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  • Writer's pictureJacob Hansen

God kicks people out of his church?

How can we talk of a loving God who heads a church that kicks out those who have real and honest questions? It was Christ who said that those who struggle are in the most need of his aid and were indeed the ones he spent his time ministering to. It's pretty clear that "shunning" people was not Christ way of doing things.

The popular media and those who espouse the views above don't understand the contemporary LDS church's doctrine of excommunication (and often I don't think they even try to). The church is like a house that helps protect us from the storms. In Christ's church all are welcome into the house and no one is turned away or thrown out. The line that divides those in the house or outside of it are covenants (2 Nephi 31). Some abandon these covenants and wander into the storms of life to face them on their own or to seek out more comfortable shelters fully aware they are standing outside the walls. However, sometimes there are those who wander out but deny they are really "outside" the house. Church leaders are authorized and empowered to let members know that their actions have caused them to be outside the house even if the member does not believe that to be the case.

Any study of the church's contemporary doctrines regarding excommunication will reveal that it is not a system designed to push people out of the church, but instead a method of alerting the individual that they have broken their covenants in such a way that regardless of if they think they are a member, they are not and due to their own actions are in need of being baptized again after re-aligning themselves with the covenants of the church. The process is meant as a means to bring people back, not to push them away. It is true that within the membership culture there is a self righteous element who will revile against the excommunicated and withhold their hand of kindness and mercy. Any study of Christ's attitude toward hypocritical pharisees like this will make you realize that it is these people that are in danger much more than the excommunicated because the hypocrites continue to feign their discipleship while rejecting the samaritan broken on the roadside who now more that ever needs their compassion and care.

One issue that is simply false is that the church excommunicates those who don't believe or who struggle with questions of their faith. If this were the case the church would excommunicate every inactive member who claimed they no longer believed. There is plenty of room in the church for doubt and even disbelief with both the active and inactive membership. Though one of the covenants members make when they join the church is to stand as witnesses of Christ and the reality of his church; if a member is unable to do this due to unbelief that is not seen as an offense against your covenant but a weakness in faith and testimony. However, when one does the opposite and bears public testimony against core teachings and doctrines of the faith even after church leaders ask them to stop, they are doing something very different than simply doubting or questioning. They are publicly standing as a witness against the truth of the church. This is not always so black and white and there is room for debate and discussion, but when foundational, clear and central doctrines are testified against publicly and you refuse to stop doing so even when asked by priesthood leaders, you are not only falling short of your covenants, you are acting against them. You are categorically not a disciple of Christ's church and excommunication is how the church makes you aware of this fact.

The LDS church is organized following the biblical tradition of priesthood authority that spans both old and new testament. The terms of covenants are made under the direction of priesthood authority and revelation. In fact, only those who have priesthood authority as a "Judge in Israel" can make the judgement of if a persons actions have violated their covenants in a way that merits excommunication as a source of remedy. Even if it is the case that the excommunicated has not violated their covenants, it is not an ordinary members job to make that call. Just as I can't make a judgement in a legal case because I am not an authorized agent of the state, I cannot in official church proceedings without special authority from God.

Your covenants allow you to have an opinion contrary to church leadership (even a very strong opinion). However your covenant to sustain church authority restricts you from publicly turning others opinions against the actions of priesthood leadership. Though you may not agree with the decisions you cannot deny the authority to make the decision. Our covenant to sustain church leadership does not mean we always have to agree, it simply means that when push comes to shove some calls are not ours to make.

“While a man might honestly differ in opinion from the authorities . . . he must be exceedingly careful how he acts in relation to such differences.”- George Q Cannon

This model does not base itself on popular democracy but on a Kingdom based in divine authority and revelation. This was the manner in which Christ organized his church biblically. If we wanted to make up a religion we could make something much easier on the ears but if you reject the reality of priesthood authority you essentially have rejected the restored church. Any version of the faith that does not accept the reality of priesthood authority is categorically NOT THE RESTORED GOSPEL and in my opinion NOT CHRISTIAN. The un-democratic makeup of Christ's "Kingdom" on earth can be hard to swallow for those culturally groomed in western egalitarian democracies. Still we can always take heart that our King is the merciful and perfect Christ and if indeed the sinner has not violated their covenants and is being excommunicated unjustly then they (nor us) need not worry at all. Priesthood leaders are by no means perfect and if indeed they are exercising their stewardship unrighteously they will answer to God for it and any suffering endured by the unjustly excommunicated will be compensated by God.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven" - Matt 5: 10-12

I love the question "if you find yourself farther from God today than you were yesterday...who moved?" The LDS theology on Gods love and grace is that they are like the rays of the sun at noon. They are constant and without fail but that does not mean that we cannot hide ourselves in the shadows. The belief of the LDS church is that we are to call one another from the shadows so we can stand more fully in the light. Within the ranks of his baptized disciples he has called prophets armed with revelation and authority to help us see when we are blind. Sometime that involves being told that we have strayed from our membership in the church, even when we don't see it. I pray that those who have this sacred authority seek God's guidance and His merciful loving spirit as they contemplate such important spiritual matters so they can help those who have wondered to come back.

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