Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
212:  The Trouble with Excommunication:  Ian Thomson

212: The Trouble with Excommunication: Ian Thomson

Credit: Ben Sutherland @Flickr

Ian Thomson is a public defender in Boise, Idaho.

In this podcast, we deconstruct the ideology and practice of excommunication.  We also discuss how enmeshed LDS excommunication is with the US judicial system.


  1. JJ

    Hello, Ian. I worked at ISCI in Boise for a few years as a Rider case manager (in fact, it’s possible that I had a few of your clients on my caseload).
    I agree with you on a lot of things here, but there are a couple of things I want to address.
    First, while I agree that our system far from perfect and there are definitely disparities, I have seen many offenders in prison who definitely deserve to be there, and in addition to that, it’s best if they are indeed separated from society as their ingrained criminality poses a public risk. Also, you stated that not enough money has been dedicated to programming or rehabilitative services. Having worked as a CADC and a DARS, I would beg to differ. I’ve seen millions of dollars thrown at these programs as IDOC made it a goal to get offenders out if at all possible. We were often heavily pressured to make sure offenders were going through programs and let out on parole (probation for riders). I have a feeling that your perspective on the system may be heavily influenced by how Idaho works (it is a very punitive state) as not all states operate the same. For example, Idaho’s incarceration population is greater than Oregon’s even when Oregon’s overall population (in general) is much higher. Parole and post prison supervision is also less punitive in Oregon.
    On the other hand, listening to this episode did make me realize how much the Church was entrenched in the legal system. It is anything BUT Christ-like the way the Church relies on arbitrary decisions of secular authorities. It quite infuriating, actually!
    All the Best!

    P.S. Have judges finally stopped abusing the rider program by sending mental health S.O.’s on riders when they know good and well housing will NOT be available for them once their rider is up? 🙂

    1. Ian Thomson

      In response I stand by my position that meaningful programming and rehabilitation services are woefully inadequate. In corrections money does not equal services, and I remain quite skeptical of DOC “programming.” However, I have to admit that most of my exposure to those services have been through the lens of my clients. As to the origins of my perspective, I worked the first seven or eight years of my career as a public defender in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania’s system is significantly less retributive, and they operate under sentencing guidelines–not entirely unlike Oregon’s system. A big part of my frustration has been seeing how radically different outcomes are in the criminal justice system wholly dependent on what state you happen to be in. The Church should not openly embrace those inconsistencies. As a side note, over the course of my fifteen years I have met a few truly dangerous people, but not nearly as many as one would suspect. Incarceration has a way of bringing out the worst in people.

  2. Azul

    Wow! A very eye opening and thought provoking podcast! Some of the powerful ideas and concepts that really impacted me:
    Engage in the struggle.
    Blind obedience is not discipleship. Don’t abdicate discipleship or leadership- there is a personal responsibility here.
    Our care of the “others” in society needs to be looked at with new eyes. Are we, and even more concerning to ponder is, is our Leadership taking and promoting a “Pilot” type role or attitude in caring for the poor, imprisoned, & destitute? (The reference to Pilot was so poignant. I will never be able to read the verse about Pilot washing his hands without thinking about how I, and those I hope to be God’s prophets, treat the least of these!)
    The discussion of management vs ministry and where the main focus of a religious group should lay is also a cause for much reflection. I agree that the LDS church needs seminaries that can produce leaders versed in theology and spirituality, not just business men, lawyers, & doctors from the Jell-O belt who have paid their dues to a “yes man” ladder of leadership steeped in pride, pedestals, & revelation that only acknowledges the status quo of Mormonism.
    Thank you Ian & Gina for this podcast. I will be looking up Ian’s Sunstone presentation!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *