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JeaNette Goates Smith
Tuesday, July 01 2014

Excommunication: Why the Outrage?

By JeaNette Goates Smith Notify me when this author publishesComment on Article
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Frequently a client will come into my office who has difficulty setting boundaries. For example, she may have a rule in her home that you take off your shoes at the front door, but even when she reminds her adult children to remove their shoes, they track mud all over her house. She may have a rule that people can’t smoke in her home, but her children continue to light up in the living room.

Such women work very hard to set boundaries-- “If you can’t abide by the rules of my home, you are not welcome here,” but they are so afraid the children won’t come back, they often let the kids rule the roost. In the end, when such a woman fails to enforce her boundaries, she feels exploited and taken advantage of. She recognizes that her lack of backbone is not good for her, and it’s not good for her children.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has set boundaries for those who want to be a part of their organization. One of the boundaries is fidelity in marriage. Another is fidelity to Church leadership. To its credit, the Church is not afraid to enforce those boundaries, and it won’t be manipulated by the threat of leaving.

Surprising is the fact that so many are critical of the LDS Church for setting boundaries in the first place. Some are aghast that we would “kick out” a person for not abiding by the rules of the organization. I am aghast that anybody would advocate manipulation and exploitation. Why should we let our members track mud all over the carpet, and continue to invite them back?

Boundaries Are Appropriate

An activist group near my home recently campaigned to turn a public beach into a nudist beach. The City Council denied their petition, and people who come to the beach without any clothes on are kicked off the beach. Nobody criticized the City Council for enforcing their boundaries. The nudists who campaigned for a nude beach aren’t whining because their petition was denied. They asked, they were refused, they don’t get to set the rules, the organization sets the rules, they were good sports, they tried, they didn’t prevail, they wear swim suits (however small they may be).

I belong to a book group where one of the requirements is you host once a year. If it becomes too burdensome for a member to host once a year, she drops out of the book group. She finds another book group with different requirements. She doesn’t fault the book group for its requirements. Those rules work for those who choose, of their own free will and choice, to be in the group. She is free to leave if she doesn’t like the rules.

There are restaurants that have a rule, “no shirt, no shoes, no service.” We don’t condemn them for their dress code. They are allowed to “kick out” those not in compliance with their boundaries without being publicly criticized. Why does the LDS Church get so severely criticized for enforcing its boundaries--boundaries the members agree to when they join the organization!

Leaving vs. Never Joining

From a non-LDS perspective that fact that somebody chooses to leave the church should be no more shocking than the fact that they failed to join in the first place. They didn’t agree with the rules/boundaries/tenets of the religion so they choose not to join. Yawn. It happens all the time. Why, then, when somebody has been a member of the Church and they decide they don’t agree with the rules/boundaries/tenets of the religion, is it so shocking when they leave, or when they are asked to leave?

Leaving, or being asked to leave, is often the same thing because excommunication frequently occurs not simply because somebody hasn’t complied, but because they refuse to comply with the tenets of the organization. They excommunicate themselves, in a sense, when they choose not to adhere to the requirements of the organization. Why be outraged when an organization requires the members of the organization to adhere to the rules of the organization? People who get shocked when excommunication occurs, deny the Church the right to set its own boundaries.

Of course, from a Latter-day Saint perspective, it’s far more tragic to have someone leave the church than it is for them to refuse to join in the first place. We assume when someone leaves the church that at one time they embraced the guidelines, the boundaries, the rules. We are aware that along with those guidelines, boundaries and rules come tremendous blessings--life saving blessings. For someone to leave because of the rules means they also choose to forfeit the blessings, and that is tragic.

Nevertheless, we don’t look down on those who leave the church. We don’t condemn them as they might fear but we look upon them with compassion. We feel terrible for them that they have made such short-sighted choices. We mourn the potential loss of souls we treasure. Our celebration is interrupted.

Not Forced to Join

Nobody joins the LDS church because of coercion. Everybody has their free will. They don’t get “tricked” into putting on white clothes, walking into a pool of water, and allowing themselves to be completely immersed. It doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not like there is a big long contract with a lot of fine print, and the contract is shoved in front of their face with a sticky note that says “sign here.” It’s not that easy.  

Baptism doesn’t occur because you attended one service, got wrapped up in the excitement, and walked to the front of the building to be “sprinkled.” Baptism occurs after a series of detailed lessons, a thorough explanation as to the commitments you are making and a sit-down interview to make sure you are, of your own free will and choice, choosing to make those commitments. You know the boundaries before you join.

Mosiah invites those who have a desire to enter into a covenant. In the Doctrine and Covenants those with a desire are invited to serve. If you no longer desire to abide by the rules of the organization you have joined, you’re free to leave. Neal Maxwell asked a poignant question, why, when these folks leave, the church can’t they leave the church alone?

The answer is always the same: pride. Perhaps their feelings were hurt (their pride was hurt) and they are bitter.


31 Comments

  1. Great comparison and examples of boundaries. Brings into perspective & reminds us that the LDS church has always had standards and boundaries. I love this part of the standard of truth, " The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent..." Look at history and the cycle of apostasy in the scriptures, it never ends well for anybody who goes against God, His church or His prophets.
  2. Excellent article. Inspired analogies. Great insight. Well done.
  3. Excellent article and perspective. I find it interesting that people were "shocked" by the recent excommunication of the woman from the group that wants women to have the Priesthood. Were they really shocked or was this all a part of the plan to whip up more media exposure and bad press for the church? In my opinion, it was fake shock at the decision. About as fake as the inspector in Casablanca who shuts down Rick's Place because he is shocked to learn that gambling has been going on there and a second later is handed his own winnings by an employee of that very establishment. The question was asked, the answer given, the answer was rejected by the asking party, the asking party tried to whip up the public to support them, they were then counselled by the church not to do it, and they dug in even more and pushed even harder. They were then asked to stop and instead of stopping they kept pushing. What did they think was going to happen?
  4. Thank you for your excellent article and for taking the time to explain to those who do not understand that rules and laws are necessary and disobedience to them can, and often does, bring consequences.
  5. It is beyond appalling that members of the church continue to characterize those who leave as doing so simply because they've been offended, or because they're prideful, or they want to sin, etc. I guess the idea is to listen to the apostles unless they inconveniently preach love, understanding, and inclusion. Perhaps the author should re-read Pres. Uchtdorf's address "Come Join With Us" from October 2013 General Conference.
  6. Excellent article. As the descendant of Holocaust victims and survivors, and having lived in five countries dominated by single, powerful religions, I see all this whining as something that could not occur except in the lap of luxury, peace, and freedom. We need to suck it up and find our gratitude and logic. Oh, and please change the word "tenants' to "tenets"!
  7. You make good points. Organizations do have the right to determine their boundaries. I believe that the needs of the organization must be balanced by the needs of the individual. There are various ways of doing this - none of which are perfect. I do not believe that church leadership takes excommunication lightly and are aware and concerned for the needs of the individual. In order for the rest of us to see things from the individual perspective I suggest an excercise. Suppose you are doing what you believe to be right. Suppose you are asked by church officials to stop. You now have a choice to follow the dictates of your conscience or face discipline. There are costs associated with either choice. I don't suggest that this scenario perfectly fits anyone's situation. I do believe that trying to see things from other's perspective will increase our understanding and compassion.
  8. Great article! Pride is indeed the problem behind the Ordain Women movement. It takes humility to accept an answer of "no" from the Lord. It take humility to follow church leaders who are not perfect. It takes meekness to follow the gospel without having all of the answers to our questions. That is part of the test of mortality.
  9. Excellent article! Thank you!
  10. Excellent article! Thank you!
  11. I could not agree more. As someone said, if you don't like the rules, then don't join the club . R
  12. Excellent article! Thank you!
  13. Personally, I think the excommunication fo Ordain Women leader Kate Kelly was extremely slow. She recruited people for her cause. She was very stubborn and continued to recruit. I felt that many in the Quorem of the twelve felt the need to speak directly to this issue. It was very slow but needed.
  14. JeaNette, I enjoyed what you hd to say; however, there's an incorrect word being used -- the word "tenants". The correct word is tenets (of the faith). Tenants pay rent! Have a good week.
  15. Very well said!! I've always felt the same way about those that leave the church...if they don't believe in the teachings and/or just don't want to be connected to the church, why keep hammering away at it? But I also know that it comes from the adversary and all of his followers!
  16. As an 8 year old I didn't want to join the church. I lacked the courage to tell my parents so. Even if I had, my Bishop dad probably would have baptized me anyway. I was terrified of using "my get out of jail free card" at such an early age. I had serious doubts about my ability to live church standards. Was my young understanding flawed due to bad doctrinal teaching in Primary at the time? Probably. But it doesn't changed the fact that my baptism felt forced. I suppose this reasoning described here applies for adult converts, which Kate wasn't.
  17. Your article conveyed my sentiments throughout this entire outrage. When the excommunicated party expressed that she had done nothing wrong, I wondered if she had never been told 'no.' Has she rationalized and justified all of her behaviors up until this one? Did she ever have her hand popped as a reminder that continuing to act in such a manner would result in worse pain? Was this the first time that she was forced to accept the consequences of her actions? Under the tutelage of my parents, times like these taught me not to stomp my foot and proclaim that they are wrong and I am right. I learned humility and boundaries. To quote Michelangelo, "I'm still learning." I do hope the woman of discussion is too.
  18. "Not forced to join" True for adult investigators; but it's a little more complicated if you were born into the church and baptized at eight. You did what your parents wanted you to do(get baptized) and gladly went along with it until perhaps you grew up and decided there were things about it you don't like. But by that time it's not so easy to leave when it has been a natural part of your life and culture your whole life and your entire family is strongly involved in it. I do however agree that members who want to continue to be members should live by the rules and not make a public spectacle of their disagreements with the church.
  19. While nothing in your article is "wrong", it seems to be lacking the most important element, love. It comes across prideful and hauty. I have neve seen our Church discipline anyone without doing so out of pure love. I do not agree with really any aspect of Kate Kelly's organization, but I do think we could all be a little more empathetic and loving.
  20. even though it sounds harsh I totally agree with what you said. no one held a gun to anyones head to join the church. if they dont like it then they are free to leave..if they dont act in accordance with the laws of the church then they will be excommunicated so if they later change their mind they can repent and come back. if you are a member of any group and you find your not enjoying that membership then usually you leave that group. its the same thing and I think we are talking here about the sister who started balking about the priesthood...what is really bad though is because she is excommunicated she starts blabbing her woes to everyone trying to get them on her side...but ..the Lord sees this ..and that is all we need to know..He knows all. Im grateful for this knowledge...
  21. A big circus came to town. A few unemployed circus-workers got together in the town square to demand that they be hired. But the big circus paraded straight thru town to the cheers of the people. Some dogs barked and chased the wagons. Feeling ignored, the protesters shouted, “we have right’s too.” That’s when the little group formed a counter-march to force the circus onto a side street. But they were too late. And it came to pass, that on the outskirts of town—just past the cemetery—the two groups collided! Nothing much was resolved, so the protesters used giant megaphones to tell their story to the bewildered townsfolk. What happened next was no surprise. And as for the townsfolk, they went back to the business of being townsfolk… after they got a kick out of the fun of the big circus.
  22. I was baptised at 8 years old in a little stream near our bush surroundings. it was a great feeling. I felt the importance of it and no coercion. at that age parents do their best for their children. As adults, it is our duty to gain our own testimony. I felt the pretense of humility from Kate advising her followers, while oposing or trying to force the hand of our leaders. Let's see if she will humble herself and rejoin or keep leading others away...if she acted for herself alone...woulde different., I'm glad their are rules, and order...
  23. I agree that boundaries are important. But take your beach example. What if the City Council has a policy that only white people are allowed on the beach? And what if black people petitioned to be allowed on the beach, but the City Council denied their petition? If the black people moved into the community knowing the rules, should they just deal with it? Stay off the beach? Move to a different community? Would it be wrong for others to be outraged that the City Council denied their petition? Things are a little more complicated than your analogies reveal.
  24. Excellent. Well said.
  25. If you want to explore why people leave the church and act the way they do perhaps you should talk to a few. You lumped a lot of people into a category and that doesn't describe my experience. I am available to provide some much needed research for any future articles you might write.
  26. "Why should we let our members track mud all over the carpet, and continue to invite them back? " Because we're not a book club, that's why. We're a church that is --or should be--the means of bringing souls to Christ. Sometimes those souls have muddy shoes, sometimes they have muddy feet because their lives are such a mess they can't even find their shoes. And sometimes there are members, perhaps even like Ms. Kelly, who look at the shifting nature of what used to be doctrine but is now disavowed (the ban on blacks holding the priesthood?) and wonder what unwavering doctrine is going to be disavowed 50 years from now. And they feel the need to ask questions. It makes me sad and, frankly, unnerved to think that as a church we've become so fixated on a set of "rules" that we're willing to toss people away like rubbish when they don't do things just right, i.e., the way we think they should. Maybe they're just doing the best they can. Maybe they've felt the need to escalate because they're not being heard on a local level. Maybe they feel like God is asking them to ask questions, loudly. Given that the church started with a boy asking questions his local clergymen didn't like, I'm not sure why any of this is a bad thing. I certainly hope Christ cares more about me and my imperfect, mistake-making, questioning self than the condition of his floors.
  27. There is a very obvious connection between a former member's inability to leave the church and leave it alone. Most former church members still have family members who are church members, and do judge and ostracize the former church member unnecessarily. If former members can succeed in loosening the institution's grip on current members, their family members will be kinder and more loving. It isn't pride, it's pain.
  28. To me, it seems you've forgotten the Savior's teaching "If ye love them whic love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?" I realize that if Kate Kelly, or Alan "Rock" Waterman, or John Dehlin were in your ward, you'd probably still include them, even if they were excommunicated, in inviting them to ward activities and you'd probably even extend more kindness and love to their children, if you were their youth leader or their Sunday School or Primary teacher. So, why not include them now, in your "extended" ward, in your life as an author, in your article. They're humans with feelings, too, and just 'kicking them out" which is what excommunication really is, seems like you're casting the first stone, especially so soon after the what you call "the outrage?" Couldn't you have waited to cast one of the first stone, at least? It's as if you're a child in a sandbox and if someone doesn't want to play what you're playing, you just kick them out. Where's the Savior's teachings in "excommunication"? I think we've gone astray from His teachings.
  29. I think it's important to note that every organization has a right to remove members that they deem to be unfit, I'm disturbed by the perpetuation of the myth that people leave the church because of simple 'offense' or 'pride'. There has been real work done to understand why people leave, and I would expect a licensed therapist to understand the harm done by misrepresenting and invalidating people's motivations for both criticizing the church, and for leaving: http://mormonstories.org/top-5-myths-and-truths-about-why-committed-mormons-leave-the-church/ None of those real reasons that most people leave the church are "short-sighted choices". They criticize and leave because they are acting in accordance with their values of integrity and honesty. What's more, all healthy individuals need to have confidence in their own values and convictions. It doesn't need to extend to hubris, but to completely abdicate ones one values to anyone or anything is a psychologically dangerous thing to do.
  30. @James: I recognize the validity of your pain, and the reality that ostracizing occurs. I'm sorry for both. Perhaps, though, your family's rejection doesn't stem from the church's "grip on current members," but from their own pain. You have rejected something they value, even something they define themselves by. You rejecting the Church can feel like you are rejecting them. In the pain of that perceived rejection people can react poorly. I'm sure it is tempting to take the approach that "If my family would just see it my way and give up the Church too, there'd be nothing holding us apart." Can you see that attacking the Church just re-emphasizes your rejection of them by devaluing their opinions and beliefs? True love and kindness reaches over differences; it doesn't require that the difference be removed first. If you want your family to move past their pain and accept you, show them an example of how to do that loving them and respecting their beliefs, as you'd like them to do for you. The Church does not teach members to judge or ostracize former members, quite the opposite. Consider Pres. Uchtdorf's understanding message: "One might ask, 'If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?' Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations. Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church. In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves." https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/10/come-join-with-us You are right, pain can motivate all sorts of behavior, including leading Church members to act contrary to their Church's teachings. Perhaps you could lead them back to the portions of Church teaching that would heal your relationship. If it is really about your relationship with them, and not about fighting the Church out of pride, that might be the unexpected offering that gets through the pain on both sides and initiates healing.
  31. Paul, I appreciated your comments to James. It is very difficult to tread through family relationships in a Christ-like manner, when some who we love more than ourselves, reject our commitment to the church and our values, and we often feel rejected as well.

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