This post is mainly a recounting of my experience of being excommunicated. Mine was probably a strange situation, since I may be one of a handful of apostates who welcomed excommunication, who also chose to attend their disciplinary council. I may follow this post with some analysis in a day or three. Finally, this is meant to complement my partner Jana’s account of the same event.
First, let me address my choice of attire: wearing the “Legalize Gay: Repeal Prop 8” shirt was carefully considered symbolic act. I initially was going to wear a white shirt and tie and suit, and then I thought, wait, these men wear these clothes in part as a symbolic gesture, to remind them of who they feel they represent (this was drilled into me as a missionary). I decided that I wanted to wear something to remind me of my community. I spent a long time in the Mormon Church, I didn’t want to just fall into old patterns of acquiescence to authority. I also wanted to let those who were going to excommunicate me to know that no matter how civil I was, I stood by my principles. I knew I risked caricature, but I was hoping that the combination of the shirt and my behavior would communicate something that would break through stereotype. Finally, the shirt logo represents the bulk of my critique against the Church for the past year, which falls into acceptable political speech. Members are not supposed to be disciplined for their stance on Prop 8.
I poked my head into the high council room. Maybe a dozen men sat sandwiched between comfy office chairs and the large table. “Do I come in now, or wait out here?” I asked. Shrugs and quizzical looks. Some of the men seemed as nervous as I felt. My anxiety dissipated and I stepped back into the foyer. This was Church. I operated here for years. I could do this.
There were smiles and firm handshakes with people I remembered fondly. One man mentioned his teen child and I reminisced aloud the same child as a toddler scratching his cornea. Jana refused to shake hands with anyone, which seemed to make a few men uneasy. She also addressed men by their first names. I’m too Japanese to get over titles. Maybe someday.
The Officiating Man (OM from here on) drew Jana and I into a meeting with him (I vaguely recall some of this happening in a very brief one-on-one with him before he invited Jana in, but it’s all muddled now). He glanced at my shirt and raised an eyebrow. I was told that this wasn’t a trial, but a council. He voiced his concern that I had a recording device. I told him that I considered that dishonest and had not brought one. He said that possession of a recording device would be reason to forego tonight’s proceedings. I nodded.
He expressed concern about publicly discussing the events of the council. I balked and protested lightly. “What goes on here is sacred,” he said. I sat silently and probably glared. He did not forbid me from talking about them, but spoke in round-about ways, about the sanctity of the proceedings and wanting to avoid drama. I continued my glaring. He gave us a brief overview of what awaited us. I asked if Jana could be a witness on my behalf regardless of how I responded to the charges. He assented.
Jana and I exchanged pleasantries in a side room with a young official while the twenty or so men prayed and sang a hymn in the high council room. I was summoned. I sat down at a folding chair at one end of the table, and across an expanse at least six tightly packed men in big chairs wide, sat OM. He spoke softly, so at times it was hard to hear him. We opened with I Need the Every Hour, and I tried to sing bass, with mixed success. It had been a while.
With only a short introduction, OM moved right on to the charge of apostasy, and asked me how I answered to it. I asked for a clarification, and I got this definition, which is the first of four definitions of apostasy from the Church Handbook of Instructions (see page 110):
“to repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.”
(for you non-Mormons out there, there are four significantly different definitions of apostasy that I will go into in a separate post, and most members who are not men serving in central leadership positions are unaware of these definitions.)
My response to this was somewhat rambling. Basically I was being asked if I personally felt that my actions fit the definition provided. I thought some, and said that I thought the bulk of my anti-Church writing was political in nature, specifically, against Prop 8. Did this material fit this definition? (I asked this particular question mainly for the sake of other bloggers out there.) I was told, rather emphatically, that political writings were not included. This was the *only* clarification I received that evening. I said that I supposed that my other writings might fall under that definition, though they had decreased in frequency in the past year or two.
One aside: I still have no clue what writings fell under the above definition in the eyes of the church. I suppose I could’ve challenged the charge and then maybe I would’ve heard evidence presented against me, but that would’ve been insincere. I do feel that I’m an apostate by the above definition, but I’m interested, both for the sake of my own curiosity (I really must’ve gotten under someone’s skin) and for the sake of my Mormon blogging friends who care about speaking honestly and about their church membership. The only hints I have are from the visit from the Stake in June in which brief and vague references to my speaking about the temple and sacred things were brought up, and another protest from the previous bishop about an LOLReligion picture of the First Vision I posted. I also have a relatively recent post in which I say that Mormon Prophet Thomas Monson kind of a jerk, which is true, since he’s the prophet who made Prop 8 support a top priority.
Returning to the council, I was told that my honesty was appreciated. All the men in suits sat silent, some somber, some avoiding my gaze altogether, and some smiling in what I’d like to think was support, or at least compassion. I had a bit of a sense of being at a tennis match, with me and OM as the contestants, and everyone else in the stands.
You could do a great game of high-powered ping pong on that table.
After this, Jana was escorted in, and she was asked if she thought my actions (“actions” was not clarified in any helpful way) fit the above definition. Jana describes this in detail in her post. She said that the definitions were too broadly defined, and that she couldn’t answer the question. She then spent a couple of minutes talking of my character. It was both humbling and thrilling to hear the person who knows me the best to describe me as someone of sincerity and consistency in my desire to respect the truth.
Jana was asked if she loved me, and I was asked if I loved Jana. This was kind of a what the fuck moment. I think I stared in shock for a second, then said, “Of course!” It didn’t lead to anything. I’m not sure why it was asked.
Jana was led back out, and I think at this point I had an open mic opportunity. I didn’t have anything prepared, so I launched in, in good old Mormon Testimony and Quaker Meeting for Worship style. I felt both at ease and energized, and inspired. I said something to this effect:
I began by telling them that when I joined the Church my family disowned me, but X Ward became my new family. I’ll always be grateful to the many kindnesses shown me there. When it was time to serve my mission, Brother X gave me my dental checkup, and Brother Y did my medical exam for free. The ward paid for most of my mission, beyond my little savings.
The same spirit of seeking that led me into the Church eventually led me back out again. I tried to do every thing right, praying, seeking, working with multiple bishops (including at least one man in the room). It was a long and traumatic experience. I felt like I was two people, someone putting on a facade on Sundays and the authentic me underneath. Some leaders heard my questioning and still trusted me with teaching positions (I pointed to one of the younger leaders in the room, who had indeed been very generous with me, and who spoke kindly of me several times that evening). I realized, however, that this struggle was affecting my emotional health, and the health of my marriage.
I said that for every person who is open like me, there are at least 10 to 20 men and women in their wards who struggled silently. I encouraged them to be compassionate and patient with them.
In closing, I said that even though we fundamentally disagreed on areas that were important to us (I think I pointed to my shirt), I felt no anger or hatred towards any man in that room, and that, in fact, I had warm feelings towards many of them.
I did not close in the name of Jesus Christ Amen. But I think my remarks were well received by some.
We were led back out. Jana spoke to the young official about her application for membership in the Quaker meeting while also emphasizing the many connections to Mormonism she maintained. Jana gets full points for gutsiness and being completely transparent.
I was gently kicked out again. I should add that at some point in the evening the young official went in with me, and he said some brave things about respecting my pursuit of truth and a few nice things even though he had only spoken to me and Jana for a handful of minutes. I’m not sure what Jana’s opinion of the man was, but I liked him.
When I went back in again, I hear a brief explanation or intro, and then OM pronounced the sentence of excommunication. It was barely audible–seemed almost muttered to me. I felt no different in that moment. I think there were some words about this being a merciful thing. He mentioned something very quickly about how I could seek baptism only through the permission of the First Presidency. If I didn’t smile outwardly, I did inwardly at that.
OM then proceeded to bear testimony to me. I had to suppress my natural inclination to nod showing that I was listening, because I did not want to indicate any hint of mental assent to doctrines he asserted with everyone watching.
And then, that was it. I think a couple of the closest people shook my hand, then Jana and I were in the foyer and then we were being ushered out. In all fairness, there was a family situation for one of the leaders that may have sped up things up, but Jana especially was disturbed by how abrupt things ended (to the point of ignoring a few points of protocol in the Church Handbook).
As Jana and I drove off, I let out a spontaneous “WOOT!” 12+ years of hellish social expectations were ended. I felt like I could begin fresh. We went and got some frozen yogurt to collect our thoughts, then called the friends we had on stand-by for the excommunication party. We knew this would be an emotionally draining experience, and I am deeply grateful for how they all rallied around us that night. Many people who get excommunicated lose their primary social support network.
This has been a different experience for Jana, which you’ll notice when you read our separate accounts. I’m grateful to everyone who has shown her kindness and who have comforted her. Thank you.
I should add a couple of caveats to this report: a lot happened in the space of 80 minutes. I’m sure that I’ve mixed up sequence, misremembered a detail or five, and left out items that others (like Jana) would find important. I own the imperfectness of this transcript, but I still present it as something of worth, since there are so few accounts out there. I had little clue what to expect. Maybe having this record online will help a fellow apostate or two.
In closing, I want to reiterate that I’m reporting this as my experience. I’ll write an analysis in the next couple of days, but I’d rather not argue my experience. If you do try to point out where my experience is wrong, I shall probably ignore you. Wait for the analysis, in which I will undoubtedly provide all kinds of convenient targets.