Friday, December 2, 2011

LDS Church Discipline: Appeals

What really happens when a church member appeals her own excommunication?

I've discussed the appeals process in my Church Discipline: UNVEILED and Differences between "Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops 2010" and 'Handbook 2: Administering the Church" posts.  I've also spoken with a number of people familiar with church discipline (both on the giving and the receiving side).  From my understanding, there has not been a single successful appeal in the last three decades (please show me I'm wrong- I would love to hear of one).  This is somewhat strange, as the Handbook provides:

"The decision on the appeal may be to (1) let the initial decision stand, (2) modify the initial decision, or (3) direct the disciplinary council to rehear the matter.  In addition, the First Presidency may refer an appeal to another priesthood officer or body for review (with or without receiving additional evidence) and resubmittal to the First Presidency with a recommendation" (6.10.10). 

One would think (2) or (3) would be employed at least once in a while.  Appeals are a three-step process:

(1) Convict submits an appeal within 30 days to the stake president, "specifying in writing the alleged errors or unfairness in the procedure or decision." 
(2) The stake president sends the appeal to the Office of the First Presidency
(3) Between about 1 and 3 months later the stake president calls up the convict on the phone and reads them a letter affirming the disciplinary council's decision (convict does not receive a hard copy).

"Dear President _____ (Stake President),

We have considered the appeal of ____ _____ ____ (first, middle, and last name of the convict) from a judgment of excommunication rendered by the disciplinary council in the ________ Stake on ____ (date of disciplinary council), and affirm the decision of that council.

We shall appreciate it if you will advise Brother _____ (name of convict) of our decision.  At that time, you should also extend to Brother ______ our best wishes and urge him to qualify to return to the Church in the prescribed way.   

Sincerely yours,
________ (President)
________ (First Counselor)
_________ (Second Counselor)
of the First Presidency"

To show error in the disciplinary council, (1) there must be a proper procedure, (2) there must be documentation of what happened, and (3) what happened must be different from what should have happened.  As others have pointed out, composing an appeal can be rather difficult to do when the accused is deprived of access to Handbook 1, which details what the procedure should be, and when the accused is permitted neither the minutes taken by the clerk nor the privilege of recording the proceeding herself. 

I'm curious about what the appellate review process is really like. Does someone read the whole thing? Do they have review criteria? How many appeals do they receive in a typical year? How many people read the appeal?  Are area authorities notified or involved?  I'd love to have the answers.

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