The high profile excommunication of a member of the Quorum of the Seventy, Elder James J. Hamula is making the rounds in the international media, and throughout the Church. While many will see the removal of members as a type of silencing or punishment, the disciplinary action that we call “excommunication” has far greater and more significant purposes to Latter-day Saints and oftentimes is not the negative or detrimental process we view it as.
Excommunication to Protect the Innocent
The Church is very invested in protecting its members from damage caused by people within it’s walls. If members are actively campaigning against the doctrines and values of the Church, and their actions are causing faith crises in others, the Church has an obligation to step in and protect them. The Church my not be able to protect members from issues they may find online or in books they read. But they retain the right to ask members to give up their membership if their actions hurt or influence the innocent.
Excommunication to Protect the Good Name of the Church
Though this is largely one of the least used reasons in most excommunications, if a member is seeking to defame or destroy the Church and it’s reputation, and if their actions specifically attack those things of a sacred nature, that member can be excommunicated. Open rebellion by members seeking to harm Christ’s organized institution will lose their membership, and the blessings that accompany it.
Excommunication to Protect the Accused
At the heart of every disciplinary hearing is the intent to help and heal the member undergoing discipline. Whether that member is receiving discipline for breaking the Law of Chastity, murder, or apostasy, the intent of excommunication is to help that latter-day saint. In our culture, we think of excommunication as a punishment for wrong doing. A final blow to members who have sinned. While excommunication is certainly a consequence of some actions, it is not a punishment meant to harm or demean members facing it.
Excommunication is in fact one of the most merciful actions the institution called the Church can offer someone. Being excommunicated removes someones name from the records of the Church, and they lose membership, yes, but they also lose much more. They lose the gift of the Spirit, men lose the priesthood, they may not take the sacrament, pay tithing, or attend the temple. They can’t hold callings or wear the sacred garments. While most of these are temporal consequences of excommunication, the most important and merciful repercussion is spiritual. Excommunication releases a member from the bonds of their covenants with God. While they will no doubt be judged according to the knowledge they had and gained through their experiences, they will no longer be held to the obligations of their temple covenants.
This alone is an act of tremendous mercy offered to us by our Savior. No doubt making the journey back to full membership an easier one. When members leave the Church, their journey is just beginning. The Church welcomes back all members who wish to return.
We here at Millennial Morms hope that James Hamula is able to find himself back into good fellowship soon. This is a good reminder to all that no one is immune from sin or temptation. As President Hinckley once said when asked if he was ever tempted, “Satan is at my heels constantly.”