Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister;
What would it be like if we had the death penalty in the LDS church?
3 Nephi 18:32
What would it be like if we had the death penalty in the LDS church?
What sins would cause us to take up stones and kill the sinner? How quickly would we convene a firing squad? How carefully would we consider? How dangerous would it be to our own souls if we got it wrong and killed an innocent?
Of course, these questions are only hypothetical because, despite extensive religious history, matters of life and death are now decided by the state.
Capital punishment is only dispensed by the civilized state in the most severe cases, for the most heinous crimes, and even then, it is never administered quickly. Trials extend for weeks or even months while every piece of evidence, every witness, every extenuating factor is considered, evaluated, argued, substantiated, and applied. Ultimately a verdict is rendered and a sentence handed down.
So begins the wait on "death row."
Then the appeals start. Lasting for many years, every facet of the trial is picked apart, appealed, and reconsidered by the courts. Ultimately there are appeals to government authorities for clemency, and those failing, the penalty is finally carried out, often decades after the crime. And even then, the killing is highly regulated, as humane as possible, and usually protested.
And yet, from the eternal perspective, what is being taken from the criminal is practically nothing--only the remaining years of mortal life that would otherwise be spent in prison. A mere blip in the timeless timeline of eternity. Though man may have government power, and even God's authorization to take mortal life, eternal things are always and only in the hands of God.
But, like I said, the original question is only hypothetical. The LDS church is not authorized by God or government to apply capital punishment to sinners.
What we claim instead is a far more terrible, powerful, and dangerous dominion. We claim not the right to destroy mortal life, but rather the power to destroy eternal life.
In our most severe cases, when there has been gross sin, our scriptures and practice require excommunication. This is the gospel equivalent of capital punishment, as we popularly claim the right to remove ordinances, priesthood, temple blessings, family relationships, the Holy Ghost, and repentance; to snatch the sinner from the clutches of mercy and apply eternal crushing justice; to make the Atonement of no effect; to prevent God's saving power from redeeming that sinful soul, who is now consigned to Hell and eternal damnation. This is no mere blip; this is destruction. This is forever.
We're not playing with knives. We're playing with nukes.
Fortunately, this eventuality is rare and limited in the church to certain situations like murder and adultery. But aside from those extreme situations, we also apply the eternal death penalty to cases of apostasy. And this is where it gets interesting.
Apostasy is defined on the LDS.org website as follows:
"When individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel, they are in a state of apostasy."Since this definition clearly requires turning away from the gospel, it's important to know what that means.
The word "Gospel" derives directly from two Old English words meaning "Good News" or "Glad Tidings." And what are the glad tidings?
Here they are, as delivered to King Benjamin by an angel:
3 And he said unto me: Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy.
4 For the Lord hath heard thy prayers, and hath judged of thy righteousness, and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice; and that thou mayest declare unto thy people, that they may also be filled with joy.
5 For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases.
8 And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.
9 And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him.
10 And he shall rise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men. (Mosiah 3:2-10)That's the Good News! That's the Gospel! King Benjamin, and you, and I, can rejoice in the glad tidings that Christ will come, atone for our sins, and open the way of salvation for all people. All of us fallen mortals, who have already had the death penalty passed upon our heads, can instead be snatched off death row, delivered from death and Hell, and redeemed by Christ's atoning blood! This is joyful news indeed!
And, lest there be any confusion about the subject, Christ Himself defined his gospel in 3 Nephi.
13 Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
14 And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—
15 And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
16 And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world. (3 Nephi 27:13-16)Who would turn their back on such news? Who would reject that redeemer who stands waiting to receive them? Such an one, having once been enlightened, would be in apostasy. Such an one would be in a desperate situation indeed:
But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Mosiah 3:12)And such an apostate, having already rejected the blessings of the Atonement and all it offers, may be righteously excommunicated from the church.
The Secret Definition of Apostasy
Now here's the catch. People who "turn away from the principles of the Gospel" are almost never disciplined by the church. Every ward has plenty of people who are members in record only, living lives of neglect toward Jesus Christ, and uninterested in the salvation He offers.
But we don't excommunicate such people. Unto such, we are obligated to continue to minister, often leaving the ninety and nine to go after the one lost sheep, as the Master requires. This is because in the most basic sense, we are all, in some way or another, not completely loyal to Jesus Christ and his gospel. We are all lost. That's why we need Him all the more.
But there IS another, secret definition of apostasy, and this one WILL get you excommunicated. The definition is secret because it appears only in the Church Handbook of Instructions Volume 1, which is tightly controlled and only made available to certain church leaders. The rest of us, who support the church with our time, money, efforts and devotion, are not allowed to see this handbook.
(Why the body of Christ would be run by a secret handbook is a disturbing question for a different day.)
So here's the secret definition, with my comments added in red:
As used here apostasy refers to members who:Now, lest there should be any confusion, let's review:
- Repeatedly act in clear, open and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders. (Notice this definition is not about the gospel; it's about the organization and those who run it.)
- Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishop or a higher authority. (Not gospel doctrine, not Christ's doctrine, not scriptural doctrine, but church doctrine. Again, it's all about the church, not the Lord.)
- Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishop or a higher authority. ("Apostate sect" is used in the definition of apostasy. But what defines an apostate sect? I mean, other than polygamy? We're back to #1 and #2.)
- Formally join another church and advocate its teachings. (Again, all about the church, not the gospel)
The church is not the gospel, just as the truck is not the cargo it carries. The church is charged to deliver the gospel to us; to teach and share the good news. But the church, with all its programs, is just the delivery vehicle. Home teaching is not the gospel. Trek is not the gospel. Sunday school, primary, girls camp, welfare, family history, general conference and the Boy Scouts are NOT the gospel.
The gospel is the good news of Christ and his Atonement. Period. (Though there have been deliberate and dishonest attempts by the church to blur this line and make the gospel and the church equivalent.)
Fortunately, Joseph Smith summarized it very well:
The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it. (TPJS 121)So to summarize:
- The church's public definition of apostasy properly deals with rebelling against the gospel, but will NOT get you excommunicated.
- The church's secret definition of apostasy has NOTHING to do with the gospel at all, but rather deals with loyalty to the church organization and unquestioning obedience to those in charge. This one WILL get you excommunicated.
In other words, excommunication from the church is a last resort, to be applied only when persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness and meekness, love unfeigned, kindness and pure knowledge have failed to convince the person of truth. (D&C 121:41-42) This is as it should be when the eternal destruction of a human soul hangs in the balance.
But that's not how it is. I know this from experience.
I was excommunicated last Sunday night for apostasy, based on the contents of this blog.
As this situation developed, I made the assumption that we were dealing with the public definition of apostasy--you know, the one about turning away from the gospel?
I asked repeatedly to be shown how I had done such a thing while inviting and practically begging people to come unto Christ.
--But it's not about coming unto Christ.
I asked what untrue words I had written so I could repent and change them.
--But it's not about truth.
I showed from the scriptures how what I have written is valid.
--But it's not about scripture.
I explained that I started this blog in obedience to the Lord.
--But it's not even about Him.
No, it's about the secret definition. I refused to obey my priesthood leader when he sought to compel my behavior (something he's strictly forbidden to do.) My refusal to obey a man's dominion was in direct obedience to the Lord and His scriptures. And this, evidently, makes me an apostate.
The die was cast from the moment I first sat down with my Stake President and he invited me to resign from the church. Such an invitation implies I'm not worthy of church membership from the start. The decision was already made. Everything that happened thereafter in our "lengthy periods of counseling and encouragement to reconsider behavior" consisted of the Stake President giving me an ultimatum to either:
- Take down my blog, give up my temple recommend and my calling, and retain my membership (if I kept my mouth shut); or
- Voluntarily resign from the church; or
- Face excommunication.
And that was it.
At each meeting, my Stake President asked me to resign, and at each meeting I declined to do so. He even helpfully suggested another church I may wish to join. I kind of got the feeling he didn't want me around.
And you know, I wouldn't have minded opening scriptures, searching them together, discussing doctrine, and perhaps coming to understanding and unity by the Power of the Holy Ghost. I've experienced such an outcome many times before when teaching from the scriptures, and it's wonderful and edifying (D&C 50:22).
But the only "doctrine" he was interested in discussing was "follow the key holder." The only "scripture" he was interested in referencing was the handbook. And the only outcome he appeared interested in was making sure my membership came to an end. Quickly.
And so it did.
Now, I honestly believe my Stake President is a good man, doing his best in a difficult situation. He was under great pressure to excommunicate me, and told me he had no choice. He had to play the role of both accuser and impartial judge in my council, which is something I know I could never pull off and get right.
I understand why he did what he did, and I think I even understand why he did it the way he did it. I cannot claim to agree, but he acted within his authority. I have a public blog. He told me to take it down. I didn't do so, and this is therefore acting in deliberate, public opposition to a church leader.
Yet, according to the church's official public statements, I was OK:
"Church leaders are not asking members not to blog, and they are not attacking the rights of honest explorers of faith to have these conversations in the so-called Bloggernacle." (Church Spokeswoman Ally Isom on KUER radio, June 16th)But according to my Stake President's interpretation of the handbook, I deserved the death penalty. And so it was administered last Sunday night. I understand. And I readily forgive. This is the Lord's issue now, not mine.
But here's the part I don't understand.
Why did my wife deserve to die?
For reasons known only to my Stake President, he convened a 2-for-1 disciplinary council for both of us at once. My wife and I were tried together as one soul. Ever heard of such a thing?
In fairness, halfway through the council, he did ask if I wanted to leave the room and let my wife sit alone to be tried for her membership in front 15 high priests in dark suits so she could have "her own" council and verdict. She very much didn't want to do that, so we opted to remain together in the room.
And therefore the verdict was pronounced upon us both.
My wife doesn't have a blog. She doesn't publicly teach. She, like me, served faithfully in all her callings, always attended her meetings, paid tithes and offerings, sat on the front row every Sunday, and never made waves at church. Until I started blogging, nobody thought we were anything but the model Mormon family raising seven kids in suburbia.
My dear wife, in an act of supreme courage and obedience to God, did post a link to my blog on her Facebook page a few weeks back. She knew doing so would bring a crush of abuse, criticism, and even anger from those who claim to follow the Savior but have never made such a sacrifice as she was called upon to make. She counted the cost, posted the link, and suffered the abuse.
Our Stake President never asked anything of my wife. He never asked her to take down that Facebook link. She didn't have a blog to take down or words to recant. As far as I can tell, she was excommunicated for supporting me--in essence, a thought crime--which is contrary to both the manual and scripture:
For there was a law that men should be judged according to their crimes. Nevertheless, there was no law against a man’s belief; therefore, a man was punished only for the crimes which he had done; therefore all men were on equal grounds. (Alma 30:11)And for this she got the Mormon death penalty.
Perhaps this action was designed to send a message. And it certainly did. All the way to heaven.
I could give you a list as long as my arm of statements from scripture and Joseph Smith roundly condemning and damning such despicable behavior on the part of those who "have a little authority, as they suppose." Knowing that the "nature and disposition of almost all men" is to abuse priesthood authority, the Lord gave pointed warnings to those who sit in the chief seats. We have learned by sad experience indeed. "Amen" to the priesthood or the authority of such men. (D&C 121:36-39.)
The Good News
And so now, we've come full circle to the good news of the gospel. I learned something by standing in front of that firing squad, and I'll let you in on the secret.
Their guns are loaded with blanks.
Oh, they can take your name off the membership rolls, that's for sure. But that's about it.
They didn't take my priesthood. I received it from my father, and from my Father--not from the church. If the church didn't give it, the church can't take it.
They didn't take my covenants. I made those covenants with God, not with the church. I still honor them and He does too.
They didn't take away the Holy Ghost. The mere idea that a man can command God would be laughable if it weren't so darn pathetic.
...and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance. And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people: Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men; (2 Nephi 28:4-5)And most of all, they didn't remove me from the power of Christ's atonement. No man can do that.
...the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; (2 Nephi 9:41)When we got home from the disciplinary council, the Lord in his mercy granted us a joint revelatory manifestation that despite the fears and apprehension of the incredibly hard sacrifice we had just completed, He was yet with us.
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no never, no never forsake!
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
(Hymn--How Firm a Foundation)
This brings to mind our family scripture:
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)I spent years building upon my Redeemer's rock in preparation for this test I never expected to face. Having awoken, arisen, and stood upon that foundation through the storm and shafts in the whirlwind, I can testify His rock is a firm foundation indeed, entirely able to support us through every trial and challenge, and the only foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.
As I recorded the events of my excommunication in my journal, I realized it was 40 days from our first meeting with the Stake President to our excommunication. Exactly 40 days. Such things don't happen by coincidence. I thank God for the witnesses that come after the trials.
I believe my wife and I are just the tip of the spear. There will be many more excommunications in the coming purge. If you face such an eventuality, stand upon that rock with courage, face down those empty gun barrels, and remember the words of our Lord:
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.