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Monday, October 17, 2011

Excommunication Clarified

Bro Jo,

In response to your article of July 29 ("Excommunication's Value Questioned"):

1. Should the LDS church have the ability to excommunicate? Absolutely, but in my experience they largely won't. It usually takes some pretty serious and/or harmful PUBLIC steps to trigger excommunication. None of my siblings nor I have been active in the church for more than two decades and we all can count actions that probably would have gotten us excommunicated but the church still counts us amongst its rolls. To do anything less would tarnish the church's claim of being the world's fastest growing religion.

I take issue with the phrase "harm done or potentially done to the Church and her membership"... Is the church not the membership? The church as an institution is only of value to the extent that it serves the people - the actual church, as used biblically. Jesus did not once refer to protecting the institution. The church is the bride of Christ and I can assure you that He was not referring to the institution.

2. One should turn to Jesus' words and actions as a guide - start with Judge not lest ye yourselves be judged... going back to the Aramaic the meaning is closer to thou shalt be judged according to the standards that you have judged others. How many would fare well to be held up to their own standards? Jesus repeats this message in the parable about the man forgiven by his lenders only to hold his debtors feet to the fire. You have been shown grace, you are to show grace to others in return. Jesus himself shows us the path when he comes across a woman being stoned for adultery (which I do believe will get you excommunicated in the LDS church). Let he amongst you who is sinless cast the first stone. Jesus, the only one to meet this standard, chooses grace over law. None of us are sinless and Jesus died to cover all of our sins. It is not our place to call out our fellow travelers to say that their sins are greater than ours or are too great to have been covered by Jesus' sacrifice. Jesus said it best on the cross... It is done.

Name Withheld

Dear NW,

1. You're right: excommunication initiated by the Church is rare. Just like you said, someone has to be pretty public about their transgressions and their Church membership. (Think polygamists and psychos.) That's the "harmful to the Church" stuff. A few years ago a Stake President near where I live was busted getting off an airplane in Boise carrying lace panties and condoms thinking he was going to meet his 14-year old internet girlfriend, not the cop who was posing as a 14-year old on-line. That guy was out of the Church in a heartbeat. "LDS Church Official busted with panties and porn" is not a headline that the Church ignores.  (Nor should any faith.)

But in almost all situations excommunication is more about a path towards repentance. It may be fun to talk about Church growth, but it's really not what's important. Heck, at only 13 million members the LDS Church is still quite petite! Sure, that's over a relatively short period of time, but if you want to impress me add a zero at the end, then we'll talk. So excommunication has nothing to do with bolstering membership numbers.

Frankly, having 50% of the Church inactive creates a lot of work for those of us that go all the time; if it was about making things easier we'd cut the membership rolls this weekend. Your Church membership is in your hands, not anyone else's. If a person did something that required re-baptism in order for them to enter back into full fellowship with God, then excommunication would be part of that process.

One thing not mentioned is that, to be honest, lot's of stuff that I think people think would qualify them for immediate excommunication, doesn't. In fact, while I'm sure I don't know everything about you, given what I do know about you, your life and your character, I'd be real surprised if a meeting with your Bishop or Stake President resulted in a removal from you from the Church unless that's what you wanted.

I'll let you ponder that.

Not to be semantic, and I'm sorry if I wasn't clear, but "The Church" and "the membership" are, in my head, two different things. The Church is Christ's, exactly as you say; the membership are the people who are hopefully trying to do the best they can. Christ's Church is perfect, but we're not. I just hope I never screw up so bad that a heavenly messenger is sent.

I'm sure you can see how a person, particularly a person in an authoritative position, could harm Church members as well as the reputation of the Lord's Church. 1830's Kirkland ring any bells?

2. With respect, you're confusing two different principles. Certainly none of us is perfect, and each of us is directed to forgive, but justice and mercy have a balance to strike. To that end there are those that, even from the time of Adam, are called to be Judges in Israel; a tough job to be sure. And you need to understand that sitting in judgment is NOT the same as forgiveness. A Stake President may have to judge that a person's best hope for returning back into full fellowship with Christ is to be excommunicated from the Church. The decision is not made lightly. (I've seen it happen.) There's much prayer and fasting and counsel from councilors and the high council. He may even confer with those in higher church authority. Sincere tears are cried, hearts are broken; it is a very somber and serious occasion. If the person wants to come back to Christ it's a sweet and encouraging spiritual experience. If they don't it's gut wrenching.

But because he is called, by authority, as a Judge in Israel, he has to do it. Is he perfect? Of course not. And, yes, as mentioned before, some ought not be there; not many, but too many.

But that "judgment" has nothing to do with "forgiveness". It will hopefully help a person repent and through doing so gain forgiveness, but the Lord's forgiveness is his to give.

"Grace" is the wrong word. Jesus extends "mercy" as the great mediator between us and justice. It is because of His grace and goodness that we can receive that mercy, but only if we're willing to do that which he requires. Unwilling, and our spiritual atonement will be our own. No one gets to walk around being an unrepentant sinner and go unpunished.

Now, it is true that through Christ's grace and the resurrection that each of us will have eternal life, but exhalation is up to us. The Resurrection and the Atonement are two different things. They happened just a few days apart, though.

Always good to have you keep me on my toes!

- Bro Jo

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