I’ve been pondering the topic of excommunication for a few weeks, and I’ve come to a few conclusions:
1) It is a merciful, redemptive process
2) It is modeled after the process we all go through with Christ on an individual basis
In 3 Nephi 18, Christ gives the following instruction to his chosen, ordained disciples:
Ye shall not suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily, when ye shall minister it;
29 For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul; therefore if ye know that a man is unworthy to eat and drink of my flesh and blood ye shall forbid him.
30 Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out from among you, but ye shall minister unto him and shall pray for him unto the Father, in my name; and if it so be that he repenteth and is baptized in my name, then shall ye receive him, and shall minister unto him of my flesh and blood.
From this we can gather:
1) He was speaking about those who had already been baptized not partaking of the sacrament, not non-members, because one can only “drink damnation to his soul” if he has already made a covenant. Those who haven’t been baptized are not accountable to take the sacrament, because the promise we make when we take the sacrament and our baptismal promise are one and the same.
2) He was speaking to his ordained disciples. Only those called to certain positions may judge who is and is not worthy. It is the job of the “Common Judge in Israel”, otherwise known as a Bishop, to judge this, based on Christ’s standards, not his own standards.
3) When a member forsakes his covenants, it is protective to prevent him from partaking of the sacrament, because he is “drinking damnation to his soul” by making a false promise to God.
4) Those forbidden from partaking in the sacrament, from going to the Temple, or who are excommunicated altogether, should not be cast out, but lovingly invited back to services, and IF THEY REPENT they should be invited to be rebaptized. Christ says this specifically.
5) All of us will go through the process of continuous repentance where we feel separated from God, we repent and improve, and feel His presence again. This is the same process, just on a micro scale.
6) This concept of what to do with members who break their covenants was important enough that Jesus took time to specifically address it with His disciples. He gave very specific commands and repeated himself, underscoring the importance.
What if we took all poor choices in this light? What if those in a position of authority invited the offending person back lovingly? I’m not suggesting lowering standards– indeed, I think they should be upheld and no “slack” given. But why not invite the person back, help them improve, and coach them on how to be better? This requires repentance on their part– we are not accepting their performance as is and if they refuse to improve or insist it’s unfair, they will likely choose to leave of their own free will. And if they do, that’s sad. But we should tell them we’re always here, and we’re willing to help them get where they should be.