Here are two examples from the Book of Mormon about apostates who are excommunicated:
Q: What was Sherem's crime?
A: He declared that "there should be no Christ" (Jacob 7:2). He flattered the people by telling them their sins were no sin. He attempted to overthrow "the doctrine of Christ." This presumably refers to the doctrine Nephi had preached: faith, repentance, baptism, Holy Ghost, and seeking the face of Christ until you obtain it (see 2 Nephi 32).
Q: How did Jacob know what Sherem taught was false doctrine?
A: Jacob had "many revelations" and he had seen much "concerning these things." He had "seen angels, and they had ministered unto me. And also, I heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me in very word [not feelings], from time to time;" (Jacob 7:5)
Q: What authority did Sherem claim?
A: He said that Jacob and others were not keeping "the law of Moses" and that they had committed blasphemy by, as Nephi taught, following the personal law given them by the Holy Ghost.
Q: Who was Korihor?
A: "But it came to pass in the latter end of the seventeenth year, there came a man into the land of Zarahemla, and he was Anti-Christ, for he began to preach unto the people against the prophecies which had been spoken by the prophets, concerning the coming of Christ." (Alma 30:6)
Q: What were the grounds for his "excommunication"?
A: He preached that there was no Christ, no atonement, that you could do as you please independent of God's law, and he preached contrary to what the scriptures said. He spoke against visions and revelation.
Q: What happened?
A: Korihor asked Alma for a sign, and he was struck dumb and was killed shortly thereafter.
In both cases, the crime of these individuals was to preach that there would be no Christ. They preached against "the doctrine of Christ," which Nephi taught was faith, repentance, baptism, Holy Ghost, and seeking the face of Christ until you obtain it (see 2 Nephi 32).
Note that Sherem said he believed the scriptures. Jacob told him "Then ye do not understand them." Here we have Sherem, who had no interaction with heaven yet was sure in his interpretation of the scripture, and Jacob, whose interpretation differed from Sherem's and was vindicated by the interaction with heaven that Jacob experienced. (How asinine of Sherem to claim that Jacob was wrong, when Jacob was receiving the promised blessings of the scripture in response to how he read it, and Sherem had received nothing. This is like two gardeners arguing over gardening methods. One has a withered, dead plant, the other has a fruitful field. The former has nothing to stand on. God always vindicates true messengers with signs that follow them who believe.
There is another type for excommunication in the scriptures. This is the false type of excommunication, otherwise known as the stoning of the prophets. Many righteous men were subjected to this treatment, so many that Joseph Smith said:
“The world always mistook false prophets for true ones, and those that were sent of God, they considered to be false prophets, and hence they killed, stoned, punished and imprisoned the true prophets, and these had to hide themselves ‘in deserts and dens, and caves of the earth’ [see Hebrews 11:38], and though the most honorable men of the earth, they banished them from their society as vagabonds, whilst they cherished, honored and supported knaves, vagabonds, hypocrites, impostors, and the basest of men.” (History of the Church 4:574)
While the public-facing definition of apostasy given in"True to the Faith" is a match to what we find in the scriptures for excommunication, the definition given in in Handbook 1, the portion of the handbook available to only Bishops or higher leaders, defines apostasy differently:
"As used here, apostasy refers to members who:
1. Repeatedly act in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.
2. Persist in teaching as Church doctrine information that is not Church doctrine after they have been corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.
3. Continue to follow the teachings of apostate sects (such as those that advocate plural marriage) after being corrected by their bishop or a higher authority.
4. Formally join another church and advocate its teachings." (CHI, Book 1, 2010)
Here, agreement with God is supplanted by agreement with the church. However, it is more pernicious in practice. It has been said that official church doctrine is what is written in the standard works. However many LDS practices are contrary to what is written in scripture, and if you practice the scripture rather than the LDS policy, you will be ex'd. It has been said that individuals, even members of the 12, cannot unilaterally dictate doctrine. However, if you disagree with any of the brethren, you will be ex'd.
Now, consider the following examples of the excommunication of righteous individuals, and what side of the issue the church would have taken:
Q: What was the crime of Jesus?
A: He spoke the truth. This infuriated people. "Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?" (John 18:23) "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth." (John 18:37) His purported offenses were found to be groundless in the eyes of Pilate, the civil ruler. His charges and punishment were the result of the religious leadership, who were offended at his citation of scripture, which he used specifically to identify their deviation from God's word.
Q: Did the religious leaders try him according to the law, which he was on trial for breaking?
A: No. According to the law, they needed two corroborating witnesses of the charge. However, they had none. Unable to find them, the high priest, infuriated with Jesus' comments, said, "what further need have we of witnesses?" (Matthew 26:65) The rulers decided that, in trying Jesus for breaking the law, they themselves could break the law, thus committing high hypocrisy (ironically, one of the iniquities Jesus accused them of). Unjust trials always consist of plenty of pious hypocrisy.
Q: What were the things Jesus said that infuriated the leadership so?
A: He called their sacrosanct traditions sin. Examples include their manner of temple worship, which he called robbery, their manner of donating property to the priests, which he called an abomination, he called their Sabbath worship misguided, he put to shame their idea of worthiness. In short, he told them "Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition." (Mark 7:9). He told them they considered the commandments of men from their leaders to be greater than revealed commandments, and were thus wicked.
Those who crucified God were the children of the devil, yet they truly believed they were doing God service. What was the root of their error? They trusted in men (the traditions handed to them from their fathers) rather than in God (personal revelation). "19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God." (John 3:19-21)
The church leaders of Christ's day were the Sanhedrin. They cast him out for blasphemy and had him crucified---the highest ecclesiastical punishment they could render.
Q: What was Abinadi's crime?
A: 1) He followed the Spirit, even when it contradicted King Noah's commands. He spoke the words the Lord commanded him to speak. "Behold, thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me..." (Mosiah 11:20)
2) He quoted scripture which indicated that the people and the leadership had deviated from the word of God.
Q: Why did the leaders put Abinadi on trial? Was it for the welfare of the people, as in the case of Korihor and Sherem?
A: No. Although Noah claimed that Abinadi was trying to "stir up [his] people to anger one with another" (Mosiah 11:28), the real reason was that he was personally offended by his words, and scared that Abinadi's accusations would weaken his authoritarian grip on the people. It was because the leaders sought to cover their sins, gratify their pride and their vain ambition, and exercise control and dominion upon the children of men (see D&C 121:37). He pointed out their wickedness, and the wicked take the truth to be hard. Now, in the defense of Noah and his priests: They were dully appointed. They had authority. Someone with authority laid hands on their heads. Noah knew his father. His whole youth he grew up watching his father be the theocratic king. That was his window of experience. He did not grow up among the Nephites, but among this branch that never knew the Nephites. His lens on religion was fully informed by his father's actions, not his father's experiences. His father had been among the Nephites, but was a deviation from them. Noah and his priests thought they were right. They thought that building towers were important, so they thought the taxes they levied were important. They thought they were chosen and special, and therefore deserved the buildings bought by the people on their behalf. Being the duly appointed spiritual leaders of their people, they overlaid their own lack of spiritual experience into their interpretation of the scripture. "It can't possibly mean what it says, because we are the spiritual leaders and we do not experience these things. Therefore, it means this instead, which fits our experience."
Q: Were the charges against Abinadi justified? Is quoting scripture---even when it implicates leadership---apostasy? Does truth cease to be truth when it implicates leadership?
A: Abinadi did not commit apostasy. Since the leaders had deviated from God's word, it was them who were in apostasy. The leaders' ignorance of their own condemnation did not change the truth of the situation.
Q: What method did Abinadi use?
A: He quoted the very scripture that the priests and King Noah claimed to believe.
Q: Did Abinadi have a different interpretation of the scripture?
A: Clearly. In fact, he exposed the fact that despite their full-time priestcraft, the priests had no idea what the scriptures meant. "Are you priests, and pretend to teach this people, and to understand the spirit of prophesying, and yet desire to know of me what these things mean?" (Mosiah 12:25)
Q: Was Abinadi given a way to avoid punishment?
A: He was. The workaround tells us much about the real reason Noah wanted to punish him. It had nothing to do with the people's welfare at all. "unless thou wilt recall all the words which thou hast spoken evil concerning me and my people." (Mosiah 17:8). Gratify my pride or suffer the full extent of my authority! Abinadi's response is the response of the righteous in every instance: "Now Abinadi said unto him: I say unto you, I will not recall the words which I have spoken unto you concerning this people, for they are true..." (Mosiah 17:9) Abinadi simply says, "what I have said is true, and I will not recant." For Noah, and for all children of the devil, the question is whether or not his words are offensive. For Abinadi, and all servants of God, the question is whether or not what they say is true.
1) Noah, his priests, and his people had no idea they were in apostasy. "I And now, O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?" (Mosiah 12:13). It took a full generation after Noah for the people to realize that they (the older ones) and their fathers (for the youth) had practiced iniquity. "And also that king Noah and his priests had caused the people to commit so many sins and iniquities against God;" (Mosiah 21:30)
2) Noah and his priests thought they were doing God service by casting out (and killing) the messenger he sent to help them realize their error. Remember that the Lord, through Abinadi, explicitly made mention of the "iniquities and abominations" of the leadership (Mosiah 12:7). Yet, they and the people probably saw the fancy buildings and tower and temple as signs they were blessed from God. They probably saw these "iniquities and abominations" as progress. This is the danger of trusting in the arm of the flesh instead of God's word.
We could also add Stephen, Paul, Jeremiah, Zacharias, Isaiah, and many others who were cast out by the religious powers of their day.
The LDS church not only targets modern day Abinadi's, but has an apostle-led committee called the Strengthening the Members committee comprised of full-time employees who spend their days combing the internet, books, and newspapers for those who dare to challenge the brethren or "church doctrine." They submit files on targets to the individual's stake presidents. Their victims have included:
- D. Michael Quinn, emminent mormon historian, for writing "Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power," a footnote-filled book that, at its time and still arguably today is the best resource for mormon history.
- Denver Snuffer, a blogger who writes about the reality of a living Christ and how to get to know him, for writing a book quoting church leaders suggesting an alternate view of the Nauvoo settlement and related claims of the church.