For the first time in nearly 30 years, the Mormon church has excommunicated one of its high-ranking members.
The Church of Jesus Christ of the latter-day Saints declined to reveal why James J. Hamula, who had been serving as a general authority of the seventy, was released from the community on Tuesday, though officials noted it was not due to “disillusionment or apostasy.”
The last leader to be excommunicated was George P. Lee, the first Native American to become a general authority with the church. He was ousted in 1989 on charges of “apostasy and other conduct unbecoming a member of the church” after he called Mormon leaders racist. Before him, Richard R. Lyman was excommunicated for adultery in 1943.
Here’s a look at how the disciplinary process is triggered in the Jesus Christ Church of the latter-day Saints:
Discipline is sparked by those who commit serious transgressions or sins — the more severe the sin, the more severe the punishment stands to be.
Formal discipline is required to take place in instances of murder, incest or apostasy, according to church officials. A council must also be held when a leader or member commits a serious transgression, a transgressor is a predator, there is a pattern of serious transgressions or there is a serious transgression that is widely known.
“Transgression” is defined in the church’s manual to include participating in abortion, rape, sexual abuse, adultery, homosexual relations and deliberate abandonment of family responsibility, among other things.
The process for formal discipline is kicked off when a presiding priest calls for a council. According to the church’s website, the purpose for such councils is to “save the souls of transgressors, protect the innocent and safeguard the purity, integrity and good name of the Church.”
There are several types of councils, most are overseen by a bishop of a particular church ward or sect. The councils are made up of two counselors as well as a clerk, who is required to take notes during the proceedings. The council is encouraged to make a unanimous decision, though the bishop has the final say and can overrule others on the panel.
The council for a senior leader, like Hamula, consists of members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — or the highest presiding and governing bodies within the church.
Members are notified that a council will be held and are invited to explain their misdeeds, the steps they have taken to repent and to apologize for the rules they’ve broken, according to the church’s manual. If the church member denies misconduct, the presiding officer must present evidence of the alleged transgression. The accused is also subject to questioning from the council.
He or she, in turn, has the opportunity to question any witness, comment on any evidence and present evidence of their own.
Local leaders then consider the seriousness of the infraction, the person’s maturity and standing within the church, and any other contributing factors. The Church does not “impose rigid requirements” on the council, but instead encourages bishops to treat each situation uniquely. Prayer is also key when rendering a final decision in the disciplinary hearing, according to the church.
When a formal discipline council convenes, it can result in outcomes including no action, a formal probation which includes a restriction of privileges, disfellowshipment and excommunication.
Excommunication is typically reserved for those accused of the most serious offenses, ranging from sexual abuse and murder to teaching false doctrines.
An excommunicated person is stripped of all associations with the church and loses the right to partake in the sacrament. They are barred from purchasing and wearing temple garments and are no longer allowed to preach in public or enter temples.
They are allowed to attend church meetings.
Those who are excommunicated, however, do have an opportunity to return to the faith. After an extended period of time and sincere repentance, a member may be re-baptized after receiving approval from the disciplinary council.
With News Wire Services
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