Survey: Commitment of LDS Church members chilled by high-profile excommunications

The Salt Lake City temple of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City. (Photo: Larry D. Curtis / KUTV)

(KUTV) — A Religious News Service survey claims the practice of excommunicating high-profile members of LDS Church chills commitment by other members in the long run.

According to the RNS story, when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints excommunicates well-known members, roughly half of the faithful members who are active in their church say such actions are worrisome, bothering even a higher percentage of younger members.

Author Bengamin Knoll says the reaction to the termination of memberships should be worrisome to church authorities as well.

He said the drop in "the confidence of long-term commitment to the Church due to feelings on a single issue is significant." Knoll is a professor of politics who specializes in public opinion and voting behavior, specifically in the fields of religion and politics.

Podcaster Gina Colvin is mentioned in the story as one of the high profile excommunications that already happened or could happen. She is reportedly facing discipline for her baptism into an Anglican congregation in New Zealand.

Other recent cases include:

Knoll and Jana Riess are the directors of the "Next Mormons Survey" that asked "American Mormons" — among other things — how troubled they are by excommunications of “feminists, intellectuals, and activists.”

According to Knoll, the results showed that almost three in five church members — 57 percent — are bothered by the punitive church discipline. Approximately 26 percent are very troubled and 31 percent are somewhat troubled. Among millennials, 66 percent reported being troubled.

But troubled members aren't what Knoll said should be a concern.

The same survey shows a high dedication rate to the church. The rate of those who saw themselves remaining committed for life dropped by 10 percent among those who are troubled by excommunications. For those who attend less regularly, the rate dropped by 20 percent.

"Based on this information, it’s important to gauge how effective and worthwhile excommunication is as a tool for Mormon boundary maintenance," Knoll wrote.

The LDS Church has previously referred KUTV to its website MormonNewsroom.org for an explanation on church discipline. It says in part:

The purpose of any counseling or discipline in the Church is to help the individual to obtain the peace and hope provided by Christ’s Atonement. It should not be confused with punishment.
Church discipline is administered at a local level by those who know the circumstances and the individual best and who can be at his or her side throughout the repentance process.

The survey found 43 percent of temple recommend holders (a worthiness marker among faithful church members) were troubled, 53 percent of those who said they believe most or all LDS Church teachings were troubled and 50 percent of active members are troubled.

Knoll asks:

Do those who leave the LDS Church because they are troubled by high-profile excommunications outnumber those who are leaving because they have actually fallen prey to whatever is being written or said by these accused 'apostates?'

He said while excommunication deters some behaviors, it also has a side effect of chilling the enthusiasm and commitment of other members, particularly younger ones.

Read theKnoll's entire story at Religion New Service.

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