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Two prominent Mormon activists threatened with excommunication

By Jennifer Dobner

SALT LAKE CITY (Reuters) - A pair of Mormon activists who have pushed for greater acceptance of gay church members and the ordination of women are facing disciplinary action and possible excommunication by their faith leaders.

In letters received this week, John Dehlin and Kate Kelly were told to appear at hearings before their local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) leaders for alleged acts of "apostasy." Such hearings are known as church court.

Dehlin, who lives in Logan, Utah, is the founder of several long-running, Mormon-themed websites, blogs and podcasts, including Mormon Stories and Mormon Matters.

The online forums are for Latter-day Saints who have struggled with doubt or questioned church teachings on issues including polygamy, race relations, church history, and the status of LGBT members.

After Dehlin wrote online that he no longer believed many of the "fundamental" LDS church claims, he was told to resign by June 18 or face a church court.

"I am greatly concerned about the impact these and other statements and actions are having," said the letter, from a church leader Dehlin said he had never met.

On Wednesday he said he would not resign.

"I love Mormonism and everything I’ve done has been to try and help it keep its members," Dehlin told Reuters.

Kelly is a Washington, D.C.-based human rights attorney who in 2013 launched Ordain Women, seeking a wider role for Latter-day Saint women in their church. That group has been labeled as "protesters" by the church’s public affairs department.

Kelly said online on Wednesday that she received a letter informing her she was on "informal probation," and that she would be tried for apostasy June 22.

"I feel like being invited to a council of this sort is akin to being invited to my own funeral," she said, adding that she would be abroad and unable to attend.

Church court outcomes can include probation, disfellowship, excommunication, or exoneration. Public excommunications are rare, but in the 1990s several high-profile Mormon scholars and feminists were excommunicated. 

In a statement on Wednesday, church leaders did not name the pair, but said some members had chosen to take themselves out of the church by "actively teaching and publicly attempting to change doctrine" due to personal beliefs.

"In these rare cases, local leaders have the responsibility to clarify false teachings and prevent other members from being misled."

(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Walsh)

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