Yesterday I quoted extensively from Eugene England’s article “Why the Church is As True as the Gospel” to explain why community is such an important element of church, the core element. But I think I didn’t do a good enough job to explain what it really means to have a religious community. Religion ultimately is about people. Faith is about community and relationships, more so, in my view, than beliefs.
In that sense our faith communities, if the community is really working, our congregations should be filled with people all along life’s full spectrum: with the elderly and the very young; with Democrats and Republicans; with socialists, an anarchists; with all-in believers and those who struggle with doubt; with both Trump, Bernie and Hillary supporters; with the successful and talented and those struggle to stay afloat; with those who seem like they can do no wrong and with those who struggle with sin and addiction; with the mentally well and the mentally sick; with homeless and those who live in mansions; with those who have been baptized and those who never quite feel ready for it; and even and maybe especially those who have been excommunicated; with both gay couples and straight; with the single and celibate, with those who have been divorced.
That’s the ideal. However, because church organizes by geography and we tend to segregate geographically, our communities become as homogeneous as our cities. We have black congregations and white, poor congregations and rich. This is to our detriment.
Also, I wanted to talk about excommunication, which for good reason can be seen as an expulsion from the community. I think that’s an unfortunate and unnecessary consequence. When someone is excommunicated, it’s because (again lay) church leadership make a judgment that a person has violated baptismal covenants in some way, and need to be released from them. They can and have and do remain an important part of the community. On my mission in one of my areas, on of the most faithful members of the congregation had been excommunicated, though he was working to come back.
I don’t have statistics, but anecdotally I’m assuming most people who have been excommunicated have also left the community either because they no longer felt welcome or perhaps, they left on their own, likely even before the excommunication become official.
Obviously, not everyone wants to be part of a church community generally or a Mormon community in particular. Some who have belonged, through birth or by choice, have chosen to leave. That happens. Nobody should feel forced out, rejected by a community who have made covenants to welcome and support everyone, but some will choose to leave and some will feel like they don’t belong. For those who leave because they feel rejected, it’s sad, the faith community has let them down. I get it. People are people, we all make mistakes. Ideally, this should never happen, but we’re imperfect, we strive for the ideal, but inevitably fall short.
One quick note, I don’t think a faith congregation is for literally everyone. I think there are those who really should not participate or belong. This should be obvious, but I’ll say it anyway. Church should be a supportive, welcome, nurturing environment. Obviously, we can’t tolerate disruption or contention or those who are trying to tear down rather than build up. I think even those who doubt or disbelieve should belong as long as they aren’t trying to destroy faith. The goal here is faith. In a faith community there will be a common set of shared beliefs. I believe these beliefs should be honored and respected.