And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God[…] and another book was opened, which is the book of life[…] And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
-Revelation Ch. 20 (vs. 12-15)
Love is a burning thing and it makes a fiery ring. Bound by wild desire, I fell into a ring of fire.
In the LDS church, members are written into the book of life with their baptism and confirmation. For some, the love affair with the gospel can truly become a fiery passion. That passion produces its greatest defenders, but sometimes the fire consumes its lover. So the stage is set for the most intense crime of passion, the greatest act of violence… the blotting out of a name from the book of life.
Whether it is voluntary, through writing a letter of resignation, or involuntary, through excommunication, the removal of a name from membership is violence.
The voluntary resignation commits violence against the authority of the church, with the pen slashing and stabbing at the institution in the effort to eliminate its ability to exercise dominion and judgment. It challenges the veracity of the book of life itself. It comes from the place where the book has no power
The involuntary excommunication is the violence of corporal punishment. It is the parent who believes the only remaining path to teaching is to strike. The hope exists that the subject will make the correction in response to the intensity of the pain, and thus it becomes seen as an act of love. It is the great hammer of judgment and rejection that is meant to crush the pride out of them. The final and terrible weapon. It comes from the place where the book has complete power, because the veracity of the book of life is the very blade that cuts.
When a person has given up the desire to participate in the church community, technically they could go on living with at worst the inconvenience of having to explain that they aren’t interested each time they move, or when a new bishop or ward mission leader is called. They could pro-actively request to be marked as a “do not contact”, although that never completely stops the most zealous of missionaries. This path is not insufferable. So it makes me curious to know some of the reasons why someone removes their name from the records of the church. What made that necessary? Did it accomplish what you hoped?
When a church member has “qualified” for excommunication, and I am talking mostly about those who are moral people but whose philosophical positions are in opposition to the church, disfellowship basically accomplishes the most necessary functions to protect the church. The person is not able to participate in any public worship practices which would indicate endorsement or condoning of their positions, like holding callings, praying in meetings, or exercising priesthood. The only thing that excommunication does beyond that is the blotting out of their name from the book of life. It is an “eternity-level” punishment with no “temporal-level” impact above and beyond disfellowship. So why is such a measure necessary? Does this escalation produce more consistently desired results over disfellowship?
In a way, it almost seems like these acts of violence are like retaliatory interplay between rival gangs, as illustrated by this clip of Sean Connery explaining the escalating violence of “the Chicago way” from The Untouchables.
I have personally had my moments where I felt like participating at all was just no longer the path for me, and as I’ve tried to navigate the actions and causes which I feel inspired to take I have contemplated the possibility of church discipline. However, I’m just not sure I will ever see a need to resign my membership, and although I don’t really fear it, I do hope that I am never excommunicated. Its more about the gesture, than whether or not the book of life is efficacious. I don’t see the good I would accomplish in my own act of ultimate rejection, and I don’t want to look at (in the eyes of my local leaders) the church which means so much to my family and friends as it sets me aflame.
Could we live without this kind of violence? What would be the negative effect if tolerance, long-suffering, and real forgiveness were to trump whatever is the motivation to blot out our names?
“Could we live without this kind of violence? What would be the negative effect if tolerance, long-suffering, and real forgiveness were to trump whatever is the motivation to blot out our names?”
Interesting post, Clay.
I have to say that I do not agree with you that this has to be an act of violence and I suspect often it is not – though of course we’d never hear about such cases.
I also think that because you set it up specifically as an act of violence before asking the questions about how it could be “tolerantly” handled better that the real questions of tolerance never really get asked or addressed and I think this is unfortunate because I think you are trying to get out a real issues that deserves attention.
Let me explain my point through the example Hawk used in her “break up story” post: If we define “breaking up” (with say a girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse) itself as an act of violence and pose the question as “how can we tolerantly resolve our difference without this act of violence” we are really missing the point that breaking up may be hard to do but it’s often the only solution to the problem unless we advocate one party always submitting to the other if a resolution can’t be found.
So the question we should be asking is not how avoid excommunication and/or disfellowshipment – these are absolute necessities for the Church to be the unified community they religious believe they are commanded to be. We can’t viably remove these doctrines without fundamentally changing what the Church is and erasing the “good stuff” too.
I think we have to first acknowledge that fact: that excommunication and disfellowshipment can’t and shouldn’t be changed. We can then ask two questions worth pursuing:
1. How can we reduce the need to “break up” if there is some way to work out the differences. (I think this is what you are really asking, Clay.)
2. How can we help people that need to be “break up” with the Church, or their local leaders who need to “break up” with them, learn to not see it as an act of violence but instead see it as the logical necessity of protecting everyone’s religious freedoms?
The other problem I see is that I started writing up a list of suggestions for this comment and then had to erase them. The problem is that every single suggestion involved how believing Mormons can learn to react better to post-Mormons through teaching about loving post-Mormons (and the realities of their concerns) in Sunday school or something like that. This seems fair enough.
But in every case, it was about how believing Mormons can improve towards post-Mormons through use of the church itself. I couldn’t think of a single way for post-Mormons, who have no organization, to learn to start acting tolerantly to believing Mormons.
To some degree, this might just be a reality. We can realistically come up with ways for believing Mormons to improve so we have to basically expect the believing Mormons to make all the progress in terms of being more tolerant. But I think this will always mask the fact that this is not a one-sided problem.
“and I am talking mostly about those who are moral people but whose philosophical positions are in opposition to the church”.
I think this is crucial. It seems to me that most active members would NOT consider moral a person who was in philosophical opposition to the Church. I certainly see what you’re saying and agree, but bridging this gap of perception is perhaps the greatest thing we could do to lessen animosity and hence excommunications. Once Church members begin seeing someone as fundamentally moral, although in opposition to a number of current Church practices or policies, I think we begin transitioning as a people from ecclesiastical violence to how Christ would act.
No, I meant it exactly as a I wrote it. That is how I see it. Also, please note that I basically acknowledged the usefulness of disfellowship, and actually suggested that it could be used in place of excommunication. Excommunication goes from protecting the church by removing approval, to the escalated violence of the blotting out of your name from the book of life, which the scriptures indicate has some pretty serious consequences. Obviously the leaders involved hope you will repent and be re-baptised, thus they feel justified, but if you just take the fact that the person might not come back and you are possibly “casting them into the lake of fire”… its a pretty risky thing to do to a person when disfellowship can be effective enough. That is why I see it as violent.
As for resignation, I came to feel it is violent as I contemplated doing it myself. It seems like cutting of my nose to spite my face. Because of the theological implications for my believing family (to whom it is important that my name be on the official book of life), it would do real damage. So if I felt like I had to leave, I would prefer to do it without the finality.
To your point about believing and post Mormons, I wasn’t talking about tolerance towards post-Mormons at all. I would rather there be less post-Mormons and simply more brothers and sisters. Some who go to church and some who don’t, but all who deserve life and love and reconciliation.
“I couldn’t think of a single way for post-Mormons, who have no organization, to learn to start acting tolerantly to believing Mormons.”
This assumes that the people to whom you could reconcile have to be cut out, and also that they have no organization or support community which would encourage respect and peace. I disagree with both ideas. Aside from that, I actually preach tolerance and respect for believers amongst my friends (probably to their annoyance). I don’t think I’m special, either. There are lots of good logical reasons to respect people with differing opinions.
Excellent post, Clay. I agree with the basic idea that there is an aspect of “violence” in an excommunication, but I think we have to be very careful in how we define “violence” – which is why I agree with Bruce’s comment. Frankly, most of the “violence” I have seen in excommunications does not occur with the action itself, but rather with the effects of the action – both before and after. It is the pain inflicted by people involved in the lead-up and aftermath – the harsh words and the rejection and the bitter feelings and the deaf ears, not always the disciplinary council and its formal decision. In fact, sometimes that official action is almost a balm – as people stop fighting and simply accept the outcome.
I think your main point is spot-on, if I understand it correctly. I think we need to be MUCH more open to the idea that we need to find ways to decrease or even eliminate the violence that attends official Church discipline. Imho, excommunication initiated by the Church should be reserved ONLY for those instances where the member has taken an unyielding and public stance (either within the Church itself or outside of it) that places that member in direct and active opposition to the Church – where that member actively fights the Church as an obvious enemy. In those situations, violence can’t be avoided, but it still should be limited as much as possible.
The most obvious case of allowing a quiet, peaceful, compassionate avenue for exit I can imagine right now is for gay members who don’t want to live a life of celibacy but don’t want to sever all ties to the Church – or even want to remain active in or friendly to it. In these cases, they are not looking for a way to “oppose” or “fight” the Church, so I see no need whatsoever for excommunication. I personally would advocate separating some of the aspects of disfellowshipment from the formal restraints generally associated with that action and allowing these gay members to continue to worship with us with only a few restrictions, just as we would any straight member who is “living in sin” but still wants to attend Church and worship with us.
In summary, I think there is much we can do in the Church to limit the violence we bring to the table in these situations – and that limiting the violence to only that which is absolutely necessary is the proper foundation from which to act in all cases. I believe that is the mindset in most situations for most Bishops and Stake Presidents, but I do think there is more we can do to further that effort.
Clay, after reading your #3 and re-reading my own #4 (which I wrote prior to reading yours), I need to make a clarification. I agree completely that excommunication is an act of real violence – even in cases where is can function as a “balm”. Cauterizing a wound still is a violent means of stopping the bleeding. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise, and I think I might have done so. I apologize for that.
“where that member actively fights the Church as an obvious enemy. In those situations, violence can’t be avoided”
That is what I’m getting at. Why can’t it be avoided? Why can’t the church have a way to publicly state that they do not support or condone the opinions or actions of the person, but also send the message that they are still part of this family? Is there ever a point where a parent MUST disown a child because there is just no other option?
During my graduate studies, I took a social theory course that discussed violence as a cultural, phyiscal, and social phenomenon (Walter Benjamin is particularly apropo to this discussion). Let’s just say that what I took away from the class is that we should be very wary of defining violence too broadly…once you do, it becomes all too convenient to turn any act at any time into a cog in one’s political wheel.
Since the term, “violence” is and will be viewed with tremendous distaste by the vast majority of American society, we are naive if we suppose that claling something “violent” doesn’t immediately cast the act as wrong (e.g. “excommunication is violent; therefore, it is never a good course of action”). Asking if we “can live without this” places the reader in a false dillemma, for suddenly the reader becomes vindictive neanderthal or a pessimist for believing that we can’t live without it; on the other hand, saying that we can live without it suggests that we don’t ever approve of excommunication.
I saw this technique all the time in my social theory seminar…and without exception, it served as a technique to delegitimize any structure’s ability to determine its own ideological boundaries. Using this term so broadly essentially propaganda tool to stir students to “rage against the machine” rather than to examine a given organization/ideological structure on its own merits.
I think we as a people are very unclear on the theology of membership, sin, and excommunication.
For instance, on my mission in Germany, as a district leader, I attended ward leadership meetings with my companion where the merits and demerits of singling out individuals for church discipline was discussed. This was in a context where church discipline had been wanton and arbitrary, sometimes imposed simply for extensive non-attendance combined with a desire for no-contact.
I distinctly remember the British bishop arguing with the German high priest group leader over whether it was kinder to excommunicate and enable individuals to “start over,” or to allow them to stay on the rolls and have the right to the companionship of the Holy Ghost. I can’t remember now who took which side of the argument, but I remember the sadness I felt as I sympathized with those whose eternal souls were being talked about in this way.
After a similar conversation about cutting someone off from the church, Daryl Chase, when he was a stake president in Arizona, announced to his counselors and the high council that as long as he was stake president, there would be no one excommunicated in his stake. Right there is the strength and weakness of church discipline: local control and the lack of a clear, universal standard which one can follow and maintain membership, if desired. It is clear that in the Church we are victims of geography.
“Is there ever a point where a parent MUST disown a child because there is just no other option?”
Yes, Clay, there is – if you replace “disown” with “separate from” or “kick out of the family”. (The concept might be the same to you and me, but “disown” implies a finality that isn’t there in excommunication – since members can be re-baptized after being excommunicated.) At some point, if someone is attacking in ways that truly are dangerous and damaging, protective walls do need to be built that keep the attacker outside the communal walls.
Real life example:
We helped raise a troubled young man for a little over a year. When we agreed to have him live with us, we had to make it crystal clear that there were certain things that we simply couldn’t tolerate in our house. Bringing drugs into our house and having sex in our house were two of them – IF those actions were deliberate and continued. He had to understand that doing those things against our expressed “command” not to do them would result in his being “kicked out” of our house. My wife and I saw those things as a direct threat to the well-being of our other children, so we were willing to “impose” those restrictions on him, as well. We wouldn’t have kicked him out for violating either of them once, but we wouldn’t have hesitated if he had done it repeatedly in open defiance of our core rules.
If our ONLY concern were the well-being of that one son, we would have had very different rules. However, we have six other children, and we simply couldn’t put any of them in danger of what we see as real harm to avoid inflicting harm on him. We had to make our decisions based on what we felt was best for the entire family, not just one member of it.
**I know that this is the area where most of the worst abuses or mistakes occur – the actions taken against one to “protect” others.** I know it is a fine line that is crossed or erased all too often. However, I also believe it is important to maintain the concept of that line and that area, even as we work to find ways to have it exclude fewer people.
Sometimes the father needs to let the Prodigal Son leave and take ALL of his inheritance with him, but he always should be ready and willing to welcome him back.
“No, I meant it exactly as a I wrote it. [i.e. I’m not just trying to reduce excommunications I’m trying to eliminate them? Or it’s always an act of violence? Not sure which you meant here.] That is how I see it. ”
We can agree to disagree, of course, but I’m still not sure I understand what you are saying. I just wondered if there was an unspoken bridge there, but there may not be.
I can agree with Ray’s idea of “violence” as a balm and thus in that sense, I can see excommunication as “an act of violence.” Actually, I prefer to think of this like a divorce rather than a break up. There is no such thing as a “good divorce” per se, in the same sense that there is no such thing as a “good amputation” in the absolute sense. All amputations are cause for concern and might rightly be considered an act of violence if understood correctly.
But there *is* such a thing as a “good amputation” if we think in terms of the next best alternative. For example, gangrene is worse than amputation.
Likewise, there is such a thing as a “good divorce” compared to say, continued abuse or continued infidelity.
I asked you if you really just meant reduce excommunications, Clay, but you didn’t specifically respond to that. If this is what you meant, then I am willing to accept the idea that excommunications are always an act of violene if you are willing to ammend the concept of violence to include necessary and needed violence that is better than the alternative. (I didn’t perceive your post as touching on this.)
Clay, I did notice that you suggested disfellowshipment in place of excommunication. However, you sort of answered your own question by asking your question. You seem to be arguing that it doesn’t accomplish any purpose to excommunicate since it’s spiritual only, thus why do it? But if it meant nothing, you wouldn’t have asked the question in the first place. In other words, you are asking the question precisely because at some level the difference matters thus answering your own question.
So again, my personal view is that you are asking the wrong questions. Both disfellowshipment and excommunication are things the Church must preserve to be what they are. You can’t remove them without unraveling the tapestry of Mormonism.
What you *can* do (as Ray suggests) is come up with better ways to reduce the need to use it through compromise (I agree with his example of homosexuals) or, when it really is necessary, learn to understand it’s necessity and not see it as a bad thing because, in the words of Stephen Covey, sometimes “no deal” is the only viable alternative. Eliminating “no deal” does not seem like an option to me.
Russell said: “Since the term, “violence” is and will be viewed with tremendous distaste by the vast majority of American society, we are naive if we suppose that claling something “violent” doesn’t immediately cast the act as wrong (e.g. “excommunication is violent; therefore, it is never a good course of action”)… I saw this technique all the time in my social theory seminar…and without exception, it served as a technique to delegitimize any structure’s ability to determine its own ideological boundaries….”
Wow! I bow to your superior ability to say exactly what I was saying. Clay, this is what I am saying. If you are starting with the idea that it can be eliminated, then we are going to have to agree to disagree because it eventually boils down to one group enforcing their beliefs (through violence) on another.
But I’d love to discuss ways to help all parties compromise when possible to reduce the need. You are good at this, Clay, so I think it’s something you already deeply understand.
“Right there is the strength and weakness of church discipline: local control and the lack of a clear, universal standard which one can follow and maintain membership, if desired. It is clear that in the Church we are victims of geography.”
Yes, I think you are right about this. What suggestions would you make, John, to try to keep the strengths and reduce the weaknesses?
I think additional training is a good generic suggestion here, but the moment I try to get into specifics it becomes harder because any specifics suddenly screw up the ability to really make the judgement call on a personal basis. Instead, you almost have to go with the “principles” approach. Things like:
* If the person is not sinning other than just apostatizing, try to use disfellowshipment if possible and try to keep it private.
* Try to acknowledge the persons real concerns and see if you can work out a way for them to be actively involved without becoming a disruption to believing members.
* Disfellowshipment and excommunication are not a replacement for God’s final judgement. While God’s priesthood authorities judgments will be taken into consideration, it is possible for a priesthood holder to make a mistake.
Russell: Didn’t your comment attempt to deligitimize my question without actually answering it? But let me say that if love, peace, and forgiveness are my political machine that I’m trying to fit cogs into, I will unabashedly agree.
Ray: Thanks for addressing the actual question. In the story of the young man, yes I agree with the need to kick him out of the house. But that is not the same thing as kicking him out of the family. I.e. his name is still a part of your family, right? Would it serve any purpose in protecting your family from his harmful behavior to declare that he was never your son and burn everything that has his name on it? I am essentially saying that I see your action as something like disfellowship, and not the same as excommunication.
Bruce: Are you sure you want to agree with Russell? Anyway, to this point: “You seem to be arguing that it doesn’t accomplish any purpose to excommunicate since it’s spiritual only, thus why do it? But if it meant nothing, you wouldn’t have asked the question in the first place.” Of course the difference matters, that is exactly my point. The primary difference is in the initiating party. If YOU (meaning the LDS church leader) believe the book of life is real, and believe in the spiritual implications of excommunication, it is a really serious thing. If that person doesn’t return, they end up in that lake of fire (whatever that actually means, but its not Disneyland).
So let me clarify something. When I set up the removal of a name from membership as violence, it was moreso in a technical sense. I think Ray is getting it, but others are kind of hung up on that. Beyond the technical aspect, the post contained questions for those who support either form. WHY is it necessary?
“If you are starting with the idea that it can be eliminated…”
Isn’t it a healthy thing to start with the idea that our position can change or be eliminated? I will totally own up that I believe it can be eliminated, but let’s understand that I am not saying it should or else you are a neanderthal. That’s why I am asking the question of WHY. I don’t understand why it needs to happen, but I didn’t write a post declaring that it must be eliminated. I shared my feelings about it and asked for yours.
Here’s a question: How often do other churches excommunicate?
I know Jehovah’s Witnesses, while technically not a “church” by their own definition, will more aggressively kick out non-participators.
Catholics seem to leave most everybody on the rolls nowadays, and I’m not sure that excommunication for them means loss of membership in the full sense, but deprivation of communion, not being able to take communion. Threats by bishops to discipline liberal politicians like John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, and Joe Biden backfired with increased media scrutiny as these men attended Mass. Religion is seen as one of many public goods, and to deprive someone of their right to participate in the faith community of their birth is viewed very poorly in the mainstream body of American opinion. This may have played a role in the way both Tom Murphy and Grant Palmer were treated by their disciplinary councils.
Any other comparisons anyone knows of out there?
Let me attempt to answer your questions.
First, yes, I agree with Russell. I’m not sure you understood his point. His point is that be specifically framing the question of excommunication or a decision to leave the church as “violence” you are choosing a word that has a negative connotation — presumably because you believe it’s never necessary. Thus you are leading the witness on the question.
So why is excommunication necessary?
Here is the rub. If you are setting yourself up as the judge, then the answer is obvious: you don’t believe it’s ever necessary. Thus no answer I can give you will matter because as per your belief system my answers will always be wrong.
But that’s just it: I get to set my own beliefs and judge myself and you need to let me do so in the interest of being tolerant.
And utlizing *my* belief system, this is also obvious: a Church that believes in it’s own priesthood authority and in the unity of faith must have the ability to excommunicate or remove from church all together.
I would add that even one that does not believe in it’s own priesthood authority must have the ability to eliminate people from membership in extreme circumstances. Heck, no organization could ever exist if it didn’t have the power to declare who was or wasn’t a part of it’s organization. So no matter what we have to allow for removal from membership for all organizations, including the Church.
Also, you are equating excommunication to Mormons thinking that means the person will be cast into a pit of fire and brimstone. But I disagree with your understanding of Mormon doctrine here (as per my post #12. See also John’s at #8 where people were understanding excommuncation as a chance to start over. Hardly the pit of fire and brimstone you are suggesting.) I see excommunication as removing from Church membership.
Now the truth is that it doesn’t really matter that you may not believe in the Church’s priesthood authority and saving efficacy. You don’t have to. I am only asking you to accept that *I* (and other Mormons) believe in it.
Thus for a believer excommunication is a doctrinal necessity.
Let me put this in a slightly different way: defining excommuncation – which I understand as removing someone from being a member of the Church, not condemning to a pit of fire and brimstone necessarily – as always bad would have the same moral equivalency as defining an individual who chooses to leave the Church altogether as always having done something bad.
But is it really true? Do you really believe that every person that has their name removed from the Church did something bad? You only used yourself as an example, and I agree with you that in your situation it would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face. But I can’t believe that you really believe that for *everyone* it’s bad. How about for a covert that loses his family then decides the Church isn’t true and asks to have his name removed to please his family? Do you still see it as unnecessary for this person?
The reverse must also be true or we are asking for a dual standard. Both parties should have the same rights to “break up” when they feel it’s necessary to preserve their freedom of belief.
“But let me say that if love, peace, and forgiveness are my political machine that I’m trying to fit cogs into, I will unabashedly agree.”
I just wanted to mention something here too. I can see your point that disfellowship serves the purpose of protecting the Church thus you (from your p;oint of view) dont’ believe in the necessity of excommuncation. Thus you are comfortable with seeing it as an act of violence — a word that generally carries a negative connotation.
Would you see it as equally fair for me to see your describing my belief in the need for excommunication as “violence” (a term with a negative connotation) as an act of violence also? How would you seperate these two concepts and attain to any consistency in what you are expecting of the Church vs. what you are yourself doing?
“Here is the rub. If you are setting yourself up as the judge, then the answer is obvious: you don’t believe it’s ever necessary. Thus no answer I can give you will matter because as per your belief system my answers will always be wrong.”
Hey, Clay, I just realized that without hearing my tone of voice, this line might seem like I’m accusing you. I’m not. I’m making a statement that I believe is relevant, not accusing you of anything.
When we ask questions like “why is this necessary?” of a group we hold different beliefs then, the natural tendency is to “set ourselves up as the judge” so to speak. And in reality, *we are the judge* for our own decision to accept or reject that belief system.
So please don’t take this as meaning anything other than: “from your point of of view you are right, it’s unnecessary. But from a believing point of view, it is necessary.”
What I am really asking you to do here is to recognize the reality that it’s necessary from the believing point of view while also recognizing that it’s the believing point of view this question must be evaluated from to be a valid question at all.
The question seems to be how one will view the role of a church: “are you in or out?” or “are you part of the club that I belong to?” (or maybe “Do you agree with the fundamentals of what it means to be moral?”).
There should be no doubt, leaving the church is an act of violence. The pain for those in and for those out is acute and real.
I left the organization because I feel that those in authority focused on the “Are you playing by my rules?” – in or out dichotomy than the question of what it means to be moral.
The violence remains. I was the active perpetrator of the violence against my friends and my family when I left. I didn’t want to face violence because chance may have it that the wrong people objected to my ‘dangerous’ beliefs.
The only way excommunication can be standardized if there was some clear articulation of what merited the action: is Murder in the same category as opposing and denouncing a religion’s political agenda? Clearly the answer is no, but excommunication is a broad enough brush to cover both. It is sometimes an occasion of random violence.
To address your original question at the end of the post, yes, we as a Church could live and thrive after making the decision to never excommunicate anyone ever again. The average Church member would never notice the difference.
The long-term distinction would be that disfellowshipment becomes the ultimate church sanction, even for a reprobate and murderer (say Mark Hofmann) and would then have to be reconceptualized. Again, we have no developed theological understanding of what these acts of discipline do, other than viewing their social consequences. In this scenario, the Church is for everybody who chooses not to leave it. I love this scenario, and can imagine nothing closer to the spirit of Jesus Christ than to adopt some version of it. Because folks are still on the rolls, they would then be pastorally fellowshipped (sense the irony with the term disfellowshipment here?) because home and visiting teachers would still be assigned, and some basic church involvement could be allowed.
I was handed a list of close to 200 excommunicated persons when I arrived as a missionary in my first ward in Germany. They were all women and Aaronic Priesthood holders whom the previous bishop had summarily dismissed from their church membership, often with no formal proceeding having taken place. The new bishop was chagrined but felt that he couldn’t simply reinstate them, so I spent some of the next six months with my two companions visiting many of these people. The ones we were able to contact often didn’t even know they had been “crossed off the list.”
Personally, if I were ever a bishop or stake president, I would institute the Daryl Chase policy. I think the Church is in no danger of me ever being put in those positions, so I leave it to others like Ray, Bruce,and Andrew to develop compassionate and sensible forward-looking solutions to church discipline and the pain it causes.
When you say “from the believing point of view”, excommunication is necessary, it seems that you are taking sides in the theological debate I witnessed in that PEC meeting on my mission. My point was that it is not clear to anyone in the Church what the theological consequences of excommunication are. If you are stating that it is necessary to excommunicate, in what cases and why, from a theological standpoint?
You’re losing me, Bruce. I was going to comment on the weird accusations but I’ll just get to the substance.
On the term “violence”: the dictionary definition for “violent” is roughly, Marked by, acting with, or resulting from great force. Whatever political and negative connotations you are reading me as saying, I’m strictly using the technical definition here. I am not saying excommunication is pure brutality. Its a calculated and mostly controlled expression of that technical violence. Ray connected with that in comment #5.
On the subject of respecting the right for those who believe in saving power and priesthood authority: You are still missing my core point. The fact that you believe so deeply in the value of my name being on the records of the church is exactly what adds the seriousness to your willingness to remove it. If being a member of the church were like being in any other organization, it wouldn’t matter. If you kick me out of a club, it has not implications on my eternal spiritual welfare. Maybe to the non-believer, the spiritual consequence of excommunication doesn’t really matter in and of itself… but the fact remains that someone who DOES BELIEVE chose to cut me off.
I don’t believe we are talking about actual fire and brimstone. From the believer’s view, if I am excommunicated and I don’t return, my salvation is in jeopardy and that is a horrible thing, right? So if you believe that, and are still willing to do it regardless of that risk… it doesn’t matter if I agree with the spiritual effect. You were willing to do it to me and that is the part that hurts. That is the violence that I’m talking about.
#21 – “If you are stating that it is necessary to excommunicate, in what cases and why, from a theological standpoint?”
Excommunication is declaring that you are no longer a member of the church (note: we borrowed this from the Catholics but they probably mean something different by it.)
The LDS church believes they have priesthood authority where what is done on earth is recorded in heaven. This is a basic core belief. However, there is no concept that if a mistake is made that God will honor it anyhow. Thus God is the final judge.
Clay posits this is equivalent to being cast in the pit of fire and brimstone and I’m suggesting that it’s relevant but not the final view of salvation from a Mormon point of view.
For the sake of simplifying things, let’s assume a worst case scenario that Clay is correct and excommunication does declare that believers consider that person now damned unless they repent. On a better case scenario, we can consider it merely being cut off from the community until certain changes are made to make them not a disruption to the community.
Now it seems to me that either way we have a doctrinal necessity here. If we perceive Mormon priesthood as having authority over salvation then being able to declare past saving ordinances null and void is a doctrinal necessity.
Likewise, if we just assume it’s about not distrupting the community and needing to be able to say “you are no longer part of the community unless you repent” we still have a doctrinal necessity.
Clay’s point is “aren’t we accomplshing the same thing with disfellowshipment?” But doctrinally they are not the same. One is temporarily asking the person to not participate as to not condone. The other is the cancelation of the perceived saving ordinances.
My counter point to Clay was that since he perceives them as different, then having two levels of discipline obviously means something and thus he’s answered his own question.
My other counter point was that we need to be consistent and if we believe a person has the right to remove their own membership because they perceive some benefit (which would not necessarily be for the sake of doing violence to the Church in my opinion) then we have to also believe the group can remove them if they deem it necessary for whatever reason.
“I don’t believe we are talking about actual fire and brimstone. From the believer’s view, if I am excommunicated and I don’t return, my salvation is in jeopardy and that is a horrible thing, right? So if you believe that, and are still willing to do it regardless of that risk… it doesn’t matter if I agree with the spiritual effect. You were willing to do it to me and that is the part that hurts. That is the violence that I’m talking about”
Okay, I see what you are saying now, Clay.
The problem is that I disagree with your interpretation of Mormon doctrine here. The belief is not necessarily that we are damning the person, as per John’s comment in #8 where it was percieved as a fresh start. In fact, the belief is generally that we are helping them in two ways:
1. This might wake them up so they can come back
2. There is greater condemnation if they break their convenants then have them canceled.
So excommunication, from a believers point of view, is perceived as always merciful and never “a risk” as you are suggesting.
Thus I hold fundamentally different assumptions about how Mormons are supposed to perceive excommuncation.
So I’m going to go back to the word “violence.”
I have already agreed that in a sense an amputation is violence and thus I’m not necessarily against you using the term so long as we understand it as a positive thing in this case from the believers point of view. However, I still object to use of that word because of the perceived negative connotation. But I’m not against calling it violence in this sense.
But I am strongly against calling it violence in the sense you are suggesting where we are somehow putting the person at risk where as we didn’t have to. If this is what we actually believed, it would be a bad thing, yes.
If priesthood authority actually worked like you perceive it, then the right thing to do would be to never excommunicate anyone ever because, who knows, maybe that ordiance will somehow save them in the end. If we believed as you preceive it, then we would never ever perform excommunications except as an act of revenge and thus we should never do them at all. Thus I would agree with you.
” . . . and it burns, burns, burns, that ring of fire. That ring of fire.”
“Isn’t it just like a [blank] to bring a knife to a gun fight.”
Sean Connery, The Untouchables.
Clay, beautifully, beautifully written. Your ultimate question is a difficult one for me to answer. I’m going to have to think about one that for a few days.
“in what cases and why”
Guess I didn’t really answer this, John.
The why is because you need to declare the person not part of the group in hopes of a change or because you think they’d be better off not breaking their covenants any more. (As per my response to Clay.)
The what cases is a lot harder. Here is the problem, I see. I suspect you can always make the case either way that you’re either better off excommunicating or better of not excommunicating because you don’t ultimately ever get to know exactly what the person is really thinking or get to try it both ways and see which is the more effective approach.
So I’m going to have to give the cop out response of “you pray about it and follow the guidance of the Spirit” as the only viabale answer for “what cases.”
“Thus I hold fundamentally different assumptions about how Mormons are supposed to perceive excommuncation.”
You have a lot of work to do in educating Mormons, brother. I believe that the vast majority of Mormons view the removal of a name from church records as having direct effects in heaven. Like you said: The LDS church believes they have priesthood authority where what is done on earth is recorded in heaven. This is a basic core belief. While your caveat to that is true if you dig deep enough, for most Mormons it ends at the portion I quoted. The efficacy of that authority is WHY they are active. To a lot of people, what would be the point of all the work you do in the temples if God will ultimately clean it all up anyway? We spending countless time and money to get the names of deceased people on the records of the church because we believe we HAVE TO, that God is relying on us to do it.
But the strongest evidence for most Mormons not seeing it your way, Bruce, is the incredible stigma and fear and pain associated with having your named removed, whether it be resignation or excommunication. Mormon families all over would greatly prefer a child to “only be inactive” or to “only get disfellowshipped” vs. the alternative. And the difference in the repercussions is not marginal. Its petrifying. If most Mormons believed what you are saying, that fear would not exists in the same intensity.
“I suspect you can always make the case either way that you’re either better off excommunicating or better of not excommunicating because you don’t ultimately ever get to know exactly what the person is really thinking or get to try it both ways and see which is the more effective approach.
So I’m going to have to give the cop out response of “you pray about it and follow the guidance of the Spirit” as the only viabale answer for “what cases.””
Or you could just not excommunicate, and use disfellowship as the way to separate them from the family for protective purposes, and then mediate from within an unbroken family relationship rather than trying to re-attach. In a practical sense, there is no difference between an excommunicant and a disfellowshipped member. Neither can participate in public worship (teach, pray, answer questions in class, etc.) Both are allowed to come to church and talk to other members. Excommunication does nothing in that practical sense beyond what disfellowship would do.
“You have a lot of work to do in educating Mormons, brother. I believe that the vast majority of Mormons view the removal of a name from church records as having direct effects in heaven. …While your caveat to that is true if you dig deep enough, for most Mormons it ends at the portion I quoted. The efficacy of that authority is WHY they are active.”
I will not argue with you over whether or not “the vast majority of Mormons” believe one way or the other as I doubt I know and doubt you do too. (*I* have no awareness that we are talking about a vast majority or anything but a really small minority.) I will simply accept that you are right in some cases, and it’s probably more common for non-leaders (i.e. the people not making the decision to excommunicate.)
Still, if the issue here boils down “we need to educate Mormons to understand their own doctrines better.” Then we have reached a point on which we can move forward upon with your original question as a means of improving the situation for all parties. I would like to now suggest this as my answer to your original question and see what you think.
In a related vein, we see the same thing sometimes with baptisms, only in reverse. I remember there was a family that wanted to get their senile old father baptized. In the interview it was pretty obvious he wasn’t ready for baptism because he didn’t understand any of it or accept any of it. It was clear this was just the family misunderstanding the real efficacy of baptism. (They were thinking of it in a more Catholic sense of sacrements and baptising children to avoid sending them to limbo, etc.)
Finally the district leader gave into the family’s wishes and let the man be baptized for his family’s sake. He felt guilty because he wasn’t technically supposed to let someone who didn’t really believe be baptized because that’s understood as affecting unnecessary condemanation on that person’s head. (i.e. just like excommunicating them is supposed to reduce the condemnation).
I actually think he made the right decision in this case. Since the man was near death anyhow, and this probably wasn’t the best time to explain to the family that the baptism would be basically meaningless as per actual Mormon doctrine, we might as well just perform it and let is have no meaning accept as the family was making up in their minds.
In this case I do not see how it could cause condemnation since he didn’t understand what was happening anyhow.
The only real negative I see with the decision was that it meant we gave into the wishes of this family to turn baptism into something it wasn’t and thus indirectly allowed a false view of saving ordinances to be advanced. But sometimes it’s better to just not fight bad perceptions like this in such a tense circumstance.
“Mormon families all over would greatly prefer a child to “only be inactive” or to “only get disfellowshipped” vs. the alternative. And the difference in the repercussions is not marginal. Its petrifying. If most Mormons believed what you are saying, that fear would not exists in the same intensity.”
I think you are correct that this is an issue, but I think you are probably reading it wrong. The issue isn’t likely that Mormons are upset over “excommunication” vs. “disfellowship” because they think their son or daughter is “damned more” with one. The issues is probably in many cases just simply not wanting to “stain” their family name with the higher penalty. While I disagree with this point of view, I think it’s pretty human and probably pretty hard to overcome and I’d probaby do it myself if I found myself in such a circumstance without realizing that I’m just causing unnecessary trouble.
“whether it be resignation or excommunication.”
Actually, this comment sort of goes along with what I was saying. Resignation and excommunication are actually the same thing, technically. But many post-Mormons don’t want to be considered “excommunicated” but instead “resigned.” Presumably we’re talking about a “stain on their name” that they perceive as being different in one case vs. the other.
I don’t think the example you are using here proves a vast majority of Mormons misunderstand what excommunication means. I think it does prove that you can’t entirely decouple doctrinal content from perception of the community. It would be pretty natural for me, as a father, to prefer to think of my son as “only inactive” vs. “he quit the Church entirely.” It would be easier to explain to people if the topic came up, for example. Yet you can never really do away with the a person’s decision to quit the Church or for the Church to quit them.
I think this is why we should be talking more about how to work out compromises and reduce excommunication rather than try to eliminate it or doctrinally nullify it. Everything we’ve said up to this point suggests to me it’s necessity to exist, but also suggests that there are real communal ramifications — not merely non-existent spiritual ones — that go along with the concept. Such impacts are very real and that’s exactly why they are often effective as a way of helping people want to change their behavior. I think we miss the boat to think of this solely in terms of how it “affects one’s salvation in the afterlife.” I think we miss the boat to even assume that is the primary concern of most members or post-members.
“In a practical sense, there is no difference between an excommunicant and a disfellowshipped member”
You’re right, if by “practical sense” you mean what does it officially affect in terms of Church participation.
But as you pointed out, it makes a huge difference to both the person and the community how they understand the situation and these differences are not trivial. Even something as simple as “I, as the leader of this ward, feel I need to impress upon the individual and the ward the seriousness of X action” we are still talking about a real need that has real practical differences.
Clay, is what you are really asking specifically the need to excommunicate for apostacy? You originally said this. Does this mean you are okay with it if we’re talking about a serious sin that you agree is a sin? (Sexual abuse, say.)
Also, give some thought to the cut off point. Would you be okay with excommunication if the “apostate” in question was vocal and public and just started a full time job as an anti-Mormon? That seems like a pretty clear case to me where disfellowshipment just wouldn’t cut it.
I don’t want to imply that I think your reasoning is entirely fallacious…there have been more than one excommunications in church history, I’m sure, that had wrong-headed motives at work. So in some cases, I’m sure you are correct.
however, Pubilus Syrus noted that not every question deserves an answer, and both Joseph and Elder Uchtdorf have noted that if we start out on a wrong premise, we will end incorrectly as well. Thus, I find the question about violence to not be a helpful one because a false premise is engrained into the question. It is not unlike the “Do you still beat your wife?” line of questioning or “Is the sky green or purple?” One simply CAN’T answer the question and still be honest. And I think it is well to point that out. I will be posting shortly and if my questions are based on wrong premises, I would hope someone would point that out to me.
However, calling excommunication “violence” without qualification serves as a maneuver in political science circles called heresthetics…under such a connotation, it becomes quite difficult for people to stomach it as a necessity.
“But let me say that if love, peace, and forgiveness are my political machine that I’m trying to fit cogs into, I will unabashedly agree.”
Again, you are setting up a (false) dichotomy between excommunication and love/peace/forgiveness. If we believe at any level that excommunication might just be the proper course of action (and I know from my personal interactions that it can be…and trust me, I know of cases where “friendly fire” also took place)
My bad, friends…I left off a sentence…alas, the pains of multi-tasking…
“friendly fire” took place), then we step onto dangerous territory in associating the excommunication with a word so pregnant with negative cultural connotations.
Yeah, it’s semantics, but the naming of things has tremendous implications for how we reason through them. Therefore, I still object strongly to calling all excommunication acts of violence.
I’m spending too much time doing this. LOL.
Clay, I just want to say that this is an interesting post.
I do believe excommunication serves a real purpose within the Mormon community and I don’t believe it’s generally viewed in the negative light Clay believes it is.
That being said, Clay and I had a side conversation going on and he is correct that I am agreeing with him in the cases where his assumptions are true, which I’m sure is all too often the case. I just don’t see them as generally true.
I think the problem I have with his premise is:
1. Anytime you think you can take a complex social organizaion like the LDS church and boil it down to “almost all members believe X way” I think you are probably wrong in your assumption.
2. His premise is setup with a bar for proof that is too high for himself. He can never prove that there isn’t at least one situation where excommunication is actually a good thing but if there is even one such case, then his premise is wrong.
3. I know of such cases personally (or at least I perceive it this way and my perceptions are my reality in a case of beliefs like this) so I can safely reject his assumptions for myself and thus for the LDS community.
But I want to emphasize that this only means I’m disagreeing with the absoluteness in Clay’s point. i.e. that *all* excommunications could be done away with and replaced with disfollowshipment. If you temper that point to make it a bit less absolute then I think I basically agree with him again that there is often available compromises that could be found that just aren’t found because we don’t know how.
I don’t think that the use of the word violence as a synonym for excommunication is problematic because violence is “pregnant with negative cultural connotations.” In fact, this is what Clay is saying. Excommunication as a word is pregnant with negative cultural connotations. It depends on which culture we’re talking about. What Clay has done is shine a light from wider American culture onto our narrower American Mormon sub-culture and drawn a useful comparison.
In fact, the uses of excommunication, as the most extreme act the Church can legally take against an individual in the 21st century United States (other than firing them from employment or suing them for just cause) are redolent with images of violence, as Clay has shown.
To answer Clay’s question, WHY is it necessary to excommunicate, I think the answer is very primal. It’s the worst thing we can do, and we haven’t let the message of Christ sink into our hearts and church culture enough so that we feel an institutional act is necessary for someone to be forgiven of sin. I have never read this in the scriptures by the way, which is why I asked a pointed question about the theology of excommunication. We don’t have one, except by uncanonical tradition and policy, that for some reason, people’s sins are worse when they have made covenants and that repenting by throwing yourself on the mercy of Jesus Christ is not enough.
In summary, and this may be a bold statement, the NEED to excommunicate comes from the same dark place in our culture that produced a president of the Church who believed that there were some sins for which the blood of Jesus could not atone, but for which the sinner himself or herself must suffer by voluntarily (or not) having their blood shed.
Excommunication is spiritual blood atonement.
Great Post Clay
I can tell this will be the shortest post here!!
I think all bishops, stake presidents and high councilman and possibly GA’s should be refreshed in their minds of what an excommunication means.
“Disfellowship basically accomplishes the most necessary functions to protect the church. The person is not able to participate in any public worship practices which would indicate endorsement or condoning of their positions, like holding callings, praying in meetings, or exercising priesthood. The only thing that excommunication does beyond that is the blotting out of their name from the book of life. It is an “eternity-level” punishment with no “temporal-level” impact above and beyond disfellowship.”
They should also be made aware of the percentage odds of a member returning to the church after an individual has been excommunicated and the probable effects this will have in percentage terms on that individuals posterity long term activity
I also really struggle with accepting “violence” as the best word to wrap our experience.
My wife’s excommunication process was poorly handled, and the so-called “loving outreach” was a real eye opener (and let down). Yet I see the Bishop as a well intentioned administrator and generally nice guy. He was just not trained nor gifted to shepherd our spiritual lives. The experience led my wife and I to really start over in approaching religion and faith as a meaningful, intentional journey and not as a commitment of habit and tradition, to take complete open-eyed ownership of where our marriage was and is headed. It freed us to consider where we felt God was drawing us and then follow Him.
Now we’re seeking to live in authenticity with God, with more personal accountability to root our outward practice as an extension of our inward hope and faith. While I think the strategy and tactics of Mormon disciplinary procedures could be much more effectively conceived and carried out, the process actually accomplished, ironically, the spiritual goals I think were intended. It would seem mean and ungrateful not to find God as having worked during that process to reach us. He didn’t just wait outside the building for us to be finished with being Mormons.
I’m still a member of record. No, I don’t see God’s Book of Life as having any special LDS connection. Nor am I hedging my bets. I moved on in liberty to my allegiance to God and faith in Christ. To write a letter of resignation still feels like I’d be regressing to define my relationship with God as one of corporate “churchness.” While I have since received an “evangelical” Christian baptism and am very involved with another denomination, “joining” was not my motivation.
Therefore we seek to pursue God in liberty and have asked our former LDS leadership to honor that liberty. So far they have and sociable contact has been appropriate. Sure, some former LDS friends now avoid us, and some family members treat us very differently, but not all. We changed our community. So for those who define themselves strongly by affiliation this is a huge chasm to bridge — or not bridge at all. This experience has freed us to find good in the LDS community for those who don’t define their faith and religious practice primarily that way. Some have still reached out in authentic friendship and acceptance of our kids. Therefore, I still see opportunity with many LDS members for friendship and bridge-building.
Again, “violence” just doesn’t seem to best fit our experience.
I really think you’ve been reading a lot of Konrad’s Heart of Darkness…a lot of your imagery is simply over the top. Again, we’re not talking about a disagreement of definition. You know that “blood atonement” conjures up horrific images in peoples minds. Why use it except to incite? And plus, the ideas that Brigham taught were not borne of him, incidentally…that was O.T. stuff. And your facts on blood atonement are lacking (the whole “or not” aside is what I’m referring to here…this isn’t a post on blood atonement, so I’ll refrain…)
Plus, I know people who have been excommunicated and have come back. Quite simply, they disagree with you.
Oh…and the theology of excommunication is quite clearly in the scriptures “blotting out” and “if they do not repent, they must suffer even as I have suffered.” Mosiah 26 and D&C 19. There are also plenty of other references to disciplinary action such as Acts 5 (and others…I’m in a hurry right now, so if it’s still a hot topic, then i’ll discuss it further!)
What, then, is the effect of resignation or excommunication on the salvation or exaltation of the individual (regardless of its effect on his or her standing with the remainder of the congregation or community)? Does it move him or her from the resurrection of the just to the resurrection of the unjust?
Assume 5 individuals with identical (let us say, righteous: tithe mint & cummin, love God with all heart mind & strength, love neighbor as self, whatever) moral codes, beliefs and actions:
Individual #1 is an active, endowed, sealed (always attending) member of the Church.
#2 is an endowed and sealed member of the Church, who seldom worships with the Saints.
#3 is endowed & sealed, but has resigned from the Church.
#4 accompanies his LDS wife to her meetings, but doesn’t join out of respect to the wishes of his saintly mother.
#5 is very involved with his or her Unitarian church.
Which of the 5 can expect to be included with the resurrection of the just? Of the unjust? Is the Atonement efficacious for some, but not for others? Which? Are the salvific ordinances necessary for inclusion in the resurrection of the just? Can administrative action withdraw the effects of those ordinances, or are they efficacious after having been received?
and sometimes excommunication really is a method of protection. That’s not true of most cases, but it certainly is in at least a few.
I think I had to get my connotative aversion to the word off my chest so I could better focus on what you’re saying.
In our case, my wife was disciplined. She was repentant. We were broken. And in this vulnerable moment the Church presents God as so displeased with her as to cut her out of salvational communion with Him. This happens to be inseparably tied to communion with the Church. The church at this time for us was a meaningful and non-meaningful blend of claimed divine access, authority, genuine community, family tradition, and mixed day-to-day benefits. Yet confessing and submitting felt to my wife and me the honest thing to do. All was severed in order to fully weigh the seriousness of her sin upon her mind and soul.
Our marriage almost being over was such a real and pressing concern at this time that such discipline just couldn’t seem as weighty to us as I can see it is from the LDS God-church perspective. My wife already deeply felt that she could never be worthy again of my love or God’s love, yet, she felt love from me and from God. The excommunication seemed, then, like a paper tiger in its coolness and formality. It seemed like she should feel worse about losing something like this, but it was so passively-aggressively delivered that it was more confusing than anything, I think.
The process probably was excessively draconian, but alleviated somewhat because the men in charge were kindly, smiling, bumbling administrators. The detailed questioning process probably should have felt more violating to her, but here were men she generally liked doing the act. The God-church was willing to say this state of transgression was also my failure because my eternal marriage was also severed till she resubmit. That could have been even more greatly hurtful, but yet I already was in a place where my faith, though weak, was not rooted in the church as my intermediary.
So, yes, I see the violence you speak of. Maybe we were already prepared to find hope elsewhere, and diverted so greatly by more pressing problems, that the process just didn’t feel violent. And while their actions gave us mixed signals, we truly felt free to start over.
Good insights Quix. I want to clarify that my using the term violence, again, is only technical because the word really is the appropriate word to describe an excess of force. I’m calling it violence because I feel (my opinion) that less force could probably be effective for the needs, thus using more force than is necessary is correctly and technically defined as violence. But I am not meaning to imply that church leaders in a disciplinary council are violent people who are acting out of revenge. I fully acknowledge that they approach these courts with incredible humility and concern for doing the right thing. In that sense, it is a lot like corporal punishment, i.e. “This will hurt me more than it will hurt you.” The pain of the leaders is something I’d like to see less of, too.
Quix, I also appreciate your illustration of the value of a formal marker which you can mnemonically use to “start over”.
Excommunication means that a person is forbidden from communion, that is, from partaking of the sacrament. (or participating in other ordinances of the Church for that matter). According to the teachings of Jesus (in 3 Ne 16:28-32) it is properly restricted to the unrepentant, those whose definant disobedience threatens to destroy others.
This would imply that it is not to be done to prune the inactive from the rolls, or for failing to pay tithes or offerings, nor in revenge for a slight, or for holding unorthodox doctrinal opinions, nor even for addictive behavior that the church member is trying to overcome.
The Church doesn’t even have the authority to exclude those who are excommunicated from public worship, because as far as we mortals know, they could still repent and come to Christ with full purpose of heart. So, as far as casting them into hell…that’s God’s privilege alone.
Just for Quix: Amen!
I’m a little late to the game on this one. In some cases voluntary or involuntary separation is an act of vehemence (what Clay poetically calls violence), but I agree with Clay that it should be very rare in both scenarios (whether by choice or through excommunication). When a person chooses to leave s/he can generally do so without “making a stand.” But these good intentions are not always easy for people to execute. For example, post-Mormon is doing a billboard campaign in AZ, UT, and ID right now, referring those who have left the church to their site. The site is beautifully done, with wonderful pictures of families enjoying picnics and hiking in the desert; the mission statement is full of kindness and welcoming with positive feelings toward people’s previous experiences with the church, as if they are explaining how they have graduated to a new, higher phase of spirituality. The exit stories section OTOH is full of bitterness and hatred (words like “cult” and “lies” abound) and belies the entire site. But it’s hard to define an organization positively that is defined by what it is not (inherently a negative definition).
There are two main reasons people are ex’d: behavior (sin) or belief (apostasy to Mormons; heresy to Catholics). Mormons are seldom ex’d for belief unless they are poking the church in the eye. That’s probably true for historical Catholicism, too (had to be responsible for a schism to get ex’d), until the inquisition made it easy for lay members to use the church to murder their ex-girlfriends, enemies or people they owed money. Talk about an act of violence.
My DH also had looked up excommunication practices in other contemporary churches. Apparently, one protestant church recently ex’d a large group of its members for belonging to the “wrong” political party.
I would question, however, whether excommunication is, by definition, “excessive force” (as Clay put it) and therefore “violent.” I know individuals who have participated in wrong behavior or began advocating (emphasis: ADVOCATING) incorrect beliefs. In the Hmong branch where I served, both happened without a flinch…and I am not necessarily sad for it. It was a tough time in the branch, and we simply could not be hard-liners on certain things. It would mean the end of a solid portion of our male membership and perhaps even our branch.
So no, I don’t think excommunication is always necessary, even when less-than-desirable things are going on. In such cases, disciplinary action of any kind would probably have been excessive (though I did not have all the information, I had more than most missionaries do). But we simply cannot say that excommunication is ipso facto excessive.