By Jennifer Dobner
SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - Mormon church leaders welcome questions of faith and doctrine from members but become concerned when they lead to public statements or organized efforts to force change, a spokeswoman said on Friday as the church considers taking steps against two prominent activists.
Kate Kelly and John Dehlin say they have been asked by their respective local church leaders to resign or face hearings known as church courts, and could be disciplined or excommunicated.
In response to questions from the Salt Lake Tribune, Jessica Moody, public affairs officer for the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), said sincere questions were a founding pillar of the faith.
She said church leaders encouraged civil online dialogue and accept the Internet as a forum for sharing and debating ideas.
"When it goes so far as creating organized groups, staging public events to further a cause or creating literature for members to share in their local congregations, the church has to protect the integrity of its doctrine as well as other members from being misled," Moody said.
Kelly is a former Washington, D.C., human rights attorney who last year launched Ordain Women, a group that seeks gender equality and calls on the church's top leaders to seek direction from God on the issue of women's ordination.
Dehlin, of Logan, Utah, is the founder of Mormon Stories, an online forum and podcast for LDS members struggling with doubts about church teachings. Thousands listen to Dehlin’s broadcasts and participate in online forums, which are often used for discussion of issues including polygamy, race relations, church history and the status of gay and lesbian members.
Kelly is due to be tried by the church for apostasy on Sunday in Virginia. She is in Utah and will not attend. Dehlin says he is scheduled to meet with his regional church leader on June 29 and may not face a full hearing.
Some supporters of the activists see the hand of senior LDS leaders in the timing of the disciplinary moves against them. Moody said the guidelines in the church's Handbook of Instruction for its lay leadership were clear that such matters were the responsibility of local leaders.
(Reporting by Jennifer Dobner; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Bill Trott)