to ordain Mormon women leads to excommunication. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28890069
Mormon women’s rights campaigner loses appeal against excommunication. (2014, November 1). Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/01/mormon-kate-kelly-ordain-women-loses-appeal-against-excommunication
Oaks, D. (Director) (2014, October 4). Loving Others and Living with Differences. General Conference. Lecture conducted from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Salt Lake City.
If interested in hearing more this has a lot of very good background information