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This is a special episode of Articles of Faith. It is special because, our normal focus with the show is on articles written in scholarly journals such as The Interpreter, Square Two, and we have some being lined up to include BYU Studies as well. In this episode we are featuring two articles written on blogs, chosen because of their firsthand experience with church disciplinary councils; one article from the perspective of a person who went through one such council, and the other from the perspective of one who was in a variety of callings that involved being a part of disciplinary councils.
This episode will feature two interviews, one with Barbie Berg, who wrote the article The Truth about an LDS Disciplinary Council. The other is by Allen Wyatt, with his article simply entitled Excommunication. This episode is, in some ways, a response to the events and discourse surrounding the very public church discipline hearing for Kate Kelly.
At the time of these interviews, Kate Kelly has been formally excommunicated for “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church” and that she “persisted in an aggressive effort to persuade other Church members to your point of view and that your course of action has threatened to erode the faith of others.” Kate Kelly has since declared that she intends to appeal her excommunication. John Dehlin has not yet attended a formal council regarding his possible excommunication.
While an overwhelming majority of church disciplinary councils are not made public, because of the attention that these two have received, largely due to the efforts of Kate Kelly and John Dehlin themselves, we find many asking questions and seeking answers, while others make incorrect, incomplete, or un-Christlike declarations about what disciplinary hearings are, what they mean, how they come to be and how they are to be conducted.
Both of these articles and authors were chosen because, over the course of the weeks surrounding the public announcement of Kelly’s forthcoming church disciplinary council and Dehlin’s possible council, there has been a lot of commentary regarding their circumstances. It is my opinion that much of what was said fell short of the true nature, spirit, and purpose of church disciplinary councils, and I felt it was important to re-align the discourse. It also my opinion that these two articles share a valuable perspective that should be taken into consideration when absorbing and discussing all church disciplinary councils, not just the Kate Kelly scenario.
Barbie Berg: Article – The Truth about an LDS Disciplinary Council
Based on her personal experience with going through a disciplinary council as a younger female as well as her testimony of the spirit that accompanies these councils.
Allen Wyatt: Article – Excommunication
Allen served as a bishop from February 2006 until October 2012. He also served as a branch president, as a counselor in at least three different bishoprics, as a stake executive secretary, and on a high council. In all those positions Allen had the opportunity to sit in on disciplinary councils.
He wrote his article because he was seeing so much vitriol directed against the bishops and stake presidents involved in these matters that he felt someone needed to stand up and say, “no, this is the way it really is.” His article describes just one of the councils that happened to involve the excommunication of a sister.
One can be a faithful, active LDS who even believes in the importance of FairMormon and regularly donates without needing to strongly defend every single aspect of the Church. When excellent resources, such as FairMormon, produce vigorous defenses of peripheral aspects of the Church, it cheapens the more important defenses of central, core issues.
Frankly, the way Church disciplinary councils are ran can not reasonably be defended.
1. Why do different disciplinary councils produce very different results for near similar sins? I have personally witnessed first time, RM regretful fornicators receive excommunication on one hand, and informal probation on the other. Do the apologists for disciplinary councils have any data on the interrater reliability for similar cases? An anecdote as above is charming, but what of the anecdotes that portray councils in a negative light? Does anyone have any actual data?
2. How can the disciplinary council ever really know why a person did what they did? Do they know if the sinner was abused growing up? Do they know how the confessee’s prefrontal cortex or limbic system is overactive compared to the average? Do they know if the confessee is a good actor going through the motions or truly penitent? How do they know? The answer most frequently given is that as Judges in Israel, the Spirit will give the Truth to the Bishop as to what to do. As there are anecdotes of excellent and poor behavior of disciplinary councils, what is one to do? With something so weighty and precious as your membership in the Church on the line, will you trust it a disciplinary council? Given that the consequences are so heavy, should not a condition for rendering judgment be that the Bishop is inspired in 100% of cases?
3. Finally, what exactly is the point, or utility of these councils? We know that councils do not absolve sin. A person’s sins are forgiven by the Lord alone, only God knows our hearts. Do councils help those who have ‘seriously’ sinned come back? The incident in the Barbie Berg link is tragic. A less active sister starts to come back, and her Bishop initiates a disciplinary council against her? Is this what the Bishop of Digne did to Valjean? Knowing that a disciplinary council awaits them, would this make it more or less likely that the inactive will take steps to come back? Three of my siblings are inactive. Will a disciplinary council make it more or less likely they will feel welcome if they start to attend church again?
I am a faithful member, and have wrestled with the above questions for ten years. I have been unable to find answers that speak peace to my conscience.