On Excommunication

I’ve already pretty clearly drawn my line in the sand on the Ordain Women movement, so I can’t express any amount of surprise at the news that the leader of the movement may be facing an excommunication hearing. I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there about what this means, so it’s worth providing some clarification and context.

First off, all Church discipline is meant to be private and internal. Nobody’s name is put on a list and stapled to a bulletin board. When a public or well-known figure is the subject, they may often choose to publicize the action in an attempt to garner public sympathy. This is neither effective nor encouraged. The Church does not operate by public opinion, especially in matters of Church discipline. It is a theocracy, not a democracy. It can only serve to drive a deeper wedge between the Church and the individual.

On that note, let’s be clear about what an excommunication hearing means. It is not a punishment. It is an opportunity for someone who has publicly stated a disbelief in church doctrines to determine if they are willing to do what is needed to realign themselves with church teachings. All too often, individuals who have reached this point are unlikely to realize that they have an opportunity to repent and square themselves with The Church and The Lord. If they don’t take that opportunity, they have their membership revoked to prevent them from doing further damage to their own eternal spiritual well-being. It is perfectly clear from Ms. Kelly’s response that she does not see this opportunity for what it is and will “stick to her guns” as it were.

I find the entire situation very sad and disheartening. Questions within the LDS Church are welcome, and any class I have ever been in invites theorizing and open discussion. We all have questions, and we all try to figure out the answer to them. What there is not room for, however, is attempting to redefine the doctrines of the Church without the appropriate position of authority. Engaging in highly visible and public dialog that undermines the purposes of the Church and the harmony of other members with its doctrine are right out. The privilege of revealing the Lord’s will for the Church as a whole is reserved exclusively for the prophet and president of the Church.

Unlike some others, I find no joy in people who drive themselves out of this faith. I believe it to be very spiritually damaging to both themselves and those around them. It’s a rare thing when someone in this position returns, something that is equally disheartening. Telling someone with doubts or questions to leave is, in many cases, the worse sin when you are in no position ecclesiastically to make that judgement.

I believe that this Church is true and that God’s will will be revealed on His schedule through His chosen prophet. If that will is contrary to my own or isn’t happening on my preferred timeline, I’m the one who needs to change, not the Church. This will probably involve hard things for me just as it will for many people. His servants will make mistakes along the way, but none of those mistakes will jeopardize my eternal salvation.

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6 Responses

  1. Rob says:

    Nice summary, Jesse. It is sad when people want something so bad, that they are willing to risk everything, whether it be riches, lust, fame, or change to gospel doctrine. It is fine to have questions or doubts, but it is on us to seek counsel of the Lord, and not to counsel the Lord.

  2. Joy says:

    Wow, this post comes off as arrogant, at least in the first part. As far as excommunication goes, it wasn’t that long ago that excommunications were announced in Priesthood meeting. Yes, they are private dealings but those who choose to publicize their excommunications have never been shunned to this extent by other Latter Day Saints to my knowledge up until this week. I don’t recall an outcry of active Latter Day Saints tell those who were excommunicated in September of 1993 to stop publicizing their story. They have the right to publicize their excommunication if they want.
    Personally, I agree that things need to go on God’s time, but I do believe that God’s time is when the Saints make themselves ready too. For example, the Temple (Priesthood) Ban is one of those things. In the OT, there’s the example of Moses and the lesser and greater law.

    As someone who has friends who are members of OW, I do believe that when a close friend of mine tells me that being a leader of OW is what she’s supposed to do right now, I believe her. I believe that friend who told me a few months ago that she received revelation and inspiration to be a leader of OW and she believes that’s where God wants her right now.

    As far as the clear lines of authority go, yes you are correct. That being said, why can’t these women ask? What OW has accomplished in the past year is galvanize the middle ground of feminists and that has been interesting to watch. Personally, that’s probably where I stand right now is a middle ground LDS feminist.

    Kate Kelly believes that this is what she needs to do, and I don’t fault her that. I’ve met Kate and got to sit by her just a month ago during a meal with friends the day before she met with her local leaders in the Vienna, VA Stake and received her first informal court. I don’t believe her intention or the other leaders of OW was/is to cause contention in the Church. Have they? Perhaps, but they’ve also helped affect needed change in Church too–especially when it comes to women in the Church. They’ve galvanized the “middle ground feminists” in the LDS Church which has been neat to watch. We’ve hemorrhaged members of the Church that are under 40 and yet are so critical about those who leave. We as a Church need to stop doing that.

    As far as questions go during the LDS Church meetings and in Sunday School, Well, you have your opinion and view point that questions are always encouraged and all view points are welcome, but that’s not true at least that’s not how I grew up and most of the time I keep my mouth shut during Church because its easier than being shouted down. I love Gospel Doctrine, and I love a good gospel discussion, but as I’m not a social conservative, or particularly fear based about the world around me, there’s many comments I hear during meetings I don’t agree with and never have. I have a hard time with the Fundamentalism that crept into the Church in the early 1920’s and continues to persist in the Church to this day. That being said, I love my LDS brothers and sisters who I don’t always agree with or who are much more conservative than me. I respect their opinions even if I don’t agree with them because I think that a diversity of opinions and viewpoints does make the Church a better Church. But staying in the Church has been hard. Almost all of my extended family on one side has left, many of my close friends who were in the LDS Church have left the Church, and it can be lonely in Church when you often hear opinions that you disagree with. That being said, I stay. I know I have a strong testimony of the Church and I know that being an active, temple recommend holding, member is what God wants of me.
    You better believe that I pray and study everything I hear over the pulpit during General Conference, and I’m comfortable with my personal beliefs as a member of this Church. Here’s the deal though. Most middle of the road Mormons and even those I know who are openly progressive in private keep their mouth shut most of the time during Church. Especially the women. And I’m not talking about deep doctrinal issues. No, its mostly just little stuff but you learn at a young age to keep your mouth shut. Especially those of us who were coming of age in September, 1993. Heck, I was even told once not to say I was a Democrat to members of my ward and that wasn’t in a ward in Utah. That was only a few years ago too.
    Anyway, as far as John and Kate go, I’m not going to judge whether or not they brought this excommunication down on themselves. I will pray for their local leaders to do the right thing and accept the outcome, but every excommunication is tragic even if the individual has committed “apostasy”,”adultery”, etc. etc. .

    Anyway, there’s been people who drive themselves out of this faith and there’s those that are driven out of this faith but its not up to me to judge whether someone has driven themselves out of this faith or has been driven out of the Church. Excommunication is devastating and is probably one of the hardest things a Latter Day Saint, apostate or not, can go through. I’ve seen first hand loved ones who have been excommunicated and return. The excommunication rips families and their loved ones apart. But the returning of an excommunicated family member is absolutely beautiful.
    Anyway, I have a strong testimony of this Church. I support the leaders, and I love or try to love my fellow brothers and sisters in the Gospel. I had my first major faith crisis when I was 14 and nearly left the Church but I choose to stay because I believe strongly in the principles of the Gospel and I know this is the life I chose. That being said, I was 16 when the September excommunications happened and remember vividly President Packer’s talk in Conference the following month regarding the evils of the Church (feminists, intellectuals and gays) and remember thinking oh @#$#, I’m two of the three and although I wasn’t out as a straight LGTBQ Ally then, I was one even then. (I have dear life-long friends that are gay). So yeah, my perspective on this issue is a little different than yours, but that’s okay.

  3. Sheryl says:

    Like Joy, I, too, know someone who is involved in OW. My friend is also convinced that she is specially chosen by God to correct the Church. Because she feels divinely appointed to criticize others, it’s really hard to interact with her.

    She complains constantly that Church members do not accept her, but says harsh and judgmental things about them. When I suggested a different understanding of certain events that concerned her, she became violently angry with me. She demands the right to speak “honestly” about her own feelings, including criticizing specific Church leaders, but attacks anyone who expresses other opinions. She unfriends those who refuse to back down.

    Her participation in OW strikes me as insensitive and bullying, not inspired by God at all.

    I have a testimony that Thomas S. Monson is called of God to serve as the prophet of the Church. I don’t have a testimony that my friend, or any other member of OW, is called of God.

  4. Tyler says:

    There are a couple of things happening here that make me just sad. First, there are a slew of people threatening to resign their membership if disciplinary action results in Excommunication for either of these, now public, figures. Second, there seems to be an implication that there is at least collusion, and at most a conspiracy between local leaders and the upper echelon of the church (i.e. The First Presidency).

    As to the Second issue. Collusion, or conspiracy between the worldwide church leadership and local leaders. Implied is the feeling that there is something wrong if the First Presidency gives direction or guidance to local leaders. Also, implied is that local leaders don’t also act on their own, for their own “flock”, but are puppets of the Prophet. Neither of these paradigms ring true to me. Yes, the First Presidency offers guidance and under circumstances, may get directly involved. No, local leaders don’t wait around for the First Presidency to decide the end result of a Disciplinary Council. I’ve been a fly-on-the-wall for some, very few, local councils, and in one case a record-hold (where the records are kept in a Ward) were requested by me under the direction of the Bishop (a local ecclesiastical authority). I’ve seen the Bishopric (Bishop and his two Counselors) prayerfully come to a decision for each case after meeting with the individual or individuals involved in each case. I’ve only been there for a handful of cases, but in my personal experience, I didn’t see a heavy handed, or strong-government type approach to these councils where decisions were given from outside this very intimate circle of leaders. They did pray about it, and take it seriously, however. There are policies in place to protect all parties that are involved in this and to keep the proceeding discreet and respectful. I don’t have that position in the church anymore, and don’t speak for them, but I saw some of it first-hand.

    As to the first issue. Resigning membership if the preferred decision isn’t reached. Please be sure to send your resignation letter to your local Bishop. If you send it to the Prophet, or anyone else it will probably be forwarded to the local ward level. Don’t be surprised, or offended, if your Bishop would like to talk to you first to understand your feelings on the matter before taking direct action.

    Finally, there’s been a lot of discussion on the policies of the church. Wrong or right, they aren’t the doctrines of the church. Should the doctrines be correct, the policies should not be as important. I believe this to be the restored Church of Christ on earth today, and to be guided by Him. Should there be a policy I don’t like, I would take it up with Him, but policies don’t have the same weight in my mind as the doctrines. I would like the policies to be fair and beneficial for everyone on the macro, but don’t expect them to always work on the micro-level. That is why we have local leaders who should act, and are hopefully inspired to act, for each individual in their sphere.

  5. Nancy says:

    Thanks for your essay, Jesse. I think it was well-stated, and I am at a loss to see where it was arrogant in the least. I, too, have found doctrinal questions welcome, except where the intent seems to be the derailment of a lesson. Even so, a skilled teacher can usually “handle” questions, but who among us is prepared and ready for that in a 30-minute SS lesson? Thanks also to others who have commented. You have strengthened my testimony.

  6. Bill says:

    The only surprise to me is that some are surprised that a court was convened. This group, yes it was a group being led away from the Church, asked, had their questions answered, and sought to lead a group in direct opposition to what the Prophet asked them to do. Sure it is sad, but at least now these leaders might have a chance to reflect on where they got off track. I pray that they will take this opportunity to do just that and realign so that they can gain their membership back soon. I also pray that those members of the group will take this opportunity to reflect on how church governance works and strengthen their testimonies that Pres Monson is the only individual alive at this time who can receive revelation for the whole church.

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