(RNS) Two high-profile Mormons, John Dehlin, the founder of Mormon Stories, and Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women, are facing disciplinary hearings that may result in their excommunications from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
How do Mormons decide who can be excommunicated? It all rests on the work of disciplinary councils.
Here’s how they work:
* When an LDS bishop learns of a serious transgression, usually by a confession, he counsels with the member. If the sin is not grievous, he may decide that no disciplinary action is needed.
* The bishop can also place the member on informal probation, temporarily restricting privileges such as taking the sacrament (communion), holding church positions or entering Mormon temples.
* In serious cases, church disciplinary councils may be held. The faith’s governing First Presidency has instructed that they must be held in cases of murder, incest or apostasy, or when a prominent church leader commits a serious sin.
* At councils, the member is asked to discuss the concern, including what steps he or she has taken toward repentance. The member may bring witnesses. Afterward, the member is excused. The leaders then confer, pray and reach a decision. It may or may not be reached and announced quickly.
The LDS Church says the purposes of disciplinary councils are to save the souls of transgressors, protect the innocent, and safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the church.
Council discussions are confidential.
Councils can reach four possible decisions:
* No action.
* Formal probation (a temporary state of close supervision).
* Disfellowshipment (the member may not hold a church position, enter temples, take the sacrament or exercise the priesthood, with other instructions possible)
* Excommunication, or loss of membership.
Members are soon given a letter outlining the decision along with any instructions. At that point, they have these options:
* Members are told they may appeal the decision.
* When leaders feel the member has progressed sufficiently, the bishop or stake president has authority to call a new disciplinary council to consider restoring full fellowship. That may include rebaptism for someone who was excommunicated.
(Lee Davidson writes for The Salt Lake Tribune)