Section 102

DC 102 Historical Background

Joseph Smith

December 26, [1833].-James Blanchard and Alonzo Rider were cut off from the Church by a council of Elders, in Kirtland, for repeated transgressions, and promising to reform, and never fulfilling. Nelson Acre was also cut off, on account of his absenting himself from the meetings, and saying that he wanted no more of the Church, and that he desired to be cut off. None of these being present, the council notified them of their expulsion by letters. This evening a Bishop's court was called to investigate the case of Elder Ezekiel Rider, who had said many hard things against Bishop Whitney: that Brother Whitney was not fit for a Bishop; that he treated the brethren who came into the store with disrespect; that he was overbearing, and fain would walk on the necks of the brethren. Brother Story was also in a similar transgression. I rebuked them sharply, and told them that the Church must feel the wrath of God except they repent of their sins and cast away their murmurings and complainings one of another. Elder Rigdon also lectured them on the same principles. Brothers Rider and Story confessed their wrongs, and all forgave one another.

December 27, [1833].-A bishop's court was called to investigate complaints made against Brothers Elliot, Haggart, and Babbitt, and their wives, and Jenkins Salisbury, all of whom were present; but the accusers not being present, the court adjourned sine die (indefinitely). (History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts [Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-1951], 1: 469-470.)

Church disciplinary councils faced issues of conflict, transgression, and apostasy from the earliest days of the Church.  In many instances, judgments of these early councils were more strict than today.  It would seem that in the early days of the Church, the olive tree could not thrive with any wild fruit cumbering its still tender branches. Prunings were necessary and frequent. Elder George A. Smith recounted:

"In June, 1833... the Bishop's Council, and a Council of twelve High Priests, was organized... It was at the same Council that Daniel Copley, a timid young man, who had been ordained a Priest, and required to go and preach the Gospel, was called to an account for not going on his mission. The young man said he was too weak to attempt to preach, and the Council cut him off the Church. I wonder what our missionaries now would think of so rigid a discipline as was given at that time thirty one years ago, under the immediate supervision of the Prophet." (Journal of Discourses, Tuesday, November 15, 1864, 11:8)

Joseph Smith

In ancient days councils were conducted with such strict propriety, that no one was allowed to whisper, be weary, leave the room, or get uneasy in the least, until the voice of the Lord, by revelation, or the voice of the council by the Spirit, was obtained, which has not been observed in this Church to the present time. It was understood in ancient days, that if one man could stay in council, another could; and if the president could spend his time, the members could also; but in our councils, generally, one will be uneasy, another asleep; one praying, another not; one's mind on the business of the council, and another thinking on something else. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected and arranged by Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 69)

DC 102 Introduction

"Latter-day Saints have always regarded their Church court system as the most equitable judicial system in the world. Speaking in a nineteenth-century conference session, Heber C. Kimball said, 'I believe that there never was a more correct organization of a court on earth than our High Councils.'

"The origins of the Church court system antedated the organization of the Church. In the revelation presently known as Doctrine and Covenants section 20, teachers of the Church were instructed in a judicial role. Less than one year later, an elders' hearing with a bishop present was added. By August of that year, bishops were designated as judges in Israel. At Kirtland, Ohio, on February 13, 1833, a council of high priests met to investigate charges against Burr Riggs. Within two weeks, another council of high priests had excommunicated Riggs from the Church. In May 1833, the First Presidency acted in the capacity of a court of review or appeals court. In the next month, judicial activities were engaged in by a council of high priests, the First Presidency, and a council of elders. The first formal bishop's court was organized in December 1833.

"With all of these developments as background, the first high council was organized February 17, 1834, superseding the council of high priests as a court." (Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record: Minutes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1844 [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 239)

M. Russell Ballard

The word council brings to mind a helpful proceeding-one of love and concern, with the salvation and blessing of the transgressor being the foremost consideration.

Members sometimes ask why Church disciplinary councils are held. The purpose is threefold: to save the soul of the transgressor, to protect the innocent, and to safeguard the Church's purity, integrity, and good name.

The First Presidency has instructed that disciplinary councils must be held in cases of murder, incest, or apostasy. A disciplinary council must also be held when a prominent Church leader commits a serious transgression, when the transgressor is a predator who may be a threat to other persons, when the person shows a pattern of repeated serious transgressions, when a serious transgression is widely known, and when the transgressor is guilty of serious deceptive practices and false representations or other terms of fraud or dishonesty in business transactions.

Disciplinary councils may also be convened to consider a member's standing in the Church following serious transgression such as abortion, transsexual operation, attempted murder, rape, forcible sexual abuse, intentionally inflicting serious physical injuries on others, adultery, fornication, homosexual relations, child abuse (sexual or physical), spouse abuse, deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, robbery, burglary, embezzlement, theft, sale of illegal drugs, fraud, perjury, or false swearing.

Disciplinary councils are not called to try civil or criminal cases. The decision of a civil court may help determine whether a Church disciplinary council should be convened. However, a civil court's decision does not dictate the decision of a disciplinary council.

Disciplinary councils are not held for such things as failure to pay tithing, to obey the Word of Wisdom, to attend church, or to receive home teachers. They are not held because of business failure or nonpayment of debts. They are not designed to settle disputes among members. Nor are they held for members who demand that their names be removed from Church records or who have joined another church; that is now an administrative action. ("A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings," Ensign, Sept. 1990, 15)

DC 102:2 the high council was appointed by revelation for the purpose of settling important difficulties which might arise

John Taylor

[The] High Councils were organized for the adjustment of all matters of difficulty, for the correction of incorrect doctrine, for the maintenance of purity and correct principles among the Saints, and for the adjudication of all general matters pertaining to Israel. (Journal of Discourses, April 9th, 1882, 23:49)

DC 102:2 difficulties... which could not be settled by the church or the bishop's council

Bishops may be high priests, but the office of Bishop belongs to the Aaronic Priesthood and as such has no authority over the Melchizedek.  Because of this, a Bishop's council may not excommunicate a holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood.  Even in the early days of the church prior to the institution of the high council, Melchizedek priesthood holders were cut off by a council of elders or high priests-not the Bishop.  If excommunication of a Melchizedek priesthood holder is possible, usually the council is held at the stake level.  The stake president is the president of the high priest quorum for the stake and has authority over Melchizedek priesthood holders.

"The bishop administers most Church discipline.  He has authority for the discipline of all members in his ward, except the excommunication of a member who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood.

"The bishop must confer with the stake president and obtain his approval before convening a disciplinary council.  If evidence indicates that a Melchizedek priesthood holder is likely to be excommunicated, the bishop immediately transfers the matter to the stake president." (Church Handbook of Instructions, 1998, Book 1, 92)

DC 102:3 Joseph Smith, Jun., Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams were acknowledged presidents

"The organization of the first stake, the Kirtland Stake, is assumed to have been simultaneous with the organization of the first high council. On February 18, 1834, Joseph Smith and his two counselors in the First Presidency, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, were set apart to preside over the high council, which meant that they also were to preside over the stake. The establishment of a stake had long been expected, for the term stake had been used in revelations beginning in 1831. In 1832, the Lord said that Zion's 'stakes must be strengthened' and 'I have consecrated the land of Kirtland . . . for a stake to Zion.' (D&C 82:13-14.) In 1833, the Lord referred to the Kirtland Stake in two revelations. Since the high council was organized in 1834, the long-awaited stake certainly had come into being by that time." (Karl Ricks Anderson, Joseph Smith's Kirtland [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 149)

B. H. Roberts

The first high council of the church had been organized at Kirtland, of which the presidency of the church were acting as presidents. (A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1930], 1: 369)

DC 102:7, 11 vacancies in the stake presidency and high council

"All three members of the stake presidency and all twelve members of the high council participate in a stake disciplinary council.  If a counselor in the stake presidency is unable to participate, the stake president calls a member of the high council to take the counselor's place.  If a high councilor is unable to participate, the stake president calls a high priest in the stake to take the high councilor's place.  If the stake president is unable to participate, the First Presidency may authorize one of his counselors to preside in his place." (Church Handbook of Instructions, 1998, Book 1, 97)

DC 102:9-11 The president of the church... should preside... and it is his privilege to be assisted by two other presidents

Gordon B. Hinckley

When the President is ill or not able to function fully in all of the duties of his office, his two Counselors together comprise a Quorum of the First Presidency. They carry on with the day-to-day work of the Presidency. In exceptional circumstances, when only one may be able to function, he may act in the authority of the office of the Presidency as set forth in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 102, verses 10-11.

When, on 10 November 1985, President Benson called his two Counselors, it was he himself who was voice in setting them apart, with the members of the Council of the Twelve Apostles also laying their hands upon the heads of the Counselors, each one in turn, as he was set apart. President Benson was at the time in good health, fully able to function in every way.

Furthermore, following this setting apart, he signed with his own hand powers of agency giving each of his Counselors the authority to direct the business of the Church.

Under these specific and plenary delegations of authority, the Counselors in the First Presidency carry on with the regular work of this office. But any major questions of policy, procedures, programs, or doctrine are considered deliberately and prayerfully by the First Presidency and the Twelve together. These two quorums, the Quorum of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, meeting together, with every man having total freedom to express himself, consider every major question.

And now I quote again from the word of the Lord: "And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other" (D&C 107:27).

No decision emanates from the deliberations of the First Presidency and the Twelve without total unanimity among all concerned. At the outset in considering matters, there may be differences of opinion. These are to be expected. These men come from different backgrounds. They are men who think for themselves. But before a final decision is reached, there comes a unanimity of mind and voice. ("God Is at the Helm," Ensign, May 1994, 54)

DC 102:15 the accused, in all cases, has a right to one-half of the council to prevent insult or injustice

B. H. Roberts

Those who draw the even numbers-two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve-are to stand in behalf of the accused; those drawing the odd numbers in behalf of the accuser. In every case the accused has a right to half the council to prevent injury or injustice. The councilors who represent the accused and accuser respectively, do not become partisans bent on winning their case irrespective of its righteousness or justice; on the contrary every man is to speak according to equity and truth; and aside from that is merely to see that each party to the issue involved has justice accorded him, and that he be not subjected to insult or injury. (Outlines of Ecclesiastical History [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1927], 356 - 357)

DC 102:18 In all cases the accuser and the accused shall have a privilege of speaking for themselves before the council

M. Russell Ballard

A disciplinary council begins with an opening prayer, followed by a statement of the reason for the council being convened. The member is asked to tell in simple and general terms about the transgression and to explain his or her feelings and what steps of repentance he or she has taken. The member may respond to clarifying questions from the leaders. Then he or she is excused, and the leaders counsel together, pray, and reach a decision.

The council takes into consideration many factors, such as whether temple or marriage covenants have been violated; whether a position of trust or authority has been abused; the repetition, seriousness, and magnitude of the transgression; the age, maturity, and experience of the transgressor; the interests of innocent victims and innocent family members; the time between transgression and confession; whether or not confession was voluntary; and evidence of repentance.

Those who sit on the council are to keep everything strictly confidential and to handle the matter in a spirit of love. Their objective is not retribution; rather, it is to help the member make the changes necessary to stand clean before God once more. ("A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings," Ensign, Sept. 1990, 15)

DC 102:19-22 the president shall give a decision according to the understanding which he shall have

"Stake disciplinary councils always include the high council... During the presentation of evidence, any member of the high council may ask questions in an orderly, polite manner, avoiding argument with the member or witnesses. Questions are to be brief and limited to the essential facts of the case.

"After all the evidence has been presented, the appointed high councilors present their views of the matter. They are not prosecutors or defenders. They are councilors, responsible to see that the evidence is examined in its true light before the council.  Each is to speak "according to equity and justice" (D&C 102:16) One-half of those appointed to speak are responsible "to stand up in behalf of the accused, and prevent insult and injustice" (DC 102:17).

"The accused member and the accuser (if any) are then given another opportunity to speak, after which they are excused from the council room.

"After hearing any additional comments from the high council, the stake presidency withdraws from the council room to confer in private. After consultation and prayer, the stake president makes the decision and invites his counselors to sustain it.

"The stake presidency then returns and announces the decision to the high council.  The stake president asks the high councilors as a group to sustain his decision.  The high council cannot veto the decision; it is binding even if it is not sustained unanimously.  However, if one or more high councilors object to the decision, the stake president should make every effort to resolve the concerns and achieve unanimity.  He may recall witnesses for further questioning.  If necessary, the disciplinary council may again review the evidence, but not in the presence of the member." (Church Handbook of Instructions, 1998, Book 1, 99-100, emphasis added)

George A. Smith

I believe that there never was a more correct organization of a court on earth than our High Councils, for these men go to work and investigate a case, hear the testimony pro and con, the Councilors for each party litigant present the case, it is submitted to the President who sums up, gives his decision and calls on the Council to sanction it by their vote, and if they are not united, they have to go to work and try the case over again in order that they may ascertain more perfectly the facts in the case and be united in their decision. Why, all the courts in the world are boobies compared to it. It is an organization that shows its own authenticity and divine origin. (Journal of Discourses, April 7, 1862, 10:63)

DC 102:23 in case of difficulty respecting doctrine or principle...the president may inquire and obtain the mind of the Lord

"The [high council] in Ohio was the first organized, and the minutes of that organization are recorded in section 102. These minutes constitute in some respects guidelines for high councils today, especially in the functioning of courts. Since it was the only high council in the Church when it was organized (February 1834), the Kirtland high council was presided over by the First Presidency and had general jurisdiction throughout the Church. This placed the high council in a unique position. (See D&C 102:9-10.) In reference to that high council, President John Taylor said:

In Kirtland, Ohio; a great many things were revealed through the Prophet. There was then a First Presidency that presided over the High Council, in Kirtland: and that High Council and another which was in Missouri, were the only High Councils in existence. As I have said, the High Council in Kirtland was presided over by Joseph Smith and his Counselors; and hence there were some things associated with this that were quite peculiar in themselves. It is stated that when they were at a loss to find out anything pertaining to any principles that might come before them in their councils, that the presidency were to inquire of the Lord and get revelation on those subjects that were difficult for them to comprehend. (Journal of Discourses, 19:241.)

"Thus, the Kirtland high council, having general jurisdiction throughout the Church, differed from the high council in Missouri, and from stake high councils today. With the First Presidency presiding; the Kirtland high council formed 'a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency [First Presidency], or to the traveling high council [Twelve Apostles].' (D&C 107:36.) (Roy W. Doxey, "I Have a Question," Ensign, July 1982, 31)

"In our own time the pattern of resolving doctrinal issues continues. President J. Reuben Clark Jr. taught that among those of the Twelve and the Presidency, 'only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church, or change in any way the existing doctrines of the Church.'

"When there are cases 'of difficulty respecting doctrine or principle, ... the president may inquire and obtain the mind of the Lord by revelation' (D&C 102:23)." (Edward J. Brandt, " 'And He Gave Some, Apostles' (Eph. 4:11)," Ensign, July 1999, 18)

DC 102:24-29 The high priests, when abroad, have power to call and organize a council

This section deals with Church councils outside the Kirtland area.  It no longer applies today because the church is organized with stakes or districts wherever there are high priests throughout the world.  But in 1834, there were high priests living in Missouri and others probably living in the East as well.  This section describes the formation ad hoc councils outside of the Kirtland stake that could form as needed to settle difficulties or to act on disciplinary issues.  Such independence is in accordance with the scripture later revealed, "High priests after the order of the Melchizedek Priesthood have a right to officiate in their own standing, under the direction of the presidency, in administering spiritual things... when there are no higher authorities present." (D&C 107:12)

DC 102:30 There is a distinction between the high council or traveling high priests abroad

"On 3 July 1834, the Prophet organized another high council in Clay County, Missouri, with the Presidency of the Church in Missouri as its presidency.  'In 1834, these two councils were sufficient to take care of all matters that properly belonged to and should be considered by high councils in the Church. As the Church grew and spread abroad it became necessary for high councils to be organized in each stake of Zion, over which the presidency of stakes presides, and it was not longer necessary for a general high council to sit or be organized, over which the First Presidency of the Church should preside.'

"It will be observed that in some ways the first high council of the Church prefigured the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles which was organized a year later in February 1835. Once the Quorum of the Twelve was organized, and there were functioning high councils in the stakes of the Church, there was no need for general Churchwide high councils.  Nevertheless, Doctrine and Covenants 102 remained a model of organization and procedure for all future stake high councils.  Verses 30-32 were added to this revelation by Joseph Smith in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants after the organization of the quorum of the Twelve to distinguish the decisions of that quorum from those of the high councils in Kirtland and Missouri." (Stephen E. Robinson, H. Dean Garrett, A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2001] 3:284)