Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Excommunication: Not an Easy Issue

Excommunication is an ancient practice, and it has taken many forms in various religious traditions. The Mormon foundation for it probably is the first few chapters in Alma. The Nephites had joined with the people of Mulek; many in the rising generation didn't believe what was established by the new Nephite leadership; the first recorded wave of excommunications occurred in the Book of Mormon - including Alma, the Younger, and the sons of Mosiah, if I am correct in how I read the story.

As I've mentioned previously in other posts, the word "doctrine" is a bit squishy - and I wouldn't frame excommunication as doctrine. I would call it a practice or policy - and the justifications / reasons for it have ebbed and flowed over time. It was wielded like a stick in the early days of the Church on some people for things that seem silly to us now - but it also was not used in some cases that seemed to have warranted it, especially in comparison to cases that did end in excommunication.

Generally, I see the move to add layers of discipline, so to speak, as an attempt to avoid excommunication in cases that aren't considered automatic and extreme. Unfortunately and unavoidably, given the practical nature of the administration of discipline, decisions vary radically among local leaders - with some using excommunication in situations where others would disfellowship or even use informal probation. That lack of consistency is the most difficult aspect of church discipline - along with the overuse I have seen in some areas and with certain issues.

Theoretically, I have no problem with the concept of excommunication, but the practical implementation gets really wonky when so much decision-making power is vested in local leaders who often have strongly individual views about its use. Even though I believe strongly that the vast majority of local leaders err on the side of compassion and impose the least degree of punishment whenever possible, when, ultimately, one person has that kind of power, things can tend to the extremes, unfortunately.


ji said...

I appreciate your thoughts. Even so, I prefer or discipline to be local. To some, that might mean that some people in some places are treated more severely than others in other places. But to me, it means that some are treated more leniently in some places than others in other places. Half full, half empty.

But these must be local decisions. After all, our membership in the church is local -- we're members of a local church.

Papa D said...

Yeah, ji, I also believe this must be decided locally - and I don't want a one-size-fits-all, checklist, brainless decision-making process.