President Kimball on disciplinary councils

President Spencer W. Kimball, counseling priesthood leaders, said:

“We are concerned that too many times the interviewing leader in his personal sympathies for the transgressor, and in his love perhaps for the family of the transgressor, is inclined to waive the discipline which that transgressor demands.


“Too often a transgressor is forgiven and all penalties waived when that person should have been disfellowshipped or excommunicated. Too often a sinner is disfellowshipped when he or she should have been excommunicated. …


“Do you remember what was said by the prophet Alma? ‘Now,’ he said, ‘repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment.’ [Alma 42:16.]


“Ponder on that for a moment. Have you realized that? There can be no forgiveness without real and total repentance, and there can be no repentance without punishment. This is as eternal as is the soul. …


“Please remember these things when somebody comes before you who has broken the laws of God.


“It is so easy to let our sympathies carry us out of proportion; and when a man has committed sin, he must suffer. It’s an absolute requirement—not by the bishop—but it’s a requirement by nature and by the very part of a man.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1975, p. 116; or Ensign, May 1975, p. 78.)


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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

18 thoughts on “President Kimball on disciplinary councils

  1. This was the culture in 1975 with Priesthood Leaders . I believe that the perspective and emphasis today is to save the transgressor and is more compassionate . Today I believe leaders would work with individuals and have them prayerfully read and study “The Infinite Atonement” by Tad Callister in their journey of repentance. In the 70’s and early 80’s it would have been “The Miracle of Forgiveness”. I think this is an example of where we are and should be today .

  2. I agree with DGC. If we look at te scriptures themselves, the tone is very harsh, with “gloom and doom” promised promissed to the unrepentant. Today, this generation is guided by prophets and apostles that know how to best reach the people, and that includes a more loving approach than in years past. We thank God for a prophet who guides and leads in our days.

    Having scriptures clearly state the negatives and positives and leaders today emphasize the positives helps the individual member to study on his own, internalize the errors of his way in his own words as he studies the scriptures, while at the same time being hopeful for the future, knowing that the trangressions are repentable.

  3. “It’s an absolute requirement—not by the bishop—but it’s a requirement by nature and by the very part of a man.”

    If taken literally, this would suggest that the suffering is going to happen whether the bishop/church impose discipline or not, so it then becomes not an absolute question of what punishment is just, but a prudential question of what course is most likely to repair the damage and bring the transgressor to repentance. And that’s really how the current handbook treats it.

  4. The most relevant teachings of the prophets is the most recent teachings of the prophets. The most recent tone on this issue has been different and more “tolerant” than during Pres. Kimball’s time.

    My .02.

  5. I read this less as a call to be more harsh in discipline and more as a call to be more impartial. Some complain of leadership roulette, and I don’t doubt that those closer to.a bishop or SP are more likely to be treated generously. That’s an issue, if it happens.

  6. One of the challenges of having an all-male leadership is that men socialize with men and are therefore relatively sympathetic to one half of the population.

    That can work both ways. When a wrong is discovered (as when a young man broke into a local bishop’s house and abused the bishop’s teenage daughter), there could be either a tendency to be lenient or more harsh because the perpetrator is known.

    Having recently read Toxic Parents, I perceive a parallel in the minds of some that the Church of yore was like the verbally abusive parent who could never stop bringing up the imperfections and errors of the past. This is part of why I delight in discovering Nauvoo’s history, because there I find ample evidence that the founding prophet of our dispensation was a good and forgiving man. If anything, he was too forgiving. Emma was like the other half of that soul, being more inclined to be cautious and cognizant of wrongs committed.

    There are congregations that are still steeped in the guilt-mongering of a former time. But there are also congregations that have become so permissive that “opposition in all things” has been relegated to behavior only becoming when condemning a parent that actually teaches children to be good.

  7. I think disciplinary councils have become more compassionate towards those who are repentant and have made full confession. The presence of Temple covenants, position of leadership, extent of knowledge of the transgression are factors for sure. The Church seems to make the case that excommunications are rare.

    President Kimball had a rather harsh viewpoint on repentance for which I will justify as he interviewed thousands of harsh cases. Having seen the worst of it, I can understand his tendency for austerity (his interpretation of the prodigal son parable is much different from Elder Holland’s, case in point). That being said, I’m grateful for current light and knowledge. A disciplinary council is looked at more as a council of spiritual surgeons versus an all male jury.

  8. I wonder if Kimball is as harsh as we sometimes like to believe. He certainly emphasizes throughout his work the prominence of church discipline, but he’s also the prophet through whom the word came that the priesthood was opened to all worthy males. If we view the concept of justice as unduly harsh, I suspect that’s more our problem than Kimball’s.

  9. I’m with Geoff, in what he has previously written about church courts, especially at the stake level. Stake presidents I’ve known are awesome men, who walk closely with the Spirit. Their counselors have been pretty amazing too.

    The Lord knows how to make His will known. So when His servants seek it, and are entitled to it, they get it.

    If all three members of a stake presidency are in accord as to what the will of the Lord is on a matter (any matter), I can’t think of a reason to appeal it. Even more so if the high council concurs.

    In matters of bishops’ courts, I can see Meg’s point about being “too close to the situation” and someone might wish to appeal to the stake presidency.

    Is there anything in the church handbook about bishops recusing themselves in matters they are close too, and kick it up to the SP ?

  10. Without some understanding of the statistics that may have influenced this instruction I don’t think we can aver that the position of the leaders is any different today than in Pres. Kimball’s day. Perhaps the 60’s and 70’s created an attitude of letting things slide to try to keep people in. I don’t know and so perhaps a correction was necessary. We certainly had a “love them into the church” wave in missionary work that eschewed establishing a pattern of obedience and commitment, and paid dearly for it in some countries. I understand that “Miracle of Forgiveness” is disfavored today. I have never read “Infinite Atonement” but I have pondered long on Alma 34 and other BoM scriptures that address the topic. I struggle with the undercurrent here that leaders today are more enlightened than their predecessors. Perhaps that is a topic for another post.
    Is Pres. Kimball wrong in saying that the spiritual punishment is real and in equal measure to the sin? If he is not wrong, then a temporal “punishment” that allows a person to hide the effects of that sin from society may do more harm than good in helping that person recover. If the person taking part in the priesthood ordinances does not feel to sing again the song of redeeming love because the spiritual damage has not been addressed with proper healing then we have done a great disservice by not proscribing participation through appropriate “punishment.” My .02!

  11. Could someone define “punishment” as it relates to disciplinary measures? To me, 3 Nephi 18:28-29 and Mosiah 26:19-32 is what comes to my mind. In these verses, the “punishment” is not partaking unworthily of the sacrament and having their names blotted out in case of non-repentance. It also emphasizes that forgiveness should be given as often as it is asked.

  12. I’m not seeing in Alma 42 where a church has to mete out a punishment:

    22 But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.

    The punishment is what happens if repentance and mercy don’t happen

  13. Just for clarification, there’s nothing wrong with harshness (2 Nephi 33:5).. President Kimball presided in the wake of the sex revolution of the 1960s. Nor do I submit that today’s brethren are more enlightened than their predecessors. They do as they’re inspired to do as always.

  14. Interesting conversation thus far. I suppose I can offer my own .02.

    I will say this, as I’ve gotten older, my perspectives have changed immensely. I am much more understanding of human weakness than I was when I left for my mission at age 19 in 1996.

    The last time I tried reading “The Miracle of Forgiveness” I just couldn’t work my way through it. I love and respect and revere Spencer W. Kimball, but TMOF needs to be permanently retired. Even he admitted in his later years that he was a bit too harsh in the book.

    I suspect that there is a reason why we are emphasizing grace, mercy, and atonement so much these days. It’s because it’s sorely needed. Sorely. By all of us frail and weak mortals.

    This is not to suggest that we should embrace what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” I believe that true repentance involves quite a bit of pain and suffering. And we are under an obligation to make changes in our lives, eliminating and dropping those aspects that conflict with truth and heavenly principles. But we need to stop with the sado-masochism that I’ve seen way too much in the lives of too many of us. The Lord doesn’t want us to suffer more than is needful.

    Probably my favorite quotation ever, from J. Reuben Clark: “I believe that his [God’s] juridical concept of his dealings with his children could be expressed in this way: I believe that in his justice and mercy, he will give us the maximum reward for our acts, give us all that he can give, and in the reverse, I believe that he will impose upon us the minimum penalty which it is possible for him to impose.”

  15. From the other side of the peanut gallery. A good friend of mine was excommunicated for a very serious sin. He’s often said that excommunication was the only thing that woke him up to the seriousness of what he was doing. He immediately began the process of repentance and was re-baptized a few years later. I had the opportunity to attend his temple sealing. It was the most spiritual experience I’ve had in the temple to watch the fruits of true repentance.

  16. Having served as Bishop or branch president for an aggregate of about 10 years, and on High Councils, going back about 25 years, I have seen nothing but compassion. Those few who were excommunicated found that they could better understand the seriousness of what they had done. Similarly for those disfellowshipped or put on probation. The extreme joy that comes from a council to restore blessings is really quite indescribable. That doesn’t mean that the meetings, the counseling sessions, the agonizing prayer and the preparations to reach either of those steps (to rend or to mend) is easy or pleasant. Only once was there anger and “gnashing of teeth” at the end of such a council.

    I learned a lot about the blessing of a disciplinary council fairly early on. A young woman came in to pour her heart out, and confess of various indiscretions. Nothing really would have normally required a disciplinary council, but these actions weighed heavily on her soul. We met weekly for some time, but she would not be consoled. I prayed, and counseled with the Stake President, and pondered and prayed some more about how to help her. I felt prompted to hold a disciplinary council. I shared this with my councilors. We held the council in the usual manner. We all agreed that no further action was needed. When we brought the dear sister in to share our combined impressions, she wept with joy, and was able to get on with her life. The anguish of preparing, and the results, were such a blessing to her. I will always cherish what I learned from that situation.

  17. Having grown up in the ’70’s and ’80’s, I feel I was taught that repentance was about being punished and making up for our sins. Being older and hopefully wiser, I have come to understand that repentance is much less about making up for our sins and much more about becoming better people.
    I think this is why disciplinary councils are so individual and private. What one person may need to effect change- even for a similar sin- may be different from person to person.
    I know I have heard my husband say he has had experiences as bishop where someone was finally disfellowshopped and it took that to change the person’s heart and behavior.
    I have also recently read stories of individuals who felt it a blessing to be excommunicated because they felt they couldn’t live up to their covenants at that time, but were grateful for their journey in returning to their blessings. Sounds like it helped them understand and appreciate those covenants more.
    Perhaps I am behind many in the church, but this paradigm change of repentance as a “becoming” or “change of heart” has really been a beautiful blessing in my life and resonates more with who I believe my Savior to be.

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