Kirby: Mormon women leaders rarely excommunicated in early church

By Robert Kirby

Tribune Columnist

Published: June 27, 2014 07:40AM
Updated: June 27, 2014 10:07PM

It used to be possible to get excommunicated from the LDS church for just about anything, like going to California.

It’s true. When the original Mormon pioneers made the trek to Utah, not all of them were impressed with what they found upon cresting the pass and seeing Zion for the first time.

Family legend says my great-great-grandfather Korihor Kirby was deeply disappointed.

“Are you #$@! me? I walked a thousand miles and my third wife had a baby behind a rock for THIS? Oh, hell no. We’re going someplace nice.”

Because Brigham Young reportedly excommunicated anyone who didn’t get church permission to keep moving, Grandpa Korihor’s wives talked him into remaining.

It was also possible back then to get excommunicated for stealing, fornicating, robbing, adultery, lying, fighting, cheating, having unauthorized visions or even just generally being a pain in the ass.

Note: You could also get killed (blood atoned) for some of those as well, but that’s a whole other column.

When I was younger, being “exed” was the worst thing that could happen to a person, worse even than having your legs bitten off by a bear.

Excommunication meant that God withdrew his spirit and a person was left defenseless against the buffetings of Satan. And presumably bears.

Back then excommunications were publicly announced from the pulpit during church. The bishop would get up and deliver the solemn news.

“Elder Ronnie Rogers has been excommunicated and sent home from his mission to Fiji. He’s right there on the back row. Hold up your hand, Ronnie. That’s a good fellow. Now put it down.”

Over the years, the ultimate sanction became less automatic. Maybe somebody figured out that the people who got kicked out rarely bothered to come back.

Excommunication doesn’t just happen to the little people. Eight of the original LDS Apostles handpicked by Joseph Smith got the boot. A couple more were suspended (disfellowshipped). Some came back but others didn’t.

Another note: Two other original apostles also got killed, but not by fellow Mormons.

I had to look up those numbers in the LDS Church’s own 2013 Almanac, a book with a photo of missionaries on the front cover. Male missionaries. You have to look really hard to find what might be a woman way in the back.

The almanac isn’t shy about reporting who got excommunicated back in the early days, including Joseph Smith’s younger brother Bill, who was suspended from the quorum twice before finally getting drop kicked for good.

Flipping through the pages I started counting how many early apostles, members of the Quorum of the Seventy, counselors, presiding bishops, etc. who got the chop (full or partial). I grew bored and stopped after 25. That’s when I noticed something interesting.

In the section following the lists of apostles and counselors are similar lists of general Relief Society presidencies, Primary Association leaders, and Mutual Improvement Association bosses. All of them women.

Know how many of these women leaders are listed as exed, dissed or suspended throughout our history? Hint: The same number of women on the front cover of the almanac. Bigger hint: none.

I don’t what that means if anything. It could mean that men do a worse job of behaving ourselves when it comes to church stuff. Or it could mean that with greater responsibility comes greater risk.

On the other hand, it could also mean that by letting women handle things a bit more prominently we might not have so many excommunication courts.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.