Plain Speech

Is Excommunication Appropriate for Advertisers of Historical Imperfections and Public Promoters of Core Doctrinal Changes?

Brad Porter, April 19, 2016

For my first job after graduating from college, I worked for a defense company that builds large phased array radars. A phased array is a collection of many small antennas - hundreds, sometimes thousands of them. Each individual antenna radiates an electromagnetic field into space oscillating between positive and negative values. If they oscillate together, meaning they are all positive at the same time and negative at the same time, they are said to be “in phase.” This results in a beam pointing straight forward from the array. By allowing each element to become positive at slightly different times, progressively across the array, the antenna beam can be steered to a point other than straight forward.

Because the antennas are so close together, every antenna couples a little energy into every other antenna. Depending on the spacing between the antennas and the point in the sky to which the beam is directed, a condition can result in which the coupling to an individual antenna from all the surrounding antennas add up constructively or “in phase.” In other words, a large amount of the power can be reflected back into the array. Obviously, this would be a condition the antenna designers and operators would want to avoid, partly because the antenna is not performing its intended function if the power is being reflected back, and because the antenna components can be damaged by large amounts of sustained reflected power.

Hardware designers take great pains to make sure this condition does not occur at any beam position required by the system. Software engineers carefully design the software to prevent the radar operator from accidentally attempting to operate the radar beyond its specified limits. With modern software tools, engineers can more easily simulate conditions prior to hardware being built. Yet even now, errors can occur when someone attempts to adapt the old radar to new conditions. For example, placing a new dielectric cover over an old radar changes the coupling from one array antenna to the next. This condition must be properly analyzed to avoid potential damage. Perhaps every large defense company that builds array antennas has in its history stories of mistakes made by engineers, operators, or manufacturers which resulted in costly repairs. If not caught early enough, these errors could compromise safety of operators and could even compromise national security and the safety of citizens.

These radars perform an essential function. In recent history, the Iron Dome in Israel shot down most of an enemy’s incoming missiles, many of which were targeting civilians.1 It protected the entire nation. Radars keep us safe from harm and protect our freedoms.

Defense contractors compete with one another with teams that generate contract proposals. Suppose as a member of one of the proposal teams, I decide it is somehow valuable and important to make sure our potential customer understands and is aware of the errors our engineers have made in our decades-long history. It is not useless information. It is actually valuable information. We want to learn from the past in order to become wiser in the future. However, it is not relevant to the current situation. It is not relevant to the ability of the company to complete the job successfully now. If anything, to a wise and experienced customer, it should demonstrate that the company has learned important lessons. Regardless of the relevancy to the current proposal, and without authorization from management, I undertake to make sure the customer is aware of these errors. Not being satisfied with slipping a note to a few people, I host a web site advertising in great detail, as many errors as I can find. Going a step further, I speculate about possible errors, demanding more information. I publicly criticize their core design processes and procedures and propose my own.

As a citizen of a nation where free speech is protected, I have every right to do so. I convince myself I am doing a service with my advertising because the information does have some value. It is useful to learn from the past. After all, this information is for the most part accessible elsewhere anyway. Historians within the company have been writing about it in publicly accessible professional journals for decades in an effort to facilitate learning from past mistakes and to encourage understanding. This is partly how I learned about it. Understanding these things has made me a better and wiser engineer. It is also fair to consider processes and procedures and how they might be improved. However, I cross a line when I speculate, demand information, and demand policy changes. I also cross a line when I present historical information in such a manner as to destroy confidence in my company’s ability to design radars and when I actively engage potential customers in the destruction of confidence. I can be certain my employer will dismiss me at this point.

The hypothetical scenario above is analogous to situations within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in which a number of individuals have been excommunicated for repeated advertisement of historical information in a negative context, repeated public criticism of core doctrine, and/or public demands for policy changes even after being privately warned. There are significant differences, however. Suppose the process for dismissing me was somewhat difficult in that it required 16 other employees, some of them upper management, to meet together for many hours without pay on the weekend and agree on a course of action. They would be required to inform me of their meeting and give me an opportunity to defend my position, or renounce it.

Returning to the analogy, management will not be very excited about asking 16 volunteers to take time from their families on the weekend to discuss my behavior. Consequently, no disciplinary action will immediately be taken. Furthermore, many of them know me and my family personally, and are concerned about the effect a job loss will have on us. They also know my original intentions are not bad and I am just misled in how to accomplish improvement within the company. All of this encourages a delay of disciplinary action.

As time progresses, it appears I have somehow lost confidence in the ability of my company to do what they are advertising they can do without my prescribed changes. In time, I may become motivated by other things.2 I convince others from within my company to join me. Some of them leave the company because they too become convinced it is not able to deliver on its claims. A few customers are turned away.

So focused am I on exposing the errors of the engineers at my company, I don’t even bother to understand our competitor’s product sufficiently to determine if they have something better, and then make a recommendation. Consequently, a few of the less experienced become disenchanted with the entire defense industry, not just my company. They back away, and consequently their security is compromised. Their enemies inflict harm and they are in danger of losing their freedom. Ironically, the very radars my company provides protect the sovereignty of my country and thus my freedom of speech, which then allows me to engage in behavior that has the effect of discouraging others from providing themselves with the same protection. Propitiously, freedom of speech also allows others to advertise a more reasonable viewpoint, so the diligent and conscientious customer need not be confused.

Undeterred, or somehow oblivious to the danger my company’s potential customers are facing, I continue to make sure my message is spread far and wide by taking donations to support me in my spare time. In fact, I begin working only part time at my company, and spend more and more time advertising what I believe to be flaws in its history, design procedures, and core design principles. Ultimately, for the well-being of my company, but more importantly, for the safety of our customers, the council of 16 volunteers see no other choice but to take time from their families on the weekend to discuss my behavior.

The analogy between the physical safety and freedom that a radar provides with the spiritual safety and freedom the Church provides should be clear. The young, marginalized, and less seasoned in faith are suffering the most when they lose faith in the organization that has kept them safe from the physical and spiritual consequences of moral dangers in a world where these dangers are increasing. Critics don’t even bother to investigate whether there is another organization that would provide better protection, or perhaps they have and been unsuccessful. (Beware of priestcraft and doctrines which deny specific sins and/or their consequences, skirting morality altogether.)3

Ironically, the protection from the consequences of moral dangers which association with the Church has provided them allows them the time and energy to engage in public criticism, which has the effect of discouraging others from providing themselves with the same protection.

While critics publicly4 nourish their lack of confidence and encourage others to join them, our children suffer. After critics have satisfied their public intellectual appetite, they may return. But some of the young, weak, and marginalized, lacking the moral maturity that the critics themselves have, will become entrenched in lifestyles and addictions from which it will not be so easy to recover. Their freedom is compromised as they become captives of our common enemy.

Where the analogy between a business and a church breaks down is that within the Church, I could be convinced I have been in error. Having been convinced of my error, I could request keeping my membership on the condition I stop advertising. This would certainly not be an option within a business. Furthermore, with the Church, I can be dismissed, and at some future time be convinced of my errors and apply to the council for re-admission, whereas in a business I can be sure I will never work at the company again. It will not matter that I may have made significant contributions to the company in the past by exposing errors in an appropriate manner; I will be still be released. In fact, I would likely have a hard time finding a job with any reputable radar company.

But within the Church there is mercy and forgiveness. They would be concerned about my well-being and the well-being of my family. Even though I caused others harm by destroying their confidence in an organization that could have done them much good (an organization I have even publicly admitted has done me much good), and even though my actions may have influenced behavior in others that will affect their temporal and eternal happiness, I could still be re-admitted after sincerely acknowledging my error and committing to the core principles.

The question that needs to be asked is not whether excommunication is appropriate, but in some situations whether discipline, possibly other than excommunication, should be considered much earlier, before vision becomes increasingly clouded,5 and before membership is used as leverage6 to destroy the confidence of others.

Authors note: Suggesting the possibility of earlier disciplinary councils was only one and possibly the least of my interests in writing this. I have some idea of the challenge Bishops and Stake Presidents have in nurturing faith. The point in answer to the question posed by the essay title is that excommunication is certainly appropriate. But I can’t help but observe, albeit with the limited information I have access to, that in some circumstances earlier discipline might be beneficial for all, particularly where public criticism is clear. The challenge in each individual situation is to decide what “public” means and whether “in a manner that destroys confidence” applies. Waiting until it becomes apparent that advertising their questions is of much greater interest to them than the answers may be too late for both the advertiser and those reading the advertisements.

Of at least equal importance, I wrote this with a desire to help Church members who may feel uncertain understand why excommunication is necessary and justified, and with a sense of an urgent need to convince critics that their course of action needs to be taken with extreme gravity considering the moral dangers our youth face. I haven’t the least fear for the well-being of the Church. The Church will be fine. But fear is not strong enough a word to describe my concern for those who are being led from their secure place.

There is a brief accusation in my analogy for criticizing one organization while failing to find something better. Classifying the Church as “better” or “best” is not necessary to justify the conclusions of this essay. For the purposes of this essay, it need only be said that there is none better than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Applying the teachings of Jesus Christ taught therein will 1) keep one free from the shackles of addictive behaviors incompatible with joy in both this and eternal life, 2) provide relief for those in need, 3) provide valuable service opportunities, and 4) provide ordinances of salvation. I have focused on an analogy with protection from moral danger partly because leading a moral life is a choice of liberty from consequences in mortality and eternal “liberty” of the soul7 , which is easily comparable to the temporal liberty a radar provides; but also, because the consequences of moral lapses are often clearly8 and always bitterly measurable in the lives of those affected by them. However, any one of the four is a sufficient reason to justify the conclusions of this essay.

Some critics like to claim that they are doing a service by disseminating information, much of which has been available and debated for decades in amateur and professional historical journals. Based on the analogy above, my opinion should be clear that publicly advertising this information in a manner to destroy confidence is not justifiable for any member of the Church. What might have been research and investigation becomes propaganda. It should also be clear that understanding every possible historical variant before joining the Church, some of which may be true and some of which may not be true, is no more important than a radar customer knowing every possible mistake company engineers have made or might have made before awarding a contract. The radar performs a valuable and essential service. Endlessly delaying a decision leaves one vulnerable and unprotected. Being an amateur historian is a lifelong pursuit.

There is a mistaken assumption by the critics that if members understood the accusations then the Church would somehow fall apart or evolve into an organization of their imagination.9 I learned decades ago about much of what critics currently advertise. Recently, we heard words from the General Conference pulpit to describe my experience: “A question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others.”10 A careful investigation did build my faith. Understanding history has made me a better and wiser member of the Church, just as understanding past mistakes of engineers at my place of employment has made me a better and wiser engineer. The fact that past leaders were not perfect does not bother me in the least. I have written in more detail elsewhere about how a careful investigation can build faith.11

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Comments after footnotes.


[1]The Iron Dome in Israel effectively shot down most of Hamas’ incoming missiles in the fall of 2014. ( )  ⇈Back
[2]The author does not wish to make accusations in any specific situation partly because it is often not clear. But it is worth noting that while in some situations initial motivations may be well intended, eventually pride, ego, the need to feel self-justified, or even money can cloud vision. It is easy to lose track of how motives are evolving. See Alma 30:53.  ⇈Back
[3]See Alma 1:3-5 and Micah 3:11.  ⇈Back
[4]“A question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Oct. 2013). There is nothing wrong with having and carefully investigating questions, but public, consistent, and prolonged advertisement of our doubts, is a questionable investigative process.  ⇈Back
[5]The author does not wish to make accusations in any specific situation partly because it is often not clear. But it is worth noting that while in some situations initial motivations may be well intended, eventually pride, ego, the need to feel self-justified, or even money can cloud vision. It is easy to lose track of how motives are evolving. See Alma 30:53.  ⇈Back
[6]Using membership as leverage is not something one need do consciously. It can be more of a consequence of actions, than an action.  ⇈Back
[7]“And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” 2 Nephi 2:27.  ⇈Back
[8]“God makes it attractive to choose the right by letting us feel the effects of our choices. If we choose the right, we will find happiness—in time. If we choose evil, there comes sorrow and regret—in time. Those effects are sure. Yet they are often delayed for a purpose. If the blessings were immediate, choosing the right would not build faith. And since sorrow is also sometimes greatly delayed, it takes faith to feel the need to seek forgiveness for sin early rather than after we feel its sorrowful and painful effects.” (Henry B. Eyring, “A Priceless Heritage of Hope”.) Also see Isaiah 47:10.  ⇈Back
[9]It was difficult to decide whether to include the word “evolve” here because the Church does make policy changes from time to time. The word made the final draft because there are certainly some imaginations for which the Church will not change policy.  ⇈Back
[10]Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Come Join With Us”, Oct. 2013 General Conference.  ⇈Back
[11]Brad Porter, New Mormon History and Invigorating Faith.  ⇈Back

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