Is There Any Value to Excommunication?

Sorry for two quick posts, but I’ve just learned my friend Grant Palmer has been summoned to a Church court a week from Sunday.

These issues can become heated very quickly, so I’m hoping to avoid discussions that vilify Grant or his accusers, whomever they may be. (Grant’s Stake President received a packet from the Strengthening Church Members Committee one year ago, but otherwise there’s no evidence that this action comes from higher up.) Rather, I’d like to ask the question, Is there any value to excommunication?

In cases like the current one, chances are that the Court of Love isn’t going to inspire repentance, since the accused doesn’t think he’s done anything wrong. So one might ask, what good does excommunicating an elderly gentleman with cancer do? He’s already been released from his calling, and he doesn’t cause any trouble in his ward (he doesn’t speak out or offer comments). All he does is attend Church and take the sacrament. We could argue if he’s worthy, but there’s probably a lot of people, if we knew the details of their lives, we could have that same argument about.

In the case of someone who is repentant and wants to do better, why excommunicate them? Take away their calling, ask them to stop taking the sacrament, and so on. They’ll work with you and do what it takes to return to full fellowship.

When someone is excommunicated, the ripple effect is far and wide. Let’s be honest – usually we’re not just excommunicating one person, we’re excommunicating a family and friends. Especially in cases like Grant’s, for the one person kicked out, there’s another dozen at least who know the accused, don’t believe they deserve excommunication, and leave the Church over it.

Excommunication strikes me as an outdated, generally unnecessary practice. Is there any value to it?


  1. Some very tough issues in this post. The cheap answer is to say that we can’t judge situations where we are outsiders, but of course that’s a cop-out.

    Whether there is spiritual value in excommunication is a difficult question, and one not often discussed.

  2. D. Fletcher says:

    Oh, I’ve got a lot of words on this one, but no answers. I think excommunication is a mistake, in every case.

  3. Having known and loved people that have been excommunicated as part of the repentance process, I would argue that it is extremely valuable. In these cases they have worked through the excommunication and returned to full fellowship and even leadership in the church. In all of these cases, there was a sincere recognition for the need for repentance, a desire to do so and church leaders that loved them and worked with them through the process.

    While I would consider the aforementioned a positive example of excommunication, there are examples where someone is actively in open rebellion and is excommunicated with a less humble heart. While this may not be a success it is arguably necessary.

    For everything else in between, I have no idea.

  4. No, I think there is some value in excommunication, sometimes. Let’s avoid this specific case as John asked, and consider some of the creepy mutations of Mormonism that can be found, like the Laffertys. In those cases, I think the church is absolutely justified in making a public rejection. There are also times when a serial abuser or adulterer will take his continuing membership as tacit approval of his actions. I think excommunication is also warranted in those cases.

    But overall, especially when a person is repentant, I think it is best not to throw people out.

  5. D. Fletcher says:

    I think repentence, for the penitent, could certainly happen without excommunication. For the unrepentent, let them remove their name from the record if they wish.

    Excommunication is just so ugly, and the word “disfellowship” is hardly better.

    I don’t know what Grant Palmer is in for, but if it’s for writing that book, well, shame on the Church.

  6. CB, for the rest of the group there are plenty of reasons why excommunication can we worthwhile — but what are the reasons in relation to the individual being excommunicated? I think that’s the question John’s really asking.

    As for Grant Palmer, I really don’t think we should be discussing his case.

  7. John, there is no need to apologize for posting a lot. I enjoy what you post, and wish you did more.

    D., I mostly agree with you. But there are some very unrepentant people who want to continue their association with the church so they can victimize it’s members, and hence will not go willingly.

  8. D. Fletcher says:


    The real question is, how to you get people out? If somebody wants to create a fuss, do you really think that exing them will be enough so that they never return?

    I think excommunication is too harsh for the people who really love the Church, and for the reckless heathens who don’t, there should be something else, maybe prison.

  9. I should clarify, that I believe there are extreme cases when excommunication is warranted, such as in a very public case such as a serial killer.

    But Steve’s right, the question is, what value is excommunication to the member? We’re told that Church courts are “Courts of Love.” Is that really true, or is it just a way for us to make ourselves feel better by trimming the flock when we don’t like something someone’s done? It seems like in the cases J. Stapley mentions above, that a truly repentant person could’ve gotten the same results through a probation, rather than full excommunication.

    And if excommunication is really about cleansing the Church or helping the member, why is it that when a story hits the press (Tom Murphy, Judith Freeman, Elbert Peck, Linda Newell, etc.) the Church is suddenly willing to work with the member and not punish them?

  10. “Grant’s Stake President received a packet from the Strengthening Church Members Committee one year ago, but otherwise there’s no evidence that this action comes from higher up.”

    Does there need to be more?

    The reason to excommuncate here is simple. He is to be an example to anyone else who wishes to speak out.

    Better watch what you type, or they will get you, too!

  11. I am kind of creeped out by the “strengthening Church Members Committee” Anyone have any links to more information about said committee? thanks.

  12. Bob Caswell says:

    “Is there any value to it?”

    My simplified answer, which has pretty much already been said:

    Generally, yes, for the Church.

    Generally, no, for the person.

  13. Scott, don’t even bring it up. It’s like Fight Club.

  14. There are cases where excommunication isn’t warranted, but happens and then there are cases where excommunication is warranted, but doesn’t happen. That’s just a fact of life, leaders in the Church aren’t perfect.

    But why do people think that it’s unfair for the Church to excommunicate it’s members. Do they they think that it’s just fine and dandy that a person can quit an organization, but it’s evil for an organization to tell a person that he or she is no longer a member? Can’t an organization set up standards for membership and then enforce them. Apparently there are those out there who don’t think so.

    These are those who believe that once a person is repentent then all consequences of those things he or she repented of should immediently cease. “Sorry that I committed adultery with five women in the past two months and I snorted some nose candy every weekend for the past year or so, and yes, I did throw my little girl down the stairs last weekend in a fit of anger and broke her leg, but hey, I have repented of all that so there should be no consequences now.” C’mon people, get real. I don’t know of a god that does things that way.

    There are consequences to our actions, rather we like it or not and sometimes we can avoid the consequences, but most of the time we can’t.

    But, as I have seen lately, there are those who want the Church to become a social club with no standards and no doctrine. Doesn’t sound much like a church to me.

  15. JustMe, no, I think you’re missing the point. The example you chose is someone who faking penitence, but plans to go on sinning. In cases like that, I don’t think anyone (maybe with the exception of D.) has a problem with the church putting the boot in.

    Steve has phrased the question well – for a transgressor who is truly penitent and loves the church, is there any value in excommunication?

    I think the answer depends on the individual. I know people whose view of justice would require that they be asked to leave for a while.

  16. John Corrill says:

    “The great enemy of community is exclusivity. Groups that exclude others because they are poor, or doubters or divorced or sinners or of some different race or nationality are not communities; they are cliques – actually defensive bastions against community.” (Scott Peck, “A Different Drummer – Community Making and Peace”, pg 61)

    There really isn’t any value of exoommunication to the individual. However, there is tremendous value to the church. They get rid of those people they can’t control and give warning to others who may be thinking of expressing their own mind.

  17. Wayne Wells says:

    Let’s remember that it is very difficult to judge the process and results of disciplinary councils.when we have not been involved. I have served as a bishop and currently serve as a High Councilor in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Disciplinary councils are much different that I had supposed before I actually attended. Let me assure you that these are councils of love. I have never sensed rancor or animosity during these sessions, but often tears have freely flowed.

    A good friend of mine was excommunicated and went through the difficult process of being reinstated. His comment was that he needed to be excommunicated to fully work through the repentance process. He feels that he needed to feel the loss of the Holy Ghost to fully realize what blessings the gospel gave and to be able to take it seriously.

    The decisions made in these councils are not made lightly. One case was deliberated on until 1 a.m. As you know there is a wide range of resulting actions possible. This gives wide latitude in dealing with the repenting member.

    It can do the repenting member a great deal of good. Then there are some unrepentant members that due to the extent and seriousness of their sins should not be a part of the body of Christ.

  18. D. Fletcher says:

    I wonder what the actual statistic of excommunication is. How many members who are ex’d actually come back? I’ll bet it’s very small.

  19. I have always been surprised at the seemingly high concentration of Ann Arbor folks (present and former) who read and comment in the bloggernacle… It is surprising because Ann Arbor is such a small city without the same concentration of mormons as, say, Provo.

  20. D., you are right, very few come back. Excommunication represents extreme action on the part of the church, and is uaually a last resort. So, in most cases, the person was already pretty far gone.

    Elder Maxwell said something about this, and I have been looking unsuccessfully for the reference, so I am going from memory. But he advised priesthood leaders to try to keep people in the church, if possible.

  21. I am speaking collectively here, but regarding a specific offense: for those who publicly attack fundamental church doctrines and beliefs and who explicitly state that they will continue to do so regardless of any invitations to stop, why would the church legitimize their beliefs by allowing them ongoing membership? And, I’ve always wondered, why would someone so disaffected with their organization’s foundational tenets become so very concerned and surprised when their status as a member comes into question?

  22. CB, I realize the example I gave was a little over the top, but this example was directed towards those who insist that excommunication is an outdated process and should never be done.

    Now, suppose somebody has committed a grievious offense and feels sorry for what he has done. Does that automatically give him a free pass to bypass the consequences of his actions? Apparently to some, it is.

    What is repentence anyway? Is it just feeling sorrow for what one has done? To many that’s what it is, but it isn’t.

    Is it just feeling sorry for what one has done and promising to never, ever never do it again? I don’t think so.

    There has to be a change of character or of heart somewhere for it to be true repentence and does this change usually happen overnight? Nope, it can, but usually it takes time and for anybody to change, there has to be a reason to change.

    Suppose CB, you own a company and you caught somebody doing something that would damage the company somehow and this person did it intentionally. What would you do? If the person said he had repented, would you simply, out of hand, tell the person that there would be no consequences to his actions and to go on as usual?

    Most people I know who own companies, great or small, usually have some type of procedures to deal with this and it goes anywhere for just overlooking it to decreasing the pay to plain out firing the man.

    Even if the man was totally sincere in his sorrow, he would find himself on the outside looking in if the crime was severe enough.

    Now, is the Church any different in its duty than the company is?

  23. D. Fletcher says:

    As I’ve said, I thought it was current Church policy, for anyone in a state of non-belief, to be offered a chance to remove their name from the records. By doing this, there are no black marks, no repentence that has to be achieved if the person wants to come back — it’s a much more human and loving attitude, I think, for religious leaders.

    A close friend of mine was excommunicated two months ago. He’s a gay man, in a long-term relationship, who hasn’t been inside an LDS chapel for 15 years, and doesn’t care. But our current Stake President took it on as his responsibility to ex- my friend, no removal-of-name even offered. My friend was only concerned because he felt they wanted to make a harsh statement, and indeed, the Stake President spoke about it in our Sacrament Meeting! Court of Love, this certainly wasn’t.

  24. please, try not to mention individual cases or scenarios in this context. It’s tempting, I know, but not appropriate. The last thing I want is to set up some sort of posting rules.

  25. D. Fletcher says:

    Steve, the thread was started about Grant Palmer. It’s pretty specific…

  26. But the thread isn’t about Grant Palmer, it’s about the value of excommunication. Says so at the end of the first post.

  27. JustMe, I am glad you used the business analogy, because that is what is at heart here, a 5 billion dollar bussiness and If one of the insiders is doing something to affect profits, they should be dealt with, in this case, firing/excommunicating him.

    That is right “that if the man was totally sincere in his sorrow, he would find himself on the outside looking in if the crime was severe enough.” Jesus’s atonement doesn’t mean much in the LDS church, you still have to pay for your own sins. In fact I bet no one in the court of love will even bring up Jesus’s name, unless it is Grant Palmer himself.

    Most cases, I think Excommunitaction is wrong, and I emphasize “most cases” not all. I have seen sincere folks kicked out with minimum time sentences to serve, in the most recent case, six years and this fellow stayed active as much as he was allowed and wanted to stay in the fold.

  28. brianspro says:

    I believe that excommunication is sometimes necessary but is too often used within the Church. As another commented, the truly repentent rarely require excommunication in order to repent and change their life. In most cases, a good bishop should be able to work with this person — perhaps put them on probation (even this is drastic IMHO) if the sin is serious and release them of any calling that might no longer be appropriate (obviously, a pediophile should not be teaching in primary) — and bring them back into the fountain of God’s grace and spirit without “punishing” the individual. Excommunication and disfellowshipment is a cop-out for bishops who don’t want to take the effort or believe the person must be punished in some way or made an example.

    If we use the New Testiment as a guide, then a person should be excommunicated only if he is unwilling to repent, corrupting the congregation and continues the sin even after spiritual counseling and multiple callings to repentance… in order to protect the body of Christ.

    I personally know a woman who has a manic-depressive disorder (bipolar). During a hyper-manic phase of the manic-depressive cycle, she had an affair (a common syptom right out of the psychology textbook) and ultimately was ex’d for adultry. She was very sorry and couldn’t believe she would do such a thing. She didn’t do it… at least not her normal self, as it really wasn’t her, but it was a euphoric drug induced personna caused by the mental/physical illness (manic-depressive disorder is caused by a genetic chemical imbalance triggered by emotional trauma… such as being sexually abused as a child like this woman).

    I was a witness in the “court of love” and explained the medical condition and symptoms. I also warned that excommunication could through the individual into a serious and life threatening/suicidal depression (and it did); but none of this seemed to matter and she was excommunicated.

    Now, she doesn’t want to be rebaptized because she knows that she can’t trust herself (she would normally have never committed adultry) and doesn’t want to take a chance of being “thrown out of the Church” a third time (she was ex’d 25 years ago for pre-marital sex with her husband) and almost certainly never allowed rebaptism a 4th time. Her husband, who was already having doubts about the Church and believed the excommunication was wrong, is now convinced that the Church is not what it claims to be for reasons cited by Palmer in his book and a evidenced by such a blunder. The once uber-TBM family — including the children — is now pretty much inactive, even though they still attend Church most weeks out of habit, but no longer believe it is the “one and only true church on the face of the earth”.

    IMHO, the bishop really goofed up this time by ex’ing the wife rather than getting to the root of the problem and getting her some medical and pychological help.

  29. I’m not so cynical as to write off excommunication as the firing of unproductive employees.

    I have heard the argument that being excommunicated, and the associated release from covenants and oaths, can be of benefit to people that are struggling with their faith. People that have returned to the Church sometimes talk about how, upon their return, those covenants seemed much more meaningful. I’m not convinced that this is a primary reason why we excommunicate people in our religion, but thought it might be worth discussing as it seems to be one of the more popular chestnuts.

  30. Brian Rogers says:

    If there is value, it depends on the person ask to attend the court. Is he defiant or repentant?
    also, we need to remember that the church needs protection also.

  31. Brian Rogers says:

    btw, i do not know Bro Palmer nor am i familiar with his writings. I have absolutely no idea why is has been asked. That is totally between him and his priesthool leaders.

  32. brianspro says:

    PS: I will be very disappointed in the Church if they excommunicate Grant Palmer for telling the truth in his book about Mormonism’s past and origin. While I don’t agree with all of Palmer’s conclusions, he has summed up the most important issues that really need to be addressed by the leaders of the Church rather than having everyone stick their head in the sand and ignore the issues.

    I was actually hoping that the Church’s silence with regard to Palmer’s book, “An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins”, was a positive sign for the future and that the Church was almost ready to publically face and come to term’s with it’s past. Apparently, and sadly, this is not the case. We belong to a great church that can only become better, as suggested by Palmer, by acknowledging the problems in our history and theology, decreasing the emphasis on Joseph Smith and the myths, and focus exclusively on Jesus Christ and His blood sacrifice as a free gift of salvation to those who have faith in Him as our Lord and Savior.

  33. Gene in Colorado says:

    Al, you are about as out of line as possible. I’ve never seen ANY meeting of priesthood where our Saviour wasn’t invoked. I’ve been in branch presidencies, I’ve been a mission leader, Elder’s quorum president, and High Priest group leader. In all cases Jesus the Christ was invoked at the start, and ending of each meeting. Your statement about the Church being a business was incorrect. I’m offended by the implications of your statements. I’ll pray that you learn a bit more before you repeat rumors that have no basis.

  34. Gene, i didn’t start any rumor, I just made a bet that Christ would not me mentioned and I should have clarified that to mean in the discussions. I would love to be proven right, that outside of opening and closing prayer, that Christ is mentioned in Courts of Love and classes, but I do sit through many a classes, where you don’t here him mentioned except in the prayers.

    I stand by my statement that the church, like all other church’s are a business.

  35. Regardless of our feelings and emotions, which can run high in these situtations, I think we can at least give each party the benefit of the doubt in excommunication proceedings. Surely Church leaders are doing what they feel is right, and I’d be hard-pressed to believe it’s solely for financial reasons. I’ve strongly disagreed with their decisions in certain instances, but to assign them dubious motives is no different than what some Church members do to those who write things about the Church they don’t like.

    Steve’s most likely right, we should avoid talking about specific cases. But then again, when a wrong is perpetrated, how do we learn from our mistakes unless we talk about it? I’m not sure what’s appropriate and what isn’t.

  36. Easy there people! No need for telling others when they’re out of line — that’s what the site owners are for. Gene, Al may have been a bit offensive, but try not to let it get to you.

    Brianspro, the veracity of Palmer’s writings is my no means evident. Plenty of people differ on that point.

  37. It also isn’t simple enough to say Grant Palmer is “writing the truth.” Many people take issue with some of his conclusions – myself included, and I consider Grant a friend. This is of course a different issue than excommunication, but it isn’t fair to paint Grant as a lone proclaimer of truth, being assaulted by a group hell-bent on whitewashing the past.

  38. One possible goal for the individual behind excommunication in the circumstances you all have mentioned may be to test the individual’s faith. Perhaps the reasoning could be that if the person truly is repentant, then he/she will perservere into full fellowship in the Church once again. I am not sure where the atonement comes in, but I guess that in some cases, the excommunication has little to do with the atonement, and more to do with a test or an opportunity for the individual to prove his/her faithfulness both to the Church as an institution and to him/herself, and overcoming the adversity of excommunication truly would be such a showing, IMHO.

    Furthermore, some people actually need such a drastic experience as excommunication to truly BELIEVE that they have repented. Perhaps the “council of love” can discern such people. These people would need the experience of separation and rebaptism to truly feel cleansed. If they had greater faith, they would not need to undergo such an ordeal. But the process of excommunication helps them develop enough faith to truly rely on the atonement of Christ.

    Because I am the type who is weaker in my faith in the atonement than I probably should be, I may be the type who would need to be excommunicated in the face of certain not-necessarily-excommunicable sins simply to develop the necessary faith that the atonement truly had cleansed me. I know that sometimes even the Lord’s servants can make mistakes, but often there are discernments and/or situations which we simply cannot understand.

    So the above is my attempt to understand at least some such situations. And as far as praying like “Gene in Colorado”- I pray that I can better understand this process. I look forward to more comments on John H.’s question.

  39. Jordan, you have said something important. How do I know if I am truly penitent? Maybe the answer depends on whether I am willing to accept the decision of the disciplinary council and perservere in faith.

    I might truly think I am sorry for what I have done, but if, upon excommunication, my first reaction is anger at the church for being too harsh, I probably didn’t have a broken heart and contrite spirit to begin with.

    That said, I very much believe that most people are better served by being kept in the church, if possible.

  40. I apologize if I was offensive, but I do have some unorthodox mormon views that some here would not like. I, like Palmer, would like to see more emphasis in Christ and his atonement in the church. I see excommunication in most cases as another unchrist like action. A line I like to try live by is “God does not judge us before the judgement day.  What makes us think we have the right to judge others.”

  41. Al, God does judge us before judgement day. It’s the “final” judgement that comes on judgement day.

    Besides, didn’t Peter in the NT judge people as did Paul? If judgement was solely reserved for God on judgment day, would I be able to punish my children in anyway? Would I have to be unwise and give my money to anybody who simply asked for it? Since I’m not married and am looking for a spouse, do I have to marry the first person that comes along?

    What do you think the the final part of your quote means when it says : “What makes us think we have the right to judge others.” ?

  42. My roommate Scott just articulated the benefits of excommunication: a 10% raise and an extra day off.

  43. Steve,

    It is actually an 11.111111% raise (100/90 – 1) and it is an extra day and a few evenings off.

    I am under the impression that over time excommunication has become less and less common. The church is sensitive to the fact that it often serves to drive people away that might otherwise repent and stay. Those that desire to stay in the church are much more likely to be put on probation or disfellowshipped now for behaviour that would have got them ex’d a few decades ago.

  44. Yes, it helps the sinner overcome the sin… Oh, yes, what *was* this sin?

    Yes, ‘Truth’ is a powerful tool for sinning.

    Think about what we are saying here folks!

    I’m seeing Spanish Inquisition all over this.
    What is it we are commited to, again?

  45. “Those that desire to stay in the church are much more likely to be put on probation or disfellowshipped now for behaviour that would have got them ex’d a few decades ago.”

    Kind of like how today’s PG movies are yesterday’s X’s?

    Sorry, just thought I’d interject a little humor here!

  46. The only true church
    The only tru church
    The only tr church
    The only t church
    The only church
    The only church

    Time passes and things change, but, hey, let’s keep the essential elements in there! Watch that our righteous goals do not become political agendas.

  47. Aurelius, this isn’t Knock it off, please.

  48. Sorry, didn’t mean to offend. Just feeling a little cognitive dissonance over this.

    Did you read his book?

  49. This thread isn’t about Grant Palmer, although I understand the idea of cognitive dissonance.

  50. Steve, John Hatch began his post and this thread with a reference to Grant Palmer’s court summons. Sounds like fair game. brianspro also referenced it. I agree with brianspro’s well worded assessment.

    Also, from above:

    AL in OR said:
    “In fact I bet no one in the court of love will even bring up Jesus’s name, unless it is Grant Palmer himself.”

    Gene said:
    “Al, you are about as out of line as possible. … In all cases Jesus the Christ was invoked at the start, and ending of each meeting.”

    AL in OR said:
    “I just made a bet that Christ would not me mentioned and I should have clarified that to mean in the discussions.”

    Aurelius is writing:
    I can verify that the 10+ ‘courts of love’ in which I have particpated as an advocate on one side of the table or the other, the name of Christ was used at the beginning and end of the meeting, and really not during the discussions. I do not know what will happen on the 12th. But, that has been my experience. I’d say Gene and AL are both right.

    But Gene, “…as out of line as possible.”? I believe his clarification put him spot on, and indeed not out of line.

  51. Aurelius, John said “I’m hoping to avoid discussions that vilify Grant or his accusers, whomever they may be.” I’m telling you now that this thread isn’t to discuss Grant Palmer or his church court, but the issues surrounding excommunication in general.

    And we’re going to do so in a respectful manner. If you can’t do that, this may not be the place for you.

  52. Steve’s right – a discussion of Grant’s case was not my intention. I knew early on that such a discussion was bound to generate strong feelings. Perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned him by name at all – it’s just a sign that emotions do indeed run high over these sorts of things. I’ll admit my frustration right now.

    But if we’re going to argue over the legitimacy of Grant’s specific case, or why he’s being summoned, etc., then perhaps the thread is dead.

  53. I hope I haven’t been disrespectful…. Ok, Spanish Inquisition, yes, some, but, otherwise.

    I found this topic by clicking ‘Books’. Has it been misfiled? I assume that it is in the ‘Books’ section because it deals with the book that Grant wrote. I do not hope to villify Grant or his accusers. I would however like to remind of principles regarding process and ends.

    Is such an inquiry valid here? Or, is this board one of foregone conclusions?

    You never answered my question. Did you read his book?

  54. I really can’t believe we are talking about this is such a specific case, but to speak in general:

    As some have already said (thank you!) excommunication is not something we should think of as ultimate punishment. Sometimes it is absolutely necessary to enable someone to have a “fresh start” and to be able to truly repent.

    I know some people have been excommunicated because they have persecuted the Church, and I consider those very necessary as well.

    Let us not forget this is the Lord’s Church, and He still leads and directs it and His servants, and this process of excommunication is sometimes as crucial as surgery to someone who has cancer. It may seem harsh, but is often the only way to bring the person back into spiritual health.

    I have also seen people who decided that someone was or was not excommunicated when they felt that the person should or should not, and that feeling of pride and evil-speaking of the Lord’s annointed caused those people to themselves leave the Church. “Criticism contains the seeds of apostasy.”

  55. Just a curiosity, what other denominations excommunicate members? The only other I know of is the Witness’, which appear to be pretty successful at isolating ex’ed people from both church and family. The mormon way just seems a bit less aggresive.

    Since the JW’s are the unofficial arch-enemy of the mormons, isn’t the idea of doing something that they do enough not to do it? Kidding, sorta. Seriously though, when Joe Blow on the street thinks about religions that excommunicate members, I can only assume that Mr. Blow will think “religious nut-jobs” or worse; “cult”.

  56. Is not the purpose of excommunication to isolate or separate the excommunicant from the faithful, at least symbolically?

    It can also serve as a warning to others.

    As an example of my second purpose, a young family member was formally disfellowshipped because of behavior that was being cited as the cause/example of similar bad behavior by other young people in the ward. The bishop of the ward told me that this was the reason he formalized the action, rather than leaving it at the informal stage.

    Ought the church excommunicate? That’s their call. It’s their church.

    Does it help? It depends on the circumstances. I think the excommunications of the September Six probably extinguished a growing and exciting “free thought” contingent that has never recovered. I think that was exactly what the church was trying to accomplish.

    Whether excommunication can be viewed as successful can only be determined on a case by case basis. Did the church achieve its objective? If so, then the excommunication was a success. If not, then it was a mistake.

  57. There was an earlier question about the Strengthening the Members Committee. I am sure that others here know much more about it than I do. It was an initially secret group organized in the 1980s. When it came to light in the early 1990s the Deseret News published an statement that claimed the scriptural basis for the committee was found in D&C 123:1-5. Oddly they didn’t include verse 6, which makes it pretty clear to me that the committee should not be secret at all, nor should its findings be secret.

    As for Darren’s comment, I am pretty sure that many denominations have excommunication. The Catholic church does.

    Also, it is really unfortunate that this thread even mentioned a specific individual. What is the point of that? Just to get the word out? I would certainly hope that if I were the subject of something like this that it wouldn’t become a blog topic unless I was the one making it a blog topic.

  58. D. Fletcher says:

    The Catholic Church does have excommunication, but not for ordinary sinners. They offer absolution to capital prisoners on their way to the gallows! You have to be a pretty supreme heretic to get excommunicated from Catholicism.

    No murders, child molesters, rapists, etc. are excommunicated, let alone someone who has sex outside marriage.

  59. I’ve sat on several church displinary courts and have witnessed situations where excommunication and/or other discipline seemed to have a positive effect. The commonality of those cases was that the member still held a testimony but was struggling with handling all of the guilt of their transgressions. I watched three of these people work their way back into the church, but only with a lot of support from their bishops.

    In other cases the reasoning of the SP was that even if the person did not repent, that they were at least relieved of the responsibility of committing “serious” sins while a member or priesthood holder. Of course the members might not have agreed with this line of reasoning.

    Getting back to Grant Palmer, I agree with the earlier statement that if this is about what he wrote in his book then this is a real shame. I feel the Church needs to allow members to express sincere opinions and raise issues without the constant fear of retribution. I don’t find it healthy to force all doubt into whispered conversations in hallways. If I sat on this particular high council, I would strongly object if the decision was to excommunicate, to the point of offering my resignation from the council – if there was not substantial other cause.

  60. I think the value of excommunication or disfellowshipping is for people still with a testimony to present them with the question of whether they really value their testimony. If they don’t, should they really be kept in the covenants they made?

    I recognize some feel some choices shouldn’t be made. That they shouldn’t have to choose between a testimony and some behavior they don’t feel wrong. To which I can only think of many of the choices given to the early saints to test their testimony. Say what you will about excommunication, but one need not read the history of the early church very long to see that we have it easier in many ways.

  61. I do recall reading the post-excommunication comments of people who had problems with certain historical aspects of the Church, but didn’t want to leave the Church because they were comfortable among the people, if not the history. But in the specific case I’m thinking of, they came to be grateful for the excommunication because it forced them to cut ties that they were afraid to cut for what they eventually saw as being the wrong reasons.

  62. I have recently been re-baptized after 3 years of excommunication for moral sins. I can see how most don’t make it back. I can also say for me it needed to be done. Not that I wasn’t repentant,,,I was. It seemed that during this crisis of being discovered of leading a double-life, and trying to save my marriage and family, and save my job, and everything else that was crashing on me,,,that it was kind of a relief to be actually fully excommunicated instead of just disfellowshipped or probation. It’s hard to explain but it was like the condemnation of broken covenants and dishonored priesthood had been lifted and I finally felt a little breathing room to start over. For years I would wake up in a cold sweat and feel the dread. After my excommunication I would still wake up in a cold sweat, but then remember suddenly that it was going to be ok. I actually found myself saying: “Oh phewww, I’m excommunicated”. Whereas before this seemed like it would have been the nightmare to think or say.

  63. Exed-Former Faithful says:

    Speaking as someone who has sat in on so called “Courts of Love” as both a member of the High Council and also as the Sinner. I’d like to offer my perspective regarding the question “Is there any value in Excommunication?”

    Without going into detail, let me just state that I was a 100% believer in the principle of repentance and in taking responsibility for ones own actions. I made some very poor decisions, but I did not break my Temple covenants in the strictest sense of the words…but I was guilty of breaking the spirit of those promises. I can not express the depth of the pain I felt for my sins. I was at the end of my rope with very few options. Being a true believer I turned to the church for help in this my darkest hour. Hoping to find peace and love through Christ’s Atonement, I put my faith in people I believed were representatives of Christ.

    Call me naive, but I trusted the system, I had been taught I could trust it. I expected understanding, empathy and compassion. What I got instead was the most humiliating, degrading unchrist like experience of my life. They broke me to my core…humiliated me and when all of my self worth had been fully and totally destroyed they stuck the knife in and turned it. Court of Love? They didn’t know the meaning of the word love. No one offered love. No one offered compassion or understanding. But what did they have to offer me at the time of my greatest personal need…Excommunication. The organization I had turned to for help in my darkest hour, turned its back on me and my family. Keep in mind I had gone to church for help and my sin was not public. My wife was the only person who stood by me, without her love and support I honestly doubt I would be alive today.

    Coincidentally, after I was excommunicated, I discovered Grant Palmer’s book. It started me on a path that would lead me permanently away from Mormonism.

    So to answer the question….“Is there any value in Excommunication?” In my case it totally back fired…the church lost a very good man.

  64. Hey Exed-former faithful,
    My experience and every other person I’ve ever talked with (many) who have been ex-ed is the exact opposite of yours. Sorry, but I have to question your story. Nobody ever “turns knifes in and turns them”,,,,what on earth could that possibly mean,,,,you better be more specific than that. All I know is that to read Grant’s book and like it means you were on your way out on your own. My guess is,,,and I admit it’s a guess,,,,that if you were ex-ed for things that “didn’t break your Temple covenants in the strictest sense”,,,then there was alot more going on than just your transgressions. Sounds like there might have been a pride issue. I’m sure you’ll set me straight on this.

  65. John H. may be able to confirm/refute this…did not Margaret Toscano describe her excommunication as being “like being raped by the Care Bears”?

  66. dude,

    There may be just a tiny bit of pride involved in guessing at someone else’s “issues” in a public forum. Go read the words of “Should You Feel Inclined to Censure.”

    Your comment points to the problem of relying entirely on anecdotal evidence–it may be true that all of the “many” people you’ve talked to about their excommunications have found it a positive experience. But it is also true that many people do not find it that at all–most of the people I’ve talked to who have been ex’ed have found it to be overwhelmingly negative. Until we have good statistical evidence (i.e. never), it’s probably wise to take other people’s descriptions of their own experience at face value, and not try to guess at the secret sins that may have contributed to their having a different kind of experience than you did.

  67. Another problem is that excommunications and other church disclipline can be so arbitrary. My best friend was ex’ed when as a 45 year old temple worker, a never-married virgin at the time, she slept with three people over the course of a year. Incidentally, one of the men she was with (and of course since they were all LDS she had to name them/tattle on them in the court) was in a bishopric before his divorce and had slept with 40+ people. He wasn’t even disfellowshipped. It’s all so arbitrary and often unfair.

  68. Bob Caswell says:

    I agree with what Kristine has said and absolutely love it when she brings it up, no matter the topic. “Until we have good statistical evidence (i.e. never)…” pertains to what seems to be most of our blogging (but I don’t have statistics for that either and am just guessing :-)).

    Earlier, when I answered the question of “Is there any value to excommunication?” with this remark: “Generally, yes, for the Church. Generally, no, for the person.” I should have clarified. That’s speaking from my experience, which consists of being a part of a handful of excommunications and hearing feelings from another dozen or so sources (from both givers and receivers).

    I’m guessing most here probably have a little more experience with the matter… but not much. So as it is with most conversations, we can’t get very far if we try to convince the other side that our own perception of what we really don’t know is better than someone else’s.

  69. Bob, I don’t *always* bring it up, only when I disagree with the point being supported by anecdotal evidence :)

  70. For me what’s distasteful about excommunication and other forms of discipline (or even simple confession to Church leaders) is that it encourages people to lie in order to stay within the community.

    For example, my 45 year old virginal friend who was ex’ed for sleeping with 3 guys she met from an LDS single dating website DID NOT feel sorry for what she did (i.e the experience of finally having sex). She felt great! On some level she felt bad for disappointing Heavenly Father, but it’s not like she was cheating on a spouse (i.e. lying, sneaking around, etc.). She felt bad in many aways about many things, but she wasn’t going to lie and say it wasn’t a worthwhile experience.

    So they kicked her out of the Church. Now she’s supposed to “suffer” and be penitent by being a scarlet-lettered outcast. She’s supposed to grovel and say “I’m sorry! I’ll do anything to pray in public again and stop the RS biddies from gossiping about me!” But because of her integrity she remains an excommunicated member.

    It seems the same for honest scholars who discover unflattering things about the church and want to share their findings with others, or for gays who can’t remain celibate but are good people and who enjoy their ties to Mormonism.

    That doesn’t seem right to me.

  71. D. Fletcher says:

    This thread may not have been specifically about Palmer, but that’s what’s wrong with it: excommunication is and should be different in every case. Trying to generalize whether the act of excommunication itself is valuable or not is futile; one must ask, was it valuable in this case? or in a specific case? As I said earlier, if Palmer’s leaders are holding a court because of some words he’s written, then I for one think that is a shame. Do we really think that it is detrimental to the Church, to believers? If they are holding a court for some other reason, then I suppose we shouldn’t try and guess what that is, since it’s his private business.

  72. i have a question that is specific to grant’s case. i know that they don’t want the forum to focus on his situation specifically, but i am very curious about this.

    if he has indeed been summoned to attend this court of love for his book and related activities, then what sin has he committed and what would he need to do to show repentence?

    is not believing in the correlated version of church history a sin worthy of excommunication, or is it okay as long as you’re not vocal about it. from what i understand many faithful church historians don’t dispute most of the evidence or sources put forth in his book, but rather his interpretations and conclusions drawn from them. so has he sinned by drawing certain conclusions, or by making those conclusions widely known? if so, how would he repent? by withdrawing his book from the market and not talking about those issues again?

  73. another bitter ex says:

    Elder George Q. Cannon stated: “A friend . . . wished to know whether . . . we considered an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the authorities of the Church apostasy. . . . We replied that we had not stated that an honest difference of opinion between a member of the Church and the authorities constituted apostasy; for we could conceive of a man honestly differing in opinion from the authorities of the Church and yet not be an apostate; but ***we could not conceive of a man publishing those differences of opinion, and seeking by arguments, sophistry and special pleading to enforce them upon the people to produce division and strife, and to place the acts and counsels of the authorities of the Church, if possible, in a wrong light, and not be an apostate, for such conduct was apostasy as we understood the term.*** We further said that while a man might honestly differ in opinion from the authorities through a want of understanding, he had to be exceedingly careful how he acted in relation to such differences, or the adversary would take advantage of him and he would soon become imbued with the spirit of apostasy, and be found fighting against God and the authority which He had placed here to govern His Church.” (Deseret News Weekly, 3 Nov. 1869, p. 457.)

    Palmer’s not being “punished” and this is not the Spanish inquisition. His writings indicate that he is no longer an LDS believer, and excommunication is just formalizing that.

    John H. said “it isn’t fair to paint Grant as a lone proclaimer of truth, being assaulted by a group hell-bent on whitewashing the past.”

    I think there is value to excommunication to the Church as a whole. As an organization, it has the right (and responsibility) to regulate who is and isn’t part of it. This helps maintain the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable. Believe whatever you want personally- but if you try to enforce your beliefs upon the system, you’ve stepped out of bounds.

  74. Exed-Former Faithful says:

    Perhaps I can shed some more light on my situation and address “Dude” who questions my personal experience. Well “Dude” If I hadn’t lived it myself I wouldn’t have believed that what happened to me could have happened in Christ’s so called true church either. I can not speak for others experience only for my own. But having said that, I have experienced “Courts of Love” on many levels….both in a bishopric setting and also as a member of my local High Council. My experience had no love in it. “Dude you may have had a very sweet and wonderful experience…mine was anything but. I took full responsibility for my actions, volunteeringly stepping forward, confessed my sins and fully understood the potential consequences of doing so. Speaking metaphorically, I handed the church the ax and laid my head on the chopping block and I fully expected them to cut it off….I knew the beheading would be extremely painful…I just wasn’t prepared for the extremity of the humiliation, the bazaar nature of their voyeuristic questioning or the utter lack of any love or compassion. Call me silly if you must, but if the church is going to use this tool in their toolbox to excommunicate members that have sinned, then they have a greater responsibility to extend love and compassion to these same sinners that willingly submit to their inquisition. What would Jesus have done?

    Following my excommunication, I was shunned by all involved with the exception of my bishop, as was my family for over a year until I finally approached the Stake Presidency and questioned them for doing this. I confronted the members of the State Presidency, all they could do was apologize…but it was a hollow apology as nothing changed. I ran into a member of that High Council at the mall…he looked me squarely in the eyes…turned and walked away. In the few years since this occurred, my faithful wife has remained active in the church…I know I could never return.

    Pride you say…perhaps you are right….I pride myself for taking responsibility for my poor actions…I pride myself in a wife who stood by me when everyone else in our LDS world abandoned us…Yeah I have pride.

    In the end, I was not excommunicated for adultery, apostasy or criminal activity. It was a moral infraction, which I still greatly regret. Since my excommunication I have learned of others that have sinned in similar fashion in other surrounding stakes who have been lovingly counseled, helped and been able to maintain their human dignity…sadly…that was not my experience.

  75. It was a moral infraction, which I still greatly regret. Since my excommunication I have learned of others that have sinned in similar fashion in other surrounding stakes who have been lovingly counseled, helped and been able to maintain their human dignity…sadly…that was not my experience then I am very sorry for you that you ran into people whose mortal failings were not the norm and have not been able to reconcile yourself to the Church over the weakness of a few.

    You have, btw, made some interesting statements on the details (I’m nonplused by not adultery, apostasy or criminal activity, with a good number of others in surrounding stakes sharing the offense, though I assume that was not your intent) and you indicated that since being excommunicated you have become an apostate and permanently left faith in the gospel, which is very sad.

    Otherwise, on DID NOT feel sorry for what she did I get the point. She gave the indicia of not repenting, so they assumed she did not repent.

    I’m wondering what has happened since in your friend’s life, and if the bishopric member admitted to haveing sex with 40+ people he had manipulated into believing he was single — that strikes me as a case that one might seriously question that the persons involved need to consult with others.

    I’m also curious what you would suggest should be done with members who engage in serious sins and who indicate that they feel no sorrow for what they’ve done. From your example, you seem to suggest that gay members who are not celibate ought to be able to remain in full fellowship as well? Do you think that sexual moral codes have any place in determining active membership?

    I ask since the official Church position is that those with moral problems are encouraged to attend, they just are not entitled to the benefits of baptism while the problems are on-going.

    Myself, I’ve seen the other extent, people not disciplined in spite of what appear to be serious infractions because of their mental states or issues. There is often a great deal of love.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen people act like mortals too.

  76. Hi. I’m not the same person who wrote about being exed for some undisclosed reason.

    I am the person who wrote about excommunication being arbitrary and punitive, and who used the case about a three-time fornication offense as an illustration.

    To be clear, the guy on the LDS single dating site had been (past tense) in a bishopric (i.e. should know better than to prey on vulnerable virgins. He boasted of having 40+ lovers and is STILL (I just checked) on the LDS single dating site as being a TR holding member. My friend was exed for having sex three times in her life and not regretting it.

    My point is that church punishment/disclipine seeks out the vulnerable and rarely “rehabilitates.” More disturbingly, it encourages people to lie about their feelings in order to remain in the fold. My friend is sorry she did a “bad thing” in the eyes of the Church but not sorry that her “eyes have been opened” and she doesn’t have the virgin stigma anymore.

    If a member of the Church is happily married with a family, isn’t a covert criminal, doesn’t express doubt about the Church or discuss it openly (except on the Internet), they have almost zero chance of being disciplined by the Church.

    However, the Church drives away people who are trying to find happiness and satisfaction through truth, love, fulfillment of physcial needs outside the channels of a temple marriage–mostly after ALL ELSE has been tried to no avail. Then the Church kicks them in the arse and leaves them to be gossiped about and pitied. This is all I’m saying.

  77. Gwen, don’t you think that the lack of regret would indicate to most people a lack of repentence? I don’t quite see how you can say it was arbitrary. Just because someone got away doesn’t mean the system is arbitrary any more than the criminal courts are arbitrary because many criminals aren’t successfully prosectued.

    It seems you are saying that doubting the truth of the church ought not enter into the equation, whereas as I see it that fundamental testimony is rather key to the whole issue. Yes it is something that one can fake and yes those who lie will sometimes get away with things – for a short period. Lies like that always catch up with you eventually. In my opinion lying to a court is only hurting oneself. Eventually one has to come before God with a broken heart and contrite spirit. Lying to those trying to help one reach that merely means that you are making things worse later on.

  78. Here’s what I mean by lying, plain and simple:

    1. If my friend is to be reinstated/rebaptized, all she has to do is say,

    “Yup, I feel sorry about everything that happened. I hated the experience. I wish I were still a virgin at 46. I’ll never have sex as long as I live if I never get married.” She can’t say that. If this is what repentance means, then, no, she hasn’t repented. She’s a person of integrity who doesn’t just say what others want to hear.

    If repentance means to deny one’s personal truth, whether it’s the truth about feeling good about something that feels good OR whether it’s standing up for what you believe, then it’s not.

    Many other churches allow people to believe what they will and (gasp) write about it and deconstruct their theology. “Moral issues” as the basis for excommunication should, IMO be limited to predatory behavior, criminal behavior, adultery, etc. I just think it’s witch-hunt-y to tell older singles and gays that they’re welcome in this church and expect them to be abstinent the rest of their lives (even to the point of no masturbation) and be happy about it. They might as well hand out chastity belts.

  79. Gwen, it’s witch-hunty to have a law of chastity?? Wow. Good luck convincing the Brethren to adopt that view.

  80. No–just witch-hunty to ex them for being normal, healthy adults. Tell them not to take the sacrament or something. Just don’t ex them.

  81. Excommunication is extremely arbitrary. Nowadays it is usually pronounced only against active members or those who previously held high offices. It is almost never carried out against inactive members, particularly those who never took out their temple endowment or held the office of high priest. An inactive member can get drunk, have sexual affairs, have children out of wedlock, commit crimes, or become a member of another religion with little fear of excommunication.

    However an active member, or someone who publically proclaims themself as a member, is held to completely different standards. Someone who attends church every week, pays tithing, and volunteers their time to serve callings but then has a one-night stand sexual affair, is at some risk of excommunication.

    In Palmer’s case, he has written a book that challenges the traditional foundations of the religion. However he remains active, remains willing to serve callings, continues to value his membership, continues to hold that his priesthood leaders are inspired and that the church is a sound Christian religion. Most churches would be thrilled to have such members.

    A church does set its own membership standards. I believe it also has a responsibility to apply those standards fairly. I also believe it is wrong to expect millions of members to have exactly the same doctrinal beliefs and to suppress all expression of doubt. I find it ironic that given the effort that BYU has made in recent years in defense of the level of academic freedom existing on the campus, that the church would then step on Palmer for writing a book that I think falls well within reasonable boundaries for academic freedom.

    Now perhaps the case is not solely based upon the book and his subsequent presentations on it. But if it is, then I hope the spirit of David O. McKay is present, the spirit that interceded when hard-liners like Joseph Fielding Smith moved to excommunicate Sterling McMurrin, to prevent that from happening.

  82. For purposes of this discussion, it might be useful to create a typology of excommunication. I can think of three general instances where excommunication is practiced: 1. The first type, usually but not always of a sexual nature, traces its roots to what we usually think of moral failings. 2. The second type traces its roots to conflict with authority in the church ostensibly animated by something other than hostility (disagreements over the occurence or interpretation of historical events would be one example). 2. The third type traces its roots to overt hostility towards or a struggle for power with the church and/or its authorities.

    I’m guessing that most people would agree that number 3 should be an option in dealing with someone who is overtly hostile to the church as an institution needs to have a mechanism in place to protect itself from those who seek to do it internal harm.

    A lot of people seem to be arguing that number 1 is often if not always superflous as it alienates/humiliates the sinner and does little to help them return to the flock. Of course others are arguing that it is a useful, perhaps even necessary part of the repentence process.

    Tempers seem to flare when a case that begins as a simple 1. turns into a 2. or 3. Gwen’s report (which strikes me as a useful hypothetical since we don’t really know the facts other than what we have been told and Gwen has thankfully declined to name names), for instance, seems to have started as a simple 1., but then evolved into a 3. or 2., i.e. conflict with authority developed as a result of her friend refusing to say something she didn’t feel. How you react to Gwen’s report probably depends a lot on whether you see the case as a simple 1. or something else. I say this based on the belief that even persons who think that the church ought to preserve its right to excommunicate people for 1. likely have an even stronger preference for preserving the right in cases 2. and 3. All three strike me as potentially useful depending on the circumstances.

    The problem for a group that is concerned with fairness (not the same thing as justice) is that church courts probably are very unevenly administered. On the other hand, to smooth out discrepancies would require a greater degree of centralization–taking the ability to judge out of the church administrators best positioned to know unique circumstances (think “mandatory sentencing”. Of course that means that some local leaders at some point will be more harsh than circumstances warrant–but on the whole I would rather have local courts guided by church-wide guidelines than have “mandatory sentencing”. My personal opinion is that when we are called to act as common judges of Israel we ought to error on the side of mercy–and the same should be said of our everyday judgments of our harried leaders. (how self-righteous does that last sentence sound!)

  83. I don’t have it in me to read 83 comments right now, so I’ll just comment on the original post: (1) sad to hear that Grant Palmer is ill; (2) seems like a brother who is weak in the faith and facing a serious illness should get support and sympathy from his local leaders, not a “court of love”; (3) the only people I know who use the term “court of love” seem to be Mormon high priests, i.e., those who are on the dispensing end rather than the receiving end of disciplinary love; (4) you’d think the Church would have learned something after the Murphy Affair last year — this is just going to be another PR debacle.

  84. I don’t know if this has been addressed yet but thoughts are two-fold. To the original post. My understanding of excommunication is to release a person from further responsibility due to the covenants they have made. If the person is not forsaking thier actions and does not turn away from whatever it is, it would be a great value to that person in the next world to have been provided a way out of those covenants.

    My next thought follows your statement:
    “In the case of someone who is repentant and wants to do better, why excommunicate them? Take away their calling, ask them to stop taking the sacrament, and so on. They’ll work with you and do what it takes to return to full fellowship.”

    Rementance requires us to not only feel remorseful for the wrong things we have done but to make restitution if possible and, as I’ve said earlier, turn away from doing them again. If the person truly is repentant then excommunicationg them would not be necessary.

    As for those who follow the person by leaving the church, that is thier own issue. There may or may not be things they are aware of in the details and if the excommunicated is truly repentant then maybe it will just take time to allow them back in and be baptized.

  85. No–just witch-hunty to ex them for being normal, healthy adults. Tell them not to take the sacrament or something. Just don’t ex them.

    Well, if she had not been a temple worker, that might have entered into the equation, as did three lovers in the year she ran into Mr. Predator.

    (The side issue of people misrepresenting themselves on singles dating sites is an entire seperate issue).

    And, I would note, there is the whole matter of the change in excommunication policy that came out what seems like a long time ago, encouraging people to use excommunication less. That was, what, ten-fifteen years ago, the basic premise being that excommunication in an LDS environment with constant attention afterwards does not translate well to a non-LDS environment where it is easy to lose track of people, etc.

    I mean, the author of “No Man Knows My History” had home teachers after she left the Church. I was amazed to find out that in the years of her last illness she called on them regularly, and they traveled relatively long distances in bad weather to respond to her calls.

  86. Okay, so even though she was a temple worker, if she had said, “I hated every minute of the few times in my entire life I ever had a sexual experience! I promise I’ll never do it again!” she might not have been exed?

    Calling or not, temple worker or not, they ex you for acting on biology, they ex you for not lying about how you feel about a situation (trying to force you to feel one way over another) and they ex you for not marrying someone you don’t love for appearance’s sake (they had asked if she thought she could “work things out and marry one of the guys” and then her punishment would be less severe.

    I’m just saying that whatever lessons are supposedly to be learned by excommunication don’t seem to be too helpful, IMO.

  87. Gwen,

    Putting your friend aside, are there instances when you think that excommunication might be appropriate?

    I want to push you on another point. You wrote that the church excommunicates people for acting on biology–and to the extent that people are excommunicated for following their sex drives, that is certainly true. Are there circumstances where excommunication might be appropriate because someone followed their biological urges?

  88. Yes. As I mentioned before, adultery, child abuse, other criminal sexual activity, etc. There’s a difference between being a prostitute and being a vulnerable, needy middle-aged woman who wanted some affection, and happened to date three different LDS men, succumbing each time to her own desires and their invitations.

  89. “Yup, I feel sorry about everything that happened. I hated the experience. I wish I were still a virgin at 46. I’ll never have sex as long as I live if I never get married.” She can’t say that. If this is what repentance means, then, no, she hasn’t repented. She’s a person of integrity who doesn’t just say what others want to hear.

    If repentance means to deny one’s personal truth, whether it’s the truth about feeling good about something that feels good OR whether it’s standing up for what you believe, then it’s not.

    Um, there is no “personal truth” there is only truth. To say otherwise is relativism. (Unless I misunderstand you)

    Of course sex is enjoyable. But that’s not really what is at issue. Speaking as someone who married very late, I certainly understand the pains of being an old virgin. But the problem is that while that view is very understandable, it is not an acceptable one. Further, if someone maintains it, they really haven’t repented.

    That may sound harsh. But natural or not, that sort of mentality really hasn’t repented.

  90. Thanks for responding to my question(s) Gwen.

  91. Okay, so even though she was a temple worker, if she had said, I was needy and alone and thought I was safe with the kind of guys I would meet through an LDS dating service and all I met were predators who took advantage of my turmoil and sadness and who then discarded me. And while sex, perhaps like other things, is pleasurable, I realize that it should not be misused and I regret stepping over the boundaries and will strive to live my life in accordance with the gospel and not fall prey again ….

    I don’t know if you can see the difference?

    When you put it as Yes. As I mentioned before, adultery, child abuse, other criminal sexual activity, etc. There’s a difference between being a prostitute and being a vulnerable, needy middle-aged woman who wanted some affection, and happened to date three different LDS men, succumbing each time to her own desires and their invitations. you are putting it differently than when you say If repentance means to deny one’s personal truth, whether it’s the truth about feeling good about something that feels good OR whether it’s standing up for what you believe, then it’s not

    The one says, she made mistakes and sinned. The other says that she enjoyed the experience and is going to stand up for the pleasure of having sex outside of marriage.

    they ex you for acting on biology is different from “you can be excommunicated for giving into temptation and not being willing to turn from it” but is also exactly the same thing too.

    I hope that makes sense.

  92. Stephen, that made great sense. Thanks for breaking it down. What I hear is that if she had professed that she sinned and committted never to sin in such a manner again, that would have been enough, perhaps.

    She–as perchance do others who see certain offenses to God as victimless sins or crimes–is bothered that the Church is quick to thrust from its midst otherwise productive, engaged and involved members over trials of faith or action.

    She agrees that it was wrong, yet considers it an impactful, experientially beautiful part of her life. She would be asked to excise that part of her life, consider it filthy, and promise to never be sexually active again until marriage, even if marriage never happens for her in this life (the court was even specific enough to ask and reprimand her about personal devices and practices–if the membership at large were ex’ed for masturbation, the LDS population would be 12 strong). She probably does not have enough faith to make that promise.

    So counsel with her, work with her, release her from callings, suggest scriptures for her to read, pray with her–but excommunicate her?

    It seems that the Church is saying that each member should humbly and willingly to submit to whatever discipline the flawed leaders impose on the members. Since all the leaders are married, many married longer than they’ve lived alone, they also have no clue about her kind of situation. As an excommunicant, she has been removed from the only “family” she has, for having giving in to temptation and enjoying the benefits that particular sin provided. She won’t deny that it was in part beneficial, while she admits it was wrong to have done in the first place.

  93. Quick question for John H: If your report regarding Grant Palmer is accurate, why aren’t any of the SLC mainstream media publications running a story? Is there more to the story?

  94. Mr. Smith says:

    Oh, there will be. The bitter exmo propaganda machine is swinging into action, contacting newspapers and organizing candlelight vigils against this new “spanish inquisition” that is only out to squelch “the Truth” with a capital t. Or so they portray it…

  95. It seems that the Church is saying that each member should humbly and willingly to submit to whatever discipline the flawed leaders impose on the members.

    Err, no, she can appeal the excommunication. She did get told that, didn’t she? Has she thought about an appeal? Sounds like she needs to tell them “I’m lonely and alone and I’ve made mistakes, but I fear being completely outside will only destroy me, excommunicating me has only completely seperated me from the Saints and my life and gives me no support in coming back.” Combined with actual sorrow for the sin part of things.

    After all, sex qua sex isn’t evil or wrong or immoral, it is the misuse of it that is wrong.

  96. Is there any record of any excommunication ever being overturned on appeal? The appeal process is, as far as I can tell, completely hollow.

  97. I’m not familiar with that many cases, but yes. Sometimes not post-humously.

    Hmm, wonder what I need to do to get BCC to link to my blog.

    I keep promising to update my link to them if they’ll link to me.

  98. “Quick question for John H: If your report regarding Grant Palmer is accurate, why aren’t any of the SLC mainstream media publications running a story? Is there more to the story?”

    I think there will be some stories. Of course, that’s entirely up to the various media outlets to decide. But some have asked why I bothered mentioning Grant’s case at all or using his name, and it’s because I believe there will be news stories. I learned about this just a day after Grant got the notice from his Stake President. Also, I truly believe blogs are legitimate news sources, so long as it’s handled responsibly, and I tried to be as responsible as I could with this post.

    As for the “bitter exmo propaganda machine,” sadly, I guess some people have learned that the Church only responds when the press gets involved. As I noted above, Elbert Peck, Linda Newell, and Tom Murphy all benefited from media coverage. And unlike the way apologists want to portray it, none of them contacted the media on their own. As they informed friends of what was happening, the story got passed along and made it to reporters’ ears. They can hardly be blamed for trying to do what they can to save their skin.

    But that’s what so amusing to me about excommunication in some ways – this expectation on the part of the Church that people are going to do exactly what they want – as if they are in total control. “Hey, we’re kicking you out – and by the way, don’t tell anyone about it, we wouldn’t want this story to get out. And while you’re at it, don’t wear garments or give your kids Priesthood blessings anymore.” It sounds a lot like a parent who throws their 18 year old kid out of the house but tells him he still as a 12:00 curfew.

  99. John H.,
    Did Grant tell you this as a friend or as a reporter sure to get the news out? Both perhaps?

  100. Much of the discussion about excommunication assumes that it is analogous to a criminal punishment. This is a fair analogy, but it is worth thinking about what the analogy might tell us. There are essentially four theories of criminal punishment:

    1. Retributive. The idea is that there is some moral responsibility to visit some pain on those who break the law. The basis of this theory is essentially Kantian, and in its most philosophically sophisticated guise the argument is that punishment is a way of acknowledging the moral autonomy of the criminal.

    2. Deterrence. The idea is that we publically punish the criminal as a way of frightening would be criminals into not committing crimes. Notice, the argument here is purely utilitarian, we are using the suffering that we visit on the object of punishment as a way of avoiding the suffering caused by potential criminals.

    3. Protective custody. The idea is that certain people should be locked up so that they do not hurt other people in the future.

    4. Therapy. The idea is that we ought to incarcertate people so that we can reform them, and get them to stop being criminals.

    One of the interesting problems of jurisprudence, is that most of these justifications are inconsistent with some portion or another of the criminal justice system. For example, (1) and (2) do not explain why incarceration is the favored form of punishment. (3) seems problematic because it assumes that criminal conviction is a good signal of future dangerousness. However, provided that we can come up with certain demographic factors that provide equally good indications of future dangerousness, then there is no reason not to incarcertate based on those factors. (4) is simply a joke given the reality of incarceration in this country. Our prisons do not reform criminals. They are much more likely to train and professionalize them.

    It seems to me that the moral objections to excommunication rest on the rejection of models (1) and models (2), model (1) because its punitive character is inconsistent with Christianity and model (2) because its utilitarian character is inconsistent with Christianity. The pragmatic objection is rooted in model (4), namely the objection that the excommunication is an ineffective method of rehabilitating others.

    Theory (3) becomes a tempting way of justifying excommunication. The idea is that we need to signal to the world that person X is not a member of the Church and should not be able to use their membership to advance some harmful activity. There is a problem here in that the value of the signal of excommunication is muddy because we don’t know the precise reasons for excommunication. Of course, historically the Church used to be more public about the basis of excommunication, so perhaps certain sorts of excommunication are supposed to be justified by theory (3) but are simply anachronistic today.

    We have had another interesting theory batted around on this thread:

    (5) Excommunication mitigates the seriousness of future sin. The idea is that someone who has made certain covenants commits a greater sin by doing act X than does someone who is no under covenant who does precisely the same act X.

    Theory 5 is facinating because it seems immune from the moral objections leveled against (1) and (2), and does not suffer from the pragmatic issues faced by analogy to (3) or (4). There is one sense, however, in which (5) is quite analogous to (3): It relies on a predication about future behavior.

    If excommunication is really about mitigating the seriousness of future sinning, then it seems that we ought to excommunicate people pre-emptively, assuming that we have sufficiently good information about their future actions. Likewise, it suggests that we ought not to excommunicate those who have sinned in the past but who are unlikely to sin in the future. Thus, (5) like (3) relies on the problematic notion that we can use past conduct as an exclusive signal for future behavior.

    There is, I suppose, a variation on theory (5):

    5a. Excommunication mitigates the seriousness of past sins. The same assumption as to how the seriousness of sins is tied to covenants holds as in (5), but we add one more idea. This is that by voiding past covenants the Church court retroactively mitigates the seriousness of sins be voiding whatever enhancing effect the covenants had.

    I think that 5a is the oddest sort of justification for excommunication, but I suspect that it is at work in at least some of the theology surrounding church courts. In the D&C excommunication is generally talked of in terms of blotting out a name from the books from which we are judged. I take it that this concept is related to the theological ideas of sealing and priesthood, namely the idea that some of God’s power is delegated to human beings to exercise, so that by our actions we do things that in some sense bind God in the eternities. We see this in terms of sealing people up to greater blessings. In terms of cursing them (washing the feet, etc.) to some sort of punishment. Finally, under theory 5a excommunication may also be a way of lessening punishment in the eternities. A kind of inverse washing of the feet.

    Just some thoughts…

  101. Thanks Nate — that’s what I was hoping for, some sort of discussion of the theory 5 variant. Is it really doctrinally sound, however? It seems to me that the removal of these covenants and revocation of these blessings would result in the damnation of the person being ex’ed. How is that better than remaining within the system?

  102. Will as many people leave the Church because of Grant’s book as will if Grant is excommunicated? Perhaps its a draw?

  103. Kristine is, of course, wrong.

    The exclusive reliance on antecdotal evidence does not mean that we should always take such evidence at face value. The absence of statistical controls on how representative some story is does not mean that we cannot perform other kinds of criticism.

    Let me suggest two things. (1) People are likely to view the same situation and the motives of those involved differently depending on their point of view. (2) Our knowledge of their point of view justifies a certain amount of discounting in any account.

    Suppose that I am a person who is excommunicated and I feel defensive and wronged by the experience. I then relate the experience. It is not unreasonable to suppose that my feelings about the experience will color my account of the experience. A responsible fact-finder would take this into account.

    I am not suggesting that there is some lurking sexual sin behind the September Six that we should take into account. I am not saying that everyone who tells a sad story about their excommunication is lying. I am saying that they are likely to be biased and we can take such bias into account even in the absence of statistics.

    Indeed, if the absence of statistics were a bar to weighing the veracity and reliability of some account of a past event then virtually all critical fact finding about the past would be at an end. Certainly, most of the courts and history departments would have to shut down.

  104. As an interesting note, someone (not me) has set up a site for Palmer support:

    www (dot) supportgrantpalmer2 (dot) netfirms (dot) com

    Just an FYI…

  105. Here is a better link re: Grant Palmer:

    www (dot) geocities (dot) com/defend_grant_palmer/

  106. Nate, if I had made the argument you attribute to me, I would indeed be wrong. (I might be anyway, and I wouldn’t even mind that much because your opening dismissive sentence was so elegant). However, I was not saying that we couldn’t say anything based on anecdotal evidence. Nor was I challenging anybody’s particular anecdotes. I was challenging the generalizing move from “people I know who’ve been ex’ed found it a positive experience” to “anyone who doesn’t find it positive is covering secret sins or unrepentant.” I agree that it is sensible to try to account for the motives of one’s sources of evidence, and to calibrate one’s reliance on their perceptions based upon the likelihood that those perceptions are distorted by their agenda, their temperament, their past experiences, etc.

    However, while it’s true that people who have been excommunicated are likely to view the event through a particular, distorted lens, it’s equally likely that people who are emotionally/spiritually invested in defending the truthfulness and goodness of the church’s structure and practice will view the same events through a lens that gives distortive weight to aspects of the experience that confirm the benevolence and righteousness of the hierarchy. Without some larger body of evidence, it’s simply impossible to know whether dude’s friends’ or my friends’ perceptions are closer to an accurate or representative account.

  107. Bob Caswell says:

    “I am saying that they are likely to be biased and we can take such bias into account even in the absence of statistics.”

    And how do we know we are not biased when taking the bias of others into account? I’m intrigued by this concept, Nate, but am still curious as to how your system of reading people’s minds works, not to mention that however you “take into account bias” would have to be the same way that everyone else does so that you and I, heaven forbid, don’t take into account bias in different ways thereby causing completely different outcomes.

    “Indeed, if the absence of statistics were a bar to weighing the veracity and reliability of some account of a past event…”

    The “absence of statistics” as an obstacle shouldn’t have to nullify all the work done by courts or history departments… But it still is an obstacle nonetheless… Nate, you’re not one of those people who believes everything you read, are you? :-)

  108. Kristine, added to the limitations you and Nate point out is the problem of knowing God’s perspective. God might well inspire people to act in a certain way with the reason being unknown to them. We then set about interpreting the “why” of God’s inspirations in ways that are often wrong. (In my experience the majority of revelation can only be understood by hindsight long after the fact)

    When applied to excommunication, I think it quite possible that a Stake President be inspired to excommunicate someone without fully understanding why. Or vice versa.

    While I’ll not claim that everything any leader does is always inspired (nor do I think it need be), I do think that earlier comments about consistency miss that important view of God’s aims. He may well be very utilitarian in a fashion that we simply can’t fathom. It may appear unfair or even arbitrary, but I don’t think it necessarily is. And I say that only with the distant hindsight of my own experiences with inspiration.

  109. May I interject here about what was said in the BofM.
    In verse 29 it says:”Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed;”
    Nate, I appreciate your take on these matters. What does the semi-colon instead of a comma mean?

    When we read on, our attitudes and behaviours are well defined as members of the Church.
    It seems to me that a judgment must be rendered.Whether we view it as just or not is not nearly as important as our behaviour towards the sinner. “Whatsoever ye have done unto one of the least of these my brethern…”
    This would also imply some appropriate behaviour on the part of the sinner.

    (Mosiah 26:19-31.)

    19 And because thou hast inquired of me concerning the transgressor, thou art blessed.

    20 Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep.

    21 And he that will hear my voice shall be my sheep; and him shall ye receive into the church, and him will I also receive.

    22 For behold, this is my church; whosoever is baptized shall be baptized unto repentance. And whomsoever ye receive shall believe in my name; and him will I freely forgive.

    23 For it is I that taketh upon me the sins of the world; for it is I that hath created them; and it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand.

    24 For behold, in my name are they called; and if they know me they shall come forth, and shall have a place eternally at my right hand.

    25 And it shall come to pass that when the second trump shall sound then shall they that never knew me come forth and shall stand before me.

    26 And then shall they know that I am the Lord their God, that I am their Redeemer; but they would not be redeemed.

    27 And then I will confess unto them that I never knew them; and they shall depart into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

    28 Therefore I say unto you, that he that will not hear my voice, the same shall ye not receive into my church, for him I will not receive at the last day.

    29 Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also.

    30 Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.

    31 And ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses; for verily I say unto you, he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation.
    To our exed friend who had a very unpleasant experience, please recognize that forgiveness on your part is every bit as important as what you would have liked to have received. The Church is often difficult at times but the Lord knew that,IMHO, when He gave us D&C 10:69. Forgive the brethern who offended you and come home. It’s time. The table is set and the feast awaits.

  110. Kristine,

    My apologies for misunderstanding you. When you wrote:

    “Until we have good statistical evidence (i.e. never), it’s probably wise to take other people’s descriptions of their own experience at face value, and not try to guess at the secret sins that may have contributed to their having a different kind of experience than you did.”

    I took you to mean that in the absence of good statistical evidence its probably wise to take other people’s descriptions of their own experience at face value. (In other words, I took the clauses on either side of the “and” as standing for two independent propositions rather than two gestures toward an unstated single proposition.) It seems unwise to me to take all accounts at face value. I entirely agree with what you say about how institutional loyalty can create bias as well. My point is that if we can use our understanding of that bias to filter the accuracy of what one party says, we ought to be able to use our understanding of other parties’ biases as well.


    I am not saying that we can become free from bias or free from bias in our accessment of the bias of others. My point is not that we can be objective in the sense of free from bias, but rather that we can do better than simply taking everyone’s stories at face value because (1) we lack statistical evidence (BTW, the real problem here is not only the lack of disclosure, but also the lack of a clear sense of what it is that we wish we could quantify. Statistical evidence of what?); or, (2) criticism of bias leads inevitably to nasty, uncharitable suppositions about hidden sins, etc.

    I am not looking for perfection, simply comparative improvement. The fact that method A is superior to method B does not imply that method A is faultless or that there is no method superior to method A.

  111. Nate, you are, of course, right–that’s a perfectly straightforward way to read what I wrote. (This is why I’m not a lawyer–too impatient to speak that carefully!) I think that all I meant to say is that dude should be careful about second-guessing Exed-Former Faithful’s assertion that his disciplinary council was extremely painful to him, and that the actions of the leaders involved were hurtful. Of course, if we were trying to reconstruct a history of Exed-Former Faithful’s case, it would be important to try to find some independent evidence, and take account of Exed’s bias. But this isn’t history; it’s just conversation. I was responding to the emotional content of Exed’s account, and it seemed unkind and dismissive of dude to conclude that Exed (could you guys just use your names?) could only have felt that way because he was in the wrong. If we had statistical (or even overwhelming anecdotal) evidence that high councillors behave lovingly and wisely some high percentage of the time, dude’s supsicions might have some place in the conversation. As things stand now, I don’t think they do.

    (Another reason I’m not a lawyer–I sound incredibly stupid when I try to explain what I really meant.)

  112. I went back and read the comments of Dude and of Exed-Former Faithful (“EFF”) and I confess I am puzzled by what is confusing people. Of course different people going through LDS disciplinary proceedings are going to have radically different experiences. How could this not be so? Every case has unique facts, the people involved have different personalities and will react differently to the intense emotions of being “on the hot seat,” and lay LDS clergy vary dramatically in their ability and willingness to properly conduct such an inquiry.

    The result? Some, like Dude, will find the process difficult but therapeutic and ultimately rewarding. Others, like EFF, will find the process difficult and even demeaning with no beneficial results whatsoever, and this appears to sometimes be the case even for some who are repentant and contrite. The only people who have a problem with recognizing this are those who insist (standing on dogmatic assumptions and rejecting actual reports) that the disciplinary system doesn’t make mistakes. That’s obviously wrong. The only meaningful discussion (and it is not a simple one) is about the error rate.

    It really won’t do to label and reject every personal report of an LDS disciplinary proceeding as “anecdotal,” suggesting that statistical aggregates would somehow be magically cleansed of the bias, ambiguity, or uncertainty inherent in any report of a single disciplinary proceeding. Aggregation doesn’t heal faulty data, so if you reject single reports I don’t see how you can rely on aggregates. And should we reject every report of a spiritual experience as “anecdotal” unless it is properly assimilated in a “statistical” array? Ever seen any reliable statistics published on prayer response that would legitimize the anecdotal stories that circulate so freely in the Church?

  113. As a former disfellowship for sex crimes member, I feel strongly that the church discipline progress is flawed for 2 reasons: 1) The process and punishment inflicted is to public, and 2) The discipline system is designed to subpress any feedback that would help the process evolve to help members better rather than simply ensure the integrity and reputaiton of the church.

    In more detail:
    It’s to public. Church Discipline places to much emphasis on public punishment than on personal improvement and development: Participating in church discipline is a very public process. In the case of a Stake Court, you are required to confess your sins to 15 men, most of whom you hardely know, and in the presence of a dedicated, silent notes taking scribe. Rarely will these men take the time to get to know you beyond formalites and the nature of your crime. And letting these people who you hardly know in on your most embarrising secrets is just a start. You’re bishop and his counselors will be aware of your “crime”, your priesthood leader (EQP HPG) will know that something is “wrong” with you as you are removed from home teaching, the ward clerk will be marking your records with your new membership status, and the rest of the ward will wonder why you no longer can pray, have no calling, and don’t take the sacrament. Once one of any of these people start to talk (any one of the aprx 20 of them), then your plight becomes even more public throuhg efficient mormon gossip channels. (Let’s hope and pray too that your name doesn’t get brough up at PEC either.)

    Also, let’s hope also that none of your dear siblings or friends will be getting married sometime soon as you also will not be allowed to attend their wedding and have to shamefully wait outside for everyone to become aware of your unworthiness. (In fact, if you’re going to confess a serious sin, you should probably wait until after such events, right?)

    Oh–and did I mention the “permanent” record that is keept at Church HQ (yes, the scribe at the Church Court records the gory details to go into this record) for future priesthood leaders and unscrupulous church employees to refer to as they review your worthinss in the future?

    For 90% of people who get disciplined, which I suspect is like me for sexual infractions, I don’t see how this whole complex aperatus that sheds such a public light on someones usually private behaviour is necessary. The public impact of confessing, knowing that it could lead to your public scorn in this manner, is not supported by Christian ideals, IMO, and encourages us mormons to live in angst and fear of confronting our own “spritutal” shortcomings. Further our leaders are challenged without any practical training of figuruing out how to best help us in our complexities despite the time pressure’s they face and the pressure from up the priesthood chain to meet expectations. I don’t think this helps anyone truely come to christ in most of the cases, but rather teaches you to fear the church and its power to punish you.

    2, Discipline is a mystical, closed system. When the discipline process is iniiated you don’t know what you’ll get, and there is no chance that the bad expierences we hear are going to teach future leaders how to be better, excpet until the church issues a new memo in 5 or 10 years.

    Personal story: I had the expierence where as a single adult, in the process of moving my records as I was relocating after college, confessed a sexual sin from my post college summer romp to 2 different bishops. One was going to put me on informal probation and give me a calling, get me involved in my new ward hoping I’d make some friends after a few months, whereas the other decided to throw the whole book at me and have me disfellowshiped the whole way thorugh. Although I had the right due to vague singles ward boundries to attend either ward and my records were in the first bishops ward, the strict bishop who knew my partner who got a lesser sentance than I, insisted that I go through his processes and had the SP through his wieght around on the other bishop to make it so. Whose interest did that serve? and why were 2 bishops taking differnt paths? Makes no sense, but that’s the “mystical” part of discipline.

    This mystical aspect of church discipline makes some of the previous arguments about the purposes of discipline in a criminal sense irrelevent as one of the key points of any justice system is certainty, or at least clarity in terms of what the rules are and what happens when you break them. In our church, we have lots of rules, but every person, and every bishop has thier own continum of where the boundries are, so we always feel guilty or are under the threat of having a priesthood interfer in our lives to call us to repentance based on a differnt view of the sin continium. This lack of clarity that is inherent in church discipline makes the whole process unmanegable under any regime and should be a good reason to abandon the apperatues to a more simpler, personal based process rather than a church apperatus that trys to bring in more people and more vague guidlines into play.

    Furthermore, the mysticism and closed aspects of church discipline are reinforced by the fact that members have no role in determining what the guidlines of church discipline are and there is no mechanism for leaders to recieve honest feedback about the process. (When I was disfellowship, for example, if I disagreed with something my bishop “counseled” me, it was often percieved as unrepentant behavior rather than mature feedback about how I was progressing to express my views –it was a very tricky game to play.)

    In summary, I think what would be useful is if the church could move to a more personal 1 on 1 system of repentance that had the bishop or other leader act more as a mentor to a struggling sinner than as a judge, sentancer, and forgiveness giver. Let the honest sinner”s figure out their own paths, with the bishops and God’s help and reserve the clumsy shame inflicting court of love for real situations of apostacy and abuse.

    There’s my take.

  114. Dumb question — I know Catholic priests hear confession one-on-one, but do Catholics with serious sins ever get sent up the hierarchy to “reconfess” to Catholic Bishops (like Stake Presidents) or larger committees? It seems disingenuous to call a proceeding that becomes known in detail to roughly twenty people “confidential,” and I’m just wondering if the Catholic system provides more protection to confessors.

  115. It’s certainly confidential in comparison with other systems, like the Watchtower. They read off your name and your crime from the pulpit, so everyone knows who to avoid (following way too strict a reading of 1 Co. 5:11)

    Also, at least in the wards I’ve been in, I don’t even notice who has what calling or who doesn’t. I can’t even tell you what primary class my wife is currently teaching (since she’s had several).

    Perhaps some of this is zipper syndrome- Once you realize your pants are undone, you’re convinced everyone around you has noticed:)

  116. Even in our own church I believe excommunications used to be announced. I think it only stopped in the 1950’s or so.

  117. Clark,


  118. Bob Caswell says:


    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my rather bullheaded comment. I agree that the presence of statistics could be just as useless as the absence thereof, depending on what is being measured and how. But leaving aside the generalities, in this particular case, I do think it would be interesting and potentially helpful to see the results of a well-put-together (for lack of a better word) study.

    But as that will probably never happen, we’ll just stick to blogging about our own perceptions of how others might feel. This is probably not that bad, especially with the participation of those who have actually “been there, done that”.


    I found your comments to be quite fascinating.

  119. You may not want personal episodes, but this one is mine so I’ll share it. When I returned after honorably serving a mission, my bishop called me in and told me that I would be excommunicated if I did not pay back the 4 months of bills my ward covered for me after my family’s business failed while I was serving. He told me to forgo school and work until it was paid off, that it was the Lord’s money, sacred funds, etc. And to make it a public event, he did not allow me too have a homecoming until the debt was paid in full.

    It obviously affected me a great deal. I see it now as certainly an exersize in unrighteous dominion, though at the time I went through the whole repentance process feeling very guilty about thye whole thing without quite clearly knowing what I’d personally done wrong. But it also laid bare a certain truth about excommunication–it is a tool used by church leaders to manage social policy in the membership. What this bishop thought he was accomplishing I don’t know, but he did think he was within his rights to do it.

  120. You may not want personal episodes, but this one is mine so I’ll share it. When I returned after honorably serving a mission, my bishop called me in and told me that I would be excommunicated if I did not pay back the 4 months of bills my ward covered for me after my family’s business failed while I was serving. He told me to forgo school and work until it was paid off, that it was the Lord’s money, sacred funds, etc. And to make it a public event, he did not allow me too have a homecoming until the debt was paid in full.

    You have reported him to Salt Lake, haven’t you? You would not want him to die not having repented of that, would you?

  121. Did you notice that they wrote about Grant Palmer in both the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News? The Deseret News references some vague “press release” as the basis of their knowledge of Palmer’s upcoming hearing. I wonder if that “press release” was this website??

  122. Jordan, where’s the DN article? I couldn’t find it.

  123. Jordan,

    If you read the Deseret News article is says specifically that the press release was from Signature Books. Later in the article Palmer actually criticizes some of the language in the press release.

  124. Those poachers!! It’s as bad as the Evil Blog.

  125. While we’re at it, here is the text of the press release from

    December 12, 2004—Author in Hot Water with Church

    Grant H. Palmer, a three-time director of LDS Institutes of Religion in California and Utah, is facing a church court—to be convened on December 12 (7:00 a.m.) at the Willow Creek Stake Center in Sandy, Utah. This comes in the wake of a dossier on Palmer’s book, An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins, presented to Palmer’s stake president by the “Strengthening Church Members Committee,” an in-house doctrinal watchdog group. The trial will be presided over by stake president Keith Adams, an attorney with the Seattle-based law firm of Stoel Rives LLP. The initial attack on Palmer’s orthodoxy came from the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at BYU, chief among Palmer’s critics and known for its aggressive approach to doctrinal purity and combative rhetorical style. For more information, see Support LDS Author and Historian Grant Palmer.

  126. Hmm. It seems they’ve removed the language comparing the Church’s commitee to the Taliban from the online version without telling anyone. Call the Tanners…

    “The press release announcing the possible excommunication says Palmer’s stake president approached him a year ago after receiving information from “the church’s ‘Strengthening Church Members Committee.’ ” It called the group “comparable in some ways to the Taliban’s ‘Department of Vice and Virtue.’ “

  127. I assume that’s the language Palmer didn’t like. The Exmo list is also saying that he’s asked people not to hold a candlelight vigil for him. He’s either very savvy or just a nice guy, and the Exmo list has to tone down their usual level of rhetoric for him:)

  128. Mormon Wasp has an excellent summary of the Strengthening Church Members Committee (SCMC) if any of you (Scott) are interested.

  129. ….and once again we get stiffed for the tip-off.

  130. :) Yeah, I wondered if Kaimi saw the MW link here first or if he was browsing MW himself.

  131. Here’s my question: Is there any place for the “unrepentant” in the LDS church?

    To some extent or another, all of us are unrepentant in respect to sin. We can all say as loudly and vociferously as we want that we are continually, continously repenting, but if all sin is sin, we are all in the same boat.

    And yet, if someone on the verge of excommunication does not at that instant or soon thereafter commit to releasing the sin or impropriety, s/he is removed from fellowship of the Church. A black mark is on his/her record, and rebaptism is the only way to “return.”

    It seems to me that the original purpose for excommunication as outlined in the D & C has given way to (as I’ve heard it described more recently) a “time out” for people to reflect on their misdoings, and “come back.”

    Which is it? Is excommunication a putting away and apart from the congregation a miscreant, troublemaker, heretic? Or is it offering the person a chance to come back on the Church’s terms? If the latter, it is no more than a bribe and a way to foster dishonesty (in my opinion).

  132. Farrah,

    It doesn’t have to be a binary choice.

    Not to mention, the D&C has plenty of discussions about people who refuse to release serious sins.

    As to Or is it offering the person a chance to come back on the Church’s terms? If the latter, it is no more than a bribe and a way to foster dishonesty are you trying to say that anyone should be allowed to be an active member, regardless of what sins they are committing or their attitudes about them, because all we do otherwise is foster dishonesty …

    … which would mean an implied belief that there isn’t any repentence going on.

  133. No; I am saying that most of us continuously, continually repent. Those who don’t happen to repent at the opportune moments are slated for Church discipline. This topic refers to excommunication, not “an implied belief that there isn’t any repentance going on.”

    Many people who commit “grevious sin” in the LDS Church simply stay away from Church, because they know about the system of Church discipline and are not ready to be shamed, cut down, etc. However, they may repent in their own private ways.

    Is public humiliation and repentance better?

  134. Farrah,

    There’s no place for the unrepentant in the Church, no matter what sin’s been committed. Fundamentally, I think that if we have committed sin but refuse to repent, we’re distancing ourselves deliberately from Christ. That’s not a tenable position for a Christian.

    Now, that’s not exactly what you’re talking about. What you seem to be asking is whether there’s room in our church for people that have committed sin and don’t yet understand the enormity of the sin or don’t know what happens next. I’m inclined to think that there is a place for people like that.

    You seem to also say that getting excommunicated is all about bad timing — you catch a sinner on a bad day, and they’re out. There could be some truth to that, I think, but I’m not entirely convinced. The process takes a little time, and there’s plenty of opportunity for people to examine their decisions.

    As for excommunication being “originally” a way back, that’s a mistake. It was a way of being cut off and expelled from the group, not a time-out.

  135. Phil Lethes,

    I deleted your comment. If you think this is an anti-mormon board, you’re mistaken. There are other places on the internet where you’ll be more comfortable, I think.

  136. Neldon Johnson says:

    Dear sir:
    I read your comments and some of the comments made by your readers. I would like to respond in story form.
    There was a rich man who had a son whom he loved very much. However, the father had to leave for an extended period of time and left the son in the hands of his servants.
    While he was away the sevants decided that the son would not obey every thing that the servants thought that he should. Also, they felt that they were not recieving the respect that they felt they were entitled to have from the mans son.
    So they said to the son that his father had told them that he did not love him anymore and that they had been instructed to cast him out of his fathers family.
    Which of you confronted with a choice of changing or leaving the church on a paticular weakness that you might have would also appear unrepentant to the individual that demanded change or else.
    What if the church leaders felt that what you were doing on the sabath was not in harmony with church doctrine. But it was something that you realy enjoyed and felt that it was okey.
    The leader decided that you were unrepentant and that excommunication was in order.
    If we were honest with ourselves all of us could find a particular fault that we would find it very difficult to change and therfore would also be deemed unrepentant.
    If anyone of us would have been in the group that was determined to stone the woman for adultry could we have thrown the first stone.
    The savior said that if one of his lambs were lost he would secure the 99 and go find the one that was lost. I do not believe that he would throw one of his lambs over the fence and put a guard at the gate so that he could not ge back in.
    I firmly believe that only after every possible avenue to get the lost individual back into the fold has been exausted that one could possibly believe that excommunication is a viable option. I believe that the one making the call had better be sure that they received that instruction from Jesus Christ himself.
    It is a fact that the one overcoming the adversity will be blessed. A person being harmed by a criminal and then overcoming the adversity the criminal act caused was blessed. Joseph Smith was blessed by experances impossed upon him by wicked men and was blessed.

  137. I think there can be benefits, and I also think it can be a mistake. I know of one case where a young couple, both 16, got excommunicated because she got pregnant. They did not return to the church until the child born was a teenager. Neither of their now-adult children is active. If they had loved these kids instead of completely excluded them, a whole family could have been saved.

    I think in that case the authorities erred and overreacted, because the young man’s brother had been convicted of a heinous crime.

    I heard somewhere somebody advised a new bishop: “If you must err, err in mercy.” I think that’s good advice.

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