Wednesday, July 16, 2008


First, a disclaimer. I have never been involved in any way in a disciplinary council. Since the proceedings of such are not publicized, I have no direct knowledge on the subject. What I do have is observations of the excommunicated's behavior afterwards and their explanation and publication of the proceedings. That is what I'm going on.

I find it interesting how excommunications from the LDS Church gain so much sympathy and publicity. Many rail against the Church's actions. The Church, like any church, has the perfect right to excommunicate anyone who does not agree with them. You can't see the NAACP keeping racists within their ranks, nor can you see Democrats welcoming in flaming conservatives with open arms. Of course, almost no thinking person agrees wholeheartedly 100% with the Church. It is entirely the Church's prerogative to determine where disagreement crosses the bounds of membership in the Church.

Moreover, it is silly when people act surprised at the results of the most publicized disciplinary councils. Many bemoan the lack of perspective from the Church's side. Both this recent "Men on a Mission" calendar creator's excommunication and the long-mourned excommunication of the September Six seem to me to be fairly cut-and-dry. Granted, no one really knows the details who was not present, but the general requirements for excommunication are quite clearly outlined in scripture.

When a person breaks the covenants they made at baptism, they are excommunicated. It is as simple as that, and I imagine it is rarely in any doubt. If, in a disciplinary council (consisting of members who have authority and stewardship to be there), the person in question is told that their behavior is a sin and they need to repent, and they then frankly refuse to do so, they are excommunicated. They have starkly refused to be humble. They have vocally and obviously placed something above their covenants, whether that be a pet doctrine or a disrespectful calendar. Generally speaking, they have deliberately flaunted other covenants they have made and broken the commandments of the Lord. Moreover, most of them have agreed that they no longer believe or are willing to follow the tenets of the Church. They have usually effectively withdrawn themselves from membership already. If they were on top of things, they would have already asked to have their names removed (unless they are using their membership as a supposed stamp of respectability.)

Additionally, the excommunication is better for all parties. It is intended, much like withdrawal of the privilege of taking the sacrament, to wake the person to the seriousness of the need to repent. All who are excommunicated have the opportunity to be rebaptized, if they repent. The grounds for repentance are no different than they are for being baptized the first time.

Actions that might get you excommunicated should you refuse to accept correction include:
  1. Preaching doctrines not officially taught by the Church
  2. Murder, incest, or child abuse
  3. Apostasy
  4. Fraud and dishonesty in business dealings
  5. Physical, sexual or emotional abuse
  6. Homosexual and extramarital sexual relations
  7. Abandonment of family responsibilities
  8. Many, many other things

Actions not subject to disciplinary council include:
  1. Not paying tithing
  2. Breaking the Word of Wisdom
  3. Neglecting to attend church or to receive home teachers
  4. Business failure or nonpayment of debts
  5. Personal disputes
  6. Voluntary request to have one's name removed from the records of the Church.

Those curious to learn more can read Elder Ballard's discourse on the subject and Elder Robert Simpson's discussion on repentance and Church courts. I found both to be very instructive.


  1. SR, your reasoning makes sense if the Church is an exclusive club with requirements for conformity. But I picture Christ's Church as a place where imperfect people can learn to approach God or godliness. I don't see excommunication as the best way to learn. I could be wrong on this, but it's the way I see it now. I truly believe that cutting people off should rarely, if ever, happen. Certainly not for an offense like that missionary calendar.

    BTW, you mentioned humility. If you were personally acquainted with some of the September Six, you would know that they are some of the most humble, loving and sincere people on the face of this earth. What happened there was just wrong.

  2. SR,
    I enjoy reading your posts but your concept of excommunication needs a little clarification.

    “When a person breaks the covenants they made at baptism, they are excommunicated. It is as simple as that”

    A disciplinary council is supposed to be lead by the Spirit. Many are, some are not. This can result very inconsistent outcomes given similar situations.

    I was excommunicated and I have returned. I now share the pews with people who received either formal probation or were disfellowshipped for the same sin.

    So, it’s not as simple as that.

    “Additionally, the excommunication is better for all parties.”

    This is not always true due to the inconsistencies mentioned above and the difficulty of readmission.

    The experience of returning to the church by way of the back door is nothing like the warm and fuzzy experience of a new investigator.

    Apparently 80% never return. Is this better for all involved?

    “The grounds for repentance are no different than they are for being baptized the first time.”

    I’m not sure what you mean here but having to share the details of your sins and the depth of your repentance with 16 men in a session often lasting an hour or more is certainly different than the first time!

    In addition their concern for protecting the church from your possible repeat performance appears to raise the bar considerably.


  3. I have been involved in at least a dozen disciplinary councils over the years. The bishops council almost never results in excommunication. The stake council rarely results in excommunication these days. It always depends on the spirit of the individual and, dare I say it for fear of being misunderstood, their willingness to be submissive to do whatever they are asked to do by the council.

    Yes, there are some things that result in automatically being excommunicated, but for the most part, I have been amazed at the mercy that has been demonstrated in even the worst cases. We are a church of mercy and I have seen this demonstrated over and over again. Excommunication is NOT always the best thing to help an individual repent and save their soul, which is the goal of a disciplinary council.

    We do not excommunicate people for breaking their baptismal covenants. If we did that, we would not have very many members left in the church. Temple covenants, position in the church and the impact of the offense hold more weight in the decision. In the case of calendar boy, I wonder if there was more to the story than what he revealed. Of course, we almost never hear the story from the side of those who held the council, and rightly so.

    I must agree with BiV about some of the September Six. I have had much dialog with Paul Toscano and have found him to be very sincere in his approach to doctrine. It is unfortunate that he was so "in your face" about it previously, which is, I am sure, what got him ex'ed. He and I are still at odds over doctrinal interpretations but I say give him time and he may be able to sort out his differences.

  4. Thank you for all your comments. They make it obvious that I didn't mention something, perhaps because it was obvious to me, that mercy can (and often is) granted in individual cases. By exploring this, I only meant to find general guidelines to excommunication, since it's not something I'd thought of before. When I said "When a person breaks the covenants they made at baptism, they are excommunicated. It is as simple as that, and I imagine it is rarely in any doubt," I should have added "it is rarely in any doubt to the council when they excommunicate someone," which was my intended meaning. Granted, many of us break our baptismal covenants, often without meaning to, without excommunication. According to the scriptures I referenced in that paragraph, however, breaking that covenant is what subjects you to the possibility of excommunication. Whether or not the Spirit leads the council to that decision or not is a somewhat different matter, completely contingent upon the details of individual situations. I certainly didn't make my take on that clear, I apologize.

    Whether or not Paul Toscano is humble, I can't judge. I've never met the man in person, and I have no stewardship over him. Without trying to apply it to him personally, I will say that it is possible for a person's manner to be humble, but his actions to be prideful. A person can act very humbly, and even believe themselves humble, but be unwilling to bend on teaching a point of doctrine contrary to the purposes of the Church. As endowed members particularly, we have covenanted to build up the kingdom of God through the Church. If the Church asks us to do so in a particular manner and we refuse, that is not humility, that is pride. Again, I reiterate, whether or not this is the case with Paul Toscano, I have no idea nor a particular urge to stick my nose in and find out. I would, of course, listen if the interested parties were willing to tell me. I'm far too curious not to.

    BiV—I can understand how, when put in terms of an "exclusive club" the gospel of Christ and whether or not someone is a member feels repugnant, but I don't see how you could say that there are not certain requirements for membership. Discipleship is open to all, but they must change themselves to conform to certain points in order to be baptised, such as repentance. God Himself has said that no unclean thing can enter His kingdom. If a person chooses to be unclean, they are also excluding themselves from the blessings. I agree that excommunication should be rare, as it is. I disagree when it comes to the point of learning. I have seen a few be shaken to the reality of the seriousness of their sins when they did not take them seriously before excommunication. In certain cases, excommunication is certainly a good way to learn. The question remains only if the person involved chooses to learn.

    Anonymous - I am extremely grateful for your perspective. As I stated in full disclosure, I've not been involved with any disciplinary council firsthand, so my understanding is pieced together from comments others have made on it. It is a given that people sitting on councils are imperfect and that sometimes a wrong decision may be made. In such cases, however, I trust that if it was a wrong decision, the person in question could repent and regain their status. I may be wrong, but is there not some sort of appeal that can be made?

    I would say that the grounds for repentance are the same, though the process for determining sincerity is different in quantity, if not essence. Before baptism, all must be interviewed. The process is simply larger and more involved for those who previously lost their baptism.

    Tim—thank you for your perspective and clarification. I made the mistake of making it sound like excommunication was automatic. I appreciate your willingness to pipe in. I will say that if we do not excommunicate people for breaking their baptismal covenants, it is because we are extending mercy. The scriptures give that as the reason, and I still think that is the root cause when coupled with pride, as you have said.

  5. I should have said "willfully breaking their baptismal covenants" in the last paragraph of the above comment.

  6. Also - this came out officially, interestingly.

  7. SR: “is there not some sort of appeal that can be made?”

    Yes there is. Unfortunately the CHI is not commonly available. So, the person being Ex’ed is often not aware of this option.

    As I recall the appeal must be filed within 30 days.


  8. SR: “I trust that if it was a wrong decision, the person in question could repent and regain their status.”

    True. But the return process is a very long and humbling. During this time you have serious limits placed on your church participation. Obvious major examples are no sacrament until rebaptism and no priesthood until restoration of blessings. Generally those around you assume that you probably deserve this and any delays are probably related to your attitude, need for additional repentance or your lack of worthiness. These assumptions often add to the pain of the process.

    At least in my case the delays had nothing to do with me. Bishops, Stake Presidents and High Councilmen are very busy men. A returnee can be time consuming to deal with compared to say renewing a temple recommend so, you wait…and wait…and wait.

    My disciplinary council was finally held six months after I returned to church on a regular weekly basis. This allowed me to be re-baptized. Then there is a minimum one year waiting period until your SP can write the First Presidency to ask for restoration of blessings.

    The entire process often takes two years or more even when you walk in the door fully repentant and “temple worthy”.


  9. SR:
    Now that you’ve had a look at the return process let’s dig a little deeper into your statement:

    “I trust that if it was a wrong decision, the person in question could repent and regain their status.”

    Hypothetically let’s apply this “wrong decision” to one of the September Six. If the decision was actually wrong, what would they repent from?

    If they want re-admittance they basically have three choices: 1) Pretend that they were wrong and go through the return process with the very same people who ex’ed them. 2) Wait up to 7 years for their SP to be released and go through the return process with the new Stake Presidency. 3) Move to a new Stake and go through the process there!


  10. I can see how that would be difficult. To me, the difficulty of the task would be worth it, particularly if I knew myself innocent of all charges. All throughout, I would know that God knew my heart.

    I'm not saying it's easy, but I am still giving the benefit of the doubt to those on the disciplinary council. I believe they probably did the best they knew how to do and were as careful as they could be before making such a final decision. I have been in situations where my leaders were making poor choices roughly similar to this nature, though not exact. It is rare, but I do know wrong decisions that severely affect another's life can happen. I still feel it can be a learning process for those involved.

    I don't know as I want to express my opinion further in the sense that it is both unpopular and pointless to share. I have a strange outlook on these sorts of matters, one that usually seems to offend. To avoid starting an argument, I think I shall leave it here. I do appreciate your perspective and can see how such a position is humiliating and hard.

  11. SR, this is an excellent example of why I enjoy reading your comments.

    “the difficulty of the task would be worth it, particularly if I knew myself innocent of all charges. All throughout, I would know that God knew my heart.”

    Indeed. Thank you for a beautiful summary.


  12. Thank you! This conversation has been both enlightening and civil—a rare find on the internet. I have thoroughly enjoyed your participation.


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