Unlike other churches, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not drop peoples' membership due to inactivity. Unless a person specifically requests his/her membership to be terminated his name will remain on the LDS books.
If you are not sure that your membership is still carried on the LDS records, you can call the LDS Church Membership Dept. at (801) 240-3500 and ask them to check on it.
The following are suggestions for writing a letter to the LDS Church to terminate your membership.
A letter should be sent to the Bishop of the Ward that has your current membership records. Be sure to keep a copy of your letter in your files. The letter should be in your own words but start with something like:
This is to inform you that as of (give date) I have terminated my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
You can then list your reasons for leaving, if you wish. This is a good opportunity to share with them your faith in God, not man. (Many Bishops have never had a person leave the church on the basis of it not being true.) View this as a chance to plant some seeds.
However, you are not required to give them any reason for your action.
Keep in mind, they do not have the right to retain your name on their membership list after you have informed them that you have resigned. State something to the effect that since you are no longer a member you will not meet with them at their office and you do not want anyone to visit you on the matter. You do NOT have to attend their court or meet with them unless you so desire. By attending you might be giving the impression that you accept their priesthood authority to call you into a meeting. If you want to meet with one of them, as a friend, to explain your reasons for leaving, invite him over to your house or to some neutral location.
If you have baptized children, you should include their names in your letter, stating that their membership is also to be terminated. You might want to have the children sign the letter as well as yourself. Remember, they were old enough to join at eight, they should be old enough to resign now. Also inform them that they are to take you and your family off any calling or visiting list.
It is a good idea to send duplicate copies of your letter to your Bishop, Stake President, President of the LDS Church and the LDS Church Membership Dept. in Salt Lake City.
If you do not know which Ward has your records, you can phone them or send your letter directly to:
Confidential Records Office of the First Presidency
47 East South Temple Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84150-1010
You should include your date and place of birth and the last known Ward to have your records so they can locate your file.
The Church Handbook of Instructions states that the Bishop is to wait 30 days, in case you change your mind, before finalizing this action. Specify that you waive the 30 day waiting period and you want a letter confirming that your membership was terminated AT YOUR REQUEST. Inform him that the word "EXCOMMUNICATION" is not to be used in his letter to you or on the records. ("Excommunication" implies your membership was terminated due to some immoral act.)
If you do not hear from the Bishop after 30-40 days, write another letter to him insisting he take this action as you instructed, otherwise, you may be forced to seek legal action. You might also threaten that you will start a writing campaign to the newspapers to inform them of the church's control and unfairness in this action.
Remember, you are not requesting a favor from them. You have the right to terminate your membership whenever you choose. You are quitting, they did not "fire" you.
For further information on resigning your membership, see—
Ludlow, Daniel H., ed. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1992, Vol.1,
To aid the spiritual development of its members, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has developed a system of counseling, rehabilitation, and, where needed, disciplinary action.
Members are accountable to the Lord for the way they conduct their lives, and personal worthiness is requisite for enjoying the full blessings of Church membership. The judge of such worthiness is in most cases the bishop of the ward, who is appointed "to be a judge in Israel" (D&C 107:72) and is "to judge his people by the testimony of the just, and by the assistance of his counselors, according to the laws of the kingdom which are given by the prophets of God" (D&C 58:18). General Authorities and stake, mission, district, and branch presidents may, in some circumstances, also exercise judicial responsibilities. The term "bishop" in this article usually refers to any Church officer acting in such a judicial role.
Bishops function as judges and also as counselors when they hear voluntary, private confessions from members. They must also determine a member's worthiness before signing the temple recommend that permits a member to participate in temple ordinances. Moreover, bishops judge worthiness before recommending persons to serve as full-time missionaries, before calling officers or teachers to serve in Church organizations, or before a member enrolls at a Church-owned college or university. Although required standards of worthiness vary somewhat in these different situations, most worthiness interviews focus on conduct-oriented questions concerning personal morality and chastity, payment of tithes, observance of the Word of Wisdom, sustaining local and general Church leadership, obedience to gospel commandments, and general activity in the Church.
Because bishops are primarily concerned with the spiritual development of each member, they have wide discretion to make judgments and to give the counsel most likely to assist the member's spiritual progress and, where needed, the member's repentance. A bishop may simply accept a confession from a repentant person without imposing a penalty, may decide not to extend a proposed call for Church service, or may temporarily withhold other privileges of membership. In the most serious cases, bishops may impose disciplinary sanctions ranging from informal, probationary restrictions to formal proceedings that can result in disfellowshipment or excommunication from the Church.
Church discipline may proceed from any or all of three purposes:
Standard guidelines for conducting disciplinary proceedings are provided to Church officers in the general handbook of instructions. Disciplinary councils are not normally convened to resolve civil disputes among members (see D&C 134:10), nor are they convened simply because a member does not attend Church meetings or is similarly neglectful. Furthermore, members who request to have their names removed from Church membership records for reasons of personal choice unrelated to serious misconduct need not appear before a disciplinary council to have their request honored.
When there has been transgression, bishops must decide each case according to its unique circumstances, including the extent of the member's repentance. Therefore, the Church does not impose rigid requirements on bishops; rather, they are instructed to weigh all relevant factors and to seek spiritual guidance to accomplish the purposes of Church discipline as the individual case requires. When a bishop imposes discipline informally, the proceedings are strictly confidential and no official Church record is made.
Formal proceedings may involve a three-member ward bishopric or a fifteen-member stake presidency and high council. Formal disciplinary councils are typically convened only for such extraordinary behavior as murder or other serious crimes, incest, open and harmful apostasy, and flagrant or highly visible transgressions against the law of chastity. Members for whom a formal disciplinary council is convened are given advance notice of the reasons for the council and an opportunity for a hearing. Although legal procedures do not govern the proceedings, the Church observes basic standards of fairness. The proceedings are officially recorded by written minutes. Both the hearing and the formal record are treated as confidential information, and disciplinary penalties are announced only to those Church officers who have a need to know, except when the offender poses serious risks to uninformed Church members. Those subjected to disciplinary sanctions have a right of appeal.
A formal disciplinary council can result in four possible outcomes:
Disfellowshipment is a temporary suspension of membership privileges. A disfellowshipped person remains a Church member but may not enter Church temples, hold Church callings, exercise the priesthood, partake of the Sacrament, or participate openly in public meetings. An excommunicated person is no longer a member of the Church, and all priesthood ordinances and temple blessings previously received are suspended. Excommunicants may not pay tithing and, if previously endowed in a temple, may not wear temple garments. They may attend Church meetings. Excommunicants may later qualify for rebaptism after lengthy and full repentance and still later may apply for a formal restoration of their original priesthood and temple blessings.
Authorization to reinstate disfellowshipped persons or to rebaptize excommunicated persons must be given by a disciplinary council in the area where the applicant resides. In some cases, clearance by the first presidency is required. The ordinance of restoration of temple blessings may be authorized only by the First Presidency.
The isolation of the Latter-day Saints during the settlement era in the Great Basin gave a broader jurisdiction to Church judicial courts than is presently the case, in part because of the absence of a developed state court system. In addition, Church policy has in recent years given greater protection to the confidentiality of disciplinary decisions. For example, until the 1970s, decisions of excommunication and disfellowshipment were announced openly in ward Melchizedek Priesthood meetings, although the nature of the transgression was usually not announced.
Because the fundamental purpose of Church discipline has always been to save souls rather than only to punish, formal disciplinary councils are considered "courts of love," marking the first step back to full harmony with the Lord and his Church, rather than the last step on the way out of the Church.
Ballard, M. Russell. "A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings." Ensign 20 (Sept. 1990):12-19.
"The Church Judicial System." In Seek to Obtain My Word: Melchizedek Priesthood Personal Study Guide 1989, pp. 29-36. Salt Lake City, 1988.
Firmage, Edwin Brown, and Richard Collin Mangrum. Zion in the Courts: A Legal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900. Urbana, Ill., 1988.
Kimball, Spencer W. "The Church Will Forgive." The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 323-37. Salt Lake City, 1969.
Moss, James R. "The Historical Development of the Church Court System." Church History Symposium Paper, 1977. Abstract published in First Annual Church Educational System Religious Educators Symposium, pp. 75-77. Salt Lake City, 1977.
Preston, James J. "Expulsion." ER 5:233-36.
Simpson, Robert L. "Courts of Love." Ensign 2 (July 1972):48-49.
BRUCE C. HAFEN