It has come to my attention that a member of the Church may soon face a disciplinary council for his opposition to Prop 8 in California. I thought it would be interesting to review what the Church Handbook of Instructions has to say about disciplinary councils:
Because formal Church discipline is ecclesiastical, not civil or criminal, court procedures of the state or nation do not apply. However, procedures in a Church disciplinary council must be fair and considerate of the feelings of all who participate.
When a Disciplinary Council Is Mandatory
A disciplinary council must be held when evidence suggests that a member may have committed any of the following transgressions.
As used here, murder refers to the deliberate and unjustified taking of human life. It requires excommunication. Abortion is not defined as murder for this purpose. If death was caused by carelessness or by defense of self or others, or if mitigating circumstances prevail (such as deficient mental capacity or wartime conditions), the taking of a human life might not be defined as murder. Bishops refer questions on specific cases to the stake president. He may direct questions to the Office of the First Presidency if necessary
As used here, incest refers to sexual relations between a parent and a natural, adopted, or foster child or stepchild. A grandparent is considered the same as a parent. Incest also refers to sexual relations between brothers and sisters. It almost always requires excommunication. Bishops refer questions on specific cases to the stake president. He may direct questions to the Office of the First Presidency if necessary.
As used here, child abuse refers to a sexual offense against or serious physical abuse of a child. If priesthood leaders learn of or suspect child abuse, they should follow the instructions on pages 157-58.
As used here, apostasy refers to members who:
1. Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.
2. Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishops or higher authority
3. Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishop or higher authority.
In such cases, excommunication may be necessary if repentance is not evident after counseling and encouragement.
Priesthood leaders must take disciplinary action against apostates to protect Church members. The Savior taught the Nephites that they should continue to minister to a transgressor, but "if he repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people" (3 Nephi 18:31; see also Mosiah 26:36).
Total inactivity in the Church or attending or holding membership in another church does not constitute apostasy.
Serious Transgression While Holding a Prominent Church Position
A disciplinary council must be held for a member who commits a serious transgression while holding a prominent Church position, such as Area Authority Seventy; temple, mission, or stake president; patriarch; or bishop. As used here, serious transgression is defined as a deliberate and major offense against morality. It includes (but is not limited to) attempted murder, rape, forcible sexual abuse, spouse abuse, intentional serious physical injury of others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, robbery, burglary, theft, embezzlement, sale of illegal drugs, fraud, perjury, and false swearing.
Transgressor Who Is a Predator
A disciplinary council must be held for a member who commits a serious transgression that shows him to be a predator with tendencies that present any kind of serious threat to other persons.
Pattern of Serious Transgressions
A disciplinary council must be held for a member who demonstrates a pattern of serious transgressions, especially if prior transgressions have resulted in Church discipline.
Serious Transgression That Is Widely Known
A disciplinary council must be held for a member who commits a serious transgression (as defined under "Serious Transgression While Holding a Prominent Church Position" on this page) that is widely known.
When a Disciplinary Council May Be Necessary
Formal Church discipline may be necessary for any member who commits a serious transgression as defined under "Serious Transgression While Holding a Prominent Church Position" on this page.
Presiding officers review carefully the circumstances of members involved in abortions. Formal Church discipline may be necessary for members who submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for abortions. However, Church discipline should not be considered for members who were involved in an abortion before they were baptized or because (1) the pregnancy resulted from forcible rape or incest, (2) the life or health of the mother was in jeopardy, or (3) the fetus was known to have severe defects that would not allow the baby to survive beyond birth (see page 157). Bishops refer questions on specific cases to the stake president. He may direct questions to the Office of the First Presidency if necessary.
Church leaders counsel against elective transsexual operations. If a member is contemplating such an operation, a presiding officer should inform him of this counsel and advise him that the operation may be cause for formal Church discipline. Bishops refer questions on specific cases to the stake president. He may direct questions to the Office of the First Presidency if necessary.
Request for Name Removal
If a member requests that his name be removed from the records of the Church, a disciplinary council may still be necessary if he has committed a serious transgression. Name removal should not be used as a substitute for or alternative to Church discipline. For instructions in these circumstances, see page 130.
When a Disciplinary Council Is Not Necessary
A disciplinary council normally is not necessary in the following instances.
Failure to Comply with Some Church Standards
A disciplinary council should not be held to discipline or threaten members who do not comply with the Word of Wisdom or whose transgressions consist of omissions, such as failure to pay tithing, inactivity in the Church, or inattention to Church duties.
Business Failures or Nonpayment of Debts
Leaders or members should not use the threat of Church discipline as a form of harassment or as a device to settle business controversies. Business failures and nonpayment of debts are not reasons for convening a disciplinary council. However, a disciplinary council may be held for deceptive practices, false representations, or other forms of fraud or dishonesty in business transactions.
Disciplinary councils should not attempt to resolve disputes over property rights or other civil controversies. However, if such a dispute involves accusations that a member has committed acts that would justify Church discipline, the accusations should be treated like any other accusations of transgression.
IF Church leaders are asked to help settle civil disputes, they should act as unofficial, private advisers and should not involve the Church.
Passage of Time
If a member voluntarily confesses a serious transgression that was committed long ago and his faithfulness and service in the intervening years have demonstrated full reformation and repentance, a disciplinary council often is unnecessary.
From your reading of the above instructions, do you feel that local Church leaders are justified in convening a Church court in cases of opposition to Prop 8 in California? For the purposes of our discussion, let us assume that the member has been quite active in his dissent, writing letters to Stake Presidents and Bishops expressing his disagreement with the Church's stance on this issue, and also being involved in collecting signatures online. Let us also assume that the member has been inactive in the Church for some time but has no other issues or transgressions which need to be addressed. Why do you think the Church should or should not hold a Disciplinary Council against such a person?
The Church Handbook gives three purposes of such discipline:
(1) to save the souls of transgressors
(2) to protect the innocent
(3) to safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the Church.
Do you think that holding a Church court in this instance would accomplish any of the above purposes?