EXCOMMUNICATION

IMG_0617John Dehlin, creator of the popular podcast and blog, Mormon Stories, attended his disciplinary council last night to discuss possible excommunication for apostasy. This is an unprecedented situation in the Mormon faith, with Dehlin choosing to take his situation to the media, specifically the New York Times, who ran with the headline: “Mormon Church Threatens Critic With Excommunication.”

There are a lot of problems with this whole story. One being that the New York Times reported that, “the church is charging him with apostasy for his support of same-sex marriage and the ordination of women to the priesthood,” hinting at the idea that personal support of those issues is considered apostasy and cause for discipline. This is not the case. If it were so, prominent members of the church, such as Steve Young and Harry Reid, would also be candidates for disciplinary action.

The situation is a complicated one, full of nuance. There is much to discuss and clarify, but after a lot of soul searching, I have decided that it is not my place to judge Dehlin and his motives. Between his tactics with the media and the recent venomous post from Kate Kelly, the natural man in me would love to respond in like manner, but this past weekend I have felt that instead, I will follow my favorite mantra, and light the dark.

When I used to hear the term excommunication a shiver would go down my spine. It was almost like The-Word-That-Must-Not-Be-Named a la Lord Voldemort. With it came the idea of darkness and hopelessness. My argument now is that excommunication, if gone about in the right way, can be a step toward progression and change, rather than the proverbial casting out to an outer darkness that my mind used to conjure up at the mere mention of the term.

Now, don’t get me wrong, excommunication isn’t a process we should be lining up to go through, but if approached by both the council and the person facing discipline, with charity and sincerity, I believe it can be a life changing experience for the good of everyone involved.

So often we focus on the “justice” side of excommunication. The church’s official website defines excommunication as, “the process of excluding a person from the Church and taking away all rights and privileges of membership.” This certainly sounds harsh, if we read it without any context or deep thought about the circumstance.

From experience with a close loved one, who has gone through this process, “excluding a person from the church,” does not mean shunning them forever. It’s not like we have photos of the excommunicated on the walls of the church and if spotted, they are escorted out by church security. Those who have been excommunicated, as long as they aren’t disrupting the congregation, can still attend church meetings.

It is true that all of the rights and privileges of membership are taken away, but when looked at in the light of mercy, excommunication takes on a whole new meaning. The covenants that you have made at baptism and in the temple are taken away. Is this painful and heartbreaking to go through? Absolutely, but it is also a way of removing accountability for the disciplined.

Removing these sacred commitments from someone in order for them to possibly learn and understand them better, and go through the process again is the essence of the good news. These loved ones are not out of the reach of the infinite Atonement.

Seeing someone I love go through this was not easy. I still remember the night he confided in me. We cried bitterly together in my car for what seemed like hours, from the heartache that his actions had caused. But then I observed, over time, as he determined to make those covenants again, with a renewed faith in the enabling power of the Savior’s atonement, he could not be stopped. Awkward conversations arose at his name not showing up on home teaching routes. Yet he pressed on. “Amen” became his only vocal prayer in church meetings for a time. Yet he pressed on.

The grace of Christ was, and is, sufficient. My friend was healed, and changed. I had the honor of helping him make a covenant once again. To always remember and keep the commandments of the one who had lifted him, and patiently walked with him back to this point. As I stood in lukewarm water, one arm holding his, the other raised, the words necessary were uttered through salty tears and a swollen chest. I lifted him out of the water. He was new. He was reborn.

I looked at my friend and saw someone who had not only, once more, taken Christ’s name upon them, but His countenance as well. His eyes shone with a newfound appreciation and understanding of the covenant he had just made. Excommunication was a necessary step in his life’s journey that brought him to this beautiful moment.

15 Comments

  1. I was excommunicated in 1999. I was a new member without enough of knowledge in the gospel to not be completely selfish. My actions prompted my bishop to hold a DC. I did not attend. I had not been through the temple and I knew that the choices that I was making were wrong, however, I wasn’t going to stop. I maintained several friendships with members and knew at some point I would go back to church, I just didn’t know when. In 2005, I needed to be back. I found the contact information for my stake president and was put in touch with my bishop. He worked with me as I went through 1 year of repentance. It was the hardest but most rewarding and loving process. I walked through hell to regain my testimony and I have such a deep respect for my membership in the church. I never was angry about the decision made back in 1999. It was done out of love. I needed that to be taken away from me. I was rebaptized in 2006. Took out My own endowments in 2007 and got remarried in 2013 to a wonderful agnostic man. He attended meetings with me to support me and my children. He started reading the BofM behind my back and was baptized in September of 2014. We will be sealed in the temple this September. I wish more people understood just how much of a gift excommunication can be. Yes, I said gift. I am so happy to see an article with such honesty. Thank you.

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  2. When somebody is exed, many times, very few people are aware of it.

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  3. I have been through this painful process twice. Same, different life-stage. Both times it was done with love and the greatest concern for my welfare. Coming back each time was coming home. My Stake President’s words? “We need to relieve you of the responsibilities of membership for a while. Just don’t stay away too long.” I didn’t. I knew the rules and accepted the consequences. Love had always prevailed.

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    • Thank you for sharing this Helen. I love those words from your Stake President.

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  4. Not only was this article beautifully written, but a couple of the comments brought tears to my eyes. I love that excommunication is not permanent, it is something that can help those in need to come to the understanding of our Heavenly Father’s love and plan.

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  5. Thank you for this article. Thank you for helping to clear the stigma that comes with the word excommunication. This article can help many people. Much love!

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  6. I was excommunicated and I can tell you it was the most horrid, mean-spirited and vile experience of my life. It has left me with a scarred and bitter hatred of god and his vindictive son. The bastards that sat around the judgement table made a judgement that was akin to bringing a gun to a pillow fight. Any ignorant fool who has the Gaul to class this act of vindictive violence as “loving” needs to seek help. It has not just destroyed my belief or hope in compassion from those two heavenly dictators but it has also destroyed my life. To hell with your ugly lies about it being a beautiful experience. How dare you be allowed to express such bile.

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    • Name withheld, I am truly sorry that that was your experience. It would certainly be naive to say that every case is a “beautiful” one, but to assume that your own experience is the only truth, would also be a much too simple conclusion on a complicated topic.

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