“For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.”
My friend Jared wrote the following, which got me thinking:
In the church we indicate our sustaining by verbal affirmation in private interviews and by raising the right hand in affirmation in conferences and meetings. Interestingly, most members who do not feel inclined to sustain or grant consent commonly vote with their feet.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints boasts a total tally of members to be above 15 million strong. What is not commonly discussed is the fact that more than 10 million of these members of record do not attend Sunday services or participate in church activities or pay tithing. In essence, a clear two-thirds majority of members are voting with their feet; these two-thirds do NOT sustain the church leaders in word or in deed. So by this indication, those claiming the keys and the right to lead are not sustained by, nor do they have the common consent of, a clear two-thirds majority of the church. If the leaders would have it otherwise, than they should excommunicate inactive members as prescribed in holy writ; otherwise, the numbers stand and are binding.Excommunications and "Church Discipline"
The word “discipline” shares its root with the word “disciple” which, from a gospel perspective, means one who follows Jesus Christ. The point of discipline is to make disciples of us. Or at least it should be.
Here are some recent attempts to make disciples of LDS members through discipline. How would you approach these issues? What if you found yourself in such a situation?
- A wife and husband lose their temple recommends because of gossip about them in the ward. There is no interview and they are informed days later that their recommends were revoked. The Stake President admits he revoked their recommends solely on the basis of rumor, without even speaking to them. Are you in favor?
- A man teaches his own children, in his own home, his scripture-based view of the gospel. He is told that his only hope of remaining a member is to stop teaching his children the gospel, which he will not do. He is therefore excommunicated. Are you in favor? When the man's children support their father, they are threatened with excommunication as well. Are you in favor?
- A man and his wife are both living exemplary lives, free of serious sin, active in the church, paying tithing and serving in their callings. But they have private concerns about the "living prophet," which they confide in their bishop. They are given an ultimatum to testify that Thomas Monson is a prophet or be excommunicated. They cannot honestly state the required testimony, so they are excommunicated. Are you in favor?
- A man feels the need to re-commit to Christ, so he follows the scriptural mandate to be re-baptized. He does not use a church facility, does not invoke the church priesthood, and is baptized in private as an act of devotion to the Savior. Signs follow, evidencing the Savior’s approval. Eight days later he is a excommunicated. Are you in favor?
- Children of excommunicated parents are called in for interviews by church leaders who inform them that if they share the same beliefs as their parents, they will be excommunicated as well. Are you in favor?
- A husband and wife, faithful and active in their ward, have some doubts and questions, so they talk to their bishop. He refers them to the Stake President, who gives them the ultimatum to resign their membership or be excommunicated. They opt to resign. They are shunned in their tight-knit Mormon community, lose many of their customers and consequently almost lose their business. They lose their home. Are you in favor?
- After excommunicating a husband and wife on charges of apostasy, a stake president then proceeds to contact the stake presidents of the couple’s children and extended family members in other states. Several other family members are called in, interviewed, and threatened with excommunication if they agree with the couple. Are you in favor?
- A woman is excommunicated not because of anything she’s done, but rather because of what her bishop thinks she might do, even though she pledges not to do it. Are you in favor?
- A husband and wife face a disciplinary council to be tried for their membership. Before the council begins, and in direct defiance of the secret handbook, the stake president informs them that if they attempt to teach doctrine or quote scripture during the council, he will have them removed from the room, by force if necessary. Are you in favor?
- A husband and wife are called up on trumped-up charges that are not listed in the handbook as grounds for excommunication. They are excommunicated anyway, and told after the fact that the real charge was something else. Are you in favor?
- A husband and wife are summoned to a disciplinary council to be tried for apostasy. When they ask the stake president what evidence he intends to present, he tells them he will present the contents of their private interviews with him and their bishop, as well as personal emails they sent to family members. When they point out that the handbook and state law both prohibit him from presenting these private communications to the council, he replies that he doesn’t see that as a problem. In violation of state law and church procedures, he presents the information anyway and excommunicates them. Are you in favor?
Before you shake your head too much, I need to tell you that none of these are hypotheticals. Every one of these cases is real, and all have happened within the last 6 months. I have personal knowledge of them from the actual parties involved.
All of these cases have some common themes. In EVERY case, each of the people so “disciplined” have fervent testimonies of Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, the Latter-day restoration, and the Book of Mormon. In EVERY case, there was no sin worthy of church discipline. NONE of these people were doing anything to publicly oppose the church or its leaders. In EVERY case, these members were doing their level best to follow Christ and obey His words found in scripture, even at tremendous personal cost. NONE of these were high-profile members, and many were among the “least” in their wards. They represented no threat and were doing no harm.
All have paid a heavy personal price, in terms of persecution, shunning, gossip, social stigmatization, loss of reputation, and even economic loss.
Do you believe such people ought to be “disciplined” by the church for what amounts to thought crime? Do you believe that such measures will make those so “disciplined” into better disciples? Do you believe that by making examples of these few, the many will be easier to control? Is this what your religion has become? Is this what you support with your time, talents, means and devotion?
Given all you know about Jesus Christ, does this sound like His work and His glory?
Joseph Smith once commented, in relation to a church member who was disciplined by a high council for erring in doctrine:
Elder Peteliah Brown...one of the wisest old heads we have among us, has been called up before the High Council on account of [his teachings about the book of Revelation.] I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine, it looks too much like methodism and not like Latter day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believing as I please, it feels so good not to be trammeled. It doesn't prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine." (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 183-184)Disciplining the Disciples
As I’ve covered before, church discipline now appears to be mostly about expelling or punishing those who don't think the "right" way, rather than inviting sinners to turn and follow Christ. Indeed, those who follow Christ most rigorously are often the ones most targeted for “discipline,” which almost always consists of an ultimatum to either stop following Christ, or be thrown out of the LDS church.
If your loyalty to men and your loyalty to Christ conflict, you will be forced to choose. Nobody can serve two masters. (Matthew 6:24) It has always been so for Christ's true followers. Every person I know who has publicly testified of seeing Jesus Christ (and there are quite a few) has faced church “discipline” and been cast out or resigned. And yet they know the Lord personally, and He finds them worthy of His company.
Now in fairness, I must also tell you I’ve heard of some few local leaders who are content to allow people to believe as they wish. In the absence of serious sin, they gladly let individual members worship as they choose in private. I applaud such men; they are a rare breed. Too rare.
The Ongoing Purge
When I was excommunicated for apostasy last October, I closed my blog post with the following:
I believe my wife and I are just the tip of the spear. There will be many more excommunications in the coming purge.And indeed there have been many. Excommunication used to be a big deal. Now, I hear about another one nearly every week. I know of 6 coming up this month. As more people awaken and arise, more church leaders become hell-bent (pun intended) on throwing them out.
And we're not talking about the high-profile, public cases like John Dehlin or Kate Kelly. We're talking about your children's primary teacher, the young mens' president in your ward, that nice, older couple that sits in the back—your friend, your neighbor, your sister, your brother. It could easily be you.
Someone could misinterpret a comment you make in Sunday School, and you could find your recommend revoked without anybody even speaking to you.
Someone could forward to your Bishop a personal email to a family member containing doubts or questions, and you could find yourself being tried for your membership.
Someone could eavesdrop on your private conversation in a restaurant and turn you in to the authorities, and you find yourself walking the plank off the "Old Ship Zion."
I know, it wouldn't be you, because you're so darn righteous. Tell that to the people I listed above.
I don’t think this is good for the LDS church. I don’t believe Christ is pleased when His humble followers are persecuted, cast out, mocked and scorned. But this has always been the fate of his true followers. (Matthew 5:11-12) How sad it is that those who inflict these punishments and persecution pretend to do so in the name of Jesus Christ, and thus take His name in vain. How tragic for the church that, stake by stake around the world, presidencies and high councils are being systematically stripped of their priesthood by their own abuse of it, and left to kick against the pricks, persecute their fellow saints, and fight against God. (D&C 121:36-38)
How tragic it is that some Mormons pour out vials of wrath, anger, and white-hot hatred against those they view as "traitors" to the church. Christ is NOT the author of such behavior.
Raising your Hand vs. Staying His Hand
Just as even 10 righteous can spare a whole city, the Lord’s hand is stayed for the sake of His humble followers. As they are increasingly cast out, the separation will become complete, and what remains will be worthy of destruction. (D&C 112:24-26) Its a very, very bad idea to cast out those who care enough about following Christ to actually suffer shame for his name. (Acts 5:40-41) Once the wheat has been separated from the tares, all that remains is the burning. (D&C 86:7) That day of burning is coming. (JSH 1:37)
As I’ve covered before, the LDS church has a public definition of apostasy used for PR, and a private definition used in the secret handbook that none but certain leaders are allowed to read. If you’re LDS, whether you realize this fact or not, whether you’ve read it or not, you are bound by this secret manual. If you run afoul of its rules, or your local leader's good graces, you may find yourself facing a disciplinary council without having committed any serious sin. Are you in favor?
And sadly, the scriptures won't protect you. When the scriptures and the manual disagree, the words of the manual are counted more precious than the words of Christ. Are you in favor?
Perhaps most importantly, the single, most effective way to ensure you face "discipline" is to question church leadership. A variety of sins will be tolerated; questions will be considered; ignorance, apathy, and neglect of your duties will only get you the hand of fellowship. But question the leadership, and it's over for you. No matter how faithful, obedient and devoted you are to the gospel, scriptures and Lord of us all, questioning the men in the red velvet chairs will not be tolerated under any circumstances. There truly is only one doctrine left.
When the common consent vote is called for, you are free to vote any way you like, as long as it's in favor. Is it any wonder the voting is "unanimous in the affirmative?" Is it even a vote?
Invoking Common Consent
And this brings us back to where we began. According to our scripture, all things are to be done in the church by common consent. You are free to choose, and you are free to oppose. If you raise your hand to sustain the leadership, you are sustaining and assenting to whatever actions they take.
Similarly, all things are done with the implied common consent of the church members, unless they specifically oppose. Silence is consent.
Elder Nelson informed you last conference that your vote binds you to those men. Therefore, you will be accountable for their actions because of your consent.
Common consent is the last check against religious abuse, and a responsibility the Lord expects us all to take seriously. In Joseph Smith's day it was an actual vote. In our day it has become a sham and a threat.
Are you in favor?
One more thought: This post and the last one are NOT about sour grapes or trying to score points by encouraging opposing votes. They are not about me being "right" or the church being "wrong." This has nothing to do with me.
Rather, this has everything to do with you.
If I can do anything to protect you from what is coming by raising the voice of warning, I hope to do so. Your soul is precious, and idolatry will damn you. Please don't raise your hand without thinking carefully. Are you ready to be held personally responsible for what you support? Even if you aren't in a public meeting, you should manifest your allegiance. For reasons I can't fully go into here, angels will be recording this vote.
I've done my very best to point out truth as clearly as I know how. I've offered the most pointed warning I can, and I've done it at the Lord's request. If you've read what I've written and still choose to make an oath-like vow, binding you to a man and an increasingly abusive system of religious punishment, you will not do so in ignorance. Please don't make that mistake.
I started with the Lord's statement that all things must be done by common consent in the church. I'll close with how to judge the matter correctly:
Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.
—2 Nephi 32:3