20 September 2013

Tangling with semantics.

A blogger I respect, who has done a lot to bring my family closer to Christ, has been excommunicated from the LDS church.

That, in itself, doesn't bother me much. The church is made of men, and men make mistakes. All the time. The thing that I'll admit bugs me is that they're using the wrong word to describe his excommunicable actions. They call it "apostasy", when what they cite in his letter is heresy.

From the letter:

"The council's conclusion was that several of the claims that you make in Passing the Heavenly Gift constitute clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church and its leaders. Consequently, the council determined that you should be excommunicated from the Church for apostasy."

That makes about as much sense, semantically, as saying that a man was convicted of arson for building a campfire, and teaching others to do so.

To help elucidate, I offer some definitions:

Apostasy (/əˈpɒstəsi/; Greek: ἀποστασία (apostasia), 'a defection or revolt') is the formaldisaffiliation from or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. One who commits apostasy (or who apostatises) is known as an apostate.
1. renunciation of a religious faith
Wikipedia has an page on Apostasy in Christianity, which is even more specific:
Apostasy in Christianity refers to the rejection of Christianity by someone who formerly was a Christian. The term apostasy comes from the Greek word apostasia ("ἀποστασία") meaning defection, departure, revolt or rebellion. It has been described as "a willful falling away from, or rebellion against, Christianity. Apostasy is the rejection of Christ by one who has been a Christian...."[2] "Apostasy is a theological category describing those who have voluntarily and consciously abandoned their faith in the God of the covenant, who manifests himself most completely in Jesus Christ."[3]"Apostasy is the antonym of conversion; it is deconversion."[1]
I could go on . . . there are hundreds of sources for the definition of apostasy available.  I will share one more, though, that makes this all more difficult. The church itself defines apostasy in this same way: 
"When individuals or groups of people turn away from the principles of the gospel, they are in a state of apostasy."
What the letter describes might generally be called a case of heresy:
Heresy is any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs.[1] Heresy is distinct from both apostasy, which is the explicit renunciation of one's religion, principles or cause,[2] and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion.[3]
Heresy is usually used to discuss violations of religious or traditional laws or legal codes, although it is used by some political extremists to refer to their opponents. It carries the connotation of behaviors or beliefs likely to undermine accepted morality and cause tangible evils, damnation, or other punishment.
But even then, it's kind of a loose fit.  The main points of contention, to my understanding, are that Passing the Heavenly Gift does not match the simplified history that the church has published, and includes inconvenient details such as mistakes and sins of past leaders.  But outside of that, this man loves the restored gospel, and hasn't ever abandoned anything, or stood in opposition to any doctrines or renounced the restoration.  Much to the contrary.

The disconnect astounds me.