THE BLOG
09/01/2015 03:14 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2016

Why Does It Matter If You Are Excommunicated From the Mormon Church?

In recent years, two very prominent critics of Mormonism were excommunicated: Kate Kelly, founder of Ordain Women, and John Dehlin, of Mormon Stories podcast fame. Both supported same-sex marriage and the ordination of women to the priesthood, but the Mormon church has insisted that others can hold these views without church discipline. It seems more likely that Dehlin was excommunicated for his stance on the historicity of The Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price, which he believes were fictions written by Joseph Smith rather than divinely-revealed doctrine. He was also excommunicated for having created a hugely successful platform where others gathered in agreement with him. Kate Kelly was most likely excommunicated for staging public protests that embarrassed the church and made the church leadership look bad. The official term for both was "heresy."

People frequently ask me, as a vocal and public critic of the Mormon church, if I worry that I will also be excommunicated. The simple answer is yes. (Though I hasten to add that my own bishop has never suggested any disciplinary measures against me.) People often then ask if I care about being excommunicated from the Mormon church. There again, the answer is yes, but it is much more complicated. I love the Mormon church. My family members are almost all active Mormons. My neighbors are active Mormons. Being excommunicated would be embarrassing, and it would also be hurtful.

Many Mormons are excommunicated for sexual offenses and they work to be re-baptized and to become members in full standing again. Those who are excommunicated for heresies of one kind or another usually leave, but there are a handful who continue to attend church, though with many restrictions. I've always suspected I would be one of the latter.

If someone is excommunicated from the Mormon church, all the saving ordinances that have been done for them are erased. That means that you are no longer considered baptized, sealed to family members in the temple, or ordained to the priesthood (if a man). But unlike someone who is not a member of the church, you are also asked not to speak in church (if you choose to continue to attend), not to take the Sacrament (communion) in weekly church meetings, and are not allowed to hold a calling. If you have been through the temple, you are asked to stop wearing your temple garments (which are reminders of temple covenants). You are no longer allowed to pay tithing or give any offerings to the church (at least not directly). You may or may not continue to have visiting or home teachers, who come monthly to check on your needs and give a church message.

To those who have come to hate the church, these changes may be desirable. It can be frustrating if your name is still on the church records to explain to well-meaning people who continue to stop by your house every month (or more often) that you have no wish to have any contact with other Mormons and that you have no intention of ever returning to the church. Obviously, if this is your situation, you would not wish to wear temple garments or pay tithing, and you would not want to hold callings in the church. Presumably, you would not be attending church and therefore would not have a problem with not speaking in church or taking the Sacrament.

I do not hate the church, no matter how vehemently I criticize it. I love Mormonism and I love Mormons. I may disagree with many Mormons politically and in my home ward. They may make me frustrated, annoyed, angry, or simply drive me crazy. Still, I love them and I believe that the Mormons who know me well also love me. I believe that Mormons are well-intentioned and I would feel wounded if I were cut off from their community. While I think that being excommunicated from the Mormon church would not mean being excommunicated from God, it certainly made me feel that I was unworthy and I fear it would cause a relapse of the depression that began my faith crisis ten years ago at the death of my sixth child.

I do not speak often in church, but it would be hard to know that I was not allowed to speak. The act of taking the Sacrament in remembrance of Christ is still meaningful to me as a weekly reminder of the promise to act always in a way that would make Him proud. I also sincerely value being able to serve in a calling in the Mormon church. I feel that I receive blessings from God as a result of this service, and I love being able to help other peoples. It just makes me feel good.

I am currently serving as a nursery leader, which means I teach brief lessons to the toddlers of the ward and help supervise their play and snack time. I love small children. I love helping them transition to spending time with people who are not their parents. I love solving disputes over toys. I love snack time and encouraging children to sit in chairs (the main job of all nursery leaders). Without a calling, I suppose I could find other service opportunities outside the Mormon church, but it would definitely not be the same.

On a more practical level, being excommunicated would mean not being allowed to enter the temple, which is the place that most orthodox Mormons are married. I would not be able to attend the weddings of my own children, friends, or other family members. I would not be able to accompany my children through the temple rites for the first time (a kind of rite of passage into adulthood for Mormons, as well as a spiritual experience). I would be seen by many members of the church as being wrong or sinful. Some would continue to be friends with me, but perhaps not all.

I have two sisters who have already had their names removed from the records of the church. They were not excommunicated formally, but they no longer wanted anything to do with Mormonism. Some of their problems with the church are similar to mine, others are not. I have watched them and I know that they have gone on to have good lives, perhaps better than they had when they were angry with the church. But at this point in my life, I don't want to follow their paths.

If I care so much about remaining in the Mormon church, why do I keep writing and publishing essays that ask difficult questions about Mormon doctrine? Two reasons.

One, every time I do this I get private messages from those who wonder the same things and who are afraid to ask openly. These people commend my bravery, and beg me to keep asking because they don't know how they can continue to attend church if the same policies continue. They tell me that they need to know that there are others out there who ask the same questions because they feel so alone, muzzled, and shamed.

Two, I continue because the years I kept my mouth shut were the years that I was suicidal and could not believe in God. I think that if I am to keep up my mental health, I must continue to be open about my true self. If Mormonism demands that I cannot respectfully and honestly give voice to real questions and real concerns then it cannot be the place for me to stay. I cannot be less than who I am. I tried it. It would kill me to do it again.

Many non-members have told me that my essays and books about Mormonism have led them to a better opinion of the church. Many members have told me that they find my work inspiring and faith-promoting. Others tell me that I should be excommunicated. When these Mormons try to "correct" untruths they see in my writing, I am a little amused. I don't write to try to contain all truth in one form. This would be impossible, but it is also simply not my interest. I write what I write in order to express myself as well as I possibly can, at the moment that I am writing.

I have come to believe that the best writing is the most vulnerable, unique, and subjective thing in the world. It's neither true nor false in any objective sense and doesn't try to be. It is simply a representation of one person in one moment in time using the most concrete words possible to duplicate their experience. This is who I am. I hope who I am is still allowed to be Mormon.