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The phenomenon of "church hopping" is common, well-documented, and widely lamented by devotees of the various mainstream Christian churches. It's not at all uncommon for a family to attend a Methodist church, move to a different state or town and pick up with a Presbyterian congregation. Lutherans become Congregationalists and vice versa, and within the Baptist church people switch congregations more often than chameleons change colors. While less frequent, the phenomenon even appears in the Catholic tradition - Romans become Orthodox or Episcopalian, Anglicans return to the Mother Church. And somehow, aside from the doctrinal purists who feel that this is anathema, nobody in society gives it a second thought.

But let a person leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, especially if the person is prominent in some way or other, and the media acts as though deer hunting season came three months early: every religion writer loads his shotgun and puts the Mormon Church squarely in their sights.

An article appearing yesterday on the BBC's website discusses Park Romney (a cousin of GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney) and his exit from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And, as is more often than not the case, it's full of innuendo and inaccuracy.

Quoting the article:

Ex-Mormons tend to be the church's most outspoken critics. One thing that particularly agitates them is "shunning" - allegations that former church members are denied access to family members who remain in the church. Park claims this has happened to him. "I am alienated from my family," he told the BBC. "Their doctrine, their protocol and their culture as enforced by bishops encourages the families to disassociate themselves from the apostate."

This is, to put it bluntly, horsefeathers. Shunning appears in the Anabaptist tradition, often known as "Meidung," and indeed was part of the reason that the Amish and the Mennonites went their separate ways; and it is practiced to varying degrees in some other faiths, but the official practice of "shunning" is not now, nor has it ever been a part of the Mormon church.

To set the record straight, the Latter-day Saint faith has disciplinary procedures. One is excommunication, in which a member is removed from the Church rolls; another is "disfellowshipment," which means only that he is prohibited from accepting communion and can't preach sermons in meetings. These actions are not imposed for smoking or drinking, having differing opinions, being Democrats, or wondering whether Science really has it right; we're talking about crimes like murder or other felonies, financial defalcation, coming out in open rebellion against the Church, abuse, and other serious transgressions. And neither one, despite what disaffected members may say or may have experienced, means that they are to be ignored or cast out or placed in Coventry. I say here openly and without fear of retribution that any Church leader or member who preaches such nonsense is wrong, and misses the whole point.

Mormons are just people, and you find jerks everywhere. If Park Romney is isolated from his family, it just means that his family must have skipped over that part in the Bible where Jesus was talking about love. I have three kids, and each one has drifted partially or completely away from the faith in which they were raised. I would be a fool to deprive myself of association with them simply because they have other beliefs, and my life would be immeasurably poorer.

In the end, I have to remind myself that most journalists are not about reporting the facts, they're about increasing readership. And nothing increases readership more than setting another group apart, making them seem "weird" and "other" and "less than," so that the general public can nod knowingly and feel better about their own particular brand of oddness. Singling out a person for undesirable attention because of their faith is no better than degrading someone because of their race, and if we're ever going to aspire to the label of civilized beings, it needs to stop.


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Comments

deckardcanine
Mar. 26th, 2012 05:48 pm (UTC)
My conscience will not let me make written statements about a given religion without consulting a devout source. The only mitigating factor here is that there aren't many Mormons in the BBC's homeland.
secoh
Mar. 27th, 2012 12:18 am (UTC)
The australian mormons and JW's practice shunning in a BIG way. I personally know a few people that have been completely cut off from their families from direct instruction from the church.
ccdesan
Mar. 27th, 2012 12:32 am (UTC)
It's wrong, and they're bungholes for doing so. I know the JW's do this, but it's not what our Church teaches.
r_caton
Mar. 27th, 2012 04:25 pm (UTC)
Every faith has its fundamentalists.
Remember folks, zero tolerance = zero thought = zero doubts

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