Being Excommunicated
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Public Perceptions

Relationships with Ward Members

Relationships with Friends

Our Families




In the months between giving Dialogue permission to publish "Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother" and receiving the May 1994 phone call that informed me of President Bacon's displeasure that I was publishing it, I often reflected on the possibility of losing my Church membership and what this would mean to me. I discovered that what I feared and questioned most was how my being disciplined by the Church would affect my family and friends and my relationships with them.

I knew that my relationship with God did not depend on my relationship with the Church. God's love for me and my faith in him/her form the essence of my relationship with God. In my view, ordinances are important because they substantiate this relationship and allow me to make covenants with God, but my primary connection to God is through the Holy Spirit. Since all ordinances must be ratified by the Holy Ghost to be efficacious, it seems reasonable that excommunication would also need to be ratified by the Spirit. I did not believe that my Church leaders could cancel my covenants with Christ contrary to his will, but they certainly had the power to take away my membership in the Church. Although I regard baptism as primarily a symbol of my faith in Jesus Christ, my acceptance of him as my Savior, and my repentance of my sins, it is also an ordinance which makes me a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Because I did not believe my Church leaders had the power to alter my relationship with God and because my relationship with God is more important to me than my relationship with the Church, I could contemplate losing my membership if my leaders forced me to choose between obeying them and obeying God. This does not mean that I considered the possibility of losing my membership without any fears or sense of impending loss. I valued my membership and participation in the Church community, not only because I had had many positive experiences in the Mormon Church and deeply cherished its ordinances, but also because I loved the people I had come to know through my membership in it.

I also believed that my relationship with God cannot be separated from my relationship with other people. As a Christian, I am called to be a member of the body of Christ, a community of believers. Because of my heritage, experiences, beliefs, and commitment, I am part of the Mormon segment of the body of Christ. I decided to continue attending church meetings no matter how my status in the Church changed. I have done so, but it has been very difficult.

My personal relationships are almost exclusively with Mormons. Although I had nonmember friends in high school, my college experience was at BYU, after which I married and lived in five different states with my husband and family. Because I have never worked outside the home and have had small children and a large family to care for, the Church has been my principal means of forming friendships. We now live in Provo where almost everyone is a Church member. My extended family and my husband's family are all faithful members of the Church.33 I realized that the Church is a factor in almost every personal relationship I have; if my relationship with the Church changed, it would affect every one of these relationships. Being disciplined by the Church could redefine every one of them.

Some questions that have engaged me with increasing passion over the last fifteen years, first intellectually and then spiritually and experientially, concern the meaning and practice of Christian community. How should we treat one another as Christians? What is the purpose of the Church and what is the nature of a true Church of Christ? As I worked with my leaders to determine what my relationship with the Church would be and as I renegotiated, redefined, and developed anew my relationships with friends, acquaintances, and family members, I tried to do it according to the understanding of Christian principles I had developed and the vision of the Church that had quickened me even as I recognized the inadequacy of my understanding and the incompleteness of my vision and understood that these experiences were challenging and changing as well as affirming and refining my views.

I have discovered that the way my problems with the Church have affected my relationships with people depends to a great extent on their own relationship to the Church. The people who have offered me the most sympathy, support, and understanding are generally those who ask questions freely and value critical thinking; often they see problems in the Church or have experienced troubling aspects of the institutional Church. Usually they already share my views about the importance of freedom of speech and independent scholarship or the priority of one's personal relationship with God to one's loyalty to the institution of the Church. Often they are also concerned about women's status in the Church and the problems of spiritual abuse and authoritarianism. They include those who have suffered spiritual abuse themselves or who have been marginalized in the Church. These people are often associated with unofficial Mormon groups.

The relationships that I have found most problematic and most painful are with my Church leaders and active, mainstream Mormons who find it difficult or impossible to question anything about the Church, people who believe that disagreement and dissent are somehow sinful and public disagreement and dissent are apostate.34 I have felt that these people's love and acceptance of me is conditioned on my support of their view of the Church. With a few exceptions I have felt judged and rejected by these people even though in some cases they have told me that they love me and have attempted to continue our relationship. I acknowledge that these are my feelings; perhaps these people feel that they have shown me love and acceptance while I have judged and rejected them.

I have defined two groups. Both groups include friends, family members, acquaintances, and strangers. My definition may seem to draw a sharp demarcation between the two groups, but in reality, of course, no such rigid boundary exists. There are varying degrees of each characteristic and individuals may fit into one group in some ways and the other group in others.

Is it possible that the acceptance, support, and sympathy the first group gave me was simply based on our similarity of views? To some extent and in some cases I believe it was. I have also felt judgment and rejection from some people in the first group. Some of them have found my continued commitment to the Church foolish, masochistic, or sinful. They think I should stop going to Church and abandon all hopes of seeing the Church become less authoritarian. Others have found me too idealistic or naive and believe that I should have somehow compromised and remained in the Church. Others have said that I am too angry, too confrontive, too radical, or too critical. Can we only love those we agree with?

My experiences in redefining my relationships have caused me to think deeply about the nature of unconditional love. One reason I have felt more support from nontraditional Mormons, I believe, is that this group has a commitment to free speech and has maintained a forum for exercising it in the many unofficial Mormon groups that exist. Discussion of problems in the Church is accepted and expected. Unconditional love demands an open, honest dialogue in which the other's truth is sought and honored.

Although mainstream Mormons are taught the Christian values of charity, repentance, and forgiveness and are exhorted not to judge one another, they are also taught in many ways that the General Authorities (and sometimes the local ones as well) always speak for God, that we should always obey our leaders, and that freedom of conscience and personal integrity are less important than obedience. Such teachings seriously undermine the flourishing of unconditional love. They foster a belief that perfection is required and impede the search for truth since doubt, disagreement, and dissent cannot be expressed.

The thing that I have found most difficult in my relations with people in this group is their unwillingness to discuss my changed status in the Church. Although I would like to simply assume that I am loved and accepted, even though I have been judged unworthy by the Church, I have discovered that this is often not the case. Perhaps this acceptance can only come through dialogue. Something of the magnitude of excommunication needs to be discussed. Can I be part of the Church community if I have been excommunicated? If so, then what, exactly, is the meaning of excommunication? If not, then what, exactly, does my continued commitment to and activity in the Church really mean?

In most of the cases where I have been able to discover how my excommunication has affected people's perception of me, I have learned that people in the group believe I deserved to be excommunicated. This hurts me deeply; it feels like a failure of love. I have told myself that it is certainly possible that someone could believe that I deserved to be excommunicated and still love and accept me, but then why don't I feel this love? I have reasoned that it is because love would require these people to try to understand why I made the choices I did and why I was excommunicated. Such a position would mean questioning many things about the Church, and for mainstream Mormons this is just too difficult. Fear overcomes love.

Public Perceptions

Because my case was given wide coverage in the media and was discussed extensively in Mormon groups on the Internet and in informal settings throughout the area, I learned something of what it means to become a public figure, to be known by people I don't know. Most of the letters and e-mail messages I received from people previously unknown to me were kind, understanding, and supportive, which meant a great deal to me. However, many of the letters to the editor appearing in the local newspapers were quite negative. Because none of these writers knew me personally, I was not hurt by these personal attacks. However, it did make me sad that so many people are willing to judge another person without even knowing her.

Mark Eddington, a columnist for the Daily Herald (8 Nov. 1994), finally protested against the tone of "righteous but oh so loving anger at Allred" by suggesting they turn their "urge-to-purge cravings" on "a whole slew of wolves in sheep's clothing who continue to spread false doctrine without fear of reprisal." In contrast to my beliefs, which were "never represented as anything other than her personal views," he gave four examples: (1) a stake president released a bishop who "had bilked members of his congregation out of thousands of dollars" but put him on the high council; (2) a priesthood quorum "blithely" debated "which rifle was best to kill those who might raid their food storage"; (3) a Gospel Doctrine class teacher announced that he would not see Schindler's List because "the Holocaust was a fabrication and the Jews got what they deserved because they killed Jesus Christ"; and (4) "local teachers and speakers . . . weekly regale truthseekers with diatribes against liberalism and President Bill Clinton—thus demonstrating their deep understanding of the ... Twelfth Article of Faith."

[Allred] should be content with raising her nine children. If she is going to write at all, she should write faith-promoting articles and books for children and adolescents, and leave the writing on weightier subject matter to the brethren. ... Her husband, as the priesthood holder in the home, should have reined her in. Later, when she was told by her bishop and stake president not to publish what she had written, she should have obediently submitted to their requests. Her refusal to do so indicates that she really doesn't want to be a member of the Church. She should know that such disobedience, especially since she is a woman, makes her a prime target for disciplinary action. —Tom Davies, "Salvation Sacrificed," Daily Herald, 20 Oct. 1994. (I suspect that many readers missed the irony in this letter and read it straight.)

Some ... in their zeal to search out what God really meant wrest the Scriptures until they find the desired spin. Then, when they come to a hole, they fill it with logic. If their head bands tighten sufficiently, their birthright is sold for a mess of pottage. They become independent Mormon thinkers. I hate to disillusion these poor, sad souls, but there are no liberal or independent Mormon thoughts—only apostasy. —Bryce Stewart, Daily Herald, 28 Oct. 1994

May I suggest that editors ... identify dissidents as dissidents and quit editorializing by applying misleading and frequently unearned titles. The articles I read seemed to indicate that this woman earned the title "intellectual" by writing one letter—a nebulous test at best. —Rand E. Oertle, Daily Herald, 25 Oct. 1994.

Oertle evidently is not aware ... that Allred has written more than a dozen scholarly and lengthy articles and two full-length plays. ... Allred was disciplined for her intellectual activities (that is, for some of her writings), not for being a dissident letter writer or dissident mother of nine. —Ellen Dealtry Toscano, "Defining `Intellectual,'" Salt Lake Tribune, 6 Dec. 1994.

I felt sorrow for her, more so [for] the discontent and turmoil her family must suffer. It's hard to have the Spirit of the Lord in the home with such conflict and animosity. ... I would think for her peace of mind it would be best to state [that] her beliefs are not the same and ... find a church or way of living that fits her belief and not turn the lives of her family into a three-ring circus. —Leiloni Tripp, "Dissident Troubling," Daily Herald, 26 Oct. 1996.

I am not trying to defend Sister Allred or slam our leaders, but point out that they are no more than human and make mistakes of their own that give us the right to question and even challenge some of the things they do." —Paul K. Gillespie, "Allred Not an Apostate," Daily Herald, 25 Oct. 1994.

You have been used. Used by people ... who have never understood the simple principle that when they dislike an organization which they have voluntarily joined, all they have to do is voluntarily leave. —Stan A. Taylor, "Don't Like It ... Leave It," Daily Herald, 27 Oct. 1994.

[After describing the Orson Pratt/Brigham Young disagreements of the 1850s] What happened to that "good old time" when questions, reflections and even conflicts on doctrine were accepted? Why this rigid and punitive attitude of the modern-day Church leaders? —Edie Zimmer, "Mormons Once Tolerated Dissent," Daily Herald, 27 Oct. 1994

You refer to this woman as a theologian. ... Her understanding of the universe is obviously not a "Mormon" understanding; her theology is not the theology of the LDS Church. ...

The thing that really gets to me about all this is the "The church can't stand a thinking person" posture. So what's that supposed to mean—if I were a thinking person, I would never be happy with the gospel as it is? That because I'm happy with it, I'm stupid? So, the only way I can identify myself as a thinking person and not as some blind, inane little airhead is to fall in with the Improved Gospel? —Kristin Randle, "Stick to Real News," Daily Herald, 27 Oct. 1994.

Either she believes that Joseph Smith actually saw what he said he saw, or she doesn't. So is Allred saying that one of the two personages was actually a hologram and the other was a ventriloquist? That sounds even more far-fetched to me than the original version does to unbelievers. —Ken Gourdin, "A Living Prophet," Salt Lake Tribune, 30 Oct. 1994.

History never repeats itself exactly, but there are interesting similarities between the case of [Ann] Hutchinson in Puritan New England in the 1630s and that of Allred in Mormon Utah in the 1990s. —Brigham D. Madsen, "Mormon Dissident Has Interesting Parallel in Anne Hutchinson," Salt Lake Tribune, 8 Nov. 1994.

It is healthy to engage in vigorous public discussion of ideas and positions. But I have read on this page speculation on whether the spirit of the Lord resides in her home, sarcastic reference to her nine children, numerous suggestions that she leave the church, and conjecture on the state of her soul. What self-righteousness, anger, hate, ignorance, and pride." —J. Frederic Voros, Jr., "Attacks Not Christ-like, Daily Herald, 9 Nov. 1994.

I would like to speak ... for most members of the LDS Church in that we find the attitude and actions of Janice Allred ... offensive and belittling to the Church and its members. What she is doing is harmful and will never strengthen the Church. ... In order for the Church to function effectively and properly, it is essential that unity be present. Public criticism of Church doctrine destroys unity and is not acceptable. If every Tom, Dick, and Harry were allowed to publicly criticize or offer their view of what Church doctrine should be, there would be chaos. And young children. ... would be continuously confused. —Jess R. Bushman," "Church as One," Daily Universe, 15 Nov. 1994.

Unless Mr. Bushman has personally surveyed or can document the results of another's survey, he cannot know the feelings of most of the members of the Church concerning Mrs. Allred and should not claim to speak for them. ... Unity can only be achieved and maintained by love, even in times of criticism. Voices that criticize often have been hurt by injustice, and I suggest that only love can heal the wounds of division and create unity. ... If "every Tom, Dick and Harry were allowed to publicly criticize or offer their view of what Church doctrine should be, there would be" a very ordinary Gospel Doctrine Class. —Thomas M. Bills, "Need for Open Dialogue," Daily Universe, 17 Nov. 1994.

Mormon women were sent a message loud and clear on May 8 when Janice Allred, mother of nine who has never worked outside of her home, was excommunicated. ... This is the reason for her excommunication: She writes brilliant scholarly papers. ... [During] the Middle Ages ... [women were thrown] in deep pools of water; if they could float, it was proof enough they were witches. In fact, maybe when women come to the waters of baptism from now on, we could add one step: See if they float, then we can save all of us a lot of time and heartache. —Lynne Kanavel Whitesides, "Time and Heartache," Salt Lake Tribune, 19 May 1995.

If we as Mormons sacrifice our current members for the image of certainty and solidarity that we seem to believe is necessary to bring in new converts, I question the worth of the gospel being carried by our missionaries, two of whom this year are Allred's sons. —David G. Pace, "Vaulting LDS Fundamentalism," Salt Lake Tribune, 27 June 1995.

It has been referred to as the ultimate act of violence, and for those of us who understand its implications, it offends deeply our sense of decency. It is committed in the spirit of vengeance and retribution with a long and tragic history which has left in its wake a trail of broken lives and the darkest side of authoritarian religion. It is Mormon excommunication, and to the many protesting Latter-day Saints, it is spiritual murder, having been methodically designed to separate the individual from God, spouse, and loving children for eternity. It is eternal death. —James E. Chapman, "Eternal Death," Salt Lake Tribune, 29 June 1995

The LDS Church ... is not a fledgling sect that can survive only on conformity and obedience. In its theology, the Church celebrates freedom, intelligence, knowledge, and love as the great values. It can afford to practice what it preaches. ... But it can hardly afford to concentrate its concern so intensely on making new members, many of whom have not the slightest notion of what they are getting into, while at the same time casting out the Andersons and Allreds who are the very source of its strength and solidarity. To tell them that if they will repent and promise to obey their superiors they will be taken back and have their blessings restored simply adds insult to injury. —Sterling M. McMurrin, "Recent Excommunications Damaged the LDS Church," Salt Lake Tribune, 19 July 1995.

One woman radically redefines God and the Godhead, and another erodes faith in Church leaders by collecting and publishing all the negatives, an unbalanced procedure that gives a misleading image of the Church. ... In my experience as a Mormon historian, Church leaders accept and encourage accuracy when placed in full context. The historian in conflict with the Church is often in conflict with his own discipline because of special theories and one-sided presentations. —Richard Lloyd Anderson, "LDS Standards Upheld," Daily Herald, 28 July 1995.

To say that the Andersons and Allreds of the Church are "the very source of its strength and solidarity" is ridiculous. It is they who spread the seeds of discord and pursue false doctrine for selfish reasons under the pretense of defending one's conscience. —John R. Hall, "Church Not Democracy," Daily Herald, 30 July 1995.

Although the Internet group David belonged to was very supportive, I was told that I was being severely criticized on other LDS lists. Friends told me of the comments of their friends and things they had overheard. I heard about one man who was offended by me, not because of what I had written or because I made my story public, but because I have nine children. Apparently he felt that since I obeyed the Brethren by having nine children, I should have no objections to obeying them in everything else. I suppose he was offended by what he perceived as my lack of consistency. If I did not intend to obey the Brethren in everything, why was I so foolish as to have nine children?

Relationships with Ward Members

It was very difficult for me to accept how painful my relationship with my ward became. I do not normally give much thought to what others think of me. I suppose that this is because I believe that their perceptions of me are part of their own inner life, which is partly unconscious, partly conscious, in flux, and simply not available to me. I suppose that I have assumed that others grant me what I grant them: the mystery of subjectivity, a rich inner life of desires, fears, imaginings, cogitations, speculations, and purposes. I suppose that, as I do, they try to reserve judgment, or rather, since judgment is natural and almost unavoidable, they are always ready to change their judgment of me as they observe me and interact with me.

But because of the two courts and all the publicity surrounding them, I discovered a kind of judgment directed toward me that I had never experienced before. This was a judgment that recognized only one thing about me: I was a dissenter, a critic of the Church, a preacher of false doctrine, a prideful person who refused to accept counsel, a rebel deserving of punishment, a person who had been excommunicated. This meant that I possessed all the stereotypical qualities such people are supposed to possess, even without supporting evidence and despite contradictory evidence. But the worst part of this kind of judgment was that those who held it did not want it to be changed; they did not want to learn more about me; they did not want to understand me, but only to judge me.

Even as I write this and acknowledge the pain of feeling judged and rejected, I am constrained to confess that I still believe in the mystery of subjectivity and recognize that others' perception of me is not available to me, nor is it fully available to them. I am ready to change my judgment of them.

My relationship with my ward has been difficult because I do not know how I am regarded. I would like to assume that I am loved, accepted, and wanted, but my experiences have taught me that I cannot do this. Bishop Hammond has told me that some ward members advised him to excommunicate me and that others are confused and upset by my writings, but he will not tell me who these people are. He told David that 30 percent of our ward supports him on my excommunication, 10 percent supports me, and the rest don't care. My home teacher has also told me that he has talked to people, some in our ward, who thought the bishop was too long-suffering with me, but he also wouldn't tell me who they are. If I have offended people, why won't they come to me as Jesus has told us we must?

People are generally friendly, and some people have gone out of their way to show me they care; but only six people in the ward, other than the bishopric, have ever spoken to me about my excommunication, and it was I who opened up the subject with two of them. Our Sunday School teacher has gone out of his way to tell me, more than once, that he wants me to participate and that he welcomes my comments. I usually make one or more comments every week, and I am not aware of any negative response to what I have said. I feel less free to speak in Relief Society, however. On one occasion the teacher invited me to share my views and I did, but I learned later that someone had chided her for asking me to speak and told her that it was inappropriate.

Every week something reminds me that I am excommunicated, that I have no right to consider myself a member or rely on ward members for support in times of trouble. When ward members express their appreciation of the ward's help in their times of need, I remember that no one from the ward helped us. Every week I must refrain from partaking of the sacrament as I hold the tray for my little boy on my lap. I wonder when he will notice that I never partake.35 In Relief Society a few weeks before my excommunication, we sang, "Because I have been given much I too must give." I thought, "I want to give but the Church doesn't want what I have to give. They'll excommunicate me for it." I had to stop singing because of the pain that welled up in my throat. After the prayer the woman sitting next to me told me how much she admired my knowledge of the scriptures and said that she appreciated what David and I contribute to the Sunday School class. Then she said, "Well, you've paid the price for it." I was startled. At first I thought she was alluding to my being on probation for teaching my interpretation of the scriptures, then I realized that she was referring to my study of the scriptures. I thought, "You don't know the price I've paid."

A few weeks after my excommunication, my name disappeared from the Relief Society roll. I was not prepared for the emotions I felt. One week, after I passed the roll on without looking at it, the woman next to me put her hand on my lap. I squeezed it, and she smiled at me. Little acts of kindness such as this mean a lot to me, but I continue to be troubled by the lack of public discourse about my situation and problems in general. I am sure that there are other people in our ward who also feel alienated and excluded, but there is an unwritten rule that such things are not to be discussed (unless, perhaps, they have been resolved positively), and nothing negative can be said about the Church or Church leaders. Friendliness is good, but it is not enough to create a feeling of love and acceptance. I was violently wrenched from the body of Christ. If a ward member walked into church covered with blood and people smiled and said, "Hello, it's nice to see you," there would be something inappropriate about that. But that's how they treat me and my family. Our wounds, our suffering, the violence inflicted on all of us go unmentioned, undiscussed, and unattended to.

Relationships with Friends

Many of my friends first heard of my troubles with the Church from the Associated Press article that appeared on the front page of the Salt Lake Tribune on 19 August 1994. I know that it was a shock for many. I had hoped to tell them what was happening before it became public, but the publicity began sooner than I had anticipated at a time when I was very busy. One woman, a close friend, had read my article "Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother" and had been worried by it, both because she believed my views were too unorthodox and because she felt they might take me away from the Church. Because I had always felt close to her and cared deeply about her, I particularly wanted to tell her that I was being disciplined before she read about it in the newspaper, but I was not able to. She came to the open house we had on 28 August for our two missionary sons and was warm and friendly, but she said nothing about my impending court. As she was leaving, I told her I wanted to talk with her about it, but she said, "Not this week. I'm too busy." Because I had the impression that she didn't want to talk about my problems, I decided to wait for her to contact me.

She wrote me a letter several weeks later in which she expressed her love and concern, but she also said some things which caused me great pain. She wrote, "I do not want to speak of these things with you," and "If you choose to leave (it always has been your choice no matter what a bishop or stake president decides) the angels will weep and Satan's angels will rejoice because the light has lost a great one." As I read her words, a pain pierced my heart that remained with me for several days. This was a physical pain as well as well as an emotional one, and I pondered its meaning. I felt her words as a judgment and a rejection. I realized that I could get rid of the pain either by being angry or by deciding I didn't care. But I loved her too much to be angry with her; I knew that she hadn't meant to be judgmental or rejecting and that she was trying to do what she thought was right. I cared about her, and I cared about our friendship. I decided that I was willing to bear the pain. I did not pray for it to be removed, nor did I try to ignore it. I wondered what would happen to it.

As the days passed, the pain lessened and finally went away, but it returned whenever I felt judged and rejected. I determined to let the pain remind me never to judge or reject others. But such a thing is hardly possible for a fearful, prejudiced, defensive, prideful human being, and I realized that only unconditional love can overcome judgment and rejection. I thought about unconditional love. I hoped for it and prayed for it and tried to do all the things which I had learned that love demands. The pain of being judged and rejected is very great, but the pain of knowing that I myself judge and reject others is even greater. It is enough to break my heart and cause me to want to give up my fears, my prejudices, my defenses, and my pride. This is the broken heart, the sacrifice that Jesus requires of us.

After my first court, I connected the pain of being judged and rejected, which I experienced as a physical pain in my heart, to my broken heart which I had seen in vision. A broken heart is an open heart, open to Jesus' spirit, open to his love, open to others to give and receive love. I discovered that the pain, which I had determined to hold in my heart as pain rather than allowing it to be changed into anger or dissipated into apathy, was instead many times transformed into love and then joy as God blessed me with her spirit to comfort me. As God's love enfolded me, I was given the strength to attain my desire to not judge and reject others.

Not judging and rejecting does not mean not forming any judgment about a person; it means not forming a final judgment but being open to others in their freedom, desiring to know and be known by them. Judgment assumes that what we know of a person is all he is, that our description of him captures him, that we can predict what he will do. Unconditional love requires us to grant the other person her freedom. This means more than simply allowing her to make choices. It means granting her subjectivity, recognizing that her reality is as real for her as ours is for us.

I have belonged to a neighborhood book group for about eight years and I consider the women in the group to be my friends. Two days after my excommunication I attended our monthly meeting and no one said a word about it. Because our group has always had an open and accepting atmosphere and because I realized that ignoring a painful topic that everyone knows about could damage this spirit, I decided that, if the situation seemed favorable, I would bring the subject up at our next meeting. After the discussion about the book had died down, I asked, "Is my excommunication something we can talk about or is it something we have to ignore?" They were willing to talk about it—not very candidly at first—but I encouraged them as I wanted to understand how they thought and felt about what had happened.

One of the women in the group, Georgia (all names are pseudonyms), is a close friend who had discussed my situation in the Church with me many times and had given me a lot of love and support. She had also discussed my problems with a lot of other people and had always defended me.

Another woman, Paula, had discussed my situation privately with me. She had been outraged when I was disciplined in October, but we had not talked about my excommunication. She had shown her love and support in several tangible ways, but I had the impression that she was fearful about her own position in the Church and probably hadn't discussed my situation openly.

Karen was one of the few women in my new ward whom I knew well enough to call my friend. She had been my visiting teaching companion before my first court. After it, she was assigned to be my visiting teacher, along with Paula, and they have continued to visit me after my excommunication. I don't know if they had an official assignment. Early in 1996, Karen was assigned a new companion, but she continues to visit me, often without this companion. After the first newspaper article about me appeared in August 1994, I had asked her if she had read about what was happening to me. She said she hadn't but that someone had called it to her attention. She was sympathetic and caring and very willing to listen to me and try to understand what I was thinking and feeling, but basically everything she said was directed at persuading me not to "give up my membership." The last conversation Karen and I had had about my problems with the Church was before the first court.

The other two women who were present that night, Jolene and Meg, had never discussed my Church status with me. I was particularly interested in what Karen, Jolene, and Meg thought about my excommunication because I already knew how Georgia and Paula felt.

The first view that Karen expressed was that it was all a matter of choice. I had had a choice between being a member of the Church and publishing controversial articles, and I had made my choice. She respected my free agency and, of course, we were still friends. It was all very rational and simple. I find this view hurtful because it ignores the complexities of the choices I faced, the reasons why I decided the way I did, the fact that others made choices which may have involved the unrighteous use of power, and especially because it ignores the pain that I feel. As the conversation progressed, Karen became less detached and objective and gradually showed that she didn't simply regard my excommunication as the manifestation of my preferences. But she struggled to maintain simple categories to explain it. Her husband had been one of the men present at both courts. She said, "I know my husband better than I know Janice, and I know that he would never spiritually abuse anyone." She also said that she thought I had acted selfishly.

Jolene said that she thought I deserved to be excommunicated. "When I think about the Janice Allred I know at book group and Church, I can't imagine her being excommunicated; but when I saw her on the news I thought, `She does deserve to be excommunicated.'" Although she admitted that Church leaders could make mistakes, she seemed to believe that public criticism of the Church constituted apostasy. I said I didn't remember saying anything very critical of the Church in any interview, and I had certainly never said anything derogatory about any leader publicly. She disagreed: she said she had read in a newspaper article that I had refused to discuss my articles with Bishop Hammond because he wasn't as smart as I or because he didn't know the scriptures as well or something like that. I was shocked. Of course, I had never said any such thing. "How could you believe that?" I remonstrated. "We've been together eight years in this book group. You know I'm not like that." She insisted that she was sure that was what she had read. (I believe that this was her interpretation of my statement in the open letter that Bishop Hammond was "unwilling or unable to engage in an honest and open discussion of the ideas and issues.")

Meg said she really hadn't given my excommunication much thought. She had enough problems in her own life, and her own connection to the Church was tenuous enough that she preferred not to think about it. She was, however, interested in asking me some questions about my views on the Mother in Heaven.

Although some of the things my friends said hurt me deeply, I was not offended. I had encouraged them to be honest and I wanted to know their true thoughts and feelings. They seemed to be completely unaware that what they said might have hurt me. Karen and I visited the next day while we waited during our children's swimming lesson; she made no reference at all to the previous night's conversation. We have not mentioned my excommunication in our book group since then. Georgia has continued to speak freely and supportively about it. I did bring it up once when Paula was visiting teaching me without Karen, and she responded very sympathetically. Karen has asked how I am dealing with my excommunication a couple of times when she has visited me alone. Although her basic view of my excommunication is still the same, she is very willing to talk about how it has affected me.

Although I didn't realize it until later when I was pondering the meaning of this discussion, at some point quite soon after I first broached the topic, they started talking about me in the third person. Although I was present and participating in the conversation and although I referred to myself as "I," the rest of them referred to me as "Janice" or "she." They rarely addressed me directly and said, "you." Why did they refer to me in the third person? I'm sure part of the reason is that it was a general conversation and they were addressing the whole group, but they did seem to avoid addressing me directly. Was it because they wanted to distance themselves from me, to see me objectively?

One of the things I have learned about unconditional love is that it grants the other her agency. Since it is unconditional, it does not require her to be or to choose a certain way. Karen talked about respecting my free agency, but she saw this as simply acknowledging that I had the right to make a choice. To truly respect the other's agency, to grant him his agency in love, we must understand his subjectivity, we must recognize the reality of his point of view. Karen and Jolene saw their own view of me as objective reality, and they assumed that I shared their view of me. This is perhaps why they seemed unaware of the possibility that their words might cause me pain. Why should I be hurt by the expression of what I already knew to be the case?

When I first contemplated my possible excommunication, I hoped that many people who disagreed with my views or who felt that I was doing things forbidden to Church members would be able to say something like, "I disagree with your views and I think that what you are doing is wrong, but I see that you believe that what you are doing is right, so I respect your integrity." I have discovered, sadly, that most people are not able to say this, but I have also discovered that unconditional love requires more.

Unconditional love does not simply say, "You're entitled to your point of view, but I'd rather ignore it." It desires to know the other. When we love unconditionally we want to understand the other; we desire to know why she believes as she does, why he does what he does. What hurts the most is that people want to condemn me without understanding me. Of course, knowing the other means that we ourselves must change, and it is the fear of change, of possibly having to give up cherished beliefs or other entrenched parts of ourselves, that often inhibits our love.

A friend whom I will call Traci told me of a conversation she had had with a couple who are also my friends. I have known them for years and regard them as thoughtful people who are interested in intellectual issues. Although I had never discussed my situation with them, I assumed that they were sympathetic and probably regarded my excommunication as unjust. The woman told Traci that "Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother" had impressed her as "evil." I had been "led astray by the dark side."

Traci, surprised, suggested that she talk to me about it.

The woman said, "I want to, but I don't think she'll listen."

"I know she will," said Traci.

The woman then said, "I don't think it would be worth it because I don't think she'll change."

When Traci told this couple that I had been excommunicated, not for apostasy or for false doctrine but because I had refused to obey my bishop, the man said, "That's not true."

Traci responded, "I know it is. Janice told me everything as it happened. Why do you think she was excommunicated?"

He replied, "I like to believe that Bishop Hammond went into a room by himself and prayed and God revealed to him that he should excommunicate Janice."

This man was troubled by the idea that I might have been excommunicated simply for refusing to do what my bishop told me to do; but rather than questioning his belief that leaders are directly inspired by God, he preferred to deny the evidence. If he could convince himself that whatever troubled him in the Church was inspired by God, then he wouldn't have to think about it. It hurt deeply that this man, whom I regarded as a friend, would rather consign me to hell than believe that Bishop Hammond might have made a mistake. It hurt me that the woman would demonize me, that she wanted to change me but was unwilling to be changed herself. The love of these two people failed because they were afraid of having their beliefs changed. They did not want to understand me because then they would have to change themselves.

About a year after the excommunication, Traci, who lives in my former ward, told me about another incident. A man in her Sunday School class was making a comment about how important it is to follow Church leaders. He stated that failing to follow leaders results in confused thinking. To reinforce his point, he said, "A woman in our neighborhood who was recently excommunicated by the Church for refusing to follow Church leaders told me that she believes Jesus Christ is a woman." Of course, everyone knew he was talking about me. This report shocked and upset me, because I knew this man well and considered him to be my friend. We had had many conversations, and he had discussed the disciplinary action in a very sympathetic way. Why would he lie about me and use me as a bad example? Traci told me that most of the ward members were also upset that he had said this and didn't believe him at all, which made both of us feel better. However, she later learned that some people did believe him.

She posted about this incident to her LDS internet group: "A woman in the ward is corroborating his story, saying that she heard Janice talk about this strange doctrine. I am depressed because I realize how easily and quickly these kinds of rumors spread about people who are excommunicated. Also, the man's point in bringing the whole thing up was to show how disobeying authority led to a cloudy and unclear mind. But look at how complicated this situation is. Many people in the ward respect Janice and are angry that this man slandered her. This is gratifying. But at least two others seem intent on retelling the story so that Janice becomes a bad example. It hurts me to understand that people will think all sorts of things about a person to avoid having to examine the possibility that the Church leadership is abusing their power and that they are harming people. Why are they so insistent on believing men in Salt Lake City that they don't really know, over someone they respect, love and know as a good person? It's crazy—and it is dangerous."36

At the first opportunity, I asked this man why he had said this about me. "You know it isn't true, and it hurt me that you would use me as a bad example," I said. He looked embarrassed and said he had used "bad judgment," then changed the subject as quickly as possible. A few months later, he approached me at a Church function and apologized for this incident. He said that he had no right to judge me.

Our Families

My husband, my children, and my brothers and sisters (and some of their spouses) have given me a lot of love and support as I have been undergoing Church discipline. I have had many conversations with all of them (except one brother) about the issues, incidents, and problems involved in my excommunication; and although some of them did not agree with some of my ideas or decisions, they were very interested in understanding my point of view. They recognized my integrity and showed me in many ways that they love and respect me.

My excommunication was very painful for my parents. They were both old and infirm when it happened, and it was very difficult for them to discuss it. My father suffered a stroke in 1989 which made it very difficult for him to travel, and I was able to visit my parents only twice during the time I was being disciplined by the Church—in February and November of 1995. My parents do not communicate well over the telephone; so circumstance, as well as the inherent painfulness of the subject, worked against our being able to discuss my excommunication in a way that allowed us to understand each other's thoughts and feelings about it. In fact, my father and I never talked about my excommunication. He never acknowledged that he knew about either of the two courts, and I waited too long for the "right time" to talk to him. He died in June 1996.

The funeral was a good experience for the whole family, but especially for me. My five brothers and sisters who live in Mesa and my mother planned the funeral; they decided to have each of the eight children participate. They wanted me to give my father's life history. When my sister called to ask me if I would do it, I said that of course I would be glad to but that I didn't know if I would be allowed to. I felt that it would not be right for me to speak without letting my parents' bishop know of my circumstances. My sister replied, "We've already taken care of it." She told me who the bishop was. My parents still lived in the ward I had grown up in, and their bishop was a man who had also grown up in that ward. He was a year older than I, so we knew each other. My sister said, "He knew about your excommunication and he says it's not a problem. He would love to have you speak." I felt my defenses crumble as surprise, relief, and then gratitude that I was trusted swept over me. It made me realize how defensive I had become and how much not being trusted hurt.

I have had several phone conversations with my mother about my excommunication. Although she was distressed by some of my ideas, she never doubted my goodness or integrity and she always expressed her love. She has a strong spiritual nature and a deep faith in God. Although she loves the Church and is devoted to it, she is capable of separating God from the Church, and she definitely puts God first. Although she does not understand my excommunication, I know she believes it was unjust, and I do not believe she despairs of my soul. My father was also a devoted Church member, much more attached to the organization than my mother. Although he enjoyed intellectual discussions and liked to speculate about peripheral doctrines, he never questioned what he regarded as fundamental doctrine. Although I never discussed my probation or excommunication with my father, I did have one conversation with him about my Church status. This was in December of 1993 before I even knew that I would soon be disciplined by the Church.

We were returning to Provo from Mexico and had stopped in Arizona to visit my family. David had written a letter in the fall of 1993 from Mexico expressing his sympathy with the September Six, telling of my own problems with the Church over my article on God the Mother in late 1992 and early 1993, and urging our family members to discuss these issues in love rather than letting barriers of silence separate us. He had sent copies of this letter to his parents, my parents, and all our brothers and sisters and their spouses. Paul Toscano had been recently excommunicated; my family was upset about it and interested in discussing David's letter. I defended Paul, telling them what I knew about the events leading to the excommunication and discussing the issues involved. My mother kept saying, "I just don't understand why they would excommunicate Paul," but my father found it hard to question what Church leaders did. At one point I told my father that I would give up my Church membership before I would go against what I believed Jesus wanted me to do. He shouted, "Then you'll go to hell!" Strangely enough this did not hurt me. I knew it was an expression of his fears and his belief in the importance of Church membership. The next day, as I was kissing him good-bye, he whispered, "I'm sorry. I love you."

Although my father never spoke to me about my excommunication, I believe he thought I had allowed myself to be excommunicated because I stubbornly refused to give up my right to publish. He knew that I had always had a strong will, that I had never responded to threats or punishment, and that I would never give in if I thought I was right. Although I think he continued to believe in my goodness, I suspect that he felt very hurt in his belief that I would give up my Church membership for something as unimportant as the right to publish. I think he was very worried about the effect this choice would have on my happiness in this life and my eternal destiny. I regret that I was never able to talk to my father about my reasons for doing what I did; I am sorry that we missed the opportunity to understand each other better, but I do know that his fears concerning me are gone. While we were in Mesa attending his funeral, I received the assurance that he knows now that I am "all right."

I have not had as much support from David's family as from mine. Most of the conversations I have had with them occurred before the first court. Half of David's brothers and sisters and their spouses have not spoken with me at all about my Church problems. Only one, the husband of one of David's sisters, has discussed my problems in any depth. Although he disagreed strongly with many of my ideas, he was very concerned about me and my family and interested in understanding my point of view. One brother and one sister and their spouses have expressed their concern and sympathy, but we have not discussed my excommunication in enough depth for me to know how they regard it. One of David's cousins appeared on our doorstep one morning just before the first court with a loaf of homemade bread. She was very critical of what I was doing and sharply disagreed with my ideas, but she cared enough to come and talk to me and I appreciated that.

The relationships that I have found most difficult to deal with are close relationships where people have remained completely silent about my problems with the Church although I know that they are well aware of them and that they know that I am willing to talk about them. I know that this silence can be interpreted in different ways, so I try to reserve judgment. I wonder if I should broach the subject; but having received clear signals that they don't want to talk about it, I refrain. Because I value open communication, I feel guilty and hypocritical. I have had this problem with David's parents.

We expected that they would respond to David's letter, but they didn't mention it in any letters or phone conversations. They live in Colorado, so we didn't see them until they came to Provo for a visit in April 1994. David's father wanted to have a private conversation with David about his letter, but we insisted that I be present because it concerned me as well as him. David's father also did not want David's mother to be present for the conversation because he felt she was "too tender-hearted" for such a discussion, but again we insisted that she participate.

David's parents are mainstream Mormons, very devoted to the Church and their family. His mother is a gregarious, generous, caring woman, who is very service oriented. His father, a quiet, introverted man, is very reliable and trustworthy. A retired chemical engineer, he has held many responsible Church positions. They are both strongly motivated by duty. The conversation lasted three hours and was hard on everyone. We shared our views on the Mother in Heaven, leadership fallibility, and what it means to be a faithful member of the Church. Both of his parents rejected almost everything we had to say, calling our ideas apostate and saying that our spiritual experiences were from Satan. At one point in this conversation, David's father said, "If I were your bishop, I would excommunicate both of you right now." A few months later in a telephone conversation he told David that he wanted to take something back. "I wouldn't excommunicate you," he said, but it wasn't clear whether it was a plural or singular "you." He never apologized to me, and he didn't ask David to tell me he had apologized.

After this discussion, David and I both felt hurt and hesitated to broach these subjects again. David's father sent him a couple of letters with the announced purpose of setting him straight and halting his slide toward apostasy. He made it clear that he was writing only to David, not to me.

In July 1994 at the family reunion, David talked to his mother about his feeling of being rejected. I was not part of this conversation. She was defensive, protesting that no one in the family rejected us. When David reminded her that his father had said that he would excommunicate both of us, she said that it was because we have a different view of the Godhead. David's parents came for Joel's and Nephi's joint farewell/homecoming in August, but they said nothing about my impending court or the fact that neither of us was allowed to speak. They returned to Provo in September for a granddaughter's missionary farewell. This time David's mother told us how embarrassed she was when some of her brothers and sisters pointed out the newspaper article reporting President Hinckley's Idaho conference speech denouncing my paper, "Him Shall Ye Hear."

In October 1994, on the morning of the first disciplinary council, David's father called to tell us not to allow a vigil to take place. David, understandably distraught, yelled, "It's people like you who think they have a right to tell others what to do who are making this court happen."

After this, David's parents maintained a complete silence on the subject of my Church discipline. They said nothing about my probation. When they called, they spoke only to David. Although in the past David's mother had usually called, with his father hovering somewhere in the background, after our conversation in April his father was almost always the one to call. David would occasionally ask if they wanted to speak to me. They never did. They visited Provo a couple of times between the two courts, but they never asked how we were feeling about the discipline I had received or about any of the issues of the case. They said absolutely nothing about my excommunication and did not respond to David's letter about it. Both of us felt very hurt by this silence but were unsure about how we would be received if we brought up the topic.

Finally, in October 1995, five months after my excommunication, David decided to break the silence. After the Sunday morning session of general conference, his parents called to see how we were doing. They chided him for not communicating more often and then slid off onto conventional topics. David realized that the perfunctory conversation was winding down and that he needed to talk about the pain he had been feeling, which had been brought to the surface by listening to general conference.

"You asked how we are doing," he said to his mother. "And I told you that we're doing fine. We are fine physically, but we are not doing so well in other ways. We are in pain spiritually. I am upset with my family's response to Janice's excommunication. Some have been willing to talk about it, but you and Dad have not talked about Janice's excommunication since it occurred." I was in the room listening to David's part of the conversation and he filled me in on their responses later. They talked for quite a while. At one point David said, "I feel you have rejected Janice and think she is a sinner, that she was wrong and her bishop was right. You assume the bishop was right because you put the Church first. Janice is very hurt because you've never spoken about this to her."

David's father, who was on an extension phone, said that he had called frequently and tried to tell us of his love, that he had talked to me and told me that he loved me. David replied that this was true; but without talking about my excommunication explicitly, we didn't know what this meant. (It was only technically accurate that David's father had spoken to me on the phone; we'd spoken only once when David wasn't home. His expression of love had been part of his routine good-bye, exactly like every good-bye he'd ever spoken to me.

David's mother protested, "I love Janice and think she's a fine person. I haven't had time to come over. I haven't talked to her bishop and so I don't know why he did what he did." Again this was technically true, but she had never shown any desire to know why I did what I did. She reproached David, "You don't know our pain. You have cut us out of your lives."

David replied that it had been hard for him to write or call because much of what was happening in our lives involved my excommunication. The one time we had tried to talk about it, we had experienced only judgment and rejection. Now he was trying to open up again and tell them about how we felt. David spoke with a great deal of emotion, sometimes raising his voice, but he also listened patiently to their responses and encouraged them to share their thoughts and feelings. Several times, as he tried to explain some of the things that had happened, they said, "It's not our fault. Don't blame us." At one point David said, "I do blame all the people in the Church who believe that you're supposed to obey the bishop's counsel above your own judgment and understanding. I blame all the people who think Janice deserved to be excommunicated because she didn't do what her bishop said."

Later when his mother again said that he shouldn't blame them, he shouted, "Yes, I do blame you and Dad! You taught me to love and respect the Church. I didn't learn to know Jesus until I was an adult. You didn't teach me of him. You taught me authoritarianism!"

David's mother burst into tears, "I didn't call to hear this," she said and hung up. His father said that this conversation was taking too much time and he'd better see about visiting us personally.

David made one final effort to break through. "Dad, do you want to hear what is going on in my life, what we are going through and thinking, our pain and our experiences? Because if I am going to write, I need to share this."

"Probably not," his father said calmly.

David was stunned. He had not imagined this response. After a few moments of silence, he said, "I appreciate your honesty and your telling me what you think, but I am surprised. Are you sure you really don't want to know?"

"It would be best," his father replied.

Later David wondered if he should apologize. I told him I didn't think he should because he had spoken the truth as he understood it in an open and loving way. He had invited them to share their opinions and feelings and had listened to them. They had said some harsh things to him—their accusation that his spiritual feelings were from the devil hurt us the most—and they had never apologized. I wasn't suggesting that he shouldn't apologize because they hadn't; I simply meant that he didn't need to apologize for saying what he believed to be true.

"You didn't want to hurt them and you didn't try to hurt them," I told him. "You told them they have hurt us; they told you that you have hurt them. Differences can cause pain, but they have to be talked about if we want to have a genuine relationship with them." I suggested that he write them a letter telling them of his love for them and expressing gratitude for teaching him about Jesus' love through their own love for him. He did this, but they never responded. About a month later, he phoned them to reestablish communication with them and told them he was sorry he was such a difficult son. No one brought up any Church issues.

In December 1995, David's cousin died, and his parents came to Provo for the funeral. They stayed with David's sister and her family, as they usually do, and visited us on Sunday afternoon. I decided not to mention my excommunication because I wanted to see if their silence about it was deliberate. Although David had told them I was hurt by their silence, they had made no effort to talk to me or to renegotiate our relationship. I wanted to see if they were waiting for an opportunity to talk to me in person. I also decided to make it easy for them to avoid hugging me, partly because of my own hurt feelings and partly because of my uncertainty about theirs. Both of them went out of their way to hug me and tell me they loved me, but they remained silent about my excommunication, although they had several good opportunities to talk to me privately about it.

I was very hurt by their silence. I couldn't believe that they would ignore such a devastating and painful experience. I realized that I had been hoping that they were waiting for the right opportunity to speak about it, but now that hope was gone. I believe that they saw the hugs, expressions of love, and resumption of normal conversation as loving, accepting, and even forgiving behavior. But it did not feel that way to me. The hugs felt like a violation of my feelings. They knew I was hurt by their silence; they knew their silence had caused me to doubt their love, yet they embraced me without ever acknowledging this rupture in our relationship. Their silence told me they had no desire to know why I had done what I had done. How can we say we love someone if we don't desire to know her, if we're not willing to share her pain?

Part of the pain I feel in this relationship is my realization that I have also hurt them; if they have not spoken to me, I also have not spoken to them. Of course, I have my reasons, as, I am sure, they have theirs. When I tried to talk about my possible excommunication, I was rebuffed. I have made it clear that I want to talk about my excommunication; they have made it clear that they don't. Perhaps they feel that talking about this problem will destroy our relationship, so it is better to try to maintain it on a superficial level.

David's parents returned to their home in Colorado, planning to return to Provo in a few weeks to spend the Christmas holidays. Now that I knew that they had no intention of ever discussing my excommunication, I felt it was my responsibility to communicate my feelings of rejection to them. I believed that they judged me harshly and thought I deserved to be excommunicated. I suspected that they were very angry with me for the pain I had caused them, for alienating David from them and influencing his relationship to the Church adversely, and for threatening the perfection of their own "eternal family." In our April 1994 conversation, David's mother had said that I was acting selfishly without any regard for how what I was doing would affect my children. She also wanted to know if my excommunication would take place before the upcoming family reunion. She was afraid that it might "ruin the reunion."

I knew that it would be impossible for me to carry on a normal conversation with them, believing that they harbored anger and resentment toward me. Although I knew it would be hard for me to hear, I felt that it was important for them to express to me how they felt about my excommunication. I also needed to tell them how hurt I was that they had done nothing to comfort us during this extended period of suffering.

I e-mailed the following letter to them:

Thursday December 14, 1995

Dear Mom and Dad:

I need to tell you that your silence regarding my excommunication has hurt me deeply. This judgment and rejection by the Church I love was a very painful and difficult thing for me. Your silence feels like part of this judgment and rejection. David told you that I was hurt by your silence, but neither of you attempted to contact me to resolve this. Thus it is difficult for me not to conclude that this silence, with the judgment it implies, is intentional.

I realize that you may be angry with me, that I may have offended you. If so you need to tell me. I have not intended to hurt you or anyone else. I recognize that both of you made an effort to show me you love me when you were here a few weeks ago. But in the context of what has happened and not happened it does not feel like love to me. It feels more like a desire to keep up appearances.

Silence can mean many things; and when we fail to talk about difficult problems, we force each other to draw conclusions that may not be true. I hope you will discuss these things with me when you are here or write me if you prefer. I truly want to understand your thoughts and feelings.

Love, Janice

The next morning David's mother called and we talked for about twenty minutes. I could hear the hurt in her voice when she told me that she'd gotten my message, and she was near tears through most of the conversation. I spoke calmly and quietly, correcting some of her misperceptions and asking her a few questions, but she did most of the talking. I don't remember her asking me any questions that showed she wanted to understand me. When I tried to get her to tell me about how she felt about my excommunication, all she would say was that she hadn't talked to my bishop and so she didn't know why he had done what he did. She had said the same thing to David. She didn't respond to my offer to tell her more about my excommunication.

Although she did express her love for me several times and apologized for hurting my feelings, she spent most of the time offering excuses for their silence and reproaching me for my own failure to communicate. She brought up several old grievances that she had against me and told me how hurt she and David's father had been by the telephone conversation they'd had with David. "You sacrifice for your children, you'd do anything for them, and then they treat you like that," she said. "Well, you go on loving them, of course, but it does hurt."

I told her that David had been very hurt by the Church and by their unwillingness to discuss our problems. "He was trying to be open and honest and share his feelings with you," I said. "Some of those feelings were very painful, but I thought he shared them in a loving way."

Several times she asked, "What can we do for you?" I could not think of an adequate response. It seemed as if she expected an answer like, "Help me clean the house," or "Loan us a thousand dollars." I could have said, "Tell me that you love me," but she had already said that and that was not a request I would ever make. Love must be a gift. What I had asked of both of David's parents—to share their thoughts and feelings about my excommunication openly and honestly and to listen to my side of the story—they had both refused to do.

David's father never responded to my message; perhaps he considered his wife's telephone call a sufficient response. He has never said a word to me about my excommunication. My own father's silence about the excommunication did not hurt me in the same way David's father's silence does. David suggests that this is because I know my father loves me while I am not sure about his father's feelings.

I think this is true, but there are also other complex reasons involving the different nature of my relationship with each of these men and their different personalities and abilities. I never tried to get my father to talk to me about the disciplinary action. Because of his infirmities, I knew that the responsibility of initiating such a conversation was mine and that he could not manage writing or even a telephone conversation. Although I was never able to have a conversation with my father about my excommunication, I believe that he would have been willing to listen to me and that we could have come to a better understanding.

David's father did not respond to my efforts to communicate with him about my problems with the Church. In the single conversation we had about this subject, he was harsh and judgmental. He directed his comments to David and afterwards made it clear that he wanted to talk only to David about Church issues; still later he told David that "it would be best" if they didn't discuss our problems with the Church at all. David's father's silence affected me differently than my father's silence because it meant something different to me.

My phone conversation with David's mother did not alleviate my feelings of judgment and rejection; in fact, it increased them since I sensed a lot of anger and resentment in her tone and the things she said. Still, despite the anger, she wanted to continue our relationship. Perhaps this was her way of forgiving me. Her statement that she did not know what to think of my excommunication since she hadn't had a chance to talk to my bishop puzzled me. She is a warm, impulsive woman, inclined to quick judgments; she does not usually want to hear all sides of an issue before forming an opinion. Certainly she did not intend to speak to my bishop so that she could make an informed judgment. Why didn't she consider what I might have to say about it important? Was she saying that since she couldn't hear the bishop's side, it wouldn't be fair for her to listen to mine? I believe that her statement meant that she believed it would be wrong for her to make a judgment about whether I deserved to be excommunicated. It seems to me that she said this because she really believed that I deserved to be excommunicated, but she was trying to be nonjudgmental and fair and spare my feelings. As the pain of this conclusion sank in, I realized that I really wanted David's parents to believe that I did not deserve to be excommunicated. I understood that I could not believe their expressions of love as long as they believed I deserved to be excommunicated.

I asked myself if this feeling was consistent with my own desire to be nonjudgmental and fair and to allow others to come to their own conclusions. If someone truly believed that I deserved to be excommunicated, why did this signify a lack of love? Before my own experience of being disciplined by the Church, I probably would not have consented to the proposition, "Excommunication is a failure of love," but now I knew from the deepest levels of my own experience that this is true.


I have been perplexed by the meaning of excommunication and have spent much time thinking about it. What does it mean to be excommunicated, to be cast out of the community of the Church? I attend church meetings, just as I did when I was a member. Sometimes at church or when I am with Church members I almost feel as if I am accepted. They are friendly. They seem to say they want me. Sometimes they even say they love me. But then something happens or something is said that reminds me I have been judged and excommunicated. I understand that they think I deserved to be excommunicated. Everyone partakes of the sacrament except me. Why do they consider themselves worthy and me unworthy? Is their faith in Jesus greater than mine, their sorrow for their sins greater than mine, their desire to follow Jesus greater? Who are they to judge of such things? Ward members bear their testimonies, but I am not allowed to bear mine. Are my spiritual feelings to be discounted? I am not allowed to speak in Church or give a lesson or say a prayer. Am I such a bad person that my thoughts would be harmful to others? Would God not hear my prayers? I am outside the community; they do not want to hear me; they do not want to know me. I am perplexed. What is the meaning of excommunication?

Excommunication invalidates a person's baptism and takes away the gift of the Holy Ghost. It signifies that the excommunicated person is no longer justified by Jesus Christ, that the atonement does not apply to her, that she must be punished for her sins, which means that excommunication, if God honors it, consigns a person to hell. But no one can judge a human soul. Only God can do this.

Although I believe that most members would agree that only God can judge a soul, excommunication is a powerful stigma. Members want to believe that their leaders are usually, if not always, inspired. The excommunicated person must be unworthy, sinful, unrepentant.

An excommunicated person is no longer a member of the Church, but she may still attend all public Church meetings and general ward functions. Many people keep their excommunication a secret. What is the purpose of taking away Church membership from someone who wants to be a member? If the member is dangerous to other members, then shouldn't her excommunication be announced so that everyone can take proper precautions?

There are three major views regarding the meaning of excommunication. Each violates gospel principles and prevents unconditional love. The first, most widely held view, sees excommunication as a punishment. According to this view, some sins are so serious that they require excommunication whether or not the sinner has repented. A repentant sinner must be excommunicated as part of the repentance process. "Church discipline helps save the souls of transgressors by assisting members to repent. It helps them recognize and forsake sin, make restitution, and demonstrate their renewed commitment to keep the commandments of God" (General Handbook of Instructions, March 1989, p. 10-1). This idea misinterprets the nature of repentance and negates Christ's atonement. A person who has truly repented through faith in Jesus Christ does not need to be punished; his sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ; he has been transformed and has no desire to sin again. "For behold, I God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent" (D&C 19:16).

In this view, excommunication will also help an unrepentant person to repent. It will help her understand the seriousness of her sins. "Without formal Church discipline, some transgressors may never experience the change of behavior and the change of heart necessary to qualify them for redemption through the Atonement" (General Handbook of Instructions, p. 10-1). But if a person is unrepentant it is because she truly does not believe she has sinned. I would be classified as an unrepentant sinner according to this view. Three possibilities exist: (1) the person may really be innocent of the sin he is accused of, or (2) what he is accused of may not actually be a sin. In both of these cases, punishment would be unjust. (3) If the person is guilty of the sin but does not understand why it is sinful, punishment will not help him. Repentance is an inner process; we can influence others to repent by love, persuasion, kindness, meekness, and long-suffering, but not by punishing them. God has never authorized the Church to punish sinners. "To me belongeth vengeance, ... for the Lord shall judge his people" (Deut. 32:35-36).

The second view sees excommunication as a means of control. Doctrine must be controlled, members must meet certain minimum standards, and excommunication is the most extreme measure of control. Since punishment is a means of coercion, this view is really a variation of the first view. I believe that most members would prefer the first view as a theoretical framework justifying excommunication but pragmatically accept excommunication as a means of coercion. My bishop certainly used it this way. He repeatedly threatened to excommunicate me if I did not agree to allow my writing to be censored.

But using excommunication to control members is an abuse of priesthood power:

When we [priesthood holders] undertake to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, ... the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or authority of that man.

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, but only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned. (D&C 121:37, 41)

This use of excommunication also violates the principle of free agency. Righteousness cannot be coerced. It must be freely chosen.

The third view sees Church discipline as a way of defining what it means to be a Mormon—what standards must be maintained and what doctrines must be believed for a person to be a member of the Church. Those who fail to conform to these standards or accept these doctrines do not meet the requirements for Church membership; they are not acceptable. Bishop Hammond often used this argument with me. "You can publish those views if you want to, but you can't publish them and be a Mormon." Again, this view is a variation of punishment as control. It is possible to have standards without punishing those who don't meet them and to teach doctrine without punishing those who don't accept it. Of course, crimes need to be punished, but that's the business of the state, not the Church.

All these views see excommunication as an instrument of coercion. In contrast, unconditional love grants the other his agency. Granting agency means that we relate to the other through reason, persuasion, meekness, and love. We relate to her subjectivity; we do not seek to control her like an object. Unconditional love desires to know the other. We are interested in her inner life, not just her appearance and behavior. Coercion is directed only towards appearance and behavior.

Excommunication judges and rejects. In judgment we categorize, define, and condemn the other and deny him the freedom to live outside our judgment. In rejection we deny him the freedom to live within our community. Excommunication is a failure of unconditional love.

Can we fearful, prejudiced, defensive, prideful human beings give unconditional love? Of course not. But is it possible that, transformed by God's unconditional love for us, we can with faith, openness, vulnerability, and grace love one another as Christ loves us? Because of my faith in Christ, I believe that it is. I have felt his love, I have felt her love, which is a love that cannot be contained within the self but must overflow and envelop others. And the white bird of my vision, crying, "I must be free" as it rises from my broken heart, calls me to a new vision of love, a love that grants freedom even as it demands it, a love that draws me to others even as it allows me to withdraw, a love that breaks my heart, even as it heals it. I desire this love; I ponder it; I yearn for it; I will not be satisfied with anything less. The wings of the white bird lift me up and fill me with hope and perfect love.

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33However, since Paul's excommunication, the Toscanos are no longer active in the Church.

34In an interview soon after the excommunication, I put it this way: "Mormons are nice people and they're not rude and nobody has been rude to my face. I've tried to draw some people out to see what they think about it and it's been a little shocking to me—to be judged, and, I think, unfairly. People have said, `Yes, you deserved to be excommunicated because you broke the rules." But what rule did I break? I didn't break any written rules; I broke the unwritten rule. And the rule is unwritten because it's indefensible. There is no way you can defend the rule that you have to do whatever your priesthood leader says.' Jon Ebbert and Janet Garrard, "A Conversation with Janice Allred," Student Review (Provo), 26 June 1995, 6-7, 9.

35A few months after I drafted this section, four-year-old John was sitting on my lap during an August 1996 meeting when I returned the tray to the deacon without taking a piece of bread. Pointing at him, John announced in a clearly audible voice, "He's stupid! He thinks you don't want it." I felt grateful that even my little child knew that not partaking of the sacrament was not my own choice.

36Print-out of Internet posting in my position; used by permission.

37Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, comps. and eds., Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Religious Studies Monograph Series, Vol. 6 (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft/Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980), 183-84.