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?