The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often mistakenly called the Mormon Church) holds its members to high standards. There are certain covenants members take upon themsleves, which they strive every day to work on and keep. There are times, though, when an individual does something that can get him or her excommunicated from the Church. This action is only taken when an individual has committed a very serious sin. Excommunication means that the person’s records are removed from the Church and excludes the individual from holding a calling (or position of responsibility in the Church), taking the Sacrament (or Eucharist), and attending the temple, although individuals are welcome to and are encouraged to attend regular church meetings. They are welcome to come back to the Church at any time, through the process of repentance and getting re-baptism. In fact, that is the express purpose of excommunication—the beginning of the repentance process, with Church authorities there to help at every juncture. Remember, excommunication is the result of very serious sin.
Even though I wish that I could tell you that every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a strong and obedient member, that is not true of any religious parish or congregation. Like all children of God, we have our agency—the ability to choose right from wrong. And there are times that people in the Church are lured in by the world’s temptations. When a member falls into a temptation that is great enough, there is a chance that a member can be excommunicated, which means that their records can be erased from the Church.
Most of my life, I have lived around people of the Church whose morals and behavior have matched my own. But the older that I got, the more I made friends with those are not what they may have appeared at first to be. I believed as a child, that if you were a member of the LDS Church, you never did anything bad in your life. It wasn’t until I got into the Army that I realized how untrue that was. Out of about three hundred people in my unit, there were only four or five Mormons. Each day of the week, I watched them live and act as though the Church and its teachings meant nothing. Then on Sunday, they went to church, like nothing was wrong. What made me the most upset was the fact that they had claimed that the only reason they went to church was to get out of cleaning duty.
Now, I’ll admit that it was a nice perk. But that was not the reason that I went to church every Sunday. When I got home, I made friends with people of the Church who were just like the people I had met in the Army. The closer that I got to those people, the more I found out about the things that they were doing. It hurt to see my friends slowly fall into the darkness of sin. One friend whom I was very close to was talking to me one day and told me of a situation that disgusted me. It was my belief that his actions were those that merit excommunication.
I talked to my parents about his situation, telling them what I believed he should do. My parents gave me good advice, though. They said that it wasn’t my place to decide what he should do. Just like a person decides what they do in life, bad or good, they also must decide for themselves whether they are worthy to continue being a part of the Church. Even though I felt that my friend should talk to the bishop, and maybe be excommunicated for his actions, it wasn’t my place to decide. That was something between him, God, and his Bishop.
When excommunication from the Church is necessary, we must not regard the penalty as an end to all blessings and eternal possibilities. Even excommunication, serious as it is, can have the effect of restoring the proper perspective of the offender. Once deprived of Church membership, it is interesting to note how vitally important rebaptism becomes. The truly repentant excommunicated person will strive diligently to regain the waters of baptism. In the Church, there are scores of members who have earned their way back into the Church through true repentance, who now stand on more firm ground than ever before in their lives. They have learned their lesson well. They are not likely to make the same mistake again; and surely the blessings of eternity are once again a possibility, thanks to the sanctifying influence of true repentance coupled with the miracle of forgiveness.
(See Robert L. Simpson, “Q&A: Questions and Answers,” New Era, July 1975, 47–48.)