I’m going to again interrupt my posts on fasting to include some information about Church disciplinary councils. While searching the LDS website for a completely unrelated topic, I ran across a link to an article by Elder Ballard that was published in the September 1990 Ensign. I believe this article is a must-read for all Church members. Elder Ballard explains clearly why the Church has disciplinary councils, what happens in them, and what happens as the result of them.
Here are some highlights from the article:
“When members need to have certain blessings withheld, the Lord’s object is to teach as well as to discipline. So probation, disfellowshipment, and excommunication, when they become necessary, are ideally accompanied by eventual reinstatement and restoration of blessings.”
“Informal Church discipline [by a bishop] may negate the need for formal disciplinary action. Since repentance and reformation are the primary objectives of any Church disciplinary action, the bishop may feel that the person has done or is doing everything necessary to repent and that a disciplinary council would serve no useful purpose.”
“On the other hand, the spirit of inspiration may move the Church leader to convene a disciplinary council, particularly if the member holds a prominent position in the Church. In the scriptures, the Lord has given direction concerning Church disciplinary councils. (See D&C; 102.) The word council brings to mind a helpful proceeding—one of love and concern, with the salvation and blessing of the transgressor being the foremost consideration. Members sometimes ask why Church disciplinary councils are held. The purpose is threefold: to save the soul of the transgressor, to protect the innocent, and to safeguard the Church’s purity, integrity, and good name” (emphasis added).
“The First Presidency has instructed that disciplinary councils must be held in cases of murder, incest, or apostasy. A disciplinary council must also be held when a prominent Church leader commits a serious transgression, when the transgressor is a predator who may be a threat to other persons, when the person shows a pattern of repeated serious transgressions, when a serious transgression is widely known, and when the transgressor is guilty of serious deceptive practices and false representations or other terms of fraud or dishonesty in business transactions.”
“The bishopric, in consultation with the stake president, has the responsibility and authority to hold disciplinary councils for all ward members. However, if excommunication of a Melchizedek Priesthood holder is thought to be a possibility, the matter is transferred to the stake presidency, who, with the assistance of the high council, may convene a stake disciplinary council. An appeal of a decision of a ward disciplinary council goes to the stake presidency and high council. Any further appeals go to the First Presidency.”
“Those who sit on the council are to keep everything strictly confidential and to handle the matter in a spirit of love. Their objective is not retribution; rather, it is to help the member make the changes necessary to stand clean before God once more.”
“Decisions of the council are to be made with inspiration. A council can reach one of four decisions: (1) no action, (2) formal probation, (3) disfellowshipment, or (4) excommunication.”
“After the rebaptism of a person who has not been endowed in the temple, his or her membership record shows the original baptism date, with no reference to the excommunication. A man who previously held the priesthood but was not endowed should generally be ordained to his former priesthood office. Again, his membership record will show his original ordination date, with no reference to excommunication. A person who was endowed in the temple before being excommunicated may regain priesthood and/or temple blessings only through the ordinance of restoration of blessings. This is a special ordinance performed by a General Authority as directed by the First Presidency. Afterwards, a new membership record is created, showing the original dates of baptism, endowment, sealing, and (if applicable) priesthood ordinations—with no reference to excommunication.”
“The trauma of being disfellowshipped or excommunicated from the Church will likely never be fully understood by those who have never experienced it” (emphasis added).
“To members and leaders of the Church who know of a brother or a sister who has been disfellowshipped or excommunicated: Love him or her without judging. Be sensitive and thoughtful without prying.”
“To you who have come back into full fellowship in the Church: Welcome home!”
“To you who have not yet returned, who may still be struggling with the hurt and haven’t yet felt the healing: please allow yourself to feel the love that the Lord, his presiding authorities, and your friends in the Church feel for you. We are aware of your pain, and we pray for your healing and your return.”
Here is the link again to the article. All disciplinary action should be done with love and concern for the transgressor. The return to full fellowship and membership should be encouraged and supported. Disciplinary councils can be and are fearful things for most people undergoing the disciplinary action. The Lord knows this and loves those who have strayed. He wants them to return to the fold. I think that most (or all) Church leaders try to be as the shepherd who left his 99 to carry the 1 back to the fold when dealing with those who have sinned. With sincere repentance, all the blessings they had – and more! – before will be theirs.
Again, I urge all church members (and anyone else who is interested) to read Elder Ballard’s wonderful article explaining the process of Church disciplinary councils.