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?