Last week a podcaster and blogger named Bill Reel was tried by his Stake President for apostasy, and yesterday was given the sentence of excommunication.

The primary cause for the trial was a recent podcast in which Bill pointed out (emphasis on pointed) that Elder Holland had made a number of untrue statements in speeches and interviews. Bill included links and references to Elder Holland’s specific statements and to facts appearing to show that Elder Holland’s statements were false.

Bill’s trial was not about whether he was correct or incorrect about Elder Holland’s dishonesty, or about any of Bill’s other views about the Church. In fact, the question of Bill’s correctness or integrity was totally irrelevant. From the transcript of the Council (retrieved here on 12.03.18):

Bill Reel: Which particular thing am I being excommunicated for? Like, let’s get one specific thing and say “You can not say THIS”

Stake President: You can not call anybody a liar … I don’t think you can call anyone a liar ? …. Apostles …. We hold. Somebody in the position of an apostle or a prophet who we know holds keys

(1:22:33) Bill Reel:: Even if they lied?

Stake President: Even if they lied.

Bill Reel: I’m glad. That’s beautiful.

Bill Reel: You guys see that, right. If an apostle lies and a member shines a light on it. And that apostle is unwilling to acknowledge that he lied, then it is the member who shines the light on it that gets excommunicated. That is a lack of integrity in this system. There is no valid recourse for those people to get their questions answered

Like the Council, I will pretend it does not matter whether Bill was right or wrong about Elder Holland’s dishonesty, and instead briefly examine the policy established by this court at the direction of the General leadership of the Church. The following are some principles against which we can measure this action.

Respecters of persons

The scriptures are emphatic that one of the fundamental qualities that makes God worth worshiping is that “he is no respecter of persons” (Lectures on Faith 3:23). He grants the same blessing to whomever obeys the laws on which the blessing is predicated, and withholds from those who choose not to obey the law (D&C 130:20-21). The scriptures are also adamant that if we are to be saved with Jesus we must be exactly as he is and no different (Lectures on Faith 7:9; Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48). That means that following Jesus requires us to be “no respecter of persons” as well. We must treat all people by the same rules. If we create separate classes of people who are exempt from rules, or who can impose eternal punishment when true accusations are made, then we are “respecters of persons”. This is our natural inclination, as I have said before, and until we repent of it we remain unlike God and therefore barred from salvation. When we crystallize and implement a Church-wide policy that we must be “respecters of persons,” then we force the whole Church to be unlike Christ as a matter of policy. This seems unwise.

If someone in my ward accused me of speaking falsehoods with ample facts and evidence, would there be any Church discipline? If they were wrong I have the freedom to set the record straight. If people felt the need to stick up for me then they could set the record straight. If they were right and there were no facts available to correct them, then maybe I would owe a public apology. Nobody in their right mind would expect my accuser to be excommunicated. So it should be for all members of the Church.

Covering our sins, seeking the honors of men

D&C 121 explains that of those who are called to offices in Church leadership, very few are “chosen” by God and given an enduring ordination to Priesthood. Instead, most leaders “aspire to the honors of men” and set their hearts “upon the things of this world”. When they are placed in leadership positions, people with this orientation “undertake to cover [their] sins, gratify [their] pride, [their] vain ambition, [and] exercise dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men.” Thus God, Christ, angels, and, finally, the Spirit of God itself withdraw their fellowship and this man is deprived of any priesthood. He usually remains in his high office in the Church, but is “left to himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.” It is very important that those who are in leadership positions do not attempt to “cover their sins”, nor force their underlings in middle management to “cover their sins” for them. When they do so, they renounce any “priesthood” they may have claimed before. Their speeches may be as rousing and convincing as ever, their zeal unwavering, but if heaven ever spoke through them it will no longer. His constituency may notice no change (as “almost all men” share his nature, according to Joseph Smith), but heaven has decreed: Amen to the priesthood or authority of that man.

If Bill was wrong about Elder Holland, then surely it would have been easy to point out his error. If Bill was right, then surely it is Elder Holland, not Bill, who was in need of repentance.

Taking the name of Christ in vain

Recently, President Nelson re-emphasized that we are to call the Church by Christ’s name because it is Christ’s Church, led by Him and filled with His power (source, source). He referenced 3 Nephi 27 to show the importance of this principle. In 3 Nephi 27, Jesus teaches his Nephite disciples that because the scriptures command them to take upon themselves the name of Christ, they are supposed to do everything they do in his name. That includes naming their church. He says that “if it be called in my name then it is my church,” with the important caveat that this is true only “if it so be that they are built upon my gospel.” Jesus goes on to explain the consequences for calling ourselves by Christ’s name while failing to build ourselves on his gospel:

10 And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it.

11 But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return.

12 For their works do follow them, for it is because of their works that they are hewn down; therefore remember the things that I have told you

16 And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.

17 And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.

18 And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.

19 And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.

Those who call themselves—or their Church—by the name of Christ but who build on their own works or Satan’s will be hewn down and cast into the fire. They may have joy in their works for a season, thinking they are righteous and sleeping soundly as they punish people who tell the truth, but that joy will end. No unclean thing can enter the kingdom of God, so those who persist in taking Christ’s name in vain, who cover their sins rather than repent of them, and who are respecters of persons, cannot be saved. In case there is any doubt, Christ re emphasizes that God, unlike those who falsely claim to follow him, “lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.”

How pits like these will be filled

This event represents a brazen rejection of Christ and of the sacredness of truth. The perpetrators have cast their lot with those who lie, and those who loveth and maketh a lie (D&C 63:17). They have announced a policy wherein there are people whose lies you cannot point out because the belong to a group “we know holds keys.” Those who are like Christ, in that they are not respecters of persons, are subject to excommunication if they point out dishonesty in powerful people. Excommunication represents, according to Bill Reel’s Stake President, a loss of “any privileges of Church membership.” Bill “may not hold a temple recommend, wear temple garments, pay tithes and offerings, or exercise the priesthood in any way.” In other words, they and those above them who directed their actions have done everything humanly possible to put him to spiritual death (for without the priesthood Bill loses fellowship with God that constitutes salvation: D&C 84:19-24).

They did this despite acknowledging that Bill was, as far as they could tell, speaking the truth with honesty. Bill Reel may or may not be correct about Elder Holland or about any of his other questions about the Church’s doctrine, policy, or history. Personally, I see things differently than Bill does on many points. However, the council acknowledged that the same verdict would apply even if every word Bill spoke was true, to the eternal shame of all responsible.

If there are only two churches, those who punish truth-tellers surely do not belong to Christ’s.

Nephi predicted that there would be people who falsely claim to be Christ’s who would put their neighbor’s in pits, taking advantage of them for their words.

And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin; yea, lie a little, take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbor; there is no harm in this; and do all these things, for tomorrow we die; and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God. (2 Nephi 28:8)

They believe themselves justified by God for doing these things. Nephi explained how members of this Church will be paid for their labor:

And that great pit, which hath been digged for them by that great and abominable church, which was founded by the devil and his children, that he might lead away the souls of men down to hell—yea, that great pit which hath been digged for the destruction of men shall be filled by those who digged it, unto their utter destruction, saith the Lamb of God; not the destruction of the soul, save it be the casting of it into that hell which hath no end. (1 Nephi 14:3)

Those who attempt to inflict spiritual death on their neighbor despite believing he is speaking the truth will, according to Nephi, have to endure the very consequences they attempted to inflict. This is not me issuing this warning, but Nephi and God speaking through him. Every leader and member in the Church, from the bottom to the top, should take note of Nephi’s statements. They are binding on us all (2 Nephi 33:15).