Thoughts on John R’s Excommunication

So, another LDS-nonbeliever is getting ex’d for blogging! First there was simian, whose excommunication caused quite a stir in the Bloggernacle at the time (though I can’t find the relevant posts anymore — I think they were on an earlier incarnation of his blog, which he has deleted). Now it’s John R’s turn!

His wife asks about the implications for bloggers and other online communication. Personally, I don’t think this adds much to the current precedent on ex’ing people for what they write in published material. It just makes it clearer that — despite the personal, informal style of blogging — publishing on the Internet is closer to publishing in a journal or book than it is to just having a loud conversation in public.

There are a few other intriguing points John brought up in his post, though:

This is the first time Ive stood toe-to-toe with a Mormon leader and felt like his complete equal in every way. Its liberating to not feel beholden to Church authority and priesthood power.

This jumps out at me because it’s so alien to my own experience. Have other former believers felt like John has here? The last time the church leaders held any power over me, it was at BYU, where they had power to do real things to me, like expel me and withhold my transcripts, not just woo-stuff like withholding the keys to the Celestial Kingdom, etc. And before that, church leaders had authority over me because they were grown-ups and I was a kid. To me, John’s statement would be like me being surprised that high school teachers are now my peers, when once they were so intimidating.

We own our temple experiences as much as any current or former Mormon, and the Church has no right to silence us.

This, by contrast, I totally relate to! I haven’t been through the endowment myself, but so often Mormons seem to think that talking about your experiences in Mormonism from an apostate POV is somehow unfair to the faithful — that somehow disagreement takes away your rights to your own memories. As I’ve asked a million times: Whose childhood am I supposed to write about??

That said, I think Mormons who say “you have no business talking about Mormonism if you’ve left the church” just haven’t thought about it. Pointing out that that doesn’t make sense (in a friendly, civil way), usually has a positive effect.

And now for the obligatory me-me-me question: Where’s my church court?? I know you LDS Inc. guys read my blogs because I can see your COB IP addresses in my logs! Not that I want to get ex’d or anything. Actually, it might be inconvenient at the moment, given that I’m going to the Sunstone Symposium! (That sort of thing doesn’t give you extra cred with the Sunstone folks, does it?)

Of course, I don’t think I’ve written anything excommunication-worthy on the Internet. This is not by design, I’m just intrinsically inoffensive. Plus, they know they would just be giving me free material… 😉


C. L. Hanson is the friendly Swiss-French-American ExMormon atheist mom living in Switzerland! Follow me on mastadon at or see "letters from a broad" for further adventures!!

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16 Responses

  1. Jonathan says:

    Yeah, where’s my excommunication? I have said some offensive things on my blog. I’ve also linked to the temple ceremony scene on Big Love. I’ve even publicly contradicted the church’s stand on same-sex marriage in an email that accidentally included the local bishop, stake president, and state legislators. Yet no move to excommunicate me.

    I think it shows that while you can be ex-ed for blogging, you may not be. It depends on the attitudes of the local leadership and how much of a stink members puts up.

    If they ever invited me to a disciplinary court, I would simply resign. They have every right to ex me, but my heart and mind led me out of the church. It seems only right that I should be the one to take my name of its rolls.

  2. chanson says:

    Yeah, it’s a bit like Brent’s case, where his bishop asked him to resign or be ex’d — it depends on the local leaders…

  3. Holly says:

    His wife aska bout the implications for bloggers and other online communication.

    I don’t think this has many implications for blogging, either, except to suggest that if you are worried about certain reactions, you shouldn’t blog under your real name or publicize your blog to people who will tattle on you. The question seems a tad naive. The church has a long history of punishing and trying to silence people who criticize it; why should things written on blogs somehow be exempt from that?

    There are a few other intriguing points John brought up in his post, though:

    This is the first time Ive stood toe-to-toe with a Mormon leader and felt like his complete equal in every way. Its liberating to not feel beholden to Church authority and priesthood power.

    This jumps out at me because its so alien to my own experience. Have other former believers felt like John has here?

    I was nonplussed by that as well. First of all, John has the priesthood; he is the equal of certain church leaders in ways that I as a woman never would have been in their eyes.

    But I certainly felt that I was the equal if not the superior of a great many Mormon leaders throughout my life.

    It was, interestingly enough, a Mormon leader who helped me see this clearly and acknowledge it explicitly. Before my mission, there was a meeting in which a couple of men flexed their priesthood muscles and said, “Things are going to be the way we want, because we’re in charge and we said so.”

    Afterward I complained to my favorite institute teacher, who had also been in the meeting, saying that these guys abused their power. He said, “I’d like to draw a distinction between authority and power. Those guys, they have authority. You have no authority. What you have is power. None of them has the personal power you have, which is why they got so upset when you disagreed with them. They could never stand up to authority; they can only wield it.”

    After my mission, before I finally left the church in my mid 20s, I went toe-to-toe with Mormon leaders all the time, who were outraged by my refusal to shut up when they told me to. And rather by accident, I learned how deep their sense of entitlement and superiority was. Since I didn’t respect some of these guys or their positions, it was rather natural to begin thinking of them as “Bob” or “Jim” instead of “President Smith” or “Bishop Jones.” But when I slipped up and actually used their first names aloud, oh my god! It was like I’d assaulted them! How dare I! How dare I presume a level of equality! How dare I address them as they addressed me!

    After that, except for a few really remarkable men who had treated me with respect and equality from the get-go, they were all just middle-aged dudes with first names and sweaty hands I’d prefer not to shake.

  4. chanson says:

    Holly — Fantastic! Even though I wasn’t there, I can totally picture this. (In other contexts) I’ve seen this same bubble of authority that bursts when you make it clear that you don’t buy into it! 😀

  5. JohnR says:

    Hi Chanson! To paraphrase the woman in that Monty Python Holy Grail Black Death scene: “I’m not ex’d yet!” I pointed out that free material thing to the stake president as well, so who knows, maybe they’ll decide to back down, and nothing will come of all this. But if I do find out the secret formula to getting ex’d, I will definitely share it with the rest of y’all, so you can enjoy the fruits of apostasy. 🙂

    I’m glad to hear that you and Holly (and others) find my toe-to-toe, “I felt equal” experience so alien. I wish I had the strong sense of self you both seem to possess. This may have more to do with my own psychology and my father’s authoritarian nature, which was reinforced during my church stint. The toe-to-toe thing was a huge personal victory/realization for me. And Holly, even if I (supposedly) held the priesthood, a) I was never comfortable with it, and b) in the Church I was still placed firmly in hierarchical relationships with other men.

  6. chanson says:

    John — I think in my case it has a lot to do with the fact that I stopped believing as a teen. The “Mormon me” never got any older than seventeen. So, while I respected and followed the Mormon hierarchy, I don’t think I internalized their authority and power in quite the same way I would have if I’d had to submit to them as an adult.

  7. Craig says:

    This jumps out at me because its so alien to my own experience. Have other former believers felt like John has here?

    When I decided to resign my membership in the church, I hand-delivered my letter to the bishop of the ward I lived in rather than mailing it. I wanted the chance to so just what John did – stand up to the church as an equal. I had by then given up all belief in the authority of the LdS church, and saw said bishop as representing an organisation that had no authority over me.

    The bishop actually tried to threated me with excommunication, but I told him that I knew my legal rights, and that he couldn’t intimidate me into giving him any authority over me, at which point he backed down and said he’d process my resignation.

    It was very vindicating to stand up in person to the organisation that had treated me as an inferior my entire life, and tell them where to shove it. I totally understand how John must have felt.

  8. chanson says:

    Craig — That’s great!

    Interestingly, another priesthood-holder, in accordance with Holly’s theory. Hmm, the plot thickens! 😀

  9. Craig says:

    Yeah, I think there’s merit to her theory. I certainly felt a strong obligation to respect and obey anyone above me in the hierarchy (which was just about every male unless they were children/teenagers) because I believed (was programmed to believe) that they had some sort of unhuman, supernatural authority and power that made them able to actually make decisions and “discern” truth better than normal mortals.

    Creepy, huh?

  10. Bull says:

    My father is really funny/strange. He’s career military which is very authoritarian and chain of command driven. So is the church. But he is also a very unconventional person who seems to be attracted to strange new ideas that are out of the mainstream. Like mormonism, the John Birch Society, and all things conspiracy related. In his personal life he simply marches to his own drum.

    But, the funny part, is that he constantly bucks the man and taught us to think for ourselves, as soon as the church talks, he is completely cowed and absolutely boot-licking subservient. Something that he isn’t in any other aspect of his life.

    Joseph Smith simply couldn’t tolerate anyone disagreeing with him or challenging him and that authoritarian atmosphere continues to this day within the church. Everything is top down and woe to the person that dares to try to switch the direction of the flow of information.

  11. Bull says:

    Nothing excommunication worthy? What about that episode in the Harold B. Lee Library bathroom? Or am I misremembering?

    I simply opt to not use my real name in my blog and I don’t publicize it anywhere except on the blog roll in RfM which results in a steady if slow flow of visitors.

  12. chanson says:

    Hmm, that’s right — the BYU library thing.

    Weirdly, though, I don’t think it’s excommunication-worthy for the following reason: When it comes to published material, it seems like they only ex people for heresy (publishing things about doctrine) or for publishing the temple ceremony or the like. Merely publishing about sinning — even if you really did do the deed (which I did) — I don’t think they’ll act on.

    I could be wrong, though… We’ll find out!!! 😀

  13. Seth R. says:

    The worst thing that ever happened to me for my (not always pro-church) blogging is being “demoted” to Cub Scout leader.

    But they’d already called a new Elders Quorum Presidency anyway. So I don’t even get any “martyr points” for that.

  14. chanson says:

    Seth — was the change in calling in some way a result of your blogging?

  15. Seth R. says:

    Don’t think so. Just a new presidency called. I was second counselor – so when my pres went, I went.

  1. June 21, 2009

    […] our discussion of John R’s impending excommunication, Holly has written an interesting series on the power of the priesthood (specifically, on its power […]

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