As Jeremy Runnells resigns from the LDS Church – just as they were about to kick him out, I reflect again upon the whole concept of Excommunication….
THE SECOND DEATH
Back in the days when I was involved in funeral work, I remember reading some guidelines which enabled us as employees to better understand how mourners come to terms with death. “The Burial,” it said, “confirms to the bereaved, that death has occurred.” That’s a bit of an odd thing to say, but it’s true. Seeing someone you love discarded into the ground, does sort of bring it home that death has actually happened!
When I stood before my disciplinary council, I was already ‘dead’ – that is, I already had experienced the ‘death’ of my faith in Mormonism. I knew I was dead, because when–at midnight–I heard the stake President announce my excommunication… at that moment, I knew (according to Mormon dogma) that my beautiful and lovely wife Norma (having died a year earlier) was severed and separated from me for all eternity and yet…. not one single nerve ending flinched in my body! Not one emotional cell trembled on the Richter scale! Here was my emotional proof that I simply did NOT believe in their absurd punishment for unworthiness; the dogma of ‘separation’ or ‘segregation’ of families. So, you would have thought, that standing there and hearing their verdict of excommunication, would (for me) be a mere formality of indifference. Not so. Believing, or feeling the church is false, is not the same as feeling rejected! The difference is that I was now being discarded, dumped, or disposed of… ‘Buried.’ One might call excommunication the 2nd death; the confirmation that you have died. Even as I write about it here, my eyes are swimming with tears. I remember the sense of utter abandonment – like a little boy discarded by his mother. I ask myself the question: What must it feel like to be buried alive, still holding faith… still believing, yet simply guilty of wanting answers and confronting a wall of silence.
PURGING AND PURIFYING MENTALITY
The fact is, that the vast majority of LDS excommunications are for immorality. I would not dispute that at one time or another, we all do things for which we should feel ashamed or guilty. That’s healthy and normal, but the entire concept of the LDS church regarding the management, disciple and punishment of our human nature, is not only obscene, but intrinsically unhealthy.
I am not talking about legitimate guilt or shame for some unbecoming conduct. I am talking about the whole principle and reason the church wants to hold a court in the first place…. the attitude and rigidness that forces an organisation to exclude rather than embrace; the compulsion to humiliate, abuse, embarrass, punish and believe God approves – is the very antithesis of Christ. I find it ironic indeed, that a church – one which eventually got the name ‘Christ’ in its title, has established procedures regarding ‘sin’ or ‘apostasy,’ which are diametrically opposite to the whole ethos of Christ, so that they–the church–have become the greatest Blasphemous of His name! ‘Courts of love’ is a relatively recent description, perpetuated by General Authorities in the hope of portraying this nasty business with a more caring and loving approach to human frailty. That is a complete deception.
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest – an international speaker and author, wrote the following in his book ‘Hope Against Darkness’….
“ . . . . it is amazing that institutional Christianity ever created the very concept of excommunication. Only the individual can do that to himself, and we had best not make it our corporate concern. Hinduism, the oldest religion in the world, has never excommunicated anybody”
In his book ‘Everything Belongs’, he also says:
“All other systems exclude, expel, punish and protect to find identity for their members in ideological perfection, or some kind of ‘purity.’ The contaminating element always has to be searched out and scolded.”
Projecting blame and guilt upon individuals, reminds me of something he pointed out about ‘scapegoating,’ which was a practice in ancient Israel of placing all the sins of the people upon the head of a goat on the Day of Atonement, which was then cast out into the wilderness. We think of that word now as meaning someone on whom we may place ‘blame’… usually unfairly. To quote Richard Rohr again:
“Scapegoating depends upon a rather sophisticated, but easily learned ability to compartmentalize, to separate, to divide the world into pure and the impure. Anthropologically, all religion begins with the creation of the ‘impure’ and very soon an entire moral system of taboos, punishments, fears, guilt’s and EVEN PRIESTHOOD TO ENFORCE IT emerges. It gives us a sense of order, control and superiority, which is exactly what the ego wants and the small self demands. The absolute religious genius of Jesus is that he utterly refuses all debt codes, purity codes, religious quarantines and the searching for sinners. He refuses the very starting point of historical religions. He refuses to divide the world into the pure and the impure, much to the chagrin of almost everybody – then and now.” (My capitals)
That’s what Mormonism does – it separates, divides and punishes… the very opposite of Christ. The church talks about Gods love but demands the very opposite of what Christ demonstrated on earth – it blames, punishes, excludes, and demands conformity and absolute purity.
MORMONISM IS IN DENIAL OF GREY.
Those of us who have lived a while understand the mystery of living with Paradox and Contradiction. We are beings of inconsistency and ragged ends. We feel intimately and terribly our brokenness and if we do not, then we either do not think at all, or we have not passed through serious temptations or suffering. We all live rather badly with our Shadow Self – much more so when bullied and cajoled by a given priesthood to eradicate and purge our human nature. Experience and exposure to priesthood council has taught me that Mormonism is blind to ‘neutral tones’ – it only sees Black or White. As an artist, I wish to inform you, that the expression of REALITY is within the tones of Greys. The nearer we get to fundamentalism and extreme ideologies, the more comfortable we are with Black and White thinking, or living in Unreality.
“Black-and-white, simplistic thinking. This is one of the predominant symptoms of religious addiction. You see life in terms of right or wrong, good or bad, saved or sinner. You never see the grey areas. Your need for order, perfection, or control is so strong that anything that is not clearly black or white confuses or perhaps frightens you. Those who turn to religion as a means to avoid error are no doubt attracted to the black-and-white aspects of a rigid dogmatism . . . . You limit and stunt your life by rejecting anyone or anything that does not fit into your narrow frame of reference. You become abusive of others who do not share your views because difference, variety, and change all fall into the ambiguous grey areas, with which you cannot cope. Such shades of grey become the uncontrollable elements in life that Nakken says all addicts are trying to master. You increase your pain, he says, by becoming more rigid, harsh, and dogmatic the more you are confronted with situations that fall outside your simplistic views.” (Unknown author)
The church can’t live easily with the ambiguity, contradictions or paradox (our Grey areas), so we are asked to get rid of them – hide them, expel them, or we may be expelled. This is why they also cannot tolerate their own messy, dirty grey history… they live in denial and suppression for the same reasons – blindness to the Grey. Now we begin to glimpse their arrogance and hypocrisy, in maintaining at all costs the ‘Good name of the Church.’ We, however, are not allowed to remain ‘worthy’ and ‘obedient’ at the same time as learning to ACCEPT our own inconsistencies. Either we must have control NOW, or they will take control. My excommunication is a point in fact. Patience with disobedience and weakness cannot be tolerated. Change MUST be immediate. Failure to get it together (get it out the way) means punishment. Graciousness (Grace) is abandoned.
“There are no perfect structures and there are no perfect people. There is only the struggle to get there. Patience comes from our attempts to hold together an always-mixed reality, not from expecting or demanding a perfect reality. That only makes us resentful and judgemental, which is what has characterized much of Christian history. I agree with Bishop Spong when he says: “I don’t like religious people very much.” Who likes people who can never deal patiently with darkness and shadow – which is just about everything?”
Richard Rohr, ‘Hope Against Darkness’ Page 164.
Mormonism does not deal easily or adequately with this Darkness within you. It is very frightened of it and ashamed of it. It tends to either force you to fix it, or failing that, it wants you to bury it… to deny it… to suppress it – just so long as it is hidden from view. In the case of Kate, John and Jeremy – who were not guilty of any immorality, it (the church) will make little differentiation. It will be equally unable to deal with their ‘diversity,’ and ‘authenticity.’ The same blunt hammer will be used.
ACCEPTANCE OF SELF
But in general, this is the essential Paradox – we appear to be good and bad, clean and filthy, beautiful and ugly, innocent and guilty, the same yet different – all at the same time. Our inherent weaknesses and nasty little habits collide with good aspirations and kindly characteristics. That is the Contradiction – the Paradox of life – the Grey tones.
We are messy creatures and a religion that demands ‘purity’ will not tolerate contradictions and disarray! You must become Black or White, but NOT grey – not both! If you should stray into your Shadow Side, you will be punished.
We once wanted to believe we had high ideals and good moral character. We wanted a clearly defined dogma – to know exactly what God expected from us. We wanted a precise understandable description of what God was – all the procedures and regulations necessary to please Him. We wanted to submit to the control and proscribed regulations to virtually guarantee our salvation – with rewards and punishments to keep us safe and sound. Living under a fabricated idealism required that we virtually denied the real face of life with all its contradictions, mess, hypocrisy, sin, weakness, and suffering – a world which is both broken and whole at the same time – both good and bad…. WE ARE this contradiction… so is the ‘official’ church.
“My religious experience has taught me the importance of distinguishing between religion and spirituality, the former basically believed in or adhered to, and the latter primarily experienced. Not to make the distinction can lead to a repetitious, stifled, irresponsible life confused easily with service to God. Many religions with the original intent of leading to spiritual growth or harmony with Divine consciousness have come to make their structure, ritual, tradition and authority more important than the people whose consciousness they intended to influence. In doing so, they incite to conformity with a doctrine based on sin and fear of punishment—an unfortunate approach that, once believed, is eradicated only with difficulty. Such negative motivation inhibits creativity and freedom . . . . “
Catholic priest Arthur Melville from his book, ’With Eyes To See’
The Institutional Church of Mormonism has not done what the Christ they claim to believe in, has done. He took the Dark side and without blaming, denying or punishing, allowed the love of God to absorb and transform it. Despite its rhetoric, Mormonism fails on the same ground. As a supposedly spiritual refuge or shelter for its members, it should hold their pain and embrace the brokenness and ache in their lives, but sadly, it won’t do anything that is strange or chaotic – anything that acknowledges ACCEPTANCE of life’s contradictions – its greyness. It still persists in the denial of its own sins – the dark side of its own arrogance, suppression and deception, and yet it demands the same of its members; It asks them to eradicate (quite often impossible) or repress (deny) or it will blame and punish, separate, exclude, stigmatise and scapegoat, until it gains control.
The likes of Kate, John and Jeremy, are holding up a mirror to the hierarchy, and they should be ashamed of what they see.