Episode #20: Published Feb 27, 2019
Excommunication. It’s something we don’t talk about much within the Church but what motivates someone to return to Church membership after excommunication? What is the purpose of excommunication from the perspective of those who have experienced it? This is what we discuss with two men who have experienced excommunication firsthand on this week’s episode of “All In.”
View a transcript of the episode below.
MORGAN JONES: In an article written by President M. Russell Ballard titled, "A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings," he wrote to members and leaders of the church who know of a brother or a sister who has been disfellowshipped or excommunicated. "Love him or her without judging. Be sensitive and thoughtful without prying. Be warm and caring without being condescending, be forgiving and forgetful. The Lord has said 'Behold, He who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I the Lord, remember them no more.' Can we be justified in doing any less?"
On today's episode, we will be talking with two brothers who were excommunicated from the church. One, Rory Mele, recently returned to the restored church through baptism and confirmation after years of semi-activity and a year of excommunication. He is currently waiting to apply for the restoration of blessing ordinance this spring. The other, Perri Correia, was recently excommunicated and has begun his effort to return to church membership.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones and I am so grateful to Rory and Perri for their willingness to come and have a conversation with me today about something that we don't often talk a lot about in the church. And I want to give a little bit of background about how this podcast episode came to be. So Perri served his mission with my brother, Spencer. And one day I was working in the temple and Perri came into the temple and— this was a few years ago— and he recognized me as being Spencer's sister, and introduced himself. And as a result, we have been friends for a couple of years now. And a few, probably like a month ago, was it a month ago, Perri?
PERRI CORREIA: Yeah. It was a month ago.
MJ: Okay. So a month ago, I got a text from Perri one night and he said, Hey, Morgan, what do you use for your blog, and I sent him the website that I use to host my blog and, and then the next morning, Perri sent me another text and said, here's this blog post that I wrote, I was wondering if you could look at it. And I did not know what kind of blog Perri was starting. And so I click into it, and I start reading. And it is this beautiful first-person account that is in present tense of someone that has just been excommunicated from the church. And I had no idea that this was something that Perri was experiencing. And so I texted him back. And I think I was like, wait, when did this happen? and Perri was like, last Thursday. So I first of all, was so impressed that Perri had written this and shared his experience. And then I asked a little bit more to find out why he felt like he should blog about this experience of being excommunicated. And he explained that he had been looking for resources and couldn't find anything. And so he was like, maybe I should be the resource. And to me, this is like, the ultimate in selflessness, is putting yourself out there and being willing to be of help to someone else. So fast forward a few days later, and I am on my computer. And this, I think it was on Twitter pops up a little tweet about a story on a website, where another man had shared his experience in having been excommunicated. And this was Rory. And so I read his experience. And it was very much in line with the things that Perri explained that he was determined that he was going to stay in the church and that he had gone through this whole process. And Rory is kind of on the other end of the time period of excommunication. And so, to me, I was like, this is fascinating. And I don't think it's a coincidence that these two men in the same week, I had read a post from each of them about why about their experience with this. And so I reached out to Rory and I reached out to Perri and I asked if they would be willing to have a conversation with me about their experience. And both were willing, they were both enthusiastic and happy to be involved. But Rory had just one condition, which was that we in no way discuss the cause of their respective communications. And I was like, of course, we won't talk about that at all. That was never my plan. But then he explained why, Rory, do you mind just starting us off by sharing why that ground rule is so important to you?
RORY MELE: Yeah, so, we're a church that values the repentance process, and we have, the Lord has said multiple times, "If he confesses and forsakes his sins, I the Lord will remember them no more." And I think sometimes we have a tendency as a people to, to question, you know, like, so why, why did this happen to you? Or, you know, and maybe it's out of curiosity, maybe people want to know, like, you know, am I going to go through that process? But once something's been repented of, if the Lord can say, I can forget it, I think that we can try also to forget it, not to the extent that we don't learn from our mistakes, learn, learn from our choices, but that we can truly repent. I remember when me and my wife were first married, we read a talk by Elder Holland called "Remember Lot's Wife." He gave it at a BYU Devotional. And in there, there was just the most profound statement, he said that we have a tendency to reach in the mud of other people's past and throw it at each other, like do you remember this? And he says, splat, you know, threw it at the person. And the other person will be like, Yeah, I remember that. And then they'd pick up some mud and throw it back and everybody ends up muddy and dirty from stuff that should have been buried. And his premise for that was let people repent, let people change, let people move forward. And we practice that. That's one of the things that me and my wife practice, that we let each other repent, and she has been phenomenal during this process. She doesn't pick up my choices and throw them at me, we move forward knowing that with and repentance moving forward to baptism and those covenants. If the Lord can forget and remember them no more, if that's a promise, the guy that knows everything, right, if he can say "I'll forget these," I think we can too.
MJ: I love that. That is one of my all-time favorite talks the "Remember Lot's Wife" talk. And so I love that you brought that up. Now that we have that ground rule established, I want to start with the night— and this is something that Perri described in his blog post— the night of your disciplinary counsel. And this is something I've heard, I had a friend that gave a talk in sacrament meeting a few years ago, and she also had gone through this process. And she shared her experience of what it felt like to wait outside the High Council room while this is being discussed. And I always think that it's like a super powerful thing when people share it in faith and for the right reasons. So what was that like for you? And I guess we'll start with Perri, what was going through your head and what were you feeling?
Perri: I think for me, I was feeling really anxious. In my case, it had taken quite a while because it had been during the holidays. So it had taken quite a while for everybody to be able to make it to attend the disciplinary council. So I was kind of just ready to get it, get it taken care of, and just just know what I needed to do to, I guess, start the process. And I was really nervous and there were times that I was just unsure of what was going to happen. I think partway through the high council they question you, just so that they have a better understanding of where you're at so that they can know how to help you. I felt a peace and that whatever the outcome was, it wass going to be from Heavenly Father, that that's what He needed me to go through to feel forgiven, to feel clean, to become what he eventually needs me to be.
MJ: Thank you. Rory, what would you add to that?
Rory: Um I'm with Perri. I mean the anxiety with it. And maybe not so much anxiety, more just being anxious wanting to go through it. My Stake President was very good at explaining everything to me, explained the process, explained the points of the council, who represented who. Because in these councils, you've got some of the high counselors who represent the church, and then you have the other half that represents the sinner. And they have that purpose for it to be a fair procedure, that everybody feels like they were represented. And I think that's just like a strong point to make. You go in there and, at least in my experience, I went in there feeling like I was going to be heard and the church was going to be heard. And I had kind of had a confirmation already that I was going to be excommunicated. For me, I felt like at this point in my life, because I was living for years, this dark path, and I felt like if it was anything less than excommunication, I would have taken it for granted. So going in, it was a Saturday morning, very early in the morning, so they knew nobody would be using the building, they wouldn't have anyone bumping into us in the hallways. And so they were very mindful of the individual. And I went in, my wife was with me, my bishop was with me, and we were prepared to discuss future actions. It wasn't necessarily about the consequence, it was where do we go from here? How do I get from where I am at now, to a state where I'm restored, not necessarily just in the church, but restored in my faith in Christ and in His graces. So yeah, you're thinking "Wow, they're taking forever. Can I just go in?" Okay, I come and they're praying about it. And the whole time I'm just fidgeting, except when I'm in there and actually talking to them, and there was a peace to the whole process. I've heard people say that once you're excommunicated like you feel the Holy Ghost just leave, that covenants is broken. But I broke that covenant long before this time. In fact, I felt the spirit in these proceedings more than I had felt them in the years prior to the preceding. And yeah, I broke that covenant relationship, and that was done at excommunication, but I still had the visitation of the spirit. I still had the spirit telling me and guiding me through this process. Any anxiety I had, any anxiousness, any nervousness, it was all swallowed up in that spirit of love and charity that they all bestowed.
MJ: Thank you both for sharing that. I think one thing that is interesting about this topic is that this disciplinary council is not something that either one of you had to show up for, right? It was your choice to, to show up. It was your choice— it's your choice now to work toward re-baptism. And I think that that's the thing for me is I'm like, I think sometimes we misunderstand what this process is all about, which is, it should be a positive thing, right? Here's somebody we should actually be giving mad props to for wanting to come back to the church, for wanting to go through something that could be really, really hard. But they're willing to do that because they do have a testimony, not because their testimony is lost. Do either of you have any thoughts on that?
Rory: Yeah, I mean, I kind of— I've heard people give me kind of that sort of praise. And people tell me how brave I am and people tell me like how wonderful this is. And for a while, it's not that feeling. Like you're like, if I was wonderful, I wouldn't have gotten this far. You know, and, and so you tend to like, you know, push aside any compliments and any priase, and it's all well-intended stuff. And I think that's maybe, I don't know if that's Satan, kind of nagging at us that, hey, maybe you weren't good enough. At least for me, in my experience, but you know, there's a lot to it. Yeah, you don't have to show up to these. I didn't have to confess and move forward. But there were things that were inspiring to me that I wanted to change. And it really depends on the person's circumstance. Eid they get caught in their sins or did they want to come forward willingly? Are they penitent or are they just going through the mechanics because we can do that very easily. But I think when you find in yourself a genuine feeling of wanting to change and reunite with the Lord and be a part of His community, His church, there's some power to it.
Perri: I agree with Rory, too. Everyone's on their own individual journey back to Heavenly Father, we're all on our different paths. And you know, there comes a moment where you need to change, you get to a point in your life where you miss the spirit, you miss the feeling of community within the church, you miss just feeling the presence of Heavenly Father. And that's kind of what pushed me to move forward with it. And like you said, we don't have to come forward with anything that we've done, we don't have to show up for these councils. But because we want to change and become like our Savior, we do these things. We humble ourselves enough to be vulnerable to people we've never met. And that, I think, is where repentance starts showing God that you do have a broken heart and a contrite spirit to do whatever it is He requires of us.
MJ: Rory, what about for you?
Rory: I have to backup Perri on this, you know, everything that we learned growing up, it's foundational, it's something to draw back on. I remember when I got home from the mission field, and I was in college, never really talked about my mission, tight? I had roommates that would talk about it as if you know, they just got home, but they'd been home for a year or two. And they talked about it frequently and it was a joy in their life. And not that my mission wasn't a joy, but I was always kind of just forward thinking like, okay, that's done, I'm in college, what do I have to study for? And one of my friends, when I brought up that I had served a mission, she said
"Oh, I had no idea, like when did you get home?"
"I've been home for three months."
"You don't talk about it."
And kind of this, you know, it was a part of me, but it wasn't the biggest part of me, you know. Same with the church, it's something that I grew up socially converted to, I believed the principles, I believed the ideals of the church and it was something to always draw on. My mission experience was something I could always draw on, but as soon as you know, you hear the words that, you know, "We regret to inform you that during our prayer, it was revealed to us that you, at this point, are excommunicated from the church." And then the instructions that come to remove your garments, and you can't pay tithing and you can't sustain, and you start to see all these things that you were regularly part of just kind of gone. Sitting in church that very next day, Satan was sitting there nagging at me, you know, like— and growing up, I never really felt like I belonged and I don't think I have a monopoly on that, talking to more and more people, they went through that same thing. I never felt like I belonged. He was nagging like you don't belong here. You've never felt like you belong here. They don't want you here, obviously, you should just stand up and walk out. And he was nagging and the song was playing and then the Spirit says to me, "He's right, you know, you don't belong here." And I'm like, What? The spirit's telling me that this, you know, this devil nagging in my ear is right. And then at that very moment, I think we're singing 'Oh My Father," that line that says that "The Spirit whispers that you're a stranger here that you came from more holier spheres." And at that moment, me feeling sorry for myself and feeling down and feeling out and feeling like you know, my identity was changing, Heavenly Father steps in and says you aren't meant to be here. You were meant to be better than this, you were meant for greater things. And He gave me something that I was able to combat this feeling of, of being secluded from the church, that I can use on a daily basis. Anytime I ever feel now like I don't belong here, I always revert back to that memory of the Spirit testifying through a hymn at the right moment that we don't belong here. We belong in church, we belong with each other, we belong in supporting each other. And that became another foundational thing for me, something that I can draw back on. I don't have to revert back to, you know, the first 25 years of being a covenant member, I can start here at this moment. And that was a tender mercy for me that, that he's mindful of us and our every situation and I haven't felt like that since. I feel stronger than I had ever felt before because of that moment.
MJ: What have you each felt has been the biggest support to you. In the days since?
Perri: I think for me, one thing that I was a little nervous about being excommunicated, was that I'd be forgotten. You're no longer a member. I didn't want to be just kind of swept under the rug and no one reach out. But I've been shown an outpouring of love from really close friends, from family. And I've been fortunate to have support from areas that I didn't think I would have. People just commenting and checking if I'm okay from all over the world. And I know that most people aren't fortunate enough to have that, but I feel pretty lucky that people actually care. And that's what someone needs when they're going through this process.
MJ: Yeah, for sure. Rory, anything that you would add as far as what has been your biggest support?
Rory: Everything that Perri said, it was just, it was spot on. The love and support that we have from our church leaders, those that were there, the council, members of our Bishopric, the members of our ward. For me, I was fortunate enough to, to keep my family intact. You know, it doesn't matter what you do that puts you in a disciplinary Council, you're going to hurt someone. It doesn't matter what the sin is, when you have to come forward and say, "Hey, I need to change." For me, I hurt my wife. It was "Hey, from this time period to this time period, these are things that I got caught up in." And it was painful and for a while, you know, like I lost the trust of my best friend. But she stood by me, even at the disciplinary Council, she was— and one of the high counselors kind of made a point of this is that my wife is the example of Christ in this very room, because of the forgiveness, the mercy that she showed. That she and her statement was, "We are not going to let Satan divide this family." And her determination, her testimony, her example to me has been the strongest support. And she's constantly asking me, "How are you doing? Are there any temptations that are getting to you?" And we communicate more than we've ever communicated. And the way that we bring the gospel into our home now is because we lean on each other and I know that she's leaning on the Lord. And I'm learning to lean on the Lord because of her example. She didn't do anything wrong, but she is also experiencing the effects of my excommunication and the pain that I went through. And her pain's different, but no less, it's not, I don't know what I'm trying to say-- it's just a strong. Yeah, it's all very real. And I think that goes back to the atonement that He didn't just suffer for our sins, but he, to succor my wife, to bring her into His arms, He knows what it's like for her in this moment in this situation, the pain and the sorrow. And so our biggest support has been that.
MJ: What would both of you say has been the most powerful emotion that you've experienced? I imagine this is a full range of emotions, but what would you say has been the most powerful emotion that you've experienced throughout this?
Perri: Um, for me, I think the most powerful emotion that I've felt in the last month has just been peace. You feel a bunch of anxiety, stress, before the process, but once you know where you're going to go, the Lord just blesses you with so much peace in your life. That doesn't mean you're not going to feel temptations or feel lonely, or any other negative feelings that you feel through the process of not being a member. But He does reassure you with a steady peace, and let you know that you are moving in the direction that you need to go. And that you're, you're doing your best. And He also gives you the hope that you will get to where you should be.
MJ: That actually reminds me, I was just listening the other night to a podcast and the interview was with Bob Goff, who's a Christian author. And they asked him what the best advice you've ever been given was, and he was like, "Well, my best advice I've ever received just changed." And he said that he had just been to see the new Christopher Robin movie and that in it, Winnie the Pooh says, "I always get to where I'm going by walking away from where I've been." And I found myself the last few days like thinking about that over and over again, like what am I trying to walk toward? And in order to do that, what do I have to walk away from? Rory, what would you say as far as the most powerful emotion?
Rory: I would say joy. And it wasn't, you know, obviously at first, but there's a scripture that comes to mind, Almad 31:38. They're getting ready to go teach the Lamanites and it says that He gave them strength, the Lord gave them the strength that they suffered no manner of affliction, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ. So it didn't say that they didn't suffer any affliction, but their affliction was always swallowed up in the joy of Christ. And one of the high counselors, a good friend of mine said, you know, it's going to get worse before it gets better. And I was like, don't tell me that.
MJ: Nobody wants to hear that.
Rory: No, no. And I was like, you know, that's self-fulfilling prophecy, right? Like, don't tell a person and he's like, I'm sorry, that's not what I was intending. And, and I think we have like the idea that I'm coming back to the Lord like nothing's going to go wrong. Like, we have that temptation to think that adversity is just going to go away. Even if we have kind of a handle on the adversary. And then about seven to eight months into the being excommunicated, my daughter was born five weeks early and she has Down syndrome, she has a very complex heart condition, she was born without an anus, and then several other health defects that we've been working through. And I think the only way that I could have gotten through this adversity this past year, she just turned one, was because of the repentance process in its purest form, that I found joy in Christ. And we didn't suffer through that, I mean, there were painful moments, but to see her smile and to know that we have a plan, and to know that He has a plan for us. A friend of mine, I was in tears when we found out about the heart condition and preparing for major complex surgery, and he wraps me in his arms, and he knew what we were going through and he goes, "Brother, it's not your fault." And prior to this moment, I would have blamed God, I would have blamed myself because I wasn't in a state of living righteously. And I looked up at him and I was like, I know that had never even crossed my mind. That's kind of one of the moments when I knew that I experienced healing because I knew that my daughter was in His hands. So joy, I think, would be the strongest emotion through this process. Because we found Christ and we were inviting him into our lives.
MJ: Yeah, absolutely. I think that this is like the ultimate in vulnerability. So how do you think that being in a vulnerable state helps with healing? Or why does that have to be a part of this experience in this process?
Rory: I think with vulnerability, you choose to be vulnerable. We didn't have to tell anybody and the only people that would have known would have been those in the disciplinary council or Bishopric and those in the church that knew. And all they would know is that we couldn't give a prayer or a talk. But we choose to be vulnerable, we choose to open up about this experience, I chose to open up to quite a few people because I needed to find that healing by being open by drawing on other people's experience, by finding forgiveness from people, by forgiving others. And so choosing to open up I think is what made us vulnerable, and I think satan has a way of binding our tongues so that we don't speak. He gives us fear, he gives us embarrassment, he puts ideas into our heads that we're going to be outcasts and lose friends and lose family. But he can't win, you know we already know that. And so choosing to be vulnerable is actually part of that being you know, having a contrite spirit and opening up and sharing that— you know what if Alma the younger had never shared that experience, an experience that we celebrate in this church, we would have, you know, less draw on because of it.
MJ: Yeah, I really like that idea of choosing. Perri, what about you?
Perri: I think being vulnerable shows humility. This is an embarrassing thing to go through, it's hard and some people don't understand. But when you open yourself up, regardless of how you feel, whether you're scared, embarrassed, or just have fears that, you know, relationships could end or might push people away, people will view you differently. When you open up to people, they tend to open up to you. And I think part of our healing is helping others heal as well. I remember— being vulnerable is totally against my nature,
MJ: Not your thing, huh?
Perri: No, it's not my thing. And for some reason, so the first few days after the excommunication happened, I had never felt so alone in my life. So I remember going to a bookstore and just looking for something that I could grasp, that I could find something to relate to deal with the feelings that I was feeling. And I couldn't find anything. And so I had the impression, the next morning, to start a blog, to write about it. And it was, it was pretty hard. It was hard to open myself up to live in that experience again and share that publicly. And I think part of my drive was I didn't want anyone to feel what I was feeling. Like I said earlier, I have a good support. I have a testimony, it's still there. But there are some who lack that, who lack the faith, who don't have people checking in on them. And I kind of wanted to make a difference, to let others know that they're not alone, that they can get through this.
MJ: Yeah, I think that's something that I actually have been thinking about a lot about how there's so much power in sharing our experiences, it's something that I'm like super passionate about. But I think that's part of the whole reason that we're here and going through the things that we're going through is because we all need each other along this journey. And I think that's really probably a more vital part of this whole experience of mortality than we realize. Do you ever get discouraged? I imagine you probably do, I get discouraged about plenty of things in my life. But how do you combat discouragement?
Rory: So I was driving through, I was working in Wyoming, and this was maybe two or three months after. And I remember just being completely discouraged. And I pulled over the side of the road and I emailed my Stake President, I was like, "Why is the pull of the world like so strong? I want to change but I also like, you know, the things that I was used to I want to keep doing." And I pressed send, and my wife sends me a text. And it's a scripture that she was reading in Alma, 23, it was six and seven and it talked about the Lamanites, those that actually converted to the Lord, all of those that listened to the testimony and found that conversion never did fall away. And that they got rid of their weapons of their rebellion, not weapons of war, but weapons of their rebellion and they did not fight against God or their bretheren anymore. And she found that that was so profound. And that was the answer that I was looking for in that moment, was you know what weapons of my rebellion against God do I need to get rid of? What am I holding on to that's keeping me, you know, that keeps drawing me to the world instead of you know, things that are drawing me to Christ. And so we listed out a lot of things and that helped overcome a lot of the discouragement. You have Aminadab in Helaman five and Nephi and Lehi, the sons of Helaman are in the prison and they come in and they're surrounded by fire, or a pillar of fire. And, you know, then they're scared, the Lamanites are like what's going on here? And then all of a sudden a darkness comes over them, they were overshadowed by darkness and the walls are trembling and the earth is shaking, and they hear a piercing spirit of perfect mildness, a voice that says, "Repent ye, repent ye, and quit seeking to destroy my servants." And Aminadab, who was disaffected from the church, after they hear this voice a couple of times, they asked him like, what do we do? And he says, "Have faith in Christ and repent, and do those things that Alma and Amulek and Zeezrom taught us." And once they did that, they had the ministering of angels. And I think that's just like with us too like we can repent, we can have faith in Christ, we can draw on the scriptures, you know, isn't that what Alma and Amulek and Zeezrom gave us with scriptures? Those daily habits of faith are what helped me get through the most discouraging moments, opening the scriptures, saying my prayers doing the things that I didn't do in the years prior. And it tells you right in the scriptures, this is what you can do to overcome that dark shadow.
MJ: What about for you, Perri?
Perri: I want to agree with him. It's those little things that we do as members of the church, like praying, reading the scriptures, just going back to the basic fundamentals of our faith. Not being a member of the church. you see it from a different perspective and point of view. And like Rory referred to earlier, you do get the visitations of the Spirit and you just have to work a little harder for that. And I feel like those moments where I do take time to write, to read the scriptures, to give a meaningful prayer, those definitely help with, with feelings of loneliness, shame. They definitely help in trying to overcome temptation and just find that peace of mind in knowing that you're doing the right thing, that you're on your way. It is a daily thing though. I feel like some people think oh excommunication happened, and it's just one event. But the emotions associated with the disciplinary council tend to linger. You're not where you want to be, but you're on your way there. And sometimes you just need those little things to carry you through the process.
MJ: Yeah. What the two of you were saying reminded me of one of my favorite scriptures in the Book of Mormon. My favorite chapter, probably in all of the Book of Mormon is Alma chapter 33. And in that chapter is where they talk about the story of the brass serpent. And there's this one verse, this one phrase, I guess, in verse 22, where it says, "And if not, so then cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that He will come to redeem his people." And that's one of my favorite phrases is, "begin to believe in the Son of God." And I love that because I think that there's power in recognizing that we can always start again, I think that it's symbolic of repentance and new beginnings. And so for you two, what was it that initially led to your decision to make a change, to begin again?
Perri: I think for me, I'm surrounding myself with positive influences. There was a point in my life where I had fallen away from the church and just didn't really, I wasn't, I wasn't in it. And I slowly made my way back, attending church meetings, I felt like I was there, but not there. And, and I started noticing a difference in the people's lives around me in how happy they were, how driven they were, how faithful they were and I wanted that. So I made some changes and I got to a point where I felt good about myself, where I was doing what I knew was right. But there was an area of my life that was kind of a gray area that I needed to, to fix. And I actually had a really, really good friend of mine who helped me, she pushed me to get the disciplinary council rolling so that that I could, could take care of it. And it's interesting that all it takes is just one person to push you in the right direction. But my mind was made up, I was just kind of dragging my feet to the process. I was anxious, but then kind of nervous and scared. But seeing what they had and knowing what I needed to do to get it is what drove me to do this.
MJ: Interesting. I think the idea of it only taking one person, which also makes me think about something that I want to talk about after Rori answers, which is how can we as Latter-day Saints better support one another in a process like this or just in trying to live the gospel. But Rori, would you add anything as far as what led to your initial decision to change?
Rory: Yeah, so I was still kind of just living in the dark, I was semi-active and used work as an excuse. I was busy, constantly busy and you know, living among Latter-day Saints, but not, you know, doing the right things. And then we moved to another state and I juggled the idea of, you know, like, can I change? Can I really change? And my family was out of town on a trip, and we had had the missionaries over before, but they knocked on my door, I was working in the basement, putting up sheet rock and came upstairs. And they came in and said, "Hey, can we share a video with you?" And I said sure. And it was one of the newly dramatized versions of one of Joseph Smith's versions of his first vision. And it was like six minutes long, I'd never seen it before and never known that version of it and it was inspiring. And it reminded me of an experience I had, a revelation I had when I was studying the Joseph Smith history and that feeling came back that you can be restored, the principle of restoration is real. And so two missionaries knocking on my door, having no idea that they were having an impact on this new member of the ward and I went and prayed. And I prayed and I prayed and I knew that I needed to change, but I didn't know if I had the strength to. And I just prayed for that strength, like I need to talk to my wife, I need to talk to my religious leaders so that they can help me go through this process. And because of those two missionaries having a prompting to come and share video with me, a seemingly active member of the church, had an impact on my life, it led me to want to go through this process.
MJ: I think that that is awesome. I think both of those are examples of the difference that just one or two people can make in the church and in someone's life. How do you think that we as Latter-day Saints can better be there for each other?
Rory: I think for me, it goes back to the first thing I said, referencing Elder Holland, is let people repent. Love them, exercise empathy, because we all have a need to repent, right? But exercise and that love, that empathy and letting others repent. I think we tend to think of others and we see the things that we do and we might put things like, "Shouldn't they go through disciplinary counsel for that? Shouldn't that person have been excommunicated." But these are very personal moments in our lives, in everybody's lives. We aren't here to make that determination, we're here to support each other, to love each other. I think the biggest thing that members of the church can do is learn the doctrine of Christ, to have faith in Christ unto repentance. But not only that, to when they've made the baptismal covenant, keep that covenant, renew it by going to church regularly. And then the thing that I think we forget the most is following the Holy Ghost. I separated myself from the spirit, but I had never felt closer to the spirit than the year that I was excommunicated from the church. Because I had a good stake leader that taught me that the doctrine of Christ isn't just these four principles, its application, a daily application of having the spirit in your life, you pray for promptings of the Spirit. The Spirit will prompt you, which is a personal commandment to you and your life, that the Lord wants you to do something specific. And you have an option at that time to listen and obey or to not. And when you listen and obey those promptings, you rise above the plane of the natural man, and you're living the celestial law, you're living the higher law. And we have that promise, that's the greatest thing about having the gift of the Holy Ghost in your life is that you are covenanted, you have a covenant relationship with a member of the Godhead, that he will always be with you when you're living righteously. And he will tell you things to do and you can choose to live those things. And most of the time, more often than not, he's telling you, "Hey, I need you to call this person. I need you to go knock on this person's door. I need you to minister to this person." And when we have that in our lives, we can't go wrong, that's when we get empathy and charity and love and that's when we let people repent, and we're not constantly dragging them through the mud. I think that's the biggest thing that we can do, that's how we get to know Christ, that's how we get to know our Savior and be in a relationship with him because we're living his principles. It's his doctrine.
MJ: Yeah. Perri, would you add anything to that?
Perri: I just wanted to touch on something Rory said, just about following the promptings, be aware, be open to people. When going through this process, an individual tends to withdraw and turn inward. And sometimes they need that call, they need your testimony, they need your strength. Inside, they've made that decision that they want to change but they, they just need a little push, they need support. So being kind, being loving, and being understanding to a situation like this can definitely help the outcome of this individual, this person, who we refer to as brother or sister, we need to treat them that way. And just like in the New Testament, they asked Christ what the greatest commandment is and he says love God, and then love your neighbor. And that's going to make all the difference for everyone. We came down here together, and we need to leave here together. And it's our responsibility to take care of one another.
MJ: I think that's spot on. How has this process brought you both closer to our Heavenly Father and our Savior? And what have you learned about them, and their love for you through this experience?
Rory: I see God as more of a paternal figure than I've ever seen Him before. He's really my father in heaven. There are moments when I've felt alone and in despair and when I pray, there are things that come up that that He witnesses to me that He loves me. Relying on the doctrine of Christ, and getting to know and exercise the atonement in my life, having it applied to my life in this capacity. I mean, excommunication is the repentance process, right? And it's a way for us— it's the mercy. I always viewed excommunication as the justice, right? That, "Oh, that guy got what he deserved, because he got excommunicated, because he did something wrong." But there's more. And that's God, right? God is a God of laws, a God of justice, He can't deny his own laws. And so he gave us a savior and the exercise of mercy. And now, because I've experienced it, excommunication is not justice, excommunication is mercy. Relieving me of my covenants that I made with him, wiping the slate, literally wiping the slate clean, so that I can start fresh with new principles to lean on. It's different for everyone, but that's how I came to understand God and Savior and seeing justice and mercy and having it applied into my life.
MJ: Thank you so much. That's—I've never thought of it that way. Perri, anything that you would add?
Perri: From my experience, I've never been closer to God than I have in the last month. It's interesting to think your whole life, whether you grow up in the church, or when you're baptized into it, you have that, it's there, you're part of His church. And I think I took that for granted. And now, I have to choose to be close to Him, which I feel strengthens my connection and my relationship with our Heavenly Father because he always answers prayers. He's always aware and he lets me know. And I have just an increase of gratitude towards Him for that.
MJ: Why is it that you think excommunication could cause someone to not come back to the church?
Rory: So we all experience life differently, right? I feel like we're all on the same path, but we trip over different rocks. And I think it depends on you know, what, what kind of sin that they were involved with. Was it apostasy against doctrine? Was it sexual sins? Was it stealing from the church? Was it abusing authority? What led to that position, what was the frequency, what was the duration, the severity of it? And then what was their experience in the disciplinary council. For me, I absolutely knew nobody in my disciplinary counsel, because we had just moved to another state. Where you might have other people that knew the people in that room, every one of them because they're in a smaller congregation. Maybe they worked with them, maybe they had callings with them. And so you have to factor in so many emotions, embarrassment, fear, regret, how public was it? I think of Robert C. Oakes, he spoke to members, LDS service members and he related his combat experience, which was I think, like, upwards of 40 years of Air Force experience, a lot of it was combat experience. And he stops for a minute, and he says, "Let me be clear, my combat experience does not make me an expert on your combat experience." And I think that's where empathy comes in, is that even though I'm excommunicated, I don't have all the answers for Perri. I don't have all the answers for somebody coming behind me. But I can share my experience and say I can relate a little bit. But I don't know what it's like to go into a room of people I know, and having to have them hear the things that I did in detail. I can't imagine the, you know, the embarrassment was awful enough in that moment, but with people that you grew up with, it's just it's different for everybody. People have been hurt in this church. I think that goes for any church, but we can't dismiss those feelings at all. They're very real feelings.
MJ: Yeah. Perri, anything to add to that?
Perri: Yeah, I think, I think just like he said like Rory said, everyone's going to have a different experience with this process. I can see where some would allow all the negative emotions that you do feel to take over and I guess, push them further away from the church-going in a different direction. And just have it overwhelm them to where they don't feel God's presence in this. And I think, I think that's when we need to be more sensitive is, is to those who are struggling with that, who may not know where to turn, or feel like they can't turn to someone. And I think, more often than not, someone who's taken the steps and made the choice to proceed with something like this, they have the faith that they can get back. But they need the help to get there. And it's hard, it's hard to ask for help. I won't ever ask anyone for help, I'm stubborn. But there's, I mean, just imagine someone in that position, just if they've taken the steps necessary to be vulnerable, to open themselves up to multiple people who they don't know, or they do know. They've suffered embarrassment, fear and then to get the worst possible outcome, in their minds, to have that happen to them. That without support, they're not gonna, they're not gonna make it.
MJ: So, gentlemen, first of all, thank you so, so much for being willing to share something that I know, is very, very, very personal. And I really believe and hope that this episode will help others who maybe are going through the same process or who love someone and care about someone also going through this. At the end of this podcast, we always ask a question. And this question is interesting to me, because it's not, I don't think it's exclusive to those in our church, we actually had someone on the podcast previously that's not a member of our church, and she answered the question just as well as anybody else, because it relates to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so the question is, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? And I want to give each of you an answer, or a chance to answer that as we wrap up.
Rory: I think what it means to be all in is to, I can't remember if it was, I think it was Lamoni's father, the Lamanite King, that he was willing to give up all his sins to know God. It's the repentance process, it's the doctrine of Christ, it's the willingness to say, "I want to change and I need to change and I can't change without the help from Christ." And it's willing to give up things that we may be often identify with, just to know Christ. I think that's what it means. I can't remember which proverb but it says, "Commit thy works unto the Lord and the thoughts shall be established." That we have an opportunity to give a part of ourselves away so that we can make room for Christ in our lives. It's His doctrine, it's His gospel, if we want to know Him, we have to sacrifice part of ourselves to do that.
MJ: Thank you, Perri?
Perri: For me, being all in is just being true to what you know is true. Whatever values you have, stick to them. And the areas you lack in, continue to develop and grow in them, and then commit to them and live them. I think— there's this idea that we need to be perfect when perfection is not attained here. But as we gradually increase our faith and testimonies in principles and the gospel of Jesus Christ in, in the operations of how things are run in our church. That gives us more things we can commit our lives to as we gain those testimonies of those things, or increase that knowledge that we have. Being all in means our will is the only thing that our Father in heaven has no control over. And it's that giving of self that reflects your true intent, your true faith, and how much you love God.
MJ: Well, thank you both so much. I really cannot even express how much I appreciate this. And I wish you both all the best and I think that our heavenly father does as well. So thank you.
Perri: Thanks, Morgan.
Rory: Thank you for the opportunity.
MJ: We cannot thank Rory and Perri enough for their vulnerability in speaking about this topic in hopes of helping others. You can learn more about Rory at his blog, allthesethings.blog and Perri's blog can be found at neveralone.blog. As always, if you found this episode to be helpful, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes. Thanks so much for listening.