The Mormon world is being rocked with news of the first General Authority excommunication in 28 years this Monday. The news of the excommunication of any General Authority losing the blessings of membership in the Church is shocking, of course. But what are the implications for the Church as a whole? What does it actually mean to the average millennial Mormon?
What it does not mean: Elder Hamula has ruined his life and is outside the reach of Christ’s atoning power forever.
What it does mean: The road to repentance and restoring all that has been lost will be difficult, but it is possible.
The word “excommunication” is usually passed around the Church in hushed and judgmental tones. We often equate the word with full blown apostasy or the first step to an inevitable path of an anti-Mormon crusade. True, this is the case for some who are excommunicated. But that is not the intention or hope of Church disciplinary action. Losing the blessings of baptism and other covenants one has made is NEVER meant to be permanent, but a merciful step towards becoming perfect in Christ.
LDS.org describes it this way:
“Church discipline is an inspired process that takes place over a period of time. Through this process and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, a member can receive forgiveness of sins, regain peace of mind, and gain strength to avoid transgression. Church discipline is designed to help Heavenly Father’s children in their efforts to be purified from sin through the Atonement, return to full fellowship in the Church, and receive the full blessings of the Church.”
Repentance is always a stretching process, but the Savior is willing and ready to help whether we need to make little changes or do a complete U-turn of our lives.
What it doesn’t mean: Elder Hamula is a bad person.
What it does mean: Elder Hamula made a wrong choice. That shouldn’t define him, it should refine him.
This applies not only to Elder Hamula but to every person who has ever been excommunicated. We should not define others by their worst mistakes. And we especially should not go assuming what those mistakes were.
We shouldn’t let Church disciplinary action cast a dark shadow over all the good someone has done. As a mission president, an area president, and a General Authority, I’m sure Elder Hamula taught some great lessons and gave a lot of wonderful service. This news shouldn’t lead us to rip up any notes we took while listening to him speak in Church meetings. His Church standing now does not negate the power and authority his previous callings came with at the time of those services. Which leads me to my next point…
What it doesn’t mean: The Church is led by corrupt men that can’t be trusted.
What it does mean: God calls imperfect men to help Him accomplish His perfect work.
In the coming days and weeks, you will see many enemies of the Church using this event as a way to “prove” that our leaders are fallible and therefore not called of God. The first accusation, as I’m sure every single General Authority will tell you, is true. I think Elder Holland put it best when he said:
“Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.”
If anything, the news of Elder Hamula’s excommunication is further evidence to me that God won’t allow any man to lead His Church astray. When one of His servants goes off course by yielding to temptation, a release, reassignment or even Church disciplinary action not only ministers to the spiritual well-being of that servant, but ensures the spiritual safety of those once under his or her stewardship.
This applies to even the highest Church offices. You can take for example a handful of names from early Church history in this dispensation, like Thomas B Marsh or Oliver Cowdery. God trusted them to help lead His Church until they stopped trusting that He was leading it and went astray.
So what do we do?
My father was excommunicated when I was a teenager. I saw it as a huge embarrassment in my small, predominantly LDS town because of this stigma. It was a really difficult time for me as an angsty teenager, and you know what? Two people talked to me about it and tried to offer support and comfort. Two, total. Of all my friends and acquaintances and ward members, everybody but my bishop and my co-worker were either too scared or too judgmental to breech the subject with me, and I wasn’t even the excommunicated one!
When someone is excommunicated, they and their family need more love and spiritual support, not whispers and side-eyes condemning them. Love is the only thing that truly motivates repentance. As disciples of Jesus Christ, repentance is exactly what we should desire for ourselves and everyone around us. So to Elder Hamula and every other brother or sister that goes astray, we should pray for, support and encourage them in the difficult road back to full activity.