I want to repeat the definitions of mercy cited in my previous post and discuss the implications of each one briefly. I think this will be a relatively short post, but it has hit me pretty hard as I've considered it this week. I am going to change the emphasis just as bit from the last post; instead of focusing on mercy itself in the definitions, I am going to focus on the human employment of mercy - "being merciful".
1) leniency and compassion shown toward offenders by a person or agency charged with administering justice;
2) Forbearance to inflict harm under circumstances of provocation, when one has the power to inflict it.
These definitions make it clear that there are two distinct situations where "mercy" can be appropriate: when someone has authority to administer justice and when someone has the power to inflict harm - especially when harm is "justified" under provocation. It is the difference between "inflicting harm" and "administering justice" about which I have been thinking - and how that relates to being "merciful" and being "just".
The first situation requires a legitimate judge - someone who has been "charged with administering justice". We are told in scriptures that we are not judges, and in our own local congregations it is the bishop, and only the bishop, who has been thus "charged". Therefore, becoming more merciful applies to most of us only in the second sense of the word - "forbearance to inflict harm under circumstances of provocation, when one has the power to inflict it."
Why is this?
I believe it is because not one of us sees everything that must go into a "righteous judgment" clearly enough to make such a judgment. "Righteous" means "right with God", so a righteous judgment would be one that is consistent with what God would judge, knowing all the facts perfectly (completely and wholly). Since we "see through a glass darkly", we must err on the side of mercy and not "inflict harm" whenever possible. God, however, sees "face to face", so He is able to "judge righteous judgment". God can be "just"; our natural man cannot be "just"; our only hope of judging righteous judgment is to be in tune with the Holy Ghost, so that we can discern the will of God.
Bishops are able to act as judges in Israel specifically because they have been "charged with administering justice" - have been given the keys of discernment, if you will, to know what actions to take that would be consistent with the will of God. This is the main reason that disciplinary actions can vary so radically, even when the "objective facts" seem to be similar or even identical. There is SO much more that cannot be seen that affects what is truly "just" in each situation, so Bishops have latitude in many instances to recognize the differing will of God in seemingly similar situations - to administer justice through apparently contradictory actions.
One final point:
"Leniency" and "compassion" need not be administered only in extremes; they are not measured necessarily as all or nothing. The natural result of sin and transgression is a separation from the Godhead. Anything that lessens that separation - that allows it to be shortened in duration or lessened in intensity - can be seen literally as an application of leniency and compassion. If, for example, someone's actions have placed them in a position such that never-ending separation is "just", temporary excommunication can be merciful - as can disfellowshipment or probation.
In summary, our core beliefs include the concept that we, as regular, common members, have no right to judge others and inflict harm upon them - if it is in our power to forgive and not inflict harm. (Obviously, there are exceptions, as in cases of physical protection of ourselves and others.) Rather, our challenge is to allow those who have such a charge to exercise the authority they have been given and apply whatever level of leniency and compassion is appropriate in each situation to match the will of God.