Recently, Mormons have been in the news (yet again), because of controversies that look big and harsh from the outside. Not understanding how our lay clergy, callings, and gentle process of councils and repentance work, friends of other faiths (and no faith) are visualizing tribunals to try and condemn, and possibly excommunicate, two vocal members who are critics of Mormon doctrine and practice. This has presented us with the opportunity to explain the lovingness of church councils and to present the process as charitable and non-threatening. We also have the opportunity to explain excommunication as part of that loving process, meant to lead to full restoration of membership and participation in the faith.
An Interview with the PA Manager of the Church
Ally Isom, Senior Manager of Public Affairs with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was interviewed by Doug Fabrizio of Radio West. They discussed the details of the church disciplinary process as described by the Church.
During the interview, Isom states that the church defines apostasy as when “members turn away from the principles of the gospel, or corrupt principles of the gospel, or make unauthorized changes in Church organizations or priesthood ordinances.” She continues to say that expressing personal views is one thing, but it’s a completely different situation when an individual begins to actively draw others away from clear gospel doctrine. She explains the dangers of this by quoting President Gordon B. Hinckley: “Small aberrations in doctrinal teaching can lead to large and evil falsehoods” (from LDS.net).
A Thorough and Thoughtful Article at Patheos.com
Latter-day Saint convert, Karen Trifiletti, also posted a thoughtful article at Patheos called John Dehlin and Kate Kelly: Reflections on Church Discipline. In it, Karen discusses “loving disciplinary action,” calling failure to discipline a less-loving choice:
Today, professing Christians—as well as progressive parents—are almost afraid to practice discipline out of fear of appearing uncaring. But actually choosing not to discipline, in the case of grievances of Church doctrine or behavior, is the uncaring, least merciful course, for the offender and for the body of Christ.
Church discipline invites a change of heart, and keeps “the body of Christ free from influences that weaken others’ faith in Jesus Christ and his teachings,” Karen says.
Of particular concern to Karen and all the members of the Church is an understanding of the use and nature of “priesthood,” which we define as the power and authority to act in God’s name. The priesthood is a blessing that comes with membership in the “true and living” Church, and the idea that it is somehow limited to men in administrative callings is a wrong idea. Says Karen,
The priesthood is infinite, and is continually poured out and its powers and blessings are shared as the Lord has designated. There is no scarcity of it, nor does it need to be re-distributed according to secular versions of functional equality. All women have access to the power of the priesthood and equal access to God.
Read more about the infinite blessings of the priesthood on LDS.net. If you are confused by the claims of the Ordain Women group and wondering about their ‘grievances,” this is a must-read, shared by the same author.
An Experienced Mormon Leader Reflects on Church Disciplinary Councils
Also a very worthwhile read on the subject of church discipline in Mormonism is a piece called Middle Aged Mormon Man — Why I Love Church Disciplinary Councils.
My views regarding church disciplinary councils come from almost a decade of actively participating in them as a bishop, and a member of Stake councils. I have had the privilege and responsibility to participate in dozens of councils over that time.
MMM comments on the palpable feeling of the presence of the Holy Ghost at these councils, perhaps more profoundly felt than in any other process of service.
I have witnessed the power of the Atonement of Christ heal broken hearts and darkened spirits. I have seen the very real change of countenance in the face and eyes of many repentant souls who sought, and found, forgiveness.
In the midst of this controversy, these three articles can give you a clear picture of the purpose, context, and content of Mormon disciplinary councils and show how church discipline is guided by a loving Heavenly Father through the presence of the Holy Ghost.