Author’s Note: I wrote this post before Kate Kelly received a recent letter from her former Stake President, Scott M. Wheatley, outlining why he has chosen to deny her appeal of her excommunication. I believe Wheatley’s letter confirms the concerns I raised in the post. -April Young Bennett
April Young Bennett is a member of the Ordain Women board. She has a profile at Ordain Women.
I was driving about 60 miles per hour on a desert highway. It was dark and I didn’t notice when I passed through a rural town with a much lower speed limit. A police officer pulled me over and I apologized profusely. Speeding is dangerous! I should drive slowly through towns so I don’t hit people! He let me go without giving me a ticket, although I was clearly guilty of speeding.
On another occasion, I was riding my bike and stopped at an intersection at about the same time as a driver in a van. The driver waved me through and I continued across the street, only to be stopped by a police officer who accused me of running the stop sign. I hadn’t seen the officer when I stopped because he was on the other side of the van. I don’t think the officer could see me either, for the same reason. I defended my innocence and received a ticket.
Reflecting on these experiences, I wonder if a guilty but penitent person is less likely to be punished than a person who is innocent and therefore unrepentant. If it is human nature to trust your own judgement over the testimony of someone else, would an enforcer feel more kindly toward someone who confirms their perceptions over someone who challenges them?
In the end, I did not have to pay that ticket. An impartial traffic court judge ruled in my favor. In contrast, in LDS church disciplinary proceedings, the accuser is also the judge. Janice Allred, who was excommunicated by her bishop in 1995, related this conversation:
At my disciplinary council, I presented a long statement defending myself against the charge of apostasy, which I gave to the press and people attending the vigil. Later, a man in my ward, a lawyer who had participated in many disciplinary council proceedings, said to me, “Janice, you misunderstand the purpose of the church court. It is not about establishing guilt or innocence. They won’t hold a court unless they have already decided you’re guilty. The purpose of the court is to get you to repent, to understand the seriousness of what you’ve done, to understand the consequences of refusing to repent.” (Sunstone 2014 Salt Lake Symposium, Session 336)
If Allred’s friend is correct, wouldn’t a guilty, penitent person fare better than someone who doesn’t repent because they haven’t sinned?