By January 1834 the Church had grown to over 3,000 members. This growth created a need for additional leadership to manage the affairs of the Church. On February 17, 1834, twenty-four high priests gathered in Joseph Smith’s home for a conference in which the first high council of the Church was organized. Orson Hyde, the clerk of the meeting, noted that the high council may have made some errors in the minutes of the meeting. Therefore, the council voted that the Prophet should make any necessary corrections. Joseph Smith spent the next day, February 18, making an inspired revision of those initial minutes. The minutes were amended and accepted the following day, February 19. Now found in Doctrine and Covenants 102, these minutes outline the establishment of high councils and provide direction for stake presidencies and high councils when they administer discipline for people who have committed serious transgressions. (Note that district presidencies and district councils may also be authorized to follow these procedures.)
Suggestions for Teaching
The first high council of the Church is organized
Read aloud the following account related by President Harold B. Lee:
“Some years ago … I served as a stake president. We had a very grievous case that had to come before the high council and the stake presidency that resulted in the excommunication of a man who had harmed a lovely young girl. After a nearly all-night session that resulted in that action, I went to my office rather weary the next morning and was confronted by a brother of this man whom we [met with in council] the night before. This man said, ‘I want to tell you that my brother wasn’t guilty of what you charged him with.’
“‘How do you know he wasn’t guilty?’ I asked.
“‘Because I prayed, and the Lord told me he was innocent,’ the man answered” (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams , 420–21).
In your opinion, how could the man have received an answer contrary to the decision made by the stake presidency and high council?
Explain that Doctrine and Covenants 102 contains principles that help us understand how stake presidencies and high councils seek to know the Lord’s will about how to help Church members who have committed serious transgressions.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 102:1 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify what a high council is.
What is a high council? (A group of 12 high priests presided over by “one or three presidents.” In the Church today, a stake president and his counselors preside over a high council.)
Explain that the high council described in Doctrine and Covenants 102 was different in some ways from high councils in stakes today. It had general jurisdiction in Kirtland, Ohio, and the surrounding areas and was presided over by the First Presidency. However, as Church membership increased, stakes were organized and stake presidencies and high councils were called to administer the Church within their individual stake boundaries.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 102:2 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for the purpose of a high council and how it is appointed.
How is a high council appointed? What is its purpose?
After students respond to the questions above, write the following truth on the board: A high council is appointed by revelation to settle important difficulties that arise in the Church. Explain that “important difficulties” generally refers to situations in which members have committed serious transgression.
Explain that President Lee’s account at the beginning of the lesson provides an example of one responsibility of a high council: to act as a Church disciplinary council, under the direction of the stake presidency. To help the class understand the purpose of disciplinary councils, invite a student to read the following statement aloud. Ask the class to listen for the three purposes of Church disciplinary councils.
“The most serious transgressions, such as serious violations of civil law, spouse abuse, child abuse, adultery, fornication, rape, and incest, often require formal Church discipline. Formal Church discipline may include restriction of Church membership privileges or loss of Church membership. …
“… The purposes of disciplinary councils are to  save the souls of transgressors,  protect the innocent, and  safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the Church.
“Church discipline is an inspired process that takes place over a period of time. Through this process and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, a member can receive forgiveness of sins, regain peace of mind, and gain strength to avoid transgression in the future” (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference , 37–38).
What are the three purposes of Church disciplinary councils?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 102:4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for phrases that describe how members of a high council are to fulfill their calling. Then ask students to report what they have found.
The procedures for a disciplinary council are set forth
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 102:6–11 by telling students that these verses explain how a high council is to operate when all of its members are not present. Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 102:12–14 silently to learn how members of a high council are chosen to speak in a disciplinary council. Then ask students to report what they have found.
What does it mean to cast lots? (In this case, it means that council members draw numbers from 1 to 12.)
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 102:15–18 aloud, and ask the class to look for reasons why a high council draws numbers.
What do we learn from verses 15–16 about the way disciplinary councils are to be conducted? (After students have responded, write the following on the board: In the Church of Jesus Christ, disciplinary councils are to be conducted according to equity and justice.)
If a high councilor draws an even number during a disciplinary council, what is his responsibility? How does this show the Lord’s concern for Church members who commit serious sin?
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 102:19 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify what the president of the council must do after hearing both sides of a case. Then ask students to report what they have found.
How would it help the stake president make a decision to first hear members of the council speak for the interests of the accused as well as the interests of the Church?
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley, and invite the class to notice what the president of a council does in addition to hearing both sides of a case:
“I wish to assure you … that I think there is never a judgment rendered until after prayer has been had. Action against a member is too serious a matter to result from the judgment of men alone, and particularly of one man alone. There must be the guidance of the Spirit, earnestly sought for and then followed, if there is to be justice” (“In … Counsellors There Is Safety,” Ensign, Nov. 1990, 50).
What does the stake president do in addition to hearing both sides of a case?
According to verse 19, what does the president call upon the council to do after he makes a decision?
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 102:20–22 by explaining that these verses give instructions about what to do if there is uncertainty about the decision.
Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 102:23 aloud. Ask the class to follow along and identify what should be done in cases when doctrinal issues are unclear. Invite students to report what they learn.
What truth is taught in verse 23? (After students respond, write the following truth on the board: The Lord reveals His mind to those who preside over disciplinary councils.)
Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 102:27–34 by explaining that decisions of a stake disciplinary council can be appealed to the First Presidency.
Review with students the account told by President Harold B. Lee at the beginning of this lesson.
Who would you have more confidence in—the stake presidency and high council or the man who challenged their decision?
Based on the truths you have learned in your study of Doctrine and Covenants 102, why can we place confidence in decisions made by Church disciplinary councils?
After students respond, you may want to invite a student to read aloud the remainder of President Lee’s account:
“I asked him to come into the office and we sat down, and I asked, ‘Would you mind if I ask you a few personal questions?’
“He said, ‘Certainly not.’ …
“‘How old are you?’
“‘What priesthood do you hold?’
“He said he thought he was a teacher.
“‘Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?’
“‘Well, no.’ …
“‘Do you pay your tithing?’
“He said, ‘No’—and he didn’t intend to as long as that … man was the bishop of the Thirty-Second Ward.
“I said, ‘Do you attend your priesthood meetings?’
“He replied, ‘No, sir!’ …
“‘You don’t attend your sacrament meetings either?’
“‘Do you have your family prayers?’ and he said no.
“‘Do you study the scriptures?’ He said well, his eyes were bad, and he couldn’t read very much. …
“‘Now, then,’ I said, ‘fifteen of the best-living men in the Pioneer Stake prayed last night. … and every man was united. … Now you, who do none of these things, you say you prayed and got an opposite answer. How would you explain that?’
“Then this man gave an answer that I think was a classic. He said, ‘Well, President Lee, I think I must have gotten my answer from the wrong source’” (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 421–22).
Consider sharing your testimony concerning why we can trust the decisions of stake presidencies and high councils in the Church.
Commentary and Background Information
Doctrine and Covenants 102. Church disciplinary councils
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained the following about Church disciplinary councils:
“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, [child abuse (sexual or physical),] 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, [and] when a serious transgression is widely known. …
“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, … spouse abuse, deliberate abandonment of family responsibilities, robbery, burglary, embezzlement, theft, sale of illegal drugs, fraud, perjury, or false swearing. [A disciplinary council may also be convened when a transgressor is guilty of serious deceptive practices, false representations, or other forms of fraud or dishonesty in business transactions.]
“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 [become less active]. …
“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.
“Decisions of the council are to be made with inspiration. A council can reach one of four decisions: (1) no action, (2) formal probation, (3) disfellowshipment, or (4) excommunication.
“Even if a transgression has been committed, the council may decide to take no action at that time. (The member would be encouraged to receive further counsel from his or her bishop.)
“Formal probation is a temporary state of discipline, imposed as a means to help the member fully repent. The presiding officer of the council specifies the conditions under which the probation can be terminated. During the probation, the bishop or stake president keeps in close contact to help the individual progress.
“The third decision the council may take is to disfellowship the member. Disfellowshipment is [meant to be] temporary, though not necessarily brief. Disfellowshipped persons retain membership in the Church. They are encouraged to attend public Church meetings, but are not entitled to offer public prayers or to give talks. They may not hold a Church position, take the sacrament, vote in the sustaining of Church officers, hold a temple recommend, or exercise the priesthood. They may, however, pay tithes and offerings and continue to wear temple garments if endowed.
“Excommunication is the most severe judgment a Church disciplinary council can take. Excommunicated persons are no longer members of the Church. Therefore, they are denied the privileges of Church membership, including the wearing of temple garments and the payment of tithes and offerings. They may attend public Church meetings, but, like disfellowshipped persons, their participation in such meetings is limited. Excommunicated persons are encouraged to repent and so live as to qualify for eventual baptism” (“A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings,” Ensign, Sept. 1990, 15–16).
Doctrine and Covenants 102:18. Rights of the accuser and the accused
In 1840, the Prophet Joseph Smith gave instruction for high councils concerning the rights of those accused of sin. The principles he taught continue to apply in Church disciplinary councils today. He taught:
“The Council should try no case without both parties being present, or having had an opportunity to be present; neither should they hear one person’s complaint before his case is brought up for trial; neither should they suffer the character of any one to be exposed before the High Council without the person being present and ready to defend him or herself; that the minds of the councilors be not prejudiced for or against any one whose case they may possibly have to act upon” (in History of the Church, 4:154). If a party or essential witness is unable to attend a disciplinary council, the presiding officer invites him to submit a written statement.