The Silence of the Sinner

According to the current CHI, when someone is disfellowshipped or excommunicated, one of the stipulations associated with this status requires that the person should refrain from speaking in Sacrament meeting or giving public prayers. If the person was a Priesthood holder they are also asked to not use their Priesthood.  Despite not being explicitly stated, this counsel is often interpreted to be a restriction of public speaking during our Church classes or lessons.   I wonder how this prohibition functions within the context of the Church, why it is required and how this added expectation aids or inhibits the process of repentance?

A few preliminaries will facilitate this discussion. First, people in this situation are encouraged not to cause embarrassment to themselves if asked to spontaneously pray in a meeting by someone who is unaware of the situation. If they feel they should decline then this is appropriate while in other situations the person should pray as asked. Speaking in Sacrament and using Priesthood do not have this same latitude. Second, informal probation (being restricted from sacrament participation) and formal probation (a probation which follows Church disciplinary council) does not involve this prohibition on speech. This raises my first question, why does a situation requiring disfellowshipment or excommunication also require silence whilst these other forms of Church discipline do not.

If we accept that the Church’s aim in such situations is to help the individual to repent and come unto Christ I see that this particular restriction might have a number of (unintended) negative effects. Speech and conversation are central to Latter-day Saint worship and spirituality. For example, D&C section 50 lays out a model for a revelatory form of discourse-based fellowship. Even our rituals and ordinances (testimony meeting, the endowment, prayer circles) often involve vocalised expressions of faith and worship. Thus to restrict someone from participating in this redemptive dialogue may serve to shut them out from the process by which they usually experience God.  Would such a restriction also then limit the possibility of re-kindling the spirituality they might feel they have lost because of certain actions? From this perspective, this sanction could be perceived as a punishment rather than a band-aid.

Silence has also been used to symbolically discredit the testimony of those who are not in good standing in the Church. According to Van Wagoner’s biography of Sidney Rigdon this practice was used by the Leaders to effectively silence those who rebelled against plural marriage. In addition Paul Toscano has also described this side to the silencing imperative. Yet, in these instances silence is imposed upon those whose ‘sin’ it was to speak. Is it justifiable to see a person’s repentance require that they be silenced in their sin was to speak evil things against the Church leadership and/or its doctrine? Whether this is or not I do not think that these situations are transferable to the more common situation of silence being imposed or requested from those whose sins may be of other varieties.

Perhaps this silence reflects a theological position which emerges from the perceived relationship between the Spirit, the individual and the notion of sinfulness. Many scriptures attest that we should speak only those things that are directed by the Spirit (see D&C 28:4; 68:3; 100:5). It is possible therefore that those who have been formally excluded from the influence of the Spirit may therefore be regarded as unable to speak in the name of Christ and therefore excluded from public actions that involve such an expression. I suspect that this might be intention of the prohibition; it seems to speak from the same place that restricts non-members to speak or pray in our sacrament services (though I have seen them pray in other meetings).

Yet, why has this prohibition been applied to settings that are not specifically required and what purpose does it serve? In this instance, I find the opposing dynamics of confession and silence interesting. Following the vocalisation of our sins we can be asked to no longer speak. Perhaps this injunction serves to enact a forgetting, via the silence, that also implicates the Lord; for if He does not remember our sins (D&C 58:42) then surely He cannot remind us of them once we have confessed (D&C 1:2-3). Perhaps our silence is to remind ourselves that we should not remember them either.

In contrast, I suspect that this may work against the spiritualisation of speech that exists in the Church. For the silent sinner has to be constantly aware of their sinful status in order to resist the urge to speak. In fact I believe that this is the primary mechanism of this injunction. The undisciplined sinner must learn to control (discipline) the tongue as part of their return to the status of disciple. I am not convinced that this interpretation of the restriction is helpful to people who are trying to maintain ties to a community from which they have been ritually distanced. However, I can appreciate the directive to restrict performing Priesthood ordinances and speaking (i.e. giving a talk) or praying in public.

How do you understand the silence of sinner and is it something that harms or hinders the repentance process?


  1. I think it’s pretty clear that most people dislike public humiliation and so take off. Often forever.

  2. I think its appropriate for things like apostacy- you certainly don’t want an apostate to continue to use church meetings as a forum for their views. Other reasons for excommunication, such as adultery or committing feolonies the silence is more problomatic, but its easier to have a blanket rule rather than a bunch of sub-rules and exceptions.

  3. I think speaking in Sacrament and praying are totally different than speaking up in classes. The first are lecture-style, the second is discussion-style. Lecture-style speaking invites preaching, while it is easier to turn things to a discussion in class.

  4. Mark Brown says:

    These are all good questions, Aaron.

    There are no easy answers, either. I think this is part of the entire problematic package of church discipline. It is applied so unevenly and with such a mixed bag of results that it is sometimes hard to see what the point is.

  5. Mark Brown says:

    It is not unusual to see someone who is not yet a baptized member go to the stand in testimony meeting and say something to the congregation, so even the restriction on non-members speaking in church isn’t universally applied.

  6. StillConfused says:

    I think it is meant to bring shame on the parishioner and to help others know that he was a bad boy. Shunning and silent treatments are very common in organized religions.

  7. Aaron R. says:

    scw, though I agree in principle there are many changeable aspects of church discipline which result from those decisions. My sense is that they could change the CHI, which I have heard is coming out at the end of the year, to say for this situation silence might be appropriate.

    Silverrain, I agree, but how do you then think that applies to what I have said, i.e. how does the difference relate to being silenced.

    Mark, you raise a good point about investigators though in my experience this has rarely happened. Equally if someone who was disfellowshipped in the ward got up I would not stop rugby tackle them on their way to the podium either so perhaps the fact of being asked not is *the* difference.

    Stillconfused, ironically, I think you might be confused about the practice I am describing. I don’t see how anyone else would know they were silenced and it is certainly not that other people are asked not to talk to them. Have I mis-understood you?

  8. so speaking at church and participating in a class discussion are ‘rewards’ for righteouss living?

    wow… what a buzzkill that is

  9. Yeah, most members in our ward choose to be silent anyway, so no one would know if this were an posed silence.

  10. Aaron,
    It seems reasonable to me that the “no participation without permission” stance could easily arise in a world where the prevailing assumption about disciplined members is that the discipline resulted from doctrinal/theological apostasy, as opposed to discipline resulting from, say, law of chastity violations or criminal behavior.

    I tend to take the view that these rules may not currently exist for very good reasons, but that they may have come into existence for more understandable causes. For example, if I picture a fledgling religion–either early Mormonism, or early Christianity–as an environment where beliefs, practices, and doctrines were in their infancy, a single charismatic “heretic” could likely exert more influence in a congregation than the same individual could now.

    In that context, I can see the restriction coming not out of punishment or shunning, but out of “hunkering down” as a people and protecting “the flock.” Mind you–I’m not saying it was good; I just don’t think the reasons these rules/attitudes came into existence are understood very well, and the reasons for keeping them are quite possibly unrelated entirely.

  11. Mark B. says:

    First, probation is completely flexible and can contain whatever restrictions or limitations that the bishop or stake president feels is most likely to be of help.

    Second, a limitation on praying or speaking does not constitute either shunning or the “silent treatment.” If excommunicated or disfellowshipped members are shunned or given the silent treatment, that’s the fault of the other members of the congregation, but not a punishment imposed by the disciplinary council.

  12. Latter-day Guy says:

    #8 will have me smiling all week, I think.

    In terms of the OP, I have no idea. Anyone here who has experience on either side of the disciplinary table (who is comfortable sharing)?

  13. Aaron R. says:

    I am not sure where the idea of shunning people is coming from, though I agree that it could be linked with the idea symbolically silencing the excommunicated apostate, rather than the adulterer/ss. fwiw, Scott, I agree that there are logical reasons for shunning which I recall JNS discussed in a post called Exit, Voice, Change. Though I am not sure we want to go down that route again.

    Mark, first, I already mentioned that probation was different to the examples used here, so I am unsure of the relevance of your comment. Second, I agree that neither restriction serves to shun, but you have not responded to the ideas in the OP. Perhaps you could elaborate a little more what your thoughts are?

  14. Aaron,

    Just to clarify myself (because I agree–we don’t want to go down that road)–I actually don’t think that there are logical reasons for “shunning” as I understand the term; I don’t think that what we’re talking about is shunning (as I understand it), but I used that term just to emphasize that I don’t think it was _ever_ meant to be interpreted as such.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    I think the practice derives from the context of apostasy, and that it is easier administratively to impose a bright line rule than to try to parse how to apply the restriction in individual cases. But the fact that local leaders have exactly this flexibility in the case of probation really undercuts that argument. The Church often unnecessarily imposes bright line standards (such as automatically firiing any CES employee who gets divorced, irrespective of the actual facts of the case). Bright lines make for administrative convenience, but they are not necessarily consistent with justice in any given case.

  16. Hoepful Dad says:

    Aaron, these are all good questions when viewed from outside the whole process of repentance and when necessary, formalized church discipline. Having sat on a number of both ward and stake disciplinary councils, I’ve gotten a different perspective.

    Most persons facing excommunication or being disfellowshipped have committed serious sin. In my experience, I’ve never had to be involved in any actions brought about on charges of apostasy, where the “silence” directive makes obvious sense. Most common are issues of morality resulting from violating the laws of chastity, or dishonesty resulting in conviction in a court of law for a felony. In every case that I have observed, in addition to either the morality or dishonesty problems, is also a huge issue of pride. People in these cases are usually there because they got caught; those who voluntarily turn themselves in usually get handled at a bishop’s council level, and generally don’t get referred to a stake council for possible excommunication.

    As I have observed, the pride issue is often the first and most difficult obstacle for these folks to get over. The silence directive seems useful in getting these people to turn inward, humble themselves, and recognize the true extent of the issues they are dealing with. At least that is my take on it. All that being said, though, these individuals still need to be nurtured and fellowshipped, and usually are meeting with their bishop and stake president on a frequent and regular basis, and their PH and RS leaders informed, and if the ex-ed or dis-ed member agrees, so would home and visiting teachers.

    Some of the circumstances you mention seem a little farfetched. If someone is excommunicated or disfellowshipped, the bishopric will know, and won’t be asking them to speak in Sacrament meeting. Excommunicated members have no priesthood. They have to be reordained upon rebaptism, so it isn’t a matter of being directed not to exercise their priesthood. They don’t have it.

    But I have observed situations where an unsuspecting Sunday school teacher or EQ instructor will ask a question of a member under restrictions for whatever reason. I’ve seen such members instructed that they should not volunteer a comment, and if asked a direct question, to answer simply yes or no, and decline further comment. Most bishops will advise priesthood, relief society, and any other pertinent auxiliary leaders of such restrictions without disclosing any details, which usually takes care of the problem.

  17. Aaron R., part of your post is obviously premised on the idea that the Church’s aim in such situations is to help the individual to repent and come unto Christ, as you say. However, it needs to be said that, for better or worse, part of the raison d’etre for a ban on giving talks in church must also be seen as the Church’s legitimate right to maintain a certain organizational integrity and to convey certain bright lines.

    Like you, I’m not convinced that any over-arching ban on speech is helpful to people who are trying to maintain ties to a community from which they have been ritually distanced. However, shouldn’t any discussion of this topic also include the well-established notion that it’s not just the penitent’s interests that are in play during the discipline process?

    In any case, for me, the bottom line is, if local leaders are interpreting the CHI ban on giving talks to extend to all public speech when the CHI does not call for such an over-arching ban, it would be nice to hear some sort of clarification on the subject from Salt Lake.

  18. “From this perspective, this sanction could be perceived as a punishment rather than a band-aid.”

    I have always understood that it is primarlily a punishment, though I like HD’s answer, above, that it is designed to get rid of pride and get the penitent person to turn inward. That’s something I hadn’t thought of.

    Also, I agree with your paragraph about the Spirit. Individuals under this restriction are presumed to have a restriction on access to the Spirit, so public prayers and speaking in church are presumed to have less efficacy and therefore less purpose, so they must be restricted.

    Finally, it seems to me that speaking and praying in church is a privilege to which blessings are attached. Those who are being disciplined may have this privilege, and the atached blessings, withdrawn, just as other privileges and blessings of membership are withdrawn during discipline, to be restored upon completion of the full repentance.

    The idea that this involves shaming or shunning the repenting person is stupid and wrong. That doesn’t happen in our church, in my experience, unless something is seriously out of whack.

  19. I may be wrong, but I think earlier versions of the church handbook did include a prohibition on excommunication members from speaking at all in church (not just talks) and I think prohibited excommunicated males from attending priesthood meeting. I cannot find early versions of the handbook on line to verify. Maybe someone who has them can check.

    If my memory is correct, then the common non-handbook based extension of the talks/prayers in church prohibition to participating in church classes is a sort of holdover/unwritten order of things.

    Local leaders interpret the restrictions for excommunicated/disfellowshipped members differently. Some allow and encourage members under such discipline to sing in the choir, or lead music, or play accompaniment, or sing solos. Others do not. Some allow such members to serve in positions that do not require church membership–such as scouting positions, and some do not.

    Some members under discipline feel shunned because of these restrictions, and some feel relieved to be free of callings for a time period and the guilt about not magnifying callings. Some find the period helpful and healthy for establishing more directly a link to God without the intermediation of the Sacrament, ordinances, or Church callings and assignments. Some find the absence of that intermediation a punishment.

  20. Hopeful Dad says:

    Hunter, just for reference, the CHI, last time I read it, talks about three concerns of church discipline:

    1. Helping the sinner to repent
    2. Protecting the good name of the church
    3. Protecting other members from potential harm (ie, sexual predator, business scams, apostate teachings).

    Just one more thought. Usually the only time we hear about these things involve high profile cases, so excommunications of persons well known to the public are truly a very small percentage of all the cases. Most often it is run of the mill adultery (not that there’s anything run of the mill about that).

  21. Indeed, as Hunter intimates, the CHI lists two other purposes for church discipline (other than to help save the soul of the sinner):

    2) To protect the innocent
    3) To protect the good name of the church (or as Elder Oaks puts it: “to preserve the influence of the Church for good – its capacity to perform its mission to teach and influence people for righteousness”).

    The latter especially comes into play in cases where the transgressor is an officer or teacher in the church. To continue to call on someone to pray and to speak in church would implicitly endorse that person as a member in good standing and in full fellowship.

    Even with regard to the purpose of helping the sinner to repent, restrictions such as speaking or praying in church meetings seem only natural for someone who has been _disfellowshipped_ or _excommunicated_ (for those words to have any meaning). The key question, then, isn’t why “silence” is part of being disfellowshipped or excommunicated, but how being disfellowshipped and excommunicated helps a person to repent. Similar to what Hopeful Dad mentioned, Elder Oaks suggests that the key is to help someone develop a broken heart and a contrite spirit (the only true way to repentance) by breaking them out of their current mold.

    BTW, a great read on the purposes of church discipline and how they differ from the purposes of criminal justice is Elder Oaks’ chapter on “Church Discipline,” in _The Lord’s Way_. The chapter was distributed a few years ago to all of the stake presidencies, high councils and bishoprics in our area.

  22. I wrote the last comment before Hunter’s #20 – sorry for the surplusage.

  23. Thanks for your follow-up comments, Hopeful Dad and JT.

  24. FWIW, there are important exceptions to the “silent” rule. In addiction recovery meetings sponsored by the Church, discipline status is irrelevant, as is the case in Church meetings in jail and prison. Whatever the purpose served of compelled “silence” to “break[] a person” out of his or her mold or to “break” his or her heart, in certain situations church leaders apparently realize that compelled silence can be counterproductive to the healing process. (Imagine a jail service in which none of the inmates is permitted to say anything. Or a 12 step meeting in which a disciplined person is not permitted to speak.)

  25. I’ve lately been asking myself some of these same questions, Aaron. Non-members are able to speak in church classes, though they don’t have the gift of the holy ghost. There is no Relief Society just for investigators.

    I don’t think the idea is to shame or shun but I do think that is sometimes the result. There are many of us whom, if we stopped giving comments in classes, stopped offering prayers, and stopped taking the sacrament, most members would eventually take notice and be able to do the simple math.

    If the idea is to help people with pride, then can we develop some method to cherry pick from the people who are allowed to speak? The most prideful people I know exercise their pride by practising their self-appointed roles as back-up teachers in Gospel Doctrine, taking the opportunity to spout off on pet topics that always include condemnation, not in having affairs. It’s hard to be too prideful if you’re cheating on your spouse, isn’t it? It’s easy to be prideful when you think of yourself as paragon of righteousness. Besides, we’re all guilty of pride. I’ve always thought of it as the first real sin, from the moment Adam answered God’s question if he partook of the fruit by saying, “The woman thou gavest me…” Oh, just answer, Adam! Did you take it or not? It’s a yes or no question. Ahem.

    I think it’s a protective measure and as far as class discussion goes, I think it’s over-reaching in its authority. What would happen if an excommunicated person did interject a comment? Would we start putting body guards at the doors of the church to keep out the rebels, despite our invitation “Visitors welcome”? If the fear of disagreement and antagonism from the membership in good standing is not enough to stop an excommunicated member from giving a controversial opinion, then without the threat of physical removal, what is the rule going to do? (And it IS a rule practised here.) Shame is usually enough, isn’t it?

    I like this story from John at Young Stranger. It briefly references the occasion when he felt prompted by the spirited to bear his testimony in church, despite being excommunicated for his gay lifestyle. He and his bishop prayed about it and agreed that this prompting was from God. I hope that this kind of individual revelation takes place more than we know, that “bright lines” give way to individual care.

    I suspect that any member who has been exed who is sincere in wanting to belong and participate in the church meetings would be able to go to his bishop and get permission to speak up in class. I have confidence in my bishop that this would be the case.

  26. (Although, to my comment, I guess we can never know who are having affairs.)

  27. My guess is that historically the concern was preventing apostates or members who have seriously transgressed from influencing members in their congregation. Comments 20/21 bring up what I assume to be a current concern, that the public participation of a member who is guilty of serious sin can imply that the church has not distanced itself adequately, which could lead to legal issues in some cases (think of the Boy Scout lawsuits). A similar policy that is mentioned in the CHI (but not fully explained) is that anyone guilty of homosexual behavior will have their membership record annotated after the church discipline is resolved. They are restricted from working with children and youth for life, and all future bishops are automatically made aware of their past sins. I believe this also applies to anyone guilty of abusing a child or minor, but don’t know the specifics of the policy. I do find it disturbing that the implication is that all gays are pedophiles, because to my knowledge heterosexual adulterers (even repeat offenders) are not under the same restriction. You’d have to ask someone in the church’s legal department for the details of that policy.

    I believe the comments about developing a broken heart and contrite spirit are very important. Since I’m hiding behind a pseudonym, I’ll share my own experience in being disfellowshipped. Aaron’s post raises some excellent questions that I think are useful for reflecting on the value of church discipline.

    My disciplinary council was convened by a bishop with little experience, and he actually read to me from the CHI so it would be clear that he was following correct procedures. When he mentioned the church activity restrictions, his counselor asked if I wasn’t also prevented from speaking at all in classes. The CHI did not specify that, so the bishop said it was just prayers and teaching (I understood from their discussion that in the past, speaking in a class was forbidden.)

    I had no problem with not taking the sacrament–just had to position myself in the pew to avoid awkward interaction as the sacrament was passed. Not using the priesthood was not difficult, mainly because I was no longer a home teacher. I was asked once by a family member who didn’t know about my status to give her a blessing, but I simply said that I didn’t feel it was something I could do. Other than my wife and those involved in the council, no one really knew what my membership status was.

    As for speaking/praying, I generally went about 10 minutes late to Sunday School so I wouldn’t be asked to pray. I was only asked once in 15 months, and I just said “Would you mind asking someone else?” Not a big deal, although the teachers were a little wary after that of including me in any part of the class. For priesthood meeting, I went to opening exercises with my sons and then discreetly left the building during class time. I enjoyed some pleasant walks during that class time, which I preferred over sitting in a small classroom with a bunch of bored men.

    To answer the original post, I believe that my time of non-participation intensified my repentance process in positive and unexpected ways. It freed me from the habits of less-than-thoughtful participation in church. Although I wasn’t restricted from making comments or reading scriptures (in fact, my bishop encouraged me to go to class because it would help me stay focused on gospel principles), I rarely commented because I would stop to evaluate myself first, trying to figure out if I was in harmony with the spirit.

    I think the silence also supported my interest in finding out where my spiritual center was. In not being bound to the church manuals, I felt freed to explore my beliefs and look at all kinds of spiritual wisdom. I spent more time with (non-Mormon) Christian writers and actively tried to make sense of my spiritual status. Mormonism seemed, for a while, boring and somewhat mindless. I’d been hearing the same answers to the same lame questions for so many years, and being restricted at church broke me away from that routine. I found a great deal of wisdom from many sources during that period, and even now (back in full fellowship) I continue to search in the greater Christian traditions.

    The restrictions worked for me because I was already in the process of seriously evaluating my motives and status in relation to the Savior’s atonement. I initiated the disciplinary council, and I was motivated to do that to put my life back on track. However, I can see how these kinds of restrictions could easily push people away from the church. It’s so awkward to be there but be silent if you don’t have a strong motivation to stay. It’s very awkward to have conversations with friends in the ward when they don’t know you’re not in full fellowship. In spite of all the good talk from the bishopric about my need for encouragement and contact with the church while being disfellowshipped, I only noticed that they were more diligent in smiling and shaking my hand at sacrament meeting. There was no one available for spiritual counseling (the bishop didn’t have time or experience in counseling), for me or for my wife. It would have been very, very easy to distance myself and never return.

    I sometimes wonder if this time of silence wasn’t a great blessing in that it pushed me to reflect more, and deeply, on the atonement and the gospel. Our church doesn’t do well with contemplative practices, but that was where I found the greatest comfort and guidance.

  28. Hopeful Dad says:

    Natasha, all of us are guilty of pride to one extent or another, so in that I agree with you. However, pride is not an excommunicable offense, and it is so difficult to see it in ourselves. I suppose that is why we have others to point it our for us (tongue firmly in cheek).

    I liked your reference to the Young Stranger story. It took a lot of courage for this young man to approach his bishop, but under the circumstances, that was certainly the right thing to do, rather than just taking the initiative on himself.

  29. …those who have been formally excluded from the influence of the Spirit …

    For the record, that phrase does not reflect my understanding of church discipline. Firstly, the spirit is vital to helping people through the repentance process. Secondly, if we think by disciplining someone we are formally excluding them from the influence of the spirit we have way to big an opinion of ourselves and the power God puts in our hands.

  30. #27 No-Man, thanks for your comment. You said what I was hoping someone on your side of the desk might say. Your bishop was wise to quote directly from the handbook.

    In my years as a bishop (in two different wards), I reviewed the handbook before each disciplinary council (and between interviews prior to councils) to be sure we were following the outlined process.

    My experience with sincere members intent on repenting was similar to yours, that the restrictions served to help focus their attention on the process of repentance.

    #25 Nathasha, I was also impressed with your mention of John’s story. I would have hoped that someone in my stewardship would have approached me in that situation, too.

    I hope that most bishops do see divine direction in matters of discipline. I know in my case, I’ve had vigorous discussion with my couselors sometimes. And the same has been true of stake disciplinary councils where I’ve participated. In the end, the Lord knows what He wants to do, and it’s up to that presiding authority to discover it.

    I found it was also important for a repentant member to have a sense that the action of the council was reasonable and fair. (I was fortunate never to have a condition where we did not have a repentant member, that is where someone was caught and disciplined without the desire also to repent.)

    Other comments have also made clear what I would have added to the OP — informal and formal probation may include all the same restrictions as disfellowshipment, at the discretion of the presiding officer in the council.

    As for opportunities for fellowship for the disciplined member — in every case I know, members who want it in those situations have regular (sometimes weekly) meetings with the bishop to monitor their progress. They are often still assigned strong home teachers who may be aware of the discipline and who can provide care, as well.

  31. no-man, thank you for taking the time to share your experience and thoughts. To me, this kind of insightful comment is what makes the Mormon blogosphere so valuable.

  32. no-man, I’m grateful for your comment as well. I was also wondering about your decision not to attend your PH quorum and to go for a walk instead. Was that because you were restricted from participation in some way? I thought you said you did not have that restriction. If so, why not attend the class? Just curious why you made that decision.

  33. MikeInWeHo says:

    “….anyone guilty of homosexual behavior will have their membership record annotated….”

    That’s just lovely.

  34. MCQ (32), it was my choice and not based on restrictions. This is a group of men I know fairly well, and yet none of them knew about my change in fellowship. I wasn’t sure whether they knew not to ask me to pray, and I was hesitant to get into discussions that might include talking about current church activity (like home teaching). Only a few people knew I wasn’t home teaching, for example. And for a while, I wasn’t really sure how much I wanted to come back to church activity. It just seemed easier to be absent from that meeting.

  35. Ok, I get it. I’m glad you made it through that process and are back in full fellowship. I’m certain it was difficult. In case no one else has told you, congratulations and welcome back! You deserve a lot of credit for making it through that time with your testimony intact.

  36. MikeInWeHo says:

    “…..none of them knew about my change in fellowship.”
    Question: In the typical ward, how much gossip is there about this kind of thing?

  37. #28 Hopeful Dad, that was the point I was trying to make. Since pride is not an excommunicable offense, I don’t see how it should play in to strictures any more than for any other person who is also guilty of pride. (Wow, does that wording make sense because I’m seriously nap groggy right now.)

    #27 no-man

    “A similar policy that is mentioned in the CHI (but not fully explained) is that anyone guilty of homosexual behavior will have their membership record annotated after the church discipline is resolved. They are restricted from working with children and youth for life, and all future bishops are automatically made aware of their past sins.”

    Seriously? Is this true? Because that hurt to the point that I cried. If I ever find myself having had any relations with a woman, I won’t ever serve in Young Women’s? That’s stupid. I’d be AWESOME in Young Women’s. And what counts as homosexual behaviour? Even kissing?

  38. Mike, I can only tell you what it has been like in the wards I’ve been in and of course the most obvious thing is that Mormons are human, so there is some amount of gossip.

    Having said that, I have found that, along with some gossip, ward members do genuinely want to help and will go out of their way to do so. That usually includes trying to keep a lid on things that should not be talked about.

    Most of those individuals I have known who were in bishoprics are very, very careful not to disclose things they shouldn’t, and if the bishopric doesn’t talk then there’s very little opportunity for any confirmed story to get out. I have known people to go through disfellowshipments, for example, with few or no ward members (other than the obvious ones) ever actually knowing about it. Excommunications are more difficult to keep quiet of course, because there are more formal consequences and formal proceedings when the person is rebaptized.

  39. Natasha, I’ve never heard of that policy, and it seems counterintuitive to me that there would be any notations on a membership record that were not required by law, but maybe it’s true, I just don’t know.

    Even if it is, however, it seems unlikely that a bishop would annotate a membership record for something as innocuous as a same-sex kiss, especially if the person was young and/or had not yet been through the temple.

  40. MCQ, Come to think of it, I have heard that notations are made on people’s records if they are disfellowshipped or exed, whether gay or not. My understanding was that if you were just put on probation, then your privacy was upheld.

    What I did not know was that homosexuals were treated like pedophiles when it came to callings. I have often wondered if, since coming out to many people in my ward via my blog (including my bishop), if a calling in Young Women’s would be kept from me on that basis alone, without even asking me if I had an attraction for inexperienced, naïve, less-educated-than-me girls. (No.)

  41. (Attraction TO, not for. Oh, the irony.)

  42. Former Clerk says:

    A couple of things regarding the annotations on membership records for homosexual behavior that have been mentioned above:

    1. The burden is slightly higher than has been suggested above–it requires a) “repeated” homosexual transgressions and b) formal disciplinary action. While in practice homosexual transgressions may typically result in formal disciplinary actions, this is not actually a requirement unless the individual is in a prominent church calling or if the action is widely known.

    2. Such annotations can be removed with FP approval if the Stake Pres requests it.

  43. I’ve been wondering about the categories of LDS fellowship for a while now. From what I can tell, there are eight levels:

    1 – Excommunicated, not eligible for rebaptism. Can’t speak in sacrament meeting, can’t give priesthood blessings or perform ordinances, can’t take sacrament, can’t hold callings, can’t give public prayers and (by unwritten convention) can’t speak in class except to read verses of scripture aloud. This status persists for life.

    2 – Excommunicated/resigned/disfellowshipped. Same as #1, except that status is not necessarily permanent.

    3 – Probation Same as #2, except can speak in sacrament meeting, can give priesthood blessings or perform ordinances (if priesthood holder), can have callings, can give public prayers and can speak in class. (Still can’t take sacrament).

    4 – Nonmember, never baptized. Same as #3, except can take sacrament. Probably not asked to give talks or pray in Sacrament meeting, although there is no prohibition against this.

    5 – Member, with annotated membership record – Same as #4, but excluded from callings with children and youth. (Does not necessarily imply history of child abuse.)

    6 – Member, without temple recommend. Same as #5, except can work with children and youth. More likely to be asked to give talks in Sacrament meeting.

    7 – Member, with temple recommend. Same as #6, except can go to the temple and hold certain callings that are restricted to temple recommend holders (Seminary teacher).

    8 – Member, with temple recommend, married Same as #7, except can hold certain callings that are restricted to married persons (RS pres, bishop and higher).

    Is this an accurate description?

    There could be additional categories. I think there is a distinction between never married/divorced and widowed somewhere along the way, but I’m not sure where. There is also a difference between endowed and unendowed, regardless of temple recommend status.

  44. Latter-day Guy says:

    (40) What I did not know was that homosexuals were treated like pedophiles when it came to callings.

    In all fairness, I think––at least when it comes to Primary––men, in general, are treated like pedophiles.

    (42) 2. Such annotations can be removed with FP approval if the Stake Pres requests it.

    I wonder how often this actually happens. In general, I think the Church’s apparent “homosexual = child molester” attitude is just the tip of a very large iceberg along the lines of “black = cursed vis-à-vis the priesthood = premortally less-valiant.” It’ll take a long time for those attitudes to shift… if they ever do.

  45. In the case of a close family member of mine who was excommunicated, the degree of self-deception was such that nothing short of the type of imposed silence would have jolted them to the point where they could truly understand the severity of their actions…as long as public norms maintained constant, the reality of their private behavior had no chance to register.

  46. My understanding is that the only group forbidden from working with children are those with child abuse annotations. I am not sure why there is an annotation for those disciplined for homosexual infractions–but I don’t believe the handbook restricts their service (I defer to a direct quote to the contrary from the current handbook of which I do not have a copy).

    President Hinckley described the child abuse annotation this way: “The Church’s position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form. Those who abuse … are subject to Church discipline. They should not be given Church callings and may not have a temple recommend. Even if a person who abused a child sexually or physically receives Church discipline and is later restored to full fellowship or readmitted by baptism, leaders should not call the person to any position working with children or youth unless the First Presidency authorizes removal of the annotation of the person’s membership record.” Gordon B. Hinckley, “Personal Worthiness to Exercise the Priesthood,” Ensign, May 2002, 52

    I suppose local leaders might decide not to call someone who is gay or lesbian to a teaching position of youth or children, but I am not aware of a Church policy requiring or recommending that.

  47. I have never heard any gossip in my adult life about someone getting ex’d or disfellowshipped in my ward(s) and I’m 39 . Recently an elderly man bore his testimony about just being rebaptized. I didn’t have a clue. So, that’s the only person I’ve known.
    When I was a kid I knew of two or three. Dads who had affairs. You hear about it with the divorce.

  48. I think they will. Not quickly, but in time.

  49. MoHoHawaii:

    “Is this an accurate description?”


  50. Latter-day Guy says:

    49, Really? I thought 43 was a pretty good summary. Not all of those distinctions are defined clearly in, say, the CHI, but on the whole it seemed fairly accurate. Where would you disagree?

  51. FormerClerk (42), thanks for the clarification. I don’t want to belabor the point, but do you know if there is a similar policy for heterosexual repeat offenders? I remember in a college ward hearing about a serial date rapist who frequented student wards to find innocent victims who wouldn’t press charges (they always felt it was their fault). This guy moved frequently from ward to ward, and to my knowledge bishops didn’t share the information so he was able to find new victims without church leaders being aware of his history–and he usually moved on before the young women in question went to their bishops.

    I feel uncomfortable with the policy regarding gays and youth/children because it does imply pedophilia, while the man who shared that with me (and has such an annotation) had never been involved with another man under the age of 30. He was in fact involved in volunteer work with abused children and felt very strongly about protecting children from abuse. It sounds like he wasn’t given a very straight explanation of the annotation to begin with.

  52. Former Clerk says:

    Yes, there are the same kinds of annotations for many repeated behaviors, including heterosexual transgression. There is actually a strong amount of symmetry in the handbook for how homosexual and heterosexual sins should be treated; in practice, however, this symmetry in counsel is not applied very symmetrically.

  53. #43 — I’d look at the list differently. This may not give you the granularity you seek, but I think it’s pretty close:

    1. Non-member – cannot participate as a member, but may attend. Does not hold priesthood and may not perform ordinances. May be invited to pray (typically in a Gospel Essentials class), may bear testimony in Testimony meeting and may participate in class discussions.

    2. Member – As a confirmed member, may participate fully in all church programs. If a worthy male, may hold the priesthood and perform priesthood ordinances consistent with priesthood office. May receive all ordinances of the gospel for which he/she is worthy with proper authorization.

    3. Temple recommend-holding member – has signaled his/her worthiness to participate in temple ordinances (baptisms only, if a member for less than a year), and is generally considered worthy to hold any calling. Other members may also be worthy to hold callings without holding a recommend and would so declare their worthiness in a private interview when the call is extended.

    4. Married – the only calling for which a member must be married at the ward level is bishop. Sheri Dew, a single sister, served as General Relief Society president several years ago.

    Restrictions on membership:

    1. Excommunication – no longer a member, as discussed in this thread. Reinstatement requires authorization of the council with issued the excommunication, and often requires First Presidency approval. There may be transgressions for which the First Presidency will not grant permission for rebaptism, but generally their review is to test the completeness of repentance, after reviewing input from the transgressor, priesthood leaders and victims (if they wish to comment). Status exists until it is changed.

    2. Disfellowshipment – still a member but without the rights of participation as described in this thread. Restoration of full blessings is based on the judgment of the council which issued the disfellowshipment. Status exists until it is changed; usually at least a year.

    3. Those on probation (formal or informal) may have their restrictions lifted (usually in less than a year) based on the judgment of the council or individual who imposed the discipline.

  54. Re #53. Thanks. Pretty much what I thought.

    While we use the word nonmember for both, it seems as if never baptized and excommunicated are really two distinct categories. For example, nobody cares if a never-baptized nonmember takes the sacrament or speaks in class, but it would cause a fairly big ruckus if a nonmember by way of excommunication attempted to do this. If it were just a distinction between member or not (as in the case of “closed communion” in some other faiths), then the rules would be the same for all nonmembers. Maybe separate terms like nonmember and excommunicant would be more accurate.

    More evidence for this distinction: Membership records are not destroyed upon excommunication; it’s a status change only. Also, excommunicants are included in membership totals. The year-over-year numbers don’t add up without them, since there’s no reported category in LDS statistics for those who leave by any means other than death.

    You didn’t mentioned “resigned.” This is the status a person gets who writes a letter revoking his or her membership. My understanding is that for all intents and purposes resigned and excommunicated are treated as one category– people who have resigned are also subject to the prohibition against speaking and taking sacrament. Do you know if this is correct? At least this is what is happening in one case that I know of where a resigned member has started attending church again. I’m just wondering if this is Church policy or a case of local discretion.

    Interesting discussion.

  55. Left Field says:

    “Also, excommunicants are included in membership totals.”

    That’s the claim that is often made, but the basis for it is dubious to say the least. The occasional anomolies are better explained by periodic corrections and adjustments and by former members readmitted (who are not counted among convert baptisms).

  56. Re #55. Yeah, it’s true that readmissions and excommunications would tend to offset each other, since neither is reported. Maybe they approximately net out to zero. In a way, the fact that we exclude baptisms of some kinds of nonmembers from our baptismal stats and call the event readmission rather than baptism supports the point I was trying to make (which honestly isn’t a very important one, just interesting) that excommunicants and regular nonmembers represent very different categories.

  57. #54 — Sorry — I did leave out resignations. I have not had personal experience with “resigners” trying to return to church, so I don’t know if there is special permission required. Since their exit is not the result of a disciplinary council, it would not be returned to a council to authorize the return to membership.

    People resign for lots of reasons. If a person resigns who would otherwise have faced church discipline may have that conversation with a bishop upon returning and that might drive some restrictions prior to baptism (I’m hypothesizing here, since I haven’t experienced such a case; all the resigners I know have not returned.)

    I think the fundamental difference between an excommunicant and a never-baptized member is that the exommunicant broke significant covenants along the way to excommunication (one would assume); hence the restrictions might be seen as more severe than for a never-baptized member.

    As for membership numbers — I generally don’t worry about those to the last digit. Having lived in Latin America, I saw what difficulty there was in records reporting there (for all sorts of reasons including reporting infrastructure, training, and general care of records). We had, for instance, some members on our records in Venezuela that we knew had repatriated to the US, but we couldn’t get the system in Venezuela to drop the names. Hence they appeared twice in the “counts”. I’m sure there could be offsetting anomalies on the other side, as well. As in other things, I think people doing the reporting do their best, but there are structural difficulties.

%d bloggers like this: