During the Church’s relatively short life, it has excommunicated many people; unfortunately very few of them ever return to the Church.
I am not convinced that our poor rates of re-baptism are solely because of the act of excommunication itself. Simply stated the issue I see with current Church policy and practice is this: when people are excommunicated from the Church their records are completely removed from our local ward lists.
Ecclesiastically, this is problematic primarily because the Church teaches that excommunication should be part of the repentance process for that person, but excommunication rarely leads to repentance. Certainly there are arguments to be made about what the role of excommunication should be in the Church, and I have tried to wrestle with that question elsewhere. But, assuming that all other things remain the same, one factor that potentially contributes to our poor track record is that in some cases there has not been the appropriate level of sustained contact and care that might have helped an individual receive again their membership. This is compounded when leadership changes occur and the excommunicated become forgotten without anyway of re-contacting them because we do not have the necessary information. If local leaders are to follow the Jesus’ direction to go after the lost sheep and to reach out to those who have been excommunicated then they need to know the whereabouts of those who are excommunicated.
I am aware of the many passages of scriptures that speak of excommunicated persons as not being “numbered among my people” (3 Ne 18:31; Msh 26:32; Moroni 6:7) or that speak of their names being “blotted out” (Msh 26:36; Ps 69: 28; Msh 1:12). Whatever these metaphors might mean in practice an increasingly anonymous and geographically mobile world does not allow us to retain in the collective memory of our local wards the names of those who are no longer numbered among God’s people. Additionally, I feel that when we consider these scriptures in light of God’s reaching-love I feel certain he would not want us to be so casual about the institutional forgetting of these souls.
I propose a simple bureaucratic change in the way that Excommunications are reported on MLS. Rather than permanently removing the names of the excommunicated the Church could create an ‘Excommunicated’ status, much like there have done for people who are disfellowshipped. This would mean that local leaders could hold onto vital information that would allow them to follow the Saviour’s commandment to support those who have been excommunicated (see 3 Ne 18:31-3). I am not an expert in computer programming nor in the nuts-and-bolts of MLS but I imagine that it would require very little cost or time to make such a change.
“Nevertheless, ye shall not cast [them] out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.”