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Church Discipline, Excommunication and Mormonism

Almost every major religion practices some form of excommunication. In Catholicism, for example, excommunication is only invoked for grave transgressions and involves being banned from receiving the Sacraments; the excommunicant is still a Catholic and may still attend worship services. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, a further penalty may be applied, known as anathema, which banishes a person from the church until she or he repents. For the Amish and Mennonites, excommunication involves a social shunning, in which the shunned person is denied ordinary daily fellowship with the community, and even with family. Among Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists, that social shunning is known as “disfellowshipping.” Muslims can declare someone takfir, which indicates a failure to be in accord with Shariah, but many Muslims reject the concept of takfir, while others (many radical Islamists, for example) use the concept as a justification for attacking other Muslims who have differing views. There is no Buddhist notion of excommunication; among most Protestants and Jews, as well as Quakers, excommunication is a historical practice largely abandoned today.

Mormons still practice excommunication. Among Mormons, a bishop — who is a layman appointed to act as a local overseer — can determine that a member of his ward (parish) is out of bounds. That person then faces a panel of three bishops; excommunication is the most severe punishment and involves losing membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It is the recent 2014 news that two Mormons were facing excommunication that prompted ReligionLink, a service of Religion Newswriters Association, which promotes and supports excellence in religion news reporting, to prepare a resource page of explanation and resources on both Mormonism and excommunication

The ReligionLink resource page provides links to recent articles on excommunication; background on Mormonism and on excommunication practices among the major world religions; and links to scholars, lecturers and writers who address either Mormonism or excommunication.

For more on the similarities and differences among faith groups, trends in religious belief and practice, or the makeup of individual faith community members, see our article, “Best Resources for Demographic Research.” For more on the increasing number of Mormon congregations in the U.S., as well as the changing demographics of religious adherence in the United States, see our feature article, “Latest Census of U.S. Congregations.”

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