What Excommunication Means to Mormons

Book of Mormon on a leather desktop.

 alacatr/Getty Images

Being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/Mormon) is not a feeling of identification or affiliation, it is an actual membership record. You either have it, or you do not. Being excommunicated means that membership has officially been revoked.

It nullifies baptism and any other covenants the member has made. People who have been excommunicated have the same status as those who have never joined.

Why Church Discipline Exists

Church discipline is not punishment; it is assistance. There are three main reasons for Church discipline:

  1. To help the member repent.
  2. To protect the innocent.
  3. To protect the integrity of the Church.

Scripture teaches us that excommunication is sometimes necessary, especially when a person has committed serious sin and remains unrepentant.

Church discipline is part of the repentance process. It is not an event. Excommunication is simply the last formal step in the process. The process is generally private unless the person being disciplined makes it public. Church discipline is managed and applied through church disciplinary councils.

What Triggers Church Discipline?

The short answer to this question is sin; the more serious the sin, the more serious the discipline.

What triggers formal Church discipline requires a more detailed answer. Apostle M. Russell Ballard answered this question succinctly in the following two paragraphs:

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.
Disciplinary councils may also be convened to consider a member’s standing in the Church following serious transgression such as abortion, transsexual operation, attempted murder, rape, forcible sexual abuse, intentionally inflicting serious physical injuries on others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, child abuse (sexual or physical), spouse abuse, deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, robbery, burglary, embezzlement, theft, sale of illegal drugs, fraud, perjury, or false swearing.

Types of Church Discipline

Informal and formal discipline exists. Informal discipline occurs entirely at the local level and usually involves only the Bishop and the member.

Depending on a number of factors the Bishop works with the member to fully complete the repentance process. Factors could include what the transgression is, how serious it is, whether the member voluntarily confessed, the level of remorse, the desire to repent, etc.

The Bishop seeks to help the member avoid temptation and not repeat the sin. This informal action could include temporarily withdrawing privileges, such as partaking of the Sacrament and praying in meetings.

Formal discipline is always imposed by a church disciplinary council. There are four levels of formal Church discipline:

  1. No Action
  2. Probation: Specifies what the member has to do to return to full fellowship over a period of time.
  3. Disfellowshipment: Certain membership privileges are temporarily suspended. These could include not being able to hold callings, exercise one's priesthood, attend the temple and so forth.
  4. Excommunication: Membership is revoked, so the person is no longer a member. As a result, all ordinances and covenants are canceled.

Any formal discipline is done in the hope that the person can regain, or retain membership, and return to full fellowship. If a member does not wish to repent, return to full fellowship or remain a member, he or she may voluntarily leave the Church.

How Church Disciplinary Councils Function

Bishoprics, under the Stake President's guidance, conduct disciplinary councils for all ward members unless the member holds the Melchizedek priesthood. Disciplinary councils for Melchizedek priesthood holders must take place at the stake level, under the direction of the stake president with the assistance of the stake high council.

Members are officially notified that a formal church disciplinary council will be held. They are invited to explain their infraction, any feelings of remorse and steps they have taken to repent, as well as anything else they consider relevant.

Local leaders serving on the disciplinary council review many issues, including the seriousness of the sin, the person's church position, the person's maturity, and experience and anything else deemed important.

Councils are convened privately and are kept private unless the person in question chooses to share information about them.

What Happens After Excommunication?

Excommunication ends the Church's formal disciplinary process. The next process involves repentance, made possible through the Savior's Atonement. Any discipline taken against a member is done with the desire to teach them, and help move them towards reinstatement and full fellowship in the Church.

Excommunicated members may eventually be rebaptized and have their former blessings restored to them. Ballard further teaches that:

Disfellowshipment or excommunication is not the end of the story, unless the member so chooses.

Former members are always encouraged to return to the Church. They can do so and start anew with the past wiped clean.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Cook, Krista. "What Excommunication Means to Mormons." Learn Religions, Aug. 28, 2020, learnreligions.com/what-excommunication-means-to-mormons-2159064. Cook, Krista. (2020, August 28). What Excommunication Means to Mormons. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/what-excommunication-means-to-mormons-2159064 Cook, Krista. "What Excommunication Means to Mormons." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/what-excommunication-means-to-mormons-2159064 (accessed May 29, 2023).