The Top Five Reasons Why I’m Attending My Disciplinary Council.

[Edited: The post was erroneously titled "The Top Five Reasons Why I'm Not Turning in a Letter of Resignation to the Church". I think that was the title of an earlier post. I've corrected it to reflect the content.]

The most common question aimed at me in the past day is why I’m bothering to go to this council at all. This query has come from the devout, from former mormons, from irreligious friends. It certainly would be easier on me, on Jana, on the men in that high council room if I didn’t attend.

So here’s my list of top five reasons I’m attending my disciplinary council:

5. Because, at some level, I’m afraid.

Totally irrational, I know. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” This will meet my quota for a month. And many kudos to Jana for offering to join me.

4. Because I am a compulsive chronicler.

I work with information and data for a living, and would like to become a professional writer. Transparency and openness are fundamental values (though I respect privacy as well). This is one area where I will probably always butt heads with the LDS Church, because of the institution’s culture of secrecy and manipulation of information that has a profound impact on the lives of its members. (One of my most popular posts is a link to the 1999 edition of the text of the Church Handbook of Instructions.) I’m deeply indebted to others who have spoken candidly about their experiences and left a record online. Anything I can document becomes a part of the public record and a resource for dissenters and skeptics and others who are struggling and face church discipline). I don’t expect to post anything earth-shattering or even new–just something to help others know what to expect if they find themselves in a similar situation.

3. Because I want to avoid caricature.

The fifteen men who will sit in judgment tomorrow evening are all human. I want to resist the temptation to say that they are good men, because I don’t know most of them (even Jesus said that only God was good). I don’t know who is in the stake leadership right now, but many have been very kind to us in the past, and a couple always treat me with respect, even when I encounter them since I stopped going to church. I don’t have to agree with them in certain areas, but I don’t have to make villains of them either. The Stake President was Jana’s OB/GYN and delivered GameBoy safely into this world, for which I will always be grateful.

I also hope that they will see that I’m not some caricature of an apostate. I suspect that some of them will have only encountered my words out of context. I want them to see me, to shake my hand, to interact with me, to hear my response to their accusation.

Hopefully we’ll see each other as complex humans, worthy of compassion. If I don’t go to this meeting on Wednesday, I will know only that the Stake President and 14 nameless, faceless men sat in judgment and made a decision about me. I also would prefer for them to look me in the eye when they announce their decision.

2. Because I care about my community.

And my community is not the mainstream Mormon church. I’ve never written for the median American Mormon. My audience and my community are the folk of the fringe*: those of us who dare to question and are subsequently pushed to the margins, those of us who suppress our open questioning because of complicated relationships with loved ones, those of us who wanted to belong but were rejected because we were different. Closet skeptics, pagan Mormons, ex-Catholics, queers, heretics, and iconoclasts: these are my people. I write for them.

1. Because I want closure.

My entry into the Church twenty years ago was a very public event. Mormon friends traveled hundreds of miles to attend my baptism. I was encouraged to invite my non-Mormon friends. The next day, I was presented before hundreds of people and welcomed warmly into my congregation.

I fully expect to be excommunicated tomorrow. An excommunication is a powerful rite in ways that a letter of resignation is not. I believe in the power of ritual to clearly define boundaries in our lives. I want to be able to point to a day on the calendar and say, “this is when I stopped being a Mormon.”

Most people leave Mormonism quietly. They simply fade into inactivity. Perhaps at some point they write a letter asking to remove their names. This is a perfectly respectable way to leave. It’s one I’ve considered seriously over the past two years.

I don’t expect most of you to empathize with this top reason. It’s intensely personal, and not everyone has the option of being excommunicated. Let me explain. Deconverting and exiting the LDS church have defined the last twelve years of my life. The Church institution and culture, my love for devout believers like my family and friends, and my own desire at first to believe, and later to belong even if I didn’t quite believe, all complicated the process. It has been excruciating, and emotionally damaging. I suspect that if I am excommunicated, it may even be one of the most healing events of my adult life.

*hopefully someone catches the ironic use of the title of Orson Scott Card’s story collection.

78 thoughts on “The Top Five Reasons Why I’m Attending My Disciplinary Council.

  1. re 47:

    GKB, excommunication certainly won’t silence. But here’s something you and I both know (because you’ve brought it up in previous comments). Excommunication is the church’s way of changing John’s credibility.

    Because currently, now, John’s friends or family or ward members see John as, “Guy with heterodox beliefs who is a member of the church.”

    And after this excommunication, all of a sudden, this has the potential to change to, “Guy with heterodox who cannot be trusted for even a second because he is one of those dastardly evil ex-Mormons.”

    Don’t play coy. You know how members can be. You’ve even acknowledged this in your previous characterizations of John’s motives (John’s claiming “credential to leverage.”) What I am arguing is that John rightfully has this credential to leverage because indeed, Mormonism is his identity, but the church is undermining this (and it’s completely to their discretion to do this, don’t get me wrong, but still, don’t be blidn of what they are doing) by cutting against his administrative Mormon identity (e.g., his membership.)

  2. Andrew S…

    I think we are in agreement. I am sure that John will always have some cultural and social Mormonism in him. (I don’t know him…but I suspect that this will be true.)

    If he is excommunicated, he just won’t be a member of the Church.

    I don’t mean this with any disrespect…but I don’t think this is a bad thing. As a conformist member of the faith, I think it is a good thing that we apply standards to formal membership in the Church.

    My hope is that the Church can maintain as much respect, caring, and love as it can while it applies these standards. I wish John no ill and hope that if he loses his membership that he will be treated with love by all who know him.

    I wish him well in his continued spiritual journey. I hope that at some time in the future, he can reconcile himself to the Church and return.

  3. GKB (#50): There seems to be a sentiment that the individual is in control of setting standards for entrance into the Church…or continued membership.

    “Continued membership” is pretty much a joke. All most people have to do to continue as members of the church is keep their heads not and not talk about their doubts. A person can stop paying tithing, stop coming to church, drink all the beer he wants, and even beat his spouse without having his church membership threatened. It’s only when you start “saying” things that contradict church teachings that you start running the “risk” of excommunication.

    (And not even that is a guarantee. I’ve been loudly contradicting church teachings since 1995, and I’ve never even been *threatened* with excommunication. Probably because my local bishops have never known I live in their ward boundaries.)

    But anyway, it seems pretty clear to me that the church is far more concerned with words than with actions, more concerned with “dangerous” ideas than with “sinful” acts.

    So sure, John has earned excommunication. But when you step back and take a hard look at the whole process, is he really more deserving of it than hundreds if not tens or hundreds of thousands of others with whom the church is happy to keep inflating its rolls (McMORMONS — Over 13 Million Saved!) as long as they keep their contradictory lifestyles hidden from public view?

    Talk about a whited sepulchre.

  4. Andrew S (#51) “Don’t play coy.”

    I am not being the least bit coy. I don’t think that someone who has strayed from the faith as far as John seems to have done (based on his own comments) should have the endorsement of the Church in the form of being a member in full fellowship. I say that with no ill will toward John.

    Now, if that means that John’s credibility is lessened when he criticizes the Church…so be it. That is the natural consequense of being an exMormon.

    If that results in any form of stigma or shunning…that is completely inappropriate and out of harmony with the Gospel and Church standards. However, I would maintain that the possibility of such unfortunate circumstances are not justification for allowing him to be a member of the Church.

    I will say it again…so as to be perfectly clear…I wish John well. If he cares/cared about Mormonism as deeply as I do, this is a difficult transition. I hope he finds happiness and peace. For all I know, leaving the Church may be one of the most liberating experiences he will ever have.

    With that said, I am going to sign off for a while. (LOL…I am way to absorbed with this respectful exchange.)

  5. GKB: You’re ignoring the fact that excommunication from the church carries much more with it than merely removing someone’s name from the roster.

    Think about how Mormons treat people who have been excommunicated. I have never seen one person, not even those who came back later on, ever be treated as well as they were before. They are pariahs, usually cut off by many family and friends. The “courts of love” are dry affairs, conducted with a foregone conclusion and without any interest in an actual discussion.

    You might think your legalism is coming across as a fair and logical analysis of the causes and consequences of excommunication. But it’s too black-and-white and just comes across as smug and condescending.

  6. And a second thought:

    I constantly hear Mormons passing the buck on behavior that is both widespread and inappropriate. They blame the culture but insist the Church is immune. Rabid homophobia — not the same thing as civil opposition to gay marriage — is never censured. Shunning of former members — not the same thing as keeping clear of someone you have a legitimate grievance with — is never censured. Sure, there’s some official statements about civility and kindness, but nobody actually speaks out when someone is cruel. It draws attention and will just make that person be treated with suspicion.

    The culture of the church and the church itself are inextricably linked, and to play dumb about that is a big waste of everyone’s time. Each and every Mormon needs to take some responsibility and admit that.

  7. re 52:

    GKB, As I wrote in my first comment on this thread (at least, I think), even though I think I don’t like the tone, I do recognize I agree a lot with what you say.

    But what I’m trying to do is hammer out those places of disagreement.

    Namely, here are a few places of such
    1) As a nonbelieving Mormon, John did not have and does not have an obligation to resign from the church.

    2) As a blogger disseminating information, John did not and does not victimize the church or its members’ faiths. If someone loses faith after reading what John has written, that’s something on them and their faith, not on John.

    3) Excommunication is not a cut-and-dry move for the church. It *is* a political move used for damage control. Because it is used for damage control, it must have punitive effect against John (and I argue that it does). The mark of excommunication is meant to try to tarnish John’s credibility.

    4) So, John still meets the criteria for victimization. He doesn’t have to be flogged in public for this to be so. Even in a private, low-key court of love, victimization can and does still occur.

  8. John will be facing a group of men who’ve known him (or of him) for over two decades. This is pretty different from facing a Council made up of complete strangers. And, this is one reason that this event is so meaningful, certainly more so than a group of complete strangers calling a court. Some of these men have been close friends to our family and have seen John through every stage of his Mormon spiritual journey. I know that they care about our family and they care about John. Especially in the case of our SP, he’s a man that I have trusted implicitly in past interactions. I care for him and his family, too.

    I’m looking forward to hearing their part in this event & if they do break the council into halves to argue both sides of John’s case (as I’ve heard is typical procedure), I will probably be more than a bit emotional to hear some of them defend John.

    We can argue and nitpick details all we want about the church and its control (or lack of) on heterodoxy. But this is the stuff of real human drama–and it’s gonna be interesting! :)

  9. On second thoughts…I will make one final comment and then depart from this discussion.

    There have been a number of personal attacks on me for participating in this discussion…I am coy…I am smug…I am legalistic…I am condescending…etc. There have also been a number of attacks on the Church and its integrity in this discussion.

    I have attempted not to characterize any of you on a personal level. I have attempted to treat John factually and with respect, even though I disagree with him.

    What this thread demonstrates to me is the fact that intolerance, self-righteousness, and judgementalism can cut both ways. Beams-and-motes, pots-and-kettles.

    I fully recognize and acknowledge that the traditional members of the Church are humans in every way. I am always amazed that our critics sometimes seem to have a blind eye to their equally intolerant and biased behaviors.

    To John…peace be with you.

    And with that, I will stop kicking the hornets’ nest.

  10. re 54:

    I agree with your first paragraph as far as I recognize how the church administration operates now. This doesn’t mean I agree with this particular administrative policy, but as far as it is what it is, yes, they have that right not to endorse. To excommunicate.

    But it is the second paragraph that is problematic. John’s credibility is tarnished because the church has taken administrative action. not because of what John says. This is what I want to be absolutely clear about. This action is what the church is hoping to accomplish with excommunication. Where I disagree is that you’re directing this back on John. When in fact, regardless of what John does (e.g., he has blogged up until now, he will probably blog after now), what is changing is the church administration’s action. That is the reasonable difference.

    re 59:

    Even though you’re about to drop out, I will say something. I did not call you coy. I cautioned that you shouldn’t be coy. You determine if you are coy or not. If you are not coy, then you will realize that the church’s excommunicative action has a hostile effect against John. This isn’t controversial. This is what they are doing to preserve the institution and preserve the members — as even you admitted to earlier. By making John an official, administratively recognized “excommunicated member,” they sabotage his credibility to speak.

    If you are coy (and this is all up to you, I’m not saying which is which — I’m just hoping that whatever the case, you won’t be coy), then perhaps you’ll beat around the bush and absolve the church of any possible responsibility in this whole occurrence.

    So, please, spare me. Spare me the talk of intolerance, of self-righteousness, of judgmentalism, because I do not judge you. You have been allowed to speak your mind without action being taken against you on this site. Clearly, this site is affording you something that the church does not afford John. This is what we’re all saying here. So, please, spare us all. Spare us all beams-and-motes and pots-and-kettles, because as it is now, I’m not John, I’m not Jana, and I’m not any of the owners of this blog, but I can tell you that from what I’ve viewed in this discussion, you have been allowed to speak your mind in whatever way — to try to paint whatever picture you see of John’s actions and his attitudes — and everyone here has been quite accommodating to you. This is a striking difference between this site and the church, and we’re talking about that. We’re pointing it out. While you call this site the “hornet’s nest,” not one person stings you. While you call this site’s commenters “personal attackers,” not one person attacks you and expels you.

    This is markedly different than the church. And I’m not denying that as an institution, they have the right to exercise that. But though they have the right, that doesn’t mean we must acquiesce in silence.

  11. I second the person who says it takes longer to resign. It took me 9 months and several phone calls and finally asking if I needed to seek out legal help before my resignation was processed – and I had a good relationship with the leaders. This was not an isolated incident. I’ve since come to learn this is quite common.

    On the other hand, my husband whom I was divorcing at the time, was excommunicated in 7 months. I still am baffled as to how an EQ prez got convicted of a felony involving a minor and wasn’t called into a stake disciplinary council immediately (and initially, it was only going to be a ward council until the stake prez was made aware of his rampant adultery). Strange and inconsistent standards.

    I’ll tell you what though, despite no longer having faith, I went to his council and I spoke my piece because those men needed to hear how their actions (and inaction) during that time impacted me as a woman who was supposed to be held in such high regard. After what I went through with my husband, the church’s poor handling of it all added insult to injury.

    Regardless of what I thought of their authority, as fellow humans they needed to hear it and I had a right to say it.

    I empathize with the people who don’t get it, who don’t understand why people “just don’t leave quietly” and still maintain some connections with or discuss the church. I used to be one of those people. I don’t know how shift their paradigms. I couldn’t shift my own until I went through my own experiences that prompted me to spare the judgement and enlarge my heart with more compassion.

  12. Up until a couple of days ago, I had never heard of you (I followed a link from Mormon Matters). For the sake of transparency (which is a buzz word for you) I admit (declare, state, confess, whatever) I am a True Blue Mormon (whatever that means) and that colors my perception of what I’ve read of and about you. I truly wish you the best in what you’re doing and hope it brings you peace and happiness. God is no respecter of persons and knows us each better than we know ourselves. Where ever this takes you, good luck.

    I’m more curious about my own reaction to this. Why am I following this and why do I care? Maybe it’s like watching a trainwreck, or a moth being drawn to the flame.

  13. I’m so sorry that this has to be so bruising for you and those who love you.
    I’m hoping ,like you,that this will be the beginning of healing .My understanding of church disciplinary procedures as relayed by my husband,is that this is indeed the intention.
    I, too have a long history of struggle with church authority.But I think I’m finally woman enough to admit this has more to do with me and my mistrust of authority figures than it has to do with the church.The reasons are deeply personal to me and to do with my own pathology.
    The kindred spirits I have met over the years are exactly that.There’s always a reason why.
    I admire your integrity,and honour the fact that this will be a new phase of your life.

  14. Yet another John,
    It is revealing that you, an active LDS, wish John well and hope that his journey brings him peace and happiness.

    Joseph Smith wrote that “All the religious world is boasting of righteousness; it is the doctrine of the devil to retard the human mind, and hinder our progress, by filling us with self-righteousness. The nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs… if you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another. “(JST p.247)

    Unfortunately, too many Christians (Mormons obviously included) take the call to remain unspotted from the world as a call to draw lines of exclusivity. They judge and condescend and in doing so commit the greater sin.

    You have chosen not to do such and are to be commended as a true example of your faith.

  15. #62
    is it a trainwreck, or a liberation? A moth to a flame or a revolution to a regime? Every TBM I know uses the same vernacular with respect to those who choose to leave. Wouldn’t it have been compassionate for the church to list genuine rejection of the theology for rational reasons instead of transgression or personal offense in last months ensign?

  16. Wren,

    The LDS church usually waits to hold formal disciplinary proceedings where criminal matters are concerned. Anything written can be requested by the courts. Counselors and psychologists are known to withhold diagnosis for the same reason. A person can be excommunicated for acts that are not illegal but if the excommunication were presented as circumstantial evidence, it would be prejudicial.

    I’m so sorry you had to endure such an awful ordeal. I hope that life provides you with joyful experiences that are ten times as intense as was your suffering. Much love. Cate

  17. Jtj, #64, I read your response to my comment and think, yes, a trainwreck. As far as your comment about TBMs and their verncular, the same could be said of the those who leave the church. “Liberation” and “revolution to a regime” are just as common among them. I do commend John on his posts and responses. He’s posted publicly, solicited comments (comments enabled), and stated his case as he sees it. He hasn’t gone histrionic and vitriolic about it (as far as I know). He obviously feels strongly about his position and as I said before, I wish him the best. For him and his loved ones.

  18. in 54, GKB says:

    “If that [excommunication] results in any form of stigma or shunning…that is completely inappropriate and out of harmony with the Gospel and Church standards.”

    this is just ridiculous. the rhetoric, of course, is that excommunication is an act of love and should not result in inappropriate behavior. the cultural reality is quite different. and to claim otherwise is to be obtuse. these men who are going to sit on a council tonight to determine the disciplinary action to be taken against john know the mormon culture every bit as well as i do. there is no doubt in my mind that they know john will be more fully ostracized, more viciously characterized, and more completely dismissed if they excommunicate him. no matter what they say about their intentions, i would argue that this is, at least in part, their intention: to remove john from any position of possible influence over other members of the church by rendering him persona non grata in the eyes of the church and its members.

    there’s little that drives me more *batty* about the lds church than the doublespeak it engages in. “we’re not telling people how to vote, we’re just asking them to do what they can.” “we’re not prejudiced against homosexuals, we just believe marriage is between man and woman.” blah blah blah. it’s all they same: hypocritical doublespeak. the least an institution like the church, which claims divine inspiration and guidance, could offer is honesty. i really don’t think that’s too much to ask. excommunication is intended to be a painful ostricism, complete with criticism and suspicion from other members. in my opinion, the church should acknowledge it as such rather than simply trying to sugar coat it as an act of love (i don’t deny that love may be one contributing factor, but it’s not the only one).

  19. I completely agree with Amelia. It’s very frustrating when people try to discount the culture as being the strongest influence in people’s lives, and try to make a nonsensical distinction between “official doctrine” and how everyone behaves or what they “really” believe.

    There’s only one kind of doctrine, and it’s whatever the church members believe. It’s not 100% uniform, and it changes over time, and there just simply is no “real” doctrine which exists outside of the reality of the culture. Even if it is argued that there is a god and s/he has some “real” doctrine, it is clear that that doctrine is not being translated error-free to the LdS church, as evidenced by how many doctrines have changed, appeared, disappeared and evolved over the past 180 years.

    Because when the actions of the church or church members are rightfully criticised, and that criticism is dismissed because which ever people or leaders earned the criticism weren’t following the supposed “real” doctrine, and therefore there is zero fault, a culture has been created which is immune to criticism (no matter how useful, relevant, or needed), and therefore a culture which changes very slowly, and doesn’t expunge negative ideas. Those negative beliefs and actions are rooted in strong tradition and doctrines and are exempted from critique have made Mormon culture into one where emotional abuse, sexism and homophobia are rampant, and judgmentalism and self-righteousness are at the very core of the culture.

    Until the church and its members can accept criticism and get over the knee-jerk immediate rejection of all critiques as non-applicable because “the church is perfect but the members aren’t” and realise that many of the problems stem not from individuals, but are systemic and caused by underlying doctrinal issues which manifest themselves in the culture and in the people, the church is going to keep slowly imploding and losing credibility.

    It is a valid criticism that a person who is excommunicated is most often treated as a pariah and shut out of the community. While there do exist teachings which contradict that, there are stronger teachings which promote that sort of treatment. No church or religion is without its inherent contradictions, and Mormonism far from exempt. There are many battling beliefs and doctrines and nearly any idea or action can be justified with some passage of scripture, some talk by some prophet or apostle, or some article in the Ensign – and so can it’s complete opposite, and everything in between. There is no one right way to interpret Mormonism, nor one right way to live it. To pretend there is, is to be incredibly naïve or incredibly blind to the realities of Mormon culture and how completely the culture and those warring ideas influence people. It causes no end of pain to pretend that everything is love, joy, happiness, rainbows and unicorns, and ignore the fact that more often than not, the injunction to “love one another” is buried under “obey the commandments” and “be not of the world” and “avoid the very appearance of evil” and other more base and cynical doctrines which in practise supersede the noble teachings of Mormonism.

    There is a fundamental flaw which needs fixing, and John is one of those trying to fix it, and because he cares about the truth, he is being punished. And that’s a tragedy.

  20. And good luck John. There are times like this when I can’t do anything for someone that I almost wish I still believed in praying. But not quite.

  21. Craig – your last comment was so dead on. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve prayed to the unknown – whispering thoughts much in the same way I used to when I’d kneel.

    John I’m putting mine out there for you right now – since you’re not doubt in the thick of it all…

  22. I’ve had that feeling.

    I remember when I was a kid and would wish for things. I don’t think we lose that need as we grow up. We just think we need to color it with a more legitimate kind of rationality we call prayer. We want to think it’s more noble, the outcome less random. It’s still a wish. And when it’s sincere and grounded in good thoughts for someone else there’s nothing wrong with that.

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