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Friday, July 29, 2011

Excommunication's Value Questioned

[Readers - Recently, while trolling the internet, I ran across an article in Mormon Matters from July 19, 2009. In it author Aaron R. questions the practice of excommunication and its effectiveness. I was initially a bit surprised with his lack of understanding of some basic gospel principles, and disappointed in the tone he took. But then it occurred to me, that he's probably just a decent guy with some legitimate questions and honestly lacking in knowledge. So I posted a comment. (No surprise, right?) My response to his questions are posted here below. I have added some additional thoughts that have occurred to me since originally posting the comment. - Bro Jo]

Dear Author,

Let me see if I can help . . .

Having been a part of Church disciplinary councils, and given my other experience, here's my take.

1. Should the LDS Church retain the power to excommunicate and if so why, and if not why?

Absolutely. For two reasons: to disassociate itself from those that are harmful to others or to the Church in general; and to help those that are harming themselves spiritually make things right with God.  Further, there's a fundamental principle of freedom here:  if we restrict any organization from setting its own membership criteria, then we as a state have interfered with its right to exist as it deems appropriate.  In America, not only would this violate a very basic tenant of the constitution, but its common practice within most all private organizations and companies.

As an employer I have the right to remove from my organization any employee who does not meet our hygiene standards, and as such their uncleanliness (and foul odor) reflects poorly upon my company.  We would give that valued employee the opportunity to get clean, but if they refuse its better for them and us if they're no longer associated with my firm.

Surely you can see how that analogy applies to the Church.

2. Upon what criteria should Disciplinary Councils judge the appropriate response to a particular ‘sin’?

The criteria is very clear, is based upon priesthood keys and authority, and is outlined in the Church Handbook of Instructions given to appropriate Church leadership. Authority and Keys pertaining to these things are discussed in the Doctrine and Covenants.

Ultimately the goal in any and every disciplinary council is repentance and full fellowship with Christ, regardless of the outcome or decision of the council.

Things that councils are instructed to consider include: confession, honesty, true repentance, age and accountability of the individual, damage done to oneself and others, covenants made, harm done or potentially done to the Church and her membership, and the individual's desire to make things right with God (to name a few).

3. Is Excommunication necessary for the repentance process?

Some times its required. Sometimes not.

When the Lord does require, it's taken very seriously.  This action is never seen as the end, but a necessary step in the beginning of an individual's return to full fellowship with Christ.

4. What could be improved in the process or outcomes of Disciplinary Councils?

The process and it's outcomes, as I have personally witnessed it, works pretty well.

As you mentioned, a Disciplinary Council can be a very sweet spiritual experience . . . or quite sad. That depends more on the attitude of the individual being counseled than anything else. Those present who are part of the council consistently are filled with genuine love and concern for the person called before them. Every time.What could be "improved", if you will, is for each of us to gain a stronger testimony of Christ and the Power of the Atonement in each of our lives. That, and perhaps us being less rebellious against the commandments of God in the first place . . .

Of course, if we were great at that as a whole we wouldn't need Disciplinary Councils . . .

My admonishment to anyone who in reading this has been hesitant to meet with their Bishop because they "fear the punishment" is to make the call and set the appointment right away. Fear is one of Satan's most powerful tools, and as the Scripture Mastery teaches, the longer we procrastinate the day of our repentance, the harder it will be to repent. Fear not the judgment of man, but the judgment of God. We must all do all that we can, everyday, to be better than we were the day before. Repentance is something we all must do, and do regularly. And there are few feelings as wonderful as that which comes from the Love of Christ and setting things right.

If you're not sure if you should talk to your Bishop, or Stake President, error on the safe side. Make the call. Right away. You'll be glad that you did. Repentance may not always be easy, but it's always worth it.

Even though you may be fearful, or lonely, or frustrated, or bitter, everyone is worthy of and entitled to the Love of God.

Endure 'til the end!

- Bro Jo

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