I was eleven years old the day I saw them from my bedroom window walk up to our front door. My mother informed them the man they were looking for was in the backyard. I raced from the front of my childhood home to the back window. With my nose pressed up against the glass I saw my father repeatedly throw a hatchet at a well-scarred piece of plywood. The agitation of the upcoming visit was apparent in each vigorous throw. The two men wearing suits crossed the lawn to my father. The three of them had a short yet tense interaction. My father was being informed of his upcoming disciplinary council. His church was placing him on trial.
The recent high-profile excommunications over the past year have brought back the experiences of my childhood and have caused me to reflect upon them from the perspective of a forty-one-year-old male, 30 years removed. These experiences have had an influence that still pull strings on the tapestry of my life.
My father did commit sin and may have been unrepentant at the time of his excommunication but I also know he was struggling through severe mental illness at the same time. This mental illness has been proven to hinder one’s ability to make rationally productive decisions.
It was explained to me why they had to do what they did in excommunicating him. They had to protect the church’s interest, or keep the body of the church clean. It was also explained to me that it was for the well-being of the sinner, saying it helps them repent. From today’s perspective, I am not sure if it truly did either of those things.
As a young and hurting child, what the excommunication did do is cause me to take sides. In Sunday school I was taught that the church was good and I believed it. In my church life I was taught that my father was an apostate and as such was unclean and evil. I believed it. I made it my life goal to be nothing like him and instead placed my time and energies into the church and all I believed it wanted me to be. I abhorred everything about my father, his life style, his appearance, both outwardly and inwardly. This belief system, with my father’s mental illness and his personal mistakes caused me to distance and distrust my father, believing he was an ‘enemy’ to the church.
Those beliefs where held up till about ten years ago. I have since asked my father if he would like to return to the church by being baptized. I have mailed him the contact information of his local leaders in the event he would like to be re-baptized. Though he still reads both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, occasionally watches General Conference, and enjoys visiting Temple Square, he has no desire to come back to the church that once turned him out.
If I could take a time machine back in time I would plead with my father’s priesthood leaders not to excommunicate. Not for their benefit, the church’s benefit, or even my father’s; but for the well-being of an 11-year-old boy who unjustly was taught to take sides. A young boy who deeply needed hope, not only in his church but in his father.
It has taken me many years to peel away the layers of what was taught to me at church and see my father for who he is. He is a good man, always doing the best he can with what he has. He has seen trials, the likes of which many will never witness, and he has come through them and made the best life he can for himself. He should be commended for that, not labeled.
Like pressing my little nose against the glass that hot summer day, I now contemplate the excommunications of Kate Kelly, Jeremy Runnells, and many others who we call apostates. I wonder the effect these excommunications are having on all who witness them.
The LDS leadership care little about its people. It’s all about protecting the doctrine and blind conformance, what ever the cost.
Thanks for sharing so eloquently your experience.
I’ve been involved in far more disciplinary councils than I care to consider. Not one was about blind conformance, what ever the cost. Instead there were groups of men struggling to do the right thing both for the individual and for the church. If anything, the men I was with looked for mitigating circumstances that would soften the blow. They tended to view excommunication as a far more drastic punishment than those who were excommunicated. They also searched for ways to make it less impactful on families but recognized there was little they could do directly. Those were long, emotional, draining nights and there are people I still worry about even removed by 20 years and 1300 miles. Sadly, every instance does not have a perfect answer. I suspect there are other men worrying about the people in those “high-profile” cases today.
I have the same experience participating in those councils as you do. Though daunting, they are remarkable. I also have experience seeing those who have been excommunicated come back into the faith, participate in a council to receive permission to be baptized again, and lead fully active, happy LDS lives. Those are some of the most glorious events I’ve ever witnessed. Just as with those who must come before criminal or civil courts because of their conduct, the ripple effect of their behavior impacts many more than just themselves. So too must their families and friends suffer the consequences of the court action. In all court actions, there is damage and a price to pay by all to survive it and move on. That’s why families and loved ones who hang in there with the perpetrator are blessed for their sacrifice. Lessons are learned by all. Blaming a court for it’s actions avails nothing.
I only had to participate in one excommunication — serving as the secretary of the event. It involved a young man who had grown up in the church, then joined the military and after serving his enlistment had decided to serve a mission. After being out for several months, he went to his mission president and confessed to an event with his girlfriend. He was sent home to meet with the bishop — a former Air Force officer — who has a heart of gold and is one of the most loving people I’ve ever known. The bishop consulted with the stake president who told the bishop to proceed with a church court.
As I sat in on the court, I didn’t feel that the transgression was that serious and that he should be given a reprimand for not confessing of his transgression before he left… and after some time and repentance, letting him return to his mission if he desired. After some discussion and much prayer, the bishop felt strongly that excommunication was in order — primarily because the young man had lied to the bishop when he said he was worthy to serve a mission. I was surprised and frankly thought that the bishop, a convert, was treating the case too much like a court marshal for a military officer, but after praying about it, I felt impressed to follow the bishop’s recommendation/inspiration. But I admit that I still had my personal doubts.
After the young man left the office, I thought we’d never see him again and that he’d most likely never be rebaptized. Much to my surprise, the young man did everything that the bishop and stake president asked of him and was rebaptized a year later. He didn’t return to the mission field but did find a sweet young lady to marry in the temple. They now have about five children and are very active. At the end of the day, I’m glad I followed the inspiration I received, and that the bishop followed the inspiration he received. It was not an easy process for any of us.
I was excommunicated based on a PROVEN lie of a non member and for refusing to give details of a very personal (female health) nature to our bishop or be examined by the stake president ( a gynecologist). I do NOT go to any male doctors EVER. I AM TOO MODEST NO THINKS PRESIDENT PERVERT keep your hands TO YOURSELF!!! on the other hand, the bishop could “sort of” understand why my husband at the time, who was a diabetic in multi organ failure, couldn’t support his family. FOR REAL?? after YOU excommunicated me based on the lies of a muslim, I never heard one thing, There was no love no call to repent. BUt that is ok. NOW I DONT WANT YOU OR YOUR DUMBASS RACIST Mormon ” court of love” I am poisoned forever. and you can all go straight to your destination– HELL!!!! I am now a member of a gay-affirming church ( I am not gay) and I have been for YEARS because the love they showed me was truly unconditional. AND here is the clencher. You PUNISHED me because my landlord said I stold the rent money you gave him which was CASHED ON HIS NAME AND ACCOUNT. WHy don’t you just tell the truth the bishop ( Jeff Kober) is a perverted jerk who needs to be excommunicated and with whom I wouldn’t want to share the celestial kingdom anyway after seeing the way he treated his autistic son! You cost yourselves. My husband now is a prominent attorney ONE Tithing check, which will now support the gay church, could support the entire ward for a year. Sometimes it can be a dangerous thing to say ” the spirit” told you something that is such an obvious lie.