Adultery and Church Discipline, is it Sexist?

Adultery is a sensitive subject. Unfaithful spouses can cause great pain in marriages and families. No one is immune from the devastation caused by breaking the seventh commandment. However, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that marriage is a two-way street and the cheating spouse is never 100% of the problem.
That said, I’m interested in the difference in perception between unfaithful wives and unfaithful husbands, and how they are disciplined by the church.

As far as I know, my own marriage has been free of adultery. Not so for my parents. When I was 10, my dad was excommunicated from the church and shortly thereafter I found out why (both parents acknowledge it was a mistake to tell me at such a young age). A few years later, he was rebaptized and shortly thereafter ex’d, again. He was eventually re-rebaptized (after I was married, actually) and is in full fellowship, even serving as YM President at one point. My parents’ continuing marital problems aside, from what I can tell, the story of marital infidelity is fairly common, even in the church.

I have another family member who had an affair when she was young and unhappy in her marriage. She described it as” just a physical thing,” because she didn’t feel needed in her marriage and was disfellowshiped for a short time after her divorce. She soon remarried and was recently sealed to her new husband and child.

In my experience, four of the five of the men I know have been excommunicated for adultery, but none of the four women have been. Considering marital vows of fidelity run both ways, I am continually mystified by why church leaders appear to treat women differently than men for the same sin.

Here are a few reasons why this may be:
1. Women are more vulnerable than men, so should be treated more carefully and not punished as harshly.
2. Excommunication is a blessing, not a punishment. It is a way of separating the sinner from God and the church so he or she can truly repent and come back. If this is true, then perhaps women are not worthy of this blessing, or can achieve true repentance without excommunication.
3. Women are not accountable for their actions in the way men are.
4. God holds husbands to a higher standard of fidelity than wives because they preside in marriage.

Regardless of the rationale behind the church discipline, it directly affects the way outsiders judge the situation. My general sense is that most people see unfaithful men as weak-willed, sex-crazed, or unwise stewards. Men are attributed to acting on their mating instincts and need for physical intimacy. On the other hand, when a woman is unfaithful, perhaps she was a victim or taken advantage of by a predatory man. Or maybe she was in an emotionally empty relationship and found support or understanding in a sexual relationship outside of marriage. This makes me wonder how much the reasoning behind the infidelity factors in to church discipline.

As an end note, I believe it would be incredibly hard to be a bishop or stake president trying to help people found in difficult situations created by adultery. I know that these men do the best that they can and each situation is different. I am just interested in the trend I have observed and wonder if others have observed the same thing. I also wonder if others have a sense of why the church discipline appears to be sexist.

Feel free to respond to the post or the following questions:

Do you think men and women are equally responsible for their part in infidelity?
Why do you think they are often disciplined differently within the church?
Do you judge unfaithful wives differently than unfaithful husbands?
Does the emotional or physical nature of the extramarital relationship affect your judgment? Why?
Do you think the difference in church discipline affects the rate at which men and women in the church commit adultery?


Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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76 Responses

  1. Southern girl says:

    What I saw:
    A bishop in other country, other culture…committed adultery with the music director. A sister that was a RM, excommunicated before, had a child as single mother.
    The bishop’s wife knew about the affair, so the ward. I was a missinary there and discovered what was going on. I talked to my mission’s president.He said the only thing he could do was to talk to the stake president. So, he did, the answer was:
    “well…if the wife doesn’t support him…”
    After I was sent to another area I learned that the sister was excommunicated, pregnant and talking about her future husband. He was only suspended for six months.
    Here in Utah a friend of mine was asked for her Temple recomend because her husband said naughty things about her to the bishop and stake president. The husband has a mental disorder, so all the things he said were product of his big imagination, but, she was considered a sinner. She decided to divorce, not asking for child support (he doesn’t work so much anyways), so, now, when she struggles financially to sustain her four kids the bishop doesn’t help her at all.
    In my marriage I don’t have experiences about it thanks goodness!
    I think women are a lot more calmer than men regarding to physical needs so they may not fall a second time, may be that’s why they get a lighter punishment in the cases you say.

  2. SilverRain says:

    Perhaps the discrepancy is simply an unfortunate and inaccurate perception.

    Assuming the premise is not simply misconception, however, from what I understand, whether or not a person is excommunicated for a serious transgression of God’s laws often has a lot to do with whether or not they are repentant for the sin. Perhaps due to lingering cultural mores, men are less repentant of their affairs than women are.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I have heard bishops say that the more contrite the sinner, the less severe the discipline. Unfortunately, many construe tears as a sign of contrition when it could jurt as easily be embarrassment, nerves, hormones, etc.

    • anonymous says:

      From someone who has seen the issue from the other side I can tell you that women are seldom excommunicated because the crying of a usually youngish or middle aged woman is almost always “discerned” as remorse for sin rather than consternation for its consequences. If the leaders doing the judging were an equal mix of women instead of 15 middle aged men and a clerk we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

      • Douglas L Self says:

        You’re saying that if the sisters, presumably older and with some life experience, had the ability to sit in on judgment of their fellow sisters, that they’d be harsher…’tis food for thought. Also implied, which seems to be the case in my situation, is that woman, though egregiously guilty of sin(s), can emotionally manipulate not only her erstwhile husband, but also the so-called Priesthood holders whom presumably should have the “Spirit” to exercise their duties in a manner which fulfills the several purposes of a Church disciplinary council.
        Hence it’s wondered why so many good people, both men and women, don’t necessarily ‘leave’ the Church, but are DRIVEN out…even in the USN, wherein a ship’s captain (especially in the case of a nuclear boat which I’m more familiar with) has great latitude in conducting “Captain’s Mast”, there’s still an expectation of consistency in the administration of military justice, and certainly a well-ordered procedure in the case where the matter is serious enough to warrant a General Court-Martial (or the enlist member or officer exercises her/his right to request same). The latter, though its the means by which the military exercises punishment of a penal nature which can and often does include dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank, imprisonment, or even in the most severe cases, death, is ALSO the means by which a military member can request the assistance of peers and/or higher-ranking officers for assistance to relieve unfair treatment and/or other means of persecution under color of military authority. It’s too bad the Church, which is supposed to represent a much HIGHER authority, with presumably greater power(s), is, by comparison, utterly capricious, inconsistent, and ineffectual in its disciplinary process(es). Any organization in the US military with a similar track record in administering discipline would find its officers relieved of duty and likely forced to retire or cashiered.

      • Andrew R. says:

        Sisters are not in stake DC’s – only for an appeal. Therefore this not even relevant.

        However, if all DC’s were either Bishop or Stake, there might be a different in outcomes.

  4. Ardis Parshall says:

    Excommunication isn’t merely punishment, where excommunication is the automatic sentence for a ‘gospel felony” with lesser discipline the penalty for ‘gospel misdemeanors’; it’s supposed to aid the sinner in returning to the fold. An endowed member or a Melchizedek priesthood holder has done more than break one of the Ten Commandments. Having broken more covenants, and more serious covenants, sometimes the discipline is greater. And sometimes one partner may be more predatory or more deceptive than another. Without knowing the intimate details that may have come out in an investigation, you can’t know why there may be a difference in discipline. Considering only gender is too simplistic for meaningful answers to your questions.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      True, having the Melchizedek Priesthood DOES give a great responsibility for a man’s conduct. However, that’s no excuse to give a ‘free pass’ to a female member for a REPEATED pattern of gross misconduct. Having a vagina should never be considered a lifelong ‘free pass’ to commit sin.

  5. Ben says:

    Well now I think it depends on the contrition. I’ve seen that often the women are the ones confessing the sin–and the GHBI indicates that if aldutery is confessed and forsaken, the bishop has more consideration than if the person is not confessing the sin (and they should always be given the opportunity to confess if possible).

    That’s a tall order for Bishops, and there is a lot of room for discretion, but I think it’s the way it needs to be.

    Aside from which, I don’t think I mind if the practice is a bit favoritist for women. If some women start to mind and feel that it has doctrinal implications, then that’s another matter, but I don’t think it does.

  6. Nick Literski says:

    A friend of mine had the misfortune of marrying a woman with what turned out to be severe emotional problems. The last staw of their marriage involved a huge scene, in which she rammed the family car into the house repeatedly (among other things). The police were involved, etc. Upon hearing about what had happened, the bishop rushed to their home, where he promptly confronted my friend in an accusatory tone, demanding to know what my friend had done to cause this event.

    I suspect the same reasoning takes place with women committing adultery. Rather than blaming the woman, authorities tend to assume the man “drove her to it.”

    • Disappointed says:

      My wife cheated on me twice. She was put on probation and I was accused of causing the problem. Women are put on a pedestal in the church and are not held to the same standards as men.

      • Douglas L Self says:

        Par for the course. Unfortunately, the sexism that pervades the Church in both genders would leave the implied question, “What’s the matter, ‘brother’ (and how hollow and hypocritical it sounds when such a man is indeed addresses when his ‘brethren’ turn on him for no good reason)…”can’t you CONTROL your wife or ‘KEEP’ her?” Either way, whether you can’t ‘control’ her (gee, whatever happened to the concept of ‘unrighteous dominion as described in D&C 121?), or you don’t ‘satisfy’ her (just try THAT excuse in a Stake disciplinary council if YOU’RE accused of adultery and claim that she didn’t ‘meet your needs’, though at times many a brother is indeed frustrated at a frigid wife, or simply one clueless and/or uncaring about her husband’s natural desires). However, “Disappointed”, if you came to your senses and divorced the skeevy skank, likely you’re treated as the ‘jerk’, and say goodbye to any future opportunity for meaningful service in the Church…you’re forever ‘tainted’.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      One of the FEW instances where I’d agree with you, Nick. And this pattern of refusal to hold a sister accountable for her misdeeds does neither her any good, nor the sisters of the Church at large, nor the children in this upcoming generation which supposedly we place great trust in the sisters to be the ‘primary’ (pun intended) caregivers.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’m opposed to church discipline for anyone involved in marital indiscretion. It increases the shame and gets outside parties involved in personal matters.

    My anecdotal experience is that church leaders have too much power to arbitrarily ‘discipline’ their ward/stake members, and the members have little defense when there is a circumstance of unrighteous dominion.

    My guess is that men might receive harsher punishments simply because the consequences of their sins are greater due to LDS women’s dependence on men for both their livelihood and salvation.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      If any woman, LDS or otherwise, is dependent on her husband for her livelihood, and complains because he’s a ‘failure’, whether by unfortunate circumstance or outright neglect, it’s her own fault if she doesn’t take her own measures to become self-sufficient. I know of no right, either in the Church or in common law, for a woman to have a RIGHT to demand involuntary servitude of her mate, save it be in a lawful decree of spousal and/or child support, both of which are TEMPORARY situations as seen in today’s administration of Family Law, intended to facilitate transition to a new life, or ensure that the legal responsibility to provide for one’s offspring is not diminished due to a change in circumstances.
      NOWHERE in LDS teachings is a woman’s ‘salvation’ dependent upon her husband at all! As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Work out YOUR OWN salvation ‘with fear and trembling'” (Philippians 2:12). If the titular ‘head of the household’ is deficient or uncaring in his Priesthood responsibilities, the wife still has the responsibility to maintain her own testimony and teach the children to the extent that she’s able. If things are so bad that there’s an environment of hostility when it comes to her ability to exercise her faith freely, that may indeed be an abusive marriage, and she ought to be able to separate from her husband to flee it. Of course, it works both ways if indeed it’s the wife that’s the abuser, in spite of the inability of the so-called ‘inspired’ Priesthood leadership to recognize it.

  8. SingleSpeed says:

    Ardis Parshall,
    Are you suggesting that a Melchezidek Priesthood holder has made additional covenants, and thus is held to a higher standard than non priesthood holders (read: women)?

    I guess I don’t know how doctrinally sound this is, but it makes me uncomfortable to consider that the penalties for sin are higher for ordained men than for women.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      Single, there’s no EXPLICIT doctrine that states that MP holders are uniquely subject to harsher Church discipline and that they born with a vagina get a ‘free pass’, but functionally, that’s the way it works out.
      I’d say don’t be guilty of gross sin yourself and find out the hard way. Of course, often the issue is NOT that a brother himself is ‘guilty as hell and should go straight to ‘effin jail’, as Al Pacino’s renowned criminal defense attorney, Arthur Kirkland, rants when he turns on his corrupt client, the good judge Fleming (the late John Forsythe) from the 1979 film, “And Justice for All..”, rather, it’s that the brother is indeed faithful and upright, but somehow, judged either complicit or otherwise contributing to his erstwhile wife’s downfall.
      But, yes, indeed, it seems that if an LDS member possess a vagina, she has, for all practical purposes, license to commit the most heinous of sins and get away with her Church membership intact, whereas a brother is in jeopardy of a Stake disciplinary council if he so much as farts as an inappropriate moment.

  9. mraynes says:

    I haven’t ever known anybody of either sex, who has been excommunicated for adultery so I can’t speak to the imbalance there.

    However, in the stake I grew up in, young women who confessed to a sin of immorality were punished much more harshly than a young man who committed the same or worse sin. I have heard anecdotal evidence of this happening else where in the U.S. from friends and roommates.

    I think this happens for two reasons. 1) Many bishops are hesitant about ruining a young man’s chance of going on a mission. 2) A lot of pressure is placed on young women to be pure so that they can be worthy to have a temple marriage. For young men, the focus is serving a mission. For a young woman, the focus is getting married in the temple. It seems natural that this would skew how issues of sexual sin are dealt with by a bishop.

    It is interesting, though, that this takes a 180 degree turn once the marriage takes place.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      myranes, the difference, supposedly, is that you’re describing the discipline of YOUNG men and women, whom aren’t as mature and experienced in these matters. Of course, I haven’t kept abreast of every case of misconduct in my respective ward and/or stake, for which I’m thankful, and I pity the bishops and Stake Presidents that have to deal with these sad cases. Back in 2008, there was more a push to get the young brethren out into the field, and I suppose that it’s one reason that the minimum age to serve the full-time mission was lowered to 18, with the sudden promotion of the young people, upon graduation from high school and de facto ‘promotion’ to the legal status as an adult, with all the freedoms therein, resulting in an LDS form of “RumSpringa”, which not all the young people return to the fold. It has been my observation that few, if any, young sisters are excommunicated, save they unwisely demand it, but again, as once they’re 18, they ARE adults, and the bishop is bound to honor their request for name removal, if they so desire, or to hold the bishop’s council and reach an appropriate verdict upon demand.
      As you’ve observed, things DO indeed take a ‘180’ once a marriage exists, especially if solemnized in the temple. I suppose one reason for the climate of one-sided administration of Church discipline is that there has been a greater push to ensure that the brethren do conduct the affairs of their household in ‘righteousness’ and especially DO NOT exercise so-called ‘unrighteous dominion’, which of itself is great and in obviously fulfill of what the Lord has taught via His Prophets. However, it has not be followed up by a commensurate expectation of personal responsibility on the part of the sisters,so; if indeed a sister ‘strays’, her husband, regardless of his faithfulness and forbearance, is helpless against her depredations, and will often be blamed for her perfidy which he is utterly unable to control. And should he then take the obvious choice of the ‘nuclear option’ (i.e., divorce), no matter how ostensibly justified, he will be ‘blamed’, not only socially by his fellow ward members whom would be otherwise wholly supportive of a sister thus victimized, but in a real manner by his Priesthood leadership, whom will second-guess him and forever consider this man as ‘damaged goods’, rendering a tacit form of disfellowship.

  10. Ardis Parshall says:

    There *are* more serious penalties for people who have made covenants than for those who have not made such covenants. This has NO reference to women *as a class* but to the particular covenants the individuals have made or not made.

    The discipline of Aaronic priesthood holders, unendowed women, and men without priesthood, can be handled by the bishop in most cases; the discipline of Melchizedek priesthood holders, and endowed women, go to the stake level, in cases of serious sin.

    Again, it has nothing to do with women as women, but with the covenants they have made and perhaps broken.

    • Rachel says:

      This has been my understanding, too, and what I’ve seen play out.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      Oh, that it were THAT simple.

      Fairly much, Ardis, in matters where a MP holder is worked with, where the expected solution will fall short of excommunication, his bishop will work with him just the same. And a bishop cannot hold a disciplinary council at all, and/or have a possible verdict of excommunication, without the prior approval of the SP for ALL members. This is supposed to be a check so that a ‘wacky’ bishop isn’t arbitrary in matters affecting the respective member(s)’ status in the Church.
      Rarely does a matter involving a MP holder go straight to a Stake Disciplinary Council save that it’s so serious that the highly likely outcome would be excommunication anyway. And that’s so that the repentance process isn’t dragged out, and the ‘guilty’ erstwhile PH holder is subjected to but ONE council, and afterwards, he can be remanded back to his bishop to begin the process of working his way back to baptism and eventual restoration of his PH and Temple blessings that much sooner.

  11. Southern girl says:

    One of the comments says that women depend of men for salvation.
    I don’t think so at all. Isn’t salvation personal?

  12. Janna says:

    I think so much of this comes down to personal contrition and a local leader’s approach, which may or may not be sexist.

    On a related not the mraynes’ comment, I knew a young woman at BYU whose RM boyfriend got her pregnant. She was disfellowshipped and kicked out of BYU. I don’t know whether the boyfriend was disfellowshipped, but he was not kicked out of BYU, and within a year had married someone else in the temple. There’s a side of me that wishes I could say, “Oh, the miracle of forgiveness!” But, I’m suspicious.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      That IS indeed suspicious. Was the RM b/f close to graduation? That may have factored in. I do find it incomprehensible that this man, having sired a child out of wedlock (gee, was an order for child support taken out against him, and he is indeed fully compliant in meeting said obligation, as I am certainly in payment of considerable spousal support even though it’s I that fully support my still-minor daughter from my current expiring marriage?) could so EASILY just ‘waltz’ into the temple and marry ANOTHER young sister! It seems that the ‘sexism’ isn’t all one-way, and situations which seems to defy any sense of justice and/or common sense are allowed to exist. Mine would be that my soon-to-be ex-wife (thankfully, after MONTHS of tracking her down, and being legally restrained from proceedings while she was under State conservatorship), after numerous acts of adultery, drug addiction, living with a convicted felon, and finally getting caught in a shoplifting scheme and charged with grand theft, and with the criminal matter STILL pending (thankfully for her, to be likely dismissed due to eligibility for ‘diversion’), being allowed back into the temple only a few months after the arrest! I contrast that as to a similar matter where I was (falsely) accused of abuse and/or violence, and even though I denied it when confronted by the bishop, had my recommend taken away forthwith, and though the charges were soon dismissed, had to go through a somewhat arduous process, in effect being asked to ‘disprove a negative’, to regain that recommend, finally only getting it when I challenged my bishop and SP to either try me for my membership on the matter or let it drop. Even then, they still ‘called Salt Lake’ to receive the go-ahead to grant the TR. What rot. I’ve since let it lapse and don’t care anymore.

  13. Zenaida says:

    Philip. 2: 12 …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

    Alma 34: 37 …ye should work out your salvation with fear before God, and that ye should no more deny the coming of Christ;

    Are men’s exhaltation any less dependent on women? D&C 131

    And, are we confusing salvation with exaltation?

    I cannot personally speak to different treatment between the sexes regarding adultery, but one would hope that individual circumstances would be taken into consideration.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      Yes, Zenaida, we would hope that the individual circumstances would be the overriding consideration, and not a predisposition either way to pre-judge. But that’s not reality, as our esteem PH leaders are still fallible MEN.

      “Salvation” and “Exaltation” are practically synonymous, Zenaida. There’s little point, other than not being overheated, choking on sulphur fumes, and dodging those little guys dressed in red pajamas running amok with pitchforks, stabbing you in the butt, of being ‘saved’. Our so-called ‘born-again’ Christian brothers and sisters have so unwittingly distorted Gospel fundamentals that even the Saints are often confused on the subject. To be ‘saved’ from the fiery pit, but unable to be ‘exalted’ to the highest degree of ‘glory’ attainable, is INDEED ‘damnation’!

  14. Starfoxy says:

    I agree with Janna- It really is in the hands of the local leaders. That doesn’t mean that the structure of the system ( where a man is always the one to decide whether or not to pursue discipline) might lead to widespread inequities, but I could see that going either way, and may ultimately even out.

    I do think that the world we live in is more tolerant of male cheaters, and I would think that harsher/more public discipline for men might be an effort to counter this cultural tolerance.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      It’s quite the oppostive, Starfoxy…the PH leadership is far more intolerant of misconduct on the part of PH holders, as it’s dealing with peers. In a way, it’s a backhanded form of sexism, as women are considered as ‘fragile flowers’…where my personal experience is that so many sisters, especially the more faithful ones, are anything BUT, especially my ‘beloved Snips’, who has dealt with her peculiar challenges in life (Ether 12:27).
      Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favor of being sensitive to the needs of an errant sister, and working matters so as to bring her back to her Savior, and would likewise be VERY reluctant to resort to the heavy hands of disfellowshipment and/or excommunication save that her defiance and intransigence practically demanded it. And, with many errant brethren, at times it does take the ‘reproving with sharpness’ to get their attention, otherwise they’d ‘dwindle in unbelief’ (D&C 121:43), but not forgetting, as so many ‘inspired’ bishops and SPs often do, is to do as the ‘latter’ phrase of that scripture advises, to follow up ‘with in a increase in love, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy’ – how often is the ‘increase in love’ NOT shown after the ‘reproving’, and indeed the offending brother does end up esteeming his PH leadership to be his ‘enemy’!

  15. Courtney says:

    I don’t see this as being a sexist issue– each case I know of, the man and woman have both been excommunicated. The only exception to this would be my grandfather, who was disfellowshipped after repeated affairs with the same woman (who is now his wife– I don’t know what happened to her; my mom doesn’t know if she was ever a member– either way, my grandfather and his wife aren’t active).

    There are way too many variables that decide whether or not someone is excommunicated, it seems that blaming it on sexism would be an easy scapegoat.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I must say that the sample size of your data easily gives rise to misperception of a difference in discipline. My sample size is not much larger, so I can’t really say.

    I am alarmed at the idea that someone thinks that a woman would be dependent on a man for salvation or exaltation, I do not think that is correct. If one’s spouse is not worthy, but they are worthy, they will not be denied blessings. It has been speculated that they will instead have the opportunity to be sealed to somoene else, like how those who never had a chance to marry are given a similar opportunity. It should be noted that the spouse who was worthy could probably only remain so if they did everything they could to help that spouse to repent, be a good example etc.
    The notion that men have more responsibility somehow, and are therefore held more strictly accountable seems somewhat plausible, but ultimately is not scriptural (though it may be true for all I know).
    It would be interesting to put together some data that is at leeast somewhat reliable for perhaps 100+ cases of adultry in the church and see if any biases start to emerge, but where could one get such data?

    • Douglas L Self says:

      A Mormon male, usually holding the MP, is in THEORY responsible for the spiritual welfare of not only himself but his wife and children. I say, “theory”, because, Free Agency…as another fave Al Pacino character, in the role of John Milton, Esq. (aka “Beelzebub”),rued…”It’s IS a BITCH!”. That is, regardless of whether or not the PH holding man is a good example, if his wife and children elect THEIR respective free agencies and don’t follow, there’s damned little he can do about it!
      I agree that it’s disturbing to think that a woman is dependent upon her husband for HER salvation. Such seems quite contrary to LDS teachings on individual responsibility for one’s salvation (Philippians 2:12)

  17. Joanne says:

    the cheating spouse is never 100% of the problem.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      That’s as completely wrong as assuming that being guilty of adultery absolves the ‘wrong’ spouse of any responsibility for the demise of the marriage.

  18. Joanne says:

    Oops. I was only quoting “the cheating spouse is never 100% of the problem” from the beginning of the original post. Do you mean that the non-cheating spouse is ALWAYS part of the problem? Am I the only one who doesn’t believe that?

  19. Caroline says:

    My take on this is close to Ardis’. Men almost always have a higher ecclesiastical status in this church than women do. So when a man cheats, he’s considered more responsible. He’s not just a member cheating, he’s a priest cheating.

    (Disclaimer: I don’t know for a fact that women are punished less harshly on average than men are, but my own personal observations do run along the same lines as Jess’s)

  20. Jessawhy says:

    Wow, thanks for all of the comments.
    As has been pointed out, my sample size is very small and I could be using sexism as a scapegoat.
    That is why I posted, hoping that I would find people who have had similar or different experiences.
    I’m not only interested in how the church disciplines in these situations, but in how we, as outsiders, view the offenders.
    As far as the salvation/exaltation comments, it does seem that husbands and wives are dependent on each other, to some extent for exaltation, although salvation is personal.
    Like Singlespeed, I was confused by Ardis Parshall’s comments about men making covenants that women have not. To me, the covenants are the same, except men have the priesthood. If this is the only difference, it is a big one, as the priesthood is the power and authority to act in God’s name. Women, as presided over by their husbands, don’t hold the priesthood in the same way, so perhaps this is part of the difference in accountability for adultery. I’m really not sure. However, all of the women in my experience had been sealed in the temple to their spouses, and were not excommunicated, so differences in covenants would not be the factor.
    Ben said, “I don’t think I mind if the practice is a bit favoritist for women.” I’m curious about why.
    I wonder if since church disciplinary courts are made up of men, who potentially hold the same opinion as Ben, could be the reason for the bias.
    mraynes, I have also heard that some bishops are harder on the girl than the boy pre-mission. My experience there is even more limited and anecdotal.
    Thanks to everyone who pointed out that local leaders determine the individual cases. This is of course both true, and good. I do wish that there could be women present for a woman’s church court. I guess I’m surprised that more people haven’t had evidence to agree or disagree with my, albeit small, sample size. Caroline, it is interesting that your experience matches mine. Perhaps others have seen the opposite.
    You articulated what I was trying to get at so well,
    “Men almost always have a higher ecclesiastical status in this church than women do. So when a man cheats, he’s considered more responsible. He’s not just a member cheating, he’s a priest cheating.”
    This seems like a problem to me, does it seem like that to anyone else?

    • Douglas L Self says:

      The ‘ecclesiastical status’ is indeed DIFFERENT, but it shouldn’t be consider ‘higher’. Else it contradicts II Ne 26:33, “All are ALIKE unto God…”.

      I can’t see how a woman, endowed in the Temple, and, if sealed to her spouse, isn’t by default considered sufficiently spiritually mature to be responsible for her own (mis)deeds, and held accountable for them no differently than an errant brother would be. To thus condescend, and give her a ‘free pass’ due to her possession of a vagina, is not only a slap in the face to brethren who in similar circumstances face harsh(er) discipline, but is in some ways demeaning to her as well, as she’s treated somewhat as a troubled child rather than an adult.

  21. Naismith says:

    Gee whiz, I feel really deprived. I don’t know anyone personally who has been ex’ed for adultery. So I don’t have a sample size to compare.

    “Men almost always have a higher ecclesiastical status in this church than women do.” I don’t know if “ecclesiastical status” is the correct word to describe it. But leadership position (not level of priesthood per se) is supposed to be taken into consideration. So I would think a RS President would be judged more stringently than a rank-and-file high priest.

    And I would expect a male Primary teacher who is an endowed RM to be judged exactly like a female Primary teacher who is an endowed RM.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Part of the difference in outcome, if there is one beyond the anecdotal evidence offered in the post, may have to do with where the disciplinary council is held. If there is the possibility of excommunication, Melchizedek priesthood holders are automatically referred to the stake president and high council. Aaronic priesthood holders and sisters go before a council of the bishop and his counselors or two other ward high priests.

    My experience having served in both types of councils, is that ward-level councils produce a more lenient outcome. This is primarily because the bishop feels he can watch over the sinner and care for him or her on a personal basis, and that there will be a reciprocation of that compassion on the part of the sinner.

    Stake councils, on the other hand, can be more removed from the situation and may consequently produce a more severe result. The premise of the council, though, is the the brother is at risk of being excommunicated. Some stake presidents may also take their personal ministry to a higher level than others. For example, I’ve seen cases where a stake president hasn’t met with the brother before the council is held, and other cases where the president has talked with the brother several times. In all cases, I have only seen excommunications occur, not based on the seriousness of the sin, but based on a brother’s unwillingness to confess, repent, and repair the damage. This has been very rare in my experience.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      If the brother were indeed willing to confess, repent, and make good for his misdeeds, the Stake Disciplinary Council might not be convened at all. In that case, he’s brought his spiritual misfortune upon himself.

      However, in many cases, where the same conduct that quietly gets the sister remanded to her bishop, to ‘quietly’ work the situation WITHOUT any adverse action taken, other than perhaps she doesn’t get to attend the temple for a FEW months, the errant brother, regardless of his actual state of repentance, is excommunication forthwith, the verdict being pre-determined, by a gathering of self-righteous ‘stuffed shirts’, whom, at least in theory, are supposedly to equally advocate for him as well as condemn his actions, but in practice ALL look down upon him and use the proceeding as an opportunity for self-righteous pontification and the, afterwards, when the same brother inexplicably continues to persist faithfully, is nevertheless repeatedly denied and/or condemned, as is tormenting the poor fellow in perpetuity fulfills a ‘righteous’ cause. Hence little wonder that few brethren that stray ever make it back, the Church, even if not by stated policy, but by practice, does it utmost best to drive them away. Fortunately, I’ve only been ‘on the sidelines’ and never subjected to this peculiar form of an ecclesiastical ‘kangaroo court’.

  23. Jessawhy says:

    I think the ecclesiastical status is in line with what Anonymous mentions about priesthood holders right after your post.
    I hadn’t realized the difference in church discipline courts/councils until you explained that, but actually that does not seem equal.
    Do you have any why of why this may be?

  24. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    “You can please some of the people some of the time…”

    If it were the other way around, with women getting harsher punishments, you’d still be complaining that it was sexism.

    Sounds kind of “darned if you do and darned if you don’t” to me.

    But then, I suppose any situation where the sole determinant in the case seems to be gender — no matter who seems to be getting the worst part of the deal — would be defined as sexism.

    I don’t usually have much patience for the kind of questions you guys ask here (nothing personal — we just have very different views on things) but I think I can see your point on this one.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      The late Rick Neilsen, in his epic song, “Garden Party”, said it best…

      Well, it’s alright, now, I’ve learned my lesson well…
      You see, you can’t please everyone, so, you’ve got to please YOURSELF!

      Take that as you will.

  25. Naismith says:

    “I think the ecclesiastical status is in line with what Anonymous mentions about priesthood holders…”

    No, I’ll explain why the stake gets involved in a minute.

    But I very much resent the implication that “ecclesiastical status” has to do with priesthood, and men have automatically have “higher ecclesiastic status” than women. That’s just ugly, nobody I work with at church believes it, and I refuse to buy in. I don’t think “ecclesiastical status” has much meaning in our church.

    First of all, to clarify what Anonymous said, it is not quite true that Melchizedek priesthood holders are automatically referred to the stake for discipline. Only cases where an excommunication is likely must be referred to the stake. Every disciplinary action of any member is considered by the stake presidency (the bishop has to consult with them before convening a disciplinary council), and if preliminary evidence suggests the outcome is expected to be something other than excommunication of the Melchizedek priesthood holder (probation, disfellowship, etc.) then the bishop may be instructed to convene the council.

    Why must the stake get involved when excommunicating a MP holder? Simply because that is where the HP quorum exists. Wards only have a high priest group. The quorum is at the stake level. (And I’ve been invited to the annual HP quorum meetings, and they rock, at least in my stake….after a serious half-hour meeting in the chapel, there is a nice dinner and fun entertainment.)

    But anyway, that’s why excommunication (but not other actions) of MP holders has to be done by the stake.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      Thanks for stating the clarification, which I already understood, but evidently many posting to this forum do not.

  26. mraynes says:


    The explanation you gave about the high priest group versus the high priest quorum makes sense. My only question is, why are Elders, who also hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, referred to a stake court when there is an Elder’s Quorum in every ward?

  27. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think this is a discussion any of us should be having, I’m not being self righteous as I have suffered from many counts of infidelity and horrendous treatment in my own marriage, but we are supposed to sustain and support our leaders. At disciplinary counsels the bishop and/or stake president and his counselors pray for guidance on the action that should be taken. God judges each person individually and what may look mild for one is harsh for another. Our faith rides on our ability to trust that God knows each person uniquely and that our leaders are direct spokespeople for him. . .We need to stop worrying about church discipline being sexist and start worrying about helping educate couples on marriage and how to handle infidelity and love those who are on both sides of the adultery. . .everyone is affected by broken marriages, it’s painful and not easy to heal from . . .so let’s trust in God and let him do the judging.

  28. Joanne says:

    Jessawhy — Regarding whether both spouses always contribute to infidelity. I don’t think you can say “nobody’s perfect” to get off the hook here. I mean, would you say that both spouses are responsible for spousal abuse? How about a pornography problem? I suppose you could always say that the victimized spouse could have spoken more kindly or dressed sexier or sought counsel more vigorously or whatever. In those cases, would you say “nobody’s perfect and each partner contributes to the failure of any marriage”? To me, it’s the same with infidelity…except in those bad cases where one spouse wickedly provokes the other spouse. Maybe we agree and I don’t realize it. Help!

  29. Jessawhy says:

    I agree with your points. I haven’t taken this idea to the level of spousal abuse, or pornography, but I’m not sure they’re the same kind of problem.
    Of course the cheating spouse is ultimately responsible for his or her choices which affect the whole family.
    That said, it may be helpful for the victim to recognize his or her failings in the marriage as well, s/he chooses to stay, or get divorced and possibly remarry.
    Essentially, maybe the victim can be better off if she contemplates her own role in the marital problems and decides to improve these things. Only blaming the offending spouse doesn’t seem like the best way to personal growth.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      How about EACH is responsible for his/her misdeeds, and ought not to use the sins of the other as an EXCUSE? Indeed, in D&C 121, this is mentioned as a sign of ‘unrighteous dominion’, that we use either our PH OR the sins of others as an excuse to ‘cover’ our OWN sins, which, of course, aren’t masked to the Lord.

  30. Jessawhy says:

    I have also wondered, since this thread started, if this was an appropriate topic. I’m afraid it really isn’t. I’m sorry for that.

    You mentioned God’s “spokespeople” but, I think you meant, “spokesmen.”
    This is really what I have a hard time with. Since women aren’t authorized to represent God, we can’t judge other women in scenarios like adultery. That seems like a problem to me. But, I hope you are right that God is guiding each church leader to give each offending spouse the exact right punishment. I hope that’s how it is.
    I don’t know, though. I just hope that I don’t have to go through it firsthand.
    You are absolutely right that we need to teach more about loving and forgiving in these situations, and helping prevent them in the first place. Any ideas on how to do this?
    Thanks for your comments.

  31. Caroline says:

    Jess, I think you ask good questions and that it is perfectly appropriate to think about this topic. We aren’t going to come up with any definitive answers here. We aren’t trying to. But there’s no reason why conversations about the ways men and women are (possibly) treated differently should be off limits. IMO. Particularly, when, as you said, it is only one sex that is doing all the disciplining.

    Of course, anonymous is coming from a completely different and very understandable place. My heart goes out to her for all that she has suffered.

  32. GeoWulf says:

    Wow.. quite the discussion.

    My two cents comes from my own strugglings.

    I read somewhere that the Prophet stated (Spencer Kimball?) “Every [separation] in any relationship is due to SELFISHNESS within the relationship”.

    He never says anything about whose selfishness or where the blame lies.

    I think every instance in cases of infidelity, there are no GENERAL circumstances. The natural consequences MIGHT be ‘generalized’, but for the most part, you can’t (in fairness) say that all Church discipline is harder on one sex or the other. Circumstances are different for each situation.


    I agree with the commenter who said, “Let’s leave the judgements to Christ”.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      Please keep in mind that even SWK wasn’t intended to give specific counsel with that broad brush. Indeed, selfishness, in one form or another, is often at the root of MOST problems in human relationships, especially marriage.
      Many brethren cite the missionary experience, where the elders/sisters don’t CHOOSE their ‘companions’, but must work with them in spite of personality and/or cultural clashes, in fulfilling the Lord’s work. Of course, one does NOT sleep WITH one’s companion (unless, of course, it’s a couple serving, which in cases it’s obviously, if discretely, ‘encouraged’).
      Try rather, being cooped up for 70-85 days at a time, on a typical patrol cruise of an SSBN, with 112 other men and officers, wherein you can’t escape even their bodily odors and flatulence! And believe me, there is nothing that ‘reeks’ more than the interior of a nuclear boat after a cruise, to a point where at the mid-cycle refit the entire interior of the boat is stripped and disposed of as hazardous biological waste! In that closest of quarters, one learns quickly that rank and what one supposedly ‘knows’ is meaningless, only the smooth functioning of the boat, and one puts service above ‘self’ (no pun intended).

  33. Anonymous says:

    Jessawhy: I understand your frustration when you say that only men are “authorized to represent God” but I must say, that in lots of ways I am glad that I do not have this responsibility. These men who must “judge” others run the risk of not listening to God and damning their own selves. It is their responsibility as a “spokesmen” for God to follow God’s directive, and if they don’t it is on their head. I know there are probably many broken hearts, many misjudged people and many angry men and women who have been wronged in one way or another by someone we think didn’t act appropriately, maybe it’s our ownselves that have had this happen, but it still is not our right to judge, God will make all things right in the end and he will take care of those who love him. He knows each of our hearts and he knows when we’ve been wronged, even if it’s been by one of his servants. . .I say we stop fighting about fairness, life is not fair, it is not fair that Jesus’ was crucified or that Joseph Smith was murdered or . . .or . .. or . . .we must be the best person we can be and use all the resources in our communities and schools and from people in our church and other churches to learn how to build strong effective marriages, to raise children with strong moral compasses, and to be strong women who love and are loved appropriately.

  34. Rebekah says:

    What denomination is this based on? I’m just curious. Although in foursquare I’ve seen the same things. A worship leader is booted off stage for bringing in a new woman while his separated wife struggles elsewhere, but a separated wife who falls into adultery is promoted to stay with the new lover. Weird.

  35. Jessawhy says:

    The denomination is the LDS church, or the Mormons.
    It does sound like you’re talking about something similar.
    But, for our church, the term excommunication is pretty extreme, it means severing the member from the church, having their records removed, not letting them participate in services, etc.
    Thanks for you comment.

  36. CD-Host says:

    I know this is an old post. I run a blog on discipline. This may be specific to your experience. In general discipline is more common for:
    women than men
    the poor than the rich
    the young than the old
    Which is to say discipline generally happens to people less able to defend themselves or hit back.

  37. TreeFallen says:

    I can say, based on my own experience, that a little sexism in my favor would have been ok with me. Neither my now-husband or I were spared in our separate councils, his with the stake, mine with our bishopric. And I keep hearing this “his is the greater sin” thing being flung around, but it makes me wonder, because we were both EX’d. So will it just “take longer” for him to come back? It’s quite a lengthy story, but that’s my experience, in short.

  38. RQ says:

    Treefallen, could you elaborate? My “partner” is going to the bishop. That means I will need to approach my bishop, and I am a terrified convert of a certain age. Please help.

  39. x-sisterRM says:

    hi brothers and sisters… just want to comment on this because the article said something about women being punished lightly. I am a returned sister missionary and a year after my mission I had committed the biggest mistake of my life and that was breaking the law of chastity. When I went home from my mission a lot of trials happened, i was the only member of the church that time in my family and my sister got pregnant, my first bf of 6 years left me 3 months before i went home and our family businesses closed. I was a wreck emotionally but i have multiple callings then. you may wonder why i fell like that. it came slowly, i met this man who is nota member and it first started with good intentions of sharing the gospel, and then he became a very close friend with whom i shared most of my problems with. i got tempted and i fell slowly and so many things happened. he abused me physically hurt me and emotionally ruined me and i didnt tell a soul about what was happening. IT WAS ALL MY FAULT – i am taking accountability of what happened to me, I fell for this man, I accepted his weaknesses and didnt do me justice because I just served an honorable mission – bros and sisters I worked really hard, even if my first bf left me 3 mos before i go home – i worked my ass out and didnt want to be trunky – i didnt want to lose the only dignity i had that time – and that is the time i have with god to serve as his representative…. even up to now i still dont know how weak i have become… ive lost myself to that person who really didnt have any value for me. he became a member and when i have confessed to the bishop what we did – i attended the bishop meeting with his counselors and there I got excommunicated. I felt like I was shot – I couldnt accept it and felt like my world would fall apart. I haev a friend who also committed crime againts law of chastity and she is also an rm yet she told me she was just disfellowshipped. anyhow, i left the city and try to mourn for my lost dignity and membership of the church. no one knew of my pain – how it hurts, i left the guy and swore never again. but the saddest thing i learned that the first councilor told others about what happened to me and it even reached my friends in the mission. imagine how hurtful that was for me. i trusted them, how could they do that? anyway, that happened couple of years ago, i still havent gone back. i still cannot forgive myself and everyday i remmeber how i ruined my life…. anwyay what i am really wanting to say is that – even if these things happened to me – i accept it cos i know that it is a just punishment – now i can say it is a just verdict. I know someday i will have the strength to go back again, but it pains me that those i thought were friends are not really true friends at all – in that stake – in that ward. Leaders in teh church are inspired… they are not perfect but they are inspired and the church is true… i still know it in my heart and no matter what they say about me, i know it is true, anwyay what matters is the truth, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ knows the truth of my intentions of what really happened.

    sorry that my comment is like this – but i just really want to share that the church is true and I believe that sometimes even leaders fail in their perspective of things, but they still have the authority – God will do to them what is necessary for them to learn… but for us – we just really have to trust God. Easier said than done at my case at this time… but I trust him… im just scared of a lot of things right now. Hope you can all pray for me.

    • EmilyCC says:

      x-sisterRM, thank you for sharing your story here. It sounds like you’ve been through so much, and my heart aches to hear your pain. You have such a forgiving attitude towards those who violated promises they made not to talk about what goes on in church courts; I don’t know that I would be that kind.

      I hope you have friends and family who are helpful during this difficult time. Please know you have some here who will keep you in their thoughts and prayers, myself included.

    • Douglas L Self says:


      That you were ex’d at the time seems a bit harsh, given the circumstances. True, you’d been through the temple, and an RM, but any bishop with a few functioning brain cells ought to know that even RMs are still hormonal young people, and certainly the Adversary will find every ‘chink and crack’ in the armor (Ephesians 6:10-18) and drive home any ‘weapon’ he can get through.

      Even though you’d lost your membership, I’d still have complained to the Stake Presidency about the Bishop’s First Counselor with the big mouth! That is certainly NOT right, and it’s a violation of ministerial confidentiality. Had it been me, I’d have consulted an attorney, and if (s)he felt there was a case, sued both him and the Church for defamation. I can understand, however, that since you fled to another city, you just wanted to leave it all behind you.

      Please always nurture your testimony and come back to have NOTHING to apologize for or ‘splain’, you’ve ‘paid your dues’ and then some! I’m hoping that in the six and a half years since you’re post that indeed you did that and now fully enjoy membership and temple blessings. If not, please don’t extend your spiritual suffering another day, make that call, and come out to Church and fellowship. Any bishop worth his calling will, once he understands your situation, make sure that you’re welcome, and help you find your way back.

  40. Deborah says:

    I am so sorry for your pain, and I will certainly send prayers your way. May I suggest that being physically and verbally abused is not and can never be “all your fault.” No one deserves to be abused, no matter how a relationship began. I hope find continued healing . . . you’ve been through a lot, and you certainly “deserve” some peace and love.

  41. x-sisterRM says:

    thank you so much sisters, Emily and Deborah… it means a lot to hear you – people i dont know personally – who are good members of the church say this. i didnt share my story for people to pity me, but just to share what i believe. thank you for your prayers, and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  42. Ted says:

    Is it a standard the Church upholds or not?

    Is a cheating spouse excommunicated if the wronged spouse is in favour or not?

    • Douglas L Self says:

      A disciplinary council seldom consults with the ‘wronged’ spouse on the matter, AFAIK, other than to gather testimony.

      Since either the ‘wronged’ spouse probably doesn’t hold the appropriate PH and/or office, to ask him/her to weigh in is highly inappropriate, to put it mildly. A bishop and his counselors, or a Stake Presidency and the High Council, are called and set apart with this as a very important part of their duties, one that they cannot abrogate or delegate.

      Besides, doing this tends to get the Church involved more than it already is in what the couple should work out between themselves, not only with the spiritual guidance that the Church can provide, but also marriage counseling which LDS Family Services is more than equipped to deal with. Or, if either decides that the marriage is over, go through the legal dissolution process. IMO, a bishop or SP should NOT counsel the ‘wronged’ spouse as to whether (s)he should leave the straying spouse, or NOT, but offer counsel as to how to obtain guidance from the Spirit in this hour of his/her great need.

      It should be also kept in mind that the ‘offender’ is still a child of God, and to the extent that (s)he is humble and contrite, be dealt with in a compassionate manner. It’s entirely contrary to the Spirit of the Lord to kick someone when they’re down, much as it’s a temptation.

  43. Melanie says:

    I have seen exactly the opposite, and it’s very annoying. My female cousin was excommunicated for her indescretions, and during that same time period, unrelated iccurrences, different areas of the country, even, my soon to be ex Husband got merely a slap on the wrist, and probation. Both had been through the temple. I was bery put out from the unfairness. I was told by my bishop that women were held to a higher standard than men, which sounds like a load of crap in my book.

    • Melanie says:

      Sorry for the typos…

      • Church Courts says:

        My wife cheated on me on two occasions, once she was caught making out with a co-worker which involved everyting but intercourse and the two years later I caught having a full on affair. At the time our son was just 3 years old. She would drop him off at the baby sitter and the go have sex while I was working. She was put on probation and I was chastised as a bad priesthood holder. I have never forgiven the church or the bishop for accusing me and making me feel it was some how my fault. Church courts are a farce.

  44. Melissa says:

    My mother cheated on my father, and was not punished at all. Mt husband cheated on me, and was not punished at all.

    My husband came to me, and confessed that he had cheated. He was very remorseful, and we have worked hard over several years to get to a better place in our marriage. It has been one of the great struggles in my life. We’ve had many honest conversations, and I had the occasion to ask him sincerely what part I had played in what he had done. Please, let me know, and I will avoid it like the plague! He told me there was nothing I could have done differently that would have stopped him from cheating on me. For him, it was an excitement thing from a life he had lived in the past. I wrote this because I don’t feel it is correct to say “marriage is a two-way street and the cheating spouse is never 100% of the problem”. I was in every way a devoted wife. I was ridiculously good and honorable; a peacemaker in our home. (I became much less of those good marriage qualities after his infidelity came out.) My point is, marriage is a two way street, but there are those of us, men and women alike, who are innocent of their spouse’s betrayal. I spent *SO* much time trying to figure out what I could have done to cause it. It was not me, though. It was him. And it is OK to say that. Sometimes it is on the one partner alone.

    • Douglas L Self says:

      At least your husband was candid and honest about his unfaithfulness, and let you know that he wasn’t ‘blaming’ you for his own weakness, as so many men and women whom do otherwise are prone to do. I do hope you two have reconciled and can get beyond this, but whatever your decisions re: your marriage, may you be happy and blessed.

  45. Greg says:

    Mormons don’t have a magic underwear and they do commit adultry! I did

  1. April 3, 2016

    […] Adultery and Church Discipline, is it Sexist? by Jessawhy […]

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