In a 1990 Ensign article, Elder M. Russell Ballard outlined the process of disciplinary councils in the Church, including excommunication, as well as the reasons behind these practices. Here are a few highlights that demonstrate what a disciplinary council is as well as what it isn't.
Why do we need disciplinary councils?
"Members sometimes ask why Church disciplinary councils are held. The purpose is threefold: to save the soul of the transgressor, to protect the innocent, and to safeguard the Church’s purity, integrity, and good name."
What a disciplinary council is:
"As part of [the Lord's] plan, He has given guidance on how we can overcome serious error and sin. His desire is that all his children return to him."
"Both the Lord and his church stand ready with open arms to welcome back all who stray. The First Presidency has extended this special invitation:
"'We are aware of some who are inactive, of others who have become critical and are prone to find fault, and of those who have been disfellowshipped or excommunicated because of serious transgressions. To all such we reach out in love. We are anxious to forgive. …
"'We encourage Church members to forgive those who may have wronged them. To those who have ceased activity and to those who have become critical, we say, ‘Come back. Come back and feast at the table of the Lord, and taste again the sweet and satisfying fruits of fellowship with the Saints.’”
"When members need to have certain blessings withheld, the Lord’s object is to teach as well as to discipline."
"Our Father in Heaven is pleased to restore former blessings to his sons and daughters when they have demonstrated sincere and complete repentance. . . . none will be withheld, including the blessings of the priesthood and the temple."
What it isn't:
"Disciplinary councils are not called to try civil or criminal cases."
"Disciplinary councils are not held for such things as failure to pay tithing, to obey the Word of Wisdom, to attend church, or to receive home teachers. They are not held because of business failure or nonpayment of debts. They are not designed to settle disputes among members. Nor are they held for members who demand that their names be removed from Church records or who have joined another church; that is now an administrative action."
"Church disciplinary action is not intended to be the end of the process—rather, it is designed to be the beginning of an opportunity to return to full fellowship and to the full blessings of the Church. Priesthood leaders try hard to be sensitive to the disciplined person’s needs for understanding, encouragement, counsel, and assistance."