Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Danger in Following Your Lord

Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
Acts 10:47

Since my excommunication, some folks have inquired as to whether I plan to be rebaptized. This question has set me thinking, and like most gospel truths, the answer may go much deeper than you initially expect.

Before we talk about rebaptism, let's first talk about baptism. Through this outward observance, we testify to an inward commitment we have made to follow our Lord. This means we seek to emulate His way of thinking, acting, loving, serving, and even suffering. Our public testimony to God and our fellow men of this commitment is embodied in this sacred ordinance.

Alma gave a wonderful summary of the baptismal commitment:
And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; 
Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life— 
Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you? (Mosiah 18:8-10)
These are lofty goals, to be sure. And not all that easy to live up to. In fact, we will all certainly NOT manage to live up to the commitments we make at baptism.

One of the things we tell ourselves, therefore, is that taking the sacrament renews this broken baptismal covenant and gives us another chance to try another week. And while I agree that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is indeed a wonderful, important, and necessary observance for all of Christ's followers, I cannot find any scriptural indication that sacrament renews baptismal covenants specifically. Many of the same elements exist in the sacrament prayers and scriptures about baptism, but the two ordinances are never directly linked in scripture, nor did the Lord Himself ever link them when He instituted the sacrament in person.

They're different ordinances with different purposes.

So let's suppose you're seeking renewal beyond the sacrament. Something more along the lines of a full-body immersive experience, let's say. Perhaps you were baptized at eight years old, and you didn't really understand what you were doing, couldn't wholeheartedly make your commitment to Christ, and can't remember it by now anyway.

Or suppose you've never received the promised fruits of baptism written in God's word to you:
Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. (2 Nephi 31:17)
Suppose that now, as a fully mature adult, you're ready to make your commitment to Christ in a wholehearted, enlightened and determined way before God and men. Suppose that by doing so, you intend to show your faith that God will fulfill his words and remit your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. Suppose you desperately want, need, and desire this renewal of your commitment to your Lord because you hunger and thirst after righteousness.

Forget the excommunicated castoffs. Is there no provision for the faithful to be rebaptized?

Well, it turns out, there is.

As with all gospel questions, let's turn first to the scriptures.

In 3 Nephi 11, when Christ appears to the Nephites, the very first thing he teaches is baptism.
And it came to pass that he spake unto Nephi (for Nephi was among the multitude) and he commanded him that he should come forth...And the Lord said unto him: I give unto you power that ye shall baptize this people when I am again ascended into heaven. (3 Nephi 11:18, 21)
Christ then preaches a sermon on the topic of baptism and its necessity as part of Christ's doctrine. This sermon was apparently believed by Nephi, because the very next day found him at the water's edge:
And it came to pass that Nephi went down into the water and was baptized. And he came up out of the water and began to baptize. And he baptized all those whom Jesus had chosen. (3 Nephi 19:11-12)
The interesting point here is that baptism was not a new thing among these Nephites. In fact, Nephi (the father of the Nephi in the above verses) was the go-to guy when it came to baptism among the Nephites:
For behold, Nephi was baptizing, and prophesying, and preaching, crying repentance unto the people, showing signs and wonders, working miracles among the people, that they might know that the Christ must shortly come (Helaman 16:4)
And it's worth considering the Lord's own statement that those who were spared the destructions at His death were the more righteous among the people. (3 Nephi 9:13, 10:12) Undoubtedly, these righteous people had already been baptized; undoubtedly Nephi, son of Nephi had been baptized by his father. Yet, there they were, at the water's edge again, doing what Christ asked of them. And they received the promised blessings when they did so:
And it came to pass when they were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire. (3 Nephi 19:13)
I know of no scriptural injunction against rebaptism, and we've just seen a scriptural example of Christ himself teaching rebaptism.

But what about rebaptism in the latter days? Has this practice ever been part of the restored gospel? Well, the answer to that is a resounding YES!

It started at the organization of the Church of Christ in April, 1830, when previously baptized people were rebaptized. Records of rebaptism appear sporadically through the 1830's, and by the Nauvoo era became quite common.

In the April, 1841 general conference Joseph Smith spoke on rebaptism, and the ordinance was thereafter provided to those who requested it. By 1842, rebaptism was common, and perhaps best summarized in a letter written by Jacob Scott from Nauvoo in February, 1843:
"Nearly All the church have been Baptized again, for the Remission of their Sins, since they joined the Church, I have also, by the hands of Br. Joseph (as he himself has been,) & I would advise Jan and you Mary, to attend to it as soon as you can have the opportunity of an Elder or Priest of the Church to administer it."
Interestingly, rebaptism was also performed in Nauvoo, not only for remission of sins and recommitment, but also for restoration of health, with numerous recorded examples including the Prophet rebaptizing his wife Emma on numerous occasions.

Rebaptism continued after Nauvoo as well. For example, Brigham Young and all the apostles were rebaptized in Salt Lake on August 6, 1847. Under the "Mormon Reformation" of 1856-1857, nearly every member of the LDS church were rebaptized to show renewed commitment. Rebaptism of the living was even practiced in the temples as late as 1913.

So with all this scriptural and historical evidence that rebaptism is sanctioned by, and pleasing to God, how might one go about receiving this sacred ordinance in our day? More particularly, suppose in your efforts to repent and seek the Lord, he gives you the distinct and repeated impression that He wants you to do this, and will bless you for it?

Well, I suppose you could do it the way it's always been done; you could seek out a priesthood holder and find a body of water. Taking such initiative shows commitment and faithfulness to the Lord. It demonstrates desire for repentance and recommitment to Christ.

Unfortunately, it will also get you punished by those who claim to be Christ's representatives. 

I happen to know of a brother who did just such a thing. He and his wife, desiring a greater commitment to Christ, received rebaptism by one holding the proper priesthood authority. This was a private matter of devotion to the Lord and obedience to his commandments. It resulted in a wonderful outpouring of the Spirit, as the scriptures promise.

Eight days after making this renewed commitment to Christ, this faithful brother was excommunicated from the church by men pretending to act for Christ.

Eight days. That's got to be some kind of record!

The brother in question is Brian Beckle of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and in telling his story, I need to point out a few things.

First, he acted in obedience to what he understood the Lord was asking him to do. The Lord, in response, provided the promised signs that follow belief. Just like the scriptures promise.

Second, he DID NOT get baptized into another church, movement, or group. This was not about leaving the LDS church or "membership" in anything at all. Rather it was simply about renewing a personal commitment to follow the Savior.

Third, he kept this matter private. He told only one trusted friend, and that friend took it upon himself to inform church authorities, directly leading to Brother Beckle's excommunication.

Here are his own words, presented at his disciplinary council:
To the Minneapolis Minnesota Stake Presidency and High Council, 
Dear Brethren,

I grew up in this church, participating in nearly every program available to me – primary, Sunday school, young men, scouting, seminary, etc.  I served a full-time mission.  I attended the temple.  I faithfully paid tithes and offerings.  I consistently served in ward and stake callings.

However, about two years ago I began to reflect on my standing before God.  I realized that while many of the good things in my life had come from my association with this church, I did not enjoy many of the spiritual blessings promised in scripture, and in my patriarchal blessing.

I began to search.  The foundation for my search was the Book of Mormon.  I saw in that book an invitation to come and know the Lord.  I saw individuals enjoying the gifts of the Spirit.  I saw a common pattern and a path forward.  I began to realize that I had spent 40 plus years of my life trying to make men happy, thinking that I was somehow pleasing God.  I began to realize that many of the things that I had engaged in were essentially only a form of godliness, lacking real power.

On Saturday October 4th at 10AM, after nearly two years of intensive study, prayer and nearly constant reflection and meditation I submitted to the Voice of the Lord urging me to make a solemn covenant with Him.  I was baptized in living water along the shoreline of Utah Lake according to the pattern outlined by the Savior in 3rd Nephi.  I was baptized by an individual who holds God’s priesthood.

As a consequence of that act, I have witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of the Holy Ghost and the gifts of the Spirit upon myself and my entire family this past week.  This outpouring has included the voice of prophesy, detailed revelations, dreams, interpretation of dreams, and even a waking vision for my 15 year old son, where he was shown his life’s mission.

At the same time, I have been subjected to church disciplinary action culminating in this meeting where I am now required to come and defend myself in front of 15 men against a charge that in the handbook is in seriousness next to murder and child abuse.  The contrast between how the Lord is treating me and how this church is treating me is both striking and instructive.  I find the actions of this church in this matter deeply offensive, but I have been directed to submit.

I know my standing before God.  My heart is pure and my hands are clean before him.

Brethren, you can do what you want with my membership in this church.  I no longer value it as I once did.  We can only serve one master and I choose to serve the Lord.  My fidelity to Him and what He requires of me will always have priority over the demands of men, regardless of the consequences.

I want to stand accountable before the Lord for what I have done.  I know I have His approval.  If this council deems my actions worthy of excommunication from the LDS church then I will willingly separate myself from it.

Brian Beckle

And so he was cast out for following his Lord, by those who claim to control such things in Jesus's name.

Of course, there is scriptural justification for casting out someone for this cause. Read the following:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall cast out of His church!
That's how it reads in your Book of Mormon too, right? (Sorry, I just couldn't resist. For those who accuse me of twisting the scriptures, I thought I should show you what that actually looks like.)

No, all kidding aside, the real quote is as follows:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 31:13)
When such a thing takes place, when the signs of the Spirit are made manifest, when any repentant soul enters in by the way, shouldn't the Body of Christ celebrate God's gifts? Doesn't the Savior teach in the parables of the Lost Coin and 99 Sheep and Prodigal Son that such a time is for rejoicing?
And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. (Luke 15:6) 
And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth! (D&C 18:13)
I don't know the men in the Stake Presidency and High Council of the Minneapolis Minnesota Stake. I don't know their hearts and I'm certainly in no position to pass judgment on what kind of men they are. That is for Christ to consider. But I do know their actions and I CAN comment what they have done. 

Brethren, I cannot agree with your actions. In contradiction of the very words of our Lord, you have cast one out from among you who did precisely what the scriptures tell us to do, and who then received precisely what the scriptures promise in confirmation of the Lord's approval. 
And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? (Luke 6:46)
I don't know what authority, or keys, or power, or influence allows such action to be taken against a sincere follower of Christ. Abuse of authority endangers it. "Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man."

No title, office, priesthood, or hierarchy can serve as a shield against the justice of God. You and I and Brother Beckle, we all need repentance and mercy. We all need to seek the Savior.

My brothers, speaking from experience, I can tell you that you may yet come to a point in your own path where the Lord asks you to recommit to Him by baptism. When that time comes, I hope you'll ask Brother Beckle to baptize you. I'm certain he'll be glad to provide this beautiful and powerful ordinance to you. How joyful will be your reunion with him and with that God to whom you will have recommitted.  How powerful will be the outpouring you will then receive. 

And now in closing: I started by reflecting on the question people ask me about whether I plan to be rebaptized. Here's my answer:

I already have been. And I highly recommend it.

God be praised for his mercy and love, as manifested in the life of His Son. Thank you Lord for setting the example and showing the way that even sinners like me can find access to your grace!

...and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 31:13)

Important note: I, alone, take responsibility for the above words; other than Brother Beckle's letter, these words and thoughts are mine and not his. Therefore, you need not call him to task for what I have said. If you object to what I have written, your problem is with me, not him.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

40 Days on Death Row

Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister;
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 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:
  1. 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.)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.)
  4. Formally join another church and advocate its teachings. (Again, all about the church, not the gospel)
Now, lest there should be any confusion, let's review:

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.
Nevertheless, in such disciplinary cases, caution ought to be the watchword. According to an official press release by the church, "Actions to address a person’s membership and standing in their congregation are convened after lengthy periods of counseling and encouragement to reconsider behavior."

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.
The "lengthy periods of counseling and encouragement" consisted of three meetings, spanning about 4 hours total, over the course of a month, in which the scriptures were not opened. The Stake President did give me two articles to read from the Interpreter (a non-church scholarly journal), which I read and commented on.

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. 
(John 16:33)