Or maybe Arizona. It's not really an issue I've mused over much, but I recently received an email question from a reader that deserves a response. Here's the question, lifted straight from the reader's email:
What happens to an excommunicated Mormon when she dies? Can you answer this and, if possible, cite a source?
I'll spend a few paragraphs sketching out a response, but I invite other bloggers and visitors to post their own views in the comments so my reader gets a broad sample of LDS thinking on what happens to former Mormons in the hereafter.
The Secular Perspective
I suppose the question only makes sense from the perspective of a religious believer. Someone who thinks like Richard Dawkins would say that Exmos go where everyone else goes after death: nowhere. That's not as bad as it sounds. Socrates seemed to think that death would be just like drifting off to a good night's sleep that never ends. Shakespeare, too, adopted this "tragic worldview," to borrow Walter Kaufmann's term. Thus quoth Hamlet:
To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished.
The Non-Sectarian Christian Perspective
Is there a generic position that captures a non-sectarian Christian view? Yes, I think there is, and it is that one will face some sort of Last Judgment after death (which presupposes a life hereafter, of course) wherein one is judged according to one's actions in this life:
The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
(John 5:28, 29). Or here's another good missionary scripture:
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
(Rev. 20:12). There is nothing in these verses about denominational affiliation, ordinances like baptism and confirmation, or accepting Jesus into your heart. This comes across as pure non-denominational works salvation. If this is the perspective you take, then where an Exmo goes after she dies has nothing to do with being an Exmo and everything to do with how she lived her life.
The Mormon Perspective
I imagine this is what the questioner is really after. Pretty much every sectarian perspective is likely to grant its own adherents a spot at the front of the line into heaven. It should be no surprise that LDS folk doctrine follows that pattern, and that LDS leaders, speaking from a strongly institutional perspective in a strongly institutional church, stress the positive impact on one's salvation of membership and activity in the LDS Church, ordinances like baptism and confirmation as well as temple ordinances, and "enduring to the end." But even following this conservative Mormon view, the LDS temple ordinances required for the fullest degree of salvation in the hereafter are available to all who accept them, whether in this life or vicariously in the next, so I'd argue that the perspective of even sectarian conservative Mormonism is decidedly less sectarian than is the born-again Christian view.
But the authoritative text for the LDS view of "where people go" in the next life is Doctine & Covenants section 76. It describes the afterlife in terms of four classes of people:
- "Sons of Perdition," a very small group of the "ungodly" who "deny the truth and defy [God's] power" and head off to the Mormon equivalent of hell, "the lake of fire and brimstone."
- "The glory of the telestial," for those who "received not the gospel of Christ" but who "deny not the Holy Spirit." In the popular Mormon account, this is where the moral dregs of society, felons and evil-doers, end up.
- "The terrestrial world," for the "honorable men of the earth," those "who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus," and/or those "who died without the law." In the standard Mormon account, this is where good Christians who don't eventually accept LDS ordinances go.
- The celestial kingdom, for those "who received the testimony of Jesus" and are baptized, who "overcome by faith," who are "just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant."
Now one can obviously put a sectarian spin on D&C 76, but the section itself doesn't require or even encourage that view, and even within strictly LDS settings that is simply not how it is presented. The fact that plenty of born-agains are a good deal more "valiant in the testimony of Jesus" than the average Mormon probably ought to be a point of more concern to most Latter-day Saints, who are sometimes more inclined to think that all is well in Zion than to worry about proclaiming the good news of Jesus.
To get back to the original question about where Exmos go in the afterlife, you could read D&C 76 conservatively to say that having turned away from the LDS Church they won't "go celestial," but it certainly doesn't say they go to hell. But it can also be read more in line with what I called the non-sectarian Christian view, in which where one goes in the next life is primarily dependent on one's actions rather than on one's sectarian affiliation and denominational accomplishments or shortcomings. Any interested person can read the section and judge for themselves what it says and where they stand.
For a more detailed review of the LDS view of the four levels of salvation, see the short article Kingdoms of Glory in True to the Faith, a short doctrinal booklet published by the LDS Church. It's the closest thing there is to an official compendium of LDS doctrine. It should displace anything said in the infamous Mormon Doctrine, every single copy of which should now be collected and summarily chucked into the nearest functional wood-burning stove.
Other authoritative articles that might be useful are Heaven and the Degrees of Glory (from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism) and this page giving a host of links to articles on LDS teachings about the afterlife.