On remembering the excommunicated: A modest proposal for change

During the Church’s relatively short life, it has excommunicated many people; unfortunately very few of them ever return to the Church.

I am not convinced that our poor rates of re-baptism are solely because of the act of excommunication itself.  Simply stated the issue I see with current Church policy and practice is this: when people are excommunicated from the Church their records are completely removed from our local ward lists.

Ecclesiastically, this is problematic primarily because the Church teaches that excommunication should be part of the repentance process for that person, but excommunication rarely leads to repentance.  Certainly there are arguments to be made about what the role of excommunication should be in the Church, and I have tried to wrestle with that question elsewhere.  But, assuming that all other things remain the same, one factor that potentially contributes to our poor track record is that in some cases there has not been the appropriate level of sustained contact and care that might have helped an individual receive again their membership. This is compounded when leadership changes occur and the excommunicated become forgotten without anyway of re-contacting them because we do not have the necessary information.  If local leaders are to follow the Jesus’ direction to go after the lost sheep and to reach out to those who have been excommunicated then they need to know the whereabouts of those who are excommunicated.

I am aware of the many passages of scriptures that speak of excommunicated persons as not being “numbered among my people” (3 Ne 18:31; Msh 26:32; Moroni 6:7) or that speak of their names being “blotted out” (Msh 26:36; Ps 69: 28; Msh 1:12). Whatever these metaphors might mean in practice an increasingly anonymous and geographically mobile world does not allow us to retain in the collective memory of our local wards the names of those who are no longer numbered among God’s people.  Additionally, I feel that when we consider these scriptures in light of God’s reaching-love I feel certain he would not want us to be so casual about the institutional forgetting of these souls.

I propose a simple bureaucratic change in the way that Excommunications are reported on MLS.  Rather than permanently removing the names of the excommunicated the Church could create an ‘Excommunicated’ status, much like there have done for people who are disfellowshipped.  This would mean that local leaders could hold onto vital information that would allow them to follow the Saviour’s commandment to support those who have been excommunicated (see 3 Ne 18:31-3).  I am not an expert in computer programming nor in the nuts-and-bolts of MLS but I imagine that it would require very little cost or time to make such a change.

“Nevertheless, ye shall not cast [them] out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.”

Comments

  1. This recommendation would make excommunication essentially the same as disfellowshipment, except for re-baptism, it seems to me. I think local leaders already have too many demands, and adopting this change will add more burdens and reports for local leaders. However, any local leader can already create a non-member record in MLS for any non-member, including an excommunicant. Some local leaders already do this for non-member spouses (with their permission, I hope).

  2. Leaving aside the issue of what the church should do, I’m not 100% sure that the situation you describe is true in all cases. My understanding is that MLS, at least, will retain member information for excommunicated members who are part of an existing family. That is, if Brother X is X’d, but his wife Sister X remains on the records, he will still appear in MLS as part of the family.

  3. ji, I find it difficult to see how a simple administrative change can be equated with collapsing the distinction between excommunication and disfellowshipment. Of course, you are right that local leaders have many demands on their time but surely saving the soul of the person who has willingly (in many cases) submitted themselves to Church discipline should be a burden worth accepting.

    I did not know about the non-member record. I do not think that solves the problem although it could certainly help.

  4. Paul, thanks for your comment. I am not 100% sure either, but I do have some experience in this area and I am confident that the situation you describe is not the case in the Ward I am currently a member of. However, I am willing to be corrected. With that said, even if it were true, it still does not resolve the issue for an area of the Church dominated by converts.

  5. Aaron R (no. 3) — A significant difference between the two is that for one, membership records are maintained and for the other, they are blotted out — to retain the membership records for both would to diminish this difference. But I appreciate your concern — until such time as MLS is changed, a bishop can create a non-member record for an excommunicant (with his or her permission) and the person’s name will appear on reports and class rolls and so forth. It is customary to create non-member records for non-member children who attend Primary, for example, so their names will appear on the birthday lists and so forth.

  6. In the folklore world (you know, that the folks who are excommunicated are devil worshipers), those who are excommunicated wouldn’t have any interest in returning. So what’s the point in having their info in the database for decades on end?

    The numbers are already inflated, lets not make it worse.

  7. Aaron, I agree with your thought that excommunicated members who are on a path to repentance deserve our support and comfort along that path. I question your assertion that those who want it don’t get it. Is there statistical evidence to support the claim of your first sentence?

    My observation: in all cases of church discipline with which I am familiar, excommunicated members are to continue counseling with a PH leader (bishop or stake president usually) on a regular basis. If they do, they can work on rehabilitating their membership. If they do not, then they don’t.

    Granted, my personal experience with folks who have been excommunicated is a very, very small sample.

  8. ji, I guess for me whether the records are kept or not changes the very little the status of the covenants, according to the Church, in both instances.

    Newly, darn those pesky numbers!

    Paul, my observation comes from two directions. One I have seen people who have not had that kind of support and I fear that there are times when Bishops find it difficult to work with someone who has been hurt through their excommunication process, and sometimes neglect to be as frequent in their visits. Two, and more importantly, like the scripture cited above suggests “for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart”. These are the people I am really speaking about here. True, someone might not be moving forward in 2005 but in 2012 it might be different ;and it seems to me the Church has been given a clear mandate regarding our responsibility to these people. A mandate we cannot currently fulfill.

  9. “…unfortunately very few of them ever return to the Church.”

    You know this because…..

  10. it just happens too much in general. i have a friend that was excommunicated at 22 for living with his girlfriend. he was engaged at the time he was excommunicated, and that was his only sin. so they excommunicated a guy for sleeping with a girl that would be his wife in like 2 months. i mean, is that really how that situation should be approached? theres not enough uniformity in excommunication. its completely left up to local leaders who can ultimately excommunicate anyone they want. its not healthy.

  11. I agree that we need to minister to these people. I have seen at least two people who were excommunicated return to full Church activity, so I know it happens, and I think in many cases there is a lot of ministering that is taking place. One of my HT families has an excommunicated member and we treat them just like any other family and their names appear in the ward list just as any other family. Given this fact, I’m not sure what the difference is between what we are doing now and what you are recommending.

  12. dc, although I do not have any reliable or publicly available data to hand I have heard this from trustworthy sources, of course I do not expect you to take my word for it.

    well, thank you for your comment. Certainly, we all have stories similar to the one you mention but in this post I would like to try and avoid going down that route now if that is OK.

    MCQ, people certainly do return after excommunication. It is great that you are still offering support to the family and to them as an individual but I would be very surprised if the excommunicated member of that family is still on the local records of the Church. My recommendation is more for people who do not have those family ties or for whom those people no longer live at home. These people get lost.

  13. Anon for this says:

    I hometaught an excommunicated man until he moved out of our ward. He was fairly active, and wanted to return to full membership. When he moved out of the ward (and to an entirely different city) I asked my bishop how this man’s new ward would know he was there, as there were no membership records to pass on. My bishop said, basically, that they wouldn’t, and that it was entirely up to this man to find his new ward and tell the bishop there about his circumstances.

    So I agree that there should be some kind of paper trail for excommunicated members that show a willingness to return to the church.

  14. it's a series of tubes says:

    I feel certain he would not want us to be so casual about the institutional forgetting of these souls.

    Framing your position as certainty that you know the mind of God on this issue is hubris, indeed.

  15. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 10 Does it seem odd to anybody else that a church which tightly correlates virtually everything takes the opposite approach when it comes to the application of ecclesiastic discipline?

    The Catholics have this figured out. These days a member gets excommunicated for teaching false doctrine or actively leading others astray, and that’s about it. Behaviors which damage the church merit expulsion; personal sins are dealt with inside the church. So basically, apostates get excommunicated but sinners do not.

    The LDS church could easily take this approach. It has the added advantage of a “secondary gate,” the Temple Recommend. Why on earth excommunicate or even disfellowship a 22 year old who’s sleeping with his girlfriend (almost certainly losing him forever), when the option of pulling the TR is already available? The TR interview process is somewhat analogous to the confessional in Catholicism.

    I know I’m an outsider here but just some rambling thoughts on a Thursday morning…..

  16. #14, Your right that I could have phrased my position a little more gently but I do feel this hubris is grounded in our scripture. God has asked us to continue to minister to those who have been cut off and we cannot if do not know where they are.

    MikeinWeHo, always good to have your thoughts.

  17. As usual, your mileage may vary. From my observation, more than half the excommunicated members I know of have returned and been rebaptized. In every one of those cases, however, the excommunicated member remained with the family residing in the same ward, and had continued support and counseling with both a bishop and the stake president. In our stake, it is normal practice to also assign a member of the high council who participated in the disciplinary hearing to be a mentor and support.

    However, there are those who move because the excommunication resulted in a divorce and a forced relocation, or moved because they didn’t want to have to deal with those who knew the circumstances. Those folks can and do get lost, and sometimes by choice. I know we have had one or two excommunicated individuals move into or through our ward, and we only know about them because they have made themselves known.

    To your main premise, though, I would agree that both for the welfare of the individual, and also the considerations of the ward leadership, there should be a way for local units to be able to know about these folks who for whatever reason are not residing in the same ward as where they used to have membership.

  18. Anonymous today says:

    Our ward bishop has a paper file of ex-communicated members and makes annual contact with them as part of his ministry. It’s a small list, to be sure, and there’s enough turnover in the ward that there are only a handful of active members who know of these individuals. I’m in the ward leadership and I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable just diving into a list like that without some knowledge of the situation and direction from the bishop first. So, I don’t think it’s inappropriate that the bishop remains sort of at the helm of this kind of effort.

    In keeping with what ex-communication’s purpose is supposed to serve (I’m conceding that its purpose and efficacy are subject to much debate in this forum), I’m not sure that continued “official” ministry is appropriate.

    Aaron R., would the principal value in having MLS have some sort of record there be mainly to make sure that several sets of eyes get to see these individuals, know who they are, etc.? What type of quasi-official rehabilitation program (awkward choice of words, I know, but I can’t really think of anything better) do you envision?

  19. As a former ex-communicant who did return, there is way too much speculation here. So after I was X’d, and although my name was officially off the MLS records, I was continually having contact with the bishop. He and I had lunch at least 2x a month and he assigned a wonderful HT (my wife was still active) who also met with me for lunch (a lot a talking, a little eating) a couple of times a month also. I was never forgotten. I was instructed that I not pay tithing, but we paid anyway in my wife’s name. It was a long couple of years, but I attended church and did my best considering I sat on the side near the rear, couldn’t speak, pray, or participate in any way.

    In the end, I had to write a letter to the First Presidency, basically stating that I wished to be reinstated, etc. It became a wild dash towards the end, since my Stake President was about to be released and he was working with Salt Lake to make sure he could get me rebaptized before he left. I think it was a nice gesture since he didn’t want to have me “lost” in the system with the next SP, and potentially the stigma with his successor as well.

    The one thing that does strike me however, and where there is some difficulty with me, is that even though I am now a member, there is an “asterisk” if you will, in my file in the church that makes note that I was X’d and the dates. Even though it doesn’t show on the local ward record, I know this because another friend of mine who was X’d and came back was called to be a bishop in a new stake by a new SP about 9 years later. He was asked if he had ever been X’d, to which he replied he had. Turns out the SP went to the church records (The secret asterisk part) and the SP came back and said that he had checked the dates, and since it had not been 10 years since his re-instatement that he had to withdraw the calling! He was put in the bishopric, but as a counselor.

    So in my mind, the bigger question is and what kind of gnaws at me, is that even though I have been fully restored and try to live as I should, there is still an “asterisk” by my name somewhere in SLC. I thought the “…Lord remembers…no more”. But in today’s corporate church, and thanks to computers, I am, in a way, “remembered”. Some of you judgemental types may give the standard response that of course there are consequences to sin and you have to live with those consequences. I have paid the price, done what was required, so should I not be done and have the past the past?

    Enough ranting. It really is up to the local bishop to stay in contact. I had not 1 conversation with my SP during my couple of years out. My bishop said that the SP asked about me, but that is as much as I know.

  20. I’m thinking that there’s another value to the record keeping, and I confess I have no idea how this is tracked anywhere. If a member who has been excommunicated wishes rebaptism, there’s a specific process for that. If he’s known as an excommunicant, local leaders can ensure the process is used. If not, what’s to stop him from simply moving and becoming a “golden contact” for a set of missionaries? (My example assumes bad intent, and I don’t mean to suggest that all (or even most) excommunicants would do so.)

    As for the example in #10 — it’s hard to judge an individual case without all the facts. The facts as you’ve related them (and I don’t question that they are what you know) would likely merit a much gentler handling in most cases, I would think. It’s been nearly a decade since I had access to Handbook #1, but there was an awful lot of opportunity for local leaders to choose less than excommunication, and there was encouragement to do so except in specific circumstances. Given just the facts as you’ve relayed them, it’s understandable that there might be frustration at such a variety of local applications possible.

  21. it's a series of tubes says:

    If not, what’s to stop him from simply moving and becoming a “golden contact” for a set of missionaries?

    Nothing. The issue would be most likely be discovered (if at all) after the baptism, when the new member records for the baptism were submitted to SLC. The name and birthdate match with a previously excommunicated member might throw an exception. Now if the excommunicated member had changed their legal name before rebaptism, discovering this would be exceptionally difficult in practice.

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    No. 15 MikeInWeHo, the Church has been informally trending in the direction you suggest for some time now. It has become uncommon to be excommunicated for, say, sleeping with one’s partner outside of marriage; those types of situations are dealt with more informally these days.

  23. Researcher says:

    But in today’s corporate church, and thanks to computers, I am, in a way, “remembered”. Some of you judgemental types may give the standard response that of course there are consequences to sin and you have to live with those consequences. I have paid the price, done what was required, so should I not be done and have the past the past? (19)

    I am glad to read that previous excommunications are listed on a membership record (if this is the case). I would not like to have my children privately interviewed by a bishop or bishopric member who had been excommunicated for preying on children or any other applicable offense, and the fact was not known because the man had moved from one region of the country to the other.

    The church needs safeguards to keep registered sex offenders or other recognized potential predators from being scout masters or bishops or youth leaders or working in the nursery.

    Yes, I realize that there are offenders who have not been through church discipline or the legal system, but if the church has taken action against its members for any variety of sins, some of which may proscribe certain types of church service, it needs to keep record of the fact.

    Otherwise, how is it any different from a certain church which knowingly transferred priests from parish to parish, exposing generations of trusting children to depraved predators?

  24. Meldrum the Less says:

    Way too little reliable information on this topic, I agree.

    My limited experience is that a huge group of people wanted or want out of the LDS church and don’t want ANY further contact. Period. Most of you might be familiar with the idea of a “love bomb.” (This is when we do something nice for a person who wants to be left alone and they don’t like it because they interpret the kind deed as insincere, with strings attached, and motivated by a desire to manupulate them into wanting to return to church which they do not want to do.) Until recently, simple resignation from the LDS church was not allowed and excommunication was the only viable way out. Love bombs were frequent and misguided.Any continued bombing needs to stop.

    Another group of excommunicated people, probably smaller in number are still in the LDS faith, heart and soul, but are repenting of serious transgressions and are not really out of the community. They are striving to come back into full fellowship. It is my impression that local leaders are trying to assist them in most cases.Obviously, we should support these efforts. I don’t know about an ambivalent group lost somewhere in between; if it exists it has to be small. Is this the group under discussion?

    My understanding of the first amendment (US Constitution) right of freedom of religion also includes freedom from religion. We have the right to join any church we wish under any circumstances as defined by the various churches. We also have the constitutional right to leave any church on our own terms. Not on terms dictated by the church! It would seem to be a violation of a person’s right of freedom from religion to not let them leave. To keep them on visiting lists and constantly be meddling with them seems to violate their right of freedom of religion. We cross a thin line when we go beyond keeping track of history to keeping track for recruiting or manipulating purposes.

    I guess what I am saying is that in many instances (excluding the second group above) we should FORGET, not remember the excommunicated. We should concern ourselves with those still with us (and maybe fewer will leave in the future) and not concern outselves with those who already left. If they want to come back, we are in the phone book.

  25. Meldrum the Less says:

    “The church needs safeguards to keep registered …”

    Hog wash.The church needs to stop thinking that they are somehow different from the rest of socierty or above the law in this matter. In the case of the Boy Scouts, that organization already has in place amble (perhaps even excessive) policies and procedures to safeguard the youth beyond what we do at church . It is my sad experience that we Mormons tend to think we are above the boy scout policies and do not strictly follow them. Other churches in my experience are much quicker to require fingerprinting and criminal backgroud checks for all youth leaders and take any number of additional steps never even dreamed of at the ward house that might actually work to prevent or apprehend criminals.

    We can’t expect the Bishop or the membership department to keep track of all the criminals predating upon our society with a series of little asterisks on membership records. We are fools to the extend that we do. We need better cooperation with existing mechanisms already in place in society and with law enforcement.

    if a guy gets axed for screwiing around with his girlfriend and repents, that is not in the same category as the seriously dysfunctional and damgerous pedophile or hebephile dodging prison and sneaking around under the Bishop’s nose.Since most Bishops are not experts in criminalistics how can we expect them to possess the judgment and experience to protect us from the criminals? We can’t.

    Leave theology to the clergy and criminalistics to the police.

  26. Meldrum the Less says:

    Sorry for the numerous typos..
    One more lick:The thing that got the Catholics into the most trouble exactly proves my point. The abuse was bad enough. But when the church leaders thought they could deal with it by themselves and did not turn the predators over to the police, that is what really fried them in hot oil.

  27. Aaron, I agree fully with your recommendation. I also agree fully (and those who disagree are full of BS) that God would not want our brothers and sisters treated that way. The BofM clearly and unequivocably says we should continue to minister to the excommunicated. How can local leaders of the Church do that if there is not a systematized way to know who they are? As far as those who have left the church and wish no contact, we should honor that as well. Perhaps in such a case no “backup record” should be kept locally.

    In my experience as a bishop, many years ago, I discovered that there were lots of members who had been excommunicated or disfellowshipped many years ago, but had not been ministered to. When leaders changed, follow up ended. I tried to pass on such information to my successor. I do not know if he followed up with any (though I personally stayed in contact with some) I am with Mikeinweho that the church way overdid it in excommunicating people (but it was done at the direction of President Kimball who in general priesthood meeting once said not enough people were being excommunicated) I agree with Kevin, that generally speaking local leaders have returned to a pre-Lee and pre-Kimball much more measured approach. But not all have. From personal knowledge, I will say that men are still disfellowshipped or excommunicated for pre-marital sex or for merely living together in sin.

  28. There’s a difference between someone’s being excommunicated and having his name removed from the records of the church. The policy for name removal hasn’t changed since about 1989 as far as I know (except that the church has been more explicit to leaders about following through with someone’s wishes quickly when asked).

    Since the two processes are different, there’s no reason one couldn’t “track” excommunicants and not track voluntary exits.

    That said, how is an excommunicant any different from a “regular” non-member in a bishop’s stewardship? He has responsibility for both.

  29. Researcher says:

    Botherations, Meldrum. You’re entirely misrepresenting my comment. I did not suggest that criminals not be turned over to the police. I did not suggest that the church is above the law. I did not suggest that the church is above Boy Scout policies. I did not suggest that the church should keep track of all the criminals “predating upon our society,” or any of the other things you read into my comment.

    I did suggest that if the church has taken action against someone for something which may affect his or her ability to serve in certain callings (particularly in regards to working with children), the church needs to keep track of that information.

  30. I agree with the sentiment. Two points:

    1. My recollection of the procedure under the previous version of the handbooks (last time I dealt with Church discipline), was that upon excommunication the bishop was to ask the individual if he could retain a record. If the individual moved, the bishop was to seek permission to contact the bishop of the new ward.

    2. This was more relevant back before the Church permitted people to request name removal (which resulted from the following principle), but there is a body of case law regulating what information a church can disclose for those who are no longer voluntarily members.

    Sorry if others have already made these points–I skimmed the comments.

  31. The question is, why the excommunication? In my experience, few are excommunicated for doctrinal reasons, although I know that happens. I believe most are excommunicated for adultery or fornication in violation of temple covenants. Sins committed without temple covenants usually result in disfellowshipment, at least the first time. If those who have been excommunicated are involved with active families, there is usually a contact with the local ward. I am also aware that high counselors have on occasion at least been assigned to work with someone who has been excommunicated but expresses a desire to repent and qualify for re-baptism. If the person who has been excommunicated is part of an active family, I’d say they almost always are the focus of attention, at least in every ward in which I have been a member.

  32. Excommunication is too much like a reward. They raise your income 10% and free up a lot of your time. The next thing you know, you’re saying “I could get used to this”. It’s a win-win. Humans have a deep psychological need to judge, and excommunication fills that quite nicely.

  33. My daughter left the Church. Her name appeared on my membership record as my child but with a designation which could be interpreted by those in the know that she was no longer a member.

    Many people request leaving. I guess these are not really x’ed. What bothers me is that it is really hard to get x’ed without cooperating with the bishop. Denial will usually win out according to my scant observations of two cases. 1) Husband cheated on wife and she knew it and brought it before the bishop. Husband denied. Nothing else. 2) Girl was sexually abused by her father. Subsequently the Church did nothing to the father who denied.

    So, you are a repentant sinner and come to the bishop for help. He throws the book at you as a matter for helping you. Why would you want your name kept on the records unless you were determined to be reinstated?

    I live in a ward with more than double the active population as inactives. The ward list is full of strange names of people who never show. Every so often, with every new bishop, these people get contacted again with the same results. Nothing. We tried to keep a file with these names and the contacting record. It was lost with the next change of bishop or relief society president. Why would keeping a list of the x’ed members be any more effective than the list of the disaffected?

  34. Meldrum the Less says:

    Researcher, then we are in perfect agreement on this matter. Sorry.

    To bad for Bishop Moon out in the Uintah Basin who is in hot water for obstruction of justice , failure to report etc.

    BTW, what does botherations mean? (I couldn’t get into BYU even back in the day when it was easy.)

  35. D. Fletcher says:

    Both words “excommunication” and “disfellowship” are so ugly, and suggest a negation of their real purpose, to “fellowship” at a time of repentance. Couldn’t we just use the word “repentance” to describe this period in a member’s life?

  36. Let me give a little more background on my excommunication, and where some of my problem is with this. After many years of supressing past sins that were truly not in keeping with the gospel, but were not illegal, I decided of my own choice to come forward and empty the bucket. I was not caught by wife, family, police, or anything. Just wanted to get rid of guilt and make myself right with wife and God. So I truly dumped the bucket, knowing that my wife may divorce me, I might lose my membership, etc.

    So I was X’d, and the problem I have with the process now, after thinking about it for several years, is that when I needed the church the most and it’s support and succor, they threw me out. Luckily, as I mentioned, my bishop and a HT helped me out, not because they were supposed to (in fact, as an excommunicant, I was off the rolls and they have no real obligation to me beyond what a bishop normally is with all people in his geographic area), but because they personally were true Christians, helping those in need of help.

    I think that there are just so many self-righteous people that love to take the Old Testament hard line on sin and you get what you deserve mentality, that they forget that repentence is difficult and one needs support and understanding. I am certainly much more empathetic to those in my ward who are not attending or on the fringe, and I have made it my own personal calling to get to know them and let them know that I can like them simply for who they are and that they are good people regardless of whether they are active or not, and not because I was sent on some artificial mission from the bishop to try and get them back into church.

  37. This is an interesting topic for me. For the first time in my life, I’m under some discipline of the church, informally at this point. I have some restrictions on my church activity. I am definitely going through this process trying to be a better person and try to draw closer to God. I still have doubts about many things about church, but will not play it false. I made some mistakes, and I need to deal with that. It took awhile to get to that point however. I’m hesitant when it comes to church discipline. I used to be in a position with access to the 1st handbook. I don’t remember a lot about the discipline section because it wasn’t really my responsibility and I didn’t think I’d ever have to worry about it. What I recall is the lack of a lot of guidance. Also, there’s no resource for bishops or stake presidents to look to for examples of what other leaders are doing around the church with the same problems. A lot of discipline depends on the personal judgment of our leaders. Some are compassionate and some throw the book at the person with the same sin. It’s kind of odd.
    In any event, I’ve been using my scripture study time focusing on repentance. I always understood repentance as to try to bring one closer to God and be more spiritual. As I am now restricted in speaking and praying in church, I find these restrictions as odd. I guess I always have when I’ve found a person or two who had been excommunicated but were such great people. I didn’t give it much thought until now. I also agree the whole discipline process could be modified some. I agree that if there’s been serious sin, temple recommend, priesthood blessings and such should not be performed, and perhaps for a short time don’t take the sacrament. But unless someone is apostate and trying to bring down the church, why restrict speech with others or with God only at church. You can talk and pray at home. You can discuss the gospel with friends and family or the bishop or in other support meetings. It’s just counter intuitive to me. I don’t think that someone who made a mistake and is trying to make amends should be prohibited from basic church participation in speaking and praying that have nothing to do with worthiness. An investigator can speak up in church, for example. Now the person may not be comfortable for awhile and shouldn’t be forced to speak or pray. Nonetheless, that person has value, is still a child of God, and may have some great spiritual insight that they can’t share.
    I also agree with MikeInWeHo that dealing with sin shouldn’t necessarily mean throwing someone out of the church if they are really trying to repent. Maybe only apostates, those who are trying to bring down the church and not someone who made a big mistake, should be excommunicated. Plus, there’s no policy on how long before rebaptism. I’ve read stories that church leaders have slowed down that process when the person was repentant and ready to go. More consistency and training on this sensitive subject would be great.
    Maybe this all stems from my own appreciation for 1st amendment rights to speech and for legal precedent and codes for punishing crimes. Anyway, these are just some of my thoughts I’ve had as I go through my own repentance process.

  38. it's a series of tubes says:

    A lot of discipline depends on the personal judgment of our leaders.

    Indeed it does… c.f. their calling as a common judge in Israel. Unsurprising.

    my own appreciation for 1st amendment rights to speech and for legal precedent and codes for punishing crimes

    None of which apply in the context of a private religious organization, of course.

  39. If repeated instances of pre-marital sexual relations, engaged in by a relatively active, church attending member of the church, who expresses no substantial desire to repent, does not merit formal church discipline, it is hard to imagine many things that do.

    If the person isn’t active and does not go around claiming he is a member of the church, it isn’t nearly as serious. But if the person is relatively active, and does attend church, or leverages his membership in any way, it is a matter of the utmost seriousness that he or she be subject to church discipline.

    Without such discipline, not only would the church’s good name be tarnished, and its purpose impaired, the church could literally be torn apart. The scriptures are explicit on this subject. That is why that they state that unrepentant adulterers must be “cast out from among you”. The potential for harm is simply too great. With fornication, much less so than with adultery, but it is serious enough.

  40. Ex'dellent says:

    series of tubes,

    Apostle John W. Taylor asserted his constitutional rights during his church disciplinary hearing, specifically his 5th amendment rights, and his pleading the fifth went unchallenged by those apostles that were questioning him. If anything, our church courts should have a higher standard in protecting the rights of the accused.

  41. #39 has a point. It’s about protecting the brand. On the east coast, where the early church grew up, everyone knows your religion. In New York and Pennsylvania, where I grew up, one of the first things people ask is what religion are you. Back in the day, gossip was the main form of entertainment (no TV/text/net) so scandal was a big deal. This is the environment from which excommunication policy sprung.

  42. Apostle John W. Taylor asserted his constitutional rights during his church disciplinary hearing, specifically his 5th amendment rights, and his pleading the fifth went unchallenged by those apostles that were questioning him.

    You don’t have to be an attorney to know why iasot was right. The other apostles didn’t chellenge him – so what? Now he magically has 5th amendment rights he can rely on, in an internal religious proceeding? Wrong.

  43. Regarding asterisks on the membership records:

    The main tort claims that are brought against churches in cases of pedophiles or sexual abuse are (in brief form) ‘negligent hiring’ and ‘negligent retention.’ In other words: not using the care of a reasonable and prudent person in investigating who you are putting into a position, say, to work with the children or the youth, and not using the same kind of care to prevent future bad acts once you found out there was a concern or prior problem.

    (In come cases a breach of fiduciary duty is held, but that is really out there in terms of legal theory because it requires the court to find that a church worker (usually a minister), by acting in the normal functions of his calling and office, becomes a fiduciary to the members – a problematic and troubling concept.)

    If my memory serves me correctly, to steer clear of the ditches of negligent hiring and/or retention, didn’t President Hinckley initiate the policy that church membership record would reflect past acts of sexual abuse even after a person has fully repented? I think they now do. One can repent of sexual abuse of a child, but never be able to serve in certain callings.

    So that solves one problem. The question going forward really is whether the church needs to go background checks before calling someone to the YM/YW program or primary or scouts. Because if the Boy Scouts of America are doing it, it has the effect of raising the bar of what is considered reasonable and prudent.

    And all of this is complicated by the fact that the church, by revelation it seems, holds all assets in a single business entity, unlike the Catholic Church where the dioceses are separate and independent entities. If any attorney can get the case to discovery, they know that the LDS Church will settle rather than having to disclose their assets. It almost makes it seem like we should organize each stake to ring-fence the liability.

    But I digress.

  44. I do not in any way think it is problematic or troubling that a bishop or stake president has a fiduciary relationship with church members. It is absolutely true without question. A fiduciary is someone who is bound to act for the benefit of another, or someone who has a relationship of trust with someone else. That is absolutely the case with Church leaders. They hold information in confidence that they are bound not to divulge and they have a relationship of trust with the people in their stewardships. This is the very definition of a fiduciary relationship.

  45. Interestingly, I just learned that the Church used to publish those who were excommunicated in the Church News and in the Improvement Era. Included was their name, birthdate, priesthood office, excommunication date, ward and stake. I have seen it repeatedly through the 1940’s, but am unsure when this began or ended. I doubt this will ever happen again, but it is certainly one way to keep track of them.

  46. Up to as recently as the late 1970s the church would announce the excommunication in priesthood meeting.

  47. Yes, they used to publicly announce excommunications in Sacrament meetings as well. Then it went to just Priesthood meetings. Then they stopped that altogether. They used to be much more quick to excommunicate in the old days. It was ridiculous, actually. I remember when the counsel came down from Salt Lake that disfellowshipment was preferred in all but the most serious cases.

    As far as the *asterisk goes, I would like to mention one particular injustice that truly galls me. If a homosexual member of the Church is disciplined for sexual activity with an ADULT, there is an annotation put on their record that says ‘No callings whatsoever with children’. This mark is permanent, and can only be removed by the First Presidency. If this isn’t a clear case of bigotry and profiling, I don’t know what is. (See latest Church Handbook Vol. 1) I can understand marking the record of a child molester, but to automatically mark homosexual people in this way as a danger to children is hurtful, unfounded and inexcusable.

  48. Late to the discussion but here are my thoughts. Two brothers in law have had disciplinary action taken. First one had numerous affairs with co-workers, prostitutes, etc and after much persuasion reluctantly went to the bishop. Bishop said that if we ex them, we lose them so we don’t ex them anymore. 6 wk disfellowshipment and back to full membership. My sister said that she assumes if there were triple digit numbers of women maybe they would reconsider but apparently double digits are the norm. Details are long and drawn out but needless to say, my sister finally had one leader say to her that the reason they are no longer called courts but disciplinary councils is because at least in a court there is some semblance of justice and not so here….at least in this life.

    Second BIL was very recent. Not so many women but similar unfaithfulness. Bishop is having him “mentor” the other men in the ward with similar challenges. We refer to him in our family as an EQP since it’s not a small number.

    Aaron R., it looks like at least in some wards they are actually doing some sort of outreach program or mentorship and not losing these men. However, when are we going to have a mentorship for the women who have to get HIV & STD testing, counseling, etc. after their eternal companions screw (pun intended) up their lives?

  49. kc, I don’t know the details, but in abstract a six week disfellowship-ment for the case you describe sounds extremely short. I have a hard time believing that any serious process would disfellowship for less than a year in such a case, and more likely about three years, depending on how repentant the person was, and what kind of background he had in the church.

  50. kc, I agree with Mark D. Firstly, if these men were MP holders then the SP makes the decision about disfellowshipment or excommunication and so the scenario you describe is unlikely. For example, from the CHI: ‘Disfellowshipment is intended to be temporary but usually lasts at least one year.’ Secondly, and to the actual post, neither of the situations you describe involve excommunication and so are not necessarily relevant to suggestions I have made. Finally, your response speaks only to men and I am not sure why. Women and men are both excommunicated, and both are in need of assistance.

  51. Glad to hear you gentlemen are as appalled at the shortness of the disfellowshipment as our family was. This happened before the new handbooks so not sure what was recommended, but certainly the punishment never came anywhere near the crimes. He was YM president at the time and his pouring on the tears in the offices is what made both the bishop & stk pres believe he was sincere in his repentance. That they stopped the minute he left the church was another story. My sister had numerous conversations with the stk pres. His only mantra was the one I cited earlier. If we ex them, we lose them and they are precious souls. Also something along the lines of what great work he did with the youth in the ward. The day he returned to fellowship, he went and passed the sacrament with his former priests and made a point of being the one to hand it to my sister’s row. This blog isn’t the time or place to hash it all out but it’s one of those where the Lord knows his heart and ONE DAY he will stand and be judged righteously.

    My response was only to men because that is all my personal experience has been. For some reason I don’t know if women would be as open to the mentorship process as it appears that the men have been in BIL #2 scenario. Maybe it’s my own bias, but I say that as a woman. For one, they’d have to be willing to let the bishop share their story with someone else and talk openly about it with them. However, I agree that some sort of outreach is needed for both disfellowshipped & exed members–male & female– and it appears in some areas that it’s happening.

  52. Should have said “the minute he left the church building…”

  53. WHOOPS! Okay, you guys were right and I was wrong. Mark D. & Aaron R., you made me doubt myself so I checked with my sister and it was 6 months my BIL was disfellowshipped, not 6 wks. I knew it was much shorter than it should have been but I was way off. The rest of the details were accurate. Please forgive and thanks for helping me set the record straight.

  54. kc, glad we could help.

    BCC, making you doubt yourself since 2004.

  55. If this blog doesn’t already have a motto, I nominate this one by Aaron R.

    ‘BCC, making you doubt yourself since 2004.’

    I know we have BCotW. Do we have best motto?

  56. When my wife showed me my name on the stake and ward records of the “LDS Tools” app, I was quite relieved. I want to belong to my family still and it means a lot to me that they have me there on the MLS. I do as much as I can to associate with the church while I wait. I don’t push things; I go with my wife and kids, I listen and I go home; it has been very refreshing to actually listen only! As an excommunicated person, I can tell you that it is up to the person who is x-ed to not become offended and drift away. I have known nothing but love and patience and understanding with the leaders and members of the church. People who gripe are just trying to blame others for things. Growing up and becoming a saint involves the casting aside the attitude of making yourself out to be a victim of this or a victim of that. Sure, I stand out, but that’s because of my own choices. I don’t wish excommunication on anyone, but it has been a true blessing for me and when the day comes that I can be rebaptized, I’ll be a better person for it. There are better ways to grow, for sure, but I am still grateful for the brick wall that finally woke me up to the need for change in my life.

  57. Re: Background Checks for Callings; I have to say that I am against it. I have nothing to hide, but I guarantee you if they said “We want to give you a calling, but let’s get those fingerprints first.” I can guarantee you which finger they would get first. I have been a member for almost 17 years, and have held several callings, and it has always been my understanding that the Bishop is to pray and receive divine guidance about who he extends a calling to. Now we are to circumvent, (or ignore) the will of God? Next thing you know we will have credit checks to contend with…

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