I once sat on a completely divided disciplinary council. Half the council was pressing for excommunication, half for disfellowshipment. Arguments on both sides were passionate and compelling. I could see the Stake President struggling under the weight of his approaching decision. At last he told the quorum, with tears in his eyes:
“Brethren, the presidency and I will now go into another room, we will pray and make a decision. The beautiful thing about the priesthood is that when we return with our decision, all of you will sustain it. I’m not saying that every decision we make is the right decision, but the Lord will also sustain us in our decision, as he bears us up in our weaknesses.”
You have to understand, the Stake President was quite a dogmatic conservative, very “letter-of-the-law” and I was stunned to hear something so “liberal” come out of his mouth. It was a beautiful expression of humility and dignity: a recognition that we could err, that we could make the wrong decision, that perhaps it was up to him alone to decide, but that the Lord would sustain it either way. Through all this uncertainty, the love of God would bear us up in our weaknesses.
Some members of the council said they had strongly felt the Spirit tell them it should be disfellowshipment, not excommunication, and in the end the Stake Presidency chose excommunication. But their personal revelations were subsumed in the superior authority of the President. And the council didn’t rebel. They didn’t even question. We could all sense the truth of the President’s message: that the most important thing was to come together in a unity of quorum and receive the Lord’s sustaining ratification of our humble effort to reach a united decision.
My personal opinion is that in many cases like these, the Lord is often happy to sustain either decision. He might have a “best” option, but more than likely He wants us to make the decision ourselves and learn from its consequences. Both excommunication and disfellowshipment are paths that can eventually lead back to full fellowship, perhaps one longer and more difficult than the other. In one stake, an adulterer is excommunicated, in another stake he might be disfellowshiped for the same sin. Both are different paths that give variety to the Lord’s spiritual ways with his children. In the future, I could imagine the church moving away from excommunication all together as the brethren question its efficacy in the repentance process. I could also see them moving away from disciplinary councils in general, resorting to more private or anonymous councils to deal with issues.
However, I do sense that the Spirit ratifies today’s disciplinary process and that the Lord is pleased with the humility and devotion with which it is approached by the brethren. I came away from the experience with a stronger testimony of the priesthood and a greater trust in the leadership of the church. If the men on my Stake council are at all representative of the leadership of the church throughout the world, we are in good hands. Yes, they are conservative. Yes, they are a bit too dogmatic and black and white in my opinion. But many of them are humble, teachable, open to the Spirit, with an intense desire to do what is right. I believe it is this desire will keep our church on the right path.
- Have you ever had disagreements with priesthood leadership that you have abandoned in favor of unity? Did you feel right doing so?
- Have you had personal experiences with priesthood leadership that have given you insight into the spiritual direction of the church?