On the EDge: Like it or not, church had the right to excommunicate former bishop

OPINION — A Texas man who has been a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has revealed that his appeal of excommunication from the church has been denied.

Sam Young was shown the door in September after he led a protest of a church practice that allows lay leaders to question youth about their adherence to LDS chastity doctrine, which he said sometimes led to inappropriate conversations about sex.

The interviews usually occur twice a year, starting at the age of 12. One of the questions Mormon bishops frequently ask is “Do you live the law of chastity?”

Young and his supporters, which includes Mormons and non-Mormons, say the question is unnecessary and inappropriate and led to conversations that resulted in the youth being shamed by their religious leaders.

Young, once a bishop in the church, underwent a 23-day hunger strike near LDS offices in Salt Lake City and organized a 1,000-person march on church headquarters before his ouster in September.

Seeking reinstatement, he filed an appeal, which was recently denied.

Now, an argument can certainly be formed in support of Young and his concerns about children being engaged in, what seems to many, inappropriate questioning by church authorities, just as an opposing argument can be formed in support of the church practice.

While the orthodoxy can and should be debated, preferably by mental health experts who could more fully describe the effects of such questioning on our youth, the fact remains that the excommunication will stand.

The church has also had several other high-profile excommunications over the course of the last few years, one handed to a woman who fought for women to be allowed to act as part of the church lay clergy and another who runs a podcast allowing ex-Mormons to share their stories.

The thing is, religion is not a democratic process and change comes at glacier speed, if at all.

Most importantly, church leaders make their own rules.

They can elevate you to positions of great authority and standing or they can kick you to the curb for defying existing doctrine

They are under no obligation to admit you as a church member.

But once inside, you must comply with their standards, their rules, their customs, like it or not. Violate those standards, those rules, those customs and you could find yourself on the outs.

Religious groups, for the most part, do not take well to criticism, particularly from members who wish to change the structure or practices. It’s their church, their rules and if you don’t like them, well, there are many other places where you can worship in behalf of your eternal salvation.

The denial of Young’s appeal comes at a time when the church is undergoing some rather negative press.

There is the somewhat confusing name change that strikes “Mormon” from the books and rechristens the religion as simply “The Church of Jesus Christ” in what seems an effort to more firmly ground its roots in Christianity.

There is the hard-line stance against the LGBTQ community that not only bans those engaged in same-sex marriage but the children of such unions.

The anti-LGBTQ position is so strong that the church withdrew from its active participation in scouting programs when it was announced that the Boy Scouts of America would admit gay and transgender scouts, ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders and would allow older girls to join as members. The church, which was BSA’s first scouting sponsor in the United States, announced it was developing its own youth organization.

There is the ongoing opposition to women’s rights as underscored by the continuing refusal to endorse the Equal Rights Amendment.

And there is the church interference in the recent Proposition 2 campaign where church officials encouraged members to vote against a ballot measure to legalize medicinal administration of cannabis by offering a Mormon-based compromise that was more restrictive and, in all honesty, less likely to succeed in real world terms.

Proposition 2 was approved by voters even after the church coerced the governor and Legislature to schedule a special session to vote on a so-called compromise measure. Attorneys and advocates for compassionate use of cannabis are now threatening a lawsuit against the church for interfering with the democratic process by violating Article 1, Section 4 of the Utah Constitution that states, in part, that “There shall be no union of Church and State, nor shall any church dominate the State or interfere with its functions.”

Clearly, Mormon image makers have drawn a hard line that spinmeisters will have a tough time defending to a public that has traditionally been suspicious of the religion.

But church doctrine is ruled by revelation and contemplation rather than putting an issue before church members for a vote, so it is futile for Young or any others to push for major policy change from the ranks.

It is just not likely to happen.

And if it does, the penalty can be fierce.

Mormons aren’t the only ones who hold the excommunication card. Most other religions hold excommunication and disfellowship as an option as well, pretty strong threats against those who would challenge the dogmatic parameters.

It drives a further gap between people who identify as being religious as opposed to those who identify as people of faith, a result of the current cultural conflict between morality and religion. Religions are also finding themselves more and more politicized, which also leads those who consider themselves solely on a spiritual path, to wander from the congregation, as so many churches are learning.

Still, you must question the intentions of Young.

As a lifelong member, why would he bother fighting a futile battle, knowing full well church authorities would not yield?

Is this the effort of a genuinely concerned former Mormon bishop or the act of a disgruntled member of the flock?

Whatever the case, the church, like it or not, has the right to do as it wishes.

No bad days!

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: edkociela.mx@gmail.com

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

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