Mormon Excommunication – Why it needs an Ecumenical Council

The three words, “Write a blog” have appeared in my diary consistently over the last few weeks bereft of a satisfying red line through it indicating its completion.  My life has taken a turn to the extraordinarily busy of late, but here I am on a Friday evening, finally with just enough time to contemplate the thorny question of excommunication!

I haven’t been excommunicated or even formally disciplined (thus far)  but I have a bee in my bonnet about it.   I have to admit that I was pleased when my adulterous ex was axed.  It seems churlish now but at the time, having him spiritually disbarred was a relief.  It’s not nice to have your husband blatantly banging his squeeze and then passing you the sacrament – but that was a long time ago and involved some seriously silly decisions on the part of local leaders.  While I do accept it as an important show of protection for those who have been left miserable by the impenitent, after some reflection I’ve decided that it bothers me intensely in the case of the heretic, and in a previous post I noted how it hangs over the aberrant like a meat cleaver. It intrudes by stealth, leeching away at ones heretical, radical and questioning inclinations like a tick.  Excommunication isn’t simply plank walking for thieves and the sexually aberrant, it’s a constant and noiseless threat to those who question, wonder and dream. 

Incidentally, I have yet to meet anyone who has been through a Church Disciplinary Council who has reported it to be the much touted ‘Court of Love’.  It’s a strange oxymoron that speaks more to a rhetorical device aimed at constituting formal religious discipline as an ecstasy rather than a correction.  In my conversations with those who have been through the process it’s not an ecstasy at all.  It can be brutal, capricious and sometimes downright mean.  I’m sure there are those who have emerged from these inquisitions humbled, reflective and at peace, but the notion of fronting up to a quorum of men with the expectation of full divulgence of ones moral or ideologically deviant transgressions seems somehow strangely absurd and antithetical to joyous transcendence.  Even the New Zealand Family Court (where only those utterly necessary to the case are present)  honours the delicate nature of ones most personal and tender of experiences with more aplomb than Church Disciplinary Councils  (which might include an assortment of suited blokes who have variously sailed in from their desks at the insurance office, or their tool boxes at the building site to pass an eternal judgment upon one’s soul).

Excommunication in the LDS church is a strange American frontier bricolage, partly constituted as a 19th century legacy from Joseph Smith’s habit of excommunicating and re-baptizing all in the same week; partly an institutional form appropriated from the threads of other religious traditions; and partly a way of working out and responding to spontaneously occurring challenges to local authority.   It has far too many of all kinds of religious discourses embedded into both its rationale and its execution and not enough care or thought into its management or its scope.  It is all axe to the tree and not enough law and governance.  There is too much judgment and not enough mercy, too many spiritual generalists and not enough religious specialists.

Mormon moral arbitration is a strange esoteric business involving more than the presentation and weighing of evidence.  A supernatural, metaphysical and discarnate subjectivity is deployed in church disciplines in order to reach the final determination of either guilt or innocence – with a heavy emphasis placed on the ‘damage to the church’ incurred upon one’s transgression.  Excommunication is a discursive practice in Mormonism that seems to make up its rules and declares its judgments as a matter of ‘intuition’, ‘revelation’ and ‘spiritual promptings’ which can be as subjective, variable, and as flawed as deciding what to have for dinner.  There is simply too little in the way of regulation, study, context and intellectual work around the practice of excommunication from the LDS church to render me satisfied with its efficacy.

So for good measure, and in case a Bishop or Stake President is reading this – here is a wee beginners glossary to help navigate some of the more thorny designations for the intellectual sinner:

Apostasy:  Formal disaffiliation or renunciation of a religion (we excommunicate for this)

Heresy: Opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system (there are no formal ‘instructions’ to excommunicate for this).

Blasphemy: Irreverance toward God or sacred symbols of a religion (we seem fine with this).

Inasmuch as we have borrowed this practice from the Catholics it might also be instructive to point out that at the Council of Trent, ending in 1563, decided jointly that excommunication carries with it its own social and spiritual evils  on account of the excessive and punitive use of the practice 500 years ago.  In this case it was agreed that:

“Although the sword of excommunication is the very sinews of ecclesiastical discipline, and very salutary for keeping the people to the observance of their duty, yet it is to be used with sobriety and great circumspection; seeing that experience teaches that if it be wielded rashly or for slight causes, it is more despised than feared, and works more evil than good.”

While there does appear to be a diminution in instances of excommunication  these days I still feel there is a mandate to review it and to reign it in as a practice with a huge question mark sitting over it – particularly with respect to who is entitled to censure, how this takes place, and upon what guidelines and edicts that censure occurs.  Without it, it remains something to be ‘despised’, a flea in the ear and in the case of some healthy heresy – it is an aggravating encumbrance!

  • Ben

    “Incidentally, I have yet to meet anyone who has been through a Church Disciplinary Council who has reported it to be the much touted ‘Court of Love’.”
    Talk to Bookslinger. I suspect this is selection bias, in the sense that those with negative experiences are more likely to talk about them.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Who is Bookslinger?

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.r.marsh Stephen R. Marsh

      Ben, you nailed it.

      BTW, bookslinger is a blogger whose blog got a shout out in a general conference talk.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Go Bookslinger!

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Hang on a cotton picking second!! First of all this isn’t a case of sampling error, and secondly those I have spoken to about their experiences did so because it was in the context of an intimate conversation not because they were publicizing their grievance. Most of them have been rebaptized and are active in the church, but not one has described their experience as being ‘all that’.

  • Howard

    Speaking as someone who was excommunicated and dealt with it in three different stakes to eventually return, church discipline appears to be more strongly driven by a “like me” or “not like me” attitude on the part of clergy than anything else. Excommunication has outlived it’s usefulness. It is often sold with the spin of being a way to motivate someone to repentance but that almost never happens. There is a perception that the church requires protection from some member actions but the church is no longer a tiny organization being incubated, it has a global presence with an income in the $ Billions and no longer needs this protection. It’s time for the church to stop pretending to broker members relationship with God and start facilitating it!

    • lpf43

      ‘It’s time for the church to stop pretending to broker members relationship with God and start facilitating it!’
      Amen brother! Somehow the right to discipline seems out of place in a church. Aren’t we supposed to do the best we can an leave the judging to God?

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      I asked my husband about the the disciplinary council who has been in many over his church career and the jury is out for him. Its mostly been a mixed bag. He said the most ‘successful’ are those where (as another comment suggested) the person is repentant. But I agree, of course its going to be more successful because as you say the one is agreeing with the 12 – which must be lovely for the 12. But what if the one has a good point, or a justification, or has something to say which is quite valid and worth considering. It strikes me that they won’t be heard because it seems that the expected outcome for a CDC is – as you say – for the 1 to agree with the 12. I think we agree that its is enormously problematic and opens itself up to a hell of a lot of bias and unfairness.

      • http://twitter.com/dconevermind abc defghijk (@dconevermind)

        Kiwimormon says it like it is!

    • http://twitter.com/dconevermind abc defghijk (@dconevermind)

      A to the Men Howard. Great paragraph. Nice and concise. Thanks.

  • lpf43

    ‘bricolage’–Learned a new word today.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      teehee – on reflection I should have probably called it a pastiche.

  • JohnnyS

    Hi KM,

    Another good and thought-provoking post. I think I agree with your implication that excommunication seems as much about enforcing conformity of an unhelpful and spiritually stunted kind as it is about spiritual correction. I’d be curious to see the statistics regarding those who return vs. those who don’t after being excommunicated. There is a tension within any organization, I suppose, between maintaining the cohesion necessary for the continuing function/existence of the organization and the individual agency and energy required to keep the organization vital and growing. IMHO, the church has become extraordinarily rigid regarding the path to celestial glory. Think, for example, about the youth’s Faith in God programs, or the way we automatically assume that every new convert will be ready to go to the temple a year after being baptized. There is no room for deviating from any program without instantly becoming othered, whether by becoming a person of concern or getting on some bishop’s list or other, etc. I realize this is the church’s way of trying to help, but the notion of “help” has even become skewed in that the person deviating from the path is seen not as an individual, but rather as spiritually deficient and in need of correction. THAT’s the problem and the paradox: we need a vital and growing church, but the very practices that we put into action when any sort of non-conformity pops up actually ensure that fewer and fewer people will be invested in the church as its rigidity is made more and more apparent through its administrative practices, including excommunication.

    I actually have less of a problem with excommunications regarding adultery, since anyone who goes through the temple both covenants not to do that and is aware of the consequences. However, I separate the adultery/fidelity issue from chastity in general, since I feel that the law of chastity is nothing more than sexual blackmail again designed at norming behavior: “Oh, you want to have sex? Well, you’ve got to be married, just like everyone else and by the way, not having sex ensures that you won’t know squat about physical/sexual compatibility, what you like, what kinks you might have, and how to relate to/talk with a partner who might have different needs/kinks than you do. But good luck with that marriage and congratulations for waiting!” The excommunication of people who are trying to work things out for themselves, are intellectuals or who express any kind of unique or deviant opinion is more objectionable to me. I DO, though, think that there’s a difference between honestly trying to work through things/talk about them in a church setting vs. actively trying to get other people to believe the way that you do. The latter I would have a problem with, however, I don’t think the church makes the same distinction I just made. In other words, often, one who questions is much more likely to be seen as a heretic in potentia rather than someone who is really trying to work out their own salvation. That really is the tragedy here, that the church seems unable to tell the difference.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Absolutely! As both you and I have had the same experiences with unfaithful spouses I will have to say that it certainly seemed the right thing to do at the time. In defense of H1 however, I think there should have been an ongoing conversation with him about where to from here. Having grown up a bit I feel a bit sad that he was left stranded with no where to go but out (although he’s probably relieved now).

      Re CDC for ‘apostasy’ I agree that they are deeply problematic and concerning. In its ‘legal’ usage apostasy would have to include formal disaffiliation and then an ongoing public repudiation of the church. I think under those conditions it is justified. I agree with the idea of ‘heresy in potentia’ and the tendency to position ‘questions’ as ‘heretical’ as ‘apostasy’ as deserving of discipline. Hence my post – I don’t think the church has those nuances sorted out, which makes the prospect of a CDC far too variable. We currently have a Stake President who is the best combination of loving, intelligent and thoughtful who has let me have my head and isn’t overly bothered by what I do and has never tried to fight with me about it. I can’t imagine me ending up in a CDC for ‘apostasy’ under him. The same couldn’t be said of someone else on the Stake. There shouldn’t be this kind of avenue for variability which seems to depend largely on the disposition of a leader. Yes, the church needs to clean this area up figure some stuff out.

  • Glenn Thigpen

    I have had several experiences with people who have been excommunicated for serious transgressions. Their spiritual state at the time was an indicator of their viewpoint on whether the council was loving or vengeful. Those that were unrepentant almost universally had the latter viewpoint, while those who had acknowledged that they had made mistakes felt that the council was one of love.

    Excommunication definitely has not outlived its usefulness. However, a person needs to understand the why’s of excommunication and to have a solid testimony of the gospel, to understand that.

    Glenn

    • lpf43

      Do we really need a council to decide if we are repentant? Seems to me it should be between us and Heavenly Father. Let’s cut out the middle men. I am especially bothered if it is true that a female perp is not allowed to have anyone with her and is consequently the only female in the room with this council of love. Am not certain this is the case and/or whether it is decided locally…..which of course is a whole ‘nother can of worms…the lack of consistency churchwide.

    • Howard

      Glenn I never found them to be vengeful but having first been totally honest but less than fully repentant and then later compleatly repentant and walking in the Spirit I have been on both sides your point and found little difference in the attitude of the council and little guidance by the Spirit, it appeared to be strongly driven by “like me” or “not like me” thinking. If you’re not COMPLEATLY in, you’re out!

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      I agree that there is definitely a space where excommunication is useful. But I would suggest that those conducting CDC need to understand the why’s of excommunication themselves and most certainly they need to understand the ‘hows’. CDCs are traditionally a matter of canonical law and should thence be governed and managed and conducted accordingly. LDS CDC’s are far too dependent on personal disposition, emotional climate, and spiritual impressions to be reliable. There are no appeals, there’s no system for ratification, there is no procedure for presenting a defense, or for including support. Women are particularly vulnerable in CDC’s because as LPF43 suggests its one gal against 12 blokes (which by all accounts is horrific). I don’t think I’m suggesting that it needs to be tossed out – as such. However I do believe it needs an urgent and significant policy review.

  • YvonneS

    This is an interesting discussion. I was struck by the following statement. “the notion of fronting up to a quorum of men with the expectation of full divulgence of ones moral or ideologically deviant transgressions seems somehow strangely absurd and antithetical to joyous transcendence.”

    The procedures for these proceedings are pretty well laid out. They are supposed to rely on evidence that is gathered before anything takes place. There must be at least two witnesses. Non priesthood holders appear before a quorum of three men namely the bishop and his two councilors .It is never supposed to be one gal against before 12 blokes. Melchizedek priesthood holders can only be disciplined by a Stake council. Unless there is some good reason, the findings and actions of these councils are not made public. Members are not excommunicated for inactivity or for joining another church. One can; however be excommunicated for encouraging others to apostatize.

    Thank you for bringing this topic up. It is one that most church members have no experience with or understanding of. This is an interesting discussion. I was struck by the following statement. “the notion of fronting up to a quorum of men with the expectation of full divulgence of ones moral or ideologically deviant transgressions seems somehow strangely absurd and antithetical to joyous transcendence.”

    The procedures for these proceedings are pretty well laid out. They are supposed to rely on evidence that is gathered before anything takes place. There must be at least two witnesses. Non priesthood holders appear before a quorum of three men namely the bishop and his two councilors .It is never supposed to be one gal against before 12 blokes. Melchizedek priesthood holders can only be disciplined by a Stake council. Unless there is some good reason, the findings and actions of these councils are not made public. Members are not excommunicated for inactivity or for joining another church. One can; however be excommunicated for encouraging others to apostatize.

    Thank you for bringing this topic up. It is one that most church members have no experience with or understanding of. This is an interesting discussion. I was struck by the following statement. “the notion of fronting up to a quorum of men with the expectation of full divulgence of ones moral or ideologically deviant transgressions seems somehow strangely absurd and antithetical to joyous transcendence.”

    The procedures for these proceedings are pretty well laid out. They are supposed to rely on evidence that is gathered before anything takes place. There must be at least two witnesses. Non priesthood holders appear before a quorum of three men namely the bishop and his two councilors .It is never supposed to be one gal against before 12 blokes. Melchizedek priesthood holders can only be disciplined by a Stake council. Unless there is some good reason, the findings and actions of these councils are not made public. Members are not excommunicated for inactivity or for joining another church. One can; however be excommunicated for encouraging others to apostatize.

    Thank you for bringing this topic up. It is one that most church members have no experience with or understanding of. It would be good if it were better understood. “LDS CDC’s are far too dependent on personal disposition, emotional climate, and spiritual impressions to be reliable. There are no appeals, there’s no system for ratification, there is no procedure for presenting a defense, or for including support. Women are particularly vulnerable in CDC’s because as LPF43 suggests its one gal against 12 blokes” These CDC’s actions are supposed to be based on facts and evidence and require at least two witnesses to actual behavior. Only Melchizedek priesthood holders are subject to a Stake CDC where there would be 12 blokes. Non priesthood holders would face a bishops council.
    A person who didn’t agree with the bishop’s council could appeal to the Stake and if they still didn’t agree they could appeal to the first presidency as did Sonja Johnson.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Yes – point taken. Yet appeals are more to be born than encouraged; excommunications are not ratified they are recorded; your defense is solitary; in the case of apostasy there are no clear points of law to contest because we don’t have a forum for the writing of ‘canonical law’; support or witnesses are taken from the council not presented by the defendant; and in the case of women, while I understand that women usually attend a Bishop’s DC, why was it the Margaret Toscano’s excommunication was a Stake HC?

  • YvonneS

    Sorry about that being so long and repetitious. I haven’t gotten used to the way these. I thought I had taken out the long first part. Maybe one day I will get it right the first time.

  • Bradley

    To me, excommunication is meant to protect the Church Brand by way of damage control. I can’t see it as a viable punishment. At most, it’s an official “you suck” combined with a forced vacation. However, being the sheep that we are, the brand needs protection.

  • lesmblake

    30 years ago my father served as Bishop for almost 6 years. In conversation with him, the other day, he disclosed that he did not hold one disciplinary council during his time as Bishop, though he “could” have and “probably should have.”

    I love my dad, but my heart warmed to him even more.

  • http://gravatar.com/lesmblake Revenant

    30 years ago my father served as Bishop for almost 6 years. In conversation the other day he disclosed that he did not hold one CDC during his time as Bishop, though he “could” have and “probably should have.”

    I love my father deeply, but my heart warmed to him even more.

    Like so much of the other aspects of administration, there is so much variance based on where you are and who the leadership is. In my experience in Bishoprics and on the High Council, CDC’s are rare, and, though anecdotal, I’ve never been associated with anyone ecclesiastically who has gone to court based on “apostasy.”

    Kiwimormon, I hope you are okay that I post this here, but if you want to delete it I understand, but Handbook 1 defines Apostasy as follows:

    ——-
    As used [in the handbook], apostasy refers to members who:
    1. Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.

    2. Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.

    3. Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.

    4. Formally join another church and advocate its teachings.

    Priesthood leaders must take disciplinary action against apostates to protect Church members. The Savior taught the Nephites that they should continue to minister to a transgressor, “but if he repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people” (3 Nephi 18:31; see also Mosiah 26:36).

    Total inactivity in the Church or attending another church does not constitute apostasy. However, if a member formally joins another church and advocates its teachings, excommunication or name removal may be necessary if formal membership in the other church is not ended after counseling and encouragement.

    Point #1 seems to be the real, catch all/sticking point that you are getting at in your post. It could have a squashing effect on persistent askers of honest questions.

  • http://discoveringrebel.wordpress.com Ryan J Trimble

    Kiwimormon, you might be getting a knock at the door after this post ;)

    “Excommunication isn’t simply plank walking for thieves and the sexually aberrant, it’s a constant and noiseless threat to those who question, wonder and dream.”

    A perfect line that exposes the Church’s efforts to keep people in the dark.

    Or, as the Church likes to say: faith is the first principle of the gospel, obedience is the first law of heaven.

  • http://reachingupward@blogspot.com Kevin L

    I’ll be your first then, KM. I have been through a CDC. I believed then, and still believe now, that it was the best thing to ever happen for me spiritually. The outcome of that process provided a scaffolding for enacting real change that I never could have found otherwise. It was done in mercy. It was done with love.

    I am a true believer in Disciplinary Councils. No where does it state that resulting disciplinary action is a punishment. Rather it is meant to be (though I’ll be quick to admit that many individual leaders misunderstand this principle) an added blessing that facilitates (in not directly involved) in the repentance (change) process.

    In relation to women being at a disadvantage, most women won’t have to face a CDC on the Stake level because there isn’t the added responsibility of the Oath and Covenant of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Also given the possibilities for the Council to arrive at no action, informal probation, formal probation, disfellowshipment, or excommunication, I believe that there is a problem with selection bias if everyone you spoke with was excommunicated. In my experience, most of those councils result in formal or informal probation.

    One last thought. I’m not sure I accept your definition of apostasy and heresy. I honestly doubt whether any member of the church has been excommunicated for questioning. Webster offers three definitions for question as a transitive verb: to as a question of or about, to interrogate extensively, and finally to doubt or dispute. I’m not trying to get too picky, but my understanding is that excommunication is intended for individuals who actively dispute, deny, or contradict teachings of the church, not those who have questions or doubts. In this case protecting the Church is not preventing individuals outside the Church from having a bad image of the organization, but protecting the membership from false teachings.

    So, personally, I don’t have a problem with the idea of Church Discipline. The doctrine was established by Christ, not borrowed from the Catholic Church. I do appreciate (and support) challenging the individual application of the principle. As mortals, Priesthood leaders are going to make mistakes. Thankfully, a loving Heavenly Father has already provided a way to overcome the effects of sin. The Atonement has the power to not only help the sinner, but also the sinned against. Even (maybe even especially) when the wrong comes from one who is supposed to be acting in His name.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Thanks so much Kevin L. I’m so pleased that it was a good experience for you. Clearly those who were conducting it did it beautifully.

      While I appreciate that your experience is part of the story, its not the whole story as long as there are those who can’t say the same. So what to do?

      I’d have to take issue with your position that excommunication was not derived from an early church tradition. We’ve borrowed a lot of traditions, songs, rituals etc. from trajectories that come from the early church. While it might not be a Catholic process it has still been appropriated and adapted to fit our theology.

      So my question to you would be how to regulate the quality of experience that you had so that it becomes a universal experience – which, it seems to be, is as it should be?

      • http://reachingupward@blogspot.com Kevin L

        Great question! First, I’d like to address your point that we’ve borrowed from other faith traditions. I’m not coming from a point of “you’re wrong and I’m right.” I hope that my messages convey that I do deeply respect opinions and beliefs that are different from mine. I recognize that there are many different ways to look at the same phenomena, and who am I to say that mine is the most right?

        At the same time I don’t believe that means I shouldn’t share my perspective. From the way I see history, those traditions that we appear to have borrowed from other systems were first borrowed from Christ’s original church as established through Adam. While God may have used the remnants of these traditions as a vehicle or catalyst in restoring the Church through Joseph Smith, I don’t believe that Heavenly Father simply allowed just any tradition to be assimilated.

        So what does that mean for excommunication and it’s imperfect application? I honestly believe that there is no need to change anything on the institutional level. In fact, I’m not even concerned about any part of the equation that falls on the side of the Church. There is always room for increased teaching of the true doctrine to leaders regarding Church Discipline. But I’m really not worried about that because it doesn’t directly affect my salvation. My concern has to be my own relationship with the Savior.

        The Book of Mormon teaches that the Holy One of Israel stands at the gate “and He employeth no servant there” (2 Nephi 9:41). While mortal leaders are charged with maintaining the Kingdom of God on Earth, I find comfort in the knowledge that no Church politics are going to prevent the Savior from dealing with me in justice and mercy. In the end, the only thing that is going to matter is whether I am right with Him.

        But what about the pain and hurt that can be caused by unfair and unrighteous (though perhaps well-meaning) individuals or organizational politics? I’d be completely disingenuous to suggest that such pain is trivial, imagined, or insignificant. It’s not. It’s real. So is the Atonement. I believe that my Disciplinary process was inspired and good. That doesn’t mean it was perfect. About three months into it, my Bishop said some things that had me ready to quit and never return. Luckily, I turned to a friend who suggested that I was failing to utilize the Atonement fully. At first I was a bit insulted. I had done everything in my power to repent and was trying to sustain the changes in my life. Then he clarified that he wasn’t talking about my sins. He reminded me that the Atonement was designed to provide strength and comfort to compensate for the pain and suffering we experience through no fault of our own. The Atonement even applies to Church leaders who fail to live up to the standard they emulate.

        So for me, when my Bishop says something offensive, when I disagree with the wording of a talk in General Conference, when my Stake President only talks about the fluffy side of the Gospel and how everything is perfect for those who are faithful, I don’t get worked up anymore. I turn to my Savior. I believe He especially committed to offering the Balm of Gilead to those who are wounded in His name. But He knows those experiences are an inevitable part of mortality. He knows of the mistakes that will be made by those He calls, and He still calls them anyway. This is because He knows that such experiences can be a great blessing to individuals who will use those challenges to turn to Him.

        Again, I recognize that this is my perspective. I’m not in a position to assert that any one else should feel the same way. But it is true for me. I believe the most beneficial thing we can do to relieve the suffering and hurt that stem from Church Disciplinary action is not to change the institution (I’ll leave that to Him, whose it is), but to share the true doctrine of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

  • Sj23

    My brother recently went through this process. He told me that 97% of those excommunicated never return to the church. I don’t know if this figure is accurate but I assume it is a very high percentage. So maybe it doesn’t really work or maybe it does work depending on your viewpoint.

  • http://mybookauthor.wordpress.com lizalong

    I am now a practicing Catholic. But I have just tried to avoid the whole LDS excommunication thing because I am raising my children in a wonderful ward in the LDS church (not worth fighting with their Dad over it). No one seems to care (knock on wood, throw some salt over my shoulder). I did have some difficulty being approved to volunteer with my son’s LDS cub scout troop though. I assured the bishop that I had no intention of discussing the doctrine of transubstantiation or the Holy Trinity while teaching the 8 year olds to make drums out of oatmeal containers, and at last he relented.

  • gst

    The original post, restated:

    Excommunication: I like it when they do it to my ex-husband, but not to my friends.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      LOL – pretty much!

  • gst

    Sorry, just joshing you. Good post.

  • Jeff

    Another great post and thread – the highlight of which was gst’s succinct but tongue in cheek summation of Gina’s position.

    Having served on a Bishopric for 2 years and a High Council for 5 years I was part of my fair share of CDCs of both the Bishopric and High Council variety – the bulk being the former. High Council disciplines were only convened for more serious matters involving Melchizedek Priesthood holders. In my time no women ever appeared before a HCDC and so appearances like Margaret Toscano are extremely rare. 

    I was not prepared for the outpouring of the Spirit that accompanied almost all CDCs (especially Bishop’s CDCs) – some of the most profound spiritual experiences that I have had outside the temple happened in these settings. I came to see that the process was indeed inspired. I have to concur with other posters on the thread that the reaction of the person for whom the discipline was convened was largely determined by the repentant attitude of that person. The HCCDCs that I attended were conducted in strict conformity with the procedures detailed in D&C 102. A couple covered harrowing material. In both cases we heard from all the key participants in the issue at hand. When I drew an even number (those assigned to speak for the accused) I was as passionate and compassionate in standing up for the accused as I could be and I used my various experiences in my volunteer work in drug/alcohol/addition to ask questions and elucidate responses from the accused that became what a secular court would describe as mitigating circumstances. When I drew odd numbers I was careful and gentle in speaking for the church and it’s standards. In one instance I felt that ignorance on the part of some who had drawn odd numbers was leading to overly harsh conclusions being drawn I asked for and was granted the right to speak and was able to paint a psychological picture of the accused’s situation that shed light on the sin being adjudicated. But equally in the case of a man who was a temple patron and RM who had some positions of responsibility I was bold and forthright in challenging his denial and his minimising of his offending because of the devastating effects his conduct had had on his wife and children. 

    That said I know that not all CDCs are conducted with the empathy, love and careful attention to detail so I can see how there will be some who feel hard done by. It’s akin to how some secular juries acquit clearly guilty people because of technicalities and others convict innocent people. The 12 man jury system had it origins in the ancient Jewish councils of justice – the source of the church’s system so the secular and religious courts are linked to a common past when the religious and secular were one and the same. People are human and the same frailties, prejudices and judgements made in secular courts are sometimes made in LDS CDCs. 

    Where best practice is undertaken then usually it’s a positive if at times stressful experience – I’ve witnessed many marvelous turnarounds from Bishops CDCs. What I think would be useful would be some kind of internal CDC training and mentoring programme to help extend best practice to as many of these as possible and to minimize the numbers where inexperience and prejudice lead to less than optimal outcomes.

    A final comment is that whilst statistics on this would be hard to come by – a large number of Bishops CDCs in my 2 years resulted in no action whatsoever or informal or formal probation with only 1 or 2 disfellowshipments. For HC CDCs they are structured specifically to adjudicate on more serious matters and so conduct undertaken by a 17 year old boy are handled very leniently compared to the same sin committed by a temple married man in leadership position so excommunications were more common but I cannot think of a single excommunication that was the outcome of a HCDC that was not warranted in my opinion. Excommunications for apostasy are so rare that the cases have become somewhat apocryphal with the excommunicated person usually being very vocal about their treatment and experience. I listened to Margaret Toscano’s interview on the famous PBS documentary about the church where she described her excommunication – it bore no resemblance to what I had witnessed on dozens of occasions to the point where I wondered if she was talking about the wrong church. I’m not denying her experience but I would venture to say that almost all Stake Presidents and High Councilmen that I know would never have treated her in the way she described. 

  • pensive

    KM, thank you for your insightful post. I have been contemplating the nature of LDS CDCs and the way they are supposed to be, and how they actually turn out at times. Let me tell you my story.

    I woke up one morning to go to work early. My wife uses her cell phone for her alarm, and it was going off. I don’t have a cell phone, so I tried to shut it down and thought it was her alarm. It was an incoming text. I had never done this before or since, but I decided to look at the text. It was dirty inuendo about an affair she had recently begun. I was stunned, and went in to the bishop that day. My wife went in the next day, feeling badly after I confronted her about it. She called the bishop of her own accord. The bishop and I met for 3 hours that day. He convinced me to work on the marriage. He began working with my wife. He said this should be infomral probation, and he would work this out without a court convened. This, despite the fact that this was the guy she had an affair with to end her first marriage among other things. This went on for another week. Then, the bishop disappeared. Best I have been able to piece together without being too thoughtless and asking his ex-wife, he had gotten back into pornography, and had an affair of his own.

    Well, we got a new bishop a month later (previous 1st counselor), and he picked up where the bishop had left off. His work with us as a couple was sporadic, and inconsistent. Can’t blame the bloke, as he was thrust into a terrible mess. Anyway, it goes on this way for 9 months, with no real direction about what is really happening, and at that point he decided to have a CDC. He addressed this all through my wife, and I saw his counselors deliver the letter to her in front of me, but was really not sure even what the letter said. I was told by my wife about the date and time for the CDC. Well, something came up on the bishop’s end of it and it was moved. My wife told me the new date, and I rescheduled my work days accordingly. Well, my wife was informed she could bring anyone she wanted, so she chose her mother. She had the wrong day, and I was the only one who showed up to the church. It was for the next week. I didn’t rearrange my schedule again, and hoped my day didn’t run long.

    Well, my day did run long that fateful day and I was 15 minutes late. My wife was already in with the bishop, his counselors, and the executive secretary. Her mom was out on the couch waiting. We spoke uncomfortably for about an hour, then my wife came out. They deliberated for about 10 minutes, then called her and her mother back in. They then spoke for about 40 minutes, and came back out again. They talked for a few more minutes, and then called my wife, myself, and her mother in. They bruquely cut to the chase and asked me without introduction or anything to tell my account of what happened. The crappiest thing that had ever happened to me. I asked “Really?” They just nodded. I told the whole story in about 15 minutes and got cut off by the bishop. There was utter silence. No one but the bishop had spoken, and after I was finished, I was told I could leave. Silence. I was stunned. I went out and waited in silence with my wife and her mother.

    They deliberated about 15 minutes more, called us all in, told about how they had all come to some agreement and felt the spirit that said they felt sure she should be disfellowshipped, and that this was a “Counsel of Love”, etc. They asked my wife if she had anything to say, her mother, and they said something briefly, and then asked me if I had anything to say. I could only shake my head.

    I had gone to work and done a complete day of work the day I found out my wife had been cheating, but could not do so the day after the CDC. I later was able to find out from my wife that the bishop had gone to the temple to pray about the CDC and found out that I wanted to punish my wife while in the temple. He did not talk to me about it, but did talk about it with the people in the CDC. Sure, I was angry. Yes, I thought that under the circumstances informal probation was laughable, but punished?

    I asked my father if this is how the CDCs should go, and he was shocked and stunned. He has been in Bishoprics and Stake counsels where he felt it was a “Counsel of love”. He said he had not heard of a lack of empathy for victims of the offense in question. Yet it happened.

    I cannot speak to others’ experiences but my own. I was only brought before the CDC to be a witness, but all I felt was judgment. This is the crux of your point, I believe. Excommunication (and the Counsel that deliberates it) is not uniform, and what is supposed to be correction with love often comes across as judgmental and scornful. I looked up “Excommunicate” in the dictionary, and a synonym for it is curse. It is brought by local authorities, perhaps well intentioned, perhaps not. It is loosely regulated and defined as to how it should work, and thus you get a wide array of outcomes based on who is leading it and who is the object of the CDC among other considerations. I wish my own experience was the aberration, and more were truly “Counsels of love”. I have heard of so, so many that are not loving, but come across harsh and judging that I feel my case is perhaps more normal than it is purported to be.

    Sorry for the long post. Feel free to edit.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      I’m sorry to have taken so long to get to this – I haven’t been able to look at my blog for a couple of weeks Your story is heart-breaking and what happened to you sounds unnecessary and poorly executed. When my first husband had his CDC for adultery I wasn’t even invited to attend but was consulted after the fact. Admittedly we weren’t together at the time but that to me is beside the point – I should have been able to tell my story – but clearly that was deemed unnecessary. If I had been asked if I would like to see him punished I would have said, ‘Damned straight I do – punish away and let me be the cheering committee’ – and only those who have been cheated on will know the importance and legitimacy of the rage of a cuckolded spouse.

      The fact that there are so many conflicting stories about the CDC indicates that it really needs to be thought through again. One shouldn’t be left to worry that the process will be mangled by the personalities involved. There should be more safeguards than that.

  • Wondering

    My brother is about to go through a CDC for “apostasy.” He has a testimony. He has struggled with transgender issues since early childhood and has made the decision to live and dress as a woman (without surgery). The CDC will be convened because his stake president believes that he is in an open state of defiance/rebellion against church standards and the role that God has given him.

    I am wondering what the outcome will be. Does anyone have knowledge about anyone who has gone through a similar experience?

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Sorry its taken so long to get back to you. I’m really unaware of how this will play out in a CDC having had no experience with it. I think a CDC is a bit over the top but that’s my opinion. I hope it goes well for him – whatever the outcome.

  • Anon

    Been through it, did what was required and back in the Church.
    Never again.
    My advice – Rather face the Lord when the time occurs, and deal with the issues with Him directly


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