How long does disfellowshipped stay on your church records? I was told that it only stays on for 20 years.
Thank you for your question. To best address it, I think it is important that we have a couple of basic understandings in place when it comes to church discipline and the general need for church membership records.
Each baptized member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a membership record. This record basically contains your contact information, family status and the details about your church ordinances (baptism, temple sealing, priesthood, etc.) Your current Bishop and Stake President have access to your record. If you move to a new location, your record is then transferred to your new Bishop and new Stake President. This record is used for a variety of reasons, some of which include: a simple getting to know you, marital status, age of your children to identify appropriate classes, address verification to make sure you are actually a member of the geographic boundaries of that ward, etc.
During our lives, as imperfect people, we will commit sins. Some of these very minor sins may simply be resolved between us and the Lord. Other sins, however, are more serious and may require formal church discipline for a time. One form of church discipline, as you mentioned, is called “disfellowshipment”. Being disfellowedshipped means that certain restrictions are placed on your privileges/participation in church activities until you have completed the full repentance process and returned to full fellowship again.
As an individual goes through the repentance process, it is recorded/annotated on their membership record that they are currently “disfellowshipped.” Full repentance varies between individuals and therefore the duration of disfellowshipping also varies. Some individuals work extremely hard, soften their hearts, sincerely repent and may be back to full fellowship after only a year. In contrast, others may harden their hearts and become bitter during this time, thus extending the repentance process out longer.
Why are records annotated to reflect disfellowshipment? Suppose “Steve” is disfellowshipped in his Iowa Ward, but then moves to Maine before completely returning to full fellowship again. When his membership record arrives in his new Maine Ward, this will allow his new Bishop to see that he needs to continue to work with Steve helping him down the path to full fellowship.
Once a member has been reinstated to full fellowship, any annotation on their record reflecting “disfellowshipped” is removed at that time.
Even excommunication, a form of church discipline far more serious than disfellowship, is completely removed from a member’s record upon successful completion of the repentance process. Elder M. Russell Ballard speaking about members returning after being excommunicated says,
“After the rebaptism of a person who has not been endowed in the temple, his or her membership record shows the original baptism date, with no reference to the excommunication. A man who previously held the priesthood but was not endowed should generally be ordained to his former priesthood office. Again, his membership record will show his original ordination date, with no reference to the excommunication.” A Chance to Start Over
While church discipline is designed to help an individual repent, it is also in place “to protect the innocent, and safeguard the Church’s purity, integrity, and good name.” Certain sins that can directly harm a local ward, including members (such as embezzlement or predatory conduct), receive a permanent annotation that remains even after blessings are reinstated. This annotation is automatically permanent unless the First Presidency of the Church authorizes its removal. As a result of this permanent annotation, certain potential callings may no longer be available to specific individuals in the future, for example: Primary, Boy Scouts, Finance Clerk, Bishop, etc.
Thank you again for asking your question Joseph,