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The LDS Church and Excommunication

February 10, 2011

I just spent lunch today with a friend who was asking about excommunication for a couple of reasons.  Since leaving her physically abusive husband, she also left the church and has made some decisions that will probably lead to a disciplinary council if she returns.  She wanted to know if she would be excommunicated and amazingly, she isn’t upset by the thought.  She just isn’t ready to change the way she’s living and is worried about how she’ll be treated. 

She is also upset that her soon to be ex-husband hasn’t been held accountable for the abuse.  She withdrew from the ward as she tried to hide what was going on, meanwhile, he did his best to portray her as crazy when there was a reason for her frequent crying.  She wanted out, but he had threatened to make sure she would never see their son again.  He is a long time member of the ward.  She is a convert and moved up here after they met on the Internet.  Some people have expressed the opinion, “Well he didn’t beat his first wife.”  Somehow that must mean that she caused the abuse – an opinion I have no respect for.  He chose his actions.

I was able to tell my friend that excommunication doesn’t mean “go away and don’t come back” and it also isn’t meant to punish a person.  It’s a way for a person to start over.  I said if she was unhappy about the way her situation was handled by local leaders, she should talk to the Stake President in the spirit of wanting to help other women in this situation and let him decide what the appropriate disciplinary action is.  She does know that she needs to move on because it’s eating away at her.  I told her, “When people do horrible things to me, it helps to remember that Heavenly Father can make a person accountable way better than I ever could.  Then I leave it up to him, knowing that there will be consequences for their actions eventually.” 

I would say this is one of the subjects I don’t have very much knowledge about in the church, so I looked up this article by Elder M. Russell Ballard.  I found this section interesting:

Possible Actions of Disciplinary Councils

Decisions of the council are to be made with inspiration. A council can reach one of four decisions: (1) no action, (2) formal probation, (3) disfellowshipment, or (4) excommunication.

Even if a transgression has been committed, the council may decide to take no action at that time. (The member would be encouraged to receive further counsel from his or her bishop.)

Formal probation is a temporary state of discipline, imposed as a means to help the member fully repent. The presiding officer of the council specifies the conditions under which the probation can be terminated. During the probation, the bishop or stake president keeps in close contact to help the individual progress.

The third decision the council may take is to disfellowship the member. Disfellowshipment is usually temporary, though not necessarily brief. Disfellowshipped persons retain membership in the Church. They are encouraged to attend public Church meetings, but are not entitled to offer public prayers or to give talks. They may not hold a Church position, take the sacrament, vote in the sustaining of Church officers, hold a temple recommend, or exercise the priesthood. They may, however, pay tithes and offerings and continue to wear temple garments if endowed.

Excommunication is the most severe judgment a Church disciplinary council can take. Excommunicated persons are no longer members of the Church. Therefore, they are denied the privileges of Church membership, including the wearing of temple garments and the payment of tithes and offerings. They may attend public Church meetings, but, like disfellowshipped persons, their participation in such meetings is limited. Excommunicated persons are encouraged to repent and so live as to qualify for eventual baptism.

Great consideration is given regarding the confidentiality of the decisions of a Church disciplinary council. No announcement is ever made when a member is placed on formal probation. Decisions to disfellowship or excommunicate are generally not announced publicly unless the transgression is widely known.

I don’t know how many people are aware that when a person is excommunicated, their tithing is no longer accepted.  I had heard that before, but never bothered to look it up.  I think it’s an interesting fact considering how often the church is accused of being motivated by greed.  If you have ever wondered about excommunication in the LDS Church, I highly recommend the article.

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