Church Discipline in the Internet Age

May 12, 2011 | 69 comments
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Sometimes technology changes everything. First came writing, then television, now the Internet: Instant global publishing by just about anyone on the planet. You. Me. The guy who just got called in for a chat with his stake president.

I don’t think the Church has really figured this out yet. The Church is doing a great job of using centralized websites (LDS.org, Mormon.org, FamilySearch). The Church has brought discipline to its curriculum and publishing activities through Correlation — you may not like the end product, but at least be grateful for all the screwy ideas that don’t get published under the banner of the Church. But LDS disciplinary councils (previously called “church courts”), in particular those that address conduct or speech that might constitute “apostasy,” have somehow slipped through the cracks. They are not centralized. They are not correlated. And, this being the Internet Age, they can create a lot of bad publicity — avoidable and unnecessary bad publicity — for the Church.

Don’t Believe Everything You Read on the Internet

Before we talk about perceptions, let’s talk about reality. When you read an online account of an LDS disciplinary council, you are only reading half the story. There is always more to the story. Always. Your evaluation if you knew the whole story would likely be rather different than your initial reaction to the half of the story you read online. While I am sure that from time to time a local leader acts improperly or a proceeding arrives at an incorrect resolution, in any online account I will always give the benefit of the doubt to the bishop or stake president. That’s a winning bet about 99% of the time.

I have never met a local leader that approached a disciplinary council with anything but seriousness and concern. Bishops spend a lot of time trying to get people into church — none of them want to terminate or discipline a member of their ward or stake. I offer my truly sincere apologies to anyone in that 1% of the cases where a proceeding was improperly conducted or a wrong outcome arrived at. God or the next bishop will make it right for you.

So What’s the Problem, Dave?

The problem is that perception does not always track reality. The Internet creates institutional publicity and transparency to a degree never approached before. A local story known to a half-dozen people can go viral overnight if it hits a media or online sweet spot. And, like it or not, “Mormon excommunication” is one of those sweet spots. The Thomas Murphy fiasco should have put everyone on notice: even though the LDS disciplinary council in that case eventually took no action and allowed Murphy, an anthropologist who published criticisms of the Book of Mormon, to retain his LDS membership, the story generated lots of bad publicity. Using an LDS disciplinary proceeding (or the threat of an LDS disciplinary proceeding) as a fishing expedition is going to end badly even if no action is taken.

Rather than disclaim any central headquarters involvement in LDS disciplinary councils when apostasy is an issue, maybe an opinion from a central council or committee should be required in such cases. It would be helpful if the institutional benefits of boundary maintenance and fairness to other local members could be balanced against the possible harm to the Church as a larger institution. A central committee is better situated to provide that input and relieve local leaders from the responsibility of proceeding in a case where the end result might be bad publicity to the Church and bad feelings by the individual involved. If such direction guided the ultimate outcome in the Murphy case, so much the better. What’s wrong with someone at the COB directing local leaders to avoid similar scenarios before they have begun?

I think another problem is that most LDS lay priesthood leaders have little or no experience running such proceedings. Despite clear directions on how to proceed that are contained in guidance provided to local leaders, they sometimes do it wrong. Senior LDS leaders have stated that this is a problem. Here is what President Monson said at the 2010 Worldwide Training:

During the past several years, the Office of the First Presidency has received hundreds of requests for ratification of improper actions. Requests for nullification of ordinances that have been improperly performed, though fewer, also number in the hundreds. One area where errors occur frequently concerns disciplinary councils. There are really two types of councils: the ward or branch disciplinary council and the stake disciplinary council. Each has a different function, and if we stay within those rather specific functions, we will be all right.

Unfortunately, such is not always the case. As an example, we’ve had bishops’ councils excommunicate elders when, in actuality, holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood must be handled in a stake disciplinary council. If procedures are not followed correctly, then we of the First Presidency must ratify the action or have it redone. If we’re not familiar with policies and procedures, aberrations can creep into our Church programs.

And how are local leaders supposed to evaluate a claim of “apostasy”? Whether it is a case of publicly opposing the church or teaching false doctrine as LDS doctrine, the definitions are very fuzzy. I don’t expect a 1000-page tome nailing down all those loose doctrinal strings (a real “Mormon Doctrine”), but a central committee could at least provide memorandum guidance to local leaders dealing with specific doctrinal questions. It sure would help the rest of us if they’d post those memos online at LDS.org. At present, the absence of clearly defined official doctrine makes a definitive determination of false doctrine rather difficult, doesn’t it? And it’s not like teaching false doctrine really gets you in trouble. I’ll bet you hear false doctrine every week in church. What gets you in trouble is … publicity.

What’s Playing on Broadway

So let’s get back to the guy who just got called in for a chat with his stake president. I doubt it had anything to do with “apostasy,” even if you could define it. John has been doing Mormon Stories since 2005; hard to see why that site is suddenly a problem. I doubt it has anything to do with Middle Way Mormons or New Order Mormons or even Uncorrelated Mormons (John’s latest term for those balancing faith with doubt). No one gets excommunicated for jargon. And it doesn’t make much sense to tell a guy who started the StayLDS.com site that he is trying to lead people out of the Church. Anyone who spends 30 minutes Googling “Mormon church” or “LDS history” knows what sites that try to lead Mormons out of the LDS Church look like. StayLDS.com isn’t it.

No, I think John’s recent transgression is publicity. He went to New York to see “The Book of Mormon” musical and got quoted in the New York Times. With a photo. Applauding. I think somebody out there doesn’t care that the play got 14 Tony nominations. I think somebody out there doesn’t care that, in the end, the bizarre publicity from the success of the play might just rebound to the benefit of the Church. I think someone out there just felt strongly that no good Mormon should be clapping for “The Book of Mormon” (the musical) and decided to do something about it. (Okay, I suppose John’s plan to create “communities of support” for Uncorrelated Mormons didn’t help either, but John’s plans rarely last more than six months — it is likely no plan to organize Uncorrelated Mormons will ever get past the group dinner at the local taco shack stage.)

I know more than half the story, but not the whole story. I trust the local authorities to decide that having your picture in the New York Times applauding “The Book of Mormon” or posting podcasts of candid discussions of LDS history and doctrine are not a basis for disciplinary action. [I also trust that if action is eventually taken, there will be, somewhere in the rest of the story, a legitimate basis for the action.] But if no action is to be taken, can’t we get there without the bad publicity? Does every dialogue with a marginal Mormon or a doubting member or a wayward Saint have to end up as a disciplinary melodrama?

69 Responses to Church Discipline in the Internet Age

  1. mmiles on May 12, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Like.

  2. AHLDuke on May 12, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Here’s hoping that this thread stays more sane and on-topic than yesterday’s.

  3. John Dehlin on May 12, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Like.

  4. Dave on May 12, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Two “likes” and a vote for sanity. I’ve seen worse.

  5. John Dehlin on May 12, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Dave,

    One small response.

    Regarding: “John’s plans rarely last more than six months.”

    If you look at:

    http://mormonstories.org
    http://mormonmatters.org
    http://staylds.com/forum
    http://mormonsformarriage.com and
    Another “project” you are a part of and is going strong…

    I think that some of my/our projects have lasted quite a while…and to much positive effect.

    For what it’s worth.

    But you retain my admiration and respect.

  6. Adam Greenwood on May 12, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Clearly we need disciplinary counsels on streaming pay-per-view.

    Continued membership would be determined by audience ‘likes’

  7. Geoff B on May 12, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Well-done Dave. Like.

  8. Seldom on May 12, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Assuming that your analysis is correct (and I believe it is) doesn’t the reality indicate a paranoia that is even more whacky than the perception?

  9. Cassandra on May 12, 2011 at 11:24 am

    I’m confused what you’re advocating for the role of the central committee–that it merely set down more detailed guidelines for when discipline is/is not appropriate, or that it actually comment on/intervene in high-profile cases? The first would lead to witch hunt accusations. The second would…lead to witch hunt accusations.

  10. anon on May 12, 2011 at 11:33 am

    It seems like you want to blow up the current system in order to fix the 1%… Any system will be imperfect and rely on the local stake leaders’s inspiration.

    (I have an ancestor who was excommunicated by his stake and then had it overturned by the FP, so I recognize the possibility for error.)

  11. AHLDuke on May 12, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Cassandra, I think what Dave is getting at is that, for the average member, it is almost impossible to determine what you will or won’t get in trouble for saying (the doing is a little more clear, though not totally). Its problematic because it seems to vary according to ward or stake unit. In fact, there is some (anecdotal) evidence that what is happening to John may only be a regional phenomenon, and neither particular to John nor church-wide. The point of having a central committee would be to standardize the instructions across the Church, and if you are called into a disciplinary council for an alleged offense not on the “list,” you will at least have the list to point to in your defense. I think central comment/intervention is almost the opposite of what Dave would suggest.

  12. CJ Douglass on May 12, 2011 at 11:39 am

    Dave, the solution seems simpler to me. If you want to skip the melodrama, don’t announce the meeting to thousands of friends on your blog and facebook.

    (To be clear, I think John knew full well the consequences of broadcasting the meeting and seems to be handling it accordingly – to his credit).

  13. Trevor on May 12, 2011 at 11:43 am

    I thought John no longer wanted to be associated with staylds (which does not seem to be doing what it’s name would indicate). You can’t have it both ways.

  14. John Dehlin on May 12, 2011 at 11:46 am

    Trevor,

    I no longer advocate StayLDS as “the” approach for dealing with difficulties within Mormonism….mostly because so many find the approach untenable in the long run.

    But I started the site, and I still technically “own” it, though I have nothing now to do with its operations.

  15. NoCoolName_Tom on May 12, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Trevor,
    John posted a link to the forums of StayLDS.com just a few comments above you. He said (as near as I can remember from the Mormon Expression joint podcast) that 1) he himself was probably on the way out personally and 2) that the “Stay LDS” option was much more difficult to travel for many people than he had originally thought it would be when he started the site and that he didn’t recommend that anyone slog through the stress and anxiety if they simply cannot make it work for them. He did not say that he was abandoning the idea that StayLDS could still work for some people or that people shouldn’t at least try to make it work.

  16. Dave on May 12, 2011 at 11:54 am

    CJ, you could make the same argument for Murphy — he knew the consequences of publishing the criticisms he did. Yet his disciplinary council decided to take no action. That decision turns not on the plan or preference of the individual under review, but on the decision of the council, which obviously weighs several different factors in arriving at the final determination. The Internet factor makes that a more complex decision today than it was twenty years ago and, I think, makes a “no action” result more likely. But who knows what factors a council actually considers? [That's the correlation problem.]

  17. NoCoolName_Tom on May 12, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Oh, or he could just speak for himself. Dang it, I’m always too slow in these conversations. :-)

  18. Sgarff on May 12, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Two points:

    First, I like your idea that disciplinary counsels be correlated, but I think there is also a benefit to having them conducted locally. In a sense this is the last uncorrelated aspect of church government. While centralizing the process would help to reign in local authorities who make mistakes and/or abuse the process, I’m afraid that it might also destroy the flexibility that may be necessary for fair and companionate resolution by people who know the individuals better then a committee in SLC.

    Second, though I admire John and think he may be doing a good thing by building these support communities, I can also see how the church may feel threatened by this. Imagine if an ultraconservative member was building a support community for people who have fundamentalist leanings or think that plural marriage should never have been abandoned. The person would be excommunicated right away. It would be too dangerous to have someone that is a member of the church building a potential breakaway sect. I do not thin that this is what John is doing, but I worry that it may be perceived as such.

    I wish John the best of luck and I hope that this all resolve in way in which John can maintain his membership.

  19. kevinr on May 12, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Dave: One of your underlying assumptions in the OP was that the general authorities have never been involved in directing a local leader to open up an investigation. Though we don’t know 100% for sure, it appears that such has been the case several times previously based on reports from various September Six members and a couple of others that I can’t put my finger on right now. That type of GA involvement is what would scare me if it turns out to be the case, and we may never know.

    I have great admiration for John Dehlin and have gotten a lot of comfort in just hanging around the various “blogs” and things he has created. And, like John says, his Mormon Matters podcasts aren’t some 6-month project, either, so you should probably apologize for that little jibe.

  20. Andrew S. on May 12, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    I don’t want to be “that guy,” and this link CERTAINLY fits the whole idea of not conveying the entire story, but with respect to:

    I doubt it has anything to do with Middle Way Mormons

    What about this guy, who seems convinced that his recent conundrums absolutely have to deal with Middle Way Mormons?

    Certainly, there are other issues to deal with even from the story presented there, but…I dunno.

  21. Adam Greenwood on May 12, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    think what Dave is getting at is that, for the average member, it is almost impossible to determine what you will or won’t get in trouble for saying

    No, unless we’re adopting an extremely non-average definition of average. The average member stops coming to church if they stop believing. The average member isn’t concerned in the least about expressing their opinions when they do come, because their opinions are mainstream or unthreateningly eccentric. People really are quite good at navigating communities of discourse. People who have trouble with the boundaries usually have trouble for reasons other than ignorance. The exception would be autistics, I guess.

    This really is a specialized problem, which is why DB is suggesting, among other things, a specialized solution.

    But, as in other areas, fruitful ambiguity beats the alternative. I do NOT want clear, technical guidelines that make some dodgy opinions clearly grounds for excommunication and some other dodgy opinions clearly acceptable.

  22. John Dehlin on May 12, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    I think that there are enough credible problems with fundamental issues like polygamy (D&C 132), Book of Mormon/Abraham historicity, skin cursings, etc. — that the church should provide more direction on what one needs to believe (or doesn’t need to believe) to be a member in good standing.

  23. DavidH on May 12, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    I don’t like the idea of a central disciplinary body–strikes me as too much like the inquisition.

    Of course, there may be a sort of office that currently exists that , at least in the past, was sort of like the inquisition, in that it identified potential apostates and referred them to local leaders for action. Although official procedures contemplate a true delegation of that disciplinary authority to local leaders, the reality in many cases may be that they were not completely “hands off”

    I am not familiar enough with the Roman Catholic Church to evaluate which of the various approaches it has tried over the centuries has been most effective in dealing with apostasy, heresy, false doctrine. Nor am I very familiar at all with how other religious traditions deal with it. (As to American Protestantism, I think apostasy and heresy are largely ignored, because if someone doesn’t like their denomination, they will generally switch, rather than try to change it from within.)

  24. Syphax on May 12, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    “The crazy thing is… no one is asking for support, change or accommodations. For the record.”

    “I think that there are enough credible problems with fundamental issues like polygamy (D&C 132), Book of Mormon/Abraham historicity, skin cursings, etc. — that the church should provide more direction on what one needs to believe (or doesn’t need to believe) to be a member in good standing.”

    Sigh. I don’t mean to be a thorn in your side John, but this is the credibility problem I was trying to get at.

  25. Adam Greenwood on May 12, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Like I said, people are naturally adapted to understand communities of discourse. No one has any real trouble knowing that the Mormon mainstream is NOT OK with questioning that the Book of Mormon is at root a genuine ancient text(s). On the same lines, polygamy and skin color stuff allows for lots more room, with sensitivity to context and with attention to stuff that Mormons DO care about, like the actuality of revelation and the reality of prophetic callings. Of course, these lines are a lot easier to navigate if one shares those concerns.

  26. John Dehlin on May 12, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Arthur (Syphax) – Context is important. What I meant with that quote was something along the lines of — With all the stuff I’ve done on Mormon Stories, StayLDS, Mormon Matters, etc. — the intent has not been to advise the brethren or to effect change in the church. It has been to explore issues, and to help those who are struggling. Rarely has our goal been to criticize the leaders, or tell them how to run the church. That’s how I feel, anyway.

  27. John Dehlin on May 12, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Adam,

    I guess what I’m saying is…if I had my druthers, I’d love something like this quote of Elder Holland’s from the PBS documentary to be incorporated more formally into official church policy/discourse:

    “I think you’d be as aware as I am that that we have many people who are members of the church who do not have some burning conviction as to its origins, who have some other feeling about it that is not as committed to foundational statements and the premises of Mormonism. But we’re not going to invite somebody out of the church over that any more than we would anything else about degrees of belief or steps of hope or steps of conviction. … We would say: ‘This is the way I see it, and this is the faith I have; this is the foundation on which I’m going forward. If I can help you work toward that I’d be glad to, but I don’t love you less; I don’t distance you more; I don’t say you’re unacceptable to me as a person or even as a Latter-day Saint if you can’t make that step or move to the beat of that drum.’ … We really don’t want to sound smug. We don’t want to seem uncompromising and insensitive.

    “There are plenty of people who question the historicity of the Book of Mormon, and they are firmly in this church — firmly, in their mind, in this church — and the church isn’t going to take action against that. [The church] probably will be genuinely disappointed, but there isn’t going to be action against that, not until it starts to be advocacy: ‘Not only do I disbelieve in the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, I want you to disbelieve.’ At that point, we’re going to have a conversation. A little of that is more tolerated than I think a lot of people think it should be. But I think we want to be tolerant any way we can. … ‘Patient’ maybe is a better word than ‘tolerant.’ We want to be patient and charitable to the extent that we can, but there is a degree beyond which we can’t go. …”

    That said, I understand why they might find it hard to incorporate statements like this more formally. Might do more harm than good for the general membership.

  28. Syphax on May 12, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    You have a right to feel that way. But I would be genuinely puzzled if you don’t expect people to get a little confused, especially when they see you on T&S or your Facebook saying what you think the Church should do to change and/or accommodate struggling members, and then see you say that the intention of your websites is not to encourage the Church to change, support, accommodate, or to “hold their feet to the fire” or anything like that. It’s hard, if not impossible, for many people to consider those to be completely separate realms, if that’s what you’re hoping people will do.

  29. Ben S on May 12, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    I think there are several problems.

    Most leaders don’t have time (or interest?) to have their ear to the ground or follow the internet-based trends, with blogs, podcasts, websites, etc. It’s likely that the first time they hear of something is when there’s a problem, they haven’t followed it over time.

    Second, most leaders don’t have interest (or, more realistically, time) in reading doctrinal/historical material, which means they’re unfamiliar with the history of various positions within the Church, past public examples of conflict or Church discipline, etc. We put people into positions of doctrinal authority without giving them sufficient doctrinal depth.

  30. John Dehlin on May 12, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Arthur/Syphax,

    I understand why people get confused. I am confused myself.

  31. Michael on May 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    #29 – Ben S.

    BINGO! Exactly!

  32. Green Wombat on May 12, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    What I think needs to happen is for members and the institution, alike, to adopt an approach that (a) favors the individual and (b) favors mercy over justice or public perception or anyone else.

    I’m approaching this from the standpoint of a former blog owner/writer who chose to shut it down to appease inquiring councils and family members. Nothing I was writing was that confrontational or any worse than what you’d find in your average W&T, T&S or any other blog, but some people were way to concerned about how what I was writing would affect the CHurch(tm).

    In this day and age, it seems that the Church(tm) is at the head of everything. Members serve the Church, members worship the Church, members look to the Church for guidance… in fine, most members lives in the gospel all revolve around the Church. What does the Church say on this? The Church needs to define this or that… The Church authorities have said this… The Church defines xxxx as this…

    It’s honestly all a little over the top. We need to take a step back and realize that the Church is there to serve the members, to facilitate a relationship with Christ. Too often, though, we concretize everything and require members to maintain an inverse relationship. Then, when issues arise (and they do), the Church responds in it’s own interests, whatever maximizes the public image.

    Somehow, someway, we need to return to following the Gospel and following what Romans 14 (especially verses 12-14) says about any journey: namely, give people the freedom to worship and believe as they see fit. Stop expecting uniformity in everything. Stop defining everything. Stop pretending that the Church is more important than individual relationships with Christ (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Just stop. Let people grow and develop as they see fit, not as the institution sees fit.

    We’re way too focused on the institution and how we can all serve it, and F&T meeting is just a small example of how subservient we are to the institution. Disciplinary councils only (largely) reinforce the idea of our individual subservience to the institution…

  33. jb on May 12, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    If disciplinary counsels are correlated, will Bishops still be able(or need) to use discernment?

  34. Stone on May 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    Why do we have to kick people out of the church anyways? Do we really “protect” the church when we kick people out?…..especially now with the Internet in the mix? Content is available 24-7 so it’s not like it’s going away any time soon. The church is supposed to win in the end anyways eight? The standard of truth has been erected…..right?

    Why not let God sort all of this out later? I’m sure he’ll be more effective than any local leader or centralized cmte IMHO. I just hate witch hunting!

  35. Greg Smith on May 12, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    I don’t think it’s difficult at all to figure out whether what you are doing/not doing is going to cause you discipline troubles.

    Church discipline exists for three reasons:
    1) to help the individual member
    2) to protect other members
    3) to protect the good name of the Church.

    If you’re a risk to #2 or #3–i.e., your actions are either making the Church look bad, or your actions are causing people to leave the Church–then Church leaders may decide that it is not appropriate for you to continue your behavior as a member of the Church.

    What one “believes,” as John asks in #22, is largely irrelevant. No one can know what you believe until you start acting on it or preaching it, or trying to convince others of some conclusion you’re come to based upon it. Orthopraxy matters more than orthodoxy. The only “belief” questions one is ever asked are about God, Jesus, the Holy Ghost, Christ’s role as Savior and Redeemer. Virtually everything else in the temple recommend interview is about _behavior_.

    ==
    I also think that John’s claim that “the intent has not been to advise the brethren or to effect change in the church,” is disingenuous at best, and one would have to be extraordinarily naive to accept it uncritically.

    What is “Mormons for Marriage” but a site dedicated to persuading others to differ from the Church’s political stance on Prop 8 and (often, in the posts) the sinfulness of same-sex sexual acts? Either he wants the Church or the members to change, no?

    I’ve also watched from the sidelines at John D’s expostulations and exhortations on various topics. It was certainly clear to me that he was wanting people to do or believe _something_.

    When Dehlin wrote about Elder Jensen’s meeting with gay Mormons, he wrote:

    “we should seize this [Elder Jensen's talk] as an opportunity and tell every living, believing member in the church the news. If the church is forced to clarify, all the better. Double-speak must never be allowed again. The Internet can help us make sure that happens. Maybe this really is a new step for the church. Let’s act like it is, and see if we can help to make it so.”

    So, he wants:
    * Church to be “forced”
    * Church’s supposed “Double-speak” must be not “allowed”
    * we can “make sure” this “happens”
    * if we act a certain way, we can “make it so.”

    Or, on the “Mormon.org” ad campaign:

    Here’s my hope…that the MEMBERS and LEADERS of the LDS church will see and internalize the values and sentiments reflected in these videos….not the investigators.  When that happens….I will once again reconsider my covenants of full obedience and consecration.  Seriously.  Right now, partial consecration is the best I can muster…but THAT’S a church I would literally bleed and die for.

    http://mormonmatters.org/2010/08/09/a-new-church-the-new-mormon-org-campaign/

    Once again, we have a list of things that he wants MEMBERS and LEADERS to do, and insists he won’t do certain things until they have “internalized” them to his satisfaction.

    And, incidentally, I’m not sure what “partial consecration” looks like–presumably something like a “partial virgin,” “a little big pregnant,” or “kind-of dead.” :-)

    ==
    But, to answer the general question:

    If I _really_ wanted to stay in the Church, I would simply go to my Stake President, and say, “President, what do I need to do and not do to keep my membership?” Then, I would do exactly as he says. I would not blog about it, dissect it, gossip about it, or complain about it. I would simply do it, and keep my covenants.

    Simplicity itself. It all depends, finally, what we want most.

  36. Sgarff on May 12, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    Stone,

    The way I see it there are three reasons the church may want to excommunicate someone.

    1. As an aid to the repentance process. This would almost never apply to people who have doubts about truth claims. It may apply to people who are committed to the church but might need to be shaken to repentance for serious and/or repeated wrongdoing.
    2. To protect the image of the church from those whose actions, statements, etc., reflect poorly on the institution. This would be the case with criminals, especially publicized offenders.
    3. To protect members of the church from people who may be using their status as a member to lead people astray.

    In the case of #2, the internet is even more reason for the church to protect its image. In the case of #3, excommunication does not shield members from the information but it does send a very clear signal to members that they should not listen to these people.

    I do agree with you that in most cases it is best to avoid witch hunting and put the matter in the Lord’s hands but there are also clear cases where the church needs to protect itself and its members.

  37. Sgarff on May 12, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Greg Smith,

    Sorry, I just noticed your comment. Didn’t mean to copy you.

  38. Greg Smith on May 12, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    Sgarff – no problem, I’m worth copying. :-)

    But, your additional point at the end is also a good one, which I want to riff off. The orig post asked, “Does every dialogue with a marginal Mormon or a doubting member or a wayward Saint have to end up as a disciplinary melodrama?”

    The answer is clearly, No. But, they don’t. Never have. We/you don’t hear about the ones that work out otherwise. Bishops _never_ talk about these (or almost never–human error exists, I’m sure). In the vast majority of cases, one only hears when and what (as the orig post wisely notes) the member wants us to hear.

    So, one is not going to hear much about successes, and one is only going to see the failures to resolve things as we might wish.

    Selection bias. Except with the net, we now hear about cases from _anywhere_, not just locally. Given how few we tend to hear about, it’s really nothing short of amazing.

    We hear about car crashes. We hear nothing about the millions of drivers who make it home without incident every day.

  39. LRC on May 12, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    One thing I noticed during the Prop 8 stuff was that people in one ward or stake could easily speak their minds in support of same-sex marriage without any threat of discipline while people in other wards or stakes lost or were denied renewal of temple recommends for the same activities.

    The CHI definition of apostasy is squishy as is the temple recommend question about sustaining church leaders. Can one disagree with a church leader and still sustain him? On which issues? How vocally? If you say something on Facebook is that different than if you say it at the water cooler at work? If you discuss a topic at FAIR is that different than if you discuss it at Main Street Plaza? Is there more room for conservative political viewpoints than there is for liberal ones?

    In some ways a central committee (or at least some training) would be helpful for members with questions or concerns, if for no other reason than to define some consistent boundaries. Because, one thing’s for sure, there will be people who are upset/offended by things other members say online and who will feel a need to report internet heresies to bishops/stake presidents. If one bishop starts calling people in while another doesn’t, in the internet age, word of the inconsistencies will get around.

    Obviously SLC cannot (and should not) get involved in every disciplinary council hearing. But when councils involve apostasy (protecting the reputation of the church or keeping official church doctrine pure) it makes a lot of sense to have the central church involved – because the central church is what sets the doctrine and draws the lines around what’s officially canonized. Otherwise you have 30,000 stake presidents with 30,000 different versions of what constitutes apostasy. That can’t be good for Correlation.

  40. SilverRain on May 12, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong (as I’ve never been through Church discipline, but isn’t it possible to appeal decisions if you feel they are unfair?

    If so, it would seem that there is already a “central unit” that ultimately oversees these things in the First Presidency. It also would seem that there is a certain level of personal consent to excommunication of those whose names are removed when the decision has not been appealed.

    The few cases I have been made aware of seem to regard those people who are largely relieved to be leaving on some level or other. Generally, there is already a good deal of resentment built up before a disciplinary council is ever called.

  41. Dave on May 12, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Greg (#34) and Sgarff (#35), you’ve done a nice job recapitulating the stock explanations about disciplinary councils, and they provide a helpful starting point. But what sense can we make of the third item (to protect the good name of the Church) when, in the Internet Age, a disciplinary council purportedly conducted to protect the good name of the Church might itself produce publicity that harms the good name of the Church? That is what makes the issue so complicated.

  42. Dave on May 12, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    SilverRain (#39), technically there is a right to appeal. It is explained in Handbook 1, which individuals under review by a disciplinary council are not allowed to see. Local leaders are supposed to explain details about the disciplinary council, including appeal rights, to the individual, but since the quote from President Monson indicates that local leaders do not generally understand the information provided in the Handbook, they obviously cannot adequately explain those details to the individual under review.

    Procedural problems like this could be solved in about a week if there was recognition of the problem and a desire to reform the process. There are certainly enough attorneys running around the COB to give some suggestions to the staffers who draft the guidelines. It would certainly be a start at avoiding the bad publicity these proceedings sometimes generate.

  43. Martin on May 12, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    Dave, I think excommunicating apostates is always bad publicity for the church, even before the internet. “Apostates” don’t get ex’ed unless they’ve gotten publicity or a following in the first place. So, the issue is a tradeoff between #2 and #3.

    If the local leadership feels the “apostate” is leading more members away from the church by virtue of being within it than the negative publicity will keep out of the church, then there will be excommunication. Otherwise, they’ll just ignore the person.

    I’ve listened to about a hundred of his podcasts before I concluded that regardless JD’s stated mission, the result is to gently and gradually lead people to peace by leaving the church. As a member in good standing, he’s been able to set himself up as counselor and priest to hundreds already, and he’s been the one helping them to understand what they need to believe and what they don’t, and in the end, he’s decided he really doesn’t believe hardly any of it. I’m not surprised church leaders are weighing #2 vs. #3.

    I don’t think procedural changes would make any difference in the negative publicity. Should it come to that, the only way negative publicity could be avoided is if the person involved chose to quietly resign.

  44. Greg Smith on May 12, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    “a disciplinary council purportedly conducted to protect the good name of the Church might itself produce publicity that harms the good name of the Church?”

    I don’t really see “the good name of the Church” has having much to do with “Mormons treat apostates nicely/meanly,” etc. or how people see us, or our “image” with regards those who disagree with the Church and its doctrines/leaders.

    I see it more as not letting the Church be used as a cover for abusers, predators, felons, and the like. Sometimes the Church must be seen to take action against certain behaviors (e.g., if a stake president is caught in a child porn sting, he’s going to be ex-ed, and that publicly, to send a message to the world about how we view such actions).

    That said, as the more vocal apostates continue their practice of trying to use disciplinary councils as an opportunity to rally their supporters, hold candle-light vigils, etc., I can certainly see local leaders deciding to deny them the PR benefits of doing so, and simply choose (as in the Murphy case) to “choose no action for the time being.” This is another good reason to let local wisdom and inspiration guide.

    Having held the council, the leaders have the information they need, and whether a formal action is/was taken about Murphy, there seems little question where he stands. The practical consequences are the same.

    I think apostasy discipline is largely targeted at protecting members from wolves in sheep’s clothing. (One can hope that this will stir repentance, but I think apostates are the least like to be amenable to that form of persuasion, since they’ve already decided the Church and its authority are in some way illegitimate.) A few will be upset about the ‘mistreatment’ of wolves, but wolves can run free where-ever they choose–just not on the Church welfare farm. :-)

    As for prop 8 and what a leader regarded as “proper” varying from ward to ward and unit to unit–I would ask, “What did you expect?” :-)

    When we covenant and consecrate, we do not get to add caveats. We must expect that we will run up against “differences of administration,” even when led by the same Spirit, and part of sustaining people is being willing to roll with how an imperfect leader chooses to do something. If my bishop doesn’t want me talking about something, I’ll keep quiet, by and large (there are exceptions to every moral rule, but they are few and usually extreme).

    One of the first things we are asked to do is obey and sacrifice. So, I’ll sacrifice my own preferences to sustain someone called of God.

    The question always comes down to, “What do you want _most_?” “If we are serious about our discipleship,” warned Elder Maxwell, “Jesus will eventually request each of us to do those very things which are most difficult for us to do.” [Neal A. Maxwell, A Time to Choose, p. 46.]

    For some, humility to follow a flawed, perhaps intolerant man about matters which offend our political sensibilities, may be one such difficult thing. “The larger and the more untamed one’s ego, the greater the likelihood of his being offended.” (Maxwell, Ensign, May 1989, 62).

    What does it matter whether someone else is not called on to make my sacrifice? We are all asked for the same thing–everything we have and are.

  45. Greg Smith on May 12, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    LRC wrote:

    “Obviously SLC cannot (and should not) get involved in every disciplinary council hearing. But when councils involve apostasy (protecting the reputation of the church or keeping official church doctrine pure) it makes a lot of sense to have the central church involved – because the central church is what sets the doctrine and draws the lines around what’s officially canonized. Otherwise you have 30,000 stake presidents with 30,000 different versions of what constitutes apostasy. That can’t be good for Correlation”

    It may be a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The so-called September 6 complained about their excommunications being “orchestrated” by Elder Packer and/or others from SLC, and some {IIRC} argued that their local leaders were pressured and didn’t think disciple was really warranted.

    The last sentence about 30,000 SP presupposes no inspiration at all, which I doubt is the case. But, even if it were so, anyone who _wants_ to avoid problems can ask their leaders where _they_ see the lines. The more rigid and doctrinaire the leader, doubtless the happier they will be to spell things out.

    But, people who end up out ultimately chose it, because they want something (e.g., their ability to continue and say and do what they want to say and do) more than they want their membership. I doubt anyone wakes up surprised they were ex-ed for apostasy.

  46. Sgarff on May 12, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    Dave,

    I thinks the church is willing to sacrifice its good name to an extent if it will protect its members or bring people to repentance. I think that disciplinary counsels are thinking more about keeping Mormons than making more of them.

  47. Aaron T. on May 13, 2011 at 6:04 am

    “I see it more as not letting the Church be used as a cover for abusers, predators, felons, and the like. Sometimes the Church must be seen to take action against certain behaviors (e.g., if a stake president is caught in a child porn sting, he’s going to be ex-ed, and that publicly, to send a message to the world about how we view such actions).”

    So John Dehlin and his MS podcasts exploring Mormonism with Ed Kimball, Grant Palmer and Richard Bushman are on par with a Stake President into kiddie porn? Dude.

    “I think apostasy discipline is largely targeted at protecting members from wolves in sheep’s clothing. (One can hope that this will stir repentance, but I think apostates are the least like to be amenable to that form of persuasion, since they’ve already decided the Church and its authority are in some way illegitimate.) A few will be upset about the ‘mistreatment’ of wolves, but wolves can run free where-ever they choose–just not on the Church welfare farm. :-)”

    Greg, the kind of “persuasion” and desire to “stir the sinner to repentance” you defend is also called Spiritual Abuse by some people. It’s that perception of Abuse by the church against people who really can’t defend themselves that causes the PR harm in these instances the first place. The PR problem is not caused by the “Apostate”, or the “Apostate’s” vocal or “submissive” reaction to said abuse (although I understand how nice it is to blame the victim).

    This practice of throwing out dissenters no longer passes the smell test. If the church is what it claims to be, there is no need to be so hypersensitive, paranoid, protective and overzealous about what someone in Logan, Utah might be saying on a podcast. And, looked at from another perspective, think of all of the free research and feedback JD has gathered from a couple hundred different angles! The church could use the body of work posted by JD in a positive way…..but instead…..let’s have another public lynching. Doesn’t make sense.

  48. Insider on May 13, 2011 at 6:47 am

    With regard to involvement by Salt Lake in disciplinary matters, SilverRain (#39) is correct. Every disciplinary council must conclude with a reminder that it is possible to appeal the decision of the council to a higher authority. In a council held by a bishopric, the accused can appeal to the stake president. In a stake disciplinary council, appeals go directly to the First Presidency. In my experience, the First Presidency takes these appeals very seriously. This system of checks is the answer to different bishops or stake presidents holding members to different standards.

    Disciplinary councils for apostasy are very, very rare. I would imagine that a stake president involved in such a case, and especially one that was likely to become news, would consult with his area authority before proceeding, just as bishops often consult with the stake president in difficult disciplinary situations.

  49. Green Wombat on May 13, 2011 at 8:16 am

    What I think needs to happen is for members and the institution, alike, to adopt an approach that (a) favors the individual and (b) favors mercy over justice or public perception or anyone else.

    I’m approaching this from the standpoint of a former blog owner/writer who chose to shut it down to appease inquiring councils and family members. Nothing I was writing was that confrontational or any worse than what you’d find in your average W&T, T&S or any other blog, but some people were way to concerned about how what I was writing would affect the CHurch(tm).

    In this day and age, it seems that the Church(tm) is at the head of everything. Members serve the Church, members worship the Church, members look to the Church for guidance… in fine, most members lives in the gospel all revolve around the Church. What does the Church say on this? The Church needs to define this or that… The Church authorities have said this… The Church defines xxxx as this…

    It’s honestly all a little over the top. We need to take a step back and realize that the Church is there to serve the members, to facilitate a relationship with Christ. Too often, though, we concretize everything and require members to maintain an inverse relationship. Then, when issues arise (and they do), the Church responds in it’s own interests, whatever maximizes the public image.

    Somehow, someway, we need to return to following the Gospel and following what Romans 14 (especially verses 12-14) says about any journey: namely, give people the freedom to worship and believe as they see fit. Stop expecting uniformity in everything. Stop defining everything. Stop pretending that the Church is more important than individual relationships with Christ (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Just stop. Let people grow and develop as they see fit, not as the institution sees fit.

    We’re way too focused on the institution and how we can all serve it, and F&T meeting is just a small example of how subservient we are to the institution. Disciplinary councils only (largely) reinforce the idea of our individual subservience to the institution…

  50. Dave on May 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Insider — that is helpful information. I do think you are confusing text written in manuals with real-world events. It is more accurate, for example, to say that every disciplinary council is supposed to conclude with a reminder that it is possible to appeal the decision to a higher authority, but that many don’t. That seems obvious from President Monson’s commentary (quoted in the original post) that local leaders often simply do not follow the guidance they are given.

    If disciplinary councils for apostasy are actually “very, very rare,” then review by a higher authority should be automatic. That would facilitate what I referred to in the post as correlating apostasy actions. And it would be nice if that higher review were neutral and inclined to reverse actions where procedures were not followed rather than almost automatically ratifying actions by local leaders regardless of how the local action was conducted. Perhaps I am reading too much into President Monson’s statement: “During the past several years, the Office of the First Presidency has received hundreds of requests for ratification of improper actions.” How improper would an action have to be for the higher authority to actually consider reversing rather than focusing on ratifying the action?

  51. Adam Greenwood on May 13, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Dave,
    perhaps you are reading too much into it.

  52. Greg Smith on May 13, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    “So John Dehlin and his MS podcasts exploring Mormonism with Ed Kimball, Grant Palmer and Richard Bushman are on par with a Stake President into kiddie porn? Dude.”

    No, I’m saying that the “protect the Church name” thing isn’t really operative in such cases. It’s more the “protect the members” thing. Please re-read my post. Thus, I don’t think bad PR is much of a consideration. (This is another reason to leave them generally to local leaders–there will be no temptation to worry about how an act will ‘play in Peoria’.)

    “Greg, the kind of “persuasion” and desire to “stir the sinner to repentance” you defend is also called Spiritual Abuse by some people.

    People can call it whatever they want. Labeling something doesn’t necessarily make it so. How can one “abuse” my spirit? If someone threatens me with hell, who cares? It’s happened to me many times–both Christians and Muslims have told me I’m headed there, and I don’t much worry about it. If Church doctrine and leaders have no authority spiritually, and they cannot compel or punish me in a secular sense (fines, prison, torture, etc.), what have I got to be worried about?

    There’s no right not to be offended, or not to have our deepest convictions called into question. (Mormons certainly don’t claim–or get–any such consideration.) Free market of ideas. Open, pluralistic society.

    “It’s that perception of Abuse by the church against people who really can’t defend themselves that causes the PR harm in these instances the first place. The PR problem is not caused by the “Apostate”, or the “Apostate’s” vocal or “submissive” reaction to said abuse (although I understand how nice it is to blame the victim). ”

    These people can and do defend themselves–usually vigorously, vocally, and in the media. The Church leaders who make the decision will say nothing, and won’t get to spin it (see original post).

    There is, modern hypersensitivity to the contrary, no “right” to a be a member of a church, or not to be told we are wrong, or a sinner, or to be excluded from a private group. Indeed, it is at the basis of the right to free association that people can form whatever groups they like, and exclude whomever they like, for whatever reasons.

    People who are offended if the Church does so are unlikely to have been favorably disposed to it or membership in it anyway.

    (How long do you think a Pat Robinson disciple would last as a member of GLAAD? Would anyone complain at his ejection?)

    In my experience, people who receive such consequences to their acts in the Church have almost always said far worse, harsh, things against the Church and its leaders than the Church “says” to them. And, the Church will only say it privately, whereas the apostate can and does generally shout it from the rooftops.

    The Church and its members have a right to define what makes you a member, and what doesn’t. If you don’t agree with them, you’re free to leave. You can also take as many people as agree with you. If you’re “right,” you’ll end up with most the Church, and you can do your own thing. :-)

    I am certainly free to be a member of the Republican party. And, I am certainly free to advocate for the forced collectivization of agriculture, and putting the bourgeoisie up against the wall. What I am not necessarily free to do is use the name of the Republican party to advocate such views. I can go form my own party, or join a party or group more congenial to my views. If I persist in using the Republican name, resources, time, or money to do so, I may be asked to leave. If not, soon being Republican ceases to have any meaning. Republicans are under no obligation to provide a forum or cover for one advocating against their beliefs, convictions, or interests.

    “This practice of throwing out dissenters no longer passes the smell test. If the church is what it claims to be, there is no need to be so hypersensitive, paranoid, protective and overzealous about what someone in Logan, Utah might be saying on a podcast.”

    If people will not keep their covenants or conditions of membership, they may be asked to leave. Whether what “someone says in a podcast” matters depends entirely on what is said, what the audience is, and what the consequences are. Part of the “problem” is that there is scriptural warrant and even commandment to take such steps if needed, and the Church is not likely to discard them.

    Fortunately, such judgments are left to local leaders who know the circumstances and are entitled (I believe) to revelation.

    If anyone gets excommunicated for their “dissension,” if anything this gives wider circulation to their views. It hardly silences or disenfranchises or censors them. I’m sure if John D was excommunicated (if that is indeed the reason for the meetings he has announced), he has ample venues to express his views, defend himself, justify his acts, etc. I’m sure he’ll do just fine at getting his version of events out.

  53. Ellis on May 13, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    So if we had a central council for church discipline would we call that the Star Chamber or the Inquisition.

    Part of correlation, as I understand it, is to put more responsibility not less in the hands of the Stakes and Wards. The church is too big for the center to do everything that needs doing.

  54. Dave on May 13, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Ellis. Just so I am not misunderstood, I am not talking about central management of church discipline, just about having a central council or committee to be consulted on cases where apostasy is alleged. According to Insider (#47), such cases are “very, very rare.”

    When the preaching of false doctrine is alleged, the central committee could respond with a written statement of whether the doctrine is or is not cause for discipline. It is often the case that the local leader knows less about the doctrinal or historical points at issue than the individual under review — so if the local leader doesn’t get some sort of outside assistance, they may be ill-equipped to properly resolve the question.

    As for cases where it is alleged the individual is doing harm to the good name of the Church, a central committee can advise the local leader (who may not have the perspective of the entire Church in mind) when the negative publicity is likely to overshadow any benefit to be derived from the proceeding and it just ought to be quietly dropped (as seems to have occurred in the Murphy case).

  55. Aaron T. on May 13, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    The Church and its members have a right to define what makes you a member, and what doesn’t. If you don’t agree with them, you’re free to leave.”

    No.

    According to your own doctrine, the church is not your church, the “member’s church”, the Midvale Lion’s Club, the Priesthood Key Lime Pie Committee, or an organization for people who have the personality/mentality to always fall in line with the authoritative or popular perspective. The church is a place for those who seek to follow Christ. It’s HIS church – not yours, not ours, not theirs, and it’s He who should define what qualifies you and me for membership. The inconsistency of the “qualifying for membership committees” in each local stake is evidence enough that it is not necessarily Christ making his will known in church courts involving apostacy.

    Therefore, Dave’s post – and idea for (AT LEAST) a centralized review (and in my view, the complete elimination) of “apostacy” courts – is spot on.

    Unless John is guilty of a personal affront to Christ himself, or Christ’s most basic teachings, or is leading people away from Christ with his intellectual wolf/half-Mo/questioning – mostly about historical, cultural and social issues related to Mormonism – it’s hard for me to see what appears to be happening here (and what has happened before to other “apostates”) as anything but an outdated practice of social control.

  56. Greg Smith on May 13, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    According to your own doctrine, the church is not your church, the “member’s church”, the Midvale Lion’s Club, the Priesthood Key Lime Pie Committee, or an organization for people who have the personality/mentality to always fall in line with the authoritative or popular perspective. The church is a place for those who seek to follow Christ. It’s HIS church – not yours, not ours, not theirs, and it’s He who should define what qualifies you and me for membership.

    Since you say “your own doctrine,” I presume this means you’re not a believing, active LDS? Or do you share that view? It would change how I might respond if you want to clarify where you’re coming from on this?

    ==

    In any case…of course Christ decides and of course it’s his Church.

    And Christ has set up a mechanism for that to happen–he calls prophets and apostles, who train bishops and stake presidents. Bishops and stake presidents are vouchsafed the spirit of inspiration and revelation. He gives covenants which we can keep, or not, as we choose.

    When I say “The Church and its members,” I mean (of course) those with the authority and keys vested to make such decisions. We obviously don’t write names on an ostracon and kick you out of the city for a year if we don’t like the cut of your jib. But, neither do we expect Jesus to descend in a cloud of glory and tell someone that they’re out.

    And, he instructs his mortal leaders to take action against unrepentant apostates (e.g., 3 Nephi 18:31). Paul’s epistles mention such things repeatedly. And, the prophets and apostles provide bishops and stake presidents likewise telling them that they must do so in the case of apostasy (Handbook 1, section 6.7.3, p. 57). Both would seem to presuppose that such mortal leaders are to make such judgments.

    Those who feel they have been poorly treated can appeal their decision, since no one is perfect, save Jesus–though he allows us imperfect folk to help.

    Besides, excommunication for apostasy does not happen lightly or easily. Anyone who feels like they’re on that train can get off it by simply asking what they have to do to reassure their leader. Then, whether they do it is up to them.

    It’s also worth pointing out that every bishop has a stake president, and every stake president has an area seventy contact. Getting centralized input, help, or guidance is a mere phone call away. I suspect that few apostasy councils are held without that kind of input, in any case.

  57. Howard on May 13, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Greg Smith I agree he instructs his leaders to take action against the unrepentant but according to the prior verse first we are not to cast them out but minister unto them and pray for them.

  58. Aaron T. on May 13, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    Apparently your doctrine and my doctrine are two different things – thus your doctrine.

    You and I might technically belong to the same church, but the Jesus I understand would be eating dinner with John Dehlin right now (or you or me for that matter) while some institutional purists, uneasy with the Savior associating with Dehlin, poured through a Handbook to see if Jesus’s hanging out with an apostate wasn’t akin to supporting, affiliating with, or agreeing with a group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church.

  59. Greg Smith on May 13, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    Howard: Of course we continue to minister. And, I’ve never yet seen a SP or bishop approach any disciplinary council without considerable prayer and effort to minister. Apostasy excommunication typically comes at the end of a fruitless attempt to help. But, that doesn’t absolve a priesthood leader from the duty to make some people who “repent not” “not be numbered among my people, that he destroy not my people.” Again, the protection of others is a scripturally relevant bit, cf Paul.

    Aaron: You’re being a bit hostile, it seems. I’m just trying to figure out where you’re coming from. If you don’t believe LDS apostles are guided by revelation, and likewise bishops/stake presidents, then we’re going to have different takes on some things. Am I to take it, then, that you accept that prophets and apostles hold real, honest-to-goodness priesthood keys in such matters? And that Christ exercises his will in administering the Church through them? If not, sorry for the confusion, and please clarify.

    My point in raising the handbook is that (as per the original post) there is already a fair amount of central “influence” on the process, and local leaders may not feel they can properly forgo a council for apostasy. Local leaders are not simply flailing around on their own, though of course there will be individual differences.

    We can’t have our cake and eat it too–one can’t insist that more central control is needed, and then complain about existing efforts to standardize how such things are done.

    As for what Jesus would do with John Dehlin, I leave that to Jesus and John. It’s not my business. (I’ve said nothing about John’s status, or what I think should happen to him. I wouldn’t presume to. I can examine behavior; I can’t examine hearts, absent a scalpel. I think it unfortunate that John has mentioned his meeting at all, much less solicited ‘help’ for it from the ‘Net.)

    Jesus would readily enjoy table fellowship with those willing to repent. He could also, on occasion, be rather scathing to those convinced of their own rectitude (“ye generation of vipers, how shall ye escape the damnation of hell?”).

    He was also particularly upset with those whose example or misleading teaching threatened the salvation of others: “ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered” (Luke 11:52).

    Jesus does not offer us strings-free acceptance and pats on the back, as even a cursory reading of the gospels demonstrates. He offers us transformation into his image if we repent, keep covenants, and dedicate everything about ourselves to him. Which generally means abandoning a great deal upon the altar. “God seems to love variety, except in doctrine––because the latter is so crucial.” – Neal A. Maxwell, BYU Studies 16:4 (1974).

  60. Greg Smith on May 13, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    P.S. Aaron – It’s also hilarious that you’re upset with me for supposedly trying to cut people out of the Church or be an ‘institutional purist’ (whatever that creature may be), while complaining that “You and I might technically, belong to the same church, but….” (italics added).

    Thus, I suppose, while your principles would object to me being excluded from membership for teaching false doctrine or attacking the leaders of the Church, you still do your best to draw a clear demarcation line between me and my views, and the real Christians in the Church (who properly understand Jesus; i.e., they agree with you) who would presumably accept your (a-scriptural, and a-historic) assertion that there should be “the complete elimination…of “apostacy” courts.” :-)

    So, I get to stay a member, but only “technically,” and with a clear implication that I’m not really living the Christian virtues. A serious charge.

    Seems like you’re doing by yourself (as a private member) that which you’ve just claimed that only Jesus (and not his apostles, prophets, or other key holders) has a right to do–determining which beliefs are proper for a member to hold. And then, consigned me to some ‘other’ status (technical, not real, true member).

    Does this mean I’ve been spiritually abused? :-)

  61. Aaron T. on May 13, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    Ha! Greg, you shouldn’t draw such wild conclusions.

    The difference between your doctrine and mine is that I’m “technically” still a member of your church. That’s all I meant, and I didn’t mean to be snippy. Be of good cheer – your reasoning, I think, is probably in line with the official position – which is why I’m on the fringes, not you.

  62. Greg Smith on May 14, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Ah, I see. Thanks.

    It is too bad you are at the fringes. One gets all the bumps, bruises, and frustrations, and so few of the joys. Hope that changes at somepoint.

  63. Homer on May 14, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    I have a couple comments held up by moderation… is that on purpose or did they get lost?

  64. Wraith of Blake on May 15, 2011 at 2:12 am

    Joanna Brooks’s recent piece about J Huntsman Jr.’s self-professed (um NON-self professed–?) category of belief &/or practice seems apropos to this discussion.

    Here — http://www.religiondispatches.org/dispatches/joannabrooks/4606/why_is_huntsman’s_mormonism_“tough_to_define”/

  65. Aaron T. on May 15, 2011 at 7:47 am

    Wow. What an outstanding and perfectly timed article. Thanks WoB…..props Joanna Brooks.

  66. Dave on May 15, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Homer, I did not find any recent comments in the filter queue. I did find an older comment you left with a phony email address. If you follow our comment guideline, it is less likely your comments will get held up in the filter.

    Wraith, I cleaned up your code a bit.

  67. Bob on May 16, 2011 at 2:21 am

    It is my understanding that the current system operates like this, so correct me if I am wrong:

    The problem with the present system is that only local authorities are empowered to excommunicate people. So what happens when someone like Dehlin offends a general authority of high rank with behavior unbecoming a member, insubordination, or apostasy? A directed discipline is the result. (It seems likely that local authorities would usually be aware of photos in the NY Times or editorials in the SL Tribune.)

    The local authority receives a communication from a senior General Authority with xerox copies with underlines in yellow marker and probably a letter directing that the local authority disfellowship, excommunicate or otherwise discipline the subject. The local authority is not an authority on anything in this case and only proceeds to pull the trigger in the best way possible.

    Because the verdict is directed there can be no appeal. Because the verdict is directed by authority, it must be carried out whatever the local authority might feel. The only way out for the local authority is to resign if he is not in agreement.

    There should be another court, the court of the apostles. If an apostle wishes to bring charges it should go through the apostles’ court, not the local court. The present system removes accountability for the verdict.

    Again, this is my understanding. I have witnessed this general scenario in the recent past.

  68. ff42 on May 16, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    Wouldn’t the accused right to record and publish the proceedings help to dispel the perceptions you write of?

  69. MormonGirl on May 20, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Pahlease….. the brethren in disciplinary counsels are right 99% of the time? Based on what?

    The reason there is any melodrama over disciplinary counsels is because they are secret! If the Church is going to keep things secret, then it’s going to keep inviting suspicion. And that’s okay, but just deal with it and stop complaining about it.

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