Member of 'September Six' speaks out about excommunication

Friday , August 08, 2014 - 10:32 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY – Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day disciplinary councils were a hot topic at Sunstone’s annual symposium this past weekend on the University of Utah campus. Four different panels discussed different aspects of disciplinary councils.

Some spoke on how it had affected them personally, while others spoke about the ripple affects it has on the community, family members and the people themselves.

Lavina Fielding Anderson knows all to well about the ripple affect of excommunication. Anderson is one if the infamous “September Six” of 1993.

That year, six church members were excommunicated on grounds of apostasy or affiliating with groups that oppose LDS church doctrine. Anderson spoke to a group about her experiences last Saturday, but also attended Ordain Women’s forum last Friday.

As she left the forum, many came to talk with her and see how she was doing – how life is now. Anderson has not come back into full fellowship with the LDS Church, but still regularly attends LDS worship services and often plays the piano in Primary – the meeting made up mostly of children. “I’m still excommunicated, but I attend church weekly and I can still play the piano and sing,” Anderson said.

She admits the excommunication of Kate Kelly has been difficult for her to watch. “It has revived some very painful memories for me. It will be 21 years next month,” she said. “It still hurts a lot and I feel a lot of heavy-heartedness for Kate,” Anderson said.

She also is concerned about the ripple affect the decision about Kelly will have for other members of the church. “People will ask, ‘Is there room for me?’” Anderson said.

Those on the disciplinary council panel said the same thing. “If you start cutting off the fringes, we have to ask how it will change the church as a whole,” said Whitney Mollenhauer, who has a masters of arts degree in gender and social stratification. She thinks it will take the people who feel like they can’t speak up and they will in essence “excommunicate” themselves and stop coming as a whole.

Mollenhauer also thinks the excommunication and manor of the disciplinary council will have an affect on future church membership. “If it keeps going in this direction, the church isn’t going to grow very much,” she said.

Kristeen Black also spoke about the issue. She has a doctorate degree from Drew University on religion in society. “There is always a discussion about power,” she said of church disciplinary councils. Disciplinary councils have an effect on the “ward family” and its dynamic.

Many act as if there has been a “death in the family” and social shunning also exists, Black said. She spoke of one man that came home early from an LDS mission and the questions asked, assumptions made and how is “reputation preceded him.” He eventually stopped attending church and after 10 years of inactivity is now trying to make his way back.

Black thinks this will become more commonplace with women seeking the Priesthood and those in favor of gay marriage.

Anderson said the path back can be difficult, because it is hard to get answers. When she was first excommunicated, she was given very general information as to the whys. She said she has expressed a desire to come back, but there have been no follow-up efforts.

“When I have the feeling and the time is right. It’s the Lord’s schedule, not mine,” Anderson said. “But it’s not fun to sit in the foyer when my son gets married in the temple or to come week after week and not take the Sacrament,” Anderson said. The reasoning listed for excommunication was that her conduct was “unbecoming of a member.” But she is still waiting to take further action. “I don’t feel a prompting from the spirit yet,” she said.

She would like to see the General Authorities take a more hands-on approach though. “They need to be more creative as to how they are handling this,” she said. “We would like to hear from them.”

Sign up for e-mail news updates.

Related Stories